About Common Threads

Background as CEO in aerospace/defence, IT, Mergers/Acquisitions/Turnrounds followed by NGO's such as Global Witness / Transparency International (TI). Now, Trustee at TI-UK and Chair the world-wide Defence and Security programme. Also, a writer - Last Line of Defense some time ago and now writing 'All the People' on the drive for democracy and the vote in 19th Century England

The Ripples from Peterloo

16th August 1819 should be a date that the British hold in its memory just as the world applies itself to Tiananmen Square. That there are such commemorations of its 200th anniversary this year is down to the hard work and insight of those like the Peterloo Memorial Campaign who, rightly, refuse to let a key date in our history fall from our memories.

In my research for All the People, the story of people caught up in the deprivations and class warfare of early nineteenth century Manchester, I was continually reminded of Peterloo. For years after 16 August 1819, it was remembered as the prime example of how people in this country rise against oppression: peacefully, with intelligence, wit and good humour to confront oppressors that are determined to ground them down. Mike Leigh’s film captured this well as do the wide range of books* on the grand assembly headed by Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt that was destroyed by the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry’s killing and maiming.

That British history has mainly been written by the victors is a truism attributed to Churchill, Nehru and many others but it remains valid. Peterloo had no victors but those in power sought to recast the massacre as a battle. Fortunately, the journalists present, like John Tyas of The Times, were better able to record the truth and his editor was brave enough to print it. Yet, there has been an almighty struggle to retain the memory of that day in August, 1819.

For years, workers in Manchester would assemble around buildings owned by the Captain of the Yeomanry, Hugh Hornby Birley. He led them, sabres swinging, cutting into and trampling with their horses over men, women and children. At those buildings would come the workers and out of work from the town and surrounding areas to jeer as a sign of their hatred and torment, their conditions (starvation, ill-health and extreme poverty) unchanged or worsened. When the Reform Act of 1832 was passed through Parliament, giving the wealthy industrialists the vote and some towns like Manchester representation for the first time, nothing changed for those with no property.

Feargus O’Connor, an Irishman that led the Chartists in the latter part of that decade, used his newspaper, The Northern Star, on 20th August, 1842 to remind the world (or at least that part that read his working people’s paper) that the memories of Peterloo still rippled powerfully.

Screenshot 2019-08-15 at 12.00.39Screenshot 2019-08-15 at 12.01.05

Crucial to O’Connor’s editorial that day was the memory of Henry Hunt and the memory of the Yeomanry. A memorial to Henry Hunt had just been erected in Manchester at John Stephenson’s Roundhouse Chapel that the ‘Plug Plot Rioters’ (as they were disparagingly termed) would have passed on their way through Manchester earlier in August 1842. They were on strike, still fighting for universal suffrage just as Hunt and those at Peterloo had been in 1819. Hunt was a hero to O’Connor and Peterloo the singular moment in history that acted as an inspiration in 1842.

Just as ‘memorial’ were the Yeomanry, signified by O’Connor’s insertion of the names of each member that took part on St Peter’s Fields on 16th August, 1819, headed by the name of Hugh Hornby Birley, mistakingly shown as “Commander’. Birley had spent the last 23 years as a businessman, philanthropist and civic leader in the town of Manchester, working to leave the legacy that he wished to be remembered by. The only one he left was the memory of his murderous deeds at Peterloo: O’Connor saw to that.

177 years on from that day, Manchester is alive with the memory of Peterloo in a way that could not have been expected 100 years ago when the centenary was commemorated by informal gatherings of those like the Independent Labour Party. In 1919, World War One had not long finished and working people (excluding most women) now had the vote but little power and few resources. Civic society remained class-bound and Peterloo was seen as a working class revolt, separate from those that ran the country and ill-suited to a collective celebration.

We live (at least for now) in different times. There remains so much to be done in the field of human rights and equality that the newer burdens of climate destruction and popularism and our own torture of Brexit seem to overwhelm. It is a good time to remember Peterloo and it is always a good time to recall a brave fight for justice. As we all watch the scenes from Hong Kong, a 2019 fight for universal suffrage and democracy against an unyielding foe that believes itself above the law, we know that much of the world remains as this country was 200 years ago. As we read surveys that show young people might prefer a type of leader that runs roughshod over democracy, it is a good time to remember the fight for democracy and the vote and the reasons it was always held to be so vital. For those put into positions of power quickly assume the mantle provided and rarely, if ever, remain uncorrupted. Without the checks and balances that democracy (via universal suffrage) provides, the risk of deprivations for the majority grows. It is why Peterloo must remain in our memories as one of the most important events in our history, why the ripples of Peterloo must always wash over us.

  • Amongst Books on Peterloo, please read: Robert Poole, Peterloo, The English Uprising; Peterloo, Witnesses to a Massacre (Polyp, Eva Schlunke – a graphic representation); Peterloo, the Story of the Manchester Massacre, Jacqueline Riding.
  • My book, All the People, is due for publication on 28 February 2020.

Transcript of part of O’Connor’s editorial:

And this was the way the middle-class men

of Manchester and Cheshire, the ” Yeomanry”

served a peaceable and unarmed people, seeking to

petition For a Reform in the system of Representation!

These were the terms of  theUnion between

the middle and labouring class at that period.

This was the way one class, bleated, ‘blustering,’ big,

and inflated with gin and pride.—brandy and arrogance;

this was the way they attempted to prove

 the ” interests of the two classes are identical’ ‘ !

and that the middle classes are the ” natural leaders

and protectors of the labouring portion of ihe community”

! O ! how arrogant, how puffed-up with

pride, they were then! How they sneered, and

scoffed, and turned up the nose of affected contempt !

How they gloated and glorified over the blood they had

shed—the suffering they had caused—the life they had

sacrificed! What ” heroes ” they then were!

Where are they now How many of them are

Yeomen now? How many of them have been able to

keep out of the Gazette, or out of the Insolvent

List? How many of them have been able to keep out

of the workhouse ? And how many of them have cut

their throats, or hanged themselves! Where is the

 amongst them that would now glory in the

bloody deeds be then committed? Where is the

thing amongst them that would not give his ears to

have his name erased from the damning record—the

list of the “heroes”; of Peterloo?! It is in vain , however,

that he so wishes ! The character in which those

names are written are those of blood. They cannot be

washed out, but by the waters of Justice  and those

have not yet been applied,—or Thistlewood, Ings,

Brunt, and Tidd would not have been the last

men Executed and BEHEADED in England for

High Treason !!! No ; the names are not to be

obliterated from the bloody list ! Here it is

Let the actors of the fiendish deeds of 1819 feast

their eyes upon it ! !!

Names, of the Manchester Yeomanry on the 16th of

August 1819:

Hugh Hornby Birley, Commander…………………

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Americanism: A World Menace

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As part of my research for a book that I hope to publish in late 2020 (its predecessor, All the People, is due for publication on 28 February, 2020), I read Americanism. It was published in England in 1922. I wrote a review on Goodreads and repeat it below. The quotation from the book is shown in italics. One had to remember that this was written a century ago, but, in the age of Trump (and Brexit / Farage) you have to pinch yourself to realise how much pertains to 2019. It is a sombre realisation that, while we may have, the much of the world, benefitted materially in the past century and progress has been made in the areas of human rights, so much of the underlying tensions in society remain as they did when William T Colyer wrote this book:


When William T Colyer wrote Americanism, he was an Englishman in the United States, having emigrated there with his wife, Amy, in 1915. They had fled England a week after they married, wishing to have no place in a land that was willing to go to war to defend the ruling class against similar others (like the Prussians). William and Amy saw England as the old land, ruled by the wealthy few and they saw the United States of America, the land of Independence, of Tom Paine, of the Declaration of Independence, of the Constitution as a free land where they could be free.

William and Amy were, in 1915 when they boarded the Carpathia, socialists. They believed that the land of freedom would welcome them. By the time William wrote Americanism, they had become Communists, joining the newly-formed Communist Party of America in 1919, just two years after the Russian Revolution. They worked with Communists like John Read to expand the following in the country in a era now known as the Progressive Era, when, up to and just beyond WWI, the trend was to human rights over big business and corruption. This all changed when the Soviets took control of Russia and fear took over America. The Red Raids of the Attorney General Charles Palmer in 1919 and 1920, when crowds of American police and federal agents (under the control of the 24 year-old J Edgar Hoover) rounded up alien Communists throughout the USA and sent them into prison, bound for deportation.

Image_1920

 

William and Amy were arrested in their home in Wellesley, Massachusetts on the morning of 2nd January, 1920 and detained in Deer Island Prison in that state. They were held separately and amongst the hundreds in over-crowded and infested prison facilities. They were then subject to detailed questioning and sentenced for deportation. A band of human rights lawyers then managers to overturn that ruling but they had always accepted that they were Communists and, in 1922, mere membership of that organisation went against them and they were deported back to England, where William completed the book and had it published.

Americanism is a polemic, aimed at showing how the United States was a profound let-down to William and Amy, where the powerful aims of Paine and those that fashioned the American ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution have been derailed. Perhaps a quote is the best measure of the book’s aims (page 158-59):

“Preceding chapters have given us the picture of a country in which democracy has become a synonym for machine politics; in which liberty, if not dead, is ant any rate hibernating; in which ‘law and order’ walk hand-in-hand with the foulest corruption; in which the working-class is deprived of what are elsewhere regarded as elementary human rights; in which the schools and colleges are definitely given over to the task of preparing the young to accept these conditions without complaint; in which religion avows itself a mere bulwark of invested capital; in which the prevailing ethical standards are dictated by the requirements of salesmanship, and cheap sentimentalism stands cheek by jowl with almost unbelievable grossness; in which the natives supposed themselves a chosen people and reject with contempt whatever of good is brought to their shores by aliens; and in which the capitalist class is now more powerful than anywhere else in the world.”

William proposed that Communism, as he saw the future under Lenin, would conquer such evils. In the same way that he and Amy were naive about the potential in the USA, they shared a naivety about Communism and, when Stalin replaced Lenin after the latter’s death in 1924, they left the Communists Party and rejoined the Labour Party in England. William stood as a candidate in general elections for it and the Independent Labour Party.

The book is well summarised in the quote above, showing a range of examples that enlarge on the proposition: that Americanism is as potentially destructive as Prussianism, the precursor to WWI, had been. It is a powerful proposition and many of the issues that William outlines (shown above) remain to this day. Yet, against those detriments, the America of the 1940’s that, eventually, came to Europe’s aid in WWII against the tyranny of Naziism and the Japanese, the America of human rights that William saw for himself in the 12 lawyers that helped him (for a time) to oppose deportation is not called up in his story. Amy and William had strong beliefs developed over many years that they had hoped to see fulfilled in America. Their dreams were dashed and this book portrays that sense of expectations destroyed.

Yet, its focus on the demons that, one hundred years after the Red Raids of 1919-20, have been rekindled under Donald Trump (the hatred of aliens, corrupt politics, democracy in chains) highlight problems that remain in the wealthiest country on the planet. That this is now amplified by a short-termism and business ethic that refuses to acknowledge the climate destruction that it is engendering, simply amplifies the issues that William T Colyer portrays in Americanism. It is a book that is almost 100 years’ old yet its story is surprisingly current.

Hugh Hornby Birley

Below is my blog written for the People’s History Museum (PHM) in Manchester – celebrating their acquisition of the portrait of Hugh Hornby Birley. The PHM has a great exhibition – Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest that runs until February, 2020.

The captain of the Yeomanry at Peterloo

Portrait of Hugh Hornby Birley, captain of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry, oil paint on canvas, date unknown © People's History Museum

To complement the display of a portrait of Hugh Hornby Birley, who as captain of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry played a central role in the events that unfolded at the Peterloo Massacre, we asked author Jeff Kaye to share his research on Birley from his forthcoming novel All the People and treat us to an excerpt about the painting, now in People’s History Museum’s (PHM) collection.

 

The captain of the Yeomanry at Peterloo

‘It may be hard for us to imagine the carnage at St Peter’s Field at the Peterloo Massacre on 16 August 1819, when the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry led by Captain Hugh Hornby Birley rode into the crowd, sabres cutting, killing men, women and a child, injuring almost 700.

Thereafter, the survivors and their supporters who wished to commemorate the tragedy of Peterloo were not allowed near the site of their grief.  The field was blockaded by the 15th King’s Hussars, the regiment that supported the yeomanry into battle in 1819, stationed nearby at Hulme Barracks.

Therefore, on each anniversary of Peterloo, crowds of working people would gather outside a house in Mosley Street and also at Chorlton Mill, now apartments at the junction of Cambridge Street and Hulme Street.  There, they would jeer at the symbols of the man that led the charge at Peterloo, the faceless buildings owned by Hugh Hornby Birley.

The authorities considered him guiltless and it was not until April 1822 that a private prosecution was brought by Thomas Redford, a Middleton hatter, against the promoted Major Birley and others, for ‘assault’ at St Peter’s Field.  The prosecution failed and Birley must have believed that, at 44 years of age, the shadow of Peterloo had lifted.

Chorlton Mill, unknown artist

Birley was already a successful businessman in Manchester, based on the success of Chorlton Mill, the area’s main employer.  He was also a civic leader, the founder of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce and spokesman for the Manchester Association of Master Manufacturers.  He used this platform to vigorously oppose Ten-Hour reform: his reputation as the harshest of employers was well earned.  He also despised interference by the state into his private affairs, except for the wholesale reduction of the tax on corn because he considered taxation was required to fund his cherished military.

As the Treasurer of the Lying-in Hospital (later transformed into St Mary’s Hospital on Oxford Road, Manchester) for 30 years, he may also have considered himself a philanthropist, if a giver of time rather than his money.  But this was insufficient to persuade working people to suspend their hatred.  Indeed, many of Birley’s own class thought him contemptible, including Archibald Prentice, Editor of The Manchester Times newspaper and Founder of the Anti-Corn Law League with Richard Cobden.  Cobden donated land at St Peter’s Field for the building of the Free Trade Hall; considered a cenotaph to Peterloo and a snub to Birley.Lying in Hospital 1820 © Salford Pubs, Part One by Neil Richardson (Bath Inn)

Birley attempted to build a wall of respectability to change memories.  His business activities, work for the town and his philanthropy were likely designed, at least partly, to alter how he was remembered rather than compensate for any guilt, which he never admitted.  Such efforts were doomed to fail.  In 1842, cotton mill workers, striking over starvation wages and the Chartist cause of universal suffrage, came to Chorlton Mill.  Throughout the Plug Plot Riots of 1842, other mills across the North West closed without a fight, but Birley’s mill was defended vigorously against the strikers with water hoses fired and masonry thrown from the roof, causing the death of a young girl.  The mill was nevertheless closed.

As the strikes ebbed, the Northern Star newspaper, in its Peterloo commemoration edition of 20 August 1842, printed the engraving published by journalist and agitator Richard Carlile of the Peterloo Massacre on its front page with the description, ‘The accompanying engraving represents the horrible scene, just when the ‘heroes’ were hard at work.  Let the ‘heroes’ look upon it and refresh their memories respecting their courageous ‘deeds in arms’.’Northern Star newspaper, 20 August 1842

Feargus O’Connor, the newspaper’s Editor and Chartist leader, listed all the members of the yeomanry present on 16 August 1819, headed by: ‘Hugh Hornby Birley, Commander.’

In my forthcoming novel, All the People, a story of the fight for survival and universal suffrage by the people in Manchester, the heart of the industrial revolution, Birley reads the article in shock.  He had decided to return permanently to Broom House, his country home in Weaste in Salford together with his painting that had hung in his office.  He knows that his life’s efforts to erase the memory of one terrible act have been futile and rips the newspaper to pieces with a knife, then:

‘He walked to his painting…Yes, he had looked mightily content with himself, he thought, all those years ago, self-confident and secure, almost overbearing in his towering self-belief.  Yet now, as he reached into his final years, he was conscious of an insecurity that he had never allowed to surface.

He was standing with some difficulty, exhausted, shaking with the strain of life pressing on his shoulders.  He inched closer to inspect the painting.  It showed a man in his prime, at the height of his physical wellbeing, he thought, yet with eyes that could not look into his own.

He wondered how he would be painted now?  His physical form would show him fatter, for certain; redder of face, definitely; balding, of course.  But, underneath the external signs of ageing, how would the artist seek to show the inner self?  Would he portray the man of destiny, the yeoman, forever undertaking what was right and proper for God, his King and his country?  Or would he betray the man, maltreated throughout his life, misunderstood, drenched in a guilt that he would never acknowledge, eyes unwilling to make contact with even the artist himself?

Birley shuddered at an image that he no longer recognised.  His shaking grew in intensity … He still had the knife in his hand.  “Perhaps,” he said, “I should lance the boil of history.’

St Peter’s Church, Manchester a guide by Clare Hartwell, engraving by J Fothergill, c1820It is ironic that deep beneath St Peter’s Square in the heart of Manchester lies the Birley family crypt.  Burrow beneath the streets where St Peter’s Church once stood and you will find the tombs where Hugh Hornby Birley was buried on 8 August 1845, just eight days before the 26th anniversary of Peterloo.  By that time, it is doubtful that anyone congregated outside his mill or home, but the ghosts of St Peter’s Field could jeer at his corpse for an eternity.’

Jeff Kaye is the author of the forthcoming novel, All the People.  It is a story of the fight for survival by Manchester people between the Reform Act of 1832 and the Plug Plot Riots of 1842, due for publication in the autumn of 2019.  During the last 15 years, Jeff’s work within international Non-Government Organisation’s such as Global Witness and Transparency International added greatly to his interest in Britain’s development.  All the Peopleis the outcome.  He previously wrote Last Line of Defense about corruption in America, following his earlier career in hi-tech industries.  Jeff is a graduate of the University of Manchester.

A portrait of Hugh Hornby Birley is on display in PHM’s new exhibition Disrupt? Peterloo and Protest until Sunday 23 February 2020.  The exhibition is part of PHM’s year long programme exploring the past, present and future of protest, marking 200 years since the Peterloo Massacre; a major event in Manchester’s history, and a defining moment for Britain’s democracy.  The exhibition is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

People’s History Museum is open seven days a week from 10.00am to 5.00pm, and is free to enter with a suggested donation of £5.  Radical Lates are the second Thursday each month, 10.00am to 8.00pm.

Doughnut Economics – Quam Oeconomica

The Search for Oeconomica Phase III

The essence of Kate Raworth’s excellent book, Doughnut Economics, is that economics has to move from an understanding of the world in 18thor 19thC terms (based on a mechanical set of analogies) to a 21stC understanding based on how we understand evolution, our knowledge of systems theory and complexity.

Doughnut-Economics

In simple terms, the book suggests, that in order to develop from a perpetual journey to increase GDP and move to a world economy that “Thrives in balance”, we focus on critical issues such as inequality, changes in banking, CO2, new metrics and many other changes via a vast number of small experiments that will, under conditions of complexity, generate changes in our direction and potentially move us from this Phase of our economic experience (Phase II) via a phase transition to another. However, the range of changes that may be needed (this vast number of small experiments) do not appear to be extremely hopeful and each one is tiny compared to the enormous background material in which it exists. Any one may be successful or not and many, if successful together, may generate enough traction to propel society to the phase transition that it needs. However, it, or they, may not!

 

The dynamic set of changes that forged the industrial revolution, the move from a rentier society based around the ownership of land, to a capitalist-driven society based on the ownership of ideas, of speeding up production, of creating demand for goods and services, took on the form of a phase transition (if the continued use of analogies can be permitted). This dramatic change occurred over many years, but traction was firmly in place by the 1830’s in England. Years after this, by the time Karl Marx was writing das Kapital, capitalism had transformed the countries of western Europe and would do the same for the USA and elsewhere. While land remains a high value commodity, the demand for goods and services and the ability to pay for them has transformed most of the world and continues to do so.

 

However, this phase transition (Phase II) remains, even today, in a variety of stages of development. In the USA and western Europe, it is well entrenched. In India and China, it is feverish in its intensity. In sub-Saharan Africa and Afghanistan, it is well hidden. This means that prescriptions for moving beyond this Phase are unclear as different sections of the globe are at such different stages. No mention was made in the book of the Maslow hierarchy (that provides at least some analysis of the individual’s search for sustenance, from meeting purely physical needs to those of mental well-being) and it would be useful to seek some sort of understanding based on regional access to the Phase Transition of the industrial revolution before experimentations can be determined as useful.

 

This is because, while so much attention is given in the media, universities and in books, to the second and third industrial revolutions (supposed to be via computing and then via robotics, AI and bio-engineering), the real focus of Doughnut Economics is beyond this towards a third Phase – a post-capital-only phase. In driving towards that new Phase (if humans are to make it successfully), Doughnut Economics properly focuses on the Georgescu-Roegen notion of entropy being sufficiently understood so that the world  focuses on energy use and utilisation as the crucial underlaying of society, rather than the traditional notion of productivity (the making of goods and services in progressively more ‘economical’ ways). This is right but it is debatable whether this is the prime driver for change, at least from a human viewpoint. Humans exhibit potentially destructive tendencies when caught in a particular way of thinking. Kate Raworth described this in within the book (Easter Island as one example) and it seems that humans need to actually see and feel danger before they react. A good analogy is how the UK reacted to Germany before 1939. Rearmament did not take place until the enemy was rampaging through Europe. Why? Possibly, because the human tendency is not to give up on ways of life (having reached a reasonable plateau) unless forced by external change. Complexity theory would suggest that a plateau of living is only change when externalities require it – with ‘require’ being highly operative.

 

Phase II was driven by, as the book states, the notion of economic gain for those in charge of capital and ideas, focused on the desire of perceived need. This economic gain argument has been transformed over the last 200 years to permeate all of society not just through the notion of GDP at the macroeconomic scale but through accounting at the micro-level. Thus, financialization of the world at both micro- and macro-scales underpin everything that we do. Everything is priced and our utility (our desire for something) is only respected when it has a number against it. Recently, a charity worked out the value we place on parks. This notion of £974 per person per year is then used somehow to justify spending on parklands. The whole notion of natural capital flows from a need to show value of the aspects of life that make life worth living so that even companies and accountants can evaluate them in discounted cash flow techniques. This is where Phase II shows it has conquered the world or it may be showing that Phase II is nearing its end.

 

Changing this is an enormous challenge but Doughnut Economics, while preparing the way, seems to suggest that the world can be redirected by an understanding by economists about how the world is different to their theories and through the use of diagrams.

 

A more detailed analysis of the changes that induced the phase transition in England in the industrial revolution to Phase II would indicate the scale of the challenge now. The doughnut diagram is highly useful and the concepts that underpin Doughnut Economics are highly positive in that they speak in the language of the new century, even if hampered by the limits to our knowledge that such analogies provide.

 

However, if a phase transition in our model of living is required, and the book strongly argues in that way, then we need to assess how this can be done successfully in a world that it markedly at variance region by region and where, as a result, different nations and regions will adopt different attitudes. For example, those countries lower on the Maslow hierarchy (if it or something similar can be utilised on a national scale) will retain their pursuance of basic needs via growth in GDP for far longer than those countries that have reached higher levels of economic maturity, where post-quantitative norms may be considered. If this is the case, and it is highly likely to be, then how do the latter set of nations decide how to remain sufficiently competitive in productive means, assuming that they will not simply give up their desire to at least maintain a level of economic security in a world that will reward economic gains for many years because it is measurable?

 

Doughnut Economics posits, amongst many other things, repeated changes in GDP, up, down, level in no particular order and through a variety of changes in taxation from income and employment to energy usage or externalities. However, different countries will adopt different measures and taxes and there will be a vast range of unintended consequences in such a complex environment that will continue to drag down the impact of the desired moves to a new phase.

 

Of course, we do not even know what a new phase will look like. Doughnut Economics suggests some thoughts on this and they relate to the quality of life beyond the quantity of life that mature economies are building, where, having gained the basics (food, shelter, clothing), we have moved towards the second tier of luxuries (goods and services) and towards Maslow’s higher tiers of self-actualisation (although we would need to see this is national terms rather than individualistic).

 

What can economists and accountants (macro and micro) do for this future? Perhaps the role for such narrow providers of data is disappearing in the same way that the role of horses changed when the motor car appeared. To take us to the next Phase needs a whole new school of thought that understands the different levels of Phase II that has been achieved on a global scale and will address the new mix of qualitative and quantitative requirements of Phase III (against the background of natural resource despoliation and global warming). If the concept of ‘natural capital’ is the last cry of Phase II as an attempt to take a grip of the natural world by the accountants of Phase II, then Phase III has to develop a new breed of expert that can show how humans can retain the dynamism that ‘gain’ provided for many (although by no means all or even the majority) and moves us away from numeric (or financialized) gain towards a qualitative framework, from the historical meaning of economics – the art of managing a household (which, arguably, humans now understand) – to the art of managing quality of life.

 

This is likely to be back to the area of ‘political economics’, the relationship between the production of goods and services and the society within which they are produced and then forward towards an inclusion of the qualitative aspects of life (as individuals and communities) – ‘quam oeconomica’.

Chartists rising in Newport – 4 Nov 1839

Frost_Monmouth_court

A brass band was playing an overture that he could not quite place. He was not sure that anyone could and some of the cornet players may have wondered if the trombone was reading from the same music, while the drummer beat to a rhythm of his own choosing. Feargus O’Connor was standing very close to the stage in Carpenter’s Hall, above the orchestra pit in which the band was hidden from sight if not aurally. He would be introduced to the very large crowd that had each paid for a ticket to celebrate the birthday of the late Henry Hunt, which was two days’ later on Wednesday 6th November. Unusually for Feargus, the event, organised by the Friends of Radicalism, was in the shape of a tea party and many of those listening with stiff smiles were female, also noteworthy.

 

Abel Heywood, who had provided the bail for Feargus, had been elected to Chair the event and called on all present to celebrate the glorious life of Henry Hunt to which there were many cheers. He then introduced the man he called ‘the poor man’s friend’, Feargus O’Connor, who jumped on to the stage and began his oration to so much applause that the wooden building appeared to shake. If the ghost of William Cobbett could not be with him that night, although his next trip was to Oldham, where he was sure to have a visitation, he thought, then he would surely raise the ghost of Henry Hunt. As soon as he called himself a ‘Huntite’, then the spirit of the great man roused him to a great performance that enraptured the crowd. “Whatever I do will come to nothing compared to Henry Hunt, for he was the first, alone when he started his agitation for universal suffrage and the rights of the poor. I am simply in his footsteps.” The applause was far more than the tinkling of spoons on cups that one might have expected in a tea party. It was substantial and gave Feargus time to view his audience, especially the multitude of young ladies that were of constant distraction.

 

Before he had stepped on to the stage, a note had been passed his way that he had scarcely had time to notice but he glanced at while the audience was in such a rapturous mood, cheering and shouting his name. The note mentioned something about Newport in Wales and the word Frost appeared several times. He took it to be a joke about the Welsh weather but could not be bothered to read it fully until his speech was concluded and he stepped almost into the arms of Julian Harney. “Feargus, we have to leave quickly.”

 

“I know, we have a coach to Oldham.”

 

“No, Feargus, this is far more serious. The coach will wait.” He took Feargus into a small room and sat him down. Abel Heywood had followed them in and was asked to be silent while Harney read from some notes he had made. “Feargus, Abel, I am sorry to rob you of your time but this is a serious matter that I have for you. You will remember our own John Frost, Convention Representative from Newport, Feargus, the Chairman of the Convention meeting you attended at the Crown and Anchor?” Feargus replied: “I recall that he became very fired up that day. He was under much pressure, if I recall.” Harney nodded and went on: “His fire did not die, Feargus, for he was also one of many Chartists in Wales that had been mightily angered by the recent imprisonment of their friend, Henry Vincent, for crimes that were unproven and clearly fabricated by the local police. This was, for the working people of the Town, the last straw and the local people in Newport yesterday decided to take matters into their own hands.” Feargus’s face showed clearly his dismay as the young Londoner continued.

 

“I will read for you information that has come my way.” Feargus and Abel sat back in their seats, waiting for the story to be told: “From the Coach and Horses in Blackwood, the Welshmen decided to hold a mass assembly, after which they would march in three sections on Newport: Frost leading from Blackwood, a second from Brynmawr and Ebbw Vale led by Zephaniah Williams and a third from Pontypool led by William Jones. From Cefn, where they were to meet up, they would march further into Newport, stopping traffic and mail coaches and then taking the town. This had been their own plan, a Welsh plan, not coordinated with anyone outside of that country but a plan to take the Town by force!”

 

“You knew nothing of this?” Feargus asked Julian, who felt Feargus’s stare eating like acid into his face.

 

“No, Feargus, no, we knew not a jot of this. They kept this close.” He continued: “As they marched, Zephaniah’s lawlessness, always likely to be a risk, became untrammelled. Houses were broken into by his men, some of them drunk, no doubt, and adult males were forced, against their will, to join the armed Chartists on their way to Newport. With Frost at the head of the marchers, those with guns were told to go to the front, those with pikes behind. The rain was now falling heavily and the marchers were, by this time, soaked to the skin. Some asked whether they were right to attack indiscriminately but Frost’s ambition was to create havoc and what needed to be done, would be done, he said.”

 

Feargus feared what was coming and a small crowd had now gathered around them as Harney went on:

 

“By this time, it was just yesterday, Feargus, Sunday, preparations were under way in Newport to defend the town. The Mayor held hourly briefings and soldiers had been sent out on reconnoitres to find where the enemy lay. Several of them were taken prisoner by Frost’s men. Other soldiers, meanwhile, carried out local searches and many were arrested for carrying arms. They were imprisoned in the Westgate Hotel and at the new Army Barracks, the Union Workhouse. Soldiers were then also sent to the Westgate to guard the men so taken.”

 

“The Westgate! We have spoken there, Julian. I remember it.” Harney ignored the interruption: “The fact that there appeared to be only twelve or so soldiers at the Westgate raised the confidence levels amongst the Chartists to an extreme and encouraged them further as they began the final stage of their march to take over the Town. Frost gave the command: ‘March, march!’ and, leading the men in his heavy black coat and red cravat, he was followed by those with guns, marching five abreast, those with pikes behind them. At the back, they carried pitchforks, sticks, mandrills and whatever else they could find.”

 

“In the Town, many locals had come outside to see for themselves what was happening and peered from behind doors and from side streets. Frost’s men arrived at the Westgate and, at the entrance to the stable, Frost commanded that the doors be opened. Inside were Mr Hopkins, the Superintendent of Police and a number of Special Constables. A scuffle took place as demands were made for the prisoners taken the previous night to be freed.”

 

“The constables were armed just with staves and began to run for escape as the Chartists began their attack on the hotel. The soldiers, themselves fully armed with guns, of course, started to load and fire on the Chartists but the fire was returned in good measure. Bang!” Feargus and Abel jumped back in their seats as Harney smiled: “The Mayor had been shot and, while his arm was being bandaged, an un-named Chartist entered with a pike, which he aimed at the Mayor himself! Bang! That Chartist was quickly shot by a soldier, from point-blank range. There was much more firing but, within some minutes, the attackers withdrew and quiet was resumed. Many soldiers had already exhausted their ammunition within the fifteen or so minutes of the attack and would have likely fled if the attack had persisted for much longer. The Chartists were almost victorious.”

 

“Hundreds of Chartists now ran back up the hill from which they had come into Newport. Zephaniah Williams had been leading his own laggards into the town, delayed by all his pillaging and they were now passed in the other direction by those fleeing before he had even become part of the fray. The rebels were, lucky for them, not pursued by the soldiers but hundreds of weapons were seized at the Westgate. Amongst those weapons were found the dead bodies of fifteen Chartists.”

 

Feargus and Abel both gave out audible sighs at the thought of the deaths. Harney read from a note he had in his hand:

 

“That they believed that they were fighting for a just cause is shown by a letter, written by one of those dead and I have it here,” as he waved it over his head, “I will read it and it will bring tears to the eyes of grown men,”

 

‘Pontypool, Sunday Night, November 4th, 1839.

 

Dear Parents,

 

I hope this will find you well, as I am myself at present.

 

I shall this night be engaged in a struggle for freedom, and should it please God to spare my life, I shall see you soon; but if not, grieve not for me. I shall fall in a noble cause. My tools are at Mr Cecil’s, and likewise my clothes.

 

Yours truly,

 

George Shell.’

 

“George Shell, a cabinetmaker, was but nineteen years’ old when he died, shot by the military at the Westgate.”

 

Feargus asked: “How many men died, Chartists and soldiers and police?”

 

Harney looked at his notes: “Twenty-two bodies were eventually found, although not one had been born in Newport. Twenty-two bodies, more even than died at St. Peter’s Fields.” Feargus could somehow feel the spirit of Henry Hunt as it drifted away.

 

A People’s Charter for Fair Voting

 

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Fair Voting

Changes in the way we vote operate on a geological scale in this country. The ‘40 shilling   franchise’, that gave the vote to all men in England and Wales who were property freeholders valued at or above 40 shillings, was introduced under Henry VI in 1430 and was not overturned until the ‘Great Reform Act’ of 1832, a wait of 402 years!

185 years’ later, on 30th October, 2017, there was a parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall on the merits of Proportional Representation. It was inspired by a public petition of one hundred thousand electronic signatures via email. Petitions to the King in England were introduced under the reign of Edward I around 1275, another ancient method. Yet, they were not commonly used by the general public on any large scale until the Chartists’ pursuit of the People’s Charter. After Peterloo, which will commemorate its 200th anniversary on 16th August, 2019, the Chartists attempted to gain universal suffrage with the 6 demands of the People’s Charter and brought forward several petitions to the House of Commons. These included millions of signatures, written on vast sheaves of paper and carried to the House of Commons by armies of volunteers that stretched several miles along the route to Parliament. These marches were major events in themselves, bringing out tens or hundreds of thousands of working people, waved on by large street crowds, still disenfranchised by the 1832 Act that gave the vote only to around 5% of the population (adding the capitalist class to the landowners). Each petition resulted in a debate in Parliament but, each was summarily dismissed by a ruling elite that would not relinquish power to those that they considered beneath them. The last Chartist Petition under their ‘leader’, Feargus O’Connor, was in 1848 and the cry for universal suffrage was defeated with no further extension to the vote until 1867.

Move forward 150 years and the result of the latest petition will, in the short term, be no change and no parliamentary debate on the floor of the House of Commons but the arguments for PR that were heard in Westminster Hall clearly outflanked those (mainly C/conservative) opponents.

It was not just the voting system but it is clear that democracy itself was being debated just as it was 200 years ago when Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt was speaking to a crowd of one hundred thousand in St Peter’s Fields in Manchester. The resultant charge of the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry that murdered around twenty and injured hundreds was named ‘Peterloo’ to resonate with the battle of Waterloo in 1815.

It is now ‘First Past the Post’ (FPTP) system that is on trial. FPTP has been our system for election to the Commons from at least 1430 but where, as the six demands of the People’s Charter of 1837 showed, democracy was only available to a few. In the 180 years after the People’s Charter was written, gradual changes have been made so that, once registered, every citizen of eighteen years and over has the right to vote in a local constituency, of which there are 650. The candidate with the most votes wins a constituency – a situation that remains the same as in 1832 (or even 1430) except that the votes are now by secret ballot. The winner of most ‘seats’ has a majority in the House of Commons. What could be wrong with that?

What is wrong is that ‘Winner-takes-all’, constituency-by-constituency, disenfranchises the vast majority of voters. The Electoral Reform Society calculated in 2015 that 74% of votes cast in the General Election were completely wasted as they are either votes for the losing party or votes for the winning party that exceeds the amount needed to win. Since I was first able to vote (at the 1974 General Election, when living in Manchester, when the Party I supported, the Liberals, gained 19.3% of the votes and only 13 seats!), I have not, at any General Election since, believed that my vote counted for anything – my preferred candidate has always lost! This is a form of disenfranchisement that results in reduced voter turnout, tactical voting that requires voters to vote for a second party to unseat their least favoured, protest voting in bye-elections and referendums (the Brexit vote has been viewed as, at least in part, such a protest) and a sense of voter irrelevance. So, despite having the ability to place a cross against a political party, the feeling is that the action is useless. At a time when the traditional two-party system is under siege, this results in the largest two parties obtaining government with lower votes than ever. It is a reason that Non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) are more popular than before because people believe that the political party system is not one where their vote counts and that pressure points have to be obtained through other means.

Of course, it is even worse than this because many of the individual constituencies are in areas where particular parties have had complete control for many years: Labour in inner-city heartlands, Tories in rural areas. Voting in these areas is akin to the rotten boroughs of the 1820’s so that anointed individuals take up their seats without the need to strive for election.

This leads to parties putting their efforts primarily in those constituencies that are properly contestable, where the luck of location means that more than one party has a chance of success. In these seats, just a change of a few percentage points can mean success. It can be easily argued that just a few thousand people in the whole country decide general elections. The fight for votes in the UK comes down to far less than 5% of the population, the situation that existed prior to 1832.

Of course, no system is perfect. The UK needs a system where every vote can count but there is a desire in this country to hang onto constituency representatives that work for that constituency. That entails a well-thought out plan for a form of proportional representation. The Jenkins Commission in 1997 produced a system that attempted to combine the benefits of constituency and proportionality but, after support from the Labour opposition, came to nothing when Labour gained power.

Will the UK ever achieve an improved form of democracy when those in power get there through FPTP? Is there enough pressure from the public that will drive politicians to proportional representation and change the system that has endured since 1430? Perhaps we need a charter for democracy in 2017. The People’s Charter of 1837 did not bring the Chartists universal suffrage but all except one of its demands (annual elections) have been met. What the People’s Charter did not envisage was that better forms of communication (even O’Connor’s Northern Star newspaper was no match for today’s online communication revolution) would engender the ability of so many viewpoints to be held and argued over that leads to the increased number of political parties. We now need a voting system that re-enfranchises all the people and also motivates people to become active participants in the election process.

 

We need a People’s Charter for Fair Voting.

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Science as a Candle for Democracy

Candle

July 14th celebrates the storming of the Bastille in Paris on that day in 1789. After the War of Independence in America, it was a second revolution to bring democracy to a kingdom, this time in Europe. For Thomas Paine, writing The Rights of Man shortly thereafter (a quote used by the great Christopher Hitchens in his biography of Paine:

“Never did so great an opportunity offer itself to England, and to all Europe, as is prodiced by the two Revolutions of America and France.”

Whether, over two hundred years’ later, the success of the revolutions is properly signalled by the visit to France of the popularist Donald Trump is highly questionable for his visit signifies a distinct darkening of how democracy is faring in the USA, Europe (post-Brexit referendum), Turkey, the Phillipines, India, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Israel where serious strains are being felt and ‘strong man’ politics is under way.

It may be straining credibility to equate these dark concerns on democracy with the election of Norman Lamb, a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, to the position of Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, a Committee whose purpose is to scrutinise the UK Government on its strategy and programmes in this area. Yet, this linking of science and democracy is central to the changes we are currently seeing in the world of politics.

Science in the Soul‘ is a collection of the writings of Richard Dawkins, where he shows his distinct ability to reason and explain to the full.  In the book, Dawkins commends the science populariser, Carl Sagan, as a man that should have won the Nobel Prize: not for science but for literature and it made me re-read his excellent book ‘The Demon-Haunted World‘, published around twenty years ago.

Sagan’s book is about how “scientific thinking is necessary to safeguard our democratic institutions and our technical civilisation” and is so apt in an era of Donald Trump and Brexit (with its Govian taunts about how not to believe experts) that it should be read and re-read by anyone with a desire to understand our current problems and what is needed to extricate ourselves from the hole that we are digging for ourselves. It was also frighteningly prescient. I reprint here, word for word, a sizeable paragraph from the book that accurately forecasts a significant chunk of our world in 2017:

“….science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time – when the United States is a service and information economy; when all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agenda or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance. As I write, the number one video cassette rental in America is the movie Dumb and Dumber. Beavis and Butthead remains popular (and influential) with young TV viewers. the plain lesson is that study and learning – not just of science, but of anything – are avoidable, even undesirable.”

If an afterlife existed, Carl Sagan would be looking down at the events of 2016, and tut-tutting knowingly, shaking his head and pulling at his long, white beard (all sages have long, white beards in heaven, don’t they?): “I did tell you guys!” he would be shouting, hoping that some mystical ripple would resonate from his screams of despair into our heads, deaf and dumb to all sense.

In the so-called developed world, technology moves forward at a great pace so that major phase transition events bypass us with alacrity. The whole ‘fake news’ environment washed over us only in the last few years as the networked world provided everyone with the ability to be journalists and have an opinion that all can see. As always with new technology, those most capable of utilising it to advantage included the criminally-minded who not just sent emails from Nigeria asking for your money, or emails and texts that would lock up your computer or cellphone if you replied but, more subtly, perverted voting systems and swayed voters by their ability to infiltrate the social networks with lies, distortions and manipulations to a precision that a few thousand votes in the right States resulted in a Trump presidency.

Sagan wrote further on this:

“We’ve arranged a global civilisation in which most crucial elements – transportation, communications, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting – profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.”

“The scientific way of thinking is at once imaginative and disciplined. This is central to its success. Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don’t conform to our preconceptions. It counsels us to carry alternative hypotheses in our heads and see which best fit the facts. It urges on us a delicate balance between no-holds-barred openness to new ideas, however heretical, and the most rigorous sceptical scrutiny of everything – new ideas and established wisdom. This kind of thinking is also an essential tool for a democracy in an age of change.”

Carl Sagan was a sceptic and the book shows how scepticism, used pro-actively, not as a tool to doubt everything for doubt’s sake, is central to understanding. He provided a toolkit for guarding against a fallacious or fraudulent argument. In summary:

  • Where possible, independently verify the facts
  • Encourage debate on this by opponents and proponents of views expressed
  • Discount ‘authorities’ who generally carry no weight; in science there may be experts, not authorities. In politics, beware such experts.
  • Spin more than one hypothesis
  • Don’t get over-attached to an hypothesis just because it’s yours
  • Quantify where you can
  • If there’s a chain of argument, show that every link works
  • Occam’s Razor – if two solutions exist, choose the simplest
  • Always ask if the hypothesis can be disproved (e.g. Brexit will save British taxpayers £350m a week!)

Now, not everyone has the time to go out and do all this. So, we rely on journalists and others to do so. This brings me back to Norman Lamb, a man who has gained tremendous respect across all parties for his honesty and campaigning zeal (in the area of mental life as an example). He is a democratically-elected member of a Parliament often thought of as the home of democracy (Thomas Paine might have doubted that and the first-past-the-post system of elections means that most in the UK are, effectively disenfranchised) and now Chairs a Committee on Science and Technology. We should be using such institutions to galvanise the linkages between science, technology and democracy to challenge ourselves in how we think so that crass assertions made during the Brexit referendum and by Donald Trump and others (that might lead to the USA’s desertion of the Paris Agreement on environment as just one example) are challenged by not just politicians but by all those that should hold us to scientific thinking.

This means that we should understand why those that wish to believe in such perversions of reality actually do so and why scientific thought processes are so easily overturned, that ‘rigorous scrutiny’ is accepted as the norm. A recent article in the Financial Times, by John Gapper on how CP Snow identified the gap in thinking on science by intellectuals in the 1950’s shows that this is not new, but it is not just intellectuals that have the vote in the 21st Century, it is all the people.

So, a plea to Norman Lamb and his Committee, whatever the Terms of Reference have historically been, it is time to challenge our lack of scientific thinking, the lack of awareness of science and technology throughout the population and how this “combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces” – if it hasn’t already.

Democracy took many lives and many years to establish in the western world and elsewhere. It is not yet extinguished but, like a candle that has been burning for many hours, the light is in danger of failing. Sagan’s book was sub-titled: “Science as a Candle in the Dark”. On the day the French commemorate its own democracy, we should not let that candle flutter to extinction.

Candle

Unmasked – Corruption in the West

Unmasked – Corruption in the West

by Laurence Cockcroft and Anne-Christine Wegener

 

Yesterday, 9th December, 2016, was International Anti-Corruption Day and many newspapers and journals used it to publicise the most venally corrupt nations, often those in Africa and the Middle East viz. NY Times.

 

These are developing nations, highlighted by Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, where those affected by corruption are most at risk of its exploitation by their leaders.

 

What Laurence and Anne-Christine have done is to shine a light on the developed West, where corruption remains a standard and where the mechanisms that enable corruption around the world, such as highly proficient banking systems, legal and accounting expertise, sophisticated technologies, exist to maximise the ability of those throughout the world to illegally and immorally syphon billions, possibly trillions, of dollars, pounds and euros away from legitimate ownership.

 

This is an important work that provides the bedrock of understanding for those who are interested in dealing with corruption to dig further into the subject. It highlights the enormous degree of corruption in the Americas and Europe, from political to banking, from sport to business to organised crime in a highly readable way but one that provides important information, not gloss. It also shows the huge challenge where, even in highly developed, wealthy economies, the desire to have more seems undiminished.

 

Laurence was a founder of Transparency International (TI) and Anne-Christine was a deputy director of Transparency International’s worldwide Defence and Security Programme (DSP). I am privileged to be both a Trustee of TI-UK and Chair of DSP, so I know the contribution both have made and also the huge work that still needs to be made.

 

The book is an important balance for the anti-corruption world. Corruption is not just in poor countries and, where grand corruption is concerned, the West is involved with the developed world anyway in financing the corruption and in enabling aspects of it such as money laundering. Together with the corrupt practices that appear to be endemic in the West, such as in lobbying, sport, political favours, business, crime-related, the West has a massive anti-corruption agenda to fulfil and knows it.

 

Three things, amongst many, cry out for action. First, there is the need for politicians and business people at the highest level to be far more active and vocal in this area. This includes their associations, such as Chambers of Commerce in the USA that are actively trying to water down the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to dumb down the level playing field and make corruption easier. Beyond this, politicians in wealthy countries are too devoted to increasing GDP at any cost and the danger is growing that the ethics of doing business will be adversely affected as a direct consequence of the inequalities caused by the banking crash of 2007/8. Brexit and Trump are such outcomes and, viewed from the anti-corruption side, harrowing in their potential.

 

Second, the resources that are provided to implement and manage the laws that politicians might deliver on are woefully inadequate for the task. If legislatures enact new laws to strengthen anti-corruption norms, it is the execution of the laws that fail so often through inadequate expertise and sheer money provided.

 

Third, it is time for anti-corruption to be seen as a positive economic benefit. Corruption is bad for the wealth of the broad population, assisting only those at the top of the tree. In a world that seeks to reduce inequality and where voters are making their positions clear that they will not tolerate their position for much longer, intelligent politics and business (and development aid) means reducing corruption becomes more important. It is a key method of increasing economic well-being by ensuring that enormous flows of corrupt money stays in countries that require it as well as in the economies where it can be properly used rather than syphoned into a tax haven bank account where it remains as dead money. In an age where the velocity of money is slowing, corruption remains a cause of economic decline.

 

Unmasked comes as at important time, just as the world is turning in on itself. The West should learn the lessons that are described so well in the book and use this difficult period to ensure that the first gear in which it has for so long been engaged is kicked into second and upwards not into reverse.

The Spectre of Americanism

 

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With Donald Trump’s gracious acceptance of the GOP nomination, his speech was centred around the concept of Americanism. This ‘ism’ is nothing new but there is an ideology within the term that is no less concerning than many others of the same nature: a belief that there is one way of life, centred on an extreme form of an American ideal.

 

“Americanism: A World Menace” was the title of a book written in 1922 by a English writer and socialist (at the time, he was a Communist), William Thomas Colyer. He, together with his wife, Amy, had emigrated to the United States in 1915, a month after they were married, sick of the destruction of the First World War fought by elite monarchies and, perhaps naively, optimistic for the future in the new world. This hope was borne on the back of their reading of the American Constitution and the fight for freedom that those like Tom Paine had foreseen. William and Amy believed that the USA was ripe for Communism.

 

Until 1920, they worked for the cause of socialism, witnessing the Russian Revolution, with some equanimity, as a fight for the rights of common people against elite oppression. They saw the same in the capitalism of the USA, punctured by the need to value everything by its price, elitism and the corruption of business and politics. It was not too long before their naivety was shaken as the Palmer (or Red) Raids of 1920 shattered any remaining illusions.

 

In 1920, Charles Palmer, the left-leaning Attorney General, was almost killed by a bomb planted by some Italian anarchists. He secured the services of a young man to lead the fight against these terrorists and to round up all ‘alien communists’ living in the country. The young man, just twenty-four years of age, who we know as J Edgar Hoover, did as required and hundreds of such men and women were deposited in Deer Island Prison within Boston Harbour.

 

After enduring punishing conditions of extreme over-crowding, lack of food and drink, detailed cross-examinations and witnessing the suicides of several prisoners, William and Amy (two of a handful of English-speakers within a predominantly eastern European prisoner intake) were tried and sentenced to deportation. A group of human rights lawyers succeeded in having Judge Anderson reverse their sentence but Hoover was not one for giving up and a retrial succeeded in having them deported back to England in 1922.

 

William was an economist and, by now, a confirmed Communist. His book, Americanism, was published in that year and was a rasping attack on the American way of life as he had experienced it and which he compared to Prussianism, so soon after the First World War. He saw that the world had a decision to make: Americanism or Communism.

 

He saw Americanism as having a range of characteristics but these were simplified as:

 

  1. An overwhelming pride of race, based on the material development of the country achieved largely through the ability and industry of “foreigners”. Known locally as patriotism.
  2. The establishment of dollar-producing or dollar-collecting capacity as the absolute standard of value, covering every form intellectual and spiritual achievement. Known locally as “practical idealism” based on “equality of opportunity”.
  3. Glorification of “democracy” as an abstract idea, divorced from practical control by the rank and file. Known locally as “the union of efficiency and democracy under sane leadership”.
  4. General lawlessness and contempt for orderly procedure. Known locally under a great variety of flowery and meaningless names, of which “upsurging of the great heart of America” may be taken as an example.

 

When “Americanism” was published, Colyer was a Communist and had just suffered deportation. His vituperation should be seen in that light and he was, thankfully, mistaken in that the USA, for the next 94 years, pursued a direction of capitalism that (after the battles for human rights of the 1960’s) skated outside of rank Americanism, with due respect for a type of democracy, for basic human rights. While business and a dollar-focused valuation of everything remains, it is wrapped in a cushion of values that are often qualitatively robust even if the lack of scientific understanding amongst politicians (including a mistrust of climate change theory and evolution) rankles with other western nations.

 

Now, there is an attempt to revoke the balancing act that has been the USA and recoil into Trump’s Americanism. Based on patriotism, it is a businessman’s total and complete devotion to success measured by the dollar, a promise to provide a way out of the insanity of “political correctness”, an underlying refusal to condemn the gun lobby and the variety of vigilante attacks throughout the USA, that is seen as the natural outpouring of pent-up emotion.

 

Colyer’s four axioms, although written by a Communist, just deported, in 1922, are not too far from Trump’s Americanism of 2016.

 

Colyer wrote how, in “1920, the ‘Knights of the Klu Klux Klan’ began to make themselves felt as a power in modern American life. In that year, in pursuance of the purposes of their order “to maintain for ever white supremacy in all things” and “to keep eternally ablaze the sacred fire of a fervent devotion to a pure Americanism”, masked men wearing the dreaded white robe began to hold parades in southern cities, and to kidnap, flog, tar and feather men and women at will.”

 

That was 1920. Almost a century later, amongst the torment of the southern states as black men are arbitrarily killed by police and police are killed in retaliation, as terrorist atrocities are felt from France to America and, by their thousands upon thousands in the Middle East and Africa, as millions feel under-served by remote democratic institutions as shown by Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump, the spectre of Americanism rises again.

 

In 1848, Karl Marx wrote in The Communist Manifesto that the “spectre of communism” was “haunting Europe”. Donald Trump’s speech-writers could just as easily write, that in 2016:

“The spectre of Americanism is haunting the world. All the powers of the free world have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre.”

 

Americanism appears to be a far greater and more immediate danger today than Communism was in 1848 (although Communism’s perseverance and evolution into Stalinism and Maoism led to horrific disasters in the next century). The United States could be entering into a period of Americanism as much of the world reacts to the massive turmoil of banking failures in 2008, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Nice, Crimea, Boko Harum, Daesh, and toys with the spirit of Brexit, Le Penn, Haider, and the cry of “everyone for themselves”. Trump’s new doctrines, based on Americanism, calls into question all of society’s safeguards.

 

Colyer’s answer to Americanism was to urge the workers of Great Britain to line up with the workers of the Soviet Union. In 1926, Colyer resigned from Communist Party as Stalin gripped the Soviets ever tighter. The challenge now is to establish a 21st Century response to Americanism (or similar calls to so-called ‘patriotism’) that does not reverse the serious gains made by most in the world since the end of the Second World War, which included the ending of Naziism, Fascism, Stalinism and Maoism (and most other forms of Communism).

An inclusive Democracy needs to be refreshed, not stymied, by a popularism that Americanism extols. It is for all those who have worked for the establishment of human rights and basic qualities of life to double those efforts now before the spectre of Americanism is upon us.

A People’s Charter for the Banks

 

In 1842, Feargus O’Connor led the working people of the United Kingdom into a general strike on behalf of the People’s Charter. The Chartists’ aim was for the House of Commons, then run by the elites of the landowning class plus some merchants and millowners after the 1832 reforms, to become more democratic. The six proposals were:

 

  1. A vote for every man over 21 years
  2. Secret ballots
  3. No land qualification for voters
  4. Payment for Members
  5. Equal constituencies
  6. Annual ballots

 

It took many years for the first five to be enacted and many more for women to achieve equality (something not even envisaged by the Chartists). The Chartists failed to drive change because the British economy continued to improve and the other motors for change (such as Trades Unions) were continuously provided with small (even if sometimes significant) improvements in factory conditions, better hours, better wages and the like. This meant that pressure for change in the way that the Chartists demanded were stifled by more practical changes that were seen to immediately impact the working classes.

 

However, the impact of elites continuing to run the country and ameliorated only by small improvements in conditions was (in hindsight) bound to result in extreme consequences. The First World War was a consequence of elites throughout Europe playing a game decidedly different to the vast majority of people and using them as mere playthings – whether in armies or in factories.

 

The BBC’s current six-parter, Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, shows clearly who was in charge in 1805. That continued throughout Europe until 1918 at least after millions of lives were lost.

 

It may seem difficult to equate the financial crisis of 2007/8 and the consequences of that crisis to the class crises of the nineteenth century but the similarity of elites that are unwilling to give up any power over the economy remains. The elite may now be different (although bankers held great power in the nineteenth century as well) but the way that Banks and their allies in Governments in the UK (Conservative as well as Labour) see the rest of the country as mere playthings is no different.

 

A new film is about to hit the screens in London – “The Big Short”. Based on Michael Lewis’s book of the same name, published in 2010, it portrays the banking world in the USA as completely indifferent to the problems faced by society as they pursue their own, short-term gains and bonuses. Government is either unable or unwilling to address the problems because the banks are so important to the country – too big to fail – and also because most in Government do not understand what to do.

 

Just as the mill owners of the early nineteenth century were seen by landowners as a necessary partner for the future, Governments see bankers and banking in the UK as necessary for themselves. This means that they tolerate all but the very worst abuses.

 

The FCA – Financial Conduct Authority

 

The FCA is the organization that Parliament developed under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 to oversee the financial system. Part of its remit is:

 

The reduction of financial crime.

(1) The reduction of financial crime objective is: reducing the extent to which it is possible for a business carried on—

(a) by a regulated person, or

(b) in contravention of the general prohibition,

to be used for a purpose connected with financial crime.

(2) In considering that objective the Authority must, in particular, have regard to the desirability of—

(a) regulated persons being aware of the risk of their businesses being used in connection with the commission of financial crime;

(b) regulated persons taking appropriate measures (in relation to their administration and employment practices, the conduct of transactions by them and otherwise) to prevent financial crime, facilitate its detection and monitor its incidence;

(c) regulated persons devoting adequate resources to the matters mentioned in paragraph (b)

(3) “Financial crime” includes any offence involving—

(a) fraud or dishonesty;

(b) misconduct in, or misuse of information relating to, a financial market; or

(c) handling the proceeds of crime.

(4) “Offence” includes an act or omission which would be an offence if it had taken place in the United Kingdom.

(5) “Regulated person” means an authorised person, a recognised investment exchange or a recognised clearing house.

 

All this is within a framework of law that sits the financial community within itself. By this I mean that the regulator is charged with the above but only insofar that it does not harm banking competitiveness and so that the resources of the FCA are used efficiently under Section 2 of the law. While consumer information is called up in the law, there is no balancing of the “reduction” of financial crime against the needs of the consumer and nothing about how the financial system and banking in particular is to be used to benefit the overall British economy.

 

This means that the FCA is bound by rules that err on the side of the banking and financial fraternity – a financial brotherhood – and does nothing to impact the financialisation of the economy to which I referred in a previous blog.

 

Evidence of the ability of Government to “rebalance” the objectives of the law in favor of the banks is the recent decision of the FCA to shelve its report on the culture of banking and for it to work on an individual basis with banks (behind the scenes). As Michael Lewis’s book and the film so amply shows, culture is at the heart of the problem. The FCA’s step backwards under acting Head Tracey McDermott appears to be sold evidence of its inability under the current law to be effective on behalf of the British economy unless it has a leader within the FCA with enough integrity of his or her own to challenge the banks on behalf of all consumers and all those potentially impacted by wrongdoings of the banks – like Martin Wheatley. Ms McDermott is now no longer in the running for the Chief Executive position. Does anyone on the shortlist that Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne, has interviewed come up to those exacting standards: someone that has the integrity to see through the shortcomings of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA 2000) and is able to bring the banks into line so that they serve the economy?

 

I doubt it as this Government has shown repeatedly that it is hell-bent on balancing the books at the expense of all else – even if that means allowing banks to keep the economy from re-balancing to an economy that uses banks and finance from one where the banks suck the rest dry.

 

This means that the law needs to change. It is so important that the UK is “de-financialised” (like an addict that needs to be properly drawn from drugs) that we should seek the FSMA 2000 to be brought up to date with a Charter for economic improvement so that, at the very least, the FCA has to minimize financial crime not just reduce it and so that, in any decisions it makes, the needs for economic well-being override the considerations in Section 2 that could lead to favouritism towards bank and those individuals within that system.

 

Because it has never been shown that a massive banking system does anything other than reduces the ability of other industries to survive because it raises exchange rates, raises property values, sucks the best people into it, restricts business loans because of short-terminism, pays for short-term advantage and (often) criminality at the expense of good business decisions and overly impresses economically uneducated civil servants and politicians with their results.

 

The lessons of an elite taking hold of an economy and leading it to disaster have not been learned. The lessons of 1842 that led to the First World War and the lessons of 2007/8 have been sidelined as this Government now has a majority in the first-past-the-post House of Commons (still undemocratic) and a Chancellor who has decided that bashing the banks has gone far enough. He has done this without any notion of economic objectivity whatsoever.

 

We now need a People’s Charter for Banking and De-financialisation – maybe just two elements to start with:

 

Change the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 to:

 

  • Section 6 – Minimize criminal wrongdoing not “reduce”
  • Section 2 – Add an over-riding requirement so that any decision of the FCA has to show that it is taken in regard to overall economic well-being of the country not just to the financial industry.

 

Just like those that had been left out of the elite ruling classes of the 1830’s and 1840’s, those that are not allowed entry to the financialised sector, i.e. the mass of people – the British public, need to challenge how decision-making in that sector, now taking far too much of the British economy and with very disputed benefits to the mass of people (just like early capitalism) need to agitate for change.

In the 1840’s, the Chartists were successful only in bringing the issues of the working class to the attention of the ruling classes. They did not succeed in most of their demands. It took decades until those demands were met and eighty years before women were given the vote. This country still has a House of Lords and unrepresentative democracy in the Commons as a result of first-past-the-post: we are very conservative. Nevertheless, when British people have their backs to the wall, they react. The FCA is putting British people’s back to that financial wall by their inability to tackle banking as it should be tackled – at the centre. With a pending recession in the UK – in the midst of austerity – this is a dangerous situation. Time to make changes.