What is Islamophobia, and why should it be taken seriously?

This was a question I felt was raised by a post from a respected Facebook friend ( know, get new subjects…) who seemed to be in agreement with the attitude taken by some liberals that ‘Islamophobia’ is a term used unfairly for those with a problem with Islamic religious beliefs.

It isn’t, and that’s why it’s controversial. My friend used the argument that:

‘Islamphobia’ is a dangerous concept – not a valid one.

So I asked him:

1) How can a concept possibly be dangerous? 2) What do you even understand the concept to be? I understand it to be discrimination against people who are Muslims, rather than criticism of Islam.

He responded:

“The idea that criticising or challenging a belief – or even the possibility of circumscribing the activities of people who believe something for perfectly sensible reasons – is an ‘ophobia – that is a very illiberal position.”

A lot of liberals would disagree with that statement on the basis that it ignores discriminatory prejudice. Most socialists would too, because it ignores the concrete scenario, which includes physical attacks against Muslims and the like, as part of the main ‘prejudice narrative’ of the modern right.

He continues:

I detest the idea that women are urged to dress in all-covering tarpaulins. I think that people who urge women to dress in this way are stupid vicious thugs. I think people who make the argument that its a cultural choice need to go away and consider just how wrong they are. Does that make me an ‘Islamophobe’?

I don’t understand it to be discrimination against people who are Muslims any more,than I’d claim to be a victim of Socialistophobia (even though It explains very clearly why I’m not in charge of the CBI). What you’re referring to, I understand as ‘discrimination’. This is a summary of what the article says.

So I thought it was right to challenge my friend.

“It’s not the challenging of belief that’s Islamophobic though, you’re ignoring my point. It’s discrimination against those who hold it, in both hard and soft forms.

Hard example, ‘fuck off Muslims, go back home‘, or using it as a proxy for brown-ness (since when was ‘brown’ a ‘race’ anyway, it’s simply a common appearance aspect between a number of minorities – not unlike faith). Would you honestly not have a problem with the statement above?

In softer forms, disproportionately targeting Muslims but not other faiths, generalising with the intent of demonising a group of people ‘they’re all terrorists‘, or even more common, ‘Islam is a backward faith‘ (as if faith doesn’t include individuals with different viewpoints).

What about deliberate offence? Is it anti-Semitic to deliberately feed a Muslim (or a Jew) bacon, or is it ‘legitimate criticism’?

It’s evident to anyone that the attitudes above are prejudiced ones, and ones that either deliberately attack or discriminate either because of faith, or using faith as a proxy for race or barbarism.

“I don’t understand it to be discrimination against people who are Muslims any more,than I’d claim to be a victim of Socialistophobia”

Get a lot of people spitting at you or ripping your clothes off in the street do you?

This is a serious problem which in my view therefore merits being taken seriously. The narrative that ‘Islamaphobia=simply criticising religion‘ is a massive red herring thrown by bigots to get liberals running the other way – away from confronting said bigots.”

That’s all I really have to say about that.

I won’t bother with the tarpaulins point.

People get to decide what to wear in this society, and they also get the legal right to speak about it one way or the other, including their view on the appearance of others. Whilst we’re defending liberalism, let’s remember these things, eh…

Labour’s relationship with Thatcherism

I thought Stephen Bush’s piece in Progress was provocative and well argued, so I also thought it warranted a quick reply.

His basic claim is that ‘Labour ended Thatcherism’.

This is patently not true – the Progress deity Tony Blair himself disagrees with it in numerous bits of writing and his own tributes. And he led the bloody thing, after all.

But neither is the idea that New Labour was exclusively Thatcherite, because although Stephen’s article goes too far in declaiming and end to Thatcherism, it does make some good points.

Much of what New Labour achieved was at odds with Thatcherism, if we take that to mean an unrelenting class struggle, where the cost of everything to the wealthy is the supreme decider. Blair spent a fair bit of money on schools and hospitals (though he does seem rather keen to blame all this ‘excess spending’ on ‘Old Labour’ Gordon Brown – a hilarious label – now that it’s after 2008 and Blair still has John Rentoul to please). Nevertheless, the value of this spending cannot be denied, nor the fact that the most obvious inheritors of Thatcher wanted to cut it. Blair also introduced limited trade union recognition rights and some basic employee protections, it should be remembered.

On the other hand, when you evaluate the whole strategic effect, the objective results of New Labour, the point remains – firstly it failed to reverse the tide when that was the real challenge. Secondly, it failed to build a sustainable project, i.e. one supported by movement as well as country. What has not yet been repealed or overcome is simply because of the lack of legislative time more than anything else.

Opinion in the population is soft against what Thatcher represented, because unlike the right, the left had few powerful advocates – most Labour politicians of the era spent their time arguing against the left instead of the right, because that’s where they saw the short term career gains. The long term and solid progress of Labour’s cultural values was not given strategic priority.

The root of Labour’s failure to ‘end’ Thatcherism does not lie in an enthusiastic embrace, but in a much more tacit acceptance – the refusal to discuss anything concerned with reversing it.

The validity of this, however partial you may consider it, can’t be denied.

Secondly, there certainly was some limited actual buy-in to proper Thatcherite modes of thinking. As one example, the mode of public service ‘reform’ was based on part-privatisation and consumer accountability, rather than democracy, localism or mutuality. This was prefigured upon the dual ideas firstly that the state has reached the limit of its efficiency and social contribution, and that the market was generally a preferable method of accountability and delivery to democratic structures. This assumes of course that this was all put together on the basis of accepting the policy premise rather than an opportunistic political one – not that this would detract from my point at all.

These notions satisfy two tests. Firstly, they are proactively Thatcherite. Secondly, they were pervasive under Labour in government, and general trends of direction – towards conservatism.

Together with the more pervasive tacit acceptance, this is Labour’s part in the continuing hegemony of Thatcherism, which endures despite Ed Miliband’s occasional attempts to edge the frame leftwards.

So I think it’s right to say that Thatcherism survived, albeit in a more humane form, for a very temporary period.

We still might not be in a position to roll the whole lot back. But given that in large part the industrial imbalances it created left us vulnerable to downturns, both the left and right of Labour can now find some unity over this key strategic plank, the rebalancing of industry.

How far Labour can go in rolling back the rest will depend if it can win an election, and what pressures are acting on its leadership if it does. Perhaps it’s time to critically engage, and set about creating a left conception of what ideas like a ‘One Nation’ society or ‘predistribution’ might look like in practice. God forbid that this is left to the party’s short-sighted and sectarian hard right.

Beyond that, we still have a philosophy to reverse, and need a viable and rooted one to replace it with.

How I feel about Iraq

A journalistic acquaintance, Rowenna Davis, is writing something about how people feel about the war on Iraq and subsequent long occupation. For me this is a generationally defining issue, and separated people my age, broadly Blair cynics, from the earlier optimistic Britpop generation.

How do I feel?

It made me a lot more critical of the Labour Party, despite being a member. It made me feel that rather than just going through a phase, its values and existence in the long term were under a dark and permanent threat.

In terms of the rest of it, it was like seeing a Vietnam in my generation, but without the same level of permeation in society. At least in Vietnam they were allowed independent photographers – in Iraq the press relentlessly censored itself and continued to take the line from the people behind it until it was far too late.

This helped to add to the preexisting sense that we were already being deceived about the reasoning behind the whole thing – though of course the non-discovery of non-existent WMD, and the sudden changes of story from the Government hardly helped.

Most of all, the feeling is one of ongoing torture. Robin Cook and those who were more bold in their criticisms were right all along, and given the lead up, you had to be a pretty gullible person not to get that way before it happened.

The initial deaths, the shock and awe, Fallujah, and the countless loss of families to the insurgent battles… the torture and the cover-ups. The partly resulting rampant Islamophobia that still infects our national politics. They were all preventable, and the left said so from the start.

The feeling of having called it right hasn’t changed day since, but has become more and more frustrating to carry given that it has meant people dying.

Whatever he did about school repairs and the minimum wage, in my mind Blair’s treachery on this issue is one that will never leave the way that I think about politics. It is something that has shaped me and my understanding. For those actually affected, living and dead, rest their souls.

A not so quick thought on deals in politics

Anything to avoid using that picture with Bono…

This is a bit of an abstract thought process about being practical, but hear me out.

You get some interesting perspectives in the Socialist movement. I suspect that some of these go back a hundred years or more. Should social democrats join a bourgeois government, for example?

The automatic response of most people who accept the terminology tends to be ‘no’. While this is also my emotional inclination (and there is no way I would ever let myself get mugged off like Ramsay MacDonald), I am nevertheless opposed to automatic responses. Bad way of thinking. Or to rephrase, of not thinking.

I don’t agree with doing deals with Tories unless it stops Fascists or organised bigots of some kind. I don’t agree with doing deals with Nazis full stop. But apart from that, I pretty much feel that people in the labour movement should give others open consideration.

Deal, you say?

The biggest, toughest deal in politics has to be the Good Friday Agreement.

Consider how far ‘physical force’ Republicans in particular have some since the Easter Rising. A century of bitter conflict, most of which has been very local and community based to the North. But who seriously denies that in their weakened state and with the potential for a long-term strategic upswing, they should have avoided dialogue with unionist and the British Government, or that after this they should not have signed up to Good Friday? Should the IRA really still be bombing pubs?

In politics anyone at some point has to consider offers they are made by opponents.

I think this should be done in a way that weighs up the actual material case for and against, rather than simply relying on old slogans and the desire to fly a flag.

Often, having the maturity and emotional discipline to do this ends up being key to advancing their cause, or protecting those they seek to represent.

This stuff applies just as well to more banal decisions.

Do we trade slate places for an internal election? It’s amazing how differently people can feel over doing this just as a one off! Should Labour consider a coalition with, say, the Lib Dems, if we are eventually forced to? I think this would probably create an even more annoying split.

In my view, what your slogan or image is has some importance, but it’s normally a very bad idea to leave posturing and gesture as your sole or most important justifications for pretty much anything you do. Anyone can revert to type. Gaining by avoiding it is much more tricky, but much more rewarding.

What the circumstances are and how you can deal with them is usually a far more important question to consider on its own merit than by making it all about whether you have had a decent play to your gallery.

The simplicity of this truth means that your decision always has an arguable justification: whatever image you want to cultivate, in politics, good deals are worth taking, bad deals are not. Sometimes a deal can be good or bad for everyone involved.

This should all be fairly self evident.

In the most common deals (such as red-green coalitions in Nordic politics) there is a clear overlap of interest that mutual working can solve. Great.

Some deals (like the Good Friday agreement) can be good for multiple parties even if they are resolutely opposed, for example Good Friday. This is much rarer, but still possible when the outside circumstances are right.

In this example, both parties needed to end violence. Republicans, whose armed struggle had failed and were at a moment of historic weakness, gasping for breath. Unionists also had a big interest. They had come out better politically before Good Friday was agreed, but had also suffered greatly in the real world, particularly the working class elements of their national-political community.

This party to the agreement needed a period of consolidation for their community and freedom from the terror tactics which sucked their own young men into paramilitary organisations, and killed hundreds of civilians.

Nationalists and Republicans, on the other hand, wanted guaranteed human rights, and end to state oppression, and the long term possibility to realise their shared goal of a united Ireland democratically. They too suffered heavily from paramilitarism, sometimes in collusion with or carried out by the state (side point, but I would argue that the policies of the British state were ultimately responsible for beginning the process, and for exacerbating it on multiple occasions).

For many years within the armed groups on both sides, it was difficult to even steer through a tactical ceasefire, even if it was of clear benefit.

By the time of the deal the conflict itself had created conditions where a deal worked best for both sides.

That has subsequently been allowed to be tested and proven in practice, because both parties were open-minded and mature enough (most of the time) to actually work on the project in good faith. I think both parties were very brave. Being able to do this is an enormously important personal and political skill. It has also been pretty important for people who don’t want to live in a society where waking minutes are ruled by the gun.

Good Friday works. The only losers in that situation are dogmatists and posture politicians – people who don’t have a problem with using their own allies and constituents, regardless of the exigencies of their situation. Unfortunately, this is nothing special.

So, do you deal or not?

Surely it just depends.

MacDonald was a fool. Mitterand was noble but eventually unable. Gerry Adams, on the other hand, was both brave and successful. Same for Ian Paisley. None of these are even the temporary deals that often spring up, but at best semi-permanent ones.

I’m betting the gents in the Irish example felt pretty horrible doing it, on all sides. It was still right.

If you turned up to look like a person with great integrity, letting the appearance aspect (I’M SUCH A FIGHTER’) undermine a real opportunity for your politics is probably something that should be reconsidered. That’s the only way you know if you are doing a bad deal or not.

Political principle is not just about how you look, but about what you do, and even more, what the actual outcome is.

Sometimes, this means saying ‘yes’.

Political bullying in Labour’s youth movement

Those who know me know that I’ve been on an 8 to 9 year quest with various others to democratise a lot of the youth movement of the Labour Party bit by bit. I’m a boring man.

I believe in this in principle, but for the most part it has been to guarantee that leaders are a bit more careful to build a culture both of respect and of open political debate.

There have been successes and failures, but I’ve never really explained to anyone the history of it, or my own emotional motivations.

I guess that’s a really long story and should probably be spread over a couple of other posts some time in the future. I’m now 27, out of the youth movement, though I am still to my own knowledge one of the oldest people from the party left with a day to day interest in it. I’ll write some longer nonsense about it when I can be bothered.

I think there are remaining structural problems, and really deep, difficult issues of rotten political culture in the youth movement – which is sad, because we’re meant to be forward thinking people who believe in open and fair politics. Unfortunately it doesn’t really work that way (so neither does the fight for it). It was experiencing these initial problems which started me off.

There is a politics of exclusion against those orientated left of Blairism – this even effects many young people who are broadly from the centre of Labour politics. I’m not saying that Blairites are all like this, please note. But, I guess when a given ideology has a serious intellectual side and an insubstantial side which simply smiles and denigrates, followers are left with big choices as to how they behave towards others.

This culture still often manifests itself directly as a bullying culture, and worryingly is often even tolerated by young politicos who make their own names representing people from ‘liberation caucuses’, i.e. under-represented or traditionally marginalised groups. That kind of experience with inclusion and empathy issues sadly doesn’t usually seem to make all that much difference.

Worst of all, this bullying political culture has often been “endorsed n’ enforced” from the top of youth movement organisations as a kind of cultural political tactic, especially in Labour Students, which I was a campaigning member of myself for some years. To be fair to Labour Students, this can vary widely with who occupies the sabbatical positions, and it has pluralised a bit since I first came into contact with it.

Young Labour seems a good deal more internally healthy. This is partly due to our own determination on the centre and left to seriously contest elections against establishment candidates, and maintain multiple poles of influence, which helps maintain independence and plurality in YL – but it’s also subject to periodic raids from the largely top-down student organisation.

It’s easy and correct to say that it’s different to bully someone because they are disabled than to do so because they hold certain views.

But does it mean bullying culture (and in particular its promotion) is ever acceptable? And even if it is acceptable – which it is not – is it politically desirable for a social democratic and youth focused organisation? Would this be accepted in a workplace, or a local council group?

Not really – sorry.

At best, it makes the experience of many young people in politics like a shit episode of The Office. At worst, it can be pretty detrimental in ways which are too obvious to explain. In short though, what I’m saying is that it’s sometimes difficult to understand whether we’re talking about a culture of mob stupidity, or one of outright nastiness. That sucks, because actually this should be a place that makes people feel inspired and encouraged.

Basically it’s this simple – go out of your way people feel like crap, and they will probably end up having a problem with you.

Kind of makes me wonder why people like this bother in the first place, got to say.

Anyway, on explaining though, I ramble a bit.

I met someone called Daniel Warham at an Ecosy festival, and he’s written something on facebook which pretty much encapsulated how I have often felt about stuff. It’s better than what I could write, and taps into the natural emotional reaction in a better way than I am any good at articulating – so I hope he doesn’t mind me ripping him off… read on.

- – -

To all the people who want to slag off other people in the Labour Party for being ‘left wing’ – this is an open rant!

FIRSTLY – Stop using the word ‘trot’. Those in the party who are supporters of Trotsky aren’t offended by it (although admittedly, where even are these people), those who hold the same view and are outside of the party don’t give two shits what you say – they have their own beliefs. For all the rest of the people in the party it is terribly annoying and offensive when you mis-represent the views of them and Trotsky in this way. AND YOU JUST LOOK LIKE A FUCKING UNINFORMED IDIOT !!!

Secondly, you talk about uniting the party. About solidarity. About accepting we are a broad church. And that the left just want a factional fight. Well maybe it’s time to take your own fucking advice and stop alienating people.

Thirdly, remember that you have jumped on a band wagon that has been going for less time than you have been alive. You can’t brush 82 years of party history under the carpet because it doesn’t fit your agenda. Like it or not the ideas still held by most of those on the left of the party are fairly close to those the party was founded on. You might not like that. You might not think that is best for our future, but it is our past, stop trying to deny it.

Fourthly, stop trying to suggest anyone in the party who has a traditional left wing view is in a minority. Stop saying we are behind the time, or regressive. Above all stop assuming that your position is the only one supported by logic and reason. Without what you brand broadly as ‘the left wing’ there would never have been a Labour Party !!!!

Fifthly , get your fucking membership card out and let DEMOCRATIC !SOCIALISM! slap you round the face a few times. This is the bedrock of our party. It is what makes me proud to be a Labour Party member. Get rid if that over my dead fucking body.

Pragmatism is not a belief. It is not a plan. It is not a direction. You might want a Labour Party that does things. But so do I. Please stop trying to say you don’t want us to have ideology – of course you do, you just want it to be yours! Stop hiding this fact under the guise of ‘pragmatism’.

Your opinion is not the be all and end all of the party. It’s not your way or the high way. And stop fucking looking down on people if they disagree. It’s rude and obnoxious.

99% of the people who have joined the party on the left are not fucking entryists. Stop saying they are. You look like a paranoid idiot.

Stop being so dogmatic. The strand of political thought you subscribe to is just that, your own subscription. I don’t agree. I don’t want to be told why I should agree. Or that I am an idiot for not agreeing. Stop forcing your politics on me. I don’t want your shit rammed down my neck at every meeting.

I appreciate the left are also guilty of a fair few of these, and no doubt some people will say this post is hypocritical to the point I am trying to make. But there is an unchallenged assumption currently that you can be rude and offensive and exclusionary if your ideas are the ones in favour. It’s wrong. It needs to stop. Only then can we move forward as a united party, working towards our common goal of equality.

Words of peril from the ILO – the European austerity crisis

This morning greets us with this honest (and incredibly gloomy) report from the ILO.

It tells us things that will disappoint two groups of people – firstly the left, and secondly those who think that capitalism has t least some limited potential to continue to offer the broad mass of people a buy-in via higher living standards.

We are now in a situation more serious than the great recession. Paul Krugman calls this a depression, terminology that makes sense. From the perspective here though, I think that the ‘European austerity crisis’ is increasingly the main challenge of public policy. Where before the problem in the public consciousness was the deficit, it will increasingly be austerity itself, as it becomes clear that cutting the state in not mending the banking crisis, the public finances, or providing and kind of social good.

Over half of the young workforce of both Spain and Greece now lies unemployed, despite Greeks working the longest hours in Europe, and both countries needing far more productive hours from workers if they are to close their fiscal gap. In this sense there is a relationship between the deficits and austerity where the solution is now clearly the ongoing source of the problem. A third of the young workers in question have been out of work for six months or more. These people have a personal deficit to manage.

So why all this?

This isn’t about deficits. It’s a political expression of the political power of employers vs their staff. And it’s about creating a reserve army of labour – one that will work for very little, or if unemployed will subsidise them with free forced labour via workfare.

The thing is, it doesn’t make sense for capitalism as a system – in other words, they could be focussing on growing their way out of the crisis and closing the deficit slowly instead.

Austerity measures and uncoordinated attempts to promote competitiveness in several European countries have increased the risk of a deflationary spiral of lower wages, weaker consumption and faltering global demand. In light of the global jobs and consumption deficit, countries should adapt the pace of their fiscal consolidation to the underlying strength of the economy and recognise that short-term stimulus may be needed to grow out of debt burdens.

HMV and capitalism – all that is solid…

I’m sad that HMV has gone under and will result in job losses. I’m sad to lose the doggy logo as well.

Workers and redundant modes of production

But here’s he thing. As socialists, why have we gone for over one hundred years without tackling what we do about models of production, distribution and exchange which are technologically and organisationally out of date?

In capitalism this leads to flawed business models. That’s bad, though some on the left may seek to write this off (don’t even try it if you hold a candle for China though). But even under socialism, models expire. Socialists need an undercutting approach to how this should be dealt with that go beyond reflexive reaction. Because in socialism, when we fail to advance how parts of social and economic life are organised, we don’t just betray shareholders.

What I’m saying is that we should mourn for employees and possibly a bit of commodified nostalgia – but why mourn for HMV itself?

An advance to mail order is probably a welcome division of labour, and better for customers – it would be even more welcome if the state could get these people using Royal Mail.

The second and more important thing to say though, is this. HMV was losing out to superior models. But in reality, how superior are they?

Capital

You see, this wasn’t a fair test. And actually, it seldom is. Capitalism is an arena of competition which imprecisely overlaps an arena of political power, existing economic power, and imprecise dimensions of human behaviour including location and identity. It’s messy. Especially in conditions like our current artificially prolonged stagnation. Stuff goes wrong all the time.

How? Well, have a peek at this.

“All that is solid melts into air” indeed. If I owned a retailer, I would be getting pretty annoyed with some of my fellow owners right now.

So, where now, workers and bosses?

UPDATE

Some other stuff…

The Tories and low pay

Matthew Hancock MP’s article on ConservativeHome is worthy of a little thought and debate. It’s welcome to see a Tory MP talking about the idea of siding with the low paid, bearing in mind that so much of the point behind what their organisation does is detrimental to them.

The Tory Party has steeled itself and committed to a programme of austerity which goes beyond simple cuts. Like most Thatcherite policy, it appears to be based on one single premise: the recipe for regaining national competitiveness is to raise incentives to inequality, and more importantly to raise the rate of exploitation for workers.

What’s meant by the rate of exploitation? Essentially, more work at less ‘cost’, that is to say, less cost to capital. It does of course cost workers more (and arguably also costs more to the wider economy – a tangent I’ll avoid here).

This is part of the reason it’s interesting that Mr Hancock raises the spectre of low pay. One would naturally assume that low pay would in fact be a policy aim. The idea of making it easy to fire workers at the drop of a hat is a key plank of his party’s policy offer, and seems aimed at increasing productivity through the use of fear of punitive action, for example. Reductions to benefits also fit this programme in theory – the whole prospectus is based upon the idea that reducing benefits is more likely to force more people into low paid work (thus increasing the rate of competition in fighting for scraps among those souls at the bottom of the pay scale).

There was of course a time when Tories believed in a ‘One Nation’ ‘consensus capital’ model. Unions were consulted. Increasing pay at the bottom was seen as a good thing – boats rising with the tide of prosperity. They actually understood that fulfilling the desire of the poor to consume (and thus realistically aspire to a more comfortable, fulfilling and healthy lifestyle) was good for economic growth as a whole.

The new right – revolution within capitalist politics

When the shocks of the 1970s sealed the deal of profit declines through the 1960s, many Tories seemed to resort to a tacit acceptance of some of the main tenets of Marxism. Some hallmarks are:

1) Innovation will not be enough to drive the growth of the future. Companies have now reached a ceiling of maximum return (illustrating what Marx labelled as the tendency of the rate of profit to decline). Companies now require subsidy via cuts in taxation and cheap selloffs of national assets if there is to be a healthy private sector.

2) The other source of growth is more difficult to attain, but involves squeezing more out of workers for less in return – hence cuts to out of work benefits, destruction of the influence of unions, use of the reserve army of labour to hold wages stagnant, legislating to increase casualisation, precarity, and thereby what we might call ‘labour market flexiblity’ – or more cynically, ‘things which make it easier to pay us less’.

3) The biggest benefits of these kinds are more attainable at economies of scale for developed, finance capitalist ‘big business’ than for shopkeepers. Empower ‘big business’.

4) The combination of the elements above makes it necessary to break from the Conservative political tradition of ‘One Nation’ ‘consensus politics’, and therefore given the emergent contradictions driven by lower rises profits, capital must attack labour directly and poltically.

All of these are assumptions of Thatcherism, but also themselves based on the observations of Marxism, in the sense of the domestic economy at least. It might be worth adding a fifth point that everything directly productive must be outsourced to low wage economies under authoritarian regimes, e.g. China, and a sixth about the strategic objective of totally gutting social democracy / creating a hegemony of the New Right – both of which shore the whole thing up.

What does this mean about Tory views on low pay?

In short, everything. It leaves us asking questions about the likes of Mr Hancock and the ‘liberal conservative’ wing of the Tory Party. Where are they, politically?

In my view, what looked like a victory for the Heseltine / Clarke tradition of the Tory left in the election of David Cameron was nothing of the kind. It was actually the nail in their coffin. They have now been effectively been replaced with drys who dress as wets, backed up by an insurgent Tory right who see it as their job to seal this deal, and are a lot more perceptive than they make out. As they see it, the Tory Party as a whole has succeeded in gutting Labour – they are now on a mission to rid the Tory Party of its genuine left.

I suspect that part of Matthew Hancock’s motivation is in the utterly transparent ‘strivers v skivers’ wedge that Cameron aims to drive into Britain’s working class as a whole. The idea that Tories are pro-pay is a useful one, because it actually cements in place the proxy-attacks on it they are making by trying to replace workers with welfare claimants who will work for less, or if forced, completely gratis.

This is, of course, nonsense – which is exactly why it needs some diversionary rhetoric.

But secondly, maybe Hancock actually believes what he is writing?

Capitalism is always stronger when the link between effort and reward is stronger, at every level of the income scale. That’s why, in the past, I’ve railed against rewards for failure for the highest paid. Now we must deliver rewards for success for the lowest paid.

This is out-and-out Wilson style social-democratic reformism. It would have been just as at ease in the party of MacMillan or Eden. But the same rhetoric, in justifying the attack on welfare claimants, is part of what is helping to completely throttle that tradition.

Tories on the genuinely moderate wing of their increasingly extreme party are stuck in a confused mental eddy in wider history, and their number is tiny.

They want to move with what they seen as a One Nation style Cameron Conservatism, that actually means delivering better lives for the targets of austerity, whose impoverishment is necessary for austerity to work – the ‘nasty medicine’ that ‘the patient’ ‘must take’.

The offer of a Tory left including Cameron’s platform is completely false – an inherent lunacy. Cameron and the so called moderates of the Conservative Party owe so much more to its inverted-Marxist right than they do to its paternalist left.

If Tories like Hancock (or indeed Heseltine or Clarke) genuinely want a capitalism that raises living standards at the bottom, it would have been necessary to kick up a much bigger stink in a much more organised and factionalist fashion, a long time before now. His article, which is serious and worthy of consideration by conservatives, will amount to little more than a murmur. Sadly, it is a day at the office.

The part of the Tory Party which actually wants low-paid workers to do better speaks from history’s landfill. The worst part? They never even realise they are there.

Pay is stagnant. Living costs are up. Tory policies have exacerbated and encouraged this ongoing process. Usually, they have done so as a deliberate political objective – however nicely Cameron sells it all.

I won’t go into Labour here, but in my view only a well organised and modern workers movement can create a context for reform, now. It could do with allies in Parliament.

This government is one for more hungry children

At the start of Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party, so many of the siren voices of the party right queued up to tell us he wasn’t very good at Prime Minister’s Questions.

This was true – and the same had been true, of course, of the newly entrusted David Cameron. We shouldn’t expect novices to excel at fringe sports.

But these days it’s increasingly hard to make a judgement. Ed’s delivery has improved, and he lays a good trap, as long as he doesn’t fall into his own (splitting his questions).

But the utter failure of this government makes it hard for Ed not to absolutely devastate Cameron.

It is now impossible to tell where Ed being good at PMQs ends, and where the Government being maliciously stupid and arrogant begins.

The long politics of economic dishonesty

The people who now run this whole shebang have been through a series of stages of dishonesty. First, in 2007, when Labour was apparently engaging in a ridiculous overspend, the Tories said they would spend just as much. At least they left us this superb video.

In 2008 they sensed an opportunity to permanently weaken the idea that excellent public services should be an election breaker and announced a full reverse on the position of the spending to fund them. Which is convenient, because generally since the 1970s they have wanted a lower tax burden, weighted towards the well off, rather than to spend public money. Convenient for them then, this juncture!

“BUT”, they told us, “THERE WILL BE NO CUTS TO ‘FRONTLINE SERVICES”. Even by 2010, David Cameron even went as far as to say:

“But what I can tell you is any cabinet minister if I win the election, if we win the election, who comes to me and says, “Here are my plans” and they involve frontline reductions, they’ll be sent straight back to their department to go away and think again.”

And to be fair to him, Brown was saying the same thing, probably dishonestly – but we’ll never know.

Where we are now

At the moment, we’re seeing very high unemployment, we have had a hike in VAT (yet another pre-election lie on the part of both coalition parties), and we are seeing cuts in benefits.

Anyone with an understanding of economics can tell you that both reductions in benefit and reductions in the overall level of employment have depressive effects on wages for those in employment.

Wages have been stagnant for some time, in part as a result of this, and in part as a result of the crippling lack of domestic demand that has also been caused by the cuts. Finally, there is the crash in European demand caused by – yes, you guessed it – economically ruinous cuts. This is topped off by a hike in the main source of flat tax revenue, VAT.

On pretty much every major question of politics, Cameron has placed families into a ‘multiple crush‘.

Food banks are a sure effect of economic failure

Britain has seen a six-fold increase in the number of food banks, many of which are already at breaking point. The resources which they depends on are by means of voluntary philanthropy – not solid earning power, or democratically assured by the taxpayer. It is bad to be in a situation of dependence, but to a certain extent we all depend on jobs, and/or various subsidies. What’s very bad is having to depend on something that is firstly inadequate, secondly possibly temporary, and third, in the gift of somebody else whose decision to withdraw such a gift is not more widely accountable.

The excuses are thick and fast.

First: there is the idea of ‘dependence on the state’ – a Bad Thing for the right, and an occasionally inevitable in real life. Evidence for this as a mass phenomenon is scant and highly questionable where it is available.

Thing is, I have yet to see someone argue why lines of miserable poor people depending on voluntary charity is in any way preferable to them having the economic conditions to work for a living – or failing that, assistance from wider democracy at a local or central level.

The argument about benefit dependency is thus clearly a bogus political priority which is being deliberately repeated, and the only desirable end I can see that being for is distraction for the population and as a wedge issue for the opposition. It deserves challenging far more strongly than Labour do.

Second: there is the much more brazen argument that food banks are better than either a functioning economic cycle of spending and growth, or at least better than a welfare state.

I don’t see how such a point of view is defensible from the point of view of the people who have to use these meagre services. As such, I also don’t see how a net loss to the poor / utter immiserisation is defensible in terms of human compassion or indeed effectiveness – if we’re talking about how we effectively deliver aid. You can’t argue for these on grounds of pragmatism, unless the thing you’re trying to be practical about is making sure people don’t have to pay more tax. If it is, please just be honest?

Third: there are the most stony-hearted smirking jackals of the right – the people who tell us that food banks are, in themselves, a Good Thing. People like this never meet people that have to use them, of that I am convinced.

People arguing from this perspective tell us that food banks are a Good Thing. They confirm Good Things about people and community spirit, they say.

This completely ignores the fact that food banks are a consequence.

Nobody would set them up if there weren’t a lot of people going very hungry.

And remember, six times as many people are now visiting them.

Something has changed, and now something is wrong. I would suggest that at its most worrying it is ‘poor people not having enough money for food’. Not a demanding argument to make.

This is so obviously a direct result of a lack of jobs, a lack of pay, and increasingly a lack of a social safety net to make up for it – something the individualists of both blue and yeller seem to welcome with some glee, as if starving someone to play out your worldview is somehow not reprehensibly self-indulgent.

Food banks are to a healthy society and economy what wounds are to healthy flesh. It takes an especially ignorant and opportunist kind of person to smile at how marvelous it is that the blood sometimes clots.

Fourth: the coalition argues that their changes to tax make all of this OK. It doesn’t.


Food banks are a political failure

Food banks are a political failure. Especially if you promised to match social-democratic spending plans. Especially if you promised not to cut frontline services. Especially if you promised not to hike VAT. Especially if you promised economic recovery. Generally, it’s not looking great.

There is a very fundamental truth for individual affected by all this, and it’s very simple.

Your income tax coming down is absolutely no good if unemployment, a wage squeeze and a VAT hike come together to stop you eating.

If people are going to be brazen enough to argue that food banks are a Good Thing, let’s leave them to that very obviously dodgy assertion. There is one that is much more solid.

Thousands of people relying on random acts of goodwill for basic foodstuffs? That’s a Bad Thing.

The chummy group of politicians in charge are the same people who are OK with it, to put a smile on the hunger lines. This says a lot about whose fault this lamentable societal failure is, and what needs doing as a result. Get rid.

There is nothing that makes me more angry with this Government. It was left with an economy that was damaged, damaged in a way that all parties broadly agreed with before the crash – but when Labour left office it was recovering.

In turn the coalition has left us with food banks, kids going hungry, and a big smirk to go with them.

In 2010, I watched my country vote itself down a big black hole in the ground. A fair chunk of the people I meet who now agree with me voted Tory.