Tsk tsk, Fisk Fisk

Yawn. Happy hibernating and all that. I am almost as inconsistent at reading blogs as I am at posting, but I’ve been catching up with my RSS today, and I’m riled. Heresy Corner usually fails to strike a chord with me, and I’m loath to remove it entirely from the RSS, but it’s definitely now on my internal monologue equivalent of a final warning.

The first thing that piqued me about it was the fact the bottom of every RSS article from the Heresy Corner feed bears the sinister warning “© 2009 Heresy Corner, all rights reserved”. Vive la creative commons! – there’s nothing quite like that disclaimer for saying “I’m too good for all this new media malarky – I’m holding out for the book deal”. I’m not really digging the self-styled iconoclasm either, especially not when one of your major targets is the bogeyman fish barrel of religion and ‘superstition’ – edgy stuff indeed. Never mind, I’m aware that my complaints are mostly just a matter of taste, as is the fact that Ghostery shows 8 separate tracking systems on it – there are some much more interesting bits and pieces on there.

However, the snowy weather has not been kind on the Heresiarch’s ability vis a vis incoherent thought. First of all he coughed up a repetition of the UK commentariat’s most tired cliché – ‘Aren’t these weathermen useless’? The meat of the post referred to a comment posted on the Daily Mail website by someone claiming to work for the Met Office, and pulling apart the three sentence description of their methodology therein.  Plenty of blog posts are indistinguishable from typing up whatever ill-informed conversations the author has overheard in the toilets of their local pub, and I generally file such rubbish under ‘ignore’. However, in the context of a renewed right-wing push to discredit climate science, and the accompanying comments by Heresiarch, this banal fare becomes much more pernicious:

Of course. I’m passing no comment here about the climate science, except to say that the more I hear it proclaimed in ever shriller tones that the science is settled, the less I believe it. I used to think the science was settled. I now merely think that there are a lot of people who think that it ought to be settled, which isn’t the same thing at all.

There is plenty to take issue with here, but I shall move on to more egregious matters, pausing only to note that if you really want to blog about the weather, you probably ought to make a bit of an effort to understand it. Things might be a bit more complicated than you realise, hmmm?

The really appalling piece of gibberish from Heresy Corner (think of it as the part of the classroom where they give you a special pointy hat) came on Thursday, in the guise of a ‘Guest Post‘ from ‘The Pedant General’ of Devil’s Kitchen (What is it with bloggers and their pompous nicknames? Hello? We are nerds in our bedrooms – enough with the airs and graces!). It is a horrible example of how little FUD the climate change deniers need to spread in order to stymie public action on complex scientific matters. I bet it takes me longer to counter it (lacking, as I do, immediate access to the correct scientific data, and only a passing knowledge of proper climate science blogs) than it did for it to be written in the first place.

Most of us simply lack the time and specialist knowledge to disprove their bullshit, and for many people climate denial suits their prejudices and political persuasion, and they won’t even seek it out. Think of  the Pedant General as an intelligent human being who has swallowed just enough bullshit from various sources to convince himself that there isn’t a problem, and that the solutions will make things worse, in line with his political leanings.

In a comment on the earlier thread inspired by the Met Office’s inaccurate predictions of a warm winter, Sue R asked: Why are people so keen to deny global warming?

That entirely misses the point.

The fact that we are noticeably warmer than we were 5, 50 or 150 years ago is not remotely interesting. We were and are emerging from a (non-man made) little ice age.

The vital question is whether we are warmer than we were 1000 years ago, and that is very definitely not settled science in any way shape or form.

And… even if we are warmer than we were 1000 years ago (which, for the avoidance of doubt, is denied – the historical record is pretty clear that it was indeed significantly warmer – one reason the science isn’t settled BTW), it is not at all clear whether this change is man-made to any really significant degree.

OK, so first of all – no links, no evidence, just assertion. Cheers. It’s actually extremely interesting if we are warmer than 150 years ago, considering the small matter of industrialisation. But the claim here is that we should be looking at longer terms trends and whether we are warmer than 1,000 years ago. So lets:

Temperature trends in past centuries and the so-called hockey stick
Temperature trends in past centuries and the so-called hockey stick

The graph is from RealClimate.org, which is  well worth reading for the extra information, especially the comments (and other pages here, here and here). Basically it shows the reconstructed data on long term climactic variation from various sources and methodologies, and against several computer simulations – it’s Northern Hemisphere data, incidentally.

The different coloured lines show the trends suggested by the different studies, and the grey areas show the different outer limits for the uncertainty on two of the studies (Mann & Jones and Man et al). If we go back to the year 1000 all of them are below the 1961-1990 baseline, with the possible exception of the green line (Mann et al). The green line is crossing the baseline around that point, heading steeply downwards – the previous short spike above the baseline is the only time it rises above it in the whole series.

The outer limits of uncertainty do show that it’s possible that the temperature in the past may have been above the baseline, but the likely trends are universally below the baseline, as are all the other data series, except for a brief spike in the yellow line (Crowley and Lowery) around 1200, and the early progress of the Bauer et al simulation. None of the data trends, or the extremities of uncertainty exceed 0.4 above the baseline prior to the era of industrialisation. Our current position is significantly above +0.4. The long term data does show us emerging from the ‘little ice age’ in the mid 19th century but it also shows a completely anomalous rise beyond previous norms. We are much warmer than we were 1,000 years ago, and the Pedant General is talking bollocks. And before you start, there’s a very good Hockey Stick Q&A here.

And, even if:

  • we are warmer than we were 1000 years ago and
  • we are causing it to some significant degree

it’s not at all clear that we are really able to influence it the other way

And, even if:

  • we are warmer than we were 1000 years ago and
  • we are causing it to some significant degree and
  • we are really able to influence it the other way

it’s not at all clear that doing so is necessarily necessary. Do the benefits of warmer temperatures outweigh the costs? The historical record suggests that yes, they do. Humans do better when it’s warmer. The numbers dying of unseasonal cold far outstrip those dying of unseasonal heat.

Y’what? Y’WHAT? So “it’s not at all clear that we are really able to influence it the other way”. This witless assertion is so lacking in substantiating information that it’s very hard to dismantle. The mechanism by which CO2 makes the world warmer is such old hat that even I learned it in school. The correlation between CO2 and temperature is very well documented in Ice Core data, and the ‘lag’ is well explained. Essentially, other factors begin warming events (output of CO2 from the earth’s fauna & flora having been fairly static until the age of industrialisation), but this warming stimulated release of CO2 which then droves the warming even further.

Granted, if we don’t reduce emissions soon, the feedback loops (several of which involve the same CO2 release as in no-anthropocentric  warming events),  will reduce our ability to reverse this human-caused warming. But that is an argument for urgent action now, not for prevarication. As for the claim that the historical record suggests that “the benefits of warmer temperatures outweigh the costs” – this has got to be the most stupid claim of the lot. El General really hasn’t taken the time to understand what climate change means, has he? Cimate Change means more increased extreme weather events, disruption of the water cycle and decreased agricultural productivity, not sunglasses and the occasional hot flush. The 300,000-odd estimated deaths a year from climate change didn’t die of heat stroke.

And, even if:

  • we are warmer than we were 1000 years ago and
  • we are causing it to some significant degree and
  • we are really able to influence it the other way and
  • doing so is necessarily necessary and
  • it’s more cost effective to try adapt the climate itself

it’s not at all clear that this indeed the best use of our money right now. There are (pace Lomborg) stacks of really actually pressing problems that would benefit mankind massively more proveably right now if a tiny tiny fraction of the sums being bandied about were to be devoted to them. Eradicating malaria for example.

Bjorn Fucking Lomberg. I should have known he’d hear from that twat sooner or later. Because of the feedback loops mentioned above, we have a window of effectiveness after which we will not be able to lower average global temperatures by reducing our carbon emissions, and will be locked into a much greater warming event. This means we don’t get to wait around until it’s a bit too warm for our comfort, and then start to do something about the problem.

Lomberg’s major contribution to fiddling while Rome burns involved getting a load of economists into a room and getting them to assess a competition of global projects for the benefit of mankind, using a budget too small to make a difference to global warming. At $50 billion US, it was actually less than half the annual estimated costs of climate change. On the basis of that, global warming was deemed to not be cost effective, never mind what the real scientists said. I don’t think Dante was sufficiently forward thinking to reserve a place for hell for contrarians who look on global catastrophe as a chance to launch a career in denial punditry, but part of me wishes he had.

And, even if:

  • we are warmer than we were 1000 years ago and
  • we are causing it to some significant degree and
  • we are really able to influence it the other way and
  • doing so is necessarily necessary and
  • it’s more cost effective to try adapt the climate itself and
  • this is a better use of our money than any of the myriad other much better uses of our money

it’s not at all clear that the best way to do this is to subborn all our freedoms to a putative world government in the form of the monstrously corrupt UN who will then proceed to tax us all into oblivion in order to give all our money to the most corrupt and incompetent governments on the planet (who are more likely to squander or nick it rather than use it – incompetently – for whatever it was supposed to be for).

I quite agree, this would not be a very good course of action, even when stripped of the demented right-wing hysteria. We need something much more radical – centrally coordinated, but properly democratic and involving everyone. And fast.

Thus, Sue’s claim that “the weather/climate is changing and it is necessary for governments to act upon it ” is a monster fallacy of well known form:

  • something must be done (which is denied)
  • A is something (A is not shown to be effective)
  • therefore A must be done (logical fallacy)

with the added knobs on that

  • A must be done by the government.

Or is that akin to being a young earth creationist?

As its been quite well shown that something that tackles climate change really does need to be done, I think it’s not unreasonable for people to look to the existing political authorities to take action. Obviously, what is to be done, and by whom is a proper political debate, instead of this head in the sand bullshit, and I rather look forward to having it. And actually General, you’re much worse than a young earth creationist. They are considerably less harmless.

Approximate time to Fisk: 4 hours. Incidentally, for future reference, these two sites can save you hours of wasted effort with these goons in the future:

On the ‘climate camp has sold out’ meme

A friend of a friend posted this link, to which (I have to confess) I rolled my eyes. It kind of reminds me of when I was at school & ran as an anarchist candidate in the mock elections (fully aware of the inherent contradictions), and was told off by one of my teachers for printing posters with bomb making instructions rather than something along the lines of “property is theft”.

I’m all up for debating about the nature of capitalism, but clinging to orthodox structural Marxism and complaining in high academic language that no-one else understands hasn’t got the left in the UK anywhere in the last 50 years. This kind of thing is very well represented in the workshops at the camp & very good they are too. There was a huge plenary one evening on this year economics, with Marx & everything, and I’d happily lay money that was the largest gathering (outside of a university) where newcomers were introduced to those ideas in the UK in the last year.

Naturally, not everyone endorses them as the only way to analyse our society, and I think the plurality in our movement is directly related to it’s energy & vitality. That said, they are a lot more widely understood than this article makes out, and it’s a bit silly to confuse slogans on banners taken to protests with an all encompassing statement of somebody’s politics. If you do that, you find yourself turning up to a protest with 3000 dense lines of spidery handwriting on a bit of cardboard and looking like a bit of a plonker.

The camp is clearly anti-capitalist, and this is affirmed regularly at meetings, when discussing media and outreach etc. It is also extremely effective at smuggling radical critiques into the mainstream media, for example getting a debate on carbon trading on Newsnight on the back of a “highly mediatised, symbolic” direct action. It does this by intentionally shying away from gems such as “These arguments fail to grapple with the structural processes of capital, instead limiting their critique to a superficial critique of the appearance of contemporary capitalism”.

As with my poster at school, talking about radical ideas in a way that is too far removed from your audience’s frame of reference is not very  radical at all, because they are only understood by the usual suspects. Not using this language is too much of a departure from the one true way for some, and I think it is really important to continually debate how to dance the line between access and co-option, between accessibility and compromising the message. But that debate is continually going on within the climate camp process, and I think that in general our dancing is pretty impressive.

There are obviously some people involved in the movement who are reformers rather than revolutionaries, and the way the camp is organised through consensus decision making means that the group cannot cross the red lines of anybody who is involved. That seems like a pretty watertight defence against creeping liberalism to me.

The charge that the camp didn’t involve radical direct action this year is misplaced – the last time I checked, seizing a piece of land in central London, denying access to the police and organising autonomously within that space to, amongst other things, take down Ratcliffe-upon-Sour power station was pretty radical. Similarly, introducing loads of fresh-faced newbies to actual functioning anarchism in action is infinitely more powerful than writing a long wordy treatise. We had hundreds of people running around on Blackheath practising tactics for outflanking the cops at the Great Climate Swoop, and the police had taken such a hammering about their tactics at the G20 that they allowed it all to happen. People protesting in the SOCPA zone were politely requested to please climb the side of the Treasury by the street, rather than the one by the park. During that week, a whole raft of the most draconian legislation which is usually deployed against protesters was de-facto unenforceable.

This (probably temporary) space for direct action was directly created through the tactics which have been the subject of most soul-searching within the camp – working the mainstream media very hard, doing some police liaison and interfacing with parliamentary committees and HMIC. Again, it is really important that this engagement is continually debated, and if it ever becomes an end in itself then we’ve lost, but my point is, so far the plurality of approaches has been a huge success, not a drawback. We really are stronger together. Who’d have thought it?

I think that as protesters/activists/political radicals/general ne’er-do-wells we are very used to being outsiders, and climate camp having such a large public profile is a long way from what anyone is used to, and this lies behind a lot of the critiques that are directed at it. It doesn’t feel, smell or taste like what people are used to in other situations when they have been ‘fighting the good fight.’ However, if we are serious about tackling the greatest environmental catastrophe in human history with this non-hierarchical method of organising, I imagine we are going to be spending quite a lot of time outside our comfort zone. In fact, if we aren’t, I think we are probably doing something wrong.

If we expect societal change to come out of what we are doing, it would be a mistake to believe that we are going to come out of it unchanged ourselves, with identical ideas, methods and beliefs – as agents of change, we are hardly going to remain static. The way we are organised requires everyone to participate, and there ain’t gonna be any cadres, so we certainly can’t go into it with fixed ideas of how the end will look, or with the intention to control that change – we only get to be participants too. That is certainly going to take us way out of our comfort zone, but I think the way we organise is a powerful bulwark against oppression and domination; it demands that we are reflexive, adaptive and accommodating and it draws out the creativity and agency in everyone it touches.

We are taking on a massive task, and it isn’t going to reward us for prioritising abstract notions of political purity above efficacy. If we are going to tackle the state’s role in climate change, we are going to have to challenge it to live up to some of the ideals it espouses – looking after the worst off in our society, maximising individual wellbeing, neutrally mediating between disputes – and  call it out when it flounders on the inherent contradictions within Liberalism. We need to show the emperor has no clothes so that everyone sees that the disproportionate power of corporations and the wealthy have a stranglehold on these ‘neutral’ institutions, and that we need to end capitalism before it ends us all. At the moment it is looking alive and well enough to saddle us with runaway climate change before it does itself terminal damage, so personally I don’t think we can afford to ignore the institutions of power that exist now – I think we’re going to have to get  our hands dirty and do all sorts of things that we would never have dreamed of. However, considering the timescale we don’t have the luxury of arguing over whose strategy is the best one. At the moment we’re in a quickly descending aircraft, and it’s “press every fucking button on the dashboard” time. We have a commitment to all work together to try and solve this, and that seems like a good starting point, with all of our different approaches and outlooks. Or alternatively we can go our separate ways: you can keep your Marxist dogma, and we’ll keep our revolution, but that seems like a bit of a shame – and our way includes dancing……

Yawning our way to the guillotine

And so it came to pass that the Guardian is following my lead & has written what amounts to a political obituary for Gordon Brown. Considering how tooth-achingly long it took the idiot to finally to hit home after years of cack-handedly stabbing Blair in the back, I’m not holding my breath for his final demise. Anyway, I thought this paragraph really summed up the whole of Brown’s premiership.

This week, in the wake of the expenses scandal, he has announced he is considering “a new constitutional settlement”, including reducing the voting age to 16, creating a Bill of Rights and written constitution, completing the reform of the House of Lords and extending the Freedom of Information Act. Brown is full of other big ideas: that climate change and the recession require a new form of international co-operation and a new form of capitalism; that the public’s involvement in British democracy needs to be rethought and renewed; that the world is living through the greatest period of change since the industrial revolution; that today is nevertheless “a progressive age”.

It sounds like a full programme for government, not a weeks worth of announcements. But with the exception of the voting age, it’s utterly devoid of detail. There’s absolutely no way of getting a handle on any of these high-blown phrases, and as such the whole thing is completely meaningless. What the fuck does a ‘new form of capitalism’ mean? Bankers will be forced to wear odd socks when shafting us from now onwards? We’ll abandon floating currencies, but instead of the gold standard, all prices will link back to the wholesale price of plasticine? Instead of a return on your investment, a lifetime of savings will entitle you to free cream cakes through the post and a novelty alarm clock?

Hang on - I can see our new constitutional settlement, but it's very far away. Does anyone have a really long stick
Hang on - I can see our new constitutional settlement, but it's very far away. Does anyone have a really long stick

Through my own dazzling inertia, I left a blog post dating from summer 2007 that said how well Brown was doing as as my last word on his premiership for over a year. I was fascinated by how quickly it became a museum piece, and how I’d completely swallowed the media mood music. When I looked back on it, the reason was that the honeymoon coincided with the summer recess, and Brown was just making speeches. There was no detail, no legislative programme. Naturally he’d been preparing to be prime minister his whole life, so it had been long in the planning, and it showed.

When the detail of what he was actually going to do started to emerge, the utter poverty of his thinking was embarrassingly clear. My personal gawd-help-us moment was realising that not only was he not going to take the opportunity to scrap ID cards, but he was going to squander hours of parliamentary time buggering about trying to force through 42 day detention. You’d hope someone might have noticed that his predecessor had rather done the imbecile anti-terrorism measures to death, and had run into the buffers on this very issue. Never mind the election that never was. At that moment I suddenly come to grips with the doom-laden implications of what continuity really meant. It was not a good time.

I don’t actually have any sense of what Brown’s speeches were about during that honeymoon period, doubtless because they were similar in content to the above list – the policy equivalent of MSG – fluff with a passing sense of satisfaction and no substance. I wouldn’t be surprised if several of the same key phrases came up, certainly they smelt like a similar variety of bullshit. There’s something deeply pathological about this inability to translate any of these laudable ideas into something resembling policy. Like the man himself, it all sounds wonderful on paper, but somehow never gets off the ground.

He’s had over twenty years, in politics to rethink the public’s involvement in democracy – a phrase which, incidentally, is so riven with contradictions and the sad truth about British politics that it hurts. Democracy means rule of the people, so our ‘involvement’ in anything worth the name should be pretty fucking clear: we’re in charge. Twenty years of public life and and he can’t come up with a substantive proposal in order to save his own political skin, just a shopping list of meaningless phrases. He can’t even sack Hazel Blears properly. Prick.

The slow death of New Labour, and their responsibility for the financial crisis

Is it just me, or do I detect a sense of fatigue in the coverage of the latest brohaha about the Labour party leadership? Since the 2005 election, I don’t think there’s been a six month period where the question hasn’t arisen, such is the bile and self-loathing that permeates the Labour party. They are the walking dead now, and everyone knows it, so the inevitable squabbling has lost its interest. If by some freak incident they were to win the next election, for example Madeline McCann being discovered in George Osbourne’s coal bunker a day or so before the vote, I think most of the government would be visibly distressed. We all know that the New Labour ship of fools is a directionless and ultimately doomed enterprise, and the whole country from the cabinet downwards  just wishes it was over – a further spell in power would just prolong the pain. I suspect even Gordo would rather not have to go through the drawn-out humiliation spending the next year pretending he knows what he’s doing, and expects to be re-elected.

Labour are going to be spending a very long time in opposition. Unlike the Tories, who have only ever been soulless mannequins without the wit to be ashamed of their naked lust for power, an essential part of the Labour party is its status as a vessel of hope for its members. It is not important that these hopes were often inchoate, sometimes contradictory and mostly unrealisable within the framework of liberal capitalism that Labour operates in, the point was that it stood for something. In terms of the endless mechanistic reinvention that representative democracy demands of parties, these emotional attachments are baggage, and have been repeatedly trodden into the dirt by the vanguard in its long brave march into the future.

It is going to be a long and depressing year, and the best we can look forward at the end of it is David Cameron. For the left, who have been broadly vindicated by the spectacle of international capitalism driving headlong into a shit-heap of its own making, there is a terrible irony in the timing. We are at the ghastly fag end of ten years of the establishment ‘left’ squandering the offices of government by repeatedly disavowing the possibility of bringing about a more equitable and less money riven society, and burning their bridges with demented glee in a firestorm of public assets. The gross incompetence, brutal knuckle-headedness and terminal banality which has characterised Labour’s term in office have extinguished any legitimate claim it had to rule, even on the narrow basis upon which they sought power – that they would somehow be better managers of the out of control Thatcherite fantasy that was late 20th Century Britain.

It's like having the chuckle brothers running the county. Only less funny
It's like having the chuckle brothers running the county. Only less funny

This means that, while outside the mainstream the left is alive and kicking, within the parliamentary system there is very little to be done beyond relentlessly debating what went wrong, like picking compulsively at a scab. I feel it is important during this process to kick Labour while they are down. Repeatedly. Having spent the last ten years being patronised by halfwits, the least we can do in return is to enumerate their failings, and show how conclusively they have been the authors of their own misfortune. This is too large a subject for a single posting, but I’m intending this to be one in a series. I think the best place to start is to look at New Labour’s economic policies and the financial crisis. This will naturally lead us right back to the unhappy tenant of Downing St and the odd way he has contrived to realise his life’s ambition through a hideous shit-storm of his own making, with everything he dreamed of falling around his ears. A salutary lesson indeed: do be careful what you wish for, my children,  or you too may find yourselves in some yourselves in some waking nightmare where your life falls apart and the whole country is openly laughing at your inability to smile convincingly.

It is a brutal end, and it will not be over quickly for any of us. But while he may cut a tragicomic figure, let’s not forget he played the game like a brute these last ten years, and will deservedly be chewing on the consequences for some time hence. The only tragedy about politicians is that when they crash and burn, they drag us down with them. Let it also be noted that this litany of blame isn’t intended squarely for Labour. Their greatest failing – in fact their only failing – was to slavishly follow the political orthodoxies of the day as they saw them. The financial crisis is the failure of the entire political class, and more broadly it is our failure too. Like Gordon, we are sucking up the consequences of our actions – our tolerance of a dysfunctional political system that spews out these oafs, and our acceptance of the numbskull gibberish that it takes as self-evident truth.

So, without further ado…….

Let me count the ways in which Gordon Brown and the New Labour project bear responsibility for the financial crisis

Basically mate, the important fact is you've got to squeeze inflation out of the system. I don't suppose you have any mescaline, by the way?
Basically mate, the important fact is you've got to squeeze inflation out of the system. I don't suppose you have any mescaline, by the way?

1. Independence of the Bank of England. Everyone got extremely excited about this, and Gordo dined out on it for years. Characteristically, Blair wasn’t told until shortly beforehand, and this was exactly the kind of deft political outflanking manuvre that Brown  has tried to pull off again (c.f. election that never was, 10p tax band, MP’s expenses/youtube) and utterly fucked up. It was politically extremely bold, and part of a package which shunted the Tories off their territory of owning ‘economic competence’ and into the wilderness. The problem lies in that term ‘economic competence’, however. Managing the 4th largest economy on the planet is an inherently political activity, and not just a matter of doing it ‘right’. Handing it over to a quango (which is what the monetary policy committee technically is) might be a good way of marking yourself out from your interventionist predecessors, but it is not going to be problem free. Lately the independent Bank has been biting Gordo on the arse in the form of Mervyn King, who seems to have all sorts of ideas about how Alistair Darling should be handling fiscal policy, and won’t shut up about it. More substantially, the MPC showed themselves to be about as prescient as all economists and witch doctors, keeping interest rates at 5% through to September 2008 when everyone in the country knew that businesses were experiencing problems accessing credit. In retrospect, this almost certainly made the recession deeper.

2. Markets über alles. At the heart of the Bank of England decision, and these policies in general is deep conceptual confusion about role of economics and politics. This goes much wider than Nu Labour & Gordo – it is at the heart of the political orthodoxy of the  our times. The idea that there is a ‘right’ way to be setting interest rates comes from thinking about markets as being in some way ‘natural’, rather than arising from particular social circumstances – as such they are thought to only require minimal oversight by right thinking persons, and they will work their wonders in their own mysterious way (this is quite literally magical thinking). You don’t ever hear politicians talk like this directly, but it is at the heart of everything they do and say. It then follows that markets are much better at organising things than people, and should be introduced into as many spheres of human activity as possible, including realms which should properly be the domain of politics.

As a topical example, let’s look at Dr Daniel Urbani, who accidentally killed a man through an overdose of diamorphine. The reasons we had a sleep deprived German doctor let loose on Cambridgeshire are all to do with bringing a market ethos to bear on the NHS. Out of hours contracting was brought in in 2004, in part because the government insists on underpaying doctors, and preferred to improve their terms and conditions (more on this theme later). Instead of having a practice cover your treatment in the evenings and weekends  private companies have been brought in to bid for the contracts. There is no way that a doctor from a practice in the UK would have made this error – it was due to unfamiliarity with diamorphine as they don’t use it in the same way in Germany, to fatigue from driving on foreign roads to an unknown destination, from sticking to a hours that partners in a practice would not inflict on each other, but a company is quite happy to enforce on its wage-slaves. Practices have a bond with their patients that cannot ever be replicated by a contractor – they would not put their patients at risk in the way that ‘Take Care Now’ were only to happy to. While markets are not a bad means for distributing non-essential goods, they are antithetical to direct oversight and control, and can only deal with variables that are quantitative. Everything that can be counted: how many hours the doctor will cover, the distance he will travel, what obligations the contractor has can all accounted for,  but qualitative variables such as how awake the doctor is, cannot be effectively priced, and will fall off the balance sheet.

This incident is archetypal New Labour – they were so keen to get private practitioners into the ‘market’ on health care, that private clinics were given preferential treatment. All markets have externalities; costs that are not included in the transaction, which are borne by the community at large, or by people who did not participate in the transaction. In health care, where virtually every important factor – the quality of the treatment – is not something that can be numerated, this is particularly pernicious, and in this case lead to a man’s death. Rather than treating the level and quality of out of hours care as a political question, it was treated as a solely economic problem – one supplier will come up with the goods that your original supplier is refusing t0 – with predictable consequences.

If there is a phrase more apt for describing the underlying cause of the financial crisis, than ‘blind faith in markets’ I’ve yet to hear it. This deification may have been the political norm, particularly in the Anglo Saxon economies, but Godo enthusiastically lapped up and designed the ineffectual regulation system which sent the banks to the wall. Unfortunately for him, the belief that the outcome of Markets is inherently rational and desirable made as much sense as those 1990s articles of faith: the related contention that ‘History’ had ended with the fall of the Berlin wall, and the notion that the songwriting force behind Oasis was somehow comparable to the heyday of Lennon & McCartney.

3.Fetishising Debt…… to be continued

“If she weighed the same as a duck… she’s made of wood” – The police federation and the witchfinder general

Oh dear. The cops are angry. Odly enough, you won’t like them when they’re angry. From the press association:

The Police Federation accused IPCC chairman Nick Hardwick of running a witch-hunt against G20 officers and depicted him as a “grandstanding anti-police campaigner”.

Federation chairman Peter Smyth said he had written to the Government to complain about Mr Hardwick’s “deplorable” behaviour. “Keen, apparently, to don the mantle of witchfinder general, Mr Hardwick discusses some selective aspects of G20 and passes lofty and withering judgment on London’s police officers,” Mr Smyth said.

Let’s just examine that. He’s complaining about Nick Hardwick’s comments to the  Observer, all of them utterly unremarkable. The police should regard themselves as public servants – shocking! We need a public debate on policing demonstrations – no shit! The IPCC needs more resources to carry out investigations themselves. Seeing as 1/3 of their investigators are currently working on G20, and when a man dies during a police operation they are forced to accept the police’s story without any attempt to corroborate or challenge, that is hardly controversial.

Nick Hardwick is disparately trying to claw back some credibility for the IPCC, which has been caught red handed lying to the public on behalf of the people it is supposed to scrutinise. Being caught with your pants down doesn’t really do it justice, more a case of being interrupted right during the ‘money shot’. It’s not a good look, and Hardwick needs all the critical distance from the police that he can get.

The IPCC's greatest minds get to work on a case
The IPCC's greatest minds get to work on a case

But, back to Peter Smyth, who is very serious about representing rank & file plods, right down to embodying the worst of their PR cack-handedness. This is straight out of the same school of thought that greets any complaint with an incompetent lie, and hopes nobody notices. You’d think, in their line of work they would appreciate the importance of a story that hangs together, wouldn’t you? Unseasonably heavy jacket? Check. Now, as soon as the nominally independent body – which has a track record of being utterly supine – makes some businessman-like noises, they reach for the dictionary marked ‘extreme overreaction’ and start chucking out phrases like witchfinder general.

It’s an odd choice of words, particularly when you consider the myriad examples of less than neutral judges, which is more what he is actually trying to allege. Not that one expects the likes of Peter Smyth to have a full awareness of what he’s saying, but let’s amuse ourselves by looking into this one a bit more. There was only ever one witchfinder general, Matthew Hopkins – a charlatan and sadist, who made a gruesome living during the political chaos of the Civil War by identifying the vulnerable, torturing confessions out of them, and collecting a bounty from the local authorities. Using sleep deprivation, near drowning and nudity as tools of interrogation, this is a story for our times, but not because of Nick Hardwick.

Witchfinder general was not an official title, but a self-assumed one: he held no formal position and traded on his previous record to get work. Interestingly, the witchunts in Europe are closely associated with weak or non-existent political authority: as those like Hopkins wielded the  power to single out people and whim and ascribe guilt through esoteric methods and dubious practices –  pre-existing power structures tended to nip them in the bud. The Spanish inquisition, for example, had none of it. So, when there was political oversight, witchunts tended to be prevented from occurring. Hopkins was eventually exposed by a priest who looked into his behaviour and exposed his methods in a book. Citizen journalism? Old as the printing press.

It may seem unpalatable, but we have got priceless information about the Satan's activities by these methods
It may seem unpalatable, but we have got priceless information about the Satan's activities by these methods

Obviously Peter Smyth has never any of this, and draws on some vague memory of Arthur Miller’s ‘The Crucible’ – itself inspired by the McCarthy Hearings of the 1950s. The atmosphere referenced is a situation where guilt by association is assumed, those under scrutiny fall over themselves to accuse each other, and any attempt to challenge the authority of the inquisitor is prima facie evidence of guilt. It is harder to think of anything less characteristic of the current atmosphere in the police than this picture. Despite the numerous documented criminal activities of the police during the G20 protests, how many of their colleagues have shopped them, despite it being their legal duty? What are Peter Smyth’s comments indicative of, if not the police closing of ranks in the face of criticism?

The police have long taken advantage of the leeway that they receive, and the impunity with which they behaved at the G20 doesn’t make it particularly wise to call to mind someone like Hopkins – a law unto himself, unaccountable and on the rampage, drunk on his own unassailability. Look again at the policeman demanding photographers leave an area – presumably because they were about to get heavy and didn’t want to be caught in the act. The officer refuses to be challenged about the basis for his demand, and it comes down to “get out of here, or I’ll arrest you, because I can”. Or alternatively read James Lloyd’s account (climate camp legal report, page 34) of coming as a legal observer to witness the raid on a squat  – which shows the police completely abusing their power to intimidate and prevent any recording of their activities (incidentally, several witness statements from inside the building suggest someone filming during the raid was taken into a separate room and beaten).

Look at the police conviscating copies of the New Statesman as evidence of an alternative political outlook, which clearly points to some measure of criminal intent. Or at them using pre-emptive arrest and bail conditions as an  injunction without the hasstle of proving anything in court, on 114 peoople whose only crime at the time was to congregate in a school together. The spectres of Hopkins and McCarthyism aren’t a very sensible historical analogy to be bringing up in this context. The most shocking thing is the demented sense of persecution that seems to have arisen in the police with the first sign of public disquiet at their activities. Over 400 people have died following police contact in the last 10 years – that’s more than three every month – and not a single officer has been convicted of murder or manslaughter in that time, yet any suggestion that their activities should be more rigourously scrutinised is taken as a vicious attack. What does that say?

And the music keeps on playing, on and on….

As if we didn’t already know – the extremely hasty post-mortem on Ian Tomlinson didn’t give the full story. This one, as they say, has legs. The Sunday Times is going to be running with the report from the climate camp’s legal team, including my testimony. Whether the Met will be able to resist a proper inquiry into police tactics on the day remains to be seen. I’m going to use this post to add various links to stuff I’ve read on this story, extra thoughts as they come.

One thing that has been running around my head since we got attacked by the police is the degree to which this nearly didn’t become a story at all. There was nothing in the news about police violence the following day – Tomlinson’s death was a footnote amid the gibbering non-story of a media sanitised summit in the Excel centre. Even the Guardian was very slow off the mark –  Indymedia had witness stories, and I think also pictures of Tomlinson before they did. I remember emails going around on the Thursday telling people to get on the phone to the Guardian’s newsdesk and tell them that they completely failed to pick up on the story of the police’s behaviour. To give them their dues they made up for that omission later on, and got the pivotal video evidence that has completely changed everything. As the IPCC had presided over  a dubious postmortem, was briefing journalists that there was nothing in the story, claiming that there were no video cameras in the area, I think we can all see where their investigation was heading.

This is a salutary lesson to anyone who is partial to simplistic analyses of capitalist class struggle – if it weren’t for the conscience of a New York fund manager, the police could have got away with causing the death of a passer-by in the middle of the city of London – completely surrounded by CCTV and witnesses. Who’s up for hanging a banker now? Incidentally, there is a Facebook group coordinating complaints to the BBC about their failure to report the violent breaking up of the climate camp. I would also encourage anyone with fingers to complain about Evan Davis, who firstly denied that Tomlinson had been hit with a baton, and seemed to think that because the Met & ACPO wouldn’t put up an interviewee to defend the indefensible, he had to cover their collective areses in the interests of balance. As an indication of exactly how sickeningly deferential towards the cops he was, rabid rightwing screed ‘Biassed BBC’ ran with it under the title ‘unbiassed’ – if the BBC makes these guys happy, you know they are failing in their public service remit.

The other thing that has been bugging me (with the possible exception of FUCKIN’ ALLLLL OF IT!!….ahem), is a comment made by one of the officers when I was right up against their lines after we had been trampled in their rush on the bicycle sound system. A girl who I was with, who got punched five times in the head, and went to hospital with concussion, reports that her friend overhead one of the police say about her – “you must be a leftie, with a face like that”. I never said anything at the time, as I didn’t want to upset her, but I overheard one of them say “she looks like something out of Middle Earth”.

There are two things that stand out in this comment – the first is the bizarre similarity with Boris’ collumn about the protests: “when April dawns they will surge like the orcs of Mordor in the general direction of the Bank of England”. The second was the chilling realisation what I heard was classic dehumanisation, in a very literal sense. He said it twice, lamely, as if he was hoping one of his colleagues would join in, or laugh along with him. It was a bit pathetic and what really came across to me was that he was looking more for reassurance than anything else. I wonder if this was the guy who punched her several times, looking for some sort of affirmation that it was ok because she was ugly, and anyway…they aren’t like us, right?

I think the role of Boris in all of this has been underscrutinised so far. Word is that the Home Office had input into the police strategy, so we’ll see whether any of those chickens make their way home, but what about the wretched blond apparition who supposedly runs the capital? As Dave Hill has pointed out, he has been dead quiet about this, but was soiling his pants to get on the Today programme and announce Bob Quick’s resignation, and generally show us that he is in charge of the Met. As an avowed libertarian, you’d think he might have an opinion on his police beating up peaceful protesters on the streets of his city, but his only statement has been to say that the police did an excellent job, and that he hopes that the nastiness will all be over soon. Fuck me dead,  at least Paul Stevenson had the good sense to say that footage of his men assaulting a man shortly before he died was ‘troubling’, or words to that effect. An excellent job? In what sense? How bad would this have to look before it fitted the mayor’s idea of a police public relations disaster? Tiananmen square? That bit in Mississippi Burning when you realise the cops are actually the Klu Klux Klan? Ed 209?

Ok, so we all really know that most people who call themselves a libertarians basically don’t like being taxed, but have few qualms about all sorts of unpleasentnesses being meated out to anyone outside their social class, or circle of acquaintance. But you’d think Borris would have better advice than this – I think he is out of step with popular opinion. I’d wager that most people would take the police’s side over stident hippy types, all other things being equal. When they have wontonly attacked an Evening Standard seller who did nothing worse than walk down the wrong street and resent being manhandled by thugs in reflective jackets, that’s quite a different matter. And to have it all come out in a perfect media storm that draws in their utterly cack-handed arrest of Damian Green and all the memorials of Hillsborough, suddenly it begins to look like we just handed over a lot of power to people who are not fit to wield it. As I’ve already said, the Sunday Times is running with the attack on the climate camp this weekend, and the journalist I spoke to was actually sincerely concerned about what he’d been reading. Similarly, Times leader writer Danny Finkelstein has admitted he was wrong to assume that we don’t need politicians acting as media observers at protests, and that there “were clearly more than one or two isolated examples of brutal police tactics.”

This are Boris’ kind of people, or should be. Is he unable to comment further because he gave police some very unwise advice beforehand? I’m not going to make wild claims that there was some crazy Tolkeinian conspiracy, but his attitude is easy to read from his collumn beforehand. I think it’s safe to assume that he gave the the police a lot of leeway, if he gave them any kind of a steer, and it wouldn’t have been out of character for him to say some extremely foolish things about roughing up hippies. I wonder what will come out…

Extra, Extra:

  • Merrick, who is in a much better position to judge than I am, reckons that the police’s behaviour was relatively restrained compared to what he’s seen before