Understanding The Protest Movements

There have been at least two great intellectual failures in the last hundred years - the first is Marxism-Leninism and the second has been the liberal rejection of some of the central insights of the Marxists.

Class But Not As We Know It, Jim

This is not to praise Marxism except as an analytical tool under defined condiitions because Marxism is, fundamentally, a poor guide to our human condition. Despite its alleged materialism, it is an idealist philosophy.

Idealism is sanctioned lying about the world. Marxism is Hegelian which, in turn, is an historicism derived from the Western Christian tradition which, in turn and philosophically, is ultimately an adaptation of Platonism.

The trajectory from Plato's Cave to the Gulag has been well if simplistically argued by others but the summary is that this Western tradition of idealism is ultimately religious and 'spiritual' and that it can kill when brooked. History is on my side as I write this.

But the proverbial baby has been thrown out with the bath water in at least two respects. We have forgotten Marx' and Engels' insights that politics and culture derive intimately from economic conditions and that, though each person is greater than his class, there are class interests in politics.

Modern liberal democracy has tried to eliminate the language of class because it is not convenient for its preferred model of professionals organising functional coalitions of special interests and lobbies to share out the benefits of growth - but when growth falters, then Marx becomes analytically relevant.

Where Should We Be Looking

For this reason, in trying to understand what might develop out of the current economic crisis, we have to return both to theory and to what is happening where we are not looking - much as in 1910, we might have been wise not to ignore intellectuals in Zurich or school teachers in Bavaria.

We should be studying not the machinations of the ideologues of the future (that is the job of the security services) but what they are saying that resonates with those who are either resentful of the current order of things or who are suffering and have the energy to do something about it.

It is that last clause that matters 'who 'have the energy to do something about it' - because there are an awful lot of resentful older middle class people, intellectuals and poor and vulnerable people who sit in their armchairs or on their sofas and have neither will nor ability to act.

Indeed, liberal democratic hegemony (indeed, all hegemonies) ultimately relies on inaction - that moan in the pub, grumble in front of the TV, meaningless letter to The Times, rant in a Facebook comment. None of this morphs into organisation or action. It is the 'art of being ruled' (stealing Wyndham Lewis' phrase).

This is why the Occupy Movement, the hackers of LulzSec and the Anonymous operation both fascinate and appall the establishment. They alternately have to try to contain them within their laws and infiltrate them with progressive rhetoric or secret policemen (the Tsarist model).

Who Are These People?

But who are these people as a class? Not who is behind the 'attacks' or 'occupations' because some might as easily be provocations by the establishment as genuine acts of revolt, but who is participating not only in 'new' models of political action but in confused riots as states weaken?

We have written elsewhere about the new anarchism but it is the class base of this movement that interests us here - and further investigation suggests that we are not seeing something new but something very old, the blockage of the aspirations of an educated young by the failed old.

This is a movement of graduates and not of workers (though there is a separate union-driven public sector defence movement whose self interest is so apparent that even very liberal middle classes resent their claims) and of persons who are 'cleverer' than their parents.

We get back to Marx. As in the print revolution of the 1500s, a revolution in communications has created a new technological and economic structure where value has shifted from one generation to another but where the necessary political or cultural change is lagging.

It is an old theme of these postings but the new technologies are not so much removing the ability of intermediaries to make surplus value for themselves out of their oligarchical control of knowledge (the professionals, if you like) but are making an older generation of intermediaries wholly redundant.

Paul Mason's Analysis

The young who know things the old do not know, including the absurdity of many of the rules designed to hold the old system together, are using new technologies to combine and protest in ways that are entirely new.

A recent Left Futures posting referring back to an earlier analysis of Paul Mason of BBC Newsnight that gave a number of reasons why this needs to be understood and, to a degree, embraced if we are to transit from one world to another without repression and killing. This is our gloss on that work.

  • Young graduate women are emerging who are not stuck in the feminist resentments of the older generation but simply get on with practical organisation in their own interest and what they believe to be right - Mason is right that educated women are at the core of protest
  • Ideological formulations are dead. There will be Marxists, conspiracy theorists, faith-based loons, environmentalists and liberals but none of them can control a propaganda process or impose an organisational model that stifles internal dissent or insists on a 'line'.
  • An international 'elite' of protesters is emerging who operate quasi-professionally across borders or who supply technical skills across a borderless internet. This is an analogue with the intellectual diaspora dissidents who fuelled the rise of anarchism and Marxism-Leninism.
  • The central economic issue is debt at a time of lack of employment opportunity. The protests might rapidly disappear with job creation or free education and debt forgiveness but States are in no position to deliver these during the current crisis.
  • If this problem of a generation without prospects and with old codgers getting in the way is causing difficulties in the West, then it is boiling up to violent proportions in the many countries where there is now a massive demographic bulge of frustrated urban young.
  • Organised labour is pretty well bankrupt as a revolutionary force. It has been a conservative force against 'clercs' since the 1940s but it has degenerated further into being representative largely of those who are already ensconced within the State - a truly conservative interest at this time.
  • Protest as 'fun' - this should not be underestimated because contemporary protest permits people to 'take a day off' and join a camp. There is a history of carnival and, of course, situationist theory to fall back on, quite consciously so amongst urban anarchists.

There is also no reliable narrative of 'threat' to hold the majority against protest. Truth to tell, a lot of armchair establishment supporters are equally supporters of protest and see no contradiction in this - we have seen churchmen and Tory MPs expressing sympathy for the frustrations of the young.

The educated young activist now has a better understanding of power relations than his forebears. The older generation would move forward on idealistic hope and then become crushed by defeat. The young do not run on hope but on manipulative skills as effective as those of their opponents.

Internal Contradictions

Of course, this fluidity and lack of ideology is also a weakness in the street. Occupy events have proved weaker on the ground than they might have been because they have attracted every type of conspiracy nut, weak-minded New Ager and middle class narcissist looking for self-expression.

It also brings us back to class because, as Mason points out, young activists are driven by this core understanding of power but not by allegiance to class or, bluntly, any real comprehension of economics.

The situationism in contemporary revolt is there for all to see and I am certainly not saying that the young should adopt Marxist models for success, quite the contrary since the end result would be bureaucratism, authoritarianism and soullessness, but there are issues here of organisation.

We are only suggesting, by referring to Marx, that this is, despite its lack of self awareness, a form of class action because it is based, despite itself, fundamentally on economics and on technological changes to the means of production and that this leads to some interesting 'internal contradictions'.

But the intellectual base for rejecting Marxism as anything more than analytical tool is well summarised in a quotation between French intellectuals that Mason offers. Foucault advises Deleuze:

We had to wait until the nineteenth century before we began to understand the nature of exploitation [a nod to Marx], and, to this day [second half of the twentieth century], we have yet to fully comprehend the nature of power [which Mason and we think is now being fully understood]

The problem of organisation is a profound one because the current model of power relations only offers inclusion within liberal democratic coalition-building or the sort of bureaucratic organisational ability that allowed socialists to out-manouevre the anarchists between 1910 and 1940.

The New Anarchism?

The logic of current protest is different but it is, as yet, unclear how it can 'organise' at all. The fundamental self interest of the young and the Darwinian struggle between memes within that generation suggests that their primary tools are their effect on the market and withdrawal from the law.

By withdrawal from the law, I mean not lawlessness but something entirely different and more dangerous to the system - forcing the elite to acknowledge that its authoritarianism is unenforceabe in any practical sense. The internet language of 'work-arounds' when systems fail springs to mind.

The protests are, we are told by Mason, based on 'autonomy' and personal freedom within a democratic framework and (self-evidently) on opposition to state-protected special interests such as Wall Street and the finance markets.

This is where things start to get confused because if Anonymous and libertarian socialists are anti-capitalist, it is also clear that the Greek riots are about preserving an economic system that was socialist in the worst sense - corrupt at every level including the level of the working classes themselves.

The libertarian young Italians coming to London to escape local corruption are in direct class opposition to young public service workers expecting to be feather-bedded for life. Anonymous is with the first and Occupy is increasingly representing the last.

Conservative Welfarism And Personal Autonomy

On the one side, hackers, anarcho-libertarians and situationists and, on the other, a special interest socialistic coalition of state workers, liberals and communitarians. These are very different movements and they cannot work long together.

The 'neo-socialists' are appealing to the police by saying that they are protesting to protect their pensions (and making headway with that argument), while the libertarians are wondering what the police are doing there anyway.

The State also needs economic growth and surplus capital to impose law and order so reducing the need for law and order to its core becomes necessary - and this is why we now have serious public debate on the treatment of sex workers and the war on drugs.

There is some complex intellectual negotiation going here - between justification for tax expenditure on guns and butter, about what constitutes threat to the people and what constitutes threat to the State and about public intrusion into private life.

The Anonymous campaign against child pornography and the Lulzsec exposure of child porn sites is interesting because it drives an unexpected wedge between left-libertarians on appropriate behaviour and accountability but also offers populist support for 'right' laws. This is 'work-around' in action.

States & Protest

It is likely that States have identified or are identifying elite operatives and are already busy not merely tracking but 'turning' and infiltrating them. The operatives are often well-heeled and not representative of most of the young by any means - state funds can permit new entrants to rise rapidly.

There is also a rather sinister potential turn to events that the more naive activists may not see. State bureaucrats may see protesters as allies in bringing the market to heel and protecting the tax base for precisely the sort of activities that Anonymous was set to expose.

Paradoxically, the alliance of States and liberal coalitions might be rather convenient for authority when faced by the demands of finance capital and the Occupy and Anonymous movements may be useful in shifting the terms of political trade back towards 'auctoritas'.

Yet another issue for the protest movements is one already well identified in the mainstream media ... er, what do they actually want?

The 'internal contradiction' here is that much of the rhetoric is anti-State and yet the jobs and free education can only be provided by a strong State with a decent tax base and here we have a possible convergence of State and liberal aspirations at the expense of personal autonomy and libertarianism.

Liberty or Jobs?

In both New York and London, the Occupy protesters appear to be targeting finance capital rather than government and to be drifting from the territory of Anonymous (which emphasises state action as generally 'wrong') to territory associated with socialism and social liberalism (more state is needed).

This internal contradiction is profound, mirroring that between anarchism and socialism in the late nineteenth century and representing the difference between libertarian ideology and the self interest of the coalition of the vulnerable threatened with penury by the current crisis.

We are already seeing libertarians moving away from the Occupy Movement as it falls into the hands of the traditional Left (not helped by an Archbishop backing it).

The point is that the real reason we are in economic crisis is not 'imperialism' (which is unwieldy and expensive but probably pays its way in market access and access to resources) but the massively greater social spending and job creation programmes of social liberal states.

When Anonymous strikes at US behaviour in Iraq, it is striking at the State as both imperialist and liberal capitalist (including its size and welfare basis) whereas when Occupy protesters seize territory, they want the State to remain big but do the 'right thing' i.e. give them economic prospects and security.

Anarcho-Libertarianism or Neo-Socialism?

This internal contradiction is so profound because it is about whether the new generation will be led by neo-socialists wanting to over-turn capitalism by means of the State or anarcho-libertarians wanting to get the State out of the market and stop supporting some big capitalists.

The unpredictability of things lies in another point made by Mason - that there are a multiplicity of narratives from which both the young and the dissatisfied older citizens can draw.

Fundamental world views do not change but the expression of those views can change very rapidly under the influence of the internet. Support or withdrawal of support from causes no longer takes place within a narrative of 'solidarity' or 'loyalty' but one of 'truth' or 'effectiveness'.

This is why older generation liberals are confused and are becoming reactionary. There is now no fixed feminist, black or gay narrative any more than there is a nationalist or working class narrative. There is just 'my' or 'our' narrative according to who I am or to the interest of my adoptive tribe.

Constant self development and neo-tribalism mean enormous adaptability and flexibility but they also difficulty in pinning people down to organised collective action as opposed to participation in an action organised by others from which they may withdraw at a moment's notice.

In this struggle between modes of resistance, nothing is as yet predictable. Church, unions, police and military may join the protesters for a neo-socialist solution or States may have to adapt to situational anarchism by reducing their scope and being better at what they do. Either is possible.

The Sinister Soft Corporatism of the Lobbyists

For one definition of chaos, take a look at the state of relations between business and government in the United Kingdom. The last Government left behind a very strange state of affairs and the Coalition Government seems constantly on the hop as it tries to catch up.

What The Coalition Inherited

In essence, New Labour adopted a soft corporatist strategy where it encouraged 'creative' solutions to policy problems from business but under conditions where lobbyists could often run rings around civil servants and politicians with minimal experience of business and finance.

Some of what happened during those years was downright outrageous - interventions in society took place that were palpably linked to the special interests of technocrats floating between favoured parts of the business world and the State.

Philip Snape of PSA Communications, in PR Week, neatly let the cat out of the bag. Moaning that the Government 'has no money to fund new and interesting policy ideas', he then added:

This was not a problem before 2010 when Labour seemingly put money into every idea it was presented with ... Lobbyists now have to be far more creative - proposing policy solutions that do not have price tags attached to them.

Ahem! The role of the lobbyist is self-evidently to divert cash or regulation in their favour. But who, at any time, is able to assess the effects on ordinary people or the costs to the interests of those who are not represented? We hope Government does this for us but it seems to have been merely collusive.

The State of the Nation

One of the most sinister cases under New Labour involved the quadrupling of innocent children on an official DNA database as a result of a change in the law which resulted ultimately from collusion between the State and special interests.

The mess inside the Ministery of Defence could be replicated across Government with big IT projects inside the NHS only the tip of an iceberg but this particular case encapsulated the dangers of opaque 'sofa' dealings between lobbyists, the State and rather dim politicians.

Nor were these issues just a cost to the taxpayer (an obsession of the petit-bourgeois Right), they were systematic distortions of the market and they allowed special interests to promote the worst sort of social engineering on the population at the expense of the most innocent and vulnerable.

The case of Liam Fox expresses neatly the tragedy of modern politics in this area. The man was undoubtedly clearing up the mess left behind by the previous Government but he simply forgot that the latter had put in 'rules' (the Ministerial Code) designed to restrain their own instincts.

Now the lobbying industry is in near panic. They present its very highly priced services as in the public interest (and sometimes they are) but they are also a distortion of the market in many cases, ones where a player with cash and contacts can drive a policy at the expense of competitors and public.

It should, in terms of common justice, be outrageous that people have to pay to bring any idea that is in the public interest to the attention of decision-makers and it is remarkable but very predictable that neither State nor political class have not reformed public access in that direction.

The Geoffrey Norris Problem

Back in September, the Government announced that it would be setting up a 'partnerships unit' to co-ordinate relations between Whitehall and some of the nation's 'big brands' in order to promote 'new marketing and PR tie-ups' (PR week).

The head of that unit is close to Steve Hilton who, of course, has his links to the new economy stable via Google. This interest in the new economy is a serious commitment within Cameron's modernising Tory circle.

At the time of the Government's announcement of the 'partnership unit', Google confirmed that a close Cameron aide, Tim Chatwin, who worked closely with Hilton whose wife is VP of Google's Global Communications would be taking a top strategic communications role in the US.

The claimed long term objective (though perhaps rather that of the top end of the lobby industry) was to find a 'fixer' for State-business relations equivalent to the remarkable Geoffrey Norris. It is not conspiratorial to think that the 'old economy' might be getting a tad nervous about its own access.

Peter Bingle of Bell Pottinger revealed a great deal of the nexus between State and Big Business when he complained: "If you are the Chief Executive of a FTSE 100 company, there is nobody at Number 10 you can pick up the phone and talk to."

The Lobbyists Get Nervous

The gut left-wing reaction to this is horror but this is half-baked. The FTSE-100 and the 'big brands' are absolutely essential to the well-being of our late-capitalist economy in troubled times. Their contribution to the tax base and employment requires that they be understood by the State.

Understood, yes. Listened to in order to be understood, yes. Kow-towed too and given special treatment under cloak of privilege, almost certainly not. We will have more to say on direct relations between State and Big Business below.

The big lobbyists were getting antsy because Cameron's new boys looked like amateurs at fixing things for the 'boyos'. They were looking back at Blair's approach to private-public partnership with undoubted nostalgia. Mr. Fox's amateurism might be rather useful in the case for an Ancien Regime Restoration.

Feeling against lobbyists only hit the headlines because of Fox (just as the expenses scandal focused a more general distrust of politicians and the hacking scandal on an underlying suspicion of journalists). What insiders always knew was now entering the thick skulls of the middle classes.

The consequent mood for 'reform' is inchoate. It is not that someone is blocking it deliberately but that all those who could reform have too much to lose from it. They have no easy alternative plan to mollify the cynical public. It is tough enough trying to be credible about reforming bankers.

Whether big business lobbyists, Parliamentarians, print journalists or bankers, the entire system has been set up on the assumption of the value of intermediaries. Any reform almost inevitably threatens to break apart the very system on which a whole political and economic culture depends.

This is not just a British problem. Many Americans remain aghast at the fact that Wall Street has scarcely been touched by reform as they would understand it. In the European Parliament, the vote against reducing very high expenses at a time of serious crisis was derisory.

It is as if an entire system of beneficiaries of the three decades before the 2008 Crash are simply burying their heads in the sand and hoping that all the protest and anger will just simply evaporate if they can only hang on for the next two or three years. They may be right. They may not.

On Revolt

The Occupy Movement is probably not as significant as it likes to think it is but draconian and often unjust magisterial sentencing and PR campaigns in the Evening Standard about rioters and students may not deter Greek-style revolt in the coming years.

At least two investigative operations that were highly marginal or did not exist before the current crisis have played a major role in getting the lobbyist issue up there alongside the other scandals. Spinwatch and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism have diligently provided what data there is to be had.

It has to be said that a) what they expose is often rather small-scale stuff compared to the massive machinery to be found in Washington and increasingly in Brussels and b) they are still not exposing the precise methodologies of influence and their actual effects on policies that affect the population.

These rather conventional activists and journalists still tend to prefer to be outraged and then assume that we will be outraged in turn by the 'facts' but what we really lack, in the long term, is a cogent explanation of how our lives are changed by the actions of this curious industry.

Revolts against the elite are usually crushed on the State's reasonable assumption that the middle classes would rather have a bad Government than the mob but there is reason to believe that the closed 'meritocratic' elite that has emerged in the last three decades is seriously trying public patience.

The danger here is that the transition from an old economy to a new economy might mean that the old ruling elite (those being marked out by degrees in successive scandals) will be regarded as eminently sacrificeable by those in the middle class with a stake in the future.

The Problem of New Labour

The lobbyists' attempt to restore pre-2008 Blairite corporatism has to be seen in this context - as part of a more general attempt by those who made their pile before 2008 and who are still doing rather well to hold on to the commanding heights of the State.

New Labour, still rather lack-lustre under its decent but uncharismatic makeweight Leader, made great political capital out of the Fox case but it still does not have a viable 'reform' agenda that would take it out of this establishment nexus that increasingly troubles the voter. Cameron has everything to play for.

While the lobbyists moaned about the lack of a Geoffrey Norris and as the latest stage in the soft-shoe shuffle between Google and Number 10 was taking place, Milliband (E.) was 'encouraging' Parliamentary candidates to divulge details of their meetings with lobbyists.

At that time (September 2011), New Labour candidates were being 'asked' to provide details of meetings with lobbyists, expenses and voting records on their web sites. This was faintly ridiculous - asking and encouraging looked weak. Demanding would have looked stronger.

But, as PR Week pointed out in its report of September 9th, many New Labour MPs come from a lobbying background. The worst kept secret in British politics is just how few MPs under a certain age have had any life outside the political class and the political caste in business, the NGOs and the trades unions.

And Now ...

Fast forward to this month and the wake of the Fox scandal. The lobby industry goes into over drive to distance itself from Mr. Werritty, probably correctly. Its criticism, however, increasingly looks like a trades union sending a scab to Coventry.

A promised Statutory Register of Lobbyists might rather suit the industry because only a community with the resources to comply will be able to get access to its protections yet, until now, they have been fighting it because the costs will have outweighed the closed shop benefits.

That position has changed with the recent scandal. The Register had looked, before then, as if, it might not so much be kicked into the long grass as be quietly manipulated into an exclusive closed shop arrangement by the professionals.

This is why the Fox scandal is particularly unwelcome. The Register is now not only back on the agenda but it has woken up liberal activists, small businesses and NGOs (and smaller and perfectly respectable lobby shops) that a Register fixed between the State and the Industry might weaken their position.

Instead of the Register creating formal protocols and transparency, it is, without a challenge, in danger of privileging the well capitalised, distancing the political class even further from political struggle and ensuring statutory backing for rules of confidentiality that undermine freedom of information.

What The Lobbyists Say

Here is Iain Anderson of the Cicero Group on October 20th:

... why was Adam Werritty allowed anywhere near the Secretary of State? Werritty was not part of the APCC or CIPR Public Affairs or any other group ... a recognised lobbyist he was not.

And here's Gavin Devine, COO of MHP Communications in the same spread:

A new structure will set us even further apart from the 'amateurs' who are almost always the cause of lobbying scandals ... Allowing some organisations, individuals and even professions to lobby unfettered while subjecting others to regulation would not simply be unjust. It would also be ineffective.

Anderson makes some reasonable points and he does call for the inclusion of unions and charities but the implication here is obvious - that regulation requires a soft corporatist compact where the lobbyists are recognised by a closed shop of institutions that coincidentally (?) can keep prices high.

Devine is more explicit that access to our political class should be entirely in the hands of professionals. The dangers of this to the functioning of liberal democracy where the professionals and the politicians are effectively the same people appears not to cross his mind.

The closed nature of this policy-making is not entirely down to the 'discretion' of the lobbyist. Government loathes communicating with its electorate as we shall see.

The Small Business Position

An editorial in the November Edition of South East Business (a magazine for small regional business) lambasts the conduct of Francis Maude in telling Mark Taylor, a Surrey businessman, advising in his own valuable time, that he cannot talk about meetings organised by the Cabinet Office.

Taylor is angry because he is being gagged about something of great importance to him and others - the exclusion of SMEs from government contracts (the sort of contracts where well paid lobbyists can have an influence). All he can say is:

I have heard enough stories to convince me that far from government procurement becoming more open to SMEs, it is going the other way.

Whether he is right or wrong (he has his own angle), his narrative tells us that the cosy world of the elite will still try to silence critics by bringing them into its consultative fold. It is an old trick and it often works but Mr. Taylor is clearly not 'sophisticated' enough to comply. He is not 'clubbable'.

I like small businessmen. They are feisty and operate outside the cosy world of the 'professionals' who thrive on secrecy. They are not 'politically correct'. Taylor says this conduct is undemocratic and South East Business goes into rhetorical editorial overdrive suggesting Maude reads Solzhenitsyn.

This may seem over the top to the sophisticated elite but it is telling us something about the weakening tolerance of Middle English businessmen under pressure from late paying big customers, regulations skewing the market against them (and adding costs) and a State that does nothing useful for them.

Coalition Responses

Nevertheless, the Coalition appears to be keeping its nerve. We are awaiting a consultation paper with a view to legislation next year. New Labour is mouthing platitudes and playing politics, rather pleased to have anything (in the Fox business) that will get it back on the front pages and appear 'outraged'.

There has also been recent talk about allowing the CEOs of the top 50 companies direct access to Government (perhaps to dish the lobbyists). Six Ministers from three Departments will be key points of contact for a select group of exporters and inward investors.

The TBIJ (which analysed this) was negative but I am not so sure. All the TBIJ criticisms are valid but we may be looking at the 'lesser evil' while the State considers how to unravel the dodgy half-baked corporatism of the last Government.

Perhaps direct access, in our current state of economic war, with the serious national commercial players without the intermediation of lobbyists is precisely what is needed. There is no criticism by TBIJ that could not be covered by subsequent legislation.

Tougher rules on transfers of political and state administrative personnel into the private sector, rules on engaging with competitive (especially small business) interests, clearer confidentiality and conflict of interest guidelines, and rules on party donations in a conflict of interest context are all feasible.

Prospects For Real Reform

The point is that direct access between various institutions and the representatives of the electorate, one that cuts out the intermediaries except in clearly defined circumstances, could be beneficial. It could certainly start to unravel the soft corporatism and embedded group think of the last Administration.

Do we trust the Coalition to manage this well? Well, that is another matter. But there is no reason to believe that Cameron is not aware of the issues. Back in February 2010, this is what he said:

We don't know who is meeting whom. We don't know whether any favours are being exchanged. We don't know which outside interests are wielding unhealthy influence ... I believe that secret corporate lobbying, like the expenses scandals, goes to the heart of why people are so fed up with politics ... I believe it's time we shone the light of transparency on lobbying in our country.

Was this just a bit of electioneering at a vulnerable opponent? Was he lying? I don't think so. I think it does concern him but he is not finding it easy to turn round what amounts to a system of self interest and special interest. The speech is worth reading in full.

The Balance of Interests

There is a fine balance here. All interests in society, without exception, including private individuals, should be able to put their case on the effects of legislation and regulation and offer ideas for the betterment of the commonweal to their elected representatives.

All commercial approaches to the State and the State's responses, subject to national economic security, should be conducted openly without spurious appeals to confidentiality that generally provide the edge that one special interest thinks they are paying for by hiring a 'professional'.

There is also a space for informed specialists between State and public who can act as barristers in presenting the case of special interests to the State. And there are people who genuinely (rightly or wrongly) feel that that what they have to say is in the national interest.

But what there should not be is a professional closed shop that is designed to create a mystique around political access, raise prices and stop elected representatives from talking to anyone who is not like themselves.

A wider closed shop of collusive sub-elites is treading on thin ice if it thinks that it can busk its way through the current crisis towards a cosy European-style regulatory state where costs are shunted down the line or on to future generations. These people are under scrutiny from both Left and Right.

In Praise of Mr. Seddon …

I recently got hold of a copy of a new memoir by Mark Seddon, former Editor of Tribune, past elected member of New Labour's National Executive Committee, UN correspondent for Al-Jazeera and now back in London as Director of the People's Pledge.

The fact that he says some really, really nice things about me on pages 153-154 and 186 (we have worked together on this or that project since the mid-1990s) should not cause doubt about my thoroughly straight assessment that this book is very good indeed.

But this is not a book review. I can simply say that anyone who really wants to know what life was like for an honest man in a dishonest political party will find this book entertaining and informative. The cartoons by Martin Rowson, an old Seddon mucker, add some tasty icing to the cake.

This is not the only public reference to my work in the Labour Movement in the mid-1990s. I wrote background pieces for Lobster some years ago, just to have it on the record, and NEC slate candidate Liz Davies also gave a good mention some years ago that was not entirely accurate but well-meaning.

Even Mark (for lack of space) over-eggs my guru status in the formation and running of the internal Grassroots Alliance in 1995/1996. Andy Howell, Trevor Fisher and Ann Black (still on the NEC and working hard) are owed equal billing for constructing the core centre-right element of it, Labour Reform.

Similarly, the project, though firmly under my pragmatic strategic direction, would have been impossible without the immense subtlety and organisational talents of my Left counterpart Redmond O'Neill who was to play a central role in Ken Livingstone's return to the centre stage in London.

What interests me more are the two small vignettes surrounding my entry in Mark's story, both of which tell us a great deal about why New Labour failed - and fail it did, in terms of both core economic competence and ability to provide a sustainable commonweal for the most vulnerable.

The first has a prominent political journalist 'cautioning' Mark against becoming involved in our pitch to get independent grassroots members elected to the NEC because he had 'heard' that the Blairites would 'probably succeed in stopping us'. I have to assume that Mark is reporting him correctly.

The second has Gordon Brown calling Mark in to say that he was pleased that he was running (thus the tensions with the Blairites were clearly very early in their making) but that he should be careful in allying with 'Trots' (the internal party term for the very tiny band of 'revolutionary socialists' in the Party).

What do these two stories tell us about the British political establishment in 1995/6? It tells us two things. The first was that journalists were already ceasing to report in a detached way and were engaged in the construction of a group-think about what was appropriate behaviour.

Yes, this was just the friendly tip of one journalist to another but it was also a piece of advice that did the political classes' leaderships' job for it. It tried to persuade a moderate and sensible person not to join a sincere group of grassroots radicals because it might be bad (we presume) for his career.

This was clearly not intended by the journalist. He was just trying to be helpful. But a journalist who ceases to be detached and gives advice on a political matter is slipping over a line - and the British Establishment has long since slipped over a line that separates it from the mass of the population.

The caution was probably right - from a careerist perspective - but Mark decided to do what was right. The democratic vote was overwhelmingly for his position despite a hugely aggressive operation by the Party machine.

I am not particularly attacking one single journalist. He gave honest advice which was well meant but, whether politics or economics, the general habits of British journalism were already those, in the mid-1990s, of pragmatic group-think based on private briefings, 'things heard'.

Journalists are not wholly neutral in politics. Opinions become aligned with primary sources in State, Party and even Business, those who wield power - neutral between elements in the elite but not between elites and their subjects.

What was relatively trivial in our case (if rather non-democratic) became serious when no journalist until Peston was prepared to question the economic assumptions of that same elite. That failure to question meant that they were surprised and then we were surprised by a system breakdown.

Now we come to Mr. Brown. His opinion was no doubt a tactical one - the Grassroots Alliance would have crumbled quickly without two sensible proven mainstream Party players like Ann Black and Mark Seddon so it was sensible to try to frighten Mark into distancing himself.

If you know Mark, then such tactics are likely to flow over him like water off a duck's back. He will give that disarming smile of his, crack a self-deprecating joke and suggest lunch at the Gay Hussar. What is disturbing about Brown's advice is that he had more of a point than Mark credits.

The moderates, who actually ran the Campaign on a moderate and simple democratic platform, did have Trotskyists in their ranks in a junior capacity as engines for mobilising the vote (Trots may be a little mad but they work damn hard).

What Brown never asked because he is a surprisingly unsophisticated thinker is why Labour right-wing traditionalists, centre-left radicals and democrats were working with these people in the first place? Probably because they had nowhere else to go.

In a series of clumsy 'Stalinist' moves designed to crush dissent, Labour loyalists who believed in simple values such as consultation and democracy were pushed ever outwards by a combination of union self interest, a centralising party machine and competing kitchen cabinets in Parliament.

We return to group-think - a relatively small coterie of professional politicians and special interests were so determined on acquiring power that they did not consider that a small group of Party members might be speaking for the Party and that some compromise might have been a cheap and useful investment.

Far from revolutionary, the Alliance was conservative. It wanted a genuine partnership between members and elected representatives for the common weal. Its trajectory to the Left reminded one of nothing so much as that of the Russian liberals into the narodniki under the Tsar - mere desperation.

Be all that as it may, the Alliance won an outstanding victory that was meaningless. Elected members were a Potemkin village. Power was exercised entirely by a decidely dodgy Party civil service and then by an autocratic gang who drove the nation to petty warfare and, ultimately, economic ruination.

Do not misunderstand - our challenge to the elite was totally absurd, pure existentialism. It ruined political careers and changed nothing. And, yet, I cannot regret it for a moment ... because it was the right thing to do, something that was not mere pragmatism within a closed culture.

Today, I am largely de-politicised. I find myself unable to criticise the Conservative element within the Coalition with the force that I might once have done because I think of the alternative - an authoritarian, economically incompetent, war-mongering, centralised operation with a disdain for civil liberties.

England (which I see now as more meaningful than the UK) struggles to manage appalling levels of debt in a crumbling world economy and continues to blow a small fortune on foreign adventurism while 25% of the over-55s subsist on £24 per day and students pile up debt just to get an education.

Whatever will 'save' England, it won't be the corrupt 'official' Left within the existing system - not without precisely the democratic revolution inside it that we advocated fifteen years ago.

It will either be a steady pair of hands from its old Tory enemy or some revolutionary transformation of a Parliamentary and Party system that is way past its sell-by date and may not survive a second failure by another Great Party of State.

But do I get excited by all this? No, I do not. Good men and women once saw this coming and did what they thought was right. I learned a hard truth in the process. There are wise and good people across the political spectrum, rich and poor - but there are no wise or good political parties.

Facebook Groups, Spin & The NGO Sector

One of the benefits of the relatively new approach of Facebook to its Groups is that they can be used for quite finely tuned and flexible qualitative shared intelligence gathering.

Facebook Groups

You can set a Group at secret, closed or open levels of engagement, gather in like minds or 'sources' and share information from the rest of the internet that would otherwise take a great deal of time to put together on your own.

The point of it all is 'sharing' but the Group's Founder(s) must be prepared to put up more material than others and manage the Group - allowing them to die if they are not doing their job, moderating lightly to keep things on track or keep out 'trolls' and perhaps letting them go to float free in the market.

The Group tool is qualitative not quantitative, focused not broad, and biased towards its own members (which has to be taken into account as group-think develops). It is just that - a tool. Groups come and they go with their practical value to their Members.

It is not a replacement for a 'newswire' approach to information (Google News is better at that) nor for in-depth and focused research or investigation but it is a useful tool nevertheless - if only to counter the general group-think of the mainstream media or political process.

The Value of Groups

Currently (meaning the last three months), such Groups have given us exceptional insights into the recent riots in the UK, the Occupy Movement in the US, the diffuse nature of the radical right and the perhaps insidious rise of faith-based politics within the West.

They have supplied insights into odd corners of international affairs, the tensions between libertarianism and the increasing cultural authoritarianism of what likes to be called the Left and the theories and movements surrounding up-coming trends like trans-humanism and the rediscovery of mythic narrative.

Nor do we own these insights - all Members of a particular Group share in the benefits, disproportionately in the case of the free riders who just watch and read for their own benefit. Anyone can draw their own conclusions from the flow of data.

Understandably enough, the Groups are particularly useful on mediating between street experts on privacy, hacking and the free internet and less technically advanced users. The best users, of course, do not speak at other Members but with them and you may have to put up with provocative tub-thumping.

Some Trends

Three trends stand out - the flow of 'institute of the bleeding obvious' research from universities trying to justify their funding, the effect of social media in countering rather than endorsing propaganda from special interest NGOs and campaigns and the ability to cut out official discourse as 'distrusted'.

It is this last that has most commentators excited but we suspect they are exaggerating the effect. In fact, conspiracy theory is usually alluded to humorously. What is shared critically are examples of 'spin' and half-truths' and a new realism about the 'interest' that dictates a news release or statement.

It is not that authority is seen now as actively lying so much as that it is clearly far less competent than it has claimed to be and is often trying to buy time or cover up the inconsistencies and internal contradictions in its own behaviour. It is this latter effect that social media is wryly exposing.

'Good' and 'Bad' Authority

But what is more interesting is that no authority is now immune from analysis. The world is no longer being divided up so clearly into bad and good authority by which progressive authoritarians, NGOs and academics are somehow more virtuous than states, the military and business.

Things have become vastly more complex as it becomes clearer that progressive campaigns, NGOS and the universities are also using spin and manipulation to try to win over our minds and so our time and money. And that these 'good' organisations tergiversate and make excessive claims too.

One case we have taken an interest in is the quickening and intelligent critique of the celebrity-driven sex trafficking campaign by Laura Agustin, an academic with a much deeper and more humane analysis of what is going on under globalisation than many in the 'rescue industry'.

Another case has been the conflict between NGOs over the aid given to Ethiopia with 'political' and 'rights' NGOs spinning like mad while aid-based humanitarian NGOs struggle (it would seem, successfully) to protect their charges. The blogger Daniel Berhane is a good source on this story.

The New Complexity

The social media and the blogosphere now enable the received ideas of alleged progressives (often in odd alliance with moralising conservatives) to be challenged from the ground up instead of having the wider population simply accept passive receipt of simple 'broadcast messages'.

The Ethiopian case is particularly interesting because one suspects that the 'outraged' progressives and the BBC were quite surprised that the establishment did not cave in to their 'evidence' but questioned it and clearly assisted in that questioning being made public.

However, this message that truth and analytical argument may be returning after the era of spin and manipulation may be premature because it depends on a greater struggle for control of technology analogous to that over the free print press and censorship over the last 500 years.

The truth is (and we do not take sides on the Ethiopian case) that the critique of Ethiopia got the broadcast coverage and the critique of the critique was only read amongst the knowledgeable but this imbalance between news 'grazing' and the actual conversion of news into power may be changing.

The Primer (Again!) on Spin

'Spin' arises from centralised media that broadcast information through intermediaries. The journalists who control information are subject to severe time and resource constraints and so are susceptible to special interest manipulation through dossiers. This is no more than Nick Davies' 'churnalism'.

Politicians (Ed Miliband's sound bite performances are now merely embarrassing), business (with more natural ease), NGOs and universities are forced into this model of simplification of language and narrative. This has dominated politics and culture for the last two decades.

But the combination of the blogosphere and of specialist online feature journalism with the sharing function of Facebook and other tools (Linked-In, Twitter and Google+) means that the 'official version' delivered through the mainstream media can be challenged and used to mobilise action.

This can lead to a reversal of the classic position of the mainstream media. They are now just 'them' (alongside the state and business), whereas once they were, literally, intermediary between the forces of order and the forces of change, brokers between the State and the people.

The Occupy Movement

For example, it became clear that one of the early drivers of the Occupy Movement was outrage at the failure to report events by the media. It was assumed that this was deliberate (when it was probably simply disinterest in small protests as poor copy) and class-based, media as tool of bankers.

One trigger for that outrage was a scan of the New York Times showing an anti-protester change timed (allegedly) to a call from a spin doctor.

Similarly, the 'investment' of sponsorship by JP Morgan in the NYPD (coincidental or not) was exposed by bloggers not the mainstream media. Yes, as one blogger suggests, the funding could be innocent and just crassly timed, but it should have been discussed at a 'higher media level' as relevant news.

The point is that the mainstream media allowed this story to be appropriated by the margins and conspiracy theorists. But let us close with an example of a communication from one of our 'Institutes of the Bleeding Obvious', one that pinpoints the root of the problem in the attitudes of authority.

What Exactly Do Charities Do?

Back in June, the UK Charity Commission published research it had commissioned from Sheffield Hallam University that said that charities were not spelling out how they benefit the public.

Trustees could, it would seem, rabbit on about aims and targets but not about practical benefits and yet that is what most people who give to charity really want to hear. Instead (our opinion, not Sheffield Hallam's), they get a lot of passive-aggressive normative language and chuggers down the Strand.

Here is Plan UK Director of Communications. Leigh Daynes, in the July 8th Edition of PR Week: "Often charities bamboozle the public with jargon and faux management speak when they're sitting on a gold mine of human interest stories." The PR industry always wants case studies.

In fact, I worry about this statement because it implies that the alternative is invasions of client privacy and 'Little Nell' stories to tug at our hearts. This is not what we need. We need the provision of clear data about something that might embarrass some NGOs - actual delivery and efficient administration.

And this brings us back to the social media which are in a constant state of flux. NGOs and the media itself are no longer going to be taken at their face value. No longer is the assumption that righteous 'good' people cannot be critiqued. No one is now not subject to analysis from their peers.

 

Exaro – New Fleet-Street Based Investigative Web Site

Field trials have now started for Exaro, the new investigative website edited by Mark Watts and financed according to a business plan developed by figures experienced in the media and the City.

The founders are making no secret of the risks involved but they think that the time is right for a commercial approach to one of the greatest informational problems of our age - what Nick Davies called 'churnalism', that is a media that simply takes material from PROs and launders it to the public.

This may be unfair on a lot of journalists in the mainstream media who are working very hard to maintain traditional standards but the economics of big media groups are working against them. Resources are spread too thinly and the temptation is to gear copy to the quick advertising or revenue fix.

Although it has mindfully based itself at the corner of Fleet Street with El Vino's and The Olde Cheshire Cheese as its locals (in a nod to traditionalism), it is not an 'indulgence' where 'old salts' try to recapture the 'golden age' of Sunday Times Insight and Granada. Those days are now gone.

Nor is it yet another Foundation-financed ideological shop-front for eager exposes that simply take dossiers from the 'good guys', dossiers that may be no more reliable than those of the 'bad guys' in the security and intelligence services of warring nations. Dossiers are dossiers whoever supplies them.

Exaro is different because, although its motto is 'holding power to account' (all power, that is, including the cultural power of NGOs), it is not only entirely online but it is holding to a tight commercial business model. It is prepared to take the 'hit' of the high cost of evidence-based journalism.

Undoubtedly things will not be so simple in the real world. I won't second-guess the Editor who can speak for himself but the attempt to create an honest and evidence-based investigative journalism that pays its way as a business is undertaken in good faith.

As of yesterday, the site can be accessed for free (for a limited time) by anyone interested enough to register at http://www.exaronews.com/

Registrants are warned that what they will see is perhaps only 50% of the capacity at eventual subscription rates but there are already some very interesting stories that show real energy amongst the small team of experienced investigators and young talent after scarcely six months since start-up.

Now, I am assiduous about revealing my interest in anything so let me be clear. The concept was developed over a considerable period of time by me and a small group of people, including Mark, who were disturbed by the flow of unevidenced material appearing in the mainstream media.

As a group, we also saw the opportunities provided by the sheer weight of unanalysed material increasingly available under various FOI regimes and the new culture of openness. Exaro is not aligned with Wikileaks but it recognises the role Assange has taken in making data widely available.

The issue is not (as Assange would probably agree) just making data available but understanding and interpreting it - and, in this role, the death of the traditional journalist has been much exaggerated. The public and business need reliable narrators and Exaro aspires to be just that - reliable.

As of now, I have been helping to build the business side. I (as an individual but not as TPPR) have a minority shareholding and I am a Non-Executive Director in that capacity but the editorial is ring-fenced and I have no involvement in it - and, indeed, I will be written out of the office completely in six months.

If the Editor wants to and he can find an evidenced abuse of power in my circle, then he can go for my and my friends jugular and I cannot do a thing about it. Good! Maybe I will be embarrased from an oversight. Good! I can take it. 'Courage, mon brave!'

Ethical journalism should help inspire ethical business. Our whole culture will benefit if wealth creation and the provision of information to the public are conducted in the open and according to the evidence.

With that uncharacteristic burst of idealism, I commend Exaro to you. Succeed or fail, it is the first major attempt to create an independent voice for investigative journalism along commercial lines in an online context and it is well worth the shot.

Practical Thinking, Panic & The Riots

The marketing industry has been caught out. Young males respond to messages of defiance and individualism but, when they act out the fantasy presented to them on a plate by clothes and shoes manufacturers to sell their products, we suddenly have a 'PR problem'.

But what is a 'PR problem' when it is at home? It would appear to be that point when fantasy becomes reality, when Levi's young male squaring up to riot police actually does square up to riot police.

We are now in the midst of yet another 'moral panic' where analysis of the long term structural causes of a social phenomenon are ignored in favour of a wave of emotion resulting in gut reactions that only store up problems for the future. No one is thinking.

The current response of the marketing community comes down to a question that is at the heart of the political crisis: does it appeal to the emotional instincts of its customer base or respond to the emotional reaction of a herd-like media and political culture in a state of confusion, ignorance and fear?

I think we have the answer: it joins in the panic and suddenly becomes 'socially responsible', meaning, in fact, conservative in the worst sense, part of the problem of suppressing discontent rather than stating firmly that it is merely responding to the mood of the time as sound business.

If people are discontented, it is not because of moral laxity but because they have reasons for discontent - local policing, lack of opportunity, overcrowding, underemployment, generational lack of respect (from the old to the young), the hypocrisy of the rich and the lack of representation by the Left.

Watch this short segment of an articulate employed black telling it like it is to the Mayor of London. This man is bright, talented and on the right side of the law but he is not happy.

He does not have to look far to see a world where others no better than he is are raking in bonuses despite bringing the country to its economic knees.

Now, for balance, watch this tough black lady taking on the rioters. The tragedy here is that small traders and property owners with little capital are being ruined and threatened by people with no capital.

Both sides have been shoved into the position of the soldiery of the competing powers in 1914. Neither side then asked why they should even be in this position and neither side is asking that question today.

Here is where one has to put in the mantra that all this does not justify the riots. The riots, of course, were not political as we generally understand them but closer to 'carnival' - anarchic, criminal and strangely authentic. People really suffered but not perhaps the people who should have done.

The most admirable reaction to the whole business was that of The (Tory) Lord Harris. He did not pontificate or moralise. He did not even try to analyse (the job of others). He dealt like a practical man with a fact and offered material assistance to the victims and called on the Government to provide jobs.

The mantra of moralistic blame from 'commentators' misses the point. The riots were a fact on the ground. They happened because they were ready to happen. It is like expecting to humiliate Germany in 1919 and not expect another war.

Business is now stuck in the middle. The selling process is an emotional process, a manipulative process, of entering into the consciousness of its targets and tweaking it into an action in the interest of the sellers. It is not much different from the classical view of magicians of their craft.

Politicians are also not much different except that they are 'channellers', responding to the emotions of the voters and seeking to manipulate them for their own ends, raising intermediary demons (the media) who, like all raised demons, are untrustworthy tricksters.

In the end, the only authentic behaviour seems to be that of the people themselves at the hard edge of the crisis - the rioters rioting in a context of their own, the police trying to do their job under difficult conditions, the victims of the rioting and those attempting to clean up afterwards.

The magistrates panicked, the politicians panicked, the media panicked and the marketeers panicked - the only people not panicking were the population at large. Listen to conversations around you and the question was always: why did this happen now? 

But this was a question avoided by the panic-stricken Establishment because it was an inconvenient question, partly because nobody knew the answer although everyone had an opinion, an opinion usually cast in terms of morality and 'oughts' rather than what was actually happening on the ground.

It does not really want to answer that question because it raises more serious questions about what the politicians and the media have been doing for the last three or four decades. It certainly raises questions about whether the political and economic system is more broken that we had all thought.

This is not the first time that the Establishment has failed to predict an event of great importance - we might start with the fall of the Soviet Union or the rise of Islamic terror but failures to predict economic collapse and urban mayhem are less forgivable because there is no excuse about lack of data.

Naturally, we should now be asking questions about the riots and how they came to be, but before jumping into bed with authoritarian moralists who wish to re-introduce the strap, conscription, hanging and all forms of social terror to a free young population, most of whom did not riot, we should ask this.

How is it that the persons we hired to govern us failed to structure a society where everyone feels they have opportunity, where perhaps one in five of the population is now on the economic edge and where policy can be made rationally before a crisis instead of irrationally after one?

We could learn a great deal from Lord Harris' humane, practical approach to the business of recovery and it strikes me as no surprise that an experienced businessman should put the rest of the panicking and hysterical elite to shame.

Libya – Pride & Prejudice

A few weeks ago, London PR agencies were stunned to get an anonymous e-mail from what purported to be the Libyan Government requesting PR support in the current crisis.

It turned out that it was genuine but what is more interesting than the sudden and uncharacteristic discovery of ethics by many in the PR industry in rejecting the offer was the amazing naivete of the Libyans themselves.

One of the first lessons that should be taught to any small country seeking to influence the UK, which is one of the few genuinely powerful centres of soft power in the global community, is that its culture is not one of truth-seeking or even of fairness but one of posturing and the rush to the middle ground.

Libya's population is a little smaller than that of London, even half that depending on how you define London, spread along the coastal strip of a country seven times the size of the UK.

We like to think that of the internal strife inside the country as the rise of Hampstead liberals against some monstrous regime straight out of the pages of Alan Moore's 'V for Vendetta' but the situation on the ground is always going to be far more complex than this.

In this context, some things are appropriate for arguing through on fair and truthful terms and some things are not. The pompous gut reaction of the UK PR industry in its trade journal is not much better ethically than the naive propagandism of a dictatorship beyond its sell-by date.

Western 'group-think' mentality, in which elites rush forward like lemmings to assess every situation as good or bad according to the lights of their own dinner party network, is precisely the blindness that led to a failure to predict the riots, the consequences of other military actions and economic crises.

We might make better decisions as a culture if, instead of posturing, we opened the door to others and listened to what they had to say on matters of context and fact, even if we draw the line at justification of removal of essential freedoms and brutal operations.

Indeed, it goes both ways. A dialogue over facts and context permits a more determined complaint over oppressions and brutalities when justifications based on security and order are no longer viable. We badly need that dialogue in our own country as rank injustices take place in the wake of the riots.

This may be a dreadful thing to say and hear, but oppressive and brutal actions may be the 'lesser evil' because of a reasonable interpretation of facts and context. A discussions of those facts and context may well help create new facts and new contexts that then make oppression and brutality absurd.

It gets better. A dialogue based on honest representation (not that one might trust a malign alliance between government propagandists and our PR industry) might well define facts and contexts that remove the justification for bad things at all - on the facts instead of bar room opinion.

These are some of the issues that do need more serious discussion before we simply takes sides:-

  • Have international law and the UN been manipulated by a few dominant powers in order to ensure the use of force?
  • What are sovereign rights nowadays and what justification and risks are there for Western liberals in over-turning them on universalist principles when these principles have not been fully debated in the official international community?
  • What precisely is the tribal and social construction of Libya and what would be the consequences in terms of sectarian strife of removing the post-colonialist structures of Khaddafi?
  • What is the importance of Libya in terms of Western energy policy and strategic control of Africa?
  • What are the costs and actual material consequences of what amounts to a civil war where the West is maintaining a deliberate policy of assisting one side?
  • What, in the real world, is the most likely outcome in terms of freedom and security (and sovereign independence) of a rebel victory?
  • What are we honestly prepared to sacrifice ourselves (given the growing desperation of our own poor) to ensure that a situation partly of our own making in terms of destruction and loss can be rectified?
  • And by what right can we (in effect) thieve assets from one place to hand over to another and not risk the very system of trust in international affairs that is at the root of London's cultural and economic power?

These are serious points that cannot be left to a ridiculous war of postures between anti-war beardies, cynical politicians and liberal ideologues. These are questions every subject of the Crown needs to ask of the Crown before giving his or her allegiance in this matter.

They relate to debates about international order, sovereign rights, the rights of peoples, the struggle for resources, the expenditure of national resources, government competence, public accountability and political governance that our elite will do anything rather than have.

That elite desperately fears that if it does so and takes decision-making out of the hands of a very small community of 'experts' who are clearly out of their depth in the world created by international capitalism and the fall of the Soviet Union, then it will not get the 'right answers' for its own survival.

But regardless of these criticisms of our own mode of undertaking policy, the real point here is that Libya is on a hiding to nothing in seeking PR support in the West. Its image is 'bust' because the elites of the West have come to a view based only on a few general principles.

No one who decides policy will speak to them until their Leader is removed. Western Governments will do everything in their power, with the connivance of their own media, to deny them any platform and what they say will not be reported in detail or entirely fairly.

The Governments of the West are investing considerable sums in PR operations against them and any 'one-to-one' meeting with a Western Editor will be structured entirely around a pre-set 'liberal' ideological agenda which the Editor and his readership will consider self-evident (though it may not be).

The Libyans' letter suggested help in commissioning academic studies - actually not a bad idea except that any academic who gets involved will be ignored and will probably be kissing goodbye to his career while any findings will appear far into a future when the regime has probably been crushed.

Similarly, the desire to communicate with Western non-interventionists is tantamount to discrediting a community which contains the usual mixture of highly intelligent critics, obsessive activists and downright loons. The one alternative voice is thus marginalised by its own interlocutor.

That's it, basically. The Libyans have a snowball's chance in the desert of doing anything other than destroying the credibility of the very few people who just might be able to balance things up on facts and context - no wonder those who aren't grandstanding for war are running for cover.

But this is a Western own goal in its way. This urge to exclude all alternative opinion and drive the intellectual establishment into group-think on the basis of general principles means that key facts and context no longer guide policy.

We saw this in Iraq. We are seeing this in Afghanistan. We saw this most egregiously over the succession of recent economic crises. We are seeing this in the primitive and stupid populism coming from Government over the English riots. We will no doubt see this over Syria.

The inability of the British Establishment as a whole and the PR industry as a Uriah Heep-ish component of it to differentiate between the necessary exchange of facts and context in open dialogue through honest representation and a lemming-like need to adopt postures to please their masters is tragic.

The right response to the Libyans would be to courteously point out why they are stuffed and to suggest that, while making facts and context available, they have a simple choice.

Either they simply win their war as quickly as they can, show magnanimity in victory and try to build relations with the West on their own terms until the standard 'Nixon moment' or just get rid of Khaddafi and kneel at the feet of a NATO far superior in resources, if an intellectually challenged opponent.

In short, the honest PR would not laugh at the Libyans or moralise or posture about ethics but simply say that the ethical thing is not to take their money until they have either won the war or come to terms with the West. Wartime situations are not about PR, they are about propaganda.

This Libya whose civil servants have clearly failed to understand how power in the West actually operates, which is lashing around like a dinosaur at sections of its own people and which insists on holding on to the type of personal dictatorship that is now an insult to the aspirations of the young ...

... such a Libya is doomed in the eyes of the 'West' and it may as well save its money for a war thar should never have happened in the first place.