Tuesday 30 July 2013

The temptations of Facebook

I am back after a couple of weeks in France -  and happily managed to dodge the royal birth and the deferential cheer-leading that goes with it. I have no more to say about the birth of the new prince - and you'll see why in a minute:

These days, thanks to smart phones, going on holiday is not the isolating experience that it used to be. Rather than a hermit-like couple of weeks away from the news, thanks to Facebook and blogs, you remain connected to the world albeit through a rather peculiar lens.

So my awareness of the royal birth derived from what I read through the posts of my Facebook friends. Unsurprisingly, most of these are of a generally left/liberal/republican persuasion and a significant number of them have a reasonable sense of humour. But far too many of them felt obliged to post 'me-too' posts either taking the piss out of the new prince or making all-too obvious points about the birth. And if I had been at home, I would probably have done exactly the same thing.

But with the benefit of a bit of a distance I realised that we really don't need all this. All those posts may make us chuckle for a few seconds -  and that's fine -  but  more worryingly they give us a sense of smug self-righteousness that in so doing we have somehow struck a blow for something or other.  I  recall that back in the 1980s Billy Bragg used to sing something about 'wearing badges is not enough in times like these'. Maybe Facebook posts are the new badges.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Ed finally breaks the union link?

It would be an ironic twist of history that Ed-the-geek, the non-entity who crept into leadership only  because he was the least offensive option to the power-brokers of the Labour Party, should be the one who crosses the Rubicon and breaks the links with the unions.

Let's be clear that the arrangement whereby trade union members had affiliated membership of the party and where local branches affiliated to local parties and made up the general management committees of constituency parties never made Labour the worker-controlled party that the rhetoric would suggest. 

From its earliest days there was a mixture in the party membership of the middle class and workers. In earlier time the middle class component was drawn from intellectuals, bohemians and that layer of the middle class engaged in 'public service professions'. It is very different today. As both  UNITEs Len McCluskey and the CWU's Billy Hayes have pointed out in the past few days, Labour is now run by and for not working people but by a political class -  and politics has become a posh boy's game. 

Possibly the rot goes back to Harold Wilson - the working class grammar school boy who never actually worked outside of the union and party machine. Even coming from a working class background and having worked in a proper job has historically been no guarantee that individuals would continue to represent workers' interests - Ernest Bevin springs to mind as personifying the phenomenon of the thoroughly capitalist and collaborationist union baron.

But - in spite of all these caveats - the union link did mean something. The fact that local parties were structurally tied to local unions meant that at times some sort of control could be exercised. And so at certain times by a fragile,  indirect and imperfect process, the party was forced to reflect workers' interests - the 1945 government is the obvious example of this, but so too are the battles within the party in the 1970s.

Miliband's announcement yesterday  only goes to complete a process begun by Kinnock in the 1980s to make Labour finally free of this increasing  tenuous link. Surely nobody on the Left can now argue that there is any life still remaining in the Labour corpse. 

It defied all logic that some elements were arguing that this corpse could somehow be revived. Ironically it was McCluskey's own belief in this - brought to a head by the Falkirk affair - that has been the catalyst for Miliband's announcement. Incidentally McCluskey's welcoming reaction to the announcement may at first seem bizarre - but of course the removal of mass party membership will not represent the end of union funding only the breaking of automatic union funding. In fact it may even boost the power of union bosses in giving them the power to opt to make donations to party funds in return for influencing policies - possibly taking Labour even closer to the type of lobbying and power-play machinations seen in the Democratic party in the US. 

The only upside of all this is that it might just kill of the  few remaining illusions that people may have left in Labour.