Friday, 31 January 2020

Local Council By-Elections January 2020

This month saw 21,087 votes cast over eight local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Just one council seat changed hands. For comparison with December's results, see here.

Party
Number of Candidates
Total Vote
%
+/- 
Dec
+/- Jan 19
Avge/
Contest
+/-
Seats
Conservative
            8
 8,116
    38.5%
  -3.1%
     +2.5%
  1,014
     0
Labour
            8
 6,951
    33.0%
  -3.8%
   +28.9%
    869
    -1
LibDem
            7
 3,202
    15.2%
 +4.1%
      -1.2%
    457
   +1
Green
            8
 1,500
     7.1%
 +0.0%
     +5.7%
    188
     0
SNP
            1
  898
     4.3%
 +4.3%
     +4.3%
    898
     0
PC**
            0
  
    
 
    
   
     0
Ind***
            3
   420
     2.0%
  -0.4%
    -35.5%
    140
     0
Other****
            0
    
 
     
   
     0

* There was one by-election in Scotland
** There were no by-elections in Wales
*** There was one Independent clash this month
**** There were no Others

January is usually a super slow month in council by-election land, so to have eight contests is something of a treat for those of us ridiculous enough not to be all electioned-out. And what we have is ... a month that looked a lot like December, albeit on a smaller scale. It's like the general election rubbed away the weird fluctuations we've seen these last few years and we're back to Tory leads with Labour a firm second and the LibDems a firmer third. Good showing for the Greens though as they maintain last month's position.

But, again, it's far too early to say if this is the new normal. We'll find out soon enough.


16th January
Bristol UA, Brislington East, Lab hold

23rd January
Brent LBC, Alperton, LDem gain from Lab
Brent LBC, Barnhill, Lab hold x2
Brent LBC, Wembley Central, Lab hold
Dumfries and Galloway, Mid Galloway and Wigtown West, Con hold

30th January
Suffolk CC, Newmarket and Red Lodge, Con hold
West Suffolk DC, Newmarket North, Con hold

Image Credit

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Labour's Impossible Election Choice

As the UK's formal departure from the EU is imminent, it's worthwhile briefly returning to the one thing that determined the outcome on 12th December more than anything else: the timing. Readers might recall a minority of Labour folks (me included) who argued for the party to hold firm in parliament and resist Boris Johnson's goading the opposition into a general election. The major reason was Johnson's strategy from the moment he entered the Tory leadership race was to bulldoze Brexit through regardless of the squealing and the costs. That was his path to cementing his premiership, provided he could get the Brexit preliminaries done quickly.

Having spent the summer fulminating against those who would thwart Brexit and promising to die in a ditch over extending Article 50, Johnson was eventually forced to do just that, rhetoric about disobeying the courts and flouting the rule of law notwithstanding. Once forced into this humiliating climbdown we saw the theatrics and the hysterics about challenging the remainer parties to an election. With the SNP and Liberal Democrats hopping on board the bandwagon, and groundswell among party members - eager to repeat 2017 - getting too much the leadership embraced the opportunity. We know what happened next.

Yet if Labour had held firm and said no, what then? Well, I suppose the question is what would the delays be for. While the parties cooperated well in late August and early September against Johnson we saw earlier in the year how the indicative votes didn't realise majorities for anything except a no to no deal. The second referendum'ers went for bust rather than countenancing a much softer Brexit, and so saddled us with a hard landing. Given the line was thin when there was disagreement over what objective the united forces of the opposition should push for, then Johnson was right: parliament was logjammed. With Johnson bringing back the election time after time and the other parties turning it down, he reasoned support would drain away from them as Brexit blockers and preventing the Commons from discharging its business. In this scenario, Labour would cop most of the blame, most of the pressure, and the disunity in the parliamentary party would likely have bubbled over into tabloid-friendly infighting as Brexity MPs took to the airwaves. The Tories would be shielded from the pain and when the election would finally come, Labour would have been in an even worse position to mount a decent challenge.

Alternatively, despite all this, if Labour held out to the point where Johnson had ask for another extension beyond 31st January, then the more difficult the Tory position would be to maintain. And perhaps then, to limit damage stemming from the paralysis from getting too extensive, in all likelihood he'd have to try and come to some sort of arrangement with the other parties - the very process which triply exposed Theresa May's ineptitude and finally put paid to her career. This would undoubtedly have dealt Johnson a severe blow, and the Brexit Party poised to go from torpor to the hungry devourer of the Tories' right flank. And Labour? Thanks to remain running riot in the party without even token resistance from the top, in this situation it's difficult to see how Jeremy Corbyn could have mustered support from enough of his MPs for a Labour Brexit, let alone be in a fit state to negotiate anything with Johnson. And even if that was possible and a deal reached with Tory and Labour backing, whenever the election came the LibDems and Greens would have been in the perfect position to make extensive inroads into Labour's support.

There is then no comfort or smuggery for those who argued against accepting Johnson's election. Take the chance before Brexit and get hammered, as per what happened. Or stick it out and either end up with a worse starting point when the election is eventually accepted, or strike a deal with Johnson that would heavily damage the Tories but wreak catastrophic destruction on Labour, possibly to the point of completely detaching the new and consolidating base, and we're left with an impossible position. Sadly, Labour lost this election in 2017 when the leadership failed to drive home its hegemony in the party, especially with regard to Brexit. And that meant when it finally came to the crunch there was nothing in front of the party except damaging options. Though, as incredible as it may seem, it's looking like Labour took the least worst.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

The Aesthetics of the Pubis

Sometimes, what is relatively innocuous can signify a great deal. Consider the case of pubic hair, for instance. What decorates - or doesn't - your private parts is very much public property as far as celebrity culture, fashion, the beauty industry, pornography, and the ever watchful eyes of surveillant others are concerned. And, as with most things, not all mons pubis are created equally. For one set of bodies, it means very little. For the other, it is yet another zone of scrutiny and policing despite being hidden under layers of clothing and not on display to all and sundry. Why then does it matter, how is it used to evaluate women's bodies, and what road did Western cultures travel to arrive at a gendering and moralistic aesthetics of the pubis?

Burning questions Channel 4 tried addressing with its Bring Back the Bush: Where Did Our Pubic Hair Go?. Presented by body positive activist and social media influencer credited with #saggyboobsmatter on Instagram and Twitter, Chidera Eggerue, as someone who's for celebrating the female body in all its diversity she still takes a razor to her nether regions because she too feels the pressure of fitting in. She therefore wanted to challenge herself by bringing her bush back for the first time since her late teens, and open a conversation about desirability and body autonomy.

And autonomy here is key, as women face being cancelled or worse for not conforming to pubic normativity. Women can receive rape threats and the rest for even daring to pose online with hairy legs, so how did women's pubes become a hot button topic? Chidera ventures over to California while observing that a great many young people learn sex education through porn, and with it comes a whole set of expectations about what counts as desirable bodies. Speaking to Lena Paul and Casey Calvert, performers and sometime producers they argue what matters in porn is that absolutely nothing is left to the imagination and therefore keeping it shaved renders all the more explicit what is explicit. However, in more recent years Chidera notes there's been a turn back to the bush. Once a niche category approaching a fetish, Casey suggested established A-list performers started defying convention, which then filtered down and across the industry. Lena, who is one of this wave of enpubed superstars says her bush is very polarising, observing that "it feels like our bodies aren't good enough unless we change them."

While out in Hollywood, Chidera explores this further by sampling mirkins from down the ages. Starting with the late 19th century when even showing a bit of ankle was too much, private parts were, formally, very private. Matters then were, well, matted as this was the age of the big bush. Yet out of sight didn't necessarily mean out of mind. Riffing off his theory of evolution Charles Darwin suggested it was natural for men to be hairy and women hairless, meaning one didn't have to go far to declare women with lots of pubes unnatural, deviant, and immoral. Moving forward to the 1950s and the invention of the bikini comes with the invention of the bikini line. From there evolution moves to the landing strip of the 00s (90s, surely?) and from there where we are today. The more women's flesh comes on public display, the more the hair has to retreat until disappearing altogether.

But what about teh menz? Gathering together a group of late 20s/early 30-somthings for their opinions on matters mons, they ranged from preferring trimmed pubes to not bothered at all to preference for completely shaved - for appearance's sake and for oral sex. One guy chipped in to suggest it was a character thing, if a woman does it it shows they're interested in looking after themselves. In other words, pubic hair is a moral issue.

Chidera was joined on her growing out journey by four other social media micro celebs, all of whom make a living from modelling. Six weeks into the experiment, Krissy Vee said she felt uncomfortable and dirty. Rachel Kaitlyn, who also works as a cage dancer, said she was starting to attract stares. Jessie Bell said she had a run in with "a massive dickhead" after riding his shoulders at a festival was told by him that she should shave. And Jessica Megan said she'd lost a couple of photography jobs because she refused to cave in. Gathering them all together for a photo shoot at the end - later to be featured in an exhibition - Chidera concluded that owning a bush is a step toward normalising it and that it was her way of refusing to let others govern her life.

As an intro into some of the issues around the politics of women's bodies, it was okay. But the politics and the history was a bit weak sauce. Where it was good was demonstrating the ubiquity of the emphasised feminine body standard and how its most ardent gendarmes are women themselves. The confession booth segment of the show was interesting for getting the perspective of others who, almost to a woman, attribute their hair removal practices to the pressure and commentary of significant people in their life - friends, lovers, family members. The panoptican no longer exists because it has insinuated itself seamlessly into the feminine everyday. It's practice and discursive enforcement is just accepted and barely questioned.

Chidera mentions the flex of male power as having something to do with it, but exploring it as an aspect of the pornographic imaginary alone cuts out a great deal. For one, it only explores men superficially. Indeed, a more interesting documentary could be made about the hysterical males who find agency obsessing over a stray pube here, a bit of stubble there, and what it is about the gender order that easily collapses masculinity into toxicity? Chidera does mention feminism very briefly, but in the past tense of the second wave and doesn't really bring it into her discussion. Secondly, what is completely absent is the political economy of the pubis. As with all aspects of female grooming, patriarchy and markets have gone hand in hand to reify and sexualise women's bodies or profit. The disappearance of pubic hair in porn and its subsequent spread into mainstream culture was neither natural nor inevitable. The beauty industry pushed for it and created a market for its depilatory creams, specialised razors, waxing salons, electric trimmers and all the rest, and successfully integrated these into the beauty regimens of hundreds of millions of women. The pubic place is a public place for commerce too. But alas, this history was airbrushed out like so many blemishes on a Playboy model.

As we began, the relatively innocuous can say a great many things. Bring Back the Bush, unfortunately, did not say enough.

Image Credit

Monday, 27 January 2020

The Silences of John Harris

Imagine being au fait with politics since the 1980s but only just discovering the work by the New Times group who ran Marxism Today magazine. What might that look like? There's no need to waste time wondering, for John Harris is that man and he's just found the answers to Labour's miserable outing at the general election. Better late than never, I suppose.

Channelling the work of Stuart Hall, Martin Jacques et al, he conjures up an unattributed quote to the effect that the left in the late 80s were stranded in the class politics of the post-war period, and their strategy was about giving the old Keynesian state a lick of paint. True to a degree, and especially of those affecting a revolutionary poise. Except, in John's view, this is pretty much what happened in 2019. Substitute "the many" for the industrial working class, and Labour's manifesto for getting the Fordist gears grinding again, and you have the exact same scenario. The Corbynist Delorean failed to hit 88mph and slammed into the wall instead.

Except this isn't what happened and John's polemic is a load of dishonest rubbish. I mean, to also claim there is a "silence" in and around Labour about what happened is self-evidently ludicrous. Call me old fashioned, but surely you have a duty to represent an opponent's position accurately and fairly. If you're confident in your argument, there is no need to distort the other. Perhaps all those poverty safaris outside the M25 have made John so feverish as to forget his polemical Ps and Qs, because had he bothered reading Labour's manifesto he might have spotted a strategy entirely consistent with the politics pushed by our New Times comrades of yesteryear. That would be lifelong learning to allow workers to reskill in a shifting, "post-Fordist" economy, the opening of the workplace to democracy, and the empowering workers and consumers via Labour's plans for nationalising and democratising transport and the utilities, encouraging the development of cooperatives, and offering a mix of regulation and inducement to manage the transition to green industry. The nationalised industries of old did many things - they provided full employment and helped comprise the backbone of the labour movement - but they weren't democratic and weren't, by design, especially empowering.

And as for treating the so-called many as an undifferentiated mass, please. Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, and their advisors had a much better grip on the character of the British class system than those now shouting about towns and the working class. If class was a homogenous blob, we would not have seen policies against precarity and low pay sitting alongside pledges not to put up tax for those earning up to £80k. Far from the male, stale, and pale triptych John provides us of the labour movement, the party's policies addressed young workers and old people, women and men, minority ethnicities and EU migrants, unskilled workers and the professions. Ultimately, even Labour's Brexit position was overdetermined by the class politics of Labour's base. 13 million voted for this two years ago, sans the shift on the EU referendum, and if the party hopes to be in with a shout four or five years hence rolling back and alienating our new core support is about the most stupid thing it can do.

Of course, like most establishment commentators it is John who treats working class people as a regimented strata. The young people in the big cities are somehow less authentic than the retirees who own their homes and have "forthright" views about a great many things. What we saw at this election was, effectively, the clash of class cohorts divided and opposed to one another thanks to their differing relationship to the prevailing political settlement, the experience of work, to an increasingly socially liberal culture, and the sharpening of these tensions by austerity, Brexit, and anti-snowflake propaganda pumped out by the press and daytime television. And, for whatever reason, John and chums cannot or refuse to see it. But someone else did and rode the dynamics of the new class politics more effectively than Labour, and that was Boris Johnson.

Nevertheless, if you want to keep getting the media gigs you have to let reality intrude occasionally, which John does. He jumps on precisely what brings the Labour right out in a rash: making Labour a movement. Rightly, he rails against stitch ups and top-down culture, of opening the party up and looking at ways of empowering voters by organising them, and waging the culture war in more imaginative ways than the yah boo sucks of Twitter. He even makes the outrageous suggestion that Labour in local government should get competent. Yes, yes, yes, the left couldn't agree more. And yet, having offered the glimpse about how it should be, John will faithfully avoid endorsing or encouraging the runner by far the closest to what must be done and embrace the sensiblism of one of the Westminster-as-usual candidates. And when the hour of that inevitability chimes, we have to determine if John is serious about this kind of politics, or whether he's just paid to write left-sounding words.

Image Credit

Saturday, 25 January 2020

A Question of Character

Some Labour supporters are puzzled by how an overt charlatan like Boris Johnson was the preferred option for millions of voters versus Jeremy Corbyn, a man known for his principled (if not always popular) positions on a range of issues, as well as his kindness and unaffected way with ordinary people. Why was Johnson's appalling character profile more acceptable, and how will it matter over the next four or five years as Labour rebuilds? Learning from Jeremy's period in charge, how might the character of the new leader be important?

We know perceptions of politicians are heavily overdetermined by the media but it's not as though Johnson is a stranger to bad press and character assassination. His enemies are legion and to all intents and purposes, his personal life - including his inability to say how many children he has - makes him a laughing stock. And that's before you consider the lies, the laziness, and the incompetence. And yet, despite all this, Johnson won out for two key reasons which, I suppose, are among those few characteristics of politics that approach something of a law.

The first is the fear factor. As a rule, people will not follow or support leaders who make them fearful. Unless said leader has a grotesque apparatus of repression at their disposal. As Labour people, we will not vote or support Johnson because we know what the Tories mean for our communities and our class. We fear the dismantling of the institutions that many of our people depend on, the scapegoating, victimisation, and deportation of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, and the coarsening of public life. And, likewise, plenty of Tories fear Labour too. They fear us because they think we'll take their privilege away, make them cough up a lot more in tax, and speed up the sorts of changes they find objectionable, particularly the destabilisation of, in their eyes, their familiar way if life.

Unfortunately, Corbyn brought with him more reasons to be fearful. In the first instance was his pacifism and anti-imperialism, which was - still is - spun as being pro-Hamas and Hezbollah, pro-IRA and "anti-Western". Then there was the perception he was soft, and would not sanction the requisite tough action required to deal with domestic terrorists. And, of course, the perennial nuclear war issue, of his refusing to countenance a retaliatory strike against any hostile nation that might, for reasons, lob a nuclear missile or two our way. Coupled with the entirely false idea Corbyn is/was a communist, this is a recipe for widening the pool of those who would vote Tory, as well as making many of them more likely to do so. Yes, this fear didn't bloom in a vacuum, but the Tories and their press proved adept at stoking it precisely because it aggravated the collective unconscious of a whole strata of people. Considering how they were in a febrile condition thanks to the drawing out of Brexit - which they mostly supported, and even more wanted done - Labour's second referendum position contained every danger of prolonging matters, or of cancelling it completely.

The second issue is the question of competence. Or, as they say, folks don't vote for divided parties. Boris Johnson's stint as Foreign Secretary, and particularly his callous failures over Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe should bar him from the Commons, let alone the high office to which he has ascended. And yet, as we saw, Johnson was able to use Brexit as a wedge to bulldoze the Tories to a majority. But he was only able to do this by bringing his party to the brink. This autumn's theatre of lost votes, resignations of cabinet members, the expulsion of rebellious remainy Tories made for a heartening show to those who wish the Conservative Party nothing but ill, but it proved his credibility on this issue. You might not like Johnson, but you knew his direction of travel. Unfortunately, for many of these voters, this wasn't the case with Jeremy Corbyn. Likewise you knew (or thought you knew) what his views were, but he lacked credibility because he had a laissez-faire attitude to internal opposition and appeared weak when it came to tackling his own critics. This crystallised when it came to the anti-semitism crisis, which appeared to be allowed to rumble on and fatally damaged his reputation for decisive decision making. And, again, letting the second referendum campaign run riot in Labour's ranks without trying to challenge it. In other words, how can you trust a man with the keys to Number 10 to deliver all these very ambitious and expensive policies if he can't even run his own party. Sadly, we know the answer to this.

What lessons can the next Labour leader draw from this sorry episode, apart from the obvious and banal fact the media will be against them? The first is Johnson will hark back to the credibility on Brexit he's in the process of consolidating, which makes Labour's long leadership election an indulgence. The second comes down to Labour's messaging. As much as remain-minded members supporting Keir Starmer might hope he's going to turn the clock back to the pre-Brexit days, I cannot believe he would be so stupid as to commit Labour to rejoining within the lifetime of this parliament. And the other two serious candidates, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy, aren't about to either. Thirdly, it's difficult to imagine any of these would stand for the behaviour we've seen from a persistent core of MPs, some of whom are now deservedly ex, in the event of their becoming leader. As relative unknowns vis a vis the public, they have to be seen as decisive, serious (up to and including wielding the stick if needs must), hungry to win, and with the right answers to the problems the Tories cannot solve.

Here's the thing. Without Brexit, Johnson hasn't got a lot to offer the new Tory voters. Indeed, well-respected strategists are recommending not to unduly bother spending much time pleasing them. And, as if by magic, now the election is safely out of the way local government funding is set to fall in the Tories' recent acquisitions and monies diverted to the Home Counties and the South East. It's almost as if Johnson is determined to mug off his new support. Having accomplished their most stunning victory in decades they are, with unseemly haste, undoing the conditions for a repeat performance. The opportunities for Labour then are there, in fact they're already starting to yawn, but they can only be exploited if we look back at the last four-and-a-half years and avoid the same mistakes.

Friday, 24 January 2020

Saltwater - The Legacy

Who fancies winding the clock back 17 years? As you may have surmised by the existence of this post, I do.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Can the Tories Keep Their Working Class Voters?

It wasn't just Labour who were blind sided by the general election result. Despite the polls being broadly correct (on this occasion), the Tories did not expect to advance as far as they did into the former Labour strongholds. Even though that was what their strategy set out to achieve, and was plain as day for anyone who cared to look. But in an uncharacteristic moment of honest reflection, Boris Johnson afterward acknowledged that he understood how many hundreds of thousands of Labour voters had lent the Tories their votes conditionally on getting Brexit done. Therefore one would assume come 2024 that we'll see a drift back, but superficially their job is much easier than the daunting task before Labour: the Tories simply have to keep hold of enough of these seats to secure Johnson a second term. The question then is how can they keep a healthy chunk of these voters on board?

Forget for a moment the guff about 12th December being a working class rebellion. It was primarily a revolt of the old and the retired as whole swathes of these voters protested against Labour in defence of their referendum vote, and objection to Labour's leadership. Meanwhile, Labour's majority against actual working people remained - though here too the party fell back thanks to the Brexit wedge. Nevertheless, this issue is starting to concentrate Conservative minds. Are the Tories going to emulate the example of their Stoke-on-Trent colleagues and embrace blue Keynesianism, or try something else?

This is what James Frayne of right wing spinners, Public First, addresses in his meditation on the new Tory voters. Here, James tackles a number of myths said to be circulating in the Commons tearooms that might colour the party's future strategy. Stuff like all working class people are poor, all aspire to be "successful" in Tory terms, are gung-ho for a Johnson-led culture war, and thinking anywhere north of Watford as basically the same. Much more politically interesting, however, are his comments on social security, public transport, place, and tax cuts vs better public services.

James cautions against being timid on welfare reform in the mistaken view the Tories' new voters are disproportionately dependent on it. Not so, he argues, as most people's experience of the system is filtered through the one or two people they know who game the system. On public transport, the Tories are forgetting that not only do most not live near a railway station but "vast numbers" don't even live near a bus top, so no need to worry - it's just about adequate as is. On town centres people, apparently, prefer to spend time in them and don't fancy the "inconvenience" and limited range available in high street shopping, and lastly these voters are more amenable to tax cutting messages because of the perception of waste in the public sector and the NHS.

This might seem strange, but I'm quite pleased with these conclusions. Because what we have here is a strategist the Tories listen to fundamentally misrecognising their new voters. He's not the first to have done so as others who've directly benefited from the blue wave have as well. Number one, it is pensioners who disproportionately rely on social security and as they were protected by the Tories in the Dave years, the self-perception of invincibility granted by the large majority might see cuts in this direction. Number two, I don't know how often James has travelled to the so-called red wall seats, but living in Stoke Central - which is similar demographically to all those other seats won - I can tell him bus stops are not as rare as a Pret outside of London. Even in the old pit village I grew up in we were familiar with this concept. What he doesn't understand is older people tend to be more dependent on them and, far from bus services being in danger of expansion, routes continue to get cancelled right, left, and centre. Which brings us to the high street. Younger people might like hanging about in coffee shops and pricing up clothes, games, and whatnot but older people do like their high streets, prefer the department store and chain retail to shopping on Amazon, and can be found pottering about the local market (I can only assume James hasn't watched many BBC vox pops these last four years). And last of all, when it comes to tax cuts vs public services, the point comes when dependence on public services and the NHS outweigh the marginal savings changes to tax thresholds make. Reducing spending here is a harm that falls harder on the Tories' support.

Therefore James's recommendation to the Tories to, effectively, do nothing to help their new support is not only complacent, it also does not appreciate that, weirdly, many of those voters went for the Tories because they offered a change. One of Labour's many failures was allowing Johnson to present himself as a break with the previous decade in government, when this is obviously false. Having got rid of Labour MPs who "did nothing" there is an expectation the Tories will try for their new areas. They expect to see more funding in the health service, better public services, more houses and better jobs for their kids and grandkids, and less obvious signs of social dereliction, like empty brownfield sites, vacant shops, dilapidated buildings, and the blight of homelessness. If the Tories don't deliver and, crucially, aren't seen to be delivering, then Labour has the break it needs to finally contest their hegemony over older voters.

Can the Tories keep their working class new older voters? If this is their blueprint, the happy answer to that is 'extremely doubtful'.

Image Credit

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Antonio Negri on Postmodern Fascism

In light of Laurence Fox's rise to notoriety off the back of tedious trolling, once again enabled by the BBC's Question Time, these remarks by Toni Negri on postmodern fascism - published in 1996 - in his Constituent Republic essay are quite perceptive.

Postmodern fascism seeks to attach itself to the realities of post-Fordist labour cooperation, and seeks at the same time to express some of its essence in a form that is turned on its head. In the same way the old fascism mimicked the mass organisational forms of socialism and attempted to transfer the proletariat's impulse toward collectivity into nationalism (national socialism or the Fordist constitution), so postmodern fascism seeks to discover the communist needs of the post-Fordist masses and transform them, gradually, into a cult of differences, the pursuit of individual differences, and the search for identity - all within a project of creating overriding despotic hierarchies aimed at constantly, relentlessly, pitting differences, singularities, identities, and individualities one against the other. Whereas communism is respect for and synthesis of singularities, and as such desired by all those who love peace, the new fascism (as an expression of the financial command of international capital) would produce a war of all against all; it would create religiosity and wars of religion, nationalism and wars of nations, corporative egos and economic wars. (Constituent Republic, in Paolo Virno and Michael Hardt (eds) Radical Thought in Italy, p.216)

If you're unfamiliar with Negri's work, these three posts are as good a place as any for an introduction:

Beyond Class and Identity Politics
Class Struggle and the Common
Altermodernity and the Common

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

The Miserable Collapse of Jess Phillips

And so the clown car grinds to a halt and the comedy ejector seat throws its occupant against the wall of electoral calculus. Thanking the "tens of thousands" (actually, 14,700) who'd pledged their support for her campaign and joined the party (though no word on what will happen to their donations), Jess concedes it's not her time - she isn't the one who can unite all wings of the party and take the fight to the Tories. Trying to put a gloss on Jess's miserable failure to get anywhere, on BBC News Wes Streeting insisted what she brought to the contest was the "voters' voice". Recalling her very first interview of the campaign in which she suggested Labour should campaign to rejoin the European Union, you have to wonder what exactly this voice was.

A things were, it was exceedingly doubtful Jess would have made it through to the ballot paper. Just perhaps Community would have given her the nod, but to have the usually-reliable USDAW fall in behind Keir Starmer must have been a bitter blow. And there was little chance of her favour getting curried in CLP meetings. If we bracket her awful record of trolling Labour's membership for a moment, why would she gain nominations as a courtesy for widening the debate? In this campaign, apart from her EU gaff and some rambling nonsense about the democratic regulation of social media, she has not put a single policy or position forward. Compare with the outline philosophy proffered by Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy's rediscovery of Chuka Umunna's (admittedly sound(ish)) ideas around the foundational economy and, well, whatever Keir Starmer is offering, for a self-styled big mouth our "bab" had nothing to say.

Why bother? There are a couple of things here. As Owen rightly notes, she was riding high on the smoke blown up her arse by her media mates. You get invited on all the right shows, featured in all the right papers, and are conveyed into all the right parties, and unless you have a good grounding in a movement and its politics it will all go to your head. If there's a hype machine around your person, why wouldn't you believe it? A welcome reminder of why Labour MPs generally and leftwingers in particular should avoid the seductions of profile for its own sake. In Jess's case, despite her contrived everywoman countenance she is entirely a creature of Westminster and the bubble of its surrounds. The reality of the headlines and news bulletins, the interviews and photoshoots, and rubbing shoulders with the powerful, some of whom condescend to have time for her, produces a skewed appreciation of the world out there as well as an inflated sense of self-importance and competence to do things. Again, as Owen notes, our Change UK friends and, late of the House of Commons, Jo Swinson are also victims dashed on the rocks of the real world. Jess went for the leadership because the media told her she'd be rather good at it.

More interesting are the factional forces in play. Most obviously, the organised right in the form of Labour First (who cares about Progress any more?) have gone for Keir Starmer as the anyone-but-left candidate. But of the people Jess managed to recruit, these are the remnants of Labour's scab tendency, the careerists-without-careers (and for a number of her backers, deservedly without seats). Some were variously involved with Labour First but have, at least within the bounds of the parliamentary party, struck out on their own Change UK-style. And unsurprisingly, just like their departed colleagues, they don't know the first thing about organising. All they're good for, and I use that term advisedly, is throwing their toys out of the pram and bitching about colleagues and party members. These are the sorts of people who watched The Thick Of It not as a satire, but a how-to manual, and mistake lots of swearing and dumping on people for ruthlessness and a mastery of the dark arts. They are, in effect, orphans of the Blair and Brown ways of doing things. Friends in high places assisted them into their parliamentary sinecure, and now, long-departed from the scene, the mollycoddling they benefited from finds them ill-suited to run parties, leadership campaigns and, yes, re-election campaigns. Nevertheless, it's interesting how their instinct to group together as a guileless hive mind overpowers the sense of self-preservation or means of coming back, which at least the Starmer campaign offers.

The failure of Jess Phillips then not only underlines what an awful politician she is, but the hubris and haplessness of her parliamentary faction and the minuscule numbers following them in the wider party. Let us hope her humiliation occasions a lengthy period of welcome silence.