Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Political Economy of the Moral Lobotomy

It's a truism that the worst in humanity brings out the best in humanity. Yet amid the solidarity and support shown folks caught up in last night's suicide attack in Manchester, there were those for another concern came to mind: themselves. It takes a real decency bypass to think about how the murder of 22 people can raise one's profile, or score petty points, but the laws of probability indicates such people are bound to exist. A coincidence then that exhibitors of amoral psychopathy are clustered in our leading news media organisations?

Out front was, of course, the execrable Katie Hopkins who, for the sake of a higher profile and several hours as a trending topic, called for a "final solution" to Islamist-inspired terror. Yes, that's right, the language of genocide is fine and dandy for a few extra retweets. Paul Waugh of HuffPo got into the soulless spirit of things by using the occasion to imply Jeremy Corbyn was soft on terrorism. Not to be outdone, and in full knowledge of what had taken place, The Sun ran this front page penned by a former Special Branch plant in the IRA, while The Mail went to print with this cartoon. Then we have sundry trolls circulating fake news.

If this was a one off, we could put it down to individual turpitude. Unfortunately, it happens time and again. Any tragedy, any awfulness, there are commentators and "celebrities" eager to pile in. There are trolls looking to shock, poltroons sharing bullshit stories, and the vacuous scoring points no one's keeping track of. Unlocking what's going on requires something, and that would be understanding the political economy of the moral lobotomy.

Naturally, Hopkins is the queen of the scene, but she's harvesting what was long-cultivated by the likes of Melanie Phillips. Or, to be more accurate, benefiting from a media business model based entirely around trolling. As papers lose physical sales and have moved operations online, scraping profit revolves around selling ad space, and that demands large audiences. The Daily Mail, as a case in point, runs creepy celebrity stories because there's a huge international appetite for tittle-tattle and ogling celebrity bodies. Trolling with racism and the usual bigotry has the same effect - it cottoned on long before most that outraging left wing and liberal audiences who would never buy their paper could nevertheless drive page views. The Sun, was a late comer to running a free "news" website, now try and get the audience in to sell them services. Advertising, after all, is an unstable business - websites dependent on it for sole income are taking a risk.

The logical extension of trolling-for-business is adapting it as a strategy for personal media branding. It doesn't turn on advertising in this case, but the attracting of attention to remain relevant. Again, Hopkins is the master, even if it has led to occasional brushes with the law. And her notoriety gives her gigs. She'd be long forgotten as a former Apprentice contestant if it wasn't for a sustained and cynical outburst of calibrated bigotry. And what it required was a surgical removal of her moral centre and her continual parading of the fact. This logic then is abroad. And so Paul Waugh sacrificed what was appropriate for a smidgen of notoriety. The Sun and The Mail were banking on a surge of concern in terrorism for their hatchet jobs in their hope to reverse the slide toward Labour in the polls.

And the bottom feeders who do the same? The same attention-seeking logic is at work here, even though paid-for bigoted berths in the mainstream are already rammed. Retweets and shares means attention, and can flatter a mutilated sense of self-importance. What does someone else's suffering and pain mean as long as you're being seen to matter, that you are the centre of a storm you summoned? For people crippled by a sense of everyday irrelevance which, let's face it, is the lot of the overwhelming majority of us, it's a heady brew for some. Particularly as being and being seen to be a special individual is the pinnacle to which one can aspire in Western cultures. Having a moral lobotomy as a route of getting there as good as any other.

Why this happens then is because there's an economic logic underpinning callous hot takes. And, as night follows day, economic dynamics transmute into cultural dynamics, made all the easier by the quantitative character of social media. But there is only a market for hateful fare for as long people sustain it by serving it, and here responsibility lies squarely with the media operations of the right.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Young People, You Can Swing this Election

Cross post from Picture Amoebae, AKA @catherinebuca

To my followers in the UK – we have a real chance to end years of Tory austerity and misery.

At the last general election, more people didn’t vote at all than voted for the Tories.

Tomorrow is the deadline for registering to vote. Register today to be sure. Even if you haven’t made your mind up whether to vote at all, by registering you still have that choice. If you don’t register, that choice is taken away from you.

The Tories changed the rules for how people are registered to vote, meaning that 25% of school leavers are no longer on the electoral register. This was their attempt to gerrymander the vote, meaning those who are more likely to vote against them would be deprived of a vote altogether, while those who consistently give their vote to the Conservatives had their right to vote protected.

There are more plans to increase this gerrymandering in the Tory manifesto, by introducing the requirement for photo ID in order to vote – we can all see how that turned out in America. The poorest, the disenfranchised, and minority voters are all less likely to be able to access photo ID. All of those are less likely to want to vote for the Tories. They are also trying to change constituency boundaries, which will see fewer MPs, with the effect disproportionately hitting Labour.

YOU have a voice. Make sure you use it. All the polls are showing a large lead for the Tories, which is leading a lot of people to say there’s no point, the Tories are going to win anyway. But Labour have cut the Tories’ lead in HALF since the election was called, and look at that chart above. If even just half of those who thought there was no point went out to vote instead we could easily show the Tories the door and elect a party with a wonderful, inclusive, socially just platform that promises to protect the NHS from private sell-off, protect education from Tory cuts, protect the disabled and vulnerable from Victorian cuts, and to elect a Prime Minister who has proven over the course of his 30 year career that he has been on the right side of history arguing for women’s rights, LGBT rights, against apartheid, against the Iraq war and countless others, and for a politics and a country that puts people first and corporations and profits last.

We do have a choice. You can make a difference.

Register to vote.

Vote Labour.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, about registering, or about Labour’s manifesto. But either way, please register to vote.


Saturday, 20 May 2017

What is the Dementia Tax?

On page 67 of the Conservative Party manifesto (analysis here), Theresa May's "team" announces a significant shift in the way elderly care is going to be paid for. Their plans have generated a great deal of controversy which, combined with means testing for winter fuel payments and ending the triple lock on pensions, moves the Tories away from protecting pensioners from the squeeze they unnecessarily put on public finances to one where they're going to have to also pay. It has proven hugely controversial. Some Conservatives are very unhappy with it, and you can bet this view is shared by more than a few of their MPs. Setting aside the politics of the changes and why the Tories have decided to put this policy in their manifesto, what do the measures mean and why is Labour dubbing it the 'Dementia Tax'?

Presently, recipients of residential care have to part fund the service they receive if they have assets in excess of £23,250. If they are applying for a place in a home, they have to include the value of their house in the means test. As around two thirds of pensioners are home owners, this often means selling the house from under them to pay for their care package - though an option exists to defer costs. To demonstrate, assume a 75 year old pensioner requiring residential care has £25k in savings and their house is worth £89k. Leaving aside income and assuming that person then lives for a further six years (in line with current life expectancy), according to care costs calculators for Staffordshire (because that's where I live) you're talking upwards of £190k. Note this will vary from county-to-county and by local authority area. Therefore, our pensioner would presently be required "contribute" almost £91,000. The remaining £23k of their assets will remain theirs. If on the other hand our pensioner requires domiciliary (at home) care, the application in this case would take into account their savings only. This care is cheaper, costing between 70-75% of being in a home and their contribution would be just £1,750 (again, leaving aside income from their pension(s)).

What they giveth in one hand they taketh with the other. Under the proposals in their manifesto, our imaginary pensioner above wouldn't have to pay anywhere near as much as the Conservatives promise to raise the capital floor to £100,000. Their contribution would shrink to just £14,000. Sounds alright, doesn't it? But here's the catch. The Conservatives want to redefine the asset base so the house is counted for residential and domiciliary care. Another change is they will only come for the assets after the person in receipt of care has died. On the surface then, pensioners who are poorer or moderately okay like the example given would benefit. But older people whose combined assets are in excess of £100,000 are going to get clobbered. Or, rather, their families and children are. The problem for the Tories is this is their vote base, and there are millions of pensioners in this position. All of a sudden, estates of people in receipt of domiciliary care are going to receive steep bills after their loved one has died.

This sets up all kinds of problems and difficulties. For pensioners living as couples, how does this recoup costs from shared assets like a home? If their house is £250,000, would the estate be expected to pay £150,000 or £25,000? And in either case, would the surviving partner be expected to liquidate their shared asset to pay the bill? Likewise, for live-in carers who might be sons, daughters or whatever, can we safely assume that they will be expected to sell up their inheritance to pay the balance off? And what will they do about the scramble of elderly people transferring ownership of assets to relatives before they put in a care application and therefore avoid the charges? Unfortunately, none of this is clarified in their manifesto. Unlike Labour who provided costings for their pledges, the Tories chose not to.

The Conservatives say they're doing this to put adult social care on a firmer footing. Since 2010, the Coalition and then the Tory majority government have foisted tough cuts on most local authorities by chopping down the local government grant year-on-year. As budgets have got tighter, councils of all political complexions have had to redesign, strip down, and withdraw services. This has mean adult care could not but be hit too. Waking up to it belatedly last year, partly thanks to the winter beds crisis in the NHS, the government have allowed councils to increase council tax by an addition 2% to pay for adult social care only. But this cannot fill the gap, and so the Tories are moving to a model whereby the user pays after the fact.

The result would be to grow the number of people eligible to pay more for their care. Hence why it has been dubbed the dementia tax. None of us know what care needs we might require when we get old. None of us can really do anything about avoiding them either. We all get weaker, a good chunk of us will suffer health complications, an unlucky number are going to develop dementia. Whatever happens, the state will look after us and when we die, grieving relatives can look forward to demanding letters from the council asking them to hand over tens, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of pounds. The dementia tax is a tax on old age and that's why, despite everything, it could cost the Tories the general election.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Bauman on Being Outside

As Zygmunt Bauman passed away in January, now is as good a time to dip into his books. What's interesting in his Liquid Modernity (published in 2000) is how perceptive he was on matters relating to ontological anxiety/insecurity that have wreaked havoc on established politics across the world. He expands on these further his 2006's Liquid Fear, which is on the book pile.

Urban legend among sociologists has it that in his latter years, Bauman used to spend his mornings writing and the rest of the day watching Jeremy Kyle and the like. He was immersed in everyday television culture, but only as a spectator ultimately cut off from it. This was nothing new. As an immigrant, having been exiled by the Stalinists during an anti-semitic purge of Polish society in the late 60s, he self-consciously had something of the outsider to his observations of what was going on in Britain and the West. This immediately came to mind when I read the small passage below. It's not a profound insight by any means, but is something anyone who writes on politics and current affairs who is a) not in London, and b) not tied to the Westminster apparatus, can relate to.

Writing on why Scotland was the centre of social thought and political economy scholarship in Britain in the late 18th century, Bauman noted:
The tendencies at full swing in the 'centre' are, as a rule, most promptly spotted and most clearly articulated in places temporarily relegated to the 'fringes'. Living at the outskirts of a civilisational centre means being near enough to see things clearly and yet far enough to 'objectify' them and so to mould and condense the perceptions into concepts. (p.141)
Marx would be a fitting case in point. A refugee from Germany whose life was one of grinding poverty, albeit alleviated by the occasional cheque from Engels, and for whom daily life was bounded by a devoted family, trips to the British library, and the petty intrigues of exile politics, this man who was very much on the outside of the first industrial nation was able to produce the most accurate picture of its dynamism and tendencies, most of which still stand up.

I digress. In the age of social media, of feeds from multiple sources pumping information into the brain, and of always being switched on, don't be surprised if the most penetrating diagnoses of our condition come from brains sat at some remove from it.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Theresa May's Blairite Manifesto

Chatting to Alex Nunns on the Twitter earlier, he suggested the Conservative (and Unionist) Manifesto was a Blairite document. And he's entirely right. Not because of the substance of the politics, but because what Theresa May and "her team" are trying to do with it.

Looking at the manifesto, if Labour's was the best manifesto I've seen then, arguably, the Tory document is probably their least worst. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot that is deeply discomfiting here. Yet at the same time it's a patrician (matrician?) work invoking the spirit of manor-house-knows-best Toryism of Harold Macmillan and Enoch Powell. All the one nation lines are in there about tackling insecurity, sorting out mental health, and even a pledge promising to eradicate homelessness by 2027. And no, it doesn't mean dragging them off to the workhouse. There's some interesting wonkish stuff about investment banks, working with 'old' industries, introducing the variously floated 'T'-levels to replace the plethora of vocationally-based qualifications, redistributing government bureaucracies to outside of London (hurrah!) and a few other things. It's all there for the regen geeks.

This togetherness, of repositioning Britain as a giant community in which everyone knows their place and everyone is treated fairly is the running theme of the manifesto. Check this out, for example:
If you are at a state school you are less likely to reach the top professions than if you are educated privately. If you are a white, working-class boy, you are less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university. If you are black, you are treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you are white. If you are born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others. If you are a woman, you will earn less than a man. If you suffer from mental health problems, there is not enough help at hand. These are burning injustices that damage the unity of our country, and we will address them. (p.51)
Can you imagine such lines even appearing in the 2015 Tory manifesto? Incredible.

Or not. Theresa May thinks the Tories have the election in the bag. That's why the chapter on Brexit is short on detail but long on optimistic rhetoric. A few trade treaties and technical terms are thrown into the mix to convey the impression the government know what they're doing. Though their persistence with the "no deal is better than a bad deal" idiocy shows they really don't. It's also why costings are entirely absent from the manifesto. Labour always get a hard time about such things. If they so much as want to repaint a school bus up pops talking heads demanding to know where the money's coming from. Not so with the Tories. There might be a day of froth before it subsides. After all, Dave got away with it last time. The size of her predicted victory is why May feels comfortable going out of the way with her bastardised Milibandism. The petit bourgeois-types usually suspicious of big statism have nowhere else to go, and May sniffs a big opportunity to inflict major damage on Labour that could take years to recover from.

And it's also why she may have made a big misstep. As the Tories are in the business of constructing a cult of the personality around a woman completely lacking in personal qualities, the leadership fetish commands an expression of toughness. And here it is:
First, we will align the future basis for means-testing for domiciliary care with that for residential care, so that people are looked after in the place that is best for them. This will mean that the value of the family home will be taken into account along with other assets and income, whether care is provided at home, or in a residential or nursing care home.

Second, to ensure this is fair, we will introduce a single capital floor, set at £100,000, more than four times the current means test threshold. This will ensure that, no matter how large the cost of care turns out to be, people will always retain at least £100,000 of their savings and assets, including value in the family home.

Third, we will extend the current freedom to defer payments for residential
care to those receiving care at home, so no-one will have to sell their home in their lifetime to pay for care. (p.67)
In 2010, David Cameron attacked Gordon Brown's proposals about using a person's estate to posthumously pay for care costs as a "death tax". And here it is, again. Rather than releasing monies to deal with the growing adult social care crisis they are shifting the costs onto individuals and their families. Well, not all. In the name of obligationism, this would not effect the very poorest elderly, but it would hit millions of better off pensioners. Some are bound to pass ownership of their assets to the children in the manner of the rich dodging inheritance taxes to get round it, but most won't. To be sure there's going to be a lot of people in Daily Mail land deeply upset about this.

May thinks she can get away with it because this is the core vote and the Tories reason they have nowhere else to go. Are leave-voting pensioners going to vote for Jeremy Corbyn and his plans to nationalise window cleaning? This is why this manifesto is a Blairite manifesto. With the core vote in the bag, the party is free to reach out well beyond its base to gain the thumping majority May craves. Clobbering pensioners' estates with care costs and rowing back on the triple lock might be enough to persuade younger voters that the Tories aren't just about the oldies and that they're trying to address age-related injustices in social policy.

Here, the Tories may have miscalculated. Looking at the polls, politics appears to have undergone a realignment again with the total collapse of UKIP (remember, we did this). Yet the vote the Tories have drawn in from UKIP is highly volatile, which is why the purples were always a declining force, even when, paradoxically, they were on the rise. That vote, which is mostly old, are going to have to weigh up how much a vote for Theresa May is going to cost their families. It will certainly put some off and, even though a switch to Labour might not be on the cards, them staying at home, or voting for another party threatens the prospects of a Tory landslide. If you're going in for voter suppression, then going after the new supporters you've just won over should do it.

This Blairite manifesto is ultimately another episode in keeping the balance of Britain's class forces tilted toward capital. It's conservatism doing what conservatism does: adapting, shifting, changing, responding to new situations and protecting what's theirs. The adoption of a Blairite approach to politics is from a position of perceived strength, but one that is not as certain as that enjoyed by The Master 20 years ago. It is our job in Labour to seize this and drive home what could be the Tories' most serious mistake.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

No Sign of the Liberal Democrat Revival

The Liberal Democrats are not having a good election. Bullish coming off the back of a steadily increasing tally of councillors picked up from local authority by-elections, buoyed by a yellow wave of new members that has taken them to over 100,000 members, and their triumph in Richmond, everyone was expecting great things. Well, better things. Then came the local elections, which saw a net loss of council seats (substantially more than a year's worth of by-election gains) and, despite a local vote tally projected around the 18% mark, their polling numbers are stubbornly low. It might be that Labour are squeezing their vote as the more progressive-minded LibDem voters who returned to the Liberals over the course of the last year have doubled back. This means the notion they're going to recover loads of seats lost in 2015 is, at the moment, looking fanciful.

Whatever is going on, the LibDems are in trouble. And this is the context in which their manifesto launched this evening. In its treatment by the media, the document has been trailed as a young-oriented programme with promises to sort apprenticeships out, dicker with the housing market through help-to-rent and rent-to-buy initiatives, and the like. On pay and particularly low pay, which young people disproportionately are on the sharp end of, all we get is a commitment to set up a review that would consult on the level of the living wage. Helpful. What has particularly caught the eye is a promise to reintroduce grants for students in Higher Education. Yet there isn't anything I could glean about 16-18 education, and so no promise to restore EMA payments. Which, you may recall, were taken away by the LibDems and Tories when they shared a bed. Still, not to worry, the decriminalisation of cannabis is sure to get the young voters in.

Let's have a look at their NHS section. Here, there is nothing too objectionable. A penny on each of the tax bands isn't something anyone is going to complain too much about. Their idea of developing a workforce strategy, working toward a more joined up health service, taking mental health very seriously by starting to match resources to need and what have you is absolutely fine. Though there are two big problems here. Rightly, they attack the Tories for their funding crisis and take a lazy sideswipe at Labour for not having the solutions to deal with it. But Labour does have a solution, and it directly involves a key Liberal Democrat "achievement": repealing the 2012 Health and Social Care Act. Yes, the NHS is underfunded. It also wastes billions on the added costs of a thoroughly marketised health economy underpinned by the taxpayer. Apparently, tinkering here and there would sort the NHS out while the glaring structural flaw remains invisible to their eyes. Another, not unrelated, problem is the proposal for a dedicated health and care tax. This, if you will remember, was a wheeze conjured up by George Osborne. His thinking was that specifying a NHS tax as part of PAYE would encourage a desire among tax payers to see that tax reduced, giving the Tories a further hook to run it down even further. I'm not suggesting the LibDem proposal comes from a similar place, though they too are neoliberal taliban when it comes to such things, yet it's a hostage the Tories would gladly seize down the line.

Other things? How about this on page 93: "Strengthen trade union members’ political freedoms by letting them choose which political party they wish to support through the political levy." Um, no. You can take that one back. Trade unions are organisations of working people, so why should a party of business - which the LibDems are, albeit a singularly unsuccessful one - have the right to say what voluntary organisations can and can't do with their political funds? If a union wants to open its political funds to other parties, that's a matter purely for them. Though don't be too surprised if this one is nabbed for the much-delayed Tory manifesto.

Speaking of the Tories, they've picked up a trick from them. Or, more specifically, the Scottish Conservatives. We're seeing how Theresa May is using personal branding to overcome brand toxicity and build a vote, in exactly the same way Ruth Davidson did in Scotland. The LibDems, in their introduction, are asking people to vote for them in order to provide an effective opposition. Just like Ruth Davidson did in Scotland. Unhappily for them, the same trick is not going to repeat.

Is any of this going to be help? It's not looking likely. The problem is pitching yourselves as hard remainers in local (and parliamentary) by-elections is one thing. You can easily mobilise a vote motivated by this issue to pull off stunning wins on low turn outs. In a general election when the Tories are explicitly pitching as the guardians of Brexit against the "wreckers" and other such stupidity, that hardcore remain vote is spread too thinly to make a difference in all but a very small number of seats. And with that, the LibDem revival, much hyped, much vaunted, looks all set to come to nothing on 8th June.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Explaining Laura Kuenssberg's Bias

There's a headline. It's from the BBC, written by no less a figure than the corporation's chief political editor. Not something up to the standards expected, you might say. As readers know, I tend not to moan much about the recipient of the licence fee. As a general rule, its news coverage is much better than most and where it fails in impartiality, it can make up in balance - particularly with regard to its flagship current affairs programme, Question Time. But there have been plenty of Labour people outraged by the behaviour of senior BBC journalists of late. Here are some much-shared and criticised examples.

Not exactly fair and not exactly balanced, to borrow the strap line of the Murdoch-owned bilge channel. And into this litany of bias comes Laura Kuenssberg's blog on Labour's manifesto. Just look at the state of the headline: "Labour manifesto vision: More spending, more tax, more borrowing". Let's be generous here, that is more or less a factually accurate statement. But this is politics. Kuenssberg's been in the game (at the top of the game) for long enough to know that nothing is neutral in politics, and she knows well enough that it's quite possible to frame and slant reports in particular ways that favour certain parties over others without explicitly saying "vote Tory", or whatever.

For the last seven years 'more spending, more tax, more borrowing' has been repeated ad nauseum as an attack line by the Tories. The spending line specifically is a charge that the Tories and their friends in the press have used since 1979. Kuenssberg knows this, she isn't stupid. And it's outrageous.

What's going on then? As we have seen before, the BBC is a biased institution: it tilts towards the political establishment. Since Jeremy Corbyn took the leadership of the Labour Party, it, like the rest of official politics and the state, have looked on in a mixture of fascination and horror, almost as if Labour was plotting an insurrection followed by full sovietisation. Not a mild programme of social democracy that would move Britain more in the direction of noted communist power, the Federal Republic of Germany. In the avalanche of destabilisation and attacks on Labour and its leader and the subsequent dumbing down of debate, the BBC has played its part with alacrity.

Also, it finds itself in a particular pickle. Since 2003 and the fall out from the dodgy dossier and the death of weapons expert David Kelly, the BBC has even more diligently bowed the knee to sitting governments. The powers that be want to retain the Royal Charter and therefore carry on as a going concern, and this sentiment is shared across all senior staff, including those in front of the camera. In the context of this general election in which the Tories are widely expected to win, the BBC is playing supplicant and not giving them anywhere near as hard a time as Labour. They hope the Tories will leave the corporation well alone. This is no conspiracy, nor will you find documents instructing senior reporters to go easy, but it's a structure of feeling working its way through what they do and say.

Is Laura Kuenssberg a Tory then? Who knows for certain but she, like many others, know which side their bread is buttered on.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Far Left Candidates at the 2017 General Election

As predicted, a few left groups would find enough in the fighting fund to splash out on deposits for a clutch of general election challenges. These aren't your lily-livered SWP, SP/TUSC, CPB, or SSP. These are proper revolutionaries determined to pay no mind to wider politics. Who are these brave, some may say foolhardy, souls?

Communist League
Islington North - Andres Mendoza (2015: SPGB 112 (0.2%))
Manchester Gorton - Peter Clifford (2015: TUSC 264 (0.6%))

People Before Profit Alliance
West Belfast - Gerry Carroll (2015: WP 597 (1.7%), PBPA 6,798 (19.2%))

Socialist Labour Party
Birmingham Perry Barr - Shangara Bhatoe (2015: TUSC 331 (0.8%))
Bootle - Kim Bryan (2015: TUSC 500 (1.1%))
North Cornwall - Robert Hawkins

Socialist Party of Great Britain
Battersea - Daniel Lambert
Islington North - Bill Martin (2015: SPGB 112 (0.2%))
Swansea West - Brian Johnson (2015: SPGB 49 (0.1%), TUSC 159 (0.5%))

Workers Party
Belfast North - Gemma Weir (2015: WP 919 (2.3%))
Belfast West - Conor Campbell (2015: WP 597 (1.7%), PBPA 6,798 (19.2%))

Workers Revolutionary Party
Camberwell and Peckham - Aminata Sellu (2015: WRP 107 (0.2%), TUSC 292 (0.6%))
Ealing Southall - Arj Thiara
Hackney South and Shoreditch - Jonty Leff (2015: WRP 63 (0.1%), TUSC 302 (0.6%))
Hornsey and Wood Green - Anna Athow (2015: WRP 82 (0.1%))
Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough - Mike Driver

And that's your lot! Just 14 seats and two clashes, so the WRP can justly make the claim to be fielding the largest revolutionary intervention in this general election. Indeed, this is certainly the smallest far left presence I've ever known. It might even be the weakest ever.

As with all things, I may have overlooked one or two candidates. If that is the case, please let me know.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

A Note on the Labour Vote

Some welcome news for a change. Well, welcome-ish. The Tories have a lead in the polls that no superlative can accurately capture. Yet something interesting is happening to the Labour vote. It's firming up. That's right, the highest polling since before last year's referendum shambles and in advance of what Saint Ed got two years back. Of course, we know that there's only one poll that matters and there's a bit of time to go yet, but it's positive. Labour may be way behind, it's still on course for defeat, but it's not tanking. The vote isn't disintegrating.

How to explain this rally in the polls? After all, Jeremy's personal ratings are stuck in the doldrums, even if there's been modest put perceptible shifts here too. Getting by in campaigning exile while enduring marking hell, I am going to hazard three guesses not at all informed by the doorstep.

The first is Labour's schizoid campaign is working. Readers will recall how Labour is throwing down twin tracks. That travelled by the leader repeating his summer leadership campaigns, but on steroids. And the train packed with everyone else, of practically every sitting MP running their own local election campaign for local people. Don't like Jezza? That's fine, we're not going to win anyway so keep your friendly neighbourhood Labour MP at Westminster. Second, this election has seen a tsunami of policy, and practically every day Labour has led the media's talking points with eye catching policies. The bank holidays, the minimum wage, the tuition fee abolition, 10,000 extra coppers, the Robin Hood tax, the freezing of tax for people on incomes under £80k. People aren't keen on the waiter, but polling has consistently shown substantial support for his policy menu. Meanwhile, the Tories studied refusal to say anything other than trite and tiresome soundbites amplifies the reach of these pledges. Enough to get people planning to vote Tory take another look at Labour? Maybe not, but given our hyper localism, it might be enough to encourage them to support their nice sitting MP.

Thirdly, there's the recomposition of the Labour vote, which has accompanied the effective rebirth of the Labour Party. As we saw in the Stoke by-election, Jeremy was a bit of a polarising figure. He was a push factor for some voters, but a big pull for others. And that, at last, might be working its way through the considerations of millions of people. Remember, for the under 40s Labour leads the Tories. Unfortunately, the largely Tory older voter is more likely to turn out than their children and grandchildren, but the more younger people are mobilised - be it by Labour's messaging, Jezza's person, or the sheer horror of a decadent and damaging Tory party getting a thumping majority - the Tory margin of victory gets smaller. Perhaps the shift in the polls is reflecting the fact that younger voters are going to turn up in greater numbers than was the case in 2015. If they do and May is denied the landslide she craves, then politics is going to get very interesting.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Roger Sanchez - Lost

Ugh, not feeling well tonight and having to undergo a massive wind down. No real blogging then, so I leave you with this.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Economic Anxiety and Donald Trump

How to understand the rise of populist politics? In a time of unprecedented social peace, how can large numbers of people turn away from the sensible, managerial mainstream and find the simple answers of crackpots and charlatans beguiling? How is it a third of French voters supported a fascist last Sunday? How did we get President Donald Trump? All kinds of explanations are in play, but the one that's done the running is anxiety, which is usually (and unhelpfully) separated out into economic and cultural anxiety. This has spawned an interminable zero-sum debate over what matters the most and, as per political debates, there are other stakes in play. If the economic argument is correct, then the Clintonian/Blairist and the still-shiny Macronite Third Way is wonky flimflam and the socialist critique, including emphasis on the importance of interests, is substantially correct. And if cultural anxiety is the explanation, then all the pundits and leading politicians are on the money, we have to carry on listening to them, and the horrible stuff about class and things can be boxed away.

There is nothing the social world throws up that can't be analysed, explained and, if needs be, critiqued. Indeed, we need to understand the world in order to change it, and that means taking it as we find it. That must be the starting point of any kind of progressive politics, or it's something else. That in mind, I'm interested in the latest intervention in the anxiety debate, covered here by Emma Green of The Atlantic. According to research by the Public Religion Research Institute (original findings here), the best predictor of support for Donald Trump after self-identified party affiliation is cultural anxiety. According to the research, some 68% of white working class Americans from the mid-western states believed the American way of life was under threat by foreign influences, and 79% of this group were set on voting Trump. 62% of the same group believed immigration represented a cultural threat and they are sceptical, by 54%, of the merits of a college education (rising to 61% among the men).

This refutes the claims of economic anxiety how? Well, quoting direct from the PRRI piece:
Despite the conventional wisdom that Trump attracted financially depressed voters, white working-class Americans who report being in good or excellent financial shape are significantly more likely to say that Trump understands their problems than those who report their financial condition as being fair or poor (48% vs. 39%, respectively). A majority (55%) of white working-class Americans in fair or poor shape say Trump does not understand the problems facing their communities well.
This is incredible and revealing. Incredible because the entire claim of the research that cultural anxiety matters more than economic anxiety hangs on this passage. Revealing because they reduce the question of economic anxiety solely to being poor. Despite themselves, they confirm the relevance of class, of the better off who disproportionately helped Donald Trump to victory, just like some of us have argued from the beginning. It is, for example, entirely possible to be poor and not feel insecure. Millions of people run very tight budgets but secure in the knowledge that their wages are due to be paid on x day of the month. Insecurity however will set in when their job is under threat, or whether the firm wants to introduce flexible/reduced hours, and so on. Meanwhile, a well paid manager whose remuneration is fixed to continual monitoring performance reviews, a successful small business person who frets over her competitors, the megabucks professional worried about the drying up of their consultancies, all these people are much better off than low paid working class people, but are likely to also suffer higher instances of economic anxiety. Their default setting is an existential craving for stability and certainty. And who can blame them, they are human after all. Yet that can, and has, taken them down some very dark paths. Generations of socialists have known that these demographics disproportionately fill out the support of reactionary parties and movements, confirmed again by the PRRI in the case of Trump. Economic anxiety therefore isn't just a matter of being poor, it's about the content of your relationship to the means of existence and how that frames your outlook. Or, if you prefer, your relationship to the means of production, and that the content of that being conditions consciousness.

In addition to the conceptual muddle, there is a strange issue with how the report is presented as well. For all the stressing of cultural anxiety, we have vignettes culled from interviews that capture the working class experience quite succinctly:
"It’s that kind of mentality with the businesses that we work for these days that they know they can get away with paying us nothing half the time because they know we have nowhere to go."

"The middle class can’t survive in today’s economy because there really isn’t a middle class anymore. You’ve got poverty level, and you’ve got your one, two percent. You don’t have a middle class anymore like you had in the ’70s and ’80s. My dad started at Cinco making a buck ten an hour. When he retired he was making $45 an hour. It took him 40 years, but he did it. You can’t find that today; there’s no job that exists like that today."

“I feel enslaved by the student debt that I have, and I don’t have a degree, and I feel that any job that I may get I will never pay it off in my lifetime.”

“My fiancĂ©’s worked for the same company for 21 years, and it’s a union [job], and they are hiring Mexicans. And I don’t want to be racial, but that’s all that they’re hiring. He makes like $31 an hour, and they’re coming in at making like $8 an hour.”

“I’m tired of the minimum wage being offered so low it makes it impossible to provide for your family no matter how hard you break your back."
Not the quotations I would have chosen if I wanted to prove cultural anxiety mattered and the economic was phooey.

Despite itself, the report establishes a link between economic status and interest. For instance, asked about whether the national minimum wage should be more than doubled from $7.25/hour to $15/hour, by 53% to 44% respondents agreed. Split by gender, however, we find that men oppose it by 50% to 45% while women support it 60% to 37%. It also notes support rises to 82% among black workers and 77% for hispanics. Cultural issues? Or the fact that the latter three groups are more likely to work minimum wage jobs than white working class men and would, therefore, directly materially benefit from a raise?

As we have seen, there are some findings here that are useful, but what absolutely isn't is their steadfast failure to place them in a social context. While the sampling is pretty robust, their conclusions are on dodgy ground because their variables are not connected with one another. Each is set up as an independent variable without any relationship to the others. So the view that the American way of life is under threat only tells us that people who believe that are more likely to vote for the candidate who shares the belief. How does that help? It does not explain how this works with other variables, of who believes this, nor offer hypotheses as to why they might believe it. It's a bit like stating people voted for Brexit because of immigration without trying to explain why that was a powerful motivator. And the quotes, why? These strike something of a Freudian note as the repressed breaks through to put question marks over their argument.

The biggest problem with the report is their failure to define what they mean by economic anxiety, which they simply identify with being poor. And because poor people tended not to vote for Trump, (which, as any Marxist would have said, like duh), they conclude economics has nothing to do with it. It's almost as if the data was written up with a determination to prove the culturalist argument. That it would be blandly passed off as fact rather than interrogated by journalists. As far as I'm concerned, this is an opportunity missed for a few petty Beltway points. The truth is with a bit more care and intellectual honesty, a complex, interesting, and accurate picture of how anxiety works, of how the experience of economic realities - which goes beyond wages and jobs and combines with culture - can be gleaned from the data. It's just that, instead, the PRRI have given us a hatchet job.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Emmanuel Macron and Neoliberalism

And breathe. Emmanuel Macron crushed Marine Le Pen in the second round of the French presidential elections by 66.1% to 33.9%. But that is no cause for celebration. Le Pen's rebranded fascism was found beguiling enough for a third of voters, which is double what daddy got when he broke through to the run off in 2002. Amid the schmaltzy celebrations and feting of Macron as a centrist hero up there with Blair and Obama, serious questions need posing and answers found if this is to be the peak of the French far right's advance.

Unfortunately, the shiny new president is clueless and uninterested in the dynamics driving Le Pen's support. While a Macron win was and would always be preferable to a fascist victory, he will not solve France's problems. He's hell bent on exacerbating them. As we have seen with the collapse of the Socialists and the abysmal performance of Francois Hollande, their humiliation in this election and likely wipe out in the parliamentary elections next month is a calamity of their own making. Centre left parties across Europe have had a battering, from outright collapse like France and The Netherlands to parties hampered by splits and social dislocation, like Germany and, yes, Britain. Populism of the left and right have welled up through the fissures and caused all manner of complications, but the underlying problem in almost every case is the extent to which social democratic and labour parties have overseen attacks on their own constituencies.

The consequences of this is more complex than just economic anxiety, which is often lampooned by liberals hostile to understanding their complicity in the processes driving populism. All too often, this blog has visited how the breaking up of the post-war social order and the administration of neoliberal capitalism has seen many centre left parties pursue suicidal policies that break up their coalition of voters. Consider the case of New Labour. Sure, the sharper edges were blunted and investment - albeit sourced from the private sector at rip off rates - helped rebuild public infrastructure. But crucially Blair and Brown's drive to open more and more areas of the state to marketisation introduced uncertainty, varying standards, and a fundamental lack of accountability in service provision. Meanwhile their failure to roll back the attacks the Tories made on workplace rights, save for the enhancement of individual at the expense of collective rights, meant that impermanence and fluidity - a sense of a loss of control - deepened a diffuse sense of uncertainty that had more or less reigned unchecked since Keynesian capitalism was broken by crisis in the 1970s.

As this was going on, neoliberalism as a mode of governance continued to be normalised. This supposes and actively inculcates a default state of being human as an atomised individual. Society may exist, but how you travel through it and where you end up is entirely the result of your efforts and your choices. This cultural assumption assiduously cultivated by Thatcher, Major, and Blair at the level of policy was the default mode informing public institutions and their relations with the public. Citizens accessing council services were customers. Parents choosing schools for their kids were customers. Students looking for a place in Higher Education were customers. Patients entering the NHS were customers. They had the right to choose, but once inside these systems customers became something else: they were the carriers of social obligations. Nothing highlights this more than the social security system in which, in return for dole money, the unemployed - long re-branded jobseekers - are expected to attend training sessions, engage in job hunting full-time (how?), and latterly work for their dole. This is no different in kind from the workhouse, where inmates were set jobs to "morally improve" them. In our neoliberal times, nothing says virtuous quite like getting up in the morning and spending x number of hours under an employer's direction.

France differs from Britain in that market fundamentalism has not penetrated society to the same extent, much to the chagrin of capital and those who would like to see the rebelliousness for which the French are famous expunged from the body politic. In terms of France's political economy, its post war period - that of dirigisme - saw an active state drive reconstruction and development in a much more hands-on way than Britain. This meant nationalised industry and state supervision of large areas of the economy, though this direction was indicative (through market incentives) rather than bureaucratic command as per the Soviet Union. And it worked. Between 1945 and 1975 economic growth averaged out at 4.5%/year, numbers totally unthinkable today in a mature economy. This was largely abandoned in the mid-1980s by Francois Mitterand's Socialists as the price paid for remaining in the European Monetary System - a relatively fixed currency exchange rate - that aided economic integration, particularly between the economies of France, the low countries, and West Germany. The period that followed saw a number of state enterprises transformed into corporations. Ostensibly private businesses, the French state in the main kept hold of a controlling share of stock (unlike the get-rich-quick privatisations across the Channel) but simultaneously pulled back from indicative planning. However, despite attempts at trying to dump them, strong worker protections persist even though the trade union participation rate has historically been lower than Britain's - proof that there isn't a necessary correspondence between union density and militancy.

Overt neoliberalism hasn't made inroads, but it certainly has as a mode of governance. As with all Western European societies, France became a consumption-oriented society during dirigisme. Meanwhile the expansion of French technocracy in the state-directed enterprises ensured that managerialism worked with this consumerism to promote a particular type of individuality: what we now understand as neoliberal individuality. Choice and responsibility were its key attributes and, of course, moral rectitude and self-worth found expression in the usual trappings of success. This cultural shift, remember, occurred independently of any neoliberal attempt at restructuring of France's political economy. Quite the contrary, this was a mode of governance promoted by social democratic capitalism's workplace and leisure cultures. Hence on the surface of economics, France looks different to the US and UK but down at the cellular level, the mode of governance, of how institutions deal with citizens and how they are expected to interact (transact) with one another is qualitatively the same. No surprises that the same problems - existential anxiety, ontological insecurity - stalk the land, and the same extremists, in this case the "post"-fascist National Front, are happy to play the blame game and offer up the certainties (and simplicity) of nationalism and nationality in response.

And this is why Emmanuel Macron's defeat of Le Pen should be more a sigh of relief than an enthusiastic celebration. His candidacy and incipient political party was enabled by the collapse of the Socialists but the precipitating factor was Hollande's programme. A loosening of workers' rights, including giving employers carte blanche to cut wages and salaries "when times are tough" (whatever that means), pensions reform with increased contributions, and political paralysis as opposition to these measures mounted - what a shower. Scenes from the presidential campaign when we saw Le Pen welcomed by factory workers as Macron was barracked should set the alarm bells ringing, but they haven't. Effectively, Macron takes office as the new Socialist president in all but name and with the same discredited programme, and the same liberal tin ear to the aspirations and interests of working people exhibited by all centrist heroes. Without a hint of understanding what happened to the government in which he was a minister, his aim is to curb the power of labour, liberalise the economy further, and wants to start by throwing 100,000 civil servants out of work. At the very moment capitalism requires stronger management similar to the dirigisme of the past, he wants to take France in the opposite direction, of, effectively, restructuring its economy so it better corresponds to neoliberal governance. It's a recipe for more social conflict, more anxiety and doubt, more alienation and anomie, and more fuel for the extremist fire. If Macron wants to prepare the ground for future fascist success, he's going the right way about it.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

The Far Left and the 2017 General Election

Tradition has it to write a preview of far left challenges at general election time. Seldom-issued press releases are rifled through, hyperbolic statements of intent are scanned and, ultimately, declaration of polls are descried for that important nugget of information. Two years ago, 215 candidates entered the fray on self-described class struggle platforms. That was also something of a record - certainly the largest (disparate) collective effort Britain's tankies, Trots, and others had mounted this century. Possibly even bigger than rosters of candidates ever fielded by the official Communist Party before it disappeared up its own backside.

Interestingly, 2017 will probably mark the slightest far left general election challenge ever. Oh yes, I imagine the Workers' Revolutionary Party rape cult to donate a dozen or so deposits to sundry council coffers. If you got leftover piles of cash from doing jobs for Saddam Hussein, what's a central committee to do? Likewise, former stable mates the Socialist Equality Party might arrange a phalanx of their forces and storm the bottom of the vote tallies in a couple of seats. And no election would be an election without the Communist League, the British outpost of the weird and not-so-wonderful American Socialist Workers Party. This is a round about way of saying none of the principal outfits of the far left are standing this time. And it's not just because May's calling an election caught our most farsighted vanguards on the hop.

The Morning Star readers' group trading as the Communist Party of Britain quickly ruled themselves out of contention. Declaring they're not going to do anything? I've never seen this dozy organisation move so lightning fast. Rightly, they argue that Theresa May offers an anti-working class government whose Brexit will see a diminution of workplace rights and other nasties. They are also sensitive to how May may betray Brexit by keeping Britain in the single market. Yes, because obviously socialists should be against the deepening integration of economies across borders. Whatever would Marx have thought? Anyway, they're not standing. Everywhere they're calling for a Labour vote. As they put it, "the higher the Labour vote and the number of Labour MPs elected, the more secure will be the position of Jeremy Corbyn and his left allies in the Parliamentary Labour Party". In due course their own manifesto will be issued, and they are going to lend local constituency parties their campaigning assistance. A principled position, you might say.

Principled position. Now there's a phrase you never associate with the Socialist Workers Party. Recently abandoning the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, after (reluctantly) cohabiting with the Socialist Party and the RMT to no discernible benefit whatsoever, the SWP decided talking to people on the doors about the issues that mattered to them was getting in the way of selling papers and organising A to B demonstrations. Which is entirely typical of them, of course. Between the late 70s and the end of the century, it was all about "the struggle". Real politics was made on the streets and the workplaces, and anything else was a distraction. Come the 00s and it was about face. First the ill-fated Socialist Alliance and later Respect (an initiative that also ended in acrimony), it was all about elections. The path to socialism was no longer about mobilising on the streets, but clearing up the dog poo that fouled them. After the coterie responsible for this orientation decamped and went on to form the, ironically, super-movementy Counterfire, elections were more or less put back in the box and the SWP went back to what it did best: being really irritating. Except there was the small matter of the worst crisis in their history as it emerged they had covered up and "investigated" allegations of serious sexual assault against a leading figure. He was cleared by a jury of friends and comrades, of course. Battered, bruised, and even more reviled by the rest of the left than was previously the case, the SWP retreated further to their ourselves alone activism. Albeit much diminished, and rightly so.

That they're doing nothing in the general election isn't a surprise. In 1997 they handed out window posters exhorting us to "Vote Labour", with the caveat "but we don't trust Blair". Given the tone of their recent coverage of what's going on, they could easily substitute the latter for 'Corbyn'. All that said, I have to welcome the SWP to the reality-based section of leftism. They argue that the polls are very much against Labour and the "cannot be ignored". It goes on to rightly apportion appropriate levels of blame on those who've undermined and briefed against Jeremy Corbyn from day one of his leadership, and goes on to note this will always be the case if anyone else from the left gets the top job. They argue they want to see Labour win on 8th June, "but we also want a much bigger fight in the streets and workplaces against the racists and the rich. We want that type of struggle that gives a sense that society can change—and that the Tories can be beaten." And how do we get that? In their write up of the local election results and what Labour can do to turn it around, they recommend that "Corbyn should immediately announce eight or ten mass rallies in big cities which can draw thousands or tens of thousands of people to them." Actually, that's not bad advice and fits the twin-track strategy well. They also recommend setting out what a Labour Brexit would look like which, um, Kier Stamer has already done. Though it does need reemphasising and repeating, though not Maybotically. Of the SWP's election intentions, there is nary a word. As if even contemplating such a move is an absurdity.

And that brings me to my erstwhile comrades in the Socialist Party. As we have seen previously, the emergence of Corbynism caught them entirely by surprise and have had a great deal of difficulty orienting toward it since. For example, they want to support Jeremy Corbyn from inside the Labour Party so they can do the whole Militant Tendency reenactment/cosplay thing, but they can't. And so they've sporadically stood TUSC candidates. Of their meagre challenge in the local elections on Thursday, they said "every TUSC vote on Thursday will be an early declaration of support for Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity policies." Or, alternatively, you could demonstrate your support for Jeremy Corbyn by voting for Labour. The SP's weird positioning comes from the complete collapse of their strategic perspectives. Having declared the Labour Party a bourgeois party no different in kind from the Tories and Liberal Democrats, for a quarter of a century they have, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, pushed the idea for a new (labourist) workers' party to fill the political void. It went nowhere because Labour remained a proletarian party. i.e. An electoral alliance and movement representing the interests of working people in all their sectional and status difference. When politics is quiet and the labour movement is defeated, that reflected itself in New Labour and Blairism. When politics is in flux and tens of thousands of newly radicalised people are getting politicised, you have Corbyn and Corbynism. The difficulty for the SP is that to say they had mischaracterised Labour all along meant admitting their entire politics of the last 25 years was wrong. And so now, how a party of capital is suddenly a site of socialist struggle is something they choose not to dwell on. In fact, it proves them right. The new workers' party they had forecast with Micawberish optimism was actually emerging in Labour!

Ho hum. Now they characterise Labour as two parties, each corresponding to pro-austerity and anti-austerity poles. Which means they have shifted their strategy accordingly. Though they haven't explicitly said it, the SP's latest missive suggests they won't be standing anyone under the TUSC banner this time to assist their would-be comrades in Labour. Whatever the case, if they do decide to keep away it is welcome. Arguably, TUSC standing in The Gower in 2015 gifted the seat to the Tories. There's also another reason why a campaign is unlikely. Since Jeremy Corbyn looked a dead cert to win, some SP members have taken out Labour Party membership. When the election was announced, among the surge of new members are SP folks, some of whom are relatively well-known on the left/labour movement/trade union circuit. I suggest these comrades may not have been diligent in separating themselves from their previous affiliation. Clearly, in what follows the general election, the SP is determined to participate in the arguments and struggles to come from inside Labour. And so, whereas the CPB's position on supporting Labour is principled, the SP's is underhanded and motivated by the two things self-described Leninist outfits need above all: paper sales and recruits.

And there is your far left at the 2017 general election. If some of the micro sects stand, this is the place to find that information out.

Local Election Take Homes

A few remarks on the local elections.

1. Voters don't vote for divided parties. Nor do they ever vote for parties that make them feel unsafe and insecure. I'll be taking this up again after the general election.

2. The national vote projections on the basis of the results have the Tories on 38%, Labour 27%, LibDems 18%, UKIP 5%. Remarkably, the 11 point difference has been hailed as not so bad a result by some. Incredible.

3. Crumbs of comfort? There are precious few outside the super safe strongholds of Manchester and Liverpool. But take homes do exist. Where Labour is strongly rooted the hurricane force winds felt elsewhere were but a fluttery breeze. The twin track approach where the leader does his thing, and local parties effectively run hyperlocal defence campaigns could work.

4. Here's another crumb. The collapse of UKIP is disproportionately piling votes up in safe Tory areas. That means there cannot be a direct correspondence between Tory polling numbers and seats likely to get grabbed. That said, look at the local results in areas Labour needs to hold on to and win. Like the West Midlands region, for instance. Not good.

5. Whatever happened to the Liberal Democrat wave? The yellow vote was up yesterday, albeit it didn't transfer into advances in the council chamber. As everyone's expecting them to do well in June, why did the wave peter out before delivering election success? In local council by-elections, and particularly as we saw in Richmond, a large number of remain voters are very motivated to go out to protest vote against Brexit. It's this that has driven LibDem by-election success. However, now the Tories know stirring up idiocies about the EU can mobilise leave voters scared that Brexit is going to get derailed/not happen, success by being (ambiguously) remain is negated. If this continues through the election, and knowing the Tories, it will, the likelihood of the LibDems regaining a swathe of Conservative-held seats looks ever more remote.

6. Now the Tories know their campaign is working, despite its awfulness, they will double down on it. The risk in doing that is voters will zone out and not head to the polling stations in numbers sufficient enough for a mega landslide, or to give Theresa May the thumping mandate she craves.

Friday, 5 May 2017

East Side Beat - Ride Like the Wind

Them elections results are grim. Very grim.

I'll be writing something substantial on them over the weekend for somewhere else, so keep your eye out for that.

As a place holder then, I want to take you back to 1991. This song was everywhere. Heavy Radio One play rotation. A stint on Top of the Pops. It did very well too, getting to number three in t'charts. And, until last weekend, I had forgot this existed. Had it slipped your mind too?

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Who's Running the Best Election Campaign?

Who is running the best general election campaign? Well, it's obvious, innit. Jeremy Corbyn is. The Labour campaign is dynamic, there's a new policy every day, the leader is ubiquitous, and he's received rare praise from the media for being accessible and helpful. Contrast that to the shambles of Theresa May and the control freak effort Tory central office are running. She hides from the public, will not take questions on camera, is more awful than New Labour at its sound bitey worst, and indulges witless provocations. Compare the two and they're miles apart. If only polls reflected campaign quality, eh?

Then riddle me this. According to ICM, 41% of folks asked think the Tories are running a good campaign and 22% not. Meanwhile, the 21% are of the view that Labour's campaign is a goodie while 40% thinks it's bad. What the hell? Unless the poll is nobbled (very unlikely), how is it that ordinary punters can reach a mind bogglingly wrong conclusion? All too easily, I'm afraid to say.

Firstly, there is cognitive bias. Labour start from a long way back and many people most likely to vote have made their mind up about Jeremy Corbyn. As the local election results are dissected tomorrow this is sure to come up again and again. And so people asked this question about campaigns are likely to rate the figure they find more favourable over the one they don't. It's not fair, but that's how it is.

Second, social media has widened the net of those who obsessively follow political minutiae. And, yes, campaigns are minutiae. Running away from journalists and struggling with real people is jolly knockabout for the likes of you and me, but most people don't see it. They see a steely eyed woman staring down the camera talking about EU wreckers, saboteurs, and offering stability and leadership. Zone out from your own noise and zone in to what others see and hear. May is pitching her tent as a unifying figure who can take on Brussels skulduggery, and is offering hope and security to those who want to believe it.

That's the impression, and then there is the messaging. Labour have made all the policy running so far, and the Tories have offered empty slogans. We know, as a rule, our policies tend to be very well received - it's just that a plurality of the electorate aren't convinced we can deliver them in government. And so, if you ask people who've followed the election askance thus far, which is nearly everyone, they might remember the bank holidays and the 10,000 coppers on the streets, but that will be your lot. Contrast that with the messaging they will have picked up from the Tories. Strong and stable government. In the national interest. Coalition of chaos. It is awful and it does debase the level of political debate, but they do it because it works. When one of my colleagues offered around some Ferraro Rocher, exclamations of "Ah, ambassador!" went up, 30-something years after that ad campaign ceased. Repetition cuts through and can embed messages, particularly in times when electorates are turned off. In this case, by the perception there has been too much politics.

Why is an embarrassing mess favoured over a well-organised campaign? It's because, ultimately, people know where they stand with one over the other. The Tories are vapid but focused. We're policy heavy but sprawling. Labour doesn't have to go all Maybotic, but it should have a small number of punchy, repeatable phrases with the potential of cutting through to ensure the Tories don't have it all their way.