Monday 29 April 2019

On "Overeducation"

Articles like this boil my piss. According to the BBC, a third of all graduates are "overeducated" for the jobs they currently have. This is up by over a fifth since 1992, and nearly a quarter of all workers in London are overeducated for their job versus 16% for the national background. At least according to the Office for National Statistics. It goes on to say that while a degree is most often a passport to higher wages/salaries, some of these stats can be explained by graduates deliberately choosing to do jobs. That makes it alright then.

Well, it does acknowledge that another explanation might be worth considering. "It can also be seen as a form of underemployment, hence contributing to the extent of labour market slack". How very nice, but it's telling the only explanation the ONS offers is faux neutral gubbins about people plumping for jobs/careers that pay less. Which is what you would expect from an institution inflected with bourgeois common sense. The system can't ever be wrong, it's about the wrong choices.

In sociology there is a very simple rule. If one or two people believe or do something, it's a foible thing. If lots believe or do something, then we have evidence of social behaviour, of dynamics working between and through and moving masses of people. It suggests something's going on that might warrant further investigation. In the case of "overeducation", why is their an oversupply of graduates when the jobs aren't there?

In the first place, successive governments have encouraged large numbers of young people to move into higher education. You can use the "meeting the needs of business" argument, considering the complexity of the division of labour and the premium placed on technical and networking/interpersonal skills which, among other things, university helps cultivate. And there are other, more cynical considerations to think about. Moving young people straight from school to college or sixth form and then university keeps them off the unemployment stats, and away from the social security bill. The days of students claiming Housing Benefit to pay the rent lie three decades in the past. There is the saddling of young people up with unservicable mountains of debt, which nevertheless can dampen any seditious thoughts some might otherwise have. The conservatising effects of mortgages, for example, are long appreciated by leftists and something that wasn't lost on one Margaret Thatcher either. And by stripping out grants and limiting loans, large numbers of students allow for a relatively cheap pool of casualised-but-fit labour. Indeed, a good chunk of the "overeducated" are students carrying on with their student jobs post-graduation.

And then there is the treatment of the job market as if it's some force of nature, and it's up to us human beings to adapt to its impersonal whims. Jog on. The prevalence of casualised and deskilled jobs isn't a pause for liberal hand-wringing, it's a call for action. A weak labour movement, the reasons for which are legion, means low pay and lack of job security is pretty standard in the UK job market. To blame here are the actions of, yes, successive governments for the last 40 years. Tory or Labour, both have refused to see themselves as an actor within the economy (except organising against organising workers) but rather as a regulator of last resort. This has meant the Tory and LibDem cuts programme have ripped away hundreds of thousands of graduate jobs from the public sector, jobs which would have provided outlets for graduate skills. For example, consider Stoke's child care scandal, partly down to too few resources and too heavy workloads. How might that be fixed? By employing more social workers. i.e. Graduates. If government was concerned about this, then it could make its own contribution instead of crowing about the cutting up of full-time roles into part-time and zero hours contracts and proclaiming it a "jobs miracle".

Third, what is and what isn't a graduate and non-graduate job? Humanities students, picked out in the BBC article, as perennial under achievers in fact tend to have higher business start up rates than business studies students. Does the ONS consider such graduates to be "too educated" for running a small business? Is a fine art graduate overeducated for running a shop flogging their wares whereas a business management graduate peddling a tuck shop isn't? Likewise, many jobs are badged as graduate jobs when they're nothing of the sort. In my previous job, I recall checking out a jobs fair in Hanley where call centre work on the lowest possible salary were billed graduate jobs. When so much work is unnecessary and comprises of make-work, correspondingly the fetishism for training, staff development, and work-based qualifications have grown - a simulacra of personal growth, if you like, designed to give work meaning and worth when it is lacking for so many. Such jobs might not require any specialist skills or the much vaunted transferable skills, but "graduateness" as an entry point confers upon them a pretence of professional authenticity.

And can we talk about the character of education as well? Why should a degree be judged solely in terms of career outcomes? University study can be intrinsically enriching as well as socially productive outside the narrow nexus of economic exploitation and surplus extraction.

With every single point, this latest ONS release and the BBC write up naturalises what is social and historical, depoliticises what is political by hiding behind choice, and deliberately fights shy of any account that tries explaining this state of affairs in terms of social processes, let alone class dynamics. The truth is one can never be overeducated. The problem is the overpreponderance of unfulfilling, narrow, and crap-paying jobs, and tackling that requires taking on vested class interests and the system of exploitation itself.

Saturday 27 April 2019

Remembering Simon Speck

My friend and colleague Simon Speck passed away on the 19th after a short illness. Finding words to describe the shock and accompanying numbness is difficult. It still hasn't properly sunk in.

I first met Simon at my Derby job interview - he was one of the panellists. Little did I then know we would be spending the next couple of years cooped up in a cramped three-person office. And in such surrounds, you can't fail to get to know someone well. He would talk with pride about his footy-mad daughter, Melitta, while offering caustic observations about the mums and dads who would bawl at their girls from the touchline. I'd get stories about his time in public school where he would labour under the watchful eye of a Lenin poster, revel in a reputation for being a red, and also how he developed his talents as a mimic and cartoonist to ward off the attentions of the bullies. As a boy hailing from the labour aristocracy - his words to describe his dad's itinerant oil worker/engineer job - such comparatively humble origins might have otherwise singled him out, were it not for his wit and ability to make people laugh.

When it came to matters of sociology, he could broadly be described as the department's theoretician. He ran the heavy duty social theory modules, which betrayed, how shall we say, a broad Germanic flavour. As one of Gillian Rose's PhD students, who supervised his dissertation on Hegel and Derrida, his thought was deeply immersed in the Frankfurt School and especially Adorno. His other main intellectual influence was Anna, who he spoke of frequently, and through her he had a serendipitous link to the critical culture he revered. She was born into the West German New Left, and her family participated in the rebellions of the late 1960s, the formation of the Green Party, and debates with key post-war intellectual figures, including Jurgen Habermas. It was no accident then that when, in recent years, the university gave us fully-funded "teaching and learning" trips overseas for third year students, Simon was in charge and Germany was the inevitable destination. The photo above, for instance, is from the first such outing abroad and where Simon taught the students that the hard drinking you pick up in your younger years is never a skill you entirely relinquish.

Steeped in critical theory, his chief intellectual influences, along with Adorno, were Hannah Arendt and Ulrich Beck, the theorist of the risk society. As such, he certainly retained the pessimism of the first two, but this was not the dour miserablism you typically associate with Adorno. Indeed, he had a certain fondness for Bertolt Brecht, whose own impish humour was often channelled in a wry Simon observation. Resistance therefore wasn't always futile, but it would nearly always throw up absurd, comedic results. Indeed, one of his favourite stories concerned his own spell of resistance in the mid-1980s. On a miners' picket line, he oft told in excruciating, nay eye watering detail how a copper grabbed his ghoulies and squeezed them really hard during a spell of argy bargy. Of all the methods of physical assault Simon could have experienced - a baton charge, a clip over the head, a roughing up in the back of a van - he of all people had to fall victim to the most schoolyardish of police brutalities.

Simon was especially interested in the nascent sociology of humour, and ran a successful third year Humour and Society module. Plenty of people have noted that what a society finds funny says a great deal about it, and also how the role of comedians have changed from bearing witness to political actors in their own right - see Ukraine's Volodymir Zelensky, Bepe Grillo in Italy, and to a lesser extent, Russell Brand. Simon was interested in taking this further to investigate how risk and reflexive modernity - the notion advanced societies have an unprecedented capacity to know themselves (but frequently eschew it) - inflect and inform contemporary forms of humour. For instance, he was fascinated by the British custom that everything has to be a laugh. Politics couldn't be too serious, weighty and grave matters were not for everyday conversation, and that even staring down the barrel of disaster one had to face the inevitable with a smile on your face and laughter on your lips. Why? Unfortunately, I haven't yet read his paper so will have to see how his framework can go about answering this question.

Given his intellectual roots, you might expect him to not have much time for authority. And you would be right. Simon detested managerialism, its cynicism, and its happy clappy adaptation of universities to the marketisation of higher education. Teaching and academia were very much his vocation, while the oft unnecessary bullshit accompanying it was something to be endured. I know he felt a great deal of relief when programme leadership was passed from him to me. Indeed, during the job interview I mentioned my (relative) competence as an administrator which got a "did you hear that, Simon?" from someone around the table. Sadly, his warnings that one might wake up at night with a student's name playing on your mind has proven correct on more than one occasion. Yet he was second to none in caring for the students. He wanted to make social theory intelligible in the hope they too would inhabit it and use it to critique the world, rather than a means of passing a few credits on the road to graduation. Judging by the tributes received from former students on the Derby Sociology Facebook group, he certainly had a big, and deeply appreciated impact on many.

Sociology at Derby is a small team, and we are missing Simon. We will never stop missing him. Our best tribute is to try and live up to the standards he expected of himself as a teacher and a scholar. This way he will always be with us. Andrew Wilson, the member of the Sociology dept who knew him the longest has set up this memorial for Simon. If you knew Simon please leave a contribution.

My love and sympathies to Simon's family, especially Anna and Melitta.

Friday 26 April 2019

Local Council By-Elections April 2019

This month saw 14,937 votes cast over six local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. One council seat changed hands. For comparison with March's results, see here.

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/- Apr 18


* There was one by-election in Scotland
** There were two by-elections in Wales
*** There were two Independent clashes this month
**** Others this month consisted of Women's Equality Party (53), Socialist Labour Party (56), For Britain (14), Libertarian Party (12)

That has got to smart. Okay, only six contests but over 14,000 votes were cast. And, well, the Conservatives came fifth. If memory serves their placement has never been so far down the score board. Okay, they kept hold of their one defence in safe 'n' leafy Norfolk whereas Labour is down a councillor to the Scottish Nationalists, but to turn in a tally behind all their mainstream opponents save UKIP isn't great. Is this anything to write home about?

Perhaps not. Labour defences and half of the by-elections taking place in Scotland and Wales usually spell doom to the hopes of a decent Tory effort. And with so few contests happening in April, the second order election flattening effect comes into play. Which is what we're seeing in the polls now in advance of the European elections. Then again, this is the third month on the trot we've registered a poor Conservative performance. Can we start putting the flags out then? Not so fast! There are two possibilities. We are seeing the disintegration we're witnessing in the polls of the Tory vote playing out at local level - as long predicted by this blog (plug, plug). Or, as the big parties do every year, the Tories have tried holding back as many by-election defences as possible for local election polling day. This allows for a concentrating of resources and, parties hope, more of their supporters turning out. However, there are a smaller number of by-elections than usual taking place on 2nd May this year - just 40. We will have to see how the Tories do then before we can draw any conclusions about the durability of their vote.

Still, it's always worth noting that despite the Brexit nonsense and the disappointment - for some - of our not leaving the EU, UKIP in local elections are well behind their national figures. True, they don't have as many activists any more and so don't stand as widely as they used to, but the votes they get are derisory. And this is in the absence of any presence of the Brexit Party. A sign perhaps that the hard leave vote is itself demobilising?

4th April
Norfolk CC, Wroxham, Con hold

11th April
Burnley BC, Rosehill with Burnley Wood, LDem hold
Edinburgh UA, Leith Walk, SNP gain from Lab
Lambeth LBC, Thornton, Lab hold
Merthyr Tydfil, Cyfarthfa, Ind hold

25th April
Shropshire UA, Belle Vue, Lab hold

Thursday 25 April 2019

Jupiter Ace feat. Shena - 1,000 Years

Not in a properly writerly mood. Good job there's a fix for that.

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Stoke's Two Nation Toryism

The local elections are well and truly underway in Stoke-on-Trent, and in 2019 these are something of a novelty. For readers who don't follow the ins and outs of Potteries politics (what's wrong with you?), Labour is the challenger party to a council coalition of self-styled "City Independents", a UKIP councillor and your friends and mine, the Conservatives. How then have matters gone since they took control in 2015?

It is a truth commonly acknowledged that Stoke's Conservative Party won't win any Mensa prizes, but the fact their politics and governing strategy has steered the Independents these last four years tells you all you need to know about the calibre of the governing coalition's senior partner. With the stepping down of former Council Leader Dave Conway and his replacement by Ann James, it's a case of nothing having changed down the civic. In the original coalition talks to keep Labour out, the Tories were given the deputy leadership - naturally - and it seems the pick of cabinet positions. So of course they went for the portfolios covering economic development, regeneration and heritage, because these are considered the sexy responsibilities in local government, don't often generate bad news, and present plenty of positive coverage media opportunities. For instance, if a pottery goes under - which has recently been the case with the 200 year old Dudson factory - you don't need to say a thing. It's "challenging markets", poor management, or some other excuse. But any new investment into the city can be hailed as a vote in confidence in the council's strategy. Or if there's new building going on, up pops Cllr Dan Jellyman in a hard hat.

Let's look at another recent example: Stoke's City of Culture bid. Leaving aside the problems with the City of Culture initiative generally, and control-freakery issues with the city's pitch itself, it was nevertheless universally seen as a Big Good Thing locally. It put Stoke on the map and allowed the city to project itself as something other than the capital of Brexit. or a city well known for a long-running flirtation with the BNP. Yet, where were the City Indies when all this was happening? Deputy Council Leader Abi Brown fronted it all up, purposely excluding Ruth Smeeth and Gareth Snell - Stoke's two Labour MPs - as well as her coalition partners. And, of course, the City Indies were too dim to see the Tories were taking them for mugs, and getting all the good press and the photo ops.

Consider further the condemnation by Ofsted of the City Council's inadequate provision of children's services, something the report notes has gone downbank markedly since 2015. Ofsted says there is nothing wrong with the dedication or professionalism of social work staff, but they were not "being supported adequately". Management oversight is poor, there is no prioritisation, and caseloads are too high - all codes for a department less than adequately resourced at a time demands upon it are rising. What defence have the Tories offered? Nothing, their Stoke website literally reports 'nothing found' when searching Children's Services. Of course, they have an element of plausible deniability - because they left all the bad news-generating departments to City Independent cabinet members, they can hold their hands up and plead the "nothing to do with us, guv" line. They are in fact as culpable as their friends - they're the ones sitting round the cabinet table nodding this stuff through and putting kids in danger.

To be fair to the Tories, if I was an unscrupulous careerist saddled with a befuddled gaggle of independents whose 2015 manifesto was full of racist dog whistles, plans for a tea set, and a package holiday tour of the Potteries (complete with menu), I'd probably take advantage too. When a rival party offers themselves to you as a meat shield for all the shitty things you want to do, you'd be a fool not to take them up. And Stoke's Tories are no fools.

The strategy has, up until now, worked for the Tories. The local rag, The Sentinel, has barely uttered a single critical comment about leading councillors - a far cry from the days prior to 2015 when shafting Labour was de rigueur in the paper's offices. Is this because, on the whole, the Tory-led coalition have a savvier media strategy, or have not put a single foot wrong? It's a mystery, but of one thing I'm sure - I definitely do not think this has anything to do with Abi Brown and Sentinel editor, Martin Tideswell, occasionally sharing chummy selfies with one another at work and at play. The shrewdness of the Tories has paid other political dividends too. They have offloaded a certain amount of historical toxicity. Avoiding all responsibility for the city's woes, they have built up a position that saw them poll very respectably during the Stoke Central by-election (partly aided by their position as the party of Brexit's delivery), and subsequently building on this in the general election across the city's three seats, capturing Stoke South in the process. And as proof of their consolidation, for the first time in decades they have found enough members to stand in all 44 council seats in May's local election. A lesson in how well you can do when you play your advantages right.

There is another element to the success of Stoke's Tories, and that's its two-nation approach to local government. Stupid coalition partners and a friendly, uncritical press can only go so far. If you look at their local manifesto, it betrays an understanding that most voters don't really know what councils do. As long as the roads aren't a mess, parking is sorted, new buildings are getting built, shabby town centres are sorted, the bins carry on getting collected as is, and council money doesn't appear to be egregiously wasted, then a great many voters don't really care - hence why turnout for local elections everywhere are always depressed. The Tories are capitalising on this. Their flashy regen strategies, which include using council money to build a Hilton-franchised hotel, and a nearby Stalinesque block of build-to-rent private housing give the impression that the city centre is on the move. Never mind it's precisely because children's services have been left to rot that this is possible, the Tories have made a calculated assessment - as they have done with stripping back SureStart centres, and support for the homeless - that voters will put baubles and bricks before the blighted lives of the city's most vulnerable residents, because they don't have to pay the consequences of their policies. In other words, they are courting one group of voters and attempting to appeal to them while purposely and pointedly ignoring those they consider worthless, up to and including making their lives even harder. There's compassionate conservatism for you.

The question is whether the Tories will record another advance at these elections. Well, they have deftly manoeuvred to ensure nothing bad has stuck - we'll see if Labour running hard on the children's services scandal will have an effect. And, as we saw in 2015, Stoke's regular electorate is quite sophisticated and it's unlikely the local Tories will get flak for May's Brexit incompetence. The sad truth is given their savvy, their easy ride in the press, their shiny programme, and the character of the voters who tend to turn out for local elections, they are well placed to increase their councillor tally, particularly at the expense of the self-same idiotic allies who've enabled them.

Sunday 21 April 2019

Short Notes on Extinction Rebellion

Is there anything more to be said about Extinction Rebellion? Probably not, except it deserves the left's unequivocal solidarity, encouragement and support. There's little more to be added to takes by Richard Seymour and Lewis Bassett. Not that it's going to stop me from having my two penneth worth.

1. Extinction rebellion is both timely and untimely. Timely, because it's very much of the moment. David Attenborough and the BBC are spearheading programming on climate change, species loss, and environmental degradation. The public are prepped for it, and young people particularly are concerned - as the magnificent displays of climate school strike marches make clear. But this week's rolling non-violent direct action is untimely too. It's inconvenient for politicians more concerned with Brexit than environmental emergency, it's inconvenient for the hundred global companies responsible for 71% of emissions, and it's inconvenient for a government utterly uninterested in climate change and whose response to Extinction Rebellion is to issue threats. Extinction Rebellion is an embarrassment to our elite betters.

2. Extinction Rebellion is a symptom of left failure. On the self-described revolutionary left, the Socialist Party typifies this with their declaration that they're doing protest wrong. What we need, of course, is winning over the wider workers' movement to a programme of climate action. Well, the actually-existing labour movement in the UK already has with its green industrial strategy, something you wouldn't think has escaped the SP's notice. Then again, as it's in the process of lecturing its (soon-to-be erstwhile) Irish co-thinkers about how to run successful campaigns from the position of abstract moralising and revolutionary abstentionism, political developments may have passed them by. This does however condense the traditional far left response - formally correct critiques of the efforts of others while standing apart from (if not above) the fray, unless an opportunity to offload some unreadable newspapers presents itself. However, the mainstream workers' movement has been less than hot on green issues too. As we've seen a number of times, as organisations for the defence of and prosecution of workers' interests in the workplace, trade unions are susceptible to sectionalism and competition with other unions. Unfortunately, this often means the perceived need for preserving jobs, and therefore the subs base, comes before all else - as this Dan Carden's attempted defence of Unite's support for fracking makes clear. When the radical and mainstream sections of our movement give off anti-green and anti-environmental vibes, is it any surprise action against climate crisis comes from activist communities outside of it?

3. Extinction Rebellion's strategy of media attention-seeking worked. Clogging up the byways and the highways of the capital in a week Westminster took time off and there was a pause in Brexit always meant the media were going to cast around for something to fixate on. 24 hour rolling coverage duly obliged with extensive reporting on actions and arrests. They also featured some grumbling from the fuzz and politicians about "disruption" and the costs to business, but what the folk at home saw were mostly young people getting carted off in support of a cause in which there is widespread public sympathy. As latter day propaganda of the deed, the creation of spectacle ensured this most urgent and necessary of issues got top billing.

4. For all the moaning about elitist tactics, Extinction Rebellion has lowered the bar for effective participation. One needs time, proximity to the protests, and courage. The emphasis on getting hundreds of people to blockade roads means arresting everyone becomes logistically difficult - four or five coppers are needed to carry off a "floppy" protester, and with a lack of cell capacity in London, arrest usually means getting carted to the nearest station and getting let go again. By going for direct action of this sort, the carceral system is put under strain, police time is wasted, crowd control tactics like kettling and baton charges are completely inappropriate, and it's the forces of the establishment left looking embarrassed and befuddled. Effectively, the paralysis of the authorities, and the pathetic response from the government - just as it was with the climate school strikes - can only encourage a deepening of resolve, especially on the part of new activists, and again underline the fact that the Tories will forever put their class interests before the common interests of all human beings.

Saturday 20 April 2019

The Complexity of Brexit

I thought this conversation between Alex and Ash Sarkar from Novara Media was nuanced and interesting. You never get in-depth and critical discussions of Brexit on mainstream news programmes; vox pops down some market in the north is usually as far as it goes.

As always, please consider supporting Politics Theory Other so Alex can do more and bigger shows.

Friday 19 April 2019

On Lefties for Farage

For one time only, George Galloway tells us he's voting for Nigel Farage's Brexit Party. Pushing the oft-heard Brexiteer talking points, we're told parliament has spent the last three years trying to thwart the result of the 2016 referendum. So "we" need to send a message to the "Westminster elite". A rocket up their backsides, if you will, a reminder the angry leave army are not about to have their Brexit taken away from them. But to countenance voting for, urging a vote for, and campaigning for the Brexit Party, isn't that a step too far?

Elaborating his position further, Galloway emphasises the political distance between himself and Farage, but because this is an issue of democratic principle, he is prepared to encourage people to vote for the referendum's outcome to be enforced. Making this easier is the fact Labour's list of candidates - affirmed without any members' participation, it must be noted - can count among them enthusiastically pro-EU figures. These include remain favourite, and ski slope campaigner Lord Andrew Adonis. Because Labour's European challenge is dominated by candidates of this political stripe, this then makes voting for the Faragist list okay.

It does not make it okay.

Left or right, leave or remain, heads everywhere are being lost. A sense of perspective and political purpose is almost entirely absent from politics when reacting and responding to events, so it's time to restate some basics to plot our way through this. Politics is about power, about struggle, and is the medium through which class interests are articulated and prosecuted. This is something the right knows well, despite their disingenuous claims to the contrary. Labour on the other hand is and continues to be the imperfect political vehicle of proletarian interests. That is a rag tag and bobtail alliance of variously organised workers and people who have to sell their ability to work in return for a living. Right now, politics is in the grips of a dynamic of decomposition and recomposition. The powers of old, the Labour right, the meagre forces of authoritarian centrism, and finally the Tories are in historic decline. On the rise are forces incubated by the long decades of the Thatcherite settlement - the negative project of nationalist atavism exemplified by Farage and the Tory right, and the rising class of networked, socialised workers who are in a process of political becoming - they're far from the finished political article. But already their pulse from below is the power behind Corbyn and Corbynism, and Labour is an at times slow, at times rapid struggle of refounding itself. This is the conjuncture that must always be borne in mind when making sense of the twists and turns of Brexit's tortured politics.

What then is the immediate priority from the standpoint of working class politics now? Brexit? No. It is the consolidation and expansion of the Labour Party as a force that can annihilate the Tories, and prepare it and our class for the slog of a long spell of government. We approach Brexit then from the point of view of preparations for power. In the first instance then, this prospectus is enhanced by Labour winning the popular vote and most seats in the European elections. It changes the balance in the European parliament and shows the rest of the left across the continent that the left can win while standing as the left. And from the UK's perspective, it sends a very clear message that the reactionary right - which is what the Brexit Party is - can be defeated, and their ascendency isn't some natural, inevitable force. Something as simple as that, of getting a win over Farage transforms the political narrative of this country. It shows Labour can be successful under adverse circumstances, and that the hope for something better does not have to be a pipe dream. A Labour victory can dispel paralysing cynicism and melancholy, it can mobilise and inspire.

Galloway draws attention to Labour's candidates to justify his protest. They might not have been my first choice, but you can't have it both ways. You can't write off the wider politics of Labour's challenge because of who's standing while ignoring the people Farage has standing for the greater Brexity good. Their candidate list is yet to be finalised, but those announced so far deserve your contempt, not your vote. There is no hiding from the consequences of a good Brexit Party performance either - a ramping up of divisive and racist rhetoric, a multiplying of hate incidents and crimes, and a further coarsening of British politics. Are you happy for someone else - women, a disabled people, gay men and lesbians, East Europeans and anyone who isn't white - to pay the hate price of a burgeoning populist right? Additionally, apart from giving Farage and his lackeys the benefit of a MEP's salary for however long Brexit goes on for, what is the point? Politicians read polls and watch elections, and Farage coming out top isn't going to focus minds at Westminster any which way. If anything, it would embolden the ERG and perhaps encourage May to stick to their red lines in the hope of scooping this vote up in the future. And, of course, the Brexit Party - like UKIP before it - is a product of the crisis in the Tories, and in the context of our politics Farage's campaign is simultaneously a moment of political recomposition on the right. Galloway is fooling himself if he thinks the Brexit Party are a single issue outfit destined to evaporate when its task is complete. For Farage and his admirers in and outside the Tory party, this project is a stepping stone to replacing or refounding the Tories as a populist right formation.

The European election then is a battle, a political battle between the party of a new rising class, and a party of reaction. Brexit is the catalyst, but is largely immaterial to the movements stirring beneath the turbulence. A vote for Farage and the Brexit Party is not a "vote for Brexit", it is a vote for the populist right. For a backward project. For the forces arrayed against the Labour Party and labour movement. A vote for Labour, whether one self-identifies as a lexiteer, a remainer, or none of these labels is a vote for something much better. It's a vote for our coming victory.

Thursday 18 April 2019

Whither the One Per Centrists?

If the Tories veer off to the right after Theresa May, we know there's going to be a bunch of voters (and elites) left high and dry. Looking at by-election results from the last year and more recently, we see the Tories are more likely to lose seats to the Liberal Democrats and the Greens than Labour. There are voters on the centre right who are put off by May and the interminable hard Brexit saga and open to something that isn't a Corbyn-led Labour Party. Given the pro-EU but otherwise-everything-is-A-okay positioning of our friends The Independent Group/Change UK, on paper they are well-positioned to pitch to this space and realign establishment politics. How then are they doing?

Polling is a bit all over the place, but consistently low. As folks get excited about the latest YouGov putting Nigel Farage's Brexit Party in the lead for the Euro elections (now backed by George Galloway, no less), CHUKa are knocking about six-to-eight per cent mark. Funnily, the last Survation poll (the one pollster worth rating IMO) put them on a 1%, leading some wags (© Juliet Jacques) to dub them the 'one per centrists'. Nice. So the immediate answer to the question is ... they don't appear to be doing too well.

The biggest obstacle for any new party is capturing and sustaining momentum. If you're locked out of the Westminster system, you effectively have to generate your own. One way is by recruiting, giving activists tangible goals, keeping them busy and working them hard. Your achievements might have little consequence in wider politics, but for the active members an impression of getting somewhere can be sustained and become self-justifying. The fact of one's own hyper-activism is proof of momentum. See how paper sales work on the far left, for instance. CHUKa, however, are an unashamedly elite project, not a campaigning organisation. As such, as a gathering of parliamentarians their momentum depends utterly on the column inches and the broadcast minutes they can capture. Sadly for them, things here haven't gone entirely to plan. Since Chuka and his mates removed themselves from Labour, the media interest in them has dropped. As previously persistent awkwards (and inveterate leakers) on Brexit-related matters, their niche in the media largely hinged on being anti-Corbyn Labour MPs. The opportunities this afforded them are now no longer available. Diddums.

There are other things a new party can do. You can announce stuff, like policies. And in early March, Chuka shared some ideas. But did anyone pay any attention beyond the political anoraki? No. Or you can try and lure some big names over to your side. For instance, last Sunday in her interview on Sophy Ridge, Anna Soubry said she was "very excited" by some of the names who've applied to stand for CHUKa at the European elections. Who might these be? Well, Nick Boles has pointedly refused to join them, which would have been helpful from a headline grabbing angle. And despite promises of x number of other Labour MPs on the brink, they are, well, forever on the brink. Still, they do have something to shout about. Former health secretary Stephen Dorrell has dumped the Tories for the tinge on the fringe, and is joined there by another former Tory MP, Neil Carmichael. Ex-Labour MP for High Peak Tom Levitt has also signed up, and there's been a hint - only a hint - Ken Clarke himself is considering if the post-May right turn is too egregious. Now that would be big news and prove decisive in hoovering up the informed centre right pro-EU vote, but until then they have to make do with consolations like this, a couple of former Tory MEPs joining, and Renew - one of the many centrist grouplets to have mushroomed this last year - coming on board.

Yet this merited nary a mention beyond the specially interested. For a party of big I-ams, this has got to smart. However, they are at least properly registered as a political party now. No more hiding those big donations back when you were a private company. But this was overshadowed by their faux pas with the Electoral Commission. As readers probably know, their logo was rejected and so will not appear on the European election ballot papers because it was "misleading". The logo, said to be a TIG next to the hashtag #Change certainly sounds back-of-a-fag-packet amateurish. If you are registered as Change UK, why on earth would you want to be known as TIG to voters? Everything between now and polling day is supposed to be about building up a distinctive and recognisable political identity - one reason why they rejected getting in to bed with the LibDems. Change UK is a bad enough name, but if that's your party's name that's what you should be hammering - especially when no one apart from nerds know what 'TIG' stands for. You'd have thought all their LoveFilm money and focus grouping would have told them that.

You've got to ask the question that if a party can't get a coherent logo sorted, especially one that is well-resourced and is fronted by supposed front-rank politicians, then it would appear Change UK hasn't got much of a future considering the tough political challenges out there and the hard job the party has of establishing themselves. Should we be at all surprised? Here we have a bunch of MPs who've previously had everything handed to them on a plate. Having to organise anything or struggle politically for something, if they have ever done it, is but a distant memory. To them politics is elite politics. If they want something to get done, it is done - because there was a party machine that previously accommodated them. Now they're learning about politics the hard way, and they're proving totally crap at it.