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.

While We Have Been Away …

If you followed our frequent blog postings in the past, you may have noticed that postings stopped in December 2010 with what amounted to an advertisement for the website of our sister company PendryWhite. We have let this stand for some eight months.

The truth is that we have become far more critical of the value of blogs unless they are integrated into social media so we diverted our energies - or rather the energy left over from dealing with our growing client list - into understanding and using other forms of internet-based media.

The blog was not killed off, merely preserved in aspic until the right moment. The right moment to revive it fully has not yet arrived but we will try to put in a few postings that seem relevant to our old readership in the coming months until our communications policy is in place.

But for those who are interested in how we are thinking about the internet as communications tool, these are some highlights of the last twelve months and some thoughts on where we go next ...

Internet Reputation Defence

We have been heavily involved in internet reputation defence working with legal counsel in multiple jurisdictions to make judgements on when it is resource-efficient to use the law and on when to engage in direct negotiation to deal with falsehoods or in positive PR through direct internet communication.

The process of monitoring the internet, evaluating threat, co-ordinating with other advisers, ensuring that negative elements do not drive client budgets and that client funds are invested wisely has been instructive. We hope, if the rules of client confidentiality permit, to say more on this in due course.

Online Media - Project Management

We have also been working on a project that has gone on for some four years but which only took flight at the beginning of the year.

This is at the other end of the scale of internet reputation defence and involves the project management of the business side and eventually promotion (with our sister company) of a ground-breaking attempt to use the internet to build an evidence-based subscription investigative operation.

Internet Marketing

The third area of interest is largely the territory of our sister company but we collaborate closely on intellectual capital, building shared alliances with service providers who can provide both the sophisticated security tools required by TPPR and the promotional flexibility required by PendryWhite.

This area is the effective integration of corporate messages with new social media platforms, a process that presents challenges in terms of internal understanding and risk (especially in areas of compliance). PendryWhite has been advising on techniques and work-arounds.

The New Identity Paradigm

The fourth area of engagement is more of an intellectual exercise than a commercial proposition but we feel it may come to be the most productive of all. This is our sustained study, using the social media as tools, of the changing nature of identity and what it means for reputation.

Our tentative opinion (with Google+ experimenting in precisely this area) is that the positive construction of personal brands will come to be integrated with a greater personal assertion of 'who one is' that will revolutionise 'corporate culture' and productive enterprise.

What Next?

These four zones of engagement are all works in progress and the next six months will see us:-

  • integrate our experience of internet reputation management into a model that we can make available beyond our traditional client base
  • oversee the launch of a challenging online media operation over whose actual content we will have no control (an exciting risk in its own right)
  • integrate our defensive reputation management capability more effectively with our proven digital marketing support offer to create a rounded service for the new generation of wealth creators
  • experiment with new and radical modes of identity that (we believe) will assist in promoting creativity and innovation at every level of society and allow challenge to old ways of doing things.

For Further Information: TPPR or PendryWhite 

 

New PendryWhite Website

PendryWhite's website launched today makes traditional public relations a less important part of its business. Yes, it still does media relations and it has an excellent side line in press and web office management for the HNWI clients of TPPR.

But the vast bulk of its work is now strategic reputation-based marketing that makes full use of the new media that are replacing print newspapers - these latter seem to be hovering between market breakdown and hiding behind exclusive online paywalls.

The new website is simple and it draws you into a dialogue. Using its blog Whiteboard and Twitter, it becomes an intellectual resource which you can return to periodically. The RSS tool keeps you up to date with opinions and Twitter with news.

This blog posting won’t puff up what you can read very quickly for yourself on the site but simply draws your attention to its existence and to its Clients - whose quality speaks for itself.

It is difficult for any corporation or firm to steer their way between the Scylla of over-enthusiasm and of uncritical engagement in the new media world and the Charybdis of fearful refusal to innovate.

This is why PendryWhite has spent three years building a proposition to act as guide between these monsters. The new web positioning expresses this change.

If you need strategic, marketing, new media or international support to deal with rapid market changes and its approach appeals to you, please do not hesitate to call PendryWhite on +44 (0) 20 7549 1672 and ask to speak to Roger White, Managing Director, or Jenina Bas, Director of Client Services.

Russian Manoeuvres In The Dark

There has been a long gap in postings mostly from pressure of work - which is good in these economically uncertain times - but also because there has been little to say that would have added value during a strange phony period in British politics and international affairs.

Instead of second-guessing the shape of British politics before the Comprehensive Spending Review has been completed (which strikes us as a fairly futile analysis at this stage), we thought that we would come back to an old and recently neglected subject - Russia.

Back in May 2010, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov published a keynote article that seems to have passed all but the professionals by and which acts as useful counterpoint to the more aggressive stance taken by Prime Minister Putin towards the West on August 30th.

However, as you might expect, Russian military and foreign policy positions are closely aligned. Russian frustration with Western failures to respond to overtures over European security and global partnership require some investigation.

Changes in Nuclear Doctrine

Before looking at the positions of the two key figures, let us jump a further three months back to the publication of Russia's new Military Doctrine on February 5th, 2010, which was accompanied by a secret protocol on nuclear deterrence for the next decade (which, of course, we have not seen).

This caused much excitement amongst policy advisors in the West because the Russians appeared to be reducing their reliance on nuclear WMD.

Taken in the context of international interest in non-proliferation, this was seen as a positive move away from Cold War positions that many in Washington and London were having difficulty abandoning themselves out of deep distrust of the still opaque post-Soviet military mind-set.

Kremlinologists rarely got things right during the Cold War. There is no reason to believe that things are much better now. Russians know this and like to press analysts' buttons to drive policy as far as they can in their direction.

Analysts had earlier been excited in a negative way by the appointment of Nikolai Patrushev to be chief draftsman of the Doctine because he appeared to be quite prepared (based on an interview in October 2009) to see nuclear weaponry as useful in 'local conflicts'.

In the event, whether all this kerfuffle was designed to manipulate Western opinion or was a genuine debate within the Russian military elite or not, there appeared to be a mild reduction rather than increase in the scope for use.

The nervousness about 'local conflicts' has to be put into some context here - a typical 'local conflict' might be the 2008 Russo-Georgian War so the implication of Patrushev's comment was that the Russians might be prepared to use tactical nuclear weaponry in such a case.

As always, this is 'smoke and mirrors'. The Russo-Georgian War was as much about asserting Russian rights to push back Western attempts to expand into every vacuum appearing on the borders of Russia as if by divine right as it was about substantive local issues.

To assert in late-2009 that Russia might be prepared to use tactical nuclear weapons in local conflicts is really no more than saying that they were deadly serious about their own sphere of influence. This merely mirrored a much earlier American debate about use of such weaponry in, say, Afghanistan.

In this verbal game, what was being asserted by Russia was that its self-confidence, despite economic down-turn, was such that it could, within its sphere of influence, match the ambitions of the West blow-for-blow - perhaps the West might bear that in mind if it was tempted to strut on Russian 'territory'?

The 2010 military doctrine must also be seen as representing an odd but rational aspect of Russian policy. In 1993, the doctrine only assigned such weaponry to global war and then extended this to regional war in 2000 as a means of saying to the West that Russia had returned to the stage.

Russia has now shifted the implicit burden of nuclear use from critical national security (which might embrace, say, problems in the Caucasus) back to something closer to existential threat, bringing it into line with the implicit position of the UK and France - but it has not removed its right of first use.

The key aspect of the case is that nuclear weaponries are primarily positioned as defensive of the integrity of the Russian State and not as an instrument of forward policy.

What really struck policy-makers though was that the doctrine moved Russia further away from tactical nuclear use (following the US after its own flirtations with alternatives) towards the maintenance of a strategic deterrence that could be put on the table for further negotiation.

Back in 2000, it was made clear that nuclear weaponries were only there to provide cover for the modernisation of the Russian conventional military. The mood music of the February 2010 doctrine implied that little had changed in this respect.

Lavrov's Foreign Policy

So what did this mean for foreign policy? Back to Lavrov, three months later and his keynote article of May 24th in the French language Revue Defense Nationale (where we are, of course, relying on translation).

The Russians often use the French strategic community as way-station for communications to Washington but also to make points to the two continental powers of most importance to them - France and Germany. The Franco-German alliance defines Europe for Moscow.

Russians may say things until they are blue in the face but the instinctive suspicion in Washington about Moscow is best alleviated by making public representations in a Paris that still has (limited) Gaullist aspirations to represent itself as an independent voice within the West.

In this case, Lavrov was ostensibly making a pitch to European aspirations for peace and security but the message was also one to the Atlantic Alliance that Russia was a partner and not an enemy in integrating the West as primary force for global peace and security.

Lavrov's introduction could almost have been written by any senior security official in the West. He says that Russia shares Western concerns about instability: three of the six 'threats and risks' (terrorism, drug trafficking and piracy) are quite definitely arising from non-State actors.

In other words, Lavrov is saying from the beginning that, as States, Russia and the Western Powers have every reason to collaborate and that Russia will collaborate if the West understands that Russia has essential interests in regard to its perceived integrity, interests that must be respected.

The Re-invention of NATO

Let us briefly jump back a few days to see what Lavrov was concerned about. On May 17th, a week before Lavrov's article was leaked, Madeleine Albright had released a 46-page Strategic Concept for NATO that is now under full discussion within the Organisation.

The Report recommended that NATO engage dynamically with the world beyond Europe and the Atlantic and restructure itself to operate within a UN Mandate alongside the forces of other willing states, not excluding Russia and China.

In other words, NATO was to reinvent itself into the military arm, albeit dominated by the US, of the Western wing of that 'world government' that puts the fear of God into Mid-Western populists.

American interest in this is obvious. It can no longer afford to single-handedly police the world yet remains, by far, the most technologically advanced military power in the world. It has problems getting moral support overseas and domestically for its project of pacifying the world.

Equally to the point, and Lavrov's reference to non-State actors would appeal to this mentality, various forms of organised crime and political insurgency are both disrupting the global economy and creating dangerous pools of capital accumulation that can out-buy and sometimes out-think the West.

The state of Mexico and the US-Mexican borderlands is dire and Europe and Russia have similar issues that pull the anarchic potential of their southern borderlands into the potential for criminal melt-down in the inner cities and banlieus of their respective heartlands.

Lavrov, in his article, positions Russia as part of Europe and as having a similar interest in the stabilisation of Central Asia and in energy and food security. He adds dealing with the economic crisis but also the fashionable issue of climate change to the pot of common interests.

To cut the long story short, Lavrov is offering collaboration - 'confrontation is not what we look for, and we will never choose this option.' At the worst, he says, Russia will simply remain aloof until the rest of the world 'gets it' (our phrase).

What Russia wants (and this makes many in London and Washington nervous) is a comprehensive European security settlement between Europe and Russia that integrates the Russian economy into the European Project as supplier of energy in return for investment.

Ay, there's the rub! In theory, the NATO concept and the Russian concept of collaboration are perfectly consonant - Russia co-operates in pacifying its sphere of influence and adds muscle to the UN Mandate to deal with its far more extensive 'empire'.

Lavrov is actually saying to Washington, almost over the heads of Europeans despite the positioning of the article to a Franco-German audience, 'we will help you run the world as junior partners (implicitly with China and the European Union) and all we ask for is respect for our national interests.'

Unfortunately, those national interests include the maintenance of a massive conventional armed force, paid for by the energy and raw material reserves of the East that could sweep into a Europe that has no political mandate for re-militarisation and depends for its security on an American nuclear umbrella.

The idea that Russia might reach economically to the Atlantic to all intents and purposes without firing a shot and deal with the European Union's troublesome Eastern neighbours (Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus spring to mind) with only a few border troop movements unnerves the West.

Freedom and Security in Europe

The Russian pitch would certainly put an end to the dreams of radicals who want to extend liberal democracy on Western free market terms ever westwards. Soros, eat your heart out! Here we have two opposing models fighting for the souls of Atlanticist and Eurasianist Europeans respectively.

The first has the EU being dragged into an expensive global policing role through NATO under conditions where the social Europe model is already under threat on economic fundamentals and where the arguments about the benefits of global engagement may be highly spurious.

The second has the EU becoming the wealthy dependent of a rising Russia that collaborates with the other Great Powers to carve the world up into spheres of influence directed at pacifying borders (whether Mexico, Tibet or the Caucasus) and at suppressing insurgency and threats to State integrity.

Lavrov concentrates this crisis into his tale of Kosovo where his analysis is not unjustified. For the West, led by Tony Blair, this was a story of humanitarian intervention by which any means were necessary to extend liberal ideological culture into a vacuum that had emerged between security regimes.

Kosovo might be said to have lead ineluctably to the messes in Iraq and Afghanistan that have been draining Atlantic resources for nearly a decade, much as the re-occupation of the Rhineland led to the Anschluss and the occupation of the Sudetenland. A succesion of ideological invasions ....

Russians have a keen sense of the conditions that led to the bloody Great Patriotic War. The determined intervention in Georgia was, no doubt, a deliberate attempt to deter the West from its own Danzig - an intervention too far that triggered a regional conflict (Iran springs to mind but also Ukraine!).

The intervention over South Ossetia was intended to be a deliberate counterpoint to Kosovo - thus far and no further, it said to the West. There would be no failure to face off the fascists by letting them take that last bit of land before the move that triggered regional and then global conflict.

Georgia as case study in soft power operations to bring yet another country into the Western Empire might be compared in the Russian mind's eye with Sudetenland as a case study in bringing Czechoslovakia into the Nazi domain.

Myths and Narratives

How close might we have been to regional war if the West had used a victory in Georgia to encourage pro-Western Ukrainian moves against Sevastopol during the recent gas crises?

Lavrov, in his article, does not accept the idea of the divide between a liberal Europe and a tyrannical East that is implicit in the entire liberal myth of the West.

He presents an idea that is wholly alien to London and Washington - an integrated European civilisation with Washington and Moscow as two different and balancing poles. 

It is a reversion to another myth - that of wartime collaboration for four brief years (1941-1945). Lavrov is trying to persuade us that Russia is now a form of Western democracy that is certainly no worse than the Tsarist Great Power that worked with the West in the era of the dreadnoughts.

London and Washington are never going to be persuaded by this ideologically so the seduction is being aimed at Paris and Berlin who are aware of the slow progress of the European Project and the problems of an American ally who rarely consults yet who guarantees their freedom.

What Lavrov wants is for the Paris-Berlin axis to start a dialogue over security co-operation that might be long-winded and slow but which offers the opportunity for Russia to build in economic collaboration with itself against the expensive efforts of the Atlanticists to avoid such commitments.

Before the economic crisis knocked them sideways, the Russians were already adopting an energy-led policy that threatened to put the squeeze on Europe with the co-operation of some of its most energy-reliant members, notably Italy. This is something to which they will eventually return.

Temptations and Seductions

This is the background to the European Security Treaty proposed by the Russians and to the attempted seduction of Washington into global partnership in return for a Security Council mandate that would allow the Americans much more of a free hand to settle issues of concern.

It is as if Lavrov is saying: "Look guys, instead of pushing up into our sphere of influence and not getting the mandate for your own strategic interests in the Gulf, why not give us a mandate for our sphere and we'll give you the clear mandate to do what you need to do elsewhere."

The implicit idea may be that Iran might come as part of a package, especially given the cat-and-mouse game Russia itself plays with Tehran.

Some in Washington might be tempted by this but it would mean a realist approach to foreign policy that faces formidable opposition amongst both neo-conservatives on the one hand and the 'soft Left' on the other.

Above all, Lavrov is offering global co-operation to the London-Washington axis for sphere of influence outcomes at two levels - first, Russian imperial integrity and, only then and second, appropriate near-equal influence over European affairs.

As he puts it:

" ... the qualitatively improved co-operation within the NATO-Russia Council [viz. a carve-up, my words] and the strategic partnership with the European Union will be Russia's national 'segment' in this all-European program."

Now that won't go down well in Warsaw, Prague and Bucharest!"

Putin Does Tough Guy

Move forward again to August 30th, when Prime Minister Putin lambasted the West for 'deceiving Russia' and think of this context  - first , a new military doctrine that continued the slow shift away from nuclear to conventional forces and, second, the proposed European security treaty.

Now, add the fact that, although the Russo-Georgian War had effectively halted the Western push into Russian territory, NATO is not withdrawing one inch from its strategy of world domination on its own terms, despite the economic weakness of its members.

Lavrov offers the carrot of co-operation so Putin offers the stick of potential confrontation or, at least. withdrawal into aloofness, a national-populist repetition of the tactical tub-thumping of the 2007 Munich Security Conference.

What he objects to is the continuation of Western cat-and-mouse tactics - the Polish missile defence system is removed from Poland only to appear elsewhere but also (using the Yaroshenko case) US actions against global criminality take place without reference to global partners.

He could have a point if he asserted that Western foreign policy does have the appearance of being both unstable and ideological. From Kosovo to Iraq, ideology dominated Western thinking and the instability probably arises from the psychological inability of many politicians to re-learn 'realism'.

Russian Rationalities

Still, even here, Putin praises Obama as sincere. All the signs are that Russia has not given up on its mission by any means. Russia thinks that its position is quite simply logical and rational - Lavrov, in his article, was at pains to remove any notion of ideology in the Russian position.

We may try a post-modern approach and say that there is no thought that is not ideological but it does seem to be true that Russian policy now bases itself on simple national interest where its opponents are thoroughly confused as to where national interest ends and 'doing the ethical thing' begins.

What the US has to decide is whether a regionally resurgent Russia, now incapable of presenting a serious global threat, would be an added value participant in the massive task of policing a chaotic world through the United Nations (clearly a NATO and so, in effect, a primary US concern).

And, if its collaboration in creating global pacification mandates is valuable, would America be willing to relinquish its somewhat expensive and demanding unique position as guarantor of European security in return for bringing in Russia as junior partner alongside a more militarised European Union?

The problem here is obvious - as protests mount across Europe at the unravelling of the social democratic model in many countries, there is scarcely any mandate in the short to medium term for the increased defence spending required to deter Russian adventurism under a less rational leader.

There are immense risks in jumping either way but what is clear is that the absolute peak of American power has passed even if it will remain relatively far ahead of its rivals for some decades to come.

The US can by-pass Russia completely perhaps, but it will probably have to concede Russian demands for non-interference in its sphere of influence under any rational regime of its own (Palin is the wild card here). Whether it goes to the next stage and brings Russia into partnership is another matter.

The Europeans, living in an economically troubled half-State with profoundly divided opinions on the Russian behemoth, will have their own opinion and any attempted nuclear re-militarisation of the European Union is not going to do very much for world peace. 

Developing Countries and Regional Collaboration

We were recently interviewed by Ratio Magazine, an online journal which specialises in providing business analyses related to East Africa.

The subject was an interesting one - the use of branding consultants for the promotion of emerging countries to the West. The Editor was interested in our rather tough view that such activities, if they are to be taken seriously, required a certain level of administrative capability in order to be successful.

The article speaks for itself and, in fact, there was no intention to criticise those who take on such contracts in good faith - they do their best and it is generally not their fault if the client (the sovereign country) has not invested in the systems that would make external communications a success.

This raises for us another interesting question that is often overlooked - the strategic imbalance of bureaucratic resources between the G20 and the rest of the world.

Many years ago, we worked on the campaign for a major pitch by one country's candidate to become Director General of a UN organisation on an independent reform platform. Our experience then and since was that small countries were the playthings of their donors.

Progressives in the West have tried to help by offering administrative expertise but this often fails to take hold because the donations are clearly linked to the strategic and security interests of the donors (otherwise they would be not get approval from legislatures).

Take the anti-corruption expertise where policemen are brought in to bring Western standards to 'assist' local elites and then come head-to-head with political systems that rely on clientage and patronage to function and where 'corruption' is, in fact, not always what it seems.

The other route to assisting the emerging world is by giving them the first benefits of aid and assistance to the developing world through the United Nations but here we face three problems, apart from a general backlash against aid that is laundered through local elites.

The UN is already overstretched, the West has undertaken a programme of recapturing control of what it pays for so that it reproduces the same model as its national administrative aid programmes and, of course, 'fairness' means that 'corruption' and clientage is re-imported into the UN by the back door.

So, when it comes to major multilateral negotiations, the emerging countries as sovereign nations have less capable, less well trained, underpaid and confused administrators who have little independence from the political class and can be treated as cannon fodder in the disputes of the big players.

What can be done? Certainly the West has less free capital to play with now and so national aid is likely to have more rather than less strings tied to it and be more directed at aid to the subjects of the sovereign rather than support for the administrators of the subjects of the sovereign.

There is, of course, growing pressure to reform the United Nations. This must come eventually but any reform is likely to focus on a reshuffle within its economic elite to take account of global shifts of power since 1945 and this may well reduce emerging country bargaining power through 'liberal 'reforms'.

In the end, emerging country ability to negotiate from strength is likely to have to rely on one of three methods ...

  • a country effectively sells itself into the orbit of a greater power and trades what it can provide to the big power for the big power's patronage when serious discussions start - this is, of course, tantamount to a form of international feudalism;
  • a country diverts its scarce resources to introducing the sort of administrative reforms that underpinned the British Empire and the US Federal State and puts its brightest and its best into a position of power over and against its political class - possible but expensive and not easy;
  • a country begins to pool sovereignty with similar size powers and deals (much as the EU is trying to do with minimal success at the moment) with the international community as a bloc.

We have been somewhat of a 'bear' on the European Union precisely because the levels of development between its members is so different. This is the Germany-Greece problem that might yet break the Euro this autumn.

The European Union has not been bound together, unlike the US as Federal State, on war. There has been no War of Independence, its last major Civil War (1914-1945) took place before it was formed and there have been none of the low-level social wars that have been endemic to the United States.

If emerging countries are to build administrative capability without being client-states or drawing in on themselves as administrative party dictatorships, then regional blocs work for them as much and probably far more than they work for the members of the G20.

Such blocs might have come to be bound together through the free play of war but the West refuses to countenance this option. The UN exists, in any case, as permanent block to petty imperial expansionism so the alternative is negotiation.

The most honourable (not that honour counts for much in international affairs) approach for the West to take would be to encourage blocs of continguous and similarly sized countries to come together and create the sort of administrative capability beyond tribe and locality that it is promoting for itself.

Take Ratio's own country base - Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and the de facto statelet emerging in Southern Sudan. This is a natural bloc that may compete within itself but which has interests in dealing with the West that might be better served through collaboration than competition.

Of course, collaboration does take place on issues of shared interest but the further formalisation of this process here and elsewhere as a positive policy aim might help focus dialogue over aid and security, assist in regional stabilisation and provide the basis for a consensus on reforms.

The United Kingdom should be a natural bloc of 'these islands' and is only stopped from being so by the idiotic legacy of its past imperialist approach to the Irish people. The Nordic countries adopt their own similar 'common interests' approach.

More of this in the developing world might be central to its continuing independence of action.

Be in no doubt that imperialism is back. Indeed, it has been back for some time but as a form of informal power struggle based on trade and aid with multiple players seeking to acquire spheres of influence without the costs of stationing troops - except where necessary to protect trade routes.

Small developing countries are like mice before cats and they may need to think increasingly collaboratively if they are not to find that they are simply out-stations for low cost transfer of natural resources to the industrial zones of the developed world.

Africa in 2010

We are not African specialists. If we want information about political risk South of the Sahara or in the Horn of Africa, we will turn to one of our clients, Pasco Risk Management, based in South Africa, or perhaps to a political contact or two of our own here in London or in East or West Africa.

But what we do understand is how the West has viewed and is viewing its position in Africa and the effect that recent economic problems in both the US (where instability persists) and Europe (which is deeply troubled) are having on the public acceptability of its forward engagement on the Continent.

There is a push and there is a pull in this. Both push and pull are driven by economic considerations that are beginning to overwhelm the 'idealism' that often gave cover to 'realpolitik' in the wake of the internal liberation of South Africa and derived from rage at examples of genocide and famine elsewhere.

The issues are complex and this is a note and not a paper. You could do worse than read Pasco's own on-the-ground assessments of the situation from an African perspective.

We have two sets of comment to make - first, about the very limited weight that progressive values now have for a Western policy that is definitely on the defensive because of resource constraints and, second, the limited ability of the West to effect its aims through its pivotal states strategy.

Pressures on the Humanitarian Impulse

Progressive and humanitarian drivers for Western intervention should not be regarded overly cynically. They were based on an ideological commitment within New Labour and this derived from the personal position of individuals whose political teeth had been cut on the anti-apartheid movement.

This British perspective would not have mattered in itself except that this progressivism 'worked' well with other drivers - Southern Baptist solidarity with Africa in Black America and a more general liberal determination in Europe that a colonial mentality must be replaced with a humanitarian one.

The high point of this general attitude was represented by liberals like Blair and Kouchner in France and to a lesser extent by Fischer in Germany and the Clinton administration. Adaptation to the opportunity presented for intervention by the Al-Qaeda strike on America was a natural one.

Unfortunately, after the initial success in Sierra Leone, liberal interventionism has undoubtedly been an expensive failure in the Middle East and West Asia while African states have increasingly resented the neo-colonial implications of what is essentially a centre-left imposition of values from the North Atlantic.

It is probable, though, that the policy could have struggled on so long as the electorates of the West were sentimentally directed to giving aid and assistance to their 'little brown brothers' - but that all changed with the near collapse of the complex economic system that underpinned Western largesse.

Three Realities

Three factors have now pushed their way to the head of the queue for Western policymakers: migration; growing disillusionment with the effects on the ground of intervention and of NGO engagement; and simple lack of hard cash and credit to disburse.

In each of these cases, the economic crisis in the West has played its role, taking the moral high ground away from the liberal progressives and returning it to those who question why scarce resources should be redirected to regimes that are now perceived to be capable of looking after themselves.

Migration is the most interesting because, although threats to the system from the nationalist Right have not emerged as serious electoral challenges except in particular conditions, the racist and nationalist underground is undoubtedly growing in strength and self-confidence.

Most migration and most terrorism is actually internally generated from within the West but, just as frightened Americans fear the flow of impoverished Mexicans from the South, so Europeans are unnerved by the flow of Africans into their cities.

The original progressive theory about this was that investment by Europe in Africa would create opportunities for Africans and the migrants would no longer need to flow North. To this was added the theory that Africans merely joined Asians, Arabs and Jews as the latest positive contributors to culture.

This was optimistic because, for many Africans, the poorest conditions in a European city were always going to be potentially more secure than conditions at home and the migrants were often 'post-modern': deracinated individuals rather than entrepreneurial pioneers for village communities.

The paradox of tighter border controls is that the criminal and a-social or desperate and trafficked elements are more likely to get through than families on the move and there has been a determined attempt by liberals to avoid an analysis of this lest it come up with 'racist' results.

But a great deal of the responsibility for migration into Europe lies with the greed and rapacity of Europeans themselves and Africans, with access to the internet as much as anyone else, have been educating themselves about radical interpretations of their own history.

Notoriously, Spanish industrialised fishing fleets have been raping the traditional fishing grounds of West Africa while the scale of oil pollution in some areas of the Nigerian Delta (greater than in the Gulf of Louisiana as we write) has been having similar effects on populations there for half a decade.

The Effects of the Crunch

There was always a faction of the liberal intelligentsiya that was relaxed about migration, seeing it as creating constant economic growth under globalisation. Another faction was ideologically perfectly happy to see Africans drive down Western wage rates as a form of global redistributionism.

The credit crunch of 2008 has pulled the rug out from both of these very influential factions (trickle down and redistributionist both) while the consequences of the crisis have affected the West and Africa equally in their relations with each other.

Inward migration from Africa was now a potential political threat (especially when overlaid with cultural and identity fears). The European electorate was not going to tolerate increases in expenditure overseas, to deal with the effects of recession in Africa, at a time of major public sector job losses.

Interestingly, and to widespread approval, Prime Minister Cameron in the UK has ring-fenced international development funds alongside health and education (helping to force even more draconian cuts elsewhere) but very much on the basis of more effective targeting and accountability.

What he was doing, as a 'soft' conservative himself, was taking aid off the political agenda for cuts until it needed to go back on again but also removing international development from its Blairite position as an integrated part of foreign policy and defence.

The days of doling out cash for political or strategic purposes are now over for the British and its humanitarian focus has been detached from grand policy in order to be treated as a moral imperative in its own right. If things get really bad in the UK, it will be cut because it will now be easier to cut.

Ressentiment

Quite separate from all this, there has been a growing distrust of NGOs and Governments as suppliers of aid. This is not coming from within the West (where critics have easily been pigeon-holed as right-wing miserabilists) but is the leaching back into the developed world of emerging world resentment.

Irritation with aid being used to patronise Africans alongside stories of waste, failure and of the 'fat cats' who appear as salaried do-gooders (from the perspective of some observers) merges with concerns about the tendency to use NGOs as soft power fodder in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.

The criticisms may not be wholly fair (but nor are they wholly unfair either) yet the suspicion grows that aid is a job creation scheme for otherwise unemployable Western graduates and for scions of the traditional middle class. Many Africans see this as District Commissioners by the back door.

Western policy towards Africa at this level is thus a confused mess, reminiscent of the patronising involvement of young EU officials as inefficient satraps in Eastern Europe as the communist bloc fell apart. Disillusionment spreads, then as now, back from field workers into the heartland.

Of course, the issues are not cut and dried. Despite the values agenda, the US in particular, including private sector philanthropists, have all undertaken major programmes affecting healthcare and life chances (especially for women) in a highly positive way.

But the impression remains for many in the West that, just as they are fearing for their jobs and homes, substantial resources should not be directed to supporting the middle classes of other countries when it is quite clear the help is not always welcomed.

However, it is important to note that there is no movement to end aid but only a growing indifference to claims of the need for aid and intervention that makes it much more difficult for political interests to direct public funds towards foreign policy or security ends.

Strains

So, if we see a drift of public interest (World Cup notwithstanding) away from Africa and African affairs towards a stance of relative unconcern (there is no animus in this towards Africa at all), economic pressures also limit what the West can do in terms of hard power.

In one sense, the Western public has grown up and the shifts show maturity and generational shift. Younger politicians do not have anti-apartheid activism and resentment of imperialism to worry about and can escape guilt as Middle Europeans are now escaping from Holocaust guilt.

African music is now established in the world music repertoire, African writers sit comfortably alongside Latin American magical realists on the shelves, Ghana was supported by many white British in the World Cup and racism is psychologically inconceivable as a concept to middle class kids under 30.

But, self-evidently there are less resources to play with - in Europe, where the engine of European growth, Germany, has found itself bank of last resort to economically maladjusted smaller partners in the European Union, and in the UK which is running not to face its own crisis in the next year.

In the US, Obama will not be thanked if he spends a great deal on Africa rather than on the Gulf Coast, now hit by two successive disasters in Katrina and the BP oil spill, while US unemployment remains high and may even be rising again.

Finally, the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan are just not going to go away. Afghanistan is a true disaster, involving payments not only on military campaigns but to a corrupt and corrupting puppet regime and major subventions to Pakistan simply to keep its military on side and its economy from collapsing.

Pivotal States

US strategy in Africa (as pointed out by Pasco) was based on containing insurgency, controlling energy supplies (and we add the free access to mineral reserves vital for strategic purposes) and countering Chinese and Indian influence that might remove the continent from the Western to the Eastern sphere.

The methodology for control was based on 'pivotal states' theory - i.e. supporting strong stable states in each major sub-zone and encouraging them to go out and police the surrounding areas, presumably at their own expense but with Western aid and in alignment with Western values.

Placing the unusual Uganda/Rwanda complex to one side, the original postulated key states were Nigeria, Ethiopia and South Africa and all were expected, under Western guidance, to adopt liberal anti-corruption regimes and to manage their sub-region - later in an African Union context.

All three have been disappointments. The surrounding countries have gone their own way willy-nilly as either failed states or as independent countries following their own paths - they will go with the highest bidder, increasingly China. And, of course, Congo remains a great yawning gap in the system.

Nigeria has remained such an anxiety in terms of its long term stability that the US has now switched its attention to Ghana. At one point, before its recent troubles, Gazprom looked as if it would be taking a strategic position for Russia with the help of Libya and Italy by capturing control of Nigerian gas.

Ethiopia is the strongest state (perhaps) but at the cost of any programme of liberalisation, despite constant Western pressure, wheedling and largely idle threats.

However its intervention in Somalia was abortive - the African Union contingent sit in Mogadishu like rabbits in the streaming headlights of the insurgents.

South Africa seems to have been treated by Western liberals as if it owed them something for their support against apartheid. It didn't and it doesn't.

The peaceful transition to democracy was a remarkable achievement but its very tranquillity and compromise meant that serious issues of economic inequity have not been handled. Too many powerful interests had needed to be mollified. Now, as Pasco reports, the ANC is stirring again.

Capital accumulation by the new black elite was meant to result in trickle-down but the global credit crisis has put paid to that. An expectation of the West that South Africa would put scarce resources into a neo-colonial liberal intervention into Zimbabwe was thus disappointed and quite rightly so.

The Meaning of the US Presence

Africom, meanwhile, is now basically an anti-insurgency operation operating from enclaves which it controls because deals have been struck - Djibouti is effectively a grant from the rump of the old French Empire. It does dirty deeds in a war between the US and fanatics that passes most Africans by.

The US is now engaged in a process of constant and often very expensive negotiation that often comes down to little more than the containment of sworn enemies and the maintenance of the sea lanes that take oil and gas from the Gulf and West Africa to Western refineries and holding installations.

The lesson of all this is that there is no 'Africa' except in the imperial imagination of Westerners brought up on the carve-up at the Berlin Conference. There are many Africas - sovereign states with sovereign interests who still need to stabilise themselves before they start stabilising their neighbours.

A nightmare for the West might be a serious political collapse in a key state or a massive humanitarian crisis in a small state that the Chinese relieve faster and more efficiently than it can. The US and UK scuttled from dabbling in the recent Ethiopian elections for fear of precipitating such a problem.

This state of affairs - growing African intransigence at Western interference and Western economic retrenchment - will not last forever. Each of the pivotal states remain a potential partner of the West according to the original theory but the real aims of any African country must be a different from 'ours'.

South Africa can look across to Brazil and envy its inclusion alongside India, Russia and China as one of the BRICS. Nigeria and Ethiopia, too, would not want less status in the world than Australia. It might take thirty years but these three countries will want parity not patronage.

[These views are entirely those of TPPR and are not to be construed as those of Pasco Risk. For access to Pasco Risk featured articles now and in the future, go to their website]

New Global Risk Appointment For Pendry White

From our sister company, Pendry White

PASCO RISK MANAGEMENT STRENGTHENS UK PRESENCE WITH CONSULTANCY APPOINTMENT

Pasco Risk Management, the Johannesburg based global risk consultancy with offices in London, Los Angeles and New Delhi has appointed reputation marketing specialists Pendry White as part of its strategy to raise its profile in the UK. 

Pasco Risk Management provides a range of due diligence, early warning and protective intelligence, risk advisory, and security and forensic services. 

With more than 5000 cases in over 85 countries on its books, the company specialises in operating in the more fluid and at times opaque environments in less developed markets.

CEO George Nicholls says:

Our people operate to the highest standards of professionalism in markets that are less developed and still making the transition to global standards of transparency and accountability. We are at the forefront of bringing these standards into less developed environments through the work we do. Our grassroots familiarity with these emerging market cultures is the added value we bring to assignments on behalf of clients from around the world 

Pasco Risk Management has worked for companies and organisations in aerospace and defence, construction and real estate, insurance, banking and financial services, mining, oil and gas, shipping, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications. 

It is a preferred supplier to the English Football Association (FA) and is responsible for the England team’s security at the World Cup 2010.

Its subscription TravelSafe service provides early warnings, security advice, protection and crisis response to governments, corporations and high-net-worth individuals.

George Nicholls added:

London is the base of many multinational companies with global operations. We believe our specialist perspective in emerging market environments will be of particular relevance for these companies and their advisors.

Pendry White Managing Director, Roger White, commented:

Pasco Risk Management is an exciting new client that fits well with our existing portfolio of global professional services clients such as Ernst & Young, Grant Thornton International and Hewitt Associates. Pasco Risk Management are already the acknowledged risk specialists in the difficult regions where they operate.  Our task is to help them gain wider recognition and greater market share among multinational businesses in the UK and Europe with interests in those volatile environments.

For more information:

www.pascorisk.com
www.twitter.com/pascorisk

The World in 2050 – Scientific American Looks Forward

Scientific American [June 2010] lays out 12 events that are somewhere on the scientific horizon and estimates their chances of happening by the year 2050 - that is, affecting the teenagers of today as they go into retirement. In rough order of likelihood, they are:

  • Classed as Almost Certain
    The synthetic creation of life
    A Pacific earthquake
  • Classed as Likely
    The cloning of a human - seen as extremely difficult but also probably inevitable.
    Machine self-awareness
    Polar meltdown
  • Classed as 50:50
    The discovery of new dimensions as research develops out of the cutting edge of particle physics
    Room temperature super-conductors
    A deadly pandemic
  • Regarded as Unlikely or Very Unlikely
    The discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence
    Nuclear holocaust
    An asteroid collision
    Fusion energy

Of course, future research is rarely reliable as anyone who has studied the predictions of, say, the 1960s will know but it is not a bad starting point. The most exciting on the list for popular culture are those that are probably the least likely. We can quickly dismiss these.

The Blockbuster Events

It is fair to think that the sheer scale of space makes the alien visit hypothesis unreasonable (at least on the timescale of any reader of this posting) while international institutional structures are probably now robust enough to deter the use of nuclear arsenals by superpowers.

If scientists tell me that limitless fusion energy is unlikely in the next forty years or even a century, I am not inclined to disbelieve them but the small print on the asteroid collision is not exactly comforting.

No extinction event perhaps but an expectation that at least one asteroid hit could devastate the equivalent of a small city within the next 200 years.

This leaves us with eight scientifically-related changes that could reasonably affect our children's futures with five of those as probable. What would the world look like if they all came to pass?

Bear in mind that we are not including here what may be called changes in social reality - shifts caused in philosophical or spiritual perspective, by economic reorganisation or scarcity or through the cultural effect of earlier era technologies that are only now being fully implemented, such as the internet.

One of the few insights of Marx that has stood the test of time is that culture and politics are based on the economic organisation of society and that the economic organisation of society is fundamentally material in nature.

This is an over-simplification of the situation but science is about the understanding of matter and so scientific discovery or observation really does flow back into society and politics over the long term.

The type case is Darwinism which became Social Darwinism and was then perverted into racial politics. The scientists, in fact, were right about evolution but the extension of the idea was untenable. This did not stop its exploitation by non-scientists in disastrous ways.

Missing Jigsaw Pieces

Looking forward forty years, the message of Scientific American is that perhaps things may not change quite so dramatically as we think but the rational and sceptical mind-set of the Editors may fail to take into account how humans actually use information in their petty struggles for power.

Unaccountably missing from the list is the slow-burn effect of the discoveries in neuro-science and the cognitive sciences which could go in either one of two ways - towards authoritarian attempts to nudge us into social compliance or into radical libertarian reform as the cutting edge between brain science and philosophy confirms the insights of the phenomenologists and the existentialists.

Nor is there any mention of nanotechnology which strikes this writer as potentially as revolutionary as the internet on how we conduct our lives. To be fair, this is not an 'event' as such but the implementation of technology (like robotics) that is established already in its basics.

Similarly, the internet may seem as if it is now in its mature state of implementation rather than of innovation but the social and cultural effects of easy mass communications still look set to effect a cultural revolution as powerful and as uncertain as that instigated by printing.

Finally, there is the attempt at the application of the soft sciences (from psychology through to anthropology and political science) to problems of war, peace, policing and order.

The arms race in this area between authority and the street may lead to many new social and cultural forms and compromises. If the Editors of SciAm are sceptical of the status of the 'soft sciences', then so are we but warriors may still believe in their pretensions despite the rest of us.

Material Progress

But let's stick to Scientific American's hard science agenda. What will 2050 look like? This is our expectation based on their assessments of the science.

  1. The security industry will have long since passed the stage where they manufactured threats out of synthetic biology to build budgets. Biological engineering of safer and less polluting household products and environmental services will be entering its mature, productive phase.
  2. Human cloning is not going to be tolerated in the developed world even if cases will emerge in in permissive jurisdictions because the first 'experiments' are likely to horrify as cruel and unnnatural but the drive to clone will be part of a much broader range of discoveries in human healthcare. These will improve life chances and longevity in the West but increase emotional pain at those who die young or in pain at home and abroad.
  3. Self-replicating intelligent robotic agents (AI) are going to present interesting 'human' rights and philosophical challenges that are likely to become political by the end of the period - less because they 'walk among us' but because we will be getting to the point where they may soon do so.
  4. Even if room temperature superconductors are unproven as tools, the technology of energy production, distribution and conservation is already being driven by political as much as by free market conditions towards major innovation. The mature fruits of this will be well in place by 2050 and will probably have reduced much of the energy-driven instabilities in international affairs - at least in the West.

So, from a basic lifestyle perspective, scientific progress continues and the developed world is likely to be a better place to live in for most people - in terms of the environment, pollutants, waste, healthcare, automation and energy management.

New Philosophies

Where problems arise is where you would expect them - in the ability of people to find meaning as new discoveries cause the ground to shift from under their feet and in the debate over how much to 'give' in order to 'get' security from local under-classes and from less well served emerging populations.

This latter is at the heart of decisions about welfare provision and international aid.

Discoveries in particle physics that defy common sense, especially if matched by neuro-scientific investigation into 'spirit', may create new and paradoxical shifts in culture. Although by definition unpredictable, the logic is one of 'more spirit, less religion'.

This, in itself, may help to end the fruitless nineteenth century war between science and religion to replace it with a new tension between advanced thought and those wedded to both institutional authority and a scientific positivism that has become surplus to requirements philosophically.

The danger is of a major disconnect between the world views of the well-educated and the less well-educated that may create serious cultural and political tensions within the developed world and between it and the emerging world.

One suspects that Eastern culture is more adaptable than Western in this respect.

Aid as Insurance

Periodic natural disasters (not necessarily the 'big one' in California) such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions are not going to destroy civilisation but they will encourage increased global co-operation, equivalent to welfare insurance, to deal with the effects.

The real beneficiary here should be the poorer countries in the world with a concomitant positive effect on mass production and improved organisation of cheap sustainable urban infrastructures and new development models.

However nothing will be achieved without a root-and-branch reform of the shamefully corrupted and mismanaged 'aid business' - UN organisations and NGOs have moved in recent decades from being well-meaning bumblers into inefficient sanctuaries for the over-paid global middle classes.

There is a similar issue arising with pandemic. H1N1 taught us two things - these things can come out of the blue and they incubate (assuming they are not a lab creation) in messy urban poverty.

The world is now in no state to deal with these issues because of the credit crunch but as recovery returns, the developed world is going to have to decide between globalisation and healthcare security.

The logic of the situation is that Western Governments will start finding the money to keep people at home in the emerging world and to start treating disease at source by treating the vectors of disease - poverty, overcrowding and insanitary conditions.

The contentious issue of climate change also has to be put in the pot. We are not quite sceptics but we are cautious given the hysterical claims of political activists. Still, the ice caps are melting and this means major adjustments in some countries and, awkwardly, improvements for others.

We already have issues of mass economic migration arising from dislocations caused by globalisation and (regionally) by war - to add dislocation caused by environmental degradation, both man-made and natural, suggests a time of troubles ahead.

2050 In The Round

Whether the planet as a whole will be cleaner and less polluted may be doubted simply because so many people in the world will still be working their way through development phases that involve large-scale traditional manufacturing requiring raw materials that will be harder to mine or extract.

However, assuming that there is no disaster involving a natural or engineered organism, the West and the advanced East (and the pockets of prosperity in the South) will be set to be less polluted and less wasteful.

A reasonable prediction is that the world, pandemics, localised disasters and asteroids notwithstanding, will be, on balance, a better balanced and more prosperous place in 2050 than in 2010.

But we should be under no illusions - the poor will still be with us at home and abroad and the capacity of the global community to deal with this will be only a little less limited than it is today.

From the tension between scientific advance within a culturally volatile developed world and a vast wider population beginning to taste the prospect if not the actuality of material progress will arise many of the insurgencies, violence and petty wars of the mid-twenty-first century.

The Intentions Of Government

This note does not relate to the Queen's Speech today but to the intentions of the new Coalition Government - what it would do if it had the power and resources. It follows directly on from the last note on the 'ideology' (such as it is) underlying the new Coalition.

Limitations

The Coalition Government admits from the beginning that it has two serious constraints on delivery:

  • the budget deficit, the reduction of which now appears to be somewhat of a race against time as the markets begin to wobble seriously over the state of the Eurozone; and,
  • its full acceptance of devolved powers to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales which means that many of its policies are applicable only to England.

If it meets its stated aim of decentralising executive power radically, the Coalition Government will also lose, over time, some of its control over the State's capacity to enforce action domestically (much of which power has been theoretical in any case).

The Nudge Approach

This helps to explain its overt appeal to the use of 'behaviourial economics and social psychology' in its Programme for Government, the so-called 'nudge' approach to managing the population.

This is most clearly expressed in the consumer choice and public health areas where Government will 'encourage behaviour change to help people live healthier lives'.

No mention is made here of the real problem - the lack of action to deal with the choices offered to people by manufacturers and retailers. The 'innovative techniques' are designed for us to take action, not the businesses who sell to us.

We have warned already that this belief in the efficacy of the new cognitive sciences in public administration is probably a case of 'clutching at straws'.

The public are probably not as easy to manipulate as the new wave of policymakers think but this is what the new Coalition believes is possible and so, efficacious or not, it will be attempted.

A Solid Popular Programme

As for the programme itself, most of it, perhaps two thirds of it, is unexceptionable by any standards - almost motherhood-and-apple pie stuff that expresses a very English irritation with an overweening State recently led by people who think we respond well to petty regulation.

This Government gets it right on the need for banking regulation, on taxation, on economic re-balancing, on government transparency, on international development, on social care and disability, on transport, and on consumer protection (subject to the caveat on the excessive faith on untested soft science)

It certainly gets it very right on deficit reduction, immigration, civil liberties and decentralisation.

There is no immediate quibble on Europe, political reform, policy on the NHS (though with caution on the detail), on environment, food and rural affairs, on crime and policing or justice and on defence (as a general principle rather than in regard to the political classes' obsession with Trident).

We are not qualified to write on the controversial education and universities policies at this early stage and the 'social action' programme, based on civil society assumptions that are far from proven, should perhaps be passed over in silence for the moment.

But where does the Government seem to have intentions that run counter not only to deficit reduction but to the limited state that it proposes? Where may we see strains as libertarians come up against those who still cling to Blairite glamour or Churchillian 'folie de grandeur'? Probably in four areas.

Government As Beacon of Culture

There is still a belief that Government has a role to play in 'excellence' in culture, media and sport. You do not have to be an avid reader of Friedrich Nietzsche to question whether Government can have anything to do with excellence, certainly not in matters of the imagination.

The promotion of 'excellence' has often involved massive transfers of funds from private budgets. It is arguable that personal choice is best when decisions are to made about art, games and the acquisition of information. Watching excellence is a lot less healthy than kicking a ball around a field.

What we appear to have here is an expensive continuation of public subsidy for a middle class elite that just happens to have a hold over the public policy agenda. This concession to Blairismo amongst radical libertarians is puzzling to say the least.

'climate change is one of the gravest threats we face'

In fact, graver threats may lie in serious economic dislocation and collapse of social cohesion. Government will be doing some very good things in the detail of environmental policy but it seems to be hinting that we will continue to be 'nudged' into environmentalist hysteria.

The question here is whether the new Government can resist the temptation to follow 'Blairismo' in using hype and fear as an instrument of policy.

Or whether we will see a pseudo-internationalism being promoted to effect a relatively few and sensible measures to deal with primarily national concerns - sustainability and food and energy security.

The Programme Statement suggests that hype has been locked into the mental model of the new Government from an earlier era and it may not be easily dislodged. Fortunately, the slashing of marketing and advertising budgets removes one of its tools at a stroke ...

Hidden Petards For Social Cohesion

The emphasis on the family definitely comes from the Conservative side of the equation but it begs many questions about what precisely a family is in the modern age, while the welfare issue is somewhat skated over in generalities that imply a toughness that is not fully stated.

We might also raise questions about what the equalities agenda really means but this is a complex ideological area and we can leave that to another time. The implication of the Programme is that the Coalition Government has not abandoned the progressive ideology of its predecessors.

In all these cases, what we are really talking about is an attempt to maintain social cohesion through a claim of strategies of inclusion and of support for social institutions in a back-handed compliment to the previous regime.

But it is clear that the previous Administration never had a cogent plan to deal with the budgetary effects of the major social changes created by consumer choice and media-led social liberalism. It made full employment into a mantra, did nothing and the deficit just grew and grew.

Everything now depends on what precisely the new Administration actually means by family and by equality but there is no incentive for Liberal Democrats and Conservatives to rock the boat by having that dialogue now, certainly not in public.

The definitions in the head of the politicians, the ones in the expectation of different constituencies and the ones required by society may take some time to reconcile. Eventually, decisions are going to have to be taken and then, and only then, will we know if this Coalition can stick.

This is the area in which the State comes up hard against issues of social cohesion since most people at most times are not concerned with the planet or arts policy or even foreign policy but with basic survival.

The implication remains that, for some people at the margins of society, the State will be patronising you if you are not conventional, attempting to 'nudge' you into normality and giving preference to others because of some attribute like gender or colour despite your talents.

If you add to the pot a commitment to protect pensions and even improve the care system (a highly laudable social aim), then the financial and electoral pressure to push the young into one place in order to protect baby-boomers as they age in another may store up some serious social order problems.

This is the ethos of the progressive authoritarianism of the previous administration but it is now combined with a determined and necessary deficit reduction programme where welfare (far more than Trident) is the biggest target for significant 'savings'.

'Folie de Grandeur'

On foreign policy and security, there is no point in going over old ground (just track through our postings) but the Coalition wants to be a player in the world within the old Atlantic system and this is a very expensive choice to make (especially when we add Trident to the mix).

Alongside this is another inheritance from the previous regime in which a particular anti-terrorist definition of national security (as opposed to one based on national sustainability) is stated to permit 'action to tackle terrorism, and its causes, at home and abroad'.

Put this determination to be a player together with the threats agenda of some of the security establishment and you see the potential for a continued drain on the limited resources of the State in order to allow politicians to carry on their game of playing the role of eighteenth century statesmen.

The Pressures

This basically sound and popular Coalition Programme contains its own inner contradictions. Apart from the sheer lack of easy money and the over-emphasis on soft science that is still in its infancy to offset a deliberate transfer of powers to lower levels in society, there are troubles brewing.

The Coalition Government is a creature of history as are we all and the burden of big culture, big rhetoric and being a big global player on limited budgets will place further pressure on the place where the deficit can be dealt with most decisively - welfare.

On top of the apparent necessity to deal with welfare costs lies an ill-formed cobbled together ideology surrounding the idea of society that tries to reconcile libertarians in both Coalition parties with a form of communitarianism that places direct pressure on individual choice and rights.

All this is taking place in a context in which an aging population of self-centred individualists is expecting the young to pay for its old age as a matter of right despite leaving their world in a bit of a mess.

We are in an extended honeymoon period for this Government because it is cutting the fat left by New Labour but the next round of cuts is likely to be brutal and to have aspects that imply class or even generational war. Fairness will dictate some pain for the middle classes to make it acceptable.

Analysing The Cameron-Clegg Statement

The UK Coalition's Programme for Government is the first Manifesto in democratic British political history published after the voters have had their say. No one is too exercised by this. All understand that it is no mean feat to combine the programmes of two competing parties and then present it as a credible whole.

Yes, of course you can see the joins in places but Cameron and Clegg's two page Foreword to the Programme is an impressive political achievement. This is not the mere cobbling together of a bunch of kleptocrats in the standard European manner but the fusion of two ideologies into a greater whole.

How long it will stick is another matter but the contrast with New Labour's Stalinist imposition of its values on its internal Coalition in 1996 is stark.

We have elsewhere suggested that this very English 'soft' revolution should be seen not as a shift from the Right to the Left (though it has elements of this) but as a shift of power between two very different personality types - from the authoritarian to the libertarian.

This is expressed primarily in terms of radical anti-statism - against big government, centralisation and top-down control - but there is a libertarian wing on the Left, pushed aside by history, that would share this perspective while authoritarian Conservatives are clearly uncomfortable with it.

The code to the nature of the new Coalition lies in its rubric: free, fair and responsible:

  • Free - the libertarian impulse that can combine economic libertarians of the Right, social libertarians of the centre and political libertarians of the left
  • Fair - that very English sense of fair play that can be coded as both compassionate conservatism and the social liberal, perhaps social democrat, views of a Vince Cable
  • Responsible - the implicit duties mantra of the still feudal Tory Right and of those renegades from a failed progressivism like Frank Field and Will Hutton

All these factions (if perhaps with far less enthusiasm on the Social Democrat Centre and Tory Right) can live with a radical model of decentralisation of power and increased individual freedom and responsibility (where you may put your emphasis to taste).

The cheeky use of 'progressive' to describe the Coalition was widely noted in the media and we look at this at the end of our posting but there are some dodgy elements in the Programme (we are looking at the big picture here and not the detail) that we cannot let pass.

The inability to unravel the country from its post-imperial destiny represents the inability of this coalition to detach itself both from the Atlantic project and from 'Ashdownism' i.e. using taxpayers' money to ride around the world quixotically righting wrongs. We have covered this weakness already.

The most interesting aspect of the Programme could easily be missed in the rhetoric. The Coalition has linked power to innovation in a way that we all once thought the prerogative of the intellectual Left, the sort of post-Fordist Marxist crew who gave thinking ballast to Blair before office.

Only, this time around, the politicians have got it more right than the intellectuals of yore but only because the evidence for radical shifts in power is there for all to see in the immensely rapid rise of the internet and of social networks and citizen choice on its back.

The quintessential New Labour use of new technology was the ID card system or the incompetently managed IT spine - major infrastructural projects based on state direction and designed for state purposes. The Coalition Programme is explicit on its stance:

" ... we are both committed to turning old thinking on its head and developing new approaches to government. For years, politicians could argue that because they held all the information, they needed more power. But today, technological innovation has - with astonishing speed - developed the opportunity to spread information and decentralise power in a way we have never seen before."

This is pure libertarian genius. Murdoch's boys will be grinding their teeth. Google kids will be grinning from ear to ear ... they continue:

" ... there has been the assumption that central government can only change people's behaviour through rules and regulations. Our Government will be a much smarter one, shunning the bureaucratic levers of the past and finding intelligent ways to encourage, support and enable people to make better choices for themselves."

Oh dear, probable collapse of stout party. Here we have a perfectly accurate analysis capped with a rather dodgy belief that the new nudge philosophy will achieve what post-socialist state direction could not. The State is dead, long live the State. Spin is dead, long live Spin.

The first page of the Foreward is dynamic but this shift from hard State to soft State then opens the door to two lengthy paragraphs on the background to the Coalition that can only be seen as defensive, even apologetic in tone, a direct appeal to the confused unwashed of the two coalescing parties.

Defensive and claiming to be smarter than their predecessors? I think the public needs to be just a little wary that the text yet represents the reality of consistent, stable Government with a clear understanding of what it is dealing with in terms of national sustainability and the deficit.

The last two sentences of all are an attempt to send so many signals that it is hard for the casual reader to keep up. This Government is apparently radical (the antithesis of the conservative) yet reforming (which is what Peelite Conservatives take pride in).

The two Leaders ditch for ever the notorious Thatcher claim that there is no such thing as society, made in one of her more sub-Stirnerite moments, but then detach the fact of society firmly from its association with the State. The shared continuity from the Thatcher Right is certainly a distaste for socialism.

References to change and progress are back-handed compliments to the dominant rhetoric of the Labour Movement from Wilson to Blair, from Benn to Mandelson. This document is an attempt at an ideological coup d'etat, a libertarian-populist seizure of power after thirty years of authoritarian rule.

To be fair, the balance of unaligned public opinion, certainly in England, is probably with the coup leaders. The latter have captured the State, apparently that it might, as Marx predicted, wither away.

The greatest irony of the soft English revolution of May 2010 is that it may have ushered in the most left-wing Government (as pre-twentieth century observers might see things) in Britain's history. In reality, the State will soon recapture these ideologues - but do enjoy the revolution while it lasts!

Assessing The Prospects For The Coalition

The Liberal-Conservative Coalition is really not so unusual. The only difference from preceding Governments is that coalition politics now covers two parties instead of being held just within the boundaries of one.

Centres of Gravity

If pre-Blair Labour Governments had to accommodate the Labour Left and the Social Democrats, Tory Governments have had to accomodate their own social liberals alongside nationalists and imperialists.

Cameron seems determined to make this new Coalition as strong and as permanent as possible because it is all about 'centre of gravity'. A liberal-minded Tory in a purely Tory Government is not at the centre of gravity and threatens at every moment to be ousted from the Right.

The addition of other liberal conservatives from the right of the Liberal Democrat Party and a smattering of social democrats counter-balances the atlanticist hard-liners, the radical economic liberals and libertarians and the nationalists in one fell swoop.

The seduction of radical centrists like Will Hutton and Frank Field from the disillusioned social democratic wing of New Labour is unlikely to be the prelude to any further attempt to detach Blairites and pull them to the Right for two reasons.

First, Hutton and Field always were semi-detached, famously frustrated that their ideas, which were heavily courted as New Labour moved towards office, were abandoned as inconvenient within a few years. Their social democratic radicalism sat ill with the special interests who really ran the Party.

Second, the Left are not going to capture the New Labour Party regardless of defeat. This is because the 1996 internal party settlement just won't let that happen, because the Left has been systematically excluded from power for fourteen years and because it is tired and has nothing to say to the public.

The Future Labour Party And The Left

If the Left are not going to capture the Party and a moderate Labour Movement right winger or Blairite (both represented by the two Milibands) is going to lead it for the next four or five years, then there is no incentive for loyalist 'social democrats' to shift lanes - they have probably left it too late in any case.

The best that the Left will get is a raised profile, increased influence and some defensive policy changes from the circle around Jon Cruddas, the rising star of left-wing progressivism.

But this is not the Left as we once knew it - Cruddas is an establishment figure who is sometimes embarrassed by the naive enthusiasm of his activists and whose conversion to Leftism is relatively late (much like Tony Benn's before him).

Cruddas is a very intelligent man - in some ways streets ahead of his right-wing rivals - but he is bound by his own caution and his almost instinctive tribal solidarity, honed in the buggins turn and zen-like patience of union political bureaucracies. He is no populist radical.

In short, there is no Leftist coup in the offing. 'Real' Leftists have few places to go - the rising but marginal socialist alliances outside the party, impotent grandstanding or moderation as the conscience of Cruddas' unstable quasi-movement. Even the street is now the territory of the anarchists.

The New 'One Nation' Ideology

This is why we think that the Lib-Con coalition will last so long as Cameron remains skilled at building up right wing liberal engagement with market economics in return for a commitment to improving the lot of the indigenous poor.

Frank Field is right to imply that New Labour, in its drive for full employment, abandoned the poor of the inner cities - it created jobs which became filled by immigrants. The very poorest of the indigenes not only remained on benefit (at huge national expense) but became increasingly unemployable and 'lost'.

Will Hutton, on the other hand, represents another frustration from the Radical Centre - the fact that the public sector (another huge current and future contributor to the deficit) was allowed to expand inefficiently to create 'full employment' for middle class graduates and white collar workers.

There is a merger here of the conservative fear of serious economic dislocation from excessive expenditures on benefits and of a public sector detached from frontline service provision with the 'moral centre' concern that the country is being stifled by its underclass and the deadweight of bureaucracy.

This is a revolution in the making. It will be painful for those asked to change their ways but it is becoming necessary both because the economics of state-subsidised full employment no longer work if ever they did and because the misery of the underclass is on the edge of becoming a social threat.

The fear of liberals in society had been that Tory 'compassion' was nothing but a cover for draconian and authoritarian measures against the poor, for creating a faith-based communitarian project that would make Blair's look left-wing and an excuse for class war-driven cuts. Such fears are now being allayed.

The Political Conditions For 'One Nation'

The vagueness of the plans for dealing with the deficit amongst all parties in the run-up to the election would have done nothing to allay these fears without the centre of political gravity being shifted.

A Tory Government in which the centre of gravity had been to the Right of its current Leader would have raised the ghost of Thatcher under conditions (given that at least a third of the country is electorally bound to New Labour) where many would have been suspicious and alienated from the start.

The prospect of a tax revolt from the Right and anarcho-environmentalist street riots from the Left under New Labour would merely have been replaced by a new radical militancy on the Left and growing pressure to break up the Union.

The social order problems implicit in the New Labour project would then merely have been transmuted across the political spectrum and the State's instinct for authoritarian solutions when it is under pressure would have further alienated liberals and libertarians alike.

Cameron has now shifted the centre of gravity of Government to just where he sits. In doing so, without ceasing in any way to be, fundamentally, a Conservative, he has added something to the usual mix of social order concerns, economic advantage and special interest power plays - 'morality' of sorts.

Not the fixed essentialist morality of the Christian or Socialist fundamentalist but a sense that public sector and benefits reform is not just something to be imposed but is to be a national project in which public sector workers and the poorest are to be engaged as integral parts of the nation.

Rights, Duties & Compassion

Whether this quite works out in this way is another matter but 'compassionate' conservatism is aligned with liberal democracy in wanting power to be decentralised to the community and with the radical centre in having benefits linked to some sense of responsibility that gives people self-respect.

This is not quite the same as the rights-duties rhetoric of authoritarian Blairism and the authoritarian Right. In these cases, a person got a benefit by the grace of the people's Government or the State and therefore had a consequent duty that arose from the grant - it was almost feudal in conception.

Under the new dispensation, there are no rights as such. Self reliance is preferred to dependency and those who are dependent are to be encouraged forcefully into independence while those who serve the public are to be expected to perform their tasks competently and according to contract.

Some left wing Liberal Democrats are clearly discomfited by this restoration of rights to its original political meaning (which is fine for mainstream LibDems) and will, no doubt, drift back into a mildly reformed New Labour Party where social and economic rights are central to its progressive ideology.

Even within the new coalition those like Hutton and Cable with a social democratic mentality will continue to argue in social and economic rights terms and will, no doubt, win a few points to match the concessions made to right wing individualism in other areas.

The point is where the balance lies, that centre of gravity. It now lies firmly in one nation traditional liberal-conservatism, a decisive shift away from the Thatcher legacy of state nationalism and radical neo-liberal economics under which there was famously 'no such thing as society'.

Pressures On The Coalition

The Tory traditionalists may be weakened as are the 'British' nationalists but the Tory economic and Atlantic 'Right' are as strong as ever. They will continue to exert a pull that may eventually tear apart the Coalition under various economic and sovereignty pressures.

It will be hard to hold the line on the Coalition's Left if the scale of the cuts necessary to please the market really do disproportionately hurt the poorest or if unemployment rates start to rise significantly. US demands for extreme action to meet its own needs would also create severe strains.

Differences over Trident have been papered over as a problem made academic by the bipartisan Tory-New Labour support for our native brand of WMD (although New Labour policy may change as the price of Cruddas' influence within the Party and of potential SNP and Liberal Democrat support in the future).

Europe, too, despite noises from the Right, seems to be in abeyance both because it is not core to anyone's interest while the deficit has to be managed and because the matter is truly academic at a time when the 'Greek Crisis' looks as if it might make the Euro and eventually the EU irrelevant.

The political killing ground lies in the area of political reform. Liberal Democrat activists have expectations far in excess of what is possible while the Tory mainstream has drawn its own line in the sand.

The reform issue is unlikely to break the Coalition in the near future but, eventually, especially if New Labour can organise itself out of its instinctive authoritarian habits and offer a credible democratic alternative, the Tories will have to concede or go it alone and ditch their partners.

Our Assessment - the Coalition will survive and even prosper for two years and less certainly for three but it will come under increasing strain on fundamentals as the deficit comes under control, any recovery starts and we get closer to the 2015 Election.

Election 2010 – Foreign Policy And Coalitions

The markets seem to be surprisingly untroubled by current negotiations over who will lead the next Government of the United Kingdom. They know that whoever is in charge will have to follow a programme of cuts and tax rises.

The Timetable

Whatever the different constituencies for the two sides may hope, the two main competitive options are only going to differ on nuance rather than fundamentals when it comes to economics. The same applies to foreign policy. The differences lie on political reform and the type of cuts and tax rises.

There are many potential permutations in the medium term - including another election or a minority Tory government pottering along until its first major vote of confidence - but the most likely outcomes are either a Lib-Con pact or the so-called 'progressive alliance'.

The system has around another three or four days to get itself sorted out. If there are not signs of significant progress by (say) Thursday, the markets will get jittery. No deal at all by the time the markets open next Monday could cause a more serious crisis.

What has not been commented upon a great deal is the effect on foreign policy of the final outcome. There is only a hair's breadth difference between Conservatives and New Labour so any 'nuance' must come from the emergence of the pro-European Liberal Democrats and the Scots and Welsh Nationalists.

Perceptions of Sovereignty

It is common knowledge that David Cameron has relatively little interest in foreign policy. His concern with domestic issues means that he has virtually handed over this area to the Churchillian 'post-imperial' elements like Hague who revel in statecraft as once did Tony Blair.

Both New Labour and the Tories are Atlanticist to the core. Both are persuaded towards UN reform in favour of rising powers. Both have a 'thing' about Iran and Africa. Both support the two-state solution in the Middle East. Both are committed to overseas aid as a moral principle.

The difference lies over Europe and a particular perception of sovereignty. Mandelson's vision of power is subtle and relies on influence through a trans-national elite leadership as if the country was an important subsidiary of a major conglomerate. The Tories believe in UK plc as a separate entity.

Tory euroscepticism is not now driven by the fear of English votes moving to the Right but is embedded in the rising generation of libertarians. Surely this in itself might push the Liberal Democrats into the arms of New Labour?

The Tories & Europe

The failure of UKIP, various English nationalists and the BNP to make a mark is only partly a matter of taste - the intelligent English and British nationalists have become sophisticated and retaken the Tory Party from its base. The image of Europe has also changed on the centre-right with Lisbon.

Once there was a vision, closer to Mandelson's, where national economic interests were intimately bound up with the creation of a massive single market. This enabled mainstream Toryism to embrace Maastricht but Lisbon has been an integration too far.

Appreciation of the single market model has been replaced by a greater fear that economic federalism will end up killing the goose that lays the United Kingdom's 'golden egg' (the City of London) and that integration demands will severely damage British, or rather English, culture.

This is why it remains possible for the Liberal Democrats, despite the risk of alienating much of the rest of the English population, to shift from the Tories to New Labour if they do not get a major concession that gives them a prospect of electoral reform before the next election. But will they?

Europe, The Liberal Democrats & Labour

Europe is central to the world view of the older generation of Liberal Democrats. Cameron's euroscepticism will cause them to bridle as Europe integrates under the guise of saving the Euro in a way that makes it increasingly difficult for a Tory Government to accommodate change.

New Labour is infinitely more pro-European than the Tories, seeing it not as competitor for influence within the West but integral to a West that is lead in part from London and wholly in partnership with Washington. It is just a variation on a shared Atlanticist theme but an important one.

New Labour's Manifesto was supportive of European social protection legislation (a core trades union demand), supportive of enlargement and supportive of the integration of EU anti-crime, anti-terror and defence operations with NATO. The concession of a referendum on the Euro was merely tactical.

But, other than Europe, foreign policy is less important to Liberal Democrats than to either of the other two parties who, paradoxically, given all their debates over sovereignty, are heavily beholden to the joint security arrangements with the US that make Trident such an expensive white elephant.

What the Liberal Democrats offer is a softer approach to issues of war and peace, assertive in defence of human rights and opposed to WMD but not necessarily adopting the 'hard' Western view that the exercise of forward military power is the means to guarantee rights and democracy.

Since many of the Labour Left and certainly the Scots and Welsh nationalists share these views, are more suspicious than nearly all Conservatives of Atlanticism and are more instinctively pro-European, the idea that the Liberal Democrats can 'tame' New Labour in an alliance has its attractions.

The State Carries On Regardless

The State (the Crown), after fifty years of Atlanticism, is relaxed. It is confident that 'plus ca change'. The nuances may be different but the core of the next Government will still be embedded in a vision of the West, the UK at its heart, a post-imperial vision of global influence under the wing of America.

The Liberal Democrats are scarcely revolutionaries, merely replacing America with Europe as the focus of attention within a values-driven conception of a 'progressive alliance' and softening the means to attain the same values-driven ends in either model.

The questions this week are whether these differing nuances in foreign policy are going to be at all central to the decision whether to take one path rather than another in the formation of the next Government and what each 'model' may mean in practice.

Our view is that they will play a role in the negotiations but they are far from central. The big economic decisions (including Trident and the Eurofighter) are going to be driven by market factors and it is probable that Tories and New Labour would combine to save the central core of Atlanticist policies.

The Liberal Democrats know that they cannot do anything about the Tory position on Europe and the best that can be done is to fight the big battles through referenda rather than on the floor of the House.

Similarly, the Liberal Democrats can make a lot of noise about right-wing posturing on sovereignty on matters of detail and principle and might combine with the 'progressives' to block a particularly obnoxious bit of nationalism (as they would see it) but this need not cause a Government to fall.

Outcomes

At the end of the day, the prize for the Liberal Democrats has little to do with Britain's place in the world and a great deal to do with political reform.

If you add in the chance to influence the Tories towards their own avowed 'compassionate' conservatism and a shared agenda on the restoration of civil liberties, there is a lot to be said for a Liberal-Conservative alliance until the next election.

On the surface, the Liberal Democrats may have much more in common with the 'progressive coalition' in foreign affairs than they do with the Tories but we need to dig under the surface of what is going on here.

The two nationalist parties have opportunistically sought to out-flank New Labour to the Left. Their package of measures has included the attack on Trident and on post-imperial interventions overseas but this radicalism is really only skin-deep.

The nationalist parties are simply against the 'Empire' and they want to continue its break-up whereas the Liberal Democrats have only ever wanted to liberalise and humanise it. Indeed, liberal enthusiasm would often extend Empire where pragmatic Tories might justifiably only see the costs.

So what influence would the Liberal Democrats actually have on New Labour's policies in office (in foreign policy)? We would suspect - despite the best wishes of what remains of the Labour Left and the progressive grassroots - very little indeed.

Foreign policy is central to New Labour's positioning and many Liberal Democrats are happier with its general thrust in terms of forward promotion of Western values than they like to admit. The 'real' Left had a more revolutionary take, wanting to liberate the world by liberating the British working classes.

New Labour Right assumptions are not so very different from Liberal Democrat instincts. Both New Labour and Liberal Democrats like big things the country can belong to! They both want them to have some basis in universal values rather than mere statecraft.

The Labour Left, on the other hand, is on its knees. Its progressive elements are very little different from Liberal Democrats and its radical elements are crushed with no hold on either Party or State. The collapse of RESPECT in East London matched the crushing failures of the Radical Right.

The addition of Liberal Democrats and Nationalists to New Labour would be an occasional irritant rather than the cause of major change. If the Liberal Democrats joined the 'progressives, it would be for political reform, electoral advantage and civil liberties - not for a sea-change in the British State.

In other words, here, as with the Tories, foreign policy is a second order consideration in any negotiations. The Liberal Democrats in office with New Labour are unlikely to be at the heart of external State policy unless given greater prominence in Europe.

The current negotiations, like the election itself, are primarily about domestic reform and domestic crisis - how to rebuild confidence in the system to weather major cuts and tax rises. They are not about foreign policy. In that area, expect business as usual constrained by lack of cash.

The ‘Meaning’ of General Election 2010

Last night's election result, with perhaps only another forty or so results to come in as we write, has its grim aspects - the potential for weak government, administrative incompetence, the collapse of momentum for change and the serious threat of a loss of market confidence in the country.

The Momentum For Change Collapses

Our last analysis stands with one exception - the last seven days of the election did not prove as tense and exciting as we had expected. The momentum for change ended ....

If anything, the election became dulled, as if the two both challengers, Clegg and Cameron, feared that they would lose their assumed leads by becoming more exposed to questioning. They allowed New Labour the leeway to rally its coalition.

Cameron was probably wise to do this but Clegg's lack of flair and drive in these last days allowed too many people to wobble back home to their respective tribes.

It would have been a high risk strategy but a determination to follow Vince Cable in telling the truth about the economy and setting clearer terms for a coalition might have made a difference but we will never know.

The technical analysis of the results is available in many places on the internet and we generally recommend the BBC. It is solid, experienced and non-partisan but it is also a little restricted in what it can say about the 'meaning' of events. As usual, we will try and abstract that meaning ourselves.

The Conservative Achievement - The English Party

The Conservatives' achievement was actually quite remarkable, given their position only three or four years ago, but they have still not established themselves a truly national British party.

All three of the petty 'nations' have remained in the hands of others. The question often arises why the Tories cling to a Churchillian British Imperial perspective instead of seizing the post-imperial moment for an English Parliament where 'conservative' values would become embedded in the bulk of the nation.

In fact, the Tories know that appearing to be 'British' increases their acceptability to the English and it maintains their hold in the non urban and suburban South. Yet it is an internal contradiction that leaves it caught between two stools, not truly national in either a British or an English sense.

This tension has been brilliantly exploited by New Labour (or rather its Mandelsonian-Blairite version) in building up an 'inclusive' political model that is less ambiguous about its appeal to anti-nationalist British votes in the Celtic areas and in winning over ethnic block votes in the 'English' cities.

New Labour - Ersatz National Interest

The way the swings operated also showed that the 'one nation' concept that had applied at almost any election until the Conservatives alienated Scotland and the bulk of Wales under Thatcher, as well as much of the urban north, is well and truly defunct.

In Scotland itself, there was actually a swing to New Labour with local support for the Prime Minister increasing significantly in his own constituency. If anything, the attacks on him by the national media look as if they strengthened his position and mobilised resentful tribalists into coming home.

Similarly, Battersea may have fallen to the Tories but the neighbouring constituency where a popular Asian could call on the local ethnic vote saw the Labour vote increase.

Yet in the North East, traditional 'English' territory but a Labour heartland, there were swings to the Tories very early in the evening that would have translated into a full Tory Government if they had been truly nationwide.

The pundits were undoubtedly confused throughout the first half of the evening as the swingometers, on which broadcast analysis has depended in every previous election, showed that the exit polling was correct in substance but was no guide to which seats would be won or lost in practice.

The Return Of The Tribal - From 'Class' to 'Identity'

This is the second 'meaning' to hold on to - New Labour's political strategy of using the State and its funds to embed its coalition has worked. Its vote stayed solid as its tribe turned out to vote (indicating that local machines may not be in quite as distressed a state as many have thought).

Key interest groups were able to put their local, ethnic, regional and class interests behind the Party created with great skill by Mandelson, Blair and Brown in the 1990s. New Labour is not only not dead. It has been strengthened.

What is dead is any serious Old Labour or libertarian Left challenge to the dominant order within the Party that was created at the 1996 Party Conference. Dissent is now idle (if it ever was not since 'Partnership in Power') - you are either in or out of the machine.

Given the history of credit crunch, this is the worst that it is likely to get for New Labour until and unless the United Kingdom breaks up or the IMF smashes its coalition by demanding cuts that it has to administer itself in Government. The first is unlikely, the second worryingly more so.

Liberal Democrats - Last Chance Saloon

The third 'meaning' arises from the illusions of those who thought the Liberal Democrats offered an opportunity for change. I doubt whether those high poll results for Clegg were false reads but it was, in fact, a 'bubble' and the Liberal Democrats must take responsibility for not seizing the moment.

By any objective standard, the Liberal Democrats had the most mature approach to the coming crisis (though we advisedly say merely 'the most') but their results were all over the place - wins here and losses there that amounted to no real net gain. Given the expectations, this is a disaster for them.

Elsewhere, TPPR got into a debate about the influence of the old and new media that now seems futile because it appears that none of the media had the influence that they believed they had or might have.

The Clegg bubble was overwhelmed not by media criticism or made stronger by new media support in the middle classes but by the inability of Clegg to exploit his one shining moment in the broadcast sun - he was clearly as surprised by it as anyone - and by the usual mix of fear and anxiety in the street.

The processual message of 'change' needed far more inspiration from the 'change merchants' (who really are only another faction of the political class when you get down to it). Without that necessary sense of drama, Tweedledum-Tweedledee tribalism had an opportunity to recover.

On the one side, Labour somewhat brilliantly exploited the fears of a Tory Government to the 'turkeys who feared Christmas' and brought its coalition back together.

Labour heartlands have never really cared much about refining democracy, plebiscites will do. What we noticed in the social media was a new surge of energy amongst New Labour progressives in those final vital days while Clegg seemed to sit around like a pudding waiting for the diners to arrive.

On the other side, the Tory strategy of advising the wobbling middle that a vote for the Liberal Democrats would allow Brown to stay in office shifted his wobblers back to him and it kept floaters floating with turnout not as high as expected.

If you are not inside the New Labour coalitional machine, you really are outside it and much of the Southern English middle class remains terrified at the thought of New Labour remaining in power. Cameron's team got that argument spot on!

Our Twitter feed was filled with local people unable to make a decision until the last minute with a sort of wobbling between the Tory Establishment and the Liberal Democrat protest vote that seems to have been resolved in different ways in different areas but generally against radical change.

Again, the role of Twitter and Facebook as viral medium needs more research because, if it contributed to the creation of the Clegg bubble, it also contributed to its pricking as caution, fear and anxiety were conveyed back through the system.

A Very Conservative Election

Taking these three 'meanings' and weaving them into a whole, we have seen something very 'conservative' re-appear in British politics. The British people are not fools. The events in Greece were the biggest story in the media that was not domestic or related to the Icelandic ash.

Every voter knows that we are living on borrowed time in an uncertain world where we do not set the agenda. Two emotions are dominant at such times: fear and a determination to survive. Optimism and imagination, required for reform, are in short supply.

At the theoretical national level, everyone might witter on about the need for strong government but they always mean 'our' strong government. They want a strong government that advantages their interest in the competition with others for a decreasing economic cake.

This is the overall 'meaning' of this election - the two great coalitional tribes have recoalesced at the expense of 'change' and are in a struggle now to control the State's mechanism for taking cash in taxes and redistributing it (or not) for political reasons.

From a market perspective, this is grim because we now have days or weeks in which minority parties with no national mandate may be dictating policies that are either distractions from tough decisions (such as referenda on reform that few now really care about) or expensive.

Meanwhile, not only economic recovery and the confidence of the markets is at stake but social cohesion. The Tories certainly cannot go much further in seducing the liberal centre-left and are under pressure on their radical nationalist and English Right. Losses to the Right cost them some seats.

New Labour has implicitly promised to protect its own but it can only do so if it disproportionately hurts the middle classes and takes the markets to the limits of their tolerance.

Administrative Incompetence - Africa Comes To Europe

Meanwhile, there is one other factor to take account of - the gross administrative incompetence of local government in many areas in their handling of the election.

We have not researched whether the Government in Tehran is crowing over this and other serious allegations of irregularities in ethnic-dominated constituencies but they have every right to do so.

What it really tells us is something we have known and observed for a very long time - that the British administrative system, constructed in the nineteenth century and built up over the decades since, is no longer fit for purpose.

The electoral errors of organisation and judgement are not exceptional but are standard fare yet the chances of reform are minimal under a Lib-Lab coalition because the transfer of resources from the private to the public sector in order to maintain full employment is central to the New Labour coalition.

High regulation levels (largely to meet trades union requirements), morale-damaging risk-averse target-setting (rather than the exercise of judgement) and a refusal to hire and fire on merit or make workers and managers truly accountable on actual results have created the 'turkeys' that cannot be killed.

This would not be a problem in a prospering economy. The 'turkeys' would live because the 'geese' (the private sector) was perpetually laying golden eggs - but the eggs are drying up and some of the geese now fear that they will be slaughtered for turkey feed.

This is really what is at stake in the creation of the next Government - not processual reform.

The question is whether one faction can deal with a massively over-engineered public sector without splitting the Kingdom or having to deal with Athens'-style riots or whether the other faction can hold things together long enough for an otherwise globally important economy to recover and lay eggs again.

If you want to know the real 'meaning' of the election, don't worry over much about the factional struggles in our political elites, look at the markets, look at Greece, Spain, Portugal and Eire and keep a close eye on sterling.

 

STOP PRESS: Nick Clegg has just announced that he thinks that the Conservatives, as the largest party, should form the next Government. This is not a surprise, partly because the Liberal Democrat Party grassroots has hardened its position on New Labour over the last decade.

The price is likely to be a Referendum on electoral reform which should be easy for the Conservative Party to concede so long as it is free to campaign against change.

The likelihood now is of a Tory minority Government taking unpopular decisions but restrained by the Liberals and minority parties and with New Labour both sniping from the side and seeking to detach the Liberal Democrats from the Tories at the first serious sign of a vote of no confidence.

The logic is of a second election within the next eighteen months when either it suits the Tories to go to the country on 'administrative competence' or the Liberals think they have got all that they can from the Tories and can cut some electoral pact with New Labour.

One Liberal Democrat strategy (though 'once bitten, twice shy') is to revisit the approach discussed between Blair and Ashdown but now with Cameron in which key policy changes are matched, later if not earlier, with Government positions for the Liberal Democrats in a key Ministry or two.

We may expect Gordon Brown to stand down or be challenged and there will be no progress on that side until a new Leader is appointed - probably a relatively young Blairite who can 'understand' the needs of the machine.

In terms of policy, the Party will probably try to appear 'responsible' to the middle classes whilst channelling public sector and regional fears of spending cuts to maintain the coalition in shape. It is quite possible for New Labour to be returned with a working majority within eighteen months.

All in all, we have a period of considerable political excitement ahead amongst an anxious public and jittery markets with no clear resolution for some months to come.