29 August 2014

There’s no getting away from it: Rotherham exposes the liberal-left’s moral vacuum

In The Open Society and Its Enemies, Karl Popper quotes a passage from Hegel that shows how social ideologies can end up giving free rein to all sorts of bad behaviour.

Hegel says in it: “We may fairly establish the true principles of morality, or rather of social virtue, in opposition to false morality; for the History of the World occupies a higher ground than that morality which is personal in character – the conscience of individuals, their particular will and mode of action.”

Here we can see social virtue, or ‘social justice’ you might say, being consciously put up against personal morality and conscience, and beating it. Hegel’s true principles of morality trumped the false trivialities of people being good or bad to each other in real life.

The incredible failings of Rotherham Council and police in relation to the industrial-scale child sex abuse going on in that town show how such ideas are not mere fodder for dry debates in the fusty rooms of academia. They are rather having a huge impact on the way our public authorities manage us – and our most vulnerable people are sometimes bearing the brunt, as exposed in Professor Alexis Jay’s report.

In this case and others of similar abuse involving men of overwhelmingly Pakistani origin – as documented by Julie Bindel as far back as 2007 – public authorities have forsaken basic ethics and responsibilities to a dogma of diversity or multiculturalism conceived not as a basic fact of life but as a belief system.

This belief system, which is becoming more rather than less prevalent on the mainstream liberal-left, involves a specific favouritism towards people of ‘diverse’ backgrounds (non-white/immigrant) above those defined as non-diverse (white English/British).

In this way, diversity targets are set for public bodies and the Labour Party for example (with a desire to expand to private and voluntary sectors), public money gets spent (as Al Razi has pointed out, Rotherham spent £300,000 a year on a ‘diversity team’ in 2010) and a culture is established which discourages criticism and intervention against those seen as diverse. Normally the consequences are relatively benign (though sometimes corrosive for workplace morale). But the Rotherham case shows this attitude of protection and leniency towards those whose race is an issue can have dreadful consequences.

Take this from the Executive Summary of Professor Jay’s report:

By far the majority of perpetrators were described as 'Asian' by victims, yet throughout the entire period, councillors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how best they could jointly address the issue. Some councillors seemed to think it was a one-off problem, which they hoped would go away. Several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so.”

Rotherham social services’ culture actually seems to have been stuck in a sort of an extreme ideological hole, as can be seen from it banning a couple of UKIP members from fostering for apparently belonging to a "racist party".

But a report from the Rotherham Local Safeguarding Children Board back in December 2013 shows another troubling angle to the authorities’ attitude. It says:

Both the media and public perception has been that Rotherham has failed to protect children involved in CSE or identified offenders and brought them to justice. Perception however is not always reality. It is now clear that CSE...is pervasive across the length and breadth of the country."

The explanation that they didn’t actually fail to protect these children because child sexual exploitation is happening elsewhere is clearly absurd. By saying it’s a wider national or societal issue they mean it’s beyond the responsibility of mere mortals, including themselves who are being paid and elected to be responsible for it in their area.

For Labour, which had been presiding as a virtual one-party state in Rotherham, the revelations from there and elsewhere will likely not have a disastrous effect at the ballot box next year. But they pose a big challenge to a party infrastructure, rulebook and culture that has institutionalised favouritism and wants to impose it much more widely on British public life. A minority or small majority Labour government will surely have serious problems implementing further ethnic favouritism, not least when we can see it contribute to such horrific circumstances for vulnerable young people who are not protected by these systems.

These practices also pose a philosophical problem for a party one of whose leaders, Harold Wilson, said, "is a moral crusade or it is nothing". For group rights without responsibilities means the end of morality: identity has trumped ethics.  

For more on similar themes, see Identity politics and the left page.

26 August 2014

Mrs Thatcher was actually right: there is no such *thing* as society

Margaret Thatcher’s comment that ‘there is no such thing as society’ has a totemic significance on the left.

It serves as the trademark of an uncaring, right-wing ideologue who believed in selfishness as opposed to solidarity and community, to the extent that she didn’t even recognise the ties that bind us in society.

The thing is – and this is coming from a lefty – she was actually right.

The infamous phrase was uttered in an interview for Woman’s Own in 1987, in which she said:

Who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.”

She said it in full a little later:

There is no such thing as society. There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.”

This is an argument for responsibility and reciprocity – which you could easily recast as one of society, not against it. Thatcher did also use society in a positive sense, for example in her 1987 Conference speech, in which she said:

Local councils, teachers, broadcasters, politicians: all of us have a responsibility to uphold the civilised values which underpin the law.

We owe it to society of which we are a part.”

But her account is not of society a thing with the attributes that things or objects have. Her view requires us all to get off our arses and do something rather than leaving it all to the Government or an abstract outside force called ‘society’ which we can praise or blame for whatever takes our fancy.

That is perfectly fair, and it is good that so many on the left and in Labour, notably Jon Cruddas, have come around to a similar viewpoint – that an impersonal state doling out goods to the masses cannot alone provide for a good society. Without people getting involved, caring for each other, taking pride in their communities and taking responsibility for their actions, the state is fighting a losing battle. It cannot stop people littering and vomiting on our pavements; it cannot alone bring up children to be good citizens; it cannot prevent all crime from happening. Good citizens don’t tend to commit crime, and if crime didn’t happen, there would be no need for the state to prevent and punish it.

But Labour’s old ways remain very much in evidence alongside this new and welcome understanding, flowing up through the internal structures of the party from the various interest groups and back down again from the centre, fixing outcomes and trampling on devolved power and democracy wherever it exists within the party. Labour has been clear that these practices, involving further preferential treatment for favoured groups like women and ethnic minorities, will be replicated in government if it returns to power.

These practices are often justified by some startlingly immodest social theories that claim to understand the whole world, with grids of universal oppression and privilege separating different groups, and society itself as an actor that makes only bad things happen to the oppressed and good things to the privileged.

There is something of an irony here, in that these parts of the left rage at Mrs Thatcher for not believing in ‘society’ while themselves regarding society as an enemy that needs to be defeated (c.f. Laurie Penny and the slogan ‘Destroy the Patriarchy’). These sorts of theories retain a lot of influence on the ways of the left, and exist in a state almost beyond criticism and critique. Anyone who dares to criticise them – and I speak from experience – gets damned as anti-women, racist and against equality (regarded in Orwellian terms as its opposite).

These contortions of ideology are given almost a free rein not just because of the authoritarian politics they promote, which stifle and suppress criticism, but because they are impossible to falsify. Society or something like patriarchy has no form. It has no limits, nothing which we can see and hear and bear witness to. When we rage at society, there is no one to answer back. It can mean anything or nothing. There is literally no it there.

In other words, there is no such thing as society.

For more on similar themes, see Philosophy, thought and literature page.

20 August 2014

The bullying of Austin Mitchell shows once more where hegemony lies in Labour

What I have been saying here about where hegemony lies in the Labour Party has been shown off once more with bells on following Austin Mitchell’s provocative article about Labour women in the Mail on Sunday. The amount and tenor of concerted personal attacks on him have been quite remarkable, encouraged by the leader’s office (not surprising given what he says about it).

Before examining what Mitchell actually said – much of which is rather delicious for any serious Labourologist – let’s have a look at what some powerful and influential Labour figures have said in response. It's very much the reaction of an establishment stamping down on an unwanted outsider and hanging him out to dry.

The responses of prominent Labour women in an article for the right-leaning Telegraph for example could hardly have been stronger. Lucy Powell, shadow children's minister and Ed Miliband’s leadership bid campaign manager, referred to Mitchell’s sexist and misogynistic comments”. Former cabinet minister and potential London mayoral candidate Tessa Jowell said: “It’s the old cloth-eared macho politics that have alienated so many [women] across all parties.”

Moving over to party news organ LabourList, “Ed Miliband’s spokesperson” dictated a statement which “slaps down Austin Mitchell” according to the headline, with the writer joining in the hatchet job by concluding: “Mitchell has previously been in hot water over accusations of sexism and comparing a corporate takeover to rape - as of next May, he’ll no longer be a Labour MP…”

Johanna Baxter, who has just been re-elected to Labour’s governing body the NEC on a ticket of ‘#PuttingMembersFirst , then laid in, saying that Mitchell hadbrought shame to our PLP” with his “his bucket of bile”, that he was “ageist and sexist – in the extreme”, showed “complete contempt for both our party and his constituents, confirmed every disengaged voter’s fear about the politicians – that they’re only in it for themselves – and showed us exactly why we need All Women Shortlists and why politics needs to change”. LabourList editor Mark Ferguson, generally a good, balanced voice, linked to the article in a tweet: “Labour NEC member @JohannaBaxter gives Austin Mitchell both barrels here. Excellent stuff”. If he hadn’t expressed such views, he may been up against the wall himself such is the hysteria going around.

Lastly, Kevin Peel, another Labour NEC candidate (on the Progress slate and unsuccessful), wrote for ProgressOnline how he was “appalled”, and felt “disgust” at the “astonishingly misogynistic claims and assumptions about women MPs”. He added: “we need better education and understanding of equality issues in the party” – a call for political re-education of ignorant believers in inequality like myself then, which should be fun (by the way, I’m in favour of equality as a general idea, but it very easily gets warped into its opposite by these advocates of the ‘equalities agenda’, as I discussed recently here).

Bear in mind that “misogyny” means ‘hatred of women’, so Peel here and Powell have been saying, in public, that Austin Mitchell hates women. I can hardly think of anything more insulting to say about anyone, and it is very hurtful even if you’re familiar with the way itch-hunt: anyone who steps away from the one true path gets stamped down and trampled into the dust.

The past has become another party, and Labour’s pool of experience is being drained, which is perhaps just as well because the bright, bushy-tailed new boys and girls think they know it all anyway.

Oldies are being replaced by amenable youngsters who came of age politically in the post-socialist era of Brown and Blair, those sons of Thatcher who replaced social democracy with free market economics, euro-enthusiasm and Boy Scout wars.

Instead our new preoccupations will be social, educational and family issues, all brought to the fore by the feminisation of Labour through the obsession with All-Women’s Shortlists (AWS)." [and he mentioned two examples where the list has been just one, so not much choice there]

He then related how Ed Miliband’s ‘political fixer’ Anna Yearley works to secure AWS in constituencies like the one he is stepping down from:

So when an MP stands down, the constituency party is consulted about whether they want an AWS, and whatever their reply (usually a confused mumble), the faceless functionaries on the Organisational Sub-committee of Labour’s National Executive, which makes the decision without knowing anything about local circumstances, are told the party will accept one... 

The only exceptions being seats wanted for the scions of our great dynasties, the Kinnocks, the Straws, the Benns, the Blairs.”

What has perhaps received most attention is this section:

 It cannot be denied that feminisation and youthification will make Parliament brighter, smarter and nicer

Yet the Commons will also be more preoccupied with the local rather than the international (not necessarily a bad thing) and small problems rather than big ideas and issues  (a very bad thing as it will be less exciting and lead to sixth-form essays read out word for cut-and-pasted word, replacing oratory).”

And, lastly, “The Left will be even smaller but the party more manageable and reasonable, for apart from obsessive feminism, women MPs are more amenable and leadable and less objectionable. But it might not make us tougher.

If Labour wins in 2015, how a family-friendly, gentler party, less prepared for all-night shenanigans of the parliamentary kind, will face up to Tory hooligans who feel they’ve been unjustly deprived of a power that’s their due, is a more worrying matter."

Mitchell is not generally complimentary about Labour’s women MPs, true, and if applied universally, his views would clearly be wrong. But there seem to be two major questions here. Firstly, if what he said is true; and secondly, if it was unacceptable. For me, if the first applies, then the only ‘unacceptable’ is a political, tribal matter, not a moral one as pitched in the various reactions. The truth can certainly offend, but it cannot be misogynistic.

I can certainly see a great deal of truth in what Mitchell says from observing the Labour Party reasonably closely. If there wasn’t, then the reaction surely wouldn’t have been nearly as vituperative – we could have just brushed what he said off and laughed at it. Rather, the reaction shows a degree of insecurity and a lack of class.

Of course it is not necessarily a facet of women as a whole that they will "be more preoccupied with the local rather than the international...and small problems rather than big ideas and issues", but I think it is a general trait of the women that are coming through the Labour culture and system. They tend to be of a certain type, most interested in feminist politics, with the big ideas they espouse tending to be those of systematic female oppression - ideas that are quite strange and alienating to ordinary people (including most women).

But this is the dominant tendency on the wider liberal-left and its institutions, including the political parties, unions, media and third sector organisations.

You are very unlikely to see an article anything like this one in the Guardian or New Statesman for example, but you will see the opposite view expressed repeatedly. In liberal-left politics and media, gender as a subject matter has been assigned to the feminist tendency and is largely controlled by it, even though – indeed actually because – these people could hardly be more one-sided in their views.

This is what a hegemony looks like, and you could even see it on the BBC’s Newsnight programme on Tuesday evening, where Mitchell appeared with one of Labour’s most prominent feminist advocates, Stella Creasy.

On the programme, as on Radio 4's Woman’s Hour earlier in the day Mitchell, struck a mollifying tone, saying “the number of women should be increased, and All Women’s Shortlist have been a good way of doing that. But they are undemocratic...” He added: “I’m surprised at the comradely assault by my colleagues.”

Creasy responded cuttingly: “What I recognise is the drip-drip of discrimination and prejudice that women face in every single sphere of public life.” Both Creasy and presenter Kirsty Wark repeatedly interrupted Mitchell whenever he managed to say more than a brief sentence, with Wark even snapping back at Mitchell for saying: “Don’t hector me”...when he was being hectored.

The independent-minded Labour MP Kate Hoey was right when she tweeted:

But the dominant liberal media once more piled in against Mitchell. The New Statesman for example wrote up the encounter as: ‘Stella Creasy trounces Austin Mitchell in a debate on the “feminisation of politics”’.

This is a form of feminism in Labour in which women are deemed to be beyond criticism, and any criticism of them – individually or collectively – is stamped down upon if it gets anywhere near prominence, with any truth largely lost in the maelstrom. It is completely acceptable to make derogatory comments about men, and old white men in particular (“male, stale and pale”), but anything going the other way is met with a wall of noise and condemnation. It isn’t a healthy or attractive situation.

Of course this poses a problem for me personally, for as I have stopped trusting these people to speak or tolerate the truth on issues which are most important to them, I have also stopped trusting them generally. Given these are dominant voices in Labour politics, it has led me to start distrusting the party itself as an institution.

Alongside that, it seems clear that people like me, who think for themselves, keep their eyes and ears open, and are prepared to recognise what they see and hear, are more or less unwelcome in the party. This gives some pause for thought.

For more on similar subjects, see the Labour Party and other party politics page and Identity politics and the left page.