what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Leftist, anarchist or fatalist???

I started this post with every intention of analysing the deep gloom which has descended on “progressives” not just this year but since it became clear that neoliberalism – far from dying since 2008 - seemed to be enjoying a second coming. I discovered, however, that this required a bit of a diversion into the issue of political labelling.....so bear with me.... 

Despite my 20 odd years’ experience as an elected politician, I have never been happy with political labels…..from the very beginning (in the late 60s) I could see how my (older) Labour colleagues were closer to officials than to their constituents. And the sympathy I quickly developed for community development also gave me a slightly anarchistic approach in matters of political ideology.
I was lucky, of course, to be able to occupy a senior role at an early age - slipping into position after the Labour party locally had experienced a few years of electoral defeats - and had the luxury, after the first few elections, of knowing that my party had a fairly impregnable grip on power on the massive new Strathclyde Region which had been set up in 1973/74.

But, equally, the knowledge that the poorer citizens of this Region suffered from the UK’s worst rates of deprivation drove a few of us to set up what were at the time (mid 1970s) unique deliberative structures (at both community and regional level) which brought officials, councillors and community activists together in a creative and utterly non-partisan spirit
To this day I consider these were the best things I ever achieved…… although the community business movement which I helped set up in the late 70s rates a close second….

I’ve been out of politics for the past 25 years - and out of sympathy with British (and European) political parties for the past 15 of these. It was George Monbiot’s Captive State (2000) which first alerted me to the scale of the corporate takeover of the British state – which has intensified globally since then…..
Since the 1980s I’ve had strong “green” sympathies but vividly remember, five years ago, being deeply offended when an article I contributed to a magazine feature marking the anniversary of the 2001 Twin Towers attack was given a “leftist” health warning. This is how I reacted at the time - 

Four separate issues arise from this -
- First, do the editors not realise that use of such a label for one (only) of the articles is effectively an invitation to their readers to ignore it or treat it with suspicion? What does this say about freedom of expression?
- Second, criticism of the logic and effects of “neo-liberalism” has come from a great variety of quarters – not least the ordo-liberalism which has been the backbone of the post-war German economy.
- Third, it has been recognised for a long time that the left-right labelling makes little sense. Wikipedia has an excellent briefing on this. And I recommend people do their own test on the political compass website - which uses two (not one) dimensions to try to situate people politically. 
Finally, there is the issue of whether I deserve the label which has been thrown at me – either from the article or from the range of beliefs I actually hold. The references in my article are impeccably mainstream academia (Colin Crouch; Henry Mintzberg) and a final section clearly signals that I have no truck with statism. 
All my political life I have supported community enterprise and been opposed to state ambitions and the “evil” it brings in, for example, the adulterated Romanian form. My business card describes me as an “explorer” – which refers not so much to the nomadic nature of my life in the last 20 years as the open nature of my search for both a satisfactory explanation of how societies and economies work; with what results; and the nature of relevant mechanisms for adjusting what societies judge (through democratic processes) to be unacceptable trends.
I readily admit to having been attracted in my youth to the British New Left’s analysis of British inequality in the late 1950s - but I was profoundly influenced at University by people such as Karl Popper and his The Open Society and its Enemies, Schumpeter (his Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy and Ralf Dahrendorf; and, at a more practical level, by Andrew Shonfield and Tony Crosland who were also writing then about the benefits of the “mixed economy”. More recently I have generally been a fan of the writings of Will Hutton (whose stakeholder analysis of UK society was disdained by Tony Bliar on becoming PM).
As an academic I was influenced by the critical analysis of UK and US political scientists in the 1970s which went variously under the terms “Limits of the State” or “problems of implementation” and the softer end of the “public choice school” of institutional economics. But, unusually, the anarchistic/libertarian sweep of Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire also got to me in the 1970s (which is why I am (unusually) located in the south west quadrant of the political compass).
I therefore not only disdained the injunctions of the dominant left and right extremes of British politics of the 1980s but, as an influential Scottish regional politician, used my role to create more open processes of policy-making. Indeed community activists and opposition politicians were more important partners for me than members of my own party. I held on to my leading political position on the huge Regional Council simply because I belonged to neither the left or right factions amongst my colleagues but was their natural second choice! The definitions I give in my Sceptic's Glossary reveal the maverick me.

It is "big business" and its abuses of power I have always been hostile to.........

The next post's analysis of the "apocalyptic" turn which progressive comments have taken in recent months and years should be read in this light......  

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