Sunday 8 May 2011

Eurovision Preview

We are less than a week away from the competition that really matters. No, I'm not talking about Stoke City vs Manchester City in the FA Cup Final but rather the intercontinental cheese fest that is Eurovision 2011!

As per the custom round these parts, this calls for a weary eye to be cast over this year's entries.

The one thing, the main thing that jumps out from this year's entrants is just how
serious it has become. Dozy media bosses in Western Europe have finally woken up to the fact that East European countries win because they actually enter A-List acts with regional profiles. Take Alexej Vorobjov, Dino Merlin, and TWiiNS, for example. They are big names. It's all about the fame game and has nothing to do with block voting. Therefore this year, Western Europe has rolled out some very big guns indeed.

First up, Ireland is offering none other than
X Factor irritants Jedward. Their tune, Lipstick isn't bad by their execrable standards. Though you have got to ask how their ropey vocals will stand up to the rigours of a live performance. Still, they have hokeyness on their side and should, if they get through the heats, pick up a fair amount of points from the UK audience.

Germany, having toasted their first victory in 28 years in 2010 are determined to hold on to the Eurovision crown. They're sticking with Lena who will be singing
Taken By a Stranger. It's alright and the song shows of her strange mockney warble, but it isn't anywhere near as catch as last year's Satellite. But still, could her new found star power pull Germany through?

The UK has got its act together and plumped for someone that not only have us pommes de frites heard of, but have had success on the Continent too. I am of course talking about Blue and their choon,
I Can. As entries go it is much better than the dross the UK usually embarrasses itself with. It sounds like a proper Blue record, not underpowered nasal Eurovision fodder. And (and!) because of European chart success, they definitely won't be doing a Jemini and disgracing our good name.

France, however, could pull off something of a coup with their entry.
Sognu by Amaury Vassili is a Corsican operatic number that's actually quite good. Mindful of the People's Operatic Societies of the East under the late and unlamented Stalinist regimes, France could pull off quite a coup on the far side of the Danube. And people fed up with Eurodisco married to folky beats might give it a punt for its sheer freshness.

But by far the biggest beast of the Eurovision jungle is none other than Dana International for Israel. It doesn't matter her song,
Ding Dong isn't as good as Diva, her 1998 performance was a culturally defining media moment. And with a fan base in practically every European country, by rights she should be a hot favourite.

Well, you would think so. After all, I remember thinking tATu would walk it in 2003. I have instead read the tea leaves and consulted the Oracle and believe the crown will go to either Lena or
Eric Saade of Sweden. But expect very strong challenges from Ell and Nikki of Azerbaijan, Hungary's Kati Wolf, France, and, of course, our Blue.

And so, in tribute to Our Boys, here's the UK's entry:

Stoke Local Elections: Thoughts

Until approximately 2:30 Friday morning, Stoke-on-Trent was famous for four things: the pottery industry, Stoke City Football Club, Robbie Williams, and the BNP. But no more. As Labour powered to a 24 seat majority, voters across the city decisively turned their backs on the far right. All five of their sitting councillors were dumped out of the chamber, their challenges elsewhere came to nought, and the unashamedly racist England First (née the White Nationalist Party) could only make up the numbers as fascist also-rans.

This doesn't mean the city can be declared a BNP-free zone, as tempting to do so is. The 3.4%
city wide vote mustered by the BNP downplays the scale of their support. In the 10 wards where they fielded a candidate, they polled 2,528 votes out of 35,467 cast, or 7.12%. Despite losing every seat, having an organisation falling apart at the seams, running no real campaign to speak of, and seeing a wedge of its soft support returning to Labour, the fascists are still polling at historical highs for the far right and the local rate is many times greater than their piddling national vote share.

The problem is many of the conditions that allowed the BNP to spread like a cancer through the city's body politic still remain. Persistent unemployment, welfare dependency, poor prospects, housing shortages, and further cuts form the noxious soup from which the fascists can draw sustenance. But they won't necessarily make a comeback in four years time for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, undoubtedly having a thinly-diguised outright Tory government at the country's helm blunts the animus the city's electorate has felt toward Labour this last decade. When it was in power it is hardly surprising some of the anti-politics sentiment it fed assumed radical right wing forms at the ballot box. And already the ruling coalition of the centre right has inspired left-wing street movements, though this has not (and is, in my opinion, unlikely to) make itself felt electorally.

Secondly, Stoke-on-Trent Labour has undergone a significant sea change. The faction fight immediately prior to Tristram Hunt's selection for Stoke Central CLP cleared out a ruling clique focused on resolutionary socialism, hobby horse obsessions, and bone idleness. This has allowed a new campaigning culture to take hold committed to rebuilding the local party and labour movement. And the initial results - 12 out of 14 constituency council seats, the disposal of the BNP, strengthening relationships with the trade unions, and a growing membership - vindicates our proactive approach to politics. Provided this strategy is deepened, and there is no reason to believe it won't be, the BNP and sundry anti-politics independents will have a very difficult time countering it.

The bigger longer term challenge for Labour is tackling persistent low turn outs. While this year is not significantly worse than the usual numbers voting in local contests (as second order elections, they tend not to "matter" as much), it can be dispiriting traipsing from door to door encountering (usually, young) people who are either indifferent to, completely alienated from, or say they do not understand politics. Some readers might like to think this is the outer shell of an immature bolshevism. In fact it is symptomatic of the accumulating break down of civic/political culture that has been ongoing as neoliberalism and deindustrialisation has ravaged the land. Celebrating it as a rejection of discredited mainstream politics is completely misguided - a socialist society cannot be built with ignorance as its foundation. Labour has to go against the grain and rebuild itself from the ground up, as an organisation that has a real community presence beyond the bi-monthly news letter and occasional knock on the door.

So while what Labour has done in campaign terms this last year is impressive, it is but the first step on the long road to the city's political rejuvenation.

Now, of course, something would be amiss if I didn't take the opportunity to comment on the far left vote. Standing as 'Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts', the local Socialist Party branch stood in six seats in surely what must constitute the biggest far left challenge in Stoke-on-Trent since, well, ever. The results were less than stellar and mirrored
their outcomes elsewhere, which saw three sitting councillors lose their seats. In the city, TUSC polled 486 (3.8%) out of the 12,656 votes cast in those wards. While this isn't too bad in far left terms (the standard poll a far left candidate can expect is between one and two per cent), considering the scale of cuts forced on the City Council, this is pretty poor. To put things in perspective, town clown and friend-of-the-blog Gary Elsby polled almost twice the total combined TUSC vote. Or, to put it in even starker terms, this vote is less than what the SP achieved standing only in the old Abbey Green ward in 2006. Of course, I have no doubt the success of the campaign will be weighed in terms of x number of leaflets delivered, y number of papers sold, and z number of new recruits. But if you're in the business of building a new workers' party, which the SP claims to be, you will never convince the bulk of Labour-supporting trade unionists to break away on the basis of such trifling numbers.

With Labour's grip on the most politically conscious layers of the working class growing, it's pretty obvious where socialists should be.

Image credit:
Pits n Pots

Friday 6 May 2011

Blogging Imminent

It's been a busy old few months since I let blogging lapse and, of course, a great deal of nonsense has been cluttering up the interwebs in my absence. I think it's time to dust off the keyboard, flex them fingers, and begin again exposing the contents of my head to your reasoned scrutiny.

Well, not quite yet. Yesterday's hectic campaigning plus a near all-nighter at the local election count and a full day at work has left me almost as knackered as the BNP's immediate prospects in Stoke-on-Trent. Instead, have some music until a few thoughts materialise on the elections here, and the far left's totally unexpected dismal results.