How To Live In The 21st Century

What characterises the present?  Is it fragmentation, or is it the opposite, the rise of the all-encompassing?

For a long time now, stretching well back into the latter decades of the 20th Century, there has been fragmentation, sometimes expressed as an imperative for ‘leanness’.  Companies, organisations, and, increasingly, the state, have asked the question “what is it that we are here to do?”, and then divested themselves of all those elements of the business that isn’t what they do.  Thus, for example, Marks and Spencer, which built and owned a lot of distinctive looking stores on the nation’s high streets, sold off their ‘property portfolio’, severed long-standing ties with the factories which manufactured their goods in Britain, and got on with the core business of flogging us knickers and ready-meals.

In the public sector this process was ‘outsourcing’.  Perhaps, the thinking went, the state needs to ensure that frail elderly people who need help can get it.  But do local councils need to build, run and staff care homes, or day centres, or employ ‘home helps’? Surely others can do those things, and councils can simply pay the bill?

It’s a mindset as much as a way of running businesses or services.  When M&S sold off their property, they got a load of cash.  But in return they now pay high rents on buildings they once owned.  Perhaps that makes sense for their business. But when care home provider, Southern Cross, did the same thing, selling off its property and leasing back the homes, it was a financial disaster, locking them into uneconomic contracts and without ownership of core assets which might once have provided a cushion in lean times.

There are many other problems inherent in the notion of each enterprise being stripped down to its core functions, not least workers rights and the quality of services, but that’s not primarily the issue here.  For what of the trend to go in the opposite direction? To amass functions, to do it all?

Google and Amazon.  One starts as a search engine, the other as a means of selling books.  Both are now giants bestriding the earth, mapping the earth, sending out driverless cars and delivery drones, crushing competition, amassing riches on a scale unseen in history.

In Dave Eggar’s dystopian novel The Circle, the vision of a company something like Google is of an outwardly benign monster enforcing conformity, stamping on individualism, privacy and freedom.  Monopolies and monoliths do indeed have their dangers.

But, for now at least, what if we can draw other conclusions from the rise of tech-based ‘total mission’ companies, which, far from concentrating on their ‘core activities’, give the green light to talents within their ranks to run with their ideas, to take risks, to back long-term development of projects, some of them huge and audacious? Are they a different model of development which calls into question the lean, fragmented,’core focussed’ enterprise?

We can perhaps answer that question better by looking at precursors of these new global giants.

Organised religion, the military and universities invented the Google model before tech companies even existed.  Indeed, the military and the universities were the original inventors and developers of the internet (and indeed, of space programmes).  Large, multi-function, diverse, but disciplined entities can be anything but the shambling, inefficient organisations that management consultant-speak and market economics likes to suggest.  They can be powerful and dynamic innovators.

Take one that is under more threat now than at any time in its ninety year history – the BBC.  When left to its own devices and permitted to grow, to branch out, to try new things, the BBC has been phenomenally successful.  The only major media group with a presence across the whole country, not merely in the capital, it has grown technical and creative talent for generations, given space for ideas to grow, and it has done so with a clear public service ethic.  From the earliest days of radio, to the innovations it has led with its online presence and developments like the iPlayer, the BBC model plainly works.  If there are too many layers of management, and a certain timidity of leadership, blame this on the unrelenting pressure brought by its commercial and political enemies.  For all that, the model is a proven success, constantly innovating across almost a century.

What we are led to believe is “common sense” in economics, politics, life – lean, mean, narrow, selfish, competitive, ‘disciplined’, ‘realistic’ – is probably nonsense, the passing fashion of the late 20th century.  Innovation, dynamism, and audacity require scale, co-operation, and the blurring or removal of boundaries.  the 21st Century needs us to ditch the mantras of “private sector good/public sector bad”, of competition as the only spur, of short-termism and low aspirations for the public good.  We can’t live well in this century if we cling to the old ways – like our government and its cheerleaders.

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Red Moon Over Brighton

Is it a portent? Will the Tiber foam with much blood? Reading and listening to the political pundits was almost enough to convince me that the apocalypse was upon us.

Red Labour will de-select ‘modernisers’ of Blairite hue. Yvette Cooper will be defenestrated, Tristram Hunt will be poked into a Potteries kiln until he screams, and poor old Chris Leslie will be marched to a gibbet on Threadneedle Street. There will be blood.

Oddly, these terrifying scenes were predicted by the same people who scoffed at Corbyn and McDonnell for ‘weakening’, doing ‘U turns’, and ‘backing down’ over Trident, austerity, and Europe.

So which is it?  Is Corbynism compromising, and will this lead to his disappointed red hoards storming the Islington barricades?  Or will the mighty battalions of Unite and the NUM form a Red Guard to flatten the forces of ‘moderate’ resistance?

As usual, the pundits are wrong.  Political leadership isn’t about crushing your enemies, and mobilising a lot of excited people around a different sort of politics isn’t about re-running the 1980s.  It’s a mark of how far we are from the 1980s that I didn’t think twice about writing a reference to Threadneedle Street, but I wondered whether some potential readers might need an explanation of what the letters ‘NUM’ stand for.

Let’s say it again – the political commentators got Scotland wrong, they got UKIP wrong, and they got the election result wrong. So what are the odds of them once again ending up in Ballad of a Thin Man country? As the Bob Dylan lyric goes, “something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is….”

The fact is that most of Corbyn’s constituency probably think that Trident is a waste of money, but it’s not an issue at the top of their list of worries.  Most of them don’t care if Corbyn does or does not renationalise the utilities, though they’d like it if he did. They wouldn’t care if the next Daily Mail ‘revelation’ is that Liz Kendall is having Jezza’s ‘love child’ (note to readers, I made that up, so if it is in tomorrow’s papers, don’t blame me).

The legions returning to Labour are not Trotskyists, Communists, anarchists, class warriors, or any other swivel eyed ideologues, or at least not in anything other than homeopathic quantities.  I’ve stumbled on a few of their street protests recently, and its the same few old blokes shouting to make themselves heard over assorted proselytising religious nuisances. The biggest crowds gather around the Roma buskers (they are very good).

Corbyn’s lot are, as far as I can see, people who latched onto his campaign because they thought he understood their concerns and interests.  Most of them, as far as I can tell, are middle class people with social consciences, who have values which elevate knowledge, creativity and moral worth over material goods or vapid ‘aspiration’.  Many also have worries about material needs, for security in housing, health or infirmity.  Many experience insecurity in employment, as public sector wages for teachers, medics, and others are cut, and pensions and conditions of service made worse.  Many others are in that section of the precariat mentioned by John McDonnell in his Today programme interview today: the self-employed.  The Tories complacently characterise the growing numbers of self-employed as “people building businesses”.  Like hell they are. It’s how people scape a living doing things that used to be paid properly, and McDonnell understood this.

What Corbyn’s victory represents in not “faith” in the man on the part of people who are politically at odds with most Britons. It is a groundswell by those who have felt deep unease with politics as it has been practiced over the last thirty years or so.  Oddly it has something in common with Cameron’s unexpected general election victory.  Its foundations are shallow.

There is no deep-rooted mass support for Jeremy Corbyn. There is no deep-rooted mass support for the Tories, either. Within our election system that currently means that campaigning targeted at small numbers of swing voters in marginal seats can buy a victory, and Cameron shelled out a lot of hedge fund money to do exactly that.  They will hope to repeat the trick in 2020.

But the days when the Tories were a mass party, culturally rooted in large parts of the middle-class, with deep pockets of support even in the working-class are long gone.  Ditto Labour of old, with its miners’ galas, brass bands, and Co-Op divvies.  In those days, turnout in elections was high, and people ‘knew’ which side they were on.

Corbin’s audacious hope is to try to rebuild Labour as a mass movement which represents lives as they are today, precarious, insecure, yet also tech savvy, highly educated and creative, and with a clear set of values around public service and the good life as embracing more than work and material acquisitiveness.

It’s hard to see how the Tories can aspire to do the same. Their policies are bankrolled – by bankers.  Not the guys in sweatshirts hanging around the ATMs in the branch on your High Street hoping to flog you some insurance, but remote people who live a How To Spend It lifestyle of private jet seclusion.  Retail offers to buy votes can’t build deep roots if they don’t work.  Inheritance tax, right-to-buy, pension annuity freedoms, are all paltry offers with in-built disaster potential a little down the line.

So whether Corbyn is to be the next Prime Minister or not, he and his new, energised party base offers a chance to Labour to rebuild the party, to enthuse it, to deepen their local roots, to go on voter registration drives, and to make it a much more formidable opponent.  That’s in everyone’s interests, from Abbott to Umuna, from Glasgow to Exeter, from union boss to freelancer.

Time to pull together.

Being David Cameron

What’s it like to be David Cameron?  Should one feel, on a purely human level, just a little sorry for him when nasty Lord Ashcroft and paid assassin Isobel Oakshott spread unpleasant porcine tales about his youth.  As with the exposure of the Rebekah Brooks texts which revealed Cameron’s gauche misuse of ‘LOL’, it cannot be nice to have the nation laughing at you.

Yet I very much doubt he gives a toss.  Why would he?  He’s the Prime Minister. He’s a Very Important Person. And the rest of us with our pathetic little Twitterstorms are scarcely worth a second thought, unless he’s gaming us for votes, and anyway, he has staff for that.

So I write this very much aware of my own insignificance to the political world of which Cameron is master.  I know he’s not going to know, or care, what I think.  And I think he’s the worst prime minister of my lifetime.

Cameron is known to admire Tony Blair, and to have modelled his approach to leadership upon aspects of Blairism. But Blair, before he developed his Messiah Complex, was a subtle and intelligent leader.  I never fell under his spell – I cried when John Smith died, but Blair worried me from the first.  Nonetheless, he was, in his pre-war prime, a class act.  Blair had a sense of absolute clarity about what he wanted to achieve.

Cameron, on the other hand, is clear about one thing only.  He wanted to be Prime Minister.  Not to do specific things, still less to ‘run the country’ in any kind of hands-on way.  Now he’s got the job, and with a mandate of sorts (around a quarter of the electorate voted Tory), it’s not clear that he wants the job any more.  Bored already.

People who know Cameron suggest that he’s lazy and slapdash.  It certainly looks like that from here in the cheap seats.

Cameron wings it.  He’s so self-confident that he knows that he can rely on appearance and manner to trump substance and preparation.  He doesn’t answer questions, he just powers through with strings of plausibly enunciated nonsense.  In some ways he’s the Anti-John Prescott.  Where Prescott mangled the language, but somehow you knew what he meant, and it was often something interesting or new, so Cameron speaks in complete, grammatical sentences which are entirely devoid of content.

He’s a risk-taker, too. A political leader can’t be entirely risk-averse, but Cameron takes risks like many of his class take drugs or pay for sex, in the insouciant expectation that they’ll get away with it. That his luck has held out so far owes nothing to his political skill.  He was casual about the Scottish referendum, which nearly led to the break up of Britain (a risk which remains live).  His EU referendum next year or the year after is another high-stakes gamble with Britain’s reputation and place in the world, and for what?  To placate some irritants in his party.  At a time when the European Union faces possibly the biggest crisis in its history, where is Cameron?  Not around the top table with the serious politicians from serious countries.  He’s whinging from the sidelines in the hope of distracting Merkel from the refugee crisis for just long enough to agree to a pretend ‘deal’.  And then he assumes that we’ll all go along with the charade and and vote to “remain”.  He’s even lost control of the question on the ballot paper and the terms of engagement. Unbelievable.

Being David Cameron must be very nice.  He has had a comfortable life.  All the advantages money could buy have been lavished upon him.  Even the tragedy of his son’s short and difficult life must have been eased greatly by the power of cash to provide around-the-clock care and support for the family on a scale most ordinary, middle-class families could never have, let alone a poor family without secure housing tenure.  He’s never had to apply for a job – family connections by-pass all that nonsense.  And he finally got to do the one thing he really wanted to do.  If it all goes pear-shaped now, he can calmly walk away, go on one of his frequent chillaxing holidays, and catch up with some box sets.

The trouble is, waiting in the wings is George Osborne, who definitely does know what he wants to do with the job of Prime Minister. And that’s not nice to contemplate.

Mr Corbyn Goes To Westminster

What is Jeremy Corbyn?  Is he, as the Tories at first suggested, a “threat” to national security?  Or is he a comic figure, with his black socks ‘n shorts outfit, as seen on the weekend’s front pages, the embodiment of the geography teacher through the ages?

Today he chose beige for his first Prime Minister’s Question Time. Obama is not his style icon, plainly, but he’d made a bit of an effort.  Corbin seemed the least excited person in the Palace of Westminster today; everywhere else the place was packed with buzzing MPs and hyperventilating journalists, all eager to get prime positions to rubberneck at the anticipated slo-mo car crash.

When Corbyn rose to question the Prime Minister he was greeted by the usual wall of sound that distinguishes our Honourable Members from those in other parliaments around the world.  We like to model our political debate on that of the football terrace. But JC was having none of it.

Let’s be honest, Corbyn isn’t a natural public speaker.  He’s barely a performer.  If you were auditioning for the role of a political leader, you’d show him the exit the moment he walked onto the stage.  Whereas Cameron was born to it, at home under the arc lights, basking in the attention.  Surely Labour MPs were destined to be left holding their hands over their eyes within seconds of the first question?

But Jezza was armed with a very useful weapon – he’s an unknown quantity. His approach to PMQs was so different from the usual model that Cameron, never a great improviser, more of a ham, just didn’t know how to deal with him.

The stroke of genius was to use those crowd-sourced questions.  It’s one thing using all that Bullingdon swagger against nerdy Miliband, but against members of the public like Marie, Stephen, and Clare?  And as the Twitterstorm began, at least we knew that these were real people, not inventions of the DWP.  Cameron had no option but to play along with JC’s game.

Some commentators said that the format played into Cameron’s hands, as he used his answers, on housing, mental health, and tax credits, to re-state variants of the Tory narrative, effectively unchallenged by the new Opposition leader.  And that is true.

But the half hour ritual of PMQs is less important than the clips on news bulletins.  In truth, Corbyn was insufficiently concise, and Cameron a bit predictable, but the impression was left of a man – Corbyn – who wants to do politics differently.  That is not an unpopular attitude.

Corbin can’t use the crowd-sourced questions approach every week, as Cameron will learn how to game it pretty quickly.  But it made for a good start, and may well be useful as a reserve technique for occasional use.

So what’s the verdict?  Is Corbyn off to a good Commons start in his new role?

The simple answer is probably ‘no’.  His parliamentary party is not behind him.  He has few cheerleaders in the press.  Robert Peston was the conduit for rumours that some Labour MPs were considering crossing the floor and joining the Conservative Party. Changing the whole nature of politics requires a cultural shift that won’t come fast, and in the interval, it’s business as usual with spin, triangulation, poll numbers, SPADS, and all the other stuff that is anathema to JC.  The very best to be hoped for is that the party will retain enough loyalty to the cause to make it all work as best they can.

And yet Corbyn’s elevation may be successful in others ways, pushing politics on past the toxic legacy of Blairism, and re-energising political debate, waking people up to the possibility of doing things differently.

One of the most interesting things I saw on Sunday was a news interview with an economics professor from Leeds, Richard Wilkinson, and a boy think-tanker from the Adam Smith Institute.  Wilkinson was making an effective case for the reasonableness of Corbyn’s economic thinking, but it was the Adam Smith guy who caught my attention.  Probably born when John Major was PM, the golden child was positively fizzing with excitement.  Plainly very bright, as someone who’d had the economics education that’s been orthodoxy for the last 30 years, you could see he was thrilled to be given the green light to take other approaches seriously at last.  I watched him as I have sometimes watched a student grasping a difficult concept for the first time, knowing that something had clicked.  The terms of engagement were changing.

Added to that, Corbyn’s new front bench, free to say what they think, or to admit when they don’t know what party policy is, sound like humans on TV, not speak-your-weight machines.  It’s a refreshing change.  It’s also causing problems for journalists whose entire interview technique is to make the politician say the thing they most don’t want to say.

Perhaps I’m seeing signs of change which aren’t really there, or which won’t endure?  My pessimism tells me that the Tories and their mates will stomp all over the New Model Labour Party.  My realism tells me that they’d have done it to any Labour leader.  And my optimism tells me that a period of chaos might just be necessary to propel our politics out of the late 20th Century in which it seems stuck.

It’s Not About Corbyn, Stupid

What do political commentators do every day before they write their columns, or opine on the political talk shows?

They do what I do, and what you do, perhaps, if you’ve happened to chose to read this blogpost.  I consume the political media, in all its forms.  It’s a total emersion in the world of London-based political hacks.  So I know what they think.

And one of the things they think is that the quarter of a million people who made a conscious choice to vote for Jeremy Corbyn did so for a range of disparate and crazy reasons, above all because in the days of social media, left-wing activists choose to lock themselves in an electronic echo chamber where they hear no voices but their own.

Excuse me?  There’s no echo chamber quite so hermetically sealed from other voices than that of the London commentariat.

Despite my political nerdishness, I lead a normal life in a large, diverse European city.  I use buses and trains, the public library, cafes and pubs, Waitrose and Poundland.  And wherever I go, I meet people who voted for Jeremy Corbyn.

Few of them are raving Trots or swivel eyed commies.  When I went to a Corbyn rally I’d expected to have to fight my way in through hoards of Socialist Worker sellers and TUSC leafleters, but there was nothing more than half a dozen mostly elderly representatives of the revolutionary left at the doors, all of them keeping a polite distance from the official Corbyn stewards.

What the Corbyn supporters have in common, at least in my experience, is a feeling of being left out of the national conversation.  A sense that people like them have been de-legitimised, stigmatised, or that the moral values they hold dear have been trashed by two generations of professional politicians and their media cheerleaders.

First, the de-legitimised and stigmatised.  These people include public sector workers, like teachers and medics, as well as many young people with debts and poor career prospects.  Thirty years of private sector = good, and public sector = bad, a mantra which is wholly false, takes its toll on the morale and confidence of the people who provide our vital services.  And they’ve had enough.

Young people bear the brunt of the narrowing of employment prospects for those not born to privilege.  Some young people also feel stigma, a feeling expressed by young Muslims at the meeting I attended.  Cuts are directly impacting on many young people, especially those in further education who find that library closures and shorter opening hours are making it hard for them to study – not to mention the loss of EMA.  They felt despair, but many also feel anger, and need a political voice for that.

People with high rents and insecure tenure are also frustrated by a political imperative of “home ownership” as the only legitimate ‘aspiration’.  They, too, want a voice.

Then there is Corbyn’s moral constituency.  These tend to be middle aged or older, often modestly affluent, whose sense of propriety is offended by the coarse materialism and lack of compassion of conservatism, whether it is Big C or Labour-conservatism.  They feel affronted that people they regard as genuinely politically extreme are somehow, in some Orwellian way, branding decency as the ‘extreme’ position.  These people are articulate, and very, very cross.

It is fair to ask, can the Corbyn coalition be electorally viable for the Labour Party?  Is the greater part of the public in England, for that’s where most of the parliamentary seats are, open to an anti-austerity programme?  Or is the public, as many commentators have argued, essentially conservative?

The answer to this is complex – much more complex that waving some numbers from polls and focus groups around and yelling that all the evidence says that Corbyn’s on a hiding to nothing.  It’s true that most people don’t like to perceive themselves as being on the wacky fringes, but it is also true, as Zoe Williams observed on C4 News yesterday, that even in the last five years political rhetoric has moved radically to the right, with previously ‘unsayable’ things becoming normalised.  The “centre ground” is objectively way to the right.

Moreover, the successful Tory narrative about the ‘need’ for ‘austerity’ may begin to wear increasingly thin as the consequences begin to be felt.  Whilst only poor kids felt the loss of EMA, or library closures, comfortable middle class, Conservative supporting people will feel the crisis in social and medical care for the elderly as their parents or partners begin to need services that are no longer there, and which cost serious money to purchase privately.  Small business owners whose sense of moral superiority has long been boosted by Tory rhetoric about ‘entrepreneurs’ may wonder what’s hit them as Osborne’s minimum wage rises and stripping away tax credits confronts them with the real costs of running their businesses without public subsidy.  Roads unrepaired, trains overcrowded, rural buses axed, post office services pared back, a crisis in school places, all the consequences of continuous cutbacks will bite all but the most comfortably off, and a reoriented Labour Party might be in a better position to expose what’s wrong and, crucially, to offer hope that there is another way.

Virtually none of this is about Jeremy Corbyn, the accidental Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition.  He “has all the charisma of the average branch manager of a provincial building society,” to steal the words Eric Hobsbawm used to describe Clement Attlee, the hero of 1945.  But Attlee had been Churchill’s deputy throughout the war, whereas Corbyn does not have that level of experience.  Neither did David Cameron when he became Prime Minister in 2010.

My own feeling is that if Labour MPs and the movement as a whole work with, not against Corbyn, in a critically supportive way, he may surprise everyone.  Or he may flounder.  But the movement that elected him won’t go away, and if Corbyn is not JC but John The Baptist, so be it.  Labour must tread another path now, whoever leads it.

Red Whine

A number of things have been accumulating in my head in the noise surrounding the Labour Party.  John Prescott’s interview with Jon Snow about the leadership contest.  The interview with Jon Cruddas about the Corbyn effect.  A Today programme item about the contest to be Labour’s London mayoral candidate.  All of these things and more are less about the immediate business of selecting leadership or mayoral candidates, and more about what the last general election result meant.

In the item on the mayoral contest, The New Statesman’s Helen Lewis contrasted Corbyn’s apparent surge across the country with the more even tempered London contest.  Specifically she said that the Blairite Tessa Jowell was not disadvantaged by her political loyalties in London, because of the division between “the wine drinkers and the beer drinkers”.

“Wine drinkers” in the capital are, apparently, civilised, sophisticated types who operate on the basis of rational political judgements.  The provincial “beer drinkers”, on the other hand, are nasty, brutish and short on political nous, and liable to make choices under the influence of a skinful of Tetleys.

Presumably Prescott’s interview was evidence of Lewis’s dictum of In Vino Veritas, for surely Lord Prescott is the very model of the Man of Ale?  Burnham-backer Prescott was pretty cheerful about the prospect of a Corbyn win, seeing Corbyn’s energising effect on the party as thoroughly positive.  Prescott said directly that the questions being raised by Corbyn ought to have been raised and addressed a decade ago, and revealed that he had himself argued in Cabinet against spending billions on a Cold War-era weapon like Trident.  Yes, his judgement is definitely a bit Theakston’s Old Peculiar.

Cruddas, an Ed Miliband insider, declared that he hadn’t yet decided how to vote in the leadership election, but echoed Prescott’s analysis that Corbyn’s campaign was airing issues that the party needed to face.  Dagenham’s not exactly in the Northern Powerhouse, but I guess the place is pretty infra dig for the “wine drinkers” who know stuff, so probably best to dismiss his judgement as having all the appeal of a six pack of Lidl lager.

So let us look closely at what the Grand Cru minds of the media-set think. What is their “narrative”?

The only measure of political success is electoral success.  To win elections a party must reflect the beliefs and priorities of voters.  Voters want economic competence.  That means cuts.  Voters want to stop immigration.  That means harsh rhetoric and punitive laws.  Voters want a less generous welfare system.  That means being tough on claimants and tough on the causes of claimants (i.e. laziness, not austerity, obviously).  Labour didn’t do these things, or didn’t do them with sufficient boldness and hug-a-billionaire business-friendliness, and that’s why they lost.

As a provincial blogger who likes nothing better than to start the day with a pint of bitter, I have to say that the world doesn’t look quite like that from here.  When I take my whippet for a walk, or amble along to the pigeon loft, or clock in at t’mill, I see something far more complex than can be addressed by talk of gaming elections by aligning the Labour Party with what voters tell focus group researchers they think.

Political cynicism and disengagement need to be addressed. Political leadership needs to happen to shift opinion where it is a block on long term planning. Structural changes in the economy and in society need to be understood and movements of the left need to find ways to connect with how people live life now, in an age characterised by insecurity in access to work, housing and other services.  These are big questions to which re-heated Blairism has no answers.  Neither does Cameron/Osborne, either, but they have cash and shameless populism to chuck at the problem of winning elections. Also don’t forget that they didn’t win well, whatever their triumphalist behaviour since May might suggest.

The facile characterisation of metropolitan wine drinkers Vs simple ale folk reveals everything you need to know about why the commentariat have almost nothing of value to say about modern Britain and its ways of life and political attachments. For Labour to heed their warnings would be to compound the difficulties that the party faces, and would be to shirk the left’s historic role to remake the political system and the country as a whole for the challenges of globalisation and technological revolution.

The Labour movement came out of the struggles of the 19th Century.  The Labour Party established itself firmly as a 20th Century party of government with the Attlee government of 1945.  It now has the task of understanding the struggles of the 21st Century in which the nature of the economy and of production has changed, and is changing further at an accelerating pace. In which the nature of work is changing, making old-style labour organisation (trades unions) difficult or impossible. In which gender relations and family structures are radically different. This is a world where isolation from European and global institutions would be disastrous.

Whoever becomes the next Labour leader is almost incidental to this necessary programme of analysing our economy and society, and inventing the institutions necessary to enable politics to restore decency to all our lives.

David Cameron and Aylan Kurdi – A Tale

The jarring sight of the British Prime Minister wringing his hands on TV, an uncomfortable Pilate willing the whole irritating mess to go away, juxtaposed on news programmes with images of a small boy lying dead on Turkish sands last night tells us much.

Let us take little Aylan first. The three year old had lived in Kobane, a Syrian town near the Turkish border.  When the barbarians of Daesh took over his town, this Kurdish family was in deep trouble, simply for being Kurds.  The father, Abdullah Kurdi, kept things going in the way that many men did – by working across the Turkish border, smuggling vital supplies back to his family.  It was dangerous work.  At one stage the man was kidnapped, tortured, and had all his teeth extracted.  At this point he knew he had to get his family out of Syria.

It took bravery for Abdullah, his wife Rehan, and their two sons, five year old Galip and little Aylan to risk the border crossing.  But Turkey was no place for them.  The AKP government is ferociously anti-Kurdish, and in any case, Turkey has taken in perhaps a million Syrians, and whilst it has seen strong economic growth in recent years, it is not a rich European country.  The Kurdi family wanted out.

They wanted to go to Canada.  Teema Kurdi, a Vancouver hairdresser, was Aylan’s aunt. She’d helped the family as much as she could, staying in contact during their exile, paying thousands of dollars to fix her brother’s smashed mouth.  But the Canadian government, like their British counterpart, is led by a vain, compassionless political clone.  Auntie Teema’s pleas were rejected.

And so the fateful journey from a Bodrum beach became inevitable. They went to sea in a sieve.

The short trip to Kos became something like a story from Homer’s Odyssey. A raging Poseidon flipped their vessel.  Abdullah, a man with no good options, tried desperately to save his family. He tried to grab one child, then the other, as they were tossed about on the waves.  As he clambered, exhausted, back onto land, he found his wife so badly dashed against the rocks by the power of the sea that she was barely recognisable.

We just saw one piece of this story – little Aylan, looking like any three year old in his tee shirt, trews, and tiny trainers, except that we knew that his lungs were saturated with Aegean brine.  The Turkish police officer lifted the child and carried him away to the waiting front pages of the world’s press.

What has any of this to do with our not-very-nice-and-dim PM?  I’m not even sure that David Cameron, that man of a thousand chillaxed holiday beaches, has ever been to Bodrum.  A bit package tour for him – I bet he’s done a villa with an infinity pool in Fethiye, or maybe a gulet cruise.

Cameron has had immense political luck up until now.  The Eurosceptic right who plagued every Tory leader from John Major on were neutered by the disciplines of coalition, and subsequently forced into relative quiescence by the unexpected election victory which Cameron sees as his own personal victory.

But Cameron is also an indolent man, with the languid charm of a con artist, who enjoys playing the part of Prime Minister and World Statesman, but who can’t be arsed with the effort involved in getting to grips with policy detail, or serious thinking about big issues.  Like most posh-but-dim men in “important” jobs, he has staff to do the real work.  Fortunately Osborne likes that sort of thing, and the rest you can leave to minions, even if they’re making a pig’s ear of it, like Iain Duncan Smith, or Jeremy Hunt.  Why bother, in any case?  The newspapers will say you’re the bees knees, even as you wobble on a surfboard on a Cornish beach, or sip cocktails with Sam as the sun sets over Valledemossa.

The refugee crisis in general, but Aylan’s unnecessary death in particular, has cast a shadow over Cameron.  Blair, Cameron’s political hero, in his prime would have gone before the cameras, put on his ‘Death of Diana’ face and said something that connected with the public mood.  His instincts, before they’s been Murdoch’d and Berlusconi’d and Bushwhacked into delusion, would have been to understand what was needed.  But not Cameron.

Aylan, the dead three year old, has told us that Emperor Cameron has no clothes.  He’s out of his depth, floundering around, throwing his toys, yelling for some policy wonks and pollsters to tell him what to say.

Don’t expect Cameron’s surface, smooth, Etonian style to slip.  His parents paid a lot of money for that education – about as much as some Syrian families have paid people smugglers.  But the cat’s out of the bag.  We now can see that faced with a problem that requires leadership, co-operation across national boundaries, the willingness to be unpopular but right, to build bridges with other European political leaders, our man is bloody useless.