Sunday 31 December 2017

Top 10 Dance Songs 2017

It's been an interesting years in politics. But what about dance music? As ever, as per the age-old tradition, here are my picks from the last year.

10. Tears In Your Eyes by Nora En Pure
9. Magnum Opus by Thomas Ulstrup
8. One Breath by Namnambulu
7. Origins by Factor B and the Noble Six
6. Bottle of Loneliness (Filatov & Karas Remix) by El Mukaka feat. Kayla Jacobs
5. Northern Soul by Above & Beyond feat. Richard Bedford
4. Scio by Jay Hardway
3. Eterna by Dim3nsion
2. Mistakes by CYA

As you can see, trance and progressive has surged back over the sides to (re)claim most of the chart. Which is exactly as it should be. But it's no clean sweep by any means. Tears In Your Eyes dips into the yearly tally with a soothing, relaxing vibe. It's unlikely to light up dance floors but would soundtrack not a few come downs nicely. Namnambulu ensures the flag for tuneful EBM is unfurled resplendent, making it his second appearance in this decade's top tens, having previously visited in 2015 under the Frozen Plasma guise. And good job too because One Breath is a real beaut. The Filatov & Karas remix of Bottle of Loneliness does what all remixes should do, and that's bring something new to the original while improving on it. Finally for our non-trancey cohort, Jay Hardway's sublime Scio came from nowhere with a stand out sound - definitely one to watch in 2018.

And for the family trance and progressive? Aly & Fila's Beyond the Lights almost made the list, but was too cheesy and too 1990s-Japanese-video-game-end-credits to make the cut. However, we're treated to some criminally overlooked uplifting from Thomas Ulstrup and Factor B and the Noble Six (welcome back to the list!). Welcome too is the return of Above & Beyond, who've been absent since 2008 (if memory serves). Northern Soul is superb night time driving music, and captures A&B's signature fusion of down tempo euphoria. Yes, the interpenetration of opposites is really a thing. Also very happy to see Ferry Corsten protege Dim3nsion back as well. And what a triumph Eterna is as it swaggers in like a herd of elephants and slays the listener with a sublime melody. Surely even greater things await - no pressure! And last of all, CYA's Mistakes certainly is no mistake. A proper slice of progressive that deserves wider recognition and more airplay.

Unfortunately, as a whole the year wasn't a particularly great one for dance music. Yes, the charts are a-conquered with the ubiquitous Clean Bandit driving all before it. Symphony was even the basis of the BBC's Christmas jingle, but as valued Jez supporters I can't say bad things about them. What I can be less charitable about is the awful big room/open air stadium house of Alesso/Aoki/Avicii/Tiesto/Guetta et al. Big, stomping clumsy horns, it sounds entirely obnoxious and faux. Meanwhile the dance/dancehall fusion purveyed by Major Lazer and friends turned out to be less than the sum of its parts, and yet still proved massive. Baffling. And most worrying of all, hardstyle is acquiring a huge following - imagine Scooter as the hegemonic dance act and you can see why I'm appalled. I'll keep hoping for that trance renaissance, which will surely come ...

Enough blathering and let's get on to the main event. This year saw a proper return to form from one of the legendary trance artists. His concept album, Blueprint had a premise carved out of Edam (robot alien girl falls in love with her creator, indeed), but this track. Oh my. This track. If it gets the goose bumps going, you know it's good.

The Most Read 17 of 2017

I'm going to break with the rest of comment land in its fashionable declaration of 2017 as awful. Sure, Donald Trump sits gurning away in the White House, politics is a toxic mess and more beloved celebrities shuffled off this mortal coil. But as we sit at the end of 2017 versus this time last year, there are reasons to be optimistic. Suddenly, the green shoots of a better future are starting to push through the mulch of ages. In New Zealand, a left wing Labour government self-consciously modelled on the British example is in power. In Italy, the young are beginning to turn away from the rancid petit bourgeois and establishment-friendly radicalism of Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement to the left. In Iran, mass protest is stirring once more, whereas Russia has seen more than a few. Trump is catalysing the opposition against the Republicans and socialism walks anew in the home of the brave. And in Britain, not only was a seemingly impregnable Tory government destroyed and laid low by the pettiest infighting, and is groping toward a soft Brexit in defiance of its rhetoric, an avowedly left wing Labour Party with a leftist leader confounded all expectations and gave Labour its best election result for 20 years, sparking a resurgence of socialist thought and touching off the biggest radicalisation since the early 1980s.

There are problems to be sorted and difficulties to face down. Our opponents are at sixes and sevens but they're not defeated yet. If 2016 was the nadir of the post-crash era, I would suggest 2017 was the year the corner was turned. Still a long way to go but for the first time in a long time the vistas are clear and things are moving our way.

As we reflect back on the last year then, this is what the blog said as arranged by what you, the reader, visited most often. I hope you enjoy the trip down memory lane.

1. Owen Jones and Naive Cynicism
2. Guido Fawkes: Troll and Hypocrite
3. Yvette Cooper's "Alternative Vision"
4. Explaining Laura Kuenssberg's Bias
5. On the Doors in Stoke Central
6. Jeremy Corbyn and the Working Class
7. May vs Corbyn: The Verdict
8. Leaders' Question Time: Who Won?
9. Happy Birthday Marx's Capital
10. On Labour's "Sexist" Industrial Strategy
11. The Left Unity Masturbation at Work Thread
12. Thank You Chuka Umunna
13. Five Reasons Why a New Centre Party is a Stupid Idea
14. Corbynism and Scottish Labour
15. The Stupidity of Jeremy Hunt
16. What is the Dementia Tax?
17. A Political Guide to Stoke-on-Trent

Last year's list was dominated by getting to grips with what Jeremy Corbyn and Corbynism represented. This year the focus shifted to the frenzy of factional struggle, the full-bloodied combat of fraught electioneering and partisan assault. But the appetite for ideas remain. Could a short post celebrating Capital have charged into this year's top ten before the events of the last 12 months? Might a contribution explaining the rise of Corbynism in relation to the changing nature of class have commanded the scene as much as the one listed above has done?

I'm not going to make any forecasts for the coming year because, well, I have a post coming up on the politics of prediction. However, while this has been the best year ever in terms of audience views the numbers are probably going to take a cut in 2018. From time to time I've said the pace of the blogging would be slowing down and yet, lo, another 300 posts are served up by year's end. Unfortunately there are a lot of projects I'm working on on the sociology of Corbynism, the nature of politics, and more besides and something has got to give. Then again, who knows, it might be a case of better fewer but better, at least where visiting figures are concerned.

Anyway, have a happy new year and see you next year. Which is in fewer than 24 hours.

Saturday 30 December 2017

Andrew Adonis's Brexit Bomb

All together now! Oh Andrew Adonis, oh Andrew Adonis. And so a new champion emerges from within establishment politics to smite the idiot Brexit strategy of Theresa May. Yes, it is true, I haven't much time for Adonis's elevated personage. Nor do I understand why so many mainstream politicians are taken with him, especially when he's shown a level of pig-headed ignorance that could match the idiot musings of any Tory minister. Nevertheless, his resignation from the National Infrastructure Commission is another blow to a PM and a government that needs all the good news it can grasp at.

His departure letter doesn't make good reading for the Tories. "The worst piece of legislation of my lifetime ...", "Brexit is a populist, nationalist spasm worth of Donald Trump ...", "... rupturing Britain's key trading and political alliances ...". And, in my view the killer passage:
The Government is hurtling toward the EU's emergency exit with no credible plan for the future of British trade and European co-operation, all the while ignoring - beyond soundbites and inadequate programmes - the crises of housing, education, the NHS, and social and regional inequality which are undermining the fabric of our nation and feeding the populist surge.
Ouch. True to form, the man who appointed Adonis to the NIC, George Osborne, said he was sorry to seem him go, especially as he commanded bipartisan respect. Politics people with memories longer than your average goldfish may recall Osborne invited him to head the commission while he was a sitting Labour peer to add to Jeremy Corbyn's woes during his first 20 months of office. By praising him now, Osborne stirs the permanent crisis the Conservative Party is stewing in.

Needless to say, Adonis is right about Brexit and the government's approach to it. As argued on a number of occasions here, Theresa May's approach to leaving the EU has been driven almost entirely by short-term Tory party interests. In her full imperial pomp prior to the election it was hard Brexit all the way as a means of shoring up her declining coalition. After the devastation that near death experience wrought, so the twists and turns of Tory infighting is pointing toward a soft Brexit in all but name. This itself is not a foregone conclusion, but the Parliamentary arithmetic is tending in this direction too.

However, it is worth noting that soft Brexit or staying within the EU are not panaceas. While millions, particularly the young, identify their interests with it, one should not be about sewing illusions in what the EU is and represents. It is a largely unaccountable bureaucracy that has grown alongside the deepening of the single market. It enforces austerity in Greece, has played a thoroughly disreputable role in several other countries, including major EU nations like Italy and Spain, and is the battering ram for privatisation across the continent - ironically, thanks to the neoliberal lobbying and cajoling British governments lobbied for over the course of decades. Nor, must we remember, did the EU prevent (nor could it) the devastating austerity measures our pro-EU heroes, Dave and Osborne, undertook during their six years in charge. Nevertheless, despite the EU's problems and limitations the integration of markets, cultures and peoples is a profoundly progressive development. The lapse into nationalism, the "spasm" as Adonis puts it, is regressive and, as noted before the referendum, has occasioned a recrudescence of the rank racist excreta mainstream politics believed was long buried.

What to do? Equally illusory is the hope someone's going to sweep in and stop Brexit. The latest repository of this fantasy being our friend Emmanuel Macron - presumably after he's finished deporting refugees and tearing up the employment rights of French workers. Neither is there going to be a second referendum. No amount of dodgy financial issues (which afflicted the Remain just as much as the Leave campaigns) nor Russian botnet claims are going to shift things. Unless the polls start reporting double digit leads very soon for abandoning Brexit, you can forget it. Yet all is not lost. There is one politically realistic repository for salvaging and preserving something of the positives of the last 40-odd years. Midway through his letter, Andrew Adonis pauses to note "What Britain needs is a radically reforming government in the tradition of Attlee ...". There is such a government-in-waiting that favours a soft Brexit, and that is Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party.

What I've Been Reading Recently

More books from the last quarter. They are:

Bleak House by Charles Dickens
How Will Capitalism End? by Wolfgang Streeck
Into Everywhere by Paul McAuley
The Corbyn Effect edited by Mark Perryman
The Doomed City by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
Movement Parties Against Austerity by Donna della Porta et al
Fair and Free edited by Kate Murray
Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson
Private Citizens by Tony Tulathimutte
Beyond Bourdieu by Will Atkinson
Archangel by William Gibson and Michael St John Smith
The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffman
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert
Bodies That Matter by Judith Butler
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Sexy Bodies: The Strange Carnalities of Feminism edited by Elizabeth Grosz and Elspeth Probyn
America by Franz Kafka
Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Gender in Late Modernity by Shelley Budgeon
Forget Baudrillard? edited by Chris Rojek and Bryan S Turner
The Castle by Franz Kafka
Sociology and the New Materialism bu Nick J Fox and Pamela Alldred
Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens
Energy Flash by Simon Reynolds

As you can see, this lost has kept me out of mischief for a good while. In the next quarter you should see a bit more focused reading when it comes to the more weighty tomes as I have a project bubbling order, but more news about that in good time. Apart from that, if you're into this sort of thing I do recommend the final Dickens on the list. Barnaby Rudge is the novel no one has heard of, and for someone who finds Dickens hit or miss I do rate this among his finest. The mob scenes, set during the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots of 1780 are compulsive and readable.

What have you been reading lately? And has Santa brought you any interesting books?

Wednesday 27 December 2017

F-1 Race for the Nintendo Game Boy

Seeing Lewis Hamilton is in the news again for the wrong reasons, that's hook enough on which to hang this opportunist overview of F-1 Race. I remember it well from back in the day. If our playground gamers weren't playing Tetris or Super Mario Land, F-1 Race would occasionally get a look-in for multiplayer fun and frolics. And this was where the game's selling point lay. It was bundled with an adapter and was the first Game Boy title designed specifically for four-player action. Indeed, this was why it scored handsomely with the magazines of the day, and prefaced the simultaneous racing mayhem that later came with the release and subsequent iterations of Super Mario Kart.

That was then and this is now. How does the game fare after the condescension of 27 long, long years? Well, as retro racers go (which, as you know, I'm partial to), it's not that bad. Sure, monochrome dot matrix, black and white, or some garish colours courtesy of the Super Game Boy aren't going to make it look as eye-catching as contemporaneous eight-bit racing games, but the familiar formula is solidly there. There's no plot. Just do two laps around each of the nine tracks, make sure you come first and then it's off to the next race. Simple, right?

F-1 Race shares its name with another racer Nintendo released on the Japanese Famicom in 1984. While that, a rip off of Namco's seminal Pole Position coin-op, was a very respectable effort for the time, Nintendo decided against porting it over and instead rewrote the game. In so doing, they also made it much, much tougher. F-1 Race is certainly the hardest racing game I've played in a long time that doesn't have broken controls. It's hard to put your finger on why it's a solid affair. Opponents' cars aren't a breeze to get by as they take up too much of the road, and as per most other genre racers pranging them or the scenery slows you right down - which is a big problem as coming first, particularly on the higher level tracks, means making perfect runs every single time. Indeed, there is no gentle easing you into the game. The first race is an okay trainer but after that only consistent play is going to get you through. This is a trip with guaranteed frustration as the destination, so it's just as well game over doesn't mean getting sent back to the beginning. You can carry on racing until you've beaten the level, though the scoreboard is there to remind the player of their multiple fails.

Nevertheless, in addition to being the first four-player hand-held game there are a couple of noteworthy mechanics that later made their way into loads of other racers. First, we have the jolly old nitro (or Jet, as it's styled here) for extra speed boosts. This is activated by holding down up on the D-pad, which can lead to not a few hairy driving moments. But combined with this, probably the first time they were seen together in a game, is slip streaming. Park your motor just behind an opponent for a wee second and your speed shoots up. Occasionally useful, but a bit of a pain if it causes you to plough into their rear end, knocking off valuable momentum and probably costing you the race. Also, as this is a Nintendo title they couldn't resist infiltrating some of their other properties into the game. Finish a race and you receive cameos from Mario universe characters, as well as Link from Zelda and Samus from Metroid.

Is it worth having a go now? In my view, all old games are worth a try. Even the bad ones. With F-1 Race we have a solid racer that ticked all the (then) established conventions and brought a few new ones to the table, which have subsequently become standard features in arcade-style racing. The difficulty, however, is punishing and the pay off probably isn't worth it - especially if you're reduced to playing it via emulation in single player mode. Perhaps one for masochist gamers and digital archaeologists seeking the lines of descent of commonplace mechanics.

Tuesday 26 December 2017

Robots and Toryism

Early on in Owen Jones's Chavs, we are treated to a scene in which a nameless Tory grandee drops the pretense and speaks to a group of Oxford students with some uncharacteristic honesty. "‘What you have to realize about the Conservative Party,’ he said as though it was a trivial, throwaway comment, ‘is that it is a coalition of privileged interests. Its main purpose is to defend that privilege. And the way it wins elections is by giving just enough to other people.'" (p.40) If you've struggled to make sense of Tory politics these last seven years, when you've seen its leading figures pursue policies at odds with the interests of British business as a whole, it starts making sense when you understand the Tories are about preserving their class power first and foremost.

The new wave of technology, the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, does pose a number of significant problems to business and anyone concerned with defending its class basis. There are issues posed by intangible commodities, the political problem of tech-enforced mass unemployment, the ongoing shift to immaterial labour (which the emergence of these technologies is accelerating), and the increasing visibility of exploitation it fosters. We should bear all this in mind as we approach Alan Mak's new Conservative Home pamphlet on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

As a technocratic exercise, there are moments where Alan's thoughts aren't entirely merit-less. For instance, Local Enterprise Partnerships would, under Alan's plan, have the responsibility for putting together 4IR strategies for their area. Not a bad suggestion in principle, but not all LEPs have the expertise necessary to undertake the necessary mapping exercise this would require, nor the resources either. The businesses who sit on the LEPs are unlikely to cough up the cash, so it would fall to squeezed local authorities - unless the government releases funds in support. The second issue is councils often sit in more than one LEP, which could mean a recipe for mixed up strategies and (political) problems arising from recommending something with favourable economic multipliers in one district but not another. His second proposal is a National Institute for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, a hub bringing together academia and industry. Again, there's nothing inherently objectionable about this provided it's resourced properly. He also recommends a national skills audit to aid strategic investment and what he calls lifelong learning accounts, an idea not a million miles away from Labour's own lifelong education service.

And that, I'm afraid, is it. The plusses of a 40-page pamphlet easily summarised in a single, short paragraph. The rest? Oh dear, the rest. Where can we begin? Well, there are the obvious idiocies. Take the pamphlet cover (above), for instance. Apparently, the future Labour favours is one of robots in the factories and workers on the dole. And yet, in spite of himself, Alan argues throughout that this grim vision is one Labour is shying away from. He attacks Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell for their robot tax and says they're proposing "heavy regulation" that would do "untold damage" to the economy. If this is the case, how can we arrive at a point in time where robots are pushing workers out given this would require a great deal of innovation and zero regulation? You can't have it both ways, Alan. Labour either wants to replace workers with robots or not. Also, according to the cover, the Conservative future is a world of driverless cars ferrying nobody to and fro, and a bargain between workers and robots while management are wowed by VR. I know a lot of bosses like spending time in their own realities, but I'm not sure this is what our Tory friends are trying to convey.

Alan's criticisms also misfire. Throughout, we're told Labour is hostile to innovation and would hold Britain back. Yet we find on page 20 Alan urging his government to spend the equivalent of three per cent of GDP on R&D, as per, um, Labour's 2017 manifesto commitment. Such "forgetfulness" is extended to a few weak jibes at the European Union. On the same page, we find him railing against "the precautionary principle". i.e. Article 191 of the Lisbon Treaty. Alas, Alan isn't being entirely honest here. The Article governs the formulation of EU environmental policy. Burrowing further, in the principle's explainer, it may be invoked if there is a possibility a new process or product might be dangerous. For Alan, this "unreasonably burdens" innovation. Do we really have to go over the history of adopting new technologies to establish that the precautionary principle is informed by centuries of experience? Bizarrely, and somewhat incoherently, he sort of agrees. When Britain leaves we should adopt a "British Innovation Principle" alongside the existent rules to make the UK a broiling laboratory of new thoughts and invention. That's all very well, Alan, but you can't innovate without the readies and the EU, the Tory right byword for bureaucracy and inefficiency, finds it spending an average of 2.0% on R&D versus the UK's 1.7%. And Germany, the heart of the leviathan, invests some 2.9%. There is nothing about EU membership holding Britain back. It's the Tories, their utter uselessness, and the decadent class they represent.

The content of this "innovation principle" is, as you might expect, a total dog's dinner. As Alan puts it (p.21):
The British Innovation Principle would place a statutory duty on all public-sector bodies to ensure that, whenever policy or regulatory decisions are under consideration, the impact on innovation as a driver for jobs and growth is assessed alongside any potential risks from technological development.
Let me get this straight. The Precautionary Principle is overly risk averse, but Alan wants to keep it. Meanwhile, Alan wants to add costs to the public sector by enforcing innovation audits. Colour me sceptical. In practice this will require a ridiculous amount of socially useless work quantifying "innovation", the introduction of innovation targets, and its unworkable fetishisation. Anyone familiar with higher education knows the pressure coming from government and institutions about "innovative teaching", whatever that means, and how inessential gimmicks are key criteria of the Teaching Excellence Framework. The result in all cases is a slow down in operations which, yes, depresses spontaneous and serendipitous innovation because everyone's too busy chasing targets and filling out pointless forms.

Must we go on? I'm afraid so. Addressing himself to the forecasts of a jobs apocalypse, Alan notes we shouldn't see a trade off between innovation and jobs. They are partners. And to demonstrate this, he cites the example of the Siemans factory in Amberg. Application of new technologies has seen 75% of production automated and a 1,000% increase in productivity. "But", Alan breathlessly intones, "the workforce has remained the same size!". Ah, I love me some stupid empiricism. No, what it means is the old model that linked productivity expansion to job creation has massively imploded. In the future, Siemans workforce will remain static and do nothing to increase the availability of work. The jobs cut are those that would have otherwise been required down the road.

And the rest of the pamphlet? It's just piss and wind. Mindless boosterism accompanied by witless attacks on Labour, and little else. Believe it or not, this is the best the Tories have on offer. Consider Labour's high technology vision, central to which is a world where new technology is harnessed to free people. For Alan, 4IR's exciting potential lies in fridges being able to order milk while you're at work (which then goes off because you still need humans to put them in the fridge). The Labour vision involves freeing people up from work to give them time to do other, more enriching and socially productive things. Small wonder Alan finds this a dystopian idea. Labour's policy is aimed at realising the radical potentials of the new wave of technology, while the Tories want to curb this and adapt the new to make more money for their interests. What a dismal, plodding view of the future, a world where littlehas changed and the benefits of robots, new information technologies and additive manufacturing accrue to the same old same old at the top.

Monday 25 December 2017

Appalling Scenes with Cadbury's Heroes

Nothing says Christmas better than fulminating over the injustice nestled in our sweetie tins. Puncturing the season of goodwill this year is Cadbury (AKA Kraft) and their shortchanging fans of their Heroes (sans Miniature) range. This year Santa delivered us two tins of diminutive iterations of their popular chocolates. And lo, the scandal we have seen in previous years is back. See for yourself:

I haven't seen gross disparities like these since looking at the UK's income inequality figures. It's an outrage.  n = 68 for the first tin, and 69 for the second. Terrible! And there is a close(ish) resemblance between the two. Measly numbers for Twirls, over generosity - if that's the right phrase - with the Fudge, Creme Egg, Dairy Milk. The evidence is right there, staring you in the face.

We must step up the campaign until justice wins. Victory is nothing less than parity in every single tin of Heroes, Celebrations, Roses, and Quality Street. What have you got to lose? Join in and take the fight to Big Confectionery! Hashtags in previous years were #FairHeroes, #FairCelebrations, etc.

H/T to @ravisubbie for kicking off this important struggle.

Sunday 24 December 2017

Merry Christmas!

It's been a long year. It's been an exhausting year, but we're nearly there. So Merry Christmas to you all!

Friday 22 December 2017

On Poundland's Pathetic Edgelording

1. Ho, ho, ho. You've got to larf, haven't you? Because if you don't you're po-faced, humourless, PC, SJW, and have a broom up your arse. Well actually, no, you don't have to laugh. Poundland's marketing stunt is crass, stupid, sexist, and cynical, designed entirely to kick up a Twitter storm as the media winds down for Christmas and can't be arsed to put much out beyond rewritten press releases.

2. "But oh, it's just a bit of fun" intone supporters of Poundland's edgelording. "They're just dolls", they cry. The fact one of them is a male doll, while the other is female and wearing a feminist top is entirely coincidental. There is no message there at all. I wonder how our fans of cheeky banter would have felt if it was a baby doll getting tea bagged. Or, even better, an elf festooned with EU regalia planting his bag on another dressed up in a Union Jack suit? I'm sure we'd hear no end of it. These people know well then how jokey imagery can convey a message. But because it's a female doll (and a feminist) on the receiving end, they play the stupid and pretend naivete. Their aggressive attacks on anyone who objects goes to show they really know what's going on.

3. In popular culture, teabagging is inseparable from power play. In sex/porn, it's about a dominant male asserting themselves over a prostrate and/or supplicant partner. This dominance is replicated in its use outside of sexual encounters in video gaming. In multiplayer first person shooters, having players crouch over the fallen digital corpses of their adversaries is not uncommon. Here the domination is explicit: I killed you so I can use and defile your body in any way I please. Though, of course, it's all in the name of bantz.

4. What the bloody hell were Poundland thinking when they nodded this atrocity through? Understandably, Twinings took exception to their product being advertised this way and insisted on its removal. The image above is the redacted version Poundland have elected to keep on their feed, no doubt in "defiance" of everyone who objected. But look at other entries in their current campaign, easily stuff the unlamented Nuts and Zoo would have considered too tacky to run. This still begs the question why. Poundland's customer base is not young men with underdeveloped senses of humour. They are, as a general rule, people on tight budgets and as per most grocery shoppers, they tend to be women. Is risking alienating your core consumers worth it for a few hundred retweets and an ignominious spot on the losing side of the culture wars?

Thursday 21 December 2017

Damian Green: Making the Bald Man Cry

Spare a thought this Christmas for Theresa May. 2017, it was something of a roller coaster. From getting feted as all-powerful and unstoppable, she recklessly gambled on an unnecessary general election and lost. Since then she and the Tory party have put themselves through the political agonies they so richly deserve, their body politic slick with self-inflicted wounds. And yet, despite it all, the Prime Minister remains the Prime Minister. Failure at the election, Brexit preparations shown up to be non-existent, multiple ministerial resignations, this chaotic shambles of an administration has still won plaudits from some. Since sorting the end of the first phase of the negotiations, the commentariat fell over to praise her. Even James O'Brien, centrist hero and LBC's token liberal, thought she had "played a bit of a blinder". Some people are easily impressed. That done and in her pocket, May was suddenly looking more secure. Her delusional view she will lead the Tories into an election five years' hence was looking a little less fanciful.

Therefore the loss of Damian Green, Theresa May's, um, right hand man comes as a blow just as things are starting to look up a bit. Two flagrant breaches of the Ministerial Code, referring to lies told to the press about his knowledge of pornographic material on his computer (he denies having viewed this material himself). He also apologised to Kate Maltby for making her "feel uncomfortable", though I doubt he'll be asking Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail to publicly retract his disgraceful monstering of her.

What damage does this do the Tories? From the outside, probably not a great deal. Arguably, this is a government much sleazier than anything the unlamented John Major years coughed up, but the miasma of sexual harassment and inappropriate work-time habits is unlikely to turn off existing Tory voters given the character of their allegiance. These are disproportionately the sorts to victim blame Maltby for Green's unwanted attentions, see nothing wrong with "advances", and certainly don't think a bit of porn is a sacking matter. Those voters most likely to care are those for whom the Tories are anathema anyway. The sleaze, the denials, the dog piling of an innocent woman by the most toxic rag in the land underscores the contempt with which they are held.

Internally, Green's wandering hands, whether over his office keyboard or, unbidden, over young women, has had the consequence of throwing May's cabinet out of kilter. As we have seen before, May is in position because her would-be adversaries and assassins balance each other out. Her stable core, what you might call the "May-ites" (notwithstanding her own rejection of the Mayism label), has always been thin. Following the election, she could rely on "Handbags" Fallon and Green in the cabinet, and without either she's much reduced. Surrounded by demented Brexiteers and opportunists, as Robert Peston observes, she's forced to rest on the newly-promoted Julian Smith and the underwhelming (and hated) Gavin Williamson. Sadly for May these pair are attached to her for entirely mercenary reasons. They can affect loyalty and true believerism as much as they wish, but the real game is exposure, an indecency limited to self-promotion ahead of any post-Brexit leadership contest. What this means then is no immediate crisis, no festive holiday spent with the Tories tearing themselves new ones.

Still, May is no hostage. As Tory party instability keeps her strangely secure, it gives her a bit of elbow room too. One thing that has impressed establishment types was how May had strength enough to give her friend and key ally the heave-ho. For Peston, this showed "steeliness". It was neither, but count among the impressed those Tory ministers who've spent the last several months gamboling about and issuing ultimatums. Because May was moved to sack her deputy, they can (rightly) interpret that as a warning. In the scheme of Tory scandals Green's bar was low (Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt lie as freely as we breathe air), so who knows where May's axe could land? True, the likes of Johnson might think they're unsackable but even he (nor anyone else for that matter, except perhaps Andrea Leadsom) wouldn't want to carry the can for Brexit. And so, while apparently undertaking an act of self-immolation May's offing of Green confers on her a glint of ruthlessness, if not recklessness, and one that might keep her misfitted cabinet in line - for now.

Monday 18 December 2017

Jeremy Corbyn and the Student Vote

Students are just for Christmas, not for forever! At least argues Chris Havergal for The Times Higher. According to polling done by the Higher Education Policy Institute and YouthSight, some 68% of undergraduates are backing Labour now - up 13 points from the last poll prior to the General Election. Happy days, right? Wrong. Brexit is, apparently, the reason why most students back Labour.

According to the research, asked what they think Labour's/Jeremy Corbyn's position on Brexit is, 55% and 58% respectively thought Labour and Jezza wanted to remain in the EU. Only 32% and 24% thought their positions were to leave the EU and retain access to the single market and customs union, which is more or less the settled view (with caveats around fudging and the like). Then asked if Labour was to more overtly support Brexit, including withdrawal from the single market and customs union, 42% said they were less likely to vote Labour next time.

This shouldn't come as news to anyone who has been paying attention. As we have seen on multiple occasions, the new class divide in politics, which is immediately presenting as an age cleavage, is effectively the story of a new, rising millions-strong class of networked (or socialised) workers asserting their political presence. Students, despite inhabiting a transitory social location, are part of this broad and broadening mass. The work many of them already do and can look forward to doing after graduation is less about making stuff and more about producing intangible things - knowledge, information, services, relationships. Increasingly, and this has been going on for decades now, you are hired for who you are and the social know how you mobilise and perform in "the role" (note, jobs don't exist any more). These jobs are varied and run the full gamut of powerless, insecure and low paid work (think retail, call centres, hospitality) to self-employed "creatives" to professional occupations, and so on. The production of the stuff of intangible labour is always an act of social production, of drawing on the competencies and knowledges we have acquired outside of work for their deployment in work, to achieve ends that are simultaneously social in their object and, most of the time, return value to the employer through a particular manner of exploitation. That also means immaterial labour is fundamentally cooperative, even if the immaterial worker is a single consultant or works on their own - hence socialised and networked.

The development of the internet and more recently the explosion of social media has catalysed and amplified these socialised characteristics. Everyday life in the advanced societies for most under-50s is partly mediated through self-expanding, self-generating voluntary networks. These are used for all kinds of reasons, and are the stuff of more than one fly-by-night moral panic about abuse and the disappearance of social life. More crucially, each line of the network is a connection along which information, emotion and affect flows, and the consequence, in spite of the doomsayers, is a greater condensation of the social. More cohesion, more recognition, experiences flit across the network at the blink of an eye, all the while pulling large numbers in a particular direction and endowing them with s certain common sense. What's the content of these background attitudes to life? A certain media literacy and a predisposition to trust their networks over broadcasters and the press. A more relaxed, accepting attitude to difference. And, crucially, an understanding that the right do not serve their interests and, indeed, actively work against them. Students (and young people generally) disproportionately support Labour not just because of a few eye-catching policies, like the tuition fee pledge, but because the party matches their common sense.

Fair enough, socially liberal students worried about their futures support the socially liberal party that talks about it being a better place. Where does the EU and Brexit fit into this? First is the basic, and correct, understanding that 40-odd years of integration is something that cannot be easily unwound, that it comes with a big hit to Britain's enfeebled economy, and they're the ones most likely to pay the price with reduced opportunities, fewer prospects, more insecurity and a continuation of the bleak vistas the Tories have hitherto thrust in front of them. The second is what you might call the popular ideology of the EU. In a society that, until recently, had been denuded of clearly articulated alternatives to Tory dog-eat-dog and the backward nationalism of the hard right, the EU presents a much more attractive proposition. It is, after all, a voluntary union of formerly warring neighbours, and appears to be a living example of cooperation. And if the people who are trying to do you down hate it, then it can't be all bad. In other words, like Labour, the EU is congruent with the popular common sense, despite its falling far short of the hopes invested in it.

Therefore, the EU is bound up with students' perceptions of their interests and how they see themselves. And this is why I object to HEPI director's Nick Hillman's comments about their research. He said this vote "could turn out to be as flaky as past student support for the Liberal Democrats". There was nothing "flaky" about this support, which surged after 1997 and the introduction of tuition fees. When the LibDems clearly, explicitly went back on their tuition fee pledges two minutes after forming the coalition government, they showed they were uninterested in their student support and so that support evaporated. That isn't flaky, that's sensible.

Nevertheless, the experience telegraphs a warning to Labour. We talk about a jobs first Brexit, but we need to emphasise and double down on keeping it as soft as practicable. When pressed, it's easy to say we don't rule anything in or out, but ultimately if the party allows itself to be seen acting against the interests of the students and the young we'll suffer for it. And rightly so.

Sunday 17 December 2017

Local Council By-Election Results 2017

Overall, 505,316 votes were cast over 314 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. For comparison see 2016's results here.

Number of Candidates
Total Vote

* There were eight by-elections in Scotland.
** There were three by-elections in Wales.
*** There were 11 Independent clashes.
**** See the quarterly round-ups for details of other parties

What a weird year. In 2016, you know, the year Labour dwelled in the doldrums, it nevertheless came out on top in the by-election contests. And with the terms somewhat reversed the Tories turn the tables. How so? It all comes down to that awful, demoralising set of local election results back in May - dispiriting if you were Labour, at least. You may remember those halcyon days where Theresa May couldn't put a foot wrong and looked like she was going to flick the Labour Party aside without breaking a sweat. Then, only a couple of weeks into the general election campaign it did look like that could have happened. We know things turned out differentlyt, but it just so happened the council by-elections that had been held over for the locals replicated the "normal" election results. And the small matter they took place in an over preponderance of Conservative-leaning seats. Therefore the polarisation that has happened since is more or less swamped by those second quarter stats.

There isn't much else to say. The Greens are holding up despite the huge pressure on them from the mammoth Corbyn-led Labour Party, so that's no mean feat. And UKIP are down to their lowest level since I've been tracking local by-elections. The nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales find themselves squeezed this year because, well, there haven't been many by-elections for them to fight.

What is interesting is the LibDems. After a tough time in the middle of the year, it would appear they're back on the by-election winning trail again, even if their vote average remains stubbornly behind the two major parties. Still, since August (i.e. the point I began reporting ward results) the LibDems have taken six seats off the Tories and three seats off Labour. To my mind this seems to tally with the win ratio from earlier in this year. Therefore they have a choice. Cuddly Uncle Vince could try the same trick Tim Farron tried to pull and disproportionately target Labour, with little headway, or pitch slightly more to the centre right to start taking more votes and seats off the Tories. On those figures, I know where I'd concentrate my fire.

Any predictions for next year? Hella no, I've supposed to have given them up. Nevertheless, despite that I'm sure something of this ilk will come along soon.