The aftermath of the death of a laptop and the purchase of a new one may be annoying and time-consuming - with all the software downloading and file and website transfer it involves. It does, however, also has its positive side. It makes you look at many of the papers, files and websites which were just lying in the database! One of the papers I came across was a Compass pamphlet Breaking out of Britain's neo-liberlism produced in January 2009 and written by Gerry Hassan and Anthony Barnett (the latter the editor of the admirable Open Democracy website).
Given what I said in my last post, I thought it was worth excerpting some of it -
Across British public life, in public institutions and discourse, the last decade of New Labour has been characterised by the debasement of values and meaning. To talk about the future of our society we have been obliged to walk through a linguistic supermarket where sterile, vacuum packed in-words are provided by the supply-lines of the new elite. This has had many casualties, as government white papers and documents once renowned for their plain English have become inflated by gobble-de-gook obesity. Economic development agencies have abandoned talking seriously about political economy, and instead invoke “creativity”, “innovation” and “doing the step change”. Think-tanks evacuated any efforts at considering political economy. University departments scrambled for research funding by peer assessing each other’s publications in journals of barely-read-studies. City-wide and regional bodies stressed their aspirations to be “world class cities” basing their growth forecasts on shopping and tourism while discarding the solid revenues of manufacturing provincialism. In all parts of the UK, from London to Liverpool, Glasgow to “Newcastle/Gateshead”, this has been an age of gloss and superficiality and financial considerations based on “neverland”.
This debasement of our language and public discourse has been mirrored by the triumphalism of our political classes. The belief in “the end of decline” in the political elite has seen the shift from Britain being seen as “the sick man of Europe” to a country which from the mid-1980s “put the great back into Britain”.
Neo-liberalism bent and contorted all of Britain’s political parties, institutions and philosophies, while changing the notion of “the self” as personal neo-liberalism psychologised and individualised every issue and concern. These developments have seen the slow, gradual entrenchment of the neo-liberal order across all British public life, to the extent that people advocate and voice its values often without realising it.
The current set of events, uncertainty and instability shows the failure of the world that neo-liberalism brought about. This is an historic opportunity and challenge to all of us: whether we be progressives, liberals, conservatives, nationalists, or just concerned about the future of Britain and the world.
SEVEN INITIAL STEPS TO BEGIN TO CHALLENGE NEO-LIBERALISM:
1. We need to identify “the official future” – the mantra of globalisation wherever it is – nationally, internationally, in the public and private realms, and critique it, defeat it and supplant it;
2. The world view of the bloviators – the Malcolm Gladwells and others – who have offered themselves as voices and apologists for the winners and the global order, needs to be seen as part of the problem, along with the damage they have done and their role in legitimising the “new conservatism”;
3. Government and public agencies need to fundamentally rethink how they conceive and think of policy, the language and values in documents, and whose voice and interest such processes are serving;
4. The British “public” overall does not see itself in the language of “consumers” and “customers” in relation to public service. For the last thirty years, the public have been force-fed a diet of New Public Management, choice and privatisation, and still they don’t find it attractive or buy it. Sadly nor do people see themselves in the idea of “citizens”. We need to think, nurture and organise public services in new ways which are neither New Right nor the technical fixes of co-production;
5. There is a direct link between the micro-policy and management of the Blair-Brown years – legislation “overload” and command and control – and the suffocating consensus of the mainstream, which shuts down open discussion of the macro-questions about the economy and society;
6. The nature of the British state is fundamental to the current crisis and laid the basis for the acute nature of the problems Britain faces in the global downturn. The British regime formed over the thirty years of Thatcher to Brown has seen an inter-twinning of the economic, social and political into a neo-liberal state and polity that commands the loyalty of all the main parties. An escape route has yet to be discovered given the closed nature of the British system.
7. Any such escape needs the people of the United Kingdom to make their own claim upon public power with a modern form of citizenship which aids an emancipatory state, culture and society. This will involve a political culture and system which recognises the centrality of fundamental human rights that protect minorities as well as a modern liberty that stops the development of an authoritarian, database state. All of which will require a way of retelling and reimagining the stories of the peoples and the nations of the UK.
OK the first steps are rather shaky and tentative. The writings of David Marquand are relevant to point 6 - and the Power2010 movement to the last point. I hope the two come back to these issues - soon and more coherently - and with a braoder European dimension.