Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Cabinet Reshuffle

The member of cabinet most representative of the collective failure of contemporary politicians must be Matthew Hancock. This is an individual who grew up in Chester, went to an independent school, up to Oxford to read PPE and then Cambridge to do MPhil in Economics. Following graduation he worked briefly in his family company before landing a role as an economist for the Bank of England. After less than 5 years work experience he becomes an advisor to George Osborne and then 5 years later lands a safe seat in West Suffolk. After 3 years carrying Osborne's bags he finds himself as Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise, where he stays for a year before becoming Minister of State for Energy, Minister of State for Business, Minister of State for Portsmouth and a seat at Cabinet.

I am sure that Mr Hancock is good with numbers, however if you can't relate that to how people think, act and behave then what use are you as a legislator? His industrial experience is purely academic and his most recent experience entirely based in the Westminster bubble. I don't doubt he is a capable and intelligent person, but if he is the best person to lead on Business - zero experience - and Energy - zero experience - then I am a monkey's uncle. Leadership is no just about having the skills to manage a team or a budget but deciding on the direction of travel and getting the most out of your team and the people who feed in to your team. He has two briefs that are integral to the industrial future of our nation and yet he has limited exposure to how the world works outside central London.

Labour also has this problem and I for one find it very disconcerting. I really think that the evolution of the SPAD gravy train will be a bad thing for British governments.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Wall Street (Martha Tilston) - where does the money go to?

“We know too much
About having too much
To ever go under again”

“Where does the money flow from?
Where does it go?
And who’s going without today”

The most poignant line in this is surely the last one. The rise of food banks in the UK and across the developed world is a stain on our so-caleld civilised society.

The only true futures market is our children, and the planet they live on. We urgently need to invest in a green new deal to secure a sustainable future

Plus ca change, plus ca la meme chose

The nature of electoral politics is that towards the end of an electoral cycle all thoughts turn towards the next opportunity for victory or defeat. This is particularly true now that we have a fixed term for parliamentary elections. It was upon this line of thought that I decided to investigate whether my twitter friend @DorsetRachel had been selected as a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for West Dorset. Rachelcurrently serves as a councillor for part of Weymouth, which is in the neighbouring constituency of South Dorset. I was pleased to find out that she has been selected, but then rather dismayed to find out that West Dorset has never even come close to having a Labour MP. In fact West Dorset has had only 6 different MPs since 1885 and all of them Conservative.
This may not be situation peculiar to this part of England, but causes me more sorrow in the knowledge that this constituency contains the village of Tolpuddle.  The village made famous for the 6 martyrs who, 180 years ago this March, were sentenced to transportation for the crime of making an oath. Their real crime, in the eyes of the landowners, was in forming a union to organise agricultural labourers.
Life in southern England was harsh then, the Enclosure Acts meant that rural people no longer had access to fields to grow their own food and instead had to buy food on the open market. An economic depression in the 1830s led to rural unemployment and more pressure on the Poor Law System. Technological innovation meant that the labourers had just had their pay reduced for a third time, from 10s a week down to 6s a week, but prices for food began to rise as London and the industrial north prospered. The labourers were starving as costs outstripped their income.
Poverty data for 2012 shows that there are still many people in Dorset who rely on the support of their community to survive.  One fifth of people in Weymouth and Portland live in houses that receive housing benefit, a figure that rises to 28.6% when you consider only those under the age 20. The adjacent West Dorset has seen the biggest proportional increase since 2011 and now almost one in five people aged under 20 live in households reliant on benefit.
Dorset, like many other parts of Great Britain, is grossly unequal. Pockets of mass deprivation reside cheek by jowl with the second-homes of affluent city-dwellers and the estates of the land-owning elite. The balance of income and opportunity is barely indiscernible from the days of Thomas Hardy.  Bridport, Weymouth, Portland and Somerford are among the 20% most deprived areas in the UK and appear like islands on the map of multiple deprivations with seas of affluence around them. The maps for income, employment, education and skills, health and disability, IDACI and crime all follow a similar pattern. There are two maps, however, that paint a different picture. 
These are the Living Environment Domain and Barriers to Housing and Services Domain.  Both of these are related to the quality of and access to housing and local services.

The reasons that these barriers exist are many. One explanation is the presence of second homes in the county that artificially increases the notional value of housing (a problem shared with Devon, Cornwall and Cumbria, among others). The main barrier to service provision is the geography of the county, a problem very different from those faced by cities. The relatively large proportion of retired people in both West and East Dorset also provides a different challenge. A problem that is shared with many other areas is the relative low pay received by peoples working within Dorset. The relative proportion of socio-economic groups within the county is broadly similar to the national average, however the median pay of a worker in Weymouth is less than 82% that of the national figure. Furthermore although the median pay of a worker in West Dorset is 31% higher than those in, for example, West Yorkshire, the price of housing is approximately 74% greater. I think it is also interesting to note the large disparity between the median pay of those living in East Dorset, a largely affluent area, and those who only work in East Dorset. An issue that those who live in larger urban areas will recognise, particularly London where the workers are being forced to travel greater distances to get to their place of work from places where they can afford to live.
In both 1834 and 2014 the population of rural counties have faced recession and falling wages; they have had limited opportunity to improve their own lot and are instead reliant on other agencies or relocation to provide subsistence.  It is important to note that these deprivation figures are from 2010. They were therefore recorded after 13 years of a Labour government that did much to help many, but did not do enough for some. I would hope, however, that were the electorate to return a Labour government in 2015 that next time around they would pay far more attention to solving the problems that have afflicted counties like Dorset and Lincolnshire for centuries.
Politics within Dorset, and much of the south of England, has been dominated by the Conservative Party or its forebears for centuries, a dominance that has resulted in the maintenance of the status quo. A county run by and for the interests of the wealthy and ignoring the interests of the young and disadvantaged. I hope that the next Labour government can deliver on their ambitious housing and infrastructure programme but the real leveller would be a land value tax. To make a difference to the quality of living environments and to remove barriers to housing and services we need to find a more progressive way of raising tax. The ownership of land within Dorset is emblematic of land ownership within the UK. A small minority of people own vast swathes of the countryside, some of them have even been Conservative ministers and some of them still are.  For people living in these villages they are trapped in a feudal lifestyle, unchanged for centuries, they work on the land, are paid a pittance and rely on the land-owner for accommodation. This inequality is not as visible as in the major cities, but it is just as important.
If Labour is to win a majority in the next election then I think they will have to win some seats in southern England (that are outside London). Peter Kellner, president of YouGov, has written that Labour cannot simply rely on the Conservatives losing the election, we need to win it. Jim Knight recognises this and has written about the need to deliver on the politics of the periphery and the need for Labour to gain seats in the coast and countryside. The key to this will be policies that improve access to housing and local services. This could be rural bus services, rural GPs and dentists and more and better housing.
Over the last 180 years the power of trade unions has ebbed and flowed but one thing remains certain, the power of capital over labour has never been truly challenged. To win the next election Labour will have to win seats in the countryside. Winning in South Dorset, the constituency that Jim Knight represented until 2010, would be a severe blow to the Conservatives. I would also like Labour to embrace the history of the union link and try to win what would be a significant victory in West Dorset, the home of the Tolpuddle martyrs and the seat of Oliver Letwin MP.
When the six men of Tolpuddle were sentenced to transportation there was a mass outcry and a campaign for their release was organised by the Grand National Consolidated Trades Union. A march was held in April 1834 with over 100,000 people attending and over the next few months petitions were sent to parliament with over 800,000 signatures. In 1835 all six of the men were granted a conditional pardon, although they turned it down and continued the fight. The next year, on 14th March 1836, the government agreed that all the men should have a full and free pardon. Trade unions had won and survived their first big challenge. The six farm workers from Tolpuddle were on their way home as free men. This is proof, were it needed that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone. By creating a coalition of coast, country and city we can create for each of us the means to realise our true potential and for all of us a community in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few.

This article was amended on the 10th July to state that Weymouth and Portland are in the South Dorset Constituency, not West Dorset, as the original wording stated. 


Men of England, wherefore plough
For the lords who lay ye low?
Wherefore weave with toil and care
The rich robes your tyrants wear?

Wherefore feed and clothe and save,
From the cradle to the grave,
Those ungrateful drones who would
Drain your sweat -nay, drink your blood?

Wherefore, Bees of England, forge
Many a weapon, chain, and scourge,
That these stingless drones may spoil
The forced produce of your toil?

Have ye leisure, comfort, calm,
Shelter, food, love's gentle balm?
Or what is it ye buy so dear
With your pain and with your fear?

The seed ye sow another reaps;
The wealth ye find another keeps;
The robes ye weave another wears;
The arms ye forge another bears.

Sow seed, -but let no tyrant reap;
Find wealth, -let no imposter heap;
Weave robes, -let not the idle wear;
Forge arms, in your defence to bear.

Shrink to your cellars, holes, and cells;
In halls ye deck another dwells.
Why shake the chains ye wrought?
Ye see The steel ye tempered glance on ye.

With plough and spade and hoe and loom,
Trace your grave, and build your tomb,
And weave your winding-sheet, till fair
England be your sepulchre!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Cry of the Unemployed - Chartist Poetry


Tis' hard! tis' hard! to wander on through this bright world of ours,—
Beneath a sky of smiling blue,—on velvet paths of flowers:
With music in the woods, as there were nought but pleasure known,
Or angels walked earth's solitudes:—and yet with want to groan!
To see no beauty in the stars, nor in the sun's glad smile;
To wail and wander misery-cursed! willing, but cannot toil!
There's burning sickness at my heart: I sink down famished:
God of the wretched, hear my prayer!   I would that I were dead!

Heaven droppeth down with manna still in many a golden shower,
And feeds the leaves with fragrant breath, with silver dew, the
There's honeyed fruit for bee and bird, with bloom laughs out the
There's food for all God's happy things; but none gives food to me!
Earth decked with Plenty's garland-crown, smiles on my aching eye;
The purse-proud, swathed in luxury, disdainful pass me by:
I've eager hands—I've earnest heart—but may not work for bread;
God of the wretched, hear my prayer!   I would that I were dead!

Gold art thou not a blessed thing?   A charm above all other,
To shut up hearts to nature's cry, when brother pleads with brother!
Hast thou a music sweeter than the loving voice of kindness?
No, curse thee, thou'rt a mist twixt God and men in outer blindness!
"Father, come back!"   My children cry!   Their voices once so sweet,
Now quiver-lance-like, in my bleeding heart!   I cannot meet!
The looks that make the brain go mad, of dear ones asking bread!
God of the wretched hear my prayer!   I would that I were dead!

Lord, what right have the poor to wed?   Love's for the gilded great!
Are they not formed of nobler clay who dine off golden plate?
'Tis the worst curse of poverty to have a feeling heart:
Why can I not, with iron grasp, thrust out the tender part?
I cannot slave in yon Bastile!   Ah, no! 'twere bitterer pain—
I'd wear the pauper's iron within, than clank the convict's chain!
To work but cannot—starve, I may—but will not beg for bread:
God of the wretched, hear my prayer!   I would that I were dead!

Gerald Massey wrote this 165 years ago, yet it still remains heart-breakingly true. 

The voice of the people - Chartist poetry

'The Voice of the People' - Chartist Poem 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists - a song

The Great Money Trick

Robert Tressel (Robert Noonan) wrote the Ragged Trousered Philanthoprist in 1910. The main themes remain relevant today. In one chapter Tressel explains how the landlord and capitalist class create and maintain their wealth (or you could read Thomas Piketty's extremely long book).
“'Money is the cause of poverty because it is the device by which those who are too lazy to work are enabled to rob the workers of the fruits of their labours.'
'Prove it,' said Crass.
Owen slowly folded up the piece of newspaper he had been reading and put it into his pocket.
'All right,' he replied. 'I'll show you how the Great Money Trick is worked.'
Owen opened his dinner basket and took from it two slices of bread but as these were not sufficient, he requested that anyone who had some bread left would give it to him. They gave him several pieces, which he placed in a heap on a clean piece of paper, and, having borrowed the pocket knives they used to cut and eat their dinners with from Easton, Harlow and Philpot, he addressed them as follows:
'These pieces of bread represent the raw materials which exist naturally in and on the earth for the use of mankind; they were not made by any human being, but were created by the Great Spirit for the benefit and sustenance of all, the same as were the air and the light of the sun.'
'You're about as fair-speakin' a man as I've met for some time,' said Harlow, winking at the others.
'Yes, mate,' said Philpot. 'Anyone would agree to that much! It's as clear as mud.'
'Now,' continued Owen, 'I am a capitalist; or, rather, I represent the landlord and capitalist class. That is to say, all these raw materials belong to me. It does not matter for our present argument how I obtained possession of them, or whether I have any real right to them; the only thing that matters now is the admitted fact that all the raw materials which are necessary for the production of the necessaries of life are now the property of the Landlord and Capitalist class. I am that class: all these raw materials belong to me.'
'Good enough!' agreed Philpot.
'Now you three represent the Working class: you have nothing--and for my part, although I have all these raw materials, they are of no use to me--what I need is--the things that can be made out of these raw materials by Work: but as I am too lazy to work myself, I have invented the Money Trick to make you work FOR me. But first I must explain that I possess something else beside the raw materials. These three knives represent--all the machinery of production; the factories, tools, railways, and so forth, without which the necessaries of life cannot be produced in abundance. And these three coins'--taking three halfpennies from his pocket--'represent my Money Capital.'
'But before we go any further,' said Owen, interrupting himself, 'it is most important that you remember that I am not supposed to be merely "a" capitalist. I represent the whole Capitalist Class. You are not supposed to be just three workers--you represent the whole Working Class.'
'All right, all right,' said Crass, impatiently, 'we all understand that. Git on with it.'
Owen proceeded to cut up one of the slices of bread into a number of little square blocks.
'These represent the things which are produced by labour, aided by machinery, from the raw materials. We will suppose that three of these blocks represent--a week's work. We will suppose that a week's work is worth--one pound: and we will suppose that each of these ha'pennies is a sovereign. We'd be able to do the trick better if we had real sovereigns, but I forgot to bring any with me.'
'I'd lend you some,' said Philpot, regretfully, 'but I left me purse on our grand pianner.'
As by a strange coincidence nobody happened to have any gold with them, it was decided to make shift with the halfpence.
'Now this is the way the trick works--'
'Before you goes on with it,' interrupted Philpot, apprehensively, 'don't you think we'd better 'ave someone to keep watch at the gate in case a Slop comes along? We don't want to get runned in, you know.'
'I don't think there's any need for that,' replied Owen, 'there's only one slop who'd interfere with us for playing this game, and that's Police Constable Socialism.'
'Never mind about Socialism,' said Crass, irritably. 'Get along with the bloody trick.'
Owen now addressed himself to the working classes as represented by Philpot, Harlow and Easton.
'You say that you are all in need of employment, and as I am the kind-hearted capitalist class I am going to invest all my money in various industries, so as to give you Plenty of Work. I shall pay each of you one pound per week, and a week's work is--you must each produce three of these square blocks. For doing this work you will each receive your wages; the money will be your own, to do as you like with, and the things you produce will of course be mine, to do as I like with. You will each take one of these machines and as soon as you have done a week's work, you shall have your money.'
The Working Classes accordingly set to work, and the Capitalist class sat down and watched them. As soon as they had finished, they passed the nine little blocks to Owen, who placed them on a piece of paper by his side and paid the workers their wages.
'These blocks represent the necessaries of life. You can't live without some of these things, but as they belong to me, you will have to buy them from me: my price for these blocks is--one pound each.'
As the working classes were in need of the necessaries of life and as they could not eat, drink or wear the useless money, they were compelled to agree to the kind Capitalist's terms. They each bought back and at once consumed one-third of the produce of their labour. The capitalist class also devoured two of the square blocks, and so the net result of the week's work was that the kind capitalist had consumed two pounds worth of the things produced by the labour of the others, and reckoning the squares at their market value of one pound each, he had more than doubled his capital, for he still possessed the three pounds in money and in addition four pounds worth of goods. As for the working classes, Philpot, Harlow and Easton, having each consumed the pound's worth of necessaries they had bought with their wages, they were again in precisely the same condition as when they started work--they had nothing.
This process was repeated several times: for each week's work the producers were paid their wages. They kept on working and spending all their earnings. The kind-hearted capitalist consumed twice as much as any one of them and his pile of wealth continually increased. In a little while--reckoning the little squares at their market value of one pound each--he was worth about one hundred pounds, and the working classes were still in the same condition as when they began, and were still tearing into their work as if their lives depended upon it.
After a while the rest of the crowd began to laugh, and their merriment increased when the kind-hearted capitalist, just after having sold a pound's worth of necessaries to each of his workers, suddenly took their tools--the Machinery of Production--the knives away from them, and informed them that as owing to Over Production all his store-houses were glutted with the necessaries of life, he had decided to close down the works.
'Well, and wot the bloody 'ell are we to do now?' demanded Philpot.
'That's not my business,' replied the kind-hearted capitalist. 'I've paid you your wages, and provided you with Plenty of Work for a long time past. I have no more work for you to do at present. Come round again in a few months' time and I'll see what I can do for you.'
'But what about the necessaries of life?' demanded Harlow. 'We must have something to eat.'
'Of course you must,' replied the capitalist, affably; 'and I shall be very pleased to sell you some.'
'But we ain't got no bloody money!'
'Well, you can't expect me to give you my goods for nothing! You didn't work for me for nothing, you know. I paid you for your work and you should have saved something: you should have been thrifty like me. Look how I have got on by being thrifty!'
The unemployed looked blankly at each other, but the rest of the crowd only laughed; and then the three unemployed began to abuse the kind-hearted Capitalist, demanding that he should give them some of the necessaries of life that he had piled up in his warehouses, or to be allowed to work and produce some more for their own needs; and even threatened to take some of the things by force if he did not comply with their demands. But the kind-hearted Capitalist told them not to be insolent, and spoke to them about honesty, and said if they were not careful he would have their faces battered in for them by the police, or if necessary he would call out the military and have them shot down like dogs, the same as he had done before at Featherstone and Belfast.
'Of course,' continued the kind-hearted capitalist, 'if it were not for foreign competition I should be able to sell these things that you have made, and then I should be able to give you Plenty of Work again: but until I have sold them to somebody or other, or until I have used them myself, you will have to remain idle.'
'Well, this takes the bloody biskit, don't it?' said Harlow.
'The only thing as I can see for it,' said Philpot mournfully, 'is to 'ave a unemployed procession.'
'That's the idear,' said Harlow, and the three began to march about the room in Indian file, singing:
'We've got no work to do-oo-oo'
We've got no work to do-oo-oo!
Just because we've been workin' a dam sight too hard,
Now we've got no work to do.'
As they marched round, the crowd jeered at them and made offensive remarks. Crass said that anyone could see that they were a lot of lazy, drunken loafers who had never done a fair day's work in their lives and never intended to.
'We shan't never get nothing like this, you know,' said Philpot. 'Let's try the religious dodge.'
'All right,' agreed Harlow. 'What shall we give 'em?'
'I know!' cried Philpot after a moment's deliberation. '"Let my lower lights be burning." That always makes 'em part up.'
The three unemployed accordingly resumed their march round the room, singing mournfully and imitating the usual whine of street-singers:
'Trim your fee-bil lamp me brither-in,
Some poor sail-er tempest torst,
Strugglin' 'ard to save the 'arb-er,
Hin the dark-niss may be lorst,
So let try lower lights be burning,
Send 'er gleam acrost the wave,
Some poor shipwrecked, struggling seaman,
You may rescue, you may save.'
'Kind frens,' said Philpot, removing his cap and addressing the crowd, 'we're hall honest British workin' men, but we've been hout of work for the last twenty years on account of foreign competition and over-production. We don't come hout 'ere because we're too lazy to work; it's because we can't get a job. If it wasn't for foreign competition, the kind'earted Hinglish capitalists would be able to sell their goods and give us Plenty of Work, and if they could, I assure you that we should hall be perfectly willing and contented to go on workin' our bloody guts out for the benefit of our masters for the rest of our lives. We're quite willin' to work: that's hall we arst for--Plenty of Work--but as we can't get it we're forced to come out 'ere and arst you to spare a few coppers towards a crust of bread and a night's lodgin'.'
As Philpot held out his cap for subscriptions, some of them attempted to expectorate into it, but the more charitable put in pieces of cinder or dirt from the floor, and the kind-hearted capitalist was so affected by the sight of their misery that he gave them one of the sovereigns he had in us pocket: but as this was of no use to them they immediately returned it to him in exchange for one of the small squares of the necessaries of life, which they divided and greedily devoured. And when they had finished eating they gathered round the philanthropist and sang, 'For he's a jolly good fellow,' and afterwards Harlow suggested that they should ask him if he would allow them to elect him to Parliament"

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell 

the Battle for Life - also known as "The Global Race"

“Happiness might be possible if everyone were unselfish; if everyone thought of the welfare of his neighbour before thinking of his own. But as there is only a very small percentage of such unselfish people in the world, the present system has made the earth into a sort of hell. Under the present system there is not sufficient of anything for everyone to have enough. Consequently there is a fight--called by Christians the 'Battle of Life'. In this fight some get more than they need, some barely enough, some very little, and some none at all. The more aggressive, cunning, unfeeling and selfish you are the better it will be for you. As long as this 'Battle of Life' System endures, we have no right to blame other people for doing the same things that we are ourselves compelled to do. Blame the system.
But that IS just what the hands did not do. They blamed each other; they blamed Crass, and Hunter, and Rushton, but with the Great System of which they were all more or less the victims they were quite content, being persuaded that it was the only one possible and the best that human wisdom could devise. The reason why they all believed this was because not one of them had ever troubled to inquire whether it would not be possible to order things differently. They were content with the present system. If they had not been content they would have been anxious to find some way to alter it. But they had never taken the trouble to seriously inquire whether it was possible to find some better way, and although they all knew in a hazy fashion that other methods of managing the affairs of the world had already been proposed, they neglected to inquire whether these other methods were possible or practicable, and they were ready and willing to oppose with ignorant ridicule or brutal force any man who was foolish or quixotic enough to try to explain to them the details of what he thought was a better way. They accepted the present system in the same way as they accepted the alternating seasons. They knew that there was spring and summer and autumn and winter. As to how these different seasons came to be, or what caused them, they hadn't the remotest notion, and it is extremely doubtful whether the question had ever occurred to any of them: but there is no doubt whatever about the fact that none of them knew. From their infancy they had been trained to distrust their own intelligence, and to leave the management of the affairs of the world--and for that matter of the next world too--to their betters; and now most of them were absolutely incapable of thinking of any abstract subject whatever. Nearly all their betters--that is, the people who do nothing--were unanimous in agreeing that the present system is a very good one and that it is impossible to alter or improve it. Therefore Crass and his mates, although they knew nothing whatever about it themselves, accepted it as an established, incontrovertible fact that the existing state of things is immutable. They believed it because someone else told them so. They would have believed anything: on one condition--namely, that they were told to believe it by their betters. They said it was surely not for the Like of Them to think that they knew better than those who were more educated and had plenty of time to study"

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, by Robert Tressell
Available free on Project Gutenberg  

Still think that the Tories know best?

Monday, 27 January 2014

Deep Freedom: John Mellencamp - Freedom Road

My recent post includes several references to speeches by Roberto Unger on the concept of Deep Freedom. In an essay for IPPR Unger defines this concept as:
" In opposition to the political ideas that have most recently guided ideological controversy around the world, but similarly to those that used to influence such debate in the 19th century, deep freedom combines a devotion to the empowerment of the ordinary person – a raising up of ordinary life to a higher plane of intensity, scope and capability – with a disposition to reshape the institutional arrangements of society in the service of such empowerment. In the design of social, economic and democratic institutions, deep freedom has priority over any form of equality of circumstance. Equality of opportunity is a fragmentary aspect of deep freedom."
The converse of deep freedom is of course shallow freedom. I think that these are easier to define, becaouse to most of us they are more tangible. Shallow freedoms are those granted to wage-slaves to give them the impression of choice; the illusion of autonomy. John Mellencamp gives a very incisive depiction of this in his song Freedom's Road.
The obstructions that we find along our journey along Freedom's Road are the same institutional obstructions that prevent people from really being free. Many people are obliged to take poorly paying jobs just to pay the rent or pay for expensive food. They are wage slaves earning a fraction of the value that their work produces and paying a fortune in housing that ultimately will only further enrich the corporate banks.

John Mellencamp  - Freedom's Road, 2007.
I'm navigating my way down Freedom's Road
Trying to make my way back home
I got my foot to the floor
But she must need bleeding
This car just don't want to roll
Freedom's Road must be under construction
Sometimes you wonder what kind of freedom they're talking
If you're here looking for the devil
You'll find him on Freedom's Road

Freedom's Road, Freedom's Road
If you want to take a ride
Well you've got to pay the toll
Freedom's Road, Freedom's Road
If you're looking for the devil
He's out there on Freedom's Road

Sometimes there's rape sometimes there'll be murder
Sometimes just darkness everywhere
No passing signs and barbed wire fences
Misinformation but no one cares
Freedom's Road can get narrow
No one wants to know you
If there's no pork in your barrel
If you're here looking for the devil
He's out there on Freedom's Road

Freedom's Road, Freedom's Road
If you want to take a ride
Well you've got to pay the toll
Freedom's Road, Freedom's Road
If you're looking for the devil
He's out there on Freedom's Road

You can drop your bombs
You can beat the people senseless
But that won't get you anywhere
Hide your agendas behind public consensus
And say that this world just ain't fair
Freedom's Road is a promise to the people
You'll never fool us now
With all your lying and cheating
If you're here wanting a crown in heaven
It's out there on Freedom's Road

Freedom's Road, Freedom's Road
If you want to take a ride
Well you've got to pay the toll
Freedom's Road, Freedom's Road
If you're looking for the devil
He's out there on Freedom's Road

Inequality, Ed Miliband and Deep Freedom

This piece was first posted on Labour Uncut on 24th January 2014 (Heading by website editor)

Ed Miliband is the only politician talking about what really matters: inequality

by Robin Thorpe
With Ed Miliband’s recent talk of rebuilding the middle class and his previous rhetoric of the squeezed middle are we now seeing a resurgence of class consciousness? Or is Ed just focusing on familiar words to cloak his lack of credible policies? I sincerely hope it is the former. The problem with the concept of class is that because the labour market is now so diverse it can be difficult for people to identify what class they are. Perhaps, therefore, we should just recognise that there are broadly only two classes of people; the ‘power elite’ and the rest of us.
I can understand why people may want to cling to the notion that there is a hierarchy of socio-economic divisions that we can climb up if we only work hard enough. People have evolved to compete for resources and societies have long been predicated on prestige and social position. But surely we must now recognise that the division between the elite and the rest is so entrenched that it will take more than a bit of pluck and a protestant work ethic to break the stranglehold of inequality. Will Hutton has written that he thinks that Ed Miliband’s “cost of living” crisis is a sideways route into opening up an argument over inequality and I hope that he is right.
Enabling effective change will not be easy; there are many vested interested who will oppose a recalibration of the way that our economy works. The obvious attack on Miliband’s ambition is to decry it as statist and anti-business. Fraser Nelson writes in the Telegraph that a Labour government implementing this agenda would result in “companies refusing to invest, and wealth-creators leaving”. This argument ignores the fact that the notion of state vs. business is a false choice; neither can this choice be defined as socialism vs. capitalism. Instead it should be defined as shallow versus deep freedom.
Steve Davies from the Institute for Economic Affairs (on Radio 4’s The Longview) agrees that the cost of living is a real problem for those on low wages; in particular the cost of housing. But he also states that workers must increase their productivity to improve their wage-earning capacity, as if low wages are their fault for not working hard enough. Solving the problem of the cost of living will still leave people dependant on increasingly precarious employment.
A leader in The Economist recently made a very good case for the importance of skills and education in combating this phenomenon and why we should invest more in pre-school and adult learning. But also admits that this will still result in some people relying on a benevolent state to provide subsistence. These actions may mitigate the worst aspects of poverty but they will not ameliorate the effects of inequality.  Some inequality is an inevitable by-product of an organised society, but extreme levels of inequality are bad for everybody.
Those who would seek to maintain the status quo will offer a risible rise in wages and will continue to provide state-sponsored subsistence to bribe the voters. They will provide schemes to maintain the majority in machine-like jobs and will present mortgage debt as an aspiration for all. They will not attempt to increase opportunity and autonomy because to do so would threaten the interests of those who wield political influence. For them freedom means less regulation and redistribution. It means the absence of state interference in the business of multiplying wealth.
These political schemes of varying complexity and success may lead to some future prosperity and may guarantee future jobs, but the majority of individuals will still have very little influence on their personal future. People will still be bound to the will and caprice of employers. The majority of people will still subsist on wages that represent a small proportion of the value that their employment creates and the cost of living will continue to rise as the banks and other vested interests maintain the high cost of housing.
To challenge the system of inequality it is necessary to implement radical change to bring about greater personal and collective freedoms. To settle for anything less is to accept the existing institutional framework. The framework that offers varying combinations of state and market designed to ensure that the inequalities generated by the market are corrected by the redistributive and regulatory activity of the state. The very fact that people in their droves are fleeing the country and travelling to cities such as London in search of a job, any job, is proof enough that people don’t just want more equality. People want more consumption, more excitement, more of everything except equality. Deep freedom, the capability to make more of their own life, must be the objective of radical change.
Perhaps I am reading too much in to what Milband is trying to do; but it definitely seems to me that in his speeches on ‘predators’ and ‘pre-distribution’ he is pitching to represent the 99%. And that he is willing to take on the ‘Power Elite’. Blair and Mandelson famously shied away from challenging the ‘shadow cast on society by big business’, seeking merely to attenuate the effects. I hope that Miliband is brave enough to try and that we give him the opportunity to effect real and lasting structural change.
In order to be successful Miliband must first raise awareness that he alone represents the interests of the people. He must not just convince traditional Labour supporters but all the electorate that a vote for Labour is a vote in favour of the collective interests of the 99%.  He must convince the electorate that the status quo only serves the interests of the elite and that Labour will enact meaningful change.
Ed Miliband is certainly influenced by his father and by other notable socialists Tariq Ali and C. Wright Mills. The papers have recently been suggesting that he aims to be a 21st Century Teddy Roosevelt. I suspect that he has also been reading George Lakoff:
 “The liberal market economy maximizes overall freedom by serving public needs: providing needed products at reasonable prices for reasonable profits, paying workers fairly and treating them well, and serving the communities to which they belong. In short, “the people the economy is supposed to serve” are ordinary citizens.”
I think that all political parties have done the people a disservice by pretending that ‘we are all middle-class now’. Yes disposable incomes are higher; yes more people now work in offices rather than in manual occupations. But the availability of credit and the cultural incitement to home and car ownership means that just as many people are now wage-slaves, dependant on employment to pay for their ‘standard of living’, as they ever have been. As Ernest Bevin said “We must not confuse democracy with the maintenance of a particular form of economic or financial system…rather it is a condition which allows for change in the system itself”’