Fighting The Cuts with Confidence

by David Wearing

My own contribution to the NLP cuts debate (more of a discussion, as it turns out) comes in two halves. Other contributors have placed some focus on future activism, and the second half of this piece will offer a few points on that subject, specifically on the task of making the political argument in favour of our position. To set that up, in the first half, I’d like to make some straightforward remarks about the issue of the austerity agenda itself; remarks which I believe most of us will broadly agree with.

1. The Shock Doctrine Comes to Britain

Today, Britain faces one of the greatest single social injustices of the post-war era in domestic politics. The weakest and most vulnerable in society are being forced to pay the costs of a crisis created by the reckless greed of the super-rich and the intellectual docility, or dogmatism, of policy-makers (Conservative and Labour). Because the financial and business sectors weild far greater influence over policymaking than the ordinary people who will bear the brunt of the cuts, the latter will pay a price they can’t afford for a crisis created by the former, who will themselves suffer no material penalty. Those costs will primarily take the form of public spending cuts of staggering size, being rushed through without serious thought but often with palpable glee by a cabinet stuffed with millionaires who clearly have an intuitive grasp of the concept of class interest, and of protecting their own at the expense of others.

No-one, not even the strongest supporters or opponents of the cuts, understands the true extent of what their effect will be. No precedent exists for such a massive and swift attack on the public sector of society and the economy, but what is clear is that many thousands of lives will be damaged, even ruined, in many thousands of real and personal ways, often irretrievably, as a result. Those people will be picking up the tab for a party they didn’t throw, and to which they were never invited.

The political justification for the government’s “emergency budget” was a straightforward confidence trick, as Richard Seymour notes in his article at the start of this series. When the financial crash exposed the utter bankruptcy – in every sense – of the hitherto prevailing free market dogma, the financial industry and the political right urgently needed to change the subject. A critical spotlight was fixed as never before on the economic ideology that had underpinned their wealth and power for 30 years, and its gaze had to be averted. They therefore invoked the spectre of a sovereign debt crisis, which the Tories shamelessly talked up throughout the election campaign, making ludicrous comparisons with countries like Greece, which they no doubt fantasised would turn into self-fulfilling prophesy.

The substantive causes of Britain’s deficit are, first, the collapse in tax revenue that resulted from the recession caused by the historic implosion of the financial free-market in the autumn of 2008, and, secondly, the huge fiscal stimulus that was required to prevent the recession from turning into a full-blown 1930s-style depression. With striking audacity, David Cameron chose to pretend that these events had never occurred, instead blaming the deficit on the sins of leftist “big government”, thus also pretending that he hadn’t himself supported Labour’s spending plans until after the crisis broke. In truth, public spending as a percentage of GDP in the pre-crash New Labour years was consistent with the levels under the previous Conservative administrations. Say it again: the financial crash, not public spending, is the cause of the deficit.

However, this diversionary, defensive manoeuvre was not the limit of the right’s ambitions. The crisis also provided an opportunity. From the time of the Levellers, to the Chartists, right up to the present day, wealthy elites have feared and loathed the idea of democratic government serving the public good, knowing that it implies a direct threat to their privileges. A national debt crisis, real or invented, offers the perfect opportunity to finish the work Thatcher started and kill off the despised welfare state, portraying it (unlike, say, Trident, or low banking and corporation taxes) as an expensive luxury.

In other words, the historic failure of neo-liberal economics is been used to secure the final victory of neo-liberalism over social democracy; of wealth and power over the general public.

So while the banks continue to enjoy the support of big government and the nanny state, raking in massive profits and undergoing none of the substantive reform needed to prevent a second and probably far worse crisis, the Guardian reports a study showing that “the poorest 10% of households, earning under £14,200, face cuts equivalent to 21.7% of their household income. Households earning £14,200 to £16,900 face cuts of 13.6%, with about 7% for those in the middle of the spectrum. The richest, those earning over £49,700, will suffer a cut of just 3.6%”. Furthermore, there is also an understanding amongst credible observers that these cuts, by depressing demand and confidence, threaten to push a weak economy back into recession, which again will hit the poorest hardest, with mass unemployment permanently scarring a generation of young people.

In The Shock Doctrine, a book which ought to be required reading for every registered voter in Britain, Naomi Klein demonstrates that time and again, neo-liberal governments have exploited or created emergencies in order to circumvent democracy, carrying out swift and devastating attacks on popular public sector programmes while civil society is too disorientated to resist. George Osborne’s “shock and awe” blitzkrieg fits squarely into that model. Before polling day, only the Tories made a specific virtue of their deficit fetishism, and in the event polled 36.1% of the popular vote, just 1.7% more than Neil Kinnock’s Labour Party polled in their seminal 1992 defeat. What allowed the Tories to take power and enact their policy programme was the LibDems post-election volte face, which sent the latter, at the first whiff of high office, marching in quickstep towards the Tory spending cuts that they had opposed just days before. The formation of the coalition government was accompanied by the announcement of a grave fiscal emergency; an emergency that Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and David Laws had suddenly noticed when the chance arose for them to enter government.

There then followed an “emergency budget”, sadistically slashing welfare payments in the midst of persistent unemployment, and a demand that government departments draw up plans for budget cuts of up to 40% (a number worth allowing your imagination to dwell upon) within a matter of weeks, prior to a further spending review.

As many credible economists and commentators have pointed out, this is not only unnecessary but actively dangerous. The deficit is entirely manageable, and can be dealt with over a far longer term through a mixture of sustainable growth, progressive tax rises, and cuts to areas of spending that the poor do not rely upon, such as foreign wars and weapons of mass destruction. The real priorities for the economy are to establish a recovery that creates jobs (requiring sustained or increased government spending to inject demand) and to effect sweeping reform to the financial sector before another crisis strikes. The “emergency budget” makes the first problem far worse, leaves the second problem untouched, and creates a whole set of new problems into the bargain.

In short, there is (at least from the point of view of the public, rather than elite interest) no emergency requiring this budget. The emergency is the budget.

Popular efforts can and must be made to prevent the coalition from implementing this cruel agenda and to defend ordinary people from a potentially devastating attack on their basic livelihoods. Because of the nature of the cuts, the public sector unions, as democratically organised groups of employees on low and middle incomes, will clearly have a key role to play. But this will be no means be the limit of the campaign. The Fawcett Society’s legal challenge to a budget whose costs will be borne disproportionately by women shows that civil society is capable of throwing up many novel and innovative challenges to the ConDem’s austerity measures. The pain of the cuts will be felt by such a range of people, and observed with mounting horror by an even wider range, that a broad front of opposition is highly likely to take shape. That will be necessary, because the scale of the threat is historic, and the vested interests behind the cuts agenda are powerful. But popular movements have demonstrated their own power repeatedly in our own political history, so the result of the coming battle is by no means pre-ordained. Ultimately, it depends on us.


2. The Message

Winning the battle against the government’s agenda will certainly involve forms of direct action, as Tom Denning discusses in his contribution. It will also involve the task of explaining the stance we are taking, and it is this latter area that I would like to focus on now.

What I believe I have demonstrated, or underlined, in the first half of this article is the fact that we have a compelling, powerful and persuasive case to make. It is an argument that can be made in clear and plain English, and in terms that convey the fundamental character of the issue; its scale, its causes and its dynamics. It is a message that can form the basis of substantive agreement between socialists, social democrats, left-liberals and Greens. But more importantly, it is a message that is likely to resonate amongst a wider British public that, as Johann Hari reminded us before the election, remains consistently to the left of all three major parties.

That resonance will only increase as the effect of the cuts begins to be felt. In his article in this series, Sunny Hundal discussed how and where to direct activism that “gets people angry”. This is unlikely to be necessary. When you can’t provide a decent, dignified life for your children, when you see friends, relatives and colleagues suffering for a crisis they played no part in creating, you don’t need an activist to come along and persuade you to object to it. You will have got there just fine by yourself. In fact, the basic and plain injustice of ordinary people being forced to pay the bankers gambling debts is one that, when it enters the realm of personal experience, is likely to bring even some conservative voters into the anti-cuts campaign, at least in specific areas that matter to them. This is going to be an issue that frequently transcends politics and speaks to people’s basic human sense of right and wrong.

The challenge for activists therefore is not to generate objection to tightening economic circumstances, but to offer an account of how those circumstances came about. The US Tea Party movement is an example of how badly things can go wrong when the hard right – rather than the broad left – provides the explanatory narrative in times of economic hardship. This is why it is critical for us to help create an accurate understanding of what is taking place. We have a responsibility to prevent popular anger being exploited and misdirected at immigrants and other scapegoats. And we have a responsibility to expose the absurd lie that our country cannot afford to allocate its resources in accordance with basic levels of decency and humanity.

The task of making our case brings with it its own challenges. Sunny is right to be conscious of the fact that concepts such as class and trade unionism have been corrupted in prevailing discourse. “Class war” has become a political swearword, invoked when Gordon Brown mentions that some Tories went to Eton, but not when the son of a family of bankers becomes Prime Minister and passes the costs of a banking crisis onto the poor. New Labour nodding dog John Prescott is habitually referred to as the “old class warrior”, unlike Margaret Thatcher who actually deserves the description. In the event of any industrial dispute, the media operates on the default setting that the union is always wrong, irrespective of the facts, and that striking is always wrong, irrespective of whether other options have been explored and shut down. Such is the quality of mainstream political debate.

A relentless propaganda campaign has been waged by the right and the corporate media for decades to render toxic the language, practical tools and analytical concepts of the left. But Sunny should take heart from the fact that, as the Johann Hari article cited above shows, the public has a surprising capacity to resist such propaganda; not always, but very often. What should also encourage him is that, while the left remains under constant attack from its powerful enemies, the substance of its analysis does retain the redeeming features of being accurate, relevant and highly persuasive.

The first section of this article shows that concept of class, or at least of economic and social hierarchy, and of disparities in power, is indispensible to any serious attempt to understand the reality of what is happening. The cuts agenda is intrinsically bound up with conflicts of interests between different socio-economic groups, between the elite and the rest. Because it is correct in a way that requires no complex or tenuous explanation, this analysis is not one that can easily be batted away with the standard right-wing platitudes and clichés.

This is all the more true if we pay attention to the language that we use to convey our ideas. For example, my description of trade unions as “democratically organised groups of employees on low and middle incomes” shows that it is a simple matter to present unionism in a way that emphasises its legitimacy and importance to democracy and fairness in economic life, while simultaneously undermining attempts to portray it as something sinister and dangerous to the interests of ordinary people.

We must be mindful of the challenges to our arguments, and give serious thought to how we can overcome them. But equally, returning to Hari’s point, we should not allow the distorted and detached nature of debate within the political class to blind us to the realities of public opinion on the ground, which may well be highly receptive to our analysis of the austerity agenda. In a recent poll, 72% of respondents said that “ordinary voters” have little or no influence on government policy, with 73% saying that “large companies” have “a fair amount” or “a great deal” of influence. When asked what the level of influence ought to be, 87% said ordinary voters should have “a fair amount” or “a great deal” of influence, while 31% said large companies should have the same.

The poll also showed that 41% supported the idea of trade unions having “a fair amount” or “a great deal” of influence, while 58% thought they had that level in practice. So there is a disparity between the view of what the level of union influence should be and what it is - a gap of 17%. However, this is far less than the gap in respect of large companies, which is 42%. Voters are far more concerned about the exessive influence of corporations than of unions. Furthermore, and as I have argued, the numbers in respect of unions can be moved by us pointing out the simple fact that they are, after all, organisations of “ordinary voters”.

So notwithstanding the challenges of political debate, the underlying state of public opinion offers us real grounds for encouragement. Where unpromising poll numbers do exist, they are by no means set in stone, or there to be genuflected before. It is important to make the effort to persuade and secure the support of as wide a range of people as possible. A strong and well formulated argument can mobilise those who already agree with you in principle, and it can change the mind of many of those who are potentially sympathetic.

Conclusion

Above all, and perhaps more than at any time in its recent history, the left can make its economic case with firmness and with confidence. Like a third-rate Ronald Reagan tribute act, David Cameron has wheeled out a tediously over-familiar performance, wherein government is always the problem and the market is always the solution, irrespective of the reality of the situation. Roll back the frontiers of the state, we are told, and the thrusting free-market will step in to drive prosperity for the benefit of all. To hear these arguments made in 2010 borders on the surreal, given the events that brought the economy to this point. The government’s case is not only wrong, it is backwards to an extent that is almost laughable, relying as it does on an economic philosophy that has just suffered a seminal humiliation at the hands of history.

As the Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz stated last year the fall of Wall Street was to “market fundamentalism” what the fall of the Berlin Wall was to Communism. “With the collapse of great banks and financial houses”, the idea that “democratic market capitalism [is] the final stage of social development” and “that unfettered markets, all by themselves, can ensure economic prosperity and growth” is now “over”. “Today only the deluded would argue that markets are self-correcting or that we can rely on the self-interested behavior of market participants to guarantee that everything works honestly and properly”. Another Nobel economics laureate, Paul Krugman, said that the scholarly supporters of that market fundamentalism would now have to face some brutal truths about how many of the ideas and assumptions they had generated in recent years had played out in actuality.

Economists from the left, centre and even some on the right have poured scorn on the government’s economic policy. Stiglitz says he is “incredulous” at Tory austerity plans, dismissing as “crazy” and “fear-mongering” the claim that Britain is at risk of defaulting on its debts. Krugman says he was “shocked” when he heard of the Conservatives’ economic policies going in to the election, saying that they would drive the UK back into recession “for sure”. David Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank of England’s interest rate-setting Monetary Policy Committee, has said of Osborne simply: “he scares me”. Samuel Brittan, veteran commentator for the Financial Times, describes Cameron and Osborne as “behaving like owners of a whelk stall rather than economic managers of a nation with its own currency.”

Our opposition to ConDem austerity, therefore, belongs on the front foot. It should be expressed with confidence, and occasionally with scorn for the thoroughly discredited thinking that underpins the Tory deficit fetishism. At all times, the government and its supporters must be forced on to the defensive, just as even mild sceptics were forced onto the defensive during the bubble years, when free market dogma reigned supreme. It is vital that we strike this posture, that we adopt this mindset, because the broad left, as well as defending those who will be hurt most by the cuts, also has a positive opportunity to grasp. The perceived legitimacy that buttressed neo-liberalism for three decades has never been weaker. A coalition against austerity can and should also produce ideas for an alternative economic model that can, once the government is defeated, drive forward to turn the page on neo-liberalism and zombified Thatcherism once and for all. The stakes are high and, as far as the political argument itself is concerned, we are by far in the strongest position.

David Wearing a PhD candidate in Political Science at the School of Public Policy, University College London. His articles have been published by The Guardian and Le Monde Diplomatique. He is one of the co-editors of the New Left Project

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First published: 10 August, 2010

Category: Activism, Corporate power, Economy, Employment & Welfare, Health

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21 Comments on "Fighting The Cuts with Confidence"

By Samuel Grove, on 10 August 2010 - 09:11 |

i enjoyed this. elegantly argued david. however just to add a little pessimism of the intellect to your optimism of the will: hasn’t the political argument been on our side for a every long time? Since the neolliberal revolution inequality has gone up, large swathes of british industry has been destroyed, poverty has become a fixture in much of the north and many boroughs in London etc. Plenty of evidence, plenty of discontent to tap into etc
The left hasn’t been losing the argument up to now, what they have been losing is the organisational capacity to carry their argument-. I don’t expect you disagree with this (hence your remarks on unions), but nonetheless the very fact that the political argument is so stacked in our favour is indicative of how successful the right has been. It is, therefore, not necessarily, a sign of strength.

By David Wearing, on 10 August 2010 - 13:10 |

Thanks, Sam. These are relevant points. However, I did say that “...as far as the political argument itself is concerned, we are by far in the strongest position”. I think I was also reasonably clear that the reason we are facing these cuts is because of the material/political of our opponents (their ability to influence policy, etc) rather than the intellectual strength of their arguments.
However, while the strength of one’s argument is by no means the decisive factor by itself, nor is it irrelevant. If it were, the government and its supporters would waste no effort in selling their cuts program as fair and necessary, Cameron would have made no effort to detoxify the Tory “brand” over the last five years, Blair would have made no effort to concoct his tissue of lies about Iraq, and so on, and so on. The debate may not be decisive, but its highly relevant, and power understands it as such.
When I said that “the perceived legitimacy that buttressed neo-liberalism for three decades has never been weaker”, this was an allusion to the Gramscian idea that sustainable configurations of social/economic/political power require not only brute force on their side, but also for the legitimacy of that hierarchical system to be accepted intellectually by a sufficient number of those below the upper heights of power. It is important that the austerity agenda is being contested within the mainstream of discourse. That is a serious problem for the government, and an advantage for us in building broad opposition and deflecting the inevitable attempts to discredit us rather than engage with our arguments.
What I am saying in other words is that while we are not in a position of strength in all areas, we are in one crucial area, and this is something we ought to take heart from and think intelligently about maximising.

By David Wearing, on 10 August 2010 - 13:37 |

Another point to make, Sam, in respect of your first paragraph, is that there is a fundamental difference between the injustices of neoliberalism that people have felt in Britain up until now (at least, since the Thatcher years) and the dramatic, acutely painful changes that they are about to experience. Yes, there has up til now been, as you say “plenty of evidence [that neoliberalism doesn’t serve the public interest, and] plenty of discontent to tap into”. But while it may feel at this moment that nothing has changed, I can assure you that it’ll feel quite different in a year or two’s time. It is hard to stress sufficiently what a profound shock these cuts will administer to ordinary people’s lives, and that will have a serious effect on the political arithmetic.

By Samuel Grove, on 10 August 2010 - 14:02 |

I think our differences are nuance and emphasis. no more. Hegemony in the Gramscian sense obviously plays an important role in justifiying and maintaining hierarchial structures and domination. However I don’t think we should entirely ignore Goran Therborn’s observation that dominant ideologies “function more to unite the dominant class than justify positions of subservience to the dominated class.” (i would replace “more to” with “as much as to”)

......opinion polls have shown that most of the british people continued to adhere to vaguely social democratic values before during and after Thatcher for example.

How Therborn’s maxim translates to an effective opposition i don’t know. It seems to me that in order to be effective the opposition has to be coherent and organised (channeling our efforts through the traditional channels and existing organisations—inc the unions and SWP).
whether we require a coherent ideology to underpin such a unified opposition, or whether it is best that we concentrate on what we all oppose to begin with and in the process of mobilising start thinking about alternatives—im not sure. i can see strengths and weaknesses on both sides of the argument.

By Samuel Grove, on 10 August 2010 - 14:16 |

in respect of your second comment—i agree. i think the US is warning in this respect. The US has a vibrant dissident culture, particularly through the universities and alternative media who make their argument very well. But without organised constituencies and social institutions with which to carry the fight into the mainstream we are witnessing the rise of the tea parties and the religious right that are filling that void (although as Amy Goodman keeps reminding us there is plenty of mobilisation on the left that the media insists on ignoring).

It just serves to underline the importance of getting our house in order and also accepting that in any organisation there will be flaws and things we don’t agree with. The discipline and organisation of the SWP—to borrow Chris Read’s terms—is exactly what we need—irrespective of how badly it might taste to some of us

By David Wearing, on 10 August 2010 - 14:39 |

Yes, we really are getting into nuance now. Whether or not dominant ideologies “function more to unite the dominant class than justify positions of subservience to the dominated class”, weaknesses or openings in that ideology are clearly welcome. That is the material point.

I make no argument in favour of drawing up a “coherent ideology”. Unlike perhaps a lot of people in the field of political science, I find theory and theoretical precision, while not unimportant, to be somewhat overrated. What I have tried to do is to show that there are a set of general arguments that can be made which the broad left, and even people outside the left, can substantively sign up to irrespective of the precise ideology that they might espouse.

Finally, I don’t think anything I’ve written contradicts or detracts from the idea that you need political organisation. Of course you do. You need that and a set of arguments, and I have focused on the latter simply because that is my area of competance. On organisation, I think what is inevitable is that the opposition will be fragmented, diverse and sometimes contradictory, but that this can be a strength rather than a weakness (Naomi Klein talks a bit about this in Fences and Windows I think), but that where we can find opportunity for collaboration then we should try and make the most of that.

By Samuel Grove, on 10 August 2010 - 15:42 |

“Unlike perhaps a lot of people in the field of political science, I find theory and theoretical precision, while not unimportant, to be somewhat overrated.”

I think you are conflating two things. In terms of theoretical analysis of the nature and form of class exploitation etc—i basically agree. History, politics, economics, doesn’t lend itself to scientific precision.

However I brought up Therborn and Ideology primarily because i think their strategic implications are salient. I know you are a fan of Chomsky so i refer you to this part of his debate with Foucault

“[T]here are two intellectual tasks: one… is to try to create the vision of a future just society; that is to create, if you like, a humanistic social theory. Another task is to understand very clearly the nature of power and oppression and terror and destruction in our own society. And in fact, as far as one’s own political involvements are concerned, in which one spends the majority of one’s energy and effort… Still, I think it would be a great shame to put aside entirely the somewhat more abstract and philosophical task of trying to draw the connections between a concept of human nature that gives full scope to freedom and dignity and creativity and other fundamental human characteristics, and to relate that to some notion of social structure in which those properties could be realised and in which meaningful human life could take place.
  And in fact, if we are thinking of social transformation or social revolution, though it would be absurd, of course, to try to sketch out in detail the goal that we are hoping to reach, still we should know something about where we think we are going, and such a theory may tell it to us.”
I happen to share Foucault’s pessimism regarding the possibility of identifying a “human nature” that can be realised—however that is to go off topic. The important point is that Ideology or vision, or whatever you want to call it, serves as a sort of moral compass and orienting device that gets us moving—even if we don’t know where we will ultimately end up.
Ironically the predominance of neoliberalism demonstrates both the power of ideology and the danger of an absence of ideology.

On the one hand people like hayek and friedman set out a vision of a free market society—one that was championed by politicians such as Thatcher—and served as a unifying cause for the vanguards in Chicago and the monetarists in this country. On the other this ideology was coupled with a very malign political philosophy for everyone else—sketched out by people like isiah berlin—and championed by Blair—that says it is dangerous to believe in something. The only safe thing to believe in is freedom from dangerous ideologies (that invariably end up totalitarian) in the form of capitalist democracy where the role of the state is purely to enforce the law and protect the individual. (obviously whether Reagan/Thatcher were really committed to the free market, or Blair was actually committed to civil liberties etc is a matter for Chomsky’s second type of political action)

Beliefs and faith is dangerous. But at this present time, it is more dangerous not to believe in something.

By David Wearing, on 10 August 2010 - 16:13 |

Sam - I don’t say that such considerations are irrelevant. I merely say that the purpose of this specific article - in the specific context of building a broad coalition - was to think about what general analysis we can offer which can attract agreement from as wide a potentially sympathetic range of people as possible.

I entirely agree about ideology. I have made these points myself in previous articles (my political science one for the Guardian this spring, e.g.), but I don’t want to get into that here. For these immediate purposes I’m trying to put such things aside to a certain extent and focus on considering what sort of general position can be articulated in the interests of maximising the chances for collaboration across the left and beyond.

In their place, debates on the fine detail of how precisely discourse reinforces power-structures, for example, can be very worthwhile. And I don’t say that to diminish such discussions. They really can be very worthwhile. But sometimes, to build a case that can resonate as widely as possible, its more productive to build an argument in general terms that seeks out and establishes points of general agreement. For all that Chomsky advocates some important philosophical tasks in the quote you give, you’ll note that in practice, over subsequent years, he has devoted a great deal of time not to developing and refining theory or ideology but to offering critiques of government policy whose general and broad resonance is stressed at every turn. Its a practical approach which I think is worthwhile in articles such as this, taking into account their specific purpose.

By Samuel Grove, on 10 August 2010 - 17:34 |

“I’m trying to put such things aside to a certain extent and focus on considering what sort of general position can be articulated in the interests of maximising the chances for collaboration across the left and beyond.”

I think this is important and I think you have done this in your piece. It offers us a good point of departure. However surely the purpose of the roundtable was to identify points of tension, bring them out in the open and try to resolve them.

It seems to me there are two questions that have come out in the course of the last week’s discussion which are most significant (perhaps Im wrong, but it was this that informed my posts above)

1) To what degree should the coalition rely upon and operate through traditional channels and institutions?

2) To what extent and at which point (and if at all) the coalition should be offering a specific alternative of its own?

It isn’t enough to say, which i fear you are in danger of doing to a degree, that it we need to both embrace a broad church AND mobilise existing institutions. Or that we need to focus on our opposition to cuts AND somewhere down the line seek alternatives (plural).

The reason being, to a certain degree we wind up saying nothing at all. The second thing is—i think there are real points of disagreement here and unless they are really investigated and addressed (hence the importance of this roundtable) the coalition may just suffer the fate of collapsing under the weight of its contradictions.

To a certain degree (minus the ad hominems) the little spat on the comments to the last piece, are not entirely unhelpful

No doubt in Richard’s rejoinder these issues will be addressed—but for the record i am in favour of channelling our efforts primarily through existing channells (for all its limitations) and also raising the issue of alternatives (perhaps alternative?) sooner rather than later. However I am less emphatic on the second question…

By Samuel Grove, on 10 August 2010 - 17:47 |

i would say Chomsky sticks, quite legitimately, to what he’s good at.

Extract from Manufacturing Consent
“Yeah, but that’s because other people are doing important things and I’m not doing important things—that’s what it literally comes down to. I mean, years ago I used to be involved in organizing too—I’d go to meetings, get involved in resistance, go to jail, all of that stuff—and I was just no good at it at all; some of these people here can tell you. So sort of a division of labor developed: I decided to do what I’m doing now, and other people kept doing the other things.”

By David Wearing, on 10 August 2010 - 19:01 |

surely the purpose of the roundtable was to identify points of tension, bring them out in the open and try to resolve them

No, not necessarily. That can be one element of it. Where differences can be identified and resolved, or at least discussed productively, then obviously that’s good. But why should discussion be limited to that? Finding areas of agreement also has its importance.

In some parts, my article is a response to Sunny, engaging with the notes of caution he sounded, and trying to think through a few responses. As I noted at the top of the piece, the NLP “debate” has generally become more of a discussion, which is a preferable way to talk through the variety of perspectives we have than with “little spats”.

It isn’t enough to say, which i fear you are in danger of doing to a degree, that it we need to both embrace a broad church AND mobilise existing institutions. Or that we need to focus on our opposition to cuts AND somewhere down the line seek alternatives (plural).

I hope I’m not just “in danger” of saying this “to a degree”. It is in fact what I am saying.

<i>The reason being, to a certain degree we wind up saying nothing at all.<i>

Don’t see how.

<i>i think there are real points of disagreement here and unless they are really investigated and addressed (hence the importance of this roundtable) the coalition may just suffer the fate of collapsing under the weight of its contradictions<i>

Alternatively, if we fight too hard against the inevitable diversity of any broad movement, it may collapse under that effort as well.

With Chomsky, the quote you give is him talking about practical activism not being his area of expertise. That’s not what we were discussing in terms of where his writing has gone.

By Samuel Grove, on 10 August 2010 - 20:09 |

surely the purpose of the roundtable was to identify points of tension, bring them out in the open and try to resolve them

No, not necessarily. That can be one element of it. Where differences can be identified and resolved, or at least discussed productively, then obviously that’s good. But why should discussion be limited to that? Finding areas of agreement also has its importance.</i>

well, it seemed to me that everyone basically agrees on Richard’s interpretation. The question of what to do is open and, the most important

i hope I’m not just “in danger” of saying this “to a degree”. It is in fact what I am saying.

The reason being, to a certain degree we wind up saying nothing at all.

Don’t see how.

Because it is a given that the coalition will be a mixture of the two. at least this is how I see it. It won’t be a precondition of the coalition that you be a member of the SWP or a union—but there are obviously going to be issues around leadership and who will take the initiatives, decide on strategies etc. the question is therefore one of degree. somewhere down the line concrete decisions on who does what, how it is done, who or what form will leadership take etc wil have to be made.. general platitudes about integration, horizontalism, partnership (which im not suggesting you are resorting to by the way) seem to serve the purpose of not offending people. We both know however that politics and political organising is much more messy than this. By being more explicit about the relative weight and reliance we will have on existing channels now, it serves to focus our attention on the important questions to come. At the very least it serves to focus our attention on how these concrete decisions will or might be made.

Alternatively, if we fight too hard against the inevitable diversity of any broad movement, it may collapse under that effort as well.

well yes. that is also a danger. i guess i think it is safer to identify the parameters and nature of the coalition to begin with. or at least be open about discussing it.

With Chomsky, the quote you give is him talking about practical activism not being his area of expertise. That’s not what we were discussing in terms of where his writing has gone.

Well no. but i was just using it to illustrate the fact that we shouldn’t import too much from the particular focus Chomsky has taken in his work—because he has undertaken his work in recognition of the fact that there is to be some division of labour.

I also don’t want to go into too much detail because it isn’t relevant here, but his anarchist vision (workers control, opposition to the state) is implicit in much of his critique—and the anarcho syndicalism from Spain—which he advocates—was all about organising around a specific alternative

this debate has been helpful—thanks for taking the time to respond

By Jo, on 10 August 2010 - 22:16 |

The structural deficit inherited from the previous administration was 70 billion even in extremely good economic times. Unfortunately, given spending plans, it was made much worse by the economic downturn, the fault of some wholly irresponsible behaviour and organisation of many banks. 

I don’t really see how you can claim that ‘public spending cuts of staggering size, [are] being rushed through without serious thought but often with palpable glee by a cabinet stuffed with millionaires who clearly have an intuitive grasp of the concept of class interest, and of protecting their own at the expense of others.’

This is a really disingenuous politicisation. I don’t think any of the cabinet relish having to make cuts. Such arguments and language are rather crass. 

Also, the crisis did not expose some imagined bankruptcy of the free market. It was proof that the free market really is free - it resists attempts to tamper with it, for example, lending to those who cannot repay loans and assuming that house prices will rise forever. 

By Chrys, on 10 August 2010 - 22:59 |

I’m beginning to feel like the proverbial broken record, but this needs to be stressed.
Any discussion of the ‘cuts’, the ‘debt’ and the ‘deficit’ which does not explain what they are cedes vital ground to the ruling class ideologists.
The ‘left’ seems to have a real problem discussing the bases of public financing preferring to allow the legitimacy of the ‘debt’ , the necessity of repaying it (on the loanmongers’ terms ) and move right into explanations that the amounts involved are not very large really.
  This is to allow the ruling class to take the ‘common sense’ position that, actually, the trillions are a very substantial sum,  and to repay them will involve mortgaging revenues.
There are very easy answers to this and they begin with an assertion that the health and welfare of the people is the top priority. And if this involves adjusting the debt repayment terms, or declining to pay interest or even repudiation, all of these things are very practicable and far preferable to cutting any public services.
  It ought to be recalled that it was on this very issue that Snowden and MacDonald, ultra orthodox liberals, split Labour in 1931, and that the origins of the working class left in Britain lie in the fight against cuts and orthodox banking in the post Waterloo period.  These ‘cuts’ included the Poor Law Reform, and a full agenda of legislation designed to crush the poor to assist in capital accumulation.    The enemy is High Finance, which dominates the ruling class, and whose interests are being served both by the cuts and privatisation That is why it makes sense not to change the subject of financial crisis but rather to insist on its exposing its course and its costs in gory detail

By Chrys, on 11 August 2010 - 00:12 |

“The structural deficit inherited from the previous administration was 70 billion even in extremely good economic times. “

Or, to put it another way, the government borrowed money when borrowing money was easy, because the money in question was created by government.  Now government wishes to de-celerate the rate at which it produces money and is simply creating enough to supply the banks who, after adding a charge in the form of an interest rate, lend it back to the government. As they do so they warn that interest rates must rise because the government is improvident (they’ve got that right)  and nobody in the private sector is investing because consumer demand is falling off, in part at least because unemployment is rising.  By all means call this a ‘free market.’ I would only add that the poor are free, in a democracy, to give the Banks the choice of not being paid or being paid out of taxes levied on themselves , starting with a tax on unearned income.

By Colin Talbot, on 11 August 2010 - 06:52 |

Just a small point, but some of us have been pointing out that New Labour public spending was well within historic trends. I have been giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee to that effect since the mid-2000s, and writing about it in Public Finance and my blog - Whitehall Watch. It is good to see tat more people are starting to realize the myth of Labour’s excessive spending is just tat - a myth. Unfortunately it was one far too many on the Left and Right adopted because it suited bit sides arguments.

By David Wearing, on 11 August 2010 - 08:22 |

The structural deficit inherited from the previous administration was 70 billion even in extremely good economic times. Unfortunately, given spending plans, it was made much worse by the economic downturn, the fault of some wholly irresponsible behaviour and organisation of many banks

Take a look at this graph. Before the credit crunch, national debt as a proportion of GDP (the raw number of £70bn doesn’t tell us very much - a lot for Andorra, not much for the US) was at a far from extraordinary level. The graph shows rather dramatically how the debt then spiked, first when the credit crunch began, and second when the full-scale banking collapse occurred a year later.

Additionally, recall that governments are quite capable of taking on and dealing with debt, where necessary. They can borrow cheaply, over the long term, and can pay back over time through increases in revenue that come with economic growth, and of course through rises in taxation. Given that the richest thousand people in Britain have a collective wealth of an eye-watering £335bn, some modest tax rises to help bring down Britain’s debt are entirely feasible.

This is a really disingenuous politicisation. I don’t think any of the cabinet relish having to make cuts. Such arguments and language are rather crass

Here’s a senior government adviser, writing anonymously for the Observer:

There is a common thread running through quango culls and cuts, and that is the curious glee with which Conservative ministers are going about it. No sense of empathy or a heavy heart. Just the strange glint of an eye that suggests “we are enjoying this and we would have done it anyway”.

I don’t see why this should surprise anyone. As I noted, right-wingers are using this opportunity to attack the public sector in ways that they have openly fantasised about long before the credit crisis. Why wouldn’t they be pleased about that? Because of their sense of fairness and compassion? It seems hard to square that presumption with the fact that , as I also mentioned, the poorest 10% of households, earning under £14,200, face cuts equivalent to 21.7% of their household income while the richest, those earning over £49,700 (and most of the cabinet are far far richer than this), will suffer a cut of just 3.6%.

Also, the crisis did not expose some imagined bankruptcy of the free market. It was proof that the free market really is free - it resists attempts to tamper with it, for example, lending to those who cannot repay loans and assuming that house prices will rise forever.

Clearly you’re not familiar the claims made in favour of “free-market” economics, or the bearing that recent events have on their merits. I suggest you read the Paul Krugman article that I cited, which explains these points reasonably clearly and in sufficient depth.

By Samuel Grove, on 11 August 2010 - 13:29 |

This is being sent out as a mass email to a coterie of policy makers, consultants, journalists and important people
http://blog.conservatives.com/index.php/2010/08/11/its-time-to-expose-labours-legacy/

and here is a video they made
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bvG6IwLM4SQ

By David Wearing, on 11 August 2010 - 14:01 |

Warsi’s specialism is argument by tabloid anecdote, and tabloid journalists will lap this sort of thing up. How it will fare when tested in more open public debate is another matter.

By david law, on 17 August 2010 - 20:42 |

Hi David,

at 8.22 on 11th August you said “They can borrow cheaply, over the long term, and can pay back over time through increases in revenue that come with economic growth”.
I think we will see economic growth being substantially less than all the projections, 1.5%, 2% max if we are lucky, for a decade at least. The Global Financial Crisis is certainly not over, with mainstream economists and journalists , see the NY Fed and IMF on Shadow Banking, Gillian Tett at the FT , becoming increasingly woried about system-collapse. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m no Tory , by a long way, and my budget cuts would have been less and far more concentrated on income redistribution downwards . For a change !

By David Wearing, on 17 August 2010 - 22:05 |

David - this doesn’t join the dots properly. Of course growth is going to be sluggish, or even go into reverse, under current austerity measures. Instead, you use fiscal stimulus to boost growth and then use the proceeds from that to pay off the deficit.

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