Saturday, June 26, 2010

Blog nation: it's the economy, clearly

I went to the Liberal Conspiracy blog nation event today which was, generally, very excellent and my commendations to Sunny for putting it all together. Frankly I could have done with a few less Lib Dems trying to justify their shoddy government and their shoddy budget, but that aside very good.

I missed most of what sounded like a very useful discussion on abortion rights under the Tories but one of the interesting themes that came up that I didn't miss was about how to most effectively oppose the budget cuts, as bloggers.

As always with Liberal Conspiracy there was a bit too much of a focus on 'framing' and 'narrative' for my tastes, but I'm not criticising that - it's just I find that kind of language a little bit alienating. Anyway, just to riff on the theme for a moment it seems to me that there was a kind of soul searching about whether we should be presenting things in a far more emotive way, which could be accessed by more people. Someone characterised this as a left-wing Daily Mail style.

Of course the Daily Mail tells lies and goes out of its way to be controversial for paper sales, both of which are the hallmarks of political bankruptcy and, more importantly, make it particularly ineffective at speaking to the middle ground. You really do have to be a gullible, reactionary fuck to believe everything you read in the Mail and there's no value in copying that method if we're hoping to win over those not already within our ranks.

More interestingly some people were talking about using anecdotal "stories" that help personalise the cuts and demonstrate the effect they have on people's lives. I think there is value in that, but it can only go so far. The problem is that both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives are happy to admit that cuts are painful and cause hardship - this is not contested. What is contested is whether the cuts are necessary. That's economics, not story telling - which may help illustrate your point, but it cannot be the point your making.

What we need to articulate in a more accessible form is the case against cuts, which is broadly a debate between the economics of Hayek and Keynes, certainly in the mainstream of the debate. However, in 'our' camp we have three different approaches to this question. First we have the approach that the cuts are too deep, too soon, but deficit reduction along these lines is inevitable. These people want to slow the cuts, and ensure they don't hit critical services.

Second we have those who oppose cuts as a deficit reduction measure on the basis that we can use equality and growth to combat the crisis. Savage cuts will wreak the economy, at a time when we should be investing, boosting jobs and raising extra funds from progressive taxation and schemes like the Robin Hood tax. These people argue that cuts full stop are bad for the economy, that laying people off as the dole queues grow is a recipe for a vicious cycle of decline.

Lastly we have anti-capitalists. This group steals arguments from the other two but essentially places the blame for the crisis on the economic framework itself and seeks to challenge that in a more fundamental way. Splenetic venting about bankers and fat cats is part of that, but it actually goes far further. The crisis was not caused by Leaman Brothers or Freddie Mac but the priorities of a system where profits come before people, and the millions come second to the millionaires.

Actually many people are mix of the three, but I think the categories stand.

How to find a unified voice then? Well it's not as tricky as it sounds as long as you don't expect everyone to sing from the same hymn sheet all of the time.

As of right now there are probably hundreds of campaign groups set up, formally or informally, up and down the country to defend local communities against specific cuts. All these groups will be alliances and, on the whole, they are an embryonic eco-system of resistance. Bloggers can be part of linking those campaigns, putting them in touch with each other and creating a more conscious movement against the cuts.

Those campaigns will be providing the arguments on the human cost of the cuts, these are useful for us all to remind us what we are fighting for. What that network of citizen journalists and campaigners should be doing is providing a digestible economic alternative that shows not just why cutting public services in dangerous and painful, but also why it is the wrong economic strategy. They can also provide resources, some fun some serious and weighty, that are useful campaigning tools that can be used and adapted across the country.

To my mind this approach needs to be supporting those resistance campaigns from the bottom up, rather than attempting to create a national army of clone campaigns under the auspices of a central command. I don't think that will work and it's not necessary because those community groups are already springing up 'organically'.

The left Keynsians and the anti-capitalists (I hope you forgive the crude generalisations there) can actually unite pretty easily on this and the wet left who think cuts are being managed poorly will find it harder to fit into that framework than they will when they become involved in the local campaigns to defend specific services. We can't play to the lowest common denominator so they'll just have to catch up.


Anonymous said...

The local campaigns which have sprng up to defend local services, are indeed fantastic and inspiring and certainly have been invaluably supported and advertised by local bloggers.

But the problem is that for every successful campaign (Leeds bin men, Tower Hamlets FE college, Whittington Hospital) theres many more instances of areas where such a coalition has failed to win, or even never existed(South Tyneside bin-men, Sunderland College, northumberland hospital).

Certainly networking between such campaigns has happened and should happen more. But even this is not a strong enough strategy to prevent Cameron and hs cronies playing divide and rule, conceeding to strong NIMBY groups whilst pushing cuts through in areas with weak or non-existant local campaigns.

Rather whats needed to see off the cuts at a national scale is a nation-wide, centralized, mass campaign, which is far-reaching, and exploits divisions witin the coalition government to force concesions. The trade union and wider social movement needs to be united against the threatened cuts

Jim Jepps said...

It so nice to get a proper comment from anonymous, I have to say the moment I saw the anon bit I thought, here we go what's this. So thanks for the thoughtful comment!

I think it's true that every bad thing that happens does not automatically inspire a campaign against it - and there is a role for socialists and activists to try to help generate campaigns in those areas and provide a set of resources about why the cuts are happening and how to link up with each other.

However, I think I do disagree with you about the need for a centralised movement because a) it's wishful thinking, all the people who will attempt to provide that actually aren't capable of providing the genuine article and b) I think the emphasis needs to be on those communities and trade unions that have come together and are moving, because that's where our strength is.

I'm really not up for yet another franchise operation that sets the terms of activity before those communities have got involved - I am involved in a national network of campaigns that begins to take the lessons of those local campaigns and shares them out.

An area that has weak or non-existant campaigns is not helped very much in my view with four right on types taking the name of an organisation that has meaning somewhere else and pretending that gives them substances. I'd rather those four right on types did what they could to get that local campaign going and giving it real content - that's alot more important, and very doable from their perspective.