Archive for the ‘UK democracy’ Category

Things can’t only get better

October 31, 2007


"Help me, I can't breathe"

I have spent the best part of the last two months (total blog posts = 2, including this one) renovating my house, a project that is likely to continue into mid next year. In the meantime, writing my book and doing the journalism necessary to support its creation are among the activities that are suffering. I don’t fool myself that that is in the least bit consequential to anything beyond the immediate arena of my family, friends and bank balance but it is personally and professionally frustrating.

From the furtive moments spent browsing the news in its various internet-based forms, I can’t see much in the way of hopeful signs of solutions to our growing global mess.

The coronation of Gordon Brown in place of Tony Blair as British Prime Minister can be fairly encapsulated in this piece from the Observer’s Henry Porter, a neat dissection of Brown’s sleight of hand when it comes to Britons’ rights. Brown’s will-he-won’t-he election shoe shuffle was also illuminating both for its cynicism and for the voluminous media coverage it engendered at the expense of more pressing subjects.

Those subjects would include the global rate of species loss and a welter of other measures of planetary health.

They would also include our near-total immersion in commercial messages, a process identified and attacked by the doughty warriors at adbusters. I at least managed to find the short amount of time required to sign up to their media carta.

Alternet’s summary of some things being done worldwide to try to reverse our environmental self destruction process was also worth the read.

From my rooftop slinging tiles, hunched under a stairwell hacking out old wood or emptying the site’s composting bog, these glints of light are encouraging.


Some useful climate change material

June 22, 2007


I was surprised the other day by a good friend who expressed his doubts about carbon dioxide being the cause of climate change, a phenomenon which he accepted as happening but only because of variations in the Earth’s orbit in relation to the Sun.

He believed humankind should plan for climate change but without bothering overmuch about CO2 as such. He’s a smart fellow so I bit my customarily active lip and directed my energy into some web research instead.

This New Scientist piece did for the solar wobble phenomenon, saying it is an influence but not always and never to the extent that would explain global temperature changes through history.

On the subject of climate change, and whether taxes, technology or individual actions will sort things out, this article, from the excellent openDemocracy, explained why none of the above might be our escape route. The solutions themselves, on their own or together, are too entrenched in liberal capitalism and its emphasis on markets and individual choices.

So what might work? As the article says:

More social-science research suggests that collectivist, social-welfare societies are a better incubator of pro-environmental behaviour than individualist ones where welfare is looked on with suspicion.

It suggests a sense of community with others may be as important as concern over the biosphere in generating environmentalism, and adds:

If this is true, then any community that is subjected to a near-thirty-year experiment designed to prove that “there is no such thing as society” – as Britain under successive prime ministers has effectively been since 1979 – will be in poor shape to deal with the pro-social policy demands of a problem like climate change.

Can’t disagree with that.

All that being said, we have to deal with what we’ve got, which is why, as hotairhead, I posted a couple of times on the Guardian’s Comment is free site the other day on the subject of whether Al Gore should run again for the U.S. presidency. I reckon he should.

Parts of the U.S. political world are moving, as evidenced by this week’s Economist.

Finally, while on the subject of climate change, I can’t recommend enough the work of George Monbiot and his latest book “Heat”.

Watch this film

June 1, 2007


Interesting looking book, interesting looking film, with screenings around the UK detailed here.

The work gives a series of examples of how ordinary people’s civil liberties have been trampled. They could be you, they could be me.

The film’s website urges people to take action and also asks these three questions:

How can we get the government to sit up and take notice?
What can we do to get our voices heard?
What can we do to make people realise what is going on in front of own own eyes?

These are good questions.

In answer to the first, I would say: “Don’t kid yourself or waste your time, conventional politics is a farce.” We must start exploring and learning about real democracy instead, with a view to spreading it widely from the ground upwards.

For the second, films like this undoubtedly help but we need to go further by, for example, learning from the likes of the zapatistas in Mexico and from countless other movements in Latin America in particular. Though I haven’t yet read the book or seen the film, I wonder how well the human examples used illustrate their root cause, which is the poverty of our political system, as represented by the conventional right and left alike and as captured by big capital and capitalism. And no, the answer is not to resort to extremes on either side but to promote and practice deep democracy.

In answer to the third, I would suggest that we cease trying to follow the mainstream politicians and their daily PR shows, Sky News can cover the live events for all they’re worth to anyone. (Witness Blair’s day long I’m finally saying when I’ll leave announcement). We should direct our journalism towards alternatives to conventional government, towards people stepping outside the mainstream. Not just to victims of the state, as described in this film, but also to activists who are trying to do something outside the state and in spite of it.

It’s great to see films like this being made though. Good luck to it, with the minor caveat that I haven’t yet done more than watch the trailer and read the website details of the individual cases covered.

Football? Beer? Sex? Nope, a UK constitution

May 25, 2007


The title may help non-traditional audiences to find their ways to this fine article on UK constitutional reform written by Neal Ascherson. For the many talkingaboutarevolution regulars, both of you, please excuse the puerile foolishness.

The article is part of openDemocracy’s launch of a conversation about Britain’s destiny, which sounds stuffily grand but which certainly interests me.

Ascherson mentions how difficult it will be for any real progress to be made towards anything approaching a real constitution for the UK or parts thereof, despite what our new Dear-Leader-in-waiting Gordon Brown might say. Silly headlines like the one above probably don’t help much.

This was the nub of my response:

My appreciation of this article is more for the clarity of its information and historical context than for the quality of its conclusions. I share more sympathy with the brief postings of jdoucette5522 and douglas jones than with the author’s views. We’re talking re-arranging the roof terrace furniture on a very tall building here – our systems of power themselves are at fault, as are the economic environments in which they operate.

All of our democracies are miles away from anything approaching true popular rule, which would require much more transparency, accountability, and, let’s face it, time invested by ordinary people to make the systems work. That time is unlikely to be forthcoming unless there is the promise of some satisfaction through influence. Hmmm.

In the meantime, the most satisfying alternative is to explore local systems of exchange and politics rooted outside the mainstream.

You can join the debate here.

New Standard RIP

April 24, 2007

jessica.jpg p1010013.jpg

This Friday, April 27, 2007, will see the last edition of The New Standard, a pioneering online reporting operation in the United States that tried to live its ideals through both its news, its collective employment set-up and its advert-free financial model. Sadly, it hasn’t worked out.

The staff, Jessica Azulay, Michelle Chen, Brian Dominick, Shreema Mehta
and Megan Tady, announce the news here. The bit I would pick out is this:

“… the five staffers who form the PeoplesNetWorks Collective – the nonhierarchical nonprofit that publishes TNS – have accepted that the news publication we envisioned cannot be achieved without a greater level of support. We do not believe we will be able to obtain that support in the foreseeable future, and as individuals, we have reached a point at which we are unable to sustain the long hours and stress that publishing TNS entails.”

I met Jessica and Brian (pictured above) when they lectured on the Z Media Institute alternative politics and journalism course in 2005. They were mines of information, humble, passionate – damn good basically. It’s a shame to see their project bite the dust. There will be a post mortem, and valuable lessons to be drawn for anyone interested in real journalism. They will re-emerge somewhere else, I have no doubt.

My own thought on the demise of TNS is that we didn’t do enough to support it and didn’t appreciate the boldness, novelty and importance of its efforts. My own, inadequate, journalism model for now is to do whatever it takes to provide my share of household inputs, and grab whatever spare time there is to report, blog and write talking about a revolution for free. Not great, but that’s all I have for now. That’s why I’m particularly sorry to see the TNS crowd shutting up shop.

Perhaps the reason I didn’t spend more time on the TNS site was that my take on alternative journalism is a bit different. In addition to the TNS efforts to provide an objective dissection of daily news, I am more inclined towards how we recalibrate news reporting to focus on the poor quality of our underlying political systems.

That would mean reporting that includes reference to the weakness of the underlying decision-making structures related to the story and presents what policies might result from using alternative structures. It would be hard work, and a challenge not to end up with very dull reports of use to no-one. The aim would be to de-power the voice of the few in favour of the powerless many (err, that’s us folks). Any report featuring politicians or policy would give equal if not more play to what ordinary people want, not just from opinion polls but also from ongoing participatory democracy sessions.

Sounds a bit wooly perhaps, I’ll work on it, but I hope you get the gist for now.

Memo to mediocrity

April 19, 2007


Richard Norton-Taylor, the Guardian’s senior spook watcher, uses his employer’s pages for a bit of self-puffery for his play about Tony Blair’s Iraq war lies. This is an important topic, which deserves much better than a theatre piece.

As hotairhead (why did I ever choose such a dumb name as my Comment is Free identifier?) I throw in my contribution to the debate, which you can read and join at the above link.

The nub of it is basically that journalism should be about dissecting our public figures and governance systems and asking how they can be improved, which Norton-Taylor could usefully do a great deal more of in his day job. Theatre in Britain, while sometimes ever so slightly risqué, is hardly going to set the political world alight and effect any radical change.

Norton-Taylor reckons it plays a useful role, as he explains here. I don’t question a play’s limited educational usefulness but I don’t buy the idea that that is a subsititute for what he or others could more usefully do as journalists.

The question is whether conventional media are capable of the necessarily sustained assaults on the powerful that we need. I rather doubt it, for various reasons, including journalists’ personal mindsets and the commercial demands of the products/newspapers their employers peddle. The Guardian might do this sometimes on some stories but never enough and never with the necessary coherence and clarity to make it stick. We must think more on alternative journalism, what it is and how we can sustain it. I haven’t any clear answers yet but I believe those are the questions.

Lords reform – a start

March 7, 2007


MPs have finally caught the wind of reform, let’s hope it blows all the way through to the electoral changes Labour promised before coming into office in 1997.

The Guardian gave its modest interpretation of this in an instant leader. I gave my modest reply along with other CiF posters.

Inadequate and misleading – judge for yourself

February 16, 2007


Another day, another deception from the government in charge of the mother of parliaments. This time, it’s Labour’s mock consultation last year on whether to build new nuclear power stations in Britain. Take it away, Mr Justice Sullivan:

“The 2006 consultation document contained no information of any substance on any of the issues identified as being of crucial importance,” he said. “It was not merely inadequate but it was also misleading.”

His wiggedness went on to say something had gone “clearly and radically wrong” with the consultation paper, issued last January.

The Guardian leader called it “pretending to listen”. And no, I couldn’t resist responding.

Labour, building on the good work of their predecessors in power, the Conservatives, make an ever more convincing case for the inability for elected representatives to run the country on our behalf. As usual, the Americans do it with just that little bit more style and panache, as Greg Palast’s “The Best Democracy Money can Buy” does such a good job of showing. But Tony’s not doing badly.

Vive direct democracy.

Lies, damned lies, lies damned and then some more lies

February 14, 2007


More work on talking about a revolution, chapter 3 and the state of our national democracies. Once you look into the amount of lying that has been done by Tony and friends before and after winning power in 1997, the case for direct democracy becomes more compelling than ever.

I have just read Peter Oborne’s The Rise of Political Lying. which provides a magnificently detailed account of how badly representative democracy has gone off the rails in Britain. Shame that Oborne is so unimaginative and unradical in his proposed solutions to the problem.

Funny that on the day I finish the book, one of its bit-part deceivers Denis MacShane should pop up on the Guardian’s comment is free site slagging off petitions as a way of trying to improve democracy. I responded, sort of inevitable really.

Bears against bombs

January 16, 2007

It’s that man Brian Haw again, this time in a Guardian article on his former protest materials being recreated in Tate Britain by artist Mark Wallinger.

I like this excerpt from the end of the piece:
“However critical such art may itself be, it also serves to highlight the institution’s liberalism, by allowing it to be there in the first place. Such inclusiveness, as Susan Sontag argued, defuses the very criticism being offered. What State Britain offers is a sort of portrait of British institutions at a time of war, of the lip service government pays to dissent, on the attacks being made on our freedoms in the name of security, on the impotence of protest and of art itself as a form of protest. How rich this work is, and how saddening our state.”

And no, I have not become Brian’s press officer it’s just hard to get him out of my head when I think that he’s standing by the traffic in the cold as I sit in comfort writing this blog. The film I did of him at Christmas has had 817 hits as of today and 17 ratings. It seems at once a lot and then nothing. If YouTube-type journalism is to be an alternative to the mainstream for me then I am going to have to learn how to get it out there better.

Which reminds me, the person getting tonnes of hits on Iraq goes by the username of freedomandemocracy. You can see an example of the powerful work here. It raises once more the question of how best to get people moving, how to engage them in political issues. Does it work?