I didn't post yesterday for various reasons: I spoke to mini-conference of communications officers held at Hackney Town Hall about "hyper-local" blogs; I wrote the first post in my blogging-round-Britain series for Comment Is Free (it will appear later this morning); I visited the Rastafarian health food shop down the road which I'll be featuring on my very own hyper-local blog; I cooked dinner; I fell asleep in front of Andrew Marr's History Of Modern Britain and only woke for long enough to drag myself to bed.
And so, good morning! Looks like a lovely one. In half an hour or so I'll be pointing my filthy Toyota people carrier in an easterly direction down the Lea Bridge Road and keeping going until I get to Dagenham. There I'll be meeting a colleague of Jon Cruddas the local MP and the most interesting of Labour's deputy leadership candidates. I like Cruddas, and not only because he took me out to lunch a few months back. I also like it that he challenged his constituency neighbour Margaret Hodge for her recent remarks about the need to give "indiginous" local people priority over migrants when it comes to social housing.
My initial response to her Observer article and subsequent comments she made was much the same as Sunny's and the author of Lenin's Tomb's - anger. Then I re-read it several times, trying to put a finger on exactly why. Cruddas warned Hodge about the danger of "racialising" the issue and he was right to, though Hodge's piece works hard at making it tricky to pin the charge on her directly. Her dog-whistle line - very late "New" Labour, this - is encapsulated in this passage:
"For some, it is easy to blame the new families for the frustrations they feel. As people living in Barking see new faces and hear new languages, they often link the problems in their community with the migratory changes. Unless we listen, we shall be unable to convince people that we are on their side as they learn to live with new neighbours in the tolerant and strong multiracial society we on the liberal left desire."
Well, any MP who is isn't ready to "listen" isn't doing their job. But what does she mean by "on their side"? And is there no requirement to challenge and correct misperceptions as well as "listening"? There's nothing about that in Hodge's piece. Cruddas's, though, is explicit on the key point.
"In the six years I have been an MP...we have never housed unregularised migrants or asylum seekers in local authority accommodation. Migrants to this country overwhelmingly live in private rented-sector accommodation, and its scarcity and high cost mean these people are often exploited and live in squalid conditions. The problem is not one of allocation on racial, or any other lines; it is purely one of supply. We have failed to respond to the growing demands of our own population, let alone to provide for people coming to our country, and this is what, as a matter of urgency, must be addressed."
Hodge's piece is slippery. She doesn't quite endorse the "fears" and "resentments" of those she described to an interviewer as "my white families" but she legitimises them regardless of their validity by carelessly allowing "indiginous" to be read as "white" and by implicitly endorsing the scapegoating of immigrants when the real causes of the problems experienced by poorer families in her constituency lie elsewhere - such as in the failure of "New" Labour to provide more social housing.
In doing this, Hodge is conceding ground to the BNP and giving credence to the views of such as Michael Collins who argue that the white working-class has suffered because our old friend the politically correct liberal elite blah-de-blah has forced immigrants and what Collins bizarrely calls "the cult of multiculturalism" on them.
Pronouncing that "the white working-class" has been ignored and demonised by trendy middle-class liberals is become quite a popular contrarian position these days - the "new black" of a kind of intellectual New New Right, which sometimes claims to represent the true objectives of the Left. Collins's arguments have been powerfully opposed on CiF by Lynsey Hanley and Gary Younge. I'll be keeping all this in mind as I head down the A13.
Who's going to be Labour's next deputy leader? A poll taken by Newsnight after Wednesday's London hustings was topped by Hazel Blears. And when you think about it, she's got a lot of what it takes to win a Labour Party internal election. Johnson and Cruddas are prolier than most but Hazel is jolly proley too. Harman is girly, but so's Hazel. Not only that, she's the Godliest!
"There is an interesting paradox in modern society. On the one hand, we are told that Britain is an increasingly secular society, with traditional church attendances falling, and consumerism rampant. On the other, the role of faith and the inter-relation between the great world religions has never been more discussed or higher on the political agenda...The overall picture is that for millions of people in Britain, faith is an important factor and force in their lives, alongside the millions who describe themselves as atheist or agnostic. This is a fact that politicians and policy-makers must acknowledge and deal with. We can't ignore it, especially as the role of mainstream politics is diminished in many places. As we debate the future of public services, it is impossible to ignore the role of faith schools, religious-inspired Academies, or the significant role of faith-based voluntary organisations."
So it's a coronation, as I feared. I'd have even welcomed a challenge from John Reid - anything to have had some big issues debated in public and properly. Why did Doc Red-Top decide not to run? Lots of reasons have been given but I wonder if the fact that an unpleasant story about his past personal life was brewing had anything to do with it. Actually, it could be read as the tale of a good Catholic defeating his demons. But on the other hand... Hell, you decide.
I've just listened to PMQs on the radio. John Prescott was standing in for Tony Blair and William Hague for David Cameron. Simon Mayo has just received a text response to the exchanges: "It was like Les Dawson versus Zippy."
Debating would-be fellow leadership challengers Meacher and McDonnell at a Fabian Society gig last night, Gordon Brown suggested that he might be receptive to changing the voting system for general elections. The different method he appears most likely to have time for is the Alternative Vote The World At One explored the issue today. Well worth a listen.
P.S. A full transcript of the Fabian society debate has just been posted on their site.
Big Chip alerts us to tonight's Eurovision Hell and to the unfortunate slang meanings of the word "Scooch", this also being the name of the contest's UK hopefuls (I draw your attention to number three on the list...) But don't you just love their photo-op love-in with Tone? Gordon Brown, of course, is embarked on a campaign to persuade us that he'll be different from Blair, with much talk of rebuilding trust (yes, that again), and heavy undertones of all that "Britishness" guff he's been spouting for months. How different Gord will really be from TB remains extremely open to question. But this picture suggests there will be a clear contrast between them in the style with which they associate themselves with patriotism. Can you image the manse's lad posing for this shot? Give it a try. I did and I've been giggling ever since.
"Our feelings of safety or security can't be measured by statistics alone. If there is an air of intimidation in a community or discourtesy in the way people are treated, then that creates a feeling of fear, discomfort, unease. Fifteen years ago I recognised this happening and recognised, too, that it couldn't just be ascribed to lack of jobs or poverty. There was something deeper going on, to do with society changing, an absence of mutual respect and a failure to take responsibility for the way we behave to each other. In government, this became known as the 'Respect' agenda. We introduced the first anti-social behaviour laws, much criticised, but also undoubtedly much used.
However, there is one big difference between what I think now and what I thought 15 years ago. Then I analysed this issue as a breakdown in society. The 'tough on the causes of crime' bit was all about social investment. I regarded this an issue about the nature of society as a whole, curable by Sure Start and the New Deal on jobs, better and improved schooling and so on. The rising tide would lift all ships, including those families in a hopeless and often helpless situation, bringing up feckless and irresponsible children...after 10 years of experience immersing myself in this issue, I no longer agree either with the Blair of 1992 or the Cameron of 2007 in one very central part of the analysis. I don't believe this is an issue to do with society as a whole. Obviously it impacts on society as a whole. But it is not part of a general breakdown in society, a tearing of our social fabric or a descent into a 'decivilised' culture. Investment in the public realm has helped a transformation in city centres and improvements in public services, but I no longer think that social investment - essential though it is - is the complete solution."
Yes, yes, very neat. What he's essentially saying is that he really, really has made society much better but there are a few bad people who don't know how to behave in it and what can you do except get tough with them? Well, maybe. But you see, Tone, some of us think that your antisocial behaviour legislation isn't really getting tough at all - it's just acting tough, which isn't the same thing. Might part of this story be that some transformations of the "public realm" haven't necessarily helped the sections of society where much of the antisocial behaviour people dislike so much is rooted, as indicated by school exlusion rates for instance? Could it also be that the anti-social logic of what Neil Kinnock called the "me now" mentality has become more entrenched in spite of - or maybe because of - some of "New" Labour's priorities? And could the primary purpose of this minor mea culpa be a way of disassociating yourself from those failures as history reaches its verdict on your ten years in power?