Posts Tagged ‘Sir Kieth Joseph’

Russell Brand Takes Down Jacob Rees-Mogg

September 25, 2017

I realise that Russell Brand probably isn’t everyone’s favourite comedian ever since that stunt he and Jonathan Ross pulled leaving sneering prank messages about Andrew Sachs’ granddaughter on the old fellow’s answerphone a few years ago. I also don’t agree with his anarchistic stance encouraging people not to vote. However, in his Trew News videos on YouTube he has produces some very incisive critiques and demolitions of contemporary capitalism, right-wing politics and bigotry.

In this video he takes on Jacob Rees-Mogg, now the darling of the Tory party, many of whom would just love him to take over the reins from Theresa May, whose own failings are increasingly obvious. And they definitely prefer him to Boris after BoJo showed his complete lack of scruple and personal loyalty by stabbing Cameron and then Gove in the back over Brexit.

They like Mogg, because he’s soft-spoken and courteous. But as Brand points out here, his opinions are absolutely toxic. Brand shows the clip of Mogg wrong-footing John Snow when Suchet was interviewing him about May’s Brexit speech. Suchet stated that many people thought here speech was a shambles. So Mogg says ‘It seems a bit harsh to compare her speech to a butcher’s slaughterhouse.’ This throws Snow for a moment, who clear wasn’t aware that that was what the word originally meant, and throws it back to Mogg, saying that it seems a harsh thing for him to say. Only for Mogg to tell him that this is what Suchet himself has said, as that’s what the word means. Brand rightly mocks Mogg for this piece of rhetoric.

In fact, the word shambles actually means the stalls butchers occupied in medieval market places. Bridgwater in Somerset had its shambles, and a fish shambles as well, in the Cockenrow, the name of which means ‘Cook’s Row’, and refers to the shops in that part of town selling cooked meat. The medieval shambles at Shepton Mallet has survived, and you can visit it with the benches on which the medieval tradesmen used to display their wares, above which is mounted a small tiled roof.

In discussing the etymology of the word, Mogg is clearly being pedantic, simultaneously using his knowledge to play down just how awful and uninspiring May’s speech was, while also showing off his superior knowledge in the hopes that this will impress everyone with the depth of his aristocratic education. In fact, the word’s etymology is immaterial here. The word is simply used commonly to mean a mess. Of course, if you wanted to make the point in a more elevated and highfalutin manner, Snow could have said ‘I was using the term synchronically’, which is modern philologist’s parlance for what a term means now. I doubt Mogg’s own knowledge of the theory of linguistics goes that far, and it would have thrown his own rhetorical strategy back at him. But unfortunately, thinking about such responses is usually the kind of thing you do on the way home after it’s all over.

Brand then goes on to talk about Mogg’s appearance on Breakfast TV, where he showed himself against gay marriage and abortion, even after rape. Brand is like many others – impressed by Mogg’s honesty, while at the same time horrified by the views he holds.

And then he attacks Mogg’s performance on LBC Radio, where he declared that the growth in food banks was ‘uplifting’, and goes on to talk about how the state couldn’t provide everything. Brand states that what brings this argument down is the fact that most of the people forced to use food banks are actually working. They’re just not paid enough to live on.

He also rebuts Mogg’s claims that his views are based in Christianity. They aren’t. Most of Christ’s message in the Gospels is about being nice and kind. Mogg, however, prefers to see Christ as being harder towards the poor and sick. To support his point about Mogg’s highly selective interpretation of Christian morality, he cites and shows a letter published by one of the papers, that makes this point.

In fact, Mogg’s views on food banks are more or less standard Tory rhetoric. Many Tories will say something about preserving a welfare state to give some provision for the poor, but will then do exactly what Mogg did, and then say that the state can’t provide everything. When challenged about cuts to the welfare state, they’ll probably make some comment about needing to target the support to those who really need it, rather than scroungers.

This is all highly mendacious. The cuts don’t just attack scroungers – they create real poverty amongst those in genuine need. And nobody expects the state to do everything. They just expect them to provide real support for the poor and the disabled. This support is not being provided, and the Tories are intent on destroying the welfare state piecemeal, so that no-one notices. Rees-Mogg’s comments about retaining some kind of welfare state are a sham, whether he believes it or not, are designed to gull people into believing that the Tories really do want to look after ordinary people. They don’t.

As for Mogg being delighted with the charity and generosity shown by people giving to the food banks, this was actually one of the reasons Thatcher wanted to abolish the welfare state. She thought that, with the state unable to provide for the poor there would be a resurgence in private generosity as people rose to the task of giving themselves, rather than relying on state aid. But as Lobster noted in a piece in its editorial, The View from the Bridge, a little while ago, this didn’t happen, And Thatcher realized it. As for the state being unable to provide adequately for the poor, the opposite is true. Conservative, religious Americans do give generously to charity. They’re often more generous than secular liberals, according to polling done a few years ago and cited in the book, The Truth about Evangelical Christians. But this personal generosity is completely inadequate for tackling the deep, widespread and grinding poverty that’s now spreading across America thanks to nearly forty years of Reaganite neoliberalism.

Brand gives Rees-Mogg his professional appreciation as a comedian. He states that Mogg is a comedic character. He makes the point that he seems mostly compounded from Maggie Thatcher. That’s certainly where Mogg got his mistaken and disgusting views about the efficacy of private charity over state aid. Just as Thatcher got it from her mentor, Keith Joseph. And if Mogg was the creation of a comedian sending up the Tories, he would be highly funny. He comes across somewhat as a mix of the Slenderman, the sinister internet meme, and Lord Snooty from the Beano. Or was it the Dandy? Looking at the photo Mike put up, showing Mogg trying to lift his leg over a style reminding me of nothing less than the Monty Python sketch, the ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’. Brand goes on to the compare Mogg to Trump. Mogg’s a comedic figure in exactly the same way Trump is. But only from a distance. Brand says that if he lived in America, which has to deal with the problems Trump is creating, he wouldn’t find Trump funny at all. The same with Mogg. Like Trump, he can appreciate Mogg as a comic character, but in reality, as a politician, Trump and Mogg are anything but funny.

On the Road to Serfdom with Von Hayek

August 8, 2013

The ideology of the modern Conservative Party is partly based on the Libertarian ideas of Von Hayek. Von Hayek was a refugee to America Austria after the Nazis’ Anschluss. In his books, such as The Road to Serfdom and the Constitution of Liberty Von Hayek defended ‘the freedom in economic affairs without which personal and economic freedom have never existed’. He was a bitter opponent of the extension of state interference in the economy. He argued that the extension of the welfare state would inevitably lead to the loss of freedom if it permitted no choice. The Road to Serfdom was published in 1944, and reinforced Churchill’s own doubts about post-War reconstruction. His ideas became the major force in Conservative ideology under Margaret Thatcher, who was introduced to them through her mentor, Sir Keith Joseph.

There was a piece on Thatcher’s adoption of Von Hayek about a decade ago in the Financial Times. The article repeated a story about Thatcher’s official promotion of it at a Conservative party meeting. She went to it with the book in her hand. She arrived just when a young man was on the floor making a speech supporting the middle of the road economic consensus. According to the article, it was Thatcher’s turn to speak after him. She slammed the book down on the table with the words ‘This is what we all believe in now’. Or words to that effect. The article then went on to discuss the various ways in which she actually misunderstood von Hayek, such as on the importance of central institutions, such as the monarchy and parliament in Britain. The article suggested that elements of von Hayek’s views could be adopted by a Labour government without crossing the floor.

Well, maybe, though with retrospect the article seems like a subtle piece of propaganda aimed at getting New Labour to continue von Hayek’s Liberalism but under a less extreme, slightly more socialistic guise after public discontent with the Tories increased.

Von Hayek’s influence also explains why Thatcher banged on so much about how the Tories’ represented ‘choice’, despite the contraction of individual liberty implied by her ‘strong state’ policy.

Margaret Jones and Rodney Lowe reproduce an extract from von Hayek’s 1959 work, The Constitution of Liberty, in their collection of documents, From Beveridge to Blair: The First Fifty Years of Britain’s Welfare State 1948-98. This contains the following paragraph attacking the notion of the state provision of welfare:

‘In many fields persuasive arguments based on considerations of efficiency and economy can be advanced in favour of the state’s taking sole charge of a particular service; but when the state does so, the result is usually that those advantages soon appear illusory but that the character of the services becomes entirely different from that which they would have had if they had been provided by competing agencies. If, instead of administering limited resources put under its control for a specific service, government uses its coercive powers to ensure that men are given what some expert thinks they need; if people can thus no longer exercise any choice in some of the most import5ant matters of their lives, such as health, employment, housing and provision for old age, but must accept the decisions made for them by appointed authority on the basis of its evaluation of their need; if certain services become the exclusive domain of the state, and whole professions – be it medicine, education or insurance – come to exist only as unitary bureaucratic hierarchies, it will no longer be competitive experimentation but solely the decisions of authority that will determine what me shall get’.

Now this needs very careful critiquing. More specifically, how well has this argument stood up now that it has been and is continuing to be government policy?

Actually, not very well.

Von Hayek’s assumption, that economic freedom is the basis of personal and political freedom, is flawed. As critics of the Conservative party have pointed out, private property and ideologies of economic freedom existed long before most of the European population had personal or political freedom. It was the basis of late 18th and early 19th century laissez-faire economic liberalism at a time when only the aristocracy and the upper middle class in Britain, for example, had the vote.

It also does not take into account the importance of public opinion in formulating government policy. It assumes that decisions regarding health, social insurance and so on would be taken by a bureaucratic, technocratic elite deciding what it believes the public wants and needs on their behalf. Now this certainly was the case in the former Soviet Union. In England the early Fabians, including Beatrice and Sidney Webb, certainly had this authoritarian mindset and did believe that the new socialist society should be administered by an efficient bureaucracy. It does not, however, envisage the way the public actively tries to influence government policy through public meetings, bureaucratic forums in which the public can state their objections and demands, such as patients’ groups and similar organisations, or the fact that the public can and is frequently actively involved in welfare issues through the simple process of democratic debate. Von Hayek’s simplistic view of state power is only true of monolithic, single party autocracies such as Communism, Nazi Germany and the Fascist dictatorships. It does not consider the state as a means of empowering people and granting them a freedom, which they would otherwise be denied by their economic circumstances. John Steward Mill, in his class formulation of Liberalism in the 19th century, passionately defended personal liberty. However, he was also influenced by contemporary socialist experiments, such as the French Saint-Simonians. As a result, he believed that some freedoms could only be secured through the collective action of the state.

Now let’s examine the claims for freedom made on behalf of the private provision of welfare services. This seems to assume an ideal condition in which such private organisations are able to offer service comparable to those of the state. But as we’ve seen, in recent years the privatised industries such as the railways and privatised hospital administrations are now very heavily subsidised by the state to an extent which far exceeds the amounts they received when they were directly owned and operated by the state. In the case of the railways, the service they provide is actually poorer than in the last days of British Rail.

It also does not accept that private provision may result in a lack of choice. In America, for example, 1/7th of the population cannot afford medical insurance. These people have absolutely no choice regarding their health care. They are forced to use medicare. As for those, who have the benefit of private medical insurance, these are tied very much to the demands of their insurance company. The days when Americans were free to take or leave their doctor’s advice are very much a thing of the past. Not that you’d know that from the polemic coming out of the American Right.

It also does not foresee the way private companies may also close down or alter services without consulting their customers, purely for the benefit of their shareholders. An example of this was the way one of the American firms charged with running GPs’ surgeries in London closed three of them, leaving the patients with no doctor. It does not accept the fact that certain industries are natural monopolies, which can be both more efficiently and more democratically administered by the state in the public interest.

Furthermore, von Hayke ignores the possibility of the use of state coercion to enforce and support private industry at the expense of the liberty of the individual. The use of workfare to compel the unemployed to work in selected retail venues or other industries is a prime example of this.

Von Hayek also makes the statement ‘It would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that the greatest danger to liberty today comes from the men who are most needed and most powerful in modern government, namely, the efficient expert administrators exclusively concerned with what they regard as the public good’. There’s a bitter irony here. The administration of the modern state and party political machines is now highly technocratic and corporative, using experts drawn extensively from industry, to promote the interests of those industries against the public good.