The Moral Matrix and 2017

Jonathan Haidt in this 2008 talk explores the constraints and tensions in the moral psychology of left and right. He uses the context of the American political system and discusses primary moral principles, which for us in the UK, can be seen as a proxy equating to Labour and Conservative ideologies. Given the tensions within the Labour Party at present, given the divisions created by the referendum on Europe last year, there is a merit in revisiting these earlier Haidt arguments, touching as he does on freedom, rights, power and dissent. You can see the full TED talk from Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, below… Source: In the talk, leavened with an easy humour, it is easy to see identifiable Labour Party sterotypes, as well as those of the Tory persuasion. The left enjoy open-ness, change and commitment to the future well-being of others. Those of the right, in this model, cleave more strongly to notions of order, and acceptance of the suffering of some, to achieve their world vision. Haidt’s arguments about the five principal moral values that determine our political allegiance do bear subtler fruit after reflection. However, there is a more complex truth illustrated at play within and relevant to the UK Left, I would argue. There are certainly those of the left who are adherents of open-ness, change and collaborative development. The countervailing position, arguably, is reflected in the matter of the Labour…

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Film, art, reality and Ken Loach

  Embed from Getty Images  From Jarrow into the future, the never-ending march!   Spending time and resources on re-location, post referendum, has been an interesting, if difficult,  process over the summer. France has been a comfortable destination, both in terms of culture and prospective places to live. Now we have now widened our search, however, to scope projects in the cities of Rotterdam and Dublin. Both seem to offer a more supportive context for a refreshed approach to developing a social business project list, and a settled philosophical face to permanent membership of Europe. Progress reports of our search for a compassionate community in the EU, as they emerge… This has not been a brake, however, on engagement with the artistic and political culture of England. I saw two films riven with political angst and declarative for reform over this week. Below is a commentary on that viewing. Adam Curtis has delivered a provocative new film, HyperNormalisation, which seeks to show how the emergence of inward looking, technology driven, private banks and corporations have essentially subsumed the power of government, in the widest possible sense of a world with only a pretence of accountablity. The film tracks a development arc from the 1970’s onwards which shows the rise of ‘big data’ and it’s secret storage and manipulation, and how this, coupled to a capricious and opportunistic political class, had traded allegiances and money whilst dissolving their ability to solve societal problems. You can see this challenging and sometimes disturbing…

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And so to France…

In Europe recently looking at both projects and for places to live. When looking for information on business services, buildings and local opportunities, the distinctiveness of the Mairie and its conditioning power in small local communities, was a powerful example of how local democracy, decision making and regard for both history and civic presence can be created in one building, regardless of the size of the community. History is important in France. Travelling from the city of Arras towards the coast created an opportunity to stop for coffee and a short walk. Just off the main road was a plot of land, about the size of a generous community football field. In it stood over eleven thousand grave markers for French men and women. Individuals who had fallen during The Great War. Driving on, in a few minutes passing similar places dedicated to nearly forty thousand German souls, others for Indian nationals who died, and for Polish combatants too in another. A jumble of conflicts and immaculately kept memory, dotted across the landscape. In the village centres and small towns were memorials erected to British Generals, regiments and individual soldiers, all paid for by popular subscription. Concrete evidence that France, lying at the heart of the European idea, must be as mystified as I am about the English notion of ‘leaving Europe’, post-referendum. Having travelled across France many times in a lifetime, this journey was haunted by the spectre of betrayal. A notion that the lives expended in the creation…

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BHS – the Parliamentary Report

If you are in business, this BHS Parliamentary Report makes for a very depressing read. It combines a narrative of weak governance and the exercise of singular personal influence that is breathtaking. The Committee make some sweeping assertions, however, about the nature of ‘business’ in the UK, which to this reader, do not perhaps reflect the true state of a wider ‘moral’ commercial landscape extant in the presently configured UK. It gives little regard, I would argue, for the good work and innovative governance practice delivered by the social business market, the ethical investment marketplace and the community endeavour or social enterprise sectors. In the UK good practice abounds, but it was not prowling the corridors of BHS at the appropriate time nor, allegedly, had the fearless support of a company management team that were vigorous and rigorous in pursuit of  customer care, employee development and growth and tilted all energy towards a cohort of pensioners, upon whose expertise and life work in the company, these missed opportunities were nurtured through time. ‘We chose to investigate BHS because it encapsulated many of our ongoing concerns about the regulatory and cultural framework in which business operates, including the ethics of business behaviour, the governance of private companies, the balance between risk and reward, mergers and acquisitions practices, the governance and regulation of workplace pension schemes, and the sustainability of defined benefit pensions…’ Source: First Report of the Work and Pensions Committee and Fourth Report of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee…

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Vale Angliae

I was driving to my office in Cambridge on Friday morning (24th June 2016), from Suffolk and across the land of a large estate owner. The early morning sun was shining through the trees and looking, I saw the deer and pheasants abroad in the verges, seeking their early breakfast. Having an historical sensibility I was reminded of that warm, sunny day I had read about, in the July of 1914 when war was declared. The one which became known as The Great War. As then, after a climactic announcement, nothing seemed to have changed. There were still scones for tea and sport to be undertaken the next day. Yet then,within four years of complete military, social, economic and cultural destruction, millions were to lie dead from Flanders Fields to the harsh, dusty landscapes of the Middle East and Africa. There was something of that ‘phoney war’ sensibility about the post ‘Vote Leave’ result. Nothing seemed to have changed, yet as the weekend progressed the markets and our currency were in freefall, we had lost a Prime Minister and within the Labout Party the Shadow Cabinet began to fall on their swords, in order to ferment a revolution in the palace. The majority of the polity had voted, we were told, to endorse a strange ‘Faragist’ notion of good people declaring themselves against the ruling elite, big banks and an imagined anti-democratic Europe. There had not been many celebratory banners for European achievements, or detailed analysis of the support the…

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Clarity in debate: The EU

In the short video below Professor Michael Dougan of the University of Liverpool, the School of Law, offers insights from his professional research on the forthcoming referendum. This is twenty minutes of exposition truly worth listening to. In his film Michael Dougan explains how the current, complex and historical engagement with the EU has benefited UK trade and infrastructure. How the tabloid headlines about sovereignty and the lack of democracy are simply wrong and how, in a Europe without the UK, the actual negotiation timetables and lack of formal agreements will stagger UK industrial output and threaten the welfare of workers and citizens. Leaving the EU would, says Professor Dougan, give the government mandated power from Parliament to effect a root and branch redrawing of the legislatory landscape of our country. With the right in ascendancy, and no ‘European’ voice of conscience to mediate legislation vested with self interest and the interests of Capital,  workers rights and welfare would be under attack, we would argue. In another moment of clarity, we hear how the Swiss negotiated their first extra-EU Trade Agreement at the start of the Seventies. Their process is still ongoing. As a counter to the ‘free of regulation, free trade’ proclaimers, in reality many years would pass before we have negotiated our new position with the EU, post leave referendum, with our potential trade partners holding off in terms of their relationship with us until clarity for their interests, not ours, emerges. The UK EU Referendum takes place…

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A long requiem for Europe?

Embed from Getty Images Heading towrds Europe?   The European Union, the European experiment, emerged in the Twentieth Century from an unimaginable horror of war and destruction. The notion that England would withdraw from this partnership, and the largest single economic market in the world, is an idea that is fraught with socio-political tension, community fear and yes, even individual emotion. No short article can encompass the macro-economic arguments and social disengagement consequences in detail. Indeed, neither it seems can current political debate in the UK. What it does strive to do is contextualise sixty years of being a European and the claim that economic history has on that journey. Then we vote… In England we have a long history of conflating a fear of others and economic malaise. William Cecil in a speech to Parliament in 1588, spoke ‘…for a Bill against strangers and aliens selling wares by retail‘(1). Cecil was socially compassionate but economically rigid. ‘…in the person of the stranger, I consider the miserable and afflicted state of these poor exiles, who, together with their countries, have lost all (or the greatest) comforts of this life, and, for the want of friends, lie exposed to the wrongs ans injuries of the mailicious and ill-effected. The condition of strangers is that they have many harbours but few friends…’ None the less, Cecil was petitioning to ban newly arrived ‘strangers’ from retail sales for a period of seven years. An echo of contemporary embargoes and restraints in our own…

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Struggle is the reality!

The mainstream press and right wing political opinion would have us believe that Britain is a nation of millionaires, with a quest to hermetically seal our borders, to the detriment of our trading efficacy, and that individual choice from a menu of abundance is the default position for all ‘hard-working’ families and households in the UK. How wrong can they be? The reality for many working families is that choice does not exist and resources do not, under any prevailing economic conditions, match aggregate demand as a household unit. (‘…my income does not even cover my rent…’ a plaintive comment in this film from the Labour Party…). Policies of austerity and the tolerance of vast inequality in social and economic matters create voices of despair in our communities. From Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal to the Keynesian interventions in the rebuilding of Europe after devastatingly destructive war and resource depletion, the solution to a fairer, more compassionate and prosperous society is spending on public infrastructure, with that infrastructure in public ownership, and the creation of economic motive and delivery that sees the redistribution of wealth, not downwards for the few, but upwards for the many…vote Labour and change the model!  

The Economic Case
for Strong Trade Unions

Embed from Getty Images Hammering the foundations of prosperity… The New Economics Foundation (nef) and The University of Greenwich have recently published a new economic case for trade unions. Entitled Working for The Economy, it is a detailed and numerate assessment in the decline of trade unions over the twentieth century and the policy impacts that conflict has caused. The report also makes a strong case for their resurgence, arguing that as a ‘wage driven’ economy, the UK benefits from the rise in wages and conditions attributed to strong work place representation. The report is keen to stress that, although wages and salaries are a cost to business, it is too simplistic to discount the purchasing power extended to workers through their ability to consume. ‘If wages fall as a share of income, it implies a shrinking market. The result is a drag on profiits and growth‘. This is an important principal consideration. The idealogical defeat of collective bargaining and the suppression of wage costs by owners of capital, in itself, diminishes the very market they are attempting to exploit. The detail below illustrates the fall of ‘wage share’ across Europe in the last fifty years…     For every 1% reduction in the share of national income going to wages, UK national income – measured by GDP – is reduced by 0.13%, or £2.21bn at current values. Wage share has declined from its 1975 peak of 76% to an historic low of 67% today; this has had a direct…

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Narrative of war – diminishing debate

Embed from Getty Images The desolation of war… Rowan Williams, lately Archbishop of Canterbury, recently saw an edited version of his 2015 Orwell Lecture published in The Guardian newspaper. (What Orwell can teach us about the language of terror and war). The Orwell Prize is dedicated to ‘…making political writing an art’. This was beautifully elucidated in the Williams speech, where the lack of depth and clarity in political discourse about war, he argues, is underscored by the ‘…double-talk, tautology, ambiguous cliché, self-righteous and doctrinaire pomposity and pseudo-scientific jargon‘ of contemporary rhetoric. It is hard, for example, to see the profound commitment and balanced, sincerely held thinking in the recent debates, of both sides, when they are characterised by saloon bar shouting or by a Bullingdon Club elitist mentality. Williams draws a faith based, comparative thread through his essay between the writings of George Orwell and Thomas Merton, as to be expected. We draw no focus on that aspect of the writing here. However, the Williams thesis about the quality of public discourse and the utility of language as a means of reinforcing and supporting power and political status is a telling one. Merton held, in an essay in 1967 War and the Crisis of Language, Williams tells us that ‘…the speech of military strategists and of politicians is characterised by a narcissistic finality. There can be no real reply to the careful and reasonable calculation of the balance of mass killing in a nuclear war, because everything is so…

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