Ladder of Participation

22 Oct

Sherry Arnstein outlined her model of citizen participation, known as the Ladder of Participation in 1969 (Arnstein, 1969). Arnstein notes that at a conceptual level, participation is acknowledged as a universal good. Yet the practical application of it varies. For Arnstein the role of citizen participation is equal to the use of citizen power and a fundamental balance of the US constitution (Arnstein, 1969, p. 216).

The ladder is a typology of 8 levels of participation, each level is associated with one of three outcomes or end products. The bottom rungs are Manipulation and Therapy which link to Nonparticipation. These are extremely negative and controlled rungs. Further up we enter Degrees of Tokenism reflected by the rungs of Informing, Consultation and Planning. These rungs give some role to citizens but decision-making and the ability to make changes remains firmly in the hands of the bureaucracy.  The top two rungs produce a degree of citizen power. These are Delegated power and Citizen control.

When we look in more detail at the more meaningful rungs, Arnstein sees informing as a transactional relationship. And a one-way transaction at that. Citizens have little ability to negotiate or get excluded by technical answers and information. Consultation for Arnstein is meaningless without other modes of participation complimenting it. There is often a disconnect between the consulters and the consulted. Placation is where the citizens have some degree of representation, though it is on the terms of those with power e.g hand picking and the advice, information and priority setting still sits in the hands of others.

At the higher end of the ladder we have Partnership. This is where citizens and power holders can negotiate and decide, probably through a formal committee which has accountability. Above this we have Delegated Power. Here we would see citizens have the dominant role in decision-making, maybe even delivering services through contracts. Finally, there is Citizens Control. For Arnstein this represent the citizens being in control. Managing the external relationships and that there is no intermediate between them and the funds (Arnstein, 1969, pp. 216-223).

One of the major flaws in the Arnstein model is that it takes as a priori fact that public participation is a good, without any assessment of how it provides value (Ianniello, Iacuzzi, Fedele, & Brusati, 2019, pp. 21-22). Participation and engagement can be rewarding and beneficial, but they can also be frustrating, time consuming and often of no recognisable value whatsoever. This has often been the case with community engagement in Local alcohol issues (Corlett, 2017).  Further it doesn’t reflect that as people became busier and pressure rose on their time and financial security, they are less inclined to be part of civic society. They are also bombarded with a myriad of media and challenges to their day as the way in which we live and communicate has continued to evolve (Putnam, 2001).

Arnsteins model should not be seen as a ladder that is climbed or that is consecutive and in some ways is a misleading analogy (Arnstein, 1969, p. 218). Indeed, it is possible for many citizens to have one foot one rung, a hand on another and maybe even a finger on different rung entirely.

One criticism of participation is that those who do participate are often not representative of the wider community, and within those groups that may be represented are their own participation struggles and concerns.

One model that builds on the Arnstein Ladder is the idea of “Liquid Democracy “(Rashbrooke, 2018, p. 266). This is seen as a complementary process alongside current democratic institutions. In this model politicians and officials become facilitators rather than gatekeepers. Elected representatives still retain the decision-making power, but they are guided by citizens assemblies, reflecting the citizens role as a part of society rather than a consumer of services. Liquid democracy gives citizens a role in between election cycles. The creation of forums would allow for greater accountability and scrutiny. Critics of this concept feel that it would be dominated by those who can express and articulate themselves in a more lucid and compelling way. This could find the forums dominated by the well educated and confident. The construction of the forums needs to reflect society in a meaningful way and maybe even over represent those whose voice will struggle to be heard. Attendees receive training and support and aim to make consensual decisions and recommendations. There are successful examples of this working including the Toronto Planning Panel, a participatory budgeting scheme in Brazil that formed a public view on council investment and Taiwan’s online VTaiwan process (Rashbrooke, 2018, pp. 261-279). This concept is similar to the idea that citizens see effective consultation as two-way and that they consult early in the process when decisions can be altered rather than on agreed outcomes (Berner, Amos, & Morse, 2011, pp. 156-158).

Another engagement concept is using referendum. New Zealand has a long history of undertaking referenda in the local government context. These have often been for issues of public contention rather than regular decision-making. Some examples include the issue of water fluoridation or constructing a sports stadium (Cousins, 2002, pp. 203-205) . The Local Electoral Act provides for mandatory polls on the creation of Maori wards and provisions for referenda on changes to the electoral system. In some ways referenda are used when consultation may have failed or as a mechanism of the last resort. New Zealand has historically used these for contentious issues and come from a negative desire to be rid of an issue rather than a positive one of engagement (Cousins, 2002, pp. 206-207).

A current example of putting an issue out to the whole community to vote on is taking place in Queenstown. Here the District Council are asking all residents if they support a visitor’s levy. The Council has no powers to introduce one and is using this as further leverage with central government (Otago Daily Times, 2019). Referenda though are very binary tools and citizens often have little input in shaping the question. They do though provide for a district wide input between elections.

So why is there resistance to participation and engagement? For some this is viewed as an area of contention between elected representatives, officials and the community. Staff in one survey felt that the public are not all capable of understanding technical details, and it requires “effective citizens “, while elected representatives see the potential for these engagements to be adversarial and a threat to their own legitimacy (Berner et al., 2011). They see citizens as having narrow interests and prefer formal processes to more open engagement mechanisms (Berner et al., 2011, p. 143).

Participation is still seen as “hard” in local government. With the growing interest in “anti-politics” or lack of interest and commitment from the public to traditional processes many councils will simply wonder “why bother?” So many will see the value of consultation as being of little value or just talking to the same people on every issue. The existing statutory provisions on consultation mean that Councils can be selective and, in a world, where resources are scare must balance the need to be cost effective and still meet its legal requirements. Councils will often take a limited view on what they are consulting on and when to undertake this (Cheyne, 2016, pp. 114-118).

So, do the active rungs of the ladder still provide for accurate views on local government participation? We can see Informing as being the process of newsletters and resident communications. Consultation is the formal processes around plans, by-laws and other developments. Placation might be consultation on Annual Plan where a Council might restrict its rates rise. This might be seen as a win for the community, but the agenda of rates increases was the elected representatives and officials. Partnership would cover areas like co-governance committees. Delegated powers while not formally in place were a close alignment to the idea of local boards in Auckland. Finally, Citizens control. This is perhaps a panacea and not something in place, is it something to strive for? Certainly. However, there is always a balancing act and for many issues the mechanism of electing engaged and concerned representatives is still an effective model.



Arnstein, S. (1969). A ladder of citizen participation. JAIP, 35(4), 216-224.

Berner, M., Amos, J., & Morse, R. (2011). WHAT CONSTITUTES EFFECTIVE CITIZEN PARTICIPATION IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT? VIEWS FROM CITY STAKEHOLDERS. Public Administration Quarterly, 35(1), 128-163.

Cheyne, C. (2016). Public Participation and Community Engagement : The Changing Nature of Local Political Participation. In C. C. Jean Drage (Ed.), Local Government in New Zealand Challenges and Choices (pp. 106-119). Auckland Dunmore Press Limited

Corlett, E. (2017, 21 July ). Liquor licence freeze could be undermined by opening hours. Retrieved from

Cousins, M. (2002). Capturing the Citizen’s Voice: The Use of Referenda by New Zealand Local Government. In J. Drage (Ed.), Empowering communities? : representation and participation in New Zealand’s local government (pp. 187-210). Wellington [N.Z.]: Wellington N.Z. : Victoria University Press.

Ianniello, M., Iacuzzi, S., Fedele, P., & Brusati, L. (2019). Obstacles and solutions on the ladder of citizen participation: a systematic review. Public Management Review, 21(1), 21-46. doi:10.1080/14719037.2018.1438499

Otago Daily Times. (2019, 7 March ). Referendum on Queenstown visitor levy announced. Retrieved from

Putnam, R. D. (2001). Bowling alone : the collapse and revival of American community (1st Touchstone ed.. ed.). New York: New York : Simon & Schuster.

Rashbrooke, M. (2018). Government for the public good : the surprising science of large-scale collective action Wellington: Wellington : Bridget Williams Books.


Getting There …..

8 Oct


1978 World Cup (Part 1)

In 1976 Argentina was taken over by a military Junta. A terrorising and horrific regime it ruled the country during a period known as the “Dirty War” where the Junta claimed to be protecting the country from extremist terrorism with a campaign of state terrorism that saw them at war with anyone they felt was a threat or enemy to the state. Students, academics, lawyers, Jew, human rights activists and the judiciary were all under the microscope. ‘First we will kill all the subversives,

then we will kill their collaborators, then … their sympathizers, then … those who remain

indifferent; and, finally, we will kill the timid”. 30,000 people are presumed to have been killed during this period together with thousands more who were tortured, raped or imprisoned,

Argentina had been awarded the football World Cup in 1966 and the last three years of the Peron government had done little to plan and prepare for this global event. Like the accelerated interest expressed by the Nazi regime in the 1936 Olympics, the Junta energised a government led body to prepare for the Cup and directed 10% of the national budget into this area. The Junta had seen the opportunity to legitimise itself on the World stage and to create a feel-good spectacle for the home audience. This even extended to the rather bizarre edict that critical commentaries on Coach Cesar Luis Menotti and the national selection was prohibited. British journalists were issued with a set of ‘indispensable phrases’ with Spanish translations for sportswriters covering the competition to use. The phrases included ‘Please stop torturing me’, ‘My newspaper will pay you well if you let me go’, ‘How many journalists have you butchered this year?’ and ‘Please deliver my body to my family’.

The campaign to boycott or cancel the World Cup was fairly low key in comparison to other international sporting boycotts. The Cup was used more as a way to denounce the regime rather than boycott the event. There was a wide debate in the Netherlands where it was claimed the team would “go as heroes and return as collaborators”.

The logo for the World Cup had been produced prior to the coup and was based on Peron’s upward arms gesture. This caused a potential problem for the Junta who tried to change it but realised it was too late. Marketing recorded the first victory of the finals.

On a footballing front the 16 teams included Scotland. They had qualified in the ugliest of fashions coming out of a group of three, suffered an opening game defeat and qualifying on the back of Wales beating Czechoslovakia. Yet their hopes were up that they were potential winners of the cup.   Fueled by a fan base that had brought down the goalposts in 1977 nothing could stop them.

Scotland had songs – god awful songs.

This was the b-side to the official song ( What the Fk)


And Joe Jordan

joe jordan

But there was also Iran. Qualifying against the backdrop of political turmoil they added a dimension to the World Cup that changed the lens from the traditional East/West. Iran’s top footballer was Parviz Ghelichkhani. Olympic footballer, Gold medallist at the Asian games. A member of a banned Marxist-Leninist political group he was tried on TV for “criminal acts” by the secret police “Savak”. Although he was national captain until 1977 he was never going to be acceptable on the national stage. Without him in the team, Iran were always going to be below par. Parviz ended his career in the North American Soccer League, and was just as out of favour after the revolution and he finally relocated to France where he edited a political magazine.



B.L. Smith The Argentinian Junta and the Press in the Run-up to the 1978 World Cup Soccer & Society

Felix A. Jiménez Botta ‘Yes to Football, No to Torture!’ The politics of the 1978 Football World Cup in West Germany Sport in Society

Scott Murray World Cup stunning moments:Scotland’s 1978 rollercoaster, 29 March 2018 The Guardian

The Perfect Distance Ovett & Coe

5 Sep

Part way through reading this glorious book by Pat Butcher it suddenly dawned on me. I had as a child been allowed to think of the era of Ovett and Coe as , well two things. Firstly the era of Coe & Ovett, even though Coe was clearly the younger and junior and secondly that Coe was the natural champion and Ovett somehow the person who tried to rain on his parade.

How did I get it so wrong – why had I swallowed that narrative that somehow the 800 metres in Moscow was where Ovett robbed Coe and the 1500 metres where Coe proved his class. Why not, as Butchers book clearly lays out, the other way around.

Ovett never gains the recognition for winning that gold instead the story was of Coe’s loss and ultimate redemption. Was it a class thing , was it Ovetts indifference? I don’t know. But from the book I have three observations and an aside.

Firstly whoever calls running 800 metres a middle distance race has never run a marathon.Seriously imagine stoping after 800 metres and thinking you might be about half way through !

Secondly Ovett was a running machine . The book tells of periods where he was running everything from 400 metres to 3,000 with little change in results. The story of him borrowing kit and winning an international class half marathon is just delightful.

My third observation is the wonderful way Butcher takes us up to the last lap of the 1500 metres final in 1984 and the point it all ended. There’s a moment where it could be a British 1,2,3 and then it’s over. Not in a linear sense but the magical era ends before the race does. We all move on , grow up, realise perhaps it was all a dream.

And my aside , well trivial as it may seem a neighbour during my childhood insisted his real name was Steve Obett and that my TV had some sort of malfunction. I have now put that ghost to rest.









Community Engagement in Local Government

22 Aug

Community Engagement in Local Government

In May 1838, the first meeting of the Kororareka[1] Association was held. This was the first body in New Zealand to define its jurisdiction and have a code of laws. In order to enforce its regulations, armed members of the association would carry out punishments ranging from fines to tarring and feathering and even banishment (Carman, 1970, pp. 1-2). Fast forward to 2018 and the residents of Kororareka when faced with their councils Long Term Plan were able to read the draft proposals, attend open meetings, make formal submissions and even speak to these at hearings, all without the threat of physical violence or excommunication (Far North District Council, 2018). The relationship between communities and their local councils appears at first glance to have come a long way.

Since the last major reform of Local Government in 2002, local authorities have been seeking to implement the intentions of the Act, namely that council decisions should reflect community views. In trying to understand how this occurs we are first going to consider how a council has dialogue with its residents.

Communication – Local authorities perform a range of functions and services and the level of service varies at times. Councils communicate this information to residents via transactional mechanisms like their websites or newsletters, for example Wellington City Council sends out a range of newsletters on different subject areas across the year which people can subscribe to or pick up from council offices (Wellington City Council, 2018). At the same time this communication acts in parallel with residents able to communicate to council to report service needs or feedback on an issue.

Consultation – this is a more formalised approach to reflecting community views. Councils must consult under various statutory provisions. This may range from standard items such as annual fees and charges to more specialised issues such as Porirua Councils current consultation on its growth strategy (Porirua City Council, 2019).

Engagement – Engaging relates to councils longer term relationships with stakeholders, groups of interest and the community at large. This could be as simple as regular meetings with ratepayer groups but could also be more formalised through advisory groups or committees. Auckland Council has a range of panels and groups covering ethic and cultural issues, demographic and service issues as well as a formal Maori Board (Auckland Council, 2018).

There have been two main drivers behind changes in community participation. The first has been a top-down approach from changes in legislation and local government procedure. The second is a bottom-up drive from communities with increasing expectations.

Initially the role of engagement in local government was not much more than votes every three years for ratepayers. Beyond that the ratepayers were expected to simply pay their rates and charges (Cheyne, 2002, p. 118). Local government complexity continued to grow, and in 1963 the first attempt at a joined up regional authority (Auckland) was made. However, the growth of local councils continued with well over 600 in place and in response to greater demands for participation district and community councils were formed. While this brought some decision making closer to the public it also created tension between the differing layers of governance. Public participation had still not grown much beyond the triennial elections and periodic polls on reorganisation and loan financing (Cheyne, 2002, pp. 124-126). As New Zealand’s state sector was restructured and made more commercial and market focused, this reform process impacted on all branches of government and eventually led to another wave of reforms to local government. The 1989 reforms made it a legislative requirement that authorities had to produce Annual Plans, and that these plans were not only publicly available, but they also had to openly invite and consider submissions from the public. Council business was also required to be open to the public and comprehensible. The 1989 reforms included provisions for Maori participation ,consultation and representation in local government (Cheyne, 2002, pp. 130-133).

Further legislative changes also drove changes in the way communities were involved in decision-making. The Town and Country Planning Act in 1977 provided the opportunity for the public to object to developments and plans through public hearings. These rights have been further extended with the Resource Management Act. Under this act it is not only affected parties who are able to raise concerns but any interested party. Therefore, the community members themselves can decide if they are “interested “. However the government has later restricted some of the balance in decision-making, firstly through direct intervention in certain areas, particularly Canterbury, and then through legislation which gave the Minister the power to amend council plans after they had been consulted and adopted (Brower & Kleynbos, 2015; Reid, 2018).

The Local Government Act of 2002 expanded on the consultation requirements for authorities. This included recognised opportunities for Maori contribution to decision-making, special consultative procedures, the requirement for a significance and engagement policy and the provision for affected persons to have reasonable access to information and make submissions. Council must receive these with an open-mind (Ombler, 2016). The 2002 Act placed “Community Governance “ as its driving philosophy (Reid, 2018) and was aiming to increase the citizens voice in decision-making. However the concept of community strategies in long term plans, introduced in the 2002 act, were weakened in 2010 and the Government wanted local authorities to focus on core services rather than community well-being (Reid, 2018, p. 9).

Other pieces of legislation have created opportunities for communities to participate in local decision-making. The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act had a significant impact on opportunities for communities to be consulted on policies and decisions affecting alcohol licensing (Maclennan, Kypri, Room, & Langley, 2013). The case of alcohol provides an interesting example as the process while providing a legislative role “has not facilitated communities to exercise effective local control “(Maclennan et al., 2013, p. 894). The question is how much is this a tick box exercise? Or simply so complex that communities struggle to engage without the need for professional and legal support?

Local Government reforms started to treat residents as consumers, customers or clients rather than simple transactional ratepayers. This though created different demands and expectations (Berner, Amos, & Morse, 2011, pp. 133-134). Research found that citizens valued feedback and communication as more important that elected officials and staff did. Further this disconnect means that while there may be lots of engagement being undertaken, the intention is not always the same from either side and this diminishes the effectiveness (Berner et al., 2011).

However, the current methods of community participation can be limiting with responses often coming from narrow social groups. There is a tendency for the overrepresentation of older white European males (Ombler, 2016, p. 22). The Local Government Commission found that many consultation processes were not easily understood, garnered low response rates and found similar consultations being repeated over and over. As consultation provides a mechanism for input which is then judged by elected councillors, there is a potential issue in communities or groups feeling that the weight of their submissions ( especially where a majority of submitters oppose an item ) is not reflected in the decision and therefore was not “heard”(Ombler, 2016) or was a waste of time.

The present climate provides several challenges for public involvement. Technological advancements mean that the public are now constantly hard wired to their service providers and agencies. An expectation that councils can and will communicate in real time puts pressure on them to move toward service delivery methods that include areas such as social media. There is already a growing disparity between those councils that can afford to invest in social media and those that cannot. At some future point smaller councils will either have to find ways of funding this at the expense of current employee posts or find other ways of delivering the service (Hendery, 2016). Technological advances can also change the way we think about participatory methods. Residents may be able to engage not just in response to councils agenda but be able to shape and instigate what council is doing (Alonso & Barbeito, 2016). Technological advances can provide positive opportunities, the ability to not only have a direct link to communities through on-line polls and the like but also the ability to redefine community and communities as something that exist beyond a physical space (Reid, 2016) – how long before the first Councillor is elected not only by electronic voting but for an electronic constituency ?

A further challenge is the rise of what is loosely termed “populism”. In this space we can see the potential for a re-setting of council participation either through simplification or making policy issues appear more accessible. The need to address these issues and provide a simplification of process and how it is communicated is now a significant theme across the western world, even if this may give rise to shallow responses with little evidence to support them (Dunleavy, 2018).

The aim of improved participation in local government should be to improve decision-making and to enhance the democratic processes and empower the local population (Ombler, 2016). There is a desire across the world to restore power and rights to local communities and how residents can and do participate will be crucial in making a success of this (Smith, 2017). In order to meet the challenge of greater and more effective communication councils need to be able to offer multiple access points to participation, and on participants terms. Without this we will continue with disengagement and low voter turnout as councils appear further detached from residents’ everyday lives.




Alonso, Á., & Barbeito, R. (2016). Does e-participation Influence and Improve Political Decision Making Processes? Evidence From a Local Government. Lex Localis, 14(4), 873-891. doi:10.4335/14.4.873-891(2016)

Auckland Council. (2018). Advisory Panels Retrieved from

Berner, M., Amos, J., & Morse, R. (2011). WHAT CONSTITUTES EFFECTIVE CITIZEN PARTICIPATION IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT? VIEWS FROM CITY STAKEHOLDERS. Public Administration Quarterly, 35(1), 128-163.

Brower, A., & Kleynbos, I. (2015). Changes in urban and environmental governance in Canterbury from 2010 to 2015: comparing Environment Canterbury and Christchurch City Council. Policy Quarterly, 11(3). doi:10.26686/pq.v11i3.4551

Carman, A. H. (1970). The birth of a city, / by A. H. Carman. Wellington: Wellington The author, 7 Kowhai St. Tawa.

Cheyne, C. (2002). Public Involvement in Local Government in New Zealand; A Historical Account. In J. Drage (Ed.), Empowering communities? : representation and participation in New Zealand’s local government (pp. 116-155). Wellington: Victoria University Press.

Dunleavy, P. (2018). “Build a wall”. “Tax a shed”. “Fix a debt limit”. The constructive and destructive potential of populist anti-statism and “naïve” statism. Policy Studies, 39(3), 310-333. doi:10.1080/01442872.2018.1475639

Far North District Council. (2018). Long Term Plan 2018-28. Retrieved from

Hendery, S. (2016). Councils spend big on social media. Retrieved from

Maclennan, B., Kypri, K., Room, R., & Langley, J. (2013). Local government alcohol policy development: case studies in three New Zealand communities. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 108(5), 885-895. doi:10.1111/add.12017

Ombler, J. R., Marie;Rivera-Munoz,Graciela. (2016). Local Councils and Public Consultation extending the reach of democracy. Policy Quareterly, 12(4), 20-27.

Porirua City Council. (2019). Growth Strategy Retrieved from

Reid, M. (2016). Local Government In A Changing World: What Does The Future Hold. In Jean Drage;Christine Cheyne (Ed.), Local Government in New Zealand Challenges and Choices. Auckland: Dunmore Publishing Limited.

Reid, M. (2018). Saving local democracy: An agenda for the new government. Retrieved from Auckland:

Smith, J. (2017). Local Responses to Right-Wing Populism:Building Human Rights Cities. Studies in Social Justice, 11(2), 347-368.

Wellington City Council. (2018). E-Newsletters. Retrieved from


[1] Part of what is now known as the Bay of Islands.

Theresa May’s Candide Premiership

17 Jan

The whole Brexit debate has probably been worth it to hear Michael Gove (POB) do his Vicky Pollard impression.


Gove’s speech is getting rave reviews. I don’t rate it as highly as Michael Foots one under similar circumstances but that’s for another day.

The political mess and chaos of Brexit still seems to have a long way to run. Quite whether this is a Corn Law moment remains to be seen, will the plates shift that much. I still doubt it. The moment for the political classes to represent the pro and anti European agenda was any time over the last 50 years. Now it just seems too late.

Yet there are glimpses that this seems possible. You cant really see how a post Brexit Jacob Rees Mogg ( who now wants to shut Parliament down ) can sit in the same party and Government as Teresa May. But then look at Michael Gove. One of the so called brains of the Brexit campaign. The man who talked up freedom and control is now talking of the dangers to primary industry from no deal. There was never talk of “deals” in 2016. The Chief Brexiteer is now arguing for a new customs union with everything that comes with it. Mogg is content to have a WTO free trade arrangement, Gove wants to start the process of closer economic ties with the rest of Europe. We know how that ends !

The Parliamentary debates have been providing entertainment and punch ups galore. The ERG bloc who tried to remove Teresa May before Xmas laughably fell in behind a confidence vote in her Government. They may have clipped her wings, but clipping the wings of a Dodo is hardly a task with much reward or benefit.

May’s biggest challenge is keeping the Government majority intact. The DUP have taken a mind boggling stance, where they smash things to pieces, put the pieces back together then retreat to find a bigger hammer. Then put the newly bashed pieces in a kaleidoscope in the dark ..then bash it some more. Northern Ireland voted to remain and some sort of deal that was close to a customs union / single market would no doubt have great appeal to the only land border in the UK. For the DUP the border is an issue of faith. The tension this puts on the fractious Union is obvious and the DUP prop up the Government.

Oddly Mays best way out of this may be a General Election. Her unpopularity in Westminster may not be such an issue in the country at large. If Parliament wont pass her deal but the public vote for her the authority and end point are cleaner and more straight forward than the idea of a Second Referendum. The election might have shades of 1918 or 1922. Its hard to see how a Second Referendum doesn’t lead to a Third.

Which leads to Jeremy Corbyn. For the opposition the challenge is just as great as for May. The European split doesn’t sit neatly in Labour and the only positively and clearly pro EU party in the Liberal Democrats have hardly surged since Brexit.

Planning for the No Deal Brexit have been beyond parody. An Ealing version of Britain ( but remember Passport to Pimlico doesn’t end well for the Brexiteers ) . While the planning is centred around a shipping company with no ships and a take-away menu for its charter. No doubt the Brexit movie will be phenomenal, but the reality seems a little grimier. Whether its stockpiling drugs,  slaughtering 6 million sheep or queuing for hours at the port it all feels like a strange kind of liberation. There will though be Cheese and Onion Crisps.

The main issue with Brexit though hasn’t changed since 24 June 2016. The EU can never and will never accept a deal that can in any way be in the UK’s favour. Perhaps May could have played a longer or shorter game, but whatever the rules were rigged. Without serious reform the EU will punish the UK for its cheek at leaving and will do all it can to make sure no one else would ever try it.

IMG_0487 (002).PNG

But then what ? Will the political landscape be changed ? Life goes on so to speak. Issues like Trade or Agricultural Policy are things most of us have never spent much time thinking of. Suddenly they will dominate the landscape for years. The consequences of these changes are monumental, whether we, or the policymakers understand them. Then there is the Irish Border. Back into our political lexicon with a vengeance. Many of us had hoped it had gone away. The return of a patrolled, governed border. Northern Irelands other major party, Sinn Fein are silent in the Parliamentary debates. Ironically many see the Brexit debate, even with Sinn Fein’s abstention , as potentially accelerating a united Ireland. Irony comes in all shapes and sizes.

Brexiteers now seem like Jane Austen’s Emma having finally completed her trip to Box hill. For her whole existence she had wanted to venture out to see somewhere and something different. She realises there is risk and that her Father is advising against it. Yet when she is there, not only does she realise the event is not going to be as successful and spectacular as she hoped but her own actions undermine the very idea that it could be a success. Having longed for Sovereignty, the Brexit brigade now seem to find that that involves making decisions and taking choices. Many of which seem to make things worse and worse.

And perhaps the most British response to preparation for No Deal has now occurred. A trial traffic jam in Kent. We are practicing what would happen in the event of lorries being held up for bureaucratic reasons. Oddly one of the driving reasons for leaving the EU was silly regulations and red tape. Now look at us. Practicing queuing. Of course its hard to believe no one can forecast what a traffic jam might look like. The act of undertaking a practice seems to be part of the theatre of getting people ready for the collapse that will follow.

IMG_0493 (002).PNG

Somehow it feels like Brexit chaos is only just beginning. I hope I am wrong.




What David Willetts wants

16 May

David Willetts resigned as Paymaster general on 11 December 1996. Paymaster general is a Treasury position, it was a merger of the paymaster of forces and other roles including Treasurer of the ordinance ( which sounds like a rubbish star wars baddy ) . Other holders include

Bliss was it to be alive in the Dawn Primarolo held it for 8 years

David Plunket ( a name that could easily get the wrong paternity test sent to him )

Charles Churchill – Winnies cousin

Arthur Henderson held it for a few months during the great war, Neville Chamberlain before he found peace. Geoffrey Robinson held it during his wonderful time in office ( I kid you not his memoirs are the best book about early new Labour you will ever read or need to read ) and little Ben Gummer proving eating infected beef doesn’t hold you back.

But I digress

Willetts ‘ made an ass of himself’ according to Roy Hattersley.

Willetts had tried to stop a committee investigating Neil Hamilton and cash for questions. His note of the meeting with the Chair of the members Interest Select Committee became a priceless memory of the Major debacle. He called the chair ( Sir Geoffrey Pinstripe Smith ) muddled and wanted him to exploit the good tory majority on the Committee.

“ He wants our advice “ noted Willets. No I didn’t proclaimed Pinstripe. Well according to Willetts he wants as in he lacks or needs it. Not that he requests or desires it. Jokes abounded about poor Mrs Willetts being told David wants her.

Willetts was accused of dissembling which is posh tory for lying and he resigned his post shortly after.

He then went on to write the excellent best seller ‘ Blairs Gurus’ in which he attacked John Gray, Will Hutton,John Kay,Frank Field,Simon Jenkins,Andrew marr, Peter Mandelson and David Marquand. It was a later broadway sensation and the film version was nominated for 2 oscars.


Bagpuss and the common market

8 Feb

From the archive


I was forced , and there was some resistance , to watch Bagpuss this morning. The one where the Mice find a mill and then use butter beans to make chocolate biscuits…yes that one. It got me thinking. Particularly when you note it was made in April 1974.

The Mice of course aren’t really making chocolate biscuits, they simply pour the beans into a bag and roll a biscuit out , and to make matters worse they keep reusing the same biscuit.

Why do I care. Well there’s something strangely political about it. I know people have commented before about the mice as a metaphor for striking labour, but I am not sure. In fact they seem like a metaphor for the common market ( as it then was ). Something people thought was all an illusion , that tricky thing with its false claims , its biscuit you never…

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Women poets of the civil war

6 Dec

There can never be enough study of the ideology and thought of the confused and chaotic British 17th Century. The role of women in this process is often neglected. Twenty years ago or so Hilary Hinds wrote a book which for me was a showstopper in terms of my thinking on the 17th Century – “ God’s Englishwomen” she illustrates how women had to circumvent the male dominated religious paradigm they operated within to get their point across. In the terms of Hinds book she demonstrated how women could relay thought through the process of revelatory dreams was seen as ok , but simply having an idea was not. Fast forward 400 years and consider the treatment of women politicians and maybe not a lot has changed.

So its an early xmas present to find Manchester University Press have published another great looking book on 17th century thought this time focusing on Women poets of the english civil war. If the interview below is anything to go by it should be a great read, and if I’m lucky enough to get a copy I will no doubt post a review.



The Truth about Trump

1 Nov

The Truth About Trump, Michael D’Antonio (St Martins Press,2016)


During the reconstruction of the building that would eventually become Trump Towers, workers destroyed two art deco friezes. There had been on going debate about the value of the friezes and Trump had agreed to donate them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Facing criticism for having broken this earlier agreement, the Trump organisation were coming under increasing public pressure. Enter John Barron who defended the decision based on economics. John Barron was vice-president of the Trump organisation.  However, his existence was not a physical one, Barron was a construct of Trumps imagination played by none other than Donald Trump. It may have been a shield, some form of protection or a way to throw legal threats and deal with rumours. But it was Trump pretending to be someone else. Trump also employed the services of John Miller, another character of his imagination, to inform the press of Trumps dating history with celebrity women.  Michael D’Antonios book “The Truth About Trump” contains this story and many others about the odd world of Donald Trump up to November 2016.


In reading the book you are never quite sure that Donald Trump really exists. Or perhaps its which Donald Trump exists. Trumps relationship with reality is difficult to comprehend. D’Antonio sees the Trump performance as similar to a slightly off-beat comedian. His slow dead beat delivery chipping away an insult at a time. Whether its potential rivals for the Presidency, potential Mrs. Trumps or just his business rivals, the combination of over the top insult, innuendo and fear mongering have been consistent for decades. This has accelerated in recent years with Trump taking to social media for additional delivery. His Twitter storms are referred to as “shitposting”. An inoculation against the facts and perhaps even against reality. The benefit for Trump in doing this is that he always leaves one foot on the edge of the post. The character of Donald Trump might say these things but the real man is somehow hidden a little further away. Maybe though this is the real man, and D’Antonio leaves enough pointers for us to understand that the irrational, inconsistent and at times insulting behaviour is part of Trumps truth.


Examples abound. Trump’s business activities form the main part of this book. Trumps debt funded and ego fuelled deals rarely make commercial sense. It perhaps explains also why, as someone who was overly keen to ensure the media reported his wealth in billions, when he applied for a gaming licence in 1982 he could only demonstrate cash assets of $400,000. His empire was heavily indebted with insufficient available cash. The solution for the Trump organisation was to continue doing deals, to free up some more cash to prolong the inevitable payback. When in the early 1990s this all started to go horribly wrong for Trump he managed to bluff and bluster his way out of it. His Taj Mahal resort-casino went bankrupt and with it a number of his other ventures. As part of the arrangement with creditors Trump continued to receive $1 million per year for use of his name on the complex. In trying to salvage something from the continued operation of his businesses, the creditors avoided lengthy court processes. They also allowed Trump to ride to a position of power from his corporate disasters. He reduced many of his own liabilities but retained a significant asset base. His major financial restraint was a $450,000 per month expenses allowance. In exchange he walked away from over half a billion dollars of debt.  Or as he later said” You have to be strong enough to not pay”.


None of this stopped his image of being a success. A winner as he often calls himself. Trump didn’t feel constrained by just being a business man he became something of a celebrity. Brand Trump expanded itself beyond real estate, it was a lifestyle, a statement, a monogrammed gold plated high interest junk bonded one. Like his business deals though the personality needed to do further deals to fund the ego. Not content or able to just be the promoter of Trump steaks (and who would) he needed to go further. Leading a successful television show takes him further. As does his almost comical “invasion” of a Scottish coastal town to build a golf resort.  Sadly, it was not comic for those on the receiving end of the abuse and bullying that went with it.


However, niggling away was the idea of the biggest promotional deal he could possibly do. Run for President. Having looked at it in the late 80’s, though not in a serious way, he returned in a more serious manner for the 2000 election and the possibility of being the Reform Party candidate. He offered the party “a business mans eye for the bottom line” just as his organisation posted a $34.5-million-dollar loss for the last 3 months. Timing in politics can be everything. Much of his exploratory campaign was built around negative comments about other contenders. D’Antonio lists many of them. Too many to repeat. He managed to turn the campaign though into a book and speaking tour. His campaign eventually ended but not after extensive promotion of Trumps assets.


His 2011 attempt to gain momentum for the Republican nomination was backed by what is now becoming an all too familiar Trump trait, racial ignorance. Trump led the “Birther “charge. A name he rejected on the grounds that being a “Birther” seemed to imply anyone who questioned the Presidents birth details was an idiot. You can judge this statement for yourself. Trumps version of Birther was something else though. It wasn’t that Obama was born overseas (though he didn’t accept this entirely) it was that Obama had a secret. The secret may be that he is a Muslim, maybe something else. Obama, according to Trump, went to a school where no one remembers him and gained an education on the back of being a poor student. Of course it may just be that Trump didn’t like having a non-white President. Though different versions of Trump may have had different views. Trumps campaign ended when he decided to film another series of “The Apprentice”. It wasn’t over though. His 2011 testing of the waters included some strong stuff on Mexicans, and on foreign leaders laughing at America. His next attempt would, to use a quote from a Trump book “Think Big and be paranoid”.


Sadly, we all know where D’Antonios book is taking us. The 2016 General Election win for Trump built on his concepts of thinking big and paranoia. He advocates violence, exploits racial tension, seems comfortably misogynist and creates a climate of fear around immigrants, Muslims and Mexicans. He wants global trade and local news to be on his terms. Trump makes a political deal with those left behind, the unemployed, the Birthers, the white supremacists, climate change deniers and many more. As with his commercial deals there’s too much inherent debt and their wont be enough ability to pay all these political creditors. When the inevitable payback comes what kind of deal will emerge? Will it be more elaborate than the original? A bigger wall? More Walls? Will it cut deeper? What we do know is Trump doesn’t like to lose out in these arrangements. In avoiding Trumps political bankruptcy, we may all feel the pinch.


But are these images of Donald Trump that D’Antonio shows us our real issue to deal with? D’Antonio is certain that Trumps characteristics are known even if the characterisation is murky. The bigger question is what are we going to do about it?


21 Sep

Sean Mahoney discusses radicalism, populism and the contemporary political moment.

via Age of Anger — HONG KONG REVIEW OF BOOKS 香港書評