I used to think ..

This was written in the immediate aftermath of the vote on 23.6.16 and so therefore doesn’t take into account the events surrounding the Labour Party or the Conservative party.

I used to think that I was angry when working class and unemployed were blamed for the banking crash.
I used to think that I was angry when the Liberal Democrats propped up a UK Conservative Government.

I used to think I was angry when the UK elected a second Conservative Government and the harshest welfare cuts were brought into place that I can remember – or certainly of my life time.

I thought I was angry when the UK Government failed to bring about a decent piece of legislation to support the future of Wales.

I thought I was angry when the entire media and political world became paralysed and polarised by the EU Referendum debate.

I thought I was angry when Wales returned 7 (yes that’s correct) UKIP Assembly Members to the National Assembly for Wales in May.

I thought I was angry when I got my first taste of what UKIP would behave like in the Assembly.

At that point I was not only fearful for Wales and the future of the Assembly, but I thought I had reached peak anger, disappointment and frustration.

Then 23 June happened.

When I went to sleep at around 10:00 (don’t judge – I have a 4 week old baby), there were some tentative signs that Remain might edge it. A “close of polling” poll indicated that camp was ever so slightly in the lead.

At around 01:00 when I woke up, there was even a Huffington Post update reporting that Farage (rhymes with same sex marriage) had conceded that Remain might edge it. My son had his milk and I went back to sleep, quietly pleased that that was that.

Waking up again at 04:00 there was another Huffington Post. This time it said that Farage was on the verge of announcing his success and the triumph of the Leave campaign.

It honestly felt like a punch to the gut.

By the time I had woken up properly, the hits just kept on coming – not only was Farage gloating everywhere, but Wales had overwhelmingly voted to Leave and the value of the pound was going the wrong way over a cliff. There was no good news as a result of the decision of the UK electorate to vote themselves out of the EU.

Now, at the time of writing, David Cameron is a lame duck, Osborne is desperately clinging on to the door at the Treasury with all his might and the Labour Party has turned in on itself in what must be the best example of a circular firing squad in modern political history.

There is no plan for Brexit.

Some of the Leave campaigners have been waiting for this for 40 years, but they finally get what they want and they haven’t even got a plan for what to do next.

Not only that, it has since emerged that there were a number of “factual inaccuracies” (lies) included in the Leave campaigns materials:

  • £350mn into the NHS (nope)
  • controlling our borders (nope)
  • reform of freedom of movement (nope)
  • getting the most value for your pension (nope)
  • no continued access to EU funding (nope)
  • the UK will stay together (nope)

There is no plan for Brexit. 

Let’s be clear, Boris Johnson and the rest of the Leave mob are playing for time because they don’t know what they want or how to get it. The idea that now having left, or voted to Leave, that we can now negotiate a sweet deal with the EU is pie in the sky thinking. 

Wales will be worse off. Perversely, the areas which most vociferously voted for Leave will be some of the worst hit. We in Wales now have to rely on the UK Conservative party to pick a new Prime Minister, who we will have to rely on to make the best possible fist of this clusterf&€k that they can.

There. Is. No. Plan. For. Brexit.

And living in Wales, with two small children? I feel broken by the decision taken by Wales and England (outside of London).

There. Is. No. Plan. For. Brexit.

I am genuinely scared about what that means for me, for my family and for Wales.

What should we do?

KBO – Keep Buggering On (and hope for the best).

Something tells me I may well be returning to this topic.


To coin a phrase .. what an omnishambles

It’s been an incredibly long time since I’ve written anything on here, due to various things (mainly – having a baby, moving house and getting a new job), but I’ve been catching up on my reading and listening to podcasts recently and I was struck by a thought .. what an absolute mess the Labour Party is in.

I should say that I am not a member of the Labour Party, nor have I voted for them. My political leanings can be discerned from previous writings on this blog.

So what kind of shambles? An omnishambles in my view.

Ok they had a bad election night. A really bad election night. But it appears to me that the Labour Party can’t even get introspective navel gazing right! Seemed right to me that Ed Miliband went after the party’s defeat, but the Conservatives have capitalised brilliantly on the lack of opposition and are making the most of the fact that Labour are (or at least, appear to be) a rudderless and leaderless rabble, totally consumed by a leadership contest which hilariously looks like it might be won by someone that apparently few who nominated wanted to see in in the first place!

For an outsider, the contest reached new levels of ridiculousness, with well known warmongering pseudo Tory Tony Blair making an unwelcome return to UK domestic politics and the brilliant bluff and bluster of Lord (?!?) Prescott adding his considerable weight to the fracas. It is now hilarious to me that Labour MPs helped Corbyn “get over the line” in terms of nominations, in order to broaden the debate, are running as far away from Corbyn as possible.
Similarly, has anyone else cottoned on to the hilarity of a traditionally left or dare I say it, socialist, political party terrified of selecting an avowed left-leaning candidate?
This segues nicely onto my thoughts about the leadership candidates.
  • Andy Burnham – a flip flopper who seems that he would just deliver more of the same, or at least change his mind so often just so everyone is really unsure about what he really thinks
  • Yvette Cooper – comes across as bland and more of the same
  • Liz Kendall – fair play, she’s said a few things that she believes, but I suspect she’ll run afoul of the great labelling machine (a Blairite or a Tory .. not sure which is more damaging)

And then finally, the man of the moment, Comrade Corbyn.

A man who (certainly this is my take on him), says what he believes and believes what he says. Now, on Any Questions (Radio 4) a few weeks ago, Chuka Umuna got quite agitated about the suggestion that the left of his party appear to have a monopoly on passion. Ironically he got quite passionate about it. But (and this is what I shouted at the radio) .. he’s not running for the leadership and I don’t think that the left of any party has a monopoly on passion – it’s just we haven’t heard any passion from any of the other candidates.

So Jeremy Corbyn, the candidate who has got the left of the party, and plenty of Unions and new entrants to politics excited. and that is no bad thing. I was also interested to see that in contrast to one of the central criticisms of Corbyn (that he would make the Labour Party unelectable), the Indy and YouGov published some data showing the majorities of people who agreed with some of his policies.

Also – it has been suggested in some quarters that he would be the candidate the Tories would most like to win. I would dispute that. My gut tells me that Cameron going up a genuine thinker, a passionate leftwinger – he’d have his hands full.

I think that part of Corbyn’s apparent popularity is down to his a) ability to appear to rise above the personal attacks and petty squabbling of his rivals (reminiscent somewhat of Blair/Brown/Mandy?) and b) to his passion – he says what he thinks and believes what he says and he is genuine.

Now, do I think he would be Prime Minister – no I don’t think so. However, could he be the leader that the Labour Party needs at the moment? I actually think he might be.

I just hope that if he does win, he injects some passion into the Welsh Labour Party.

Finally – if you got through my ramblings about the Labour party, sit back and enjoy something else that is missing from the National Assembly for Wales – great oratorical skill (and yes, a bit of passion too)

This week I have mostly been getting annoyed … (part 2)

So straight on to part 2 – the Pope.

Bit of a heavy one this, so no photos or media.

I should probably point out as well that I’m not a Catholic.

As you may know, off the back of his Middle East Tour, Pope Francis spoke “informally” to reporters on board the papal aeroplane (who knew there was a papal aeroplane!), taking questions on a range of subjects, including child sexual abuse by Catholic priests. According to a CNN report, Pope Francis described sex abuse as a “horrific crime”, he called for a “zero tolerance” approach and compared it to, “by comparison, holding a black Mass”.

Now I admit I had to look this up.

From a quick bit of research, the actual practice is somewhat unclear, but I’ve gathered that it is a ritual characterised by the inversion of the traditional Catholic Mass, often featuring upside crucifxes and in the modern era it is linked/associated with Satanic worship sacrifice. Serious stuff.

The BBC’s Middle East Editor, Jeremy Bowen agreed. On Radio 4’s Today programme he said this was strong language from the Pope, language to be taken seriously. I agree – if the Leader of the Catholic Church, Christ’s representative on Earth is comparing child abuse to Satanic worship that is surely a sign he is taking the matter in hand and dealing with it*.

Isn’t it?

Well, that is a matter for debate.

From my admittedly limited knowledge of Catholic law excommunication is the ultimate sanction against a Catholic – cannot receive blessings or attend Mass and at least it used to also mean that unless the Pope interceded on their behalf they could not ascend to Heaven – again pretty strong stuff. So has Pope Francis excommunicated any of the Catholic priests convicted of child sexual abuse?

Um. Not that I can see.

Most recently an Australian priest was excommunicated for supporting gay marriage and women’s ordination. A Brazilian priest was also excommunicated for refusing to rescind a statement which he made regarding his belief that two people of the same sex could be in love. Now there is the possibility that I’m wrong about excommunication and it’s not the severe punishment that it a) sounds like or b) I think it is.

Or Pope Francis has not acted against at all against Catholic priests convicted of child sexual abuse. Referring once again to the CNN report, three bishops are apparently under investigation. One has been found guilty and the “penalty is being considered”. I’m sorry, considered? Surely turn all your evidence over to the courts and let him be found guilty and sentenced (one would hope strongly) by the laws of the land.

In my view, if Pope Francis is to be the reformer that many hope he will be/is (acknowledging that the Jesuit Order from whence he came is quite conservative) he needs to take decisive action on this issue, above all else. It will show the world (well beyond the Catholic population on the planet) that he truly believes this heinous crime is a “betrayal of the body of the Lord” and that he has the strength of will to deal it with properly and slowly begin the healing process for the victims of Catholic abuse around the world.

* I should like to point out that a learned colleague of mine has pointed out to me that arguably child sexual abuse is “even worse than mumbling a bunch of gibberish with an inverted cross on display”. I do agree.

This week I have mostly been getting annoyed … (part 1)

This week I have mostly ..

This week I have mostly ..

Ok, so a bit of a reference to Mark Williams’ brilliant character, Jesse, from The Fast Show (mainly because it suited the title and people in work have been doing references to Fast Show characters for the last few days), but it’s true.

It’s also a slightly lighter way of introducing a serious post.

There have been a couple of things in particular that, in the words of Peter Griffin, have really grinded my gears this week – the Pope and a guy called Joe.

Ok firstly, the guy called Joe.

It can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that in recent days America suffered yet another deadly shooting incident. Elliot Rodger went on what the media are describing as a “rampage”, killing six people and injuring a further 13. Using weapons and ammunition that he had purchased legally. I watched Robert Martinez (the father of one of the victims – Chris Martinez) make a statement to the press on the following day.

Robert Martinez has a point.

Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states very simply and unambiguously that: “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. Everyone has a right to life. And I firmly believe that this right to life is “trumps” (you’ll see why I’ve used that word in a moment) most other rights – especially those constitutional rights which, in the pecking order I think come below human rights.

So on to Joe.

Joe Wurzelbacher is an American conservative activist who gained notoriety in 2008 when he asked the then Democratic Candidate for President (Senator Barack Obama) about his small business tax policy. Wurzelbacher became known as Joe the Plumber and featured in some GOP adverts and campaign media coverage for a while.

So why has this person annoyed me?

He has written an open letter to the families of the victims of the Isla Vista shooting saying that their “dead kids don’t trump my constitutional rights” and specifically to Robert Martinez (who railed against the NRA and “craven politicians”) to “back off” suggesting that Martinez’s statement would be “exploited by gun-grab extremists as are all tragedies involving gun violence and the mentally ill by the anti-Second Amendment Left.”

There is so much here that grinds my gears – the insensitivity of the whole thing, the threatening language, the timing.

I know that Martinez politicised the tragedy as soon as he mentioned the NRA and politicians, but frankly in my opinion, Mr Martinez has a point.

America has suffered more than it’s fair share of pointless gun-violence incidents and despite this there appears to be little or no action from their leaders. The NRA is a powerful lobbying force in Washington. According to the Centre for Responsive Politics, the NRA’s lobbying spend regularly exceeds $1.5mn and in 2013 topped $3mn – so they do make it difficult for any change to happen.

The President, despite his left-wing credentials, appears powerless to do anything about not only the NRA but also gun-violence. There is, in my view, a whole range of things that could be brought in – further checks, balances, security systems, background checks, joining up the myriad of security agencies which exist in the US – the list goes on.

In my opinion, buying a gun should be one of the most difficult and highly regulated things you are legally allowed to do.

Q) Do you want a gun?

A) Yes.

Q) Why?

Q) What for?

Q) What are you intending to use it for?

Q) Do you have a history of mentall ill-health, drug abuse, domestic violence, alcohol abuse?

Q) Can you present 3 forms of valid identification?

Q) Will you submit to a full police verified background check?

Q) Will you agree to a 30 day cooling off period?

Q) Have you been on a gun-handling, maintenance and security course?

Q) Where will you keep the gun if this purchase is successful?

The whole process should start over for ammunition.

I know that, as David Cameron said, you cannot legislate against a switch flipping in someone’s brain. You cannot legislate for everything – but as a first try, let’s make it bloody difficult for anyone to get a gun in the first place.

(part 2 of this post to follow shortly – hopefully not a 5 month gap between posts this time ..)

Dave’s dodgy dinner dates

I can’t really take credit for the title of this one, i think i must have heard it on the news or from a report on the Commons this week, but i thought it was good so I’ve stolen it.

So this whole thing is kind of about money. Money and power. Money and power and influence. And politics. Its easy to see why it attracted the attention of the media and rightly so, however i think one of the more interesting things to think about is party funding. Clearly dinners with the PM, that aren’t minuted or attended by civil servants, for party donors from the private is not right or proper and at least when pressured (they shouldnt have had to be pressured) they released the information, but its largely to down to money.

Cameron needs to court wealthy donors in the same way as Labour needs to court the unions – they need some money to run their political operations and shenanigans. However, i believe that this reliance on large companies or groups or individuals for cash not only leads to the potential for stories like those we have seen recently but also removes the political process and politicians further from us normal people.

If there were to be a cap on donations to political parties, say maybe 20k, then the parties would have to go out, fundraise, meet people, encourage them to join the party, pay their subs – all of that. It might start to mean the end of lazy politics. Imagine that .. Politicians actually getting engaged with their constituents and communities.

So how to administer the donations? Again, I cant claim credit for this idea because i heard it on the radio this week. Set up an independent ombudsman/body with representatives from a range of ages and backgrounds, across the country. This body would receive donations from a blind trust at set points in a month and then pass on the donations to the individual parties. This would mean that no party would know who had given money and that way no-one could be accused of currying favour or influence.

I would like to think (because i’m slightly optimistic) that this will change and this will make a difference. But let’s be honest .. I don’t think it will and it probably won’t. Oh and lets just wait and see the politicians blame the lobbyists for this one.

what would you do?

i’ve recently travelled quite a lot of miles for The Day Job and as a result i’ve been listening to LBC. now, some of the presenters are quite annoying and right wing and many of the callers are clearly nutters. however, a call in session last week particularly caught my attention.

last week the police cleared the Democracy Village from Parliament Square after the Police Reform and Social Responsiblity Bill was specifically amended to cover this protest. specifically amended. [note – this action was targeted towards the Brian Haw encampment but there is another group which has an injunction against them being moved so there are a few people still there]. now this legislation was amended specifically to allow the police powers to remove the protesters from Democracy Village. it also includes bans on protest in other parts of London included Whitehall, Bridge Street, the QEII Conference Centre and Westminster Abbey. so here is a piece of legislation which received Royal Assent in September 2011 that specifically limits the opportunity for members of the public to protest against actions taken or to be taken by the government of the day. prompted by this story in the news, the call-in session focused on this question: “In the UK, if you found the actions of the government of the day so gut-wrenchingly awful and abhorent, what can you do to legally register your digust and opposition at said actions?”.

depressingly the host of the show and the majority of the callers struggled to come up with an answer. i suspect this was the point of the question – the straightforward answer is: “very little or next to nothing”. let’s brainstorm:

  • start a twitter campaign
  • join a facebook group
  • write to your MP
  • write to your local authority
  • go on strike (not an option for everyone i admit)
  • write to the PM
  • wait for an election
  • start an online petition
  • start a local campaign using social and traditional media
  • start an online petition on the No.10 website (hoping to get it above the threshold of 100k signatures)
  • join a political party, run for election, get elected, serve as an MP and vote against the government (ok, so that one is a bit of a long term option …)
  • protest – but how?

now for me that is quite a depressing list. most if not all of those actions are easily ignored or dismissed by those who they are supposed to target. twitter and facebook, despite the one off instances such as the Trafigura incident, are very easily dismissed as online and untangible and let’s face it, although we on twitter like to think we are important and doing something we aren’t really. at all. so what else do we have… write to your MP or the PM – again likely ignored or responded to with a form letter. write to your local authority – forget it. go on strike – apparently the only group of people for whom this works is London tube drivers who manage to threaten strike and then get huge pay rises, but often this doesnt even work – how successful have PCS and Unite been at reversing the UK government’s austerity drive? start a grassroots campaign in your local village, write to councillors, the town council, get a twitter and facebook going … again somewhat effective against local issues – planning decisions can often be swayed by such campaigns, but the impact on national governmental decisions is likely neglible.

so what is there left on the list – protest. now we come to it.

  • 1 million people marched against the war in iraq – still happened
  • 1 million (?) students marched recently against the rise in student fees – still went ahead
  • the Occupy London group have recently been moved and also – ignored

with the passage of the PRSR Bill one could argue that the last opportunity to register your opposition to the actions of the government is to wait for an election or break the law. one of the first callers to LBC last week suggested chaining yourself to the gates of Downing Street … an action that would get you arrested within about 20 seconds and would result in you likely going to jail, your cause and protest being forgotten and overshadowed by stories of security failures. so what is left? how can we effectively protest or register our opposition? ok, so registering opposition is relatively easy, but how to protest as the state shuts down avenues for protest?

i would go as far to say that the passage of the PRSR Bill marks an enfringement on our democratic freedoms. if that is the case, what is left?

one of the few things that protest may change?

a somewhat depressing thought to finish on i agree, but if anyone has any great ideas that i’ve missed feel free to jump in!

ok, time to own up

ok. i feel i need to come clean somewhat.

i have set out some of my more liberal credentials and beliefs in previous posts on this blog. i certainly would not describe myself as right-wing or even right of centre. i would hope that people would describe me as a bit of a lefty. i have previously blogged about that great line from the west wing when santos talks about picking up the label of liberal and wearing it proudly as a badge. i am not going back on this.


the thing is, i am noticing that as the political rhetoric around public sector pensions, the future of the public sector etc etc intensifies, i struggle to understand why the left apparently have to defend the public sector to the hilt? why can one not be a bit lefty, but also work in the private sector and be realistic about the public sector and what it can do?

let’s just be clear:

  • the public sector does not create wealth
  • the public sector does create employment opportunities
  • there are examples of huge waste in many public sector institutions and organisations
  • there are examples of excessive payments and general excess in the private sector
  • there are lots of hardworking people in the public sector. there are also lots of people who are not hardworking
  • there are lots of hardworking people in the private sector. there are also lots of people who are not hardworking

i would like to see the NHS deliver the best healthcare in the world (i certainly do not want the American healthcare system pre-Obama) but i am not precious about who delivers it. if a private sector partner to the NHS can deliver great services, free at the point of use, then fine – let them do it.

i work in the private sector. i have previously worked in the private sector. the problem has come about, as per usual, as a result of extreme (in many cases) political rhetoric. the dialogue which abounds in the media, online and in the blogosphere appears to try to demonise some parts of the private sector (the private sector has become interchangeable in my view with “the bankers and the banks”) and idolise the public sector.

so now we have a situation where to even suggest any reform of the education or health system is so incredibly heinous you have to go live in a cave somewhere and never see anyone ever again. i should say here that i think the Lansley Health Bill is ridiculous, mainly because it is confusing and a mess and no-one really knows what it is for. i am not against reform or even introduction of some partnerships with the private sector – if they work, if they can deliver good or better services and if they safeguard the future of the NHS as a national health service.

i remember studying political rhetoric at university and one of the classic devices in rhetoric is to construct heroes (angels) and villains (demons). so we have angels (nurses, doctors, teachers, carers etc) and demons (bankers, consultants, private sector managers etc). and because of this artificial construction and differentiation between the two to even suggest reforms or changes is, as i said above, heinous and heretical. and of course politically, it becomes somewhat of a vote / confidence loser if you start suggesting attacking / changing things for the angels or putting them out of jobs (see Cameron reaction to all the health unions and spokesgroups ganging up on Lansley).

let’s be honest – if we were going to design public services from scratch we probably wouldn’t end up with what we have got now. but i think it is pretty clear that in order to even get started on reform we need to start thinking about how we differentiate between the public and private sectors. we certainly shouldn’t be constructed one against the other, demonising and then idolising the other.

so, in conclusion – just like sam says in the west wing – teachers should be on six figure salaries, schools should be palaces – i just haven’t worked out how to do it yet.

the policy of administration and the administration of policy

i think that this scene from Yes Minister where Sir Humphrey Appleby appears in front of a select committee out to get his department and his minister is one of the best pieces of satire i’ve ever seen on screen. i’ve referenced in professionally and i’ve experienced it after reading notes from civil servants and one hears it when one listens to politicians. one of the reasons that this remains one of the best things i’ve seen is that it continues to be relevant (and funny).

Appleby clearly sets out the problem when he draws the distinction between ministers being responsible for the policy (of administration) and civil servants (in this case, the permanent secertary of the department) who are responsible for the administration (of policy). so the problem arises when one tries to establish who is responsible for a mistake – is the minister and a failure of policy (is it unimplementable?) or is it a failure of the civil servant (to adequately implement the policy)? and should the minister check up on the civil servant or should the civil servant front up to the minister and tell him or her what is going on?

the number of stories that have come out of the Public Account Select Committee in recent months appears to be never ending – failure to deliver on projects, projects running over time and over budget but yet with no responsibility (i won’t focus on the fact that the bulk of the stories seem to relate to IT projects – that is enough content for another blog post) taken by ministers or civil servants.

the most recent story concerns the Firecontrol programme enacted by the last Labour government. this was an attempt to integrate emergency fire services across the UK in 9 regional centres. this was another major IT project which went horrendously over budget. my issue with all of these stories is responsibility.

speaking after the PASC report was published, the Chair of the Committee, Margaret Hodge MP said:

“The project was rushed, without proper understanding of costs or risks. The leadership relied far too much on external consultants and the frequent departures of senior staff also contributed to weak management and oversight of the project.

[…] No one has been held to account for this project failure, one of the worst we have seen for many years, and the careers of most of the senior staff responsible have carried on as if nothing had gone wrong at all and the consultants and contractor continue to work on many other government projects.”

so, we have poor leadership, external consultants (which to my mind means that there is inappropriate experience within the civil service and questions the value of “career civil servants” who have no “real life” or real world business experience). the day after the report was published and after Hodge had been on the radio, the former minister (and now Lord) John Prescott was on the radio, getting his defence of himself in very quickly. he made it very clear that he would take responsibility for the policy, but not the administration of that policy or its implementation.

ok, so i’m not a massive fan of john prescott and i don’t think that he has gone far enough in admitting and owning his share of the responsibility, but my real concern here is the civil service. why was the permanent secretary of the department called in front of the committee and asked questions? where is the civil servant who was responsible (the Senior Responsible Officer) and why is he not on the radio or the news owning up for his responsibility and taking ownership of the mistake?

this is by far a comprehensive analysis or breakdown of the issues here, but it seems to me that, whilst it is somewhat cliche to say it, in the private sector if someone had made a mistake of this magnitude (and let a project go off budget by at least £400mn) then they would be out of a job pretty quick. furthermore that person would likely experience difficulties in getting another job in the same field. my problem with the civil service in this instance is that there appears to be no accountability. and accountability handed out in private or behind closed doors without recourse to elected representatives such as the PASC is surely not true accountability, especially when one is talking about handling vast sums of public money.

so, a solution? it really comes back to making sure that the select committees of Parliament (and we are seeing this a bit now) increase and strengthen their powers to call individuals (and not just ministers) to account. and finally, why shouldn’t the same standards (success / failure) be applied to to the public sector as are applied by employers in the private sector?

an attempt to identify a political brandjack

a former professor of mine – quentin langley – edits a really interesting news website at brandjacknews.com which looks at news from around the world (not just communications or PR stories, but marketing, adverts and global affairs as well) and examines how known “brands” (including anything from names, picture etc) get “jacked” in order to promote something else entirely. this quote puts it much better than i –

“brandjacking is when an organisation loses control of the social media conversation around its brand to someone else”

this idea and concept is really interesting – there are a lot of examples around on the net when you start thinking about them and it got me thinking about political brandjacking and if an idea could get brandjacked and if so, what would that mean. it is a coincidence at this stage that it was whilst at uni working on quentin’s work that i really started to develop my interest in US politics – a subject i ended up studying with him. so all of this has conflated into a blog post about an article i read here which talks about how an idea / belief / assertion, “being american” has, according to the writers at politicususa.com, has been jacked by elements of right wing republicanism in the US. just before i get to what is hopefully going to be the interesting bit, it should be noted that in the best traditions of US politics, the website that i’ve looked at here is quite partisan, but i’m going to try and divorce myself from that aspect of it and instead look at the story itself.

just by way of a quick summary, essentially a group called “Generation Opportunity” (and here i am actually with the writers of the piece, the name of this group sounds too constructed not to be directly connected with the Republican party) has put up a Facebook page called “Being American”

now interestingly if you put “being american Facebook” into Google (other search engines are available) then you get quite a lot of pages which have been up in opposition to this one.

the original article goes on to outline how polling information has been skewed by people clicking the “like” button this page – as they put it, who wouldn’t “like” being american? i was really intrigued by this because Generation Opportunity (the non profit organisation behind the page) have essentially take a phrase – an idea, the idea of being american, and used that idea to drive a party political agenda. apparently by clicking “like” on this page you are subscribing to the ideology and policies of the right. and via the “endorsements” that the “like” button gets for their page, they are able to describe themselves in certain ways and note that they have a number of followers and giving credence and credibility to, yes let’s be honest here, GOP talking points (in some instances i would go as far as saying Tea Party talking points as well).

the polling outlined by the Pew Research Centre here appears to indicate that young people are actually opposed to many of the talking points which “Being American” and Generation Opportunity are distributing.

so what we have here is kind of interesting, even if it isn’t a real brandjack in the truest sense of the word – someone will undoubtedly correct me if that is not the case – we have  a Facebook page set up by a political but non profit organisation, but an organisation with discernible party allegiances (albeit non-disclosed allegiances) which taps directly into young people’s “hopes and dreams” (for want of a better phrase). i would imagine that every American citizen likes being American to some degree, and certainly it is not a stretch of the imagination to think that young people in America would likely identify themselves as American before anything else (perhaps), so by extension is it fair to say then that Generation Opportunity have scammed all those people? or are they clicking on the “like” button in the full knowledge of who and what is behind it and what their agenda is?

of course there are young people who are right wing, but i definitely think that using the idea of being American (and there are wider issues here potentially about whether a national identity is political / a-political / party political or not) to push or promote a party political agenda is a really interesting one – and one, dare i say it that we might not see in national politics in the UK (interestingly apart from the BNP perhaps). this website / Facebook page seems to be saying, if you don’t like “being American” (or like being right wing / Republican) then you are un-American.

would we get that in the UK or in devolved politics? can one being English and be any political colour? can one be Welsh but not a nationalist? interesting times certainly.

a war on culture

listening to radio 4’s interview with justice minister jonathan djanogly this morning i was struck by his use of words. we often hear politicians talking about a “compensation culture”, a “binge drinking culture” or a “benefits culture” and he was sure that he was going to tackle the “culture of suing” and of “compensation” which has apparently led to public authorities and private companies selling on details of car accident victims so that other companies can convince them to take people to court and make money – the issue highlighted by jack straw recently.

what i thought was particularly interesting was the assault that the justice minister was going to lead on a particular culture, which he has said is the cause of the problem. now culture is a tricky thing to not only define, but also to attack or in this case legislate against. culture is what we are and what we do and how we do it and who we do it with, it is abstract and definite and, at the risk of sounding really pretentious – everything and nothing. we create it and we are bound by it and we cannot exist outside of it, except in a state of death or psychosis (love it when i get to use knowledge from my undergraduate degree). so what exactly is the government planning to do about this “compensation culture”?

now i know that mr djanogly was using the word in the way that i am describing above, but the issue remains important. how can a government legislate or change regulations to change behaviour and force a shift in the “culture” (for want of a better word)? i think what is meant when people say we want to change the “drug / drink  / benefits / compensation” (delete as appropriate) culture, what they really mean is – we’d like to please convince everyone that what they are doing is bad / costs money / damages their health / hurts the economy and we’d very much like them to stop doing it … problem is – never heard of anyway of doing that that would be legal or democratic.