Archive | June, 2017

60 people are dead and no one important is to blame

18 Jun

At the time of writing about 60 people are thought to have died in the Grenfell Tower fire in central London. That figure may rise.

In a febrile political atmosphere, a lot of people are asking questions about how such a thing could happen, and who is culpable. Attention is focusing on the local authority, and on the refurbishment of the tower block that saw the installation of cladding that seemed to contribute to the intensity of the fire. A public inquiry has been ordered and doubtless there could well be corporate manslaughter court cases.

Blame will be apportioned, and a few years from now relatively minor and expendable figures will have to endure the walk of shame as they emerge from a court room or inquiry hearing. The tabloid press (a sector that has an utterly sordid reputation) will publish all sorts of self-righteous name and shame stories about previously un-heard of figures in local authorities and construction companies. That will be very convenient as it will take attention away from wider systemic issues that have contributed to the death of about 60 people.

It might seem somewhat lame to say ‘it is the system that is wrong’ but it is true. Until we look at ‘the system’ then not only is the there the risk of events like the Grenfell Tower fire occurring again, but there is also the risk of the appalling political and statutory reaction to the tragedy.

System failure 1: Central government has devolved responsibility (and sometimes power) to anyone but itself. A salutary question to ask in the wake of this tragedy is: Where is the housing minister? A large public housing facility has burned killing a large number of people and yet the housing minister is nowhere to be seen. That is because the housing of citizens has largely been devolved to Local Authorities and, in turn, Local Authorities have devolved the issue to housing associations and the market. This is symptomatic of a trend that has occurred across in the public sector over the past thirty years whereby Central Government has established a range of trusts, associations and companies that are in charge of delivery. Central Government retains power in the sense that it legislates and often is the funder of last resort, but it absolves itself of responsibility. Thus Central Government (and indeed Local Authorities) can self-righteously point the finger of blame anywhere but towards themselves.

System failure 2: The poor, migrants and minorities don’t matter. It seems that Grenfell Tower was home to many people who were struggling to get by (especially in London’s most expensive borough). They were many migrants, refugees, and minorities among the dead, missing and displaced – the type of people who are generally invisible unless the Daily Mail or Daily Express wants to blame someone for something heinous. The people of Grenfell Tower (and I accept that they are not a homogenous group) were the antithesis of the people who stood behind Theresa May in the stage-managed events in her dreadful election campaign.

UK society has evolved to a situation in which there is a large constituency that can be ignored. Since many among the migrant, refugee, and minority populations do not vote, and have less access to public means of articulation, they can be ignored. They exist on the margins of society and are largely contained there. They can even be useful to the dominant society as participants in the flexible economy but largely they are unseen, contained and perceptually segregated.

System failure 3: There is a class of politicians who really don’t care. It is not unfair to say that Theresa May seems to lack the empathy that many of us would regard as normal in human beings. Her years at the Home Office and the punitive policies she enforced against refugee and migrant children are testament to that. But how could someone with so scant people skills be Prime Minister? Well that one is pretty easy to answer. For decades UK politics and specifically the Labour and Conservative parties have been perfecting leaders who are fundamentally removed from society. We have election campaigns in which leaders do not meet ‘ordinary’ people, field questions from them (or indeed journalists), or participate in any event unless stage-managed. There is an elite political class who are so insulated from the general populace (and much of this is self-enforced and not due to security concerns) that it is unsurprising that they cannot relate to human tragedy outside of their circle. (One of the reasons Jeremy Corbyn’s election campaign attracted so much attention, and no little success, was that he actually met with real people).

What to do? Well we can call out trusts, associations and the bullshit (there is no other term) that recasts citizens as stakeholders and clients. We can refuse to vote for politicians that fail to pass the most basic tasks of participative humanity (or refuse to participate in faux elections at all). And we can try to see refugees, migrants and minorities (not all the same thing) as part of our society – not just irritating clutter to be ignored.

All of that might be terribly idealistic. But the alternative are faux apologies from plastic politicians.

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A material turn in International Relation. New article by me. Email me if you would like a pdf copy.

12 Jun

New article by me in Review of International Studies.

“A material turn in International Relations: the 4×4, intervention and resistance”. Email me at roger.macginty@manchester.ac.uk if you would like a pdf copy.

Abstract
This article explores how analysis of material objects offers insights into international intervention and reactions to that intervention. Building on studies that examine the 4×4 as emblematic of intervention, the article argues that the 4×4 can also be seen as an object of resistance and agency. To do so, it uses the case study of 4×4 usage in Darfur and draws on primary data including interviews and a UN security incident database. The article is mindful of the limitations of a ‘material turn’ in the study of International Relations, especially in relation to how it might encourage us to overlook agency and structural power. While finding new materialism arguments largely convincing, the case study encourages a note of caution and proposes the notion of ‘materialism+’, which allows for the further investigation of the human/non-human interface, but is circumspect about tendencies towards neophilia, dematerialism, and posthumanism.

A brief observation on the impact of the Conservative-DUP arrangement on the Northern Ireland peace process.

9 Jun

A Conservative Party-Democratic Unionist Party arrangement brings Northern Ireland’s current political situation into question. At the moment the power-sharing Assembly that was established as a result of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement is suspended. The basic issue is a lack of trust between Sinn Fein and the DUP. Power now rests with the Westminster government (in the shape of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland). So what happens now if the DUP is effectively part of the Government? The ambition of power-sharing lies at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement and the series of institutions that stem from it. Is that ambition now to be set aside by the British Government?

Throughout the peace process, the British and Irish government have held the roles of brokers (albeit interested brokers) in mediating between the parties in Northern Ireland. So if one of the Northern Ireland parties is effectively a member of the British Government that mediation role is jeopardised.

The timeline between the close of polls and the declaration of a new governing arrangement suggests that these issues have not been thought through.