Saturday, 18 August 2018

On the Campaign against Corbyn

As the dust settles after another episode in Labour's interminable anti-semitism wars, one in which we're told there's a "fine line" between opposing Israel's oppression of Palestinians and anti-Jewish racism, it seems even the most gutter attacks will do as long as it's seen to damage Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.

Yet let's step back and assess the factional battlefield. It does look like the party will adopt the contested IHRA definition and its woolly examples. And the anti-Corbyn group in the party have successfully worked to ensure anti-semitism allegations have dominated the summer's headlines and news bulletins, crowding out even egregious and deliberate displays of Tory racism. This flashy show of apparent strength, however, papers over real weakness and retreat. Yes, despite the likes of Hodge, Umunna, Austin and others dragging the party's name through the mud without comeback or consequence they are still losing.

Consider the bunkum about Labour's institutionalised anti-semitism. For those gullible enough to swallow the line of the Labour right, a number have foolishly taken them at their word and torn up their party cards. Meanwhile, they are getting replaced by a wider circle of Labour supporters disgusted at the attacks on Corbyn and have joined the party in solidarity. When you're in the numbers game, which among other things factional battles always are, pushing a strategy that builds your opponents' base while shredding your own is stupid.

Not only are the right's shenanigans building up the left, it's firming up and sharpening its attitudes and outlook. Smart centre and right Labour MPs understand this, which is why we see the same old malcontents time and again. Most keep shtum. As they have and continue to behave appallingly, they make their dread nemesis - mandatory reselection - more likely. Consider Unite, would they now be backing it if the right hadn't repeatedly lied about and scabbed on the members these last three years? The leader's office might be minded to compromise, but the bulk of the left are not. Support for reselection is growing among members, which the right can chalk up to their genius moves.

And third, for all the hand-wringing, the theatrics and bad language, what has actually been achieved? There is no appreciable impact on Labour's polling. Indeed, the consensus points to a modest lead. Likewise, ordinary people who don't pay attention to Westminster minutiae are getting sick of hearing about it too. And guess what, they're not blaming Corbyn for the round-the-clock coverage. They see politicians who like the sounds of their own voices attempting to bully someone they might not like but accept is principled and driven by values over self-interest. It's also possible a few more people have started following things in more depth and are getting a crash course in media manipulation and lobby hack cronyism. Well done the Labour right!

What we are seeing is a consequence of an entirely avoidable and self-inflicted factional collapse. But how has it come to this? Where is their self-awareness, their instinct for self-preservation? There are a series of reasons, but chief among them is they're just not good at politics. And as this encompasses many politicians, not just one or two, incompetence has to be more than a coincidence of personal failings: if large numbers consistently make crap calls we're talking about dysfunctional social relationships.

It's widely accepted that the PLP has gentrified. Thanks to the defeat of the labour movement in the 1980s and shutting down the conveyor between the shop floor and Westminster the unions once provided (Angela Rayner proving a rare, recent exception), middle class professionals simply expanded into the vacancies the unions left unfilled. And we have Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair to thank too. Getting more of these sorts in, so went the reasoning, would increase the party's kerb appeal to nice middle class people in the market for an alternative to the Tories. Now, there's never been a golden age of Labour selections without unfair advantages, but as the centre of gravity shifted away from the unions and more to the party leadership and the apparat different skills were demanded of aspirant MPs. Forming alliances with key officials, politicians, people who matter, and factional outfits draws on networking virtuosity, of looking smooth and speaking well, and transferring one's PowerPoint presentation skills to the selection meeting. The stuff of political organising beyond voter ID was obsolete next to the glad handing, back rubbing, smoke blowing, and, yes, sometimes the bed hopping capacities of the determined careerist. Fast forward to 2015 and the return of mass politics, the cadres formerly used to the calm waters of the Blairist paddling pool suddenly find themselves at sea without a compass, a life jacket, and no idea how to swim. They don't know how to fight politically because they've never had to, and they're definitely unused to masses of new members immune to the star power that wowed the sparsely attended CLP meetings of old. Disarmed by upbringing, habit and inclination, the fact their boasts to out-recruit and out-organise Corbynism were always going to prove empty, if not farcical, and so they have.

This brings us back to their counter-productive, self=destructive campaign against the party. They could've ate a bit of humble pie, learned from Corbynism and developed a skill set appropriate to the political situation. But they didn't. The media is what they know and what they think matters because it did under Saint Tony. Obviously, it does still but its power is hobbled by social media, which circumvents its messaging and reaches beyond the audiences of specialist politics programmes and the papers themselves. And then there is the reach of the party itself. At 550,000 members and another 300,000 affiliates on top almost everyone in Britain now knows a family member or a friend who is a member or a vocal supporter. Remembering these are heavily pro-Corbyn, the left have won the network wars outside of the internet as well. For instance, a non-political mate is more likely to believe my take on what's happening to Labour than any number of talking head personnel managers lining up to attack Corbyn. And there are hundreds of thousands like me. The left have roots, and the right do not. All they have is privileged media access and a mindset that can only comprehend success in media terms - the column inches given over to their positions, the air time, the prominence in the news. Even their own people abandoning the party is seen not as a disaster but proof their strategy is working!

Many folks have noted how much the Labour right shares with their Tory counterparts. The tendency to Parliamentary cretinism and cross-party chumminess immediately come to mind. There is something else they share too: decadence. Their entire trend is zombified and dropping to bits, and yet they mindlessly carry on, uninterested or unable to grasp the character of their predicament. And nothing will change until the much-promised centrist outfit turns up and they disappear into the obscurity of the historical footnote, or party members call time on their undistinguished careers.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Remembering Aretha Franklin

Not her finest moment for sure, but certainly her cheesiest. Here's the Queen of Soul having a bit of down time with the much-missed George Michael.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Jeremy Corbyn Returns to Stoke

It is some time since Jeremy Corbyn last held a rally in Stoke-on-Trent, but this afternoon he got a proper Potters' welcome from the Labour Parties of North Staffordshire as he swung through on his summer tour of Tory-held marginals. With zero publicity beyond social media and word of mouth in labour movement circles, 500 turning up on a week day afternoon in the middle of the summer holidays isn't to be sniffed at. Jeremy had to address the hundred or so outside who couldn't be let into the venue at Stoke City's footy ground. Could any other politician in Britain manage such a feat?

A fundraising and party-building event for Stoke South Labour Party, this "People-Powered Mass Meeting" (as it was officially dubbed) heard from a few folks prior to Jeremy's speech. James Cunningham, one of Labour's cadre of community organisers talked about his mission, which was getting Mark McDonald (Labour's PPC for Stoke South) elected, Jeremy in Number 10 and a Labour government. Striking a local note, Becky Sargeant noted how Stoke's GCSE results are 17 points below the national average. This she located in straightened resources, as well as a lack of aspiration and inspiration, a view that Stoke has accepted "good enough" for too long. We also heard a couple of contributions from the floor. Nisha, a recent graduate who returned to Stoke from Manchester talked about the need for opportunities for young people. And a speaker from Berry Hill Fields Community Action group criticised councillors, including Labour councillors, who had not responded to their campaign against plans to put a road through and develop 1,300 new houses on one of the city's green field sites. Not only should we prioritise brown field builds (it's not as though Stoke has a shortage of them), councillors shouldn't think they know best for areas about which they know little.

Then it was Mark McDonald's turn. He talked about his beginnings growing up on benefits in the Thatcher years, supported by a single mum and attending a run-down school with no qualifications. After leaving, he started work as a sheet metal worker before getting a porting job with the NHS. Mark said it was this experience that politicised him, recalling doctors falling asleep on shift and seeing the rationing of resources close up. He noted that this was a history repeating itself under this Tory government. Mark said he was a socialist, "a proud socialist" and that it "makes me angry that Stoke South is represented by a Tory". Socialism scares the establishment, which is why they're chucking everything at us. Therefore we need a massive team to take the constituency back.

Now for the main event. Jeremy began by noting he'd been to 75 marginal constituencies so far, with a spell in the East Midlands from tomorrow and then Scotland next week. He talked about how, just over a year ago, the media lined up to write Labour's obituary, but the near miss, which involved the biggest swing to Labour since 1945 and the highest number of votes in England since 1970 was because of the "incredible achievement" of the manifesto. It was also a campaign fought at two levels - in the studios, where the last rites were performed, but crucially, and under their radar, through the networks of new voters, particularly the young, registering to vote. It was because people were having conversations, that the party was talking and listening and helping bring people together.

Moving onto the first of his three policy areas, Jeremy began with education. He talked about how when pupils come to school hungry, they find it hard to learn and noted how teachers often dig into their own pockets to help some of them out. Therefore the fight against poverty and inequality is inseparable from a good education policy. Also, Labour's position is about potential and recognising the creativity in all children, which is supported by the 'Pupil Arts Premium'. This initiative, where it has been trialled, provided a musical instrument for all the children. The knock on effect was a rise in grades across the board, showing how creativity opens up thinking and application in other subjects. Jeremy also attacked the obsession with league tables. These are fine for football, but it places undue pressures on teachers and students - the former because of added admin, the latter because schools will not enter students into exams if they think their results might threaten their precious positioning. This is not good enough - giving pupils their best chance is always more important, Jeremy argued. He also reprised his comments on history in schools. He said pupils should learn about how the achievement we take for granted, like women's suffrage and the NHS, happened because of movements, of people making sacrifices and exerting effort to bring them about. They didn't just spring up because they were nice ideas. Concluding, Jeremy said corporation tax would go up to fund education and that the next Labour government's lasting legacy would be its National Education Service. What this should look like is up to us, and invited everyone to participate in the policy discussion.

He then moved on to the NHS, which was Labour's proudest and greatest achievement. No one wants to be ill, he noted, but at least here in Britain you don't have to shoulder the worry of bankruptcy on top of this. He also attacked the Tory/Liberal Democrat Health and Social Care Act, which dissipates the NHS workforce, and encourages cuts and the sell off of services thanks to marketisation. Jeremy also called for mental health services to be properly funded and a proper care service, saying it was a scandal that it is (more often than not) women who have to give up their careers and lives to look after ailing relatives.

Moving onto matters economic, he said a national and regional investment backs would be the bedrock of Labour's plan. But he also noted that in places like Stoke, the local people know best what the economic strategy should be, and announced such a project exploring this would be set up in the Autumn under the auspices of Mark McDonald and John McDonnell. He also wanted to see better jobs, stronger rights for workers, and a living wage of at least £10/hour. It can be different, and Labour should stand up to be different. Here, Jeremy veered into international issues and said Labour would stand up to Donald Trump and his dumping of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and his ditching of the Iran nuclear accord.

Lastly, Jeremy said a few words about the current press storm. He said "our friends" in the media are very hostile to us, but this is proportional to our strength. Their attacks grow and get louder because we're getting stronger. He also attacked racism as a scourge "anywhere, any place, any time" and that he looks forward to living in a society where we can be proud of and respect differences, where they're not seen as a threat but as a strength. He also noted the energy that goes into racist attacks does not resolve anything, it does not train a single nurse or save a public service - they do not make anyone better off. Rather, by working together people can transform together. Our manifesto was a protest against and an alternative to austerity and division, and that its message is more powerful than now.

Jeremy's speech ended in a round of applause, and Mark was able to present him with some Anita Harris pottery by way of thanks for his visit, before the usual scrum of selfies and gossip-trading descended. Names were gathered for campaigning, and £500 was raised for party coffers. In all, there was nothing here that Jeremy had not already said before, but for a number of people this would have been their first taste of the Labour Party in the flesh. Again, those fools who look upon Jeremy Corbyn's support and dismiss it as a cult only identify themselves as pig ignorant. Just like the recent Trump protests, Jeremy is a catalyst and a spectacle, but this is not a relation of passivity, of a great leader delivering programming to the minds of hundreds of robots. Jeremy is the figurehead of a movement, a half-million strong assemblage of people pulling together around a set of anti-establishment, anti-neoliberal and (potentially) anti-capitalist politics. Going to an event brings participants into contact with the party. They speak to members, join, find out how to get more involved, catch up with comrades and so on. Sure, some drift in and out with their cynicism intact, but many others do not. Such is one means by which movements are built, of how networks grow, take on weight and become powerful, and that is certainly what happened in Stoke today.

In all, as launches of the long campaign to take back Stoke South for Labour this was a complete success - especially so if the faces of the two young Tory plants sat in front of me were anything to go by ...

Image Credit

Saturday, 11 August 2018

McDonaldland for the Nintendo Entertainment System

I've got a couple of guilty secrets. Would you like to hear them? The first is I do enjoy a McDonald's. Don't go very often (don't think I've been this year, if memory serves) but there's no point denying it. In the old, old job they were something of a regularity. Too much, you might say. And the other? I think this game, which is a marketing vehicle for McDonald's, is thoroughly enjoyable. In fact, you could say it's too good for the purposes of flashy advertising.

What's it all about then, and how to you go about building a game around a corporate mascot? In the early 90s this sort of thing was entirely commonplace. From the British home computer revolution to the mighty Japanese console manufacturers, mascots were a staple. Mario and Sonic are the best-known, but in the UK bedroom coders and software houses churned out their own - Ultimate's Sabreman, Gremlin's Monty Mole, Codemasters' Dizzy. Likewise, British firms were very quick to get into licensed properties. Developers then were well used to building games around particular personalities and character traits, so when there was a big move into "advertainment", i.e. using video games to push products, it didn't require much of a leap of imagination as far as game design and programming teams were concerned.

In a number of ways, McDonaldland, or M.C. Kids outside of Europe, was a simple property to adapt. There is a McDonald's mythos that could be drawn upon (yes, really) with its characters, locations, goodies and baddies. On the side of the angel was cheery old Ronald McDonald himself, and evil was personified in the dreaded Hamburgler. Folks of a certain age, like me, might remember the latter and some of the others, like Grimace, from the ads that ran on British telly in the 1980s. I still have nightmares about the garish McDonald world mural that once decorated the upstairs wall of its Derby branch. Anyway, this is fodder enough to wrap a game around.

The plot, such as it is, sees Ronald McDonald approach Mick and Mack, your avatars, for their/your help in retrieving his magic bag from Hamburgler. And how do you do this? By making you way through some 30 levels of platforming action, if course. At first glance this seems little different from the bulk of NES games, which was the home for the platformer at the time. However, McDonaldland is a superlative example of the genre. Each "world" opens out in an overhead map, and you enter the levels in any desired order, Mario III/Mario World-stylee. The aim in each is to find a card. Get at least five cards and you progress to the next world. Get all the secret cards scattered across the game and you can enter a hidden, bonus world. Simple, right? No. Each level is fairly small but it quickly becomes apparent that there are secret areas aplenty. Sometimes these are hinted at, like the bottom of a platform outside of jumping range, or some goodies that can be seen under your feet. The fiendishness of the design challenges you to find a way to get them. For example, very close to the starting position in the very first level there is a spring. Strung out above it is a line of collectible golden arches (get 100 and you'll enter the bonus stage). You jump on and shoot upwards ... only to find two more are out of reach. How do you get them? Straight away the game is taxing your brain to think about how to get to seemingly inaccessible parts.

The answers soon present themselves in a number of very interesting gameplay mechanics. The one most often noted in the discussions of this game is the gravity flip. This wasn't anything new in and of itself - Castle of Illusion and Fantasy World Dizzy used this trick well before its employment here, but reversing gravity is integral to a number of stages. The very final level, for instance, cannot be done if you don't muck about with Newtonian mechanics. Basically, you've learned where the platforms and obstacles are one way but you have to reposition them all again in your mind. Being methodical and careful here is the best way of overcoming it. There is also a moon level with lower gravity, rendering small jumps quite tricky to perform. Also key to the game is the lifting mechanic. Again, other platform games had done this by this point - most famously (notoriously) Super Mario Bros II - and here you too pick up stuff to lob at enemies. Later on, however, you get to pick up boats as well as floats that allow for the navigation of lakes of lava. This can lead to very tricky jiggery-pokery as you try and grab one box while throwing your boat or float so you can make an immediate jump for it. You'll die, you'll die lots. But for some reason it never gets frustrating.

That said, this perhaps is the only gameplay criticism I can make. McDonaldland isn't hard, but it does require practice, and some of the ways of getting through a level are downright fiendish. Perfect run up jumps, measuring out every single pixel to make a leap, throwing yourself blind into thin air and chasms and hoping you'll land on something. I wouldn't describe this as cheap. After all, back then gaming conventions were different, but completing the game requires mastery of its mechanics. For that reason it's a test for even seasoned players. Clearly it was designed with this in mind - the controls and collision detection are spot on, the layout is thoughtful and demands the player exercises nous. This was obviously devised by folks into the genre and wanting to offer something that appears like a standard platformer but unveils its wizardry, and their virtuosity, the more you get into it. Perhaps this was their way of cocking a snook at the licensed material, or at the disdain game magazines would have approached it from the off. A quick note about the sound track too - it is easily one of the most accomplished to have issued forth from a NES and sounds more like a C64 game than anything else.

Alas, it being too good is perhaps one of the reasons why McDonaldland has lain in obscurity when less accomplished platformers are oft fondly remembered. Writing four years after the game's release, Gregg Tavares, a member of the programming team, said he was disappointed at the game's reception. Originally McDonald's were going to advertise it for a month on its Happy Meals packaging, which certainly would have given it a massive sales boost. But they did not. Instead the contemporaneous Mick and Mack: Global Gladiators (also published by Virgin in North America) got the big promos. This game was not as good nor had as many original features. Then why did McDonald's shovel it into the bin? I would suggest it comes down to corporate image. McDonaldland is good, very playable, but too tough for the younger kids who would buy it. Do you, for instance, know many 10, 11, 12 year olds who have a Happy Meal when they go for a Maccy's? But secondly and more importantly, Global Gladiators fit in with McDonald's corporate rebranding strategy. In the late 80s it was revealed that rain forest in South America were being felled to make way for beef herds that supplied McDonald's. Alongside their very environmentally unfriendly packaging, a panicked McDonald's went about green washing everything about them - something they continue to do until this day. Re: the games, in McDonaldland you're trying to retrieve some magical tat. In Global Gladiators, your folks are action platforming with Big Ron to defeat pollution and save the planet. If you wanted to improve your corporate image, which of the two would you push big?

McDonaldland then owes its obscurity due to its being victim to corporate politics. And that is a shame. Despite its cringeworthy premise, it does deserve rescuing from the condescension of posterity and appreciated for what it is: a well thought-out, well made, crafty platformer.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Could Boris Johnson Split the Tory Party?

Sounds like a dream, doesn't it. Boris Johnson assumes the leadership of the Tory party in some sort of contest and two dozen or so Conservative MPs immediately announce their resignation. With them they take the blessings of Dave and George Osborne and a few thousand liberal-leaning activists the Tories can ill-afford to lose. Is this a far fetched scenario? For all the media obsession with Labour and the talk of a new centre party, the likelihood of that erupting from the right is something seldom considered. What are the chances?

There are a couple of things strongly in its favour, and a couple of others that act as significant barriers. The first are statements of intent from MPs. Unlike their Labour counterparts who skulk around in the shadows, a number of Tories have been open about how they wouldn't countenance being in a party led by Boris Johnson. Dominic Grieve came out recently and said this, and Woke Soobz has on a number of occasions. Nicky Morgan, Amber Rudd and Justine Greening have, for their part, vociferously and publicly barracked Johnson on occasion as well. Whether they would do the do, however, is another matter. We heard hard words over the Brexit votes in the Commons and avowed rebels too often rebelled against their own rebellion. Therefore we should take it as talk, but the fact this talk is open isn't without significance.

The second is, at first glance, the Tory vote appears to be a touch more fractious than the Labour vote. We saw how UKIP was able to successfully bleed away support off the back of Dave's social liberalism. He was able to re-win some of them with his EU referendum pledge, but what really saved his bacon were the Liberal Democrats volunteering themselves as sacrificial lambs. Why vote for a centre right, pro-market liberal party famed for ditching key pledges when Dave and his slick PR machine offered more of the real deal? The unexpected 2015 majority was only possible because the Tories filleted them like, well, a kipper. Now, where did these voters go in 2017? Very good question. This liberal Tory vote is not massive, but it is well distributed in the marginals and can make the difference precisely because of this. It didn't drift back to the yellow team, whose vote declined between the two contests. So for my money this liberal Tory vote saw a little bit of drift to Labour, but most would likely have stuck with the Tories. Why? Because the one nationism Theresa May made a big play of did have something that recommended itself to centre-leaning voters. i.e. A Sense of national community, a feeling of place, fairness, an end to social conflict, and pledges to tackle long-standing social ills. It's difficult to recall now, but in her imperial phase she did consciously sell herself as the Mother of the Nation.

Since her bungling of the general election and the Brexit shambles since, this vote might be game for moving if a slick centre Tory outfit was available, especially as Johnson with his opportunism, dishonesty, and racism isn't quite their cup of tea. So there are MPs, there's a modest sized constituency. There's a possibility some lash up with the LibDems could see them take back more former liberal seats, and it would no doubt flush out the centre party enthusiasts from Labour as well.

The problem is this isn't enough. Assuming they want to hold on to their seats, centrist Tories have the same difficulty as their counterparts in Labour. Few, if any, were elected on their own merits. When you look at this wing of the party only Ken Clarke has (some) recognition beyond Westminster and could possibly win his own seat on his own merits. The rest? Not a chance. They got in because they were the Conservative candidate, not because they're super amazing. The second difficulty is closure of the political opportunities that benefited UKIP. Yes, there is a possibility a new centre right party would score big in the media. I'm very sure it would with its leading lights plastered all over our TV screens, and centrist celebs like Brian Cox and JK Rowling might be persuaded to endorse. But with Brexit and no European elections every five years, they would have to rely on by-elections and local election contests for proof of political efficacy. The latter are not good for an untried and untested force - especially when they wouldn't have the numbers to field a serious challenge. And by-elections? What by-elections? We've had two - West Tyrone and Lewisham East - since the general election, so these can't be relied on to make a splash.

The other - major - difficulty can't be wished away either. Politics has changed. There is not one, but two mainstreams. There is one large voter bloc who disproportionately respond to fear and scapegoating of minorities, be they racialised (Muslims, East Europeans, black people) or dehumanised (people on benefits. The spare-the-rod, spoil-the-child and school of hard knocks nonsense is the stuff of a generational identification between them and the Tories. And don't forget the economic base of all this either. The other mainstreams is characterised by housing shortages, austerity, jobs, pay, security and prospects, and climate change. The Tories have got about 40% of the vote. It's in long-term decline, not least because the old property-based conservatising effects of old age is diminishing, but they are likelier to turn out to vote. The Labour vote, again 40%, is younger and overwhelmingly works. It's on a growth trajectory, which means unless the Tories figure out how to appeal to this mainstream they will find it progressively more difficult to win elections.

The political problem for centre Tories is the same as your Chris Leslies and your Liz Kendalls. They have no way of relating to either of these camps. A lovely stroll in the summer sun can fool them into thinking there is a base for their politics, but beyond what's already knocking about the LibDems and the liberal Tory vote, there's not much at all. That isn't necessarily a bad thing if you're trying to rebuild the LibDems, but it is if you're a parliamentarian and would like to stay a parliamentarian.

Could Boris Johnson split the Tories? In the event of his becoming leader, it is very unlikely. Those who are older and can't stomach him have retirement and a reserved sinecure in the Lords to look forward to, and those who are younger will batten down the hatches and wait for better times. However, if Johnson was kept off any upcoming leadership ballot thanks to shenanigans in the Westminster party then that, oh yes, that could get very interesting ...

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The State and Socialist Strategy

No time for a blog tonight, so here's my old mucker Ed Rooksby talking about different kinds of reformism, the experience of Chile and Syriza in Greece, and what role - if any - governmental power can play in the transition from a capitalist to a socialist society. It just so happens Ed is currently writing a book on this very topic as well.

The interview is from Alex Doherty at Politics Theory Other. Don't forget to follow the show on Twitter, check out the Patreon page and throw them a like of Facebook.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Silly Season Centrism

It's generally advised to take the Daily Express's coverage of matters political with the seriousness of their weather forecasts. And yet their big splash today, 'Furious MPs vow to 'COLLAPSE' leadership at SECRET MEETINGS' is worth a look, even if just to laugh at the dramatic capitalisation. At a series of "away days", 12 "senior" Labour MPs have been yapping about their favourite topic - a new centre party - and strategising a way for them to take back the party. Because it's their party, after all.

Who are these people? Name checked are all the people who you would expect. Liz Kendall, Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie, Gavin Shuker, Stephen Kinnock and, before he threw himself out of the window, John Woodcock. A proper roll call of the finest brains (well, in fact, the only brains) possessed by the Labour-in-name-only brigade, the cream of the crop of the four-and-a-half per cent'ers. Their cunning plan? Well, there's a bit of confusion. Inbetween the Express telling us what a lovely retreat Fair Oak Farm is ("£144/night ... wonderful gardens"), we see a mangled jostling of strategies One is about waiting for Jeremy Corbyn's leadership to collapse, and then step in and lead the party. Just like that. Another is to wait until Labour wins an election and then separate themselves off, torpedoing the prospect of a Labour government. Just like I said the other day, the left either takes them out now or we allow them to come at us when the power lies with them. And here they are confirming the point. From here they will hook up with remain Tories and the LibDems and presumably make waves with their new party. Though they cannot decide whether to hang on or launch sooner rather than later, to be a go-er before the election so they can build name recognition. Given their hapless confusionism, perhaps they'll take my advice? If any of you are reading this, please, please choose a name like Jolyon Maugham's 'Spring' or something suitably dynamic and progressive-sounding. 'Forward, Not Back' jumps to mind. Also get Blair to front it up - that will work a reet treat.

Later on in the piece, Chris Leslie admits the meetings have taken place but Jeremy Corbyn "didn't feature in the discussions". Of course he didn't, which only adds to an air of unreality about these proceedings. If you cast your minds back a year ago when despairing Blairist MPs thought it was game over, we had the first serious floating of a new centre party. And what a floater it was. Of the five issues such a party would have - the need for money, members, political space, a constituency, and a motive for fed up MPs to quit - only one has been resolved. And that would be the easiest one: money. Simon Franks is the bourgeois booby with more money than sense and has underwritten the project to the tune of £50m. I'm sure another billionaire-backed vanity project will go down a storm on the doorsteps.

What is interesting though is how there are no new names involved, and from the 10-20 MPs Margaret Hodge was threatening to take out of the party a few days ago we're now looking at about a dozen, notwithstanding our unnamed correspondent's insistence that more are involved. Still, and this is worth remembering, there are enduring divisions on the Labour right. The MPs and activists most closely associated with Labour First are mostly of the view that you stay and fight. Perversely enough they take inspiration from the Labour left, who clung on to the party throughout the decades of its diminishing influence only to eventually score big. If it can happen to them, surely the pendulum will swing our way again in time, at least so goes the thinking. So the job is to batten down the hatches, protect existing positions of influence, win selections, and undermine the leadership when occasion (and factional advantage) demands. It can be grandstanding and stirring as per the anti-semitism crisis, and it can be petulent and childish such as the loud talking and prima-donna behaviours at the community organising team's briefing of the PLP a few weeks ago. Also, it's worth noting that within Labour First's allies of convenience, Progress, they too are mostly signed up to this strategy. For every Chuka there's a Wes Streeting, the kind of Blairist MP who does have some loyalty to an abstract notion of Labour and cannot see the viability of an existence outside. I would go so far to say this is the majority view of Progress as well. Besides, were they to decamp, 2,500 members and a glossy magazine wouldn't be much of a boon to a new centrist formation - despite the headlines that would herald it as a significant blow to Jeremy Corbyn's Labour.

The huddle of MPs desperate for a new party are actually marginalised vis a vis their natural allies in the PLP. And if that wasn't bad enough, they are to a man and woman the most singular mediocrities. Chris Leslie with his absurd manifesto and Liz Kendall who knows nothing about the party whose benches she sits on. With folks of such calibre leading the charge it begs a brutal but honest question: how can they hope to succeed?

Monday, 6 August 2018

The Tory Uses of Islamophobia

I expect not many readers have time for Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, especially as she was happy to front up the most appalling policies of Dave's ancien regime. But her repeated criticisms of Islamophobia deserve attention because, well, the attention is lacking. The press are uninterested, and no Tory has broken cover to attack their party in the vociferous terms we find across the chamber. Quite the opposite - we see Boris Johnson going overboard with his ever-so-funny characterisation of burqa-wearing Muslim women as letter boxes. There is nothing from the party, nothing. Not even Sajid Javid, the most senior Muslim in the government, has said anything. All in all it's outrageous and disgusting. But why are they totally uninterested in doing anything about it?

In the day-to-day of politics, the Tories can expect to get little grief from the press. Apart from The Graun and perhaps The Mirror and Indy, who's going to hold Johnson and his rancid views to account? House journals like The Spectator and the party's Fleet Street branches aren't about to make a song and dance. Especially when they indulge Islamophobic scaremongering themselves and employ columnists to the same effect. Why call out the Tories when doing so is a) hypocritical and b) shines a spotlight on the press's own shitty behaviour? Being Tory and being Islamophobic then is well within the zone of non-punishment, which is where politicians want to be. Islamophobia, which has always been a cover for being racist toward Asians, is an acceptable racism as far as the right wing establishment is concerned.

It goes without saying there has always been a racist streak in the Tory Party. It is the party most indelibly marked by Britain's history of empire, and it never entirely shed its imperialist superiority complex a t the time Britain divested its colonial possessions. This has manifested in a subculture of Tory MPs for whom racism (and Islamophobia) is ideological glue, an episodic occasion for populist rabble-rousing, and a means of currying favour among the yellowing grass roots. The opportunist racism of a Johnson, the hob-nobbing with Steve Bannon by Gove and Rees-mogg, the banter and larfs of Aiden Burley's mate's Nazi stag do, the foaming Tiber of Enoch Powell's fevered imaginings, the crude racism of Winston Churchill. The Monday Club, the links with fascists, loyalists and far right military figures, the lineage is a rotten one, a shaming one. And, appallingly, one that isn't dead. This was something Dave and Osborne understood and tried stowing under the stairs, but their pains at embedding social liberalism came to nought. A veneer for electoral convenience is what it turned out to be, the bare minimum necessary so the Tories didn't look hopelessly out of touch with an increasingly socially liberal society. How else to explain Dave's hands-off, chillaxed approach to Zac Goldsmith's London mayoral campaign which, you will recall, relied on Islamophobia and terrorist dog whistles. And how easily it was all swept aside once Theresa May assumed office.

Which brings us to the other reason why the Tories won't deal with Islamophobia. Because it suits them. Political parties don't stand apart from the rest of society. Its prejudices are bound to appear and find some political expression in parties, though this doesn't happen evenly - it all depends on the communities of interest parties articulate and condense. For instance, one reason why all racism, including anti-semitism, is less prevalent in Labour than the Tories is because its political power rests upon the core of the organised workers' movement. Or, to put it in plain language, solidarity. It's been a hard road but over the course of this last century the labour movement has tackled racism in its own ranks, not least because racism cuts against the collective organisation of our power. The Tories, however, are a reactive outfit. They are an organisation of ruling interests for ruling interests, and are the natural inheritors of Britain's long history of managing large populations. Their tried and trusted method, at least in domestic politics, is fear-mongering. And when does this work best? When they have scapegoating - the ideal ingredients for a spot of divide-and-rule.

The truth is Islamophobia works as part of an electoral strategy. Not with everyone, of course, but recent polling suggests 40% of the populace harbour some kind of suspicion toward Muslims. For the Tories, beleaguered by Brexit and relying on older voters, they need something to stop their diminishing electoral coalition from falling apart further. Islamophobia is a handy lever to pull on in such times. For the would-be kippers flirting with, um, the kippers, a few racist comments from leading Tories is, the likes of Johnson hope, enough to let them know he is thinking what they are thinking. But this is far from the preserve of a few mavericks , the party as a whole benefits. You might be a nice liberal Tory in a leafy shire appalled by the pack of gammon who congregate at the association meetings, but you will stay quiet because they deliver your leaflets, and as far as you know are representative of the constituency.

This ultimately is why the Tories won't do anything to address Islamophobia. Because it's too useful.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

No One is Above the Party

Here are three scenarios. These all actually happened.

1. At a party conference not too long ago, Nora Mulready, an activist and Progress supporter spotted Seumas Milne in the lobby of the hotel. She strode up to him and started ranting, peppering her invective with a few choice words that would overfill a swear jar.

2. After a Parliamentary session, behind the speaker's chair Margaret Hodge button holed Jeremy Corbyn and let her frustrations be known. As has been reported she called him a "fucking anti-semite and a racist".

3. In the lobby, Ian Austin squared up against Ian Lavery in front of the chief whip and several other witnesses. On this occasion, fruity language was exchanged as well.

Complaints were made against all three of these most august of personages. Nora Mulready, who was better known for choosing Haringey's gentrification as her hill to die on, was investigated and was due to appear before a hearing which, no doubt, would have seen her kicked out of the party. Being the principled sort, she did a Woodcock before Woodcock did a Woodcock and quit the day before she was due to meet with party officials. Nevertheless, process was observed. By way of contrast, witness the attempts of Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin to avoid the same. What was good enough for a Blairite footsoldier clearly shouldn't apply to them.

There is some division at the top of the party about this issue, and that was before Tom Watson reminded us of his existence today. To try and smooth things over, even John McDonnell has tried to get the complaints cleared up without a full disciplinary. I can understand his desire to. After all, he's in the thick of it and the rest of us are bystanders. But it would be wrong to do so, because what is at stake here is the kind of relationship Labour MPs should have with the Labour Party that put them there.

What this comes down to are the privileges of the Parliamentary Labour Party. This partly arises out of the tension between their being members and candidates of a party, but also (formally) the representative of all the constituents in their seat, regardless of political loyalties. Constitutionally speaking, the latter role takes precedence though in substance the constituency party remains key. It is they who decide the candidate, after all. Some try and deny it and cretinously pretend their first responsibility is to their constituents, but the zeal with which they fight mandatory reselection shows they know it to be true. Nevertheless, the traditional approach of managing this contradiction was to elevate the PLP. The leaders of the party are drawn from its ranks, deselection was made a complex, messy business, they have de facto operational autonomy from the party and, from Blair to the Miliband years, the rest of the party was subordinate to them to a degree not seen before. Rules really are only for members, and policies arrived at by conference can be ignored by the cabinet/shadow cabinet if they wish without sanction.

The democratisation of Labour is inseparable from knocking the PLP off its pedestal. As we've seen plenty of times here, Labour can only win if it is animated by and articulates the new class politics. This requires party democracy, and you can't have that if there is one rule for the likes of you and me and another for a parliamentary elite. Struggling for compulsory reselection and removing the veto the PLP has over leadership candidates is part of this fight. But so is the formal subordination of MPs to the rules that govern everyone else. Hodge and Austin don't want to be held to the same standard as ordinary members, and believe they don't deserve to be either.

For her part, Hodge is making a show of standing up to a witch-hunt, which is a ridiculous way of describing receiving a letter saying that a complaint has been made against her. But she is in a weak position. Readers will recall the no confidence votes passed against Kate Hoey and Frank Field by their respective CLPs, and the possibility other constituency activists might instigate votes of their own. You might also note the number of MPs said to be interested in the phantom party exercising centrist imaginations keeps diminishing every time the rumour makes the press. A couple of years ago we were talking three figures. Then 50. Then 20-30. Now 10-20 MPs. How low can the figure go? The damage a Hodge resignation would make is negligible, even if others quit along with her. And as for Ian Austin who, despite his putrid politics, has the same dogged attachment to Labour as his Labour First comrades he, well, doesn't even have that. Now is not the time for magnanimity, it is time the collective will of Labour asserted its primacy. No one is above the party.

A split is going to come sooner or later, and the choice is between the left forcing the issue by insisting Labour's Parliamentarians abide by the same procedures as the rest of us, or letting the wrecking crew carry on so they get to choose the moment of exit most advantageous to them, and most damaging to the party. There can be no dropping of the cases against Hodge and Austin. The rules need to be seen to apply.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Projecting Paranoia

A WACO week, geddit?? Corbyn supporters getting a hashtag trending is suddenly akin to apocalyptic cultists dying in a fire. At least according to Marina Hyde, one of the self-appointed political hygiene inspectors who makes a living from saying a great deal about very little. In her 'A WACO week, as Corbynistas do politics in paranoid style' we learn two things. That she doesn't know what she's talking about ('Corbynista', in 2018, seriously?), and that all Corbyn supporters are suffering delusions. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have not suffered the most vicious press and broadcast media onslaught of recent times. No, not at all. There is nothing to see here.

She begins her piece by commenting on the online outpourings of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon's fans on the occasion of his appeal and release from the clink. Except, ho-ho, this isn't the case. She was instead writing about the Twitter support Corbyn has attracted this week as the anti-semitism row rumbles on. What larfs, eh? She says Corbyn supporters are suggesting the establishment are terrified of him and what an incoming Labour government would do, and are therefore out to get him. She then compares this with Yaxley-Lennon supporters who articulate their support for "Tommy" in roughly the same terms and declares them "similar". A remarkable conclusion, I'm sure you'd agree. A bit like saying the old National Front and the old official Communist Party are similar because they both organised marches and stood in elections.

I expect Marina is familiar with the basics of the sociology of social movements. After all, she's a professional commentator and so knows everything. But for lesser mortals, there is one thing Jeremy Corbyn and Stephen Yaxley-Lennon have in common - they're lightning rods for really existing tendencies existing out there, in wider society. In Corbyn's case, his almost-accidental appearance on the 2015 Labour leadership ballot paper saw him become a strange attractor for all kinds of grievances, frustrations and aspirations that were systematically excluded from mainstream politics. As this was subsequently elaborated under siege from the media and, scandalously, from Labour's own parliamentary party, a new voter coalition was built on the basis of the emergent class politics. While the likes of Marina sneered at retro socialism and the like, it turned out this was the most modern progressive politics precisely because it connected with so many people. 13 million people, to be more exact. While the outright party of soggy centrism, the preferred mode of establishment "radicalism", limped home with fewer than 2.5m votes. That is not a cult, regardless of the impression given by overenthusiastic Corbyn tweeters. It is a movement. And yes, one that gets plenty of elites sweaty at night.

You can make similar observations for "Tommy" and his band of losers. They're not on the same level as Corbynism as they attract nowhere near as much support, but then as recent meetings remind us, potential friends exist in high places. Overall, however, the far right in Britain are in a state. Since the BNP went belly up the litter of petty fuhrers haven't been able to unite their forces, and organisations come and go. National Action. The EDL. Britain First. Pegida UK. The Democratic Football Lads Alliance. They might be fractured, but they can be dangerous, if not infrequently murderous. Nevertheless, there is an audience out there for whom scapegoating, fear of the other, and flag waving nationalism is a heady political cocktail. The BNP rode it, as did UKIP and, more recently, so did the Tories. With substantial media flattery, Yaxley-Lennon has been built up into another lightning rod - a charismatic, and I use that term advisedly, figure that can give a structure of reactionary feeling a face, a name (many names), and a spokesperson. And yes, the enemies of this movement are real enough too. The overwhelming majority of people reading this, for starters. But also the labour movement generally, organisations like Hope Not Hate and Unite Against Fascism, and in the background there's the British state keeping tabs on things.

This is what's happening in these movements. Both have cohered around a figure, and both have come under attack in some way. The content of these movements and their objectives, however, are completely different. You have to study and understand them in their, well, movement. That's how you explain formal similarities. You don't use formal similarities to explain the movement. Yet this is exactly what Marina does. Both movements are characterised by the "paranoid style", allowing her to reject them as improper politics. To her mind, they're more conspiracy theory than anything else. Fascism with its fuhrer principle, criminality and violence is certainly structurally paranoid, but her offhand dismissal of the Tommy schlockers doesn't get to grips with this. Indeed, her approach, common among so-called liberals, (they're thick, they're knuckle draggers, they're irrational) mystifies fascism and racism and does nothing to help understand it. And when it comes to Corbynism, well, I've long ago given up waiting for a centrist explanation that does not rely on some conspiracy of Trots or a sublimated remain vote that does not exist.

Centrism, or liberalism also understood as a movement is imploding. Nick Clegg destroyed the support carefully cultivated by Paddy Ashdown and Charlie Kennedy. In the Tories, the "liberal" Cameroons are heavily marginalised, only able to muster a few votes in defiance of the government over Brexit. And in Labour, Blairism vanquished its own base before Corbynism brushed its putrid remains aside. Its only real constituency are the remnants of the LibDems, and establishment politics in the literal establishment. Not even June's pro-EU march was really theirs. Add to that the polarisation of voting intentions and to all intents and purposes we have a zombified centrism. The body is rotting and dropping to bits, but by blind instinct it stumbles on. Lashing out with a comment piece here, a fantasy programme there, it covets the warm, living bodies of Corbynism but can do nought except gnash its teeth. The paranoid style then, like so many dismal centrist attacks on the left, is merely a case of projection. It's like Marina reading into other political trends and movements the pathologies and decay that are afflicting her own. With their agency much diminishing and the people who pay them any mind shrinking by the day, their fixation on the authority figures of other movements is ultimately a jealousy and a longing. Where's their big daddy liberal hero to come along and make everything right?

Yet what's even better is every moan like this, if it catches any traction at all, does nothing to challenge the support of the objects of its polemic. Few will be the Corbyn supporters who eyed Marina's screed and found her flim-flam persuasive, and it might help firm up his support. What is more likely is a Labour centrist reading it, and putting it into the misery memory bank with all the other defeats and reverses their trend have suffered in the Labour Party in recent three years. For some, this might be one gloomy piece too many and that party card has gone in the bin. Sad times for them, and sad times for a Labour right incapable of recruiting to the party and is finding its constituency among the members diminishing. If Marina and friends want to stymie the centrist fightback in Labour, then who are we to stop them?

Friday, 3 August 2018

Alesso - Falling

Too tired to write tonight. And I want to finish off Roger Scruton's The Meaning of Conservatism. It doesn't come recommended.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

A Twitter Thread on Corbynism


Wednesday, 1 August 2018

On Fascist Heroes

You can tell a something about a movement by its heroes and martyrs. Take the workers' movement, for instance. At its most radical edge you have comrades like Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, murdered by the proto-fascist Freikorps militia at the behest of the post-WWI social democratic government of Germany. Both of them had impeccable records as activists, organisers and, in Luxemburg's case, an outstanding theoretician. Truly people whose example will never be forgotten. Likewise, you can add to this list Antonio Gramsci who laboured in gruelling conditions under the lock and key of Mussolini, an imprisonment that killed him - but also enabled him to produce endlessly fruitful theoretical work. We think about the comrades who selflessly set aside their own safety and fought fascism, gun in hand, in Spain. The activists who put their jobs on the line defending workers' rights and building the labour movement in hostile workplaces. Comrades who risked life and limb taking on the fash and standing up to the police. And today, those comrades who travelled to Syria to fight with the Kurdish YPG. Whatever their foibles and human frailties, the fact they risked everything and, in some cases, paid the ultimate price, is what inspires. They put others before themselves and lived (and died) in power and in solidarity. They became martyrs because their lives and deaths embody socialist values.

Now consider fascist heroes. Take Horst Wessel, the SA youth leader who was murdered by a couple of KPD activists. A martyr to his cause, yes, but let's look at the content of his "activism". This consisted entirely of attacking the workers' movement with the kind of thuggish ferocity that ensured his promotion in the Nazi party, and earned him the favour of Joseph Goebbels. Though, like a true coward, he always let "his boys" do the grunt work of fighting and scrapping - he himself not being physically robust enough to mix it up. Wessel was also a notorious drunk and a pimp and undoubtedly, had his career not been cut short he would surely have graduated to the status of a major war criminal. It says everything about the Nazis and their latter day followers that a petty criminal and thug is one of their most beloved martyrs.

Which brings me to the case of Tommy Robinson, or Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, or whatever his name is this week. The "backbone of Britain" as the rancid Steve Bannon hailed him, and a living embodiment of "Ghandi", "Nelson Mandela", and "the Suffragettes" according to UKIP leader Gerard Batten. Why not add Buddha and Obi-Wan Kenobi to the list? It goes with saying he's none of these things. He is for the fissiparous far right a rallying figure and someone who has built a profile thanks to the indulgence shown him by the broadcast media, particularly the BBC, and his pubic "rehabilitation" thanks to Maajid Nawaz and the Quilliam Foundation. What can you say? Liberals are gonna liberal.

Of course, the far right narrative surrounding Yaxley-Lennon's recent imprisonment for contempt of court is about setting him up as a martyr figure. Here's a patriot standing up against Muslim grooming gangs, and getting put away for revealing the truth. At least goes the fairy tale. And yet this thin gruel is undermined by our Tommy. As The Secret Barrister notes, Yaxley-Lennon accepts that he was in the wrong:
1. Robinson admitted that he was in contempt of court at Canterbury, through racially charged and aggressive hounding of defendants which risked derailing a serious sex trial and denying justice to victims of sexual offending;
2. Robinson admitted through his barrister that he was in breach of the reporting restrictions at Leeds Crown Court. It was never suggested, by his barrister or anyone else, that the reporting restrictions were inappropriate. It was agreed by all that they were necessary to ensure the fairness of serious trials.
3. “Free speech” has nothing to do with this decision. This was not a case of Robinson “exposing” something the state was trying to cover up. At both Canterbury and Leeds, he was interfering in a live criminal trial in defiance of laws designed to ensure the trial was fair. The cases would have been reported in full by journalists once the postponement order was over. The only thing added to the sum of human experience by Robinson’s “citizen journalism” was the very real risk of serious criminal cases collapsing.
Not that you'd know this from far right coverage. Or, for that matter, mainstream reporting. Yet, now's he's out and about again we'll see more of the same: lies, defamation of others, scapegoating and all the rest. Yaxley-Lennon is a liar, a cynical, deceitful and dishonest toe rag who revels in the celebrity notoriety the media has gifted him. But, as with the aforementioned Horst Wessel, he shares a number of other characteristics befitting a fascist icon. He received a 12 month suspended sentence for his role in a ruck between rival footy hooligans, cracked on to a 15 year old on Twitter, served a brief stint for passport fraud, received £160k for his part in a mortgage fraud (and did an 18 month stretch for it). All this is without taking on board his issues with the law vis the EDL and the contempt of court proceedings. He's nothing but lumpen trash.

And yet fascism draws deep from this most poisonous of wells. Why? Because, ultimately, fascism is a criminal enterprise. It has the trappings of a political movement - parties, periodicals, ideas - but its aim, which is the smashing of labour movements, the evisceration of democracy, and the erection of dictatorship simultaneously wages class war and involves criminal activity. A movement that is lawless and only obeys the law of the jungle, small wonder it appeals to criminals, misfits and losers. Yaxley-Lennon in this respect is the perfect embodiment of the fash demographic - petit bourgeois (shopkeeper), lumpenised and criminal, a serial liar, he's got what it takes to be a fascist hero.

Five Most Popular Posts in July

Another month passes into the pages of history, and so here are five more posts to commemorate it.

1. Besmirching Labour's Name
2. No Labour Exit from Brexit
3. Donald Trump Protests: What's the Point?
4. Labour's Incompetent Handling of Anti-Semitism
5. Hard Road to a Soft Brexit

The month's been a total shitfest as far as Labour is concerned. Judging by the response to my critical piece on the leadership's handling of anti-semitism, it's mind-boggingly frustrating to find how some comrades just cannot compute how it can simultaneously be an issue and be used for factional advantage. It's almost as if the world is either black or it's white. Well, I suppose it's to be expected when political education is sporadic and the popular alt-left sites (Novara excepted) prefer semi-conspiracy theorising and embarrassing fanboyism. Still, there was room for other politics as well with pieces looking at Labour's relation to Brexit, the Donald Trump protests, and the absolute shambles that is the Tory party.

I'm all for second chances, so this month we're having another look at the return of UKIP in light of the Chequers deal and ask whether Labour have much to fear. The short answer is not much. At least for the time being.

What can we look forward to in August? Well, hopefully I won't be writing on anti-semitism again but if needs must, the Devil will drive. I have a couple of book reviews bubbling under, and perhaps that Engels and materialism piece will see the light of day too.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Batman Returns for the Super Nintendo

Ah, Batman. If you are of a, ahem, certain age you will know two popular cultural manifestations of the Caped Crusader. A child of the 60s, 70s and 80s will have at some point caught Batman the TV series with Adam West as our titular hero, and Burt Ward as Robin. In their campy way they thwacked and walloped an assortment of exotic but not-too superpowered villains. Favourites like The Joker, The Riddler, The Penguin, Catwoman, King Tut, Mr Freeze and so on. Gotham City was a bright and sunny backdrop as the Dynamic Duo foiled the schemes of sundry criminal masterminds.

And then, something happened. In 1989 an edgier, darker Batman assaulted the cinema. Out went the campery and tongue-in-cheek humour, in came a tortured Bruce Wayne with revenge issues, a slicker, more menacing look, and a cache of cool coincidentally appropriate for mass market spin offs. Among the cornucopia of chiropteran-coded commodities we inevitably find video games. The home computer versions by Ocean and Sunsoft's outings on the NES and MegaDrive were very well received and, most importantly, did the business in the software charts (coincidentally, all were praised for their soundtracks too). Likewise, Batman cleaned up and so come 1992, Batman Returns graced the cinema. A much better film than the original, in my view, we saw then hot properties Michelle Pfeiffer and comrade Danny DeVito cast as Catwoman and The Penguin. The hype machine cranked up, and out came the games. Sega's iterations of Batman Returns weren't regarded as much cop, except for the stunning Mega CD version. And Nintendo? Handled by Konami, the licence went in a different direction to its prequels and rival games. It went all fighty.

Batman Returns on the Super Nintendo owes more to Final Fight and Streets of Rage than anything else. Here you play Batman (like duh) and scroll from left to right dispensing fisticuffs and kicks to an army of clownish goons. You have an array of thin clowns, a number of fat clowns who try and bounce their bums on your head, and an assortment of weapon wielders. Bomb throwers, jugglers, fire eaters, bazooka wielders, swordsmen, you know, just the sort of personnel no self-respecting crime gang would do without. And can you guess what's waiting at the end of each level? Oh yes, that would be a boss for you to mix it up with. In later stages, as you might expect, you get to square off against Catwoman and The Penguin. All jolly good fun.

As beat 'em up action goes, this is the best I've so far played on the Super Nintendo. The sprites are super meaty like Streets of Rage 2, and when you slap about the enemies it feels very satisfying. Though he doesn't have as many moves as the aforementioned, Batman can grab enemies and drive them head first into the ground. The background is also partly destructible, and much fun can be had picking enemies up and throwing them against a wall or a shop window. Even better is driving them against a lamp post - probably the best sound effect ever heard in a 16-bit beater. Konami also deserve credit for trying something a little different. Thumping and kicking is interspersed with brief Shinobi-style sections (though, naturally, it's the batarang and not shurikens that get an outing). There's a few platformy bits and a driving section not dissimilar to the celebrated Mega CD version. The risk of introducing mini-games within games is it can interrupt the action and be jarring and/or tedious. Just ask fans of Mass Effect 2. Here though it complements the fighting nicely, not least because they can be justified in terms of fidelity to the film plot. And they play well.

Is there anything wrong? It's single player. And, unfortunately, technical limitations mean there can only be three nasties on screen at once with you. That isn't too bad because the difficulty is balanced in such a way that this doesn't matter, and any more would surely kick your ass. Perhaps it's just me, but I feel Batman is a bit lumbering as well. But in all, these are nitpicks. The game is easy to pick up, the moves don't demand convoluted combinations of button presses, and as a rule the game's aesthetic is consistent with the film. It makes for a very attractive package.

Can anything else be said about Batman Returns? I suppose the standard leftist reading of Batman applies here. Billionaire playboy gets his kicks from beating down on all manner of lumpen trash. Chooses to use his wealth to indulge a fetish for hard edged cosplay instead of pouring resource into socially useful causes, thereby dampening the emergence of future henchmen and master criminals. Speak of a libertarian bourgeois fantasy who cracks skulls without the encumbrance of the law. And in context, the rebooting of Batman was part of an established cultural trend in films and gaming all about reclaiming the city. Starting with Dirty Harry and Death Wish, it spoke to the anxiety about city centres abandoned by the middle class to crime and urban decay. By the late 80s, re-gentrification and regeneration was well underway in the big cities (London, New York) but the trope of clean up was abroad and fed by repeat panics about unruly, juvenile criminals and alleged no-go areas. Batman Returns is another iteration in this theme. We see ordinary people, in this case women and children, getting harassed by The Penguin's minions and as for the enemies, most are suitably dehumanised as eminently punchable scary clowns. They're bad 'uns, but deserve the summary justice what's coming to them.

Also, SNES Batman Returns is entirely appropriate to Batman's dark turn at the cinema. Platform games are all very well, but they tend not to confer cool, young adult vibes the films plugged into. Konami's decision to go with a brawler was, in this regard, inspired. The early 90s were the time the mediocrity we now associated with film tie-ins set in and, as a rule, they tended not to offer anything fresh. Batman Returns might look like a Final Fight rip off with a licence appropriate skin job, but by offering destructible backdrops and decent mini-games, they innovated within the beat 'em up genre and successfully pushed the envelope of what a game-of-a-film could be. Recommended.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Labour's Incompetent Handling of Anti-Semitism

Labour's dreadful anti-semitism debate has to change, so argues Barnaby Raine. And he's absolutely right - read the piece if you haven't already. The problem is, like so much in the Labour Party, the issue of anti-semitism was a factional football more or less from the moment it began making waves around the time of Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour leader. It still is. For instance, while his past associations are taken as evidence of irredeemable anti-semitism, hanging out with open anti-semites at the Spectator's birthday bash isn't.

Because anti-semitism in the context of Labour is a factional stake, a strategy, a weapon, one side have every interest in keeping it in play. Therefore, as Sienna Rogers rightly points out, it falls to the left - as the majority faction - to do something about it. To put it another way, just because the right are using it to destabilise the party and toxify its name doesn't mean there isn't an issue. Just because Corbyn's opponents have got out the chopping block doesn't mean you have to rest your head on it.

Consider these two exhibits. On the definition of anti-semitism, Labour's is certainly stronger and more robust than that proffered by the International Holocaust Remembrance Association. After all, it only made good the criticisms made of it by Keir Starmer, Anna Turley, and Chuka Umunna. What wasn't enough was how Labour's NEC arrived at its decision. Given the sensitivity around anti-Jewish racism and the fact it is something of a hot button issue that has caused the party serious grief, why was modifying the definition treated as a technical matter as opposed to a political one? Who thought it would be a good idea not to consult with Jewish groups in and outside the party? Why has this been handled in the most incompetent and cack-handed way possible? Yeah, we know the Jewish Labour Movement and the Board of Deputies are hardly honest brokers and have factional irons in the Labour fire. Yes, it's likely nothing could have placated them. But you do not manoeuvre in such a way to give their criticisms credence. 68 rabbis uniting in condemnation of Labour? The three Jewish newspapers doing likewise? Shameful, shameful. Utterly damaging, and all utterly unnecessary.

And that brings us on to the second exhibit. A recording of outgoing NEC and Momentum slate member, Pete Willsman ranting away about anti-semitism at the NEC earlier this month is, to put it euphemistically, not helpful. Saying "I've seen no evidence of anti-semitism" coming from someone who isn't Jewish is like some bloke claiming sexism is a myth because he's never experienced it. While not anti-semitic in and of itself, it's crass, stupid, and in the context of what's going on, unforgivable. As Luciana Berger notes in her quote, evidence of anti-semitism, as sporadic as in the party it is, was right there in the papers in front of him. The thing is when studied recklessness of this sort happens and continues to happen (I understand this isn't the first time Pete has held forth on this topic in a similar manner), you've got to start asking serious questions. Whether Pete is guilty of being stupid or something worse doesn't matter, he has shown himself unfit for the position he's contesting, Momentum slate or no Momentum slate. For as long as he's on the leading body and associated as a "key ally" of Corbyn, he's a liability and will cause further damage down the line. I was glad when Ken Livingstone belatedly realised his pig headedness was harming the Corbyn project, and did the decent thing. I hope Pete has a similar epiphany too.

It's worth remembering Labour is no more anti-semitic than the rest of society. Indeed, as polling shows the party is, in fact, less so. How then have we come to this ridiculous situation? It's not only because of the shenanigans and factionalising of the right. I'm afraid to say the incompetence of the leadership on dealing with anti-semitism has to take its share of the blame. This is not good enough, it needs to get a grip and stop fucking it up. This cannot be allowed to carry on as it has been doing.