PFI: The Financialisation of Everything 

With Grace Blakely 

 

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The ‘Private Finance Initiative’ still sounds like a dry, technical procedure that nobody could get too excited about. That’s what it’s supposed to sound like. Journalists and government have colluded for 25 years in making sure that the public don’t take too much interest in it.

In fact the PFI has been central to UK government policy since the mid 1990s and has been the vehicle through which huge chunks of the British public sector have been privatised without any mandate from the people. One of Stuart Hall’s last great public interventions was to call for the launch of a public campaign against this programme in 2000 – he could see how serious its implications were.

The story of the Private Finance Initiative reached its long-predicted denouement this year with the collapse of Carillion, a company employing 43,000 workers, responsible for dozens of contracts to deliver services across the UK public sector. The biggest bankruptcy in British history has exposed what many economists and political commentators have been saying for years: the PFI was a disastrous policy that was never really intended to benefit the public, but to enable multinational corporations to generate vast profits at the expense of the tax-payer, local authorities, schools and hospitals

But what exactly is the PFI, how does it work, and why are the Blairites still opposed to actually scrapping it?

 

The Right to the City: politics, place and policy in neoliberal London

with Anna Minton and Jacob Mukherjee

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London’s housing market is in crisis because the global super-rich use our homes as piggy-banks and the government does nothing to stop them. Rent is becoming completely unaffordable (never mind buying a place). Gentrification is killing cultural venues all over the city, as overpriced flats crowd out the places where people gather to make some noise. At the heart of the city, the Corporation of the City of London is a law unto itself, and isn’t even democratically elected. The residents of Grenfell Tower have still not been re-housed. None of this is happening by accident, and none of it is going to change without a radical re-think of what London is for, and a radical challenge to the power of finance capital. In this session we’ll discuss these issues with two expert campaigners, and think about how they fit into the wider history of global neoliberalism.

Black Lives Matter – ‘race’, bodies and biopolitics in the 21st century 

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The Black Lives Matter movement has seen arguably the most significant revival of Black radicalism in the English-speaking world for many years. What has led to this situation and what are the political, historical and theoretical issues raised by it? Is ‘black’ still a meaningful term of political identification for non-white peoples outside the African diaspora? What is the legacy of slavery and colonialism in the contemporary West? Why is racism amongst police forces such a perpetually intractable problem, even in apparently liberal countries like the UK (is the very concept of policing, as Foucault seemed to suggest, itself just inherently racist?). How have new philosophies of materiality and embodied experience contributed to the understanding of ‘race’ as a historical and lived experience? What is the place of ‘black music’ in contemporary culture, 100 years in to the history of recorded sound, and what was been the historical relationship of music to black radicalism?

 

Art, Glitch, Politics

 

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At a time when the meaning of democracy is challenged by the power of algorithms and the politics of misinformation what has become apparent is that the valorisation of data is the defining characteristic of contemporary digital capitalism. Big Data is sold on the basis of accurate retrieval; the promise that a series of perfect signals can be abstracted from the background noise of the world’s incessant uploading of information.

Against this background, the rise of digital ‘glitch’ art is interesting in terms of how it privileges noise over signal and aestheticises error. Glitch artists randomly re-assort ordered sequences to demonstrate that order itself is arbitrary, contingent and open to transduction. In deliberately confounding the apparently smooth interface through which digital messages are received, the glitch aesthetic suggests a productive imagery for a politics which confronts the hierarchies embedded in and reproduced by digital culture.

The recording of the packed seminar, that was also part of the 2018 London anti-university, didn’t come out well, so Debbie has recorded this podcast lecture for us.

Hegemony Now: Power in the Twenty-First Century (Part 1)

 

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with Alex Williams 

Gramsci’s concept of ‘hegemony’ remains indispensable to understanding the relationships between culture, politics, economics and technology. Every generation since the 1930s has had to update the idea and its application in the light of new developments in the wider world and in the domain of theory and philosophy. In this session Alex and Jeremy will introduce some key concepts and analyses from their forthcoming book Hegemony Now: Power in the Twenty-First Century (Verso, 2019). This will be the fist of two seminars in the series to will explore this material.

Eyes Right: Trumpism, Brexit and the rise of the alt-right

May 22nd 2018

 

With Sarah Bufkin and Alan Finlayson

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The Brexit vote and Trump’s election both seem to mark a terminal crisis for the liberal cosmopolitan consensus that has obtained in the English-speaking world since the 1990s. In both cases, centrist elites have been quick to blame external agencies (Cambridge Analytica, Vladimir Putin, etc.), apparently unable to believe that it is the effects of their own  policies that have led to them losing significant levels of public support. At the same time, concerns over national identity, and hostility to multiculturalism and immigration, continue  to inform the politics of the Right in many ways: from the casual English xenophobia of UKIP the extreme racism of the alt-right. How can we make sense of all this and what can we do about it?

Suggested Reading: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v39/n10/alan-finlayson/brexitism\