Sunday, September 29, 2013

Where do the Tories get their ideas?

Around 50,000 marched through Manchester in protest at the government's austerity measures as the Conservative Party conference began

WORKING PEOPLE were marching outside.Part of demonstration against Tory Austerity and in defence of NHS. Greater Manchester Police said it was biggest demonstration they had ever had, and no arrests were made but it wasn't to be seen on BBC TV.
  Photo from Manchester Evening News

"FOR HARD WORKING PEOPLE" read the banner greeting delegates arriving at this year's Tory party conference, in Manchester, echoing something said repeatedly at the Labour Party conference in Brighton. Well, they're a little bit rattled, and not too proud to nick a phrase, or anything else.

True enough, I imagine avoiding tax can be hard work, and so can justifying bankers bonuses. If the 50,000 or more (according to police estimates!) people marching outside against austerity and to defend the NHS disagree and don't recognise the Tories as being for them, there were high metal barriers to shield them from view, and security to stop TV from filming the demonstration.

I don't know whether that really explains how so many people filling the streets of Manchester became invisible on the early evening news (though we got a little glimpse later). Not even HG Wells' imagination could run to that, but it's a free country, so we're told, and where would we be without the media?

What we got was David Cameron saying he is "not going to stand by as people's aspirations to get on the property ladder, and own their own home are trashed". Ninety per cent mortgages. It won't lead to a housing bubble, we're assured. Not that house prices are already out of reach of working people. Nor - apart from a woman from the Institute of Economic Affairs - was anyone so rude as to recall the part played by sub-prime mortgages turned "toxic assets" in bringing on the world financial crisis.

We were given clips of Margaret Thatcher for the faithful, championing the "right to buy", but I suppose  it would have been disrespectful of the dead to blame her for so many Brits being so in debt, remember the words "negative equity", or mention how a big proportion of council homes that were sold have ended up in the hands of private landlords. As for new homes being built, a large percentage are now being sold abroad, not for would-be immigrants, dread the thought, but as an investment. 

Of course when Cameron promises to help people to own their own homes, he does not say anything about the increasing numbers who have not got a home, or those whom the combination of bedroom tax, rising rents and benefit capping are driving from pillar to post.  

 For those already on the pavements, who include a large number of ex-services personnel about whom our politicians and papers care so much, we've seen Redbridge police snatching food and sleeping bags from them, and Westminster council is making it illegal to give them food. The government has criminalised squatting but maybe David Cameron will promise the right to purchase your own bit of pavement and cardboard box.     

  But of course the whole point of the claim to be for "hard working people", to promote marriage, and to support those with "aspirations", is that rather than be angry with the rich who are responsible for the mess we're in, we are supposed to find someone worse off and less respectable than us to take things out on. Which is why Cameron and his crew are expected to announce new measures extending workfare, forcing the unemployed and disabled not only to search for jobs that are not there, but to accept work at less than a living wage, or even unpaid, what amounts to slave labour. Those who are in a job are supposed to feel better that someone is making those lazy b.s work, even if we wake up to find that the employer is getting rid of us because he can not only hire someone cheaper off the dole, but get them free of charge because they have to work for benefit.

There have been setbacks for this drive, companies have dropped out because of resistance and bad publicity, but notwithstanding that old slogan I recall that "Conservative Freedom Works!", it is becoming Conservatives Will Make You Work for Free!", and the government's advisers and septic think tanks are saying Workfare is popular!   

Reading about the so-called Policy Exchange which tends this kind of advice, people ask what it is and where it comes from. Something made me do a search linking 'Policy Exchange' with 'LM' and 'Spiked'. Well you never know. And here is one of the little tales this brought to light. I'll call it

Boris and the Handmaid.

Munira Mirza is an Oldham lass who went to Oxford, and the University of Kent, where she studied under Frank Furedi, the onetime thinker of the Revolutionary Communist Party(RCP), and Living Marxism (LM). A lasting association with this particular strain of "leftism" does not appear to have hindered Munira's career. Quite the contrary.

Today she is the Advisor for Arts and Culture Policy of the Greater London Authority under Boris Johnson's Tory mayorality.

According to her former employer, centre right think tank Policy Exchange, “Munira - author of the Policy Exchange pamphlet Culture Vultures - is not a card-carrying Tory member, but is one of a new generation of thinkers behind David Cameron's makeover of the party that is attracting money and fresh ideas.”

It was soon after Munira Mirza joined Boris Johnson's team that the Cuba Solidarity Campaign was told that its Cuba Fiesta stage event was no longer wanted as part of the Rise festival in London. This festival, a hangover from Ken Livingstone's time, when it used to be called Respect (before George Galloway's party took that name), had been used to promote enjoyment of cultural diversity and good relations between communities, but as Mirza told the Cuban campaign, "it is no longer appropriate to have overtly political organisations involved in the programme or in the community area". When it was learned that "United Against Racism" would be dropped from the festival's publicity, trade unions and others who had taken part previously decided to take their support elsewhere.

But Boris' handmaid had set out her ideas beforehand, in a paper arguing that promotion of multiculturalism and emphasis on diversity actually strengthened racial divisions. This was published in 2004 by the Institute of Ideas - an outfit headed by Claire Fox, a former leading member of the RCP and co-publisher of LM magazine. Criticisng the Race Relations Amendment Acts and its requirement on bodies to promote good relations and diversity policies, she also  argued against any special conditions for minorities, and any measures to outlaw religious incitement, treat racially motivated crime differently, or interfere with the "free speech" of such as the BNP.  The Institute of Ideas is particularly keen on free speech. Claire Fox has been a guest on the BBC's "Moral Maze" and "Question Time". 

In 2007, Munira Mirza was one of the authors of Living Apart Together, British Muslims and the Paradox of Multiculturalism in 2007, published by the Policy Exchange, of which she had become  an Associate Research Fellow and for whom she also worked as a fundraiser, having the title Development Director.  Unlike the Institute of Ideas, which shared the old RCP offices with Spiked, the Policy Exchange has always shared offices with conservative think tank CChange (active 2001-2007), of which Dougie Smith, her now husband, was the co-ordinator.  ,

As we've said, Mirza does not seem to have had much trouble combining her links to the "Left" and Right. (But then Claire Fox has said these two terms no longer mean anything). Her association with Spiked!, which enables former RCP types esconsed in the Tory media to keep up their 'radical' pretensions, will have brought her in contact with Brendan O'Neill. In 2006 they co-founded the Manifesto Club, an organisation "with the aim of challenging cultural trends that restrain and stifle people's aspirations and initiative" . Brendan O'Neill too has opposed efforts to counter racism, in sport and other fields,

The report Mirza co-authored for the Policy Exchange, ‘Living Apart together’ included references to work from Josie Appleton, Andrew Calcutt, Kenan Malik and Brendan O'Neill. The last two are both former members of the RCP,  O'Neill, who writes for the Daily Telegraph, has been a supporter of the government's "welfare reform", criticising those who drew attention to the deaths of disabled people who had been passed "fit for work" and lost benefits.

    Munira Mirza's husband Dougie Smith, is a former vice Chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students, and ex-Cameron speechwriter. In this intertwining of libertarian spirits we are reminded of the coincidence remarked in west London, of former RCP general secretary Kate Davies at the Notting Hill Housing Trust, and her partner becoming housing director with Hammersmith and Fulham council, where former FCS figure Harry Phibbs is a prominent councillor. 

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