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Removing ‘Child-Poverty’ …targets, but not actual existing poverty: A Neoliberal Repertoire

In Uncategorized on December 22, 2016 by chr1sr0berts

As was recently reported, the Conservative Government have now decided to close the “Child Poverty Unit”. In justifying their decision, the following phrase did rather leap off the page: “…amid a *restructuring of goals around a wider measure of life chances, also taking in issues such as debt and addiction*”

It is a classic of the neoliberal repertoire, “Life chances” are a vague notion, as such, they can be folded into personal responsibility. All responsibility for one’s own position in life is loaded onto the (somewhat slender) shoulders of individuals. And if you don’t grab your “life-chances”, hey, you only have yourself to blame. One small glimmer is that at least the term “debt” is mentioned as an issue, though the extent to which debt will also be assumed to be a wholly personal decision (as opposed to an almost inevitable condition in neoliberal Britain) is another matter. Removing the social in favour of the individual (responsibility) is of course not new, but in closing the unit, and ceasing to measure child-poverty, I can scarcely remember so brazen an admission of systemic failure (not that it will be framed this way of course) Because, as the superb Arundhati Roy explains:

“Poverty too, like feminism, is often framed as an identity problem. As though the poor had not been created by injustice but are a lost tribe who just happen to exist, and can be rescued in the short term by a system of grievance redressal (administered by NGOs on an individual, person-to-person basis), and whose long-term resurrection will come from Good Governance — under the regime of Global Corporate Capitalism, it goes without saying.” (Arundhati Roy, Capitalism: A Ghost Story)

As important as the removal of the child-poverty targets by the government, is Roy’s use of the term capitalism. While one action conceals, the other action (of writing) names and reveals. In fact, the very term capitalism was, until the onset of the GFC in 2007/08 only really uttered on the far left. Perhaps in University research and teaching in Economics departments, though, here, too it seems to have fallen out of favour. The term, and critique of it as a social and economic system, or “Mode of production” clung on in sociology, (some of the more critical) Business Studies programmes, Cultural Studies (what remains of it), History and Human Geography, but elsewhere, and particularly in both politics and media, capitalism as the only show in town, (Thatcher’s “There Is No Alternative” (TINA), springs to mind, and was recently revived by the then Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron) gained such currency that to offer even marginal critique of it would cast you as an outrider. We can see traces of this erasure in the Government’s decision to close down the unit. To remove the cause itself, not from governance, but merely from view. 

This latest move by the Tories clearly indicates that not only are they not capable or even vaguely interested in “eliminating child poverty” but they cannot (or refuse to) even see or name the system(ic problem) staring us all in the face. Any act of resistance needs to factor this in, we need to identify and name the system (and systemic) failings that cast some aside while simultaneously lifting others. One does not need to be a Marxist to see the systemic failings, one just needs to be alive and alert.

Alongside the closure of the Child Poverty Unit, and Cameron’s revival of TINA, come the terms “global race” and being “lean and competitive“. Employing such athletic metaphors might serve politicians well – they paint a picture of athletic, competitive winners – but do very little for the rest of us (other than push us into penury). In a way, the terms are part of the same political trajectory as the closing of the Child Poverty Unit. If you can’t actually fully ignore the problem – because the evidence of poverty is (of course) in front of our very eyes, then shift the terms of the debate (the discourse) and load responsibility onto individuals, to be “lean and competitive” in the “global race”. Don’t name the problem, shift the focus…onto YOU (and your failings).

On the same morning the Guardian reported the closure of the Child Poverty Unit, the strikes by Southern Rail were continuing. On the 19th December, James O’Brien had delivered a perfectly apposite description of the ways in which media hegemony operates. A mere two days later, Weds 21st December 2016, a caller to LBC Radio called James O’Brien. The caller, simultaneously furious at the strikes but lauding the vitality and genius of (publicly paid for research that produced) algorithms suggested that an algorithm has successfully operated the DLR for years. Now, while this is true, the caller failed to explain how, if deployed more widely, across dozens or 100’s of different sectors, the 1000’s, perhaps millions of people displaced would earn enough to eat, house, and clothe themselves and their families. In political economy terms, they would lack sufficient ability to “reproduce their own labour power”. In political terms, they and their families would perhaps fall in to “poverty” and be in need of the exact kind of assistance the Child-Poverty Unit was originally designed to provide. Alas…

Just to be absolutely clear, I long for the day we can allow automation to do more work, but there are problems here aren’t there? The problems – as I see them at least – are not in technological innovations per se, but are instead inherent in the particular social relations through which the technology and innovation was and still is deployed. The point is not that problematic outcomes are inherent in the technology, or that technological innovations and developments can be “blamed” or are “bad”. More that technological innovation is deployed through a particular form of social relations. In this we return to Arundhati Roy’s naming of the system. Capitalism – certainly its neoliberal variant.

Technological development is supposed to be (is) transformative, but the transformations are not being realised, shared or redistributed for us all. The technological developments and innovations have not been used to ‘transform society’ at all, but, to borrow a phrase from the “Regulation School” and in the words of Jeremy Gilbert, “have instead been used to modify and solidify the ‘regime of accumulation’”.

It is in these circumstances and this context, that the Southern Rail strike need to be located. The only option for those under threat, is to use the means of political organisation and expression available and appropriate for the current moment. So, in the current situation – where tech innovation is used to accumulate capital while labour is crushed under its heel – strikes are the only option. Basically, until we transition to an economy that deploys the technological means we have at our disposal to benefit us all, withdrawing one’s labour (currently a defensive move designed to grimly cling on to the things gained over the last century) is the only option.

What might be better is for the technological gains to be deployed, shared, used or re-imagined as a means to provide for us all. If we continue to live under the same model of social and political economy, in which technological innovation is used to crush labour, then (with apologies for repetition) in time, there will be too few employment “opportunities” for the population to earn enough to feed, clothe and house themselves and their (our) families.

In these circumstances, what do the government do? Do they think about, debate, propose policies to expropriate some of the technological gains (for which much of the R&D was initially paid for using public money ? Do they propose investing in more R&D so that the transition to an automative, technologically efficient society, perhaps with the guaranteed social wage? No, they close the Child-Poverty Unit, assume poverty is entirely the fault of “failing” individuals, and encourage us to join the “global race” to become more “lean and competitive”. In this context, what do the terms “global race” and “lean and competitive” mean? If accepted by us – how hegemony works – then they mean the odds are not stacked in favour of most of us.

 

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Home Comforts

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2015 by chr1sr0berts

Yesterday [Sunday 17th May 2015] I spent the afternoon at my family home – my Dad’s home. My poor Mum died in 2009, since when my Dad has lived there alone. He has now married again and is moving to a new place with his new wife. His new wife, Heather, is lovely and makes him very happy. The house is now being sold – he’s moving in 12 days time. Therefore, yesterday was my last ever time in what has been our family home for 33 years.

Mum and Me 1982

I spent much of the afternoon wandering about the rooms and the garden, reminiscing and taking it all in. So much of my life is tied up in that house. When as a child and as an adolescent I would bring friends to the house….sleepovers; football; cricket; cycling; watching endless hours of TV comedy taped on to an ancient VHS player; learning to breakdance in the garden; my mum juggling oranges to make my friends laugh. Once she decided to play an impromptu game of hide-and-seek, my friend Bones and I knew she was in the house, but she’d decided to hide. We looked all around until finally, as we walked up the stairs for perhaps the 5th time, she emerged from inside the giant laundry basket with the lid balanced on her head. Yesterday I noticed that a different laundry basket was in the very same place, at the top of the stairs. Memories of parties – though not many; – our many different cats; a patio I built; a shed I constructed; once, when unemployed all summer I painted much of the outside of the house; the pet rabbits we had and who lived in a hutch in the garage – and who used to run around in the rabbit run constructed by my grandfather; memories of my older sister and of her friends – some of whom were my first “loves” *not really, but as a teenager I certainly fancied some of them*. Then my actual first loves, girlfriends staying over – but never in the same room *until I was over 21* …but most of all, our family. All of these things – and more – came flooding back yesterday.

But the house also made me think of my own family. The garden was where my wife Hannah first met my Mum…whereupon, just to embarrass me, she barked like a dog! Hannah loved this and I think from that moment, loved my Mum. As adults, we have our own version. We have our own home, and our own children.  Yesterday afternoon, Natty [my three year old son] put some music on and danced around what used to be my bedroom. I watched him for ages, to watch him made me happy, to see him do what I had once done in that very room…it was like we’d come full-circle. It of course, again, brought back lots of memories of my dear Mum, and it made me miss her all over again. The smallest little items with seemingly no significance to anyone else made me well up. I know that it’s only bricks and mortar but it has been a lovely home for our family – my dad, my mum, my sister and me….all sharing the space together, laughing, eating, talking, sometimes arguing ….and everything else people do in a home.

Anyway, it is now time for another family to make it their home, the house, the home deserves a happy family, and we’ve certainly been that.

I really missed my Mum yesterday, she was the funniest, wittiest person I knew. Yesterday, in the now emptying house, and with her gone, it was like suffering the loss of her all over again.

With the sale of the house goes the last tangible space of my Mum. It also means I no longer have a “base” in the town where I grew up. At first I thought it was this lack of base that hurt, but on reflection, and in talking with my sister, I realise it’s something else. Perhaps I have a case of arrested development. But now, finally – at 43 – it is as if I have finally become an adult. Probably partly driven by a desire for safety, familiarity and comfort, all the time my father still live[s]d in that house, there was a tangible space that linked me to my childhood, a space where I could go – though I too rarely did – and be my parents’ child again.

My Dad is a wonderful man, scrupulously fair, loving, warm, honest and caring. But with the home we shared gone, I know I can never return to the place of familiar and familial comfort, to the place of so many happy memories. And, with my Dad’s move to his new home [and new life], I know that I will only ever be a guest in his new house – a welcome guest certainly, to repeat, my Dad is a wonderful and loving man – but a guest nonetheless.

Goodbye HouseLast day at Decoy

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Selling the Cow to Buy the Milk (Keiser, M; 2013)

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2014 by chr1sr0berts Tagged: , , , , ,

Imagine a university funding policy so ineptly crafted, so short-sighted, so rooted in short-term “thinking” that a mere 3 years after its inception, it is already collapsing

Much of this was predictable and predicted by many, but most of all by the person who’s done more research into this than anyone else. Andrew McGettigan‘s book “The Great University Gamble” is essential reading in this respect. In fact, so essential is it, that I have sent a copy of it to our new Minister for Universities [and my own constituency MP] Mr Greg Clark.

Firstly, it does not benefit students, universities, or the much mythologised “taxpayer” [BTW, for the record, students, staff, managers are *also* “taxpayers”] Demanding that students take on enormous debts in order to fund their education is such a fundamental transformation of the[ir] relationship with and to education. It turns students from people engaged in an academic relationship, into mere “consumers of education” As a member of academic staff at a university, my “academic labour” is transformed, and I am now merely a “service provider” It imagines that students can select their “education provider” based on the habits of consumption more in-line with choosing where to do your weekly shop. University is not like this. To quote the aforementioned Andrew McGettigan: “…the endeavour (the marketisation of Higher Education) is misconceived… the government misunderstands the kind of “good” that education is. The market is being set up as if undergraduate education were a normal consumer good: it is not. For better or ill, undergraduate higher education in England is a positional good: institutions are ranked in a hierarchy, and opportunities are restricted” University is also [most frequently] a “single-purchase good” i:e one usually only does this [actually purchases] once….and not “weekly” [like your shopping] It places the onus on students to “perform” as consumers. However, the entire mechanisms for measuring value, and – as importantly – what actually constitutes value are insufficient to the task of actually measuring the values of higher education. The means of measuring the “value” of a degree is anything but consumptive/economic…but of course, the idea from Government is that this becomes the case.

The policy was able to be pushed through, in part because of the established “news values” regarding the ways in which the “£9000 tuition fees” were and are reported. I’ve written previously [in an academic paper *awaiting placement*] that a discourse of “education consumers” was established almost immediately – in November 2010. The news narrative on the day of the first protest was as follows: “1000’s of students take to the streets to protest agains the rise in tuition fees” What none of the news reports outlined, was that the rise in fees was to cover for, or replace wholesale the withdrawal of the teaching grant – in my subject area, the withdrawal was 100%. This is the most fundamental change to universities for a generation. Rather than providing contextually adequate information to include this fundamental shift, the news media instead established – very quickly – a discourse of students as disaffected and angry “education consumers”. Of course, this is all “old news” but it requires critical interrogation and scrutiny precisly because it establishes the discourse – the discursive formation if you will.

And so it was established and look where we are now. A report from May of this year was headlined “Degree Courses Not Value for Money Say Many Students”:  This is a classic “news hook”, a “value for money ‘news hook’” …Higher education is now located in the “discourse of consumption”. I should add by the way, that I do not blame students for thinking in this way, they have, after all, taken on large debts in order to fund their education so it is “natural” [or at least learned behaviour] in these circumstances to assess the value of their studies in some consumptive way, a sort of “cost/benefit analysis”. I just don’t think they should have to take on debt in order to study for a degree. Nor – sadly – do I expect more from our news media. The transformative goal of this mess of a policy – and the news media are largely willing accomplices in this – is to ask that students see a degree as a form of benefit only to the individual. Andrew McGettigan again: “Its reforms treat it as solely of benefit to the private individual, missing the associated public benefits which are now at risk”. So students are now encouraged to see their higher education as a form of ‘human capital investment’. “…by undertaking training the individual makes themselves more productive. This is evidenced by the higher salaries enjoyed by graduates – the return on investment. Education becomes recoded as a financial purchase the benefits of which will be seen later in higher income not unlike an annuity” (McGettigan, A 2013: 55) The funding policy is thus a piece of social engineering masquerading as responsible government policy. I imagine that once a large enough cohort of students have been through the system, all the while internalising the “degree as purely personal benefit” then the transformation will be complete. Higher Education simply will be a form of consumption, and many students may see themselves purely in the form of a sort of “entrepreneurial self”

Related to the “degree as human capital investment” and the “recoding” of education, is a form of individualisation perfectly in line with conservative, Conservative and neoliberal thinking. Individualisation and a form of “outsourced learning” are at the heart of the current ideological [deregulated, privatised, financialised] environment. Many years ago, graduates were in demand because having a degree demonstrated certain critical, intellectual, written, creative, and reflective abilities, skills and competencies. This is still the case but the ground has shifted beneath us. Now employers – often represented by the CBI – complain that “graduates aren’t ready for the workplace”. What they mean is that their employees still require some very specific job related training…which costs time and money. In years gone by, if and when employees required some specific vocational training, businesses would pay for training…or perhaps pay towards it…or give employees time, space and support for extra training/evening school classes. This is increasingly rare. Now many [but perhaps not all] businesses seem to demand that new graduates and employees are “job ready” When put like this, we can see it as a cost saving measure for the “business sector” or the lamentable phrase “UK PLC” to transfer “training/education” onto the state. I even – sort of – understand this from a “business perspective” [a micro-economic perspective] I understand the need for businesses, particularly SME’s, to want/need their employees to be competent and efficient, and that they might not want to – or perhaps cannot afford to – pay extra for the training that might be required. However, we, all of us, ought to expect and demand more from Government and Government policy. We should demand that they do not think on such a short-term basis – Government should not think like a business, or think only “what’s good for business”, because “what’s good for business” is not necessarily “what’s good for citizens” In short, this Government think in “micro-economic” terms….when they should be thinking in “macro-economic” terms. Or rather, perhaps this Government do think in macro-economic terms, but in a hangover from, or a continuation of the market fundamentalism of “The Chicago School” they imagine [ignoring the last 35 years worth of stagnating wages, indebted financialised personal circumstances….soaring corporate wealth] that personal and company finances, will, if left to their own devices, sort out the  rest of society. Let the market roam free – the micro – and the wider society – the macro – will be sorted. However, this latter [hopefully end of] stage of neoliberalism takes personal financialised debt even further. If you transfer all costs onto individuals and consequently financialize and impoverish your citizens, then you’re cleary unfit for office.  Responsibility for education/training has been wholly transferred – first from “businesses” to the state [Colleges, Universities]; then from the universities on to the shoulders of individuals in the form student loans to pay for increased tuition fees. It is the very apotheosis of neoliberal ideology. All training is outsourced and costs are transferred wholly onto individuals in the “competitive labour market”. Incidentally, Foucault has much to sayas does Lazzaratoon this. Lazzarato in particular – updating Foucault’s earlier work – takes into account that the “entreprenuerial individual” might be locked into a form of  quasi authoritarian neoliberalism that has debt as a form of social control.  So funding through tuition fees is the ultimate financialization of society – any notionally socially useful thing you need – education, housing, healthcare [NHS privatisation is well under way with zero political mandate; almost no critical scrutiny and certainly very little reporting in the media] will come with a heavy personal, indebted, financialised price “Ah, you need an operation I see….ah, you need some more training and education….Hmmmm, I’m afraid you’ll need to borrow…..still, not to worry, here’s a long-term loan for you” Increasing financialization and increasing personal debts sounds familiar to me. So, right at the time when we know such a “policy mix” was a major contribitory factor in the crisis of 2008….this ideologicaly driven Government decides to transfer this busted model, wholesale, onto the university sector and individual students. Call me sceptical, but this does not look like a recipe for success!

 

Brielfy, on the subject of increasing household and personal debt, and that this is the major contributory factor in the crisis of 2008: The repeated rhetoric from Cameron, Osborne, Danny Alexander et al has been “Clearing up the mess left by Labour” and “Pay off the nations credit card” and “We can’t borrow our way out of a debt crisis” Disregarding that the credit card analogy is either economically incompetent or disingenuous, “borrowing our way out of crisis” is exactly what they plan for the economy….it’s just they don’t want Government to do it – when they can borrow at interest rates of 2.9% over 10 years [you try getting that kind of deal from your bank] …they want “us” to do it…then keep spending. Corrected figures from the OBR released in 2011 – correcting the figures they released after Osborne’s first “Spending review” in October 2010 – indicate clearly that this is an expectation. Household debt as % of income to increase from 159% to 173% by 2015. “We [Government] won’t borrow….but you lot [the plebs], yeah, go on….borrow away!” *despite it costing much more*

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To return to the student/university “funding model”. As should be clear, the model is firmly based on ever increasing levels of personal [financialized] debt. It *should* also be politically, ideologically and economically toxic. Even if we ignore the injustices of personal financialized debt [which we should not] macro-economically it fails, too. Imagine what the graduate repayment obligations – 9% of salary over £21,000 – could possibly do to levels of aggregate demand in the future. Personal debts and subsequent repayments at this level – FOR THIRTY years – must, simply must impact on people’s ability to “spend” thus demand will suffer. However, there is very little understanding, critique or contextual depth to our news reporting. I’d quite like a piece of “news” [not comment] to consider, understand, explain, contextualise and report this accordingly. That there is very little news understanding, means the policy is not really that toxic….or at least, not quite as toxic as it ought to be.

Politically it stinks – but again, they seem to be getting away with it: Selling off the student loan book – the previous plan that Vince Cable has just announced he’s shelving – is merely a trick to boost Government coffers and shift the debt off the govt balance sheet. A sort of “pre-election” boost, “Look, the public debt is down, told you we’d do it” Earlier this year George Osborne announced that selling off the student loan book would raise £12billion. This has since been downgraded, so much so that they can’t sell it. The “£12billion” from previous loans were to be used as a means of funding the next tranche of student loans… for the next few years of students. Can anyone see a problem here? Take an asset – the student loan book; sell for less than it’s “worth” – from £12b now trying to sell it for £2b – and use the money to fund another lot of debt. At the same time, deprive yourself [the Government] of a future “revenue stream” It is, in the words of Max Keiser “Selling the cow, to buy the milk” It is a *pure* [*not pure at all, it is neoliberal, finance capitalism led*] “free-market” ideology masquerading as Higher Education policy and “sound economics”.

How much hope do any of us have that the Labour opposition will be any different in Government? After all, many of the decisions that relate to Higher Education taken in the four years of this coalition Government were based on the Browne Review, a review established by the previous Labour Government under the “guidance” of Peter Mandelson. The report, with which we are all familiar, is laughably titled: “Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education” – Yes, you read that right….”Sustainable!”

 

There’s loads more of course. Obviously I recommend Andrew McGettigan’s book:

 

…and perhaps try [m]any of Aditya Chakraborrty’s fine articles….like this one from today’s Guardian

 

Twitter @chr1sr0berts

And Follow Andrew here: Twitter@amcgettigan

And Aditya here: Twitter@chakraborrty

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BBC coverage of the NHS – Panorama “Britain’s Secret Health Tourists”: a case study

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2012 by chr1sr0berts

What follows is an edited version of a paper I have recently submitted for publication in an academic journal. The academic paper is approx 6000 words in length and contains “screengrabs” It will hopefully be published soon – although it first must be subjected to peer review (fair enough) but this sometimes take time. In the meantime, I wrote a shortened version for the Open Democracy Website Our Beeb. This edited version exists in part thanks to the editing skills of Jamie Mackay and Dan Hancox. It seems that at present, the blog is too long for Our Beeb, so in the interim, I post this shorter (approx 3400 words in length) post here on my own blog.

The establishment of the BBC as the publicly funded media organisation remains an important and potentially progressive act. As it stands, the BBC has a role to play as perhaps the embodiment of objectivity and impartiality. It forms an important part of British social, political and cultural life.

…a set of principles for public service broadcasting was established: universality of coverage; diversity in programming; reflection of national identity and culture; the servicing of minority interests; the provision of an impartial news and current affairs service free from the influence of business of government; and the delivery of innovative, ‘quality’ programming designed to inform, education and entertain. (Debrett, M. 2010) emphasis added

Notwithstanding the recent fall-out from the Jimmy Savile abuse allegations, the BBC continues to enjoy remarkable levels of both enthusiasm and trust among large sections of the population. This is in part because television, as a resource of scarcity, has an obligation to impartiality that is not expected nor demanded of newspapers

By the 1980’s, television had reached a point of maturity where, whatever the party of government, it was seen as a decisive weapon in the battle for electoral hearts and minds. Because it was not open to the same partisan approach as the press, it was implicitly trusted by voters. (Barnett, S. 2011: 118)

Therefore, and despite the fast changing media landscape of the twenty-first century, television still maintains its role as the most important source of news and current affairs information. It is in this tradition that Panorama can be located. Panorama, remains the flagship current affairs broadcast strand on British television, the standard bearer against which other broadcast strands are measured. Therefore, to what extent is Panorama upholding the practices and values of ‘impartial’ television journalism? What is more, are these practices and values sufficient? For if it is still the case that: “…television matters because it remains central to people’s lives, and television journalism matters, partly because it still commands proper resources and mass audiences, and partly because it upholds the central tenets of professional practice: truth telling and holding power to account. (Barnett, S 2011: 248) ..then are said ‘central tenets’ and ‘professional practices’ adequate to the task they have been set – and perhaps largely assumed to uphold?

 

Panorama “Britain’s Secret Health Tourists”

“Declan Lawn reports on how ‘health tourists’ are obtaining free NHS treatment they should be paying for – at a cost of millions to our health service. Panorama goes undercover inside a black market where NHS access is being bought and sold, and finds an NHS practice manager taking money to register health tourists. Declan also discovers how easy it is for foreign nationals to get free treatment – with many hospitals across the country not making the required checks” [Panorama broadcast 3/10/2012]

The above is taken from the BBC Panorama website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01nbryp what follows is some analysis of the content. The analysis is limited to the opening two minutes of the broadcast. This opening montage essentially acts as a “trailer” for the remainder of the programme, as such it sets the frame and context through which the viewer is invited to understand the unfolding story of “Britain’s Secret Health Tourists” and the NHS

Visuals Diegetic score/Voice-over Non-diegetic score (if present) Brief description
Black and white library footage
Ambulance driving to Hospital. “The NHS” >> Eric Coates’ “Calling All Workers” Sepia tinted opening montage
Nurses receiving patient from ambulance outside hospital building.Patient smiles as disembarks << “a national institution since 1948” >> Eric Coates’ “Calling All Workers”
Nurse caring for individual patient (washing his face) << Promising free health-care Eric Coates’ “Calling All Workers” Visual demonstration of “care”
Dr taking the blood pressure of a patient << to the residents of Britain Eric Coates’ “Calling All Workers”

The programme opens with black and white library footage, complete with Eric Coates’ “Calling All Workers” as the diegetic score. Various shots of an ambulance, nurses caring for patients and finally a Dr taking the blood pressure of a patient provides a nostalgic sepia tinted opening tone. Laid over the top is the voice-over of BBC Panorama reporter Declan Lawn, who reminds us, “the NHS, a national institution since 1948/Promising free health-care to the residents of Britain” This suitably nostalgic opening serves to remind viewers of a perhaps better, more promising age, the sepia tinted images of care are designed to resonate as indicative of more innocent times. The romanticised image of the NHS thus established, the narrative then jump cuts to a contemporary and urgent scenario

Visuals Diegetic score/Voice-over Non-diegetic score (if present) Brief description
Jump cut to contemporary scene
Image of an ambulance rushing through the frame Ambulance siren Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Cut to ambulance passing through the frame accompanied by siren to signify “emergency” in contrast to previous images of “hope”
Lawn, shot close-up driving through the streets <<But now, we reveal how NHS managers>> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Cut to shot of Lawn in car, on his “journey inside the NHS”
Covert filmed sequence of one of the aforementioned “NHS managers” counting out £20 notes << can cash-in on that promise >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Visibly Counting out notes, visibly and literally “cashing in”

The image of an ambulance rushing through the frame, accompanied by a siren and the generic emergency Casualty style non-diegetic score serve as a visual and aural (televisual) reminder that the contemporary NHS scenario is urgent and far removed from the past. Lawn shot in his car, a classic trope of television thus signifying that our reporter is “taking us on a journey” through the story.  There follows the first (of many throughout the programme) shots of undercover, covert filmed sequences, designed to cast and characterise many of the protagonists as the principle cause of the crisis in the NHS. At this point the voice-over matches the visuals insofar as, one of the “NHS managers” is covertly filmed counting out £20 notes – a visual and literal representation of his “cashing-in” (at “our” expense)

Visuals Diegetic score/Voice-over Non-diegetic score (if present) Brief description
Billowing Union flag Early visual call to patriotism to defend the NHS (from the ‘Other’)
Jet plane passing through the frame in grey sky Every year, the NHS is being used >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Plane passing through the frame to signify the arrival of the ‘Other’ “using” the NHS
“Thrown-focus” sped up footage of a bustling and busy contemporary hospital << by thousands of ‘so-called’ health-tourists >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Post production effect – “throw-focus” to capture “thousands” streaming through hospital – struggling to cope.
Suitcases being wheeled through arrivals lounges << foreign nationals who are not entitled to its care >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Foreign nationals visually signified by suitcases tracking across airports
Extreme close-up (ECU) of Lawn’s eyes << and who don’t pay >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Extreme close-up (ECU ) of Declan Lawn, his eyes to signify close attention to detail – on “our” behalf
Computer screen containing numbers and charts (costs of care) << for the privilege Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Decontextualised shot of large numbers

The Union flag is the first visual call to patriotic defence of the NHS. This is further enhanced by the next sequence of shots combined with the voice-over. A jet plane passing through the frame; then a “throw-focus” shot; sped up footage of a bustling, busy contemporary hospital; suitcases being wheeled through arrivals lounges  – clearly representing the en-mass arrival of “thousands of ‘so-called’ health-tourists…foreign nationals who are not entitled to its care and who don’t pay for the privilege” (Lawn, D BBC Panorama “Britain’s Secret Health Tourists” broadcast 3/10/2012) We then cut to extreme close-up (ECU) of Lawn’s eyes signifying his investigative prowess, followed by computer screen containing suitably large numbers and charts that may or may not bear a relation to the cost of care – it is never explained, the image is designed to merely stand-in for contextual explanation.

Visuals Diegetic score/Voice-over Non-diegetic score (if present) Brief description
Interior shot of Declan Lawn in car, on a journey Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Return to Lawn on another journey inside the NHS
Exterior shot of person entering car. Leg and foot in shot, face “framed out” Using journalists from all over the world >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty
Car Interior – shot from rear seat. Lawn in focus, accomplice/investigative undercover journalist face blurred out of focus << We go undercover >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Visual representation of “undercover” signified by out of focus shot on one of protagonists (undercover journalist)
Cut to exterior. Undecover footage (secret filming) of “Middle-man” counting out cash. << in a ‘black market where access to GP’s is being bought and sold >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Undercover shot of the “black market” in which a suspect counts out cash
Lawn shot through Venetian blinds << we find out how easy it is for health tourists >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Staged shot of Lawn captured through blinds – viewers offered opportunity to see into spaces normally denied
Lawn switches on an X-ray display << to get X-rays >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Visual signifier supportive of the voice-over – so we can literally see the expensive, technological procedures given to “Health tourists”
Shot of patient entering an MRI Scanner << MRI scans >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Visual signifier supportive of the voice-over – so we can literally see the expensive, technological procedures given to “Health tourists”
Exterior – Lawn walking through the streets << and blood tests in hospital for free>> Declan Lawn back on the streets walking purposefully

Declan Lawn continues on his journey, visually displayed by the car. We then witness a sort of visualising of the methodology. Shots of “framed out” investigative assistants with the voice-over confirming the “undercover” nature of the investigation. A shot from the rear of Lawn’s vehicle with one journalist blurred out of focus. This is quickly followed by more “undercover” covert filming of another villainous character, in a “black market” again, counting out notes. We then see staged shots of Lawn filmed through blinds or half hidden, signifying the “undercover” espionage style of his journalistic engagement and that we the viewer are privy to information previously concealed. The voice-over referring to “health tourists” overlays shots of obviously expensive medical procedures which are visually displayed for us. Then a cut to Lawn walking purposefully through the streets looking pensive – but active(ly) engaged on our behalf.

Visuals Diegetic score/Voice-over Non-diegetic score (if present) Brief description
Exterior – the grounds of a hospital. Mid shot of Lawn and another investigative journalist Diegetic – “did anyone ever ask you if you were ordinarily resident in the country?” Shot from a distance
Close up of journalist Diegetic – “Nobody” Zoom to focus attention as protagonist speaks important words
Exterior – Lawn’s car  driving up the street (headlamps on) << Critics say the system is flawed>> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Another signifier of the journey into the heart of the NHS complete with “light shedding” visual symbols
Interior – interview with expert “critic” Diegetic – “This is the poor old NHS being given the task of implementing something which is unworkable” The narrative of this broadcast is legitimised by use of those on the inside

Another car journey then a sweeping shot of Lawn entering the grounds of the hospital sets up the next sequence. Shot from a mid-distance on slightly shaky camera, thus signifying covert filming. The need for this shot as covert though is merely to position the audience. Because both journalists on screen at that time are aware of, and are in fact a part of the investigation, this short sequence and the camera work is designed to give the impression that the audience are “overhearing” information, a series of “quick zooms” invite the viewer closer to (important bits of) the story. A quick cut to Lawn (again) in his car, shot from distance with the headlamps on – perhaps a “light-shedding” metaphor. The voice-over introduces us to “critics” of the current system with a short interview clip in which the “poor old NHS” is fore-grounded. At this point, it seems germane to mention that it is not in doubt that the NHS faces issues of cash-flow and funding. The point of this analysis is: the broadcast invites viewers to identify that the (at least partial) cause of this funding crisis in the “Poor old NHS” is to be laid at the feet of “foreign nationals” and unscrupulous “NHS managers”

Visuals Diegetic score/Voice-over Non-diegetic score (if present) Brief description
Exterior – shot of two Union flags hanging high in the street << We discover how the >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Second visual call to patriotism
Lawn walking through crowded London street – just visible through crowds << NHS is losing millions of £ >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Perhaps third call to patriotism combined with Lawn’s purposeful walk through recognisable environment
Close-up of Lawn’s hand placed on a computer mouse << to other European countries >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty ECU of Lawn again to signify close attention to detail
Close-up of Lawn working on computer, looking at screen >> and how our NHS>> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty CU of Lawn again to signify close attention to detail and his stealthy undercover work
Graphic display – European Identity card >> slides out of frame << passport >> Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Post production edit of “European” health insurance card >>
<<slides into frame: Library footage of Eurostar train << into Europe Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Eurostar Train slides across screen
Crowded platform and crowded escalator complete with European passengers disembarking << is wide open to fraud Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty European passengers disembarking
Cut to exterior and another undercover, covert filmed sequence of “middle-man” counting out cash (complete with sub-titles demarcating how much cash) Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Undercover footage, again unscrupulous protagonists visually displayed counting out money
Interior: Nurse busily walking through a hospital corridor Tonight, join Panorama Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Interior of hospital – recognisable scenes
Medical glove wearing hospital worker pushing a hospital bed as the NHS Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Shots of expensive medical equipment
Generic (expensive) medical equipment Struggles to makes savings Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty Shots of expensive medical equipment – as “the NHS struggles to make savings”
Exterior: Aforementioned NHS Dr (already seen “cashing in”) walking hurriedly down the street being pursued and challenged by Declan Lawn We show how secret health tourists are costing the NHS millions Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty The denouement of the broadcast is trailered here – the “Roger Cook” style confrontation with an already seen cashing in unscrupulous individual.
Graphic – In style of Casualty bearing the title of the broadcast: “Britain’s Secret Health Tourists” Generic music resonant of BBC Casualty (louder) Casualty style graphic – signifying drama, recognisable signifier; emergency

These final sequences begin with another call to patriotism with a shot of two union flags billowing in the London streets. More sequences of undercover “secret” filmed footage – in the “black market” – and more visuals of “middle-men” counting out cash.  Throughout the broadcast we are treated to an abundance of “Pull-focus” shots. These are designed, as one might expect, to “pull-focus” of the viewer into the narrative. Significantly, the “pull-focus” is a characteristic trope of television drama. The dramatic is in keeping with the style of current affairs broadcasting

Being an eminently visual medium, television excels at constructing powerful meanings, at creating vivid impressions, associations and eliciting emotional involvement. It is not so good at presenting lots of facts and the kinds of messages where attention to nuances, reservations and contradictions is vital … The medium lends itself to aesthetically appealing and dramatic representations but is less appropriate for logical and factual argumentation, discriminating descriptions of reality and in-depth analyses. (Ekstrom, M 2002.)

In this concluding section of the “trailer” the foreign nationals arriving is visually displayed by the Eurostar train sliding into frame, thus signifying the ease of movement, and to extend the analysis, in the context of this broadcast, to signify the ease with which rules are sidestepped. The passengers are seen in their hundreds disembarking the Eurostar, to signify “a mass”, and a wide open border, possibly even a border “wide open to fraud” (Lawn, D BBC Panorama “Britain’s Secret Health Tourists” broadcast 3/10/2012). The denouement is classic combative and dramatic confrontation journalism in the style of Roger Cook, so we are offered a sense of (partial) resolution. The opening 1 minute and 45 seconds sets the tone for the remainder of the episode. In this particular broadcast the viewing public are offered the narrative that the NHS is under threat – which is certainly true – and that the intrepid, espionage like, undercover journalistic skills of Declan Lawn will reveal such menace. However, Panorama: The Secret Health Tourists locates said menace and threat in the form of the “foreign national”.

One of the reasons such brief but detailed textual analysis is undertaken is to outline the ways in which Panorama, in some respects constrained by the discourse of broadcast television journalism, deploys classic dramatic signifiers in order to “tell the story” The story told here though – the story of “health tourism”, a fear inducing tale of foreign nationals stealing “your” tax payer funded NHS care – is manifestly not the story of the NHS in 2012. Whilst it is perfectly in keeping with the traditions of the form, one could argue that such traditions as broadcast here, are inadequate. In the context of 2012, and the changes brought about by the “Health and Social Care Act”, it is surely incumbent on the UK’s flagship current affairs broadcast strand, located on the principal Public Service Broadcaster, to devote significant attention to the de facto privatisation of the NHS. But, in utilising the tropes and characteristics inherent in the form of BBC current affairs Public Service Broadcasting, Panorama discursively reproduces the normative ideals perfectly commensurate with perceived “values” of neoliberal hegemony. In this specific case, Panorama’s coverage of the NHS focussed on reimagining and reproducing an already established fear of the “Other” within a narrative of “…the NHS struggling to make savings” [Lawn, D Panorama broadcast 3/10/2012]. Significantly, as is common in the contemporary television journalistic landscape, the narratives and stories told are both of, and by a narrow range of individuals. The focus on individuals is perhaps the most urgent signifier of current affairs television’s inability to critically interrogate wider structural issues. It is easy to tell the story of individual failings; individual flaws; and the individualised mendacity of ‘Othered’ identity forms – after all, through repetition, “we” already *know* the ‘Other’ is to be distrusted and feared. Surely more worthwhile and urgent to critically interrogate the systemic structural flaws of neoliberal capitalism and their likely introduction to and affect on the NHS. That critical analysis remains largely absent from the narratives of current affairs broadcasting is both problematic and self-fulfilling. “It is always much easier to create frames than to change them” (Wolfsfeld, G. 1997) One could argue that in absenting any consideration of the “reforms” contained within the “Health and Social Care Act”, and the very real possibility that it lays the ground for privatisation, Panorama’s Britain’s Secret Health Tourists was in fact a staggering waste of journalistic resources. In place of critical interrogation of NHS privatisation, through entirely absenting such considerations, the neoliberal “market knows best” “consensus” is left unremarked upon in favour of a narrative of exclusion and fear.

Bibliography

Barnett, S (2011) ‘The Rise and Fall of Television Journalism’ London. Bloomsbury Academic Press.

Debrett, M (2010) Reinventing Public Service Television for the Digital Future. Bristol. Intellect Books.

Ekstróm, M (2002) Epistemologies of TV Journalism: A Theoretical Framework in Journalism Vol 3 (3): 259-282.  

McNair, B (2009) ‘News and Journalism in the UK’. London. Routledge.

Wolfsfeld, G (1997) Media and Political Conflict. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.

Articles

UK Uncut: Challenging dominant frames

In Uncategorized on December 16, 2010 by chr1sr0berts

Public service “waste”, public sector cuts and “deficit reduction” are being conflated. In some ways this is testament to the ability of capital to dictate the very terms and frame through which the public at large are encouraged to understand and talk about politics and economics. The neo-liberal ideologues have captured the territory and frames for understanding. How has this happened? And how is this representational ‘trick’ performed?

Allow me, for a moment to suggest some possible explanations.
1) Limited Understanding: It is possible that some/many of the journalists that operate in news media have a limited understanding or frame of reference. Not every ‘business’ journalist is versed in economic theory. Thus, when called upon to ‘report’ on government cuts and government response to the crisis (of capital) the most obvious explanatory framework is to be found in official documents and press briefings.

2) Sourcing: Journalists often rely on particular trusted sources, that is, official sources that have the information directly from “the horses mouth”. News and journalists are reliant on information, and on verified information in order that they are able to tell news stories. Of course I am not suggesting that all journalists merely parrot official rhetoric, even if on some occasions this can be “proved” to be the case, merely repeating it here serves no purpose and in fact rather clouds the issue. The task of sourcing information from trusted verifiable sources is more complex than an overly simplified and reductive analysis of the relationship between journalists and government spokesperson allows for. Nevertheless, sourcing, official spokespersons and reliable contacts are still a consideration when considering the framing of news stories and news narratives.

3) Discourse: Most, though not all politicians seek to narrow the debate, and shift it on to familiar terrain. Journalism is similarly discursive. Discourse necessarily “defines and limits frameworks of understanding”. Media organisations and the journalists therein, unless they are fully versed in wider economic theory; or through political expediency; ideological agreement; or just plain inability to critique, allow this discursive narrowing to take place. In modest defence of journalism and journalists, broadcast media in particular is not very well suited to drawn out discussion or lengthy essays that might extend the narrative framework. However, the upshot is that we are now in the position whereby the ruling coalition have been able to say “look at the mess left by the last administration” ad infinitum; and “look the cuts are essential, they’re not our fault”. With regards the first point, it’s wearing rather thin and thankfully, people in the public sphere are now beginning to tire of this narrative and explicitly stating so. With regards the second point though “look, the cuts are essential/necessary” it’s a bit more of a struggle to propose an alternative narrative and it’s a further demonstration of discourse in action. What it demonstrates is that the elite political class have managed to impose upon events their own partial frame through which to view the political debate. Political and economics journalists have a habit of reproducing dominant themes as “common sense”. Note here:
BBC’s own economics correspondent when reporting on the IMF’s response to George Osborne’s spending plans. “The IMF today gave Osborne’s plans the “thumbs up”” …and by way of explaining who or what the IMF are, Flanders then says that they periodically visit countries to undertake an “economic health-check”; Robert Peston then explains that according to the IMF, Osborne’s plans “demonstrate good housekeeping”. The IMF are able to be presented as mere rational agents of impartial, neutral observation. These linguistic tropes are important, and they’re in the service of neo-liberal ideology. Locating them in the logic of the domestic – “good housekeeping”; the medical – “economic health-check” and the informal – “thumbs up” frames them as non partisan, rational and at worst, neutrally interested in “our” wellbeing. One could just as easily discuss the IMF, CBI et al in the context of a collection of neo-liberal interest groups whose principal concern is that the system of socialisation of loss and privatisation of profits is maintained and further strengthened. That this is never the explanatory framework gives us some clue as to why “necessary cuts” established itself as the ‘obvious’ solution.

So, then, this is the discursive shaping of events by news and current affairs journalism. In the current economic conditions, it is a partial failure of political communication reporting, broadcasting and journalism that this crisis of capital can so easily be represented and reported as “public sector profligacy”. Perceptions of what constitutes fairness are being effectively (stage) ‘managed’ by rhetorical flourishes and discursive tricks that frame the debate(s) too tightly. In this environment, we cannot allow those that stand to gain the most set the terms of the debate….what to do, how to counter it? How to offer a counter argument to the ‘obvious solution’

This logic is being challenged by a growing band – one might in fact call them/us “a coalition (well, they are very “now”) – UK Uncut #UKUncut @UKUncut. This coalition of concerned citizens and tax-payers are challenging the rhetoric of “inevitable cuts”. Firstly by having a targeted and well researched message, able to be simply communicated to people, UK Uncut are, in the classic style of informed, political and critical analysis making explicit the links between tax avoidance/evasion and brutal public spending cuts. They/we are attempting to inform and then explain and contextualise some of the unfair and unjust taxation avoidance/evasion (potato/potarto) schemes in which some companies indulge. It’s quite a task to challenge the established conventional rhetoric but it’s beginning to gain traction.

The dominant frame for over thirty years now has been that taxation is seen as confiscation (Janet Daley used precisely this rhetoric last week on BBC Question Time). However, there is an alternative view, helped no end by it being true. It is as follows:
Corporations cannot function without the state, or at least without the infrastructure that is provided by central state funding via forms of taxation. This infrastructure underpins society and subsequently ‘produces’ citizens/consumers that consume the products in the first place.
• Without healthcare employees would be sick;
• Without education employees wouldn’t be able to read or count or function;
• Without sanitation rubbish would line the streets, bins wouldn’t be collected;
• Without police, shoplifters could not be apprehended, there would be theft; Without courts, shoplifters would not be brought to justice
• Without street lighting shopping streets might be no go areas after dark;
• Without public transportation employees could not travel to work.

The point here is that fair and progressive taxation provides the educational, social, civic and civil infrastructure that produces the conditions in which capital (or businesses) can operate and flourish. Corporations have an obligation to the society in which they operate – and from where they derive their profits. This gathering of loosely organised, leaderless campaigns are beginning to have some impact and it is chiefly through the medium of Twitter and Facebook. However, these new forms of media and communication only go so far. Wonderful as they are for organisation, tactics, flashmob announcements etc their impact is increased once the wave of protests hits a critical mass and is then given due prominence in mainstream media. It is hoped that this coverage in the mainstream forces the agenda, shifts the paradigm or at least asks the questions and makes explicit the link between taxation (avoidance); deficit discussion and public sector cuts. What news journalism tends to do is to compartmentalise, order generically, or in philosophical terms, discursively form. So that public sector cuts can be discussed, but mainly within the terrain of “necessary, unavoidable deficit reduction”. One of the many great things about the developing UK Uncut movement, is this referencing, this drawing together, this explicit linking together of, for instance: raised tuition fees; 100% funding cuts to Arts, humanities and social sciences at university; upwards of 330,000 public sector job cuts with tax avoidance and evasion, UK Uncut and associated and loosely affiliated groups are doing a service that most mainstream journalism is failing to do. It’s a small but a necessary step, that might just gain significant momentum, raise public awareness of the unfairness being meted out in the name of “necessary austerity”.

On that note, please do campaign and join in, or start your very own Uncut protest. In Tunbridge Wells this very weekend, along with over 40 other towns, we’re doing just that. The symbolically important town of Tunbridge Wells is staging a protest at Topshop with perhaps as many as 100 people taking part. If protest comes to Tunbridge Wells, then perhaps the moment of critical mass has been breached. Join us…or anyone else this weekend and let the tax avoiders know, their tax arrangements are helping to cause untol;d misery to thousands of people; that they have a civic responsibility, and that their chicanery will not stand.

Twitter @chr1sr0berts

http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/actions/124

Articles

The ConDemned

In Uncategorized on November 27, 2010 by chr1sr0berts

The following is a proposal written by a friend and academic colleague Dr Paul Bowman (@Bowmanus). It serves as a rallying cry and is an attempt to construct a term around which those who bear the brunt of the political violence can unite. Please ReTweet this widely.
Chris

The ConDemned
by Paolo Bowman on Saturday, 27 November 2010

Jacques Rancière once lamented the loss of the word “proletarian” from common political language. Without the use of this term, a really important conceptual and political category is lost, and with it, an ability to mobilize and act politically is lost too.

This term has never really worked in the UK anyway. But clearly, the UK needs a new political term that can act as a banner to unite all of those who will bear the brunt of the political violence being wreaked by the pantomime-villain coalition government. The people that need to be united include social services (from all areas of social services, and that is A LOT), teachers, lecturers, students, Northerners, etc.

The term needs to ‘work’ in the way that Stuart Hall argued the word “black” came to *work* at a certain point in history: namely, to connect diverse ethnic identities in terms of their shared experience of racism in the UK. It needs to be a rallying point, a point of and for identification and the establishment of political identity.

We can’t have anything ‘left-wing-sounding’, as this is clearly too partisan. It isn’t going to work in Britain. It just isn’t. So we need to be creative and discursive and not obviously party political. No one wants to be obviously party political. But remaining single-interest is a dead end.

So may I suggest that the term we adopt to name (and rally) all who suffer under the obscene acts of this shocking government is “The ConDemned”.

And may I suggest that we use this term to try to forge links and alliances and chains of equivalence with all areas of UK society, rather than singling out “the students” as if they are some single interest exception to the norm. We need to show that The ConDemned are the norm – are becoming the norm.

But – and this is the crucial thing – we need to be clear that this is not a group or an entity who even want to exist. We certainly don’t want to continue to exist as a group. We desire not to exist. We want to be dissolved. We are being created by the negative political energies of the Coalition government. We have been ConDemned. We will go away when they do. When their actions are stopped and reversed, redressed, rectified.

Articles

Student loans, privatised higher education and the “sub-prime” model.

In Uncategorized on November 8, 2010 by chr1sr0berts

Browne in his more 'natural' environment

In a previous post I sought to outline some of the ways in which the Browne Report and the CSR changed the face and the very ideas and values of university education. The focus was on neo-liberalism, university function (and form) What follows here are some more thoughts about this, but all filtered through the lens of an analysis of capital. Based in part, on David Harvey’s Enigma of Capital and an attempt to locate these changes in the neo-liberal model, and more acutely to deliberate on how we arrived at this point. Any critical analysis of such enormous social, cultural (and of course, educational shift: Browne Review) must consider the wider context, ideas and powers driving it. For me, it seems obvious that asking students to pay up to £9,000 per year in tuition – and cutting funds for university teaching in Arts, Humanities and Social sciences – can be firmly located within a crude brutally iniquitous system that socialises losses and privatises profits.

Firstly, for context: It is fairly well established and accepted that capital seeks to grow by a compound 3% per annum. In order to do so it tries to “secure new outlets for revalorisation” (Harvey). The 2007/8 crisis (& previous crises) stem, at least in part, from its periodic inability to achieve said growth. Capital always seeks new markets in order to ensure this compound 3% growth. Now, in developed countries such as UK and US, new markets are in some ways harder to come by, hence the raft of public utility privatisations over the last 30 years; and the emergence of the PFI where private capital enters previously public environments such as hospitals. However, recession notwithstanding, there exists still a market based economy. A fairly recent phenomenon is that private corporation(s) cut costs by outsourcing ‘production’ overseas, thus restoring some profits to capital. However, this outsourcing can, if pushed so far create a crisis in ‘effective demand’. Put simply: when jobs in local economy disappear overseas and profits ‘offshore’, there is less money to spend in said local economy (demand). Over the last 30 years or so wider availability of private ‘credit’ was the attempt to overcome capitalism’s effective demand problem. “Don’t worry about falling wages…spend on credit, and base this spending and credit availability on ever increasing house prices” This effectively created an unsustainable “property bubble”. People were borrowing more and more in order to “get a foot on the property ladder”. Upshot = many of us are now ‘financialised’.

“Capitalism survives by purging itself of debt and loading the costs of adjustment on the weak and the poor.”

It is in this environment that the Browne report into Higher Education funding was crafted. In the Tory ‘Big Society’ the private finance capital system of provision is the means through which university education is to be funded (sic). It’s a model of socialised risk and privatised profit. Effectively a new ‘market’ in higher education emerges, based on privatising – or outsourcing – most costs onto individual students via loans. The compound 3% growth ‘problem’ is partly solved by the creation of a new ‘market’ (in Harvey’s term: “new outlets for revalorisation”) to exploit. My understanding of it is that government will underwrite the loans (socialise the risk) but they will be administered by private corporations; repayments will be payable at commercial interest rates – with “excess” profits going to private finance providers. Am I the only one that sees this as remarkably similar, at least in some respects, to the fashion for providing sub-prime mortgages to impoverished home-buyers: “Even though you’re not in a position to afford to do so, borrow large sums based on future earnings/price rises”; Further entrenching the power of finance capital who reap the rewards in repayments…and if payments are deferred/defaulted, then the govt will socialise the loss. So the loans have multiple effects.1) They ensure that students are fully enmeshed in and beholden to the financialised system; 2) Upon graduation students will then pay up to 9% of their annual salary back in loan repayments; 3) At the ‘supply side’ universities, in a desperate bid to maintain market/consumer based “legitimacy”, instead of providing spaces in which alternative and creative ideas are debated, themselves become marketeers and mere ‘service providers’ – a very different model and idea of what university education is, and is for. This is a consumption based model that has no place in public service and education of our citizens. The neo-liberal ‘financialised’ model is an attempt to effectively ‘colonise’ a publicly funded, vibrant area of activity that, in some cases is precisely that which critically interrogates the “market is best” *logic*.

The problem is, I do not know what can be done about it other than attend: #demo2010Who’s with me?