Has the fiscal stimulus argument won the day?

At the end of 2008 a European challenge was erupting – stimulus or hands on heads.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy who voiced his aggravation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel for not implementing a measure of fiscal stimulus said, “While France is working, Germany is thinking.”

Is there not something philosophically pleasing about what he said; France as a nation of philosophers working with material means, inside a philosophically materialist frame (Comte, Debord, Deleuze, Derrida, Sartre, Badiou) whereas Germany exploring idealism – enlightened through thinking and pure thought (Kant, Schelling, Hegel, Fichte, Reinhold, Schleiermacher).

Merkel was actually remaining loyal to the “Stability and Growth Pact” (SGP) originally proposed by the former Finance Minister Theo Waigel at the beginning of the 1990’s and agreed at the EU summit in Dublin in 1997, the purpose of which was to tune the euro so it would be able to compete with the US Dollar and strengthen the stability of the euro-zone.

Now, in January 2010 we might be starting to see some early signs of this European challenge. The UK has had a surprise fall in unemployment figures – which may have part-time jobs to account for.

Two notions at play here need attention; firstly that old Keynesian misunderstanding (see Michael Stewart’s chapter on balance of payments in his book Keynes and After for more information as to why this is a Keynesian misunderstanding) that unemployment is a symbol of too little demand. If part-time work has been used as a means of curbing unemployment, then naturally it is safe to assume productivity won’t increase any more than if half of those numbers were all fully employed, so therefore it is wrong to assume that unemployment in itself is a marker of too little demand (just as it is wrong to assert that rising prices, according to Michael Stewart, is a marker of too much demand).

Second thing at play here is that just because unemployment is dropping in a country that employed a fiscal stimulus, and a country that didn’t employ such a measure that has increased levels of unemployment, doesn’t mean that this is the natural course of events of both implementations, just as the fact that photo of a criminal whose whereabouts are unknown is released and that criminal gets caught, that that photo had anything to do with the catching process.

The French Finance Ministry expects France to lose 71,000 jobs this year, mostly in the first half, despite the fact that the economy is expected to expand by 1.4% in 2010.

One thing is for sure, as it stands, it does look good for Brown, who will be seen, before the election, to have saved people from unemployment, and not  doing what the Conservatives would’ve done by – well, nothing at all. Like in Berlin the doing nothing option was taken, and results have shown it to not be favourable.

This, as Larry Elliot put it today in the Guardian, will be a pre-election gift to Brown. Lets just hope he doesn’t have to anything in the mean time that could jeopardise his chances in the run up to an election, like by having to testify to the Iraq enquiry…oh dear!

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Should France ban the burqa?

Policymakers are in a constant battle with trying to introduce what they feel is morally right and politically legitimate, while compromising over whether something is enforceable or not. Whether something is right or wrong, and in spite of its urgency, policies might be forced to yield to the loudest voices. We cannot scorn at this fact, this is part of the liberal democratic package, it’s what has been fought for and it’s what most of us feel is the correct mode of political operation. But in the next month, and in recent times, Islam itself will be the force fighting for concession, especially in France where women could be banned from wearing the full Islamic veil in public.

Indeed it has been this notion of compromise and enforcement that has engendered most of the criticism aimed at Sarkozy and the ruling UMP. Rumbold, in a piece for pickled politics, has rightly said that

Enforcing such a ban would be hard. Would we have police ripping off women’s clothes if their faces were covered? Pregnant women and young mothers put behind bars for repeatedly defying the ban? Would anyone who covered their face up be breaking the law?

As we can see, for Rumbold it is not as simple as detailing who exactly is eligible to be vilified were this new law, to be submitted to parliament early next year, be passed – if it were so then extended rigidity of the law would be the answer – but rather questions on how the police would operate, what would be their limits, and what would be the women’s human rights are raised.

Those of us who are not instrumental in policy have a far easier ride in many ways; we can question whether the banning of the burqa is legitimate with little concern for their practical application, and our ideas – so far as we are strong headed about them – need not come into compromise with others’. On this basis I shall explain why I despise burqa’s, but am against the banning of them. In doing this I will largely ignore whether my ideas are enforceable, because for me whether something is right or wrong transcends the problems it might be met with in trying to apply them. Freedom should not be compromised by people with ideas to the contrary.

France has been trying to ban the burqa for many years now, using its obedience to the ideas of the republic, liberty and equality, as justification. But a full ban has been met with many setbacks. It was originally believed that in the scheme of things France was immune from Islamic-led criticism, especially in the early stages of the Iraq war, which French forces declined to take part in. The imagined respect that the French felt they had saw many American and British journalists “pretending they [were] French when they [stepped] into hot spots,” according to Georges Malbrunot, a French journalist working for Le Figaro. Days later, that particular journalist was kidnapped by a group of Wahabbi fundamentalists, calling for the ban on headscarfs in public schools to be repealed, to which Chirac responded with a resounding non, shortly before a show of solidarity with French Muslims, showing how all religions could operate freely inside the republic, albeit privately. This was a huge step for those who supported the ban, but Sarkozy’s great leap has been more punctuated, turning from a full ban to a ban in public places, with grievances from the European Court of Human Rights to boot.

Nevertheless the burqa remains a tool for submission. But how this submission is identified remains a wider problem. Last year France denied a Moroccan woman citizenship for her incompatibility to French values, particularly equality of the sexes. Further details saw that the woman, known as Faiza M., had lived in France since 2000 with her husband and three children all of whom were born in France, though social services reported that she lived in “total submission” to her husband. Reports of her incompatible radical politics were subsequently quashed. So what made her incompatible? At first it would seem too extraordinary that the reason she was incompatible to French values was because she was the human embodiment of inequality. But wouldn’t this show cowardice on the part of the French government for not vilifying the oppressor? Of course it would, and it is this precise reason that the French government has chosen to pick on the oppressed and not the oppressor, cowardice. French philosopher Alain Badiou said of burqa banning in 2004:

Grandiose causes need new-style arguments. For example: hijab must be banned; it is a sign of male power (the father or eldest brother) over young girls or women. So, we’ll banish the women who obstinately wear it. Basically put: these girls or women are oppressed. Hence, they shall be punished. It’s a little like saying: “This woman has been raped: throw her in jail.”

Most would recognise that the burqa is a symbol of oppression, and therefore, morally, there is no reason on this world to extend respect for it, but if this is so, then why are coward governments attacking the symbol, and not the oppression itself. It is this dilemma that should be put to the French parliament early next year.

The BNP is far-right!: My two cents

(I shall start controversially – ) Modern day Francoist Daniel Hannan said today in his blog regarding the pro-Euro bias of the Financial Times and his reaction to their assumption that the BNP takes votes from the Tories;

“How often do we have to go through this? Even the New Statesman admits that the BNP is to the Left of Labour.”

How to define the politics of the BNP is talk of the day, and in the blog world has Tim Montgomerie (amongst others, Hannan included) saying the BNP are “if not a Far-Left political organisation, then one that should not be identified as belonging to the Far-Right.” Montgomerie had planned to write a letter to the BBC asking for it to properly define the BNP. On the other side, Sunny Hundal – blogger of the year – has said he too will draft a letter explaining why the BNP is far-right (although nothing has been written as yet).

I, writing on the comment section of Liberal Conspiracy, offered this to the debate;

“It would not be controversial to say that socialism is an economy under which the state fully owns the means of production (with rough appeals to protectionism in some cases), which means it can be appropriated with ideas that stem from either left or right. The sense of the word socialism that I would use to describe myself includes the economic theory above, along with social policies on gender equality, democracy, human rights etc etc. This places me to the left.

The reason the BNP can adopt a similar looking economical outlook to a leftist, and be far-right, is because it appropriates this with social policies such as foreign person repatriation, gender inequality (they haven’t mentioned it too much – to my knowledge – but the FN in France – close allies – will pay women to stay at home and not be employed), homophobia, antisemitism and/or holocaust denial.

Any attempt to define the BNP as far left, is to suddenly forget that the party is not the sum of its economic policies, which just happens to have parallels with some leftist measures.”

I also commented on an entry made by Bob Piper, who said “Fascists are fascists to me. If you put lipstick on a pig…”

My comment was this;

“I’ve heard the word(s) ethno-nationalist being used to describe them, but what it was that positioned these groups to the right – despite of their economics – is their fetishisation of nation politics, and traditional outlooks on certain institutions. Despite what some political writers like John Gray and others say, the terms left and right DO still mean something in our day. WE just all need to remind ourselves what they mean to go any further with this argument”.

The word “ethno-nationalist” was considered by two leftwing writers in a piece explaining what the leadership of Nick Griffin would do to the political spectrum of the BNP.

I still cannot find the name of these writers but they had written a piece in the New Left Review (I think!?!?). Their point was where to position themselves when attending marches or protests, or even meetings about how to strategically deal with the BNP from a leftist perspective. They had become concerned about how engaged leftist criticism was towards the BNP since the bulk of it was to write the BNP off lock, stock and barrel as crypto-Nazi’s.

The writers could not help think that, though the case may be made for the BNP being secretly Nazi, critics should at the very least engage with the change Nick Griffin has brought to the party, from overt, fascist saluting, Hitler fancying John Tyndall, to a relatively more moderate party in suits concerned about economic migration and dwindling Christian values.

What is interesting about their piece, was that their radical conclusion at the time was that the BNP, like them or loathe them, were not a Nazi party, or an extreme-right party, but a far-right party, which shared sentiments with other European far-right parties (such as Le Pen’s FN) without actually and/or overtly praising Hitler. The BNP acted upon, not an established international political ideology such as Conservatism or Nazism, but how they perceived the best way to express their patriotism in the 21st century (which has been met with correct repudiation by such tag lines as: BNP is not British).

The terms left and right in political theory are said to date back to the French Revolution, and indeed terms such as far-right were designed to imply ultra-royalists, conservatives and counter-enlightenment thinkers such as Joseph de Maistre and Louis Gabriel Ambroise de Bonald who felt that Good could conquer Evil, the monarchy were the pillar of Good in France, and Conservatism could counter the more pluralistic charges of enlightenment philosophy. These thinkers have been held as “good conservatives” over the years, by some less-than-palatable conservative thinkers. Which does prove difficult when trying to bracket the BNP in this corner. If the BNP are far-right, do they have to qualify as “good conservatives”? Certainly those modern-day Tory thinkers don’t think so, who refuse to accept the BNP are in any way right wing for the sole reason as “I am right wing, and I don’t recognise anything the BNP are doing to be for ourselves”.

Of course, this argument proves fatal (and rest assured, looking at other comments replying to Tim Montgomerie’s or Sunny Hundal’s entries, these arguments are circulating).

Take a look at Sam Swerling. He was once a member of the Conservative Party, and formerly a Councillor on Westminster City Council. He was also an original member of the Conservative Democratic Alliance. Of late, he had been an activist for the BNP.

Take a look at Edgar Griffin. He was once a freemason, and after that a Tory councillor, and then vice-president in Wales for Iain Duncan Smith’s party leadership campaign. He was sacked after it was revealed he was assisting with the campaigns of the BNP, of whom his son, Nick Griffin, is the leader.

Take a look at Matthew Single. He was the man who was charged with leaking the names and addresses of the BNP activists. He started his political life in Ukip, a party that has comparable policies to the right-wing of the Tory party (lets see, erm, Norman Tebbit!!).

There are many more examples of conservative elements becoming expressed within the BNP, and not conflicting with their core principles. But so far this only proves there is an appeal to the BNP by very right wing conservativism. It does not suggest they are indefinitely on par with one another.

After all, a hot topic for the BNP is immigration, and recently the Dutch Socialist party created a policy opposing high amounts of economic migration for its opposition to free movement of labour, adding that such an initiative is the logic of capitalism.

So there are certain agenda’s of the BNP that do not have an obvious left/right homebase (and here I am reminded of a National Front tag I once saw whilst in a phone box in Southend: We are not right as opposed to left, we are right as opposed to wrong). And these agenda’s could be as high a priority for the BNP as immigration.

But the Dutch Socialist Party do not oppose immigration on the grounds of xenophobia, or even how the Northern League in Italy conduct their dislike of foreigners, an appeal to historical tradition, suggesting that;

“We,” hints [party founder Umberto]Bossi, “are the heirs of small local authorities [The party’s symbol, il Carroccio, represents a cart drawn by oxen, around which foot soldiers would gather to fight in medieval city-states. The warrior depicted on its logo is Alberto da Giussano, who defeated the emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1176] who have always fought against foreigners.” (see rest of article, here)

This is not the reason why the Dutch Socialist Party oppose economic migration, but it is the BNP’s reason – its an (Celtic-esque) appeal to history of defending ethnicity from the foreign invader. The reason why the BNP are far-right is because they juggle xenophobia, nationalism and race pride in order to serve an outmoded historical justification for fighting the foreign enemy. And for those of us who travel to or from London to Essex via Barking, are reminded of the link the BNP has with this mode of thinking, with graffiti showing the celtic cross under a huge white painted slogan: BNP (although obscured now, I think, by scaffolding, perhaps put up by American labourers).

At the heart of the BNP’s main aims, is reactionary conservatism, and with a closer look at where these terms come from, we realise that this expression would have been originally defined as far-right. And so it remains.

So why are people getting their knickers in a twist over whether the BNP are right wing or not? Its obvious; some, if not most of the BNP’s latest publicity has been about the downturn of capitalist economies, from their attempts to hi-jack the Ford/Visteon workers feuds, to expenses (pigs in the trough etc etc). And these are notions normally taken up by the left (though no confusion of political positions were entertained when Sarkozy told the world that capitalism was failing, or when Merkel told her infamous anti-capitalist joke: “What’s the difference between Communism and Capitalism? Communists nationalised companies first before running them.”)

A report by the Office of Intelligence and Analysis points out that a feature of the far-right is to exploit economic downturn. The report adds;

“These “accusatory” tactics are employed to draw new recruits into rightwing extremist groups and further radicalize those already subscribing to extremist beliefs.”

Its no secret that the BNP targeted areas with dwindling Labour support (like my own. In fact the BNP had a campaign called “Target Basildon”) and they are aware that overtly fascist policies will turn away most voters (they didn’t do quite as well as they wished in Basildon, because of a concerted effort by the other parties to remind voters of what the BNP really stood for), so they not only moderated their message to make it seem more palatable and family friendly, but they intertwined it with messages that would appeal to workers locked in economic downturn.

My final word on the matter, the BNP more or less fit neatly into the category of far-right with their reactionary, and ethnocentric view of history. Their policies on immigration and the economy (which have moderated relatively since their early days and from their National Front split) seem to be more strategic, and more to do with the image change to appeal to more voters.

The occasional reference to Le Pen’s National Front Party will help; to secure electoral appeal they modify their policies on ridding the foreign enemy, be it the Jews, the Turkish, or Muslims in general. It’s strategic, and it gains votes (from voters who often may find solice in the simplest answers, i.e. immigrants are the reason the economy is failing, etc etc). Their ethnocentric and reactionary reasons for doing such a thing are what makes a political party far-right.