Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Red Meat for the Tunbridge Wells Conservative Club Lounge Bar

Cameron has floated plans to take away basic security of tenure from new entrants to socially rented housing. This is a big step - and an important one.

It's important but not, of course, practical in any way - he's just fired the starting gun for a hail of factually based correction from Shelter, the Churches, the Chartered Institute of Housing and every Tenants' Organisation in the land and we all know what happens when 'factually based correction' hits the fan.

If implemented, this idea would create homelessness, hugely increase routine housing management costs in social housing, increase rather than decrease the benefit traps Ian Duncan Smith is supposedly unpicking, lead to all sorts of undesirable 'hard cases' making unwelcome new housing law and - here's the rub - almost certainly increase the number of people in the private rented sector, which, not being subject to rent control, is more expensive than social housing. In short, it would cost the state more money. So it ain't going to happen.

My best guess is we'll see a familiar cycle of small pilots followed by a range of minor tinkerings with tenure law and a dribbling away of the original political motivation that reduces to some small funding programme designed to produce a few hundred, at best, specially designed new tenancies that automatically convert to shared ownership when and if the family income reaches a certain point.

No, the importance of this announcement is that it the first sign of the end of the 'glad confident morning' for this government and the harbinger of the shit-storm they are going to face once the autumn budget is announced.

This idea is really not like the 'Free School' initiative where Tory plans can be arguably claimed to be seeking to mobilise the positive aspirations of the Daily Mail reading classes. I don't actually think that's true, but the fact that Gove has undoubtedly played his hand very badly so far doesn't mean it remains anything but a positive hand in principle. The Education policy tries to reach out to so called 'aspirational' Britain.

This housing policy doesn't: it seeks to mobilise the prejudices and ignorance of the Tory heartland.It's red meat for the Tunbridge Wells Conservative Club Lounge Bar. It offers a 'tin-ear' to every other strand of opinion and, indeed, to the pesky constraints of reality. It is therefore important in a symbolic way: it ain't going to happen, but it is a way station along the path to what a contributor to one discussion over at Blood and Treasure described as 'Thatcherism without the Falklands'.

Shiny Dave looks a little less shiny this morning. That moderate veneer is starting to peel.


  1. Charlie,

    I think its necessary to understand the difference between the Political/governmental Power, and the State Power. Marxists (though not Marx)have tended to conflate the two. The Liberal-Tory economic policies are contrary to the interests of Capital, and already the State Power is trying to defend the interests of Capital against them. But, outside a coup (which ain't going to happen) the State can frustrate, but not directly prevent Government policies.

    The problem is that we have right-wing populists trying to win elections, and doing so on the basis of populist policies that are alien to the interests of Capital, but which once proposed they are led to have to follow to some extent or else suffer a backlash. The same is true in the US now with Republican populists arguing for deficit reduction whilst US Capital and its representatives in the permanent state are arguing the opposite, and the federal reserve is making statements about the need for further action to avoid deflation.

    Just because the Tories policies are irrational, against the interests of Capital, and may as you state here increase the costs to the State (so will the unemployment and loss of tax revenue stemming from the Budget) does not mean that they will not happen in some form despite the opposition. In fact, on the basis of that Populism, Cameron might even see advantage in being seen to be standing out against entrenched interests.

    I wouldn't count on such policies being reversed. I'd rather count on building an alternative. Attacks on social housing of the State capitalist or private Capitalist variety just prove to me once more the need for workers housing Co-ops. Then we can set our own rules without fear that some demagogue is going to come along and change everything for short-term electoral advantage.

  2. Boffy,

    Hmm. Perhaps. But I think you assume what has to be created/demonstrated: that, I think you assume that there is already an 'us' which self identifies in opposition to what you describe as 'state capitalist or private capitalist'.

    My feeling is that the traditional Labour movement is very largely a hollow shell and very few ordinary people other than activists actively identify with it. So, in my terms, there is no 'us' in quite the sense you mean and policies need to be assessed and constructed accordingly.

  3. Charlie - what was perhaps more revealing in Cameron's latest "Direct" was when he was asked about what would happen to cut services when the Age of Austerity ends. A woman asked sincerely if he would then restore spending - the gist of what he said was "no, the Big Society stays".

    Ah, Thatcherism with a human face!

  4. James,
    I certainly agree that the Tories have a general strategic orientation of 'not letting this crisis go to waste' and are using the chronic fiscal problems of the state as cover for some long cherished re-engineering of polity and economy that they would have wanted to carry out anyway. It's just that the deficit gives them an excuse for carrying out their restructuring polices on the grounds of it being 'a national emergency'.

    But the deficit is, nonetheless, real- views can reasonably differ as to how to manage it, but I'm not convinced by views which say it doesn't matter at all. I'm more attracted to the Richard Murphy line which says it's a perfect reason to close the myriad of tax loopholes and downsize the importance of the City of London before we start massive cuts programmes.

  5. Charlie,

    No I don't assume it already exists, but I believe that if it is to exist it has to be built in the context of a struggle against State/private Capital. I don't believe it will develop spontaneously, precisely because it is not immediately apparent that collective, co-operative organisation provides the solution - I don't believe that is true for Trades Unions either, which is why only a Minority ever join them. That is why I think the role of a Workers Party, and of Marxists within it, is vital to drive that process forward. Incidentally, I think it is the lack of that, and the failure of Marxists or Workers Parties to encourage such "self-government" as Marx calls it, which explains why the development of Co-ops and independent working class action has not been greater than it has, and also explains why workers have lost faith in such parties, and finally why, having witnessed the failure of State Capitalism, see the only credible alternative as being private Capitalism.

  6. On the deficit. Obviously, in a sense it does matter, but both the Tory and new labour proposals for cuts at the present time, make no sense to me. As for Tax, its not like Greece where nobody has been paying tax. Its unlikely that short of workers control of HMRC any significant amount of extra tax will be collected - less if the economy tanks.

    On the City of London, attacking the banks is good populist stuff, but the reality is from a purely economic standpoint rather than a socialist standpoint, if it wasn't for the earning capacity of the City, Britain would be suffering a huge Trade Deficit, which means it would be even more in debt. The trouble with this is that as with many other aspects of life, socialists are defining themselves by what they are against, not what they are for. By all means let's have an alternative centre of gravity within the economy, but do it by building something not knocking something down.

  7. Boffy,
    OK, so we're in agreement that a movement has to be built, not assume to exist. I think that means sometimes working with, not always against, the state, in something of a creative tension.

    On tax - I do think there is a large scope for raising monies. But I'm no tax expert. I think workers control of HMRC is unlikely to make any difference on this front: it's more about a sense of purpose coming from the State.

    On the question of the City, I think the issue facing us all is not that we can somehow magically get rid of the City overnight, but we can aim for policies which ensure its relative decline in importance - which is surely likely to occur anyway, as China and the BRICS will, at some point, move to repatriate the recycling of their surpluses - while boosting alternative forms of enterprise, as prefigured in policy packages such as the so called Green New Deal.

    In short, I'm a long way from giving up on a politics of capturing the state for all my support for co-ops as well.

  8. Charlie,

    I'll reply to your comments tomorrow. For now, can I point you and your readers to this account of the Conference of Worker Co-ops taking place in California at the moment, and in particular the link-up between the United Steel Workers Union and the Mondragon Co-ops to develop Co-ops and Union organisation across the US and Canada.

    A Shadow Is Hanging Over the United States.

  9. Charlie,

    On working with the State, I don't think there is a real difference between us, at that level. I recognise its existence, and, thereofre the need to work with it, just as a Shop Steward also has to work with management sometimes. If I'm mugged, I'd have to work with the Police. I also recognise the difference between workers "In The State", and the State itself, as a reflection of the ruling ideology and representative of the ruling class.

    Now, I also beleive that a crude deterministic Marxism is in danger of reifying the State. That is instead of seeing it as a complex of real human relations and interactions with Civil Society, it sees it only in terms of a relation between "things" - a thing called "State" over here, a thing called "Civil Society" over there. If we want to understand how the ruling ideas become the ideas that dominate the State, we can only understand it in the former terms, of understanding that those ideas reside in the heads of real human beings who exercise positions of power within the State. I've argued this in the past in a series of discussions on my blog with Mike McNair. A good discussion of this in relation to Gramsci's ideas I linked to in one of my posts on Co-operatives Jossa p5, speaks about the way in which intellectuals can be won over to a new way of thinking, and how this then trickles down. I think this can be seen in relation to bouregois ideology replacing feudal ideology (transition from Hobbes to Locke), but there is a difference between two exploiting classes, and the case in relation to an exploiting and an exploited class.

    Either way the domination of ideas based on workers control can only develop on the basis of workers ownership, not ownership by a State that continues to be dominated by bourgeois ideas. Moreover, i'd argue that many State workers themselves have become an aristocracy of labour whose interests are tied to its continued existence on the basis of the status quo.

  10. I'd also argue that as they say if you want peace prepare for War. I can envisage a situation, as Marx did, that after a period of developing Co-op production, Co-op forms developing within Communities, of workers becoming more confident and assertive etc. that the sheer weight of the class could become decisive, and the bosses could be just bought out, by a Workers State. At the same timew I remember Chile, I remember that the ruling class went to extraordinary lengths to defeat the Miners, that it is paranoid even over harmless Peace protesters, that it was condidering a coup against even the limited actions of the Wilson Government. To be honest I'd rather not take the risk of assuming they are going to assit workers in coming to power.

    The same is true about Tax. Its not Greece, where nobody was paying Tax, and it undermined the viability of the State. In the UK, the ruling class have persuaded workers and the middle class to pay the bulk of Tax required to finance the Government and Welfarism. The charade enables Capital to avoid it, and they aren't going to change that.

    On the City, surely a sensible policy would be to use the Surpluses that could continue to be generated through Financial Services as a means of accumulating Capital for Green technology etc. industries. I think the attacks on the City are akin to Physiocracy. Why destroy a source of Value creation whether its in the City or a policy of deindustrialisation? The City only reflects a development of the Division of labour, and move up the value chain, and actually that will continue to be the case whether China moves its finance away from the West or not, because it will still require specialists to deal with those transactions. A lot of money invested in the US that appears as coming from the UK actually comes from the Middle East.