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.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Extreme Centrism

Extreme centrism sounds weird, doesn't it? In politics, whether you use the traditional left-right axis, or supplement it with an authoritarian-libertarian axis, centrism lies in the middle of all these poles. The clue, after all, is in the name. How then can it ever be extreme? Going off to the extremities of the left you end up with revolutionary violence, Stalinist dictatorship or a general federation of post-property communes - depending on the inclination to authoritarianism or libertarianism. On the right, extremist politics take us to race hatred and the gas chamber, or rampant marketisation, a "libertarian" future ruled by megacorporations which, if you look beyond the neon and the giant advertising screens, looks a lot like Stalinist dictatorships.

Centrism though. I suppose you might get militant in the defence of democratic rights and individual liberty, but in practice neither Blair, nor Obama, nor Macron demonstrate or demonstrated particular concerns with them. How about racism, as per the running being done on the interminable anti-semitism row in the Labour Party? Surely extreme centrism has cosmopolitanism and internationalism on its side? And yet, under Blair, we saw a ratcheting up of officially-sanctified Islamophobia and selective amnesia when it comes to suffering overseas. We went to Iraq and Afghanistan to ostensibly liberate those countries from dictatorship and Islamist fundamentalism, but we were less than keen to admit people fleeing the epidemic levels of violence war and occupation stirred up. Sure, but it's tough on fascism, right? Condemning the racism of the BNP certainly, but quietly stealing their council housing policy in favour of "indigenous" people. And, in one breath embracing the free movement of people (at least within the EU) while taking up the need for immigration controls when it is politically expedient to do so.

Liberty and anti-racism are out then. How about the European Union? After all, the UK's existing de facto centre party, the Liberal Democrats, has quietly dumped its commitment to see the Leave vote through. Are hard centrists hard remainers? On the surface, it would seem so. But here you find a number of divisions. Some want, by hook and by crook, to reverse the referendum result. Yet there are others who would agree with them on practically everything else, but want to accept it. Right wing Labour of the John Spellar and, as he's topical, Ian Austin variety.

No, what characterises extreme centrism isn't a body of ideas but an understanding of what they are against. They don't like Jeremy Corbyn for sure, but were he to retire and the baton passed on to another leftwinger, let's say a Laura Pidcock or a Clive Lewis, the same shenanigans, bad behaviour, and sabotage would carry on. Because, it is, as ever, a matter of interest. They hate Corbyn and the left because of what it represents: an upwelling of angry, frustrated but politicising people. They may sneer at the sometimes unsophisticated way masses of people fresh to politics express themselves, but this is symptomatic of their hate. They hate because they fear. They know that among the 570k-strong membership, their writ doesn't extend very far, and so their politics increasingly assumes the character of a rearguard action. They cling to the privileges they have hitherto enjoyed and stymie every attempt to extend party democracy which, if you will recall, is vital to the party's future success.

In The Manifesto, Marx defined sectarianism as putting the interests of one's groupuscule before those of the class. In the case of Labour's extreme centrists, it's much worse. For those who have stirred the pot and have obsessively worked to undermine the leadership, and therefore the membership of the party, it's about career, position, status, and money. They want to go back to how it was before summer 2015 because they felt they were VIPs and people worth listening to. Not only does Corbynism have no time for their petty pretensions, the 2017 general election proved the wisdom of the members were more attuned to day-to-day political realities than the PLP's so-called professional understanding of such things. Not that the extreme centrists care. They would throw it all under a bus, they would rather leave behind them a damaged and tarnished party than see it succeed in the hands of the left. Their mantra of old, of any Labour government being better than any Tory government, no longer applies when they're not within a shout of high office, lounging about in ministerial cars, and devising Labour-in-name-only policies to kick working people in the teeth - as it did so many times under Blair and Brown.

Extreme centrism then is a symptom of the wider crisis of establishment politics in Britain. It can't get its act together in Northern Ireland to govern. It remains severely weakened by a nationalist insurgency in Scotland. The Tories are hopelessly, fatally split and their base is in long-term decline and, partly thanks to their own myopia, Labour's traditional loyalty to capital is in question. Extreme centrism is a structure of feeling or, to be more accurate, a mode of despair. It's an obsolete elite and their hangers on who are surplus to requirements. Unwanted where their traditional party is concerned, there is no political space for them to carry on independently from the party and movement that elevated them. Nor do they have a strategy to take back the party. This isn't just because they're "fucking useless", to borrow a phrase, but they have no troops to rally. As the balance continues to tilt away, their cries of anguish grow ever more shrill.

It would then be a kindness to put extreme centrism out of its misery. Thankfully, there are two means available for doing so. Returning all nine Momentum candidates for the NEC, as well as its slate for the National Policy Forum elections, and making sure you constituency delegates (and any affiliates) to party conference this year votes for mandatory reselection. With the way back definitively blocked, the extreme centrists will take their ball home. And, who knows, once they're outside they might find themselves much happier than they ever were in Labour.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Friday, 27 July 2018

Local Council By-Elections July 2018

This month saw 32,303 votes cast over 24 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Seven council seats changed hands in total. For comparison with June's results, see here.

Party
Number of Candidates
Total Vote
%
+/- 
June
+/- July 17
Average/
Contest
+/-
Seats
Conservative
           24
 11,706
    36.2%
 +9.8%
     +3.5%
    488
    -1
Labour
           20
 10,216
    31.6%
  -5.7%
      -5.9%
    511
    -1
LibDem
           18
  4,849
    15.0%
  -7.8%
      -0.7%
    269
   +1
UKIP
            6
    437
     1.4%
 +0.1%
     +0.6%
     73
    -1
Green
           10
    838
     2.6%
  -2.0%
     +1.4%
     84
     0
SNP
            0
   
   
 
     0
PC**
            1
   747
     2.3%
 +2.3%
     +2.3%
    747
     0
Ind***
           10
  2,275
     7.0%
 +1.0%
      -0.8%
    228
   +2
Other****
            7
  1,235
     3.8%
 +2.1%
      +3.5%
    176
     0

* There were no by-elections in Scotland
** There were two by-elections in Wales
*** This month saw three Independent clashes
**** Others this month consisted of Active for Plymouth (123), BNP (25), Democrats and Veterans (338), English Democrats (72), For Britain (63), Our West Lancashire (567), Yorkshire Party (47)

Another month passes into the annals of  local election history, and what does it tell us? Not a great deal. The Tories, despite their organisation falling to bits are still able to stretch every sinew to get candidates onto local polls. Labour, despite its membership advantage languishes behind - and yet manages to still beat the Tories on average votes. And the Liberal Democrats continue to significantly out perform their polling numbers.

Disappointingly for UKIP, the recent shot in the polling arm they've received thanks to the soft Brexit perception of Theresa May's Chequers Deal hasn't worked its way through yet. More interesting, however, is the recrudescence of the far right in the Others section. The BNP, English Democrats and For Britain have managed their usual tallies but the debut of the Democrats and Veterans is certainly a respectable vote for such a new outfit, reminding us there is a constituency for this sort of stuff even though UKIP remain severely weakened. A warning for the future, perhaps?


5th July
Bath and Northeast Somerset UA, Kingsmead LDem gain from Con
Lichfield DC, Curborough Lab gain from Con
Shropshire DC, Shifnal South and Cosford Con hold

12th July
Barnsley BC, Old Town Lab hold
City of London, Aldgate Ind hold
Darlington BC, Cockerton Lab hold
East Dorset DC, Verwood East Con hold
Elmbridge BC, Oxshott and Stoke d’Abernon Con hold
Hartlepool UA, Rural West Con hold
Lewes DC, Chailey & Wivelsfield Con hold
Norfolk CC, Yare & All Saints Con hold
Rutland UA, Oakham South West Ind gain from Con
Waveney DC, Pakefield Con gain from Lab
Waveney DC, Southwold & Reydon LDem gain from Con

19th July
Bury BC, Besses Lab hold
Carmarthanshire UA, Saron PC hold
Milton Keynes UA, Bletchley East Lab hold
Northamptonshire CC, St George Lab hold
Oxford UA, Headington LDem hold
West Lancashire CC, Hesketh with Becconsall Con hold

26th July
Merthyr Tydfil UA, Gurnos Ind gain from Lab
New Forest DC, Fawley, Blackfield & Langley Con hold
North East Lincolnshire UA, Freshney Lab hold
Plymouth UA, Stoke Lab hold
Thanet DC, Birchington South Con gain from UKIP
Torridge DC, Hartland & Bradworthy Con gain from LDem
West Lancashire BC, Knowsley Lab hold

Thursday, 26 July 2018

When BoJo Met Bannon

Cuddly old Boris Johnson cosying up to a literal white supremacist. The lack of outrage this has provoked in the press and broadcast media underlines, as if it needed underlining, just how Conservative Party politicians get to play politics on easy mode. Anyway, Buzzfeed report the two were texting whimsical tête-à-têtes to one another, as part of Bannon's master plan for a Far Right International. A FRI-corps, if you will. Bannon, believing himself to be something of a kingmaker brings his experience of the dark arts with him, as well as bags of cash. And he hopes to replicate across Europe what the Trump campaign succeeded in doing in 2016. Why then would Johnson want anything to do with this proto-fascist riff-raff?

To understand this, you have to know something a little about the culture at Westminster. I've never got the appeal myself, but many politicians on both sides of the House are confirmed Atlanticists. Not just in terms of preserving the special relationship, but a genuine enthusiasm for American politics. To them, the glamour of the White House and Capitol Hill is the LA Law of politics, while we in Britain are stuck with Rumpole of the Bailey. It's well known Labour politicians are enamoured of the Democrats, but over on the Conservative benches similar numbers are enthused by the Republicans. We won't talk about the times Jim Messina, associate of that nice Mr Obama, came over in 2015 and 2017 to work for the Tories - with his blessing. For aspiring, place-seeking politicians, being seen with or associated with the US president or senior US politicians is a way of quickly adding to your political capital.

Johnson is no more immune to this aura than any other. Spending time with the man who captured the White House no doubt flatters his ego. It is all about him, after all. Also, Bannon is the keeper of the magic secrets. Despite polling three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton and against the values drift toward social liberalism, he won. The situation the Tories face with a core support in long-term decline and cracks racing across the diminishing edifice certainly requires something of a genius if they're to carry on winning elections in the medium to long-term. Hobnobbing with Bannon is not without risk, of course. He was formerly close to Trump and wears the garb of unapologetic racism. Johnson has form for racism of his own, but he has also previously called for an amnesty for "illegals" and otherwise operates, most of the time, in the terms of official anti-racism. He must be banking on most people not being too fussed about the company he keeps or, for that matter, not knowing who Steve Bannon is. Ordinarily, he'd be right. But it's all grist to the high profile campaign Labour will run in his seat. And there's also the small matter of Uxbridge and South Ruslip being socially liberal and more ethnically diverse than your average Tory constituency. Wouldn't it be a shame if his dalliances with the far right bit him on the arse?

First and foremost, however, Johnson's buddying with Bannon sends a message to his own party. To the right wingers flirting with Jacob Rees-Mogg or some other foul shade from the back benches, this is Johnson nudge-nudging and wink-winking that he can't be as liberal and Cameroony as all that if Bannon's hanging out with him. It shows them he's serious and prepared to go where fainter hearts with a smidgen more principle fear to tread. Above all, it's a warning to May. He might be out of the cabinet (though not his grace and favour home), and he didn't use his resignation speech to twist the knife, but it's about putting her on notice, of unsettling her and just saying he's serious with serious people behind him. None of this guarantees Johnson would even get on the Tory leadership ballot paper, so numerous now are his enemies, but in the dysfunctional and demented world of Tory faction fighting a touch of Bannon's dark glamour won't hurt him for now.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Foucault on Socialist Governmentality

With communism making Elle and Teen Vogue thanks to Ash Sarkar, and a fun chat between her and Owen Jones on communism "vs" socialism, here's something of what Michel Foucault had to say about socialism and stuff.
I do not think there is an autonomous socialist governmentality. There is no governmental rationality of socialism. In actual fact, and history has shown this, socialism can only be implemented connected up to diverse types of governmentality. It has been conneced up to liberal governmentality, and then socialism and its forms of rationality function as counterweights, as a corrective, and a palliative to internal dangers ... We have seen it function, and still see it function, within governmentalities that would no doubt fall more under what last year we called the police state, that is to say, a hyper-administrative state in which there is, so to speak, a fusion, a continuity, the constitution of a massive block between governmentality and administration.
The Birth of Biopolitics 2008, pp 92-3.

Monday, 23 July 2018

The No-Deal Catastrophe

Looted shops. Burning buildings. Pitched battles with the police. No, not memories of the 2011 London riots but chilling images evoked by Amazon's contingency planning unit in the event of a no-deal Brexit, if reports are to be believed. The American tax-dodging, union-denying, worker-crushing behemoth does, after all, have an interest to declare. In the event of major disorder, an Amazon distribution centre might prove a tempting target for distribution of another kind. Though, to be fair and in their own terms, they're just being sensible. Because a no deal Brexit is increasingly likely.

Well, yes, you can expect me to say this. After all, the analyses made here don't provide cosy take homes. Especially when Theresa May's position, now modded by the tax haven mavens of the European Research Group, is incoherent and unlikely to fly in Brussels. But if I'm too biased a source for you, how about we listen to the new Foreign Secretary instead? Pathetically heaping blame on EU negotiators, Jeremy Hunt claims we face the very possibility of no deal "by accident". Yes, Jeremy. It was the EU's fault it took two years for your government to come up with a negotiating position. It is the EU's fault that Theresa May decided to trigger the process for leaving the EU without anything apart from a soundbite to rely on. And it was the EU's fault that the Tory majority she had, which wasn't ideal but better than what May has to deal with now, was pissed away by a hubristic general election she didn't have to call.

Nevertheless, Jacob Rees-Mogg has dismissed Amazon's concerns. They're absurd, he says. Who's right? Well, they're not as fanciful as Mogg supposes. Market economies might appear to be forces of nature, but they're not. Markets are the products of purposeful social activity by human beings and their machines much like any other field of social action. More than just transactional relations, the movement of commodities across a national territory, let alone a supranational entity like the EU, rests upon a legal infrastructure as essential to mature capitalist economies as physical infrastructure. What Mogg, the ERG, and the stupidity of the Prime Minister and her "team" are doing is seeding this infrastructure with demolition charges. At 11pm on 29th March next year, unless there is a deal in the offing so the UK can immediately transition to the, well, transition period, that legal infrastructure will be blown sky high. Protocols covering common standards, tariffs, contracts, the agreements that keep planes flying into and out of the UK, the boats, the ferries, the cars and passengers trundling off the Eurostar, the goods coming into and flowing out of the country, no deal means no deal for all of this. The bombs placed by the Tories in the legal infrastructure will go off and take years to rebuild and replace with new trade deals. The UK will be damaged just as assuredly as blowing up its ports, uprooting the rail network, and dynamiting the roads.

Asked about this on Andrew Marr, the new Brexit secretary Dominic Raab said the government had plans for all eventualities. Hardly reassuring noises. With a no deal scenario, trade can proceed but will be liable for hefty tariffs. Forget the fantastical gibbering of the hard Brexiteers, trade on WTO rules means the destruction of UK supply chains built up across the EU. And what goes up with them is the remainder of the UK's manufacturing base. And there is also the small matter of the UK's food supply. For well over a century these islands have been unable to feed itself, and so the sudden imposition of tariffs means rising prices - assuming they can get off at the ports in the first place.

This might not come to pass. Everyone except for the most degenerate of Brexiteers hopes it does not happen. But if, because of Brexit, we are facing food shortages. If the UK economy grinds to a halt. If the hard border returns to Ireland. If Britain's service industry, some 80% of its economy, cannot trade with the EU and the rest of the world on current terms, if the crisis in the Tory party ends up inflicting serious damage to living standards, forces rationing of any sort, and drives an exponential explosion of unemployment, it's just possible the contingency planning Amazon are undertaking might be very modest indeed.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Should Labour Worry about UKIP?

Told you Theresa May's incoherent Brexit position would start peeling away constituents of the Tories' present electoral coalition, and so Labour has opened leads varying around the five and six per cents while UKIP have gone from the doldrums to the seven per cent mark, threatening the LibDems their recently re-won position as the UK's (long distance) third party. An occasion to celebrate then?

According to Stephen Bush, one of the few mainstream writers worth reading, there are people in the upper echelons of Labour who see a UKIP comeback as a good thing. Just look at the polls. For Stephen this is a complacent mistake because the kippers are now further to the right than under the Walter Mitty leadership of Paul Nuttall. He notes also that Labour are going to be lumbered with Brexit should it win the next general election, which might mean frustrating Leave hopes further, and lastly the view - oft attributed to the team around Ed Miliband back in the day - of leaving UKIP to its own devices met its Waterloo at the 2015 general election, where it apparently did as much damage to Labour as the Tories. Sensible caveats to be sure, and ones worth thinking about in more depth.

That UKIP have taken a lurch to the right is undeniable. Their current leader Gerard Batten, a 13-year veteran of the Brussels gravy train, has likened the EU to the Nazis' plans for occupied Europe, attended and spoke at the free "Tommy" rally in London earlier this month, and has made comments on Islam that, to all intents and purposes, are no different to the sort of remarks Nick Griffin made in the BNP's heyday. A revival of UKIP, coming at a time when YouGov for the Sunday Times suggests up to a quarter of the electorate are prepared to give a hypothetical anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim party a punt is sobering. A rebooted UKIP would give more power to the elbow of this most disgusting of politics, and the British political scene become an even deeper, stinking cesspit of racism, conspiracy mongering and abject idiocy.

Yet, is this really news? According to research done last year, about a quarter of people admitted to being racially prejudiced in some way (for what it's worth, a fifth of remain voters and a third of leave voters so categorised themselves). At its peak UKIP was regularly reaching the low 20s in opinion polling, and in 2014 it got 26.6% of the European poll. We know there is a large minority constituency who, at least, are prepared to lend them protest votes. However, while this appears threatening the same sort of declinism afflicting the Tories applies here too. Middle-aged to elderly white male retirees are their core constituency, and this cohort formed in the golden years of the post-war boom, with its unreconstructed chauvinism, post-imperial nostalgia, and a working life totally out-of-step with employment today means their life experiences, which informed UKIP's support are slowly but steadily vanishing from the scene. And though we should always be vigilant and challenge it wherever it shows its face, not least because of the fear and violence their racism encourages, it is very likely we have seen the high tide of this sort of politics.

Why? We have to think about the old politics, which is sometimes difficult to remember now the polarising politics that emerged as the outcome of the 2017 general election is the new normal. Remember, between 2009 and 2015, and particularly over the course of 2013, UKIP transformed itself into a catch-all protest party. A good chunk of Tory voters (and members) didn't like Dave's socially liberal Toryism, and the none-of-the-aboves could not lend the Liberal Democrats their votes because, well, they had become one of the aboves. Meanwhile, Ed Miliband's Labour was an opposition frightened of its own shadow. When Ed was strong, like taking on the Murdoch press and raising inequalities-related issues, he was always held back by the continuity-Blairists for whom any mention of social justice, let alone socialism, were perceived as electoral bromides. Politics people of all parties were inured to hearing "you're all the same" on the doorstep, and that's because all the main parties appeared to be the same from a distance. London-centric soundbitey talkers with policy obsessions removed from the concerns of everyday folk, a competition that looked and sounded like a contest between rival sets of personnel managers, is it any wonder people turned off from politics completely, or registered an anti-establishment protest with something that appeared to break the mould? That time, however, is now past. In England and Wales Labour is an insurgent party, and one that was able to win back a portion of the UKIP vote on the basis of bringing socialism back to the mainstream - and accepting the referendum result. The LibDems are slowly rebuilding their protest party cache as well, but are only really making headway in terms of council by-elections. And with the centrist establishment marginalised in Labour, and consumed with internal warfare in the Tories, that object, the liberal elite, is no longer a political factor in the same way it once was, and that hampers UKIP's crossover appeal.

There are two other difficulties as well. UKIP was inseparable from Nigel Farage, and thanks to his cosy gig on LBC interviewing the likes of Steve Bannon, he is yet to return to the political fray - despite loud hints indicating he may do so. You don't have to like Farage to understand why some find him appealing, and no doubt UKIP will, under present circumstances, be more viable should he assume leadership. The problem is while building a profile as a truth-teller, as someone who will say the unsayble, he never ventured into outright, explicit racism. He was always sure to stay just about within the envelope of official anti-racism. Room here for dog whistles, yes, but not endorsing the EDL or associating with the Yaxley-Lennonites. How comfortable Farage would be leading this shower, knowing it could harm his future bankability as a pundit, has to be giving him pause for thought. After all, he too knows the costs of frontline politics, how exhausting it is, and how the ultimate prize - a seat at Westminster - will likely still elude him. In the meantime, what people say in a poll and what they're prepared to do is quite another. Publicly singing the praises of the new, far right leaning UKIP is not without social cost and it can blunt their appeal, something Farage well understood. A few disorderly EDL/Free Tommy mobilisations might also do for UKIP if there is a perception of a relationship between the two established in the popular imagination, something Batten has done nothing to curtail. This can put off the softer racist/chauvinist vote, and also put them at arms' length to Labour voters too.

But what if there is another UKIP tide due to come in? If UKIP's better days are in front of it and not behind, how might they come about? As Stephen points out, any Labour government having to deal with the Brexit mess - say Labour gets in in 2022 - will be tarred with the same failing brush swishing about the Tories. As already noted, the Brexit dynamic plays out differently among Labour's voter coalition as opposed to the Tories. Whereas it's an ideological glue sticking the latter together, for our party's support it is not the same sort of deal breaker, precisely because Labour has accepted the referendum result. Labour leavers have come home in large numbers from their flirtations with UKIP, and everyone is expecting a Corbyn government to go hard on changing the rules of the rigged game. Here, it's not so much capitulations to the EU that is the worry (in fact, as I've previously speculated, they might prove to be an occasion for rallying support), but rather the implementation of policies that attack the party's own base. This is why Labour's democratisation is so important, so we have a relationship where its constituency dictate terms to it rather than it dictating terms to us. We've seen what's happened with SYRIZA in Greece, hemmed in and hamstrung by the EU, and so the party has suffered. And we know how centre left parties have caved in across Western Europe. This is the danger, the ever-present danger that menaces Labour. Could some of this disaffection lock in behind UKIP or some other hard right force? Possibly, but we have to be prepared for what might happen to the Tories and whether they reinvent themselves on a similar, right-populist ground, precipitating a split with the centre right, or on more centrist terms, precipitating a split with the swivel-eyed brigade.

Predicting politics is a tricky business, especially as it's difficult to read the balance of forces down the road. Provided Labour can hold most of its coalition together, Tory splintering continues apace and Brexit well and truly stuffs them, the probability of UKIP doing well more or less lies outside of its gift. Labour should not be afraid of talking the language of class. It should also think about the kinds of circumstances that point voters toward UKIP (and, for that matter, all our opponents and enemies), and work toward policies that speak to their anxieties without pandering to prejudice. Overcoming UKIP or some kind of successor organisation will always be a challenge, but it never has to be an existential threat - unless we let it become one.