Twelve Songs for Madiba

The passing of Nelson Mandela – Madiba – caused me great sadness. He’d been the backdrop to most of my politically conscious life from the early 1970s onwards. Music played a significant part in the struggle to overthrow apartheid and free Mandela and his colleagues. Yet already, some of this musical history is being lost. So I’ve been moved to prepare a small compilation of music that moved me – and millions – over the years. If you can, listen. Continue reading

Mandela – a musical tribute

I was involved in the struggle against apartheid from 1970 onwards. Whilst I was involved in all sorts of campaigns in the 70s and early 80s, it was the 1988 70th Birthday Concert for Mandela that lifted to campaign to new heights. And central to this new phase was music – joyous, liberatory, defiant, music. Below is my own, completely idiosyncratic, ‘top ten’ bits of music that – for me – symbolise the striggel against one of the world’s most evil regimes – apartheid South Africa

Nelson Mandela – Specials – the song that more than any other captured the spirit of the campaign. (join the campaign to make this the Christmas number one for 2013)

Mandela Day – Simple Minds

Mandela (live) – Hugh Masakela

Mandela – Salif Keita

Mandela – Santana

Biko – Peter Gabriel – the song that became an anthem for a new generation of anti-apartheid activists in the late 80s.

Impi – Johnny Clegg – once a song buy a despised progressive, now the unofficial anthem of the Springboks. The world turns.

Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City – Steven van Zant

You have placed a chill on my heart – Annie Lennox – a she sang it at the Birthday concert in 1988, dedicated to Madiba – chilling indeed.

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika – nuff said.

Finally, I’d add a tribute to George Michael. he performed a magical set of three numbers by black artists in 1988. As he came off stage a somewhat naive TV reporter asked him “was there any significance to you choosing to cover songs from three bald artists?” To which George replied: “what do you think?”

Human Nature: our (four) Human Social Instincts

It is often said that “human’s are social animals” without really thinking what that implies. Many creatures are social, in the sense that they live in groups, but there are wide differences in what ‘social’ means – from the simple semi-chaos of herding for cattle or deer through to the elaborate, regimented, division-of-labour society of the termite or the honey bee.

Continue reading

Norman Geras: For Human Nature

photo-3Norman Geras died today. Many people will never have heard of a retired politics professor from Manchester, who wrote books on obscure German revolutionaries (Rosa Luxemburg) or human nature in Marx. Some may have seen his more recent “NormBlog” or maybe even heard about his support for theIraq war. But Norman’s influence has been profound on many people, including me. I met Norman back in the early 1970s when I joined the International Marxist Group (IMG), the British section of the Trotskyist Fourth International. The Manchester branch of the IMG was a revelation to a working class boy from Barrow – full of powerful intellects like Norman and Ian Gough, and teeming with debate and ideas. I haven’t seen Norman in many years, although we did exchange some emails when I came back to Manchester a few years ago. He’d retired by then and was writing Normblog and I was busy with my academic and domestic life, with a new son to look after. We said we should meet up, but it never happened. When I found out Norman had died this morning my first reaction was to find my copy of one of his books, from 1983. Here’s why: Continue reading

Whitehall Watch has gone, to a better place…

Dear friends, colleagues and readers,

Whitehall Watch has gone – but just to a better place. It has now joined what will be a suite of blogs under the umbrella of Manchester Policy Blogs.

If you have come here (by mistake) then please just click this www.manchester.ac.uk/whitehallwatch and it’ll take you to the new home of Whitehall Watch.

After nearly four years and over 180,000 hits I have to say it’s been a wrench “letting go”.  It has been quite a journey, with more than a few unexpected twists and turns. Above all WW has had far greater impact than I ever thought possible. And reach – it’s extraordinary that its been read in over 140 countries. But, onwards and upwards… so join me and us at our new home.

Colin

Government defeats over public money in Parliament (crowd sourcing examples)

This is an appeal for a bit of research help from Whitehall Watch’s highly knowledgeable readership…..

There is a widespread belief – often repeated  in serious academic texts – that any defeat on ‘budget’ or ‘money’ motions in the House of Commons is tantamount to a vote of no confidence. I’m grateful to Prof Philip Cowley for pointing out this isn’t actually true in practice   – there have been about 20 cases, at least, of defeats since 1918 (see table below) none of which was treated as a vote of confidence. Continue reading

Britons say no to smaller state (BSA 30)

By Colin Talbot, University of Manchester

Britain is still a majority social-democratic country. That is, politically, the most significant finding of the latest British Social Attitudes survey published this week. Most people want a country which “gets and spends” about what we do now, or even more, rather than less. The BSA figures seem to contradict the often heard assertion that the British people want Scandinavian levels of public services for American levels of taxes. Continue reading

Why ‘Homo Janus’?

Why do I use the term “Homo Janus” for this approach to human nature?

It is to contrast this theory of human nature to various others – such as for example the idea of ‘homo economicus’, the rational utility maximising human so beloved by economists. The ‘Janus’ bit is to emphasise the paradoxical, contradictory, nature of human social instincts.

The Roman God Janus is most often depicted as having two faces, but also sometimes as having four (Janus Quadriphons) – see the picture of the four-sided ‘Janus Arch’ in Rome on another page.

As the theories developed here humans have four basic social instincts – H. Janus seems appropriate.

‘Universal Credit’ Crunch Arrives (as I predicted it would)

Today’s NAO Report on Universal Credit implementation is one of the hardest hitting critiques in living memory from a usually restrained institution. I would say “I hate to say I told you so”, but I don’t ‘hate to say it” and I did, three years ago. But first the NAO’s verdict:

“The National Audit Office has concluded that the Department for Work and Pensions has not achieved value for money in its early implementation of Universal Credit. …

Today’s report concludes that the Department was overly ambitious in both the timetable and scope of the programme. The Department took risks to try to meet the short timescale and used a new project management approach which it had never before used on a programme of this size and complexity. It was unable to explain how it originally decided on its ambitious plans or evaluated their feasibility.”

Devastating stuff, but not unexpected, as there’s been a steady trickle of stories about UC’s problems.

So Predictable.

In a post on my own Whitehall Watch and on the ‘Public Finance’ blogsite, in November 2010, I spelt out why the implementation of Universal Credit was likely to be a disaster. I think the broad thrust of what I said then still holds true today.

I have heard some blame being attached to Iain Duncan Smith – the funniest quip I’ve heard is “what do you expect when you send a Lieutenant to do a Generals job?” (a reference to IDS’s undistinguished military service, which he’s always made a lot of). He has certainly suffered from a large dose of hubris about what it is possible to do and on what timescales. Continue reading

Limit public service competition to non-profits

Post written by Colin Talbot for The Conversation.

The idea that competition is better than monopoly provision in public services is now established wisdom among the British political elite. Since the advent of something commonly called “New Public Management” in the early 1980s, privately managed organisations have been taken to be more efficient and innovative than public ones.

But is there, to coin a phrase, a third way? Competition without private interest companies? The belief that the private sector is inherently good has meant Continue reading