Archive for May, 2011

Sharon Shoesmith and Corporate Accountability

May 31, 2011

Just as public services come under unprecedented attack, up comes Sharon with her £1 million payoff and her list of self justifications and excuses. The story could have been planted by the Taxpayers’ Alliance. Incredibly, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said that the Court of Appeal’s ruling ‘give a much-needed boost to social workers up and down the country who protect daily thousands of vulnerable children and adults.’ Liberals flung the usual cliches of lynch-mob justice, demonisation and ‘witch hunts’, as if the dismissal of an executive who presided over horrific failure is exactly like what happened to innocent women in sixteenth-century England.

To me the case sums up the anger that so many people feel towards their local authorities, which wasted the regen cash of the boom years, whose jobs are completely closed off to workers from the communities they are meant to serve, and whose directors, when something irrevocable happens, say that lessons have been learned – and they never are. When people die on trains because Railtrack bosses cannot be bothered ensuring the safety of their passengers, we rightly demand accountability, sackings, jail time, heads on plates to go. When a child is tortured to death on the public sector watch, our wagons circle around managers on ministerial salaries.

My Shiraz colleague Jim Denham has commented on Shoesmith’s apparent insensitivity and lack of self awareness. These are traits acquired from organisational politics. When you spend years in the higher ranks of a powerful entity, discussing nothing but pay scales, funding pots and multi agency action plans, a deadly insularity takes hold. A child died with fifty injuries, okay – but what about me? What about my career, my reputation, my family, my life? Defending his company’s disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP boss Tony Hayward argued that ‘The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.’ Shoesmith told Radio 4 that ‘a child dying does not equal a department in disarray’.

It worries me that the unions do not recognise that the appeal was not about protecting hard working and hard pressed social workers, it was about protecting the pensions and security of the public sector management class. In his report into the murder of Victoria Climbie, another child tortured to death in the same LAA, Lord Laming refused to blame ‘hapless, if sometimes inexperienced, front-line staff’. Instead, he criticised ‘the managers and senior members of the authorities whose task it was to ensure that services for children, like Victoria, were properly financed, staffed, and able to deliver good quality support to children and families.’

It is significant that while a number of junior staff in Haringey Social Services were suspended and faced disciplinary action after Victoria’s death, some of their most senior officers were being appointed to other, presumably better paid, jobs. This is not an example of managerial accountability that impresses me much.

There is a failure of management culture. Baby P and Climbie will happen again unless the culture improves and it will not improve unless there are serious sanctions for corporate negligence. Likewise, the anti cuts movement will fail if it’s seen to be just a pressure group for lazy, stupid, overpaid, negligent council managers.

Update: This isn’t just about one LA of course. The Salford Star reports on a a series of appalling failures to safeguard children in that area. I know there’s a north/south divide, but it still surprises me that these events haven’t had national press.

Because in local government, nothing is ever anyone’s fault

Post Rapture Looting

May 24, 2011

Around Saturday I was in a Chorlton bar on a sunny Manchester evening, going through the papers with a pint and thinking if this is the end of the world as we know it then I feel fine, or at least reasonably content. The apocalypse was meant to be at six that night – and six o’clock everywhere, for the Lord’s vengeance respects no timezones. The End Times have been put back to October.

The build up and non event of the Rapture caused considerable merriment on Twitter, blogs and atheist organisations. Via Gene, Tiffany Stanley of The New Republic thinks the joke has gone too far and that Harold Camping’s followers deserve pity, not derision:

Based on the high traffic the articles are garnering, it would seem as if many of us are intrigued voyeurs, gleeful in knowing the exact day when these people will experience their life’s greatest disappointment. We feel superior, knowing that even though they told us we were heading for death and destruction, now, they get theirs.

Do the end-timers seem ignorant? Yes. Are they insane? Possibly. But should our reaction to them be chuckling glee or something more like sadness? Pay attention to their individual stories—their willingness to sacrifice everything in anticipation that their earthly lives are over—and I dare you not to feel the latter. Ashley Parker of The New York Times writes about a mom who stopped working, and stopped saving for college for her three teenaged children. One of the kids admitted, ‘I don’t really have motivation to try to figure out what I want to do anymore because my main support line, my parents, don’t care.’ At NPR, Barbara Brown Haggerty reports on a young couple, with a toddler and a baby on the way, who are spending the last of the savings. The wife says, ‘We budgeted everything so that, on May 21, we won’t have anything left.’

Laughing at religious fanatics is nothing new. And, at some level, there’s nothing wrong with it. But this story didn’t just take off in popularity because people wanted a quick laugh or some insight into a quirky subset of our country. There’s a cruelty underlying our desire to laugh at this story—a desire to see people humiliated and to revel in our own superiority and rationality—even though the people in question are pretty tragic characters, who either have serious problems themselves or perhaps are being taken advantage of, or both.

Sure, it’s an interesting story when a fringe group decides the world is ending tomorrow. But it’s also a small story. Come Sunday morning, as news articles flood in about the disillusioned end-timers, and those articles instantly become some of the most popular on the web—as they surely will—we might want to ask ourselves not what is wrong with this sad group of apocalyptic believers, but rather what is wrong with a society that takes such pleasure in their dysfunction.

Stanley has a point. Bad ideas do terrible things to people and their loved ones. Rapture believers have been the victims of a cruel trick, the con of faith itself as well as Camping’s deferred apocalypse.

Yet laughter can be kind. As they say in South Park, just because you laugh at someone doesn’t mean you don’t care about them. Ridicule from friends and family can save us from the wrong road. In later life you’re often grateful for this mockery (‘Seriously? Come on!’) because it’s given you perspective and steered you away from some ghastly fool’s errand. The Indian secularist Ajita Kamal has argued that laughter actually fulfills a role in the evolution of societies: ‘Ideas die in a culture when it becomes embarrassing to hold on to them.’

We’re told not to mock the afflicted because for some people faith is all that keeps them going. Apologists for religion quote the line from Marx – ‘the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions’ – and translate it as: okay, we don’t believe the Harold Camping interpretation of the universe (although many of us did believe these things before it became embarrassing) but, look, religion makes poor people happy, promotes social cohesion, so why are you being so negative?

And yet people in Stanley’s piece do not seem happy. They are neglecting their children and spending hundreds of thousands in life savings on doomsday’s promise. Harold Camping’s company is reported as being worth around $120 million. Why is he not using this money to help America’s desperate and struggling Rapture believers?

The illusion has to be maintained, even if the only comfort that faith can give is the assurance that everything will be okay when the world ends.

Update: I once wrote an apocalypse story, available here

Thanks: Ebolaworld, Hagbard Celine

Breaking the Firewall

May 22, 2011

I have written a long piece for 3:AM about Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist recently detained by the regime. The article is centred around a recent collection of his blog pieces (the blog has now been shut down). I also think this article, by Boris Johnson, is worth reading:

Artists such as Anish Kapoor (and writers such as Salman Rushdie in this newspaper) have protested at his treatment — but from the politicos the response is verging on the muted. All we have had from the Government, as far as I can see, is a terse statement of disapproval issued by William Hague in early April. Even in the liberal media, there is a curious apathy about the case.

Where are the candlelit vigils, the rallies for Ai Weiwei? Where are the newspaper campaigns and petitions, the why-oh-why-oh-weiweis?

In China, the very fact of his disappearance has itself disappeared. Plug his name into a Chinese search engine, and nothing comes up. They have super-injuncted him out of the story, and the West has responded with the diplomatic equivalent of a protracted fit of coughing. Such leeriness is almost understandable, really.

China today is a very different strategic proposition from the Soviet Union of the 1980s. It was frankly easier to protest at the treatment of dissidents such as Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn, because no one believed that the future belonged to Russia. On the contrary, we could all see that it was a basket case, an economy that couldn’t supply enough bath plugs for its hotels. No one worried about cheesing off Russian investors — because there weren’t any. It was Upper Volta with rockets.

China, on the other hand, is about to overtake America as the country with the biggest GDP on earth; China is the new 600lb gorilla of global capitalism; and with Chinese investments and commercial activities still heavily influenced — if not directed — by the politicians of the Communist party, it is no wonder that people are nervous of causing offence. No one wants to rub Beijing up the wrong way, and no one wants to be accused of being ‘anti-China’.

On his blog, Ai once asked: ‘If You Aren’t Anti-China, Are You Still Human?’

Stupid Ken

May 18, 2011

Lots of justified outrage today about Ken Clarke’s proposals to slash rape sentences in half, when it’s difficult enough to convict the scumbags anyway.

You need to listen to the whole interview to understand why people are so hacked off about this. People on Twitter have been calling Clarke’s Radio 5 piece a ‘car crash’ interview – but that’s misleading. ‘Car crash’ implies entertainment: Clarke’s interview is just nasty and unsettling. His patrician and dismissive attitude towards the reasonable, impassioned arguments of a genuine rape victim showed the Tory style at its worst. As did the giggling, piping middle-aged men behind Cameron when he was challenged on this at PMQs.

Unfortunately Clarke may not have done the government any real harm. We don’t live in the 1980s and the 6% conviction figure is no longer the establishment’s fault. Police install rape suites and judges take sensitivity training, but juries keep on acquitting rapists. We have to face this – the public still believes that rape alone among crimes is the fault of the victim. Anti-rape campaigns focus on female, rather than male behaviour – don’t get too drunk, don’t wear too little clothing, don’t leave your drink unattended – and you are as likely to hear the ‘she asked for it’ line from middle class hipsters as from working class conservatives.

In fourteen minutes Clarke destroyed his image as the acceptable face of the National Government. As my Twitter pal ‘Ian Plays Music’ put it: ‘Turns out Ken Clarke isn’t the cuddly, friendly old-school Tory that some on the Left made him out to be! Quelle surprise!’

People criticising the Justice Secretary’s laissez-faire attitude on rape should also scrutinise his policy on crime in general. It’s not a great, liberal ‘rehabilitation revolution’. It is about letting dangerous people out of jail to save money. That’s it. Nothing more.

Fact is, some people simply do not change, and sex offenders change less than most. A couple of weeks ago, probation officers complained that the early release system – that allows prisoners on determinate sentences to walk after half the time, regardless of attitude – had let hundreds of violent recidivists back on the streets.

Recent cases include one 40-year-old man, a convicted stalker from the Thames Valley area, who within two days of his release had turned up at his previous victim’s house and conducted extensive internet searches on her, even though he had previously been assessed as likely to kill her. A significant number of other cases that were examined concerned offenders who had been considered likely to assault female partners or acquaintances. Some began hunting down their former partners immediately upon release.

Most of those released had, according to Napo, failed to carry out any offender work or displayed any remorse. Most of the 30 individuals identified were recalled to custody within days of release because of the risk they posed. Others entered exclusion zones or absconded from hostels and most refused to co-operate with their licence conditions.

Harry Fletcher, Napo’s assistant general secretary, said: “It is scandalous that hundreds of prisoners are being released from custody automatically when they have completed half their sentence, despite assessments that they are of high risk of harm to the public. Case histories published by Napo show clearly that there is no incentive for certain prisoners to comply with rehabilitation plans in prison because they will be released when they have done half their time anyway. There is evidence that this is putting the public at risk.’

Clarke did point out on the radio that prisoners on license can be recalled. Which will be a great comfort to the mutilated corpse of the next woman murdered by some piece of shit out on early release.

The leftwing critique on crime is completely outdated. We have been saying for fifty years that crime is caused by poverty, but most poor people never hurt anyone. The Tories talk a good game, but in their hearts they don’t care if vicious individuals exploit the weak and vulnerable, in between ineffective and unattended community sentencing schemes. Ken Clarke can afford private security firms. Most people can’t, and crime – like everything else that’s bad – hits, disproportionately, working class people.

There is nothing progressive about letting monsters walk under the living sky.

Botch-A-Me (Ba-Ba-Baciami Piccina)

May 15, 2011

On the launch of Granta‘s ‘F-Word’ feminism issue, the Independent asks: ‘Is feminism relevant to 21st-century fiction?’ In her piece Arifa Akbar omits a crucial fact: the majority of book reviewing is of male authors, by male critics. This is based on research of UK and US literary publications and book pages by the American feminist research unit VIDA. The numbers are here. It seems to be common knowledge in the industry that women read more fiction than men – that’s why chick lit took off and lad lit failed. Yet there’s still this big gender imbalance in what gets reviewed, written about and talked about.

There’s an overused Nabakov quote in which the author of Lolita said that he was ‘frankly homosexual in his literary tastes.’ I used to be like that, but in the last few years I have got more into fiction and poetry by women writers – Jenn Ashworth, Anne Sexton, Lionel Shriver, Dorothy Parker, M J Hyland – and now I consider myself at least bi curious in my literary tastes. The writers Akbar interviews complain that women’s writing is not taken seriously because it is seen as too domestic and family-orientated. Kate Mosse identifies ‘a sense of the domestic becoming an area of literary concern. Yet when men write about domesticity, it’s seen as great literature. When women do it, it’s seen as women’s issues.’ Literary academic Toril Moi echoes this: ‘Roth writes as a male Jew from New Jersey, but no one calls his work domestic. It’s the great American novel. The same for Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom. Men’s experiences are seen as universal.’

Unfortunately, and I hate to say it, a lot of British women’s fiction is too domestic and family orientated. Too many novelists – I’m thinking of Anne Enright as the big example – seem to think people will be fascinated with the minutiae of autobiographical families and mother surrogates. This is not a gender problem, but the Roth and Franzen comparisons are misleading; Roth at least weaves his individual narratives into wider stories of American history. The subtext coming from Akbar’s piece is that the battles have been won and that women are free to relax in houseproud splendour. I think also the kitchen sink emphasis comes from what Irvine Welsh calls ‘the get-a-man, get-a-bairn, get-a-house shite that lassies get drummed into them’ and also from the cult of childbirth, that lowers women’s expectations, kills their aspirations, and keeps them in their place.

I remember a discussion with a Manchester writer, a talented one, in which she defended domestic writing from a feminist stance. Her arguments were convincing but what she didn’t answer – what I should have asked – was this: is anyone going to want to read this stuff? Contra Tolstoy, all families are pretty much the same. People read fiction to explore other worlds. They don’t want someone else’s Facebook toddler photographs. I got into writing because I wanted to write about extraordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. I know that the pram in the hall need not be an enemy of promise – there are great writers who married young and changed sets of nappies in between bursts at ‘Salem’s Lot or The World According to Garp – but instinctively I feel the writer should be a wandering man, in heart and mind if not in physical reality.

Jenn Ashworth recently did an interview with 3:AM, and I found her conclusions depressing:

I love domestic settings, writing about families and what happens inside our houses because I do think it is within our own little castles we are at our most real and we feel we can let the bad sides of ourselves out.

Still, Jenn wrote A Kind of Intimacy. So perhaps she knows something the rest of us don’t.

Mental health update: On Friday I went to Jenn’s book launch in the Northern Quarter. This involved getting on a train to Piccadilly for the first time since the agoraphobia hit in 2008. It shocked me how easy it was, and it was great to walk around in the city centre and feel like something more than a recovering agoraphobic. Hopefully, there will be some intercity trips this summer.

Silly, Vulgar, Jejune

May 15, 2011

Matthew Elliott from the Taxpayers’ Alliance said that yesterday’s ‘Rally Against Debt’ would ‘speak for the normally silent majority who know that, like it or not, spending cuts are right and necessary to cut the deficit and control the national debt.’ It turns out that the ‘silent majority’ consists of around 350 people, plus a speaking line up of some of the silliest personalities in British conservatism – frothing libertarian Paul Staines, climate change denialist Martin Durkin, UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

Is the TPA disappointed with this poor turnout? 350 people – there are cats on Twitter with more followers. It’s a good stat to remember the next time a conservative blogger accuses you of being a liberal elitist who is out of touch with the great British public. The low number is even more striking when you consider the Hardest Hit demo on Wednesday, a protest from disability groups against the government’s welfare reform bill. The Met confirmed around 8,000 on this demo despite the obvious physical difficulties many demonstrators would have to surmount to get to the venue.

I thought it was only a matter of time before we had a proper US-style Tea Party movement in this country, but perhaps I was wrong. It could be that the Guido Fawkes brand of extreme metropolitan conservatism doesn’t resonate with people in the same way that the TUC/UK Uncut demonstrations seemed to.

No one likes the idea of a national debt and no one outside the public sector management class would dispute that there is huge public sector waste. But we are not getting cuts in management consultancy fees and council exec salaries, we are getting cuts to policing, legal aid, welfare payments. The cuts are not just an abstract slogan any more, they are happening now, up here in Manchester there is real uncertainty over the future of libraries, SureStarts, debt advice services and law centres. Meanwhile the screamers in the Tory press complain that the government is not going far enough – Telegraph finance writer Ian Cowie recently argued, in apparent seriousness, that Cameron should take the vote from the unemployed.

The rally also illustrated the disadvantages of this government’s reliance on web-based activism. Iain Dale and Tim Montgomerie are big names in the Westminster political class but I doubt they would be recognised outside it. Meanwhile the Taxpayers’ Alliance is looking less like a national grassroots movement and more like another small monetarist pressure group. Why then is it given automatic right to reply on any newspaper story involving public finance?

Finally, I think the political blog is reaching the end of its natural life. The Tories won the internet war, but was it worth winning? The blog form is declining for a multitude of sins. For obvious reasons, trained journalists are much more reliable when it comes to finding actual news and many bloggers are far too partisan in their opinions to deliver interesting commentary and analysis. You get better quality of debate on Facebook and Twitter than on blog comment threads, mainly because most people on social networking sites write under their real names.

The lack of professionalism in even the most respected bloggers is astounding – Conservative Home has just appointed an eighteen year old as Deputy Editor. The best political bloggers – think Steven Baxter, Sunny Hundal, Laurie Penny – have been absorbed into mainstream journalism. Announcing his ‘retirement’ from political blogging, conservative pundit Iain Dale reflected that ‘the mainstream media has eaten up the independent political blogosphere’, and went on to say this:

For whatever reason, the political blogosphere in this country has not met the expectations of many. It has created media careers for a small group of the chosen few – me among them.

The right has more to lose from the death of political blogging because rightwing bloggers have so much more invested in the medium. Check out the breathless and portentous tone of Dale’s piece: ‘When I gave up blogging six months ago, the reaction to it was astonishing. It was akin to being witness to my own funeral. It was considered such a momentous event that I was invited on to more or less every news channel going.’ The Tory blogosphere is full of people who take themselves very seriously and mistake the voices in their head for the Voice of the People.

Despite Dale’s pessimism, he’s thrown himself into a new internet venture, ‘a new online magazine’ called ‘The Daley: Iain Dale and Friends’. According to the Guardian, featured writers include ‘Shelagh Fogarty, BBC 5 Live’s recently departed breakfast presenter, Tom Harris MP, and television personality Christine Hamilton.’

The Consolations of Derision

May 8, 2011

Today I’ve written a piece on Edward St Aubyn’s At Last, the conclusion of his brilliant and twisted aristocratic family saga. The title is from a sentence from H G Wells: ‘I do not believe that it would be possible for contemporary economic life to go on were it not for the consolations of derision.’ Often, when I’m on Twitter or Facebook, I think of that line.

Blue Labour Fantasies: In Defence of the Liberal Bourgeoisie

May 3, 2011

The academic and campaigner Maurice Glasman has made something of an impact in Labour policy circles with his ‘Blue Labour’ big idea. This appears to be yet another attempt to reduce the Labour Party to a repository for the prejudices of the dimmer members of the white working classes. Glasman wrote a lengthy manifesto article that is so diffuse I didn’t bother writing anything about it (and I thought of writing about it, as this is an obsession of mine.) Glasman’s nodding dog, theology lecturer Luke Bretherton, has written at length about the importance of religious traditions in particular:

Blue Labour is an emerging position within the Labour party that calls for a politics of the common good in which churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious traditions have a vital part to play… Something as hopelessly tradition-bound as religious beliefs and practices can only ever appear as a threat to what is ‘progressive’. By contrast, Blue Labour sees traditions, whether it is the customary practices for governing common land, the medieval working practices of the Billingsgate porters, or the religious traditions of Christianity, as having something to contribute to the formation of a just and generous common life.

But in an interview with Progress magazine, Glasman absolutely lets rip. In it he defines Blue Labour this way:

The blue refers to the centrality of family life, a recognition of the importance of faith, a real commitment to the work ethic, a very casual but nonetheless profound patriotism that people feel about England.

The interview quickly zeroes in on one issue. Guess which one. ‘The big monster that we don’t like to talk about… there was no public discussion of immigration and its benefits… Labour lied to people about the extent of immigration and the extent of illegal immigration.’

This leads Glasman to the standard apologia for the British far right: that the BNP is our fault for not carrying out BNP policies. Liberals, he says, have a ‘responsibility for the growth of far right populism currently manifested in the growth of the English Defence League.’ On the EDL, he accuses progressives of being ‘so opposed that you don’t want to talk to them, you don’t want to engage with them, you don’t want anybody with views like that anywhere near the party.’ Instead, Labour should ‘build a party that brokers a common good, that involves those people who support the EDL within our party.’

It’s worth remembering that the Labour right can be as loony as the Labour left. The idea of carving a road back to power on a fringe minority group of career racists, migration obsessives and ex-casuals is so mad, so awful, that you wonder why Glasman is taken seriously. He clearly is being taken seriously though – Progress is the Labour policy wonk oracle – so it’s worth looking at the Blue Labour idea in detail.

Family, faith and flag

Glasman and Bretherton place a huge emphasis on traditional grassroots faith movements and workers’ co-operatives. You could be reading their articles on a 1930s pamphlet, with its rich smell of ink and effort, rather than on a monitor or glossy paper. And this is the problem. Blue Labour relies on a romantic vision of 1930s working class life, full of firebrand Christian socialists and soapbox organisers, that no longer exists in reality.

Religious observance has gone through the floor and is still falling. Many working class jobs have been made redundant by automation and technological advances: many of those that remain are now done by the bourgeoisie – seriously, I have known warehouse workers with PhDs, and Home Counties girls who drive the city bus. Significant parts of the middle class have sunk to the income levels of the proletariat.

Plumbers earn more than call centre operatives, yet the one is supposed to be ‘bourgeoisie’ and the other ‘working class’. Class should be predicated on income, not tradition and cultural signifiers. Most people aren’t worried about family, faith and flag – they are worried about poverty and the cost of living.

Immigration – the economic argument

On immigration, Glasman says, the last Labour government ‘occupied a weird space where we thought that a real assault on the wage levels of English workers was a positive good.’ This is the obvious Polish builders complaint – Eastern European workers can live on less and are undercutting British wages.

I’ve yet to see solid evidence that this does happen – in fact the economist Chris Dillow presents a strong case that migration actually pushes UK wages up. Even if the myth is true, could we really protect British builders by kicking out the Poles? Globalisation is a real thing whether we like it or not – a policy of Mussolini-style autarchy will not save the British worker from exploitation.

Nick Cohen has written that the first task of the left today should be to establish global labour rights to balance the global rights of capital. Instead the British left has retreated into silo nation politics. This week there was more shocking news from the Chinese IPad suicide factories. Research by labour NGOs at Shenzhen and Chengdu factories revealed horrific working conditions, including military-style drills and public humiliations, crowded dormitories, restrictions on personal and family life, exhaustive overtime and a basic wage of £5:20 a day. This actually compares quite badly to the life of a plantation slave in the American Deep South. It is the kind of story that makes you believe that the human history is nothing but varying shades of darkness, and that progress is a dream and a joke.

This became a huge controversy last summer when workers began to throw themselves from high windows to escape their misery. The corporate follow-up was telling in its cruelty.

The company’s initial response to the suicides was to bring in monks to exorcise evil spirits. The chief executive later suggested workers were committing suicide to secure large compensation payments for their families. Workers were even asked to sign a document promising not to commit suicide and pledging that if they did their families would not claim more compensation than the legal minimum.

What does Blue Labour have to say to our Chinese comrades? The answer seems to be a resounding fuck all.

Immigration – the community argument

If we’re going to have an ‘honest and open debate’ about immigration then let’s at least be honest about what is really being demanded by the other side.

David Cameron says he wants to get immigration back to 1980s/1990s levels, ‘which is tens of thousands rather than hundreds of thousands.’ Probably this is the lowest he can get it, without damaging the economy and breaking international law.

Let’s assume that Cameron fulfills this promise, in the timescale he set out. Will the BNP and the EDL simply say ‘Okay, fantastic, you’ve addressed our grievances, we will go away now’? Will the antimigration monomaniacs in the media and the public say ‘Great, thanks for addressing our legitimate concerns, we will get back to grown up politics now, and accept that we don’t always get exactly what we want’?

I don’t think so. Because what we get from the antimigration side is not just an economic argument against, but what is euphemistically termed a ‘cultural’ argument against. These people want the government to legislate based on the vague feeling of unease that they experience when they hear a foreign language spoken in the street.

And to assuage this feeling of unease we would have to not only close the door to new migrants, but to deport people who were born here, whose families have lived and worked here for generations, but who don’t fit because they have different languages and skin pigmentation.

In a brave article for CiF, Lynsey Hanley pointed out two unspeakable truths: that working class racism does exist, and that it predates the 2000s migration boom. She asked the Blue Labour apologists to ‘remind themselves of the dockworkers’ marches in support of Enoch Powell, of support for the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s and for the National Front in the 70s. It’s a form of dirty protest with a long history, and which, alas, has yet to die.’

This is not, of course, to say that all working class people are racist. Working-class journalist Andrew Anthony pointed out that there are more interracial relationships among the working class. But the racist element is there: and in small communities it can dominate.

Britain is littered with tiny pockets of stasis and corrosion. Occasionally we get a glimpse under the rock – as with the murder of Sophie Lancaster, a young goth woman killed because of her strange dress and hair, in the Lancashire town of Bacup where non-whites ‘get fired-bombed out of their houses and given a whack with a baseball bat to make sure they get the message.’ Lynsey Hanley was not an Islington Guardianista liberal. She grew up in the working-class provinces of the Midlands.

The worst thing Labour could do is to ditch its ‘metropolitan elite liberal values’ purely because it is being bullied by populists who love to bandy that phrase around. They’re the same values I embraced as a provincial working-class teenager, who was desperate to hear a view of life that wasn’t paranoid, suspicious, mistrustful, misogynist and racist.

Hanley’s honesty provoked the usual bitter swagger of prolier-than-thou rhetoric, and predictable accusations of liberal elitism. But millions of people take Hanley’s journey. They are born in small, ugly communities centred around family, faith and flag. They work hard, study hard, and escape to the cities, and embrace the secular and cosmopolitan way of life that is, I’m delighted to say, our future.

It’s increasingly fashionable to pretend to be working class, and to invoke the working class to support just about anything – a woman from the Institute of Ideas recently mounted a class-based defence of antisemitic football chants. I think therefore it’s worth linking to my Shiraz comrade Jim Denham‘s post, in which he quotes The Communist Manifesto:

The bourgeoisie has, through its exploitation of the world market, given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionaries, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilized nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.

The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.

Update: According to Dan Hodges at the NS, the Blue Labour project has now imploded.

Blue Labour, the informal Labour policy group established by Ed Miliband advisor Maurice Glasman, is to be effectively disbanded.

Labour MP Jon Cruddas and Middlesex University academic Jonathan Rutherford have both informed Lord Glasman they no longer wish to be associated with the project following an interview given by the controversial peer in which he expressed a belief that immigration to the UK should be completely halted.

Asked by the Daily Telegraph‘s Mary Riddell whether he would support a total ban on immigration, even if just for a temporary period, Lord Glasman replied, ‘Yes. I would add that we should be more generous and friendly in receiving those [few] who are needed. To be more generous, we have to draw the line.’

The Telegraph profile is the latest in a series of increasingly eccentric interviews and public appearances given by the Labour Peer, in which he has attacked David Miliband, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Neil Kinnock, and claimed his agenda is influenced by Aristotle, Miles Davis, Aldo Moro, Lionel Messi and the Pope.

Last month Labour Justice spokeswoman Helen Goodman circulated a critique of Blue Labour to all members of the Parliamentary Labour Party in which she claimed, ‘[Glasman] characterises as female all the aspects of New Labour he dislikes, whereas all the characteristics he applauds he draws as male. It looks more like something suitable for the psychotherapists’ couch than a political tract.’

‘If Glasman thinks we will all greet this with an ironic post-feminist smile, he is wrong. How can we in a country where 1,000 women are raped each week? He seems to be harking back to a Janet and John Fifties era.’

One source close to Blue Labour said, ‘Both Cruddas and Rutherford repeatedly told Maurice to tone it down, but he ignored them. Their view is the Blue Labour brand is now too contaminated to continue with the project in its present form. They still hope it will be possible to salvage some of the ideas and themes, but Maurice’s actions have made supporting Blue Labour in its present incarnation untenable.’