Monday, 22 January 2018

Against Outsourcing

Love him or loathe him, John McTernan is a useful fella because he's one of the few commentators the Labour right have got who plainly, and sometimes bluntly, states their collective position on an issue. No shilly-shallying, no fudging. That doesn't mean he's right, as his latest piece in outsourcing demonstrates. What John demonstrates is the managerial/technocratic approach to politics as opposed to, um, a political approach to politics. Que? Let's look at his argument.

For John, there are three great things about outsourcing to companies like Carillion. Private companies can deliver public services well, the risk of failure is privatised, and public services are delivered cheaply. It doesn't really matter if these companies fail because contracts can be transferred over, shareholder value is lost and we lose a cadre of suits - big deal. As for jobs lost, while this is "disruptive" John points out we are seeing the tightest labour market since the 1970s, the implication being there are opportunities enough out there. The wider point is when you set it against other big government departments that don't practice outsourcing on a huge scale (he cites the Home Office and the bungling of Universal Credit), you have multiple inefficiencies and failure. Contracting out introduces accountability into the system.

In its contact with reality, John's argument falls to bits. The claim Private Finance Initiative schemes - the sort Carillion were heavily involved with - are cheaper and better quality is simply not true. According to the National Audit Office, schools and hospitals built using PFI schemes are more expensive than if the state borrowed the cash and built it itself. On accountability, well one might suggest there is a better way to keep companies (and state institutions) honest than market signals, and blatant conflicts of interest. And as for the privatisation of risk, what risk? When the state is a guaranteed customer, where is the risk? Again, as with so many claims made for market efficiencies, they're not based on fact. Indeed, they're refuted by fact. Instead it's supposition, the idea that profit making makes enterprises lean and efficient is stated as if its true, a piece of hocus pocus no amount of corporate failure seems able to dispel.

More dangerous, however, is the politics. John treats outsourcing like a management exercise, but it is not. When anything is outsourced to a private provider, they take up the contract because they're in the business of making profits. And this usually means cutting costs. Often, this involves taking on new staff on worse pay and conditions (despite TUPE), skimping on the service provided, using cheaper and shoddier materials, and increasing the casualisation of labour. For example, before my mum retired she was a home help for the county council. In the last couple of years the way she and other workers went about their tasks changed. Out went time to sit with and talk to pensioners receiving the help, and in came the well known (and well reviled) telephone check-in system. As soon as the job was done, she'd ring the number, walk to and ring in at the next client. Meanwhile, the care was partly outsourced to a private provider. The remaining staff were still employed by the council, but new starters were taken on by the company at minimum wage, which was much less than what mum received.

For John and the outsourcing cheerleaders, this is fine and dandy. Money saved, yes? No. Lower wages for the new staff meant higher rates of top up via the benefits system. The imposition of clock tyranny brought with it micro management by the providers, which meant higher staff turnover and a diminution of the care ethic. No time to chat to the clients, who were often house-bound elderly people who otherwise see someone once in a blue moon, meant they too were alienated from the care and suffered the consequences of increased loneliness - something the government now pays lip service to. This doesn't save money. For a few thousand here, a few thousand there off the council's care bill we find costs displaced onto social security and, given the rise of mental health problems among the elderly, is no doubt a contributor to the (manufactured) strain on the NHS.

And what about the political costs? Outsourcing is absolutely corrosive of the social solidarities the Labour Party depends on. If you're an old person receiving poor quality care from a young woman on the minimum wage, are you likely to feel sympathy with their difficulties? If you're a young woman shuttling from grumbling pensioner to grumbling pensioner for pittance pay, are you going to pay any mind to problems affecting the elderly? It's all very unlikely, isn't it? And neither are going to thank the Labour council ultimately responsible for this state of affairs. Now imagine this writ large. What do you suppose outsourcing has done to our communities? Think about the declining quality of jobs, the casualisation that means Britons have to work longer, on average, than our European counterparts. Think about the atomisation, the fraying of communal bonds at work and in the community decades of these practices are responsible for. That is why, rightly, trade unions and the left are opposed to outsourcing, because it makes life harder and damages our interests, which makes selling our politics that much harder.

It should be basic labour movement politics, really. If there is anyone who lays claim to the left and lays claim to the Labour Party while advocating this nonsense, you would be wise to think "with friends like these ...".

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Tory Cynicism: A Stoke-on-Trent Case Study

On Twitter a few weeks back, Cllr Dan Jellyman, cabinet cloak room attendant on Stoke-on-Trent City Council invited me to sign a petition pushed by fellow Tory councillor and MP for Stoke South, Jack Brereton. The issue concerns the hourly train service that runs from Crewe to Derby. This also happens to be the train I have the pleasure of commuting to work on nearly every day. The problem with the service is not punctuality (which is nearly always good) but the quality of the stock. More often than not the heating is broken or doesn't work properly, and leaky windows are a persistent annoyance - we're talking torrents here, not the odd drop. However, by far the most egregious problem are the number of carriages. 80% of the time we make do with a single coach. If you can visualise a carriage trundling along the railway you have accurately captured what the service is. Sometimes it's not too bad, but at rush hour it is and if Uttoxeter races are on and the company - East Midlands Trains - have forgot to lay on extra, you're talking dangerous overcrowding.

I'm sure any MP would want to see something done if this was the case in their constituency. As a new honourable member, Jack has taken up an issue the hundreds of people who use the route every day are annoyed about. Nevertheless I turned down Cllr Jellyman's request I lend my signature to Jack's petition, and that wasn't because it was being pushed by a Tory MP. It's because things are about to change.

Derby train station has started a long overdue remodelling of the lines running in and out. Presently there are bottle necks at both ends that limits the station to the entrance of two trains at each end at any given time, which is a bit of a pain when you consider there are six platforms. It can mean a delay to one service often has major knock-on effect on others, and as far as my train is concerned about half the time we have to pull up and wait outside the station for another service to clear the points. By the end of the summer this will be cleared, meaning a cut down in delays as trains no longer have to criss-cross the lines. Also, according to a number of rail workers of my acquaintance, the Crewe-Derby service is due a revamp with extra rolling stock added to it, and the roll out for this is scheduled for around the time the Derby work is completed.

Which brings us back to Jack's petition. He's had coverage on local radio and the local press, and has got the backing of Chris Grayling. Yet it's all a complete waste of time because the extra carriages he is petitioning for are happening anyway.

This begs a couple of questions. Is Jack ignorant of the changes to the service, which is worrying considering his old portfolio at the City Council covered transport. Or are we talking about a cynical stunt in which a song and dance now can be built up into a famous victory party later when the rolling stock is increased? Are we seeing ignorance or cynicism? I'll leave you to be the judge.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Conservative Party's Eugenics Problem

To find one leading Conservative mouthing off about eugenics is unfortunate, the incidence of others indicates something else. We know about Toby Young, the self-styled "Toadmeister" and his hanging around with Nazis and paedophile apologists at a eugenics conference. He was joined this week by Ben Bradley, the Tories' new youth supremo for ill-advised blog posts advocating vasectomies for the unemployed. Speaking of the young, the semi-official Tory youth movement got it in the neck during the summer for private chats that featured "gassing chavs" among the banter, and during his mayoralty Boris Johnson (who else?) got himself in hot water by pinning inequality on IQ levels. There's more. Newly-minted minister Suella Fernandez and fellow MP John Penrose are opposed to the EU Charter of Rights because, among other things, it disallows eugenics.

If that hasn't sated your appetite, there is this:
A high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world.... Some are of low intelligence, most of low educational attainment. They are unlikely to be able to give children the stable emotional background, the consistent combination of love and firmness…. They are producing problem children…. The balance of our human stock, is threatened ...
This was from Keith Joseph's infamous 'Our human stock is threatened' speech, the very same Keith Joseph who was a key influence on and confidant of one Margaret Thatcher - you might have heard of her. Whether there is a relationship between this and the social Darwinist policies the Tories unleashed in the 1980s (a decade in which Joseph continued to lobby for his views, albeit more discreetly) I'll leave others to ponder on. But the point remains, go back through the history of the Tory party and you will find a current, albeit one that becomes more submerged with time, of advocacy of and sympathy with eugenics. Why?

Let us be clear. There are eugenics and there are eugenics. In his reviled but revealing musings on the subject, Tony Young makes the case for "progressive eugenics", a number of biomedical technologies that should be made available to poor would-be parents to engineer their children, in utero, with intellectual and physiological advantages to compensate them for a disadvantaged start in life. It's nonsensical, but Young fits in a long-standing and deeply embedded tradition of eugenics that works to facilitate the reproduction of fit human beings. Naturally, and for good reason, in as far as the term has a popular understanding it is associated with the policies of Nazi Germany, the death camps, and its crank but murderous preoccupation with racial hygiene. But the Nazis were far from the only enthusiastic advocates for the prevention of the spread (and elimination) of the "unfit"; it was a policy followed up in several Western countries after the war with forced sterilisation of the mentally ill, and people with complex and special needs.

Neither of these are acceptable, but eugenics has deep cultural roots and, I'd argue, inseparable from how states govern. The cultivation of the body, the exercise of its physical and intellectual capacities and elevating this as a standard to aspire to goes back to Rome and ancient Greece. The rediscovery of these as virtues dates from the Renaissance to the early modern period. As absolutist and modern states emerged from the wreckage of feudalism, as workers were forced off the land and into waged labour authorities were faced with two problems. There was the question of how to manage populations and maintain public order in large urban concentrations, and how to ensure they were fit enough to supply Europe's endless wars the requisite cannon fodder and provide able-bodied labour power to work the land and then the factories. It's around this time classifications were made and gained force as the centuries wore on: the dividing up of populations into hierarchies by ethnicities and races, the divisions between the deserving and the feckless, of the normal and the mad, and the moral from the immoral. Apparatuses were in motion classifying and labelling populations, while the authorities were able to make use of them as means of managing them, and dividing them according to this problematic.

After two world wars, the problem of management remained the same. As Clare Hanson in her 2013 book, Eugenics, Literature, and Culture in Post-war Britain makes plain, eugenics found a quiet second wind as the new welfarist order was built. Social security as shaped by bourgeois experts and implemented by a Labour Party scarred by the collective memory of the Depression and war was an opportunity to put eugenicist policies into practice. The tripartite education system, for example, was explicitly designed to select for nascent bourgeois qualities among working class kids and socially separate them out during their secondary schooling. The big shift in the alliance between eugenics and the welfare state for Hanson came with the election of Thatcher and the subsequent imposition of market fundamentalism. Here eugenics didn't disappear, but were effectively de-collectivised and privatised. The state was, at least officially, not overtly concerned with population management - this responsibility was devolved to a proliferation of governances of the self. Yet, of course, the state was very interested in the collective fate of the nation as it aided and abetted new divisions between the deserving and undeserving poor, promulgated Victorian values, made hay with the AIDS epidemic, demonised immigrants, and so on. There was a fit population of upright citizens, and there was another Britain of the undesirables and the underclass.

Interestingly, after Thatcher had gone and her legacy limped on in John Major's enfeebled government, the baton was picked up by New Labour. While pursuing economic policies that remained within the Thatcherite mold, Blairism did rebuild the public realm and make significant inroads into child and pensioner poverty, as well as tackle the Tory left overs of crumbling hospitals and schools (though in such a way that Blairism wrecked the party), but the eugenics streak came to the surface. Sure Start, for example, has made a real difference to millions of parents. However its design was about inculcating parental virtues as well as offering child care facilities. They were (and are) instruments for the moral improvement of the working class, defined and devised entirely from above. Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime saw a ramping up of authoritarian discipline in schools, and a web of measures linking children's behaviour to an array of sanctions that could be enforced against their parents. Social security deepened Thatcherite logics with the introduction of welfare-to-work schemes that, again, didn't lead to real jobs but "morally improved" the feckless workless according to norms that once ruled the workhouse. The nearest New Labour came to openly touting eugenics was the proposal to fight "social exclusion" by identifying "at risk" babies before they were born. The fag end of Blair's time was about "troubled families" and broken relationships, completely divorced from his government's social policy that, unconsciously, was corrosive of social solidarities.

This brings us up to date. The Tories' embrace of austerity has meant defunding New Labour's hands-on approach, and has abandoned their liberal eugenics for something more sinister: eugenics by indifference. The cuts to adult social care, the underfunding of the NHS, the bedroom tax, cuts to council tax benefit, the explosion of JSA sanctions, the stubborn insistence on the work capability assessment has, as we know, led to at least 120,000 excess deaths during their period of office. These are the most vulnerable, the most infirm, the most precarious people. In other words, this is eugenics as social murder, a dying off of what Ebenezer Scrooge called the "surplus population": people who cannot work and/or live lifestyles that attract moralistic sneers from the very class that oversees this system. The horror is only acknowledged by the Tories in one way, as the (justified) consequence of failures of individual responsibility. They made the wrong choices and they have to take responsibility for them. The victims and survivors of Tory austerity are unpeople who deserve no sympathy, no recognition of their humanity and if they are to be noted at all, it's as butts of eugenics fantasies spoken aloud.

Eugenics then as a self-styled science of human improvement is inseparable from management, from governance and from government. It is a body of knowledge that ranges across human knowledge that informs policy, popular culture, and research trajectories in the biological sciences. But it is not and has never been separate from power, of the management of populations by governments and state institutions. Eugenics, whether "positive" or negative, is an outlook, a distorted view of the way of the social world as it appears from above, from the summit of governing elites and ruling classes. Eugenics so informs the Tories not because they are empty of other ideas, which they are, but because it's a fundamental part of their make up. As the preferred party of government, as the defender of privilege, as the champion of minority interests against those of the overwhelming majority, eugenics as a tool of control and a technology of discipline is organic to their political project. The likes of Toby Young, Boris Johnson and Ben Bradley are not aberrations. They are spokespeople of an attitude, an idea, a sensibility that is inseparable from Toryism.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Labour NEC Fallout

It's a new year, so I started thinking "you know what, I'm not going to do internal Labour polemic any more. I'll stick to analysing the Tories, trying to make sense of our strange political conjuncture, and write more theory stuff." And I was determined to stand by this, until the whingeing started afresh about the left's clean sweep of the three new members' seats on the National Executive Committee. And another bout of bellyaching came today with the removal of Ann Black from the chair of the disputes sub-committee and her replacement by Christine Shawcroft.

Taking each in turn, an unnamed centrist MP popped up in The Times threatening the inauguration of an independent bloc of former Labour MPs, if mandatory reselection goes through and they are deselected. After all, this is why they fear Jon Lansman, a long-time proponent of the measure. Quite rightly, this entitled moaning puts a question mark over their loyalty to the Labour Party anyway: if they cannot hold a privileged position awarded by the party then they're not interested. But it's more telling than even that. Already groups of MPs have thrown in the towel. Despite having the respect the office confers (and, yes, there are a disturbing amount of Labour members in awe of Parliamentary office holders) and the resources they bring, they do not have the stomach for a fight. It's almost as if a cohort of MPs who, through chicanery of one sort or another, had their seats virtually gifted to them, have spent undistinguished careers going with the flow of media opinion and haven't had to risk their necks fighting for their politics have discovered that, um, politics is not for them. If they do not have enough confidence in their views to organise for them, they have no business being Labour MPs. It really is as simple as that, especially when the membership have demonstrated time and again they want to see a different kind of politics away from the paternalist managerialism of old. The irony is that most of those who do live in fear of their constituency parties would probably get reselected anyway if they put a bit of effort in, but I'm not about to encourage them.

And the Ann Black story. Yes, how awful it is that a democratic vote sees the removal of a sitting chair and their replacement by another. There is no point beating about the bush, Ann was removed because of her previous record. Readers may recall that despite happily receiving votes on the basis of left wing slates over the years, when it came down to the crunch she went along with the attempts to stitch up the 2016 leadership contest against Jeremy Corbyn. She supported the retrospective imposition of a cut off date for the contest, she voted to whack up supporters' fees and put participation beyond the reach of interested people on low and precarious incomes, and she agreed with limiting registration to an incredibly tight window. With friends like this, who needs enemies? And there is the wider point as well. As chair of the disputes committee she is ultimately responsible for the dragging out of suspensions, and that does nothing for the confidence members are supposed to have in the party's processes and procedures. No, I'm sorry, the left put Ann in position and it is entirely right she was voted out as an obstacle to the remaking of the party. After all, it's what the members voted for.

If you dipped into social media this afternoon, you'll have sampled the faux outrage by now. All this underlines the complete inability, two-and-a-half years after the fact to understand what has happened to the Labour Party. There is no reflection on how the right hollowed out the Labour Party, no reflection on why their politics motivate no one beyond a narrow circle of Westminster watchers, no reflection on why they were easily shoved aside in a democratic contest, and still no reflection why Jeremy Corbyn defied their expectations and did better than their worst nightmares. Until they have come up with answers for these, they cannot make sense of their current predicament. The moaning and the bad faith speak of a lack, of an intellectual collapse that forecloses the possibility of their coming back. So while it is embarrassing and damaging to the party to see them snarking and making fools of themselves, it helps keep them irrelevant - and that is nothing but a good thing.

Correction: Ann Black did not support the retrospective application of a cut off dating back six months, and instead suggested a week - this proposal fell at the fateful NEC meeting in question. She did, however, back the fee hike.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Problem with Tories and Social Media

After Chris Grayling's trouble-free reign as Tory party chair - a first for him - new boy Brandon Lewis graced the Sunday papers and Andrew Marr with his message of hope. Hope, that is, if you're a Tory activist. Since it was recently revealed that numbers were far worse than any Labour activist rooted for, the pressure is on our hotel-bothering chair to stymie the decline and start matching the overwhelming human resources the Tories' opponents can bring to bear.

The first yank of the turn around wheel involves sorting out the social media strategy, so reports the Sunday Telegraph. Here Lewis enthuses about a toolkit that will deliver unto the Conservative faithful the flashy graphics, sharp videos, and trend-friendly gifs that Labour's team have down pat. It's about pumping up the thinning grassroots with Tory achievements, like the EU card charges ban the Tories have tried appropriating for their own, and building a groundswell of excitement for groundbreaking digital initiatives, such as "The Moggcast". Yes, it truly has come to this.

I'm old enough to remember when the Tories received plaudits for their social media strategy. As recently as 2015, while Labour piddled about on Twitter and was daft enough to spend cash money promoting itself on it, the Tories purchased targeted advertising on Facebook aimed at key demographics in the key marginals. Married to then genius and now laughing stock Jim Messina and his number crunching, the Tories were able to post the right messages through enough of the right doors to help them get their unexpected and thoroughly undeserved majority. However, as with most things their victory held the seeds of a coming collapse. None of this was organic; it was all driven from the centre and was top down like the rest of the campaign - the media grid, the message discipline, the reviled Road Trip 2015. That summer saw Labour's 2017 efforts come together in embryo in Jeremy Corbyn's leadership campaign - a directed campaign by social media savvy activists close to the future leader married to a spontaneous up welling across digital networks that conferred messages, enthusiasm, and generated not a few memes themselves. They fed each other, prefiguring what happened last June.

The problem the Tories have got is the same feat is not possible because, well, there aren't any Tories. Okay, as a veteran of an outfit that thought once having 8,000 members was something to boast about I am perhaps being a touch disingenuous when it comes to the 70,000 the Tories can muster. But here, when you glance on the lesser spotted beast that is Tory Twitter you can see some of the problems. Over the course of this Sunday, four tweets on the party's main feed were about policy-related issues and politics ding-dongs, and nine prattled on about Labour "abuse". Bear in mind we're not yet a week from Toby Young's resignation for, well, being Toby Young. Just as Stalin's acolytes had the annoying habit of emulating his turgid prose, so the Tories, the party of free thinking individualism, is equally slavish in its borg-like fidelity to the direction of CCHQ. The tendency for their MPs to groupthink aloud is well known, but for the ordinary members? Here we have Support Amber, a self-described grassroots account that, guess what, goes heavy on the same messaging with a few cheap points about Iran and Venezuela thrown in. There is also Joe Rich, a North Staffs Tory activist whose feed routinely zeroes in on the same kind of personalist "exposes" - even to the extent of retweeting himself two or three times. These are not exceptional. They are typical.

Way, way back in a previous political life, I noted how the purview of left wing commentary is much wider than the right's, and what was true a decade ago still applies. There are monomaniacs across all political traditions, but among the ecosystem of the social media left you will find critique, debate, and policy alongside testimony of what it's like to be at the sharp end of Tory Britain, as well as wider engagement with trends in science and popular culture, for instance. In sum the online left are closer to the people and more in tune with them (and, crucially, the the rising generation of working class people) than odd balls obsessing over Jared O'Mara, or putative remarks by John McDonnell about the blessed Thatcher that millions of people would happily endorse. The preponderance of this on Tory Twitter speaks to the party's increasing social estrangement, and is symptomatic of its dependence on a declining electoral alliance.

What the Tories need are politics that intersect with and speak to millions of under 50s for whom they are an anathema, and their fixation on personalities signals nothing other than this gaping, yawning lack. With no sign of change, of a detour toward the lives and aspirations of voters aggrieved under the set up they've presided over, the hopes the Tories have in their trumpeted social media strategy are doomed to be forlorn.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Our Snowflake Press

Ah diddums, the Daily Mail is no longer to be sold by Virgin Trains. Please note that sentence. Sold, not banned. Yet going from a range of right wing rent-a-quoters, you'd think Branson were forcibly pressing Mail readers into clearing up the storm damage to his Caribbean island. According to Nigel Farage, "Banning things because you don’t like them solves nothing." And right you are, Nige. So your party's call to ban the burka then, was that just "bantz"? Did you not really mean it? Or was that the pathetic opportunism and hypocrisy that comes as freely to you as breathing does to the rest of us?

I really don't see a problem here, so I'm short on sympathy for the Mail's "plight". In the market place of ideas, if someone is interested in the wares of a journal, paper, comic or whatever they can go seek them out. Virgin might not stock The Mail any longer, but there's a good chance the paper shop across the road from the station does. No, what this is really about isn't the loss of a handful of sales but something more precious: legitimacy.

As the welcome resignation of Toby Young from the government's preposterous Office for Students shows, something of a corner is being turned. The spread of social media and the rude intrusion of hundreds of thousands into mainstream comment means several things. That Twitter, for instance, has something of a levelling effect. If you're on social media, every columnist's attempt to stir up hate will have blow back. The ignorance one could once proudly parade without dissent leaking into the paper's pages is found out time and time again. And the association of these poltroons with nudge, nudge racism, and wink, wink sexism and homophobia doesn't look edgy or challenging in our increasingly socially liberal world. It looks outmoded, backward, bigoted, and the promulgation of these idiocies are now attracting significant social costs.

This is a problem for The Mail and the hard right press because their power derives from the influence they are perceived to command over their readers. Hence the recent bout of petty Brexit stunts. Meanwhile, as the circulation plummets their toxic reputation wards off future readers, and every time someone refuses to stock them, or a company withdraws their advertising so the aura of repulsion surrounding the paper strengthens. And no readers means no power, and that slope towards extinction by the right gets a little bit steeper that little bit quicker.

Monday, 8 January 2018

The Last Days of the Conservative Party?

I love it when a Tory shambles comes together. Watching Theresa May's ridiculous cabinet reshuffle unfold on Twitter provided for some wry amusement in-between marking papers. Chris Grayling as party chair, and then 27 seconds later he was dumped for Brandon Lewis. The awful Jeremy Hunt, fresh from the NHS debacle, said no to a move to business and ended up coming out of it with social care added to his portfolio. Or, depending on who you believe, Greg Clark said no to his sacking at BIS, and that meant a fudge for Hunt. Just when the people of Staffordshire Moorlands thought they couldn't see their MP any less, Karen Bradley is moved from culture to Northern Ireland. Sajid Javid stays where he is, but gets a new name for his brief. And there is Justine Greening. May wanted to move her to the DWP and she said no and so quit, ostensibly strengthening the relatively sensible, centrist-bordering awkwards ensconced on the back benches.

To coin a phrase, nothing has changed, nothing has changed. At least in the grand scheme of things. The most odious and despicable of this government went untouched, and remains as much a miserable mess of dysfunction this evening as it was yesterday. The permanent instability on which the government is poised teeters a little, but not threateningly so. Of more interest, and more pertinent to the party's survival, comes the news the Tories have fewer than 70,000 members, at least according to the chair for the Campaign for Conservative Democracy. Putting that in context, that's half-a-million fewer than Labour, almost half the size of the SNP, smaller than the Liberal Democrats and about where the Greens were at the height of their pre-Corbyn surge.

Does this matter? Labour as the party of the 21st century working class needs numbers to represent. Its politics depend on collective mobilisation and the aggregation of the collective interests of millions of people. The Tories, as an elite party, do not. Labour needs big numbers to be able to spend big on campaigning. The Tories do not. With nearly 600,000 members Labour performed the sharpest turn around in political fortunes in modern times, and yet with a smaller, more decrepit operation the Tories managed to form the largest party. Do they even need a political organisation?

In one sense, they don't. It's much easier to be a politician on the right because your political messages and assumptions about the world are transmitted by your powerful media allies. It is, after all, less difficult to blame than explain. Yes, not having members can be a pain. But as long as people can still be found to stand in elections (the Tories fielded more by-election candidates last year than any other party), delivery people can be bought and campaigning outsourced to call centres. So if you were a Conservative, you might find the collapse of the party embarrassing but it doesn't mean curtains. And indeed, it doesn't. But it presents the Tories some severe difficulties that are going to harm their prospects in the long run.

The lack of bodies for instance. By-elections are one thing, but actual elections another. Regardless of membership, there will always be people prepared to vote Conservative. Just as capitalism creates its own gravediggers, it summons squads of cheerleaders too. The problem is if there aren't Tory candidates to vote for, where are those votes going to go? This isn't an abstract question. In Stoke the BNP was able to build its vote support base in wards the Tories couldn't find anyone to stand in. If the mainstream right collapses, so the hard right and far right might fill the gap. The BNP, UKIP, there might yet be a twilight of unlife flickering through their stiffening corpses, and with it the prospect - again - of a semi-viable alternative on the Conservatives' right. And we all know what drastic measures were taken to deal with them last time.

The second problem goes to the heart of their difficulties. Over the last five or so years, this blog has documented the decline of the Tories, and the relationship between this, their decadence, and a certain autonomy from the interests the Tories have traditionally represented, which contributes to their extreme short-termism. The member collapse hasn't affected the transmission belt of anonymous donations via their not-dodgy-at-all dining clubs for spectrum of ruling class riff raff - hedge fund managers, nondoms, "naturalised" oligarchs, ad nauseum - and privileged access for big business and the old media are still there. But two things are wrong. While a small section of British capital has always, for whatever reason, supported Labour, in the 90s and up to the crash New Labour were the go-to party. This cracked the permanent hegemony the Tories had over business, and so just as voters have tended to become more mercenary and choosy about who to support so a large section of formerly Conservative-loyal business has as well. In the grand scheme, it means whole sections of British capital are not regularly and directly feeding their interests into their party.

The second is the absence of a mass base. Parties are expressions of interests, their organisation aggregating the experiences of and articulating policies that speak to masses of voters. Labour's job is to encourage as many of them into active political participation as possible. The Tories are a-okay with them being passive observers and four-yearly ballot scratchers. Minus a mass base feeding in to the associations (even if they are disproportionately petit bourgeois-types, managers and self-styled socially mobile working class people), the party is cut off from and no longer knows how to talk to ordinary people who might be sympathetic to Conservative values. Indeed, as Tim Bale's recent party members' survey shows, Tory activists are out of step with the values motivating other parties, which tend to be more in line with the ever growing cultural trend to social liberalism. There is every danger of the party becoming a sect, and if it cannot represent the interests of capital effectively then capital will start looking elsewhere. Those lovely centrists, for instance, the touchy feely types who are all loved up as far as capital is concerned suddenly start looking like a more attractive proposition versus the growing animus toward the system itself. Ultimately, the utility of the Tories lies in their command of millions of votes, which is jeopardised by their increasing social isolation thanks to the fast diminishing membership.

Can the Tories sort themselves out? One would be foolish to bet against the most successful political party in the democratic world, but it is hard to see how they can turn the situation around and look like an attractive proposition now they're inextricably invested in a political deadlock that puts them fundamentally at odds with a rising generation of voters. Too much to hope I know, but it might just be that we're in the final days of the Conservative Party as we understand it.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Jay Hardway - Scio

Haven't got time for a post tonight because marking and Spiral's on in a bit. Here for your listening pleasure then is one of the fine slices of 2017 that made the cut of last year's top tunes list. Enjoy!

Friday, 5 January 2018

What is the Brexit Stamp Collection?

Oh there are plenty of other things you can call Boris Johnson, a repertoire that has now grown thanks to digging done by Adam Bienkov. But on this occasion this blog is not chiming to the melodious infamy of Johnson's self-importance, instead it's the substance of the miserable article (above) from your snoreaway currant bun: the Brexit stamp collection.

You can see for yourself. The Sun are "campaigning" for a commemorative edition of stamps to mark Britain's exit from the European Union. After all, if Game of Thrones can have a set, why can't Britain's emancipation from eurocrat tyranny command its own in celebration of our freedom? Margot James, postal minister and one of the few relatively sober Tory MPs has rejected the idea as "divisive". She should have gone the whole hog and called it idiotic.

There is, of course, absolutely no demand for this set of ridiculous stamps (even though a tasteful alternative design is available). Just as there was no demand for blue passport covers, which you will recall never existed, to replace the red one introduced by the Brussels-loving Margaret Thatcher. Yes I'm sure there are some Sun readers who'll lap it up. Here not only do we have a REMOANING minister who tried thwarting plucky, independent-minded Brits in the referendum, she is shamelessly carrying on her BETRAYAL OF THE PEOPLE by refusing to issue a pack of novelty stamps. An outrage I'm sure you agree, but one that taps into the Britain's-so-hard-done-to sentiment The Sun have proved adept at whipping up in the past.

Some red meat for its more deranged readers, then. Is that all? Not quite. We know newspapers are on a downward spiral, and few things please me more to see The Sun's readership collapse faster than an under-cooked souffle. As they pitch downward to deserved doom, editors of Tory litter tray liners find themselves scrabbling for continued relevance, to demonstrate to their organisation, their readers, and to the clubby world of the Westminster lobby how they still possess power, that they continue to count. The stupid blue passports campaign was one such Sun stunt, and lo Theresa May duly caved. It's The Sun wot won it, yawn. The stamps are in the same vein, and will probably acquire the PM's backing in due course. So now the Mail, Express, Star, and Telegraph bigwigs enter the world's shittest arms race to come up with something else - renaming the Eurostar? Bringing back pounds and ounces? Talk loud to a foreigner day?

What then is the Brexit stamp collection? A tawdry and cloyingly desperate stab at relevance, one fully symptomatic of a fastening madness before destruction offs The Sun and its ilk for good.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

How to Predict Politics: A Sociological Approach

After the year from politics (and celebrity) hell that was 2016, understandably I gave up the trying-to-predict-politics game. Then something weird started happening. The new year brought us some right shockers - the delights of the Stoke Central by-election and the surprise election (and its more surprising outcome) - but some forecasts I had made came true. I suppose you might say the collapse of UKIP following the by-election was obvious, but it's something this blog had argued for since the 2015 election. Likewise, Theresa May remaining in office - unchallenged - despite pledging not to do forecasts, was divined as the country reeled from the shock of the Grenfell fire. And what happened at the general election was pre-empted the previous summer. If only I'd heeded my own analysis instead of sending "we're fucked" texts to friends and comrades when the election was called.

Getting these right wasn't voodoo, lucky guesses or a matter of being uniquely insightful. The secret, and it really shouldn't be a secret, lies in sociological analysis. Or, rather, understanding the stuff of politics as social relationships. A banal revelation, surely? Well, it should be but it isn't. Consider some of the dogmatism we've seen in recent years: that Labour can only win from the centre ground, assuming the centre is an eternal truth of inviolate political positions and values; that the plethora of leave voting constituencies spelt obliteration for Labour is many of its core areas; that Paul Nuttall (remember him?) would walk Stoke Central because he's a northerner; that young people voted Labour because tuition fees; that Labour would walk an election if it set its face against Brexit; of treating what's happened in politics in total isolation from what else has happened - namely the crash, austerity, stagnation, and the changes at work. Voters, constituencies, parties, institutions, all are treated as discrete and internally coherent entities who episodically brush up and affect one another. The flipside of this approach is that beloved of journalists, which is typified in Tim Shipman's duology of well-received books on Brexit and its aftermath: tittle-tattle; the reduction of politics to the personal relationships of MPs, back benchers and other significant figures in and around Westminster. What we have is, respectively, an elevation of the institutional minus the people and the elevation of (some) people minus the institutional context. This is the official way to think and write about politics.

Here are some simple (but complex) rules to examining politics. The first, most obvious observation is, um, everything is relational. Individuals and collectives are constituted by relationships. Peel back the layers of a personality and it's relationships all the way down, a record of at times conscious, at times unconscious determinations and influences that condition our activities in all kinds of ways. Break open an institution and all you'll find are people, but people enmeshed in and travelling through social space by the routes plotted by networks and lines laid down by institutional spaces (which are themselves, of course, conditioned by and are results of social relationships). Second, social relationships arrange people into collectives. These cannot be seen, but observed only through their consequences. Organisations are the most obvious manifestation, but collectivities range from the highly formalised to the loose and open, from small to massive, to currents of common opinion formed from common experiences - hence why people from different social locations tend to cluster around similar beliefs and outlooks. As our bodies are socially marked by the physical characteristics and what we do with them, sex classification, ethnicities, sexualities, disabilities, age and so on, we tend to find experiences, outlooks and characters clustering around them.

There's also the small matter of capitalism. It is not an independent entity standing above and apart from society, but it appears that way and we act as if this mode of social organisation is a natural force, an endowment we all have to just deal with. Depending on where you're born and your trajectory through life, your entire social existence is stamped by it, your destiny being only partly shaped by your intentions and actions. Mostly it's down to the vagaries of the elemental markets - again, outcomes of myriad social actions but without control or conscious direction. It also happens that the collectives we're swept up into are stamped by capitalism in a number of ways. All organisations have a commercial life, even if that is not their raison d'etre (as per public services, voluntary associations, political parties), and if we have a role within them they mediate that relationship for us. But as individuals we experience capitalism in ways that are specific and separate from collectives. The overwhelming majority of us are compelled to sell our labour power in return for a wage or a salary, and that inculcates certain interests in terms of the security of any situation we take up, the amount of hours we sell, the price we command for it, our own freedom from work, and the unaccountable power over us we encounter in those relationships. Some are even conscious of the clash of interests these entail, and organise on that basis. As consumers we have a certain means at our disposal (be it savings, credit), and certain interests in the quality of the goods and services we buy, as well as the power differentials between being a consumer of modest means vs big spenders. And remember how our physical characteristics are socially marked? These are inseparable from how capitalism is maintained as an apparent social organism, imbuing existence with obstacles, oppression, and injustice that have to be negotiated and struggled against on top of everything else. These are social relations just as much as employee/employer relations, and they resist disentanglement.

A social relation then appears simple and common place, but understanding them requires unpacking them, of treating them as an assemblage of mutually conditioned and conditioning elements. But they are not without direction. Because of the people and situations they involve, the histories contained therein bearing on the present, the tensions, conflicts and resistances, and their myriad ties to larger and smaller scale assemblies of relations between people, between institutions, between interests and the ever-forming, ever-becoming manifestation of collective wills, we can discern direction and therefore make guesses about what might happen next. Social relations are complex and can spark off in all manner of directions, but not infinitely so. They are probabilistic and therefore, provided one has a more or less rounded understanding of a (political) situation, forecasting is possible on the basis of analysis, of an appreciation of the directional flows of relations co-present, becoming within and conditioning a particular situation. In other words, if you look at what is being done, can explain why/how it's being done, you might have a good stab at describing what's going to happen next.

For example, consider young people and their disproportionate aversion, as noted in poll after poll and the actual poll of the general election, to the Conservatives. Why is this? Saying the young are radical because they don't know anything about the world is an explanation of sorts, but an ideological explanation - it is supposition without attempting to grasp the situation facing young people. And it also serves to cover for the sharp end of class relationships younger people are clustered around. To approach anything like a scientific explanation requires looking at those relations, how they've changed over time, and how they're being positioned politically by a government that has zero interest in them for its own partisan reasons. Once you have a handle on this, you can start making suggestions about future political behaviour - such as the stunning news, for mainstream punditry, that they may not vote Conservative in large numbers because of what they are doing to youngsters' life chances. Similarly, if you undertake an analysis of the political composition of the Tory party, how its vote has changed over time, how key parts of its coalition were fractured by New Labour at its height, and the effective estrangement of the party from a mass base thanks to a dwindling membership, this is essential background to understanding its pursuit of counter-productive policies, its headline chasing, its attendance/indulgence of a declining vote coalition, and ultimately the chaos ruling the top of the party. Understanding these confluences of relations and how they produce the current situation provides options for forecasting what future situations these are likely to produce, and what latent potentials carried within the assemblage will come to fruition.

This, crudely, schematically and briefly put is what a sociology of politics should be about. That isn't to say there's no room for other kinds of analysis, either of the movers-and-shakers sort as per "Shippers" and the stenographers of Westminster gossip, the institutional analyses as per political science, and pollster-related jiggery-pokery, but a sociological approach alerts us to their limitations, particularly where forecasting and predictions are concerned. Especially now politics is in flux. It's messy, but it's understandable if, and only if, you approach politics as the social relationships they are.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The NHS Crisis and Stubborn Tory Voters

You know it, I know it, the government tacitly admits it. The NHS is in crisis. In fact, it's in permanent crisis thanks to funding not meeting demand. What we are witnessing are ebbs and flows in how acute the crisis is. Let's recap: all non-urgent operations (some 55,000!) and hospital appointments have been cancelled, and the targets which the (often private) providers who run A&Es have to meet are temporarily suspended. Meanwhile, ambulance stations have shut, 8,500 beds have been stripped out of the NHS, around one-in-six A&Es have got closed or downgraded, and ditto for 72 walk-in centres. In addition to the cuts ("but we're not cutting the NHS!", the Tories squeal), hospitals have increased their capacity to take private patients, hospitals are taking up the slack for the devastating cuts the Tories have made to adult social care budgets, poor health is rising and resistance to disease falling thanks to increasing poverty, mental ill-health is at epidemic levels thanks to a decade of dog-eat-dog social and employment policy, and on top of it all resources as a proportion of GDP is shrinking in relative terms. Matters, of course, aren't helped by the increased bureaucratic burdens foisted on the NHS thanks to Tory marketisation which, coincidentally, benefits companies who've donated some £20m to the party. Fancy that.

It's plain as day what the Tories are trying to do. Incompetence only goes so far as an explanation (something Jeremy Hunt has no shortage of). What we are seeing is the deliberate running down of the NHS. It is not privatised (yet), but under the Tories our health system has become a market place in which publicly owned medical and health care providers are competing with private entities for contracts. It's not unheard of private providers then winning the tender for a service, and subcontracting it back to a public body. And to think this parasitism is justified in terms of efficiency and value for money. By ensuring resource doesn't follow demand, and sitting idly by as huge amounts are squandered on marketisation and procurement, permanent crisis - it is hoped - will soften up the public enough for more reductions of "unnecessary" services, rationing, and the normalisation of charges. Which then stimulates the market for medical insurance ... you get the picture. Even the crisis solutions the Tories favour, i.e. bunging the NHS a billion here, a billion there to take the pressure off is calculated to give the impression of an all-consuming monster that is rapidly growing beyond the country's means.

And yet one question stubbornly remains. Despite the obvious crisis and Britons' professed love for their NHS, why is this not hurting the Tories more than it is? When you consider the voter coalition assembled behind the government and see it is disproportionately middle-aged to elderly and therefore more likely to use the NHS than any other age cohort, why do too many of them remain stubbornly welded to the authors of a crisis that is directly impacting their lives, if not life chances? It comes down to framing.

Consider this unrelated example from Stoke-on-Trent's recent political history. During the 00s halcyon days of the BNP as an electoral force, its support was drawn from council wards that were almost totally white. Why? Because people living in these areas were less likely to encounter Muslims or people who weren't white like themselves than those living in more mixed neighbourhoods. They were more likely to believe racist propaganda because their social life, their experiences did not contradict those claims. All the while, the media were ramping up antipathy to Muslims and refugees, and the then government pandered to these "real concerns" without challenging them. A case then of the world outside of direct experience presenting a view many found convincing and which the unlamented BNP capitalised on. Now consider the media habits of older people. The world outside of their direct experience tends to be mediated by traditional broadcasting and the mainstream press more so than younger cohorts, for whom social media is the place news is digested and discussed. It means the positions taken by the mainstream are likelier to be accepted as the story of what's happening. After all, as my mum was fond of telling me, it "wouldn't be allowed" if it was all lies.

What has this to do with the NHS crisis? Consider the key themes the press run with on NHS matters; doctors are paid too much, resources are wasted on people who can't be arsed to attend appointments, people are coming here overseas to get their operations done for free, and the old favourite, immigrants are swamping the NHS leaving fewer resources for everyone else. Already, by this third day of 2018 two of our fearless titles have led with these front of these pages. It's not that they're denying the NHS has serious problems, but they're trying to elbow out the way the real cause - a Conservative government and its intentional defunding and contracting out of the NHS - and supply secondary issues by way of an explanation. And because NHS structures and funding are complex and wonky, even as they deliver more tax money to the Tory party donatorate, being able to blame tangible scapegoats is more impactful than cataloging cash transactions. It follows that because NHS management and funding lies outside most people's direct experiences Tory voters who suffer in the system are more likely to find Tory scapegoating persuasive. Especially if they've shared a ward with people who aren't white and don't have a British accent.

Tory voters therefore aren't necessarily more selfish, or don't care about what's happening to the health service. It's that they find the arguments their media make more sensible than the alternative takes, which are actually the case. From this two things follow. First of all, persuading Tory voters (we're not talking the thinning ranks of activists and members here, but actual voters who don't live and breathe politics) doesn't mean egregiously insulting and belittling them, as satisfying as some would no doubt find it. We want to win them over, not least because they are (mostly unwittingly) contributing to the crisis. And second, we keep hammering home the message about Tory plans for the NHS, as well as amplifying the voices of everyone in the NHS, the nurses and doctors and managers, who are speaking out against the mess the government are deliberate cultivating. Only with persistence and patience can the old scapegoating narratives be worn down and with it an election of a government set on undoing their damage.

Monday, 1 January 2018

Toby Young and the Taming of Higher Education

It's good to see meritocracy alive and well. I mean these days you can get yourself appointed to an august body overseeing "value for money" in Britain's universities without any experience of the higher education sector at all. You can do so even after blagging your way into one of the country's top establishments and sneering at the working class students who, you know, actually had to work to get their places. Even trashing equalities legislation for the disabled is no barrier. Yes, blessed and special is the country where such things are possible.

I wasn't the only one who had their New Year's celebrations soiled by the news Toby Young, sometime journalist and well-connected mediocrity, has been appointed by the government to the universities regulator. This apparently after an ostensibly well-qualified candidate didn't even get an interview. Yes, it looks like jobs for the boys, and it is. Having had an insight into these sorts of things, these appointments would have been arrived at via a brainstorming session between universities minister Jo Johnson and his lackeys. Picture the scene in his office, coffees in hand and ties loosened, each clutching a list of names they'd Googled. Because blue sky thinking is the name of the game, Johnson wouldn't have wanted anyone associated with HE. Hence we have a worthy each from HSBC and Boots - not noted seats of higher learning - and Young just to set the cat among the pigeons. They knew it wouldn't be a popular choice, but it has helped put the Office for Students quango on the map.

Toby Young is egregiously awful and ill-suited for the role. But that doesn't mean everything would be hunky dory had a qualified specialist been put in place instead. The problem is structural and stems from the Tory party's distrust of higher education. As we have seen previously, the Tories know students and academic staff are not likely to vote for them. They can read YouGov surveys and see the correlation between the greater number of formal qualifications and a growing disinclination to support the Conservatives. Yet British capitalism demands an ever better educated work force because profits are increasingly dependent on immaterial labour - the production of knowledge, information, services and relationships.

Caught in this bind between political disadvantage and vectors of capital accumulation, their fudge follows successive governments' approach to managing public bodies: marketisation. While Thatcher gradually eroded students' standards of living, the real turbo boost to neoliberalising the academy came with Tony Blair's introduction of tuition fees and their steady increase since. The government stumps up the fees for each student who turns up, and they in turn pay it back down the line when they are earning over a certain threshold, which is due to be £25,000/year. But because the money follows the student, universities fall over each other in competition for undergraduates and retaining them. We have therefore seen the rise of a variety of performance indicators/league tables to differentiate universities and, supposedly, help guide applicants' decisions. These include the National Student Satisfaction survey, in which students are invited to rate their courses (and is subject to an ill-advertised boycott by the NUS), the Teaching Excellence Framework that (patronisingly) awards institutions a gold, silver or bronze medal according to a set of arbitrary indicators, and league tables put together by The Graun and The Times Higher that come up with their own permutations aggregating NSS, TEF, graduate employability and degree classifications - among other things (NB social science graduates do best). Universities aren't businesses, but they might as well be. Incorporated as charities, they are in reality no different than privately-owned capital competing in a market place. They have to so act to survive, and this means downward pressures on faculties to become sales people and customer service specialists over and above transmission belts of knowledge.

Marketisation has disciplinary consequences for students as well. The introduction of tuition fees was never about saving money but churning out workers of a particular type, of people who had internalised the market as the done way, the natural way of doing things. In the age of immaterial labour the production of value is closely intertwined with the stuff of social production, of producing relationships and identity locations (subject positions) of various kinds. The most effective means of social control under these circumstances is the colonisation of the mind, of using economics, as Thatcher put it, to remake the soul. The assumption was the transformation of students into paying customers would mean rising standards and a more serious attitude to academic work. The limiting of support for students also meant large numbers have to support themselves through university (whereas most students pre-fees would defer work to the Christmas and summer holidays) and, conveniently, less time for them to be involved in extra-curricular activities. Like politics, for instance. Meanwhile they are encouraged to see university as a transactional exercise, as a fantastical student experience secondary to actually learning stuff.

Once you understand the role of marketisation, the appointments of Young and the other business worthies make sense. They don't understand academia nor the culture of HE, and as far as the Tories are concerned they don't need to. Jo Johnson thinks they understand markets, and that's what matters. Never mind the fact British universities are world leading and have little to learn from a mediocre private sector that is somewhat less so. They can get the big stick out and hey presto, the mounting anger over unsustainable student debt and spiralling pay for senior management become arms' length problems. The question is how much more damage this new quango can do to a sector it is estranged from and knows nothing about. And the answer is, unfortunately, plenty.

Top 100 Independent Tweeting Bloggers 2017

Cue the Pearl & Dean music. Yes, another year has gone and the beginning of the next calendar coincides with a reflection on who's hot and who's not in the world of independent political blogging, at least as far as Twitter is concerned. In case you're a newbie, here are the rules. This is not a "best of". This is not a reflection of people I agree with, think write well, or another arbitrary classifying schema. It is, as per the list of tweeting political commentators, a simple rank ordering by the number of Twitter followers. But independent? How is that defined? It is a blogger who posts regularly on matters political to their corner of the web or, fuzzing it a bit, an outlet independent of the big media organisations and parties. So, for example, The Canary is an independent outfit and so gets on. LibDem Voice is semi-official, but is a voluntary operation and so gets on. I'm sure you get the picture. Likewise, there are a few big media stars on here but, again, make the list because they maintain their own outlets. Last of all, there is a six week rule applied here. If you haven't posted anything in that time you don't make it, simple as that.

Okay, without further ado ...

1. (1) Owen Jones (725k followers)
2, (RE) Paul Mason (574k followers)
3. (2) Alastair Campbell (425k followers)
4. (3) Guido Fawkes (242k followers)
5. (4) Britain Elects (164k followers)
6. (5) Iain Dale (107k followers)
7. (5) Left Foot Forward (65.5k followers)
8. (NE) The London Economic (58.8k followers)
9. (10) Open Democracy (58.6k followers)
10. (18) The Canary (53.9k followers)
11. (7) Wings Over Scotland (53.8k followers)
12. (8) Bella Caledonia (52k followers)
13. (15) Scott Nelson (51.2k followers)
14. (11) Political Scrapbook (47.9k followers)
15. (13) Richard Murphy (46.3k followers)
16. (12) The F-Word (45.3k followers)
17. (14) Mike Smithson (44k followers)
18. (9) Nick Tyrone (41.4k followers)
19. (16) Ann Petifor (39.8k followers)
20. (NE) Aaron Bastani (39.8k followers)
21. (17) Coppola Comment (35.5k followers)
22. (33) Novara Media (35.3k followers)
23. (26) Jon Worth (34.2k followers)
24. (19) Steve Topple (30.7k followers)
25. (27) Libcom (27.9k followers)
26. (32) Craig Murray (26.8k followers)
27. (20) Exposing UKIP (25.8k followers)
28. (24) Another Angry Woman (25.4k followers)
29. (25) Pride's Purge (25.4k followers)
30. (30) Neil Clark (25.3k followers)
31. (73) The SKWAWKBOX (25k followers)
32. (23) UK Media Watch (24.2k followers)
33. (RE) Kerry-Anne Mendoza (23.6k followers)
34. (28) LibDem Voice (22.4k followers)
35. (36) Richard Seymour (21.3k followers)
36. (38) Mainly Macro (21k followers)
37. (35) Angela Neptustar (20.3k followers)
38. (39) Paul Bernal (19.8k followers)
39. (NE) Shon Faye (19.5k followers)
40. (NE) Another Angry Voice (18.7k followers)
41. (31) Labour Uncut (18k followers)
42. (34) Archbishop Cranmer (17.9k followers)
43. (41) Sarah Ditum (16.9k followers)
44. (NE) Matt Turner (16.5k followers)
45. (72) SCOT goes POP! (16.2k followers)
46. (40) Lallands Peat Worrier (15.8k followers)
47. (46) Tim Bale (15.5k followers)
48. (49) Glen O'Hara (15.4k followers)
49. (NE) Evolve Politics (15k followers)
50. (47) Eric Joyce (14.8k followers)
51. (NE) Talk Politics (13.4k followers)
52. (45) Big Brother Watch (13.2k followers)
53. (RE) The Optimistic Patriot (13k followers)
54. (42) The Commentator (12.6k followers)
55. (66) Filibuster (12k followers)
56. (48) Mark Pack (11.9k followers)
57. (55) Chelley Ryan (11.5k followers)
58. (51) Zelo Street (10.8k followers)
59. (54) Kevin Hague (10.4k followers)
60. (RE) Karen Ingala Smith (10.3k followers)
61. (52) Left Futures (9,583 followers)
62. (NE) Lily of St Leonards (9,508 followers)
63. (57) 5 Pillars (9,474 followers)
64. (50) Kate Belgrave (9,353 followers)
65. (61) Chris Dillow (9,004 followers)
66. (53) David Hencke (8,866 followers)
67. (60) Flip Chart Fairy Tales (8,769 followers)
68. (62) A Dragon's Best Friend (7,513 followers)
69. (70) Emma Burnell (7,158 followers)
70. (NE) Katie S (6,951 followers)
71. (65) Vox Political (6,905 followers)
72. (64) All That's Left (6,660 followers)
73. (75) Who Owns England? (6,659 followers)
74. (69) All That Is Solid (6,561 followers)
75. (67) Bright Green (6,186 followers)
76. (NE) New Socialist (6,083 followers)
77. (76) A Room Of Our Own (5,964 followers)
78. (71) Tim Worstall (5,947 followers)
79. (NE) Tom Gann (5,768 followers)
80. (74) Liberal England (5,643 followers)
81. (80) Language: A Feminist Guide (5,268 followers)
82. (78) Rob Marchant (5,121 followers)
83. (81) Revolution Breeze (5,019 followers)
84. (82) Cllr Alice Perry (4,709 followers)
85. (87) Hatful of History (4,491 followers)
86. (86) Bob from Brockley (4,347 followers)
87. (83) Think Left (4,272 followers)
88. (RE) Neil Scott (4,115 followers)
89. (84) Sarah Brown (4,041 followers)
90. (NE) Ungagged! (4,017 followers)
91. (NE) The Prole Star (3,705 followers)
92. (91) The Thoughtful Campaigner (3,653 followers)
93. (90) Dick Puddlecote (3,574 followers)
94. (94) Wendy Errington (3,207 followers)
95. (98) The Nation Said No Thanks (3,098 followers)
96. (92) Liberal Burblings (3,010 followers)
97. (95) Labour Hame (2,774 followers)
98. (93) Sarah Ismail (2,772 followers
99. (100) John Gray (2,749 followers)
100. (99) Ambush Predator (2,428 followers)

Time for the science bit? Well, what's interesting is the return of five folks to the chart who'd previously stopped blogging. Obviously word had got round and thought it necessary to push something out in time for this tally. On top of them there's 13 new entries, which is far fewer than last year. Have we reached that point in the cycle where blogging is plateauing, and those still in the less glamorous game of writing for yourself is down to the hardcore? I haven't a clue but one thing's true, newer blogs are getting thinner on the ground.

Yes, this is a provisional list. So if there are others you can think of that haven't made this list and do meet the criteria set out in the opening paragraph, and have more followers than those on the bottom of the list do let me know and it shall be duly updated.