Friday, 23 July 2021

Divine - Native Love

Back to the early 1980s again to celebrate a hi-NRG Friday night.

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Labour Leadership Vs Labour Staff

Comrades will have read about the Labour Party's cash crisis, or how in the space of 16 months the grown ups in the room turned a £13.5m reserve into just enough to cover one month's staff wages. How to make good the cash flow crisis? Why, by sacking people of course. Unfortunately for the leader and the general secretary, their plans leaked to the press before party employees could be spoken to about their fates, something they has to apologise for. 90 staff, or about a quarter of the apparat are due to be cut. And the staff? They're not happy, and they're not taking it lying down.

Extracted below are the statement and demands jointly arrived at by the party Unite and GMB branches. They starkly shows the callousness and cluelessness of our leadership, the inevitable flip side of high-minded and arrogant management. How can they be trusted to run a government when they can't even get the basics about their own party right?

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Dominic Cummings's Indecent Exposure

If you're reading this, there's a very good chance you watched Laura Kuenssberg's interview with Dominic Cummings. If you haven't, it's worth watching. The chaos inside Number 10 from the start of Boris Johnson's premiership to now is well known, if not well documented. But the vignettes of cluelessness and seat-of-the-pants winging it, while neither surprise nor shocker, help flesh out what life is like behind the famous black door. Naturally, Cummings had a lot to say, like last time, and much of it was damning. As someone fond of porkie pies himself, the precautionary principle would recommend a sceptical eye be cast over his claims. But we're talking about Boris Johnson here, so everything said about lack of preparedness, a callous disregard for the lives of others, herd immunity as the default Covid strategy (borne out at the moment), etc. have enough truthiness about them. And besides, Cummings was cocksure that a public inquiry with evidence given under oath will bear out his claims. He thinks too much of himself to say something now that would show him up later.

Cummings clarified the circumstances around his celebrated trip to Barnard Castle, how he came to be in Downing Street, and the power struggles between his faction of apparatchiks and the Carrie Johnson squad, who he relished referring to as a purposely infantilised "Prime Minister's girlfriend". But what really came across was less the detail of the Cummings exposure, but the manner of his statements. Every utterance dripped in arrogance, knowing cadences, and cynicism. Despite having a chummy relationship with Cummings, as well as the Prime Minister, Laura Kuenssberg clearly found the tone discomfiting. Talking about his role in brokering a failed Tory leadership deal between Johnson and Michael Gove in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, she was aghast that he, someone who wasn't elected should be playing such a crucial role in establishment politics. Her astonishment ramped up again when Cummings discussed the circumstances of his hiring just prior to Johnson's coronation. He said the future Prime Minister asked him to work in Downing Street. Cummings revealed his conditions: seeing Brexit through to its conclusion, serious investment, and doing something about civil service reform. That he had the temerity to seek assurances from Johnson before working for him was as if a blasphemy had been uttered in Kuenssberg's presence. Who were you to dictate terms to an elected politician was her exasperated response.

There was plenty more. Asked about the infamous £350m/week for the NHS splashed on the side of that bus, and the disingenuous spin put out about Turkey's accession to the European Union, he could not suppress a wry grin and a cheeky twinkle. He tried defending them as good faith interventions, but Kuenssberg's persistent line of questioning was surplus to requirements - anyone could see he was lying his head off, and was proud of duping the millions who took Leave's arguments at face value. Kuenssberg affected an appalled tone, as if this was the first time she had encountered cynicism in politics. Which, we know for a fact, it isn't. But what offended her most was Cummings's confessions of plotting. With the royal we, he talked about selecting the Tory candidate most amenable to his ends (Johnson), and within days of a famous victory was talking about getting shot. "Who are you to decide who stays and who goes Dominic Cummings?" intoned Kuenssberg on several occasions. Thankfully, on this occasion, she did not shy away from asking the most interesting question - who is this "we" Cummings was talking about? And he fessed up: a network of Vote Leave elites and interested others numbering no more than three dozen. This was almost too much for the BBC's chief political correspondent to bear. Here we had spelled out in black and white terms the reality of British politics, how its prime movers are mixes of elected and unelected players, the latter consisting of the propertied, the rich, and the well-connected. Cummings pulled down the pants of British parliamentary democracy and revealed the ugly truth in its naked obscenity. And all before the watershed.

Latter day adherents of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association were up in arms. Lisa Nandy condemned Cummings's performance as "incredibly narcissistic" and was outraged that someone appointed and unelected might try and bend government in the direction of their agenda. "How did Boris Johnson come to appoint a man of this moral character?" she asked. It's a good job the congenial hosts of Good Morning Britain didn't ask the shadow foreign secretary how Labour could readmit unelected officials who'd done so much to undermine the elected party leadership in the lead up to 2017. I also suppose Nandy has a poor grasp at what goes on in the constituency offices of Labour MPs, where unelected employees regularly bitch and plot against local councillors and sometimes, whisper it, sometimes talk about removing the elected member - their boss. Cummings is a toerag and no mistaking, but there was plenty of ammunition here Nandy might have used to to make some anti-Tory points, but given the opportunity to highlight Johnson's reckless Covid strategy she walloped the ball firmly into her own net. If past comments about letting the bodies pile high and repeated instances of lying isn't enough to move people, drawing attention to the PM's moral fibre was just about the weakest option in front of her. You can't say it enough: every hour is amateur hour on the shadow front bench.

As for Cummings himself, he'll no doubt be gratified. Kuenssberg will be chuffed with her "shocking" and much-discussed expose, but he emerges with his reputation enhanced. Lauded as a magus of the dark arts, unconcerned by petty things like public opinion and parties, Cummings is the distillation of bourgeois disdain with bourgeois democracy. But beneath the swagger and disrespect for the rules of the political game, what are we left with? A technocrat with a hard science fetish, a tough-talking apparatchik no different in substance to the likes of Andrew Adonis. His kind can thrive because both front benches are bereft of ideas, and trapped by their respective forms of decadence. This means we probably haven't seen the back of Cummings, and unless establishment politics is challenged by a new surge of politicisation along the lines of what happened in 2015, our leaderships will throw up one, two, many Cummings clones in the years to come.

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Tuesday, 20 July 2021

The Billionaire Space Race: A Marxist Note

Why bother with space travel from the point of view of capital accumulation?

There are a several purposes. One of them is the class politics of wasteful spending. There are causes here on Earth that need addressing, with global poverty and climate change mitigation the foremost priorities, and yet billionaires are dumping their money into worthless boondoggles. Jeff Bezos would rather splash cash on a rocket-powered dildo than make sure his workers are properly paid. Why? If we assumed the standpoint of a naive bourgeois bystander, it doesn't make much sense. Give workers more spending power would float the boats of other businesses by having money to spend. Those businesses grow, take on extra staff, and we have a self-expanding virtuous circle of investing and spending.

Capitalism does not work like this. From the point of view of the billionaire class interest giving employees more money than what the labour market "determines" increases workers' economic power ever so slightly versus the plutocrats. That means less precarity, less physical and mental exhaustion, and a small space they can call their own. If workers feel secure in their position, they might start asking for things, and come to see themselves as a collective in struggle against their space travelling boss. And from here, who knows where? A critique of their station? A worked out understanding of how surplus value works? A direct challenge to the employer's authority?

A billion fully aware of their interests knows this in their marrow. Whatever Bezos spends money on, another mansion, another super yacht, a Bond villain lair, or a fleet of spaceships, he is disposing of his wealth in an entirely class conscious way. His rocket escapes the Earth's gravity well to help keep his workers grounded by the pull of exploitation.

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Monday, 19 July 2021

Freedom for Some Day

Warning more people will get sick and more people will die. This was how Boris Johnson chose to mark his government's grossly irresponsible experiment in Covid governance. At least the occasion of Freedom Day was spared the pantomime Churchillisms. Indeed, watching the press conference the message hammered by the medical advisors were at cross purposes with their support for the government's opening up plan. Sir Patrick Vallance told the assembled that 60% of current hospitalisations are among the double-jabbed, but thankfully later corrected himself - he meant to say 60% were unvaccinated. Unfortunately, there wasn't any hiding from the 40,000 new infections over the last 24 hour period, and increase of 5,000 on this time last week. Nor the graph showing their strong, upward trajectory.

As with all Johnson pressers, the issue is deliberately contrived to ward off or at least channel questions (and opposition) in easily managed directions. And today saw the deploying of two such stratagems. The first is well rehearsed: if we don't open up now and throw precaution to the wind, when can we open up? This lets Johnson and the government bang on about the dangers of lifting restrictions later when Covid can look forward to easy transmissibility as we head indoors over the autumn months. It is designed to police the horizon of response, and put on the spot anyone questioning it. The right answer is to contest the terms of the argument. There is no "need" for the relaxation of pandemic precautions, save that generated by the government itself. It claims businesses can't hold out for much longer, and people's mental health is suffering. Perhaps if the Tories were as generous as they claimed to be and made sure hospitality, for example, was properly supported clubs wouldn't have to open as super spreader events-in-waiting. Likewise, Sajid Javid recently fielded the mental health question, something that never troubled him as the severely ill and incapacitated were found fit for work by the DWP, nor for that matter the £20/week the government are determined to take off the country's lowest paid. Naturally there are issues, but if they wished the Tories could tackle the mental health crisis by ensuring people on furlough or forced into unemployment had enough to live on. It's bad faith framing all the way down.

The second argument is closely related to the first. Opening now gives the country more time to get more jabs done so the virus runs up against a "wall of immunity" later in the year. The latter phrase is a typical Johnsonism, an image of towering strength that reinforces dangerous assumptions. A double vaccination doesn't grant immunity: it protects against serious illness, and therefore dampens the chances of hospital admissions and deaths. It prevents some transmission. Vaccines are a mitigation, not a cure-all. Unfortunately, millions will read it as immunity and go about their business as if there isn't a pandemic. Some will catch it and it does nothing. Some are going to be hit hard by it, and some will spread it to the clinically vulnerable. The Tories' rhetoric is about to rob tens of thousands of their health and cause some people to die, entirely unnecessarily. Which brings us to the first part of this argument - how does the almost complete abolition of legally-enforced measures aid the take up of jabs? It doesn't. In fact, quite the opposite. More illness now means exhausted health workers come the autumn, and an increased chance of vaccine resistant variants. Their position actively undermines over a year's worth of effort and sacrifice.

If further proof was needed of their criminal negligence, consider the new nightclub plan. As of midnight last night, anyone can go to a club without masks, distancing, and the rest. The BBC have helpfully provided plenty of footage of folks enjoying their first night out in almost 18 months, which recalls last summer's Tory press strategy of amplifying every illegal party and rave as spreader events to blame young people for infections. Something that conveniently forgot the disproportionate numbers of the young in hospitality, which Rishi Sunak had opened up with the absurd Eat Out to Help Out scheme. I digress. The government will be requiring clubbers to provide proof of vaccinations come September. Let's work this through. According to the government's projections, infections are expected to peak and magically decline from some point in late August. Until then, clubs are open to all-comers, whether vaccinated or not. And then when the danger has supposedly passed the restriction comes in. A complete mess. Utter incoherence.

We've been here before so many times. The Tories have proven experts in managing the politics of the pandemic, but disastrous with the practicalities of public health. This is because they've been pulled in several directions at once by the interests they articulate and serve. The preservation of the health of the workforce has to be set against that of employer/employee relations. Keeping people away from workplaces is measured against the passing trade that keeps the small shopkeeper, and much larger retail chains afloat - and their landlords happy. It even goes down to the absurdities of Tory MPs not wanting to wear masks. Johnson's make or break date of the 19th was fixed by political, not scientific exigencies. Simply put, so cracked are Tory MPs that he might have to rely on Labour votes to get further pandemic measures through the Commons, despite his healthy majority. We can't have that, and so once more the party interest is put first.

While still enjoying enormous advantages, this remains a risky moment for the Tories. Public opinion is cautious and concerned, and it could be a disaster too far for Johnson. Especially if we head back into another set of restrictions, and they're unable to scapegoat young people out for a drink. Danger means the possibility of Labour reversing its fortunes too if the moment is seized. But this is for the immediate future. Now, today, Johnson and the Tories have destroyed the pandemic's precautionary principle in the most cavalier way. Freedom Day can only be Freedom for Some Day. As every conspiracy theorist, anti-vaxxer, and anti-masker are given free reign to endanger others, more people will be curbing their interaction and outdoor time. We're chancing a social catastrophe and a renewed public health disaster, and it's the responsibility of the carefree psychopathy of the Prime Minister, his lackeys, and his party.

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Saturday, 17 July 2021

Keir Starmer's Pathetic Witch Hunt

We're told that opposition in the age of Covid is hard. Boris Johnson is enjoying a vaccine bounce, and people have tuned out from politicians who aren't in the government. This, according to Keir Starmer's defenders, is why Labour are trailing in the polls and done have badly in the last three by-elections. With the government determined to throw caution to the wind by dropping virtually all legal precautions from Monday, the public jittery about it, and Johnson forced to wind down his Freedom Day rubbish, Labour has a golden opportunity. Indeed, as hospitals fill up and infections mount the Labour leader has a rare second chance, a moment he could spend wiping the slate clean by articulating the anger and fear about the Tories' psychopathic course.

Instead, Keir Starmer is mounting a purge.

According to The Mirror, Starmer is to expel four groups of activists from the party next week. These are the Chris Williamson vehicle Resist (which, tbh, I thought was entirely outside of Labour anyway), Labour Against the Witchhunt, Labour in Exile, and Socialist Appeal. The paper is being very generous to say their total membership amounts to a thousand activists, which at first glance makes the mooted proscriptions somewhat puzzling. Given the faction wars the right provoked from the moment of Jeremy Corbyn's election, none of these organisations - with the exception of Chris himself - were key players. If anything, the first three are more or less groups that have come together in the conflict's aftermath, and groups individual activists and the odd small left outfit. Socialist Appeal is different, being a Trotskyist organisation and one of the descendents of the Militant tradition. Except they've hardly had a prominent role in Corbynism, and have been practically invisible to the wider labour movement since their formation in 1991/92. What is the thinking?

Control, of course. The only power the Labour right are serious about winning is in the party they deem theirs as of right. The four targeted organisations don't have mass followings and are inconsequential, which is entirely the point. Giving them the heave-ho sends a message to the much larger Momentum which, readers will know, is backed by a couple of unions and has deeper roots in the wider membership. It reads you're next. That is if it starts organising as seriously as Labour First does. Not that any of the left are going to be put off by this pathetic display of "strength". The mass base of Starmerism has been eroded in the party following the leader's lame stunts and dismal performance, and he and his close supporters know there isn't an appetite among his passive support in the ranks and, crucially, the union bureaucracies and sections of the party apparat for a return to open warfare. This is Mr Unity, and his position becomes even more precarious should the facedown with Momentum come - all the more reason then to ensure the Starmerist position isn't strengthened.

The second? It's how Tony Blair won things, innit. The mythology says New Labour only won in 1997 because of Blair's public confrontation with the Labour and union left over the old Clause IV. The likes of Peter Mandelson have likewise urged this course to make Labour electable - just ignore the polls that show Starmer is the main drag on the party's performance, and pay no mind to how Labour were doing before John Smith's untimely death. The thinking goes if the party is pacified then, and only then is it fit for office. It was rubbish in the 90s, and in the age where radical structural transformation is needed to mitigate climate change, tackle the health challenges, deal with Britain's continuing economic decllne, and manage the multiple crises of housing, adult care, the decay of social security and the public sector, it's the most foolish, electorally toxic, self-indulgent course of action available to the Labour leader. But the likes of the Mandelsons, the Blairs, the centrist newspaper columnists, and those elements of the Labour right more motivated by fighting the left than the Tories have to be mollified. Especially if the appearance of action, of making the party safe for capital again, attracts back "high net worth" donors. Chucking out Trots and undesirables is designed to show Starmer is following their playbook, and is happy to fire up a witchhunt down the line if necessary. But given how the targets are small fry, with what he perceives a minimum of political blowback.

We know what the game is, and obviously it has nothing to do with winning elections and taking the fight to the Tories. Proscribing these four organisations is driven by internal politicking, of consolidating Starmer's petty and brittle authoritarianism, of trying to cow the left and currying favour with (would-be) establishment backers concerned by his record of failure. Anyone with a leftwing, socialist bone in their body should stand against this petty purge. And remind ourselves again that we're not dealing with just another Tory-lite Labour leader but an existential threat. Starmer is more likely to lead the party into complete collapse than Number 10 and government.

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Friday, 16 July 2021

Final Fight for the Super Nintendo

Games don't come much more manly than this. Launched by Capcom to arcades gagging for new beat 'em up action, Final Fight was a qualitative leap up the evolutionary ladder from other brawlers. Consider Double Dragon II, which was released in Japan in November 1988. And contrast with what came 13 months later. It's the difference between a King Charles Spaniel and a dire wolf. Everything was ramped up to ludicrous proportions. The sprites enlarged, the levels lengthened, proper bosses with unique attack patterns, and unlike its Double Dragon forebears the player characters had their own move set. The simple smack-everyone-into-next-week gameplay was much more kinetic and satisfying than anything before it, thanks to the great sound effects, and Capcom's tills rang to the pitter patter of tiny coins.

Everyone wanted a piece of the Final Fight action, and in the end practically every home machine got their version. Including the humble 8-bit micros. As Capcom were long-time publishers for Nintendo and had made a few bob from the relationship, the game's first home outing was scheduled for the Super Famicom - then the hottest piece of gaming kit. And ... things did not go according to plan. Eager for killer apps, Final Fight has subsequently been considered something of a let down. Capcom tried cramming as much into an eight megabit cartridge, but it meant some significant omissions were made. The two player option was out. Of the three characters, speedy and nimble Guy was left on the cutting room floor - only Cody and Mike were available. An entire level was excised, and the Japanese version saw the game suffer debilitating slowdown in places. This didn't matter, it looked damn close to the arcade in magazine screen shots. That and the generally positive reviews it got helped Nintendo shift product.

To be sure, as in home as at the arcade SNES Final Fight is hyper macho nonsense of the most ridiculous and gratuitous order. It's the 1990s so, naturally, the inner city is a no-go zone stalked by hoodlums and exploited by organised crime. This is true of "Metro City", which is controlled by the Mad Gear gang. Elected mayor on an anti-corruption ticket, the former street brawler Mike Haggard is approached with a proposition - continue turning a blind eye and his daughter, who they've kidnapped, will be safe. In the American and European version Jessica appears on his TV screen in a red dress. In Japan, to make a rape threat implication clear, she's in just a bra. Outraged Mike meets with her boyfriend Cody and off they go to do battle with all manner of street scum.

Final Fight introduced lots of basic enemy types, as well as mini bosses, requiring different tactics to deal with. The Andore types, not at all based on the image of beloved WWF wrestler Andre the Giant, would charge at your player character. But stand there jabbing away and he'll run into your fists. The same cannot be said for the Big Bull types. Fat, bald baddies, they can charge under the jabs and so require slightly different handling. Unfortunately, due to the limitations the SNES can only handle three enemies on screen, but this doesn't stop the enemies from crowding you. Here the J types, thugs with puffy jackets and mohawk hair, prove especially frustrating with a tendency to evade punches and sneak up behind while you're mixing it with their confederates. Interestingly, this is where a bit of Nintendo censorship creeps in. In the Japanese version, Poison and Roxy, scantily-clad babes in short shorts and crop tops with handcuffs dangling from their waists because reasons find themselves removed from the Western versions and replaced by Billy and Sid, a couple of punky looking chaps ... also with the handcuffs. Riddle me this. Were they taken out because Nintendo were queasy about their inclusion? Or was having our muscle-bound heroes slapped around by high-kicking women too much for an exercise if digital manliness?

Despite the limitations, SNES Final Fight isn't an easy game. Enemies are frequently cheap, and their attacks often overpowered. Ground breaking as the arcade was, the move set is too limited and frustration frequently sets in. A couple of bosses are a bit too much as well. Take Abigail, the Kiss face paint-wearing respray of the Andore sprite has a long reach preventing the kinds of tactics that saw his forebears off. He also has a penchant for throwing you in the air and knocking about three quarters of the energy bar away. Unless you're well practised and have done the hard yards to learn his patterns, the loss of lives is inevitable. Likewise the end boss, Belger, you expect him to be a bit tricksy and indeed he is. Appearing on a motorised chair holding Jessica against her will, the crossbow comes out and you're getting skewered each time you try and get up from the last shot. Getting close and quickly throwing, or spamming the piledrivers is the way to sort him out - but this can't be pulled off with impunity and getting there will also deplete the life count.

Get through all that, and with father/daughter, boyfriend/girlfriend reunited Cody gives Jessica the brush off(!) Having rescued his damsel in distress, the ending says he can't be with her for as long as evil persists in the world. A lame excuse for his desire to grapple with muscley men if you ask me. Or, if you prefer the more conventional reading, putting his duty to a version of robust city clean-up than fripperies like relationships and caring for someone else. A harsh if fitting analogy for the relationship between games, particularly at this point in time, and their end sequences - the journey, at least in good games, is much better than the prize.

Despite being toned down for the SNES, Final Fight is a good game and well worth playing, even if only for a digital retread of popular manly tropes that cycled through Hollywood in the 1980s. It's one of those games the years have treated kindly: it doesn't look objectionable by contemporary standards, and has the all-important pick-up-and-play quality. But two things I realised, not having indulged the Final Fight phenomenon first time round. The Mega/Sega CD version is much better on all counts with no missing features or levels, options, fluid animation, and more on-screen enemies. With a CD and coming out two years after the SNES version this was the minimum expectation. And second? It's proper shocking how much the Streets of Rage series on the Mega Drive was "inspired" by this game's example. The first game on the Mega Drive had puny sprites owing more to Double Dragon than the Final Fight it was supposed to be Sega's answer to. But there were better moves, an amazing sound track versus Capcom's terrible ditties, and enemies who were directly ripped off from their source material. The Signal types behaved exactly like the J types. Third level boss Abadede combined elements from Abigail, and the level two boss Katana (Sodom in Japan). And, entirely coincidently, the end of game boss Mr X shoots off his machine gun just as Belger was handy with his crossbow. Moving on to Streets of Rage II, the best 16-bit thumper ever with the banging tunes to match, the "inspiration" is blatant. It introduces themes and gameplay elements of its own that leaves Final Fight in the dust, but the substrate is there. Sprite size, sprite types, sprite moves, even the bloody character types owe something to Cody and Mike. Which sort of makes the efforts Sega putting in to publishing Final Fight CD a touch curious - as good a conversion it is, Streets of Rage II improved on it in every single way. It was, to all intents and purposes, obsolete by the time of its release.

Returning to the SNES, Final Fight is worth a blast today, especially if you've spent quality time with Streets of Rage IV on the Switch or whatever and fancy investigating the glory days of the scroll-a-long fighter. Enjoy the absurdity, the button mashing, the inevitable frustration and occasional cheap shot, and the condensation of 1980s action-men tropes, gestures, logics, and absurdities. They don't make 'em like they used to.

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Thursday, 15 July 2021

The Levelling Up Con

This was Boris Johnson's big agenda-driving speech. Long time Tory watchers will recall this is a theme Johnson is fond of, having visited it under a series of guises and slogans, but is there any substance or are we dealing with whispy rhetoric?

It would be easy to dismiss, and a set of words were duly delivered in the characteristic, haphazard style. There was a weird digression on the "loony left" of the 1980s, and an equally bizarre line on how focusing government investment outside of the South East doesn't mean cutting down their share of the pie. Someone's been reading the wrong people on the whys and wherefores of the Chesham and Amersham result. There was a plea for all local leaders to beat a path to his door as he raised the prospect of more devolution for England, acknowledging that the metro mayor model isn't suitable for all circumstances. This could take the shape of the repatriation of a range of powers by local authorities, with the caveat they'd have to pass a vaguely defined fiscal responsibility and democratic accountability test. In other words, don't expect more powers to pass to Salford and Preston any time soon. And apart from an awkward and bruising exchange about Tory racism and the England team, that was it. It took Johnson an hour to say what could have been said in five minutes.

This shouldn't be entirely dismissed as hot air. There is a project of Tory modernisation and large sums have been allocated to key projects, including the super fashionable gigafactories and more monies for research and design. But befitting the disjointed delivery, the programme matches the dilletantism of the Tory leader. This is a million miles from the thought-through approach to economic regeneration and addressing geographic disparities, and leaves some thinking 'levelling up' is an empty signifier, a soundbite for people to read what they wish into it. Much like the 'Northern Powerhouse' and 'Midlands Engine' rubbish of George Osborne's time in Number 11.

Peeling off the nonsense and clearing away the debris of waffle, two things remain. Because of the focus on infrastructure those immediately benefiting from the Treasury's largesse will be big construction firms and key manufacturers. There will be the trickle down of Keynesian multipliers, but while this is happening the Tories are ending furlough and taking £20/week off the poorest families in the country. Levelling up never means intervening to bail out our people. Here Tory spending is the means for reinforcing and concentrating economic power in the hands of their class, and with the numbers of vacancies growing. removing time-limited support is the stick the Tories think they need to get people out of slovenly habits picked up these last 18 months. The second? Sitting back and hoping for the best. Dole out a few more powers to councils, combined authorities, and metro mayors, give them a few million here and there to fix local transport issues (caused by the privatisation and fragmentation of networks ... by the Tories) and let them do the hard work of nurturing businesses and attracting investment. It just remains for Johnson to visit a new factory here, a new road there over the next couple of years and, he believes, the optics will do an election winning job.

This leaves plenty of hostages to fortune. There's plenty of scope for the government to be mired in cronyism and corruption scandals. Having more or less got away with the last round of NHS-related crookedness, and looking to bed it down further in in state institutions, it's almost as if Tory modernisation is purposely scattering a minefield for the party to later step on. With cracks and vulnerabilities starting to show, it's no means guaranteed softer Tory voters will carry on turning a blind eye. Who knows, perhaps these might be occasions for the opposition to do some opposition and actually lead public opinion for a change.

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Dawn Foster on BBC Tory Bias

Earlier today, her close friend James Butler announced that Dawn Foster had unexpectedly and suddenly passed away. Such terrible news, especially when it's a talented comrade taken so young.

We should remember Dawn doing what she did best - taking a scalpel to the powerful and exposing their hypocrisy.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

From Renaissance to Relapse

One thing about Labour is how endlessly productive it is of reviews, coalitions, initiativism and ginger groups. Off the top of my head, in the last five years we've had Momentum on the left, and on the right Labour to Win, Progressive Britain, Labour Together, the People's Vote, and commissions and policy reviews galore. So why not one more? Announcing its existence on LabourList, Renaissance promises to target research, resources, and activism on the so-called red wall seats to win as many back as possible. Sounds sensible. It also badges itself leadership-loyal and styles itself as helping Keir Starmer "develop his storytelling". An admission, if there ever was one, that he's gone down like a lead balloon in the former heartlands. Can Renaissance pump enough helium to reinflate his chances?

Fronted by Stephen Kinnock with Yvette Cooper and Ruth Smeeth on the advisory board, Renaissance wants to keep Labour out of the "comfort zone" and "reconnect" with "working families". Tipping its hat in a Brexity direction, Kinnock argues that the UK needs to stand on its own feet and it does this by investing heavily in manufacturing, married to the usual gubbins around sound money and kowtowing to the imagined taxpayer. Naturally, a report will come in September focusing on why people who've supported Labour previously haven't and what can be done to win them back. This is England and Wales only. Despite committing Renaissance to the vision of Labour as a Britain-wide project ("whole nation" in wonk speak), they're strangely uninterested in what former life-long voters in Scotland have to say.

Avoiding hard answers, at least where the Labour right are concerned on matters Scottish augurs ill for this new initiative. As does the accompanying puff piece by Ruth Smeeth. She writes how Labour has always been an alliance of workers and the progressive middle class, typified respectively by The Mirror and The Graun. Unfortunately, the 2019 manifesto was lopsided toward the latter. The party lost its ideological anchor and was set adrift in seat after seat as the old base deserted the ship.

If you're interested in understanding a problem, it pays to approach it in full possession of the facts and that your thesis has some evidential basis. Shall we consider them? Smeeth says Labour talked about tuition fees but had nothing to say about meeting rent payments. Turning page 79 of the 2019 manifesto, we find pledges for rent controls by capping them. Local authorities would be granted powers to curb rents further, no-fault evictions ended, the enforcement of minimum standards of habitation, and public funding for renters' unions so tenants can best defend their rights. Sounds utterly divorced from working class interests, doesn't it? Sticking with the Labour right's obsessions with tuition fees, she argues further education mattered more to her former constituents than measures that would benefit students in higher education. Pages 37 and 38 are our oracles here, and they committed Labour to expanding FE provision, reintroducing the EMA grant for FE students, giving people lifelong access to FE (and HE) for reskilling in the face of the next wave of automation, and integrate the whole lot into a National Education Service. Fancy that, tuition fees can be abolished while lifelong learning and FE are revolutionised.

She goes on. Rail nationalisation is nice and Stokies would have liked it, but the appalling state of the local buses matter more. As someone lacking a gas guzzling megamobile to ferry myself around the Potteries, I know this very well. Which is why pages 19-20 went down a treat:
Labour will ensure that councils can improve bus services by regulating and taking public ownership of bus networks, and we will give them resources and full legal powers to achieve this cost-effectively, thereby ending the race to the bottom in working conditions for bus workers. Where councils take control of their buses, Labour will introduce free bus travel for under-25s. We will increase and expand local services, reinstating the 3,000 routes that have been cut, particularly hitting rural communities.
She then criticises the party for failing to address concerns over job security. Talk about a green revolution smacks of change being done to voters rather than working with them. A good job then page 17 sees Labour pledged to invest in heavy industry, including science and research spend for cleaning them up and backed by a Britain-first procurement strategy to stop offshoring. This was in addition to three gigafactories, four metal processing plants, and a package of measures to keep the British steel industry going. Huge sums would be invested in plastic reclamation and recycling, a process the manifesto terms 'remanufacturing'.

The examples Smeeth cites to support her fairy story of a disconnected Labour Party are shown to be false. Or to put it plainly, pure bullshit. If her constituents didn't know these were priorities, then whose fault is that? She had a two-year lead in to tell the good people of Stoke North and Kidsgrove how a Labour government would change their lives for the better. History records she elected to spend her time with the Labour right torching the party's chances instead.

What this also means is the answers from the Renaissance report can be forecast now with unerring accuracy. There will be no findings that contradict the distorted preface Smeeth has offered, no honest accounting of the role Brexit played. Nor, for that matter, how the remain-focused strategy of the current leader properly torpedoed the party - something red wall voters haven't forgot, in case anyone's still bewildered by the poor results from the last two Labour defences. We'll just get a reiteration of the party is too middle class and too socially liberal, which will entirely coincidentally support Starmer's idiotic embrace of Blue Labourism.

It's worth remembering these people think they're the election winning specialists. They're also the people who deny their efforts at blowing the party up had any effect on Labour's reception, are completely uninterested in the character of the voter coalition we currently have and stupidly assume it's going nowhere, and argue pivoting toward social conservatism as the country is trending toward social liberalism is super smart, strategic politics. Perhaps instead of 'Renaissance', they should have called themselves 'Relapse'. This is a prospectus for promise-nothing, status quo-tailing Labourism, a vision so anaemic that you'd have to go back to David Miliband's policy platform in the 2010 contest to find anything so weak. With this shower in the driving seat, Labour's going nowhere - and it's our people who'll pay the price for their failure.