Friday, 13 December 2019

The Working Class Politics of Brexit

Last night was a disaster. The exit poll was a pit that swallowed all our hopes, and it didn't get any better as the night wore on. Collectively, we're numb. And angry, very angry. It's tempting to point fingers at the media, at the scabs in our own party, the person of Jeremy Corbyn, and the character of the campaign itself. Each had their own part to play and will get the analytical treatment here, in due course. However, possessing more efficacy than everything else, it was Brexit that did the heavy lifting for the Tories. Despite our best efforts and, at times, its crowding from the airwaves by other issues this was the Brexit election - as anyone who did the most cursory door knocking will tell you - and Johnson used it as a wedge to bust open so-called heartland seats. Yet saying Brexit did for Labour and leaving it at that is just not good enough. There was no easy route for the party to take.

When Labour shifted its position from constructive ambiguity to having a second referendum with an option for remain, it was bound to cause the party pain. Circulating memes suggesting Labour was more successful in 2017 than yesterday because of its referendum positioning are just not credible. Quite apart from the thorough monstering Corbyn and the party got throughout 2018 and this year, readers might recall the summer's EU election results. You remember, the one where both parties of government were utterly routed because the Tories couldn't get their deal through, and the alleged "confusion" about Labour's position. The Brexit Party and the LibDems cleaned up because they offered coherence. Suppose then Labour spent the time since resisting calls for a second public vote. Johnson would have got his deal and contrasted his full fat Brexit with Labour's "remainer's Brexit" and bang, a very similar result with the added catastrophe of major inroads from the LibDems and Greens out and about on their People's Vote nonsense. As it stood, even with the the second referendum party policy Labour still lost four remain votes for every Labour leaver gone elsewhere. How do we begin to explain this?

There is a very complex dynamic of decomposition and recomposition in play here. Basically, what landed on Labour yesterday was the culmination of the disintegration of the labour movement's community base. The wiping out of Labour in Scotland (reconfirmed again at this election) was decades in the making, as was Johnson's successful offensive in England and Wales. You know the story off by heart by now. The Thatcher government accelerated deindustrialisation by loosening capital controls and letting businesses export jobs, itself enabled by her smashing of the labour movement. The consequences for many communities, especially in the Midlands, Northern England, parts of Wales and Scotland, was not just closures and economic depression as deep as the 1930s but the slow break up of these communities. The identity anchor of place is pretty empty if that's the single unifying characteristic of a particular locality. As families moved out and strangers moved in, as landlords bought up property and increased the turnover of residents, as people in any district were subdivided among hundreds of employers instead of two or three big local industries and their associated supply chains, as private life became, well, increasingly privatised community bonds frayed to the point of irrelevance. Most communities are communities in name only, a collection of houses clustered around an arrangement of roads. They are dormitories with inner city, suburban, and estate place names attached.

The Tories in the 1980s very deliberately cultivated the breaking up of working class communities to undermine the labour movement, but never did they dream the consequences of doing so would see the likes of Stoke, Wrexham, Bolsover, and Darlington fall to them in a general election. I plan on writing more on this very soon, but there are three key factors in play on top of community fragmentation: the specific issues with old people and their voting behaviour, the stoking of ontological anxiety, and the disproportionate exclusion/absence of younger workers from the political process. As such, the symbolism that is potent and does command collective fealty originates outside of them, such as sporting loyalties and, above all, the nation. It's why you can look at the same kinds of people living in the same kinds of places in England and Wales on the one hand, and Scotland on the other and find one set of seats voting Tory and the other SNP. One right, one left, both, for a lot of these voters, embodiments of a permanent and potent sense of belonging in the absence of other collective symbolic resources. And so comrades who are puzzled by people who cling to Brexit, despite the disruption and the damage that goes along with it, need to understand its deep emotional resonance with the everyday consciousness and unconsciousness of millions of people.

The insight of the Blue Labour people, that this is a problem, is true. Their prescription that we can win back these people by putting the Union Jack on our leaflets and being a little bit racist would be disastrous. But of course this section of the Labour right are going to think that: it's their fast diminishing base. In truth, this part of the working class itself is in decline. The retirees, who comprise the bulk of the new Tory support, did jobs in their working lives that either do not exist any more, are in sharp decline, or have been transformed utterly. You go after this declining demographic if you want. Many Labour MPs did on a ad hoc basis over the last few years, and now their political careers repose in freshly dug graves.

As I've argued before, Corbynism is the first mass expression in English and Welsh politics of a new working class. Its features are the immaterial character of its labour, that is it produces knowledge, services, care, relationships, and subjectivities/identities, and it depends on our social capacities and competencies as social beings - skills that can only be parasited off but not directly possessed by capital (more here and here). Acknowledging immaterial labour is not the same as the old embourgeoisement thesis, nor is it about glamourising this kind of work. The typical socialised worker is your care home worker or call centre employee, not relatively privileged programmers or university lecturers. In fact, you are very likely to find millions of the former distributed right across the working class constituencies the Tories won but, for a number of reasons, are not as politically engaged as the huge concentrations you can find in the big cities. By virtue of their work they are much more likely to be socially liberal than older workers, which lends itself to a spontaneous liberal internationalism (and therefore greater receptivity about the EU) and, thanks to how the Tories have barred millions from the housing ladder and frustrate attempts at building stable lives, are largely anti-Conservative. Yes, anti-Tory but not spontaneously pro-Labour. As a new working class in historical terms, their relationship to politics is different and their allegiance has to be earned. The younger you are, the greater the chances you are part of this growing if not already numerically dominant section of wage and salary earners.

At this election, because of the way Brexit had played out and the shifting class dynamics underpinning leave and remain Labour had to make a very painful choice. Labour could have gone down the second referendum route, which it did, and managed to shore up its support among the rising constituency of workers. Or contested the ownership of Brexit directly with the Tories and lose not only where it did lose, but also fail elsewhere with more votes going to the LibDems and Greens - benefiting the Tories in tight fights. The agony is real, the consequences are real, but as bizarre as it may seem fresh from defeat, Labour had no other choice. And it made the right decision.

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Tuesday, 10 December 2019

The Corruption of the Mainstream Media

I don't want to sound like some sort of BBC obsessive, especially after writing about it very recently, but the shocking crap of the last couple of days has seen its news output sink to new depths. I am, of course, talking about the publicising of an assault on Matt Hancock's aide that didn't take place, but also ensured Monday's big story was diluted and, to a degree, buried as reporters like Laura Kuenssberg and ITV's Robert Peston uncritically jumped on it. But you know as well as me there's much more than this. To give one example from today, the BBC published a report researching the veracity of party adverts on social media and found none from the Labour Party were misleading. How was this badged? General election 2019: Ads are 'indecent, dishonest and untruthful'.

Neither you nor I are naifs when it comes to media bias. It's ABC not just for leftist politics, but for the wider populace too. Especially newspapers. But broadcast media is held to a different standard than the overt propaganda pumped out by The Sun to its ever decreasing readership. The BBC is supposed to epitomise the best standards when it comes to journalism. It is expected to be balanced and analytical, evidence-based and well-researched, and trades off this reputation. If the BBC cover it, it has to be true. And so hack questions like "do you want to nationalise sausages?", the touting of rumour and gossip as fact, passing off shoddy work as proper journalism, and "balancing" a news story to the point of misleading, it all matters. It drags the BBC's reputation through the mud and feeds the naive cynicism out there, the same cynicism benefiting the Tories.

So what? The BBC have always slanted their journalism. So has ITN and Sky, as well as all the bourgeois press. There really is nothing new under the sun. Establishment journalism in defending the establishment against plebeian insurgency shocker. The BBC and other media operations have acted this way before, but why the sense that, this time, it's more blatant than previously?

There is obvious concern with what a Corbyn-led government means for them. I mean, seriously, democracy at the BBC? Outrageous. The breaking up of press monopolies and their fundamental reorientation around community reporting and public interest journalism? Unconscionable. A curbing of the humongous salaries commanded by celebrity hacks, as well as managers and bureaucrats at the top of the media tree? Unutterable. Add to this how the bulk of Westminster lobby regard Corbynism as fundamentally illegitimate, and you can't avoid the conclusion that how the likes of Kuenssberg, Peston and the rest frame stories and choose their talking points is less a matter of honest slips and more one rooted in visceral disdain and outright opposition to what the left are trying to achieve. How else to explain their pathetic cretinism, even when the Tories are threatening the licence fee?

Yet in situations of polarised politics people are hyper aware of the nuances and slants within the discourse bearing down on them, which now thanks to social media is more visible than ever before. With the elevation of celebrity to the level of aristocracy and the playing out of their relationships across choice platforms, how sections of the ruling class reproduce themselves is visiblised. The friendships, the mutually beneficial back-scratching, commercial ties, the passporting names and connections confer, rivalries and animosities, the strategies pursued to maintain privilege and position, it's all out in the open. The same is true of our politics journalists. We can see who links to who, who amplifies whose stories, who are cast to the outer darkness of their world and who remains very much part of it. And by the patterns of similar messaging, it requires less a conspiratorial mindset and more a sociological imagination to understand how shared working conditions, patterns of access to leading politicians, common assumptions, and shared views about what is and isn't reasonable politics gives rise to systemic bias, professional solidarity, and groupthink. And this is all taking place in full view of their huge social media following.

We see it, but they carry on as if we can't. The bias we see on our screens is rendered all the more obvious and visible by their social media game. And so what we have is awful reporting carried by the prestigious name of the outlets they work for, rendered all the more problematic by the arrogance of their conduct away from the TV screens. Therefore it's not that broadcast journalism is qualitatively worse or more corrupt than what has gone before, but it has become increasingly obvious. And it's not about to get better, unless Boris Johnson is booted out of Number 10 on Thursday.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Dear Undecided Voter

Polling day is nearly upon us and you're still unsure about who to vote for. In the next five minutes I hope to convince you to vote Labour without boring you to tears.

Unfortunately, to get it out the way with we have to begin with Brexit. You're fed up of it, and even for a politics hack like me it's wearing a bit thin. It needs resolving one way or another so we can all move on. Yet despite Boris Johnson's promise to Get Brexit Done, in practice this means nothing of the sort. If he wins on Thursday he'll get parliament to approve his deal so we can formally leave the European Union on 31st January. This will not be the end of it. Over the next year the UK will get embroiled in more negotiations about what sort of trading relationship we should have with this country's closest neighbours and biggest traders. Johnson reckons he can have this wrapped up by next Christmas. Bear in mind it took the EU and Japan five years to get a deal, and eight years to negotiate and implement a EU/Canada agreement. A leaked communique says it can't be done. And so we can expect even more wrangling over Brexit, more arguments, perhaps a knife's edge vote or two, more chaos and uncertainty, and more wall-to-wall coverage.

Labour will avoid this.

If elected, within three months Labour will negotiate a different deal to the one Johnson has presented to the public. Our alternative will put jobs before profit margins, and living standards before loosening worker and consumer protections. This deal will then be put back to the British people in a second referendum vs remain within six months of this Thursday, and its outcome legally binding. Whether we end up leaving or remaining, for the first time since the Tories' chaotic handling of Brexit we'll have certainty about the future.

Yes, the future. If you read the Tory manifesto, there isn't a lot in it. Their tomorrows looks a lot like our todays. Overcrowded classrooms and schools sending begging letters home, no help to get people on the housing ladder, a NHS - according to their own leaked trade documents - ripe for exploitation as the price of a trade deal with Donald Trump, and nothing for people dependent on foodbanks to survive, half of whom are in work and still cannot afford to feed their families.

Labour's manifesto is different. In education and health spending, the UK lags behind most EU countries despite our being the sixth richest nation on Earth. It's not a question of where the money's coming from - there's plenty there - and more of how it is spent. If the economy is roaring ahead like the Tories claim, let's see working people benefit from it for a change. Labour's first budget will increase public sector pay by five per cent, after years of cuts and freezes, and raise the minimum wage to £10/hour without age exceptions. This puts more money into the pockets of millions, meaning they will spend more and businesses will take on more workers to meet rising demand. Labour are going to end the underfunding of schools, ensuring they are properly resourced so they can have the staff they need. Labour will also remove the epidemic levels of pen pushing that get in the way of teaching and make teachers' lives a misery, so they can spend more time in the classroom. Labour will end the fleecing of the NHS by private health interests like Virgin Healthcare, and free up resources by abolishing the wasteful internal market, make sure we recruit and train the nurses and doctors the NHS needs, and invest in cutting edge research to create powerful new treatments.

And lastly, Labour are going to address the climate emergency. The Tory manifesto carries on as if our coastal towns and villages aren't under threat from rising seas and strengthening storms. Their decade of cuts have gutted flood defences and placed hundreds of thousands inland homes at risk. Labour will not only invest to protect the country from climate change, but wants to lead the world in carbon neutral energy generation, expand solar and wind power, plant two billion trees, champion advanced battery technologies, and invest in a cheap, high quality integrated public transport. This is nothing less than a green industrial revolution which would create new jobs, strengthen the economy, mitigate the effects of increasing temperatures, and protect these islands in the face of environmental uncertainty.

These are just some of the differences between the Conservatives and Labour at this election. There are, of course, many more. But there is one last issue, and that's a question of character. Everyone knows Boris Johnson lies, whether it's about the supposed cost of Labour's promises to claiming an increase of 31,000 extra nurses really means 50,000. Married to this is an indifference to the suffering of others. Johnson not only failed Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who is currently held in an Iranian jail on fictitious charges, he made her situation worse. Or how the Tories so badly bungled the death of Harry Dunn, a motorcyclist who died after getting knocked over by the wife of an American intelligence operative, that the family are suing the government following misleading statements made in the Commons. Or even today how Johnson showed no contrition over a four year old boy with pneumonia forced to sleep on a pile of coats on the floor of Leeds General because of a lack of beds - and even swiped the reporter's phone while mechanically repeating pre-scripted lines. Is he going to change if he gets four or five more years? Would you trust Johnson to do right by your family when the Tories have failed to do so since 2010?

Jeremy Corbyn on the other hand is very different. The reason he gets so much stick and attracts bad press isn't because of who he was photographed with, or has spoken to. It's because Corbyn has spent his career sticking up for the voiceless, for the marginalised, and for working people. With Corbyn as Prime Minister, you know that he cares about jobs being plentiful, that schools and hospitals get the resources they need, and that people will be paid enough so they don't worry about making rent or struggling to put food in front of their children. The needs of the many will come before the needs of the few, to coin a phrase. Corbyn's vision of Britain is a place where people can own their own home, don't have to take out loans to afford a decent life, and where we rise to meet the problem of climate change instead of pleading with polluters to mend their ways. I don't know about you, but I'm fed up of that encroaching sense of dread when thinking about the years to come. For the first time in a long time, if Labour forms the next government we can actually look forward to a better future.

In this election, vote for yourself, your families and your friends. Vote Labour.

Yours sincerely,

Sunday, 8 December 2019

On the Doors in Stoke-on-Trent South

The last time Labour had knocked on this address, the occupants were recorded as Tory and Against. Sucking up our courage we gently rapped on the door and a middle aged bloke came bounding from around the corner. We said we were from the Labour Party and started asking about the election coming this week. "I'll tell you who I definitely won't be voting for", he bellowed. We had but a moment to prep for an anti-Corbyn rant. "Boris Johnson!" came the reply. He hated how Johnson is a buffoon, how he lies, and how unfit he is to hold Prime Ministerial office. We got talking a bit more and he was frustrated with how shabby the country had become, the dereliction of its public services, the amount of debt heaped on students, and plenty more. This gent was a life long Tory voter and was, along with his wife and daughter, voting Labour in 2019. This set us up nicely for the most encouraging session I've been on in this campaign. People down as Againsts from the last time this estate was canvassed were turning Labour, and almost as good one Tory we found said he wasn't voting.

As Stoke-on-Trent watchers know, while Labour held on to Stoke-on-Trent North and Central seats by 2,359 and 3,897 votes respectively in 2017, the South seat went Tory with a 663 vote majority for them. This was the culmination of a hollowing out of Labour's support across the Potteries during the Blair years (much of what I wrote about the background to the Stoke Central by-election also applies). Though in this case, Stoke South was blighted by Rob Flello. To describe him as a lazy, no mark MP in the Change UK mould but with a sideline in homophobic bigotry would be flattering this useless oaf. That he was selected to run for the Liberal Democrats in this election only to have his candidacy quashed by national should tell you all you need to know. Also Labour took a battering in May's council elections in the south, losing six seats in the constituency. Throw into the mix the obliteration of the established parties by the Brexit Party in the EU elections, you're left with a paper impression of a constituency that has passed beyond the veil of Labour possibility.

Yet, it certainly doesn't feel like that on the doorstep. And the canvassing data is indicating a close run thing. There are good reasons to believe Stoke South might feature in the roster of Labour gains come Thursday. First off we have our candidate, Mark McDonald. Brought up by his mum on a council estate from Birmingham, he spent the early part of his career working as a porter and an orderly in a number of hospitals while putting himself through night school. Now a lawyer, he is exactly the sort of candidate the Tories would give their right leg for in a seat like this. Compare this to Jack Brereton, the sitting Tory MP who has never had a proper job and was chosen from a shortlist of one to contest Stoke South at the last election. Also, since getting selected about 18 months ago, Mark has thrown himself into two key local campaigns. The Tory-Independent City Council wanted to proceed with a housing scheme on Berry Hill fields, which is a large green space wedged between Hanley and Fenton. Labour successfully opposed the development and allowed Mark to become known among community activist circles across the city.

The second and more significant was the fall out of the City Council-sponsored Solarplicity scheme. This saw solar panels fitted to thousands of council houses and was aimed at cutting bills, and was entered into by tenants on a voluntary basis. However, it turned into a right dog's dinner. Complaints involved discount delays, crap work and damage to properties, and fraudulent sign-ups. As you'd expect, Jack Brereton has been entirely absent from the scene seeing as his pals are running the council. And, reportedly, constituents getting in touch with him have been told to take their concerns to the Citizen's Advice Bureau. Mark for his part has supported residents affected, organising campaign meetings and protests, and advising on councillors' questions. He's not the MP but already he's managed to do more for Stoke South than hapless Jack. And it has been noted by local residents, with canvassers reporting switches on the door because he has got stuck into campaigning. If only Rob Flello was as pro-active we might have avoided dwindling majorities and the loss of the seat.

The other big advantage is organisation. Whereas the Tories can only muster an occasional team of four, Stoke South Labour has benefited from an influx of activists. A number of comrades have commented how Corbynism has risen to the challenge of this election by turning out campaigners on a scale not seen for decades, and this is true. Not only have more than the usual local suspects come out, comrades from around the country have pitched up too. On Saturday, my team had members from Lewisham, Oxford, and Hereford. The weekend before it was local CLPs plus Liverpool and Calder Valley. Weekday daytimes regularly have two dozen coming in to help. According to one comrade active in Stoke South Labour since the 1960s, this is the biggest campaign she's ever seen mounted in the constituency. That means thousands of voters spoken over the five weeks, thousands of conversations about politics, about Brexit, about what Britain should be like, and thousands of people having their preconceptions about Labour challenged.

Every campaign has its highs and lows, and moments of weird. Canvassers heard one woman who was voting Tory because the numbers of immigrants was literally causing the UK to sink into the earth. The "striking ex-miner" who had decided to give the Tories a punt, but later turned out to be a work shop technician who bounced back and forth across the picket line as if it weren't there. The propensity of astro turf owners to vote Tory, and the happy strange of one old guy who basically talked himself into voting Labour when I canvassed him. If only they were all that easy! As for the Labour-Tory switchers on account of Brexit, yes, we've all found them. Most, it has to be said, were lost long before 2017 (like the "life-long Labour voter" who hadn't voted for us since 2005), and those who were new switches were overwhelmingly older voters who swallowed Johnson's Get Brexit Done nonsense. From my chats, the one thing these older voters had in common was a certain divorce from politics. This is different to the you're-all-the-same stock response of a place of naive cynicism, but rather betrays an expectation that politics is a service like any other. For this layer of voters, they voted Labour previously because they did alright by them and now, for whatever reasons, they identify with Brexit it was relatively easy for them to switch to the Tories. This, of course, is implicit within liberal democracy itself. We are encouraged to have a consumer relationship to politics and so it's unsurprising that millions do, but matters aren't helped by the Labourist tradition's legacy. You know, the idea you should come out and vote like good worker drones every four or five years and get on with your lives in the mean time while your MPs make everything better for you. At least Corbynism and its manifesto represents a partial break with this top down and, ultimately, alienating politics.

I digress. Having had my fingers burned too many times, there are no predictions to be offered here. The question is whether the strength of our candidate and the power of our campaign can overpower the pull of Brexit, and the Tory advantage in money and media coverage. And it's obvious we can. The dynamism is with Labour, and with four days to go before close of poll we have a real opportunity not just to take back the seat, but also reverse our party's decline in so-called traditional seats. If you haven't had the chance to help yet, it's still not too late to join in!

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Friday, 6 December 2019

The Leaders' Debate: Who Won?

It's not been a happy 24 hours for Boris Johnson. He ducked an interview with ITV's Julie Etchingham and has (understandably) ruled out appearing on Andrew Neil, after the latter took the unprecedented leap of issuing a public challenge. Then footage emerged last night of Sally-Ann Hart, Tory candidate in Amber Rudd's old seat, arguing disabled people and those with learning difficulties should be paid less because "they don't understand the value of money". And today has proven no better. Doing the media's job for them, Labour revealed a report about the consequences Johnson's deal will have for Northern Ireland - effectively a tariff wall in the Irish Sea between it and the mainland, and one the PM has previously denied. And last of all, the Brexit counsel in Washington resigned as she was sick of peddling "half-truths" on behalf of a government she could no longer trust. Ouch.

Not the best mood music Johnson could have hoped for prior to this evening's BBC leaders' debate. Given how ill-received the last clash was, at least compared to the praised leaders' Question Time, how did it go?

Drawing on the political savvy for which he is known, Matt Hancock tweeted that this election is a choice between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. Well, at least the show established that. Apart from this, while less bad tempered than their last encounter both got their messages out, and so it depends what you're looking for. In line with his manifesto, Johnson promised little beyond clarifying his dishonest maths over his nurses pledge and moved to attack Corbyn wherever possible on Brexit. The absurdity was certainly strong with this one when the answers from everything to John Major refusing to endorse the Tories to the NHS to rampant Islamophobia in his party never deviated from Get Brexit Done. Without a doubt this season's "strong and stable", rare is the occasion he's taken to task for his nonsense.

Well, not so tonight. Corbyn said we had a seven year wait between leaving the EU and striking a deal with the US to look forward to. Getting Brexit done, indeed. He also attacked Johnson for falsely claiming the UK's trading relationship will be unchanged, as well as dismissing the border in the Irish Sea. Johnson can dismiss it all he likes, it's there not just in the documents Labour produced earlier today but in other publicly released papers about his Brexit plan. Why else are the DUP upset with him? Unfortunately, Nick Robinson did not allow for a pressing of the point - which is the reason why these head-to-heads aren't great because the pressure of time for audience questions means charlatans like Johnson can bluster their answers before moving to the next question.

On Corbyn's part, as per Labour's manifesto he talked about the substantive issues. Rightly, defanging nonsense about the party's plan being a road map to full communism he argued that if every pledge was implemented, the UK would only just about meet the level of public service provision of Germany and France - hardly beacons of Bolshevism. Corbyn also laid into Johnson over nursing shortages, observing £9k tuition fees are one of the key factors putting people off from entering the profession. Meanwhile, asked about what would happen if MPs are caught lying Johnson was allowed to waffle some incoherent statement about going on their knees in front of the Commons. Snore.

In all, there were no own goals from either side and both got across the messages they wanted. For Johnson, it was Brexit. For Corbyn, it was life after Brexit. And just like last time, Johnson made the error of reinforcing Labour's message on the second referendum. Obviously, he thinks it can pick him up a few Labour leavers, but it disproportionately helps Labour more in firming up LibDem-facing remain voters behind it. In truth, accomplishing this may turn out to be the sole positive contribution Johnson makes during his otherwise lamentable career.

The question is will it make a difference, and the answer is probably not. For those with their minds made up no unmaking was on the agenda. And for those undecided, it depends very much on their priorities. Those looking at the new askance and are bored with Brexit will find Johnson's simple messaging amenable, assuming they are leave voters. Those looking for more substance are more likely to have their thoughts caught by Labour's big programme, with its pledges to sort out poverty and the innumerable injustices that have accelerated under the Tories. And while YouGov's post-debate poll revisited the eternal, accursed 52/48 ratio in favour of Johnson, as we head into the final weekend there is still everything to play for.

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Wednesday, 4 December 2019

The New Statesman's Miserable Editorial

One of the benefits of holding centrist journalism in contempt is the hacks can never disappoint you. And so it came to pass the New Statesman editorial carried the line according to Jason Cowley: that faced with Boris Johnson's Tory party and all it entails, from hard Brexit to hard misery for millions of people, versus Labour with its transformative programme for the better, we get some mealy-mouthed whingeing about Jeremy Corbyn being bad mmmkay, so bad in fact he's indistinguishable from the Prime Minister.

In the grand scheme of things it shouldn't matter. NS is a relatively low circulation magazine for people who prefer reading about over doing politics, but is a cornerstone of opinion formation for liberal establishment punditry. What it features does matter to a degree because it can catalyse talking points and headlines. And what do you know, 15 seconds with the search engine of your choice reveals how the right wing press have gleefully picked up on the story. The likes of the Express and Mail are all splashing on how this "left wing magazine" thinks Corbyn is unfit for office. And so, unfortunately, for as long as the dying networks of centrist hacks have reach, their rubbish must be rebutted.

What then is the substance of the editorial's charges against Labour? The first is our old friend, anti-semitism. Like the rest of the bourgeois press, the New Statesman has proven itself curiously incurious when it comes to the depths of its so-called institutionalism in the Labour Party. Have there been failings in dealing with it? Certainly. Has it been blown out of all proportion? Absolutely. From day one of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership his opponents have hunted for angles from which to attack Corbyn and, by extension, the left's dominance in the party. Alleged sexism had its trial run. Corbynism as a middle class phenomenon enjoyed some time in the spotlight. And we've had the nonsense of Corbyn as an agent of the Czechoslovak intelligence services. The only thing that has stuck is, because of his anti-imperialist take on foreign policy matters and efforts at promoting dialogue and peace, are past associations with sundry terrorist outfits and especially those wishing to see the destruction of Israel. This is enough to damn Corbyn as an anti-semite, despite possessing a record of solidarity with Jewish people long before the issue became a political football.

The accusations against Corbyn on this score are nonsensical and motivated by concerns other than racism. If the latter was the case, why do we not see our champions for political hygiene going after the Tories with equal vigour? Why do rightwingers get a pass when it comes to anti-semitism? For instance did we not see a word of criticism let alone condemnation of those party workers who purposely sat on anti-semitism complaints for factional reasons. Why? And if the party is guilty of institutional failure when it comes to dealing with anti-Jewish racism, then why has it only become an issue of process and procedure since Jennie Formby took over as general secretary, and when she made moves to expedite the expulsion of Jackie Walker this too was condemned as anti-semitism. The likes of Jason Cowley and his ilk do not peer closely into these matters because smearing Corbyn and the Labour Party is a collective effort. They are not interested in combatting racism, let alone anti-semitism. All that matters is enough muck is flung in the hope it sticks, the wellbeing of British Jews be damned.

The second gripe the New Statesman has concerns Brexit and Labour's positioning on the second referendum. The idea Jeremy Corbyn might go to Brussels to negotiate a new deal, and then sit out on a public vote between it and remaining in the EU is not to the magazine's liking. Now, I don't have the NS archive in front of me but if they didn't criticise Harold Wilson for his "reluctance" to take a position on the 1975 European referendum then one might accuse them of editorial inconsistency. Unfortunately, because of the way politics has moved these last two years it was unsustainable for Labour to ignore calls for a second referendum. Itself partly thanks to the works of Labour's opponents, the way Brexit has turned out and its grand reveal as an unmistakable project of the hard right, the party had no choice but to reposition itself or lose millions of voters to the Liberal Democrats. As managing a political project is more difficult than running a specialist interest magazine, Labour has nevertheless had to calibrate its Brexit position just enough so it can appeal to Labour leavers as well. As we know, Johnson's banking on Labour leavers leaving Labour, and so you can't criticise Corbyn for refusing to make his job easier by coming out for hard remain. After all, as some people need constantly reminding, there was a vote. Apart from that, is anyone really bothered about which way Corbyn would lean in a putative referendum? You'll remember he was lambasted by centrists and the right for not saving remain's bacon in 2016. And is simultaneously attacked for not having any leadership pull whatsoever. So which is it? Whether Corbyn matters or not depends on the dishonest exigency of whatever copy a melt columnist has to turn in, and that applies here. If Cowley was interested in mounting an honest criticism of Corbyn's positioning, it's not too much to ask for a consideration of the strategic dilemmas facing the party.

What truly damns this miserable screed is its bad faith. The New Statesman had no problem endorsing Tony Blair after Iraq, after detention without trial, and the stoking up of Islamophobia. Crimes, yes, crimes that led to the suffering and deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. One cannot simply compare the records of Blair and Corbyn and come to the conclusion the former is infinitely preferable to the latter. Unless your priority is upholding the status quo. And so when we see their anti-endorsement caveated with warm words for Labour's "transformative" programme, and the resurgence of the party under Corbyn's leadership, they're exercises in obfuscation. From the outset the editorial line has been opposed to what is happening in the Labour Party, and now it's crunch election time its antipathy to the left and loyalty to their media mates and our rotten state of affairs trump the climate emergency, the housing emergency, the cost of living emergency. I would at least have a modicum of respect for Cowley if he was up front about his not-giving-a-shittery, but like all hypocrites he has to hide behind principles that show up when they're convenient. Pathetic.

Monday, 2 December 2019

The Lying Lies of Boris Johnson

How do you know when Boris Johnson is lying? When he opens his mouth. Lies come as easily to Boris Johnson as breathing does to the rest of us, but his disgusting reaction to the terrorist murders of Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt marks a new low even for him. To suspend campaigning in London as a sign of respect while appearing on Andrew Marr to blame Labour for the early release of Usman Khan was grotesque. It was probably the most graceless performance a leading politician has ever given on his show. And then, despite pleadings of Dave Merritt against using Jack's death to ramp what he dubbed an agenda of hate, Johnson and the newspaper editorial offices under Tory control did exactly that.

Writing in the Mail On Sunday, Johnson combined lies and shamelessness with some of the most disgusting opportunism ever seen in British politics. Under the headline, 'Give me a majority and I'll keep you safe from terror', Johnson argues he did make moves to keep violent criminals and terrorists in jail for longer, but was prevented from doing so. He said "... due to the broken hung Parliament that was preoccupied with blocking Brexit, we could do no more." A demonstrable untruth. Johnson then goes on to attack Labour who want to "give more powers to human rights lawyers" with the net result it "would make us less safe."

Johnson is carrying on almost as if the Tories haven't been in power for nearly a decade, and that the gutting of the criminal justice system, rehabilitation, community policing and provision of youth services is an imaginary happenstance. In fact, this is precisely why Johnson has gone and trampled all over the victims' family wishes. He knows a hard line plays well with a base with more than a psychotic tinge about them. Their self-identification as graduates from the school of hard knocks for whom a good hiding is the best solution for all crimes at all times would presumedly lap it up. And he'd much rather have his opponents gasping at his tough-on-terror brutalism than talking about how the Tories have failed and failed miserably on counter-terrorism and security. All so the rich can enjoy more tax breaks.

The lesson from the last general election was how May also tried to capitalise on two terror attacks, one of which was the weekend before polling day, but was derailed precisely because of the Tory record on funding and cuts. By going harder Johnson hopes to drown out the critique though, it has to be said, without much success. Not even Andrew Marr, who at his most savage is like getting worried by candy floss, could sit idly by as Johnson kept repeating the lies and the bluster.

Are there risks in what Johnson is trying to do? Certainly. Lies were always going to feature in their campaign. But Johnson's carry on is no episodic dead cat to move the conversation in a direction he thinks advantageous to the Tories, it is the central characteristic of the party's strategy. Part of it is thanks to their having a programme that won't make life better for anyone, and so all they have in the tank is scaremongering and falsehoods. But mainly Johnson's lying is about muddying the political waters for everyone. We know he lies profusely free from constraint and consequence. And if that's the case, why not other politicians? The LibDems are almost as bad, though their lying is rooted in structural desperation. No, by lying his head off Johnson is deliberately cultivating the default cynicism that politics is awful, and cannot be trusted ever to make anything better. And this is especially corrosive, he thinks, of projects that do promise a break with the normal, offers hope, and holds out the possibility of positive change. If masses of people feel as if things can't ever get better, they're not going to vote for it. And so while Johnson spins his webs of deceit, so Labour's programme appears fanciful if not undeliverable. I mean, how stupid do you have to be to take a politician at their word?

This is why Johnson lies. They're more than foibles, rather it's a deliberate attempt to suppress Labour's support and keep things as they are. But the strategy isn't magic, and it's in our power to show it can be beaten.

Image Credit

Sunday, 1 December 2019

House Gospel Choir and Adelphi Music Factory - Salvation

A combination of writer's block and putting together something for an august publication means this is all the writing you're getting this evening. But why worry when there's music as good as this about.

Five Most Popular Posts in November

The first full month of general election goodness. How has it played out in terms of audience attractions in November?

1. The Problem with Old People
2. A Sociology of Liberal Democrat Snakery
3. The Tragedy of Angela Smith
4. The BBC's Anti-Labour Bias
5. Is Nigel Farage Labour's New Best Friend?

Well, yes. The election wins out. We have the relatively chin-strokey piece considering why older people are more prone to vote for right wing parties than the left. This was followed up by two (count 'em) pieces considering the awfulness of the Liberal Democrats. The first looked at the material basis for the LibDems' notorious opportunism, which was followed up by the not at all tragic story of the predicament Labour-turned-ChangeUK-turned-LibDem Angela Smith. Truly a miserable end to a miserable career. And holding up the bottom half of our monthly list is a look at the BBC's awful general election coverage, and then the consequences of the Brexit Party election campaign.

What deserves an evening out in the second chance saloon this time? I'm going for two. I recommend looking at this piece about the Conservative manifesto because it's very likely we'll be returning to it this coming week. And for a sort of break from politics, there's this wee review of Ian McEwan's latest book.

And how might it look next week? I suspect the general election will dominate and just imagine, imagine, if Labour out performs expectations. The trend in the polls are certainly looking like last time ...

Friday, 29 November 2019

Local Council By-Elections November 2019

This month saw 42,944 votes cast over 24 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. 11 council seats changed hands. For comparison with October's results, see here.

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/- Nov 18

* There were six by-elections in Scotland
** There were three by-elections in Wales
*** There were five Independent clashes
**** Others this month consisted of the Brexit Party (168), Patria (9, 12), Putting Cumbria First (67), Scottish Libertarian (16, 28), Tunbridge Wells Alliance (180),
Women's Equality Party (40, 193)

In all the years I've tracked local council by-elections, I can't remember a month like this one. Unfortunately, Labour's bad run of results continued. The only consolation to be take is how out of sync they are with national polling figures. And the Tories, while not riding high on a mahoosive percentage have the popular vote again because, well, they're monopolising the right wing vote. UKIP are dead to the point of getting discontinued from here when the new year rolls around, and the Brexit Party are far from a serious intervention. Just like the general election. The LibDems are maintaining their good performance as well, though I'm sure they'd happily trade this for a better national showing.

No, the weirdness first comes with the abnormally high number of Scottish by-elections. Probably the most since the latter stages of 2015 when all those SNP councillors took up Westminster seats. As Scottish wards tend to be larger they always poll very well, and that's put the squeeze on the overall results here. And the second is ... how many Independents? Helping matters along here were the two by-elections in Shetland where indies rule the roost and political parties are a rumour (apart from the SNP). And there was also the City of London contest which, by convention, is not contested by parties except for Labour. It's just funny peculiar they landed at the same time.

What can we take away from these results? The SNP vote is solid. The Tory vote is solid. Labour's and the LibDems'? The discrepency between by-election votes and polling might indicate a certain softness and fluidity. We find out in less than a fortnight.

7th November
Chelmsford DC, Marconi, LDem hold
Cornwall UA, Wadebridge West, Ind gain from LDem
Croydon LBC, Fairfield, Lab hold
Pembrokeshire UA, Hundleton, Ind hold
Shetland UA, Lerwick South, Ind hold
Shetland UA, Shetland Central, Ind hold

12th November
City of London, Aldersgate, Lab hold

14th November
Eden DC, Shap, LDem gain from Con
Fife UA, Dunfermline Central, SNP gain from Con
Fife UA, Rosyth, SNP hold
Highland UA, Inverness Central, SNP hold
Neath Port Talbot UA, Rhos, PC gain from Lab
Powys UA, St Mary's, Lab gain from Con
Torbay UA, Goodrinton with Roselands, Con gain from LDem
Tunbridge Wells DC, Culverden, LDem gain from Con

21st November
Aberdeen UA, Torry and Ferryhill, SNP hold
Cardiff CC, Llanishen, Con gain from Lab
Chichester DC, Loxwood, Con hold
Moray UA, Keith and Cullen, Con gain from SNP
West Lancashire DC, Birch Green, Lab hold
West Sussex CC, Bourne, Con hold

28th November
North Norfolk, Sheringham North, LDem hold
Oxfordshire CC, Wallingford, Grn gain from Ind
Wiltshire UA, Trowbridge Lambrook, LDem gain from Con