Doctoring Welfare: Why ATOS must adhere to the Hippocratic Oath

By Megan Sherman. Megan is an MSc Global Politics student and student liaison officer for Momentum Southampton. As a student journalist she has written for local and national media.


 

A Stanford Sociologist recently divulged the findings of his research on how to make effective political arguments. He found the most persuasive, successful arguments reframed the argument in terms of opponents’ moral values. This approach is less polarizing, and more consensual. It finds a common ground where both parties can agree. This way, progress might be made on policy where there is usually stalemate and stagnation.

It is this consensual approach to persuasion which I am trying to emulate by asking the Government to consider making ATOS adhere to the Hippocratic Oath. The Tory Party is hardly going to be convinced to reject the logic of austerity by an appeal to their compassion. But what they can’t do is reject this motion and still lay claim to being a party that respects moral values and ancient civic traditions. So this way we may make them tacitly accept a motion that would improve the lives of people for whom the benefits assessments reforms have brought untold misery.

The idea behind my petition was simple. People who make decisions that affect the lives of the ill are usually expected to adhere to an ethical code. Although technically the Hippocratic Oath is not a requirement for UK doctors, they are nonetheless expected to abide by the principle ‘Do No Harm.’ Arguably this ought to be a requirement for all organs of state. ATOS processes directly affect the health and wellbeing of the people who are the objects of their assessment, and it is the corporate approach of reducing people to an objectified, dehumanized thing that is causing the trouble with ATOS, so the need for a more humanistic approach that respects the rights and dignity of patients has never been more acute.

Smart people will notice and say that ATOS already has a code of ethics. But ATOS writing their own code of conduct is like the accountants and banks being seconded to write tax evasions law. Corporations cannot be entrusted to uphold ethical codes by themselves. They must be subscribed to a legal code which punishes a failure to abide by strict ethical regulations. ATOS can’t audit its own ethics for the same reason NGOs can’t audit their transparency structures themselves.

It is no exaggeration to say that welfare reforms have been a death penalty for some. The campaigns of disability activist groups shine a light on the troublesome correlation between DWP assessments and suicide. Films like I, Daniel Blake make an emblem of the struggles of genuinely unwell people against a suspicious, hyper-vigilant system that fails to treat the objects of its processes with compassion and respect. Political commentators with affinity for the struggles of the disabled try to bring their concerns to the attention of mainstream opinion.

I think the time is now for Parliament to debate bringing in a code of ethics for companies who deal with our sick citizens. If a doctor mistreats a patient, she is held accountable at tribunal. If an MP damages the interests of somebody in their constituency, she is held accountable at the ballot box. Perhaps, now, it is time for ATOS to be at a tribunal, being heard for its own deficiencies, instead of punishing those it perceives in others.

Please follow this link to the petition.

Demystifying the Climate Crisis: A Review of Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything”

By Meg Sherman, a student of Modern History and Politics at University of Southampton.


The global movement to divest from fossil fuels is a clear-thinking, progressive choice for action on climate change. This Changes Everything: Capitalism VS The Climate, a newly published volume by Naomi Klein, provides an invaluable history of environmental and economic injustices and should be required reading for anyone interested in the divestment movement.

The truth on climate change is hard to identify in a world where business is powerfully invested in misinformation. But under the smog of denialism the effects of human-made global warming (via carbon emissions) are already being wrought in real, violent ways upon the planet: ways of life are being extinguished; low-lying pacific islands look set to be swallowed by the sea; global temperatures melt previous records with alarming alacrity, and extreme weather events displacing large populations are fast becoming the norm. Our generation lives throughout the endgame of industrial civilization, a time when humanity urgently needs new, compelling narratives about potential transformations in society, economics and politics. Incisive, compelling and relevant as its predecessors, Capitalism VS The Climate appears as a stray flicker of hope, imploring a thoughtful resistance to predatory capitalism and envisioning a real place for a climate movement with redistributive justice at its’ core.

Following in the path of No Logo and Shock Doctrine, Klein’s latest volume deepens her earlier work exposing the disastrous underbelly of neoliberal globalization. The crux of her argument is that the environmental crisis is itself a consequence of the systematic desolation of the global commons, increasingly privatized and deregulated by centralized trading regimes, dominated by the richer industrialized nations, questing for more control of planetary resources. Shock Doctrine railed against the callousness of structural adjustment regimes which deprived nascent economies in the global south of their health, wealth and stability in order to serve the narrow interests and myopic greed of corporations and profiteers, that is to say, the agenda of the 1%. And in Capitalism VS The Climate Klein, using the aftermath of hurricane Katrina by way of example as to how reconstruction efforts can be hijacked and stymied, argues that global warming itself will be hoisted to the engine of the shock doctrine insofar as business competes to advantage from mounting crises without advancing help, solutions, assistance or attempts to mitigate and alleviate the accruing damage. Instead they use crises cynically as a platform for further deregulation and privatization, undermining public unity and collective solidarity. This is disaster capitalism laid bare: a lethal obstacle to public health and environmental sustainability. Major economies founded on the extraction of fossil fuels and emission of greenhouse gases are the major crisis culprits, stoking inequalities. Key stakeholder groups with historically the least restricted access to resources deriving from this foundation are called upon to amend their high-consumption lifestyles, to rediscover the real need for economic justice, or condemn global citizens to further disaster.

Klein looks to initiatives already underway which speak to hopes of achieving lasting social and environmental security by approximating more conscientious and democratic ways of life. Capitalism VS The Climate integrates the lessons and voices of Cheyenne social movements who live on lands intersected by the Keystone XL pipeline, and who have given life to the concept of stewardship by taking bold leaps forward in the resistance against big oil with public education initiatives empowering citizens to establish clean forms of power production in their own communities, harnessing abundant sources like solar and wind energy. Corporate rhetoric has a canny habit of reframing disastrous policies which attack the lives of vulnerable people as a triumph for democracy as much as it has a way of casting radical change as beyond the spectrum of possibility. But in Klein’s view the alternative is not only clear, but well within the means and creativity of people everywhere:

“with the right kind of public pressure, money can be marshaled not just to rebuild cities and communities, but to transform them into models of nonextractive living… activists can demand everything from free, democratically controlled public transit, to more public housing along those transit lines, powered by community-controlled renewable energy – with the jobs created by this investment going to local workers and paying a living wage.”

When it comes to climate change prominent politicians and business leaders argue that we can overcome it by investing more faith in technological and market-based solutions, perpetuating the idea that we don’t need wholesale social and economic reform to underwrite the transition to a low-carbon future. Klein on the other paw argues that a deregulated system which creates the widespread market failure of climate change has obviously outlived its utility, and she argues for more support for research directed at renewable energies, as a pre-requisite for solving issues of public health and the environment. She is astute when she argues that if you take the warnings of modern climate science to their logical conclusion then we ought to have democratically control over public utilities so that they are governed less recklessly. A well-known truism states that madness is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. Einstein put it this way: We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” How, then, can we rely on plutocratic capitalism to solve a problem it created and support the long term needs of life on Earth?

Global forecasts predict another unassailable reality aside climate change, that fledgling economies like Brazil, Russia, India and China, tailed by developing LEDCS, will together surpass the activity of the traditional MEDCs and G7 by the middle of this century. The total energy demanded to support those transitions is huge. And two imperatives are to meet that demand and to do it whilst reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions. Concurrently. An immense challenge. It is clear that climate change is an urgent global issue and getting good policy and functional alternatives on the go is crucial as only this will form the basis for societies and industries to reverse the very damaging practices inherent in current methods of production, to respect the balance of nature, and ensure we put a stop to pollution everywhere to protect the shared lands which sustain life on the planet. And the narrative in Capitalism VS The Climate is driven by a heartfelt wish to open people’s eyes to the collective power we have to create new visions and strategies, real options and choices for progressive, radical change in a future which runs fugitive from the totalizing, destructive ambitions of corporate capitalism.

It’s Time to Divest, Before There’s Nothing Left to Burn

By Meg Sherman, a student of Modern History and Politics at University of Southampton.


Climate change has been hitting the political headlines with increasing frequency, and for anyone who accepts the foundational science it is usually an invitation to despair. Proposing yet more standards that shouldn’t be assented to, UKIP have predictably attacked EU targets to close most coal plants by 2020, and as public appetite for an eco-socialist agenda swells in surging support for the Greens and a dissident left, more insincere rhetoric about the environment from incumbents will inevitably be wheeled out as the general election’s motorcade rolls in to 2015.

But what is at stake?

Following the Copenhagen Accord in 2009, governments – some of the most conservative too – agreed in 2010 that a core temperature rise above two degrees is too much. Britain has signed this in to law already and states have provisionally agreed to return to Paris next year to oblige further measures to stop us going beyond that tipping point. Beyond it we will definitely be left dealing with catastrophic and extinction-level events, the human and economic cost and damage of which we can only estimate.

The onus of preventing this outcome is mostly on the fossil fuel market whose supply-side policies are one of the major culprits for current global warming levels. However, longstanding and continued investment in energies like oil, gas and coal remain virtually unquestioned by governments, who nevertheless have the power of regulation. At precisely the time we most need a sense of awareness and connect between policy-makers and the capital-markets cashing in on dirty energy, there is scant political will to call out the investment gamble. Perhaps it’s politically expedient for the current executive that people aren’t aware that their pensions are being used by the top 200 companies to gamble on yet more fossil fuel reserves and inflate the carbon bubble, that is, betting on the likelihood politicians will do nothing.

It will be impossible to meet the aim of keeping temperature rises below 2 degrees without escalating the movement to divest from fossil fuels. To the ends of raising awareness of the Higher Education sector’s complicity in a dangerous and corrupt market, student group Fossil Free published an open letter to Southampton University calling for a conscientious and responsible strategy of divestment like that hard-won in Glasgow.

We are sitting on the technology, capacity and expertise that can harness renewable sources of energy and organize society better by redistributing net wealth, but the insolence of a corrupt political class afraid to stand up to the market, it’s rapacious mode of consumption and disregard for planetary life may in the end destroy everything we’ve ever loved.

Open letter: http://southamptonfossilfree.wordpress.com/

In Defence of Revolution

By Meg Sherman, a student of Modern History and Politics at University of Southampton. Meg also has a personal blog.


(Cross-posted from http://ms3g11.tumblr.com/)

Revolution, Russell Brand’s new book, is devoted to asking how we build an egalitarian society and awaken our higher skills, a trunk full of hot thoughts about spirituality, spectacle and cultural politics in late capitalist modernity – the age of made-up FTSE symbols as he inimitably puts it. Traversing an ocean of anecdotal evidence spanning the democratic proto-panacea of Occupy to the kangaroo court of Newsnight, the clown-cum-inquisitor gives short shrift to dominant political orthodoxies. It’s not a typical manifesto, although, like in Marx, the cadences matter. Revolution sings to our minds, Brand playing on his lexical flute and telling a true story of how human lives were entombed in bad rule and a deadly consumer culture sacralising destruction. It is the ultimate fantasy of mindlessness. All in all he gives us a bright light for seeing with in gloomy times.

There’s the urge to spring to attack like Murdoch’s rotweiler and do a hatchet job. Of late, the self-styled comic philanderer has turned heads trying to carve out a new reputation for seriousness, undercutting old privilege networks in his spare time with eloquent whimsy and panache, all stylish and rumbustious in conch calls for change in The Trews. It’s precisely because he’s been accused of being a demagogue that his ideas ought to be contested, but a tranche of abusive rebuttals seem only to reiterate an astute claim made throughout his prose and performance comedy: modern media ceremonies of iconoclasm are hurtful, a fruitless spectacle distracting us from collective issues the whole Earth faces as industrial civilization surges humanity to a doom-laden precipice. Is now time to expend energy on hatred? Only if you’ve lost course. It’s time to attain understanding, quickly.

It should seem conspicuous how by focusing attention negatively on a singular comic persona, press machinery conveniently relieves itself of acknowledging or meaningfully contemplating the many and varied ideas on politics and IR, self and the world, derived from solid research and joyfully drenched in iridescent prose in the wave-making books and videos. Their value is the range of their sympathy; forget celebrity.

Hardly anyone in the reviews is calling Revolution’s argument profound, despite the fact the main argument spiralling through the text, although not all Brand’s own, is genius still: if we began thinking and living as communities in harmony with one another’s fundamental needs, the amount of energy necessary to transform the governance of our society would be of an order of magnitude smaller than that which we put in to keeping up a rotten orthodoxy, predicated on corporate power, materialism and possessive individualism, which makes more people dead and depressed quicker, meanwhile emancipating corporations and the exponentially rich from social obligation, and – the apocalyptic icing on the anthropogenic cake – senselessly accelerates ecocide.

On Earth the collective daily lot is human and ecological disaster fixed by an elaborate system of hoarded wealth and power, as concurrently people born in to low-paid lives, ever more restricted by government policy, are in want of facilities to feed, house and take care of themselves. Cruel world that Brand accuses “the bejewelled fun-bus”, the 85 people who have as much wealth as half the world of wanting the ogre system in the heart of the gumdrop gingerbread village to stay cosy, to stop us from realizing our common cosmic plight.

We know liberal democratic governments are plutocracies and that candidacies tend to be sponsored by financial elites and that these states have become more authoritarian in time. The topsy-turvy reality of politics is tucked out of sight and censored from narrow and selective narratives of mainstream media. Establishment forces, although having broad, complex and diffuse strategies, all have tendencies for managing information, eliding from the public knowledge which might cast hegemonic discourse in a dubious light and topple methods of control (see: Manufacturing Consent.) Far from being assemblies embodying a transcendent collective will, our governments are intricately entangled with big businesses and unaccountable multinational corporations, systems which irrationally let profiteers expand margins and extract more labour by practices only legally differential from slavery, proven to have brutally deleterious effects on human lives, animals and planetary ecosystems. That’s the problematic, not just for Brand but for everyone.

Much of what is said about politics in the public sphere today is still governed by the erroneous belief that there is no alternative to capitalism and that we have less in common with the migrant labourer on our street than members of parliament dressed in privilege. With that in mind a lot of people have told a lot of lies and we have put faith in those lies. Today the real demon doesn’t live within overseas people in desperation of survival and happiness, but inside the premeditated, segregationist idea that immigration has been making citizens worse off. Inequity is the real source of destitution – a manipulation of truth generated from the heart of the establishment itself. Yet despite differing views of self-interest in separate echelons of society, based on grinding materialism and individualism, the outcomes of our behaviour are converging and getting worse for everyone (see: Tragedy of the Commons.) Climate change has no romantic attachment to nationality or class, and it will get us all somehow; unless you have a moon-rocket and have sussed the physics of living in an airless, frozen mass. The barriers and cliff-edges making a gulf between us in society aren’t true in nature; that is to say they are artificial, man-made. The sooner we realise it the sooner we can put our minds to creating beneficial, joyful ways of living together.

Expounding on these themes Brand affirms:

Chomsky says that at this point history alternative visions for society are vital and those based on cardinal human values of sharing and being ecologically minded deserve serious consideration.

In the same breath he quotes his friend Daniel:

“We can create a peaceful planetary civilisation, entirely powered by renewable sources of energy, based on cradle-to-cradle practices, where everyone on earth enjoys a high quality of life… The transition is from a paradigm of competition and domination to one of symbiosis and cooperation, from greed to altruism. It begins with the realisation of our shared responsibility for the future of the earth, and our inherent unity with each other ad with all of life.”

It’d be hard to find a practitioner worth their salt who seriously disagreed with that. The facts in Revolution are not inaccurate or invented. So you have to wonder why a lot of high-minded criticism is spiteful in tone and neglects to mention the book’s key points.

Brand’s audience isn’t a tiny anglophone elite, and he speaks to our times. His scheme is to subvert sensationalist journalism and swivel our minds towards the thoughtful critique of Noam Chomsky and soaring poetry of Buckminster Fuller, to get us all sentient and soul-deep in the truth. The unrelenting media claw has been clenched round his waist since he sprung up on telly as Paxman’s adversary, rafting the sensible idea that when “democracy” is tantamount to a singular act of voting for a corporate, elitist party on one day in every 1826.21 – concurrently we possess the technological and informational capacity to comprehensively include people in policy making, just look the voting stats for X Factor – it leads one to question if the status quo is behaving for common purposes. Sound reasoning.

His emphases on channelling non-violent spirituality in to revolution, a theory of moral action, echoes his hero Gandhi, who personified a supreme opposition to British imperial rule through the attainment of understanding and co-ordinated civil disobedience, as opposed to violence, and said:

“Non-cooperation is not a passive state, it is an intensely active state – more active than physical resistance or violence. Passive resistance is a misnomer. Non co-operation in the sense used by me must be non-violent and therefore neither punitive nor vindictive nor based on malice, ill-will or hatred.”

There’s a whole world with ears for Revolution’s truth and proto-communist sentiments. Its greeting started a sparked rebellion in my own mind anyway. There’s a sunrise of hope risen above the gnarly mountain ranges of consumerism, a renewed faith that self-sufficient communities where lives and the environment are more sacred than profit are plausible are growing now. Don’t underestimate the strength of the message. It’s not for nothing that the media cloud that view. The ogre of selfishness and acquisition has been gobbling up the planet in one long cosmic breath for a lot longer than it should’ve. Russell Brand is at heart still a rainbow-headed kid who wants what’s best for the world. And why can’t that be an ocean of strength and prominent in the universe?

Efficiency and Lies: Constitutionalism in British Politics

By Meg Sherman, Undergraduate Student in Politics & International Relations

Order and stability within a political community, old ends of Western political philosophy, requires staunch, centralized administration organizing public life throughout a territorial nation. Such a conservative world view guided Walter Bagehot, whose landmark book, The English Constitution, written in the aftermath of several Reform Acts following the first in 1832, queried how the British nation-state would remain stable if it also made inadequate concessions as far as the political representation of millions of working-men goes. The Act, which forever reconceptualised the British ‘people’, allowed eligible men over the age of 21 a vote in periodic elections dominated by parties, of which the Independent Labour Party and its successor came to play a significant role representing the aspirations of working men and women. In many ways Bagehot outlaid the main strategy for constitutional politics over the next century, and what he calls the constitution’s “efficient secret”, which I will describe shortly, remained the pre-eminent understanding of our un-codified constitution until the 1950s, after which a new legal order of international law, coupled with our eventual entry into the EEC, made updated theories necessary.

Despite its obvious obsolescence, Bagehot’s work remains an invaluable map for students of the constitution, or indeed anybody remotely interested in political history, especially those interested in the tension between parliamentary democracy and popular democracy in the UK; Cabinet Government, for example, was never intended to be democratic, even though it is supposed to represent the highest point of power in the political system. Unlike the US’ famed separation of authority between the legislature, executive and judiciary, the British political system fuses executive and legislative, overall giving governments enormous opportunities for passing their desired laws without popular intervention. This is the “efficient secret.” Moreover, understandings of the constitution antiquated by events, as well as the understandings of those who work it at present, will remain absolutely important to our understanding of day to day British Politics until we care to make an external, foundational document for it.

Beneath any delusion that the Westminster Model epitomises a modern, democratic form of governance – exported to those states we previously administered as colonies – it is clear, in the line of argument pursued by Robert Coll, that: “a new aristocracy of middle class politicians ruling through cabinet government” remains the organizing principle of politics in the UK. Even so, the ongoing hard work of researchers putting time in to understand and design institutional innovations is promising, guided broadly by a preeminently collective desire to diminish effective executive committees within the state, working out arrangements which give more people more control over the decision-making apparatus and enhance their abilities as citizens.

If the political classes did not take power from the aristocracy in this country without deception, and if Bagehot did not write The English Constitution without accepting that giving ordinary citizens major influence on policy is the biggest threat to a college of similar parties with vested social and economic interests, then it is time to realize that theatrical displays of society have been seen, understood, and studied well.