Thursday, 3 December 2020

What is Rentier Capitalism?

Fancy peering into the decrepitude of British capitalism? This is the subject of the new book from Brett Christophers, and lucky for us (and me, who's having a night off writing) he spoke to Alex about rent-seeking, financialisation, and how it is responsible for the stark inequalities thrown up by the system. Give it a listen!



As always, please check out the Politics Theory Other archive and help build new left media by putting pounds in Alex's coffers.

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Wednesday, 2 December 2020

The Whys and Wherefores of Keith

Where would the internet be without people who have too much time on their hands? Probably a better tempered place, truth be told. This blog wouldn't exist for one. And neither would this meditation on why the left likes to call Keir Starmer Keith (or, to flaunt one's subcultural capital, Kieth). I'm at a loss to explain why The Social Review decided to go with an overlong disquisition on a daft nickname, but with as this blog has a reputation for indulging political ephemera something would be amiss if even a short comment wasn't passed.

The article itself? Well. Our author Morgan Jones asks a few of his mates about the name Keith, decides it's chronically unfashionable and middle-aged. A bit try-hard shading into a mid-life crisis of divorce mobiles and fake Tinder profiles. Twitter-traveling leftists deploying the monicker are therefore suggesting there's something fake and forced about the Labour leader. What a shocking suggestion. Surely Keir didn't have fibs in his heart when he promised nice Corbynish things with added unity? The point isn't laboured, or for that matter much considered. Instead, moving through Morgan's text messages and FaceTime chats, a rummage through obscure ONS stats usually the preserve of pub quiz masters and Daily Mail features writers, we are not presented any explanation for this vile, bullying behaviour. Not even the obvious answer: it annoys some people.

O]In my opinion, one cannot wind up the self-important pricks on the party's right wing enough. And this is what, forgive me, "Keithism" is about. Yes, it's an in-term with meta-signification picked up and noted by the cognoscenti, but it's not some bullshit Twitter tribe warpaint. It's hardly essential. The 2020 Twitter left already has a collective identity founded on common experience: two hard fought general elections and five years of open warfare with people who should, yes, go off and join the Tories. It's a joke to needle the pomposity of those with little to be pompous about.

Now the Labour right have re-won some of their former power, the hypocrisies long-time members have heard for decades (unite behind the leader, shut up and don't embarrass the party, don't criticise hardworking councillors/MPs in public) are echoing around CLP Zoom calls as if 2015-2019 didn't happen, and more than a few are hoping to reset the old chummery and the repugnant cultures of deference. These people, who a Twitter wag described to me as "temporarily embarrassed right-wing Labour MPs", joined politics to be big I ams. And as we know, regardless of the size of the pond someone will always strive to be the biggest fish. They stand to gain the most from another round of suspensions and expulsions, and lose out if the leadership's ineptitude over shenanigans prevents it from happening. Still, their best hope for advancement is clinging to the leadership's coattails and making their lips sore from kissing as many behinds as possible (funny how these sorts of people never get a seat, despite services rendered).

Deary me, this is proving as ponderous as Morgan's screed. Time to wrap it up. Keith is just a name used to take the piss out of Keir Starmer. It has the happy byproduct of annoying the above, the very worst people in the labour movement who've jumped on his bandwagon. And because it does wind them up, the left are not about to stop doing it. More than this, Keith, Kieth, Keef, Keith Stalin, and the rest are good in and of themselves. The Labour Party needs a heavy dose of irreverence, especially now it's led by an empty suit with an authoritarian mindset who takes his job to be representing the state interest over and above that of working people. If Keithism helps that along, fine. And if it doesn't, also fine.

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Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Klaus Schwab's The Fourth Industrial Revolution

Opening his book, Klaus Schwab writes "Of the many drivers and fascinating challenges we face today, the most intense and important is how to understand and shape the new technology revolution which entails nothing less than a transformation of humankind. We are at the beginning of a revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work, and related to on another. In its scae, scope, and complexity, what I consider to be the fourth industrial revolution is inlike anything humankind has experienced before." (p.1) Puffy writing to provide zest for a work of futurism, or the stuff of a monstrous conspiracy bent on building a new class of microchipped worker drones? Sorry to be boring about this, but what Schwab is writing about is no more sinister than Bill Gates's The Road Ahead. Some sections of the capitalist class and their in-house wonks like to muse about the future. Deal with it.

What then is this "fourth wave" exciting the bourgeois imagination, and stoking the fires of conspiranoia? They are the new wave of automotive and robotic technologies, the ways of doing things enabled by artificial intelligence and machine learning, the new communicative possibilities opened by the proliferation of social media and, crucially, the potential productivity gains marrying all these together have and (subtext) the boost to profits this entails. The drivers of the new wave of innovation share digitisation in common, but are clustered in three interrelated areas of new technologies: the physical, such as self-driving vehicles, 3D printing, and the emergence (and application) of new materials like graphene and carbon nanotubes; the digital (internet of things, crypto-currencies, on-demand supply and retail); and the biological (gene sequencing, editing, and therapy, precision medicines, organic 3D printing, synthetic biology, neurotechnologies). The only thing holding back these developments, Schwab breathlessly writes, is the (paradoxically) conservative character of innovation cultures. He singles out the tying of innovation to academic career incentives, and the competition among tech firms to poach staff from labs, a zero sum game that closes off the win-win possibility for collaboration. To tackle this he suggests more public/private partnerships under the direction of state led research programmes - something, interestingly, the recently departed Dominic Cummings was quite enthusiastic about.

However, unlike the utopian tone struck by most futurists Schwab notes the disruptive character of these technologies. On the one hand, communicative technologies and 3D printing contain empowering possibilities. The downside for capitalism is deflation. New waves of automation are bound to eat into wage scales, but simultaneously drives the costs of goods down, making consumption cheaper and, at least in theory, less resource intensive and sustainable. Furthermore, Schwab notes productivity, understood here as the rate of economic growth, has shrunk over the last 50 years. Taking the United States as the most developed of developed nations, between 1947 and 1983 annual growth averaged at 2.8%. 2000-07 it had fallen to 2.6%, and between 2007 and 2014 1.3%. If the fourth wave is here, it's not making itself felt according to the traditional measures. Even worse, the impacts of fourth wave technologies is not creating jobs in sufficient numbers to replace those lost/rendered obsolete. With 47% of US jobs at risk of automation, in 2016 only 0.5% of Americans were employed in jobs that did not exist in 2000. Globally, new technologies allow for developed countries to reshore work with new automative processes, but work does not necessarily mean job recreation on a massive scale - this also means the closure of one developmental path taken by countries of the global south, the consequence of which could be economic depression as a key driver of migration patterns. If anything, the fourth wave is a job killer.

The fourth wave also presents states a challenge. The growth and importance of networks for capital accumulation are simultaneously strands of social relationships that can instantiate new communities of interest and generate rival (or dispersed) centres of power. The pace of change also presents democratic checks and scrutiny a challenge - how might a parliament legislate and regulate with development proceeding at rapid velocities? Schwab suggests 'agile' government could meet this challenge, which involves new compacts between the state, business, and our friend 'civil society' to generate dispersed governance. It sounds like Schwab read Hardt and Negri's description of the dispersed state in Empire but rather than finding something repulsive, instead he discovered a model. However, dispersed management can sit quite well with a more authoritarian state.

There's a bit more in the book about the dangers of the network, particularly fake news and the visibilising of disconnects between publics and the politicians (and others) who mske decisions on their behalf. Schwab also forecasts new inequalities of an ontological character between those adapting to the new way of the world and those who might resist them, exacerbated by existing generational divides. How to avoid the downsides? As you might expect from the head of the World Economic Forum, the suggestions are woolly and only realy suitable for management seminars on, um, the fourth industrial revolution. We must avoid "compartmentalised thinking" and think collaboration and ecosystem! Okay. Second, more positive thinking is needed, including the elaboration of a new set of ethics to guide development in the new age. And lastly, the world has to restructure its economies to make the most of the benefits the fourth wave bring, but rather than IMF-style "structural adjustments" this should be a dialogic, democratic process - something, interestingly enough, conspiracy theoroid commentary on Schwab's work tends to neglect.

Does this sound like an exciting book to you? Probably not. Especially when similar material has been covered in a more satisfying and sophisticated manner by leftist authors. Schwab's book, of course, isn't meant to be a treatise: it was written as a quick bourgie guide to the 21st century for busy executives on the go, and so perhaps might be forgiven a little bit for being economic with the structural actualité. The truth of the matter is while all these technologies are being developed, there is little profitable use (yet) for them. What's the point in splashing out on fancy software or new automative systems with significant upfront costs during an economic depression in which millions of people are out of work? Labour, and relatively cheap labour is in plentiful supply right across the developed nations. Shutting them out of employment without an appreciable bump in profits above the average profit rate, and with the outlay means the "revolution" at work is delayed and is rolled out around the edges. For instance, the homeworking enabled by Zoom, Teams, and the like doesn't change much, despite the boosterism of the hypesters.

Yet a revolution delayed is not necessarily a revolution thwarted. As Ernest Mandel notes in Late Capitalism, previous waves of technological innovation that deliver surplus profits, at least initially before a new equilibria around a reset average rate of profit, can take decades to unfold before stagnation sets in. We have economic stagnation already, the introduction of new technologies has led to new monopolies (hello Facebook, Amazon), but as yet no system-wide surge in productivity - something Coronavirus and its consequences are likely to retard further as the incentives aren't present or rewarding enough for properly teching up. Perhaps this is something Schwab addresses in his most recent book on the, ahem, Great Reset after the pandemic. Meanwhile, our job isn't a passive one. Technologies are not neutral, they are always stamped by the societies that make them. As capitalist dynamics are pregnant with authoritarian and liberatory possibilities, so its technologies tend to be so too. We have to push public understanding about cutting edge developments, intervene vigorously in debates about the uses (and abuses) of science, and make the case that the full exploration and flowering of these potentials are only possible in a society in which human beings are valued and free. Perhaps the fourth industrial revolution needs the company of a revolution of an allied, but different character for the good life it offers to be fully realised.

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Five Most Popular Posts in November

Another month, another bumper month of politics nonsense and other stuff. But who, what did the business as far as the viewing public of this here blog were concerned? Let's have a look.

1. Saying the Quiet Part Out Loud
2. Losing Long-Time Labour Members
3. Why I've Left the Labour Party
4. What is the Great Reset?
5. Jeremy Corbyn's Ridiculous Suspension

The best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour, and the wisdom of this insight meant a plethora of Labour posts about Labour stuff would attract the numbers. The five-week long crisis instigated at Keir Starmer's behest by the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn rumbles on and on, causing unnecessary damage to the party and sparking off further rounds of bilious warfare. I'm sure you don't need me to say any more about this for the moment as the four posts in the top five on this very topic speak about it at length. Check them out if you haven't gone there yet! As for the odd one out, my quick survey of the ludicrous Great Reset conspiracy attracted a fair bit of attention. But, unfortunately, not quite as much as the "leftist" peddler of this poisonous, mind-numbing nonsense. Still, if one has to follow 46,000 people to amass an audience opportunities for making a name otherwise must be scant.

Which post should have done better last month? I'm afraid more critical Keir studies are in order. This piece on the Labour leader's strategy of keeping mum about the tens of thousands of dead people locates it at the heart of his political project. Keir Starmer isn't in parliament to represent the people, he's there to stick up for the state. Everything else, including his "effective opposition" of abstaining makes sense if you read his actions through this dreary, authoritarian frame.

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Monday, 30 November 2020

No Holding Back

There's been a flurry of new left media activity of late, and one of the most interesting projects is promoted by Laura Smith, Ian Lavery, and Jon Trickett. Having conducted their own inquiry into last year's general election result, their report should be read alongisde the more heavily trailed affair from Labour Together (indeed, I'll be writing about it when time grants). In the mean time, you can listen to the first podcast below discussing the conclusions of the report and where we go from here.

Sunday, 29 November 2020

Saying the Quiet Part Out Loud

Sunday's meeting of the Jewish Labour Movement was interesting. In the first half of the day, Angela Rayner brewed up a storm on social media. She said "thousands and thousands" should be suspended from the Labour Party if they don't "get real" about antisemitism. What this means is anyone's guess, especially when the Deputy Leader herself went on to Newsnight a couple of weeks back and said Jeremy Corbyn's comments about the political uses of antisemitism were true, but that he shouldn't have said them. Or perhaps we're looking at something a bit more blanketing. As readers know, the ban on constituency parties taking business about this case has been justified by the General Secretary as an anti-antisemitism measure, of protecting Jewish members because some might find discussion of disciplinary processes uncomfortable. This absurdity has given Angela Rayner and Keir Starmer free reign to frame this issue and talk it over with non-Labour JLM conference attendees like Joan Ryan and Mike Gapes, but not a privilege afforded to the people who pay the wages of the party machine and have worked to give Angela and Keir the offices they enjoy.

In the law laid down to constituency officers, the recommendations of the EHRC report itself are ruled not competent business. To even suggest an independent complaints process might not be a good idea is, according to the mood music coming from the top, evidence of not "getting real". A mite embarrassing when, in his contribution to the JLM conference, Peter Mandelson himself criticised the report's recommendation for an independent complaints process. To quote LabourList's Sienna Rodgers, she reports "I’m worried about one thing. That is this recommended approach by the EHRC of an independent process." He says the NEC should "take ownership" of process and "an independent process can’t do that." Unfortunate, but unlikely he'll receive a gentle phone call from the dear leader about what the line is.

Mandelson is right to be concerned. The introduction of an independent process is a thin end of a wedge. But first a bit of history. Throughout the labour movement's existence, the party and the unions have been wary of court intervention into their affairs. In more recent times the 1980s and 1990s saw legally enforced assaults on workers' organisations, with stringent rules applied to the regulation of labour and what unions can and can't do. These weren't about "cleaning up" the unions (still some way to go), though they did have the knock-on effect of ensuring union money moving into politics was the most tightly scrutinised and therefore the cleanest money there is. No, these measures were about tying unions up to make them less effective in disputes. If the efficacy isn't present, what's the point? Sustained membership decline over decades was partly thanks to the legalistic chains thrown around our organising capacity.

This suspicion toward the uses of the law goes back to the very founding of the labour movement, how early organisers were harassed, arrested, imprisoned, and transported has left a cultural legacy of institutional independence, of our movement's mindedness to sort its own affairs and generate its own forms of sovereignty, up to and including dispute resolution. This attitude persists on the left, considering its fidelity to a broad understanding of class and class power. And it has persisted on the right because it confers them a free hand. If they control the leadership body of the organisation they're ensconced in, they are, effectively, the law within that institutional space. For different reasons, left and right have a common interest in keeping the movement's governance structures independent of outside oversight.

This mutual understanding came undone early in the Corbyn years. In July 2016 following the parliamentary party's first rebellion against the membership, former party candidate Michael Foster took Labour to court against the NEC's decision to allow Jeremy Corbyn to defend his leadership without having to go through the PLP nomination process. His argument relied on uncertain words in the rule book, which the NEC subsequently clarified in its ruling giving a Corbyn defence the green light. The challenge was always going to be a hiding to nothing, and his legal counsel duly relieved him of thousands of pounds for a no-hope case. But the taboo was broken. Subsequently a group of members took legal action against the party for the rules the NEC placed on voting members and the suppoerter category for the second leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith - their initial success was overturned at the Court of Appeal and the NEC's decision upheld. In both cases the NEC acted within the competencies conferred upon it by the rule book, nor had acted unlawfully and so its decisions stood. Yet one thing that went virtually unnoticed at the time was the activity of our friend Tom Watson. While most of the PLP were hoping and praying for Foster's success, the then Deputy Leader publicly opposed court action. He defended the principle of party sovereignty and autonomy. You see, he understood how central this was to any future consolidation of power by the Labour right.

Fast forward to the last couple of years, the demand for an "independent" complaints process shows how little the current Labour right understand themselves and the conditions most conducive to their factional operation. During the 1980s, the right's hold on the NEC and party machinery, and not forgetting the crucial institutional backing of the trade union apparat, meant hundreds of leftists - mostly, but not entirely Militant supporters - were slung out the party without any pretence to even-handedness or natural justice. It's all there, lovingly documented in John Golding's The Hammer of the Left. In 2020, the right's power is not what it was. Major unions are not in their pockets, and if Unison elects a left candidate for Genereal Secretary they won't be able to rely on them either. A substantial proportion of the membership are rebellious, but, crucially, the right have boxed themselves into a corner. Angela Rayner might talk tough to the rightwingers who fill out the JLM's membership, but under existing arrangements she has no formal power to expel anyone. And both she and Keir Starmer are now compelled by the EHRC - and their own repeated promises - to hand that power away.

Why does this matter? One should not be naive about "independent processes", their character, and their political content, but it does introduce a new dynamic into proceedings. The expulsion demands Labour MPs have raised over the years are already, according to the EHRC, a politicisation of the complaints process and therefore unwelcome. By instituting an outside semi-judicial body, this can no longer happen. Second, as a formally independent body it will adjudicate on the basis of party rules but will necessarily draw on wider legislation on racism, harassment, and discriminatory practice when determing the outcomes of complaints. It will also be expected to operate on the basis of natural justice, otherwise its decisions are even more open to legal challenge by "defendants". And, crucially, the independent panel is not subordinate to Labour's NEC. This is where the problems lie for the Labour right. Mandelson fears such a process because it introduces the rule of law into the party. Frame ups become harder to manage if hard evidence is required. Getting rid of inconvenients and annoyances is tougher if one can't cook the panel beforehand. And where does it stop? Are the party's hideous working practices under threat? And what about the pervasive stitch up culture when it comes to candidate selections?

This is why Mandelson is worried. Not out of any principled reason. He broke ranks with the party's establishment because he knows what the score is. He was there in the 1980s and understands where the power bases of the right are, and how it should be exercised. Therefore to see his epigoni, whose formative years were not conditioned by a struggle with the left, forget all the lessons he learned by willingly giving away a lynchpin of their institutional power must be mind-boggling and infuriating. It repesents an unnecessary weakening of their capacity to run the party as they see fit, and it must gall to see them not just welcoming it, but arguing for it. It's too late to backtrack now. Wouldn't it be funny if the consequence of anti-Corbyn agitation turns out to be a new set up making shadowy, secretive, factional politics that much more difficult?

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Saturday, 28 November 2020

Losing Long-Time Labour Members

What a terrible week for Labour. The general secretary's heavy handed approach to Jeremy Corbyn's suspension from the PLP is nothing sort of disastrous, having adopted an approach almost goading the left into rebelling. The only saving grace is amid the solidarity motions passed in defiance of David Evans's orders, and the two CLPs supporting no confidence motions against him and Keir Starmer is how, curiously, the media are keeping well away. Between the summer of 2015 and the winter of last year, any obscure Labour councillor making the mildest of criticisms became major talking points on Newsnight, Peston, and the opinion columnists. Now? Not so much. A salutory lesson that it's not only the Tories who play politics on easy mode. For some comrades, the rising tide of rebellion in the party's ranks are a good reason why those toying with leaving should stay. For them who have left, the clunking shenanigans underline why they feel better off out.

Take my comrade and friend Scott Newton as an example. When he told me he was leaving Labour after 45 years of membership, I was saddened but not surprised. With a decline of 57,000 members since April, and repeated cack-handed moves and petty authoritarianism Scott was in the company of many. Yet there is an itch that needs scratching here. "Starmerism" and its direction of travel are becoming clear, such as a retreat from party policy and a reassertion of top-down managerialism. But the leader, his office, and his loyal support (yes, Starmer stans are a thing) are not the only agents active in Labour. Despite losses the left is larger inside the party than has been the case for decades. Socialist ideas rattle their chains in the night terrors visited upon bourgeois and Tory MP alike, and even Keir himself is, if we're honest, not a Blairite. Why, despite the strength of the left are some comrades jacking the Labour Party in? Especially when, like Scott, they managed the bleak 16-year stretch of Blair-Brownism?

Going back to an earlier discussion about conditional and transactional politics, the eruption of Corbyism and transformation of the Labour Party from a bureaucratised mess of petty tyrannies, mutual backscratching, get orf my land parochialism, and careerist networking into a battleground of political struggle changed the relationship many pre-2015 members had with the party. Think about the long slog of the Labour left from the 1980s onwards. It diminished under the impact of labour movement defeats and labour movement decline, and suffered internal defeats in the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock. And yet, there was still a case for hanging on. The party, warts and all, was still the party of the labour movement. Even after the ascension of Blair and his twin tracked travel to control freakery and marketisation of anything that moved, the institutional links and the interchange of personnel between the party and the wider movement were present, worth preserving, and convinced some that sticking around was better than the alternative. During this period, there was something of a tacit promise and one often echoed at constituency and branch meetings. We need unity to defeat the Tories. Disunited parties lose elections. Any Labour government is better than any Tory government. That, and the prospect New Labour and its dogmas would not last forever kept the fires burning.

The election of Ed Miliband in 2010 was the first sign this perspective was correct. Expecting to walk the leadership contest, continuity Blairism was surprisingly defeated and in came a hesitant politics half-way between accepting the Tory parameters of the so-called "national emergency" and a washed out embrace of soft left positioning. It was a political improvement on what Gordon Brown was offering in his swansong manifesto, and differed significantly to Dave and Osborne's programme, but it was weak sauce and ultimately satisfied nobody. Despite the odd grumble from would-be courtiers to the red prince denied, Labour remained largely united. And then came the 2015 leadership contest and Jeremy Corbyn. Like a rocket from a crypt, a new mass left took up residence in Labour and he was catapulted to the top of the party, upending every facet of political commonsense and acheiving an outcome most leftwingers either thought improbable, or only possible after a long period of attritional struggle. It might not have been anticipated, but the win confirmed the decades of trudging to CLP meetings was the right course. And then the disillusionment.

No one was prepared for the demonisation of Jeremy Corbyn and the concerted effort to delegitimise the left as a whole. For four years, the Labour right failed to spend a single day not thinking about how to undermine the leadership and the hundreds of thousands who charged into the party. You saw what happened, and no rewrites are going erase the active scabbing the parliamentary party, in the main, and their satraps and running dogs undertook. No trick was too low, no lie too outrageous. The right belittled, attacked, and thwarted the left with an energy and ruthlessness they never show the Tories. Worse, for comrades who had been in the party a long time, everything the right had said in the decades previously to keep the leafleters leafleting and the canvassers canvassing was shown to be a lie. The moment of reciprocation came, and virtually without exception they made it clear the only unity with the left they were interested in was of the electoral graveyard. Five more years of the Tories with everything this has meant is the price worth paying for restoring their pre-eminence in the party. After all, they won't have to do the coughing up.

Now Keir Starmer is the leader, it's almost like the past five years haven't happened. He won the contest by marketing himself as the unity candidate and wanting to put an end to internal strife. But true to Starmerism's style, this was conceived narrowly as not reckoning with the recent past - how Keir's parliamentary colleagues actively sabotaged his predecessor - and treating what is a political problem as a managerial issue. Meanwhile, the Labour right parade themselves again as the guarantors of electability and the same old shit from ages past, unite behind the leader, division helps the Tories, has been scooped up from yeterday's chip papers and warmed up with the considerable cynicism they can muster. Brass neck? There is no organisation as Foucauldian as the Labour Party, where at all times the truth is a mere effect of power. This might ne tolerable if the direction of policy was okay, but it's not. The trajectory evades the Corbyn-lite hopes with an empty suit at the front, but instead harks back to the watery gruel of 2015 that did such a good job of electrifying voters and mobilising Labour's new base.

Hence some comrades have had enough. The right broke the compact central to the party, have got away with it, and now demanding the left abide by it as a matter of course. No one does chutzpah like these jokers. To get one's perspectives, for having a raison d'etre confirmed and then cruelly defeated by those ostensibly on the same side, is it any wonder tens of thousands have found this too hard to stomach? Want to plug away for a few more decades for another shot where the same could happen again? Not the most edifying of prospects when energy might be put more usefully into other things.

This is not my view. If comrades can afford it, nothing is stopping them from doing other things while passively supporting those who remain active, but ultimately it's up to them. The big problem we have is we don't have decades to dutifully spend Thursday and Friday evenings shuffling back and forth to branch and CLP meetings. Right now the double whammy of the health and economic emergency is on us, and by the time they recede into nostalgic whimsies for the year we spent at home (if you're privileged and secure enough), climate change presents itself both as a problem to be addressed and a series of escalating disasters to be mitigated. Against what's coming, can anyone be blamed for refusing to stick with the politics of pissing around?

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Friday, 27 November 2020

Local Council By-Elections November 2020

And now for the last set of council by-elections until next May. This month saw 21,679 votes cast over five local authority contests in Scotland only. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. One council seat changed hands. For comparison with October's results, see here.

Party
Number of Candidates
Total Vote
%
+/- 
Oct
+/- Nov 19
Avge/
Contest
+/-
Seats
Conservative
            5
 5,581
    25.7%
   -3.9
     -5.2
  1,116
     0
Labour
            5
 2,253
    10.4%
  +5.5
     -2.7
    451
     0
LibDem
            5
 2,742
    12.6%
  +5.4
     -6.1
    548
    +1
Green
            5
 1,577
     7.3%
  +5.3
    +0.3
    315
     0
SNP
            5
 8,651
    39.9%
  +9.9
   +24.4
  1,730
    -1
PC**
            0
  
    
 
    
   
     0
Ind***
            5
  799
     3.7%
 -22.6
     -7.4
    160
     0
Other****
           3
  76
     0.4%
  +0.4
     -1.3
     25
     0


* There were five by-elections in Scotland
** There were no by-elections in Wales
*** There were two independent clashes this month
**** Others this month were Scottish Libertarian (16 votes and 42 votes), and UKIP (18 votes)

An all-Scottish affair, and what a sorry sight for the unionist parties - particularly Labour. The SNP ran away with the vote tally, and even topped the totals in Perth City South where they lost a seat to the Liberal Democrats. And it shouldnt be any other result. Despite ongoing difficulties concerning Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon has arguably managed the politics of Covid even better than Boris Johnson. Despite being second only to England for Covid death rates until the second wave crashed in, the SNP continues to go from strength to strength.

Thanks to a mix of hubris and general ineptitude, the sum totals continue to show Scottish Labour has fallen behind the Tories as Scotland's unionist voice, and is now even getting spanked by the LibDems on this score. Okay, it's only one by-election, and that one result is responsible for the yellows doing better than the reds, but im microcosm it shows the problem Scottish Labour has. If it's not too late, if the damage inflicted on the party by generations of complacent, lazy rightwingers can be reversed Labour are going to have to try taking votes off the SNP. That's where its natural constituency now is - concentrating on trying to hegemonise the unionist vote is a fool's errand.

Therefore, the sorts of results one might expect at this moment north of the border. Is it going to be all change when a year's worth of by-elections launch next May with all the other delayed elections from this year?

5th November
Aberdeen UA, SNP hold

12th November
City of Edinburgh UA, Craigentinny Duddingston, SNP hold

19th November
Clackmannanshire UA, Clackmannanshire East, Con hold

26th November
Perth and Kinross UA, Perth City North, SNP hold
Perth and Kinross UA, Perth City South, LDem gain from SNP

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Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Dishy Rishi's Class Act

Having served up the second wave of Coronavirus with Eat Out to Help Out, what was dishy Rishi prepping for his Autumn Statement? A few overdone offerings and the familiar warm ups, I'm afraid to say. On this occasion, the doomsters and the gloomsters Boris Johnson used to rail against have taken over the Treasury. The sunlit uplands of Optimism UK are overcast and tipping down economic woes. By the end of this year, the GDP will have contracted by over 11% and isn't likely to return to pre-crisis levels until the end of 2022. Unemployment is projected to hit 2.6m early next year too, and by 2025 the economy is going to be three per cent smaller than foecast earlier this year. In all, not good news at all. Difficult to disagree with the chancellor that we're a the beginnings of an economic emergency.

It's important not to let the Tories frame this like some unavoidable disaster. They might not be responsible for Coronavirus, but the government are responsible for the disaster management itself and the appalling job done of dealing with the economics. If that wasn't bad enough, the whispers spraying out of the Treasury and Downing Street have portrayed the chancellor as a fiscal hawk forced to fork out to support (ingrate, malingering) workers and businesses. In this Autumn statement, he's lived up to the briefings.

To deal with the emergency, Sunak will freeze public sector salaries for a year. He does not even bother trying to justify it in terms of economic necessity nor cutting spending - it's because many private sector employees have had a tough time. If only dishy Rishi was in a position to do something about it. The lowest paid workers can look forward to a £250 increase, while workers forced to manage on the minimum wage more generally have a princely 19p/hour increase coming. Or £7.41 for the standard 39 hour week. Less generous pensions are also in the mix. But worry ye not, Sunak reannounced billions to be made available to find people new jobs. Note, not support nor create new jobs. And then there is the ever-present bogey of public debt, which in time the Tories will talk up to justify more wage freezes and cuts in the future.

What does this mean? As the new No Holding Back project observes, buried beneath the funds found for tackling Coronavirus fall out, Tory numbers reveal cuts to non-Covid spending versus the "big spending" of pre-pandemic Johnsonism. Sneaky. There are other problems not addressed by today's announcement too. The reason why unemployment is projected to peak well after the current measures expire is because, effectively, once furlough ends in March hundreds of thousands have a dole queue to look forward to. This is a cliff edge entirely if Sunak's design. Want more? How about indebtedness? While the wonks and court retainers prattle about the non-event of public debt, personal debt is mounting - just ask the 2.4m self-employed who don't qualify for any support under the Tories' "generous" schemes. Factor in millions who've lost their jobs, had hours reduced, or have had to cut back thanks to furlough, Sunak's plans makes their situation significantly worse.

It's not like the Tories aren't aware of these things happening. It should be ABC politics to assume they never push policy in good faith. In the aftermath of the economic crisis and their enthusiastic implementation of austerity, the consequences of Brexit and the chaotic groping toward a deal, and now the Coronavirus calamity the Tories have prioritised what is absolutely core to British capitalism. Not economic growth measured by GDP figures nor the common affairs of the bourgeoisie, to quote a certain Manifesto, but their zero sum preservation of class relations. And this truth is reiterated with every policy initiative, crooked deal, and bout of "incompetence". Today's Autumn Statement is no exception. It's an exemplar.

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Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Coronavirus, Class, and the Family

An excellent discussion with Sophie Lewis about the nuclear family in the age of Covid, how it depends on the denial of the humanity of others, and why we should work toward its abolition. Interesting, thought-provoking stuff. Please give it a listen!



As always, please check out the Politics Theory Other archive and help build new left media by punting a few of your pounds in Alex's direction.

Monday, 23 November 2020

Boris Johnson's Christmas Cracker

"There is no point having a merry Christmas then burying friends and family in January." The fact such a statement has to be made by Gabriel Scally of Independent Sage says everything anyone needs to know about the government's Cornoavirus strategy up to this point. Well, Monday night was slated for the great reveal for life after 2nd December and, most importantly, what our Covid Christmas is going to look like. How do the new plans differ from what went before? And is it led by "the science", or the contradictory pressures pulling the Tories hither and thither? You can probably guess the answer.

For one, as per the customary press leaks the three tiers are returning, but with tougher measures. The new plans (pp 22-26 in the Covid Winter Plan) double down on the rule of six, offers new rules for indoor and outdoor activities and meetings ups, a gradation for hospitality services ranging from table ordering to complete closure except for takeaways, the opening of retail (including "non-essential") across all three tiers, a gradation of travelling restrictions except for "where necessary", which include education and work thanks to their magical tendency to ward off Coronavirus. There are differing rules on overnight accommodaion according to the tier, but not so for indoor leisure activities like the pool and the gym, and some live ents and sporting events are open with severely controlled numbers. Speaking from Downing Street earlier, Boris Johnson said he was "sorry" for the "hardship" these measures are bound to cause. Which is a good cue to remind the reader about how the Tories have chosen to allow this to happen. Given the ridiculous sums and monies poured into Tory donor pockets, they should not be let off the hook for choosing to condemn nearly half of all self-employed to no help, or for that matter putting the the wealth of the rentiers above the health of everyone else. They could live up to the rhetoric of putting their arms around the nation, but won't.

As far as the "toughness" of the new tiers go, this is an exercise in Johnsonian newspeak. The tiers are being significantly liberalised and regardless of the efforts individual businesses and public institutions are making to be Coronavirus compliant, the result is inevitable: a Christmas rise in infection rates. Nothing says festive quite like a nip of brandy, mince pies, and a dose of the Covids. At least, at least the temptation of going for a so-called Christmas truce to allow for something of a normal one has got rightly binned.

A lot here for a zero-Covid strategy to dislike, but the immediate tranche of criticism came from Johnson's backbenchers. Mark Harper, the newly minted King of the North (at least where Tory MPs are concerned) moaned about there not being much difference between tier three and the (haphazard) lockdown we're currently living through. Quite, except for the opening of all retail, along with indoor leisure facilities and limited gatherings for weddings, civil partnerships, and funerals. What about Labour? As of 22:00 hours not a sausage of a response. Remembering the best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour, we're likely to get straightforward support with some quibbles about criteria for when areas drop tiers, and some other process complaints. It's opposition, but not as we know it.

In sum, Johnson's liberalisation of the Covid rules hardly fit the fever dreams of some, but does follow the well worn pattern of behaviour we've seen from the beginning of this government's handling of the crisis: an extreme reluctance to do anything substantial followed by a panicky - but necessary - blanket lockdown, and then a relaxation of measures in which the health of class relations are prioritised above public health. Everything changes, but nothing really changes. Except the growing death toll, avoidable infections, and more knowing the misery of long Covid.

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Sunday, 22 November 2020

What is the 'Great Reset'?

We've seen the Covid denialism, the playground pettyness of the anti-mask whingeing, and the regular demonstrations of those for whom the lockdown, social distancing, and the coming mass vaccination are tied together by conspiracy theory. Considering the complexity of 21st century societies with looming crisis and political instability set as the new normal, the appeal of such are not difficult to fathom. We might be headed to hell in a handcart, but at least conspiracy theory makes for an immediately relatable and easy-to-understand explanation for the many dooms visited upon us. The newest story doing the rounds, as helpfully outlined by the BBC, does the job of tying the global response to Coronavirus together as a prelude for some form of naked Iron Heel-style direct rule by and for the super rich. Sounds arresting.

Like nearly every conspiracy theory the "Great Reset" is all things to all people. Here we have one hyper-local blogger (remember them?) arguing, in all seriousness, that Boris Johnson has signed the Conservative Party up to a global communist plot. Others see it as a Keynesian conspiracy - led by Prince Charles, no less - to hammer individual freedom and bring the state back into matters economic. Terrifying. So-called Bitcoin libertarians are among those getting sweaty, and another boring bunch of contrarian think-tankers locate it as an authoritarian effort to force green capitalism down everyone's throat. And then we have the "leftist" version, such as the one forecasting a "a fascist transhumanist hell in which freedom has been abolished and humans are merged with robots and turned into commodities for elite profit." Naturally, the piercing dog whistle of "globalists" features heaviliy in the Great Reset discourse.

In this country, most of the running has been done by Neil Clark - litigant in a never-ending dispute with Times hack Oliver Kamm, and an interesting journalistic resume that sees him contributing features for The Mail and The Express while penning stuff for, um, The Morning Star and Russia Today. Of late, Neil's Twitter feed has ramped up the conspiratorial coverage, mixing in genuine questions about half-arsed policy such as the mooted "freedom pass" and concerns about the tier system with baseless claims a global fascist power grab is in preparation. This piece on RT sums up his position well. Using a speech by Boris Johnson in which he notes "History teaches us that things of this [the virus's] magnitude ... do not just come and go. They can be the trigger for economic and social change." A completely innocuous statement on Johnson's part, and completely uncontroversial. Except for Neil. This "trigger for ... change" is deeply sinister, apparently. Along with the green industrial revolution, social distancing is not going anywhere. As Neil puts it, "Working from home is here to stay, with “gigabit broadband,” shopping from home, conferencing from home… in fact, let’s do everything from home. Who needs to meet other human beings? Not that there’d be anywhere to meet, with pubs, cinemas and theatres all closed down due to the never-ending coronavirus restrictions." Never one to enjoy being in the position of defending the Prime Minister, but this is obvious bobbins. The problem with the national lockdown is it's not rigorous enough, and contrary to enthusiastically pulling down the shutters on the British economy the government spent the Summer undermining public health by opening everything up, with bribes to encourage people to visit restaurants, bars, pubs and what have you. Either the British government didn't mean it and was a grandiose distraction techinque vis their true conspiratorial intentions, or the argument is completely groundless.

And yet like all conspiracy theories, an element of truthiness based on some facts does exist. There is something called the Great Reset, and groups of elite policymakers and tech capital have been pushing it - albeit in broad daylight. Perhaps the illuminati are simply brazen these days by hosting a website on the World Economic Forum to allow all and sundry to peruse their schemes. What gives then, what is the plan? According to the blurb global capitalism needs a reset, citing examples of stalling economic growth, rising unemployment, and rising debt - two of these three being the case before lockdowns rolled around the world. The consequence is an intensification of existing inequalities and social problems, as well as opportunities for some governments to scrap regulations and protections in the name of jumpstarting economies. As these problems are global, a global effort is required to address them. As such, this requires scary policies like ... the coordination of tax regimes, addressing the rules of trade, and creating a "stakeholder economy" - fashionable managerial speak for decent wages, full employment and (perhaps/sometimes) a bit of a say over the workplace. The second component of this strategy is stimulus spending so we can bounce back from the Covid crisis, but these should be strategic investments that build for the future - so more green industry, better infrastructure, more responsive institutions, and incentives for private capital to follow this policy lead. Lastly, the final round of objectives is to harness the fruits of the fourth industrial revolution to address the health and social problems the pandemic is leaving in its wake. For anyone paying attention to British politics these last five years, what the World Economic Forum are proposing is little different from the policy menu of the last three Labour manifestos, and the rhetoric of Theresa May and Boris Johnson when a One Nation turn in their speeches were warranted.

In other words, what the Great Reset is is a prescription for fixing the problems global capitalism faces. What a shocker that a bunch of mainstream policy wonks, fancied visionaries, and businesses might band together to come up with a way forward for their system. Like this has never been done by anyone before. Perhaps we should look back at Alvin Toffler's The Third Wave and Nicolas Negroponte's Being Digital as advance warning of the global fascist one-world government we've lived under since the turn of the century. Oh, wait.

Like the most successful of conspiracy theories, the Great Reset idea takes a little bit of reality and runs with it, reliant on the fact most of the people who'll lap it up know little to nothing about what is being described and what is going on. Take the fourth industrial revolution cited by Neil Clark and his conspiranoid friends. This is not a plan as such, but rather the emergence of a cluster of new technologies around artificial intelligence, automation and robotics, genetic medicine, space flight, and much else besides. This is simply an aspect and outcome of capitalist development, and one the left is well aware of and has written a lot about. Any decent political programme worthy of its name would work to inform the public about and consider the social implications the possibilities these new tools allow for. This is exactly what the World Economic Forum and its founder, Klaus Schwab, are doing. It just so happens the key innovation of this fourth wave is the reduction of commodities to information, and the possibility for their endless, infinite reproducibility with zero to very low cost. Thanks to advances in 3D printing even physical goods won't be immune forever, and so the problem for their system and the wonks of the liberal centre and conservative right is not the general betterment of humanity, but how to save property relationships and profits from the fourth wave's existential challenge.

There are two issues here then. Advancing a ridiculous conspiracy theory can blunt serious and necessary criticisms of government policy. Already there have been several occasions of the Tories, for instance, dismissing critique of their measures as Covid denialism - and a stupidly irresponsible intervention from Labour aimed at curbing conspiracies ahead of the vaccine roll out. There's your first reason why anyone pushing the Great Reset conspiracy is a fool or a knave, especially if they claim to be on the left. Fancy another? As the point has been many times before, conspiracy theories are not just false in the sense they are presented, they stand in direct opposition to a real understanding of the way of the world, and particularly how money is made and power configures and flows. In this sense it's much worse than conservatism, which at least tries to deal with the world as it is through a lens distorted by privilege and ruling class interests. Conspiracy theory, like the Great Reset, is fundamentally backward because it refuses social explanation, petrifies the elite relationships it claims to uncover, and ultimately leads to fatalist resignation or the toxic politics of the far right. As we have some experience with.

There is then no 'Great Reset' conspiracy. It is, nevertheless, a collective effort of utter rubbish written from the right, and hyperbolic grifting bullshit from so-called leftists. If one cannot resist a little bit of theorising in this direction, ask what our super brave truth tellers stand to gain. How might rightwingers benefit from pretending opposition to their free market fundamentalism, even of the liberal/Keynesian variety, is a fundamental affront to human dignity? Why would a bunch of Bitcoin stans feel insecure about a global effort to promote green capitalism and socially useful (albeit still capitalist) production? And whatever might leftists without much of a platform accrue from being the voice of a "socialist" version of this pack of lies? Join the dots, as they say.

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