Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Monstrosity of Management Speak

I'm writing a wee piece about the sociology of management speak, which should arrive tomorrow. To help me out, I asked Facebook folk if they could give me some examples. A few came in but chief among them all was this, this ... abomination. I don't know if thanks is the right word, but props to @gareth_snell nonetheless. 
I can sense the synergy of your post but you probably ought to drill down into the real nuts 'n' bolts of the issue to pick the low hanging fruit. Once you've done that, we can touch base offline and reassess your strategic staircase to ensure that you're reaching maximum exposure because the contents of your idea cloud really need to be cascaded down, perhaps through a thought shower, into the wider workplace. Once complete we can action a stakeholder engagement session to really push the envelope and explore some proper out-of-the-box thinking that can ultimately lead to a win-win situation.
Somebody shoot me.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The SWP and Uniting the Left

I was looking at my watch the other day and I remember thinking "it's been a while since the Socialist Workers Party issued a 'unite the left' call." And whaddya know, they'd already done it. My lefty trainspotting isn't what it used to be.*

From time to time the SWP like to go on unity binges. In 2009 when the RMT/Socialist Party/Communist Party electoral vehicle No2EU contested the European elections after the SWP had been specifically excluded from participating, they duly produced an open letter to the left in which they proclaimed "Unity is not a luxury. It is a necessity." The problem for the SWP, of course, is this not long followed their stupid wrecking of Respect and the embarrassing adventurism of the Left List. And their turn to founding Respect came off the back of dumping the Socialist Alliance - a vehicle that, at least for a time, united the principal organisations of Trotskyism for the first time since the 1940s. Far be it for me to suggest that if you're going to do the talk, you should also be doing the walk.

And here we are again. Five years on from the last one the new call for unity is, well, a bit thin. As always, workers are straining at the leash - if only more strikes were called, austerity would be stopped in its tracks. All possible on paper, a little harder to pull off in practice. A concerted effort against racism and scapegoating is needed too. Who can disagree? Then comes the thumping conclusion: the non-Labour left "has to get its act together", it's "too fragmented and inward-looking" when what is needed is "a stronger left" to focus anger and provide political direction. Fair enough.

The problem is, who'd want anything to do with the SWP? Remember, this is an organisation that covered up rape allegations, then performed a ham-fisted and cack-handed investigation-by-committee stuffed full of the accused's mates before letting him off. Meanwhile, the survivors who bravely made the complaints were harassed Scientology-style, and reports of a very unhealthy regime provided the necessary cultish background. Surely any leftist allying themselves with such a disgusting shower would find themselves very quickly sharing the unity of the political graveyard.

But the new unity move fits in with the SWP's record of bandwagon chasing. As reported in the latest Party Notes, their Unite the Resistance front group holds its November conference on the 15th. "The conference could play a serious role in helping to pull together a national network involving some of the best fighters" it concludes. And the interesting but by no means unproblematic politicisation of many hundreds of thousands in Scotland is a movement just begging the benefit of the SWP's leadership. But, as ever, rather than trying to win new people over politically - an especially tough task now everyone can Google the organisation serenading them - the SWP will go for their tried and tested formula: of being the "best builders", the most hyper of active advocates. The naive and the gullible might get swooped up and scooped up by the SWP's unity rhetoric, but it will pass. Sooner or later another bandwagon will roll into town, another opportunity for the remaining members to collectively forget the awful stuff their organisation has done.

Left unity amongst self-described revolutionaries, whether around a political project looking to challenge Labour in elections or knitting together left-dominated campaigns against austerity and closure has proved at times fleeting, at times partial. Partly because the political economy and collective identity formers of the organisations involved necessarily set them at loggerheads. Yet there is already a left unity project that exists. It's called the labour movement. Building that, recruiting to that is the most fruitful thing any of us could be doing.

*Yes, I know about the earth-shattering decision of Socialist Appeal to abandon Scottish Labour for the bright lights and big city of a rejuvenated Scottish Socialist Party - more on that soon, maybe.

Monday, 27 October 2014

The Great High Speed White Elephant

High Speed Rail 2 is a massive white elephant, a £50bn boondoggle of a project as out of time as it is over priced. Yet, despite this I am a little sore that the bid Stoke-on-Trent put forward for a station got dismissed out of hand. Were it on the basis of a competition in which its projections got weighed up against those of a rival's and found wanting, then fair enough. That didn't happen, and what we have been left with - the 'Crewe hub' - is the worst of all possible worlds.

I've never been sold on the economic benefits HS2 will bring. Sure, construction, engineering, and railway jobs will get created - though for the former as the line's first phase begins works from London towards Birmingham, this particular project won't be helping regional rebalancing in the build phase. Then there are the claims made for it. For instance, Cheshire East leader Michael Jones says:
The Crewe HS2 Superhub will produce 64,000 jobs and boost the North West’s economic output by £3.5bn per annum. It will act as a major gateway for the region, energising the northern powerhouse ... Overall, we believe that HS2 will unlock development sites throughout Cheshire and North Staffordshire for new offices, factories, warehouses shops and new homes.
Colour me sceptical. Slashing 20 minutes from the train journey to the capital from Crewe, and Manchester (and eventually) Liverpool will do all this. Or so we're told. The problem is there is absolutely no evidence it will produce anything like these benefits. This 2009 comparative analysis of high speed rail in Europe concludes, not entirely surprisingly, by noting "The economic appraisal of new lines has to look carefully to the deviated and generated traffic, the time savings, any additional benefit, and the users’ willingness to pay ... There are socially profitable projects, and others which are not." Helpful.

Then there is this (undated) piss and wind. For example, marshalling a great deal of expert criticism of HS2, Mike Geddes demonstrates that not only are the vast majority of jobs to be created temporary (for the duration of the construction) but that each new occupation comes at the cost of approximately £350,000.

Thirdly, as many, many people before me have pointed out a railway track is two-way. What's to say making it easier to get to London will not primarily benefit London, thereby exacerbating regional economic imbalances?

On the Stoke bid for a station, the economics of the decision to go for Crewe appear less than those for the Potteries. The city, Newcastle-under-Lyme, and Kidsgrove form a contiguous urban area of around 325,000 people - that's bigger than Nottingham. It has two universities, multiple colleges, arguably remains the world centre for ceramics manufacture and an economy and - incredibly - has something of a thriving tourist industry. The area would benefit tremendously from regeneration and it is unlikely its manufacturing businesses would disappear down the high speed rail track. The land for the station exists a stone's throw from the city centre and has the advantage of cheap and, at present, plentiful brownfield sites for exiled Londoners who decide to strike north. Furthermore, the route through Stoke would shave off a little bit of extra time and between £2.8bn and £5bn off the final bill. A much larger population as well would, you might expect, see any economic benefits outstrip those accruing to Crewe, which is approximately four times smaller.

And while Crewe is being magnanimous in victory and talking up the benefits HS2 there will bring Stoke, it's likely to damage the city. Firstly, the existing service from Manchester to Euston via Stoke will simply disappear. Whereas various services now run about three every hour to London, we'll be lucky if we see three trains a day. It means people wishing to head down the track will have to travel further afield to get the fast train, negating any benefits supposedly accruing from speed. Effectively, 320,000 people are being told that a reduction in service and a longer journey to Crewe will somehow spark off an economic renaissance of North Staffordshire. What a joke.

One does not like to by cynical, but when the stronger case for Stoke is simply dismissed without a serious review of the numbers, you have to ask if something else is going on. And sure enough, whereas the four seats comprising Stoke-Newcastle-Kidsgrove are Labour and unlikely to switch in 2015, Crewe and Nantwich is a Tory marginal facing a very strong challenge. Are the Tories really desperate enough to forego significant construction savings to keep hold of a swing seat? We live in times where the Prime Minister is happy to jeopardise Britain's relationship to the EU just to see off UKIP, so the answer is yes.

But the biggest problem is HS2 is a massive waste of money. To rejuvenate British capitalism in the 21st century, to give it an edge versus its competitors that £50bn can be much better spent. Wiring up every single home and business to the very latest in superfast broadband technology, sinking cash into cheap renewables, investing heavily in education - including abolishing tuition fees - would offer real tangible economic benefits and improve the quality of people's lives. HS2 may be expensive, but all it shows off is the poverty of Britain's ambitions.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Russell Brand, Narcissist and Comrade?

I've always had a soft spot for Russell Brand. Like many recovering Big Brother fans, I first encountered him on E4's E-Forum, a side programme to Big Brother's Little Brother, which in turn was an adjunct to the main event. But there was something about Brand that made him stand out even in those days. Was it his larking about? His knowing jokes about himself and celebrity? The casual peppering of monologue with Nietzschean observations and obscure social theory references? Yes, probably. Since then his cheeky-chappery has taken off. Hollywood films and megastar celebrity ex-wives and ex-partners later, this last year Brand has been on a journey of self-reinvention. While always a lefty of some sort, since his successful one issue take-over of the New Statesman, Brand has been using the platform he has to rally support for protest actions and campaigns. He has, of course, taken part in a few himself. And now his has a new book to sell, Revolution. Should we then take him seriously?

Of course. But that isn't necessarily the same as taking his views seriously. As Sunny notes, his views aren't as much intellectually lightweight as anti-intellectual. Chris Dillow agrees, pointing out that Brand thrives because our landscape is an "intellectual desert". The unsigned author on us vs th3m makes another telling point:
The overall impression is of a man on the ultimate ego trip. Success as a comedian is no longer enough to satisfy him, he needs to make a real impact on the world. The question of whether he really has anything to offer, besides a charismatic stage presence and a verbose vocabulary, hasn’t even occurred to him. He refuses to consider properly the consequences of his flippant statements, but is entitled enough to assume everyone should listen anyway.
Others, both on the left and the right have taken him to task for his incoherence. All true, but I think the bigger point is getting missed.

Brand appears to be someone for whom the blinkers are coming off. The veil has fallen and the ugly unpleasantries of 21st century capitalism stand before him unadorned. And like many others who've undergone similar experiences, Brand is responding by precociously picking up on fashionable radical ideas and thinkers. The difference is he's doing this publicly, when most radicalisations - which are a messy, uncertain process - go unremarked and unnoticed. This is why Brand's ideas and "programme", if it can be called that, are so muddled. Criticising Westminster and spiralling inequality sits with hints of September 11th conspiraloonery and paeans to self-transformation/revolution of the heart nonsense. For old hacks with fully-rounded out views, like you and me, this is presents itself as naive and, thanks to Brand's profile, potentially problematic.

Yet this is not the finished product. Brand is on a trajectory. And most significantly, he does not hang round with the tin foil hat brigade. He helps the E15 mums. Works with the Fire Brigades Union. And unlike much of the left who've piled in to criticise him, he's rattled tins and raised awareness about the Kurdish comrades fighting ISIS in Kobane. In case you hadn't noticed, these radical causes are working class causes. The more he engages with labour movement activity, be it community campaigns, unions, or solidarity work the more this will discipline his views.

Does this matter? Yes it does. There are few celebrities with his platform who are engaging with reality-based left politics. Instead of dismissing him or constructing Chinese walls of bad tempered polemic and denunciation, anyone serious about socialist change should be encouraging him to get more involved in the labour movement - and urging his supporters and fans to do the same.

Brand's revolution is a long way off, I doubt it will ever see the day. But he can offer our movement and our ideas a much greater audience. He's holding out a hand of friendship only fools would turn down.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Saturday Interview: Sarah Brown

Sarah Brown is a trade unionist and Liberal Democrat activist from Kimberley, near Nottingham. Formerly a parish councillor, blogger and active Labour Party member, she left and joined the LibDems 18 months ago. You can follow Sarah on Twitter here

Why did you start blogging?

Well around 2010, I now post occasionally on anything from politics to makeup.

What was your best blogging experience?

I posted about being a curvy lady and not being ashamed of my body. Funnily enough my boobs got more attention than the post where I announced I had defected from Labour to the Lib Dems!

Have you any blogging advice for new starters?

Ask a real blogger!

And why did you stop blogging?

Time and inspiration lacking!

Do you find social media useful for activist-y things?

Yes to an extent, it's good for mobilising, but I think direct action is more effective.

What are you reading at the moment?

The Hunger Games - it's a kids book but very well written.

What was the last film you saw?

I'm watching The Magicians right now. Although Made in Dagenham is my favourite film :)

Do you have a favourite novel?

Will you judge me if I say Bridget Jones's Diary? No? Well it's that.

Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major influence on how you think about the world?


How many political organisations have you been a member of?

The Labour Party, Unison and the Lib Dems. I'm still a Lib Dem and a member of Unison.

Can you name an idea or an issue on which you've changed your mind?

Ha! My political viewpoint. I used to be a Labour member and very active with it, but yeah, I was becoming more and more disillusioned with the party. I felt like there was a clique and an "in crowd" I would never be a part of. I was starting to despair of the influence of Progress and felt the party had lost its way. I joined the Lib Dems as I felt the party more matched my views and I wanted to be part of a truly democratic pArty.

What set of ideas do you think it most important to disseminate?

That everyone has a right to live life free from excessive intervention from the state.

What set of ideas do you think it most important to combat?

The idea that immigration is a bad thing and all immigrants are scum. Seriously if you took everything that wasn't British out of your house there would be very little left! I'm a big fan of open borders and I hope UKIP stop winning parliamentary seats

Who are your political heroes?

Heroes? Hmm, can I bring myself to describe a politician as a hero? I'm sorry no, I do like a lot of political people on a personal level but I wouldn't call them heroes.

How about political villains?

Farage (ewwwww)

What do you think is the most pressing political task of the day?

I think that's a tricky one, but I would love to see a more gender balanced parliament.

What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world?


What would be your most important piece of advice about life?

Live the life you want not the one you think others expect.

What is your favourite song?

I don't have one.

Do you have a favourite video game?

Pokemon ...

What do you consider the most important personal quality in others?


What personal fault in others do you most dislike?

People who talk too much.

What, if anything, do you worry about?

Nothing much.

And any pet peeves?

People who eat with their mouths open.

What piece of advice would you give to your much younger self?

Wear clothes that make you happy, don't hide yourself away and don't care what other people think of you.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

Singing, knitting, crochet and being outside.

What is your most treasured possession?

My clarinet

Do you have any guilty pleasures?

Profiteroles and S Club 7's music.

What talent would you most like to have?

I would like to be able to dance!

If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true - apart from getting loads of money - what would you wish for?

A cure for depression. It holds me back.

Speaking of cash, how, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money?

I would have a nice house to live in and not have to work. I would bake a lot and make lots of pretty things :)

If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be?

Hmm, William Shakespeare, Richard from Pointless and Dawn French

How are trade unionists typically perceived in the LibDems? Do LD trade unionists work together as a group?

The Lib Dems have a group called the association of Lib Dem Trade Unionists. There are lots of trade unionists in the Lib Dems, branch secretaries, activists, reps and members. I guess trade unionists are perceived as the loveable lefties. In fact I had more grief in the Labour Party for being a trade unionist!

And has joining the LibDems affected your relationship with other labour movement activists?

Yes. Some no longer feel they can associate with me, others have had it confirmed just how "right wing" I really am. But in the most part not really. When I was still a rep not one person asked my political persuasion before I represented them. They just wanted to know I was on their side, which I was. It's heart warming that now after a year of not being a rep I still have members call and ask me to represent them.

Next year, do you think the LibDems will be part of a new/renewed coalition?

I think so yes. No one believes Ed Miliband has what it takes to become Prime Minister and the Tories? Well I think the UKIP effect will stop them forming a majority government. The Lib Dems have learned a lot in this Parliament and are growing into an effective government party.

Lamenting Lamont

In the lexicon of Labour politics speak, Johann Lamont's resignation from the leadership of Scottish Labour can be found under the entry marked "unhelpful". Yet it does have some company. Nestled next to her action lies the trajectory of Scottish Labour, and the way it is has been treated by the leadership down in London. As Lamont makes clear in her statement, that the general secretary of the party in Scotland was sacked *without* consulting her and apparently in contravention of the rule book too. As is often said of the Trots, how can you take their commitment to socialist democracy seriously then their own organisations are toy town Stalinist dictatorships. Likewise, you can query how strong is Labour's commitment to further Scottish devolution when the leadership tramples on local autonomy and accountability.

I'm not a fully au fait with the ins and outs of Scottish politics, but even from the far distance of sunny Stoke-on-Trent three things stand out. That Johann Lamont's tenure at the helm hasn't been altogether inspiring. That the 'B team' stay at home in Holyrood while the opposite is true of the SNP. That Scottish Labour is facing a growing crisis that could cost the Britain-wide party next year's general election. It stands to reason that a change in personnel and politics is all that can turn the situation around, and, unfortunately, the two cannot be separated.

Consider the Westminster big beasts in the frame. In the purpley Progress corner is Jim Murphy. From an impeccably working class background, he worked his way into Parliament via the NUS bureaucracy, skipping the Oxbridge-spaddery-Westminster route. Jim is also a very active constituency campaigner. If only every Labour MP had his hands-on attitude. Then in the rosy red old Laboury corner is the great clunking fist himself. Gordon Brown had a much better time of the Better Together campaign than did Alastair Darling and, it's probably fair to say this, his standing improved in Scotland at the very moment Labour's ratings have fallen into the toilet. Both men are capable of leading Scottish Labour. Whether they'd want to is one thing - Murphy fancies himself as a future Labour leader, after all. But they will have to take on a left-facing SNP, and there is little in their record that suggests they have the politics to do it.

Ah yes. Much has been made of the SNP's social democratic turn. Whether it's substantive or a skin deep cut of electoral posturing doesn't matter. That was before the referendum. Now it has a genuine centre left leader-in-waiting, and has been flooded with tens of thousands of leftwing supporters. Its policy platform is set to be embedded and consolidated in advance of 2015, barring some unforeseen and unlikely mass disillusionment on the part of its new members. The disaster is Scottish Labour allowed the SNP to roll their Tigers onto its social democratic turf, a catastrophe made all the more perplexing and unnecessary considering Labour has been in opposition for the last four years. Again, it appears from afar that instead rof trying to capitalise on the mild left mood amongst Scottish voters they sought to distance themselves from it. At times it appeared that Lamont - who was the 'left' candidate for the job by the way - was trying to pull off triangulation 1997-stylee, a spectacularly dumb approach to politics when the centre ground is shifting toward the concerns and interests of your core voters. But I refuse to believe this was the case. As Lamont critiques London for treating Scottish Labour like a branch office, the ostrich strategy pursued in Scotland is a likely product of England-centric, or more specifically marginal seat-centric thinking. Tacking left north of the border to prevent a flanking move by the nats would mean the adoption of policies that might scare the horses in the south eastern marginals. What we have is the bitter fruit of clever-clever manoeuvres in which the marginals are by no means a done deal, and the core vote has become the swing vote. Something Ed Miliband used to understand, once.

To be fair, the crisis afflicting Scottish Labour can't just be laid at the feet of the current tenants of One Brewer's Green. It goes back decades. As a formerly safe Labour zone many of its constituency parties have fallen prey to local cliques of self-appointed notables and regional machine politics. The vote has been taken for granted, the members are treated as voting and campaigning fodder - where the latter actually exists. And what it has become is a wizened old husk. It's far from being the incubator of a better politics that it needs to be. Yet that is what it and the rest of the Labour Party has to become, not only to win, but to survive.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Pet Shop Boys - Suburbia

I know it's all been filler on the blog this week. The old brain has been addled with too much work-related stuff. Normal service should resume shortly. But not just yet. As we segue into the weekend let's mark its start with a slice of 80s wonderfulness.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Marx on Alienation

Forgive the 19th century language:
What then constitutes the alienation of labour?

First, the fact that labour is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his intrinsic nature; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home. /his labour is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labour. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labour is shunned like the plague. External labour, labour in which man alienates himself, is a labour of self-sacrifice, of mortification. Lastly, the external character of labour for the worker appears in the fact that it is not his own, but someone else's, that it does not belong to him, that in it he belongs, not to himself, but to another. Just as in religion the spontaneous activity of the human imagination, if the human brain and the human heart, operates on the individual independently of him - that is, operates as an alien, divine or diabolical activity - so is the worker's activity not his spontaneous activity. It belongs to another; it is the loss of his self.

As a result, therefore, man (the worker) only feels himself freely active in his animal functions - eating, drinking, procreating, or at most in his dwelling and in dressing-up, etc.; and in his human functions he no longer feels himself to be anything but an animal. What is animal becomes human and what is human becomes animal.
Karl Marx 1959 Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Lawrence & Wishart, pp.65-6.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

EU Support at 20 Year High

Calling it support might be a bit of a stretch but nevertheless this is interesting:

Here's your source.

The professional pundits are probably right. This is a backlash of sorts against UKIP. The greater their presence is felt, the more their backwardness is plastered all over the media the stiffer the resistance to their blandishments becomes.

But that is not all. Weirdly, I think a little bit of anti-politics sentiment is bound up with this. Consider it, every time you turn on the news or open a paper, politics stories always seem to be blah, blah, Europe, blah, blah, referendum, blah, blah more Europe. It's really bloody dull. The problem is as the Tories have stupidly decided to try and out-UKIP UKIP by offering a referendum on a renegotiated relationship with the EU - a series of negotiations Dave will flunk in spectacular style - the knee jerk rejection and reaction to this interminably boring, alienating and remote politics finds itself expressed in maintaining Britain's membership. Perhaps its just as well Labour and the LibDems aren't making a big deal about EU support in the run up to next year. Unlike the Tories and UKIP, they are aware it's a priority for approximately seven per cent of voters.

Is this existential crisis time for UKIP? You know how the story goes. In fact, the Tories are banking on it. The blue team are returned next year, Dave successfully renegotiates EU membership, the referendum happens, a yes vote wins out and UKIP withers away to nothing. All those voters dutifully return back to the Conservatives and they go on to win a thumping third term in 2020. Sadly for Dave and everyone pinning their hope to this scenario, no. The salience of UKIP is expressive of and capitalises on long-term social trends that have, for a section of the population, made living in Britain feel as if it is a scary, insecure and unfamiliar place. To think an EU referendum followed by a yes vote is going to kill the kippers stone dead is to indulge Westminster determinism of the very worst sort. They are a sociological phenomenon and as such only long range policies that ease insecurity, such as building more affordable homes, tackling low pay and job insecurity, and doing something about the mountains of private household debt piling up will sort them out. After all, whatever happened to the SNP after the Scottish referendum?

Monday, 20 October 2014

UKIP Calypso

Words do not yet exist that adequately sum up what an ear-bleeding travesty this cacophonous cack is.