Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Triumph of Thatcherism

The Coalition: Is this Thatcherism's last stand?

IN LAST Thursday's Financial Times, Robert Skidelsky asked: 'Who governs - government or the financial markets?'. In this he repeats the 1974 cry of Edward Heath who then as Prime Minister asked: 'Who governs Britain - the government or the trade unions'. It seems, at the present time, we are at the mercy of the financial markets and that, according to Skidelsky, even if the Keynesian logic that national deficits are not harmful and that Keynes was right in insisting that the 'paradox of thrift' - increased saving and balanced budgets - will worsen the slump, this counts for nothing in the present climate because whatever the markets believe is the case will be the case even, says Skidelsky, if it's false.

Thus, Skidelsky argues: 'The current stampede to thrift shows that the re-conversion to Keynes in the wake of the financial collapse of 2008 was only skin-deep...'. And it was 'only skin-deep' because today the markets rule. Yet, if this approach fails in years to come then Skidelsky says: 'the challenge that financial power poses to good government has to be squarely faced.'

When in 1974, the then Prime Minister, Edward Heath, asked: 'Who governs Britain - the government or the trade unions?' - he lost the General election he'd just called. But as Skidelsky points out in the FT: 'Five years later British voters delivered a final verdict by electing Margaret Thatcher.' We all know what happened then as politics in this country took a turn which has haunted our society at every level ever since. Everything, it seems, is measured by the Thatcher standard and the market system: our economics, the ruling party and the Prime Minister of the day. Major, Blair, Brown and now Cameron, are all judged according to her yardstick; even so far as having the old lady round to tea at Downing Street. The reason a Keynesian economist like Skidelsky writes such an article entitled: 'Once again we must ask: "Who governs?" ', is because essentially the spirit of Thatcher still governs our political, financial and economic thinking to such a large extent.


Because, whatever the left says, her government did something that was previously thought impossible, in 1985 she beat the National Union of Miners (NUM) and the TUC. That was the triumph of Thatcherism that made possible a radical change in our politics, economics and our social culture. She, unlike her enemies, wasn't just a smart-arsed tactician but she had a coherent plan and a strategy. Just as Fascism, in the 1930s, was a counter-revolution against a revolution that never happened; so Thatcherism, in the 1980s, was a counter-revolution against a trade union challenge that was incapable of fulfilling its destiny. Indeed British trade unionism at that time and now, didn't have any proper idea of what was meant a having a destiny and Scargill, though a brilliant tactician was hopeless at strategy. The trade union challenge in the 1980s was one of defence of the status quo through the will of a conservative and pragmatic community. Today, the main weakness of the British left and the trade unions is this fundamental conservatism and pragmatism. Today, the parties of the left and the unions have no serious program or strategy save to oppose and react against the establishment at every opportunity. This is as true of the anarchist movement as it is of the parliamentary Labour Party and all the political odds and sods in between. The left-wing theme is to emphasise the negative nature of politics and to go unto the defensive: 'Stop the BNP'; 'Defend the Welfare State'; 'Resist the Cuts'; 'No 2 EU'; 'Save Our Jobs' and so on - all scope to sate the appetites of all those soapbox revolutionaries with their inconclusive street-wide rallies endangering nowt but the occasional window and policeman's helmet.

Robert Skidelsky is able to ask 'Who governs?' precisely because Thatcherite thinking is so well embedded in our culture and body politic and he writes: 'If markets have come to the view that deficits are harmful, they must be appeased, even if they are wrong.' If only because [w]hat market participants believe to be the case becomes the case, not because their beliefs are true, but because they act on their beliefs, true or false.' Skidelsky claims: 'we are about to embark on a momentous experiment', a test to see if the Keynesian view that balanced budgets make slumps worse or if the coalition government's view that only 'fiscal consolidation' will give us a 'recovery and fast growth' is right. Now we must wait and see what happens; as I listen to the words of George Osborne ringing in my ears: 'This budget will be tough and fair!' No doubt, Lord Skidelsky will be hoping to sell his latest book entitled 'Keynes: The Return of the Master' whatever the outcome for the rest of us.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

New Charter Tenant Victimised!

A tenant of the New Charter Housing Trust in Tameside has been told that his nomination to stand as a tenant director (for July 2010) will not be accepted by New Charter housing management. Steve Fisher from Dukinfield, aged 53, has been told by John Ardern, Director of New Business and Assurance, that his conduct is too 'adversarial' and it is unclear he adds: "what is motivating you to apply for a Tenant Director’s post." Mr Fisher was told that New Charter would not accept his application due to the way he has conducted himself with the company and that his e-mails to the housing company would be used as evidence of his ineligibility.

In 2006, Mr.Fisher was taken to court by New Charter who sought an injunction against him to force him clean up his natural wildlife garden which the company claimed was untidy. The issue attracted local media interest and New Charter accused him of bringing the company into disrepute. Steve Fisher told NV blog:

"New Charter have never forgiven me for the bad media coverage that they received when they took me to court. Ever since, the company, have had an axe to grind not just against my garden trees but also against me personally. For the last 2 years I have been banned from entering any of their buildings and I am forbidden from talking to any of their staff except John Ardern. As a New Charter tenant I have been disenfranchised and discriminated against by a company that claims to believe in equal opportunities and claims to be a company that cares. In spite of their efforts to block my nomination, I have submitted my application in person."

Monday, 14 June 2010

ECCLES CAKES, but not made in Eccles

WITHIN a week or so of Chris Draper declaring Waites Confectioners of Burnley Road, Mytholmroyd near Hebden Bridge, to have produced the 'best Eccles Cakes' in the North of England (see Northern Voices 11: Six o' the Best' - The North's Top Teatime Treats!), Simon Majumdar brought out his book entitled 'Eating for Britain' which makes the claim that the Eccles Cakes produced at The Hastings in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, was the winner in the Pudding Class of his 'The Perfect Day's Eating in Britain' category. Chris Draper in NV11 denounced Salford for abandoning 'its finest creation'; most of the mass production of Eccles Cakes has now shifted to Ardwick (on't t'other side of Manchester) from where Tescos get their supplies. The resulting product is a hard underneath, soft on top, version not a patch on the job Waites does in Yorkshire. And yet, despite Eccles failure to create the 'perfect Eccles Cake' as witnessed by Mr Draper in NV and Mr Majumdar in 'Eating for Britain', Salford City Council's website, according to Mr. Majumdar, insists: 'The secret dies with me'. This shows, according to Simon Majumdar, 'how fiercely [the town] protect their recipe'. But, if Chris Draper is right, this is hypocritical because the town has already handed the recipe over to a company in Ardwick.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

NV sales

EARLY indications suggest Northern Voices 11 is selling well in our central Manchester outlets. The newly opened Peoples' History Museum has sold out once and had to be restocked, as has the Cornerhouse bookshop. We haven't checked our pub outlets there yet, but there are indications that some new city centre newsagents may for the first time take it on a sale or return basis. We now have several outlets in the Glossop area for the first time, though for the first time sales in Eccles went down for NV10. Barry suggested it was down to a 'poor front cover' for NV10. Sales of NV11 in Hebden Bridge are moderate but Waites bakery said some people had already commented on Chris Draper's review of 'Tea Time Treats' that gave their shop top marks for Eccles Cakes. Views about the contents of NV11 are mixed but almost everyone regards it as the best looking issue yet. There has been strong reactions in certain quarters to our editorial response to the question of some Freedom Press photos of Spanish Civil War exiles taken at a camp near Chorley which were supplied to the Working Class Movement Library in Salford, but there has been little interest in this from our general readership. The campaigners in Derker, Oldham, fighting against the former Labour Government's Pathfinder Project have expressed their delight at our coverage of their situation and our report on their MP Phil Woolas's election expenses. Woolas only got re-elected by the skin of his teeth in May. The pub sales in Oldham for NV10 was a surprising sell out. In Rochdale, there has been reaction to the piece by Les May attacking local protest groups. Littleborough artist, Walter Kershaw, is dead chuffed about NV's report on his winter exhibition in Sale. Over in Ashton-under-Lyne, since our piece on a blue plaque for Jimmy Keogh, the Arts & Events Advisory Panel has agreed to let Tameside TUC put their case in person at their next meeting this Summer. In Madrid, among members of the anarcho-syndicalist CGT trade union there has been some questioning of our comments in NV11 of one of their union leaders Carlos Beltran, but Carlos himself has taken it in good humour. Chris Draper has challenged the presence of nudes on some NV front covers which he thinks are 'sexist'.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

North-South Divide & the Euro!

SELF-TAUGHT ECONOMIST Edward Hugh, a British blogger living in Barcelona since 1990, was long ignored when he predicted the downfall of the euro zone. Surviving on a starvation diet with a part-time income from teaching English to the natives he fired off blog after blog into a Web wilderness forecasting the folly of North European Governments in trying to establish a united currency with the Mediterranean nations to the South. How could the aging, tight-arsed Germans ever survive with the lavish living youthful folk of Southern Europe (including Southern Ireland) wielding their credit cards?

Mr Edward Hugh is no-longer an unnoticed lonely blogger, as the euro is driven lower by the day. Indeed not, he is now being courted and offered jobs (all of which he has thus far turned down) by the likes of the International Monetary Fund and Hedge Fund managers. Only last week he had to borrow money from friends to address a conference of politicians and business executives in Madrid. Mr Hugh's message is simple as explained in yesterday's International Herald Tribune: '[S]ince Spain and other struggling countries of the euro zone like Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Italy cannot devalue their common currency unilaterally, they have little choice but to endure what would essentially be a 20% internal devaluation instead.' This means that their public and private sector wages need to fall by roughly that amount if those countries are ever to restore competitiveness, lift exports and bring in cash needed to pay their debts. A daunting prospect!

Germany is a nation of savers with an average age of 45 and this is rising. It's a nation of skinflints, who save up and has kept wages under control while building up export industries. Contrast this with the younger Portugese, Irish, Greeks and Spaniards (the 'PIGS') who chuck their money about, going on borrowing binges, driven by a demand for new homes and consumer goods, resulting in housing bubbles that burst. In the end they couldn't compete with the tight Germans, Dutch and the North Europeans. It's not nice being one of the PIGS these days!

Why didn't the professional economists spot this dilemma that Mr Hugh has been bleating on about? The problem with academics like most of those in the teaching profession is that they have an occupational disease which weds them to a belief in formulas and cookbook thinking. Mr Hugh says they are so 'beholden' to 'their promiscuous but essentially useless' economic models and that they easily miss foreseeable consequences. This is what the epistemological anarchist and philosopher of science, Paul Feyerabend, once called 'Professional incompetence; incompetent professionalism'.

Struggling Cities outside the M25

We're reproducing this article from Regeneration & Renewal following our article about similar issues 2 days ago. The full article can be read after the 'read more' link below.

'Jobs Deficit' - Sarah Townsend, regen.net, 7 June 2010

Policymakers should seek to boost the potential of buoyant cities with a track record in generating private sector employment in order to compensate for imminent public sector cuts, an urban policy think-tank has urged.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

North-South Health Divide

The Regional Trends 42nd report out today says the North East, North West, and Yorkshire and the Humber have lower life expectancy and higher mortality rates from cancer, respiratory and circulation diseases compared to England's average. This disparity between the North and South, says the Office forNational Statistics, has shown little change despite the previous government's pledged to cut it. Today's issue of The Times states: 'England remains a country of health and wealth divides, with those in the North likely to be poorer and live shorter lives more prone to serious illness'.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010


CHRIS DRAPER in Northern Voices No.10 [Summer/ Autumn 2009] claimed of his top 'Six o' Best' Northern Towns that three of them - York, Leeds and Scarborough - were in Yorkshire. Yesterday's Yorkshire Post quoted a report by the Centre for Cities think-tank as identifying a serious 'jobs deficit' of 69,000 facing Yorkshire as a whole: 69,000 'lost' jobs. It shows that even before the recession hit that many areas were struggling with Barnsley, Doncaster, Bradford, Hull and Huddersfield losing private sector jobs. Now says the Yorkshire Post: Hull and Sheffield face a combine deficit of almost 40,000 jobs - almost 20,000 each. The fear now is that as public sector cuts are threaten another 'North-South divide' could develop. The Deputy Prime Minister and the MP for Sheffield Hallam, Nick Clegg, said at the weekend that he was determined to avoid the mistakes of the 1980s, which led to a huge gulf in job prospects between the North and the South. Clegg told his audience: 'We'll take good measures so these cities in the North, our great Northern cities, are given the support they need.'

None-the-less, it seems that outside of places like York (that came top town in Chris Draper's article) the region east of the Pennines has missed out on the New Labour boom. Meanwhile, the Institute for Public Policy Research North has called on the northern regions to 'carve out their own futures, define their own regional economic identities and transform their public services'. An editorial in the Yorkshire Post argues that Brown's claim to have abolished boom and bust is 'increasingly hollow' and that there are some places where the Brown boom never happened. It goes on to call for a clearing away of the 'regulatory thickets [and red tape] that have been strangling the private sector'. This may of course be code for an attack on health and safety regulations at work.

The difficulty is, as the Financial Times editorial suggested last Saturday, that down South there are 'The stifling cliques of Westminster' that rule us: 'Nepotism is, thankfuly, no longer an everyday feature of public life. But the political gene pool is still too narrow. The state is controlled by a tightknit professional class.' Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer came out of the Conservative Party secretariat (David Cameron worked briefly as a PR executive). Then, we learn that the four leading candidates for the Labour leadership (though representing Northern constituencies) come from what the FT calls 'the nomenklatura' and the editor goes on to to say: 'Britain is run by white men, roughly 40 years old, with little or no experience outside national politics.'

The FT claims the road in Britain to power is clear: 'There is now a well worn path from 20-something bag-carrier to 30-something MP.' The result is a highly centralised system with 'few rivil routes in local government through which politicians can rise.' Hence, there is little hope of regions like Yorkshire carving out its own identity or being liberated in a centralised political regime like this, were all the politicians look much the same however they try to make themselves look different when elections beckon.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Film Review - 'Vincere' by Marco Bellocchio

The film Vincere is about the relationship between Ida Dalser and the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. In his book on Mussolini, Christopher Hibbert provides some fascinating background information in this respect. The Italian media portrayed Mussolini as a perfect role model for the Italian family- dedicated to his children - Uomo Casalingo. In reality Mussolini was a donnaiolo - Don Juan. According to Hibbert, one of his earliest mistresses was a bizarre, neurotic woman. Her name was Ida Dalser. She had a mentally retarted and physically deformed child by Mussolini. Il Duce ultimately ended the relationship and had Ida incarcerated in a mental institution.

Since 1913 Ida, who is portrayed in a sympathetic manner in the film, had claimed that Mussolini had promised to marry her, or in fact had done so, and that she could not be bribed with a maintenance allowance. Ida often came to the offices of Il Popolo d'Italia in Milan and created a scene. On one occasion Mussolini threatened her with a pistol. On another occasion she was arrested for causing a breach of the peace in Trento where she set fire to furniture in the Hotel Bristol claiming that she was Mussolini's wife. She died in a mental hospital in Venice in 1937.

Ida's son Benito died in another mental hospital in Milan in 1942. Vincere is a powerful and moving film which was recently shown in the Cornerhouse in Manchester. It was directed by the accomplished Italian director Marco Bellochio and starred Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Filippo Timi.

The film combines historical material with a very human and personal story. Ida gave up everything to support Mussolini's political ambitions and in return was treated in a brutal manner culminating with 11 years imprisonment in a lunatic asylum. Bellochio has directed a patently anti-fascist film and I would recommend it to all libertarians and anarchists.

As further background reading to this period there is an excellent pamphlet published by the Anarchist Federation entitled the Italian Factory Council Movement 1920. I reviewed this pamphlet for Northern Voices but it was not published due to reasons of space. This review is available on request.