This was a fascinating 10-minute video going through how, despite competence, a mandate, and lots of money from economic prudence, New Labour didn’t manage to make a difference in child poverty and crime, and a only a negligible difference in education.
The point that Prof. Stein Ringen makes is that, if this government, with all of its advantages couldn’t get done what they were sent to do, then nobody can. He therefore comes up with a recipe, which involves some systemic ‘fixes’ — which are largely around decentralising the power that 10 Downing Street (i.e. the office of the Prime Minister) has gained over the last 30 years.
I’m not one for sitting through YouTube videos, but this one was engaging because of the work of the visual scribe, Andrew Park. What he helps bring to life is how a ‘command and control’ approach can fail to mobilise those who need to be involved in making the change happen.
I’m continuing to listen to Season 4 of Scene on Radio, entitled The Land That Never Has Been Yet. As I mentioned in a previous post quoting from another episode in the series, the hosts bring a clarity to some of my muddled political thoughts.
This time, they’re talking about neoliberalism, the idea that markets can fix everything. It’s gone from being a contested idea when I was young to pretty much orthodox thinking in 2020.
John Biewen: Yeah and despite these inconsistencies and logical problems with the theory, another thing that Wendy Brown has pointed out is that neoliberalism has become so pervasive. People like Buchanan and Hayek and Milton Friedman wanted us to accept the market as the guiding metaphor for pretty much everything in our lives.
Chenjerai Kumanyika: Yes. And we were talking about an example of this in our pandemic episode. The problems with this idea that everything should be run like a business. But neoliberalism is really this on steroids, right? It’s like society should just be a marketplace, in fact, Margaret Thatcher famously said there’s no such thing as society. Just a collection of individuals. So in that picture, we’re not even citizens, right, we’re just kinda like, independent contractors.
John Biewen: And notice that language, the way so much of our language now is borrowed from the financial world and from markets. We’re not caring for ourselves, we’re developing our humanity, we’re investing in ourselves. We’re not sharing our gifts, we’re building our brands. We don’t have responsibility to take care of each other, we’re out here competing.
That line from Kumanyika that we’re “not ever citizens… just independent contractors” really stopped me in my tracks (literally, as I was running at the time). In the UK, we don’t have a written constitution so, despite the government’s mention of us as ‘citizens’ we’re actually subjects of the Crown. The term may no longer be in popular use, but it doesn’t make it any the less true.
Part of the reason we don’t think about this is probably because how subjugated we are to the market forces of neoliberalism in every area of our lives. True democracy, as Biewen and Kumanyika discuss towards the beginning of the episode, deals in power dynamics, trying to make society more equal over time. Neoliberalism instead entrenches privilege and hierarchy, which is why I’m against it and everything it entails.
I can remember as a child my mother picking blackberries while waiting to pick me up from school. They’d appear just before ‘blackberry week’ which was literally the name people gave to October half-term.
Now, 30 years later, blackberries appear around 10 weeks earlier here, ready to be picked in mid-August. That makes for tasty summer holiday desserts, but leaves me slightly concerned about the pace of climate change.
Of course, things are worse on many fronts elsewhere; there are plenty of people, especially refugees, who are desperate to seek asylum in our country. Yet, instead of thinking in a joined-up way about the global climate emergency and the effect it will have on migration over the next 30 years, the inept UK government sends in the Royal Navy.
Within my lifetime, those in charge have missed so many opportunities to steer us of disaster, meaning that now we haven’t got long to avert climate catastrophe. I just hope that elections over the next few years replace the emotional toddlers we’ve got running the show with some grown-ups committed to action.