From Owen Jones’s The Establishment, Location 774. According to this biography of George Osborne, which I’m amazed at myself for having read, the window of political acceptability is a key factor in Osborne’s strategic thinking:
What the corporate-backed outriders have achieved is this. They have helped shift the goalposts of debate in Britain, making ideas that were once ludicrous, absurd and wacky become the new common sense. In the terminology of right-wing political thinkers, they have shifted the ‘Overton Window’. The Overton Window is a cherished concept of the US right, coined in homage to Joseph P. Overton, the late vice-president of the right-wing think tank the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. It describes what is seen as politically possible or reasonable at any given time while remaining within the political mainstream. But the very nature of outriders is that they can float ideas or policies that a politician would not dare mention. In doing so, they shift the Window.
I still think he should have called the book Toffs but I’m nontheless looking forward to reading it:
Quite a lot like this I’d imagine. I’ll never understand the contempt with which some on the left regard Owen Jones. I think this is great:
1) A statutory living wage, with immediate effect, for large businesses and the public sector, and phased in for small and medium businesses over a five-year Parliament. This would save billions spent on social security each year by reducing subsidies to low-paying bosses, as well as stimulating the economy, creating jobs because of higher demand, stopping pay being undercut by cheap labour, and tackling the scandal of most of Britain’s poor being in work. An honest days’ pay for an honest days’ work would finally be enshrined in law.
2) Resolve the housing crisis by regulating private rents and lifting the cap on councils to let them build hundreds of thousands of houses and in doing so, create jobs, bring in rent revenues, stimulate the economy and reduce taxpayers’ subsidies to landlords.
3) A 50 per cent tax on all earnings above £100,000 – or the top 2 per cent of earners – to fund an emergency jobs and training programme for young unemployed people, including the creation of a national scheme to insulate homes and businesses across Britain, dragging millions of out of fuel poverty, reducing fuel bills, and helping to save the environment. All such jobs will be paid the living wage, supported with paid apprenticeships rather than unpaid “workfare” schemes.
4) An all-out campaign to recoup the £25bn worth of tax avoided by the wealthiest each year, clamping down on all possible loopholes with a General Anti-Tax Avoidance Bill, as well as booting out the accountancy firms from the Treasury who help draw up tax laws, then advise their clients on how to get around them.
5) Publicly run, accountable local banks. Transform the bailed-out banks into regional public investment banks, with elected taxpayers’ representatives sitting on boards to ensure they are accountable. Give the banks a specific mandate to help small businesses and encourage the green industries of the future in each region.
6) An industrial strategy to create the “green jobs” and renewable energy industries of the future. It would be focused on regions that have been damaged by deindustrialisation, creating secure, skilled, dignified jobs, and reducing unemployment and social security spending, based on an active state that intervenes in the economy, learning from the experiences of countries such as Germany.
7) Publicly owned rail and energy, democratically run by consumers and workers. As each rail franchise expires, bring them back into the public sector, with elected representatives of passengers and workers to sit on the new management boards, ending our fragmented, inefficient, expensive railway system. Build a publicly owned energy network by swapping shares in privately run companies for bonds, and again put elected consumers’ representatives on the boards. Democratic public ownership instead of privatisation could be a model for public services like the NHS, too.
8) A new charter of workers’ rights fit for the 21st century. End all zero-hour contracts, with new provisions for flexible working to help workers. Allow all unions access to workplaces so they can organise, levelling the playing field and giving them a chance to improve wages and living standards. Increase turnout and improve democratic legitimacy in union ballots by allowing workplace-based balloting and online voting.
9) A universal childcare system that would pay for itself as parents who are unable to work are able to do so, and which would take on the inequalities between richer and poorer children that begin from day one.
I’m morbidly fascinated by the political culture of the American right and someday hope to do work on it, though I’m not sure what form that might take. In the 10 years or so I’ve been keenly following American politics, it’s got progressively weirder and shows no signs of abating. In fact it reached a new level of inanity. Consider the results of this poll:
Almost one in four Republicans suspect that Barack Obama is the Antichrist. That’s one of the most astounding findings from a notably stunning new online poll from Harris Interactive. Majorities of Republicans also believe that Obama is a socialist (67 percent), that he wants to take away Americans’ guns (61 percent), is a Muslim (57 percent), has done “many” things that are not constitutional (55 percent), and wants to turn the country over to a one world government (51 percent).
In fairness to the GOP the poll indicates that the country generally seems to have become a bit unhinged. Overall, 40 percent of Americans think Obama’s a socialist, 32 percent think he’s a Muslim, and one in four think that “he is a domestic enemy that the U.S. Constitution speaks of.
Even on the most charitable interpretations Republicans are, at least, complicit in the growth of these bizarre views:
Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) held another lively town hall meeting this weekend, playing host to a constituent who accused President Barack Obama of “sedition” because he had allegedly lied to voters about his true political allegiances to “socialism, communism and Nazism.”
In a discussion about health care reform, a woman told Walsh that she believed the United States was losing its freedom because of elected officials who were falsifying their ideologies to get elected.
“It is sedition. I mean, they did it underground. If they are honest brokers and they believe in what they’re saying and where they want this country to go, like Obama, then you’re right. He should have said it before he was elected, and said ‘I’m a socialist, I believe in socialism, in communism, Nazism,’ whatever, and say ‘this is where I want to lead the country’ — not do it underhandedly,” she said.
And many (including myself) would argue that they’re wilfully fuelling them for their own short term gain. It’s the intensification of a longer standing strategy and it risks becoming almost indescribably self-destructive, as the Republican party is now driven by true believers who have been motivated to join the party largely because of their acceptance of this nonsense. But could something similar happen here? I would have thought not and yet the last few weeks would seem to suggest that an attempt is being made. After all, it’s seemed clear to me for some time that the current government have been reading from the Republican playbook for the last few years (e.g. ideologically motivated deficit hawking has been a driver of party politics for longer there than it has here) and there are demonstrable links between UK right-wing think tanks (in which the Cameroons are deeply entwined) and their American equivalents. Owen Jones offers a great analysis of this in yesterday’s Independent:
That in mind, I wonder what Ralph Miliband would have made of his son’s transformation from a “laughable blank sheet of paper” to “frothing-at-the-mouth Communist who is going to nationalise your mother quicker than you can say ‘Friedrich Engels had a cracking beard’”. Ed Miliband’s suggested crackdown on land-banking (once endorsed by Boris “Commie” Johnson) and a temporary freeze on energy prices (backed by arch-Leninist Tom Burke, the former Tory special adviser on energy) have provoked comparisons with undesirable elements ranging from Robert Mugabe to the Bolsheviks. After he stood on a soapbox in Brighton and indulged a bystander asking when he would “bring back socialism”, the British right have behaved as though Labour are planning to finish what Lenin was doing before he was so rudely interrupted.
In part, it is the sinister red-baiting of Ed Miliband through his dead father, culminating with the Daily Mail accusing the Labour leader of planning to drive “a hammer and sickle through the heart of the nation so many of us love”. Pass the spliff, Mr Dacre. “Like a good Marxist,” writes The Daily Telegraph’s Charles Moore, “he detects the cowardice latent in capitalists,” accusing Miliband of being “part of an ideology” which is “ultimately pauperising and totalitarian.” Jeremy Hunt odiously endorsed the Mail’s lunacy, arguing that “Ralph Miliband was no friend of the free market and I have never heard Ed Miliband say he supports it.” George Osborne, meanwhile, accuses Ed Miliband of making “essentially the same argument Karl Marx made in Das Kapital.”
This is what is really going on. The right are so drunk on three decades of free-market triumphalism, so used to the left being smashed and battered, that they believe even the mildest deviation from the neo-liberal script is unacceptable. They thought all of these battles had been won, that they were rid of all their turbulent priests, and now they are incandescent at the alleged resurgence of defeated enemies. Don’t you know you’re supposed to be dead? It’s not even the most moderate form of social democracy that the right are trying to drive from political life. Anyone who does not advocate yet more aggressive doses of neo-liberalism – more privatisation, more cuts to the taxes of the wealthy, more attacks on workers’ rights – is liable to come under suspicion, too.
The British right’s strategy is pretty clear. They want to do to “socialist” what the US right have done to “liberal”: turn it into an unequivocally toxic word that no-one in public life would want to associate with, and use it as a means to smear political opponents deemed to deviate from Britain’s suffocating neo-liberal consensus. Bemusing, to say the least, given Labour first officially declared itself a “democratic socialist party” under Tony Blair in 1995 as a sop to the left in the party’s new revised Clause IV. He even wrote a Fabian Society pamphlet entitled Socialism. Yes, granted it meant nothing more to him than motherhood and apple pie, and he had more leeway than Miliband because it was rather more difficult to pin him down as a heartfelt lefty, but the point is even New Labour could happily bandy “socialism” about.
I struggle to fathom the depth of the demonstrable stupidity I’m presented with when encountering someone who believes Ed Miliband is a socialist. Which leads me to assume that they don’t really mean it. Or by ‘socialist’ they mean someone mildly to the left of New Labour orthodoxy. When I encounter Obama being called a Islamic Commie Nazi (etc) I can find it kind of funny (less so with a potential US default imminent) because of the distance. But it worries me a lot that this toxic political culture could be willingly inculcated in the UK. I’m pretty certain some are making the attempt but I doubt it could take root. I’m less sure of this then I used to be though.
There is a breed of ex-leftists who can’t stand the left more than anyone. They have the zealousness of the convert and the bitterness of ex-lovers. Cohen is one; another is Bloodworth, who he describes as a “genuine leftist rather than a poseur”, who has gone from being a member of the Trotskyist Alliance of Workers Liberty to writing pieces attacking “the left” as though it’s a homogenous bloc, and in support of grammar schools, privatisation and anti-immigration rhetoric in less than a year. Along with the likes of Dan Hodges, they delight the right, because they apparently confirm all the worst things they say about the left – but with more credibility because it’s “the left” saying it about their own.
– Owen Jones
I’ve been reading Chavs by Owen Jones all day and I’m surprised by quite how broadly thought-provoking it is. From the reviews I was certainly expecting a good book but not such a sensitive and wide ranging engagement with the culture and politics of modern Britain. One thing that particularly piqued my curiosity was his references to Eden Lake, a horror film released in 2008, which tells the story of a ‘normal’ couple from Islington (intriguingly I can’t find any references to the man’s job, while the woman is a nursery teacher) who go on holiday for the weekend to a secluded spot in the West Midlands. An encounter with local kids, ‘feral youths’, sets off a chain of events which, as you can make out from the trailer below, doesn’t end very well:
Apparently when the couple first arrive, upon finding out that the titular lake is to be made into a gated community, utter some liberal platitudes about such things being bad… then they end up getting tortured and killed by the people such a gate would be keeping out. Sounds like subtle stuff. If it wasn’t for the fact I hate horror films (didn’t use to, not sure what changed) I probably would watch it though, simply out of morbid curiosity.
What’s bizarre and incredibly telling is the extent to which some have seemingly viewed this film as, in effect, a docudrama. This is my favourite of the reviews I read on IMDB:
I watched Eden Lake last night and now I’m angry.
Not because the film was bad (on the contrary, it was very good); not because the nastiest character was called Brett (when surely it’s common knowledge that all blokes named Brett are extremely nice); not because I had to watch the film on my portable DVD player while the wife watched ‘I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Outta Here!’ on the telly; and not because a rather silly ending spoils what might have been an otherwise perfect piece of entertainment.
No…. I’m angry because, with Eden Lake, I’ve been shown the terrifying truth about one of the biggest evils currently plaguing the UK (I’ll give you a clue: it likes to wear Burberry and has lousy taste in music!).
That’s right: I’m talking about Chavs!
If, like me, you find that yob culture makes your blood boil, then you too will be absolutely seething by the end of this excellent film, which cleverly taps into the viewer’s fury, fear and frustration with loutish teenagers who are free to terrorise the innocent because the law lacks the power to punish them.
In Eden Lake, Director James Watkins presents a harrowing fictional account of one such incident in which a couple are subjected to unbelievable pain and humiliation by a gang of nasty young thugs. The sickening atrocities perpetrated by Watkins’ lawless delinquents are terrifyingly real (reports on similar real-life events can all-too-often be found in today’s tabloids) and serve only too well to highlight just how far our society has sunk in recent years.
So if the middle classes are doomed to be prey, cowering within gated communities as unavoidable refuges against the teeming hoards outside, the natural question is whether there are any agents of moral order left within society? Step forward Harry Brown, the protagonist in a film that came out a year after Eden Lake, with Michael Caine playing the militant embodiment of the ‘respectable working class’. I wrote about this at the time here:
This film tells the story of Harry Brown, a pensioner living on a decaying housing estate in South London. Formerly a marine, Harry now lives a lonely life, with his wife on death’s door in hospital and few friends in an area increasingly plagued by drugs and crime. The film tells the story of Harry’s stand against the anarchy he perceives around him and the events that forced him to take action. While his friend Len lives in a state of constant fear unknown to Harry, he himself is not immune to it. Time after time, fear of the ‘hoodies’ in the subway by his estate forces him into taking the long route over the dual carriageway. Over and over again the film bombards the viewer with this message that we live in a broken society where the criminal leave the law abiding at best inconvenienced and disgusted, at worst terrified and broken. At times it’s difficult not to wonder if the film was produced in alliance with the Conservative Research Department given its continual graphic illustration of the Tory ‘Broken Britain’ theme.
Basically when Harry decides to take a stand, refusing to live in fear of the ‘feral youth’ the viewer meets in Eden Lake, he puts his army training to good use and brutalises a whole string of young people with barbed wire, knifes and guns. I do think that this is actually a good film, albeit a nasty and mean-spirited one, whereas Eden Lake just sounds shit:
How many people viewing Harry Brown cheered him on as he went on his killing spree? A brave and respectable man with a cause, standing up to the violent nihilistic subhumans who are eviscerating what remains of the social fabric with each ‘good’ citizen they intimidate and/or make a victim of (as well as a litany of other such crimes which don’t feature in a film like this e.g. having children outside of a respectable family structure) – the film works dramatically because, it seems, swathes of its audience instinctively recognise the moral universe it portrays. Even those who might subsequently intellectually disown any experience of thinking that Harry Brown straight forwardly represents the pervasive reality of modern Britain.
Do films like this represent a return of the repressed? Is there an obsession with class, stalking consciousness and lurking in nightmares, because of its effective erasure from public discourse, as the Thatcherite project was solidified by New Labour’s re-articulation of the social democratic problematic as a matter of using capitalist growth to fund measures which increase ‘social mobility’ in order to help erode ‘social exclusion’ one newly minted middle class family at a time.
It’s hard not to wonder where this spectre might lead, as austerity begins to bite and a beleaguered radical right-wing government digs in its heels to push through its extreme legislative agenda. Perhaps this is also a crucial part of the socio-emotional topography of #UKRiots, as such an unsettling number of people were so quickly calling for the army to be sent in to the streets of London. When challenged over and over again on Twitter to justify myself for suggesting this was a bad idea, it did briefly feel like the world was going completely mad (though unplugging the wifi for a bit made this feeling go away).
There has been a moral panic brewing in the back of the middle class British psyche for a long time and I don’t think it has come even close to playing itself out yet. We live in strange and troubling times.