Monday, 18 September 2017

Can Vince Cable Become Prime Minister?

Not a chance.

With Liberal Democrats rolling into Bournemouth for their annual gathering, Uncle Vince had to grab the headlines. As we live in an age of outrageous claims and lies I suppose they needed something - their electoral endeavours and polling aren't redolent of that magic term, 'LibDem revival'. With 12 MPs and their rapid advances on the local council by-election scene a distant memory, when pressed on his ludicrous ambition all Vince can offer is the observation that politics is in flux and therefore anything can happen. Le sigh.

His favourite soundbite at the moment is how the Tories are engulfed by civil war and that Labour is in the midst of now simmering, now suppressed internal strife. Yes, just as a broken clock is right twice a day so a Liberal Democrat leader occasionally tells the truth. However, understanding why this is the case explains why Vince's hopes are among the most forlorn ever harboured by a leading politician.

The Tories are having a hard time ostensibly because of that general election, but their result only brought long-term problems to a head. For the last five years this blog has banged on about the declining fortunes of the Conservative Party. This is expressed in an overall tendency for their membership to shrink and their vote consolidating around declining demographics. Theresa May's achievement, and in normal times she would have been lauded, was to firm up that support. UKIP were destroyed, inroads made in "old" working class, Labour-loyal areas, and mobilising unionist voters gave the SNP a bloody nose. These constituencies, however, are not getting any larger and hitherto the Tories have relied on their greater propensity to turn out. Tory divisions, which have always mapped on to different configurations of business interests and their allies in the classes beneath them, are exacerbated by a sense of creeping doom, of having zero handle on what's coming next. As declinism set in its leading politicians have grown ever more preoccupied with short-term party interests, of any old wheeze and gimmick to turn around its fortunes. It's why we are where we are.

As the pace of political change has quickened, we know we're normal times. A combination of fear of the Tories and the programme Jeremy Corbyn's Labour offered unexpectedly powered it to the party's highest vote for 20 years. It rode the wave of a new, reconfigured class politics and cemented an alliance between increasingly dominant immaterial labourers. Labour's difficulties arise from being the de facto party of the new working class, of responding to them, mobilising them, and encouraging them to move into politics in large numbers. Labour is ascending because the forces powering the party are on the rise. And likewise, the conflict in the party is a direct consequence of the new colliding with the bureaucracy, habits, and politics of the old.

This is the story of British politics. After years of fraying loyalties and mass abstention, the direction of travel is in the opposite direction. It also looks like this situation is going to persist, and not just because fear of the other has stiffened support for the two main parties. Not only do they map on to two class coalitions with opposed existences, but seven years of Tory austerity - aided at every turn by Uncle Vince - have sharpened the contradictions. May's government doesn't offer anything apart from more of the same, Britain's political economy is going to stay largely the same, and so politics looks as though it's going to retain its polarising aspect.

What room for the Liberal Democrats? Well, there isn't much of one. They can carry on eking out an existence on the margins, but the famous liberal allergy to anything resembling a structural analysis of how societies work not only makes the LibDem leader sound deluded, but it marks him and his party out as singularly and willfully stupid.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

How Not to Write about Corbynism

Nick Cohen's latest article for The Observer is idiotic. In fact, it is triply so.

There are the demonstrable untruths, the nonsense about Stalinism and personality cults, that Corbynism is not just about the "left behind" middle class but is now, apparently, the expression of "a significant slice of the British bourgeoisie". Ridiculous.

Then there is the undermining of his own argument. On the left, even among the husks for whom the spark of social conscience was extinguished long ago, there is a long tradition of using 'the middle class' as an insult. By labelling something middle class, you are inviting the reader to dismiss whatever is under discussion. This classic ploy is initially so fielded by Cohen to question the legitimacy of Corbynism. Then he does a 180 and starts exploring the grievances and concerns powering the movement. He even comes close to acknowledging that Corbynism may have a point. But then he remembers he's supposed to be attacking and witters "less understandable or forgivable is the nature of today’s middle-class backlash against a status quo that is rigged against them." Eh? Is voting against an anti-austerity party somehow an "unforgivable" activity?

Last of all is the bewilderment that has marked his "journalism" since Jeremy Corbyn was catapulted from backbench obscurity to the top of the Labour Party. If you want to understand how the well remunerated professional and the precarious care worker, along with a large majority of the under-40s populate the activist and voter vase of Corbynism you've got to get a handle on the changes to Britain's political economy, on how it is shifting from material to immaterial production. I can understand why some people don't want to understand, because it calls into question everything they know about politics as well as their assumptions about the social world (and, indeed, their position as privileged interpreters of it). But as I'm fond of saying, understanding and explaining isn't the same as excusing. Studiously avoiding thinking about change, the likes of Cohen and his mates in the dead centre embrace their bewilderment and cling to the illusions hanging over from the recent past. That's why we see a cavalier disregard for the facts, zombie arguments from the last couple of years and, of course ritual abuse.

When your name in journalism is made and, presumably, have dinner partied with the great and the good of Fleet Street, we see "stars" getting paid handsomely for turning out of the most egregious rubbish. Cohen is by no means the worst offender, though he's increasingly in competition with Dan Hodges for being the wrongest about everything. Yet where is the quality control? Where are the editors? Don't they care about the reputation of their own rags any more? Whatever the case, Cohen has given us yet another example of how not to write about Corbynism. Though, to be truthful, I hope he and his ilk keep on keeping on. Every sentence and paragraph advertises their estrangement from the world, which is guaranteed to ensure those growing numbers trying to make sense of it are going to give them a pass.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Boris Johnson and Brexit

Timing is always an issue in politics. Boris Johnson's periodic reminder that he's tussling for the Tory crown raised an eyebrow or two, coming as it did on the evening of a terror attack on the tube. Still, such trifles are nothing when we're dealing with a historic personality of world importance. The latest phase in the BoJo vanity project is a return to the scene of his vainglorious disaster - Brexit - to double down on the pledge repeated ad nauseum throughout the campaign, that the money Britain saves from its European Union membership dues are going to be spent on the NHS.

The Telegraph's precis gives us a tour of his magisterial intervention. By magisterial, I do of course mean vapid and empty. As per the Johnson way it's all piss and wind with few insubstantial points and a heavy dollop of dishonesty, as Jon Worth's fisking establishes. Still, at least there is some consistency here. His pro-Brexit affiliations were entirely mercenary and obviously self-serving, and last night's Brexit intervention carries on in the same vein.

For example, a lot of words are expended slapping down hard remainers (which, to be honest, are irritating, if well-meaning), massaging the brittle egos and fissiparous arguments of bottler Boris's batshit Brexit base and, well, avoiding the politics. The dishonesty piles in with the attacks on the non-existent GDP drag of common regulations. He likewise dismisses talk of a transition period that eases, rather than throws Britain out of the single market and the customs union. The deceit barrels on as he pretends trade deals can be negotiated and be immediately ready to forestall the economic shock a sharp divorce from the EU would entail. He also reckons the EU would be "protectionist" when it comes to the introduction of new technologies such as driverless vehicles while Britain would have a regulatory environment open to experimentation and implementation, entirely forgetting the German car industry is vying for the title of world leader in the field. The whole thing drips with complacency, as well as the idiocy of the EU needing Britain more than Britain needs the EU.

When it comes to the thin film of substance, Johnson lounges in the warm bath of deregulation - the go to for lazy and clueless Tory politicians. And the restating of the £350m/week. And that is it. No attempt to locate the source of a funding boost, but certainly strong on implication that the EU is preventing the government from prioritising the health service. Johnson's essay was a proper exercise of writing 4,000 words when a paragraph would have done, a skein of delusion and lies wrapped around empty ambition. Nevertheless, some people are easily impressed; The Telegraph refers to Johnson's screed as a post-Brexit "grand vision".

With little to show on Brexit, why has Johnson advertised his vacuity? As noted at the beginning, his essay is less a leadership pitch and more a reminder to the party and the country that he's still a power in Westminsterland. With Theresa May saying she's in it for the long haul, this is Johnson jogging her memory that she remains on borrowed time. Furthermore, for such a towering ego it must have hurt to see the media treat Jacob Rees-Mogg as their favourite, both as a leader-in-waiting and, well, the new Boris Johnson. Ouch.

The £350m wheeze sees Johnson relaunch himself by associating with the most memorable and popular promise of the Leave campaign. In his mind's eye, he's cottoned on to making him synonymous with the pledge can surely mean nothing but electoral good for his prospects. Yet he's forgotten the taint hanging about his person. The British public are used to seeing the bumbling and the fooling and, well, those voters ain't what they used to be. Johnson as Have I Got News For You-sponsored rock star is an awkward memory, and for millions of younger people he's as repellent and awful as the rest of them. While polar opposites vis a vis May in people skills and pretending to humanity, there are further millions utterly alienated by him because of his Brexit opportunism. Factor in all the other problems the Tories enjoy and he's yesterday's man for yesterday's party. That certainly makes for a nice fit, especially as, assuming trends continue, his party walks out the exit after the next election.

Boris Johnson is haunted by the phantom of missed opportunity. Stabbed in the back by Gove and blocked from what he regards as his destiny by a Prime Minister too deluded to quit, he can sense his moment passing. Too cautious by far to launch a coup, it's only a matter of time before despair and despondency come knocking.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Happy Birthday Marx's Capital

Today marks the 150th anniversary of Marx's Capital, for my money the most significant and monumental work of social science ever published. Something would be amiss if a few words couldn't be summoned up to mark this occasion.

While not one of Marx's better read works, it's level pegging with the Communist Manifesto for the mantle of most influential. Indeed, such is the power of the analysis explored in this breeze block of a book that it jumped its pages and, over the last century-and-a-half, set up residence in the heads of hundreds of millions of people. It would be fair to say Capital is the most influential book that hasn't been read.

Marx's project was simple in inspiration and exhaustive in its scope: to unmask the dynamics and tendencies of capitalism (which, curiously, is not a term he himself used) and in the process critique and damn the economics of apologia used to justify, and thereby mystify, the system. Capital is truly an execution of Marx's dictum of "the ruthless criticism of all that exists, ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be." Marx dissected and deconstructed the arguments of his contemporaries and forebears, chiefly Adam Smith and David Ricardo, and with wit, sarcasm, and the marshalling of voluminous data destroyed their muddled, convoluted schemes. Marx's great achievement is that Capital peeled back the liberal and conservative bullshit and showed the system for what it was: a turbo-charged, expansive (and expanding) dynamo that owes its revolutionising qualities to the class antagonism at its heart. He showed definitively that profit was not rooted in buying cheap and selling dear as per the fairy tales of mainstream economics, but was in fact the consequence of the exploitation of one class by another.

Volume One was to be the first in a series of volumes. It was concerned with the process of production of capital, the second its circulation, the third on profit and forms of surplus value (or "the process of capitalist production as a whole"), and the never finished volumes four, five and six were to deal with wage labour, the state, and the world market. Arguably the work of Marxists since has been the filling out of the planned-for volumes. Certainly the work of Toni Negri, who's featured here quite a bit of late, straddles these phantom works and particularly the unwritten book on wage labour.

Unfortunately, the status of Capital in economics and the other social sciences demonstrates the efficacy of the materialist assumptions underpinning the methodology of Marx's work. Despite eviscerating capitalism, revealing its class bound character and its inexorable tendency to crisis, economics particularly and social science generally carry on as if the book never existed. The half-truths, errors, and ideological fallacies Marx critiqued and lampooned from his desk in the British Library continue to crop up in the 21st century iteration of the dismal science. Capitalism is exploitative and, more to the point, mortal, but these findings are overridden and overwritten by the class truths that dominate all capitalist societies. Mainstream economics is always partial and frequently nonsensical because it is bound to the class power of the owners of capital. Yet just as capital without a working class is impossible, no matter how Capital is critiqued and dismissed, the class truths it speaks, of a propertyless class who have to rent out their labour power in order to live, are never going away either.

Capital today remains relevant because the social and economic system it describes and critiques is still with us. Should capitalism last another 500 years the analysis Marx made will retain its explanatory force. The three published volumes are to social science what Darwin's The Origin of the Species is to natural sciences, a tremendous achievement that gives us the tools to diagnose the condition of the present and think about what we need to do about it. This book may be 150 years old, but the theory and polemic it contains are still among the most modern there is.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

George Osborne's Feeble Revenge

Hell hath no fury for a Tory scorned. At least George Osborne is acting as if that is the case, given his reported remarks. Yes, saying you won't rest until bits of Theresa May are quivering in multiple bags shut away in the freezer is such a hoot that my sides have hardly stopped aching since lunch time. As chancellor Osborne would have been all over them had something similarly crass been uttered by a leading Labour politician. Still, the only consistency the right has is the pursuit of power and the protection of privilege. Principles are momentary conveniences for momentary circumstances, nothing more.

What then is Osborne playing at? In the TL;DR pen portrait in Esquire, it observes how the passage for an Osborne comeback appears closed. With but a gaggle of Cameroons to rely on, his support base is, ooooh, approximately the same size as May's band of true believers. There's also the small matter of him being widely despised in the parliamentary party, as well as the yellowing (greying?) grassroots. Like Dave he was tolerated for as long as they comprised a winning team. Their Notting Hill liberalism rankled, and their half-arsed approach to winging everything - the Scottish referendum, gambling Britain's EU membership (and losing) - annoyed and antagonised plenty of old school Tories. History will record the removal of Osborne from Number 11 and dumping him on the backbenches as among the meagre few actions of May's premiership to merit universal approval.

Osborne's not coming back, at least via the Tory party. He was supposedly interested in the centre party wheeze, but as Sam Coates notes for Esquire "George Osborne likes power. And power is executed in a number of forms." His editorship of the Evening Standard is right up his street: a circulation of a million copies in the seat of government and a boss who's a billionaire mate, he's happy. At the Standard's helm Osborne can imagine himself as a real power in the land. As editorial after editorial marks his position against Corbynism (obvs) and unreconstructed rightwingery, the opportunity to define centre politics anew as, well, the politics of George Osborne is there for the taking. This is the centre not as a reheated third way, but warmed over class war Toryism plus EU membership. Inspiring stuff.

As the most petty-minded of Tories to have held high office for some years, Osborne obviously enjoys needling the hapless May. But what must annoy is despite her staggering from disaster to disaster, pausing to take in a few crises along the way, is how she ignores him. Following Tory leaders past, the only papers that matter are the Murdoch titles, The Telegraphy and the Daily Mail. They are taken to express the authentic voice of Tory Britain, and so must be pandered to, fed exclusives and receive carefully calibrated leaks. The Standard however is amorphous. As a free sheet it enjoys a huge circulation, but to determine its influence is another matter. Yes, it is a more interesting paper thanks to Osborne's vendetta - at least for sad political people who follow such things - but its celebrity pages have more of a sway over its readers than the cranky, obsessed editorials. To get noticed and to force his antagonist to respond, Osborne has no recourse other than to play with the misogynistic imagery of serial murderers. For as long as May stays in Number 10 and pays Osborne no mind, the more outrageous and unhinged his behaviour as a "journalist" is set to become. Embarrassing for the Tories, ultimately ruinous for Osborne, it's pop corn fodder for the rest of us.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

No More Heroes

As promised, an unprincipled shower gave the government succour last night by sitting on their hands. Though the withdrawal bill handed unaccountable and arbitrary powers to ministers (pending amendments), not even newly-anointed liberal hero Ken Clarke counted among those defending Parliament's limited powers. However, one honourable member, a man synonymous with political principle was found traipsing through the aye lobby with Theresa May and her "team". You know I'm talking about Dennis Skinner.

To be honest, I was not in the least bit surprised. Though it might have come as a shock for some Jeremy Corbyn supporters, Dennis makes clear via Skwawkbox that he's always been anti-EU and is being entirely consistent with his voting record. Fair enough, he has principles. He also voted for Labour's amendments to the bill and had they passed, we wouldn't be having a ding dong on this matter. But they didn't pass and we are having this conversation.

Let us remind ourselves what the withdrawal bill was about. The question of whether Britain is leaving the European Union or not is, for the time being, settled. If the bill hadn't passed Brexit wasn't going away. Article 50's tock follows every tick and come March 2019 we'll either be out or temporarily suspended in a transitional arrangement. The main political question now is the manner of that exit and Britain's future relationship with the EU. Yet last night's vote wasn't even about that. It referred exclusively and solely to the government's relationship to Parliamentary accountability. Because of May's failed election and problems getting legislation through the House for the foreseeable future, empowering ministers avoids the possibility of defeat and destabilising the government further.

Now, cast your mind back for a moment. When Harriet Harman instructed Labour MPs to abstain on the government's attack on working tax credits "in solidarity" with Labour voters wanting to see the thumbscrews tighten, it still meant refusing to take a stand on an attack on our people. Dennis protested that "I’m not voting for any power-grab", but that doesn't alter the fact that he did. He broke the Labour whip and voted to hand more power to Tory ministers.

Of course, Skwawkbox have rallied the defence, singling out the abstainers for criticism (at least they didn't vote for it, guys) and crediting the Tories with a sub-conspiratorial Machiavellianism we have never seen these clowns evidence before. Apparently, they set a trap devised to get us fighting among ourselves. Please. There are plenty of Tories who find the bill objectionable but voted for it because losing could have brought the government down. Yet that unity wasn't foregone. Usually, if you want use Parliament to spring traps you never risk opening divisions on your own side. Second, Skwawkbox's alleged source is saying the party's leadership possess the collective wit of two short planks for not spotting it, that if Dennis was right, so was Kate Hoey and Frank Field. The onus wasn't on the majority of the PLP to follow their lead, but on them to accept party discipline and protect the democratic interests of working class people.

Yes, Dennis has fought for our working people all his political life. But not on this occasion. He voted with the enemies of our party to imperil the basic democratic functions of Parliament. He acted against the interests of our class, and his silence over the central issue of the bill while waxing about the ephemera of democratic wills and Brexit voters suggests he knows it too. A sorry blemish on an otherwise upstanding record.

All this serves to remind us that socialism is not a spectator sport or a grittier version of X-Factor. It is the collective struggle for the interests of our people to make a society fit for human beings. When one of our representatives works against those interests, our duty is to explain, criticise and hold them to account, regardless of who they are. It is not for us to make excuses and sweep the matter under the carpet. Our movement doesn't need heroes, it needs politicians who work for it and express those interests. And on this occasion, Dennis Skinner has fallen well short.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Labour's Bankrupt Brexit Rebels

From time to time politics presents us with an acid test. Examples might be opposing wars based on dodgy dossiers, not taking more money off poor people, refusing to cheerlead the scapegoating of powerless populations, standing up against the marketisation of the NHS. You know the sort, a vitally important issue that comes down to very clear right and wrong sides. The Withdrawal Bill now going through the Commons are one of those issues. Not because it facilitates or stymies Brexit, but because it's an egregious power grab. It is a self-evident attempt by an authoritarian Prime Minister without authority to rule by fiat, to bypass Parliament and empower the government without check or scrutiny. We all know British democracy is flawed and frequently flaky, but this bill - if passed - makes matters substantially worse.

What a disgrace then to see the grotesque chaos of Labour MPs - Labour MPs - scuttling around the TV studios handing out feeble excuses for their refusal to oppose the government. Failing to defend the most basic democratic functions of Parliament finds them on the wrong side. And when you look at the list of names who plan on either abstaining or voting with the government a sorrier collection of entitled has beens is seldom seen. Caroline Flint is the most prominent because, after all, advertising one's moral and political bankruptcy should become a chance for publicity at all times. But you also have John Spellar, Frank Field, Graham Stringer, and Kate Hoey, names that are never going to be synonymous with 'principled' and names, shock horror, that have found themselves consistently on the wrong side.

For Caroline it's, you guessed it, all about the constituents. They voted to Leave and therefore she feels Labour should be looking to improve May's appeal bill instead of opposing it. Let's treat this argument with the due seriousness it deserves and classify it as a pile of disingenuous bobbins. Despite getting a deserved mugging by the electorate in June, May is hell bent on inflicting untold damage to the British economy and the livelihoods of its citizens. This, she reasons, will keep her career afloat and retain those voters who've abandoned UKIP to the yawning cynicism of racists and professional Islamophobes. As David Allen Green points out, contrary to the drivel of Caroline and co. the bill isn't really about Brexit. It makes no difference to seeing through of Article 50. It's a matter of how Brexit proceeds.

They know this, so why are they prepared to throw Parliamentary democracy under a bus? Throughout her career, Caroline has shown a mercenary streak. Any progressive or Labourish-sounding policies she's championed are window dressing to a rotten core of anti-working class politics. She is entirely comfortable screwing poor single mums, migrant workers, and did float the idea of throwing unemployed council tenants out of their homes. In short, an appalling human being not fit to sit in Parliament for the Tories let alone the Labour Party. Frank Field is little better with his one man crusade to abolish social security as we know it. Kate Hoey and John Spellar go without saying. What unites them all are not the "wrong ideas" that would melt in the light of reason, they're motivated by a desire to cling onto their seats. As stupid empiricists who fell for the fool argument that because Labour constituencies disproportionately voted for Brexit we were looking at a wipe out during the general election, it appears the actual result passed them by. They're doubling down on the right wing sub-UKIP idiocies because it's easier, and less risky, to pander and stir up backward politics. Their dismal opportunism is as simple and as venal as that.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Tony Blair's Immigration Nonsense

Almost seems I write more about Tony Blair than any other public figure these days. If only he'd make like a whack-a-mole and stay down after each polemical hammering. Anyway, his Blairness was all over the news today and found himself sharing time on Andrew Marr because he has Opinions, this time about immigration.

According to Blair, there is no need for Britain to leave the European Union. If we can come to an arrangement with the EU27 about the introduction of limits on movement across borders then the conversation about Brexit would change. Folks who voted to leave because they wanted more control on immigration, and there were a lot of them, might think again if such a deal could be hammered out. Britain would stay in the EU, the economy won't fall off a cliff and all those businesses who invest here can still look forward to unfettered access to the single market.

You can see why, for some, Tony Blair is a political genius. If only someone else had hatched such a scheme? Well, they did. Hard to believe, but it was only just over 18 months ago that Dave returned from Brussels having set out to "renegotiate" Britain's EU membership. What he came back with was the thinnest gruel. He knew getting exemptions from EU migration was never on the cards and, crucially, so did the voters who care about such things. Hence why Dave's stunt was a waste of time. It could never placate the xenophobic beast he and his mates had prodded time after time since taking over the Tory helm.

Back to the present, in a report published by the modestly-titled Tony Blair Institute, they argue for the introduction of higher tuition fees for EU migrants as well as proof new arrivals have a job waiting for them. There would also be conditions attached to social security claims. In short, the usual nonsense intent on stirring up antipathy against people from overseas who choose to work and live here. And again, entirely wishful thinking. Time after time Angela Merkel has reconfirmed the EU's commitment to its four freedoms, and that of movement is one of them. Blair might try the lawyer's trick of shilly-shallying - he claims these restrictions preserve free movement(!) - but it cannot fly as doing so imperils the EU's continued existence. If Britain got an immigration opt out, who next? The pantomime Voltaire resident in the Élysée Palace? The Belgians? The Dutch? The Danes?

Blair may be blinkered and out of sorts with the age we're living through, but he is not a stupid man. He does possess enough wit that surely this question occurred when he touched base with his Institute satraps to produce his immigration report. Yet he doesn't address it. Not in the coverage, not in his interview with Marr. It's as if the media are supposed to tiptoe around the gaping void in his argument in order to indulge him. And they do.

Still, even I find it difficult to disagree with his view that "Brexit is a distraction, not a solution, to the problems this country faces." Blair's intervention doesn't help, however. Nor does it assist Labour in trying to salvage something from the mess. Alas, in the same interview he declared a "renewed sense of mission", so this morning won't be the last time our Tony posts us a card from cloud cuckoo land. I regret to inform you there are more to come.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Remainia and Structural Naivete

London Town rang again with the chants and pounding feet of a march, like it does most weekends. Demonstrations are always coalitions organised around broadly progressive issues, and therefore tend toward a left wing colouration. A good indicator of socialist creds is whether it attracts our friends the paper sellers or not. Less common are mobilisations of the right. The EDL and the Britain First Facebook group tend to avoid central London and strike out for the provinces, which more often than not means a car park on an out-of-town industrial estate. But the Countryside Alliance pulled off mass demonstrations early in His Blairness's reign, reminding us the right can organise extra-parliamentary opposition if the forces favour it. Rarer still are liberal marches. Occasional lobbies of Parliament with a dozen or so participants, yes, but tens of thousands? Breaking with convention and entirely in line with our mixed up politics, today's anti-Brexit demonstration is the third or fourth big demo against leaving the EU. Krazy with a capital K.

Asking why liberalism is on a march (not on the march) seems redundant. It's obvious, innit. 15 months on from the referendum vote, the political establishment are split this way and that. Brexiteers remain divided between indifference to what a hard exit would mean for millions of people as well as Britain's continued economic health, and those who maintain a modicum of good sense. Similarly remainers are found twisting this way and that. Folks who accept the UK has to leave, folks who want to stay in the single market/customs union, folks who by hook and by crook want Britain to stay in the EU, it has all percolated outwards. The referendum and the general election helped politicise millions of people, and what would normally be the province of politicians, wonks, hacks and hangers on (like yours truly) now has a mass audience. If there is a constituency stirred up by something, then a demonstration is a very good way of, well, demonstrating the depth of feeling about it.

Liberalism in the shape of the current fortunes of the Liberal Democrats isn't in tip top shape, but getting 50,000 or so on the streets for Remain will certainly gratify the organisers. And dubbing the politics of the march 'liberal' is amply justified by the speakers and the quality of their contributions. Uncle Vince ponied up to the rostrum as demonstrators ambled into Parliament Square. Fiery oratory will never be associated with the LibDem leader, but no doubt attendees were pleased to hear him attack "the Brexit" the "incompetent, dysfunctional and disunited" Tories are foisting upon us. Can't fault him, but did Vince act with the honesty the LibDems are famed for and remind the crowd his party's position is to honour the outcome of the referendum? I'm sure it slipped his mind. Ed Davey, deservedly ex of Westminster, told the audience that Parliament was against remaining and the odds were stacked against them. What "we" have to do is reach out to leave voters and become a unifying force. Um, when your objective is overturning a divisive referendum result there might be one or two difficulties in "reaching out" to people who fundamentally disagree with your position. Still, you can't but try and our Ed is very trying.

Our good friend Jolyon Maugham was there and gave a speech. Woot! Thankfully he steered away from new party/centre party nonsense and talked about, um, nothing in particular. Whereas Uncle Vince and Davey can get away without saying anything - because their personage and position are tied entirely to their party - JoMo doesn't have that luxury. As C-list commentariat, a sideline to the lawyering day job, he's supposed to say it as he sees it, and chart something of a way forward. What sage advice did he proffer? Um. "Taking responsibility". Apparently, responsibility is different for everyone. To wit; "if you’re a student, maybe volunteer in a care home. If you’re wealthy and a parent send your kids to a state school so they know the lives of others. If you’re an empty nester work with a refugee charity to help another human being live a decent life. Look out for one another. Look local."

It's easy for old hands to snark, but JoMo typifies a trend. Remainia as a movement is incoherent and suffers from structural naivete. It is a sentiment sometimes finding expression in the LibDems, sometimes in Cameroon dregs and Blairist remnants. It marries together dethroned party elites (and their elitist sensibilities) with layers of the liberal intelligentsia who had transferred hope for a better future to the supranational (if not the supranationalism) of the EU, and are entirely at a loss to a) explain what happened, and b) how to recover the situation. To make matters worse, while 50k is indicative of a certain level of mass support they're squeezed between the growing might of Corbynism and the passive, large but declining support for the Tories. It is a constituency unmoored and cut adrift from polarising politics. Hence they grasp after the EU's comfort blanket just as it is yanked out of reach. Without it and in the absence of a vehicle for liberalism, like a LibDem insurgency or Dave and Blair on the rise, we see confusion become confusionism, and its outbreak across the mediascape as narcissism and cluelessness.

All told, folks attending today's march enjoyed a good day out. A few snaps were shared and selfies taken, friends made, virtue signalled and duly signalled back. Yet none would have come away with a sense of direction. Purpose perhaps, but not what to do next. It's a good job there'll be another demo in the Spring.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Blancmange - Waves

Spending the evening ploughing through a couple of books I need to polish off, so here's some top choonage.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

How Theresa May is Betraying Brexit

What did "taking back control" mean? For the subset of Brexit voters who didn't vote out of anti-immigration concerns, it boiled down to the question of sovereignty. Setting aside the illusions of sovereignty (how is the British state "our" state?) in the age of global capital, it was a point on which the European Union was vulnerable. The operation of the Commission is secretive, the European Parliament is a parliament in name only, the bureaucracy is opaque and there was very little linking the everyday of the average British citizen to the EU. Apart from mendacious headlines and "this regeneration scheme was funded with a grant from the European Union" boards, what use the legions of unaccountable eurocrats? As someone who voted remain and thinks Britain should stay, were it not stupid and dangerous to disregard a democratic decision, I can understand the appeal of the sovereigntist argument. Repatriate the powers, bring political decision making closer to the people, cut out foreign bureaucracy.

The Repeal Bill, which the government are trying (with some difficulty) to pilot through the House, is a betrayal of these voters. Why? Because the government are using repeal as a massive power grab.

As Keir Starmer argued this afternoon, if passed it gives ministers the power to govern by fiat. Decisions that would normally be scrutinised by Parliament and subject to votes bypass this process. Under these provisions, for example, the government could privatise more tracts of the public sector, arrange for another round of budget cuts, change employment rules and so on. Smarming his way through the questioning, David Davis tried assuring the House such powers would never be used. Responding, Keir noted that if they're not going to be used then why are they needed? Davis says they're a matter of technicality, and some doe-eyed parliamentarians on the opposition benches might be inclined to take him at his word if it were not for the fact this government has a track record of sneaking stuff in and using underhanded tactics to get its way. Davis knows this, which is why - in a classic case of Tory projection - he has put the betrayal narrative on to Labour. It's not the Conservatives who are subverting Brexit and thwarting the ambition for better democracy by hoarding power, it's Jeremy Corbyn and his determination to prevent Britain's departure from the EU. Please, I encountered arguments of great finesse in the Panini vs Daily Mirror footie sticker playground wars of the mid-1980s.

These arguments haven't washed with a number of Tories either, raising the popcorn-gorging prospect of some interesting blue-on-blue action. Dominic Grieve is opposed to the government's plan to steer Brexit through by statutory instrument, and Sarah Wollaston argues the moves reduce Parliament to a committee charged with rubber stamping ministerial decisions. A bit like the European Parliament, in fact. This comes on top of yesterday's leak concerning immigration plans after Brexit, which bear all the hallmarks of Theresa May attempting to out-UKIP UKIP, regardless of the needs of labour intensive business and the lives of 3.6 million people who've settled here from the EU. I'm less concerned about the bleating of businesses who hire overseas to hold down labour market rates and put off investing in labour-saving technologies (and especially if they voted to Leave), but the uncertainty and discomfort, not to say the damage to the UK's reputation May's immigration position is responsible for is equal parts disgusting and outrageous. And all because she's trying to stop the Tory party leaking support.

With Tories close to business interests reliant on cheap labour from elsewhere in the EU and the small few whose views on this matter owe more to liberalism than Enoch Powell already riled, further authoritarian idiocy on the government's part puts a question mark over their ability to pass the bill. Damian Green, the Maybot's sometime interface with the human world has rang round the lobby hacks to say the government is totally in listening mode. He's looking for "reasonable points", whatever they are. There is talk of rebellion-minded Tories keeping their gun powder dry and saving it for later issue-by-issue voting and committees, and Green and his robot master better be praying that is just what happens. Nevertheless, perversely, Jeremy Corbyn might have concentrated minds a little more after yesterday's Prime Minister's Questions. It's been widely trailed that the whips are saying it's either May or Jezza if this fails. The fact she stumbled and was clearly bested by the Labour leader adds to the sense of threat. When the chips are down and the very viability of the government is in contention, it doesn't look like votes the backbench revolt will muster more bodies than Ken Clarke. I could be wrong, but they say the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour ...

Hence why May wants to do Brexit this way. With her moral authority and political standing shot to pieces, but perched atop a fraying parliamentary party, grabbing power and concentrating it in her hands avoids the possibility of Commons clashes sapping her strength further and frustrating whatever petty ambitions she has left. Constitutionally it's a recipe for dog's dinner legislation and arbitrary decision-making. It subverts a key prop and compelling reason why large numbers voted to Leave. But diminishing the already limited democracy we "enjoy" counts for nothing next to the day-to-day interests of the Tory party and its incompetent leader.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

From Moggmentum to Nomentum

NB aspiring politicians, the breakfast sofa and cosy chat could spell curtains for your career. Believe me, their croissants and coffee aren't worth it. But spare a thought for the presenters, even for Piers Morgan. Well remunerated they are, think how much you'd demand if your every morning was spoiled by a parade of Very Interesting guests prattling banalities and hawking ghost written books. Imagine Twitter sans screen and the (merciful!) distance in space social media allows; such is the lot of the breakfast television host. Dragged into the Good Morning Britain studio, um, this morning, the Moggmentum bandwagon made itself available for 21st century audiences. By the end of Jacob Rees-Mogg's plummy, measured utterances his leadership carriage lay dashed in a ditch and the horse slipped its reins for the sweet oblivion of the glue factory. I wonder if the nag took a few of Mogg's despairing advisors into the collagen extractor with it.

Even before this morning's ado, Moggmentum had no dynamic of its own. It was a simulacra of a movement even within the ranks of the rapidly thinning Tory party. Mogg has never been anything other than a creation of the media, a figure - like the ever-appalling Johnson - whose prominence owes much more to Have I Got News For You than the niche audiences crowding around the set for Question Time, Newsnight and The Daily Politics. Like establishment heroes of the liberal variety, a political media celebrity has to marry one fifth quirkiness to four fifths emptiness to achieve success. Bumbling/Bottler Boris pioneered the HIGNFY formula followed by Nigel Farage, Ruth Davidson and Mogg. Between them, they each pivoted their bland but, in the context of the zombie greys of Tory Westminster, outrageously dynamic personalities to generate interest, and their vacuity to suck in the desires of untroubled right-leaning voters who prefer funny haha over knowing how their favoured party intends on shafting them.

Mogg appeal lays claim to the ever-so-hilare status of honourable member for the 18th century, but doing so is to curse the 1700s with an unwarranted blemish. The 18th was the time of the Enlightenment, of the first stirrings of atheism as a serious intellectual current. As the rights of deities were thrown into doubt the rights of men (and it was men, alas) fired imaginations and combustibles that touched off the American and French revolutions - doubtless two of the most important events in human history. It gave us capitalism and economics, the scientific method, modern philosophy and republican politics. The lofty thoughts of Kant swam in the same intellectual waters with the smut of Cleland and the perversions of de Sade while the rhythm of life increasingly beat to the rhythm of steam powered pistons. You'd have to go back much further to find a (pre-Reformation?) firmament more suited to Mogg than this tumult. Remember, Mogg's politics were on the losing end of the 18th century. He represents the most appalling reaction, a stream of anti-modernist aristocratic atavism the Tories claim as an organic and valued part of their declining coalition.

Yes, Mogg's politics. They have always been awful. In almost every Commons vote he has participated, he has walked through the lobby in defence of causes that deserve to be lost. Dishing out tax cuts to the rich and expecting public sector workers to get by on a pay restraint he does not practice himself, and battering the poor and the social security dependent, Mogg's vaunted principles are flexible as per the vagaries of his class interests and the short-term twists and turns of the Tory party. Like most Tories, their interests and the views attending make them entirely unsuitable as democratic representatives of constituencies where the majority of people have to work to earn a living. A case then for returning the property qualification, but this time for candidate eligibility in reverse?

I digress, so back to the Good Morning Britain sofa. Mogg's unequivocal opposition to abortion in all circumstances and to equal marriage is based on religious grounds. Quick to add that he doesn't judge others for the choices they make, ultimately sacraments (and therefore other matters of faith) are the province of the Catholic Church to decide. "I am a Catholic and I take the teachings of the Catholic Church seriously," he said. No compassion or quarter for women driven to risk their lives with the backstreet abortionists then. Okay, our Mogg takes the church's authority seriously. Let's have a look at some of its teachings then. The 1891 Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Capital and Labour notes "When there is a question of protecting the rights of individuals, the poor and helpless have a claim to special consideration. The rich population has many ways of protecting themselves, and stands less in need of help." How about "Love for the poor is incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use." (Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2445). Or "The obligation to provide justice for all means that the poor have the single most urgent economic claim on the conscience of the nation." (Paragraph 86, United States Catholic Bishops). When Mogg rocks up at the pearly gates and the angel on his shoulder hands over the ledger, is St Peter going to nod him through because he defended Catholic doctrine on breakfast telly while ignoring hundreds of years of church teaching on the poor?

Mogg's professed religiosity places him in an inglorious line of politician hypocrites who've used faith to cover for their attitudes to and the laws they inflict upon people they regard less than human, be it women, LGBTQ folks, minority ethnicities, the disabled and the working class. That Mogg was even considered a possible future leader of the Conservatives says everything you need to know about them.

Monday, 4 September 2017

On "Weaponising" Anti-Semitism

I'm fed up of hearing about anti-semitism and the Labour Party. I'm fed up of it being used as a stick to beat the party with, and slander a political project and a movement. But you know what I'm sick of even more? And that's anti-semitism in general, of the continued vitality of a racism that should have been buried in the rubble of Nazi Germany. I'm disgusted to see anti-semitic tropes and outright Jew hatred infest several Facebook groups including, regrettably, some ostensibly Labour-facing forums. It saddens and appalls me when you see known anti-semites on Twitter tweeted and retweeted by lefties just because they happen to make the right noises against the Tories and in support of Jeremy Corbyn. I find it stupifyingly maddening that here in the 21st century we see activists, ostensibly well meaning and motivated, succumb to the dumbest conspiracy theorising which, inevitably, shades into anti-semitism. The great German socialist August Bebel referred to anti-semitism as the socialism of fools. He wasn't far wrong.

In the hot house factionalism of the Labour Party, every shift in policy, every utterance and intervention becomes a stake in the struggle to consolidate or remove Corbynism. As such, and because the Labour Party reflects the society that incubates it, ideas and prejudices that are alive and well in wider society are reflected in the party in all kinds of ways. Anti-semitism and sexism, to give two examples, have a life outside of Labour and therefore have a life inside Labour. In the context of a fraught and febrile political situation, they will be interpreted and used in the discharge of factional manoeuvring. Any old weapon, after all. But they wouldn't have potency if there weren't problems in the first place. To put it another way, if you think charges of anti-semitism are entirely made up by supporters of Israel, then they would have no traction. This, unfortunately, is nonsense. Anti-semitic incidents wouldn't be at their highest recorded level if these claims were a mere ploy.

Enough is enough. The party isn't institutionally anti-semitic - quite the opposite considering you can get slung out for it, and rightly so. But there are plenty of members who are indifferent to who they give credence to on social media, and often push stuff on Israel, its lobbies, and banking (particularly regarding the Rothschilds and Goldman Sachs) that accidentally-on-purpose play close to the line of anti-semitic conspiracy mongering. We would not, or at least I'd like to think we wouldn't adopt such a lackadaisical toward racism aimed at black or asian people, so it's time the left sharpened its anti-semitism antennae.

There is some help at hand. Anti-Nazis United (Twitter) is a blog dedicated to exposing and attacking racism, and anti-semitism in particular, wherever it rears its head in our movement. It's sad that we need an active anti-semite watch like this, but it's a necessity. Having recently been forced to shift from Medium to Blogger, the site regularly picks looks at ostensible Labour supporters on social media and provides evidence of their anti-Jewish racism. That said I don't always agree with some of the arguments made, but nevertheless it's a valuable and useful project - particularly for those new to the left on social media. And for established users too. There's been more than one occasion when I've punted something from a Corbyn supporting account only to have found a reservoir of anti-semitic bile hiding beneath the surface of run-of-the-mill leftism.

If there's going to be some weaponising going on, I'd like to see socialists weaponise against anti-semitism. It has no place in mainstream politics, let alone the movement dedicated to solidarity and anti-racism. And it's down to us to confront it and drive it out.

North Korea and Bad Faith

“America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests." Kissinger's cynical truism applies to any state at any time, there is no US exceptionalism here. And we see this coming to the fore over North Korea's latest nuclear test, said to be their first hydrogen bomb. As an underground test all we have to worry about is the fall out of bad faith and disingenuous position-taking, but it's no less poisonous. At the United Nations earlier today, the US got on its high horse and attacked the Kim regime for his "abusive use of missiles" and accused him of "begging for war". Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, went on to say her country didn't want war but their patience "is not unlimited". Haley's UK counterpart, Matthew Rycroft veered away from the war rhetoric and called on the North to stop its brinkmanship and head to talks. If there isn't a sign of serious intent, however that is defined, talks are doomed to failure without a measure of good faith on the Kim regime's part.

As we've seen before, North Korea isn't mad. The regime is disgusting, but it is not stupid. Kim Jong-un doesn't head up a death cult. He, like every other Stalinist despot to have blighted world history has an overriding interest in keeping the apparatus on the road and his flabby ass in the driving seat. As far as the North is concerned, that would mean such a readjustment to international relations so the government would feel able to divert capital and resource away from the military and modernising the decrepit and rotting economy. China is the vision: a society catching up with the West carrying a monstrous dictatorship on its back. However, Kim has learned a very valuable lesson from recent history. Regimes that earn the displeasure of the United States and its allies tend not to last very long, especially if they lack the means to deter attack. George W Bush and Tony Blair went to war precisely because Saddam Hussein lacked weapons of mass destruction. Britain and France felt empowered to "rescue" the Arab Spring in Libya precisely because Colonel Gaddafi had abandoned his weapons programme.

Here's where the bad faith comes in. How the US can condemn any country for "abusive use of missiles" when it regularly turns the skies over the Middle East black with smoke from its cruise missile strikes. How can the US condemn North Korea for developing nuclear weapons when it previously had tactical nuclear weapons attached to its military presence in South Korea, and can target the north with land and sea-based ICBMs at a whim? And how can the US lecture the Kim regime on peace when Dubya himself vetoed a non-aggression treaty, something which the Clinton administration had put some time and effort into achieving?

Blaming China, as Trump stupidly does at every opportunity is wrong as well. China has a clear interest in maintaining the North as a buffer for a number of reasons. A reunited Korea would be a powerful and wealthy neighbour in its own right, and one enjoying considerably more freedoms than Chinese citizens. The government has a hard enough time keeping a lid on the clamour for democratic reform, the strike waves and peasant struggles that regularly convulse the country, as well as the allure of Western-style consumerism and its more individuated and open culture. Having an advanced capitalist state right on the border presents a threat in the medium and long-term. In the short, if the south gobbles the north that means freer range for the US military as well as the possibility of millions of refugees. There are also limits to what the Chinese can do re: the North. They can browbeat and arm-twist, but Kim and his henchmen are fully aware of the interests its large neighbour has in making sure the regime doesn't go under. Furthermore, turning off the oil and implementing sanctions from the Chinese side make things much less stable. A harsh winter without fuel imports could collapse the regime, create the refugee problem, and let the nuclear technology and expertise vanish into the who knows where. Like Kim, Xi would like his and his party's monopoly on power to continue.

Anyone with a hint of humanity would like to see the North Korean regime fall and Kim and his lackeys brought to account for their crimes. But, presumably, because leftists and socialists care about human life we have to think about the best way of doing this. Letting the appalling, blood-curdling rhetoric dominate the headlines and causing millions in Korea and elsewhere to fear their lives might evaporate in an instant is not sustainable. The longer the stand off, the greater the chance of something horrendous happening. Perversely, the best way of bringing Kim down is by normalising relations, by allowing the economy to open and develop, to let foreign capital flood in with the kinds of values and aspirations that, ultimately, tend to something better than the Orwellian hell of Stalinism and, eventually, neoliberal capitalism. Here, the Chinese are right and the British government is wrong. It's not for the North to make a statement of intent, it's the responsibility of both sides to do so. Because pushing Kim further into the corner to the point where there is nothing left to lose, that's when the situation becomes its most dangerous.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Whitney Houston: Celebrity and Alienation

As pieces cataloguing the price of fame go, Whitney Houston: Can I Be Me is a master class. For readers lucky enough to be younger than 25 years of age, she was one of the deities of the hairspray and shoulder pads epoch. Whitney Houston's pop was candy floss catchy, and was manufactured specifically with white American audiences in mind. She was their Miss Black America, a young black woman with a totally mainstream sound, a style straight from the covers of teenage magazines (which Whitney herself used to model) all designed to ensure there was zero chance of her target market - and their parents - feeling threatened. To the Reagan-voting small C conservative whites, Whitney, like Michael Jackson, like the more sexually ambiguous Prince, was effectively post-racial. Black, fashionable, resolutely non-political. She was idolised and quickly became a fixture in popular culture thanks to seven consecutive number ones in the US and considerable success elsewhere, including here in Britain. The 1990s were also good for her career. You couldn't move for I Will Always Love You and The Bodyguard in 1992 - the year of Peak Whitney - and she saw the decade out with a couple of hits with the then on-trend R&B sound. After this point the media cast her as a fading star, as someone troubled by drug abuse and a volatile marriage. Like so many celebrities her (considerable) talents became secondary to rumour and gossip, and in retrospect it seems her premature passing was as inevitable as it was inexorable.

The sad thing about Whitney Houston is her fate has been repeated hundreds of times before, and will repeat hundreds of times again in the future. As she herself put it, it's not success that changes things: it's fame. Yet "because fame" doesn't work to explain why disproportionate numbers of celebrities die prematurely. To approach understanding we need to prise the social positioning of the megastardom "enjoyed" by Whitney apart and bring a bit of theory to bear.

Alienation is a process of estrangement and dehumanisation, of seeing and experiencing relationships between human beings as if they were relationships between things. In the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx argued alienation was rooted in work in the capitalist workplace, specifically the fact that workers do not own what they produce (and therefore never receive the full fruits of their efforts), their activity is under the direction of an employer, and workers are forced by necessity to enter into these arrangements. No employment means the uncertain subsistence of social security in the advanced countries, and sometimes nothing in developing economies. As Lukacs observed in his essay on consciousness and "false" consciousness, the experience of alienation is different if you own capital and invest it. Generalising to bourgeois philosophy, he notes it "... observes economic life consistently and necessarily from the standpoint of the individual capitalist and this naturally produces a sharp confrontation between the individual and the overpowering supra-personal ‘law of nature’ which propels all social phenomena" (History and Class Consciousness 1968, p.63). Alienation strips the human out of human relations. It instrumentalises, oppresses, and empties, leaving behind neediness, bitterness, anger, frustration, fatalism, despair.

While Whitney Houston wasn't a capitalist in the classical sense, her celebrity placed her in an analogous position. Her passage from teenage model to pop princess and then to megastardom saw movement from a privileged and well remunerated record company employee to a star in creative control of her own fate. And that meant being at the pinnacle of an organisation geared solely to the her reproduction as a mega celebrity. Can I Be Me illustrates this perfectly with its focus on Whitney's successful 1999 world tour. The behind the scenes gives a sense of scale and enterprise, of how a celebrated personality is always a collective effort. Yes, it's Whitney who goes out on the stage, performs to the point of exhaustion and has to live with the weight of expectation and tabloid intrusion. She was the linchpin of the whole thing - capital without the capitalist is possible, but you can't have the performance without the performer. It's a lonesome position and one few empathise with, let alone experience, and without social support it can be corrosive. Here was Whitney's problem. All of the talking heads were employees, including her family. No friends, just the hired help. It's this more than anything that demonstrates the way fame transformed Whitney's life. Her family, her childhood friend Robyn Crawford, and later her husband Bobby Brown were all on the payroll. The most intimate, and usually the most cherished and important relationships a human being can have were subject to the cold nexus of cash. This was summed up in what was surely a devastating blow to her. John Houston, the dad she by all accounts revered and doted on was party to a $100m lawsuit against her shortly before his death. The suit was dismissed, but speaks of the twisting of parental love into money grubbing. Imagine what that would do to someone for whom the love of their father was a foundation stone of their personality, of their sense of security and self in the world. Truly a case of the world being against you, of leaving cherished, happy memories so much like ashes in the mouth. This was one of Whitney's three great losses. The court case was preceded by fights between Robyn and Bobby at the end of her '99 tour, which saw her friend - another rock and sometime lover - let go and paid off without ever having contact with Whitney again. And in 2007 she and Bobby divorced amid claims of infidelity. In the space of seven years, key intimacies - the parent, the best friend, the spouse - were all gone, all destroyed.

Whitney Houston was infamous for her drug problem, and her (recreational) use of them stretches back to her teenage years. Contrary to the myth that marrying Bobby Brown was her ultimate undoing, Can I Be Me establishes it was she who introduced him to drugs. What he brought to the relationship was an alcohol habit. Like so many celebrities who turn to something to manage the bizarre existence of being famous (Tom Cruise and Scientology, Madonna and Kabbalah, Michael Jackson and his "eccentricities"), Whitney's drug use mushroomed from the recreational to full-on dependency by the mid-90s. Addiction was found not in the properties of the substances she used but in the void, of lending an emotional crutch to allow her to limp through the days. One is also by how narrow the documentary presents her social universe, which seemed entirely composed of her family, her husband, his family, and Robyn Crawford even in the "happy" times. One by one as those relationships collapsed, her social universe frayed and the drugs rushed in to fill what was left. Toward the end her only real relationship left was with her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, but that clearly was not enough.

By all accounts, Whitney Houston was a warm, loving person. She valued her family, her friendships and her marriage. It was fame, of her place at the top of a machine that reproduced her celebrity, of her position in the firmament of a sharply competitive attention economy, how that cut her off from the wider social world and positioned her friends and family in a division of labour bound to her by money that was her undoing. What did for her was the poisoning of relationships. She didn't have a drug habit because her husband was a bad 'un, or because he father betrayed her trust, it was an understandable but destructive strategy for coping with an alienated life.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Theresa May's Delusions

When someone's struggling and trying really hard, it's the done thing to encourage them. To cheer them on. Please excuse me for setting aside propriety and have a good old laugh at the weak efforts of Theresa May. Living up to her submariner nickname, the Maybot (the Mayboat?) resurfaced from an August away from the public eye to hobnob with the great and the good of Japan. You'll remember them, the nation on the other side of the world who did more contingency planning for Brexit than our very own government. It was her comments at one press conference with her counterpart Shinzō Abe that generated interest and not a few guffaws in the land of political comment. No, not the ones referring to how the imminent EU/Japan trade deal would be the model for a future arrangement between them and ourselves, but her claims she is in office for the long-term and, snigger, she'll lead the Conservatives into the next general election.

I think almost everyone can accept that the Prime Minister is delusional. But delusions are not free-floating things. They are tethered to and offer an (outlandish) explanation of an existing state of affairs. There wouldn't be UFO conspiracy theorising without UFO sightings, for example. Assuming she made her comments in good faith and they weren't show for her Japanese hosts, how can May's reading of the Tories' dread fortunes allow for such a conclusion? The most obvious and immediate is the balance of forces as they presently exist. Amid the predictions of her imminent demise after the party bungled the general election and following their lacklustre response to the horror of the Grenfell tower tragedy, a few people (including yours truly) went against the tide and predicted she would carry on. As we gear up for a tough conference for the Tories and the return of Parliament, the balance remains the same. Casting an eye over the would-be Caesars, none dare play the Brutus. Because it's in all the contenders' interests to pitch her out of a window, none will do so.

From May's point of view, this balancing of interests could be construed as a position of strength. She's still there and all talk of a challenge has been just that. Wounded as May is, who's in the wings who could do a better job and carry all in the party before them just as May did four short months ago? Amber Rudd is too weakened after she scraped back in. "Call me Philip" Hammond is marginally more popular with the parliamentary party than syphilis, Boris Johnson's rock star celebrity stands exposed as a media confection, Liam Fox is still disgraced, David Davis too divisive and bastardy, and Andrea Leadsom is ... what she is. The Cameroon standard bearer abandoned ship and it's too early for new backbench "talent". I know this, and the Prime Minister knows it too.

Brexit is the permanent crisis dogging this government, and is also why our fainthearted usurpers are hanging back. Why have their imagined leadership tarnished when May can carry the can for the cluster mess? May is nevertheless aware that a crisis can become opportunity if handled correctly. While her enemies cancel one another out, she has no choice but to use Brexit to regenerate and relaunch her leadership. If she gets Brexit right, she believes it can strengthen her, turn the government's political fortunes around and grant her a favourable place in the history books, if not at the helm of the next general election campaign. Delusional? Certainly, but on-paper possible. The problem here is what would a successful Brexit look like? As the economy is staggering and investment stalling further thanks to growing uncertainty, business is applying heavy pressure for as soft a landing as possible. May, however, remains wedded to a hard exit, which becomes more likely the more Davis and Johnson prat about and antagonise the EU27. She knows if a confrontation is forced, if Britain can strike the plucky underdog to the overbearing might of the continental beast there is a great deal of political profit to be had. For May, a hard Brexit with no deal plus enmity toward Johnny Foreigner is the best outcome for her premiership and chances for staying on to reshape the aftermath.

One would think a more sensible approach would prevail and prevent such a disaster from happening, but if I've learned one thing from watching the Tories it's that they can never be trusted to do the right thing. They fall short on this score even by the collective class interests they represent. May might be delusional, her hopes of clinging on long-term are shot, but if she really believes she can stay it means she is going to do the kind of damage you, me, and the rest of our class are going to be expected to pay for.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Local Council By-Elections August 2017

This month saw 15,324 votes cast over 12 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Five council seats changed hands in total. For comparison with July's results, see here.

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/- Aug 16

* There were no by-elections in Scotland this month
** There were no by-elections in Wales
*** There was a single independent clash
**** Others this month consisted solely of the Yorkshire Party (37 votes)

Another very interesting month. Clearly the polarisation that is getting picked up by the national polls is finding its way down to the local level, although the LibDem vote is proving more resilient here than in survey findings. What the results hide (because I don't go down to ward-level analysis) is a surge in Labour support in seats where it previously came third or worse, and a number of people have noticed something of a seaside effect. The party's biggest swings have been in these places.

The Tory vote is still holding up as expected. We'll see if that remains the case as the Brexit shambles ambles on. As for the others, the LibDem surge from last year has well and truly been put to bed. They still need to decide which way to pivot - are they going all out against Labour as it enjoys a resurgence or against a weakened and declining Tory party. There are some tasty right-leaning centre right morsels to be had ... For UKIP and the Greens it's doldrums city for the time being.