Saturday, 28 April 2007

Video Killed the Radio Star

You were the first one...
Globalisation killed Soviet -type socialism because the system as it was could not benefit from the international division of labour. It insulated producers and consumers from international prices, due to the state monopoly of foreign trade conducted by large Foreign Trade Organisations implementing government plans, with a domestic currency which was not convertible into goods internally, as a result of shortages and queues, let alone into a foreign currency. This led to extreme inefficiency. By the 1980s Japan was buying Soviet machinery for scrap, between a fourth and a fifth of manufacturing output in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia had negative value added at international prices. Production actually destroyed GDP. Either the system had to be radically reformed, or was doomed to collapse. For unwillingness to let repressed inflation surface into open inflation, and for the even greater fear that reform would reduce party grip on power it was not reformed enough. It collapsed, leading to the restoration of capitalism and its global connections.

You were the last one...
Forms of socialism (and non-socialist statism) under social democratic regimes, whether left or right leaning, were killed by globalisation in a different way. Through competition from cheaper labour - whether from immigration, the delocalisation of production and employment to emerging countries, or by foreign trade; and by cheaper welfare systems, and lower labour -employment -protection competition, by social dumping as well as environmental dumping, between countries seeking to attract internationally mobile capital. There was competition to offer an environment friendlier to business, through lower taxes, tax evasion and avoidance by multinational corporations, and through the monetary and fiscal constraints required for a stable exchange rate in the global economy.

.. Rewritten by machine and new technology,
and now we understand the problems you can see.

But the Labour and its statist zealots cannot or will not see.

.. We hear the playback and it seems so long ago.
And you remember how the jingles used to go...

Brown and the zombies still sing the jingles - fraternal solidarity, redistribution, state investment, planned growth... But what we have is a corrupt administration sustaining itself in power by animating a corpse.

Horses for Courses


We all take our unique place on the spectrum from neuro typical to raving mad. At times we shift our position when our lives lead us or we lead our lives into places and actions that trigger exaggerated response. We all know a great deal about this although we may think and speak of it in different ways. Touchy-feelyness speaks of reaching out, feeling the pain, knowing where you’re coming from, stressed out; more formally we may speak of empathy, kindness, sympathy, understanding, anger, or exhaustion; and as we respond to others we automatically assess and adjust to their condition and the effect it might have on their normal position. This response is part of an innate capacity - a theory of mind, what is called social cognition. It permits interaction with the rest of the world in real time so fast that responses can begin even before the concious mind notes them.

There are people so far along the spectrum from the majority cluster of neuro typical, positioned there at all times and moving rapidly towards the other extreme when circumstances other than tranquility confront them, that neuro typical people recognise their difficulties instantly and respond - sometimes kindly and making allowances but, depending on circumstances, sometimes with contempt, or even worse cruelty; always with circumscription at lesser or greater levels.

We pick up deviance and measure it consistently and irresistibly ; it is our nature. Sometimes it does not matter; sometimes, it has been argued, specifically for this kind of difference there are benefits where narrowness of focus, high detail attention and the imposition of logically constructed models onto very diverse data is required and contributory.

What spectrum position does political leadership call for? The fastest, universal understanding of complex, and differently ordered and weighted, inputs; intuitive grasp of the slightest of given signals in face to face contacts; the ability to construct diverse scenarios and imagine outcomes; infer hinterlands of reasons and aims; the capacity to understand - not to construct a model of others’ behaviour derived from a list of recognised inputs for a set of situations and generate a model specific response - to understand and respond to another’s viewpoint.

When we see for ourselves, on the national and international stage, a candidate for our highest political office ungroomed, unkempt, ill-dressed, unable to control the most florid symptoms of obsessive behaviour, and we are told by ranking officials, by civil servants who of their professional nature are the most discreet of people, by political colleagues who have every interest in promoting their party, that what we see displayed publicly is privately more and worse displayed in every aspect of official and private interaction, then we must speak out.

Horses for courses.

Gordon Brown cannot be a politician at the level of a country’s leader in a pluralist democracy.

What he would be is what he is; and he is the stuff of a dictator.

Friday, 27 April 2007

A community school demanded by a community

The Holborn and St. Pancras Secondary School Campaign is organised by parents and families living south of the Euston Road in the three Camden wards of King's Cross, Bloomsbury and Holborn & Covent Garden, who need a secondary school for their children.

King's Cross, Bloomsbury, and Holborn & Covent Garden have a total population of 31,000 : the number of secondary schools is 0. There are approximately 262 children of secondary school application age (Year 6) living there. That's just this year’s secondary intake.

It is chilling that education, regarded as available, if inadequate at many levels is, in truth, not even available to children living in central London. What might be going on in the rest of the country ? Does anyone have collated details on the denial of schools to such large and motivated communities; and worse, to smaller and more deferent areas?

What follows is taken from their admirable campaign.

Camden council's own figures show that there is a real need for a school here. The Secondary School Places questionnaire gives the following results although, as it was inadequately worded and circulated, the response was very poor across the borough as a whole (only 510 of the returned questionnaires were filled in , or returned, correctly).

There are also grave concerns about the way Camden’s parental survey on secondary school places was distributed. For example:
the Thomas Coram Children’s Centre in King’s Cross was not sent its copies until the Council was contacted and demands made that they be couriered over – 3 days before the closing date.
Many residents report that Your Camden, in which the survey was distributed, never reached their homes.
Furthermore, despite reassurance that the Council would look into ways of contacting local residents whose children don’t attend Camden primary schools, nothing has been done. Camden then argued 'the very small number of responses when broken down to ward level means that this data should only be interpreted with caution'.

Nevertheless, some key points from the survey show:
parents specifically mentioning the need for a new school in Camden, and of these 81% favouring a school in the south of the borough.
In Holborn and Covent Garden, only 13% of parents said they were very or fairly confident that their child would be able to attend a Camden secondary school.
Again in Holborn and Covent Garden, the biggest factor prioritised by parents when choosing a secondary school was distance fom home. This was far higher than in other wards and reflects the fact that distance is what prevents Holborn and St Pancras children from getting into Camden schools.

If a child doesn't have a sibling already at secondary school, and isn't a Catholic girl, s/he has a 1 in 4 chance of getting into a Camden secondary school. Almost all the children who do get a place in a Camden secondary live in the King's Cross ward, part of which (at the moment ) falls into the SCCS catchment area.

These findings, based on Camden's own data, demonstrate the ‘massive need and desire for a secondary school to be built south of the Euston Road. The tipping point is here and now: if a site can be bought with capital receipts from part of the Swiss Cottage site, a school can be built. We just need to make sure that this is the conclusion reached by our elected representatives on the Council's Executive.’

One of the governors of Swiss Cottage School has said that the Governing Body (and the nearby residents) are so unhappy about having a secondary school built on their site they have had a meeting with councillors and officers. At this meeting they offered that, rather than build on their site, 2 of its 5 acres could be sold, releasing (they estimate) £40m. Then the council could purchase a site for a school elsewhere in the borough, the special schools could keep their site, (and wealthy neighbours wouldn't have noisy teenagers anywhere near their homes, this last was actually stated) .

Ian Patterson (head of BSF) has confirmed that this offer has been made, and that the council will be commissioning a valuation of the site (and the Eastman site in the Gray’s Inn Road). However, he emphasised that although, 'in theory', money raised could buy the Eastman, this was by no means the only option, and that 'there is still a need in the north west of the borough'.
An interesting meeting with Professor Malcolm Grant, Provost of University College London and the Vice- Provost Michael Worton revealed that they approached Camden council over a year ago with their plan for a UCL sponsored secondary school within walking distance of UCL, whose main site is in Gower Street but whose campus is also in the area of the Eastman site in the Gray’s Inn Road.

There have also been meetings with Tom Peryer, Director of the London Diocesan Board for Schools to discuss his ‘stated desire to build a secondary school in Camden. In both meetings we presented our document: The case for a new secondary school south of the Euston Road.’ This booklet was originally produced for meetings with the DfES in December 2006 but has since been distributed to all chairs of governors of Camden schools. It will soon be available on the campaign website. It contains all current research on pupil numbers, the make up of the community, the position on access to surrounding schools, and evidence of the huge amount of new housing planned in the area.

Further meetings with the DfES have been arranged.

Camden Council has promised to carry out a feasibility study on the Eastman Dental Hospital site. In the meantime 6A Architects of Orde Hall Street have generously donated their time and expertise to the campaign and have begun a detailed study of the Eastman.

The need and demand for a school in the area, has been proven clearly, often, and for decades. Crucial for the community and the secondary school is the provision of a site by Camden council.

Once this is achieved, the issue for local families will be what kind of school it will be, particularly in relation to its admissions policy. All that is needed and wanted, as has been said always, is ‘a school down the road, open to all families living in its radius. This is equivalent to the admissions structure of the traditional LEA run community school.’

However, all the current signs from central and local government suggest that a community school will not be on offer in their ‘Building Schools for the Future’ plans. So, what new model of school could be created to ensure that the community has a real say in its admissions policy and governance ? It is of the essence of this community that any new school should be inclusive and accessible to all their children.

There are Parent Promoted Trust Schools (Elmgreen in Norwood is a recent example). If, as the recent Education Bill states, the Council has to open up the building of new schools to competition, this would mean that local parents representing the community would have to form a trust which would potentially compete against other organisations wanting to start a school in the area. The forming of such a trust and the setting up of a school would be an enormous responsibility for the parents involved.

The core campaigners think there are enough committed parents ‘out there willing to go one step further in this fight for the educational rights of local children.’ They ask the community ‘what do you think about parent promoted schools?’ and request emailed comments and suggestions to the campaign website.

They ask ‘If you are a Camden parent or governor, please make sure that your governing body discusses the campaign. All Chairs of Governors have been sent information. If the governors support the campaign they ask them to ‘let Camden know that any new school in the borough should be south of the Euston Road.’

They have called a CASE, (the Campaign for State Education) consultation meeting on Camden’s plans for its secondary schools with Frank Dobson MP, Glenda Jackson MP, Professor Malcolm Grant (of UCL) and Camden’s executive councillor for schools among the speakers. They have organised press coverage for the campaign.
They can be contacted here:
Contact us:
The Campaign for a Secondary School in Holborn and St. Pancras

It is heart-warming and salutary to see this kind of motivated, competent, clear-sighted, organised insistence. But if the provision of state education has come to this then heaven help the hindmost.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Schools and our world

Transmitting knowledge and culture from one generation to the next is a constant and universal activity. Schools do not stand as islands in the sea of everyday life. The undertaking is simplified when there is homgeneity in the matter to be transmitted and agreement on the means which, at the moment, there is not. It is known now that learning is more effectively undertaken between the ages of 4 and 11 (more or less). After that we still learn but the way in which we learn is set not so much in stone as in the organisation of our brains. There are no arbitrary cut-off points for learning but earlier is different and often easier than later, at least for groundwork skills in central subjects.

Schools are essentially for formal learning; they are not substitutes for the social absorption of life skills and pragmatic understanding which are acquired, necessarily, in everyday life. Certainly schools build upon these things by instruction, that is why homgeneity in earlier acqisitions is so helpful - but not essential.

Formal learning and the instruction that enables it is not an egalitarian undertaking or experience (as a music teacher of impeccable socially egalitarian principles advised an overly creative pupil). ‘Do as you are told’ from master to pupil is not a request but a requirement for learning at all. The evidence for this is reinforced when considering the subjects that are taught in schools. Mathematics, music, foreign languages, grammar, art, all of the sciences are best taught early and by imposition of fundamental principles to be absorbed before any experimentation in application takes place. This is true as well of any decent teaching in literature , history, or any other interpretive study. There, too, the rules of rhetoric need tobe known before they are flouted. An education requires submission and acceptance of discipline, in itself a very good reason why such a practice should be confined within schools.

A school exists within a building, but it is not necessary for all activity within that building to be a school . Many of the undertakings currently regarded as ‘school’ should be offered, but not compulsory, and outside of the work that a school undertakes. There is ample evidence of the way this works. In Italy, for instance, the school building opens at 8 am and lessons start at 8.10. They continue until 12.30 for under elevens and until 1.40 for older pupils. There is one 20 minute break mid-morning. After school, where lunch can be taken, there is supervised homework by tutors, and activities from sport to the furthering of interests and hobbies, that can be enjoyed there; or pupils can leave for home and use their afternoons as they choose (school homework remains an obligation not lightly ignored.) Working parents know where they stand, and children from all backgrounds can access all kinds of activities. Schools are essentially of their community, for the journey to school should be autonomous from a reasonable age, building, inter alia, all kinds of other links.

A school physically set within a surround of social and community services can impose its need for discipline and respect for teachers, while the hardness of learning is ameliorated by meeting locally determined needs - be they instruction in the language of instruction itself, childcare for older children, group activities, advanced teaching in some disciplines, and even a place of tranquility and safety for those from troubled homes.

The very nature of acquiring an education requires a central core of disciplined acceptance of teaching, and it is this that is sinking beneath the confusion of objectives that our schools are bearing.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Education etc.......

King's College London is in the Strand. It has other campuses across the river but the Strand is where it is. The King's College Parenting Unit has just been awarded £30 million to assist parents in learning how to bring up their children. Government ministers have underlined the importance of singing nursery rhymes and reading stories to offspring, and classes in doing this will be arranged with tutors at the university, well-versed, no doubt, in what is to be sung.

The area south of the Euston Road as far as the river, Holborn and St Pancras South, in Camden, has no secondary school whatsoever. There are hundreds of school children who, on completing their primary education, are without a secondary school in the area; they go to the bottom of any school list in neighbouring boroughs, and even Camden itself north of the Euston Road takes only those from King's Cross ward. For decades it has been claimed falsely that there are so few families living in the area there is no need for a secondary school. For decades local families have sought a community school. The community, long settled, is one of the most diverse in London; nursery rhymes are not high on their list of priorities, but in such communities, as is typical, the education and skilling of their children is.

No secondary school in the whole of Holborn and St Pancras South for educating eager and motivated pupils, but thirty million pounds worth of government funding for university tutoring in nursery rhymes and story reading for unskilled parents.

Ready here but not in Camden

The sound of light gunfire took me to the windows overlooking the church square. There was the owner of the local grocery shop, crouched in the vicolo behind the house opposite, shooting pigeons as they failed to find footholds on ledges fitted with pigeon repelling wires. He remarked later to a household shopper that we needn't worry as he wouldn't hit the house. I thought 'couldn't hit a house' was an insult in shooting circles but clearly 'wouldn't hit a house' is a sign of skill.

There's a robust attitude to gun and other arms -law observance in this part of the world. Some time ago there was an amnesty for undeclared arms (various) and on searching the building (ever-suspicious of the strain of individualistic behaviour that sleeps, and often wakes here, through the centuries) I found, 1 bayonet (used, horridly, by the look of it), 1 long, curved sword which I would call a scimitar (used, positively viciously-nicked from top to bottom of the blade), 4 duelling swords of various thicknesses (used, possibly only in sport, but who knows what the house inhabitants might define as sport?) a carabina case which, worryingly, had no carabina inside, where is it?, and an air gun (new, unused, thank goodness the grocer is doing the honours across the square).

So I put them all in a safe place, deeming the missing carbine to be in a safe place already, except for the duelling swords which are looking decorative in a stanza del terrazzo .

Once the arms had been declared to be in the house there was no requirement to hand them in; just so long as it's known they are there, they said.

I didn't declare the Landrover Defender, even though its booklet describes it as tried, tested and approved in use by armies throughout the world.

chocolate files

My files are like a box of chocolates without the centres leaflet; once I've bitten into each one to find out what's inside I'll post again. Sigh.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Same old New

The echoes of early and mid 20th century propaganda and press control heard in the last ten years are worth commenting on. It is as if there has been a style indulgence in secretly admired regimes, accompanied by an assumption that the rest of us would not notice the similarities and derivations. Words and phrases that come from comment pieces and ministerial announcements suggest the past that is being drawn upon now for practice and for imagery.

The word 'new' has risen again as a marker for authoritarians, their achievements, and their goals.

Monday, 23 April 2007

Choices and an English parliament

It is St George’s day. Raedwald has posted that there can be no further delay and that it is time to establish a parliament for England, regrettable as the consequences may be for the union of the United Kingdom. What follows are my thoughts on this.

Many might make the observation that in the counties of Ulster, 6 making up Northern Ireland, and 3 part of the Republic of Ireland, there will be a generational, demographic shift that will unite Ulster in one region of the European Union. This view is strengthened by a glance at the Irish EU regional map. Ancient Ulster waits to take its place in the Europe of the regions, and is not part of these thoughts on an English parliament.

What of the mainland? There are different answers that depend on whether the United Kingdom remains in the European Union or withdraws in the face of a constitution too far.

Should we remain then the form of UK governance calls for regionalisation; but not the regions as they are now. English local government needs to be wholly rethought, and the European Union driving policy of subsidiarity whole-heartedly accepted by the most highly centralized governance in Europe. There will need to be regions embodying the natural divisions of the kingdom, wrought by geography, economic structure and historical and cultural bonds. This last implies more than one region both in Scotland and in Wales, and more than nine in England. It requires democratic answerability, with all levels of government elected; and it requires the passing down of democratic choice and responsibility to the lowest possible level consonant with responsiveness to people’s wishes, effectiveness, and efficiency. Germany and Italy are just as fractious as the United Kingdom, their unifications more recent, and yet their national unity is well-served by self-identifying regions with real local power.

Another response is to remain within the European Union and try to exploit the anomalies generated by the policies of regionalisation to achieve the entrenchment of the last statist, authoritarian power outside of North Korea and Cuba. Apart from any other objection to the status quo, for that is where we are, Scotland and Wales might find that European entry statuses and requirements are harder to achieve than their nationalist factions pretend; the European Union has no desire to enable separatism within member states.

Were England to establish a parliament, abandoning the Scots and Welsh to their assemblies’ care, it should choose to leave the European Union.

London is a globalised economy hotspot; its hinterland, as well as the collapsed former heavy industry areas, and no- remaining manufacturing industry areas, are carried by the wealth it generates. It can be thought of as a far greater and richer version of, for instance, Singapore. English-speaking and lying off the coast of Europe, with such unmatchable economic and financial markets and services, it is an independent, immensely wealthy state.

London is the English state. London has the capacity and the interest to build upon the threads of empire that lie neglected by the incomprehension, revenge against thatcherism, redistributive authoritarianism, dead ideologies practice of the last 10 years, and the false conciousness (forgive the usage but here it fits) of Blair's lickspittle warmongering. An English parliament would serve and advance the interests of this state, and truly enrich its members in contrast to their relative impoverishment (again forgive the usage but again it fits) and the tax ‘farming’ that has been endured in this vaunted economic regime for a decade. London is the prize that Brownites will grasp unless an opposition wakes up to prevent it. And all that wealth generation will be used to cement their power.

What would I choose? Now that it is set out as it is here, the first option - remaining within the European Union, recasting local government, and preserving the union of the United Kingdom, while seeking to rebuild commonwealth strengths and co-operation. My family is as much mainland European as it is British and Commonwealth, and they come first; there are, too, great difficulties and sadness in dismantling the United Kingdom; and there is much to fear in the idea of an English state and its alliances, foreign policies and the construction of its post-imperial relations.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Promises and rules

The Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe was signed by plenipotentiaries of all European Union member states on 29 October 2004 in Rome , and was intended to come into force at the end of 2006, after ratification by constitutional procedures in each state. Essentially it is a codification of the Treaties of Rome (1957), Maastricht (1992), Amsterdam (1997) and Nice (2001). Amsterdam and Nice crucially modified Rome and Maastricht ; it is these two treaties that have shifted the balance from popularity, through acceptance to rejection of the nature of the European Union in France and the Netherlands. In the United Kingdom it has never been either popular or acceptable to the majority of the people.

Ratification has occurred, or procedures are completed, in 18 of the EU states, some solely by constutional procedure, others by referendum as well, both required and advisory. An advisory referendum rejecting the Treaty is almost as effective as an obligatory referendum. This is why there will be no more advisory referendums on ratifying the recast Treaty . In France Sarkozy has said as much; other candidates have not, yet. What the Dutch will do is not clear, but France and the Netherlands are the only crucial players from the old- established continental Europe membership who have not ratified; others are on hold since this refusal, and until the recast Treaty is settled.

The largest, Poland, seems confused in that the government is promising a referendum on Poland’s joining the Euro when accession to the EU by new states requires conformity to EMS standards prior to qualifying for required Euro entry; if the Polish government thinks it can behave in any other way because of an internal referendum they are wrong. This confusion overflows into how ratification of the Treaty will be handled. Ratification in all the other states seems to be likely, if at times reluctant, and reluctant for a variety of reasons - there is no united opposition to any central purpose of the Treaty.

What of the United Kingdom? The Treaty has been signed in 2004. A consultative referendum on ratification was offered by Blair because in the Lords there was a majority made up of anti -Treaty Conservatives and pro-Treaty Liberal Democrats determined to have one, and ratification could have been held up enough to allow the intervention of the 2005 general election. This, propelled too by the desire to put Chirac in difficulties, leading to a referendum disaster in France that Blair did not expect, immediately followed by a knock on effect in the Netherlands, has wrecked Blair’s Europe policies.
Blair’s overwheening personal ambition and unthinking political incompetence, coupled with Brown’s ridiculous 5 tests to avoid the UK economy being subjected to the strictures of Euro qualification and his chancellorship scrutinised against real measures of its success, have caused profound alterations in the European Union’s view of the United Kingdom. There will be no turning back on the Treaty; it is sustained to all intents and purposes as it was precisely because it has been signed and ratified by the majority of members, and France will recover its senses after the May elections, followed by the Netherlands. Germany (and preceding EU presidencies) have been put to unnecessary, time-consuming repair work when there is much to be done on today’s globalised structures and relations both within and outside of the European Union. A beneficial effect is, perhaps, that the Treaty has been stream-lined and made more efficent and less concerned with external pomp.

A little-regarded measure introduced under the Treaty on withdrawal from the Union avoids any need to renogotiate the Treaty, obviates any violation of Treaty commitments and , after 2 years of discussion, if there is no agreement,provides for the erstwhile member-state to leave anyway. That can cut both ways.

Blair’s administration has promised to hold a referendum on this Treaty, but that promise has now been broken. There has been a promise to submit the Treaty to debate in Parliament and acceptance there before ratification. The ratification of treaties in the United Kingdom does not require such debate and acceptance. If it is not offered it really is up to the Opposition to force parliamentary debate; but the failure to demand that there should be no change in the government administration and the wholesale shift in policies embodied in Brown’s arrogation of the Blair Labour majority without a general election, is significant.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Devolution and deviousness

Devolution is the word used by government to describe the regionalisation of the United Kingdom. It brings to mind the separate parliament of Scotland and the Assemblies of Wales and Northern Ireland. But there are 12 devolved parts of the UK and it is illuminating to think of 12 United Kingdom regions, each with a regional assembly, of which 4 are elected by proportional representation - Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and London. The other 8 regional assemblies are appointed by central government from a mixture of elected representatives of lower level local authority bodies, community stakeholders (religious, local business, cultural groupings, state-funded various) and rag, tag and bobtail others.

These regions are the product of European Union statistical entities created for the purposes of collecting the data etc., needed for European Union allocations both of statuses and resources. In England the majority have no responsiveness to geographical, historical, economic, social or cultural links. They are a grid.

The largest is the South East followed, in order of size, by: London, the North West, the East, the West Midlands, Scotland, Yorkshire and the Humber, the South West, the East Midlands, Wales, the North East; the last is Northern Ireland which is such a special case it is not part of this post.

The appointed regional assemblies in England have yielded an enormous bonus to central government in terms of party control. Budgets for these assemblies run into billions of pounds of tax revenue returned to the UK by the European Union. We are funding a government administration countrywide network of jobs, investment, cultural allocations, environmental spending and a host of other forms of patronage. The regional assemblies drain power from directly elected local authorities, money is directed to them and diverted from other local authorities, and they have direct connection with the European Union’s Europe of the Regions.

Such an executive power base is not going to be left to any other governing party should there be a general election. Before leaving office the Labour government will activate electoral procedures for the English assemblies under proportional representation, as already exists for London, the only elected English assembly. This will have the advantage of wiping out the importance of widespread losses in the May local elections, and make the case for election by proportional representation to the Westminster parliament immensely strong. The heterogeneous nature of these regions does not aid any conservative, large or small "c", bid. And should there be a Conservative administration in Westminster, it will face elected power in some regions that are bigger than Scotland.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

How it's to be done

When Lenin asked ‘What is to be done?’ he wasn’t expecting an answer from the Brownite faction of the Labour party. Looking about, what they have in mind seems to be:

to divide the Treasury into two.
A Ministry of the Economy and a Ministry of Finance.
A Ministry of the Economy, for those who still believe in indicative planning, that deluded conceit of Mitterand’s France, will further their chance of interfering with markets whose essential mechanisms are outside of their control, thus wrecking potential growth.

A Ministry of Finance will be essentially a tax-gatherer, for fiscal authority will be transferred to an arms' length, 'independent' appointed body, sucessfully removing discussion of tax increases, spending reductions etc. from political scrutiny.

Such independent economic institutions, like the independent Bank of England, will enjoy a permanence of policy and decision-taking that is not crudely interrupted by the intrusion of general elections and their loss.

Thus disembowelled, the Treasury will have few salient powers, and over-arching control for everything devolved, as with all other ministries, will have been transferred to the office of Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury, which title will take on a meaning it has not borne for well over a hundred years.

A Ministry of Justice, accountable at first to the Commons, but doubtless to have an independent and appointed body set up should the legislature show signs of recovery from its apparently permanent, supine position towards the executive, will end the Lord Chancellorship.

The abolition of the Privy Council will deprive the head of state of formal consultation processes outside of advice from the governing administration.

The current inter-relationship between funded think tanks (whether under beneficial taxation regimes or otherwise) providing policy advice, and government expenditures being placed with think tank funders and their nominees will continue to marginalise and extrude the Home Civil Service from its place.

The solution to the inconvenience of answering to the electorate lies in the policy of regionalism. If the structure of regional assemblies is activated for selection of assembly members by voting under proportional representation throughout the UK, and timed to coincide with a general election, then the step to electing the Westminster parliament by proportional representation will have been be made. The United Kingdom is being stripped of its constitutional safeguards and, where it suits, being made to conform to European Union norms, requirements and practices.

The gaping hole where, in Europe, there are written constitutions, penal, and civil codes, all embodying citizens’ rights and duties, defended by constitutional courts and judiciaries spear-headed by investigative magistracies with peremptory powers that would make emperors think twice, is ignored.

We do not want to be as continental Europe is; we have inherited and chosen other paths to a civilised society, in part because it has been our happiness to have never suffered statist regimes, outside of all- out war, and only then when we were wholly united in a common purpose - to defeat authoritarian statism.


Democracy and its fragility

The fragility of democratic structures is often underestimated but reflection will show that bringing about their collapse is frequent and often insidious; there is no need for shock and awe to achieve regime change.

The overpowering of the legislature by the executive has been a feature of constitutional change for decades but the last 10 years has seen a rout. The extraordinary spectacle of the House of Lords in last ditch defence of individual liberty and democratic accountability in the face of onslaughts by an authoritarian Labour administration, Bishops and Lords of Appeal standing shoulder to shoulder with the hereditary peers, shows how unsafe we are. The Lords have been valiant but they are about to be abolished for their pains.

The judiciary, the third support of freedom, is being distanced from government and placed under executive control.

The civil service, whose entire basis is to offer, impartially, administrative form to the policy choices of the governing administration has been debased by the importation of anything- but- neutral staff into governance, an innovation worsened by the placing of representatives from suppliers throughout the spending ministries as advisors on purchasing.

The denial of information, and that in a democratic system posited on a simple vote on a presented manifesto by opposing parties, is undermining all chance to react to what is going on.

Speaking of voting something out at the next general election begs the question of under what terms and under what constitutional arrangements the next general election might be held.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

the state of Denmark

“ We have a government by a party that reinvented itself by being ashamed of its roots and determinedly betrayed the traditions and ideas of its founders. They may well have been right so to do, but they cannot be trusted to hold dear the traditions of others.”, wrote the Earl of Onslow a year ago.

On parliamentary practice:
Labour has ‘.. emasculated the House of Commons by the permanent use of guillotines.’
The Lord Chancellorship ‘..has been neutered, removing a voice of law from the cabinet.’

On the liberty of the subject:
It has ‘..repealed the law on double jeopardy. .. , it has sent to prison some of the young on hearsay evidence for things that are not even criminal.’
It has created a centralised register held by the government on all citizens..
It is its intention to ‘.. force ..[all] to have ID cards.’
It has ‘.. formed a police force with unprecedented powers of arrest - the Serious Organised Crime Agency - over which the Home Secretary has authority no predecessor has previously enjoyed.'
With ‘.. control orders, ..[it has] introduced a system of deprivation of liberty without trial on the say-so of the executive.’
'.. the Civil Contingencies Act.. allows a minister to override any statute after the calling of a state of emergency..’
The Regulatory Reform Bill, ‘..which has been described as 'the abolition of parliament bill' .. gives gauleiter-like powers to ministers ..’
There is ‘..the retention by the police of DNA details of thousands of innocents..'
The amendments to ‘.. the Nationality, Immigration and Asylums Act 2002, [create].. a single-tier appeals procedure which Lord Steyn ..described as ..ousting the jurisdiction of ordinary courts.’
The government has introduced anti-terrorism stop-and-search powers that are constantly being misused ..’.

These facts have been taken from a longer argument addressed to a narrower audience. Yet that '..ancient liberties ..[are] ..the key to the advancement of our fellow citizens.’, and that we should be ‘..jealous of our constitution.’, applies to us all, as much as does, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Coup d'etat

The illegitimacy of Gordon Brown's claim to office has become scandalous. What the Labour party chooses to do according to its ill-drafted, loose-thinking Rule Book is the business of its members, but when such an electorate, governed by such a constitution and committed, many of them, to a dead ideolgy, assert that authority to wield the powers of the Crown is theirs to confer, they are wrong and malign.

They further the scandal by deliberate misrepresentation of the country's Constitution.

At the last general election we had the simple task of looking at the manifestos of the parties offering themselves for office, as well as choosing the individul member of parliament we wanted for our own constituency. Usually the two coincide, sometimes they do not, always we have to choose for the better not the best; yet how the system works is clear and established.

Organic constitutions are just that - they live and alter in response to circumstance but according to their principles. This mediates the nature of the important notion of precedence as a determinant of practice for it reinforces some acts, discourages others as it changes, in itself, over time.

The succession of John Major, who became leader of the Conservatives by widespread Party vote, as a constitutionally valid precedent is grotesque; even at the time many felt a general election was constitutionally required, and this when Major was taking over with the blessing of Margaret Thatcher - her heir, her nominee. James Callaghan's, and every previous, succession to the office of prime minister, was under selection by parliamentary party and private consultation with interest groups alone, resolving factional difference; when faction could not be resolved, precedent actually provides for the outgoing Prime Minister to recommend to dissolve the House and ask the country.

We do not have fixed term parliaments in this country; a glance at the length of parliaments since the watershed of the second War shows that almost half have been much less than 5 years; look further back and some exceed 5 years. There is no restriction on calling us all to the vote to reinforce political advantage, or factional advantage.

Despite the granting or rejecting of a prime minister's recommendation for a dissolution being one of the ' reserved powers' of the monarch no such recommendation has been ignored for over a century; that's true precedent.

Election on manifesto commitment is one of the advantages of first past the post electoral systems. Labour voters won the last general election on a specific commitment to serve the full term of the next Parliament by the leader of the party they were choosing. Never was the generality of the electorate told 'vote Blair get Brown'. The claims that this was indeed understood are rooted in the horrible truth that, to keep the trotskyoid activists and burnt-out socialists (with which the Labour party is still infested despite the Kinnockian boast that he cleansed the stables) on board after the Blairite 'betrayal', the cadres got their instructions and were promised their reward.

Such an enormous alteration in a party manifesto under our electoral system must evoke a general election endorsement. The current attempts to pretend to a policy continuity between Blair's adminstration and a Brown administration are laughable. The outlines of what is intended are seen in various policy discussions that betray a different vision of how we should govern ourselves or, in the Brownite plan, how we should be governed.

Should Gordon Brown and the faction that he leads succeed in seizing power through the majority that the electorate gave to Blair and his policies ( whatever some may think of those) we will never get the chance to vote them out. There will be concentration of power in the hands of the executive, to the detriment of judicial and legislative defences. And the electoral system itself will be altered.

We have no formalized code or constitutional court to defend us because our unrestricted freedoms are not rights, they are what we have until taken from us by executive act or (should we be so lucky after Brown) legislative choice.

Others have pointed, analysed, discussed, warned of all this, of course, and with detail and evidence galore. The long march through the institutions of our country has already had 10 years and might soon be irreversible

Brown's accession would be a coup d'etat.

Monday, 16 April 2007

There will now be a short intermission...

... before I list the blogs I like and the even kinder bloggers who have put Hatfield Girl on their blogs. (Everyone's back to work).

Ivy Compton-Burnett and anonymous commenting

Ivy C-B is the very first blogger. She had no internet but her whole mode of communication is by the spoken word alone. Every persona, every place, every emotion, every crisis, dilemma, horridness, kindness, disaster is told by speech, no description of gesture and scarcely any landscape at all.

Take Parents and Children,

"I suppose my thoughts are nothing to be proud of"
"Then they are different from the rest of you my dear".

We know at once we have a woman and her husband, a dissatisfied woman, and a husband fending off (with skill from experience) her dissatisfaction. Within a half dozen lines she has nine children, a very large house which belongs to her husband's parents, a mother -in -law not yielding position.....

Much of the art of blogging is the creation of persona, and position without any of the tools used in real social exchange.

That's part of why to comment as anonymous is to empty a comment of interest, a random shout from the darkness, an interjection from a non- person.

All of Ivy's commentors are bursting with life and reality.

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Housiness and Truthiness

Housiness is an emotion; we have all experienced it but, like all emotion, it is hard to portray. Enter your house and you feel it. If you are used to living with many others then it is particularly strongly felt when everyone is out. There is the house with the familiar light patterns, scents, furniture like a stage set, and quiet; not necessarily silence, but excluded noise. Often people sit down for a moment and savour that, then set about their inner lives. A friend (with 5 children) once remarked that she didn't want to go on holiday to exotic or fabled places; she wanted all the others to do that and she would go on holiday in her house.

It is well known that elderly people taken from their house and put into ostensibly far better care conditions fade and die. That is not the worst of cases for many simply wither and survive.

So when I look at official housing statistics on prices and numbers and accessibility for diverse age- and income groups, and analyses of low-occupation patterns, and over-crowding, and read of planning to decant populations into new and better dwellings, none of it meets the notion of housiness.

Housiness and its irrefutable claim to recognition also results in people experiencing the social exclusion of finding work in their home area but with no chance of establishing themselves in a house in an independent adult role. It seems reasonable to expect longer or shorter migrations for work, then establishing a house is resolved there, but it is hard to find work but no chance of a house.

I agree there are some problems that have no general solution and can only be left to resolve themselves but this is essentially a small-scale solution, it doesn't resolve the widespread crisis in degenerating urban and transport environments that Raedwald's statistics on gross levels of under-occupation in inner urban areas (and some outer and highly desirable areas) evidence.

All this is worsened, and its solution further distanced, by a malign state fiscal policy that results in disproportionate investment in house ownership to the detriment of all other forms of investment, notably in the production of goods and services, that favours a dysfunctional form of saving.

Brown and his incompetence and unintended economic effects is worth another post.


Thank you everybody who's come to say hello. I wanted my blog to look like Raedwald and Lilith's but at the moment at least my little circles are filling the empty spaces. Pictures soon.

Saturday, 14 April 2007

cooking the lunch and controlling the rawness of nature

Emptying boxes of books must qualify as one of the slowest activities in life; reading quickly as titles catch the eye collapses into sitting on the stairs , into getting a chair, into becoming engrossed by (in this instance) Edmund Leach on how we are like to gods.

We are masters of our situation and it should be the object of learning that we can come to terms with our surroundings rather than obliterate them in panic at the otherness of things.

As he says, "The unique and astonishing thing about human beings is not simply their capacity to analyse the contents of the world around them, but their capacity to create. Every one of us is an artist with you speak you generate conciousness; what you create is yourself. That is a god-like activity."

Our education system is founded on taking things apart to see what they are, and then things are dismantled, or dead, when it should be about putting things together to see what can be created and alive.

Friday, 13 April 2007

former angels

Working class conservatism has been pushed aside by: the ending of apprenticeship systems that provided hands-on teaching in skilled trades; the extension of university -style teaching and qualification to inappropriate occupations; the denial of fiscal support to family structures (whoever, by gender, or culture, or generation is filling the roles that families need to offer to create safe worlds for children to become adults); the collapse of community as housing has become an investment opportunity in the face of staggering taxation levels, even confiscatory acts, on any other kind of private saving; and the determined, ideological assault of the 'trotskyoid' left on the idea of the family as one of the bases of social cohesion and co-operation.

It is easy to disrupt and control dysfunctional, poorly managed, marginalised families; but the assault on the the families of skilled working people and their communities that has been going on for all these decades from the ideological left was failing until globalisation wrecked their economic validity.

The Labour party under Brown is determined to further the statism and fragmentation that results in easier social control even though it is sufficiently ashamed of its purposes to refuse to declare its policies. There is little hope if the Brownite faction cannot be replaced with something that opposes these ends.

The Conservatives have a reservoir of support that has deep roots and can be called out if policies that sustain family, qualification, social mobility, and reasonable aspiration to home and community are offered.

Call for papers

This blog was my Easter present.

I started commenting on blogs as Hatfield Girl because the problems faced (and often overcome) by people from Hatfield were both decried and yet suffered by ever-increasing numbers, and in ever-growing areas.

It is striking that many of the most thoughtful and caring of blogs, deeply concerned with social and economic distress, and cultural loss, and with imaginative and effective suggestions on what is to be done in the face of the unhappiness of society, are from those who state that they are 'right of centre'.

The disabling of our constitution and the destruction of all kinds of true rights and freedoms also shook me as I read what is enacted, and what is planned by the current government. Again, the salient protests were coming from the 'right of centre' bloggers.

Yet I am not right of centre.

Much of what has been offered by Hatfield Girl to other people's blogs is the result of vivid discussion, not mine alone. I felt, too, that it is trespassing on other blogs' generosity to continue to comment but offer no forum.

Posts will sometimes be mine, and sometimes from guests with particular skills and specialisms. Comments are most welcome from all who are experiencing or familiar with whatever the post discusses. Some of the posts will be quite long, but then, some arguments are complex.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

What is socialism? A guest post from Caronte

A socialist economy, i.e. characterised by dominating state ownership and state enterprises, necessarily is somewhat short of democratic institutions because of the threat of parties wishing to revert to private ownership and free enterprises. To some extent this is true of private ownership market systems, outlawing communist parties and indulging in McCarthyism and staging coups when communists win democratic elections, but by and large a private ownership system can cope with the communist threat maintaining a measure of democracy, for there is sufficient scope for debating issues other than the ownership regime, whereas invariably all socialist systems are more or less authoritarian, with the saving grace of often agreeing peacefully to an ownership changeover when the time comes (Ceaucescu resisted the changeover but was an exception).

A socialist economy as defined above could, in principle, be run as a market economy. Socialist values could be asserted by redistributing the incomes generated by markets, by funding public consumption and subsidising necessities and "merit goods", by following macroeconomic policies of high and stable employment.

Otherwise state enterprises could be made independent and managed by professional managers instructed to make profits in the domestic and global markets, reinvesting those profits where they wish once they have paid taxes, pay out dividends to the treasury and other shareholders if any. This was the kind of model that Oskar Lange had in mind (1936), with planners and managers simulating the functioning of markets; though he ignored the question of managerial incentives and their inclination to distort information to their advantage in relations with planners (making planned tasks easier, by concealing productive potential and demanding more resources than truly needed, etc.).

But you could have actual and not just virtual markets à la Lange; this is the kind of system that prevails today in China, Vietnam and Belarus - though China is no longer committed to equality (its income distribution is much more unequal than in Italy, and broadly as unequal as in the USA); Vietnam has been lucky, benefiting from oil coming on stream when they started reforming; and Belarus is highly dependent on cheap oil gas and material from Russia (and Putin is jeopardising its continued growth by raising the prices of Russian exports to Belarus). All three have unpleasant autoritarian regimes.

A socialist economy run not on markets but on central planning can be much more successful than a market economy in mobilising resources and achieving large scale single or related targets such as industrialisation, military might, space conquest. It is much less successful than a market economy in responding to changes in tastes and technology and foreign trade opportunities, and generally in coping with many competing objectives. Temporarily, multiple objectives can be handled by a priority system, but when there are several priorities the problem arises of how to trade-off one with another; under War Communism (1918-21) everything became a priority, including pen nibs at some point; when everything is priority nothing is, and all is chaos. Relative prices and specific budgetary allocations are a better way of expressing government preferences. Moreover, central planners have a tendency to overinvest with respect to labour available (bringing about over-full employment) and the population's willingness to sacrifice current for future consumption. They have a tendency to waste capital ( what Marx called dead labour, i.e. labour embodied in means of production) in producing objects unwanted or wanted less than others that could be produced. In the 1980s the USSR could go into space but was not able to produce enough soft drinks, pizza, hamburgers, shoes and jeans.

Markets have precisely the very great advantage of being automatic mechanisms for adjusting output to changing tastes, technology and foreign demand, and for adjusting actual to desired productive capacity. In the Soviet type system markets could have been easily introduced, except that 1) communist authorities feared that they would lose power by delegating economic decisions to markets; and above all 2) there was an endemic, permanent state of excess demand in those economies, visible under the guise of shortages (empty shops), queues, waiting lists, and black markets at which goods were re-traded at much higher prices than the official level. This state of excess demand had absolutely nothing to do with the original socialist blueprint, but was the necessary result of authorities keeping prices at artificially low levels for fear of inflation, lower than the level at which the planned and realised quantities of goods would have to be sold to balanced demand (of consumers and state enterprises) and supplies. Instead of fighting inflation by holding money incomes down, raising interest rates, producing more consumption goods, the authorities repressed inflation by decreeing lower than equilibrium prices. Instead of changing the world as Marx wanted, they simply pretended that they had changed it. And as a result 1) people spent inordinate amounts of time queueing and searching for goods, and were very unhappy as a result. "Do you often have queues as long as these?" "No, not often. Only when there are goods in the shops". 2) Markets could not be introduced unless prices were allowed to rise to find an equilibrium. Gorbachev - a great statesman - was a lawyer and neither he nor his hack economic advisors understood this.

In 1990 Nikolai Petrakov, Gorby's Chief Economic Advisor asked what was thought of their reforms and was told that to make them work they needed to raise prices to market-clearing level. He said that did not understand Russians’ hatred of inflation; higher prices were not politically possible. Prices were raised only a little bit, making imbalances greater because of inflationary expectations. Markets could not be introduced and the Soviet type system collapsed, with prices rising by about 1500% in 1992 the first year of the transition (in Poland it was 545% in 1990). The old system now exists only in Cuba and North Korea.


Sunday, 8 April 2007

Easter rising

Bitterly has the thought been fought, with imagination, explanation, historical excuse, a lifetime's commitment, it cannot be denied: Socialism is dead.

The striving towards fairness, impartial justice, the commitment to reason not faith, and to the technological, not use-of-force solution to inadequacies of physical provision (with social provision for diversely occurring vulnerability - youth, sickness, age, disbility), is undimmed. But socialism as it is determined in and by all its nineteeth and twentieth century glory, is history. Worse, by failing to bury what is dead we contaminate everything we wish to achieve for our lives. And provide easy targets for the wicked of the world to deny goals and denigrate achievments that are wholly to be endorsed.

Surveying the dreary deathscapes produced by Stalinism, and all its lesser manifestations from Cambodia through the miserable post 1945 years for everyone east of Berlin, to the (so minor in comparison, but nonetheless deeply repugnant) BrownLabour party, we are defenceless in proposing the good if we associate ourseves with socialism. The self-seeking of apparatchiks and their client-state producing tactics when threatened by democratic votes, subverted everything that wasn't killed.

What is to be done?