Saturday, December 31, 2005

Don't Be Glum!

Here's my piece defending New Year's Eve from today's Daily Express.
Can anyone guess who the old misery guts was who wrote 'I am proud that I hate New Year's Eve'- and who assures us he'll be tucked in his bed by 10.30pm tonight?. Here's a clue- he also hates Christmas Day- but does get pleasure from cheering on illegal wars of aggression, (from a safe distance of course).
Happy New Year!

DON’T BE GLUM, IT’S THE MOST MAGICAL NIGHT OF THE YEAR
Daily Express
31st December 2005

Yes, it’s that time of the year again when gloomy and misanthropic social commentators dip their pens in acid and explain why they just can’t stand New Year’s Eve. Here’s one in suitably wrist-slitting mood. “To me, there is always an element of sorrow and pity involved, possibly at the idea of a load of idiots celebrating another year wasted, another load of opportunities passed by, another year of life gone”. Another writes: 'I am proud that I hate New Year’s Eve. Every year it serves up the same combination of discomfort, expense and misery…it is quite beyond me how any sentient human being could actually enjoy it’. The author of these words, who claims that his ‘proudest moment’ was going to bed at 10.30pm on December 31st 1999, and who assures us he will be doing the same this year, would no doubt heartily concur with the sentiments expressed in Woody Allen’s 1987 film Radio Days that ‘only creeps and crazy people go out on New Year’s Eve’. Expressing a hatred of New Year’s Eve and everything it stands for seems to have become fashionable in recent years-and there are no doubt millions of Britons who tonight will be long before Big Ben rings in 2006. I, however, will not be one of them. The saying ‘Youth is when you’re allowed to stay up on New Year’s Eve, middle aged is when you’re forced to‘- may hold true for some- but for me- New Year’s Eve is simply the most wonderful night of the year. I have loved New Year‘s Eve ever since, as a seven-year-old, I was allowed to stay up to watch Big Ben chime on television. More than thirty years later, I am just as excited about the coming of this most unique of evenings as I was then. In common with thousands of other ‘creeps and crazy people’, my wife and I will be spending tonight, not in bed with mugs of Horlicks, or in our living room watching Jools Holland and Natasha Kaplinsky usher in 2006 on t.v.- but celebrating New Year’s Eve in the best possible way: in the company of other members of the human race. The idea of celebrating with people you have never met before in your life-is repugnant to our misanthropic New Year’s Eve haters but the genuine camaraderie the night engenders is for me its great attraction. On 31st December 1999, while the gloom-mongers were tucked away in his bed, my wife and I were at a party in an ex-servicemen’s club in central London. Having enjoyed a few dances with the other couples and families present, we started talking with a family group at an adjoining tabel, who on hearing that our son was away in Hungary, insisted on giving us money to phone him to wish him a happy New Year we didn’t own a mobile then). As midnight approached, we made our way across to Trafalgar Square to see Big Ben chime in the millenium and to enjoy twenty minutes of greeting, kissing, and embracing total strangers. The atmosphere in central London that night was quite remarkable and the memories of it will remain with my wife and I for as long as we live. It’s true that for some, the coming of New Year’s Eve is a genuine cause of sadness. The loss of a loved one in the year which is just about to pass is heightened at the very moment the calendar changes. We all know, too, that calls to the Samaritans increase around Christmas and New Year’s Eve and that anyone who is in a bad way is going to feel worse if everyone else in the world appears to be enjoying themselves. Melancholic as the passing of the old year may be, there is every reason to accentuate the positive on New Year’s Eve. However disappointing 2005 was, here’s the perfect opportunity to start afresh. And if 2005 was a good one, let’s try to make the next year, even better. The New Year’s Eve Haters say that it’s all so arbitrary- why should one pay more attention to midnight on the 31st December than 3.47am on 15th April? What utter nonsense! New Year’s Eve denial is a sad business and the pretence that it is ‘just another night’ masks the fact that New Year spooks an awful lot of people. It forces us to take stock, to look back at the year just gone, to think about where we’re going and what we can do to make things better. Could it be that it is this process of self-analysis which the hater really wants to avoid?Whether its taking more exercise, not drinking so much, not being so grumpy in the mornings, or remembering Auntie Maud’s birthday, is there anyone who can say, in all honesty, that there is no aspect of their livesor their behaviour, which they could not improve? But before we can overcome our failings, we must first own up to them, which is why // making New Year‘s resolutions is a good idea. Even if we only keep a couple on our list -the important thing is that we at least have sat down to think about ourselves and our lives in an objective and critical manner. New Year’s Eve may indeed mark the end of one chapter but it also marks the start of another. T.S. Eliot put it beautifully: ‘For last year‘s words belong to last year‘s language/And next year‘s words await another voice/And to make an end is to make a beginning’. Far from being a night on which to take to our beds early, the passing of the old Year- and the coming of the new- really is cause for celebration.

Daily Express/Neil Clark 2005

Double Standards and Dishonesty

Here's my review on the books 'Neo-Conservatism and Why We Need It' by Douglas Murray and 'Anti-Totalitarianism: the left-wing case for a Neo-Conservative foreign policy' by Oliver Kamm from today's Daily Telegraph.

IDEALISM LOSES ITS WAY IN DOUBLE STANDARDS AND DISHONESTY
Daily Telegraph
31st December 2005

Did neo-conservatism meet its end in 2005? The collapse of the levees in New Orleans and its exposure of President Bush's policy of paying for wars of intervention abroad, by cutting back on public provision back home, led many thinkers to believe that it had. Douglas Murray and Oliver Kamm are not among them. For these two young British writers, neo-conservatism is not only still alive and kicking- its finest hour is yet to come. Murray, described by historian Andrew Roberts as 'the Right's answer to Michael Moore', believes that the creed of Leo Strauss, Paul Wolfowitz and Irving Kristol should not only be the ideology of a rejuvenated Conservative Party, but of 'any political party committed to the ideals of freedom at home and abroad'. For Murray, neo-conservatism can provide the 'moral and practical answers' to the political and societal malaise of our country. As to the extent of that malaise there can be no dispute: Britain has the highest level of violent crime, drug abuse, teenage pregnancies and one parent families in Europe. But would the neo-con domestic agenda which Murray advocates make things any better? His attacks on welfare dependency, the glorification of misanthropic rap culture and other examples of multicultural idiocy are justified, and his call for 'broken windows' policing, an increase in church schools and for the state to withdraw from its life-long support of single mothers makes plenty of sense. Yet on what is arguably the main cause of 'societal defects' in Britain today- the pernicious effect of uncontrolled consumer capitalism, Murray is strangely silent. The problem for Murray is that economic liberalism -which he likes- fuels social liberalism which he doesn't. If we really want to see happy families promenading together again on Sunday afternoons, we need to erect “Keep Out” signs to stop the encroachment of market forces into areas they have no right to go. This is something which Murray, in his enthusiasm for a low-tax, deregulated economy, is unwilling to do. And when it comes to our political malaise- most visibly demonstrated by our leaders' failure to tell us the truth over Iraq- Murray once again falls short. Murray would have us believe that the government really did think Iraq possessed WMDs, and incredibly castigates Blair, Campbell and co for 'telling the public too much'. But if our leaders did think Iraq possessed the stockpile of chemical and biological weapons the various dossiers claimed- why on earth would they do the one thing which would provoke Saddam to use them? History tells us that countries attack others only when they are sure of their opponent's relative weakness- something one might have expected Murray to have learnt during his years at Oxford. In trying to put the case for “Left-wing” case for war against Iraq, Oliver Kamm is equally unconvincing. Having told us how the principle of deterrence worked so well during the Cold War, he fails to explain adequately why the deterrence of Saddam, which Secretary of State Powell had been lauding only months before 9/11, could not have continued. Kamm has fun baiting the woolly minded peace activists of the 1930s, and the supporters of unilateral nuclear disarmament in the 1980s, but is on much shakier ground when trying to portray those who opposed the invasion of secular, Ba’athist Iraq as apologists for Islamo-fascism. In fact, it is the neo-cons themselves who have a track record of siding with Islamic extremists- either in Afghanistan in the 1980s or in the Balkans a decade later. Similarly, while lambasting the “amoral quietism” of the Major government for its non-intervention policy in Bosnia, Kamm fails to inform readers that the Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegovic- whose separatist cause neo-conservatives enthusiastically championed- not only wrote “the first and most important lesson from the Koran is the impossibility of any connection between Islamic and non-Islamic systems”, but also recruited for an SS division in the Second World War. It is difficult to think of a man for whom the term “Islamo-fascist” could be more appropriate - yet that didn't stop arch the neo-con Richard Perle acting as an adviser to Izetbegovic's delegation at the Dayton Peace Conference in 1995. On the issue of terrorism, there are double standards too. Terrorists, according to Murray and Kamm, should be always be condemned wherever they are found- but not it seems if they are the gun-runners, drug-smugglers and civilian-murderers of the Kosovan Liberation Army, on whose side NATO acted, with strong neo-cons approval- as an armed proxy in the war against Yugoslavia in 1999. And amid all their words of praise for Israel, there is nothing from either Murray or Kamm on the role that Zionist terrorism played in that state's foundation. If neo-cons really want us to take their ideas more seriously, a little more consistency- and honesty- is surely called for.

Daily Telegraph/ Neil Clark 2005

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Christmas Carol for 2005

Before we all settle down to watch Scrooge- let's hope that all the self-serving politicians- the warmongers and those journalists who peddle their lies- are visited tonight by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. And that we wake up tomorrow to read that George Bush and Tony Blair publicly acknowledge their lies over Iraq, that Harry's Place has decided to advocate a left-right anti-war alliance and that Stephen Pollard has joined the campaign to release Slobodan Milosevic.
A very happy Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A season too far- The Death of a Champion

'At least he died enjoying what he did best' -the words of trainer Philip Hobbs on his Champion Hurdle winner Rooster Booster, who collapsed and died while exercising on the gallops.
Am I the only one to feel that on this occasion the oft-repeated words we hear on a racehorse's death somehow have a hollow ring to them? Those of us who defend horse-racing against its many critics don't have our job made any easier by the decision to keep in training a former Champion Hurdler- a horse who had achieved all there was to achieve- up to just days away from his 12th birthday. Amid the tributes to a wonderful horse we should not shy away from asking some awkward questions.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Havana a good time

Here's my piece on the merits of cigar clubs from The First Post. These clubs, which are widespread in Europe and the US- but sadly not in Britain- don't have to be exclusive- membership of La Cape D'Epicure is not much more than £100 a year.


We just ain’t Havana good enough time

Britain should turn to cigar clubs to restore a culture of pleasure, says Neil Clark

France has over 70, Switzerland has 20 and in Berlin there are two for women alone. Yet London, home to eight million people, has none.
While anti-smoking campaigners will no doubt be rejoicing that Britain has missed out on the cigar club culture sweeping Europe and the US, there is, I believe, a good reason to hope that cigar clubs will eventually spring up here too.
The point about these clubs is not so much the smoking, but their underlying philosophy. "Networking" and the exchange of business cards may sometimes play a part, but it is the spirit of epicureanism which predominates. Nowhere more so than at La Cape D'Epicure, a club for les amateurs de cigares, based in northern France.
For La Cape D'Epicure, "the ideas of conviviality and of pleasure are paramount";
Cigar clubs represent cultures that understand having a good time does not mean indulging in excess
its members meet not only to smoke and compare notes on cigars, but to enjoy the pleasures of friendship, conversation and good food.
Sadly, the spirit behind La Cape seems to be woefully lacking in modern Britain. Although Epicurus taught that "pleasure is the beginning and end of a happy life", he also emphasised moderation in all things, for the simple reason that excess leads to pain instead of pleasure.
Anyone doubting how far Britain is away from the Greek philosopher's ideal only needs to spend a night out in any of our towns and cities. Binge drinking, and the manic shrieking and undercurrent of violence which usually accompanies it, are not the signs of a society that knows how to enjoy itself - quite the opposite.
Cigar clubs, by contrast, represent cultures that still understand that having a good time does not mean indulging in excess but calmly savouring the things which really make us happy.
FIRST POSTED DECEMBER 19

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Where have all the chickhawks gone?

One week after I issued my challenge to seven prominent pro-war writers and the bloggers at Harry's Place to enlist in the Territorial Army, I have had my first reply, from Mr David Aaronovitch.
Come on you others!- please explain why you will not be answering the T.A.'s call for more recruits.
If you wanted this war so much, why aren't you prepared to put your own lives and security on the line- as so many others have? Anyone would think you're just a bunch of lily-livered cowards......

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Stumpy Bedside Tyrant

Here's a great piece on the important of a good night's sleep from today's First Post by William Leith.
For anyone who doubts the thesis, I have just two words: Margaret Thatcher.


Don't go there
Tune out the stumpy bedside tyrant
by William Leith, from The First Post

I know what you're thinking, because I'm thinking the same thing, too. I'll set the alarm an hour early. Six hours sleep - possibly six and a half, if I can get off immediately - should just about do it. That way, I'll be able to finish everything tonight. I pick up the alarm clock and wind the nasty stumpy little hand a few degrees backwards. And then I lie there for a few seconds, feeling smug.
More and more of us are doing this. We have to work harder, and stay later, and the rush hour is longer. And everybody's solution is the same: reach for the alarm clock. Take the extra hour from the unconscious part of our lives. And of course, it's a vicious circle - when one person works a 10-hour day, everybody else must work a 10-hour day, too, just to keep up. And then the first person winds the stumpy little hand a smidgen further.
So you get more tired. So you drink more coffee. So what's the problem?
Actually, the problem is huge, and extremely sinister. Sleep is not just a chunk of time that you can't remember. It's amazingly complex. Left to sleep naturally, you would typically have five distinct dream sequences, the final one acting as a summing-up of the whole narrative. And dreams, as we know, counteract depression - they wash our minds clean, if you like, of negative feelings.
So that last hour of sleep is the most important bit. It's what keeps us human. It's the bit that keeps you calm when you get stuck in traffic.
If you're thinking of activating that nasty little thing on your bedside table, do us all a favour - don't go there.
FIRST POSTED DECEMBER 16

They're Still Not Happy

They really are quite insatiable. Not content to have hijacked our two main parties- pro-war neo-liberals now want the Liberal Democrats to fall into line. The neo-conservative induced smearing of Charles Kennedy has nothing to do with Kennedy's perceived failings- but the fact that Kennedy stood at the last election on a programme of opposition to the Iraq war, renationalisation of the railways and higher taxes for the wealthy. The pro-war neo-liberals can never forgive him for that- and now want 'regime change' within the Liberal Democrats too. Stephen Pollard in particular seems to be obsessed with the removal of Kennedy- see his piece in yesterday's Daily Mail and in today's Times. Pro-war neo-liberals like Pollard purport to be great believers in 'democracy'- but what they really want is our three main political parties to be saying the same thing on the economy and foreign policy. What kind of democracy is that?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Desert Island Discs

Another year, and still no call from Sue Lawley.
As it's Christmas, time for a little self-indulgence. Here's the twelve records I would take with me to the desert island (I know you're only allowed eight, but it's Christmas!).
I must admit the temptation to take a recording of Stephen Pollard on Any Questions was very strong...(not)

Below is my selection ( in no particular order).
What about yours? The Exile, Holocaust Child, Bob, and all our other regular readers-I'd like to hear from you!

1. Hey Neighbour- Flanagan and Allan
2. Dragon’s Legend- Koto
3. Run Rabbit Run- Flanagan and Allan
4. Hary Janos suite- Zoltan Kodaly
5. Paper Sun- Traffic
6. Dedicated to the One I Love- Mamas and the Papas
7. Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear- Harpers Bizarre
8. Anything Goes-Harpers Bizarre
9. Das Model- Kraftwerk
10. L'Important C’Est La Rose- Gilbert Becaud
11. Where have all the flowers gone? Marlene Dietrich
12. God Only Knows- Beach Boys

Sunday, December 11, 2005

An Open Challenge to Britain's Chick Hawks

The Territorial Army announced today it needs another 7000 volunteer recruits to stem the flow of people leaving the organisation (currently running at 600 a month). The T.A. denies that the Iraq war is having an effect, but it's hard to believe otherwise.
To bolster the numbers of Britain's reservists, I would like to make an open challenge.
To Mr Stephen Pollard, Mr Oliver Kamm, the bloggers at Harry's Place, Mr William Shawcross, Mr David Aaronovitch, Mr Nick Cohen and indeed to all those 'chickhawks' who cried 'war', from the safety of a London office, to go out and enlist. The Henry Jackson Society calls for the spread of 'democracy' by non-peaceful methods if necessary- so what are you laptop bombadiers waiting for? If you really feel so passionately about the merits of the military operation- why don't you take the next plane out to Baghdad? Dodging the bullets in the Sunni triangle is surely more exciting than hedge fund management or trying to flog a biography of David Blunkett.....
ps the challenge is open to Melanie Phillips and Andrew Roberts too.

Friday, December 09, 2005

An Unholy Alliance: The Oligarchs, Likud and the Neo-Conservatives

I wonder how many British readers watched the first episode of BBC2's new series 'The Oligarchs', last night? The sight of robber baron Boris Berezovsky strolling around Riga with Neil Bush, brother of the U.S. President will have shocked many. But the links between Russia's oligarchs and Washington's neo-conservatives go back a long way. Here's a piece I wrote for the NS in 2003 on the unholy alliance between the oligarchs, the neo-cons and Israel's Likud party.



A funny sort of democracy
Neil Clark
New Statesman
11/17/2003
It is well documented that a cabal of Likud-supporting American neoconservatives played an important role in bringing about this year's illegal war against Iraq. What is less well known is the link the group has with the billionaire oligarchs in Russia and how theyare trying to use the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky to harden USpolicy towards Moscow. Richard Perle's gang of regime-changers andadvocates of total war are taking advantage of their disproportionate influence in the western media to portray the arrest of the billionaire businessman as a major international scandal and evidence thatVladimir Putin, a man whose elevation to power they largely welcomedthree years ago, is now the new Stalin. Perle's interest in Russiagoes back a long way. As for most Likudniks of his generation, the Soviet Union was the "evil empire" - not so much for its clampdowns on western-style freedoms, but for the support it gave to secular Arab regimes and its sponsorship of Palestinian liberation movements. Perle helped draft the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment which, to the chagrinof supporters of detente, made US-Soviet trade deals dependent onthe Soviets facilitating Jewish emigration. In the 20 years that followed, more than a million Russian Jews left for Israel, boostingthe electoral prospects of Likud and the far right. This also produced new settlements in the occupied territories, which did much to provoketoday's troubles.
The eventual disintegration of the Soviet Union and the shock therapyof Russia's road to a "market" economy were widely welcomed by Perle and his supporters, even though this led to the impoverishment ofswathes of the population. With the rapid transition to capitalism came the emergence of the oligarchs - seven businessmen who usedtheir connections with the corrupt Yeltsin administration to seize valuable state assets at knockdown prices. In the oligarchs, Perleand his fellow hawks saw a way in which the US and Israel could, by proxy, gain political and economic power in Russia and, by doing so,eventually gain control of enormous energy resources.
But seven years on from the heady days of 1996, when the intervention of the oligarchs and their backers in the west guaranteed re-electionfor the "reformer" Boris Yeltsin, things have gone very wrong. BorisBerezovsky, the "Godfather of the Kremlin", and his fellow oligarchVladimir Gusinsky are both in exile. Earlier this year, Russia'sstubborn holding of its line on Iraq infuriated the neoconservativesand increased their determination to work towards regime change atthe next presidential elections in 2004 - and to accelerate theirplans to secure Russia's energy resources.
Before his arrest, Khodorkovsky had been in talks with US oil companies over a merger with Yukos. Now, with their man in Moscow behind bars,it is time for the neoconservative propaganda war against Putin to go into overdrive. Perle was first out of the blocks, calling for Russia's expulsion from the G8 and its exclusion from any postwarIraq oil contracts, and accusing it of collusion with Iran's nuclearpower programme.
Bruce P Jackson - like Perle a member of the Project for the NewAmerican Century and president of the hawkish Project on Transitional Democracies - used his column in the Washington Post to arguethat Putin had established a "de facto cold war administration inMoscow" and that the Russian president's actions were motivated by anti-Semitism (a claim echoed by Ariel Sharon). "In dollar terms weare witnessing the largest illegal appropriation of Jewish property since the Nazi seizures during the 1930s."
For Jackson, Putin is not just a new tsar and a new Stalin, but a newHitler, too. In Britain, the Daily Telegraph, a paper not known forhanding its comment pages to refugees wanted for criminal activities in their own country, did just that. Boris Berezovsky condemned the"increasing totalitarianism" of the Putin regime.
In the unrelenting pro-Khodorkovsky, anti-Putin propaganda we have beensubjected to, much has been made of the oligarchs' role in buildingRussian "democracy" - as opposed to the crude attempts of the Russianpresident to shunt his country back to the days of Peter the Great. Butthe "democracy" that Berezovsky and Khodorkovsky stand for is the"democracy" of an elite of billionaire businessmen to buy themselves not just political power, but immunity from the laws of the land.
"We hired First Deputy Chubais," Berezovsky boasted in 1997. "Weinvested huge sums of money. We guaranteed Yeltsin's re-election. Now we have the right to occupy government posts and use the fruits ofour victory."
True democracy in Russia would mean not only the return of propertyheld by the oligarchs to their rightful owners - the Russian people -but the formation of a government that puts the needs and interestsof Russia first, rather than those of the US or Israel.
For all their lip-service to the democratic ideal, that is the last thing Richard Perle, the oligarchs and their supporters in the west really want.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Islamofascism for Beginners

Islamofascists:
murder people for insulting Islam;
murder people born of muslim parents who adopt another faith;
murder women for having sex before marriage, or even for marrying without their father's consent;
destroy the religious symbols and places of worship of other faiths;
murder people for being citizens of a country which they consider to be hostile to Islam;
believe that 'Islam will dominate the world' and are trying to make it so.
-write that there can be 'no connection between Islamic and non-Islamic institutions'
-and, if they get the chance, recruit for divisions of the SS in the Balkans in the 1940s.

Who armed and supported these people, in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo.....
(a) The Yugoslav government of the 1990s
(b) The Iraqi goverment of Saddam Hussein
(c) The government of the United States of America

Answers on a postcard to:
The Henry Jackson Society;
Planet Neo-Con
ps the answer is not a or b.

We want more of Mr Punch

Here's my piece from today's Times on why the last thing we want is more consensus politics. We already have far too much!

Thunderer
The Times
December 08, 2005
We want more of Mr Punch
By Neil Clark
DAVID CAMERON says he wants an end to “Punch and Judy politics”. But the problem is not that we have too much Punch and Judy politics, but that we don’t have anywhere near enough.
On the biggest issues of the day — from Iraq to globalisation, from law and order to our economic system — both HM Government and HM Opposition have, for the past few years, been singing from the same hymn sheet. And it is this mind-numbing, anti-democratic consensus that is alienating voters; not that there are too many verbal brickbats at PMQs.
It wasn’t always like this. As recently as 1983, voters could still enjoy thrilling Punch and Judy politics and the cut-and-thrust of a real ideological debate. The choice was between the undiluted socialism of Michael Foot’s Labour, with its pledges to remove nuclear missiles from British soil and pull out of the EEC, and the full-blooded neo-liberalism of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives. During the campaign Denis Healey (a wonderful Mr Punch if ever there was one) accused Mrs Thatcher of “glorying in slaughter”; Mr Foot accused Lord Hailsham of “licking Hitler’s jackboots” and Kenny Everett called for Mr Foot’s stick to be kicked away.
The result of the rudest and most knockabout election since 1945 was a turnout of 72 per cent. Contrast that with the last two general elections, in which only 60 per cent voted in sleep-inducing contests between a pro-war, pro-privatisation government and a pro-war, pro- privatisation opposition.
With the election of Mr Cameron, things look like getting a whole lot worse. He not only dislikes Punch and Judy politics, he also thinks the Tories ought to stop “grumbling” about modern Britain. This narrows the debate still further — millions of people feel they have perfectly good reasons to grumble about modern Britain. With a “modernised” Tory party embracing Cool Britannia, who will there be left to speak for the Victor Meldrews?
Rather than extending consensus politics, here’s a better idea. Let’s have Mr Cameron call the Prime Minister a liar who led the country into an illegal and disastrous war. And let’s have Mr Blair retaliate by calling Mr Cameron an out-of-touch Hooray Henry. If it’s democracy we want, that’s the way to do it.
www.neilclark66.blogspot.com

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The case for Punch and Judy

David Cameron, new Tory leader, says he wants an end to 'Punch and Judy' politics. But the problem is not too much 'Punch and Judy' politics in Britain, but not enough. On the biggest issues of the day, both H.M. Government and H.M. Opposition are singing from the same hymn sheet. Both are enthusiastic supporters of the global capitalist system, which puts a price tag on every human value. And both are enthusiastic supporters of the policy of perpetual war-and the use of B52s to make the world safe for western multinationals. This is the reality of 'democracy' in the New World Order- you can have any government or opposition you like, so long as it's neo-liberal and likes cluster bombs.

Monday, December 05, 2005

A Brilliant Piece

Here's a brilliant piece from today's Guardian by the consistently excellent Madeline Bunting. A couple of years ago my wife Zsuzsanna wrote a piece for the Guardian entitled 'Goulash and Solidarity' on how much better things were for the majority of people under 'goulash communism' than they are under capitalism.
We're not talking here only about real wages and living standards- but about the feeling of solidarity and warmth between fellow human beings. In the absence of religion or other value systems, capitalism destroys solidarity as sure as night follows day. The aim of the game is to turn us into selfish, acquisitive consumers- spending our whole lives trying to keep up with the Jones. But there is another way. It's called being human.


Consumer capitalism is making us ill - we need a therapy state Britain is becoming unhappier as depression, crime and alcoholism grow.
Government can and should intervene
Madeleine Bunting Monday December 5, 2005 The Guardian
Having done so much damage to the self-image of Slough in The Office, the BBC had to make amends. So they made a series about trying to make Slough happy. Tomorrow, in the final episode, we get to hear if they succeeded. It has been a cheerful but loopy series that left happiness to be defined by a collection of endearing "experts" indulging their own idiosyncrasies, from dancing in woodland to launching a choir. They didn't achieve their aim (although it didn't stop them from claiming they had) but along the way, they made a fair bid at introducing a mainstream audience to a fascinating emerging territory of public debate.
The funny thing was that, while the series may not have been gripping TV, it ended up making you feel, well, rather happy. It's heart-warming to see a woman who has always hated her voice singing lustily on stage, and to see the 50 volunteers for the project making new friendships and enjoying themselves. It generated the kind of feelgood factor you get from the school summer fete: not a thrill, but a gentle glow.
The hunt for happiness is an ancient human preoccupation, so there is nothing new in all this, but it is being reframed in order to challenge our prevailing political assumptions. The argument starts from the fact that Britain may have got very much richer in the past 40 years but it has not got happier. In fact, by measures such as depression, crime, obesity and alcoholism, we have got very much unhappier. So isn't the preoccupation with rising GDP misplaced? Shouldn't politics be focused around more than just economic growth? Shouldn't politics be as concerned with measures of human happiness?
Second, research has established more clearly than ever what the most likely predictors of happiness are, and there are now proven methods to treat unhappiness - particularly cognitive behavioural therapy which aims to break cycles of negative thinking. Happiness is no longer an elusive fuzzy feeling; a body of data gives us the tools to analyse what it is and what causes it. Happiness has gone respectable, and it's been tagged to intellectual disciplines - the science of happiness, happiness economics - so it will be taken more seriously.
But neuroscientists and psychologists apart, there is an even more pressing reason to take happiness seriously and this is what is grabbing the attention of Whitehall - unhappiness is an expensive business. Most striking is the huge chunk of claimants who are on incapacity benefit because of mental health problems: a whopping 900,000 or 38% of the 2 million total. Mental ill-health is the biggest single cause of incapacity and costs the country an estimated £9bn in lost productivity and benefits. The weight on the NHS is enormous: GPs spend a third of their time on mental health and the prescription cost of drugs is rising.
Plus, there is a whole range of political issues which have roots in mental ill-health, from obesity and alcoholism, to parenting, the respect agenda and antisocial behaviour among children and young people. The combination of incapacity-benefit reform and this "behaviour" politics is giving unprecedented impetus to mental health, the long-time Cinderella of the NHS.
The most dramatic development of the "therapy state" will come with the announcement, expected later this week, of a big increase in the availability of cognitive behavioural therapy on the NHS. But there has been a rash of smaller initiatives as government departments grapple with how to integrate this new dimension into policy. The Department for Education and Skills launched new guidelines earlier this year on the social and emotional aspects of learning (Seal). The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is now proposing to introduce indices of welfare and life satisfaction and how they relate to sustainability.
Most of it is piecemeal and still relatively small-scale, but the old liberal concept that the emotional life of citizens is no business of the state is crumbling. It raises the prospect of a future politics where emotional wellbeing could be as important a remit of state public health policy as our physical wellbeing. In 10 years' time, alongside "five fruit and veg a day", our kids could be chanting comparable mantras for daily emotional wellbeing: do some exercise, do someone a good turn, count your blessings, laugh, savour beauty.
We might also be discussing how to regulate emotional pollution in much the way we now discuss environmental pollution. Top of the list would be advertising, which is bad for our emotional health. It induces dissatisfaction with its invidious comparisons with an affluent elite. Television is not much better for us with its disproportionate volume of violence and fraught relationships. It makes people unhappy, less creative and cuts them off from emotionally healthy activities such as sport or seeing friends. Meanwhile, there would be a strong rationale to increase subsidies for festivals, parks, theatres, community groups, amateur dramatics, choirs, sports clubs and lots of other lovely things.
To some, these kinds of interventions represent a nightmare scenario of a nanny state, an unacceptable interference in personal freedom. If people want to pursue their own unhappiness, then the state has no right to stop them. Critics conjure up the nightmare prospect of Brave New World and its soma-imbibing placid citizens.
But the problem is, as Richard Layard argues in his book Happiness: Lessons From a New Science, that the decline of both religious belief (which is a strong predictor of happiness) and the social solidarity movements of the 20th century has left a vacuum of understanding about what constitutes a good life and how to be happy.
The church has lost sway, and the state has retreated behind the single rationale of promoting economic competitiveness with its overtones of Darwinian selection (a major source of unhappiness in itself with its vision of life as a competitive struggle). That leaves the market a free rein to describe happiness - the new car, new sofa, new holiday - and to manipulate our insecurities around status.
Leave things as they are and the state will increasingly have to pick up the bill for how consumer capitalism effectively produces emotional ill-health - depression, stress, anxiety. Leave things as they are and the state is part of the problem, promoting a set of market values that produce emotional pollution. Take education for example, where the needs of the labour market have been the driving influence for more than a generation. Has the regime of testing, league tables and competitiveness had a cost in emotional health? Layard cites an international study of schoolchildren in which the 11-15 age group were asked whether they agreed that "most students in my class are kind and helpful". England came last of eight developed countries, below Russia.
The huge ambition of the small but growing happiness lobby is that the state resumes a role in promoting the good life, not just to chivvy us along in the global rat race, anxious and insecure.