Big society versus the coalition government

My view of the Big Society does include volunteering. So they are going to stop picking up litter? Good – I think it’s a scandal that taxes should go, without a word of protest, and as if it were inevitable, to picking up after other people’s parlous neglect. I voluntarily confront people who drop litter, get angry about it, and pick it up where I find it. The latest developments will somewhat strengthen my harangue.

Other than that, on the Big Society I can’t put it better than Bob:

“I have some sympathy for some of the philosophies in the “Big Society” mix; I believe in a small state, self-help, mutual aid, decentralisation and active citizenship.”

and Nick Cohen:

“Local charities had already done what Conservatives and Liberals want them to do and formed a campaign group, Islington Giving, to raise money and volunteers to fill the gaps left by the shrinking state. After writing a few press releases – as I said, my contribution was shamefully small – I have learned that there is little point in leftists denigrating volunteers, particularly if they are scoffing at those who are more willing than they are to give money and time to others.”

Qualified by (Bob):

“BigSoc ideologues like David Willetts and Phillip Blonde talk eloquently of exactly the kind of thick civic culture that I refer to in this post. But I remain unconvinced that the Big Society in reality is anything more than an alibi for fiscal ultra-conservatism, or that Cameron’s attempts to imagine it into existence will do anything to mitigate the social devastation that is already being caused by his government’s slash and burn social policies.”

and (Nick Cohen):

“Public-school conservatives are in power, however, not the left, and their prejudices matter more. I accept David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Iain Duncan Smith are not members of a conspiracy of plutocrats but well-meaning men, who look at the billions spent to keep millions in idleness and wish to reform the system. The trouble is that they do not understand how the system mistreats the poor and inarticulate. Inadvertently or not, they are ensuring that the law will not hear their appeals when they protest against injustice.”

And The Observer’s leaked council document, which reveals a new regime of bare statutory minimum.

If I’m to be part of a Big Society, then it is in opposition to the coalition government.

My view of the Big Society doesn’t include asking for reward points to redeem at Tesco.

It has a view of the education of the individual as a social good. Matt points out that the coalition’s Free Schools are a two fingers up to the Big Society’s message that “we’re all in this together”. My Big Society supports a mass higher education and understands that society is a main beneficiary, alongside the individual students. This is why my Big Society’s government views university teaching, including in  arts, humanities and social sciences, as a £3.5bn+ investment well spent, and why the measure of acceptability for the planned huge increase in fees will be increased participation by students from disadvantaged backgrounds and the squeezed middle, greater student satisfaction, and academic achievement. But HEPI’s analysis of the Browne Review cautions that there is no market research underpinning the review and that “efficiency savings” is likely to mean even worse student:staff ratios (England is one of the worse OECD countries) and fewer resources to go round, making it hard to compete for students and leading to a spiral of decline. HEPI also points out that quality and strong market position do not necessarily have anything to do with each other:

“…the apparent absence of any recognition of public interest in the health and well-being of those universities that may not thrive in the marketplace is to be regretted. Universities are part of the national infrastructure, and it is in the interests of the country and the responsibility of the government of the day to ensure that universities at all levels of excellence thrive.”

HEPI also point out that latent demand for higher education is far greater than the extra 10,000 places a year for three years recommended by the Browne Review, and that the review has omitted to factor in calculations about how much it will cost to resource the loans required – a public subsidy.

Come on UCU, come on HEPI – some good and excellent criticism but where are the alternative models for student and university finance?

My Big Society refuses to have our attention diverted by a few instances of gross inequity in the welfare system even as we act to end them:

“First, by focusing on the claimants, we deflect attention away from those who profit from their claims. Thus my earlier statement that there are 139 families to whom we are paying over £50,000 in rent a year was an inaccurate one: they hand that rent over to private landlords, and it is the private landlords we are actually subsidising. The housing benefit system drives the most unscrupulous landlords (and unscrupulous people, in my experience, seem to me disproportionately represented in the population of landlords) to charge the highest rents they can get away with, and more to the point the current scale is based on a market rate that is grossly inflated by property speculators, corporate landlords and all the other afflictions that have made London’s housing situation so unjust in the last couple of decades. If housing benefit reform will exacerbate social cleansing from inner London, it will only intensify what the market is already doing.”

Instead it involves regulating rents – for pete’s sake the capital city of the ultimate capitalist state has rent control – based on the landlord’s mortgage, and removing any tax breaks for second properties. Shelter is good (specific, evidenced) on building more affordable homes, as well as on reforming the rental market. The Green Party’s housing policy is one of the things I like about them.

My Big Society campaigns for changes in the law so that, for example, we are not relying on the good will of our sinfully rich but nevertheless law-abiding Conservative chancellor George Osborne to pay what should be his tax dues but currently, undeniably, are not. David Mitchell is understandable frustrated with 38 Degrees:

“Does 38 Degrees really want this to become a country where politicians, as well as being scandalously underpaid considering the importance of their jobs, are expected to pay more tax than the law requires? Should we all be chipping in a bit more if we think we can afford it – treating the Treasury like a charity? Is that its vision of liberalism? Like a “pay what you can” night at the theatre, the more generous and generous-spirited, the caring, the giving, will feel the pressure to pay more – it would be a tax on qualms, on social conscience. What a brilliant scheme for finally, irrevocably, impoverishing the left.

George Osborne doesn’t “think it’s OK to have one rule for him and his friends and another rule for everybody else”. He knows he can’t get away with that. What he thinks is OK, and what the petition should really address, is how that one rule, which applies to all of us, is so much more beneficial to him and his friends – to the rich – than to everybody else.

The rules are universal but unfair. They allow the rich to avoid tax without having to evade it and Osborne, as chancellor, is responsible. We should be protesting about this, not that he’s keeping as much of his own money as the law currently permits. If it helped focus his mind on a wholesale reform of the taxation system, I’d happily let him off tax altogether, make it a perk of the job. I don’t care about his £1.6m. I care about the billions being lost through the same loophole.”

My Big Society involves people from all walks of life, like the City lawyers Nick Cohen noticed, protecting vulnerable disadvantaged people from government contractors like Atos Origin – another scandal, Islington Law Centre has a 80% success rate on appeals against incapacity benefits declined on the basis of Atos Origin’s medicals.

Although my Big Society doesn’t really understand economics and has to explain quantitative easing to itself time after time, it is persuaded by an alternative budget to the one the coalition government proposes, which – in contrast to Chancellor George Osborne’s plans – has a 65:35 ratio of cuts to tax increases, seeks to eliminate the deficit in 6, rather than 4, years, which maintains but taxes universal benefits to both give everybody a stake in the benefits system but acknowledge inequality, and which understands capital investment on transport and housing as an investment in a future economy, and a better kind of borrowing than the borrowing required simply to finance a deficit.

And – most importantly, and which is much harder, and which I haven’t cracked yet myself – my Big Society refuses to settle for miserable griping, or even criticism, necessary as it is, but pushes beyond pointing out what’s wrong to conceive or find, and campaign for, specific alternatives which are underpinned by principles for a fair and real world.

My Big Society is in dire need of something to coalesce around, and awaits with anticipation False Economies, a resource from The Other TaxPayers’ Alliance which pledges to challenge Osbornomics.

Green Man 2010

Gripes, praise, music and photos.

Update: Green Man TV. I remember now. It was brilliant.

At times this year Green Man felt like a rally for people so similar-minded that there was no need to say anything substantially political. Josie Long pretty much summed up my experience of the comedy and literature stage when she observed that all a stand-up comedian had to do to get their audience on side was to say they hate the Conservatives. Truly, out of my admittedly small sample, it’s all we got. Including from her, nice woman she is. And I won my bet that no fucker we heard pronouncing on the state of the nation would go anywhere near the Liberal Democrats. All the bad feeling was reserved for the Conservatives. It was if there was no coalition. The reason is that Green Man reads The Guardian and The Guardian laid foundations for this government everybody shapelessly and aimlessly hates, by telling us to vote Liberal Democrat.

Maybe I was doing something else at the times when the criticism of the Conservatives became trenchant and argued. What Josie Long said suggests it never did, though. All I saw were performers acting like they were the last remnant of some ancient British tribe consoling themselves in a valley surrounded by Daily Mail-reading Roman garrisons. And if there were any Conservatives or Daily Mail readers at Green Man’s literature and comedy stage, they won’t be returning in 2011 because they were assumed absent and lampooned. That pissed me off to an almost unspeakable extent – because in fact we are the ones who lost the political battle. Now we have to start again, and if politics isn’t changing minds, it’s nothing.

In a cranky conversation I started, a good friend told me that somebody who didn’t know me would assume I was right wing. True, there’s a kind of left – the kind that makes me homeless and others neo-conservative in protest – that I want to see wither. When Billy Bragg sings about power in a union, I think about how my institution’s student and staff unions swung militantly behind a campaign for funded scholarships for (only) Palestinian students, and yet allowed our nursery to close. And when he gets us to sing, with regards to African states, ‘just drop the debt and it will be alright’, I think it’s only responsible to consider the ramifications, same as I would for my, your, everybody’s household’s £90k debt, which nobody is proposing we drop. Only talking and singing about that – or that in general – is going to rekindle any home fires on the left (listening to Mike Skinner on the way home I wistfully imagined him getting into politics – sadly or maybe happily it’s skinner by name…).

But mostly Green Man is about music. For me there were two electrifying stand-out sets. Steve Mason was amazing and the atmosphere was amazing – here’s something he played, recorded here during his Beta Band days (and I was at that gig).

Local heroes (Essex, that is) These New Puritans were mindblowing. Imagine these live in the dark:

Then on Sunday I’d stamped off to the tent in bout of near-tears at being denied advertised vegan cake after queuing (it was that time of day, there been some smoking and a lot of rum), returned to find Matt and Rachel in actual tears after The Tallest Man on Earth had huddled with his friends on the Far Out stage to perform Gillian Welch’s ‘Everything is Free’.

For silly talent, dancing, and bouncy youth, Darwin Deez.

For distracting me from being bored during their songs with smoke, confetti, mic cams and zorbing, The Flaming Lips. It looked like this:

More photos. Yes of course it rained – the rain was heavy, and light, and prolonged. We all came prepared and nobody minded. Billy Bragg informed us it was pissing down at V. In between showers I got this (from inside my hood):

They say Green Man, with its natural amphitheatre and cloud-wreathed mountain backdrop, is the most scenic music festival:

The other lovely thing about Green Man is how many parents feel comfortable about bringing their children.

It’s fun, recommend it. Our friend got laid.

More comprehensive reviews:

Meme on a theme

Bob‘s invited me in on a bloggers’ thing where you choose a theme for your blog (it’s worth following that link over to his blog and listening to Oi Va Voi’s S’Brent).

For this blog, two songs come to mind, revealing a state of arrested development despite all efforts to the contrary.

We dance – Pavement

Can’t be sure – The Sundays

Let’s see if I can (I bet I can’t) pique the interest of Peggy, Mr P, Dr G, ChChCherryBomb (nee Intellectual Blackout), Papa, Barkingside 21, Mod and Foxed.

PS – lyrics

Can’t be sure – The Sundays

give me a story and give me a bed
give me possessions
oh love luck and money they go to my head like wildfire
it’s good to have something to live for you’ll find
live for tomorrow
live for a job and a perfect behind, high time
England my country the home of the free, such miserable weather
but England’s as happy as England can be
why cry

and did you know desire’s a terrible thing
the worst that I could find
and did you know desire’s a terrible thing
but I rely on mine, a-ah

England my country the home of the free, such miserable weather
but England’s as happy as England can be
why cry

and did you know desire’s a terrible thing
the worst that I could find
and did you know desire’s a terrible thing
but I rely on mine
did you know desire’s a terrible thing
it makes the world go blind
but if desire, desire’s a terrible thing
you know that I really don’t mind

and it’s my life
and though I can’t be sure what I want any more
it will come to me later
well it’s my life…. and it’s my life
and though I can’t be sure if I want any more
it will come to me later… ah, yeah


We dance – Pavement

The genius of Pavement lyrics is not enhanced by reading.

Pavement curating All Tomorrows Parties

I saw Pavement in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in ’96 and I saw them in Brixton Academy days before they split in ’99. Although I find them glib, lacking in warmth, and although I can’t come to terms with their videos, the best way I can put it is that the tempo deep inside of them in the same as the one I have deep in side of me. The lyrics are psychedelic fragments not worth the bother of looking or learning, but they are unreasonably, unfeasibly and acutely mood-inducing. These art rockers are wizards. I can’t be bothered to psychologise but I won’t spare you a pun: acquaintances know that I am after all a confirmed pedestrian.

This is why I’m going to Butlins in Minehead to witness their revival at All Tomorrow’s Parties. Like everybody else – and it’s almost sold out – I decided to go before I even knew the lineup. When I’m there, I’ll wish I was home. Once I’m back home, I’ll think back on it as one of life’s high points.

Gold soundz.

Going to Green Man

This Green Man.

It will rain but I can’t get wet because I have a rubberised German army poncho you can bivouac under and a small beach chair to elevate me out of the mud. Matt has exactly the same but he doesn’t look stupid. Also I dug out one of Matt’s old hospital specimen cans and a funnel for avoiding nocturnal queuing. Wellies and a blanket complete this tramp-like picture.

Particularly looking forward to Wilco, one of the world’s better bands. I’ve never seen them but I know I’m going to remember it for the rest of my life. Mind you, they’ll probably split up shortly afterwards – tends to happen to me.

Update: I was really deeply warmed by Wilco’s profoundly romantic, sometimes tragic, often humourous pieces, irritated by Gang Gang Dance, bored by Animal Collective (formless in tempo and melody), loved Grizzly Bear and my local drop-outs Swanton Bombs (who misfit the Green Man Pub stage, a mild and gentle place), thought Rozi Plains was amazing, ditto the rest of the Fence collective (I love the idea of being able to write a song and have it performed without leaving my house) and it hardly rained at all. Didn’t Twitter but there’s a lot to see there including this set of photos from Mark Turner which gives you a real sense of the beautiful setting, and a review from What’s On Wales.

Spring Tunes V.2

The New Centrist says:

“List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.”

I’ve been delving back, way back, for solace in the past.

King of the Slums – Idolator

Soul II Soul featuring Rose Windross – Fairplay

Speedy J – De-Orbit.

Ellen Allien and Apparat – Jet. Fantastic portrait of skybound aeroplanes. Good for climbing mountains to.

The Cure – Hey you (this is such a great song).

Goldie – Inner City Life. Just got to listening to this again.

Elbow – I’ve Got Your Number. A bitter song of betrayal – favourite in their most recent album.

I’m tagging (with uncertain prospects, but anyway)

“Copyright extension is the enemy of” creativity and learning. No to the EU extension on sound copyright.

Updates – scroll to the bottom.

This post contains arguments and resources on sound copyright to persuade you to write to your MEPs now (more at the bottom).

The EU votes on copyright extension on 23rd March. The big stakeholders in the music industry – namely the BPI (i.e. back catalogue owners) superstars and creators who think an extension will earn them more than it’s actually predicted to – have lobbied for an extension of sound copyright term (for disambiguation see this UK Copyright Service overview of current law for different media – and note that the licence they use is Creative Commons licensing) from 50 years to 95 years – that’s nearly double. The UK government is currently supporting 70 years. The evidence is against them. From Sound Copyright’s briefing:

“The Commission estimates the performers’ share of new sales revenues from the proposed extension at 10%. However, this conveniently ignores their own statement that redistribution will be highly skewed in favour of the top earning 20% of performers. From that 10% share “between 77% and 89.5% of all income … goes to the top 20% of earning performers”. For the vast majority of performers the projected extra sales income resulting from term extension is likely to be meagre: from as little as 50¢ each year in the first ten years, to as “much” as €26.79 each year.”

and moreover:

“Each major label would be expected to gain €8.2million—€163million over the 45 year term. That, in turn, works out at €205,000—€4.075m per label per year. This is a windfall for record labels.”

Or those who own the rights to the back catalogues. More evidence via the links towards the bottom.

I am not at all into IP, but don’t ask me for an alternative to safeguard creators against competition on an open market against behemoth corporations who take their stuff and undercut them. That’s one trouble with markets – they tend to bring out the realist in people. IP law introduces the principle of public interest into the two extremes – monopoly for the creator forever and a free-for-all in which the creator fails to earn a living at all. Basically, the public interest – access to cultural and scientific heritage – is expressed in the time-limitation of copyright. For more  about this see the Billy Bragg link at the bottom.

Last years Times letter – copyright extension is the enemy of innovation – fought convincingly on the ‘benefits to creators’ front*. Another more recent letter coordinated at the Centre for Intellectual Property and Policy at the University of Bournemouth, to Culture Minister David Lammy – this emphasises needless criminalisation of and growing unrest among the end users.

You can get the 2006 Gowers Review of Intellectual Property free of charge from Her Maj’s Treasury. It made a number of recommendations about intellectual property (IP) in a digital age, notably number 3 – for the European Commission to retain copyright at 50 years. The University of Amsterdam Institute for Information Law (in a study for the European Commission) also found the case for extension to be flimsy (p6-7 of that summary – not entirely comprehensible explanation but the sentiment is clear, see too this letter). However, there is every chance that the EU will be argued into ignoring these recommendations. The US offers much longer (there is mounting pressure against the bonkers copyright law in the form of an inspiring and gathering campaign for the scientific and cultural commons).

Still not convinced?

  • Watch The Open Rights Group short vid – How Copyright Extension Actually Works.
  • Watch Becky Hogge of the Open Rights Group at the Sound Copyright conference.
  • The most recent and most entertaining thing I’ve seen in the past week – watch and/or listen to James Boyle talking about his book (free download – on my iLiad – if youre getting an (e)reader, make sure you can do this with it) Public Domain – Enclosing the Commons of the Mind at the RSA.
  • The RSA is also behind the 2006 Adelphi Charter – a short and readable  position which seeks to balance innovation, creativity and IP in a digital age. It flags public interest and rights to education, health, employment and cultural life.
  • From the US, listen to Larry Lessig, founder of a place I wish I followed more closely, Stanford University’s Center for the Internet and Society and chair of the licence scheme for individual creators, Creative Commons.
  • Alternative revenue? The Nine Inch Nails business model is talked about.
  • Relevant (because he is in favour of copyright extension, and because while most people love the artists they love, they have little love for the record industry and will nick music if they think that paying for it mostly serves that industry) read and listen to Billy Bragg (in strangely-presented Register pieces) on the difference of interests between artists/performers and the industries who use them for revenue. He argues “don’t keep clobbering the end user” and he argues against “life of copyright” deals which deny artists revenue from recorded work and hike up the price. He has co-founded the Featured Artists Coalition to, among other things, make the case for royalties from work which is used by, say, Google, YouTube and Nokia. He wants a reconfiguration of the music industry around the artists rather than the companies. If he had his way already, the current debate about extending copyright would be very different because the predicted gains of the record companies would be vastly less as a proportion, and the debate would be straightforwardly about balancing artists’ interests with public interests without the public having to tactfully point out that the principle beneficiaries of copyright extension are the record companies and the superstars. But he doesn’t, and they won’t.

Contact your MEPs to turn up to the session* on 23rd March and vote against copyright extension and in favour access to our shared cultural heritage. I based my message round:

*One thing I’m not sure about is “the session”. I’d like to have given details, but they weren’t to hand.

Update 28 Mar 09

After a cooling on the extension, this from Music Week:

“The industry has been dealt a savage blow in Brussels today with the European Council throwing out a revised term proposal.”

On the midnight news last night they said that UK government, which favours the extension, swung round because there was no guarantee that the royalties would reach the artists (when did it ever not look like it was going to be a record company scoop?) I don’t fully understand the jargon “session fund” and “clean slate proposal” and no time to find out. But this is at least good news for now.

In other good news, the EU failed to pass a draconian 3 strikes and you’re banned from the Internet law against illegal downloaders.

50 Years and 5 days of Motown

I think you really have to know hard graft to appreciate what Motown meant to the factory workers of Detroit on a Friday and Saturday night.

So I’m quite sheepish to admit that everything about it moves me except most of the music. One exception is Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions, which really does. Passing over the soft spot I harbour for the Rhythm of the Night by Debarge, here’s Steveland:

Time’s top ten Motown performances, with added YouTube, and an audio slideshow of the top five Motunes.