Dog Days of Summer Links And Stuff

Someone has got their priorities right!…

We are starting to approach the so-called Silly Season for news. This sounds a bit strange to me, when you consider it is the period two World Wars and the Spanish Civil War all started. These can be called many things, but ‘Silly’ hardly seems appropriate. It is also the period when the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the attempted coup d’etat against Gorbachev in 1991   and the 2008 Georgian attack on Russia all took place. Anyway, let’s hope nothing as dramatic happens this time around!

I’ve been out the loop four weeks or so. Hence, I’ve been catching up in the last few days  and  there is a bit to unpack…

‘All the experience of history demonstrates to us that an alliance concluded between two different parties always turns to the advantage of the more reactionary of the two parties; this alliance necessarily enfeebles the more progressive party, by diminishing and distorting its programme, by destroying its moral strength, its confidence in itself, whilst a reactionary party, when it is guilty of falsehood is always and more than ever true to itself.’ Mikhail Bakunin Marxism, Freedom and the State (Hat-tip: Paul Stott!)

Mikhail B and Vladimir L: one for those big into Dead Russians…

Well, I escaped the country to avoid George Osborne giving his first Budget speech. We will see what happens, although Boy George’s combination of public spending cuts and increases in VAT  has got the big thumbs up from the European Commission, which must have been somewhat disappointing to the British Centre-Left’s ‘My EU, Right or Wrong’ brigade. Nor can the likes of Will Hutton, Polly Toynbee, Denis MacShane et al have been much impressed by the suggestion that the best way for the EU’s various economies to get out of their various economic holes may be to give up on the euro.

Nothing is…

There still seem to be very big economic problems here and elsewhere, with serious talk that we could be hit by a ‘triple whammy’. Meanwhile, who is to say where the US economy is heading? What can be said without much doubt is that there will be financial pain for many in the years to come, even if economic activity here and elsewhere starts to pick up. There is no guarantee that economic austerity will lead to better economic confidence and performance, as the Irish experience shows. Perhaps, as the current Hungarian experience  suggests, economic rectitude does not have to mean economic misery.

Although I have seen the claim made more than once by Conservative supporters (including, I guess, the Minister quoted in Steve Bell’s cartoon above) that Call Me Dave’s General Election Manifesto launch based around the the ‘idea’ (if that is not too strong a term) of  the ‘Big Society’ cost them an overall majority, it looks like it’s back! Not, it must be said, with universal acclaim.

The problem I have with the whole ‘Big Society’ concept, if that is not too grand a term for it, is that in a period of severe financial austerity for many people, who will have the cash to keep voluntary services running, let alone replicate those services provided by the state at the moment? There is a non-statist tradition in the British Isles– co-operatives, friendly societies, mutuals- of running health, education and other social and welfare services in a collective manner. However, in the current economic climate, getting the state out of running services and leaving them to whoever has the time and resources to devote to run them is akin to sending troops with bayonets out of their trenches  and over the top towards the enemy’s machine guns in World War One. Indeed, as things stand, in many areas Big Business is the only alternative to the Big State. As Peter Wilby points out, Call Me Dave did not criticise Big Business in his latest ‘Big Society’ missive.

The suspicion that ‘Big Society’ rhetoric is only a way of camouflaging cutbacks in the public sector and handing the rest over to Big Business (subsidised by the taxpayer) is suggested by some coverage of  what may happen in the health sector. Not only will so-called NHS ‘reform’ not work, but it will also be  a boon for outsourcers and the current Health Secretary knows which proverbial side of his bread is buttered.

Will the Labour Party be able to argue that ‘Big Society = Big Business’? I have my doubts, believe it or not! Out of the five leadership contenders (BTW a big question for Labour Party supporters and/or those more familiar with Labour than me- why no Deputy Leadership contest this time? Or have I missed it?) Diane Abbott is the only one not totally implicated in the policies of the 97-10 years. The Other Four: they were Government Ministers until less than two months ago- are they going to repudiate everything they publicly supported  until they left office? The thought of Call Me Dave and whoever gets elected Labour Leader arguing over who is the true ‘Heir To Blair’ from October onwards is simply soul-destroying.  I don’t agree with everything Diane Abbott says or does, but she is the only thing stopping the Labour Leadership contest becoming a total bore-fest. Dispatches from braver souls than me who have been along to Labour Leadership hustings can be found here and here. Chris Dillow criticises the lack of proper politics (as opposed to politicking) in Lord Mandelson’s autobiography here, while Marina Hyde casts her eye over (totally self-unaware) reaction to Lord M’s magnum opus from other members of New Labour’s Glittering Gallery here.

For those of you glad we won’t have ID Cards (in my opinion, the current Government’s big A*- Plus) a note of caution from No2ID.

For those needing a reminder that capitalism does not always equal the free-market and socialism does not always equal the state, you may appreciate a bit of Kevin Carson.

It looks like BP have plugged the Gulf of Mexico leak, which, if it holds, has merely stopped a disaster becoming a catastrophe. There is now a lot of hoo-hah about the role BP played in getting the so-called Lockerbie Bomber out of jail. However, it comes across as a red herring for me, as I am pretty sure that Libya was not behind the Lockerbie bombing. Until the day Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August 1990, and the US needed Iran and Syria on its side (or at least not hostile towards), the general consensus was Palestinians aligned to Iran and/or  Syria were behind the bombing, as vengeance for the downing of Iranian Airlines Flight 655 by the USS Vincennes in the Summer of  ’88. Whatever else they may have got up to, I think  BP are innocent of that crime.

While I was away I read Andy Beckett’s book on the 1970s, which is a worthwhile read. Much of the material in it I have seen before, but he went out his way to visit people and places (Saltley Gate and/or the proposed Maplin Airport mean anything to you? Yes? You don’t look that old!) that were socio-cultural icons way back then. The one thing that really depresses me about Beckett’s account is that in 1978 then Energy Secretary Tony Benn proposed a national Oil Fund from North Sea oil to fund the modernisation of British industrial base. It was rejected (PM Jim Callaghan was probably worried by ‘Benn’s Power Grab’ headlines from the pro-Thatcher  press), then Beckett comments:

‘In 2008, the economist John Hawkesworth of the accountants PriceWaterhouseCoopers calculated that, had Britain’s tax revenues from North Sea gas and oil been invested rather than spent [on tax cuts and the dole during the 1980s under Thatcher], they would now be worth £450 billion, and would give the British government control of one of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds.’ (p.201)

A good review of Beckett’s book was written by Ian Jack, who concluded:

If greater equality nourishes happiness and the public good, as many have come to believe, then it should never be forgotten that in the late 1970s Britain became a more equal country than it had probably ever been and certainly than it has been since. Beckett’s book is not all out revisionism; the facts of industrial turmoil can’t be revised away. But that one fact of greater equality suggests that the received wisdom of the 1970s as Britain’s nightmare decade is little more than a politically convenient libel which suits a narrative of redemption. We must never go back to the 1970s? Perhaps we should be lucky. There are worse places, as we may shortly see.

If you got through all that, you deserve something lighter! For example, discover which famous writer you are with I Write Like. I was Cory Doctorow, so that’s my reading list sorted for my next trip abroad!

You may be also interested in the concept of Slow Reading.

I’ll leave it there for the moment. Short of a big event (ie a World War starting) happening in the next few weeks, I’ll keep it light- in terms of volume, and possibly content. I need to think…

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