politics, the google effect – and cameron’s insatiable search?

I’ve only tweeted once @zebrared today.  This was that tweet:

This was provoked by the stories today that government – British government; Tory government at that  (so when was the last time a Tory administration didn’t manifest the most awful of nanny states?) – was aiming, in David Cameron’s words, to push forward his “one-nation” vision by owning benefit claimants’ lives:

The prime minister, David Cameron, will say: “Our one-nation approach is about giving everyone the opportunity to improve their lives, and for some that means dealing with those underlying health issues first and foremost.

“Whether it is drug or alcohol problems, or preventable conditions in terms of obesity, support and treatment will be there for you. And we must look at what we do when people simply say no thanks and refuse that help, but expect taxpayers to carry on funding their benefits.

“Over the next five years, I want to see many more people coming off sick benefit and into work and Carol Black will report back to me on how best to achieve that.”

Black will say: “Addiction to drugs and alcohol, and in some cases extreme obesity, can have a profoundly damaging impact on people’s chances of taking up meaningful employment.”

So much of the above so very disheartens me that I really don’t know where exactly to start at all.  Apart from anything else, it’s the poverty-porn equivalent of blaming rape victims for the experiences they’ve suffered, and for the trauma which inevitably proceeds to muck up their lives.  For when Cameron says we must deal with underlying health issues first and foremost, he is taking onboard in his capacity as politician the right to interfere with the judgements and knowhow of a swathe of other professionals.  It is a clear example of the rank politicisation of everything.

And when he argues that we have significant numbers of people (they must be significant because if they weren’t, government wouldn’t spend time on making the relevant policy) who say no to the help such professionals will be offering, as they (ie the people saying no) simultaneously expect the taxpayer to continue funding their “circumstances”, I’d really like to ask him how he can square “one-nation” ideas with:

  1. arguing that to be in receipt of support from the state gives politicians, more than any other professionals, the right to decide how people live their lives
  2. and in so doing, allows the aforementioned politicians a similar right to let everyone else who is not in receipt of benefits do whatever shit they please

For in essence, what Cameron is constructing is a two-tier humanity:

  1. people on benefits, who are little more than miserable fashion accessories which high-level egos can wave and brandish triumphantly on their way to further personal and work-related success
  2. people off benefits, who can thank the Lord Cameron – for the moment, anyhow – that the state has decided not to stick its bargepole into their affairs

In truth, it’s not a bargepole – Cameron loves the less poverty-stricken, after all.  Numbers – ie those which relate to dosh, obviously – are much easier to quantify and comprehend than emotions, thoughts, being caring and – hey-ho, why not? – even acts of love.

But even as bargepoles are not right now an issue for Cameron himself, there is – for the second group – an element of supping with the devil.  As long as nothing changes, or appears not to be changing, we can sit quietly, broodingly perhaps, whilst we make a pact of silence and conspiratorial resignation with our status of “having been left alone for the while”.  How long it will last we cannot know.  All we know is that at the moment the focus is not on us.

And it’s surely true that the more we do social, the less social we become.  So who really needs to worry too much anyway?  The trend is much bigger than any of us wee individuals.

Neither is managerialism any more the challenge most facing us: if only all we had to deal with was a CEO or two feathering their corporate nests.  No.  This is something much bigger.  This is the politicisation of everything, can’t you see?  Everything and its mother is now the goal of a politics without limits: a politics which seeps into every corner and space of our lives like water into tapestries of ruin.

This is the Google effect, in fact: such politicians have realised they want to get everywhere; they want to see everything; they want to be involved in everyone; and they want to know all about what you want to do, before you even know yourself.

Cameron’s not a politician so much as a flesh-and-blood version of a 21st century search engine, exhibiting monumentally intrusive instincts.

And such search will never give up until you do.  And when you finally do, it’ll turn to your beloved.  Until you beloveds no longer exist as such.  And until neither, as a discrete individual, do you.

how do we define “public-sector minded”? serving vs self-serving, perhaps!

Yesterday, I suggested that Francis Maude was being disingenuous:

No, Mr Maude.  You’ve got it wrong.  And at the very least (if I’m of a mind to be charitable), really not bang on the button.  For far too long (a notable some of) our defence and police forces have been run about as outside the public-sector ethos as you could possibly get.

There’s nothing public sector-minded about sleeping with environmental demonstrators, collaborating in phone hacking, shutting down investigations into paedophilia or torturing people to little productive end

Today, what looks like a sock-puppet account (no followings at the time of writing – though twenty-two “followers” and three-thousand odd tweets does suggest some kind of organisation) describes in a response to my piece that the above is tosh:

@zebrared What does ‘public sector minded’ mean? Was North Staffs public sector minded? Striking teachers – are they? Tosh!

The point is important.  I’d argue that the yardstick, the marker in the sand if you like, should be as follows: if the action being questioned serves the person or org carrying it out more than the voters, their friends and their families, then it’s not public-sector minded.  I’m sure even my complainant wouldn’t argue that a public good was served by “sleeping with environmental demonstrators, collaborating in phone hacking, shutting down investigations into paedophilia or torturing people to little productive end …”.

Or would he or she?

What about North Staffs?  A difficult situation, but if what was done or not done worked to protect the hospital’s institutional integrity from proper criticism more than serve its patients, in my litmus test as described it’d tend to more self-serving than serving.

Therefore, not of the public-sector mind being questioned.

Striking teachers?  Now you’ve got me; and closer to home.  Imagine a situation where the government decided unqualified teachers should be teaching our children (even as stronger controls over web usage were put in place to defend us from paedophiles and terrorism – undeniable challenges, as I made clear in my original post).  Or that schools and their grounds be sold off for derisory sums to private transnational companies.  It could be argued that such a government was failing (as it did with the sell-off of Royal Mail) to maximise public-sector value for money; that it was serving itself and its business sponsors far more than it was serving the public-sector sphere.

Wouldn’t it be possible to argue that, in such circumstances, where government was failing the “serving vs self-serving” yardstick, striking teachers could – by their striking! – just as easily be passing it?

You’re gonna say it’s quite not so.

There, I fear, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

but dear mr maude – (some of) the police and defence are already outside the public sector

This story hardly surprises:

Hospitals and fire services will be run “outside the public sector” as the Conservatives dramatically shrink the state and cut costs, a senior minister has disclosed.

And (the bold is mine):

Mr Maude, who is drawing up plans for £20 billion of Whitehall savings by 2020, said that with the exception of defence and policing, every function of the state could potentially be done outside the public sector.

I don’t really know why Mr Maude suggests that this kind of “outsourcing” (if such a radically hands-off approach can still be fairly described thus – the link between those who contract and those who tender becoming so tenuous as to end up non-existent) should be described as being “with the exception of defence and policing”.  After all, our security services have clearly been playing a careless game with our democracy: on the one hand, requesting the redacting of US evidence of torture (perhaps carried out by British operatives; at a minimum, with respect to full British knowledge of CIA involvement); on the other, covering up horrible misdeeds by powerful people in government.  Meanwhile, the police haven’t really covered themselves in glory, either – preferring to obfuscate about violent crime where judged to be necessary in the longest-game terms possible.

No, Mr Maude.  You’ve got it wrong.  And at the very least (if I’m of a mind to be charitable), really not bang on the button.  For far too long (a notable some of) our defence and police forces have been run about as outside the public-sector ethos as you could possibly get.

There’s nothing public sector-minded about sleeping with environmental demonstrators, collaborating in phone hacking, shutting down investigations into paedophilia or torturing people to little productive end

And if all the above is an example of what happens when the state begins to creep outside public spheres, do we really want more of the same?