Sunday 31 May 2015

The Coming Tabloid Assault on Charities

A couple of straws in the wind, perhaps, but I have a feeling something's a-brewing.

Exhibit one: Olive Cooke, a 92-year-old poppy seller and giver to charitable causes took her own life after, apparently, being repeatedly pestered by cold callers asking for more cash (she already gave to 27 charities every month) and receiving dozens of begging letters, week in, week out.

Exhibit two: Robert Newman, a 80-year-old pensioner received a begging letter from The Children's Society asking him to cough up a cool £100k over three-year monthly installments. The charity explained this has been sent out in error and was intended for wealthy would-be patrons.

Usually loathe to criticise charities - indeed, most tabloids are only too happy to hop on popular acts of do-gooding, there's a bit of a whiff about this. Yes, Newman was right that some elderly people might feel bullied into handing over the dosh. And yes, it is awful that many charities now rely on "self-employed" chuggers who send shoppers scattering with their aggressive, insincere banter, low paying call centres, and postal missives. Charity now goes where social security policy fears to tread, but that doesn't mean the political economy of the whole set up should get a free pass. Far from it.

Of course, our friends at The Sun and Express are not interested in any of that. So why has this been regarded as newsworthy, especially when the Newman case is all very meh, and the sad passing of Cooke had little, if anything to do with charities (according to her family, at least).

Ever since the National Lottery started doling cash out to charitable organisations in the mid-90s, the tabloids at the time made a distinction between good and bad charities. In the good categories were your military charities, stuff to do with animals and children, and usually those set up in the aftermath of awful disasters. Very much in the bad was stuff supporting the arts and refugees. There was a touch of ambiguity around poverty-based and environmental charities because of their tendency to shade into political questions - witness the periodic whingeing that occurs whenever Oxfam makes the barest of allusions to the systematic inequalities of power and wealth that produces and reproduces poverty. But on the whole, it has been relatively quiet - until now.

What these two stories may represent is the tiniest sliver of a rather large wedge. I wouldn't be surprised at all if, over the coming months, we see more reporting of similar cases and perhaps a few exposés of huge salaries and soirée-ligging on the part of charity higher-ups. Why? Because the question of what is and what isn't a worthwhile charity has to be out into question as the government prepares to forcibly expropriate housing association homes.

One of the most stupid and damaging of the policies in the Tory manifesto, the arguments against are too long to rehearse for a short blog post, but it will mean a number of associations will go to the wall and the process of consolidation, which has seen a few mammoth-sized organisations emerge, will accelerate. Housing associations, however, are (mostly) incorporated as charities and provide more than just a roof over their tenants' heads. Some provide an extra layer of social security and dispense advice about job-seeking, provide adult education and retraining, as well as support for handling big public institutions like the local authority, DWP, and NHS. Clearly, as a growing charitable sector and one that is increasingly important because it helps fill the gaps left by the state, taking them on to force their ridiculous legislation through requires their tame press gophers to do some outriding. Their legitimacy needs challenging, their existence as relatively successful providers of social housing must be undermined.

I'm not suggesting Dave has been on the phone to The Sun, but when charity starts coming in for press flak just prior to a Tory attack on an entire charitable sector, you've got to wonder about timings and who exactly benefits from this confected media scare.

Local Council By-Elections May 2015

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/- Apr

* There were three by-elections in Scotland
** There were seven by-elections in Wales
*** There were three contests with Independent clashes
**** Other this month included Mebyon Kernow (340 & 180 votes), SPGB (42), Christian Peoples (99), All Peoples Party (25), and Community Action (1,870)

Overall, 345,609 votes were cast over 82 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. There are three by-election results yet to be published that remain outstanding. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. A total of 16 council seats changed hands. For comparison see April's results here.

As you can see, the by-election results - thanks to the increased turn out general elections bring - have "normalised" themselves and roughly approach the national vote tallies achieved by the main parties, percentage-wise. The Tories very slightly under-performed, while Labour did better here. An example of Ed Miliband's under-promising and over-delivering mantra, perhaps? Or due to out-organising the Tories for the first time in a long time. UKIP also got significantly less here than their national proportion, whereas the LibDems did ever so slightly better and the Greens more so.

Having followed local by-elections for the last two and a bit years, did they show any indication of the coming Tory win? While the by-elections for 2014 as a whole gave the Tories a fractional lead, if you looked at what was happening in the quarters there was a gradual swing away from Labour to giving the Tories a decent vote share lead. However, in the first quarter for this year it had swung away from them and gave Labour a decent victory - one, as it turned out, was a freak. Again, as with the much maligned polls, one needs to keep an eye on the overall trend and be aware of what might be the result of by-election vagaries and others of a broader movement among voters.

Thursday 28 May 2015

The Melanie Baddeley "Affair"

Meet Melanie Baddeley. She is one of two councillors elected from Stoke-on-Trent's Abbey Hulton ward. She, along with a representative from UKIP, was returned by the local elections that took place three weeks ago. Melanie has been a councillor before, representing Abbey Green (as was) between 2008 and 2011. And today she was due to be made the deputy Lord Mayor. All in all, quite unremarkable really. And so would be the person of Cllr Baddeley if it wasn't for one blemish on her character. For nine years, Stoke-on-Trent's politics were disfigured by the presence of the BNP. Their brief stay in the council chamber between 2002 and 2011 earned the city a reputation for racism and intolerance. According to the council's own internal figures, funding bids lost and investment that never materialised thanks to the bigoted image they promoted amounted to hundreds of millions. At one point, a senior figure at Staffordshire University told me they had seriously considered pulling out and concentrating their campus in Stafford. The council lost staff, local public sector bodies and companies had difficulty recruiting from outside the area, in all it was appalling. All because a small fascist party fed off local disaffection by whipping up racism and scapegoating powerless ethnic and religious minorities for the city's problems. And who was one of the BNP's leading members at that time? None other than Melanie Baddeley.

Since noting that Baddeley's nomination for deputy mayor might not be a good idea, events have moved on. For the Labour Group, Ruth Rosenau argued that it was not appropriate for someone who once stood on the politics of division to represent a diverse city. The local anti-fascist group, NorSCARF said "history as a BNP councillor made it very difficult for her to represent all the people of Stoke-on-Trent". Stoke North MP, Ruth Smeeth also said "appointing a "former" right-wing extremist to the mayoralty will divide our communities and repel business investment in our city." And so this afternoon when the assembled councillors filed in to propose their choices for lord and deputy lo and behold, Baddeley's name had been withdrawn. Amazing what a bit of pressure and the promise of a ceaseless headache can do. Imagine every function scheduled for her: allowances would have to also be made for her constant shadowing by anti-fascist protesters. Not a good look for a city desperately courting inward investors.

Of course, Baddeley thinks this is much ado about nothing. She originally set her nose against the protests by claiming "I left the BNP following the 2011 elections and in the four years since I have continued to work hard in my community. I no longer support the BNP or any of its policies and beliefs." Council Leader Dave Conway also defended the initial decision: "I interviewed every prospective council candidate for the City Independent Group ... She no longer agrees with any BNP policy and has turned her back completely on far right politics." That's alright then. Except it's not alright. Actions have consequences, and some take a long time to be forgotten - Baddeley and Dave might want to ask Jean Bower's proposer about that. Of course, people change their minds and move on. But we're not talking about some naif who rolled up to the BNP and fell into representing them for four years. To earn that dubious distinction, you had to be deemed ideologically sound. You would have to have sat through the tedious "educationals" and Mike Coleman's rants about Muslims. You would have braved numerous anti-fascist protests, perhaps have had friends and family members who cut you dead and, of course, agreed to have had your name put on racist leaflets. And clearly the party must have been impressed by you to have fielded you as a parliamentary candidate in Stoke North in 2010 when, they thought, they were riding high on a national turn to the BNP. Sitting down with a gentleman in possession of a questionable taste in coats and saying "yes Mr Conway sir, no Mr Conway sir, three bags full Mr Conway sir" is hardly a repudiation of past associations and commitment to the very basics of normal politics.

Nevertheless, seeing off Baddeley's nomination is an early victory for the opposition before the new council had even officially sat. It also raises questions about the new council leader's judgement. As we've seen, the City Independents' manifesto makes a virtue out of not having a whip. i.e. Party discipline. Yet when you're sat in a coalition with the Tories and UKIP, and you're going to have some unpalatable choices to make, how can you guarantee your group will vote your way? You can't, unless you get as many of them on the gravy train as possible. As a nice allowance and status is attached to the pompous, forelock tugging nonsense of the mayoralty, by proposing Baddeley he attempted to purchase her loyalty for two years - until those pesky troublemakers (*innocent face*) disrupted the transaction. Yet Dave might not emerge from this a tarnished figure. As he scrabbles around for an excuse, he could point out that he had "listened to concerns" and "changed his mind", and contrast that to the perceived image of his predecessor. Though if he does now, we will know where he turns to for advice on spin.

The Melanie Baddeley affair, however, was completely unnecessary and calls this coalition's fitness to govern into question from the off. You're forced to ask yourself what the dear leader has next in his sights. As toddlers can't vote, are Children's Centres - which the City Indies once made a big song and dance about - going to be for the chop? In the name of cost-cutting, is Dave going to let his little Tory helpers hand more city functions to the increasingly imperious Matthew Ellis, Staffordshire's Police and Crime Commissioner? Is he going to row back on deleting the chief executive post and scrubbing out most of the press department, after hasty manifesto promises could land the council with huge constructive dismissal costs? And will his "immediate reality check" mean the City Independents won't go into the next set of local elections with a manifesto written in crayon? I suppose that one is too much to hope for.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Ridge Racer 6 for the Xbox 360

I love racing games. Yet, as long-time readers know, I'm not so keen on modern games. By 'modern' I mean the era inaugurated around 2000 onwards with the coming of the Playstation2, and it's "competition" from Microsoft and Nintendo. Yes, for readers under 25 that is aeons ago. 15 years is a long bloody time, but I'm sticking with that definition because reasons, and that your humble scribe has, sadly, long passed his mid-20s. But I'm well aware I run the risk of being the video game equivalent of a too-cool-for-school dad who declares current music crap because we had Hendrix, the Stones, and The Carpenters back in the day. This granddad needs to get with the programme and start jiving to more modern fare. And so I've been kicking about for recent(ish) stuff to get my teeth into and have picked up Diablo III for the PS3 (of which more another time) and this, Ridge Racer 6 for the Xbox 360.

Readers might remember this blog visited its illustrious predecessor last year; Ridge Racer Type 4 for the original PlayStation. That was a superlative racing game that hit these shores back in 1999 and excelled via its compulsive arcade-style gameplay and, what were for the time, stunning visuals and soundtrack. As I am a fan, when I saw Ridge Racer 6 going at a bargain bin price in a local gaming emporium, I thought why not. It was a wise choice because I haven't played anything else for the past couple of months.

RR6 is a worthy entry in the franchise. Apart from the visuals, obviously, this 2005 release is clearly stamped by the marks of its ancestor. The premise is much the same. Race around the tracks and qualify for the subsequent race. You start off with the basic route and once all those races are, um, raced, more areas of the game universe are unlocked. In all there are a range of tracks going from the aforementioned to the hidden master level. It also presents different challenges to the players. As you might expect the cars get faster as you move through the game, and the races vary from standard you versus a field of 14 to one-on-one duels to quad challenges. These are especially challenging and get nigh-on impossible toward the game's end (being rubbish, I'm stuck on the 94.5% completed mark). Unlike racing games of the last five years, it's very simple to pick up. Turn on the automatic gear system and all you need do is press accelerator, learn how to corner, and that's about it.

Also, being Ridge Racer, it prides itself on the absurdity of its arcade roots. If you like realistic physics as part of a super serious racing experience, this definitely is not for you. Imagine, if you will, taking corners at 320kph - that is how this game rolls. In fact, in the dozens of hours I've sank into RR6 I don't think I've used the brake button once. Success here depends on mastering its drifting mechanic. This just isn't so you can steal a march on the computer-controlled opposition, but in this game universe the friction from drifting charges you up with nitrous oxide which, as per every racing game from the 16-bit era on, provides you with a temporary shot of mega speed. Winning, especially on the higher levels where you frequently go up against cars faster than yours, depends on its acquisition and strategic use. Another lovely touch, especially for gamers of a certain vintage, is the liberal use Namco makes of its classic catalogue. You can play Pac-Man on the loading screen and unlock it as a permanent option as you race. Several of the teams and models of fictional cars are named after old arcade favourites like Mappy and Galaga, and one of the tracks features a remixed soundtrack from the latter too. Namco being Namco, you can unlock a Pac-Man themed car too.

Speaking of cars, despite not being entirely serious RR6 does follow the conventions of car porn established long before it in more serious racers. Perhaps there's a little bit of sending up going on. With each unlocking, a car is off-loaded from its transporter and is greeted by a camera that almost leers at its lines, curves, and reflective surfaces. It happens regardless whether it has a sleek, elegant design, or is boxy and awkward-looking. Also, again in-keeping with licensed driving games, the cars are indestructible. It doesn't matter if you smash straight into a wall at ludicrous speed or scrape against the side of the track for the best part of half a mile, the motor always emerges unscathed.

The only downside is the length of the game. Having 200 races is fine, but there are only so many basic tracks. When you have to race on each one well over 10 times each against progressively faster opponents it can get a bit wearing, especially on the lower levels where half-decent players can breeze through without so much as a by-your-leave. It does, however, make up for it as the cars get faster. The other point is the lack of customisation, not that this particularly bothers me. I've never seen the attraction of fiddling with car components to build up the ultimate racer. Yet for those who do like to personalise their stuff, you can unlock and apply unique colour schemes. Each to their own.

There are two points of interest from a chin-strokey perspective here. Back in Ridge Racer Type 4, I noted how its longevity rested on the pursuit of ephemeral gaming experiences. You've won all the races, had the credits roll, banked the glory ... now what? In the earlier title, more gameplay could be found by racing through the different difficulty levels and meeting a myriad victory conditions to unlock more cars, of which there were 320. That's a lot of driving with cars that differ very slightly in terms of speed, handling, and appearance for no discernible end goal rather than the pleasure of play itself. And with each racing campaign taking about half an hour to get through, that's a lot of bloody time soaked up that most gamers would have - and did - expend elsewhere. In RR6 this superfluous element is incorporated into the core game design. To get the 100% and complete the game fully, you are compelled to pursue ephemeral experiences. However, it is unclear whether the game considers itself completed if you fall short. Once you go through the basic run the end sequence, which is just the credits, start rolling without warning. Go through a couple more "expert" levels and the same happens. All that appears to change is the swirly patterns that dance along with the staff roll call. The rewards for pursuing the experience, however, is the unlocking of super fast and increasingly surreal-looking cars. These include a rocket booster on wheels, a hover craft, a car with four legs, and a limo with a fearsome nitrous thrust concealed in its boot.

The other point is why I went for this game. Not being au fait with modern games, I did my research and was ultimately looking for nothing more complicated than OutRun, which is what RR6 is. It has all the core gaming mechanics of the really old racers I used to (still) love, but steered away from the serious simulation claims of some, and the whacky race-and-destroy nonsense of Ridge Racer Unbounded and the Burnout series. In all essentials it's probably an example of why I usually stick with retro product: it's about comfort gaming, of being content with what you might call the gamer/gameplaying habitus I've acquired since first playing Phoenix all those decades ago. I can't be bothered to sink the time necessary to learn (comparatively) new gameplay conventions or taking up a RPG that might demand 100 hours to finish, but thinking nothing of doing just that for a game that is as simple as modern gaming can be. So, incredibly, while lots of gamers and gaming commentators wax lyrical about emotionally engaged story lines and the depths to which one can be lost in brilliantly realised gameworlds, for me at least all it took was something brainless to get me to reflect on my understanding, experience, and orientation to gaming.

Tuesday 26 May 2015

The Strange Return of the Political Party

In the aftermath of the general election, this little gem from the BBC caught my eye. It reported on the seemingly counter-intuitive view that political parties, particularly if they lose, often experience a surge in membership. The Liberal Democrats, for instance, who saw their worst defeat in their history saw them put on 10,000-15,000 members (depending on who you talk to) since the general election. The Greens have apparently added another 5,000, the SNP 7,000, and Labour just over 30,000. Poor old UKIP, however, failed to put on any thanks to some untimely IT problems. Still, the combined membership of parties are stuck stubbornly beneath 1% of the electorate but it seems, at least on the surface, that the political party is back. At least as organisations comprised of growing numbers of active citizens - however you'd like to define them.

Of course, the political party never really went away. If you take the period from the 2005 general election to the eve of the Scottish referendum, despite falling combined memberships and dislocation from the constituencies of people that breathed life into them parties remained relevant. They formed governments and councils, sent their members to the European Parliament and devolved bodies, they won elections and pushed through policies. Insurgents from the far left and far right challenged incumbents successfully through the party form. For all of the talk of party breakdown and the erosion of stable identification, the success of self-styled independents remain sporadic and highly localised.

Yet for anyone interested in the health of representative democracy, and that includes those who are well aware of its limitations and might perhaps like to see more participatory and democratic forms eventually develop, the weakness of political parties are bad news. It can exacerbate other pressures constantly bearing down on the state that contribute to the withering of democratic accountability. Party weakness can let undesirables through too. In Stoke the BNP's rise during the 00s had many roots, and one of them was the complete absence of the Conservatives from most local election contests.

From the liberal democratic perspective then, parties are necessary. And this is why seas of ink have been poured over the problem of declining parties and hollowed out polities. It's a problem that's exercised me too. Both Conservatives and Labour have undergone a progressive diminution of influence as tectonics of classes and class fractions have shifted beneath their feet. It's a symptom of their own decadence as declining forces that they act against their own interests. I believe Labour can come back from this, but only if it appreciates itself as a movement in society - not a PLP of latte slurping wonks for whom the party is an adjunct. As for the Tories? More on that another time.

If the main parties are in decline then, and mainstream political participation is low and election turnouts have practically flatlined, where is this sudden about turn coming from? If the multitude of social trends are responsible for miniaturising parties and presumably still working them over, what are the counterveiling forces? There are a few things going on. Some are short-term and episodic events, others may have longer term salience.

1. The reaction to defeat can drive political people who, for whatever reason, haven't taken up party membership beforehand to do so. It's the realisation that no one else is going to participate and build the sort of party you want in your absence, so it's up to you. This is certainly the case for Labour and the LibDems. Indeed, when Labour were dumped out of office in 2010 it put on 50,000 members in the space of six months in reaction to the formation of the coalition. Fear is a great motivator, as we have seen with those angsty voters that gifted the general election to the Tories.

2. A low-level feeder to be sure, but way after Blair ceased displaying Bambi's qualities, the procession of young careerists into Labour continued unabated. Regardless of what's going on in wider society, there is a small section for whom politics is a career choice: there will always be seats to fill, constituency offices to be staffed, council candidates needed, and various other jobs to be taken up. From this position, joining a party is a long-term investment. Networks have to be built, notables flattered, activism undertaken, favours accumulated and banked. Also, opportunities in politics, depending on what you're looking for, can come up frequently. I can't but help think that a substantial number of people pouring into the LibDems presently are aware that the next five-ten years will see more opportunities open for aspiring activists as it recovers.

3. Events, dear boy, events. The Scottish referendum and the spectacularly stupid way Labour in Scotland and UK-wide handled it saw them dynamite their own citadels north of the border. The spectacular growth of the SNP was won on the back of a mass politicisation that coincided with monumental strategic blunders, a moribund party, and those long-term trends. Similarly in England and Wales, the surge that saw the Green Party overtake UKIP and the LibDems in terms of members were driven by one-off events. That doesn't necessarily mean both parties are now likely to fall back. I can't speak for the Greens, but I know the SNP's left in its trade union group are looking to set up the kinds of workplace linkages that used to nourish Labour and provide it generations of activists, thinkers, and politicians. With a Parliament pregnant with tumultuous potential, a few 'one-off' events might act as triggers of active political participation and therefore party membership.

4. Perhaps the most important long-term driver partially replacing the transmission belts of old is social media. Like nearly every political Twitter user I know, my feed is little better than an echo chamber. The vast majority are labour movement people from all corners of the broad tent, but we hold some basic positions in common. It can provide the illusion that your utterances get some real world traction when they are retweeted thousands of times, but that pails against the millions that still read the mainstream press. Nevertheless, the tendency for social media to create unstructured, 'spontaneous' intentional communities can be a boon to political parties. The informal hierarchies and networks that make them up can and do encourage people in them to join the party they're broadly aligned with. Take, for instance, the typical (maligned) campaign selfie. Yes, they're a touch on the narcissistic side but they can and do convey a sense of community, of people from all kinds of backgrounds (apparently) getting on with the job to hand. For some that can be an incredibly powerful pull factor, especially in the context of inhabiting a self-constructed social media world revolving around party politics. As social media continues to expand, so this will be many - mainly young - people's first point of contact with parties. From there it's a short hop, skip, and a jump into active party membership.

Is the return of the political party that strange then? Not really.

Sunday 24 May 2015

Dear Liz Kendall

Dear Liz,

Re: Leadership of the Labour Party

As I noted the other day, leadership contests are that rare occasion when MPs and ordinary members are frank about the personalities and policies at the top of the party. Some also over egg the pudding and go for outright abuse. I'm thinking mainly, this time around, about the people who are mostly Andy Burnham identifiers and think attacking you as the Conservative Party candidate for Labour leadership is a smart way for their man to win. It isn't, it's unfair, and it's clear from an acquaintance with your material that a Tory you're most definitely not.

That doesn't mean I think you're well suited to lead the Labour Party.

In the spirit of honesty customary to these times, I'm going to tell you why. Don't, however, make the assumption I'm rooting for Andy, or Yvette, or Mary, or lamenting the dear departed Tristram or Chuka. Like many tens of thousands of party members I am far from enthused by any of the meagre policy pitches so far made. I am also worried that every single candidate's pronouncements on the subject of why Labour lost and what it needs to do to come back is so far from the mark that, already, it does not bode well for our chances in 2020. That might change, of course, but I'm writing to you because your candidature condenses all the faulty analyses and mistaken policy conclusions that are not only most egregious, but potentially most ruinous for our party over the tumultuous five years ahead.

Rather than pick over your comments about various things like others have done, I want to look at your core philosophy and go from there. Thankfully, a lot of the (sympathetic) spadework has been done by Labour Uncut, and I think your opponents should show the courtesy to find out what you really believe rather than throwing meaningless insults your way. Nevertheless, I read this piece with some interest. I agree with you that Labourism as a tradition is overly statist, that too often the left cede questions of individual choice, liberty, and freedom to the right. On paper at least, you are right that social security shouldn't disempower its recipients, that public services should be receptive to the needs of those who use them, and the pressures of state and the market should come second to flesh and blood human beings. However, while the Uncut piece flatters the radicalism of this "republicanism", at base there are few politicians on the centre left and centre right who would disagree. That's because what we're really talking about here is liberalism.

The defining feature of liberalism, classically conceived, is individual sovereignty. It is a "republican" political tradition in the sense that authority should not derive from a body that over-arches society and responsible to no one but itself - see medievalist despotism old and new. Instead, authority should rest on the consent of the governed and representative democracy is the best means yet devised for aggregating the preferences of the citizenry. Fair enough, this is the basics for all forms of democratic politics. But it's only the basics. Socialism, which is both the heir to liberalism and its consistent application (among many other things), recognises its strict limitations. For liberalism property ownership, for instance, is a strictly private affair. Our freedom to own things is a cornerstone of individual sovereignty. That, however, is as far as it goes for liberalism. It's an abstract right that should be defended to the death. Socialism differs. It does not start from first principles but rather takes its departure point from an analysis of the social world. It notes that the liberal/utilitarian objective of the greatest good for the greatest number is blocked by the very way our societies are structured. Not only are good jobs, which we will define here as being well-paid and having a large degree of satisfaction and autonomy, in scarce supply, but more fundamentally the bulk of the economy is owned and directed by private individuals. When you have a situation where one vanishingly small proportion of the population primarily lives off the wealth accumulated by their capital, and the overwhelming majority have to rely on working in return for a salary or wage and collectively are responsible for generating that wealth, you have a political problem. As much as liberalism tries to shy away from the way the world works, because the fates of vast numbers depend on economies working, the idea ownership and control are private matters is an absurdity: it is very much a public issue.

I'm sure you're well aware of this critique without subscribing to it yourself. But you might want to pause and reflect, because it illuminates well the blind spots of your political position-taking. Let's concentrate on your pledge to reform public services. Your approach is entirely consistent with your philosophy: a public service should serve the public and responsive to their needs. Fine, but what would this reform look like? As the best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour, I expect you would eschew the democratisation of public services and go for market mechanisms instead. Such as the model of the funding following the patient, as per past NHS experiments, or tuition following the student as per the free market in higher education due to be operative from this September. These arrangements make the assumption that markets are the best way for individuals to signal their preferences, hence making service provision more accountable. It sounds neat and elegant, the sort of solution a mind attuned to abstract patterning would find attractive. The problem is that, if anything, markets have made public services less accountable. We hear the excuse that hospital, schools, and council chief executives have to be paid top whack because the market demands it. Across the public sector organisations are beholden to targets supposedly conditioned by competition, such as call handling times in the 111 service, patient turn around times in surgeries and hospital beds, and so on. And because markets is what business supposedly has an intuitive understanding of, the public sector is opened up to profit-making and profit-taking. Typically, especially in the care sector, this has meant holding or forcing down staff wages so margins between cost and price can be widened.

What worries me is you appear blind to this on two counts. Firstly, that you approach public services as so much machinery to be tinkered with and not as aggregations of human beings who, in large part, made an active choice based on their values to undertake a career in public services. Second, and in keeping with a technocratic mindset, you appear utterly oblivious to the notion of interest, that the organisations of public sector workers are the backbone of the movement that has provided you a seat in Parliament. You either forget or just don't realise that the public sector is a constituency in and of itself, and it is supremely harmful to your own political interests to attack their wages and working conditions, to outsource them to third parties, to make their conditions of work less gratifying and less secure. Just go and take a look at the Conservatives across the chamber from you. Do you seriously think they won't tackle zero hour contracts, abuses in the city, and executive pay because they have the wrong ideas? Or does it have something to do with the interests they represent?

This is why your leadership would be a disaster waiting to happen for our party. You have no conception that Labour is not just a party but a real movement in society. Even your letter to trade unionists smacks of their being one constituency among others to be courted.

That, I'm afraid, concludes this letter. Like I said, you're not a conservative. You are a liberal with all the limitations and problems that come with it, and as such because you do not understand the party you're aspiring to lead that makes you particularly ill-suited to the position.

Yours sincerely,