Selected Reading (09/11/09)

November 9, 2009 at 9:12 pm | Posted in Misc. | 3 Comments
  • So let me get this straight… it’s a grave insult for a visually-impaired Prime Minister to make a spelling mistake in a letter of condolence, but a newspaper exploiting a mother’s grief in order to attack a man it wants to see out of office is ‘supporting our boys’? Great, glad we cleared that up.
  • Here’s a good question: why did Facebook allow a ‘pro-rape, anti-consent’ group to stay on the site for months?
  • Meet the man who says the United States will start to collapse sometime in the next year. Naturally, the teabaggers are lovin’ it.
  • Over at FP, Graeme Smith argues that more troops will not help in Afghanistan.
  • By the way, if you haven’t been reading David Axe’s reports from his time with American troops, you should start doing so now.
  • David Marquand is an eminent and well-respected academic, but he also moonlights for OurKingdom. This post on the ‘Blair for EU’ fuss is a delightfully blunt dose of reality.
  • Annie Lowery reviews the implications of the Lisbon Treaty on foreign policy.
  • And if four ex-scousers with guitars is your thing, PopMatters is dedicating a week of essays and articles about the music & legacy of The Beatles.
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  1. Are you going to express any thoughts on the collapse of the Berlin Wall? I myself do not blog, so I have an excuse. But I did unleash my wisdom here:

    http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/theanchoress/2009/11/09/ah-the-good-old-stasi/

    Bit of business- I see that you too are from a working-class rustbelt background so maybe you can turn this to use, despite not having been around at the time.

  2. Well, I know you like this Anchoress character, but I think yours is a much more sophisiticated reading of de la Motte’s piece, and I especially like the way you draw parallels with the rise of the far-right all over Europe.

    You’re right, of course, that nostalgia for Communism and/or support for the far right is reflective of the perception that communities in Old Kent Road have either stayed stagnant or regressed whilst the wizards of the free market have stacked their toy hotels all over Mayfair. This has led to a swollen, seething anger for which there are many potential culprits: free-market economics, social policy, European integration, immigration, crime and the sometimes stomach-churning, sensationalised trivialities of politics in the era of rolling news.

    So the libertarians will blame tax & the welfare state, socialists will blame capitalism, nationalists will blame immigration and liberals the lack of freedom of opportunity. But the basic reason for the far-right’s success is that sense of powerlessness, of nothing ever changing for the better, of being marginalised, under-represented & ignored. When you combine grassroots, ‘down-the-pub’ campaigning with a political philosophy which promises a fierce, ‘no bullshit’, iron man state, these people who do think that nothing happens & no one listens are bound to feel that someone finally gets it.

    This is actually one of the reasons I’m interested by the ideas (if not yet the practicalities) of localism. As I wrote in relation to the BNP in Barnsley, the most significant polling trend in the town wasn’t the rise of the far-right, but the fact that this heavily white, working-class town with high levels of unemployment actually hadn’t taken to nationalism as easily as you might expect. In proper local elections, they have mostly struggled to get a look in and have been frequently trounced not just by Labour, but by a political coalition which campaigns on purely local grounds.

    The Barnsley Independent Group have one selling point which the BNP is intrinsically incapable of offering: rather than simply voting for a political party whose complaints & proposals are nationalist and only national solutions, why not vote for someone who’s completely locally-minded and cares more about bus timetables than the toll that multiculturalism is having on poor old Blighty.

    I think this appeal could have implications for governance, too, and I would love to see whether more of the functions of the state could be devolved down to the regions. By increasing local accountability for national issues, you’re less likely to direct your anger at a vast and bewildering estate, and perhaps more likely to catch a bus into town and wave your brolly at someone who speaks a bit like you, knows where you live and – crucially – can do something about it.

    Now, the reply from critics of a more localised politics is that the British people don’t want more localisation, and they may indeed be right: whenever something Bad happens and the ‘Something Must Be Done’ brigade chirps up, they never say that Something Must Be Done in Barnsley or Bradford or Biggleswade – they mean nationally. Whilst I largely agree with the policy response to the killing of Victoria Climbie, was it really a proportional response to a problem which resided in only a handful of agencies? I’m not sure.

    The other critique of localisation is that nobody has yet found a way of doing all those things and that what we’re talking about is more idealised daydreaming than serious reformist politics. At the moment, they are sadly correct, but that’s the reason why these ideas should be developed further.

    One last thing: if we’re not going to radically change the relationship between the individual and the state, could we at least think about ways of improving provision of and access to further and adult education? The latter has diminished significantly under New Labour, and for all the media talk of A-Levels and Universities, a lot of people ignore the centrality of the FE college to the working class communities they serve. If part of the frustration which leads people to the far-right comes from a stultifying lack of progress, it seems we should think about ways of encouraging more people to get that C in GCSE English or Maths which they never got at school, but now – older and more responsible – would probably be able to pass with easy. We used to do adult education very well back in the day, and it improved a lot of lives as a result. It’s time to find ways of restoring it to prominence.

    And yes, that was probably far more than you were initially hoping for. Sorry!

  3. No, I’m glad to get some business, as much as I can’t do it justice by responding properly :)

    I was in fact thinking along “localist” lines, as I said in a comment on the same blog, inspired by some “developments” in Stoke.

    http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/theanchoress/2009/11/09/london-1927-in-living-color/ (I had to say “row houses” because apparently terraces means something different in America & would give the wrong impression).

    Yes, yes, that’s more a trip down memory lane than a policy statement- not that there’s anything wrong with that, we need to let our hair down sometimes & not think about whether a think tank would publish every word we utter. (Plus, I didn’t watch it myself as I haven’t got a TV but I am told The Hairy Bikers went to the aforementioned shop).

    A further thing that weren’t touched on was that in Russia, in particular, the transition was hideously botched by neoliberal ideologues, promoting the inevitable reaction. So while I’m sure out of touch middle class leftists have done a few wrongs, so have out of touch middle/upper class conservatives.

    I think some of those commentators are giving me quite a hard time, possibly because I’ve never been too assertive or had a great deal of stamina, but I wonder whether they are right with regards to the fact that it took someone like Reagan, scorned as an impractical dreamer, rather than self-styled realistic men of the world (of whom I suppose Larison is the best representative in this day & age).


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