The Trouble with Social Democracy

Wednesday 21st January

Well, this is a hard one for me, as I have basically supported Social Democracy in one form or another my whole life.  And it has been largely successful, in Europe at least, in creating a peaceful stable European Union with decent Education and Health services for its citizens.  But the trouble with Political Movements is that when they are largely, or even only reasonably, successful – Complacency sets in.  This has certainly been true of today’s Labour party, which unbelievably seems to pin its hopes on success in this year’s coming election on hanging on to about a third of the voters and because of the way those votes are distributed becoming the largest party, if not actually gaining a majority of seats.  They are offering really nothing new, nothing that will radically alter the balance of power, nothing indeed to encourage even life-long Labour voters to vote for them, except that they may be marginally better then the Tories.

When I was in my twenties the arguments were about Nationalising Steel, or even the banks (big ideas indeed).  Income tax was 33% and the higher rate 80%, and yet the country survived.  Now if Labour were to propose a penny on income tax there would be howls of anguish from the City.  What we need is a radical re-think of the way our whole economy is run.  Everyone is so hung up on economic growth, as if GDP actually translated into investment in the NHS or in our schools.  Even the arguments about cutting have largely been won by the Tories; Labour will hardly dare roll back any of them.  Eric Hobsbawn argued that any Socialist party which won power must so change the landscape that no succeeding Conservative rulers would dare change things back.  In 1945 Labour created the NHS, and the basis of the Welfare state.  It has taken the Tories seventy years to even begin rolling that back, and yet in five years (and as part of a coalition at that) they have made changes which Labour with its present attitude will struggle to even consider, let alone change.  They must have read their Hobsbawn.

I am probably going to reluctantly vote Labour.  My reluctance isn’t because of Milliband, but because the whole party looks tired, too much a part of the corporate structure.  In many ways my heart is with the Greens, though I cannot imagine them winning even a handful of seats.  We will see.

The Trouble with Conservativism

Tuesday 20th January

The trouble with Conservatism is in the name; they only really want to conserve influence and wealth for the few.  They actively want to roll back any advances in Social Justice and Welfare for the poor.  Conservatives believe in the Individual over Society, in other words – as an individual you should be able to do just what you want in spite of the harm it may do others.  In many ways this is the harsh lesson every child must learn.  We all want to get our own way, to have more toys than everyone else, to be able to do precisely what we want.  Part of growing up is the realization that your actions often impinge on other people, learning to take others into consideration allows Society to work.  Margaret Thatcher declared that there was no such thing as Society, and did her best to destroy it.  But ever since we came down from the trees humans have lived in Societies and caring for each other and acting in the whole groups best interests have been the keys to progress.

But the idea of the individual is not at all bad, as long as it is understood that the collective freedom we have from acting together is more important than the individual freedoms exercised within Society.  It all depends on how you define freedom.  Conservatives like to define this as freedom to (make money, exploit others, take advantage of those less able and to act with impunity as long as one has the money to defend oneself).  If you define freedom as the freedom from ill health, poverty, poor education, bad housing and exploitation you will not be a natural conservative.

What tends to happen to most people is that when they start off with very little they are Socialists but as they get more power and possessions they want to stop other people from getting a slice of the cake, they want to kick the hands reaching up the ladder beneath them and become Conservatives.  But life should not all be about which political philosophy benefits oneself best.  I have happily voted Labour in the past even though It meant I would inevitably pay more tax myself.  I will never be a Conservative I am afraid.

The Trouble with Communism

Monday 19th January

I used to be a great believer in Communism; after all it makes perfect sense – from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.  What could be fairer than that, and indeed in some primitive small groups that same philosophy pertains, even if there is still some sort of hierarchy involved.   Mind you the difference between what the Chieftain has and everyone else is pretty small, it is more a case of deference than possessions.

Communism was first tried out in Modern Times with the French Revolution, which only lasted a short time before it descended into chaos and corruption.  In Russia in 1917 the Bolsheviks managed to overthrow the interim Government (which was purportedly Social Democratic) and took over.  And this was certainly backed by a large section of the workers in the cities, but the million of peasants in the country didn’t even know it was happening.  They tried to install Communism, but soon discovered that Communism in one country is almost impossible.  Here too a clicque of leaders was soon established and those in the party were looked after above others.  They tried to establish a command economy but soon ran into resistance from the large peasant population.  Force had to be used (millions were killed) and though the economy sort of worked it was with reluctance and despite many committed “Communists” there was a huge groundswell of resistance.  Communism in Russia failed because it had to be imposed from above.  (Mind you the Second World War may well have been lost without the enforced sacrifice of so many Russians)

In China, after a long Civil War, Mao succeeded in instilling Communist rule.  Again this was largely imposed from above, but with a very strong army and indoctrination it managed to work.  It is now Communist only in name; state sponsored Capitalism is running the economy as an ever growing monster which as long as it keeps growing is supported.  All political criticism is stamped upon; politics is now confined to the upper echelons of the party only.

In Cuba, for a while too Communism has worked, but each new generation is gradually seduced by the lure of America.  One feels it is only a matter of time before it too disappears.

If, and of course it is a long if, a communist society of sharing and working for a common goal was ever desired by a large majority of the world it might work.  But we are maybe centuries away from that ideal.

The Trouble with Capitalism

Sunday 18th January

It started with individual merchants, but somewhere around five hundred years ago the idea grew of individual wealthy people investing in successful merchants.  This was around the same time that debt really began to be established as an industry too, so it was suddenly possible to borrow a large sum of money and invest it in someone else’s labour and make a lot more money.  For a while that worked and European countries economies really grew; what was less understood that this was on the backs of slavery and stealing raw materials from the colonies.  The worst company indulging in this practice was The East India Company, which ran roughshod over the rights of poor indigenous people everywhere, and which no British Government dared question.  Then came America and the idea that with all this land (which was unfortunately occupied by Native Americans, but never mind) every American could live and prosper….well that idea didn’t last long.  Capitalism soon took hold there and became even more ruthless.  Now we have Russia, China and India where the extremes of Capitalism make our homegrown companies appear almost Socialist.

The trouble with Capitalism is that it is built on Greed, but Greed that has no limits, and is expected to have none and is presumed to make more and more profit year on year.  And this is achieved either by swallowing up smaller enterprises or by being even more ruthless in extracting raw materials and turning them into things we didn’t know we wanted, or seeking a cheaper workforce to do the donkey work.  And now we have Globalisation, where corporations are so big and spread over so many countries that Governments dare not offend them or even pass laws which may attempt to curtail their worst excesses.  We see the rolling back of “red tape”, the successive cutting of Corporation Tax, the hidden incentives for them to invest becoming the major objectives of Ministers, not the well being of their workers or indeed our own consumers.   And so democracy goes out of the window, these behemoths are completely undemocratic, being run by small teams of ridiculously highly paid individuals whose only motive is to enrich both themselves and their shareholders and Governments which  dare not object to them poisoning us (with sugar and chemicals in our food or through pollution) or blasting shale gas from under our feet or paying us lower and lower real wages.

I used to think that Capitalism would eat itself; that it would Roboticise and do without workers at all and that soon there would be no-one to buy their products.   But we are a long way from that and Capitalism keeps finding more ways to suck even more out of the planet and its hungry populations.  The gap between rich (and believe me, we here in the West are still moderately rich) and the poor is growing daily and something has got to give at some point.  I am just not sure what and when will break this evil cycle of Greed.

Politics in a Broader Sense

Saturday 17th January

I must admit I do write quite a bit about Politics.  But that is almost always about Politics in the particular, reacting to and trying to calculate the outcome, observing and commenting on the current political debate, especially here in the U.K.   I have a good friend who sincerely believes that Labour are as bad as the Tories, and that there will be no discernible difference whoever gets in next time.  Others I know swear that ALL politicians are corrupt and in it for themselves; the expenses scandal and failure to correct it have only added to this view.  My opinion is that actually the vast majority of people who go into Politics do so because they want to make things better.  Part of the problem is the party system, and the other is the Politics of the Possible.

Political parties are always a broad church of opinion, and also more importantly an election-winning (or losing) machine.   Perception of party unity is seen as a pre-requisite for success, therefore dissent is frowned upon and a homogenized (often bland) face is presented to the electorate, much as in a beauty contest everyone wants to look their best.  When an MP is newly elected they are drilled in the “party system” and made to obey the whips in spite of what they may believe or have previously promised their constituents.  More loss of faith arises.  Also despite firmly held beliefs most parties simply attempt to progress by small steps, “The Politics of the Possible”, which seldom make a real difference to people’s lives.  Every big change means another group of disaffected and disgruntled voters.

But I believe that the electorate would really love to see some deeply held beliefs being expressed, such as a commitment to public spending which will be paid for by increases in taxation.  All parties are terrified of admitting the bleeding obvious – that if we want decent schools and hospitals and affordable housing we will have to pay for them.  If Government doesn’t supply them we have to pay for them in a different and less fair way anyway.  So come on Mr. Milliband, let the public know just what you do believe in.  Condition it, if you will on affordability, but give us some heart and soul and something to believe in, or I fear you may simply get committed Labour voters who have nowhere else to go voting for you.  And that may not be enough….

Paul McCartney and Me – An Edgy Relationship

Friday 16th January

It has been almost “de rigeur” to dismiss McCartney, almost since The Beatles split up but certainly for many years.  John has been held up as the really creative one and Paul the lucky guy who bumped into him at a village fete at Woolton in the mid-fifties.  But if you look at the record, or actually at the records themselves in the decade since The Fab Four split up until John was horrifically murdered they tell a somewhat different story.  John created a couple of devastatingly good records but then went completely off the boil, churning out a “Rock’n’Roll” record and then a break of five years.  Even his “comeback” record, while good in places was pretty conventional in its sound, and nothing like the brilliance he displayed in the company of Paul.  Maybe he needed the competition or the camaraderie or just the quality control or someone to say “Actually John, that’s crap.”  In the meantime Paul went off and made a brilliant solo album “Ram” which indeed could easily have ranked alongside most of The Beatles records.  He then recruited a new band “Wings” which after a shaky start produced some great music.  Ostensibly a group, this was always Paul’s band and again it suffered somewhat from anyone strong enough to say “Hang on a minute, this isn’t good enough”, although they wouldn’t have lasted long if they had.

Since John’s death Paul has produced masses of stuff, even writing a few Classical pieces.  There have been a few duffers but more than a handful were very very good; “Flowers in the dirt”, “Chaos and creation” and “Driving Rain” amongst them.  Like Madonna though Paul is always searching for new producers to try to modernize his sound, to try to catch the zeitgeist maybe and he sometimes fails.  He has also made a couple of really avant-garde albums under the thinly disguised pseudonym of The Fireman, and his very own “Rock’n’Roll” albums which are at least as good as John’s was.  So, like many old Beatles fans I am never really sure about Paul.  He is obviously a great songwriter, and a brilliant performer, even if he does rely too much on old Beatles numbers in his live shows.  But, and it is always the but – would I really be still buying his records if he wasn’t an ex-Beatle.  Oh, by the way I gave up on Ringo in the seventies – a very lucky man, a great drummer, but hardly much other real talent.  And I was devoted to George, even though he put out some dodgy stuff too.  But actually it is Paul I really have the problem with.  Even when I am listening to him, sometimes I almost wince.  Still a completist I am and will continue, even if his latest offering  “NEW” was only played a few times and I couldn’t really get into it at all, I will continue my edgy relationship with the only really surviving Beatle still making records.

Neglected Poems – No. 2 – Never Trust An Artist

Thursday 15th January

I wrote this (along with many others even worse) in the immediate aftermath of losing Alison.  It was a brief but passionate affair and she broke my heart by doing a Shirley Valentine on me on the Island of Crete.  Ancient History now, but it broke my heart at the time…

Never Trust An Artist


All the poems I’ve written, the necks I have bitten – didn’t make a winner of me

The cheekbones I’ve grazed, the names I’ve erased make these gun-lips unworthy of me

(The story so far…)

Did I dream you standing there, drift my fingers through your hair

Smell the dampness on your skin, discover what went on within

Or was it only make-believe, weaving only to deceive

A spinning gamblers card I played in the ego game of time-waylaid

I thought I was so clever too, to have won a pretty girl like you

I turned your head right from the start; I really thought I’d won your heart

I should have outgrown all of that, but older time begets not wise

Though I was sure I was where it’s at – you  really brought me down to size

And me the Hero, the Artist too, the Liberated Feminist Socialist who

Had read all the right books; who knew how to please, was wicked shin-kicked and brought to my knees

You stood there above me, sunlight in your hair; I could almost forgive you standing there

But you smiled as you twisted your high-heeled shoe in the space in my heart I’d opened for you

This pretty girl I thought I’d won, the face for all my stories spun

Had spun me through her fingers feel, and wound me round her spinning wheel

I who wove people into my life, and out again, quick as a knife

Got caught in the shuttle and before I knew,was part of the pattern I’d woven for you


(What can we say…)

Never trust an artist, with his magic box of oils

Never fence with a foxy lady, a fencer with                           unbuttoned foils


Never trust an artist, a weatherman of words

Never leave your heart in your lovers hands –                     she’ll feed it to the birds

Men Never Really Grow Up

Wednesday 14th January

It is a common refrain, from women of course, that men never really grow up.  That boyhood-reviving male camaraderie of the pub or watching football, slouching on a sofa absorbed in daytime TV and boy’s toys.  What they really mean is that on an emotional level men do not share the self-absorbed agenda that most women inhabit.  I was always aware from such an early age that with “growing up” would come responsibility, being the wage earner, the provider, the protector of the family would be my role.  Too many practicalities to worry about to develop the inner child into an emotionally charged grown-up.  And so we boys, masquerading as men, cling to our toys – possibly in rebellion or forced retreat from “the real world” we slink back into an under the table world of toy trains and cars (or in my case my music) and along with that comes the petulant childish behaviour whenever anyone threatens to take our toys away.

And in a seriously nasty world, which it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore as we hurtle into maybe another massive world confrontation, we find solace in our toys; women in each other’s company – maybe bitching about men or other women – hahaha.  We humans spent millions of years as hunter gatherers; the men going out and killing an animal once or twice a week, the women staying closer to home foraging and looking after the children and the home.  We have been thrust in only a few thousand years into a new world where those definitions are all blurred, roles are confused and “growing up” may be the scariest thing to do.

So, leave me alone in my reverted childhood.  Oh I will perform like an adult when expected, have no fear of that, you won’t be able to tell the difference.  But a child I will remain, in my secret life.  It’s all a game, even “growing up” is just make believe, imitating our parents who in their turn imitated theirs.  We are all children at heart.

And Now The Conspiracy Theories

Tuesday 13th January

It has happened pretty quickly I must admit; only days after the atrocity I have received a few conspiracy theory explanations on Facebook.  It was the CIA; it was Mossad; the two attacks could not possibly have been linked – on was claiming to be from Al Queada and one on behalf of Isis and they are supposed to be fighting each other in Syria; the Policeman shot outside Charlie Hebdo offices was not finished off by a terrorist but by the Police.  And so it goes on.  With today’s technology, amateur video and the like we can all be Conspiracy Theorists.  And just as in most stories, many initial news reports may be found to be faulty and certainly inconsistent with what we later know.  I must admit when last Wednesday I watched in horror I thought the “hit-men” must have been professionals, probably hired by some terrorist group, but they looked very well trained indeed.

So what do we believe?  That it was all a set-up to demonise yet further Islam?  That it was all part of the Military-Industrial Complex, so that War will continue endlessly? That World Leaders are all either “in on the game” or too stupid to see through it?  Who knows, maybe it is all being controlled by Dick Cheney in America to protect Halliburton Oil.

I simply find it too incredible that with all the investigative journalists around we could all have been deceived.  There have been conspiracy theories around the Assassination of Kennedy, the death of Dr. Kelly, 9/11 itself and so on.  Maybe some of the conspiracy theories are true, or that at least many of the inconsistencies should be examined.  And we should always be wary of Official explanations, but at the end of the day who else can we turn to?  So, if you want to believe that the French Government either perpetrated or allowed others to carry out the murder of its own citizens in order to sow even more hatred against Muslims, okay go on and believe it.  I believe that History shows us more cock-up than conspiracy; that most things happen by accident.  Often the simplest answers are the right ones.

The Paris March For Peace

Monday 12th January

There are moments, maybe far too rare, but all the more important for that, when people come together, almost unheeded and totally unstoppable to stand united against hatred and violence and intolerance.  And alongside ordinary people there were over forty world leaders, including Benjamin Netanyahu and the Leader of the Palestinians as well as most European leaders.  Maybe some were there for the photo-opportunity, maybe some had been embarrassed into attending – but attend they did.  And it was heart-warming to see so many (over a million) young people, so many second and third generation Muslims, so many French and so many from as far away as Brazil and India.

The last time I saw such a march was when I attended the big anti-war march in 2003.  And maybe we weren’t successful that time but that feeling of intense togetherness was truly moving.  Of course, looking back – if only we had been successful and there had been no war in Iraq (though America would probably have gone in alone anyway) then we wouldn’t be in this situation now.  Inadvertently I am sure we (the West) have created, or helped to make credible the current crop of Islamic radicalism.  Every time we invade another Muslim country, every time we agree to join in bombing raids, every time we stand and do nothing when Gaza is attacked – all of these, possibly rational decisions, simply inflame the situation.  There is a large war going on between the Sunni and the Shi’ite interpretations of Islam – possibly much like the Religious wars between Catholic and Protestants of a few hundred years ago in Europe.  We have no place in that, we cannot and must not take sides.  We must re-interpret the meaning of Defence to be the physical Defence of our country and the Defence of ideas and our way of life within our own borders.  We must stop killing people (and they have been almost all Muslims recently) abroad and talk to our enemies instead.  Yes, even to those who would try to kill us.  You cannot kill an idea with bombs, just as those gunmen in Paris could not destroy Liberty and freedom of expression with Kalashnikovs.  Vive La France, Vive Charlie.