Scandal and silence in Lisboa

Open Democracy News Analysis - 3 hours 4 min ago

I am not an “austerity refugee”, the author tells our partners, Precarious Europe. In fact, my family has had a role to play in the suffering of millions of Portuguese workers.

 

Graffiti against Ricardo Salgado: “Today being a banker is complicated”. Francisco Huguenin Uhlfelder. All rights reserved. I am often asked, in way of “how do you do” – so, what is happening in Portugal? Portugal, that ten and a half million strong nation on the sea, right in the butt of Spain, the place where Ibiza holidayers graduate to when they decide to retire. Portugal, where I was born and raised and gained political consciousness, the country I left at 18 attempting to escape what to me was a dull, depressing and oppressing reality.

Portugal has been riddled with austerity measures almost as drastic as those in Greece. Yet with less than five months until the next general election, a Portuguese version of Syriza seems to be nowhere in sight. Is it because the Portuguese are the “good student of Europe”? Is it because they are lazy? There is no one theory that can explain what is happening in Europe’s oldest nation-state. I thought of explaining the socio-economic and political circumstances of my “homeland” by way of anecdotes. The Portugal of my little flat in an old Lisbon neighbourhood and family dinners says more than IMF spreadsheets. I later discovered I was also explaining myself: my story, my life, my family, my adult decisions. Portugal had finally caught up with me.

‘The owner of all this’

My mother double-parks her car, sets the emergency lights blinking and tells me to wait. “Where is that woman?”, I hear her mutter as she closes the door and heads towards the local supermarket still fumbling through her bag. On the sidewalk in front of the supermarket entrance sits an eastern European woman begging. I can only see the back of her head, covered in a colourful scarf. She turns around as she hears my mother approaching and I glimpse a dark tanned face, aged early, eyes dampened with misery. Her skin is tough, parched and wrinkled but she cannot be older than 40. My mother crouches, handing over a couple of white boxes. The woman mouths several things I cannot hear from inside the car. My mother returns, turns the engine on and we are off again. “Paracetamol”, says mother, “she’s been complaining of headaches.”

Mother has always been a charitable person – something that used to upset me as a child, because she seemed to have more time for ailing old women than for me. The Catholicism she brought me up in was propelled by the principle of “love thy neighbour” more than any other commandment. For all that, I have never seen my mother help as many people as she has in the last few years. You see, this is austerity Portugal, of Dickensian poverty mingling with tourists and German state convoys, of young men sleeping rough under five star hotel delivery doors, of a middle-class looking woman coming up to me in downtown Lisbon, looking down in utter shame, asking for some cash.

First it is important to note that I can write this piece because I am privileged. Because of my family I could leave Lisbon before the 2008 crash. I might be one of over 30,000 Portuguese people living in Britain, but I didn’t move due to the staggering 34 per cent youth unemployment rate. I wasn’t forced to board a plane to Germany or Switzerland or Brazil, encouraged by the Portuguese political elite, whilst colleagues and friends cried on TV begging the government to find us jobs in our own towns. I remember a nurse being interviewed at Oporto airport in 2012 as he boarded a plane with 23 other colleagues, heading to full-time employment in England. “Don’t tax our tears”, he said, “let us cry and hate this country we’ve been expelled from.”

No, I am not an “austerity refugee”. In fact, my family has had a role to play in the suffering of the millions of Portuguese workers now without jobs, of a generation lost to precarity and depression.

It’s August 2014 and granddad is looking down at his two breakfast kiwis on the hotel terrace. The sun burns my back and I avoid his eyes as I wait for him to speak. Finally, he begins talking about the scandal that engulfed my family – and the entire nation – that summer. “You see, it was me who led those initial investigations”, he says. Granddad spent his entire life in the banking sector. I am to this day still struggling to understand how, for all intents and purposes, he could not foresee what happened to the Banco Espírito Santo (BES) – Portugal’s biggest private bank to date. As the chairman of BES he was in the eye of the storm and our annual holiday in Madeira had been close to being cancelled plenty of times before we finally left. The bank was collapsing following the discovery that the head of the Espírito Santo family, and CEO of the group, Ricardo Salgado, had been involved in a tax evasion and money laundering scandal amounting to €3.6 billion in losses.

The fall of Banco Espírito Santo came as a shock to the nation. It’s not simple to explain why without understanding the reverence with which the Portuguese elite dealt with the Espírito Santo family. Ricardo Salgado was once coined “the owner of all this”, in reference to the large swathes of land across the country belonging to him and the clan. Since becoming chair of the board of BES, my granddad would often chew our ears with sycophantic odes to Salgado. “A brilliant man”, he would say, “a visionary”. Aunts and uncles and cousins galore – many in my family sang praise to the man who “rebuilt” BES after it had been taken over by the state during the 1974 Carnation Revolution. Their dismay as the scandal broke out was in tune with the rest of the country.

The case brought to light a series of dodgy deals between some of Portugal’s most revered institutions. Portugal Telecom – once a public enterprise – had invested a large sum into a BES holding company. The decision had been taken by no less than two of Salgado’s best mates, Zeinal Bava and Henrique Granadeiro, who were then at the helm. When the holding company went bankrupt, Portugal Telecom was left with the bill. This is only one example of dodgy deals between BES and other Portuguese companies led by some of the country’s most powerful families. Ricardo Salgado, once a not-so-backstage advisor to successive Portuguese governments, was in disgrace.

Today, everyone in Portugal knows that millions of euros worth of public money have been squandered by the country’s oligarchs, disappearing into pockets and offshore accounts. Never before had the case of the 99% been so easy to make on the streets of Lisbon. The scandals have seen a first opening to processes of accountability in Portugal, as the BPN bank investigation unraveled further cases looking into corruption and cronyism. The former Prime Minister José Socrates was arrested last November (for money laundering and tax avoidance), and there was even a very public humiliation of incumbent President Aníbal Cavaco Silva for being a major shareholder of another bankrupt Portuguese bank BPN. Yet, for all this, there has been no popular movement taking full advantage of this opening.

Why no movement?

When I returned to Lisbon for a flying visit last March I decided to do a lot of dog walks. I wanted to feel the streets. Mother lives a few minutes away from parliament so I walked Ragid the dog down the main road towards a small garden behind parliament and next to the official residence of the Portuguese prime minister. It was 8am on a Saturday morning. Not a single political poster in sight. Not a sticker. Nothing. The police officer outside the PM’s door was young and sleepy. He looked at me a couple of times but didn’t say a thing. We set off again towards São Bento’s Square in front of Parliament. No graffiti. No messages of hope or hate. Ragid and I moved onto a nearby university campus. If not here where else will I find political propaganda? But again my heart sank. I walked home with the black dog in tow. A couple of days later I met with journalist and long-time political activist Nuno Ramos de Almeida. He had just left Portuguese daily “i” on sabbatical, to lead a new anti-capitalist project called AG!R (the Portuguese word for “to act”, with the exclamation point as part of its branding). I waited for Nuno outside an underground station and finally spotted some graffiti: “And when you lose your job? General strike 22 March”. It was followed by a pun on the Portuguese for “every man for himself”, urging people to save BES (ironically I presume). Nuno took me to the closest coffee shop. “You have to understand, the left in Portugal has always been much stronger than in Greece or Spain”, he said.

Indeed, due to the 1974 revolution, the Portuguese left has both a strong tradition and a significant role in mainstream politics to this day. Just compare the support for communist parties in Portugal and Greece over the last few decades. The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) has always been ahead of the Greek Kommounistikó Kómma Elládas (KKE) by a few percentage points.

The hegemonic power of the orthodox, Stalinist tradition still has its hold on the Portuguese working class. In the last general elections, PCP won 14 seats in the 230 strong Assembly of the Republic (the official name of Portuguese parliament). Together with the Greens it forms an electoral coalition that is hard to budge. It’s control over the Portuguese Labour movement makes it hard for new aspiring forces of the left to make their mark.

AG!R launched earlier in March and is positioning itself on the same axis as the Spanish Podemos. “We want to return democracy to the people”, said Nuno. “The political camp of this initiative goes beyond the spectrum of left and right”. This aim to bring together more than the usual suspects is admirable but can it work? Nuno’s tone is jocular, as if taking it all too seriously would be a mistake. The left in Portugal is plagued by the usual sectarianism and petty quarrels.

The new left project of the late 1990s, the Left Bloc, has been leaking members for the last decade. In fact, it haemorrhaged severely during the first years of the financial crisis. In 2011 it signed its own political death sentence when it supported NATO’s intervention in Libya and joined in backing the Socialist Party presidential candidate, going against most of its voters’ wishes. To many, the Bloc has lost its Left side. Those who since then bid adieu to the Left Bloc can now be found interspersed across small anticapitalist projects, including AG!R.

Someone once joked I was “up for a Nobel Prize” after noticing how I am happy to engage with members of parties across the Portuguese left: Bloco’s MPs, former PCP leaders, the new eco-socialist party Livre, the rank-and-file of AG!R to name but a few examples. It’s easier for me, as I no longer live in the country. I have both all and little hope for the left. I want them to succeed, to take power, to mobilize Portuguese unemployed youths and oppressed black communities. I scour the internet, hoping to find political videos or other party promotion that can engage the thousands of people struggling every day to put bread on the table, the families where parents and children all have to share a bed, or the black communities whose young men and women suffer daily brutality at the hands of the police. A sign that, in short, there is still a banner to raise when we finally take to the streets.

When prodded about all this, Nuno tells me there is only so much a group like AG!R can do. I can see a glimpse of despair in his eyes, the look of someone who knows exactly the issues I am talking about but has no way to solve them either. It’s the blind leading the blind here.

I left him with a slight sense of relief. Perhaps it was better that I did not live in this godforsaken country, where responsibility for change would rest upon my shoulders. On landing in Heathrow a few days after that, I felt guilt but also a sense of cutting lose and being free. Being an émigré can be a blessing as much as a curse.

Hairdressers, taxi drivers, waiters, all will tell you how the BES affair, as well as many others now uncovered, is an outrage, but they will also shrug: “What is one going to do? They are the ones who rule.” Portuguese history is peppered with moments in which the people rose to overthrow the powers that be, but seemingly the very same families that held the reigns before return, like weeds, to take back their mansions and their businesses. Alongside them a few new names, mine included, that feed from the leftovers of exploitation. The country seems balanced on a fine line between rage and perseverance – much like my family has been divided between those who hang on to the status quo for their own benefit and those, like myself, who’ve shunned all that in favour of a life less parasitical.

There is a famous Portuguese song, by revolutionary singer-songwriter Sérgio Godinho which goes along the lines of: “here we keep going with our heads between our ears”. It is a great metaphor for Portuguese attitudes towards injustice and oppression: an unshakable feeling of acceptance, of resignation, whilst underneath the tension simmers. Until one day it boils over.

Originally published on Precarious Europe.

Country or region:  Portugal EU Topics:  Civil society Conflict Culture Democracy and government Economics
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A Syrian’s view of Europe

Open Democracy News Analysis - 3 hours 8 min ago

Humam, fleeing his war-torn country, made the perilous crossing from North Africa to Europe. He now reminds us how big and wonderful Europe can be.

Credit: Yana Zalesskaya. All rights reserved.I live in Germany now. I have a bicycle, an address and everything, and some wonderful neighbours. We talk in English and they teach me German words. On my first day here, my uncle, a German citizen, said to me, “look after this society, it will look after you in return”. He also said, “there is justice, you will take what it is rightfully yours, despite all the bureaucratic crap”.

He said these things while we were walking downtown in the city of Oldenburg for the first time, shopping for clothes, a few hours after I arrived. Right after I said to him, “I feel that this might be a dream and I will wake up any time now and everything will be gone”. He patted me on the back, smiled and said: “It’s not, you’re here”.

Even now, thinking about it, it takes me back to how suddenly it all came to be. One single decision to leave, leaving everything behind but faith in Allah and the love of family. I took my backpack, kissed my parents’ hands and left Cairo where I was temporarily staying, once and for all. Only Allah and some friends know what happened after that.

Europe

In the last three years, since the war in Syria started, more than 31,000 Syrian immigrants entered Europe according to Frontex; enduring hardship and facing death, in search of a better life after giving up on our so-called ‘Arab World’. I think you can’t ask, “why Europe?” It’s an illogical question to a Syrian these days; or almost any other immigrant for that matter. There is everything you might want in Europe and you are taken care of, thanks to the asylum-seeking policy. It’s that simple.

For us, Europe is like this gorgeous girl, who is way out of your league. As an outsider, you don’t get close because you know you’ll be rejected. Suddenly a twist and that girl is yours. For the most part, she likes you for who you are and doesn’t mind where you come from. For the most part.

Being Syrian, doors are open for you in Europe and Europe is the only place where being Syrian actually helps. Your Syrian ID is the most valuable thing you have. You simply can’t be rejected. I interacted with way too many people on my journey, Syrians on their way to a better life. People on their own, families with babies barely a few months old… That’s the way you learn how things work, how you comprehend human trading – in every sense of the term – at the start point (Arab countries) and also the humanity that enfolds you at the finish line (European countries).

Almost everyone at some point, on the way, says, “It is not worth it”. God only knows the things they go through. I was one of those people, although now I know it’s worth it after you arrive. I remember so clearly when an Italian policeman told me, in broken English, “You are Syrian, you are free to go wherever you want”.

A phrase like that stays with you. It felt like the only thing worth hearing, it was what I needed despite my everlasting conflict with the word ‘need’. Life became substantive and imaginary at the same time, in the same flow and at the expense of the despair I thought would never leave. Indeed it left me at that moment. The word ‘free’ can be magical. I’m not special, it’s magical for everyone.

Trying to recall my journey and writing about it, is taking an incredible amount of time and effort. I start writing and then thirty minutes later I find myself having written a couple of lines and lost deep in my thoughts. I remember all the people I met, all the things I did, the pictures I took and were taken of me – yes, at some point it’s like tourism – what I ate, what I was wearing. Literally everything. It’s so strange to just share it. To shape feelings into words to describe this journey. Deep down you know you will never be able to do it justice.

“I took my backpack, kissed my parents’ hands and left Cairo”

I met people that had an impact on my life to this day, that will stay with me. Some stuck around through the journey. Inside them, I recognized a similarity between us, in the struggle and the desire to belong.

Some just passed through, but with impact. From the moment I met them I saw in them understanding, first and foremost. Until the very last moment, when the train was taking off, they didn’t leave me and my friends. Greta, an Italian friend who did everything she could to help me and my friends continue our journey and reach our destination, was crying the moment the train was leaving Milan. Greta Ramelli and Vanessa Marzullo are humanitarians, two fighters for the Syrian cause and also my friends, who are now held captive in Syria after they went out in Allepo to help in any way they could, despite our efforts to talk them out of it…

It has been months now. I’ve been told that the Italian Government is doing its best and is hopeful, but nothing has happened concerning their release yet. They once told me that they feel that Syria is their home; “Syria is no home for anyone anymore” was my reply. It was such a cruel thing to say. I don’t regret it but I do wish I could take it back.

You meet people for the very first time and you stay with them for a little while. You feel so close to them, like you’ve known them from a long time ago. They help you unconditionally. You try and drink it all in, everything, the experience of it all. Then you leave, in the knowledge you will never forget.

Italy

Italy was (and still is) quite poor, but beautiful. Actually, incredibly beautiful, romantic, vast and old. A lady of origins and style. You can feel the struggle and its sweet taste. Between mountains and at the end of the sea, as I like to call it; on the shores and beyond; unlike all that follows. There, a group of people are given new life. It’s the absolute truth. I feel, with unshakeable belief, that like hundreds of thousands of Syrians before me, Italy is the place I was re-born – despite the way we got there.

“…since the war in Syria started, more than 31,000 Syrian immigrants entered Europe”

If you heard the stories about the death trips from Egypt and Libya and the on foot border-crossings in Hungary and Serbia… If you could witness people’s faces and expressions when they talk about their experiences, if you could touch their reality a little bit, the reality of the Syrians… You might consequently know what the Italians are for most of them – the Italian marines in particular.

While I’ll never be able to do them justice, I don’t just want to go on saying how great and noble they are either. Maybe it’s best to just say what really happens out there: They pick you up, literally, with their own hands, save you, give you shelter. They feed and treat you in the best way possible. They give you the honour of the first step to Europe, and that’s in their own country. They try to persuade you to stay in Italy; they tell you how beautiful it is and also how poor it is, and of course, that the choice is yours in the end. When you say no, they show you the way to go, to wherever you want. That is the point when you take matters into your own hands. You choose a country and try to figure out how to get there.

After all the plans and dreams flew far away and left me hollow in Syria, there I was, in Cosenza, walking towards a life, more alive than ever. It was a feeling that rounded on all the loss of the past few days, days that induced such feeling of powerlessness, thoughts like “I might survive all of this but it’s very unlikely”. Powerlessness that until this day keeps me awake at night.

Germany

Entranced by everything around me, what my uncle said sank into my head. It’s true, but I still have some difficulty accepting that it’s true. You see, where I come from, literally everything is possible; show some money and you can put a tiara over your head. But Germany is order, the land of opportunity. A destination sitting in the second place right after the US, for immigrants from all over the world. I chose Germany, although for most people it is the German asylum policy that’s attractive.

The country that was once called “The Land of Poets and Thinkers” struggles to defeat the racism that it’s wrongfully associated with, as if all the other countries in the world are shielded by a dome of goodness. My answer is always the same: Never generalize. I think the stereotype has stuck, everybody says Germans are cold and racist. It’s word for word what people have said to me. But I humbly ask to be the witness to testify that it’s all just untrue. I can’t stress that enough.

“Your Syrian ID is the most valuable thing you have.”

The German government does literally everything – within reason – it can for us, the Syrians who chose to come here. You are taken care of in every way and in every aspect. Firstly you apply for asylum, they give you a place to stay with other refugees, they give you papers; the process begins, it does take time and that is the downside of living in Germany. All legal transactions are complicated and take time, you have no idea, everybody struggles with that.

After some time you conduct your first interview and get temporary residency, which allows you to move only in the district that you apply in. Then comes the long wait for transfer, which determines in which city or town you are going to stay until you are given the official three years residency. That official residency is what everybody talks about until they have it. Once you have it, you are set: you can study, work, travel and move to another city if you want to. After the official residency you’re entitled to look for a place on a certain budget, a place with a mailbox and an address, a place to call your own once again.

“The horrific things we went through from the start in Syria until we reached Europe… Never try to explain it to people because nobody would actually know”

I want to say, because it worries me, to myself and to everyone who dreamed of Europe and of life there, and who had the chance to escape from terrible events… The horrific things we went through from the start in Syria until we reached Europe… Never try to explain it to people because nobody would actually know; it will only make you stronger, maybe indestructible even, and most of all more understanding towards things.

I live in Germany now. I have a bicycle, an address and everything. I have made it. I arrived. A new beginning for what seemed to be going downwards, towards an ending. I am quite well here, with so much to be thankful for. You never forget, but you choose not to remember. I know that a lot of Syrians who share my situation might disagree with a lot of what I said here. If my experience in Europe is somewhat good, it doesn’t mean it’s the same for everyone. I know that, but I still have a lot to be thankful for.

Originally published on Precarious Europe

Sideboxes Related stories:  Precarious Europe: a project on young people begins Country or region:  Syria Topics:  Civil society Conflict Democracy and government
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The Tories and the police - who is playing who?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 23:11

Sometimes it would be extremely helpful to the police for protesters to break windows at key sites...

Flickr/MichaelFindlay. Some rights reserved.

The Conservative Party position themselves as tough on crime and the party of law and order, and historically they have had a natural alliance with the police. Certainly their track record of implementing contentious policies has meant they have needed the police firmly on their side.

The announcement of cuts to police budgets by the last Coalition government may therefore have come as something of a shock to the police, and their representative body, the Police Federation. In spite of the fact that the police suffered far less severe cuts than other services, there was strong and sustained reaction to any notion of a decline in numbers or pay. The Police Federation marched in numbers, booed Theresa May at their conference and generally attacked anyone who opposed them. But they employed less obvious and more Machiavellian tactics as well.

The Police Federation is different to other unions. It can’t strike, but that does not mean it is without political power. They, like the police, project a sense that if you mess with them there will be consequences. Part of the role the Police Federation plays is to take the side of the police when they mess up. And like much policing on the streets, they aren’t too worried about the law or their duties when they do this.

As the political row over cuts to policing intensified, students also took to the streets to oppose the cuts. In 2010 student demonstrators were able to occupy and damage Conservative Party HQ in Millbank, destroy a police van in Whitehall, and break the windows of the Treasury. These protests told a story of the anger of young people – but they perhaps also tell a story of a police force that may have been more committed to increasing its leverage at the negotiating table than its duty to keep the peace.

I have a friend who was legal observing in 2010 when the students got into the Conservative headquarters in Milbank. As usual my friend sniffed around and located where the police were keeping their reserve - lots of riot police sat in vans just round the corner - and stayed there for quite some time after the students first got into Milbank. Don’t more than whisper it, but given that they had such a large reserve nearby, isn't it rather odd that they took so long to react? The police claim incompetence rather than conspiracy, but if you wanted to prove to a political party that the police, especially riot police, were important there could be no better way than allowing that party’s headquarters to be trashed on a protest.

And if it happened once then I would probably dismiss it. However, a fortnight later the police happened to leave an old police van, unmanned, in the middle of a kettle right outside Downing Street, in which thousands of students were contained for several hours (not a new tactic). Unsurprisingly, the van became a focus of the kettled student’s anger and was attacked . Less than a month after that the police kettled a crowd outside the treasury, and according to people in that protest, had officers on all sides but that of the treasury, leading to the windows getting smashed.

Clearly these incidents may be a result of a variety of factors, and there was a great deal of anger and determination from the students. But the Metropolitan Police has more public order experience than any other in the UK, and their expertise is shared around the world. Is this force really trying to claim that they cannot protect Conservative headquarters, a van outside Downing Street and the Treasury during a planned protest?

And then there is ‘Plebgate’ - you all know the story. Senior Tories took the saga as a declaration of war. Throughout the Conservative Party, scales began to fall from eyes.

It seems you can cover up the deaths of 96 football fans, take bungs from and fail to investigate journalists whilst they invade the privacy of hundreds of people in the public eye, baton and push a man to death on film and then try and cover that up, systematically profile and harass black and ethnic minorities over decades (I stopped making a list at this point but could have gone on a very long time); and you will only hear murmurs and encouragement from the Conservative party. But lie (or worse tell the truth) about one minister calling you a pleb, and the “a few bad apples” excuse seems to wear thin. Suddenly all the stories from minorities about police repression became credible in the eyes of the privileged Tory elite.

Investigating MPs expenses vaguely effectively won’t have helped things either.

I am not the first to point out that the police have a somewhat closed culture. A big part of this is that all posts above constable are filled only by internal promotion. All senior police officers used to be junior police officers. This means that for the police the respect of fellow police is vital to career progression. Even if a police officer is not ambitious, they all want to stay in the police for 30/35 years to get their wonderful pension. Stepping out of line is very tricky in such a closed culture.

The power of the culture that exists in the police motivates police officers to stick together and close ranks, and is at the core of why the Police Federation is so strong. It means the police can pull off miscarriages of justice so big they are impressive in purely logistical terms. It means that the police and ex-police will never be effective at investigating the police. As an aside, it is also a big factor in the police's phenomenally inbred and counter-productive internal politics, and treatment of outside influences - from the public to politicians - as a threat.

If the top police jobs are not reserved for police then that completely changes and disrupts the careerism and blue code of silence or ‘Omerta’ culture that is such a part of modern policing. This made it the perfect target for the Tories, and gave them an opportunity to attack what the Police Federation cares about the most.

Cameron’s idea that an American should head the Met, then Britain’s most senior police role, did not go down well. But was nowhere nearly as offensive as Home Secretary Theresa May’s plans to recruit senior police from outside of the force. It did not help that the Conservatives had already imposed Police & Crime Commissioners, creating new ‘top dog’ posts which are universally hated by the police (although ignored by the public).

But that is not all the Tories have done to undermine the police’s culture. They dismantled the navel gazing National Police Improvement Agency, and created the College of Policing - encouraging police to research and study with other members of the public, not just on campuses filled entirely with police. Theresa May has also made some effort to strengthen the “overwhelmed, woefully under-equipped and failing” ‘Independent’ Police Complaints Commission. For the first time ever someone who has not been a police officer (and therefore might be effective) was appointed as head of the main body charged with scrutinizing the police - a move that was desperately unpopular. Finally, in case anyone doubted that this was war, Theresa May cut all funding to the Police Federation.

So the Police Federation has fought back the only way they know how - viciously. However, unlike with previous governments, the state was not relying on the police to control massive protests to quite the same degree, and were able largely to implement their reforms. For me this reveals why the police would have a motivation to synthesize a narrative where they were needed to defend the bastions of a Conservative government from protest - by making sure disorder occurred as close as possible to key government structures.

It seems that the government weren’t buying, but don't hold your breath about the effectiveness of reforms designed to transform the police. Police culture is a supertanker on 30/35 years services, still with no outsiders coming into senior posts, and it will take a very long time to shift at all. If a future government needs to rely on the police to crush dissent again, they may have to do what Thatcher and new Labour did - buy off the police with a 45% pay rise or perhaps a 13 year golden ticket to any powers they want.

Ultimately, the end of the affair between two of the most reactionary and repressive groups in Britain can only be a good thing for anyone who wants a progressive society. But with 5 more years with the hated Theresa May reappointed as Home Secretary and more police cuts likely we are already seeing more shenanigans from both sides. Perhaps it is justice that this Conservative government could well savage the police the same way Thatcher’s savaged the miners.

 

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The Tories and the police - who is playing who?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 23:11

Sometimes it would be extremely helpful to the police for protesters to break windows at key sites...

Flickr/MichaelFindlay. Some rights reserved.

The Conservative Party position themselves as tough on crime and the party of law and order, and historically they have had a natural alliance with the police. Certainly their track record of implementing contentious policies has meant they have needed the police firmly on their side.

The announcement of cuts to police budgets by the last Coalition government may therefore have come as something of a shock to the police, and their representative body, the Police Federation. In spite of the fact that the police suffered far less severe cuts than other services, there was strong and sustained reaction to any notion of a decline in numbers or pay. The Police Federation marched in numbers, booed Theresa May at their conference and generally attacked anyone who opposed them. But they employed less obvious and more Machiavellian tactics as well.

The Police Federation is different to other unions. It can’t strike, but that does not mean it is without political power. They, like the police, project a sense that if you mess with them there will be consequences. Part of the role the Police Federation plays is to take the side of the police when they mess up. And like much policing on the streets, they aren’t too worried about the law or their duties when they do this.

As the political row over cuts to policing intensified, students also took to the streets to oppose the cuts. In 2010 student demonstrators were able to occupy and damage Conservative Party HQ in Millbank, destroy a police van in Whitehall, and break the windows of the Treasury. These protests told a story of the anger of young people – but they perhaps also tell a story of a police force that may have been more committed to increasing its leverage at the negotiating table than its duty to keep the peace.

I have a friend who was legal observing in 2010 when the students got into the Conservative headquarters in Milbank. As usual my friend sniffed around and located where the police were keeping their reserve - lots of riot police sat in vans just round the corner - and stayed there for quite some time after the students first got into Milbank. Don’t more than whisper it, but given that they had such a large reserve nearby, isn't it rather odd that they took so long to react? The police claim incompetence rather than conspiracy, but if you wanted to prove to a political party that the police, especially riot police, were important there could be no better way than allowing that party’s headquarters to be trashed on a protest.

And if it happened once then I would probably dismiss it. However, a fortnight later the police happened to leave an old police van, unmanned, in the middle of a kettle right outside Downing Street, in which thousands of students were contained for several hours (not a new tactic). Unsurprisingly, the van became a focus of the kettled student’s anger and was attacked . Less than a month after that the police kettled a crowd outside the treasury, and according to people in that protest, had officers on all sides but that of the treasury, leading to the windows getting smashed.

Clearly these incidents may be a result of a variety of factors, and there was a great deal of anger and determination from the students. But the Metropolitan Police has more public order experience than any other in the UK, and their expertise is shared around the world. Is this force really trying to claim that they cannot protect Conservative headquarters, a van outside Downing Street and the Treasury during a planned protest?

And then there is ‘Plebgate’ - you all know the story. Senior Tories took the saga as a declaration of war. Throughout the Conservative Party, scales began to fall from eyes.

It seems you can cover up the deaths of 96 football fans, take bungs from and fail to investigate journalists whilst they invade the privacy of hundreds of people in the public eye, baton and push a man to death on film and then try and cover that up, systematically profile and harass black and ethnic minorities over decades (I stopped making a list at this point but could have gone on a very long time); and you will only hear murmurs and encouragement from the Conservative party. But lie (or worse tell the truth) about one minister calling you a pleb, and the “a few bad apples” excuse seems to wear thin. Suddenly all the stories from minorities about police repression became credible in the eyes of the privileged Tory elite.

Investigating MPs expenses vaguely effectively won’t have helped things either.

I am not the first to point out that the police have a somewhat closed culture. A big part of this is that all posts above constable are filled only by internal promotion. All senior police officers used to be junior police officers. This means that for the police the respect of fellow police is vital to career progression. Even if a police officer is not ambitious, they all want to stay in the police for 30/35 years to get their wonderful pension. Stepping out of line is very tricky in such a closed culture.

The power of the culture that exists in the police motivates police officers to stick together and close ranks, and is at the core of why the Police Federation is so strong. It means the police can pull off miscarriages of justice so big they are impressive in purely logistical terms. It means that the police and ex-police will never be effective at investigating the police. As an aside, it is also a big factor in the police's phenomenally inbred and counter-productive internal politics, and treatment of outside influences - from the public to politicians - as a threat.

If the top police jobs are not reserved for police then that completely changes and disrupts the careerism and blue code of silence or ‘Omerta’ culture that is such a part of modern policing. This made it the perfect target for the Tories, and gave them an opportunity to attack what the Police Federation cares about the most.

Cameron’s idea that an American should head the Met, then Britain’s most senior police role, did not go down well. But was nowhere nearly as offensive as Home Secretary Theresa May’s plans to recruit senior police from outside of the force. It did not help that the Conservatives had already imposed Police & Crime Commissioners, creating new ‘top dog’ posts which are universally hated by the police (although ignored by the public).

But that is not all the Tories have done to undermine the police’s culture. They dismantled the navel gazing National Police Improvement Agency, and created the College of Policing - encouraging police to research and study with other members of the public, not just on campuses filled entirely with police. Theresa May has also made some effort to strengthen the “overwhelmed, woefully under-equipped and failing” ‘Independent’ Police Complaints Commission. For the first time ever someone who has not been a police officer (and therefore might be effective) was appointed as head of the main body charged with scrutinizing the police - a move that was desperately unpopular. Finally, in case anyone doubted that this was war, Theresa May cut all funding to the Police Federation.

So the Police Federation has fought back the only way they know how - viciously. However, unlike with previous governments, the state was not relying on the police to control massive protests to quite the same degree, and were able largely to implement their reforms. For me this reveals why the police would have a motivation to synthesize a narrative where they were needed to defend the bastions of a Conservative government from protest - by making sure disorder occurred as close as possible to key government structures.

It seems that the government weren’t buying, but don't hold your breath about the effectiveness of reforms designed to transform the police. Police culture is a supertanker on 30/35 years services, still with no outsiders coming into senior posts, and it will take a very long time to shift at all. If a future government needs to rely on the police to crush dissent again, they may have to do what Thatcher and new Labour did - buy off the police with a 45% pay rise or perhaps a 13 year golden ticket to any powers they want.

Ultimately, the end of the affair between two of the most reactionary and repressive groups in Britain can only be a good thing for anyone who wants a progressive society. But with 5 more years with the hated Theresa May reappointed as Home Secretary and more police cuts likely we are already seeing more shenanigans from both sides. Perhaps it is justice that this Conservative government could well savage the police the same way Thatcher’s savaged the miners.

 

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Categories: les flux rss

Smartness Inc.

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 21:35

The powers behind India’s first ‘smart city’ tell us that “land is not an issue”. But with the neoliberalisation of space comes a disturbing transformation of citizenship via data and real estate.

Shutterstock/Chombosan. All rights reserved.On a scorching day in May we made our way to the much publicised GIFT (Gujarat International Financial Tech-city). Anticipation was building as we turned the car off the main highway into a byroad dotted with signs announcing the arrival of GIFT. One of the professors from CEPT University, who had secured an invitation to a corporate presentation in GIFT city, remarked how the landscape looked similar to Dubai: clean pavements without rubbish, manicured lawns, mature trees that did not grow natively in the region, and a general absence of people on the roads.

There was a reason for that last observation – GIFT was not yet complete. All it had to speak for its ‘smartness’ was an artificially created landscape that led visitors to a newly completed set of twin towers. That and its gate, where we were stopped to identify ourselves to the security guards.

The ‘first’ smart city

GIFT has been widely reported as the first smart city in India – apparently a model for the country’s 100 smart cities slated to be built over the next few years. The city is the brainchild of India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi who visited Shenzhen in 2006 and was inspired by Chinese urbanization. GIFT was born out of a desire to create a global financial centre which would tap into India’s ‘unlocked potential’, attracting foreign investment in Gujarat. GIFT is India’s answer to Shenzhen, and Gujarat’s answer to Mumbai.

GIFT exudes a number of firsts. It claims to be the ‘first’ global hub for domestic and international financial services. It will have India’s ‘first’ district cooling system, first smart fire station, first 24/7 supply of drinking water straight to domestic taps and first smart service tunnel carrying all the fibre optics the city needs. And it will have the first on-site data-centre storing byte-size pieces of information, harnessing the advantages of ‘big data’ once the city is occupied by its projected population of 3.2 million.

But GIFT did not start out as a smart city. Like the concept of the ‘smart city’ itself, GIFT’s chequered career has undergone several identity changes. It was initially conceived in 2006 as a city that catered to the finance sector, with a view towards attracting global IT sector workers, relocating from global cities like London, New York and Mumbai, and attracted by the prospect of capitalising on low rents and service costs.

Unsurprisingly, GIFT did not receive any mention in the State of the Union Budget in 2013 and 2014 when its smart-city counterparts Dholera and Shendra-Bidkin were announced as federal state priorities. Indeed while the Dholera smart city was described on several occasions as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘pet project’ – the city that got him the job and the precursor to the 100 smart cities initiative in India – GIFT did not receive much comment during the election campaign of 2014. It was only after the elections that the media began to report on various ‘first’ smart cities across the country, with being the ‘first’ one to stake a claim to smartness seen as a badge of honour. In late 2014, the media began to report on GIFT as another ‘first’ smart city.

Spread over 886 acres, GIFT is the ‘first’ mega-scale enclosure taking shape in India – a space of exception with over 400 acres of its land under special economic zone (SEZ) regulations. The SEZ is a misnomer since the primary service economy in this space will be financial, but its logics will apply as a different taxation system from other parts of GIFT. It will have 110 buildings with at least two landmark buildings’, two schools, a 150-bed hospital and hotels accommodating a total of 5000 rooms. The crowning glory of its ‘smartness’ will be the ‘Samruddhi Sarovar’ (translated as the ‘Lake of Progress’) which will hold water from the Narmada Dam and sustain the city’s water demands for up to 15 days . Samruddhi Sarovar will also be the heart of the city’s leisure and recreation space, producing high value real estate for lakefront development.

Yet there will only be 30,000 residential units in the city. In other words it will be a giant central business district with a daytime economy akin to a ‘company town’. Only that the extractive industries of nineteenth-century company towns have been replaced here with the business of capital extraction and accumulation. GIFT will be the first to capture and direct the aspirations and disposable income of young professional middle class Indians towards a form of ICT-based urbanism that has so far remained invisible in Indian public life.

The hubris of technotopia

Credit: Ayona Datta. All rights reserved.GIFT compares its parameters to global cities such as London, Paris and New York, even as ‘global cities’ as an organizing hierarchy for cities in the world has become increasingly unpopular among urban scholars. GIFT also capitalises on the travelling concept of a ‘smart city’: the ideology of manufacturing and transporting a city in a box, to be packaged and then dismantled on site, making the site fit its exacting conditions. This, claim the GIFT senior management staff, is not just the smart way of doing new cities, but also a fast way of dealing with the impending urban age.

Everything about GIFT characterizes speed – and speed is one of its markers of success. It takes its cues from China while endeavouring to surpass it. It gets frustrated with Indian planning structures which ‘slow things down’. Speed is also evident in its aim to provide ‘single window clearance’ for all its development plans, as well as in its claim to give planning permission to buildings within 15 days. Once completed it claims to provide the fastest public wifi speed in the world, one-touch control systems, fibre-optic connected homes, smart transport, smart waste systems, smart surveillance and e-governance – all monitored from a central command and control room. This is GIFT’s technotopia.

But this technotopia is a hubris that refuses to acknowledge the challenges of ICT-enabled urbanism and learn from the lessons of those other smart cities which it cites and seeks to emulate – Masdar, Songdo, Singapore and so on.  The technotopia that GIFT loudly and unapologetically aspires to is a menacing urbanism where every aspect of public and often private life will be visible, recorded and monitored. In the words of the senior management’s presentation to us: “You are welcome to come to GIFT, but we will be watching you”.

This resonates with a recent statement made by Laveesh Bhandari, the chief economist of Indicus Analytics, who observed:

“When we build these smart cities, we will be faced with a massive surge of people who will desire to enter these cities. We will be forced to keep them out. This is the natural way of things, for if we do not keep them out they will override our ability to maintain such infrastructure. There are only two ways to keep people out of any space – prices and policing.”

GIFT is a hyper-entrepreneurial enclosure that will require pricing and policing to keep the ‘dirt’ (both material and metaphorical) away, the ‘dirt’ that currently plagues the streets of existing megacities. While every person is theoretically allowed entry into GIFT, they will also have to pay a price for this ‘privilege’. Each visitor entering GIFT will have to provide their biometric data, and expect to be accosted by security if they diverge from the expected route to their destination. This privilege comes from a close alignment with business interests. Instilling confidence in global investors around the prickly question of security is more important than adhering to those existing legal and democratic planning instruments which ensure a modicum of rights.

“Land is our primary resource”

Shutterstock/Maglara. All rights reserved.In response to our questions concerning how the land was acquired for building GIFT, the city’s senior management repeated the mantra: “land is not an issue”. This was paired with another claim that “land is our primary resource”. We were told that GIFT land was not fertile or cultivable, that it was wasteland, and that it had already been acquired by the Gujarat state when it was transferred. These claims were made to legitimise another important claim: that GIFT has not seen the same level of protest and resistance as its Gujurat counterpart, Dholera smart city. Taken together, these claims attempt to legitimise an argument around GIFT smart city as both a networked city and a ‘just city’ – a city built without large-scale land dispossession. This was touted as its unique selling point: a city that could be built faster since there were no ‘urban politics’ and thus no roadblocks to its materialization.

In a country where land is the primary source of livelihoods for millions of agricultural workers, it is significant that India’s ‘first’ smart city will be built without a ‘land issue’. In other proposed greenfield smart cities such as Dholera, Shendra-Bidkin, and several new townships, struggles over land have been the key marker of twenty-first century urbanization. Indeed as a smart city pilot project, it is GIFT that must set the trend. And so as an answer to India’s urbanization, it cannot be seen to be grappling with the land issue. But if smart cities are made by ICT, then why do they have such a primal need for land? Surely if becoming smart in other aspects of life (smartphones, smart TVs, tablets) also means that the sizes of things are decreasing, why are smart cities in contrast being conceived as bigger than existing (presumably unsmart) cities?

These questions can be answered by finding the links between two major moments currently unfolding across India’s political and social landscape: the 100 smart cities programme and the new Land Bill. While the two have been reported separately with no obvious links drawn between them, it is the land question – ‘is land a public commons or a public good?’ – that makes this more than just a tenuous link. While the smart cities programme seeks to create 100 new brownfield and greenfield cities across India’s territory, the new Land Bill seeks to revise a colonial Land Acquisition Law (which has seen a number of revisions already) to remove the consent clause before acquiring cultivable fertile land while providing market values for this land to the farmer. The implications are huge. Land is now at the service of ‘development’ – the forces of industrialization, urbanization and foreign investment. And so enter the smart cities.

The idea that land acquisition needs to be lubricated before smart cities can be built has been floated several times in policy and governance circles. While the Indian state will not be able to invest financially in its smart cities, the biggest ‘resource’ they can provide is land. It is no wonder then that the state is involved in the process of acquiring more and more territory in the name of ‘public land’. Gujarat has been leading this process, acquiring huge swathes of land across the state over the past few decades.  Mathew Idiculla suggests that this is driven by the demands of foreign investors who might be sceptical of ‘politics’ (social resistance from local farmers) which might present roadblocks to investment. Gujarat’s answer to investors has been “land is not an issue” and “land is the biggest resource we will give you”. Once land is available to the investor, everything else can follow.

The state is now actively involved in the manufacture of territory through new laws and policies which will dismantle most democratic planning and regulatory structures for the sake of urbanization and economic growth. Farming is not an occupation that Indian middle class youth aspire to, rather it is at the cost of farming that urbanization will flourish in India. As a recent article in the Guardian observed, the convergence of increased farmer suicides and the proposed land bill implies that we are “losing not just land, but a whole generation of farmers”. India might claim to be turning towards a new urban age, but the Indian state is also actively manufacturing urban territory to legitimise these claims. The neoliberalisation of land has been the top priority of elected governments for some time. And with it comes the redrawing of the lines between city and countryside, centre and periphery, farmer and urban citizen, smart and sluggish.

A recipe for social apartheid?

GIFT CBD model. Credit: Ayona Datta. All rights reserved.A recent article in the Guardian asks whether India’s 100 smart cities will be a recipe for social apartheid. There is a strong technophile lobby which believes that smart cities will produce smart citizens, empowered through open data to make the right decisions in their daily lives, able to pay bills online, access health information and even prevent rape. An alternative lobby believes that, despite its aims to control and digitize every space, the smart city in India will have its own urban leaks, that it will be hacked from the bottom up, to be appropriated in its own terms. Yet both scenarios rest on a core assumption that every citizen in the smart city is literate and has access to ICT. The reality is somewhat different.

Every citizen who occupies space in the smart city will be selected on the basis of their capability to do all of the above. This does not imply an active selection. Rather this selection will be implicit by virtue of the city catering to a ‘target’ citizen. In this process, citizenship will be reduced to the use value of the city’s inhabitants: they will be citizens in so far as they can be useful in aiding data capture and the silent capitalisation of their privacy. The seduction of digital citizenship will sustain as long as citizenship can be reduced to byte-size pieces of information that can be processed and mined for economic value. This is the technotopia of digital citizenship, a make-believe world where everyone is deemed to be equal on account of their access to digital space.

This is the image that GIFT presents us with. When we asked how the ordinary Indian might identify with the city, the response was: “We are not building this for the ordinary Indian. We have to promote facilities which people are affiliated to. Since our competition is with Dubai, Shanghai, Singapore and so on, we have to give them the comfort of doing business in the same environment." GIFT unapologetically promotes its privilege, the manufacture of citizenship via data and real estate. As already observed about smart cities elsewhere, there is little space here for those on the margins.

GIFT city has four simultaneous roles. It is a developer, a corporator, a power company, and a law and order machine rolled into one. On one hand it transforms ‘undeveloped’ land into developed real estate with infrastructure, collects service tax from the development rights it transfers to different leaseholders in return for infrastructure services, and on the other hand provides private surveillance and crime prevention services as a city corporation. All this in a city with a population but no citizens. Although GIFT will theoretically have a Mayoral office and corporators, given the nature of the industries it will be a city which is largely employment based. Its employment base is expected to travel to GIFT from neighbouring cities and villages to work each day. With only 30,000 residential units planned for GIFT, the Mayor will not need to be unduly worried about local elections. In the words of the senior management: “the beauty of this lies in the fact that the city will have no voters”.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Living with smartness Country or region:  India Topics:  Civil society Democracy and government Ideas
Categories: les flux rss

Smartness Inc.

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 21:35

The powers behind India’s first ‘smart city’ tell us that “land is not an issue”. But with the neoliberalisation of space comes a disturbing transformation of citizenship via data and real estate.

Shutterstock/Chombosan. All rights reserved.On a scorching day in May we made our way to the much publicised GIFT (Gujarat International Financial Tech-city). Anticipation was building as we turned the car off the main highway into a byroad dotted with signs announcing the arrival of GIFT. One of the professors from CEPT University, who had secured an invitation to a corporate presentation in GIFT city, remarked how the landscape looked similar to Dubai: clean pavements without rubbish, manicured lawns, mature trees that did not grow natively in the region, and a general absence of people on the roads.

There was a reason for that last observation – GIFT was not yet complete. All it had to speak for its ‘smartness’ was an artificially created landscape that led visitors to a newly completed set of twin towers. That and its gate, where we were stopped to identify ourselves to the security guards.

The ‘first’ smart city

GIFT has been widely reported as the first smart city in India – apparently a model for the country’s 100 smart cities slated to be built over the next few years. The city is the brainchild of India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi who visited Shenzhen in 2006 and was inspired by Chinese urbanization. GIFT was born out of a desire to create a global financial centre which would tap into India’s ‘unlocked potential’, attracting foreign investment in Gujarat. GIFT is India’s answer to Shenzhen, and Gujarat’s answer to Mumbai.

GIFT exudes a number of firsts. It claims to be the ‘first’ global hub for domestic and international financial services. It will have India’s ‘first’ district cooling system, first smart fire station, first 24/7 supply of drinking water straight to domestic taps and first smart service tunnel carrying all the fibre optics the city needs. And it will have the first on-site data-centre storing byte-size pieces of information, harnessing the advantages of ‘big data’ once the city is occupied by its projected population of 3.2 million.

But GIFT did not start out as a smart city. Like the concept of the ‘smart city’ itself, GIFT’s chequered career has undergone several identity changes. It was initially conceived in 2006 as a city that catered to the finance sector, with a view towards attracting global IT sector workers, relocating from global cities like London, New York and Mumbai, and attracted by the prospect of capitalising on low rents and service costs.

Unsurprisingly, GIFT did not receive any mention in the State of the Union Budget in 2013 and 2014 when its smart-city counterparts Dholera and Shendra-Bidkin were announced as federal state priorities. Indeed while the Dholera smart city was described on several occasions as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘pet project’ – the city that got him the job and the precursor to the 100 smart cities initiative in India – GIFT did not receive much comment during the election campaign of 2014. It was only after the elections that the media began to report on various ‘first’ smart cities across the country, with being the ‘first’ one to stake a claim to smartness seen as a badge of honour. In late 2014, the media began to report on GIFT as another ‘first’ smart city.

Spread over 886 acres, GIFT is the ‘first’ mega-scale enclosure taking shape in India – a space of exception with over 400 acres of its land under special economic zone (SEZ) regulations. The SEZ is a misnomer since the primary service economy in this space will be financial, but its logics will apply as a different taxation system from other parts of GIFT. It will have 110 buildings with at least two landmark buildings’, two schools, a 150-bed hospital and hotels accommodating a total of 5000 rooms. The crowning glory of its ‘smartness’ will be the ‘Samruddhi Sarovar’ (translated as the ‘Lake of Progress’) which will hold water from the Narmada Dam and sustain the city’s water demands for up to 15 days . Samruddhi Sarovar will also be the heart of the city’s leisure and recreation space, producing high value real estate for lakefront development.

Yet there will only be 30,000 residential units in the city. In other words it will be a giant central business district with a daytime economy akin to a ‘company town’. Only that the extractive industries of nineteenth-century company towns have been replaced here with the business of capital extraction and accumulation. GIFT will be the first to capture and direct the aspirations and disposable income of young professional middle class Indians towards a form of ICT-based urbanism that has so far remained invisible in Indian public life.

The hubris of technotopia

Credit: Ayona Datta. All rights reserved.GIFT compares its parameters to global cities such as London, Paris and New York, even as ‘global cities’ as an organizing hierarchy for cities in the world has become increasingly unpopular among urban scholars. GIFT also capitalises on the travelling concept of a ‘smart city’: the ideology of manufacturing and transporting a city in a box, to be packaged and then dismantled on site, making the site fit its exacting conditions. This, claim the GIFT senior management staff, is not just the smart way of doing new cities, but also a fast way of dealing with the impending urban age.

Everything about GIFT characterizes speed – and speed is one of its markers of success. It takes its cues from China while endeavouring to surpass it. It gets frustrated with Indian planning structures which ‘slow things down’. Speed is also evident in its aim to provide ‘single window clearance’ for all its development plans, as well as in its claim to give planning permission to buildings within 15 days. Once completed it claims to provide the fastest public wifi speed in the world, one-touch control systems, fibre-optic connected homes, smart transport, smart waste systems, smart surveillance and e-governance – all monitored from a central command and control room. This is GIFT’s technotopia.

But this technotopia is a hubris that refuses to acknowledge the challenges of ICT-enabled urbanism and learn from the lessons of those other smart cities which it cites and seeks to emulate – Masdar, Songdo, Singapore and so on.  The technotopia that GIFT loudly and unapologetically aspires to is a menacing urbanism where every aspect of public and often private life will be visible, recorded and monitored. In the words of the senior management’s presentation to us: “You are welcome to come to GIFT, but we will be watching you”.

This resonates with a recent statement made by Laveesh Bhandari, the chief economist of Indicus Analytics, who observed:

“When we build these smart cities, we will be faced with a massive surge of people who will desire to enter these cities. We will be forced to keep them out. This is the natural way of things, for if we do not keep them out they will override our ability to maintain such infrastructure. There are only two ways to keep people out of any space – prices and policing.”

GIFT is a hyper-entrepreneurial enclosure that will require pricing and policing to keep the ‘dirt’ (both material and metaphorical) away, the ‘dirt’ that currently plagues the streets of existing megacities. While every person is theoretically allowed entry into GIFT, they will also have to pay a price for this ‘privilege’. Each visitor entering GIFT will have to provide their biometric data, and expect to be accosted by security if they diverge from the expected route to their destination. This privilege comes from a close alignment with business interests. Instilling confidence in global investors around the prickly question of security is more important than adhering to those existing legal and democratic planning instruments which ensure a modicum of rights.

“Land is our primary resource”

Shutterstock/Maglara. All rights reserved.In response to our questions concerning how the land was acquired for building GIFT, the city’s senior management repeated the mantra: “land is not an issue”. This was paired with another claim that “land is our primary resource”. We were told that GIFT land was not fertile or cultivable, that it was wasteland, and that it had already been acquired by the Gujarat state when it was transferred. These claims were made to legitimise another important claim: that GIFT has not seen the same level of protest and resistance as its Gujurat counterpart, Dholera smart city. Taken together, these claims attempt to legitimise an argument around GIFT smart city as both a networked city and a ‘just city’ – a city built without large-scale land dispossession. This was touted as its unique selling point: a city that could be built faster since there were no ‘urban politics’ and thus no roadblocks to its materialization.

In a country where land is the primary source of livelihoods for millions of agricultural workers, it is significant that India’s ‘first’ smart city will be built without a ‘land issue’. In other proposed greenfield smart cities such as Dholera, Shendra-Bidkin, and several new townships, struggles over land have been the key marker of twenty-first century urbanization. Indeed as a smart city pilot project, it is GIFT that must set the trend. And so as an answer to India’s urbanization, it cannot be seen to be grappling with the land issue. But if smart cities are made by ICT, then why do they have such a primal need for land? Surely if becoming smart in other aspects of life (smartphones, smart TVs, tablets) also means that the sizes of things are decreasing, why are smart cities in contrast being conceived as bigger than existing (presumably unsmart) cities?

These questions can be answered by finding the links between two major moments currently unfolding across India’s political and social landscape: the 100 smart cities programme and the new Land Bill. While the two have been reported separately with no obvious links drawn between them, it is the land question – ‘is land a public commons or a public good?’ – that makes this more than just a tenuous link. While the smart cities programme seeks to create 100 new brownfield and greenfield cities across India’s territory, the new Land Bill seeks to revise a colonial Land Acquisition Law (which has seen a number of revisions already) to remove the consent clause before acquiring cultivable fertile land while providing market values for this land to the farmer. The implications are huge. Land is now at the service of ‘development’ – the forces of industrialization, urbanization and foreign investment. And so enter the smart cities.

The idea that land acquisition needs to be lubricated before smart cities can be built has been floated several times in policy and governance circles. While the Indian state will not be able to invest financially in its smart cities, the biggest ‘resource’ they can provide is land. It is no wonder then that the state is involved in the process of acquiring more and more territory in the name of ‘public land’. Gujarat has been leading this process, acquiring huge swathes of land across the state over the past few decades.  Mathew Idiculla suggests that this is driven by the demands of foreign investors who might be sceptical of ‘politics’ (social resistance from local farmers) which might present roadblocks to investment. Gujarat’s answer to investors has been “land is not an issue” and “land is the biggest resource we will give you”. Once land is available to the investor, everything else can follow.

The state is now actively involved in the manufacture of territory through new laws and policies which will dismantle most democratic planning and regulatory structures for the sake of urbanization and economic growth. Farming is not an occupation that Indian middle class youth aspire to, rather it is at the cost of farming that urbanization will flourish in India. As a recent article in the Guardian observed, the convergence of increased farmer suicides and the proposed land bill implies that we are “losing not just land, but a whole generation of farmers”. India might claim to be turning towards a new urban age, but the Indian state is also actively manufacturing urban territory to legitimise these claims. The neoliberalisation of land has been the top priority of elected governments for some time. And with it comes the redrawing of the lines between city and countryside, centre and periphery, farmer and urban citizen, smart and sluggish.

A recipe for social apartheid?

GIFT CBD model. Credit: Ayona Datta. All rights reserved.A recent article in the Guardian asks whether India’s 100 smart cities will be a recipe for social apartheid. There is a strong technophile lobby which believes that smart cities will produce smart citizens, empowered through open data to make the right decisions in their daily lives, able to pay bills online, access health information and even prevent rape. An alternative lobby believes that, despite its aims to control and digitize every space, the smart city in India will have its own urban leaks, that it will be hacked from the bottom up, to be appropriated in its own terms. Yet both scenarios rest on a core assumption that every citizen in the smart city is literate and has access to ICT. The reality is somewhat different.

Every citizen who occupies space in the smart city will be selected on the basis of their capability to do all of the above. This does not imply an active selection. Rather this selection will be implicit by virtue of the city catering to a ‘target’ citizen. In this process, citizenship will be reduced to the use value of the city’s inhabitants: they will be citizens in so far as they can be useful in aiding data capture and the silent capitalisation of their privacy. The seduction of digital citizenship will sustain as long as citizenship can be reduced to byte-size pieces of information that can be processed and mined for economic value. This is the technotopia of digital citizenship, a make-believe world where everyone is deemed to be equal on account of their access to digital space.

This is the image that GIFT presents us with. When we asked how the ordinary Indian might identify with the city, the response was: “We are not building this for the ordinary Indian. We have to promote facilities which people are affiliated to. Since our competition is with Dubai, Shanghai, Singapore and so on, we have to give them the comfort of doing business in the same environment." GIFT unapologetically promotes its privilege, the manufacture of citizenship via data and real estate. As already observed about smart cities elsewhere, there is little space here for those on the margins.

GIFT city has four simultaneous roles. It is a developer, a corporator, a power company, and a law and order machine rolled into one. On one hand it transforms ‘undeveloped’ land into developed real estate with infrastructure, collects service tax from the development rights it transfers to different leaseholders in return for infrastructure services, and on the other hand provides private surveillance and crime prevention services as a city corporation. All this in a city with a population but no citizens. Although GIFT will theoretically have a Mayoral office and corporators, given the nature of the industries it will be a city which is largely employment based. Its employment base is expected to travel to GIFT from neighbouring cities and villages to work each day. With only 30,000 residential units planned for GIFT, the Mayor will not need to be unduly worried about local elections. In the words of the senior management: “the beauty of this lies in the fact that the city will have no voters”.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Living with smartness Country or region:  India Topics:  Civil society Democracy and government Ideas
Categories: les flux rss

Children suffer racist abuse and ‘degrading treatment’ by guards high on drugs at G4S Rainsbrook prison

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 18:20

G4S appoints “new leadership” at Rainsbrook: the man in charge when Gareth Myatt, 15, was restrained to death, the man who told an inquest he hadn’t read the restraint manual.

Staff at Rainsbrook, a G4S-run children’s prison near Rugby, took illegal drugs and subjected children to “degrading treatment” and “racist comments” according to an inspection report published this week.

The report follows an unannounced inspection by Ofsted, HM Prisons Inspectorate and the Care Quality Commission in February this year.

After the inspection, G4S appointed “new leadership” at Rainsbrook, which holds children aged 12 to 18. Yesterday I heard that John Parker had been put back in charge. I checked with G4S. They confirmed it was true.

Gareth MyattMy thoughts went to Pam Wilton, the mother of Gareth Myatt, whom I interviewed last year. She told me there’d been no justice for her son.

Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre is where Gareth, aged 15, of mixed race, and small for his age, died during a horrific ‘restraint’ by three G4S guards in 2004. John Parker was Rainsbrook’s director at the time. He admitted at the inquest into Gareth’s death that he had never read the Home Office manual governing the use of restraint in his prison.

(One guard involved in that lethal restraint, 16 stone Dave Beadnall, was later promoted to the post of safety, health and environmental manager at G4S children’s services.)

This week’s report, which condemns Rainsbrook as “inadequate”, the worst possible category of performance, leaves many questions unanswered.

It fails to convey what the G4S guards did to the children, claiming: “The full details of a number of very serious incidents have not been included to protect individual young people’s confidentiality.”

Also unclear is the performance of the Youth Justice Board, which oversees the youth justice system in England and Wales and contracts prison places for children.

In every secure training centre run by commercial contractors there are YJB monitors employed by the state. Monitors are under a statutory duty to investigate allegations against custody officers and to report these and any other concerns to Ministers.

What did the YJB and its monitors know of the “serious incidents” at Rainsbrook? When did they know it?

YJB chief executive Lin Hinnigan said in a written statement issued on Wednesday: “Earlier this year, Ofsted informed the YJB of serious concerns in performance at Rainsbrook STC.”

But speaking yesterday on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (here, at 1hr 13mins), Paul Cook, G4S’s director of children’s services, suggested that G4S had shared information with YJB monitors about the serious incidents soon after they happened. 

The timing is important, not least because the YJB renewed G4S’s contract in 2014.

“This is an extremely disappointing report for everyone connected with Rainsbrook,” said Paul Cook. “It’s the first time in 16 years that the centre has been found by any inspecting body to be less than good or outstanding.”

That chimes with Lin Hinnigan and the YJB press release: “We are confident that Rainsbrook will return to the high levels of performance and care it previously delivered,” she said.

Good. Outstanding. High levels of performance. Such language is highly misleading.

John Parker, G4S; Lin Hinnigan, Youth Justice Board; Paul Cook, G4S

Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre opened in July 1999. In April 2004, 15 year-old Gareth Myatt died after being held face down in a seated position by three officers. He had been admitted on a Friday and was dead by the Monday.

The officers who held Gareth down, and ignored his cries that he couldn’t breathe, had been tutored in this restraint technique by a trainer known to her colleagues as ‘Clubber Clay’. Other staff nicknames included ‘Mauler’, ‘Crusher’ and ‘Breaker’. This information came out during the inquest into Gareth’s death.

Four years after Gareth’s death, a Rainsbrook team leader dragged a 13 year-old child along tarmac and then up a flight of stairs within the prison, before putting him in his cell; he was convicted of actual bodily harm.

During a failed negligence claim in 2010, brought by one of the officers who fatally restrained Gareth, the Court of Appeal was given data on the ‘seated double embrace’ restraint technique. In the year preceding Gareth’s death, this was used on children in Rainsbrook 369 times. Children suffered harm in “almost one case in three”; in 10 per cent of the total incidents, this had been life-threatening.

In 2012, the High Court found that all four of the secure training centres then operating (three run by G4S, one by Serco) had been unlawfully restraining children for up to a decade.

Paul Cook is aware that both the High Court and the inquest into Gareth’s death criticised inspectors, YJB monitors and G4S management for failing to notice that children were being abused. What credibility can we give to those earlier ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ reports when we know children were repeatedly unlawfully restrained?

Let’s take a closer look at this week’s Ofsted revelations.

“Poor staff behaviour has led to some young people being subject to degrading treatment, racist comments, and being cared for by staff who were under the influence of illegal drugs,” the report says.

There was  “poor application of restraint” and staff caused “distress and humiliation” to children. Some of those responsible were in “positions of leadership”.

Private Eye May 2010 (issue 1262)One child with a fracture “potentially” caused by restraint was not allowed medical treatment for 15 hours.

This seems to be the “unfortunate incident” Cook referred to on the Today programme, when he was pressed to explain why the then prison’s director had overruled clinical advice that the child required hospital assessment.

I asked Ofsted for the age of the child, the nature of the fracture and whether it was the result of restraint.

Ofsted replied: “We’re unable to provide this level of detail for privacy reasons.”

In the six months prior to the inspection, 15 children were injured during restraint; another four required hospital treatment after “violent incidents”. Nearly half of restraints occurred because a child was self-harming.

Proper ‘debriefing’ of children after restraint was one of the measures introduced after Gareth’s death. The YJB contracts independent advocacy from the children’s charity Barnardo’s.

One of the service’s functions, included in the specification I obtained through a freedom of information request, is to offer “proactive support following restraint”. Yet, inspectors found “few” children who have been restrained take up the offer of speaking with Barnardo’s advocates. Why? 

The report said that healthcare staff do not attend restraint incidents — another vital safeguard not being implemented. And there were delays in restraint information being passed to the government team monitoring the use of Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint (MMPR), the system of restraint developed in response to the deaths of Gareth and Adam Rickwood, a 14 year-old boy who killed himself after being restrained in a different prison (now closed). It took G4S six months to report one serious incident. (Rainsbrook was the first child prison to adopt MMPR, in March 2013. Hardly teething problems.)

Inspectors state there were witnesses to some of the “gross misconduct”. But these witnesses took no action. Why not?

Children had submitted 174 written complaints during 2014, and made an additional 111 ‘grumbles’ – the G4S process for “low level issues”. The majority of complaints “concerned property”, for example clothing or personal items going missing, Ofsted told me. This is common in institutional settings.

On admission children were “routinely” given a “dignity search”. No description is given of the process; previous inspection reports indicate that children are patted down over their clothing.

Inspectors visiting Rainsbrook in December 2012 were similarly told that only dignity searches were in use. When they asked children about their experiences, they discovered “a number” had been required to strip off in front of officers on admission. No such concerns were raised this time, though inspectors observed the presence of a bed in the searching room “may be unsettling” for children, especially those who have been abused.

Inspectors found eight cases of serious staff misconduct occurring since the prison was last scrutinised in November/December 2013. There were “at least” six sackings. The numbers point to institutional, rather than individual, dysfunction.

The inspectorates highlight the absence of a wider investigation, which could “provide reassurance that the high number of serious incidents of staff misconduct are not indicative of a wider negative underlying staff culture”. That’s seems to be a polite way of saying the staff culture could be rotten.

At the time of the inspection this past February, Rainsbrook  held 77 boys and girls aged 12 to 18. A survey of 54 of them revealed that 57 per cent had been in local authority care, a quarter were under the age of 16, and 17 per cent were disabled. Eleven of the children received no visits at all from family, carers or friends.  

Such children are uniquely vulnerable. They rely upon the YJB and its chief executive Lin Hinnigan, who has had a long career in the service of children, including as a teacher, social worker and educational psychologist, to protect them from harm.

If the YJB continues to find itself unable to terminate G4S’s contract, then government ministers must intervene to protect children and end this unhealthy relationship of co-dependency. How about Nicky Morgan, the government minister in charge of child protection, or Michael Gove, in charge of justice and prisons, or Theresa May, in charge of the institutional abuse inquiry? One of them must surely recognise that children can never be safe in this prison.

 

Think this piece matters? Please donate to OurKingdom here to help keep us producing independent journalism. Thank you. 

 

Sideboxes Related stories:  Many thousands of children stripped naked in custody. Ignites memories of being raped G4S guard fatally restrains 15 year old - gets promoted G4S guard bludgeoned woman to death The racist texts. What the Mubenga trial jury was not told G4S: A tale of two troubled prisons Duty of Care: beyond the case of Mr Ward, cooked to death by gigantic outsourcer G4S
Categories: les flux rss

Children suffer racist abuse and ‘degrading treatment’ by guards high on drugs at G4S Rainsbrook prison

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 18:20

G4S appoints “new leadership” at Rainsbrook: the man in charge when Gareth Myatt, 15, was restrained to death, the man who told an inquest he hadn’t read the restraint manual.

Staff at Rainsbrook, a G4S-run children’s prison near Rugby, took illegal drugs and subjected children to “degrading treatment” and “racist comments” according to an inspection report published this week.

The report follows an unannounced inspection by Ofsted, HM Prisons Inspectorate and the Care Quality Commission in February this year.

After the inspection, G4S appointed “new leadership” at Rainsbrook, which holds children aged 12 to 18. Yesterday I heard that John Parker had been put back in charge. I checked with G4S. They confirmed it was true.

Gareth MyattMy thoughts went to Pam Wilton, the mother of Gareth Myatt, whom I interviewed last year. She told me there’d been no justice for her son.

Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre is where Gareth, aged 15, of mixed race, and small for his age, died during a horrific ‘restraint’ by three G4S guards in 2004. John Parker was Rainsbrook’s director at the time. He admitted at the inquest into Gareth’s death that he had never read the Home Office manual governing the use of restraint in his prison.

(One guard involved in that lethal restraint, 16 stone Dave Beadnall, was later promoted to the post of safety, health and environmental manager at G4S children’s services.)

This week’s report, which condemns Rainsbrook as “inadequate”, the worst possible category of performance, leaves many questions unanswered.

It fails to convey what the G4S guards did to the children, claiming: “The full details of a number of very serious incidents have not been included to protect individual young people’s confidentiality.”

Also unclear is the performance of the Youth Justice Board, which oversees the youth justice system in England and Wales and contracts prison places for children.

In every secure training centre run by commercial contractors there are YJB monitors employed by the state. Monitors are under a statutory duty to investigate allegations against custody officers and to report these and any other concerns to Ministers.

What did the YJB and its monitors know of the “serious incidents” at Rainsbrook? When did they know it?

YJB chief executive Lin Hinnigan said in a written statement issued on Wednesday: “Earlier this year, Ofsted informed the YJB of serious concerns in performance at Rainsbrook STC.”

But speaking yesterday on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (here, at 1hr 13mins), Paul Cook, G4S’s director of children’s services, suggested that G4S had shared information with YJB monitors about the serious incidents soon after they happened. 

The timing is important, not least because the YJB renewed G4S’s contract in 2014.

“This is an extremely disappointing report for everyone connected with Rainsbrook,” said Paul Cook. “It’s the first time in 16 years that the centre has been found by any inspecting body to be less than good or outstanding.”

That chimes with Lin Hinnigan and the YJB press release: “We are confident that Rainsbrook will return to the high levels of performance and care it previously delivered,” she said.

Good. Outstanding. High levels of performance. Such language is highly misleading.

John Parker, G4S; Lin Hinnigan, Youth Justice Board; Paul Cook, G4S

Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre opened in July 1999. In April 2004, 15 year-old Gareth Myatt died after being held face down in a seated position by three officers. He had been admitted on a Friday and was dead by the Monday.

The officers who held Gareth down, and ignored his cries that he couldn’t breathe, had been tutored in this restraint technique by a trainer known to her colleagues as ‘Clubber Clay’. Other staff nicknames included ‘Mauler’, ‘Crusher’ and ‘Breaker’. This information came out during the inquest into Gareth’s death.

Four years after Gareth’s death, a Rainsbrook team leader dragged a 13 year-old child along tarmac and then up a flight of stairs within the prison, before putting him in his cell; he was convicted of actual bodily harm.

During a failed negligence claim in 2010, brought by one of the officers who fatally restrained Gareth, the Court of Appeal was given data on the ‘seated double embrace’ restraint technique. In the year preceding Gareth’s death, this was used on children in Rainsbrook 369 times. Children suffered harm in “almost one case in three”; in 10 per cent of the total incidents, this had been life-threatening.

In 2012, the High Court found that all four of the secure training centres then operating (three run by G4S, one by Serco) had been unlawfully restraining children for up to a decade.

Paul Cook is aware that both the High Court and the inquest into Gareth’s death criticised inspectors, YJB monitors and G4S management for failing to notice that children were being abused. What credibility can we give to those earlier ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ reports when we know children were repeatedly unlawfully restrained?

Let’s take a closer look at this week’s Ofsted revelations.

“Poor staff behaviour has led to some young people being subject to degrading treatment, racist comments, and being cared for by staff who were under the influence of illegal drugs,” the report says.

There was  “poor application of restraint” and staff caused “distress and humiliation” to children. Some of those responsible were in “positions of leadership”.

Private Eye May 2010 (issue 1262)One child with a fracture “potentially” caused by restraint was not allowed medical treatment for 15 hours.

This seems to be the “unfortunate incident” Cook referred to on the Today programme, when he was pressed to explain why the then prison’s director had overruled clinical advice that the child required hospital assessment.

I asked Ofsted for the age of the child, the nature of the fracture and whether it was the result of restraint.

Ofsted replied: “We’re unable to provide this level of detail for privacy reasons.”

In the six months prior to the inspection, 15 children were injured during restraint; another four required hospital treatment after “violent incidents”. Nearly half of restraints occurred because a child was self-harming.

Proper ‘debriefing’ of children after restraint was one of the measures introduced after Gareth’s death. The YJB contracts independent advocacy from the children’s charity Barnardo’s.

One of the service’s functions, included in the specification I obtained through a freedom of information request, is to offer “proactive support following restraint”. Yet, inspectors found “few” children who have been restrained take up the offer of speaking with Barnardo’s advocates. Why? 

The report said that healthcare staff do not attend restraint incidents — another vital safeguard not being implemented. And there were delays in restraint information being passed to the government team monitoring the use of Minimising and Managing Physical Restraint (MMPR), the system of restraint developed in response to the deaths of Gareth and Adam Rickwood, a 14 year-old boy who killed himself after being restrained in a different prison (now closed). It took G4S six months to report one serious incident. (Rainsbrook was the first child prison to adopt MMPR, in March 2013. Hardly teething problems.)

Inspectors state there were witnesses to some of the “gross misconduct”. But these witnesses took no action. Why not?

Children had submitted 174 written complaints during 2014, and made an additional 111 ‘grumbles’ – the G4S process for “low level issues”. The majority of complaints “concerned property”, for example clothing or personal items going missing, Ofsted told me. This is common in institutional settings.

On admission children were “routinely” given a “dignity search”. No description is given of the process; previous inspection reports indicate that children are patted down over their clothing.

Inspectors visiting Rainsbrook in December 2012 were similarly told that only dignity searches were in use. When they asked children about their experiences, they discovered “a number” had been required to strip off in front of officers on admission. No such concerns were raised this time, though inspectors observed the presence of a bed in the searching room “may be unsettling” for children, especially those who have been abused.

Inspectors found eight cases of serious staff misconduct occurring since the prison was last scrutinised in November/December 2013. There were “at least” six sackings. The numbers point to institutional, rather than individual, dysfunction.

The inspectorates highlight the absence of a wider investigation, which could “provide reassurance that the high number of serious incidents of staff misconduct are not indicative of a wider negative underlying staff culture”. That’s seems to be a polite way of saying the staff culture could be rotten.

At the time of the inspection this past February, Rainsbrook  held 77 boys and girls aged 12 to 18. A survey of 54 of them revealed that 57 per cent had been in local authority care, a quarter were under the age of 16, and 17 per cent were disabled. Eleven of the children received no visits at all from family, carers or friends.  

Such children are uniquely vulnerable. They rely upon the YJB and its chief executive Lin Hinnigan, who has had a long career in the service of children, including as a teacher, social worker and educational psychologist, to protect them from harm.

If the YJB continues to find itself unable to terminate G4S’s contract, then government ministers must intervene to protect children and end this unhealthy relationship of co-dependency. How about Nicky Morgan, the government minister in charge of child protection, or Michael Gove, in charge of justice and prisons, or Theresa May, in charge of the institutional abuse inquiry? One of them must surely recognise that children can never be safe in this prison.

 

Think this piece matters? Please donate to OurKingdom here to help keep us producing independent journalism. Thank you. 

 

Sideboxes Related stories:  Many thousands of children stripped naked in custody. Ignites memories of being raped G4S guard fatally restrains 15 year old - gets promoted G4S guard bludgeoned woman to death The racist texts. What the Mubenga trial jury was not told G4S: A tale of two troubled prisons Duty of Care: beyond the case of Mr Ward, cooked to death by gigantic outsourcer G4S
Categories: les flux rss

From pro-American to pro-Russian? Nikola Gruevski as a political chameleon

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 15:40

A former staunch ally of the US-led War on Terror, Macedonia PM Nikola Gruevski has gradually turned his country away from the west towards Russia - all the while keeping his neoconservative ideology intact.

Nikola Gruveski meets British PM David Cameron. Flickr/Number 10. Some rights reserved.Following the unrest in Kumanovo and the massive anti-government protests, FYR Macedonia has captivated the interest of the international press. The most recent mobilization has been the peak of a wave of discontent that commenced with the countrywide student protests some weeks ago. In the domestic front, opposition circles have issued a series of charges against the government led by the conservative VMRO-DPMNE such as: promotion of nepotism, unwillingness to combat corruption, illegitimate surveillance of political opponents and, on top of all, growing authoritarianism.

Meanwhile, political analysts have detected a certain rift in the relations between Skopje and the West which has resulted in the Macedonian government’s more decisive reorientation towards Moscow. Russia has pledged its political support to Nikola Gruevski’s and the two sides have extended their cooperation in energy issues and other areas of economic concern. Without neglecting the crucial impact of shifting geopolitics, this brief piece mostly concentrates on VMRO-DPMNE’s, predominantly, neoconservative agenda under the leadership of Nikola Gruevski. It also sets in a comparative context how this neoconservative platform has remained intact despite the gradual readjustment of the state’s foreign policy from Euro-Atlantic institutions towards Moscow’s orbit of influence.

From one neocon to another

In 2003, Nikola Gruevski succeeded Ljubčo Georgievski in the party’s leadership. An ambitious young politician back then, Gruevski’s main ambition was to centralize decision-making within VMRO-DPMNE and modernize the party’s structures.

The latter objective was achieved via the recruitment of a younger pool of cadres. Following a widespread trend all over Southeast Europe (e.g. Albania’s Edi Rama and Serbia’s Vuk Jeremić), the party’s central committee and later the Cabinet of Ministers consisted of young, aspiring and, often, Western-educated individuals (e.g. the Foreign Minister between 2006 and 2011, Antonio Milošoski). Moreover, Gruevski maintained the central aspects of Georgievski’s strategy of rapprochement vis-à-vis the ethnic Albanian community.

Despite this, Gruevski’s term in office has been marked by the emphatic endorsement of Neo-Macedonism to the detriment of the modernist narratives over the Macedonian ethno-genesis in the nineteenth century. The adoption of Neo-Macedonism became further institutionalized through the endorsement of grandiose architectural projects, largely inspired by classical antiquity, which commenced in 2010.

On the domestic front, the Socialists/SDSM and other opposition circles accused the government of investing a disproportional percentage of the state’s budget on these projects. In foreign policy, the emphasis on Neo-Macedonism further complicated relations with the southern neighbour, Greece.

Since the early days of Nikola Gruevski’s term in office, the ‘new’ VMRO-DPMNE drew inspiration from the rather influential trend of neoconservatism among policymaking circles in the US. As it was the case with various other statesmen in Central and Southeast Europe (e.g. Romania’s Traian Băsescu), Nikola Gruevski underlined his firm commitment to Euro-Atlantic institutions and opted for the rapid liberalization of the economy along post-Keynesian lines.

Meanwhile, Gruevski constantly stressed his deep faith in God and highlighted the significance of Eastern Orthodoxy and its system of moral values as a fundamental pillar of the state’s identity. In the field of foreign policy, Nikola Gruevski soon emerged as a staunch supporter of George W. Bush’s policy-doctrine on the Middle East. Throughout the 2000s, FYR Macedonia had dispatched military personnel to Afghanistan and Iraq under the auspices of the US-led ‘Coalition of the Willing’.  

The NATO summit in Bucharest (April 2-4, 2008) was a landmark. As a gesture of gratitude to its small Balkan ally, the US delegation elaborated possible ways to include FYR Macedonia in the NATO enlargement round irrespective of the state’s dispute with Greece. However, the Greek PM, Kostas Karamanlis, vetoed this proposal on the basis that any outstanding issues with the northern neighbour must be previously resolved in order for Greece to grant its assent.

The Greek veto was met with discontent in Washington and infuriated Skopje. Especially in the light of Karamanlis’ opening to Russia, Skopje-based policymakers and think-tanks did not simply charge Athens with ‘parochial and introverted nationalism’. They went a step further and accused Greece of acting as a ‘Trojan horse’ in Moscow’s service with the aim to destabilize NATO and sabotage its enlargement in Southeast Europe.

The pendulum shifts: Fluctuating geopolitics and disillusionment with the West

Barack Obama, who succeeded G.W. Bush to the US Presidency in 2009, watered down various aspects of his predecessor’s ‘hawkish’ foreign policy. Instead, the new administration in the White House opted for a doctrine of appeasement in regards to their regional competitors (e.g. Russia and Iran).

Meanwhile, the simultaneous advent of the economic crisis made European policymakers more introverted and reluctant to the prospects of the EU’s wider enlargement. With specific regard to FYR Macedonia, European policymakers and political analysts soon stroke a critical stance towards Nikola Gruevski and his apparatus. The main areas of concern were symptoms of nepotism and authoritarianism as well as accusations over the relentless propagation of ‘ethno-kitsch’.

This shifting landscape in global and regional politics had direct ramifications on the government circles in Skopje. Several commentators have argued that delaying the state’s accession to Euro-Atlantic institutions runs detrimental to FYR Macedonia’s stateness and it is largely to account for Skopje’s disillusionment with the West. From a more ‘ideological’ angle, though, the change of guard in the White House and the subsequent adoption of a new US foreign policy doctrine are not to be overlooked either.

In other words, Nikola Gruevski’s government has lost much of the patronage that it enjoyed during George W. Bush’s tenure in office. Moreover, we are currently experiencing the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world order. The last few years have witnessed the consolidation of semi-authoritarian models of governance among emerging regional actors (e.g. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey and Vladimir Putin in Russia). The latter development has encouraged the, if only subtle, admiration of certain statesmen throughout Central and Southeast Europe towards the abovementioned models.

For instance, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán recently coined the concept of illiberal democracy. According to the Hungarian PM, ‘it is not an imperative that contemporary democracy must be structured along the ideological frame of Liberalism…there can be numerous other models of democracy in Europe, nowadays’. Moreover, Viktor Orbán has also positioned Hungary’s foreign policy more solidly within Russia’s orbit of influence.

In particular, both FIDESZ and VMRO-DPMNE converge along a common axis. Both are post-Communist parties that commenced their engagement in politics as, anti-establishment, umbrella-initiatives that hosted a wide range of conservative as well as liberal standpoints. However, in the long run, local adaptations of neoconservatism evolved into the dominant intra-party trend.

Nikola Gruevski and/or Viktor Orbán are not merely unhappy with the outlook(s) of Euro-Atlantic institutions on their respective states or the way(s) that their rule has been portrayed in the Western press. They have also isolated specific elements in Vladimir Putin’s leadership which they deem rather akin to their brand(s) of neoconservatism. These are, namely, Russia’s leader-centred and strong government, the promotion of national and Christian values, and the safeguarding of ‘naturally ascribed’ gender-roles.

Especially in the light of a multipolar international system, one might contend that the neoconservative, ideological, core in parties such as VMRO-DPMNE and/or FIDESZ has remained intact despite the, apparent, foreign policy readjustment towards Moscow. 

What next? Skopje amidst political polarization and fears of ethnic radicalization

In addition to the decline of popular confidence, the government in Skopje may also have to face the challenge of resurgent ethnic radicalization. During the last couple of weeks, a militant group, allegedly consisting of ethnic Albanians, became active in the northern town of Kumanovo. The apparent resurgence of militant Albanian ethno-nationalism triggered a series of conspiracy theories.

Pro-government circles have hinted at the involvement of ‘foreign decision-making centres’ who are not particularly content with the bilateral cooperation between Russia and FYR Macedonia. In the other end of the spectrum, opposition circles have suspected the government of engineering the Kumanovo troubles in an attempt to play the card of ‘national unity’ as a last resort. A third assumption that has not been examined to an adequate extent is the possibility of a peculiar, yet amorphous, blend between Albanian ethno-nationalism and elements of Islamic fundamentalism along the lines of the ‘Chechen precedent’.

Russia, on its part, has been quick to point the finger for both the Kumanovo incidents and the anti-government mobilization at the West. The US and the EU have been accused of orchestrating one more ‘Maidan-style’ coup with the aim to destabilize the government and obstruct cooperation with Russia in energy issues.

Russia Today and other pro-Kremlin media outlets dedicated considerable time to the coverage of pro-government demonstrations where Russian flags also featured among the crowd. Quite a few Western political analysts have expressed the wishful thinking that Nikola Gruevski may be forced to resign under popular pressure and be replaced by a coalition government with a Euro-Atlantic orientation.

Setting regional geopolitics aside, Nikola Gruevski’s opening to Russia reveals an additional pathology of Post-communist politics. Even back at the time when parties such as VMRO-DPMNE and FIDESZ had adjusted their foreign policy more firmly towards the West, their political activity and decision-making had been shaped by local adaptations of the neoconservative narrative. Within the context of their political development, such parties replaced their admiration for certain aspects of American neoconservatism with the endorsement of selected elements found in Vladimir Putin’s semi-authoritarianism while their (neoconservative) ideological core remained intact.

Apart from nominally right-wing parties, centre-left statesmen in the region have also detected, albeit more subtly, some ‘positive’ aspects in Vladimir Putin’s pattern of governance (e.g. the Bulgarian Socialist Party/BSP and Slovakia’s SMER). Therefore, in order to grasp such chameleonic mutations more adequately, one should also pay close attention to political culture among post-Communist parties in Central and Southeast Europe and its evolution. 

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Sideboxes Related stories:  The deep roots of Macedonia's current turmoil – and the way forward Country or region:  Macedonia
Categories: les flux rss

From pro-American to pro-Russian? Nikola Gruevski as a political chameleon

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 15:40

A former staunch ally of the US-led War on Terror, Macedonia PM Nikola Gruevski has gradually turned his country away from the west towards Russia - all the while keeping his neoconservative ideology intact.

Nikola Gruveski meets British PM David Cameron. Flickr/Number 10. Some rights reserved.Following the unrest in Kumanovo and the massive anti-government protests, FYR Macedonia has captivated the interest of the international press. The most recent mobilization has been the peak of a wave of discontent that commenced with the countrywide student protests some weeks ago. In the domestic front, opposition circles have issued a series of charges against the government led by the conservative VMRO-DPMNE such as: promotion of nepotism, unwillingness to combat corruption, illegitimate surveillance of political opponents and, on top of all, growing authoritarianism.

Meanwhile, political analysts have detected a certain rift in the relations between Skopje and the West which has resulted in the Macedonian government’s more decisive reorientation towards Moscow. Russia has pledged its political support to Nikola Gruevski’s and the two sides have extended their cooperation in energy issues and other areas of economic concern. Without neglecting the crucial impact of shifting geopolitics, this brief piece mostly concentrates on VMRO-DPMNE’s, predominantly, neoconservative agenda under the leadership of Nikola Gruevski. It also sets in a comparative context how this neoconservative platform has remained intact despite the gradual readjustment of the state’s foreign policy from Euro-Atlantic institutions towards Moscow’s orbit of influence.

From one neocon to another

In 2003, Nikola Gruevski succeeded Ljubčo Georgievski in the party’s leadership. An ambitious young politician back then, Gruevski’s main ambition was to centralize decision-making within VMRO-DPMNE and modernize the party’s structures.

The latter objective was achieved via the recruitment of a younger pool of cadres. Following a widespread trend all over Southeast Europe (e.g. Albania’s Edi Rama and Serbia’s Vuk Jeremić), the party’s central committee and later the Cabinet of Ministers consisted of young, aspiring and, often, Western-educated individuals (e.g. the Foreign Minister between 2006 and 2011, Antonio Milošoski). Moreover, Gruevski maintained the central aspects of Georgievski’s strategy of rapprochement vis-à-vis the ethnic Albanian community.

Despite this, Gruevski’s term in office has been marked by the emphatic endorsement of Neo-Macedonism to the detriment of the modernist narratives over the Macedonian ethno-genesis in the nineteenth century. The adoption of Neo-Macedonism became further institutionalized through the endorsement of grandiose architectural projects, largely inspired by classical antiquity, which commenced in 2010.

On the domestic front, the Socialists/SDSM and other opposition circles accused the government of investing a disproportional percentage of the state’s budget on these projects. In foreign policy, the emphasis on Neo-Macedonism further complicated relations with the southern neighbour, Greece.

Since the early days of Nikola Gruevski’s term in office, the ‘new’ VMRO-DPMNE drew inspiration from the rather influential trend of neoconservatism among policymaking circles in the US. As it was the case with various other statesmen in Central and Southeast Europe (e.g. Romania’s Traian Băsescu), Nikola Gruevski underlined his firm commitment to Euro-Atlantic institutions and opted for the rapid liberalization of the economy along post-Keynesian lines.

Meanwhile, Gruevski constantly stressed his deep faith in God and highlighted the significance of Eastern Orthodoxy and its system of moral values as a fundamental pillar of the state’s identity. In the field of foreign policy, Nikola Gruevski soon emerged as a staunch supporter of George W. Bush’s policy-doctrine on the Middle East. Throughout the 2000s, FYR Macedonia had dispatched military personnel to Afghanistan and Iraq under the auspices of the US-led ‘Coalition of the Willing’.  

The NATO summit in Bucharest (April 2-4, 2008) was a landmark. As a gesture of gratitude to its small Balkan ally, the US delegation elaborated possible ways to include FYR Macedonia in the NATO enlargement round irrespective of the state’s dispute with Greece. However, the Greek PM, Kostas Karamanlis, vetoed this proposal on the basis that any outstanding issues with the northern neighbour must be previously resolved in order for Greece to grant its assent.

The Greek veto was met with discontent in Washington and infuriated Skopje. Especially in the light of Karamanlis’ opening to Russia, Skopje-based policymakers and think-tanks did not simply charge Athens with ‘parochial and introverted nationalism’. They went a step further and accused Greece of acting as a ‘Trojan horse’ in Moscow’s service with the aim to destabilize NATO and sabotage its enlargement in Southeast Europe.

The pendulum shifts: Fluctuating geopolitics and disillusionment with the West

Barack Obama, who succeeded G.W. Bush to the US Presidency in 2009, watered down various aspects of his predecessor’s ‘hawkish’ foreign policy. Instead, the new administration in the White House opted for a doctrine of appeasement in regards to their regional competitors (e.g. Russia and Iran).

Meanwhile, the simultaneous advent of the economic crisis made European policymakers more introverted and reluctant to the prospects of the EU’s wider enlargement. With specific regard to FYR Macedonia, European policymakers and political analysts soon stroke a critical stance towards Nikola Gruevski and his apparatus. The main areas of concern were symptoms of nepotism and authoritarianism as well as accusations over the relentless propagation of ‘ethno-kitsch’.

This shifting landscape in global and regional politics had direct ramifications on the government circles in Skopje. Several commentators have argued that delaying the state’s accession to Euro-Atlantic institutions runs detrimental to FYR Macedonia’s stateness and it is largely to account for Skopje’s disillusionment with the West. From a more ‘ideological’ angle, though, the change of guard in the White House and the subsequent adoption of a new US foreign policy doctrine are not to be overlooked either.

In other words, Nikola Gruevski’s government has lost much of the patronage that it enjoyed during George W. Bush’s tenure in office. Moreover, we are currently experiencing the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar world order. The last few years have witnessed the consolidation of semi-authoritarian models of governance among emerging regional actors (e.g. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey and Vladimir Putin in Russia). The latter development has encouraged the, if only subtle, admiration of certain statesmen throughout Central and Southeast Europe towards the abovementioned models.

For instance, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán recently coined the concept of illiberal democracy. According to the Hungarian PM, ‘it is not an imperative that contemporary democracy must be structured along the ideological frame of Liberalism…there can be numerous other models of democracy in Europe, nowadays’. Moreover, Viktor Orbán has also positioned Hungary’s foreign policy more solidly within Russia’s orbit of influence.

In particular, both FIDESZ and VMRO-DPMNE converge along a common axis. Both are post-Communist parties that commenced their engagement in politics as, anti-establishment, umbrella-initiatives that hosted a wide range of conservative as well as liberal standpoints. However, in the long run, local adaptations of neoconservatism evolved into the dominant intra-party trend.

Nikola Gruevski and/or Viktor Orbán are not merely unhappy with the outlook(s) of Euro-Atlantic institutions on their respective states or the way(s) that their rule has been portrayed in the Western press. They have also isolated specific elements in Vladimir Putin’s leadership which they deem rather akin to their brand(s) of neoconservatism. These are, namely, Russia’s leader-centred and strong government, the promotion of national and Christian values, and the safeguarding of ‘naturally ascribed’ gender-roles.

Especially in the light of a multipolar international system, one might contend that the neoconservative, ideological, core in parties such as VMRO-DPMNE and/or FIDESZ has remained intact despite the, apparent, foreign policy readjustment towards Moscow. 

What next? Skopje amidst political polarization and fears of ethnic radicalization

In addition to the decline of popular confidence, the government in Skopje may also have to face the challenge of resurgent ethnic radicalization. During the last couple of weeks, a militant group, allegedly consisting of ethnic Albanians, became active in the northern town of Kumanovo. The apparent resurgence of militant Albanian ethno-nationalism triggered a series of conspiracy theories.

Pro-government circles have hinted at the involvement of ‘foreign decision-making centres’ who are not particularly content with the bilateral cooperation between Russia and FYR Macedonia. In the other end of the spectrum, opposition circles have suspected the government of engineering the Kumanovo troubles in an attempt to play the card of ‘national unity’ as a last resort. A third assumption that has not been examined to an adequate extent is the possibility of a peculiar, yet amorphous, blend between Albanian ethno-nationalism and elements of Islamic fundamentalism along the lines of the ‘Chechen precedent’.

Russia, on its part, has been quick to point the finger for both the Kumanovo incidents and the anti-government mobilization at the West. The US and the EU have been accused of orchestrating one more ‘Maidan-style’ coup with the aim to destabilize the government and obstruct cooperation with Russia in energy issues.

Russia Today and other pro-Kremlin media outlets dedicated considerable time to the coverage of pro-government demonstrations where Russian flags also featured among the crowd. Quite a few Western political analysts have expressed the wishful thinking that Nikola Gruevski may be forced to resign under popular pressure and be replaced by a coalition government with a Euro-Atlantic orientation.

Setting regional geopolitics aside, Nikola Gruevski’s opening to Russia reveals an additional pathology of Post-communist politics. Even back at the time when parties such as VMRO-DPMNE and FIDESZ had adjusted their foreign policy more firmly towards the West, their political activity and decision-making had been shaped by local adaptations of the neoconservative narrative. Within the context of their political development, such parties replaced their admiration for certain aspects of American neoconservatism with the endorsement of selected elements found in Vladimir Putin’s semi-authoritarianism while their (neoconservative) ideological core remained intact.

Apart from nominally right-wing parties, centre-left statesmen in the region have also detected, albeit more subtly, some ‘positive’ aspects in Vladimir Putin’s pattern of governance (e.g. the Bulgarian Socialist Party/BSP and Slovakia’s SMER). Therefore, in order to grasp such chameleonic mutations more adequately, one should also pay close attention to political culture among post-Communist parties in Central and Southeast Europe and its evolution. 

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Sideboxes Related stories:  The deep roots of Macedonia's current turmoil – and the way forward Country or region:  Macedonia
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Who has the right to live in London? An interview with Renters’ Rights London

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 15:00

One example of London’s emerging housing movement is Renters’ Rights London, intended to provide the tools and knowledge renters need to defend themselves from unfair treatment, as well as campaign for more rights. We speak with the movement's coordinator, Rosie Walker.

In a recent study, Brookings Institute economist Matthew Rognlie challenged Thomas Piketty’s now well-known assertion that inequality is being driven by the fact that investments in capital produce more money than paying for people to work. Instead, he finds that while investments in technology and other assets generally follow the usual market trends and cycles, it is in fact investments in land and housing that explain rising inequality. The finding has spurred considerable discussion among economists and other social scientists, in part because it suggests that policy solutions to housing problems should focus more on reducing the artificial scarcity produced by housing policy, and less on taxing the wealthy.

What the overall frame for this debate ignores, however, is that land and housing are not simple market commodities, but basic needs that all people have in common. This is why they are so valuable as assets, and so critical a lever in asserting the rights of people over the rights of property. In the end, what Rognlie seems to argue is that inequality is really about enclosure and access, and a conflict between landowner and renters. This dynamic is captured dramatically in the Dogville-inspired short-film Londonville.

Londonville from Doc Next Network on Vimeo.

Londoners are indeed becoming increasingly aware of this problem. There, as in so many areas, capital flows and income inequality are reshaping the local geography into a dense, high-priced metropolitan core and a distant and dispersed periphery. As the city’s affordable housing crisis attracts more and more attention, people are beginning to organise and resist the forces that are crowding them out of their homes to speculate with their houses.

One example of London’s emerging housing movement is Renters’ Rights London. Intended to provide the tools and knowledge renters need to defend themselves from unfair treatment, as well as campaign for more rights, they have been collaborating with a campaign called Pack Up Move Out, No to produce a number of resources that decode the labyrinthine language—which they’ve dubbed “rentspeak”—that often separates tenants from their rights and disempowers them. For a look inside this process, I recently spoke with the coordinator of Renters’ Rights, Rosie Walker.

Carlos Delclós: Could you tell us a little about yourself? What is your background and how did you become involved with housing issues?

Rosie Walker: After getting a degree in Philosophy and Politics, I worked in journalism and communications for about ten years, with a couple of stints in school teaching in London and Japan. I’ve always been interested in social policy and the thinking (or, sometimes, the lack of thinking) behind it, so a few years ago I did a masters degree in Social Policy Research at LSE. When I had to decide what to do for my dissertation, I was stuck.

By that point I’d been renting homes for more than fifteen years, and I’d experienced the whole gamut of renting disasters: no-fault evictions, bullying from landlords, landlords refusing to fix broken boilers in January, extortion from dodgy letting agents, living with strangers who stole money from me, moving house every year or so, sleeping on friends’ floors between rental contracts and spending most of my earnings to live in damp, cold homes with rats and mould. So I thought ‘why not do a dissertation on that?’. Private renting has been a nightmare in London for ages, of course, but even as recently as 2011 it wasn’t recognised as a problem in the way it is now. I remember telling my supervisor that I wanted to do my dissertation on private renting and she said it wasn’t really a social policy issue.

The great irony is that while I was writing it, I was evicted for politely asking my landlord to replace a small piece of furniture that had been broken since I moved in. I’ve had fifteen landlords in my life and I can say unequivocally that this one was the worst. He refused to accept that he had any legal obligations, let alone have any clue what they were. When he wanted a rent increase, he just turned up on our doorstep shouting that he wanted more money. When I asked the tenancy relations officer at my local council to have a word with him about his legal obligations, he told the council officer I was a ‘problem tenant’ and when the council officer asked why, he said ‘because she’s a woman that answers back.’ Other female tenants before me had moved out of the house because of him.

So I suppose it was really this landlord that drove me to action. One of the council tenancy relations officers I interviewed for my dissertation told me about a woman in my neighbourhood who was looking for others to help set up a local renters’ campaign group, and so a handful of us worked hard to get Hackney Renters going. I moved further out east to Waltham Forest, a neighbouring borough where rents are cheaper, and started a renters’ group there. Renting started to bubble up as a campaign issue, and other groups for private renters started to form in other parts of London. They were grouped around London boroughs because local councils are supposed to be the bodies that intervene when landlords are breaking the rules, but the bigger problem is that councils are desperately underfunded so they don’t do everything they’re meant to do. Most groups were unfunded and self-organised, so a lot of us struggled to fit things around our paid jobs - in London you have to work really long hours just to survive.

CD: How did Renters Rights London get its start?

RW: The Camden renters group, which is actually one of the older groups for private renters - it’s been going for about 30 years - realised that not everything can be run on fresh air and goodwill, so they asked Trust For London for funding to set up a London-wide project. Trust For London works on poverty and inequality in London, and they know that housing is one of the biggest drivers of economic inequality in the UK. By this point Generation Rent, the national campaign group for private renters, had started up, and Trust For London saw the value in strengthening the message in London, where renting problems are at their worst. There are two and a half million private renters in London, and they don’t all have the time, energy or inclination to occupy buildings or fight the police - lots would not see that as the route to real change anyway. But, armed with a bit of knowledge, they might challenge harassment from their landlord or refuse to pay an extortionate fee to a letting agent - and it’s this everyday behaviour that is the key.

CD: What activities, strategies and tactics do you all engage in to promote decent rental housing in the city?

RW: We try and talk about renters’ rights a lot - not because renters have tons of them (we don’t) but because we have to try first to introduce lots of renters to the idea that we could have any. A whole generation has grown up thinking that it’s inconceivable for a renter to have rights at all: I often hear people say things like “But it’s my landlord’s house, so he can do what he wants.” So we try to educate people through legal workshops, leaflets, and media work. Also, there isn’t much understanding of what existing powers councils have to enforce these rights so we try and raise awareness about them – we recently launched a Renters’ Index which ranks the councils according to what they are doing to help private renters.

Some councils are really trying, while others still think private renting is something they don’t have to bother with. Hopefully the index will show renters what powers councils have, and show them where they can put the pressure on to force them to do better.

I think part of our role is to help people target their growing anger – lots of people rush into protesting without understanding the complexity of what they’re protesting about, so we help to structure it a bit - explaining what a Section 21 is, what councils can and can’t do, showing them which policies could be changed at local and national level and how. But we’re a very small project, so we can’t do it all.

CD: What is the average situation like, currently, for renters in London?

RW: It’s hellish and it’s getting worse. As a private renter in the UK, you only have a right to a six month tenancy (you might get twelve if you’re lucky) and your landlord can legally evict you without having to give any reason. In practice, this means that if you challenge anything - your landlord’s behaviour, the standard of accommodation, a rent increase, or even if your landlord just decides he doesn’t like you - you can be made homeless with just two months’ notice.

It happens all the time, so as you can imagine, housing standards are appallingly low and rents are appallingly high. Private renting was deregulated in 1989, and since then, two important changes have happened: social housing (owned by local government or housing associations) has been sold off, and house prices have been pushed completely out of reach for ordinary people, making it impossible to buy a home without inherited wealth - even if you earn a decent salary. So both exits from private renting have been blocked, and people are stuck in an almost entirely unregulated market.

At a national level, there’s been one tiny recent change: if a landlord issues a Section 21 (the bit of legislation that allows him to evict for no reason) after you’ve informed your local council about a serious disrepair problem, and if the council has issued a notice telling the landlord the repair must be fixed, you’re protected from eviction for six months. But winning even this tiny change took a huge struggle, and the landlord lobby howled and howled about how unreasonable it was. That shows how bad things are: the landlord lobby was objecting to human beings having a basic right to safety in a home that they pay rent for.

At local level, some councils (local governments) are starting to do things like introduce landlord licensing schemes, which inject a certain level of transparency and accountability for the first time. These schemes are especially needed in London boroughs, but also in other cities in the UK where there is high demand - or in other words, where the jobs are.

Private renters in other parts of the UK are all affected by unfair national legislation, but they don’t all have to pay the insane rents that Londoners do. Instead, they might face different problems: post-industrial towns in the north, for example, have been so run down that private landlords have been able to buy up whole streets for very little money, and they’ve become more powerful than the local council. 

CD: Do you think the situation is much different from the situation in other major European cities, or other cities in the UK?

RW: Some of the things that affect London renters affect renters in all major European cities in 2015: the transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top, the precariousness of employment, the privatisation of public housing. But in most European countries, there is more regulation to protect renters’ rights: landlords usually have to give a valid reason to evict, and most have some form of rent control.

Also, private landlords in Europe are often institutions with a professional reputation to protect. But in the UK, the Buy To Let mortgage that was introduced in the 1990s (which allows anyone to get a mortgage for a house based on the house’s potential rental income rather than the buyer’s salary) means that being a private landlord is seen as a ‘get rich quick’ option for individuals who shouldn’t really be in the market at all; people who have no intention to take responsibility for a home or the people they house in it, have no reserves or insurance and just see pound signs in their eyes. 

CD: One peculiar manifestation of London's housing situation right now is the rise of property guardianship. Could you tell us a little bit about this practice? How does it compare to the situation of proper renters?

RW: It's one of those things that seems like such a good idea on the surface but underneath is actually a nightmare. Essentially, it's a form of legal squatting, except you have to pay a company quite a lot to do it: about £500 a month. The company manages which 'squatters' (or guardians, as they're called) get put into which empty buildings, and then guardians have to sign away most of their housing rights to be allowed in.

In law, they becomes licensees rather than tenants, so they can be evicted without the two months' notice that tenants get, and managers often let themselves into guardians' private rooms without permission. You're not allowed guests, or to go away for more than a couple of days.

Originally, when they started about ten years ago, these schemes were marketed as a quirky, social enterprise-style solution to the problem of empty buildings and the lack of affordable housing. But now, they're marketed directly at private landlords as a way for them to avoid their legal responsibilities.

Even the rents they charge are not cheap anymore: £500 a month for a cold room in a disused office block is hardly a bargain. So the exception becomes the norm, and our rights become marketised: if you want 'full' rights as a tenant (scant as they are), you have to pay extra to get a 'proper' room with a proper tenancy. And just like any other market, there's a race to the bottom. Not everyone running these schemes is completely evil - some really do have good intentions, but they don't realise how insidious it is. 

Who Guards the Guardians? from Doc Next Network on Vimeo.

 

CD: Is Renters Rights London in contact with other platforms or organisations in the struggle for decent housing?

RW: Yes, it’s a very small project, so it can only ever be a tiny part of a big picture. There’s a spectrum of groups and organisations working to make renting fairer. At one end there are organisations like Shelter and Crisis who are ‘inside the tent’, at the other there are self-organised local groups who prefer protest to lobbying, and then there’s a hundred shades in between. Generation Rent, the national campaign group for private renters, does a bit of both. Then there are all the groups working on housing more generally, or focusing on social housing - which has a different set of problems from private renting, but they’re related. Sometimes petty tribalism breaks out between groups, but most people have the intelligence to see that everyone’s on the same side, just fighting in different ways. 

Does Renters Rights London have any relationship with party politics? Do you think the recent election results will have an impact on the right to decent housing?

RW: Like climate change, housing is one of those problems that can only really be fixed with a considerable amount of heavy lifting from government. You might be able win specific housing campaigns through the media, raising awareness and so on. But a broader improvement in the conditions of private renters and the availability of decent housing is only possible through changing policy, and you can only do that if you engage with politicians, the policy making process and political parties. It can be a desperately dispiriting experience, though.

Which brings me to our new government. A majority Conservative administration was quite easily the worst possible outcome for private renters from last week’s election. One of their last acts as a part of the previous coalition government was to make it impossible for local councils to introduce landlord licensing schemes without getting permission from central government first.

It’s basically a way for the ruling Conservative party to stick two fingers up at Labour-run councils, who they hate. The Conservative Party are completely committed to the (contradictory) ideas of a property owning democracy and housing as an investment like any other. They are, in every sense, the landlord’s party. It will be far harder to reign in buy-to-let mortgages, introduce rent controls and longer tenancies or do anything to change any of the norms around housing.

Private renters simply don’t fit into their world view or their plan for the future – they have a lot staked on ignoring the problem. The one silver lining is that their majority has been reduced from 78 to 12, so it’s all about finding the Tory rebels and working with them.

CD: What makes the struggle for decent housing so important?

RW: It’s your home. If your home isn’t stable then neither are you. It makes almost every aspect of your life harder if you’re no more than two months away from being homeless. The grind of constantly having to pack up and move out again and again destroys communities, families and relationships. As a private renter in the UK you have to virtually beg your landlord for what you’re entitled to as a human being. These kind of things are bearable for a short time when you’re young – but long term, it’s no way to live. You lose your dignity and then your mind.

European cities for the commons is an editorial partnership supported by Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons, a Doc Next Network project.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Closed in and crowded out: urbanising against the city Country or region:  UK
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Who has the right to live in London? An interview with Renters’ Rights London

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 15:00

One example of London’s emerging housing movement is Renters’ Rights London, intended to provide the tools and knowledge renters need to defend themselves from unfair treatment, as well as campaign for more rights. We speak with the movement's coordinator, Rosie Walker.

In a recent study, Brookings Institute economist Matthew Rognlie challenged Thomas Piketty’s now well-known assertion that inequality is being driven by the fact that investments in capital produce more money than paying for people to work. Instead, he finds that while investments in technology and other assets generally follow the usual market trends and cycles, it is in fact investments in land and housing that explain rising inequality. The finding has spurred considerable discussion among economists and other social scientists, in part because it suggests that policy solutions to housing problems should focus more on reducing the artificial scarcity produced by housing policy, and less on taxing the wealthy.

What the overall frame for this debate ignores, however, is that land and housing are not simple market commodities, but basic needs that all people have in common. This is why they are so valuable as assets, and so critical a lever in asserting the rights of people over the rights of property. In the end, what Rognlie seems to argue is that inequality is really about enclosure and access, and a conflict between landowner and renters. This dynamic is captured dramatically in the Dogville-inspired short-film Londonville.

Londonville from Doc Next Network on Vimeo.

Londoners are indeed becoming increasingly aware of this problem. There, as in so many areas, capital flows and income inequality are reshaping the local geography into a dense, high-priced metropolitan core and a distant and dispersed periphery. As the city’s affordable housing crisis attracts more and more attention, people are beginning to organise and resist the forces that are crowding them out of their homes to speculate with their houses.

One example of London’s emerging housing movement is Renters’ Rights London. Intended to provide the tools and knowledge renters need to defend themselves from unfair treatment, as well as campaign for more rights, they have been collaborating with a campaign called Pack Up Move Out, No to produce a number of resources that decode the labyrinthine language—which they’ve dubbed “rentspeak”—that often separates tenants from their rights and disempowers them. For a look inside this process, I recently spoke with the coordinator of Renters’ Rights, Rosie Walker.

Carlos Delcos: Could you tell us a little about yourself? What is your background and how did you become involved with housing issues?

Rosie Walker: After getting a degree in Philosophy and Politics, I worked in journalism and communications for about ten years, with a couple of stints in school teaching in London and Japan. I’ve always been interested in social policy and the thinking (or, sometimes, the lack of thinking) behind it, so a few years ago I did a masters degree in Social Policy Research at LSE. When I had to decide what to do for my dissertation, I was stuck.

By that point I’d been renting homes for more than fifteen years, and I’d experienced the whole gamut of renting disasters: no-fault evictions, bullying from landlords, landlords refusing to fix broken boilers in January, extortion from dodgy letting agents, living with strangers who stole money from me, moving house every year or so, sleeping on friends’ floors between rental contracts and spending most of my earnings to live in damp, cold homes with rats and mould. So I thought ‘why not do a dissertation on that?’. Private renting has been a nightmare in London for ages, of course, but even as recently as 2011 it wasn’t recognised as a problem in the way it is now. I remember telling my supervisor that I wanted to do my dissertation on private renting and she said it wasn’t really a social policy issue.

The great irony is that while I was writing it, I was evicted for politely asking my landlord to replace a small piece of furniture that had been broken since I moved in. I’ve had fifteen landlords in my life and I can say unequivocally that this one was the worst. He refused to accept that he had any legal obligations, let alone have any clue what they were. When he wanted a rent increase, he just turned up on our doorstep shouting that he wanted more money. When I asked the tenancy relations officer at my local council to have a word with him about his legal obligations, he told the council officer I was a ‘problem tenant’ and when the council officer asked why, he said ‘because she’s a woman that answers back.’ Other female tenants before me had moved out of the house because of him.

So I suppose it was really this landlord that drove me to action. One of the council tenancy relations officers I interviewed for my dissertation told me about a woman in my neighbourhood who was looking for others to help set up a local renters’ campaign group, and so a handful of us worked hard to get Hackney Renters going. I moved further out east to Waltham Forest, a neighbouring borough where rents are cheaper, and started a renters’ group there. Renting started to bubble up as a campaign issue, and other groups for private renters started to form in other parts of London. They were grouped around London boroughs because local councils are supposed to be the bodies that intervene when landlords are breaking the rules, but the bigger problem is that councils are desperately underfunded so they don’t do everything they’re meant to do. Most groups were unfunded and self-organised, so a lot of us struggled to fit things around our paid jobs - in London you have to work really long hours just to survive.

CD: How did Renters Rights London get its start?

RW: The Camden renters group, which is actually one of the older groups for private renters - it’s been going for about 30 years - realised that not everything can be run on fresh air and goodwill, so they asked Trust For London for funding to set up a London-wide project. Trust For London works on poverty and inequality in London, and they know that housing is one of the biggest drivers of economic inequality in the UK. By this point Generation Rent, the national campaign group for private renters, had started up, and Trust For London saw the value in strengthening the message in London, where renting problems are at their worst. There are two and a half million private renters in London, and they don’t all have the time, energy or inclination to occupy buildings or fight the police - lots would not see that as the route to real change anyway. But, armed with a bit of knowledge, they might challenge harassment from their landlord or refuse to pay an extortionate fee to a letting agent - and it’s this everyday behaviour that is the key.

CD: What activities, strategies and tactics do you all engage in to promote decent rental housing in the city?

RW: We try and talk about renters’ rights a lot - not because renters have tons of them (we don’t) but because we have to try first to introduce lots of renters to the idea that we could have any. A whole generation has grown up thinking that it’s inconceivable for a renter to have rights at all: I often hear people say things like “But it’s my landlord’s house, so he can do what he wants.” So we try to educate people through legal workshops, leaflets, and media work. Also, there isn’t much understanding of what existing powers councils have to enforce these rights so we try and raise awareness about them – we recently launched a Renters’ Index which ranks the councils according to what they are doing to help private renters.

Some councils are really trying, while others still think private renting is something they don’t have to bother with. Hopefully the index will show renters what powers councils have, and show them where they can put the pressure on to force them to do better.

I think part of our role is to help people target their growing anger – lots of people rush into protesting without understanding the complexity of what they’re protesting about, so we help to structure it a bit - explaining what a Section 21 is, what councils can and can’t do, showing them which policies could be changed at local and national level and how. But we’re a very small project, so we can’t do it all.

CD: What is the average situation like, currently, for renters in London?

RW: It’s hellish and it’s getting worse. As a private renter in the UK, you only have a right to a six month tenancy (you might get twelve if you’re lucky) and your landlord can legally evict you without having to give any reason. In practice, this means that if you challenge anything - your landlord’s behaviour, the standard of accommodation, a rent increase, or even if your landlord just decides he doesn’t like you - you can be made homeless with just two months’ notice.

It happens all the time, so as you can imagine, housing standards are appallingly low and rents are appallingly high. Private renting was deregulated in 1989, and since then, two important changes have happened: social housing (owned by local government or housing associations) has been sold off, and house prices have been pushed completely out of reach for ordinary people, making it impossible to buy a home without inherited wealth - even if you earn a decent salary. So both exits from private renting have been blocked, and people are stuck in an almost entirely unregulated market.

At a national level, there’s been one tiny recent change: if a landlord issues a Section 21 (the bit of legislation that allows him to evict for no reason) after you’ve informed your local council about a serious disrepair problem, and if the council has issued a notice telling the landlord the repair must be fixed, you’re protected from eviction for six months. But winning even this tiny change took a huge struggle, and the landlord lobby howled and howled about how unreasonable it was. That shows how bad things are: the landlord lobby was objecting to human beings having a basic right to safety in a home that they pay rent for.

At local level, some councils (local governments) are starting to do things like introduce landlord licensing schemes, which inject a certain level of transparency and accountability for the first time. These schemes are especially needed in London boroughs, but also in other cities in the UK where there is high demand - or in other words, where the jobs are.

Private renters in other parts of the UK are all affected by unfair national legislation, but they don’t all have to pay the insane rents that Londoners do. Instead, they might face different problems: post-industrial towns in the north, for example, have been so run down that private landlords have been able to buy up whole streets for very little money, and they’ve become more powerful than the local council. 

CD: Do you think the situation is much different from the situation in other major European cities, or other cities in the UK?

RW: Some of the things that affect London renters affect renters in all major European cities in 2015: the transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top, the precariousness of employment, the privatisation of public housing. But in most European countries, there is more regulation to protect renters’ rights: landlords usually have to give a valid reason to evict, and most have some form of rent control.

Also, private landlords in Europe are often institutions with a professional reputation to protect. But in the UK, the Buy To Let mortgage that was introduced in the 1990s (which allows anyone to get a mortgage for a house based on the house’s potential rental income rather than the buyer’s salary) means that being a private landlord is seen as a ‘get rich quick’ option for individuals who shouldn’t really be in the market at all; people who have no intention to take responsibility for a home or the people they house in it, have no reserves or insurance and just see pound signs in their eyes. 

CD: One peculiar manifestation of London's housing situation right now is the rise of property guardianship. Could you tell us a little bit about this practice? How does it compare to the situation of proper renters?

RW: It's one of those things that seems like such a good idea on the surface but underneath is actually a nightmare. Essentially, it's a form of legal squatting, except you have to pay a company quite a lot to do it: about £500 a month. The company manages which 'squatters' (or guardians, as they're called) get put into which empty buildings, and then guardians have to sign away most of their housing rights to be allowed in.

In law, they becomes licensees rather than tenants, so they can be evicted without the two months' notice that tenants get, and managers often let themselves into guardians' private rooms without permission. You're not allowed guests, or to go away for more than a couple of days.

Originally, when they started about ten years ago, these schemes were marketed as a quirky, social enterprise-style solution to the problem of empty buildings and the lack of affordable housing. But now, they're marketed directly at private landlords as a way for them to avoid their legal responsibilities.

Even the rents they charge are not cheap anymore: £500 a month for a cold room in a disused office block is hardly a bargain. So the exception becomes the norm, and our rights become marketised: if you want 'full' rights as a tenant (scant as they are), you have to pay extra to get a 'proper' room with a proper tenancy. And just like any other market, there's a race to the bottom. Not everyone running these schemes is completely evil - some really do have good intentions, but they don't realise how insidious it is. 

Who Guards the Guardians? from Doc Next Network on Vimeo.

CD: Is Renters Rights London in contact with other platforms or organisations in the struggle for decent housing?

RW: Yes, it’s a very small project, so it can only ever be a tiny part of a big picture. There’s a spectrum of groups and organisations working to make renting fairer. At one end there are organisations like Shelter and Crisis who are ‘inside the tent’, at the other there are self-organised local groups who prefer protest to lobbying, and then there’s a hundred shades in between. Generation Rent, the national campaign group for private renters, does a bit of both. Then there are all the groups working on housing more generally, or focusing on social housing - which has a different set of problems from private renting, but they’re related. Sometimes petty tribalism breaks out between groups, but most people have the intelligence to see that everyone’s on the same side, just fighting in different ways. 

Does Renters Rights London have any relationship with party politics? Do you think the recent election results will have an impact on the right to decent housing?

RW: Like climate change, housing is one of those problems that can only really be fixed with a considerable amount of heavy lifting from government. You might be able win specific housing campaigns through the media, raising awareness and so on. But a broader improvement in the conditions of private renters and the availability of decent housing is only possible through changing policy, and you can only do that if you engage with politicians, the policy making process and political parties. It can be a desperately dispiriting experience, though.

Which brings me to our new government. A majority Conservative administration was quite easily the worst possible outcome for private renters from last week’s election. One of their last acts as a part of the previous coalition government was to make it impossible for local councils to introduce landlord licensing schemes without getting permission from central government first.

It’s basically a way for the ruling Conservative party to stick two fingers up at Labour-run councils, who they hate. The Conservative Party are completely committed to the (contradictory) ideas of a property owning democracy and housing as an investment like any other. They are, in every sense, the landlord’s party. It will be far harder to reign in buy-to-let mortgages, introduce rent controls and longer tenancies or do anything to change any of the norms around housing.

Private renters simply don’t fit into their world view or their plan for the future – they have a lot staked on ignoring the problem. The one silver lining is that their majority has been reduced from 78 to 12, so it’s all about finding the Tory rebels and working with them.

CD: What makes the struggle for decent housing so important?

RW: It’s your home. If your home isn’t stable then neither are you. It makes almost every aspect of your life harder if you’re no more than two months away from being homeless. The grind of constantly having to pack up and move out again and again destroys communities, families and relationships. As a private renter in the UK you have to virtually beg your landlord for what you’re entitled to as a human being. These kind of things are bearable for a short time when you’re young – but long term, it’s no way to live. You lose your dignity and then your mind.

European cities for the commons is an editorial partnership supported by Radical Democracy: Reclaiming the Commons, a Doc Next Network project.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Closed in and crowded out: urbanising against the city Country or region:  UK
Categories: les flux rss

The Iraqi crisis: rethinking the narrative

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 14:13

An approach to Iraq focused on military intervention, with some humanitarian assistance, has defied the complexity of the domestic and regional kaleidoscope. No wonder it is failing.

The capture of Tikrit from Islamic State (IS) by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in early April, with the help of US airstrikes and Iranian advisors, appeared simultaneously to preserve and undermine the Iraqi state. While representing a significant territorial victory in the fight against IS, reports indicated that the group’s expulsion was followed by a wave of looting, summary executions and other atrocities, tarnishing the town’s ‘liberation’ and the forces associated with it.

While the ISF formally and visibly did the capturing, and took most of the credit, Iraq’s Shia militias dominated the first two weeks of the assault. These forces largely operate outside of state control—in spite of the recent move by the prime minister (and commander-in-chief), Haider al-Abadi, to bring them under his authority—and do most of the fighting against the Wahhabi-inspired Sunni IS.

The event fitted well into the common narrative of the conflict on which much of the west’s intervention against IS in Iraq is based. Its main elements—often espoused by US-, Israeli- and Gulf-based media and analysts—are questioning the chances of survival of the Iraqi state, perceiving IS as a signficant threat through the lens of global terrorism, framing Iran as the region’s challenger to the status quo, and suggesting that a fight for hegemony is taking place across the Middle East which pits Sunni against Shia regimes and groups. But this narrative is misleading.

Fear of implosion

First, it is doubtful that Iraq’s days as a unitary state are numbered. This proposition is mainly based on the combination of centrifugal domestic political forces—divergent Sunnis, Shia and Kurds—and centripetal regional forces influencing national affairs. Yet none of Iraq’s key neighbours (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey) wishes to see it disappear as a unitary state. They may prefer a weak Iraq for various reasons but they fear implosion bringing insecurity, radicalism, refugees and aspirations to self-determination across their borders.

Moreover, Iraq’s Sunnis have no viable alternative. A Sunni rump state is not only politically impossible given the record of the last ten years of radical groups emerging from Sunni-populated territorities, but also financially untenable. And Iraq’s Kurds are unlikely to declare independence in the face of resistance from both Turkey and Iran, considering their sizeable Kurdish populations. As long as Turkey transfers payments for Kurdish oil to the treasury in Bagdad instead of Erbil, the Kurds cannot really afford it either.

Secondly, and relatedly, Iraq’s Shia are more nationalistic and more fragmented than one might think. While some groups, such as Kataib Hezbollah, essentially owe allegiance to Tehran, far from all Shia militias are Iranian proxies—take Muqtada al-Sadr’s ‘Mahdi army’. And while Iraq’s Shia took up arms when IS arrived at the gates of Baghdad, this was much less a sectarian mobilisation than a response to a strident nationalistic call from the grand ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, which showed little symphathy for sectarian narratives. Al-Sistani’s influence is significant—he is perhaps as close as one can find to a national figure in Iraq—and in the Shia world his authority rivals, or even surpasses, that of his Iranian counterparts.

Thirdly, it is not just Iranian influence in Iraq which incentivises violence. While it is materially significant (advisors, weapons and funds), prolonged Saudi export of Wahhabism—its extremely conservative interpretation of Islam—has also played its part. As socio-religious influence, Wahhabism spreads more under the radar and with greater deniability than Iranian arms or pictures of Qassem Suleimani, leader of Iran’s Quds force, but it is not less of a hindrance to resolving Iraq’s governance crisis.

Fourthly, while Iraq’s Sunnis are not necessarily true believers in the ideology of IS they are deeply distrustful of the Iraqi state. Since 2003 they have been consistently marginalised by the government, its bureaucracy and corrupt ‘checkpoint army’. Over time, Iraq’s state institutions have increasingly moved away from treating the country’s citizens impartially on the basis of the constitution. What remains of that state is perceived as having been captured by Iraq’s Shia, while benefiting from significant international military support. This is seen as deeply threatening by many Sunnis—especially in the light of atrocities such as those that followed the capture of Tikrit.

Finally, the international community may continue to pretend that the crisis in Iraq can be resolved without addressing the crisis in Syria, but this is wishful thinking. Not only does IS operate freely across the border—re-emerging in Iraq having regained strength in Syria—but also it is the combined outcomes of these wars which feature in regional calculations. So regional involvement is only likely to become more constructive if a solution to both conflicts can be identified which is acceptable to the main players: Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Counter-narrative

These five points provide a counter-narrative on the crisis in Iraq. Disturbingly, most of the west’s intervention—and a lot of its reporting—does not take this complexity much into account. Focused on driving IS out of Anbar province and Mosul city, the US-led international coalition has not addressed how Iraq can become a state which functions for all its citizens. Engaged in Iraq but neglecting the war in Syria, western countries risk strengthening IS or creating a successor sooner or later. And by accepting or even reinforcing simplistic, Sunni versus Shia framing, they reduce the agency of Iraqi actors who can play a more constructive role.

A nuanced understanding is needed of the various regional and domestic stakeholders, and a greater range of instruments than just humanitarian assistance and military intervention need to be deployed. The risk of the current approach is that if violence is brought to a halt it will be merely the silence before the next storm.

For more from the Knowledge Platform on Security and Rule of Law go to www.kpsrl.org/.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Iraq's phantom army Iraq, a new war's peril Country or region:  Iraq Topics:  Conflict Democracy and government
Categories: les flux rss

The Iraqi crisis: rethinking the narrative

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 14:13

An approach to Iraq focused on military intervention, with some humanitarian assistance, has defied the complexity of the domestic and regional kaleidoscope. No wonder it is failing.

The capture of Tikrit from Islamic State (IS) by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in early April, with the help of US airstrikes and Iranian advisors, appeared simultaneously to preserve and undermine the Iraqi state. While representing a significant territorial victory in the fight against IS, reports indicated that the group’s expulsion was followed by a wave of looting, summary executions and other atrocities, tarnishing the town’s ‘liberation’ and the forces associated with it.

While the ISF formally and visibly did the capturing, and took most of the credit, Iraq’s Shia militias dominated the first two weeks of the assault. These forces largely operate outside of state control—in spite of the recent move by the prime minister (and commander-in-chief), Haider al-Abadi, to bring them under his authority—and do most of the fighting against the Wahhabi-inspired Sunni IS.

The event fitted well into the common narrative of the conflict on which much of the west’s intervention against IS in Iraq is based. Its main elements—often espoused by US-, Israeli- and Gulf-based media and analysts—are questioning the chances of survival of the Iraqi state, perceiving IS as a signficant threat through the lens of global terrorism, framing Iran as the region’s challenger to the status quo, and suggesting that a fight for hegemony is taking place across the Middle East which pits Sunni against Shia regimes and groups. But this narrative is misleading.

Fear of implosion

First, it is doubtful that Iraq’s days as a unitary state are numbered. This proposition is mainly based on the combination of centrifugal domestic political forces—divergent Sunnis, Shia and Kurds—and centripetal regional forces influencing national affairs. Yet none of Iraq’s key neighbours (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey) wishes to see it disappear as a unitary state. They may prefer a weak Iraq for various reasons but they fear implosion bringing insecurity, radicalism, refugees and aspirations to self-determination across their borders.

Moreover, Iraq’s Sunnis have no viable alternative. A Sunni rump state is not only politically impossible given the record of the last ten years of radical groups emerging from Sunni-populated territorities, but also financially untenable. And Iraq’s Kurds are unlikely to declare independence in the face of resistance from both Turkey and Iran, considering their sizeable Kurdish populations. As long as Turkey transfers payments for Kurdish oil to the treasury in Bagdad instead of Erbil, the Kurds cannot really afford it either.

Secondly, and relatedly, Iraq’s Shia are more nationalistic and more fragmented than one might think. While some groups, such as Kataib Hezbollah, essentially owe allegiance to Tehran, far from all Shia militias are Iranian proxies—take Muqtada al-Sadr’s ‘Mahdi army’. And while Iraq’s Shia took up arms when IS arrived at the gates of Baghdad, this was much less a sectarian mobilisation than a response to a strident nationalistic call from the grand ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, which showed little symphathy for sectarian narratives. Al-Sistani’s influence is significant—he is perhaps as close as one can find to a national figure in Iraq—and in the Shia world his authority rivals, or even surpasses, that of his Iranian counterparts.

Thirdly, it is not just Iranian influence in Iraq which incentivises violence. While it is materially significant (advisors, weapons and funds), prolonged Saudi export of Wahhabism—its extremely conservative interpretation of Islam—has also played its part. As socio-religious influence, Wahhabism spreads more under the radar and with greater deniability than Iranian arms or pictures of Qassem Suleimani, leader of Iran’s Quds force, but it is not less of a hindrance to resolving Iraq’s governance crisis.

Fourthly, while Iraq’s Sunnis are not necessarily true believers in the ideology of IS they are deeply distrustful of the Iraqi state. Since 2003 they have been consistently marginalised by the government, its bureaucracy and corrupt ‘checkpoint army’. Over time, Iraq’s state institutions have increasingly moved away from treating the country’s citizens impartially on the basis of the constitution. What remains of that state is perceived as having been captured by Iraq’s Shia, while benefiting from significant international military support. This is seen as deeply threatening by many Sunnis—especially in the light of atrocities such as those that followed the capture of Tikrit.

Finally, the international community may continue to pretend that the crisis in Iraq can be resolved without addressing the crisis in Syria, but this is wishful thinking. Not only does IS operate freely across the border—re-emerging in Iraq having regained strength in Syria—but also it is the combined outcomes of these wars which feature in regional calculations. So regional involvement is only likely to become more constructive if a solution to both conflicts can be identified which is acceptable to the main players: Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Counter-narrative

These five points provide a counter-narrative on the crisis in Iraq. Disturbingly, most of the west’s intervention—and a lot of its reporting—does not take this complexity much into account. Focused on driving IS out of Anbar province and Mosul city, the US-led international coalition has not addressed how Iraq can become a state which functions for all its citizens. Engaged in Iraq but neglecting the war in Syria, western countries risk strengthening IS or creating a successor sooner or later. And by accepting or even reinforcing simplistic, Sunni versus Shia framing, they reduce the agency of Iraqi actors who can play a more constructive role.

A nuanced understanding is needed of the various regional and domestic stakeholders, and a greater range of instruments than just humanitarian assistance and military intervention need to be deployed. The risk of the current approach is that if violence is brought to a halt it will be merely the silence before the next storm.

For more from the Knowledge Platform on Security and Rule of Law go to www.kpsrl.org/.

Sideboxes Related stories:  Iraq's phantom army Iraq, a new war's peril Country or region:  Iraq Topics:  Conflict Democracy and government
Categories: les flux rss

The government must act to improve the human rights of dementia patients and carers

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 11:57

Few now question the right of parents to stay with children in hospital - so why don't patients with dementia have similar rights? A blog for Dementia Awareness week.

At least a third of hospital beds are now occupied by people with dementia – up from a quarter of beds six years ago, according to figures from the Alzheimer’s Society.   

John's Campaign is single-issue and simple. It is for the right of carers to stay with people with dementia if they are admitted to hospital. It is named for the father of my friend, the writer Nicci Gerrard, whose father’s dementia was catastrophically accelerated by a stay in hospital where he was largely cut off from his family.

In the 1960s we had to campaign for parents to have the right to stay with their children in hospital. Few question this right now. So why does the same right not apply to carers of people with dementia?

Currently, patients with dementia – usually admitted for unrelated conditions – have worse outcomes than similar patients who do not have dementia, according to the Alzheimers Society

They suffer acutely from fear, disorientation and stress. Their levels of nutrition and hydration are poor. Their mobility and continence suffers, they are at extra risk of delirium and falls. They need almost constant reassurance and practical help.

Ideally, more people with dementia would be treated at home – surrounded by people, and in an environment, they trust and recognise. But the reduced number of district nurses, the appalling lack of dementia specialist nurses (Admiral Nurses) working in the community and shortages of GPs to do home visits make good quality care at home hard to achieve.

So we have to improve the experience of people with dementia in hospitals. And progress has been far too slow.

So where are we, post-election?

Thanks to Valerie Vaz MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham, Labour’s election manifesto pledged to incorporate this right into the NHS Constitution – something we will continue to campaign for.

In the last weeks of the last government Norman Lamb (Lib Dem Junior Health Minister) and dementia 'tsar' Alistair Burns wrote jointly to the Chief Executives of all acute hospital trusts in England, asking them to facilitate carers' wish to stay outside of regular visiting hours and overnight if necessary.

We hope that this letter will be acted on and receive the publicity it deserves – but there needs to be a stronger requirement – a right.

Despite a friendly and encouraging letter from David Cameron, who has taken a personal interest in dementia strategy since 2010 – current government policy is that 'visiting hours are a matter for individual hospitals to decide' –which leaves us needing to persuade hospital by hospital across the country that carers are different from visitors and that access should be granted as a right. Not only as a right for the carers but as a right for the patient. We have found ourselves rephrasing our central demand – switching the right of carers to stay with people with dementia to the right of people with dementia to have their carers with them if they are admitted to hospital.

Sarah-Jane Marsh, CEO of Birmingham Children's Hospital, commented that she saw 'no reason at all' why the approach they adopt towards involving families could not work equally well in adult hospitals.

Some hospital trusts are already beginning to change their practices. Both Bristol University and North Bristol Hospital Trusts have welcomed carers of people with any degree of dependency throughout their hospital system for the past five years. The Heart of England Trust in Birmingham recently took the decision to scrap visiting hours entirely – for everyone, not only carers.  A greater number of trusts or even individual wards find ways to differentiate carers from the generality of visitors (for example Imperial College Healthcare Trust has adopted ‘Carers Passports’). This then allows them to offer carers access at whatever time may be most helpful, including overnight. Imperial are also putting 'Carers Welcome' posters on all their ward doors to ram the message home. Other trusts are making similar decisions: Kingston, UCL, Royal Free in London, Trafford Hospital in Manchester, Brighton and Sussex University Hospital, the Countess of Chester Hospital, Basildon Hospital, Cheltenham and Gloucester. Then there are individual centres of excellence such as Professor Rowan Harwood's Medical and Mental Unit in Nottingham University Hospital Trust and Dr David Oliver's ward in the Royal Berkshire Hospital.

Pledges of support have come from the British Geriatric Society, the Alzheimers Society, Dementia UK, the Gold Standards Framework (end-of-life care), and Carers UK. Most recently Parkinsons UK publicly stated their support, seeing John’s Campaign as a way of helping their Get-It-On-Time initiative.

It does seem astonishing that we need a group like Parkinsons UK to campaign to ensure medicines are given at the right times during a hospital admission.

But our campaign has as one of our two guiding principles, that this will never be a campaign that blames individual nurses. The problem is huge, complex hospitals, and staffing levels stretched to breaking point.

Our campaign is not about getting nursing care on the cheap - nor an alternative to all the other improvements that are needed to make hospitals more dementia-friendly environments.

But we need to recognise that in today’s overstretched hospitals, nurses are simply not able to cope with the degree of nurture needed by someone with dementia as well as providing the essential professional nursing.

Our second key principle is that there will never be emotional pressure on carers. We want the right to stay with our loved ones in hospital, not the duty.

A few have suggested that carers should be allowed to ‘leave it to the nurses’ as they need respite from often 24/7 care. And indeed they should. But true ‘respite’ care is best offered when carers know that the person they care for is reasonably contented and secure, not when they are ill and at their most needy.

Of course, not all patients will have carers able to assist. But that is no reason not to accept help from those who are able and willing. Wards where carers are welcome confirm that their presence has the potential to improve the experience for all.

We have met with understanding and support from nurses at all levels. The Royal College of Nursing were quick to offer encouragement. England's Chief Nursing Officer, Jane Cummings, is currently promoting John's Campaign. Earlier this month I was invited to talk to a group of newly recruited Health Care Assistants in Essex who were giving the campaign their own equally enthusiastic support.

Andy Tysoe, a dementia nurse, described carers as the 'cognitive ramp' for his patients – like a guide dog, a hearing aid, a crutch or an interpreter.

Looked at from this perspective John's Campaign becomes an issue of equality, of disability discrimination, of mental capacity and informed consent. Suddenly it is something much too important to be left to a couple of middle-aged women and their kindly well-wishers. Despite the inestimable support we have received within six months, John's Campaign will only succeed if it effects a complete culture change. If it becomes the norm to ensure that vulnerable patients whose well-being and ability to function depends on others are never unnecessarily deprived of that support. This is something that should concern us all: I believe it is an issue of human rights. 

Categories: les flux rss

The government must act to improve the human rights of dementia patients and carers

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 11:57

Few now question the right of parents to stay with children in hospital - so why don't patients with dementia have similar rights? A blog for Dementia Awareness week.

Image: the writer Nicci Gerard with her father John

At least a third of hospital beds are now occupied by people with dementia – up from a quarter of beds six years ago, according to figures from the Alzheimer’s Society.   

John's Campaign is single-issue and simple. It is for the right of carers to stay with people with dementia if they are admitted to hospital. It is named for the father of my friend, the writer Nicci Gerrard, whose father’s dementia was catastrophically accelerated by a stay in hospital where he was largely cut off from his family.

In the 1960s we had to campaign for parents to have the right to stay with their children in hospital. Few question this right now. So why does the same right not apply to carers of people with dementia?

Currently, patients with dementia – usually admitted for unrelated conditions – have worse outcomes than similar patients who do not have dementia, according to the Alzheimers Society

They suffer acutely from fear, disorientation and stress. Their levels of nutrition and hydration are poor. Their mobility and continence suffers, they are at extra risk of delirium and falls. They need almost constant reassurance and practical help.

Ideally, more people with dementia would be treated at home – surrounded by people, and in an environment, they trust and recognise. But the reduced number of district nurses, the appalling lack of dementia specialist nurses (Admiral Nurses) working in the community and shortages of GPs to do home visits make good quality care at home hard to achieve.

So we have to improve the experience of people with dementia in hospitals. And progress has been far too slow.

So where are we, post-election?

Thanks to Valerie Vaz MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham, Labour’s election manifesto pledged to incorporate this right into the NHS Constitution – something we will continue to campaign for.

In the last weeks of the last government Norman Lamb (Lib Dem Junior Health Minister) and dementia 'tsar' Alistair Burns wrote jointly to the Chief Executives of all acute hospital trusts in England, asking them to facilitate carers' wish to stay outside of regular visiting hours and overnight if necessary.

We hope that this letter will be acted on and receive the publicity it deserves – but there needs to be a stronger requirement – a right.

Despite a friendly and encouraging letter from David Cameron, who has taken a personal interest in dementia strategy since 2010 – current government policy is that 'visiting hours are a matter for individual hospitals to decide' –which leaves us needing to persuade hospital by hospital across the country that carers are different from visitors and that access should be granted as a right. Not only as a right for the carers but as a right for the patient. We have found ourselves rephrasing our central demand – switching the right of carers to stay with people with dementia to the right of people with dementia to have their carers with them if they are admitted to hospital.

Sarah-Jane Marsh, CEO of Birmingham Children's Hospital, commented that she saw 'no reason at all' why the approach they adopt towards involving families could not work equally well in adult hospitals.

Some hospital trusts are already beginning to change their practices. Both Bristol University and North Bristol Hospital Trusts have welcomed carers of people with any degree of dependency throughout their hospital system for the past five years. The Heart of England Trust in Birmingham recently took the decision to scrap visiting hours entirely – for everyone, not only carers.  A greater number of trusts or even individual wards find ways to differentiate carers from the generality of visitors (for example Imperial College Healthcare Trust has adopted ‘Carers Passports’). This then allows them to offer carers access at whatever time may be most helpful, including overnight. Imperial are also putting 'Carers Welcome' posters on all their ward doors to ram the message home. Other trusts are making similar decisions: Kingston, UCL, Royal Free in London, Trafford Hospital in Manchester, Brighton and Sussex University Hospital, the Countess of Chester Hospital, Basildon Hospital, Cheltenham and Gloucester. Then there are individual centres of excellence such as Professor Rowan Harwood's Medical and Mental Unit in Nottingham University Hospital Trust and Dr David Oliver's ward in the Royal Berkshire Hospital.

Pledges of support have come from the British Geriatric Society, the Alzheimers Society, Dementia UK, the Gold Standards Framework (end-of-life care), and Carers UK. Most recently Parkinsons UK publicly stated their support, seeing John’s Campaign as a way of helping their Get-It-On-Time initiative.

It does seem astonishing that we need a group like Parkinsons UK to campaign to ensure medicines are given at the right times during a hospital admission.

But our campaign has as one of our two guiding principles, that this will never be a campaign that blames individual nurses. The problem is huge, complex hospitals, and staffing levels stretched to breaking point.

Our campaign is not about getting nursing care on the cheap - nor an alternative to all the other improvements that are needed to make hospitals more dementia-friendly environments.

But we need to recognise that in today’s overstretched hospitals, nurses are simply not able to cope with the degree of nurture needed by someone with dementia as well as providing the essential professional nursing.

Our second key principle is that there will never be emotional pressure on carers. We want the right to stay with our loved ones in hospital, not the duty.

A few have suggested that carers should be allowed to ‘leave it to the nurses’ as they need respite from often 24/7 care. And indeed they should. But true ‘respite’ care is best offered when carers know that the person they care for is reasonably contented and secure, not when they are ill and at their most needy.

Of course, not all patients will have carers able to assist. But that is no reason not to accept help from those who are able and willing. Wards where carers are welcome confirm that their presence has the potential to improve the experience for all.

We have met with understanding and support from nurses at all levels. The Royal College of Nursing were quick to offer encouragement. England's Chief Nursing Officer, Jane Cummings, is currently promoting John's Campaign. Earlier this month I was invited to talk to a group of newly recruited Health Care Assistants in Essex who were giving the campaign their own equally enthusiastic support.

Andy Tysoe, a dementia nurse, described carers as the 'cognitive ramp' for his patients – like a guide dog, a hearing aid, a crutch or an interpreter.

 

Looked at from this perspective John's Campaign becomes an issue of equality, of disability discrimination, of mental capacity and informed consent. Suddenly it is something much too important to be left to a couple of middle-aged women and their kindly well-wishers. Despite the estimable support we have received within six months, John's Campaign will only succeed if it effects a complete culture change. If it becomes the norm to ensure that vulnerable patients whose well-being and ability to function depends on others are never unnecessarily deprived of that support. This is something that should concern us all: I believe it is an issue of human rights. 

Categories: les flux rss

The EU referendum - what is the question though?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 9:02

Cameron will almost certainly opt for the least democratic question - a simple yes no, just as he did on the electoral reform vote. There is a much better way to calculate the public will and people should demand it.

Flickr/YanniKouts. Some rights reserved.

The Scottish referendum asked the wrong question, so we got the wrong answer, and we are now reaping the consequences. Likewise, the 2011 referendum on electoral reform asked the wrong question, and we still don’t know the opinions of the UK electorate on PR. And so it goes on. 

The UK’s membership of the EU is not a two-option question. If the EU referendum offers only two options, the outcome may well be an inaccurate reflection of the collective will. The democratic process should not be one by which those in power control everything, subject to the people’s ratification. Rather, it should allow the people (or its parliament) to decide, and then the executive, the government, should execute that decision.

Accordingly, this article first critiques a few previous referendums – Scotland in 2014, electoral reform (sic) in 2011, and, as an outside example, France’s 2005 plebiscite on the Lisbon Treaty. It then considers the proposed UK referendum on the EU before outlining a better methodology.

Scotland

The debate consisted of three options: (a) independence, (b) ‘devo-max’ and (c) the status quo.  When the Edinburgh Agreement was signed, however, David Cameron stipulated that the ballot paper was to list only (a) and (c), thereby putting any (b) supporters into a bit of a quandary.

When the opinion polls indicated growing support for (a), the Westminster parties changed (c) into (b).  But because (b) was not on the ballot paper, the levels of support for both (a) and (c) were artificially high. If ‘devo-max’ had been included in a three-option ballot, it would probably have won by a huge margin. Furthermore, the Scots (and everyone else) would have obtained a much clearer understanding of Scottish public opinion.

Electoral Reform

The debate consisted of many options; there are, after all, over 300 electoral systems to choose from. But again, Mr. Cameron decided that the choice should be restricted to just two of them: first-past-the-post, FPTP, and the alternative vote, AV. For any supporter of PR, however, that question – “Would you like FPTP or AV?” – was as nonsensical as that of the waiter who asks the vegetarian, “Beef or lamb?”

When New Zealand debated the same topic of electoral reform 25 years ago – much to the horror of the political establishment – they first had a public enquiry, as a result of which a multi-option ballot of five electoral systems was presented to the people: AV and FPTP, two forms of PR, and one in the middle. So four proposals meant change, and one, FPTP, was the status quo. A majority voted for change, so then, in a second round – the most popular option versus that status quo – a majority again voted for change. So New Zealand now has multi-member proportional, MMP, the German system (and they also have lots of coalition governments).

In the UK, however, there is a huge reluctance to consider multi-option voting. The Electoral Commission, which is charged by law to consider the fairness of any referendum question, decreed that both of the above questions were fair; multi-option voting, in their book, is off-limits.  Similarly, in a one-hour documentary on referendums just prior to the 2011 poll, and despite my prompting prior to the broadcast, the BBC refused to even mention multi-option ballots, let alone discuss the New Zealand example. And various academics also refuse to ponder the merits of a more plural form of decision-making, thereby perpetuating the false notion that, to be democratic, decisions must be taken by a (simple or weighted) majority; so questions must be dichotomous; so politics must be adversarial. An inclusive political structure is just not on their agenda.

France, 2005, the Lisbon Treaty

The question was “Approuvez-vous?”oui ou non?’ So those who liked the (EU and the) treaty said oui, while those who did not approve of either the treaty, and/or the EU per se, and/or Jacques Chirac, and/or McDonalds, and/or je ne sais quoi, all voted non. So non won 54.7 to 45.3 per cent.

At the very least, (as in Scotland – and even on this point, the Electoral Commission was at fault), the ballot should have consisted of two positive questions: “would you like the EU to adopt the Lisbon Treaty – the EU comme ci?” or “would you like the EU to continue as at present – the EU comme ça?”

Better still, of course, would have been a multi-option poll, which brings us to the present.

The UK and the EU

The UK’s relationship with the EU is multi-optional. The obvious option is the status quo: membership as is. A second option may well be membership as soon to be re-negotiated, with opt-outs or whatever. A third is an arrangement, similar to that negotiated by Norway or Switzerland for their relationships with the EU. And a fourth might be no relationship at all.

A Better Methodology

As in New Zealand, therefore, the more democratic approach would be to ask an independent commission to consider what options might be presented in any referendum. The public (and the political parties) would be allowed to make submissions and, on this basis, the commission would draw up a list of about four to six options, which would then be presented to the electorate. The decision of the people would then be implemented by the government.

There are many forms of multi-option voting. In some, voters may cast only a single preference; in others, they may choose a few options; while in a third category, people can cast preferences on all of the options. Obviously, the more information the voter can express, the more accurate might be any analysis of their opinions; and one of the third category of voting procedures – the modified Borda count, MBC – enables and indeed encourages the voter to cast a full slate of preferences. At best, then, the analysis can identify that option which is most acceptable to all, namely, the option with the highest average preference. And an average, of course, involves everybody, not just a majority: such an outcome is the most accurate assessment of the collective will.

Conclusion

In a plural democracy, as it were by definition, nearly every question will prompt a plurality of possible solutions; furthermore, on those occasions when the question is definitely dichotomous, as in Sweden’s 1955 referendum on the question, “which side of the road shall we drive on?” there can still be more than two options on the ballot paper: in this instance, it was a three-option poll: ‘left’, ‘right’ and ‘blank’. Accordingly, on any contentious issue, and in what should therefore be a multi-option scenario, there should always be a multiple-choice ballot. A referendum cannot be fair, if someone has restricted the choice to a binary (and divisive) question.

It has been decided that the people will vote, in a free and fair referendum, on what is to be the future relationship of the UK in the EU. If that vote is to be truly free, it must not be restricted by Mr. Cameron or anyone else to a binary choice of just two options.

In an MBC, no-body votes ‘against’ anything. Instead, albeit in their order of preference, people vote ‘for’ the various options. Furthermore, politicians and others may argue, not only for their favoured option, but also for their second choice. A divisive two-option referendum often causes tensions, as in Scotland; bitterness, as in Ireland’s divorce referendum; or even violence, as in the Balkans, where “all the wars in the former Yugoslavia started with a referendum,” (Oslobodjenje, 7.2.1999).  In contrast, a multi-option poll is likely to be the catalyst of a much more tolerant campaign, and a much more accurate calculation of “the will of the people”.

Categories: les flux rss

The EU referendum - what is the question though?

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 9:02

Cameron will almost certainly opt for the least democratic question - a simple yes no, just as he did on the electoral reform vote. There is a much better way to calculate the public will and people should demand it.

Flickr/YanniKouts. Some rights reserved.

The Scottish referendum asked the wrong question, so we got the wrong answer, and we are now reaping the consequences. Likewise, the 2011 referendum on electoral reform asked the wrong question, and we still don’t know the opinions of the UK electorate on PR. And so it goes on. 

The UK’s membership of the EU is not a two-option question. If the EU referendum offers only two options, the outcome may well be an inaccurate reflection of the collective will. The democratic process should not be one by which those in power control everything, subject to the people’s ratification. Rather, it should allow the people (or its parliament) to decide, and then the executive, the government, should execute that decision.

Accordingly, this article first critiques a few previous referendums – Scotland in 2014, electoral reform (sic) in 2011, and, as an outside example, France’s 2005 plebiscite on the Lisbon Treaty. It then considers the proposed UK referendum on the EU before outlining a better methodology.

Scotland

The debate consisted of three options: (a) independence, (b) ‘devo-max’ and (c) the status quo.  When the Edinburgh Agreement was signed, however, David Cameron stipulated that the ballot paper was to list only (a) and (c), thereby putting any (b) supporters into a bit of a quandary.

When the opinion polls indicated growing support for (a), the Westminster parties changed (c) into (b).  But because (b) was not on the ballot paper, the levels of support for both (a) and (c) were artificially high. If ‘devo-max’ had been included in a three-option ballot, it would probably have won by a huge margin. Furthermore, the Scots (and everyone else) would have obtained a much clearer understanding of Scottish public opinion.

Electoral Reform

The debate consisted of many options; there are, after all, over 300 electoral systems to choose from. But again, Mr. Cameron decided that the choice should be restricted to just two of them: first-past-the-post, FPTP, and the alternative vote, AV. For any supporter of PR, however, that question – “Would you like FPTP or AV?” – was as nonsensical as that of the waiter who asks the vegetarian, “Beef or lamb?”

When New Zealand debated the same topic of electoral reform 25 years ago – much to the horror of the political establishment – they first had a public enquiry, as a result of which a multi-option ballot of five electoral systems was presented to the people: AV and FPTP, two forms of PR, and one in the middle. So four proposals meant change, and one, FPTP, was the status quo. A majority voted for change, so then, in a second round – the most popular option versus that status quo – a majority again voted for change. So New Zealand now has multi-member proportional, MMP, the German system (and they also have lots of coalition governments).

In the UK, however, there is a huge reluctance to consider multi-option voting. The Electoral Commission, which is charged by law to consider the fairness of any referendum question, decreed that both of the above questions were fair; multi-option voting, in their book, is off-limits.  Similarly, in a one-hour documentary on referendums just prior to the 2011 poll, and despite my prompting prior to the broadcast, the BBC refused to even mention multi-option ballots, let alone discuss the New Zealand example. And various academics also refuse to ponder the merits of a more plural form of decision-making, thereby perpetuating the false notion that, to be democratic, decisions must be taken by a (simple or weighted) majority; so questions must be dichotomous; so politics must be adversarial. An inclusive political structure is just not on their agenda.

France, 2005, the Lisbon Treaty

The question was “Approuvez-vous?”oui ou non?’ So those who liked the (EU and the) treaty said oui, while those who did not approve of either the treaty, and/or the EU per se, and/or Jacques Chirac, and/or McDonalds, and/or je ne sais quoi, all voted non. So non won 54.7 to 45.3 per cent.

At the very least, (as in Scotland – and even on this point, the Electoral Commission was at fault), the ballot should have consisted of two positive questions: “would you like the EU to adopt the Lisbon Treaty – the EU comme ci?” or “would you like the EU to continue as at present – the EU comme ça?”

Better still, of course, would have been a multi-option poll, which brings us to the present.

The UK and the EU

The UK’s relationship with the EU is multi-optional. The obvious option is the status quo: membership as is. A second option may well be membership as soon to be re-negotiated, with opt-outs or whatever. A third is an arrangement, similar to that negotiated by Norway or Switzerland for their relationships with the EU. And a fourth might be no relationship at all.

A Better Methodology

As in New Zealand, therefore, the more democratic approach would be to ask an independent commission to consider what options might be presented in any referendum. The public (and the political parties) would be allowed to make submissions and, on this basis, the commission would draw up a list of about four to six options, which would then be presented to the electorate. The decision of the people would then be implemented by the government.

There are many forms of multi-option voting. In some, voters may cast only a single preference; in others, they may choose a few options; while in a third category, people can cast preferences on all of the options. Obviously, the more information the voter can express, the more accurate might be any analysis of their opinions; and one of the third category of voting procedures – the modified Borda count, MBC – enables and indeed encourages the voter to cast a full slate of preferences. At best, then, the analysis can identify that option which is most acceptable to all, namely, the option with the highest average preference. And an average, of course, involves everybody, not just a majority: such an outcome is the most accurate assessment of the collective will.

Conclusion

In a plural democracy, as it were by definition, nearly every question will prompt a plurality of possible solutions; furthermore, on those occasions when the question is definitely dichotomous, as in Sweden’s 1955 referendum on the question, “which side of the road shall we drive on?” there can still be more than two options on the ballot paper: in this instance, it was a three-option poll: ‘left’, ‘right’ and ‘blank’. Accordingly, on any contentious issue, and in what should therefore be a multi-option scenario, there should always be a multiple-choice ballot. A referendum cannot be fair, if someone has restricted the choice to a binary (and divisive) question.

It has been decided that the people will vote, in a free and fair referendum, on what is to be the future relationship of the UK in the EU. If that vote is to be truly free, it must not be restricted by Mr. Cameron or anyone else to a binary choice of just two options.

In an MBC, no-body votes ‘against’ anything. Instead, albeit in their order of preference, people vote ‘for’ the various options. Furthermore, politicians and others may argue, not only for their favoured option, but also for their second choice. A divisive two-option referendum often causes tensions, as in Scotland; bitterness, as in Ireland’s divorce referendum; or even violence, as in the Balkans, where “all the wars in the former Yugoslavia started with a referendum,” (Oslobodjenje, 7.2.1999).  In contrast, a multi-option poll is likely to be the catalyst of a much more tolerant campaign, and a much more accurate calculation of “the will of the people”.

Categories: les flux rss

10 questions for the Labour Party

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 9:02

Labour's problems cannot be fixed by minor tweaks. They need to address the big questions.

Ed Miliband and Yvette Cooper. Flickr/labour_party_uk

The UK general election was tumultuous and the results, particularly for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, disastrous. Of course, the position of Labour is better than that of the Liberal Democrats, but the combined fate of their decline is disheartening and disorienting for anyone on the centre- left. The surprise and shock of the outcome to many was, of course, fuelled by the false trail of expectations led by the polls. But when all is said and done the results were seismic.

Into the chasm of failure have stepped would-be leaders with manifestos and numerous commentators, nearly all offering instant solutions that would push the party further to the left, centre or right. I have read countless attempts to tell the Labour party where they went wrong. The enemies of the party bask in the glow of these fragilities while everyone else seems to rush in with ready-made solutions.

The rush to provide instant solutions to tomorrow’s problems is mistaken and will not help rebuild the crumbled edifice of Labour. Instead, I think the failure of Labour raises some very important questions, which need to be thought through carefully. This is a moment for deliberation about the key questions ahead; not a moment for false closure which will produce the semblance of a new direction without the foundations of one. The questions have to be right before answers sought.

The economy: getting the economic argument right is the typical difference between success and failure in electoral politics. Labour produced two unconvincing narratives. First, it failed to give a convincing account of what went wrong leading up to the global financial crisis. The Newsnight incident made this painfully apparent. But there was a further question about projecting a compelling account about what should be done next for the British economy. The latter issue is extremely difficult to think through, given the increasingly prominent role of financial capital in the British economy, its weak industrial base, the pull of London and the heavy internationalisation of the UK economy, involving Europe and the wider international community. Where does Labour want to take the British economy? And, moreover, how? These are difficult questions, but without a convincing response, the Tories will often seem the safer bet.

Green politics: Labour was almost silent in the election campaign on green issues and climate change; they became the preserve of the Green Party. Britain has, in many ways, become a global leader on these issues; yet, it is unclear now whether Labour can remain the torch-bearer for environmental stewardship. How did this sorrowful state of affairs arise? But there is an even more significant point. Thinking about what is next for the British economy is intimately tied to thinking about green energy, the tax structure, and a host of related issues. One of the biggest challenges facing any attempt to mitigate climate change is the question: how can one incentivise a shift from a high to low carbon economy? If the world as we know it is to survive till the end of this century, finding an answer to this question is not optional. Moreover, there can be no convincing account of what is next for the British economy without a compelling account of how to green it.

Tax and spending: the Labour party policies throughout the election appeared to squeeze the middle class. The combination of the mansion tax and the restoration of the 50% tax band allowed the media to have a field day. Irrespective of the media, the combination of these two taxes created a swathe of uncertainty among middle class voters. Uncertainty about how to vote in a general election is typically resolved in favour of the incumbent. This raises the bigger question of: who was the Labour party appealing to? Leaving out the middle classes in the UK voting system risks being something of a suicide note. The policies failed to speak to the job creators and those who make substantial contributions to a productive economy. It has long been said that Labour cannot win by just appealing to its traditional core. The election confirmed the question of how the Labour party can win unless it is a coalition of progressive voters across class boundaries.

Nationalism: caught between Scottish and English nationalism, the Labour party appeared to flounder. For years the signals of growing Scottish nationalism were misunderstood; and the rise of the English anxiety about the Union was left unaddressed. The Labour party was caught like a deer in headlights. Labour’s traditional internationalism, and its uncritical attachment to Europe, has remained unchanged despite the evident uncertainties that national communities face in the context of decades of neoliberal globalisation. Reactions to the latter have been intense and growing, with domestic political communities seeking to rearticulate the meaning of self-determination free of domination by outside forces. The question for Labour is: how can Labour balance a commitment to cosmopolitan values and aspirations, with a reappraisal of the concerns of nationalism in a global age? The doctrine of cosmopolitanism helps here. The principles of cosmopolitanism underpin both a claim to universality and a celebration of locality and difference; to treat each person as free and equal, and to recognise equal rights to self-determination means recognising both the universality of these principles and their necessary particular instantiation. How to combine cosmopolitanism with national self-determination remains an abiding issue.

Migration: the Labour party always seem to be in a slip stream in the debate about migration. Here too there is a paradox. On the one hand, the demographics of Europe mean that as economies grow, the labour supply is insufficient in a number of categories. On the other hand, prevailing anxieties about migration cause reaction and xenophobia. The categories of migration, however, need to be rethought at the national and wider levels. People fear that migrants might take away opportunities at a time of high unemployment and pressures on the standard of living. But there is a whole wealth of difference between, for example, the rights of permanent settlement and limited rights of economic settlement which may be restricted to a few years by visa specifications. Moreover, the serious plight of refugees should not be confused with those for whom migration is a choice. All these issues need rethinking and the nature and form of migration, and policy responses to it, need to be reconceptualised. How will Labour address the growing, and increasingly complex, issue of migration?

Inequality: breakneck neoliberal globalisation, linked to the financialisation of capitalism, has done little to alleviate inequality and poverty. The forces of globalisation and economic change have left millions marginalised and provided an opportunity for parties like UKIP to mobilise the disenfranchised.  Global production chains and deindustrialisation have left many disheartened and feeling powerless. But the link between globalisation and inequality is not the same across the world. State policies can mediate this link in significant ways as is abundantly clear from the managed entry to the global economy of many successful developing countries. Robust state institutions can shape the impact of the market in ways that produce more progressive outcomes. Attacking aspiration and a rising middle class (see point 3 above), often yields little income and does not touch the deep roots of economic inequality and poverty. These roots lie, in significant part, in the mobility of capital while the state and labour remain relatively immobile. The question is, can the Labour party rethink these links and provide a credible way of taxing and constraining mobile wealth, in coalition with other states and regional blocks?

Power: the decisions that affect people’s everyday lives are often made by people and companies in far off territories. The connection between capital and labour, that was once defined by a common space in a city or a region, is now broken. As such, how will Labour respond to the dynamic nature of power in an increasingly globalised world, whilst also guaranteeing the kind of domestic protections it has always championed? Large companies dwarf many small countries and can put states on a defensive when it comes to attracting jobs. But it is not just simply the power of large companies that has this effect. Futile decisions in Brussels or elsewhere on what constitutes a sausage or a chocolate, inevitably spark incredulity as much as hostility. Political regionalisation and economic globalisation raise acute issues about the reach of state-based accountability and the responsiveness of supranational entities. The former, without entrenchment in wider systems of democracy and accountability, create pressing questions about the nature and meaning of political community today.

Democracy and constitutionalism: right from the beginning the universal principles of equality, freedom and solidarity were spliced together with state formation. Yet there is only a contingent relationship between these principles and the state itself. The principles can be embedded at many different levels, as is already apparent today: citizens can be active members of their cities, regions, national states, and supranational regions. And if that is not enough, these principles can be entrenched in social movements putting pressure on international organisations, and in these organisations themselves. Over the last several decades the clash between state sovereignty and individual sovereignty (sovereignty linked to human rights and democratic standards) has tended to be resolved in international law in favour of the latter. Constitutional principles and democratic public spheres can, accordingly, be entrenched at diverse levels. In the context of the question how the UK might survive with the flourishing of nationalisms, these ideas provide tentative responses. Just as cosmopolitanism is an intersection of universality and diversity, contemporary political communities can only flourish as multilevel and multilayered polities – cities, regions, states, and international communities – woven together by principles of democracy and justice. This is a project to be developed in response to the question: how can politics be rearticulated to ensure both domestic (inward) and international (outward) democratic authority?

Defence: the Labour party seems to be boxed into a corner on defence and security. These issues matter but delivering them within the current structure of the British military and the deployment of weapons of mass destruction is another question. Trident no longer deters enemies and is a grotesquely expensive weapon system. If nuclear weapons have to be defended, there are cheaper ways of deploying them. But, why does Labour need to become the party of nuclear weapons? Britain has become a small/medium-sized power that still feeds too uncritically on its imperial past. In the unstable world of today, where fragile and failed states throw up new patterns of insecurity, the challenge is to develop an appropriate defence and security capacity for a very different set of security challenges than that which characterised the Cold War. The SNP were too often depicted as wild and delusional for challenging Trident. Yet, they raise a fundamental question about whether Trident is the right and the most appropriate military solution. Being boxed in by the Conservatives on this is a failure of imagination, strategy and tactics.

Technology: there is a profound dislocation between the growing immediacy of digital connectivity in everybody’s life and a political process that still functions in, and depends on, the institutions established with the rise of the modern state. Communicating through digital technology in terms of delivering a core message, will alone hardly convince most young voters. These technologies create the capacity for new kinds of politics, with interactivity and reciprocity at their core. Selling core ideas through digital technology will not fire the imagination of young people: encouraging them to contribute to the shaping of policy through these technologies may. Digital technologies have the capacity now to reshape the meaning of democratic practice. How can digital technologies be deployed to advance the quality and interactivity of the democratic public sphere? This is a question now well-worth exploring.

The Labour party needs to think through these issues and produce a convincing account of the changing nature of society, appropriate policies, and of what a Labour leadership can deliver that is distinctive and compelling. But even having “right policies”, while central to some constituencies, may not touch core concerns of the average voter. No amount of intellectual examination of the policy questions should neglect this question. It matters greatly where the voters’ concerns lie, and accessing these depends on more than talking to the proverbial taxi driver. At the end of the day, most people go to the ballot box worrying about job security, community, family, and services that they need. Unless the elaboration of policies connect to these fundamental concerns they might as well stay in think tanks and university seminars.

A politics that fails to become part of a wider social conversation with all those whom it seeks to encompass, will be a politics that in the end shrivels up. A renewed Labour project must conjoin with public debate and democratic politics at all levels; without this a proposed set of policies, or new interpretation of the nature and form of contemporary politics and economics, will not become an actual understanding or agreement among others, let alone a basis for action. 

 

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Sideboxes Related stories:  Reflections on the election: lessons to be learned... Those who half make reformism dig only their own graves Despite the election result, most people in the UK want an end to austerity
Categories: les flux rss

10 questions for the Labour Party

Open Democracy News Analysis - 22. May 2015 - 9:02

Labour's problems cannot be fixed by minor tweaks. They need to address the big questions.

Ed Miliband and Yvette Cooper. Flickr/labour_party_uk

The UK general election was tumultuous and the results, particularly for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, disastrous. Of course, the position of Labour is better than that of the Liberal Democrats, but the combined fate of their decline is disheartening and disorienting for anyone on the centre- left. The surprise and shock of the outcome to many was, of course, fuelled by the false trail of expectations led by the polls. But when all is said and done the results were seismic.

Into the chasm of failure have stepped would-be leaders with manifestos and numerous commentators, nearly all offering instant solutions that would push the party further to the left, centre or right. I have read countless attempts to tell the Labour party where they went wrong. The enemies of the party bask in the glow of these fragilities while everyone else seems to rush in with ready-made solutions.

The rush to provide instant solutions to tomorrow’s problems is mistaken and will not help rebuild the crumbled edifice of Labour. Instead, I think the failure of Labour raises some very important questions, which need to be thought through carefully. This is a moment for deliberation about the key questions ahead; not a moment for false closure which will produce the semblance of a new direction without the foundations of one. The questions have to be right before answers sought.

The economy: getting the economic argument right is the typical difference between success and failure in electoral politics. Labour produced two unconvincing narratives. First, it failed to give a convincing account of what went wrong leading up to the global financial crisis. The Newsnight incident made this painfully apparent. But there was a further question about projecting a compelling account about what should be done next for the British economy. The latter issue is extremely difficult to think through, given the increasingly prominent role of financial capital in the British economy, its weak industrial base, the pull of London and the heavy internationalisation of the UK economy, involving Europe and the wider international community. Where does Labour want to take the British economy? And, moreover, how? These are difficult questions, but without a convincing response, the Tories will often seem the safer bet.

Green politics: Labour was almost silent in the election campaign on green issues and climate change; they became the preserve of the Green Party. Britain has, in many ways, become a global leader on these issues; yet, it is unclear now whether Labour can remain the torch-bearer for environmental stewardship. How did this sorrowful state of affairs arise? But there is an even more significant point. Thinking about what is next for the British economy is intimately tied to thinking about green energy, the tax structure, and a host of related issues. One of the biggest challenges facing any attempt to mitigate climate change is the question: how can one incentivise a shift from a high to low carbon economy? If the world as we know it is to survive till the end of this century, finding an answer to this question is not optional. Moreover, there can be no convincing account of what is next for the British economy without a compelling account of how to green it.

Tax and spending: the Labour party policies throughout the election appeared to squeeze the middle class. The combination of the mansion tax and the restoration of the 50% tax band allowed the media to have a field day. Irrespective of the media, the combination of these two taxes created a swathe of uncertainty among middle class voters. Uncertainty about how to vote in a general election is typically resolved in favour of the incumbent. This raises the bigger question of: who was the Labour party appealing to? Leaving out the middle classes in the UK voting system risks being something of a suicide note. The policies failed to speak to the job creators and those who make substantial contributions to a productive economy. It has long been said that Labour cannot win by just appealing to its traditional core. The election confirmed the question of how the Labour party can win unless it is a coalition of progressive voters across class boundaries.

Nationalism: caught between Scottish and English nationalism, the Labour party appeared to flounder. For years the signals of growing Scottish nationalism were misunderstood; and the rise of the English anxiety about the Union was left unaddressed. The Labour party was caught like a deer in headlights. Labour’s traditional internationalism, and its uncritical attachment to Europe, has remained unchanged despite the evident uncertainties that national communities face in the context of decades of neoliberal globalisation. Reactions to the latter have been intense and growing, with domestic political communities seeking to rearticulate the meaning of self-determination free of domination by outside forces. The question for Labour is: how can Labour balance a commitment to cosmopolitan values and aspirations, with a reappraisal of the concerns of nationalism in a global age? The doctrine of cosmopolitanism helps here. The principles of cosmopolitanism underpin both a claim to universality and a celebration of locality and difference; to treat each person as free and equal, and to recognise equal rights to self-determination means recognising both the universality of these principles and their necessary particular instantiation. How to combine cosmopolitanism with national self-determination remains an abiding issue.

Migration: the Labour party always seem to be in a slip stream in the debate about migration. Here too there is a paradox. On the one hand, the demographics of Europe mean that as economies grow, the labour supply is insufficient in a number of categories. On the other hand, prevailing anxieties about migration cause reaction and xenophobia. The categories of migration, however, need to be rethought at the national and wider levels. People fear that migrants might take away opportunities at a time of high unemployment and pressures on the standard of living. But there is a whole wealth of difference between, for example, the rights of permanent settlement and limited rights of economic settlement which may be restricted to a few years by visa specifications. Moreover, the serious plight of refugees should not be confused with those for whom migration is a choice. All these issues need rethinking and the nature and form of migration, and policy responses to it, need to be reconceptualised. How will Labour address the growing, and increasingly complex, issue of migration?

Inequality: breakneck neoliberal globalisation, linked to the financialisation of capitalism, has done little to alleviate inequality and poverty. The forces of globalisation and economic change have left millions marginalised and provided an opportunity for parties like UKIP to mobilise the disenfranchised.  Global production chains and deindustrialisation have left many disheartened and feeling powerless. But the link between globalisation and inequality is not the same across the world. State policies can mediate this link in significant ways as is abundantly clear from the managed entry to the global economy of many successful developing countries. Robust state institutions can shape the impact of the market in ways that produce more progressive outcomes. Attacking aspiration and a rising middle class (see point 3 above), often yields little income and does not touch the deep roots of economic inequality and poverty. These roots lie, in significant part, in the mobility of capital while the state and labour remain relatively immobile. The question is, can the Labour party rethink these links and provide a credible way of taxing and constraining mobile wealth, in coalition with other states and regional blocks?

Power: the decisions that affect people’s everyday lives are often made by people and companies in far off territories. The connection between capital and labour, that was once defined by a common space in a city or a region, is now broken. As such, how will Labour respond to the dynamic nature of power in an increasingly globalised world, whilst also guaranteeing the kind of domestic protections it has always championed? Large companies dwarf many small countries and can put states on a defensive when it comes to attracting jobs. But it is not just simply the power of large companies that has this effect. Futile decisions in Brussels or elsewhere on what constitutes a sausage or a chocolate, inevitably spark incredulity as much as hostility. Political regionalisation and economic globalisation raise acute issues about the reach of state-based accountability and the responsiveness of supranational entities. The former, without entrenchment in wider systems of democracy and accountability, create pressing questions about the nature and meaning of political community today.

Democracy and constitutionalism: right from the beginning the universal principles of equality, freedom and solidarity were spliced together with state formation. Yet there is only a contingent relationship between these principles and the state itself. The principles can be embedded at many different levels, as is already apparent today: citizens can be active members of their cities, regions, national states, and supranational regions. And if that is not enough, these principles can be entrenched in social movements putting pressure on international organisations, and in these organisations themselves. Over the last several decades the clash between state sovereignty and individual sovereignty (sovereignty linked to human rights and democratic standards) has tended to be resolved in international law in favour of the latter. Constitutional principles and democratic public spheres can, accordingly, be entrenched at diverse levels. In the context of the question how the UK might survive with the flourishing of nationalisms, these ideas provide tentative responses. Just as cosmopolitanism is an intersection of universality and diversity, contemporary political communities can only flourish as multilevel and multilayered polities – cities, regions, states, and international communities – woven together by principles of democracy and justice. This is a project to be developed in response to the question: how can politics be rearticulated to ensure both domestic (inward) and international (outward) democratic authority?

Defence: the Labour party seems to be boxed into a corner on defence and security. These issues matter but delivering them within the current structure of the British military and the deployment of weapons of mass destruction is another question. Trident no longer deters enemies and is a grotesquely expensive weapon system. If nuclear weapons have to be defended, there are cheaper ways of deploying them. But, why does Labour need to become the party of nuclear weapons? Britain has become a small/medium-sized power that still feeds too uncritically on its imperial past. In the unstable world of today, where fragile and failed states throw up new patterns of insecurity, the challenge is to develop an appropriate defence and security capacity for a very different set of security challenges than that which characterised the Cold War. The SNP were too often depicted as wild and delusional for challenging Trident. Yet, they raise a fundamental question about whether Trident is the right and the most appropriate military solution. Being boxed in by the Conservatives on this is a failure of imagination, strategy and tactics.

Technology: there is a profound dislocation between the growing immediacy of digital connectivity in everybody’s life and a political process that still functions in, and depends on, the institutions established with the rise of the modern state. Communicating through digital technology in terms of delivering a core message, will alone hardly convince most young voters. These technologies create the capacity for new kinds of politics, with interactivity and reciprocity at their core. Selling core ideas through digital technology will not fire the imagination of young people: encouraging them to contribute to the shaping of policy through these technologies may. Digital technologies have the capacity now to reshape the meaning of democratic practice. How can digital technologies be deployed to advance the quality and interactivity of the democratic public sphere? This is a question now well-worth exploring.

The Labour party needs to think through these issues and produce a convincing account of the changing nature of society, appropriate policies, and of what a Labour leadership can deliver that is distinctive and compelling. But even having “right policies”, while central to some constituencies, may not touch core concerns of the average voter. No amount of intellectual examination of the policy questions should neglect this question. It matters greatly where the voters’ concerns lie, and accessing these depends on more than talking to the proverbial taxi driver. At the end of the day, most people go to the ballot box worrying about job security, community, family, and services that they need. Unless the elaboration of policies connect to these fundamental concerns they might as well stay in think tanks and university seminars.

A politics that fails to become part of a wider social conversation with all those whom it seeks to encompass, will be a politics that in the end shrivels up. A renewed Labour project must conjoin with public debate and democratic politics at all levels; without this a proposed set of policies, or new interpretation of the nature and form of contemporary politics and economics, will not become an actual understanding or agreement among others, let alone a basis for action. 

 

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