Wednesday, July 23, 2008

the thoughtful left

Just a quick post to voice a bit of praise for some really excellent posting over at the Bloggers4Labour site recently; a year or two ago Andrew seemed mired in the recriminations over Iraq and the Euston Manifesto, unable to air his thoughts without being barracked by unfriendly critics on the one hand and unable to resist provoking more approbrium on the other. Thoughtful posts were slagged off mercilessly, and deliberately provocative posts flamed the tension. Towards the end of last year the site suddenly went quiet and Andrew turned his attention elsewhere.

Since his return a month or two ago it's been evident that the break did him good. He's always written well on complex political ideas, and he's always shown an instinct to swim against the tide, but he seems to have found a way to express challenging ideas more evenly and less confrontationally (for the most part), widening his focus and thinking to Labour's future in increasingly creative ways. There are a still a few trolls lurking in the comment boxes, but it's getting harder to pigeonhole his ideas and harder still to find a better or more open-minded Labour blogger. He's well worth a vote in Iain Dale's competition to find the best UK political blogs.

Anyway, the purpose of this post - and yes, he is a friend, and a birthday boy today to boot - is not to big him up but rather to link to a few of his recent posts, not all of which I necessarily agree with, but all of which have given me much pause for thought in recent days. I think - and Andrew may correct me if I'm wrong - that his purpose in blogging is to force people to think carefully about what it is they believe, and confront the possibility that they may be wrong. If I'm right, then he's doing his job perfectly. Even if he is still wrong about Iraq!

Here a few choice examples from recent days and weeks:

Here he is, defending secondary action, where one union goes on strike to express support for another:
Let's put it this way: in the UK, the right to join, and campaign within, a trade union (or any group) is a right due to all individuals. The rights of a trade union come through being a vessel for individuals to exercise their rights, providing the union acts democratically, and providing also that individuals who don't agree with their union's actions are not penalised - for example, by being coerced to support a strike that the majority have approved (unions must adhere to this latter provision, I'm less sure that members always feel bound by it.)

So the individual's right is to enjoy a relationship with a union, with individual secondary action simply an application of that existing right. Though they will be affected in practice by individuals' actions, employers are irrelevant to the question of individuals' rights, as are the employers of the friends and "comrades" the individual chooses to support for whatever reason. The union's secondary action rights are plainly an aggregation of the rights of their members, democratically expressed.

Critics might say: "where will it end, if unions can strike on the basis of sympathy with others, rather than distinct disputes?" This sounds very much like a "rights, but only so far" argument. Rights are there to be pushed as far as they will go. If they can't be pushed, they're worthless, and at the very same time, they cease to be rights.
Here he is again braving the contentious waters of foreign affairs, saying 'death to sovereignty'.
Screw solidarity, and screw sovereignty. What I look forward to is a world where the level of power one exerts over a population is proportionate to the level of punishment due to that person when the population suffers at their hand, or due to their neglect. A world where politicians (almost literally) live in fear of their people, not vice versa; and where sovereignty is invested in populations, not in greedy, corrupt, murderous, propaganda-wielding regimes.

I'm not condemning patriotism, or suggesting that 'national identity' is on the wane, just that the price people pay for their state operating a distinct set of political values, for politicians who look and sound like them, and for restrictions on their moving from one state to another, varies from the merely expensive at one end to impoverishing and brutalising at the other. State sovereignty is simply too high a price for people to pay, even if they did have a choice.

So I propose powerful international institutions that have precedence and authority over all national governments, that adhere to universal values, offer universal human rights, and which are prepared to use all means at their disposal - those of their member (ex-?) states, and the international corporations present within them - to overwhelm and subsume those states that defend their own rights over their people
And on 'nudging' people towards voting:
The argument here is that if the electorate believe that others are not bothering - for any of the myriad of good/explicable/plausible-sounding reasons that politicians have proposed - it's easier to justify not voting either; voting seems less and less like part of one's responsibility to society, and more like something exceptional - the action of a political activist, for example.

So if you believe that society is healthier if turnouts are very high (I'm sure I'd agree) then don't:

- Bleat about the electoral system or the nature of the political parties (which are not uniquely bad in the UK).
- Simply appeal to civic virtue, expecting people to look at their consciences.
- Punish non-voting.
- Devise strategies to make it 'cheaper and easier' to vote.
And lastly, going against the grain on the issue of closing the pay gap between men and women:
Before we look at the evidence, what about the principle? To be honest, I don't think I care whether men and women - across the entire economy - earn either the same average wage or income. Though the kind of people who audit companies don't have to be so crude, us lot use average income as a statistic to guide us to instances of exploitation, injustice, and thwarted ambitions. Those are the things we care about, not the average itself, surely?
There's loads more challenging, interesting, unarguable and occasionally maddening comment at the site - go take a look.

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