Sunday, 18 August 2019

Revisiting Harry's Place

Fancy a deep dive into the blogging wars of the pre-Corbyn left? Of course you do. In this episode of Reel Politik, Jack and Geraint pop along to the cemetery and dig up an old adversary: Harry's Place. Long time hangers-ons of the British left will remember the role this blog, now a shadow of what once was, had in drawing together the pro-war "left" before, during and after the Iraq War. They were self-appointed arbiters of political decency (hence the term, 'decents') who fulminated against anyone concerned with stopping the UK government's penchant for wars as well as critics of Israel, and played a mobilising role in putting together the now (largely forgotten) Euston Manifesto. For those of you who weren't around, imagine the meltiest centrism combined with the scurrilousness of Gnasher Jew and you've got a good idea of their positioning and output. Which included publishing people's addresses and trying to get them sacked from their jobs. Charming.

This place never got on their radar back in the day because the my focus has never really been foreign policy and Israel, but I did write about HP on a couple of occasions: for the anniversary of the UK Left Network discussion list, and to mark their decade of "service".

Jack and Geraint make a persuasive case that HP was the progenitor of much of the Corbynphobic hysteria we've witnessed issue forth from all quarters these last four years. And there's going to be a part two too! Highly recommended.

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Saturday, 17 August 2019

On Corbynphobia

Writing last October, I argued that a chunk of the so-called People's Vote campaign were motivated less by the case for a second referendum and reversing Brexit and more about driving a wedge between Jeremy Corbyn and the (mostly) pro-EU base of Corbynism. And this argument has been conclusively proven over the last few days. Not only have the Liberal Democrats so thoroughly exposed their opportunism and posturing to their newly-won layer of voters, so Chuka Umunna and his former ex-Labour colleagues grouped in whatever the two sides of Change UK are calling themselves today have also shown their opposition to Brexit is subordinate to their (failed) factional aim of deposing Corbyn. Pathetic.

What's the root of this? After all, think about it for a moment. In his open letter to other parties, independents, and "rebel" Tories, Jeremy Corbyn proposed a temporary caretaker government. This wouldn't implement any Labour policy, and be limited to requesting an extension to Article 50 (which the PM can do without a Commons vote) and organising a general election. What. Then. Is. The. Problem? Dismissing idiot suggestions Corbyn's sojourn in Downing Street would end in the Russians parading down The Mall, and the violent overthrow of the capitalist class, their reasons for preferring a no deal Brexit are as self-interested and tawdry as you'd expect.

First off, there is normalisation. As Chris Dillow suggests, having Corbyn in position automatically makes him Prime Ministerial. The great taboo is broken and as the sky won't fall in, his stature grows. It gets people used to the idea of Corbz in the top job, even if he's there for a few weeks and sticks by his word, and that is a weapon Labour must never be allowed to wield.

Again, why? Looking at Labour's 2017 manifesto, while it was a welcome departure from the programmes of preceding decades it didn't portend the liquidation of private property. Nevertheless, it marked a change in political climate by offering a strategy aimed at rebalancing capitalism. Forget the nonsense Osborne used to trot out about public/private, London/the regions, manufacturing/finance, the only balance that truly matters is between labour and capital. If implemented the whip hand employers have enjoyed over employees would be reversed. The looting of public property stopped. The subordination of all to market logics ended. Add to this the Corbynist programme of renationalising the utilities and the rail on the basis of mass participation, and you can grasp the horror this presents capital and its satraps. In order to save and rejuvenate British capitalism, not only is making inroads to prevailing class relations necessary, Labour's institutional blueprint presents a launch pad for the further erosion of bourgeois class power. You don't get to be the longest lived capitalist class in the world without instinctively having a feel for existential threats, even if you can't articulate it in anything but the crudest, red-baiting, Cold War-nostalgic terms.

How is this sense of threat sublimated through the rest of the mainstream body politic? For the Tories, it's obvious. It's a direct attack on their interests (literally so, seeing as most of the parliamentary party have business and rentier interests of their own) and creates a political economy they'd have a hard time adapting to. Hence the likes of Dominic Grieve and Oliver Letwin saying no to a caretaker government. A pro-EU Tory is still a Tory, after all. But others? Considering the sole service Gordon Brown's photocopier rendered to the labour movement is his summation of centrist/liberal thought it's hard to see where these enthusiasts for cutting social security and privatising public assets would have in a world after Corbyn. Because their careers were handed to them on a plate, they lack the wherewithal and the will to make a political argument and organise accordingly - as the muppet show of Change UK attested. To save their wretched niche in the political ecology, opposition to Corbynism comes first, even if it means a no deal Brexit. Saving their own skin and "ideology-free" ideology is a reactionary medium that serves as well as any type of Toryism.

It was always going to be like this. For the bulk of centrism and liberalism, class interests trump all other considerations. It's their narrow, minority concerns determining their Corbynphobia. A no deal Brexit would be a catastrophe for British capitalism and an international humiliation greater than even the Suez crisis, but is a price these frauds are happy to pay because, well, you're going to pay it. To the contrary the Corbynist programme would transform the country and lift the living standards and life chances of millions of people, but it would be at the expense of the Tories and their centrist mini-mes giving up their overweening power and influence. We can't very well have that, can we?

Image Credit

Thursday, 15 August 2019

The Liberal Democrats' Worst Nightmare

It's not been a good day for the Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson. Still on a high after snatching a seat at the Brecon by-election, chillaxing in the after glow of picking up another recruit from the much-missed Change UK, and making uncomfortable waves for Labour with her Tom Watson chum-in, I expect she arose this morning felling quite chuffed. 

And then that utter bastard Jeremy Corbyn went and ruined everything. 

In his letter to the leaders of opposition parties, and the smattering of independents and disgruntled Tories, he holds out the hand of friendship. To stop no deal, in the event of a successful no confidence in Boris Johnson's government JCorbz proposes a Labour-led caretaker government that would apply for an Article 50 extension and call a general election in which Labour would campaign on the basis of a second referendum with the option of remaining. Surely the Liberal Democrats, the self-styled party of remain would applaud Labour's move to stop no deal. After all, this disastrous outcome must be avoided at all costs, yes?

Not on your nelly. Throughout the day the LibDems have doubled down on their refusal to back Labour's plan. This is despite a positive reception from Caroline Lucas (partly making up for the weekend's nonsense), a cautious welcome from pro-EU Tories, and pressure from centrist Labour MPs. Awkwardly, even Sarah Wollaston, the newest LibDem MP, has shown a flash of pragmatism. And so watching LibDems, FBPE weirdos, the remnants of Change UK, and Z-list celebrities lose the plot on Twitter this afternoon was the most fun I've had on that blasted platform for many a year. Because for all their bluster, Labour's plan against no deal is the LibDems' worst nightmare.

First off, name me a single LibDem policy that isn't punting for a second referendum. Unless you're a real nerd or the LibDem spox for something or another, you can't name one. Just as Nigel Farage cornered Brexit in the dog days of Theresa May's premiership, the LibDems under Uncle Vince and Jo Swinson believed, not unreasonably, that they could do the same by positioning their party as the remain party. And what do you know, it worked for this year's EU elections. In a second order election given to the venting of frustrations, they took moderate pro-EU voters off the Tories and remainy Labour voters (and not a few members) impatient at its refusal to simply become an outright remain party. In the victory flush, the party calculated they could carry on and repair the damage inflicted on them by their near-death coalition experience years ahead of the most optimistic forecasts of recovery. They didn't pay attention to the pivoting toward a second referendum by Labour's leadership and, well, the small matter of repeatedly trooping the PLP through the voting lobbies against May's deal and no deal. The notion Corbyn is a secret Brexiteer around whom Stalinoid pig iron and tractor fetishists enforced the leader's will with a chain link lash meant there was absolutely no chance he'd seize the initiative back from the LibDems. Hubris and Nemesis, when will they ever learn.

By refusing Labour's offer, Swinson and co. are left with a rump of hard remainers and very little else. And by accepting Corbyn's proposal, their strategy collapses and they lose some of the voters they've recently won over anyway. Sucks to be them, but also sucks to be us if they are prepared to kamikaze and throw away the opportunity of thwarting no deal - the position they've staked everything on. Oh yes, and there is another matter of self-interest the LibDems won't declare that has a bearing on their decision-making. Polling consistently shows the SNP are surging in Scotland thanks to the ongoing Brexit nonsense and the distinctly English nationalist tone pushed by Johnson and friends. We're not talking 2015 tsunami here, but certainly enough to knock back the 2017 Tory, Labour and LibDem recovery. Would Swinson's East Dunbartonshire seat be one of those to fall? Ordinarily, a 6,000-strong majority is a comfortable cushion to have, and she shouldn't have anything to worry about. Ordinarily.

Once again, Corbyn's opponents have grossly underestimated the Labour leader and believed their own hype about their genius and savvy. They've got caught out, and are getting rinsed. We now have a clear road map about what can be done. Will it work? Who can say, but all of a sudden it's Labour who are offering a solution out of the Brexit impasse. The choice is now clear: no deal and all that entails with Boris Johnson, or a deal or no Brexit with Jeremy Corbyn. What's it to be?

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

The Curious Case of Tom Watson

Is there anyone more predictable in politics than Tom Watson? As night follows day, wherever the Labour leadership put a plus he places a minus. And where a negative is identified, the Deputy Leader tells us to do the opposite. Whatever the issue and whenever the time, Tom does his best to infuriate the bulk of the party membership, bask in the spotlight, and derail matters as much as possible. No wonder his keen enthusiasm for a second referendum doesn't extend to his own mandate. Yet, of late, while he is instrumental to the tedious, low-level war against the sovereignty of the membership in general and Corbynism in particular, there has been a shift in his behaviour other party watchers and professional Kremlinologists have failed to remark upon.

At a heavily trailed event earlier today, Tom shared a platform with Jo Swinson and called for parties to set aside their differences and come together to stop a no deal Brexit. Fair enough. Speaking at For our Future's Sake and Our Future Our Choice, appropriately FFS and OFOC respectively, he said no deal would be a disaster, it lacks democratic legitimacy, and we need a second referendum. For her part, Swinson had some sharp words about tribalism and how the Liberal Democrats would work cooperatively across party lines against no deal. And that's it. What could be more innocuous than a pair of centrist MPs having a nice chat and photo opportunity about an issue they share common ground on?

Let's examine this from a few angles. Firstly, on any Labour/LibDem deal. While it is completely fanciful for all kinds of reasons, there is nothing unprincipled about doing a deal with a minor bourgeois party provided the workers' party is in the driving seat. So apart from fleeting episodes where some Tories think their interests coincide with Labour on a vote-by-vote basis, the kinds of outright scabbery we've seen in Scotland in defence of the status quo is an absolute no. But where the LibDems are concerned, assuming Labour cannot form a government by itself, then it all depends on the specifics of any putative deal. A confidence and supply in exchange for electoral reform or some other policy (do they even have policies that aren't Brexit-related these days?) provided it does not harm prevent Labour's programme is, on paper, do-able. A full fledged coalition? I would err in handing any ministry over to them but, again, it depends on the specifics of a putative coalition agreement. If the LibDems' desire to swan around in ministerial cars trumps their very flexible principles, then okay. And besides, they know as well as anyone that underneath the froth Jeremy Corbyn isn't about to nationalise the commanding heights of the economy. It has its transitional aspects, but it's a stretch to describe the 2017 manifesto as a socialist document.

This said, going out his way to court the LibDems right now isn't the most subtle of messaging. Reading the political body language, Tom knows full well that, despite her mealy mouthed pleas for unity, Swinson has ruled out working with Labour for as long as Jez remains the leader. So much for putting aside politics in the national interest. Tom, however, is happily going along with this. By saying Labour needs to work with the Swinson and friends, he is purposely and shamelessly capitulating to their key demand without any conditionalities of his own. And he's doing this entirely for selfish factional reasons. In all essentials, he is saying Labour must remove its leader to unite with the LibDems without saying Labour must remove its leader to unite with the LibDems. This sort of clever-clever positioning is so transparent, so feeble minded, it's hard to believe Tom was once rated an "operator" and a master of the "dark arts".

And it's here we get to the really interesting bit. Tom might relish his role as a "trouble maker" and self-styled shop steward for Labour MPs gearing up for reselection season, but he does so as a freelance. Seasoned readers will know Tom has long associated with Labour First, and the nexus between it, the WestMids regional office, and the right in Unite. They provided a network of influence that buttressed Tom's power and allowed him to confer patronage on aspirant careerists and back-scratchers. Unfortunately for Labour First, it is a shadow of what it once was. Forced out into open campaigning by the mass character of Corbynism, the destruction of its institutional base in the party apparat and the unions, and its routine defeat in internal party elections has reduced them to a mailing list of the like-minded who occasionally throw a sparsely attended conference and fringe meetings. The regular gatherings that used to take place in the WestMids between the Labour First core MPs seldom occurs these days. Therefore, while Tom could never be described as beholden to the faction that made him he was, to an extent, concerned with and attended to its collective interests. No more it seems. For example, while the remainder of Labour First supporters would agree, and might even cheer on his use of anti-semitism for factional purposes and cosying up to the decrepit and declining remnants of Labour unionism in Scotland, his EU positioning is much more ambiguous, and, from LF's point of view, deeply unhelpful.

Most Labour MPs associated with LF believe Brexit should be delivered and recoil at the idea of a second referendum, let alone the idea of revoking Article 50. For example, Stoke North & Kidsgrove MP Ruth Smeeth abstained on extending Article 50 whereas Labour as whole supported it, and voted against a second referendum, resigning from her front bench role attached to Tom Watson's office to do so. Readers are welcome to debate whether leave voters are going to be swung by their MPs positioning on this (the vote was 72.1% leave in the constituency), but whatever the merits or otherwise a not insignificant number of our parliamentarians are wedded to this approach, and that includes most Labour First MPs. From their perspective, Tom's new found enthusiasm for another referendum and the EU not only undermines their efforts - effectively throwing some of his closest colleagues under a bus - but he too runs the risk of falling beneath the wheels. Unlike very remainy Labour MPs who almost exclusively hail from very remainy seats, Tom's West Bromwich East constituency voted 68.2% to leave.

Has Tom become fully consumed by his own legend as a Very Important Person in the Labour game of factional intrigue, or does his freelancing antics speak to the collapse of his faction, the release from residual concerns for them, and the ongoing decomposition of the Labour right? The truth is it's all of these things, and because of them the criticisms and positions he takes are likely to become more opportunistic and more erratic the longer he stays in post. Why not do yourself and all the party a favour Tom and allow someone else the chance to step up?

Monday, 12 August 2019

The Demise of Caroline Lucas

By now you will have heard about Caroline Lucas's emergency all-female cabinet in response to the looming no deal Brexit. And the derision has proven to be near universal. From proposing a cross-party alliance among politicians with little in common to the essentialist supposition that women are bound to do a better job of negotiating Brexit because, well, they're women (um, Theresa May?) and to the noted exclusion of black and minority ethnicity women from her fantasy cabinet. An absence compounded by her clarification/apology that all the leading women in British politics happen to be white. So quite how did the very Brexity backbench Yvette Cooper get selected for Caroline's gang over the very remainy actual Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott? Readers can speculate about this oversight.

Unfortunately for the Green Party's sole MP, this crass initiative has pretty much trashed her reputation among a left who've happily given her the time of day. Despite the space she has put between the Greens and Corbynism, and going full-on remain since the EU referendum. It's a distance travelled from green radicalism to green liberalism, but why the journey at all? What happened to the searing critic of the Blair government and all-round champion of good causes?

Some, particularly on the left, might point to the original sin of green politics: the analytical primacy of the relationship of our species to the environment. Notwithstanding the diversity within green thought and the integration of leftist positions, most of what you might call mainstream green politics swerves or downgrades the importance of class analysis: as if the logics of capital and the exploitation of labour has little to do with our collective species relationship to the environment. Conceived this way, what matters is the doing of something to prevent unsustainable usage of the Earth's resources and climate change which, historically, in the early years of the Greens resolved into a division between radicalism and pragmatism.

The Green Party in England and Wales (the Scottish Greens are a separate organisation) has undergone significant shifts during its history. Starting out as People, this was a conservative and misanthropic sect steeped in Malthusian population control - compare this to the (West) German Greens who were a party hailing from the new social movements of the 1970s. In the 80s it moved to the left, which is where it has sat ever since with varying degrees of radicalism. Caroline Lucas, for instance, has been arrested at Faslane protesting Trident and at Balcombe in an action against fracking. During the 2015 general election campaign, the Greens - then under Natalie Bennett's leadership - formed a de facto alliance with the SNP and Plaid Cymru and were able to place themselves to Labour's left and poll over a million votes for their efforts. Leftism paid.

And then it didn't pay any more. The emergence of Corbynism has made it impossible for the Greens to operate profitably against Labour's left flank, as the 2017 election underlined. The election of Jonathan Bartley as co-leader, in retrospect, appears a significant moment the party acknowledged the new political reality it operated in. Unlike Caroline Lucas and his co-leader, Sian Berry, who have backgrounds in activism, Bartley worked on John Major's leadership campaign to see off John Redwood in 1995, described himself as late as 2010 as a "floating voter" and had a wonkish career flitting between think tanks and doing odds and sods commentary for the BBC. In other words, he's the first senior Green figure who is entirely the product of Westminster and its environs. And you know what social being does, right? It tends to condition consciousness. Bartley was elected jointly with Lucas in September 2016 after the Greens heavy involvement in the remain campaign, with the latter being one of its most visible advocates during the referendum. Particularly since continuity remain took to the streets Lucas has allowed herself to be positioned as the greenish wing of EU fandom, associating the party more with Brexit than other issues. Meanwhile Labour has stolen their march on a green industrial strategy, opposition to fracking, and support (admittedly guarded) for Extinction Rebellion stunts. Still, the current turn hasn't harmed the Greens' electoral standing. In the EU elections this year the party polled 1.4m votes, its best results since it won 2.3m back in 1989. Likewise when it comes to local elections and by-elections, the Greens have proven more adept at picking up disgruntled centre/floating Tory votes than disgruntled lefties or Blairy refugees from Corbynism. Which means they're fishing in the same pond as the Liberal Democrats.

All of a sudden, the desire for a remain alliance or some such nonsense becomes clearer. Nick Cohen looked like he had egg on his stupid face when the first piece of proper journalism he did for nigh-on 20 years got roundly mocked by Sian Berry on social media, but as someone on the party's left would she necessarily be involved in tete tetes between the offices of Caroline Lucas and Jo Swinson? From the Greens' point of view, it makes sense for them to come to an arrangement with the yellow party thanks to the near identical constituency profile. And also to reach out to politicians in other parties who broadly fit with/might appeal to this sub strata of the electorate, and make them look like the much celebrated "grown-ups in the room". So the two halves of what was Change UK, the SNP and Plaid, certain "soft" Tories like Justine Greening, and remainy Labour members like Emily Thornberry were dutifully namechecked. And Yvette Cooper got included too because she's part of the same milieu, and is a great hope of the centrists - even though her Brexit position is more Brexity than the stance of the supposed closet leaver leading the Labour Party.

Being and consciousness, remember that? When you move in new layers there is a tendency to acquire their habits of thought. The elite circles of continuity remain, the studios, the corridors, tearooms, and parliamentary offices of assorted MPs are rarefied environments where individual politicians and figures appear within the milieu as significant personalities with real world pull. How else to explain the continued crush for the sulky Alastair Campbell? But it is also a dismissive, near preternaturally white environment where the nostrums of social liberal inclusion demand the requisite lip service, but little beyond that. Diane Abbott and other leading women of colour in the Labour Party do not mix in these exalted centrist circles, nor are they onside politically speaking. Therefore when Lucas said her fantasy cabinet was composed of leading women, her mind automatically connected to her narrow parliamentary squad.

Yes, Caroline Lucas's standing has suffered from this episode, less thanks to the implicit racism in her letter but because it demonstrates how far she's travelled from an activist politics to the most vapid parliamentary gesture politics. A sad demise, all told.

Countering Tough-on-Crime Populism

"I want criminals to feel terror" Priti Patel proudly boasted in the interview about her priorities as Home Secretary last week. And over the last couple of days, Boris Johnson announced £85m extra for the Crown Prosecution Service to aid its prosecution of violent offences, a review of sentencing for crimes of that ilk, 10,000 new prison places, and the expansion of stop-and-search powers to all police forces. This comes after pinching Labour's policy to recruit 20,000 extra coppers following years of decline. Okay, so why are we going here? Well, it's all about preparedness for a general election. When you even have BBC Breakfast political correspondents going with this line, there is little point pretending it is anything else. What is also interesting is the notable coincidence of a cluster of stories around the crime theme, almost as if the Tories' grid is being aided and abetted by Aunty. We have over-reporting of assaults on police officers, and a prominent feature on so-called county line drug crime. Though funnily enough, the BBC aren't as keen to cover Diane Abbott's attack on the Tories for presiding over a burgeoning mental health crisis among the police.

Okay. According to the pundit chatter of the last few weeks Johnson's galaxy brain strategist, Dominic Cummings, is renowned for doing the most unpredictable things. And yet his form suggests not. A thought experiment: if you wanted to win the EU referendum for leave, does it take real strategic insight to come up with a play on people's anxieties and fears? Likewise, if your approach is about keeping together the Tory voter coalition which very nearly shattered during the EU elections, wouldn't you go hard on traditional Tory themes?

And so we have Crime Week, a set of overlapping policy announcements designed to hog the silly season headlines. This not-at-all-predictable splurge of positions and money are about seizing some much-needed political initiative on matters other than Brexit. The tough posture on crime and criminals gives the Tory editorial offices something uncontroversial to swallow and regurgitate and, crucially, attempts to wrestle the crime mantle back from Labour. After all, readers might remember Theresa May's attempts to capitalise on the jihadi knife attacks in London just prior to the general election and how it didn't stick thanks to her record of cutting back on coppers and the failure to fund their (admittedly problematic) Prevent strategy properly. The hope is the short sharp smack of punitive punishment combined with a more prisons/more screws/more plod pledge casts these unhappy episodes into the abyss and present Johnson's government as a clean break. It's about perception, the idea something is being done to arrest the knife crime epidemic and random violence. It's not about evidence, efficacy, or what does and doesn't work.

Will it work? After all, criminals are never going to attract sympathy from the rest of the population. And to have someone as hardline and vicious as Patel in post is unlikely to cost the Tories either. At least where one's toughness credentials are the main political currency, and the problems of nuance (and racism) aren't about to trouble the base unduly. Shall we remind ourselves of them? The Tory electoral coalition is disproportionately made up of the retired, of the petit bourgeois, sections of the middle class, and (traditionally) big capital. Furthermore, their ontologies - ways of being and becoming in the world - predispose them toward certain political cues. As explained a number of times, anxiety is constitutive of their existences as classes and strata. The petit bourgeois are always threatened by commercial realities dominated by big business, and jealously guards their property and income generated from the sweat of their brow - hence a general ill-disposal to trade unions, labour and social democratic parties, and socialism. The rightist middle class are typically managers, and their anxieties stem from the churn of change (restructures), career competition, the possibility of redundancy, and those assumed through the acquisition of property. And lastly, pensioners of all classes are subject to something akin to petit bourgeois pressures. Again, property is important but more so are fixed incomes and modest investments, which cannot be supplemented by re-entering the labour market in many cases. Add to this the anxieties attending the experience of old age, including dependence on the health system, and the (privatised) individuation consequent of retiring from work, you have sets of constituencies susceptible to having their fears exploited by anyone promising order, security and authority. Often sublimated into other vectors of uncertainty - Britain's place in the world, foreigners "coming 'ere", the acceptance of ethnic and sexual minorities by their children and grandchildren - these are fretted over and talked up by various politicians for influence and votes. And so it is with crime. The idea of the state as a big stick appeals because it is a forceful imposition of order on to a chaos they feel could overwhelm them.

How can Labour counter this? Pointing out the cynicism of the Tories and how their running down of policing and crime prevention did work to a degree in 2017, and has to be part of the strategic mix. But, ideally, we need to shift the parameters of the debate away from "hard" punishment versus "soft" rehabilitation and frame it more pragmatically in terms of what works, to borrow a favourite Tony Blair phrase. This, of course, is a stance that affirms rehabilitation and reform over the birching of scallywags. But ultimately, a crime and policing policy cannot stand on its own. The second aim, beyond the specific nuts and bolts of criminal justice, is the implementation of a programme that simultaneously makes crime less likely and de-weaponises it as a mobilising issue for the right. Again, part of our job is to demobilise the Tory condition while mobilising ours. The potency of the fear of crime can be reduced by addressing the anxieties that underpin the Tory mass electorate through other means, and is one reason why Labour's present package of measures for small business, skills retraining, and retention of current support for pensioners are all necessary.

Even where the Tories appear strong they are weak. And that is no less true when it comes to crime and policing.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

New Left Blogs August 2019

Is there something in the water? After a barren few months with scanty numbers of new starts, eight whole new(ish) blogs, pod casts and Facebook groups grabbed some attention since our last outing. Put the ado away and check these sites out.

1. 12 Rules for WHAT (Twitter)

2. Breaking Binaries (Twitter)

3. Gammon Magazine (Twitter)

4. John McInally Blog

5. Life in the Left Lane (Twitter)

6. Mandatory Redistribution Party (Twitter)

7. Socialist Alternative

8. Utopian Drivel (Twitter)

If you know of any new(ish) blogs and podcasts that haven't featured before then drop me a line via the comments, email, Facebook, or Twitter. Please note I'm looking for blogs etc. that have started within the last 12 months or thereabouts. The new blog round up appears when there are enough new blogs to justify a post!

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Cancelling Cancelled Culture

The future is indefinitely delayed and may never arrive. I haven't written much/at all about Mark Fisher's work for no particular reason, but I've often thought along the same lines as Magdalen Rose had certain themes that easily periodise them, but you can't say the same for the 00s and this decade (we can't even reach a consensus about what we should call it). For example, when you think about the 1980s the popular imagination is littered with hair spray, neon, electropop and stadium rock, arcade and video games, and catalogues stuffed with an overabundance of gender normative toys. All of it the glitzy and kitsch accompaniment to a grimy decade of intense class conflict and right wing revanchism. It might be too early to talk about the 2010s, but the 2000s lie 10 years in the past and we lack a retrospective consensus about its highlights and themes (reality TV? The PlayStation 2?), it's all uncertain and a bit baffling. Instead, the two decades bleed together in a continuum of incremental change, a sort of an eternal present.

As far as Mark was concerned, the idea that the future could be different and would be different has been suspended. Despite the coming of the internet and the proliferation of social media, the gloomy prognosis is, effectively and culturally speaking, we're living the long 90s. The USSR fell, markets are everywhere and, to pinch Frederic Jameson's much quoted line , it's easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. The permanent present is postmodernism on steroids. Everything has become utterly fragmented, our ontologies are centred on the individual, consequently meaning there is no point everyone can cohere around. Decentering and contradictory cultural flows are the moment. No wonder even Twitter tribes are identity anchors for some. Therefore in retrospect, the postmodernism debates of the 80s and 90s only identified the trends and tendencies that have come to fruition since the turn of the century. And so with the splintering of culture, so the broad characterisations that were possible in prior decades no longer pertain. The cultural conformism Adorno and Marcuse worried about has become something more insidious: the generalisation of individuated choice within a limited, market-driven purview.

Two very brief points. One confirming and inviting further investigation of the genesis and sustenance of capitalist realism and its culture without a horizon, and a critical, more hopeful note against overstating it.

One of the consequences of Thatcher's dismantling of the post-war settlement was the virtual liquidation of the industrial working class and the break up of its communities. Capital was relieved of its responsibilities to provide decent standards of living and acquired a footloose mobility that pulled manufacturing plant out of the UK and exported jobs to the low waged economies of the East, and got stuck into speculating for short-term profits. The production of socially useful use values did not offer the same rewards. The superficial dynamism of capital found its dizzying corollary in the hyper stylised cultural churn of the 80s: neoliberal yuppie culture with its wine bars and shoulder pads, the rise of the geeks and the nerds, the cultivation of the irreverent spirit, the mainstreaming of queer cultures and diasporic influences, these all grabbed (analytical) attention, but this movement masked the solidification of something else. While class was in ferment and undergoing the process of recomposition, in another sense it was grinding to a halt. Just as Thatcher's housing revolution bequeathed a crisis two decades after she left office, remodelling the social in capital's image and working to inculcate bourgeois habits meant class seized up too. Officially concerned politicians have made careers presiding over social mobility commissions and banging on about aspiration, almost as if the reason why the professions are dominated by the literal children of professionals is because working class people aren't ambitious enough.

The rest is for another time, but when it comes to cultural production the same applies. While the internet has afforded new outlets for music, entertainment and the ghastly "influencers", this goes hand in hand with celebrity culture and the gate-keeping roles still played by the big ents companies. And what do we see here? The former has also seized up, with either the offspring of the famous becoming famous or, increasingly, younger actors, singers, and screen writers getting disproportionately drawn from privileged, affluent, and bourgeois layers. This is partly thanks to the decimation of arts education in schools, but also the punitive work policies overseen by successive governments. As Tony Blair courted the cream of Britpop and desperately sought inclusion in the Cool Britannia moment, his workfare approach to social security meant budding working class talent were forced into jobs at the expense of perfecting their craft. In an ancient NME interview, Richard Ashcroft said in his experience the dole worked as a sort of arts subsidy and gave The Verve space to do their thing. New Labour in its pledge to eradicate youth unemployment ensured this avenue of social mobility was shut down. And the consequence? Fewer people from working class backgrounds are entering the halls of cultural production, which are becoming increasingly hallowed, and so the children of the well remunerated are filling it instead. The consequence is a certain narrowness in mainstream cultural production. If the privileged are telling the stories, certain tales will never get told. The future is cancelled because they, as beneficiaries of the system, cannot see beyond the eternal present.

What went before was no golden age as it came with its own sexual and racialised exclusions. Nevertheless, the post-war period and rising affluence did see real social mobility (often wrongly attributed to grammar schools), but no more. The upper echelons of all walks of life are increasingly restricted to those who start from positions of economic and social advantage, and this is as true of key figures on the left as anywhere else.

A reason to be gloomy then? No. I do wonder what Mark would have made of Corbynism's success at the last general election and the optimism it stoked up on the left. Because it is easy to overstate cancelled culture and negated futures. As I write, the left wing Labour Party is a mass organisation that reaches into every community and every social circle in the land. It is truly a beast which, when mobilised, is a factor in electoral politics in and of itself. And it has transformed consciousness. For the first time since the 1980s socialism is mainstream and even communism is abroad. A new generation of leftist thinkers and writers have broken through and built large followings, the sorts of strategic debates about class and identity politics that exercised many a dusty academic tome in the 1990s command mass participation, and there is an upwelling of working class youth movements. The inner city origins of dubstep, grime, trap and deep house predate Corbynism and, arguably, helped lay some of the groundwork for it. These are as much moments of cultural production from below as punk, the Chicago/Detroit house scene, and acid house were. This does not prevent its co-option and repackaging by big capital (after all, Wiley has a MBE), but it demonstrates the continued vitality of the subaltern and the impossibility of its horizons getting swamped and subsumed by the mainstream in all aspects. The experience of becoming the classed other to cancelled culture always carries the promise of its negating the negated future of capitalist realism to itself, and exploding its reach as the infrastructure of a generalised counter-hegemony and alternative to official cultural production.

The cancellation of cancelled culture? We could be heading that way. The increased reliance of capital on immaterial labour, the movement away from "classical" surplus extraction to new vectors of capitalist exploitation, and all in the context of the attention economy introduces a new dynamic of tendency in class relations. The growing dependence of capital on labour's cognitive and social capacities as opposed to the physicality of bodies, the fact the increasingly dominant force of production - the mass employment of human brains - is hired and not owned by capital, the skills and knowledge labour acquires in the immaterial "production" process exceeds work and effectively becomes part of the common social store, able to be deployed elsewhere for payment or enjoyment; and the intangibility and, often, infinite reproducibility of commodities makes warehousing - the control of supply - exceptionally difficult. Capital has to and is developing new forms of capture to hold all this down and sustain the class relations underpinning it: the production of neoliberal subjectivity, the dissemination of capitalist realism, the stripping back of workers' rights and inducing greater precarity into labour markets, are all effects and responses to the tendency to capitalist self-cancellation. Yet all this does is increase the bind - constricting cognitive labour has the knock on of reducing the capacities of the immaterial labour on which it depends, which knocks on to surplus extraction and profits, while letting it be increases the potentials of it becoming something other than a vector of capitalist exploitation.

Politically our job is to critique and contest the encroachments of capital and its logics, increase the possibilities of cultural production against the market and bourgeois culture, and organise to mobilise for our party, our institutions, and our ways of being and becoming. The cancellation of cancelled culture, of reclaiming, rethinking, and restating the possibility of a better future is entirely doable. After all, they need us. We do not need them.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Nothing Compares 2 GNU

A short while ago we were discussing the imploding thought processes of our centrist friends, and just today a great new fancy has emerged, born fully formed from their Jupiterean heads. The grand wheeze? Well, why not go one better than the 'Remain Alliance' that helped the Liberal Democrats over the line in the Brecon by-election and go for a Government of National Unity (or the funny haha acronym, GNU). No one liberal hero is pushing it. The proposal is entirely crowd sourced and has welled up from the Follow Back Pro Europe Twitter crowd like a tumescent zit.

The idea goes something like this. Following the government's hard ball brinkmanship over Brexit, the opportunities for derailing no deal are slim to negligible, depending on who you decide to ask. With a one week window between recess and the start of party conference season, opportunities for putting motions down etc. are fraught with risk. The only sure fire way of thwarting Johnson's foolhardy scheme then is to, well, throw him out of office. You see, having spotted that the Prime Minister's working majority is one a national government could come together comprised of Labour, the LibDems, sundry indies, Caroline Lucas, the SNP and Plaid Cymru, and disgruntled Tories. The back-of-a-burgundy-passport calculations stack up, so why not? Yes, Jeremy Corbyn is an obstacle but getting shot of him won't be a problem, especially as plenty of centrist Labour MPs could fill the Prime Minister's role. Johnson is then no confidenced, the coalition form a government, and they oversee a second referendum while extending/revoking Article 50 (only a proper referendum you understand, no lies nor Russians allowed this time). Once the will of the people is delivered we have a general election and live happily ever after because politics returns to normal.

Yes, more barking than Battersea Dogs' Home and as cringe as the fantasy cabinets your Rafael Behrs and Polly Townbees proffer at early evening drinks. For one, how do they affect Jeremy Corbyn's removal? The latest, low-intensity efforts can't pretend stellar success, so how does a bunch of yellow diamond Verhofstadt stans who put the clueless into, well, clueless think our man JCorbz can be eased out to pasture where Labour MPs have previously failed? Unfortunately, they don't say - though if they have any special insight I'm sure the Labour right are happy to listen.

And we have the stupid empiricism, oh yes. This putative GNU has an on-paper majority, and that is where it would stay. Why do they suppose all Labour MPs and their wayward independent progeny would go along with the scheme? We had goodness knows how many indicative votes and votes against Theresa May's Brexit deal. In the last Parliamentary session, Labour whipped against no deal no less than three times, and still there were Labour people prepared to defy party discipline. And our liberal chums might remember some more MPs recently indicating that they would vote for any Tory deal, and some concede no deal if it means Brexit happens. In short, their GNU cannot command a majority.

Then there are the wider politics. If you are a leave voter of any political persuasion, how would a backroom deal cooked up by MPs look to them? And then there are the ramifications of replacing the government without a general election. The transition from one Prime Minister to another PM from the same party is something most people can live with. There was hardly a popular clamour for a general election in 2017, and as much as we might like one to happen yesterday there isn't much of a desire out there in real land for one now either. But turfing one government out and replacing it with another of a different complexion entirely, that certainly brings up big legitimation issues - even if its remit is limited to the delivering a second referendum (which isn't in the bag by the way, remain fans). Shall we talk about the political situation after a GNU? Who do you think would benefit? Certainly not the parties to the stitch up. Johnson's strategy is already about trying to monopolise the leave vote and hoping this would be enough to win versus a divided opposition. A temporary GNU alliance would strap rocket boosters under the Tories: there is no political credit for thwarting Brexit in so brazen a manner, and it would be Labour- as the biggest party - that would pay the heaviest price.

A good job then this is but a fever dream, a spasm of delusional palpitations as fast-fading liberalism continues its downward spiral. If our centrist friends are serious about stopping no deal, then they might reflect on whether their silly beggar's posturing - being for a remain alliance the one minute, but ruling out SNP participation and having nothing to do with Labour unless Corbyn goes the next - isn't the best way of building bridges. Instead, I'd recommend putting the sauce away and considering the real option open after recess: Labour will table a no confidence motion in the government, and its up to the other parties to back it. If it passes, we're in election territory and everything is up for grabs. The question is are the LibDems and their online cheerleaders going to grasp the real opportunity, or does talking a good fight matter more?