Decisionism

Citing the dramatic increase in the deaths of firefighters, and an increase in deaths as a result of fire, she asked him: “Will you give me a pledge today that when these austere times are over, and you have the money back in the bank or you’re balancing your books, that you will look at anything that is cut during this period and go back and get in those fire engines back in the places they are needed to support the public?”

Cameron refused to make the pledge.

“The direct answer to your question, should we cut things now and go back later and try and restore them later, I think we should be trying to avoid that approach,” he said. “Because I’m not saying we won’t have to make cuts to all sorts of difficult services, because we will, but let’s try and do it in a way that actually is sustainable. And try to make sure that the fire services that we have is capable of doing the very important work we want it to do but let’s all open our minds and think how can we work in a different way.”

As Tom said on Twitter “Never have I wanted those murderous, neo-liberal New Labour fucks back in office so much as I do now”. Cameron and Clegg have told their MPs “we are prepared to take the difficult decisions”, Cameron states “difficult decisions” will have to be made.

In my PhD I trace one of the origins of this kind of rhetoric of the hard decision in economic matters – the influence of Carl Schmitt’s decisionism and political theology on the development of early neoliberalism during the Weimar republic. The leader – neoliberal or fascist – must be decisive, must make the decision – discussion, democratic debate are flimsy liberal sops, he is sovereign. Between the people and the market, the leader must decide for the market. The influence could not be clearer upon our present situation.

The Great Unignored

Yesterday unless you were living under a rock, readers of this blog from the UK will have noticed that campaigning for the General Election has begun. Speaking at the launch of his campaign, David Cameron spoke of “the great ignored” who his party was seeking to represent – a list which initially included gay as well as straight people, but this ended up too controversial for him to say. Of course there is some speculation who these people are, yet considering this list encompasses seemingly everyone, we are in familiar territory, a classic right wing appeal to ‘common sense’ and ‘the moral majority’. But there is one section that is certainly not ignored by the Conservative Party – the mega rich, members of the ‘Leader’s Club’.

A donation of £50,000 a year buys you access to the Leader’s Club, though cheaper options are avaliable at £25,000 (The Treasurer’s Group or £15,000 (the Renaissance Forum) if you have this money hanging around to make in a political donation. These clubs all give access senior members of the Conservatives, but in particular The Leader’s Club offers you direct access to David Cameron and the shadow cabinet in the form of lunches, drinks receptions and general hobnobbing with the potential future government. It had approximately fifty members in 2006, though full membership is undisclosed. As the Private Eye reveals, the sort of individual who is a member is exemplified by Jitesh Gadhia, the head of advisory at Barclays Capital, the investment bank wing of Barclays bank. Barclays Capital had £2.6 billion of exposure in the US sub-prime market (one of the major causes of the credit crunch) after it had been written down. The full list, could probably be established by consulting the list of party donors and working out who gave exactly the right amount of cash, or more. Other members of the club likely include David Rowland, a property magnet, and chucked a million or so into the party’s coffers. Just paying the door fee with 50k are David Harding, hedge fund manager, Hüseyin Gün, direct investment manager, Ryan Robson, head of private equity fund Sovereign Capital, Anna Hobhouse director of Wittington Investments, Stephen Morant of Morant Wright investment managers, Christopher Rokas of Brevan Howard hedge fund, Ramez Sousou of Towerbrook and David Royds of Matrix Group, two of the largest private investment companies in the UK. The group itself is organised by Andrew Feldman, who like Peter Mandelson and George Osbourne enjoys hanging out with Russian billionaires on boats attempting to get them to donate to the Tories, Cameron’s friend since they were at Oxford together. This shouldn’t surprise anyone or why it is particularly easy for the Conservatives to feel part of these circles. The Tories co-treasurer is a hedge fund manager Stanley Fink, its treasurer Michael Spencer, who is a city inter-dealer broker. Indeed, sorting donors from the city is a major element in their plan to “blow Labour out of the water”, and the two openly admit that they are “dependent a lot upon entrepreneurs and business people, financial people or property people”.

One voice that is not the great ignored in funding and shaping Tory policy is The City and investment bankers, the very same city that brought this country to its knees in the Credit Crunch.

Red Toryism: The British Invasion

Amateur sociologist and sensible conservative David Brooks devotes his column today to the thought of Phillip Blond. This paragraph in particular touched my heart:

He grew up in working-class Liverpool. “I lived in the city when it was being eviscerated,” he told The New Statesman. “It was a beautiful city, one of the few in Britain to have a genuinely indigenous culture. And that whole way of life was destroyed.” Industry died. Political power was centralized in London.

The story sounds familiar to me because I grew up in the environs of working-class Flint, Mich., when it was being eviscerated — the same small town, in fact, where Michael Moore grew up. Both Moore and I share the conviction that the implosion of cities like Flint went hand-in-hand with the systematic destruction of organized labor. Implicitly, we’re to think that Blond sees the same connection, as in this paragraph:

Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.

Interestingly, however, on Brooks’ list of Blond’s potential ways to undo the baleful trend toward centralization and individualization, one does not find trade unionism! Instead, employee share ownership is to be “encouraged.”

Though Brooks does not mention it, Blond does support co-ops like John Lewis plc, but apparently trade unionism in the existing big businesses isn’t really on the agenda for this supposedly “Red” movement. Increasing the discretionary power of local bureaucrats or lowering the regulatory barriers to starting a small business doesn’t seem like any substitute for workers actively forcing big business to give them a greater share of the profits they’re generating — but again, in this supposedly “Red” movement, we get no real analysis of the social forces of capitalism. Instead, we are to assume that for some unknown reason, people just up and decided to favor centralization and greater individualism en masse.

And what is the solution? To fantasize about what elements of pre-modern society we could revamp, all the while making no serious effort to determine how we might organize social forces to make our demands effective — other than, of course, providing ideological cover for the party that did the most to destroy places like Liverpool. Truly, this is the politics of paradox!

Tory Dialectics

The United Kingdom is currently moving only shakily towards the perfection of Toryism – we must summon all our efforts once again comrades! Only the triumph of Toryism, and the entry into the dictatorship of the Bullingdon Club that is the first step on this road, will ensure a country where the public services will bask in the unalienated freedom of worker controlled services, much like the John Lewis Partnership! Whereas the reactionaries may not, Comrade Gove well understands the most central principle of our dialectics: that opposing principles will ultimately be resolved in a higher dialectical movement! Our party talks in favour of all the benefits of worker control in the public services, calling a model from the private sphere as an exemplar, the workers republic of Waitrose. Our party is deeply opposed to organised labour attempting to control the direction of their company and prevent their exploitation at the hands of their benevolent employers and even more opposed to them having a form of political representation – Comrade Thatcher did not fight so bravely for it to be otherwise! Whereas our proletariat enemies see contradiction negatively, we more subtle thinkers understand that contradiction is the very basis of all movement in itself, even contradiction within our own party! This contradiction is simply another brief moment in what is unstoppable: the bourgeois movement of history!

Cowabunga Cuts

By now readers should have got a handle on how the ‘New Conservatives’ are essentially Blairism 2.0. Further evidence? What they are currently experimenting with in Barnet Council, North London, that likely displays one strand of future Conservative thinking. Modeling themselves along the lines of budget airlines such as Ryanair and EasyJet, Barnet council provides a basic service, while allowing residents to pay extra for additional things. In line with the standard of all market reforms, much of the system is sub-contracted to private companies who will provide these services – companies whose motive is profit, and thus to provide the minimum of service to yield this, unlike a council’s motive which is to run a good system or risk being booted out by the next election. Anyone who has traveled on Ryanair knows precisely how this works. The ‘minimum service’ provided is so laughably minimal that to have anything like a service that is livable, if you want to go to the loo for example, you’ll have to pay. Like Ryanair, those who can pay will trample on most people with their ‘early boarding passes’ where they can choose the seats and most of us who cannot can squeeze themselves in while being advertised at for an hour.

In Barnet, as the Guardian reports, those affected are the most vulnerable. Those in Sheltered Housing, old people, frail and vulnerable,  will now not have a warden to look out for their safety and comfort, as well as promoting community, but a ‘floating warden’ who will impersonally administrate several houses. Don’t worry they won’t starve, they will have an alarm button around their necks so when they take a plunge down the stairs so someone can be around just in time to watch them die. “It is surprising how able even so called vulnerable people are. Helping people help themselves, that’s the new Conservatism” says a local councilor. Helping people die alone, afraid and without the basic care they need and indeed deserve and deserted by everyone is what the new Conservatism is about – empowering people to make ‘choices’ when they would rather have a decent quality of care and real living human beings treating them as persons not statistics where the efficiency must be maximised. The ideological driver behind this model is The Future Shape of Barnet Council group. Reading their interim report, the deep heart of neoliberal public sector reform is revealed, ‘empowering local communities’ means leaving them stranded. This is the beauty of the Tories: sell cuts to people as if they are somehow empowering them. I propose a new idea. When the Tories say radical or progressive, we say cowabunga for the former and tubular for the latter to see just how meaningless their proposals are. Here is George Osbourne:

our commitment to a cowabunga localisation of power, we are the ones setting the tubular pace in politics.

Much more accurate.

Osbourne versus Mandelson: Progress Just Another Name For TINA

You get a very queasy feeling when you have to acknowledge that noted scum bag Peter Mandelson has a point. George Osbourne’s widely discussed speech on ‘progressive politics’ was indeed an exercise in ‘political cross-dressing’, though probably he is just dressing up as New Labour. As I pointed out a few days ago, under the thin veil of being ‘progressive’ Osbourne offers nothing more than continued neoliberalism in continuity with the Thatcherite legacy. Mandelson is right to read the rhetoric of ‘effectiveness and efficiency’ as vicious cuts, but ‘efficency’ has also always meant the continuation of privatisation by other means, so we can expect public services to be handed over to Osbourne’s corporate buddies as well as strip mined. While readers of this blog should not find the ideological shape of Osbourne’s ‘progressive’ proposals particularly surprising, as unfire points out in comments, it is Osbourne’s ability to achieve this agenda and the lack of real opposition that is most worrying.

Most agree that the education system in the UK is broken. But Osbourne’s solution is to marketise education provision, using ideas along the lines of the Swedish model.  The system is Sweden is not without its flaws, but it is how Osbourne’s commitment to austerity and low taxes tallies with this reform that is the most immediate question, since the necessary restructuring and the generous funds the Swedish provides for each child results from their aggressive taxation policy. In Sweden you pay roughly 48.1% income tax and VAT is at 25%, which I doubt Osbourne has the stomach for. Moreover, markets are not the only, or even the best way of running education. Finland, consistently rated the best education system in the world, is not marketised and neither are the majority of top countries in the international rankings. Pointing to the Sweden serves Tory market rhetoric, as it does the rhetoric of other free market thinkers world over, but naturally does not tell the whole of the story. Ask any academic or teacher if further marketisation and corporate aping in the running of educational institutions is a good idea. After all, this is what New Labour have been doing haven’t they Mandelson? Dave Hill has a summary for primary and secondary education (pdf), Andy Robinson and Simon Tormey have the university (pdf) covered, The Storm Breaking On The University being the most comprehensive resource in this regard.

For the NHS the situation is more concerning. We face what might be termed a ‘reverse Obama’. Osbourne offers the standard neoliberal rhetoric of ‘patient choice’ and ‘diversity of provision’ that will usher in a two-tier health care system and another wave of disastrous public-private partnerships, pushing people towards private care. The internal market in the NHS, brought in by the previous Conservative government was hardly a success (pdf). The internal market resulted in worse health care for those unmeasured but vital rubrics (like dying a heart attack in an emergency), while marginally fiddling the numbers where things were measured (waiting lists) and overall the linked report concludes grimly that deaths were higher and quality was lower where marketisation was greater. Osbourne is quick to remind us that Blair spent many year fighting his own party, including Gordon Brown himself, to introduce foundation hospitals, a very similar scheme. Indeed, Andrew Lansey himself tells us that 2006 Blair’s aims for modernisation of the NHS via ‘independent sector involvement; practice-based commissioning and Foundation Trusts’ were correct, though unachieved. Mandelson might warn that ‘independent provision’ is another term for ‘everyone going private’, but might remember his own former leader provided the template, yet another proof of the shaping of our contemporary political scene by Blair despite his departure is more than merely aesthetic. Yet the difference between New Labour and the Conservatives is with no possibility of large-scale back-bench or union rebellion and once in power, Osbourne’s slow privatisation of the NHS would be unstoppable. After a general election, with incoming opposition in disarray and a parliamentary majority in place, the debate over foundation hospitals will seem a quaint reminder of times run roughshod over and ‘reform’ of the NHS will be possible beyond Blair’s wildest dreams. Education would likely follow a similar path. The roadblocks Osbourne often refers in Labour do not exist in his own party which suffers from no pull of something like the ‘old Left’.

One must concede to Mandelson, that Osbourne is still committed to letting the market ‘rip’, almost as if the credit crunch never happened. We should not be deceived that the Tories are hell bent on continuing their market romance unabated. Where Mandelson is dangeously wrong is in noting that the old Thatcherites may be unable to see past the progressive rhetoric, and might be opposed to Osbourne. As I pointed out, the recent speech to the Centre for Policy Studies by David Cameron shows that the New Tories are well aware they must cover these bases as well as appealing to voters weary of Gordon Brown, invoking a nostalgia for the battles and revolutions of the 1970s, summoning up the Thatcherite will to fiscal austerity and spending cuts. Without coherent opposition, Osbourne has the potential to enter a zero friction environment after the election which could be utterly disastrous and sadly, not totally unprecedented. For the Tories progress is just another name for the grim apocalyptic mantra There Is No Alternative.

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