Apologies for my long absence (not that you minded). Here are some jottings that don't quite add up to anything much, to hold the fort until I have more time.
Why I still read the Guardian
✒Many of the tabloids printed the dreadful pictures of the woman who was flogged in Sudan for wearing trousers under her outer clothes. You might have seen the film on TV. It is horrifying: the man with the whip following her looking for the most painful spot to hit, her screams of agony, the overseer laughing at her pain.The same papers, on the same day, appeared to be equally outraged by the appearance of Christina Aguilera and dancers performing in their underwear during the X-Factor final. Thousands of people complained on the grounds that this came before the watershed. Maybe so, and I can understand why some parents were annoyed. But I know which society I would prefer to live in.
I bet you wish your Big Society was a freak like mine
I was pleased my post on neo-liberalism and my “Kosovo-style social cleansing” post elicited a healthy blast of debate. I’ve been meaning to follow up with another post on the cuts and a post on the Big Society, but I’ve just not had time. I enjoyed Flesh is Grass on the Big Society, staking out what her Big Society would be like. My Big Society would be very like hers, except I would also emphasise that one area where citizens and communities should be given more control over their lives would be the economic sphere, and especially the world of work. My Big Society, that is, would include a little more economic democracy.
On a related theme, from the centre-left, Paul Richards has written about the ways in which localism and small government are historically very much a part of the heritage of the labour movement.
This approach is true to Labour's own roots in working-class culture and organisations such as the chapel, co-op, union and friendly society. Working-class communities ran their own health insurance schemes, adult education, and social clubs. They didn't rely on the state. This is what inspired the Guild Socialists such as GDH Cole, who wanted political and industrial power to reside at the local level. The Guild Socialists wanted full-blown industrial democracy in the work-place, political democracy through local councils, and consumer democracy through cooperatives. The role of the state would be strategic, not all-encompassing. You could almost call it a ‘big society'.
A local blog for local people
I have neglected Lewisham, Brockley and South London generally in my recent blog posts. It’s all been happening down here lately, with protests against the cuts in Lewisham reaching fever pitch, and on the other hand two bouts of intense snowfalls and travel nightmares that threaten to turn the revolutionary anger against Southeastern trains. On the former issue, see Hangbitch, Transpontine, Adam B and Darryl. On the latter, see Darryl and our local Twitterati. My neglect of Lewisham issues, incidentally, has included my neglect of Andrew Brown’s blog, Someday I Will Treat You Good, where I plan to start spending more time.
Local politics in a time of austerity
The Lewisham anti-cuts battles dramatise some of the political dilemmas of our moment. In this borough, we have a Labour government implementing the Tory cuts. While councillor Michael Harris suggests our cuts are left-wing ones not right-wing ones, others are not so sure. The various different anti-cuts groups locally, are taking different lines on Labour. In some ways, this is reminiscent of the poll tax moment 20 years ago, when Thatcher’s deeply unjust tax system also served the purpose of de-legitimating municipal government and forcing Labour councils into the role of the tangible face of the class enemy for the less well off who suffered as a result of the central government policy.
For my part, I want to participate in fighting the cuts, but, like most ordinary people, am not sure how to navigate through the Trots’ astroturf opportunists front organisations, and through the futile posturing and gesture politics. I found, from very different perspectives, posts by Phil Dickens and Andrew Coates useful in thinking about this. I liked Andrew’s point that “one thing we need now is a real ‘reformist strategy’, that is, a way of making things better now for ordinary people.” UPDATE: Whereas on my less reformist days I feel like Darren does here.