Saturday 31 August 2019

The EU's Counter-Brinkmanship

The decision of Boris Johnson to prorogue parliament for 35 days, and securing the Queen's assent for this has caused some in the remain movement to see the British constitution and British democracy for what it is: a system rigged by design to prevent meaningful scrutiny and accountability. This is significant because for the more liberal end of the movement, there is - or was - a pronounced if touchingly naive faith in institutions, the hopes that somewhere lurking in the Byzantine corridors of state a deus ex machina would activate and stop Johnson, and perhaps even stopping Brexit without us having to do anything. The Queen was one. The courts another, hence the alacrity with which Gina Miller and friends takes to them (which is a waste of time - the problem with Johnson's suspension of parliament isn't that it's illegal but it is entirely constitutional). And as these levers have proven to be duds or non-existent, so the movement is radicalising with calls for demonstrations, civil disobedience, and strikes: a situation ripe for a more radical politics with the battle for democracy writ large.

One faded luminary of the remain movement has offered hope that messy street politics won't be necessary. Speaking at a seminar in Edinburgh on Thursday, Gordon Brown waved around his great clunking fist and suggested the EU will unilaterally withdraw the 31st October deadline at some point "next week". According to him, he's "had talks" with EU leaders, which has provided grounds for this belief. This does not amount to extending Article 50 as this would require the UK's consent as well, but makes it very clear the EU is the one showing flexibility and it's Boris Johnson who's being rigid.

Not a get out of Brexit free card then but, if true, smart politics on the EU's part that makes the government's life more difficult. Unlike most centre right parties across the EU, who tend to be general committees for the common affairs of their respective capitals, the Tories have always been a sectional party of finance, landed capital, spivs and speculators, and food and drink production first and foremost. In more recent years, thanks to the collapse of the Tories during the John Major administration (now rehabilitated as a hero in the anti-Johnson pantheon), Tony Blair's lasting legacy was not just breaking sections of capital and the petit bourgeoisie from auto-Toryism, but accomplishing this among finance capital too. Blair and Brown's programme of handing public service provision to markets and business, encouragement of the property bubble, and light touch regulation did bring in the tax revenues for their social programmes, but for a time ensured most of the City was politically onside. After Brown saved their hides from the stock market crash and credit crunch, they showed their gratitude by falling in behind Dave's shiny new liberal Tories. Finance benefited handsomely from his Thatcherism redux, and stuck with the Tories for the 2015 election, but the referendum again prised open the divisions among finance capital. Most went remain and showered the campaign with cash and personnel, while those with interests outside of the EU, or stood to gain from the fire sale of assets a disastrous no deal Brexit would entail advocated leave and have stuck with the Tories. Finance capital is not univocal in its immediate interests, and most of it is arrayed against the Prime Minister and his reckless project.

While few in the upper echelons of the EU would see things so starkly, it would appear they share the increasingly commonsensical view that the Tory party presently constituted is a vector of instability whose narrow-mindedness and extreme short-termism is a threat to the EU project itself. Any hint of unfair treatment or an impression of doing the UK over, as per the recent cases of Italy and especially Greece, is grist to the mill of the right wing populism eating away at the EU's legitimacy. Therefore, while most EU governments are on the right and are as committed to neoliberal fundamentalism as Johnson, they're not about to do him nor the most backward sections of British capital he represents a favour when it's going to cost them.

And this puts the onus back on to the Prime Minister. We're leaving on 31st October, do or die, but what was the EU's deadline becomes his deadline. We've been told time after time EU negotiations have the tendency to go down to the wire with deals struck at the last possible moment. And, um, they do. Without the Hallowe'en date written in stone, Johnson owns it. To be sure it won't make any difference to his strategy, because no Brexit = no Tory party, but at the next election he and his ilk cannot blame anyone else for the coming calamity.

The question then is will the EU do it? They definitely should. Having Cummings in Number 10 doing his predictably "unpredictable" thing encourages others to make bold moves as well. If Brown's belief is correct and the EU cancel the deadline, it's hard to see how Johnson and friends are going to scramble to mitigate the damage.

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Friday 30 August 2019

Local Council By-Elections August 2019

This month saw 18,446 votes cast over nine local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Two council seats changed hands. For comparison with July's results, see here.

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/- Aug 18


* This month saw one by-election in Scotland
** There were no by-elections in Wales
*** There were no Independent clashes
**** Others this month consisted of the Brexit Party (163), Radcliffe First (824), and Scottish Libertarian (12)

August is usually a quiet month and therefore a boring month, and so it proved with just two council seats swapping tenants. But hold on just a moment, have Labour and the Liberal Democrats got their numbers mixed up? I am afraid not. Following last month their great summer surge has continued and they're top of the polling pops. What the actual heck is going on? A hang over from the four-party result of the EU elections perhaps? That's some of it, but before hope blossoms in LibDem hearts the more significant factor is ... a slew of by-elections in safe LibDem seats. When you look at the vote splits, they have certainly put support on, but don't let the results fool you into thinking it's about to replace the others as the numero uno party.

The first two weeks of September suggests next month is looking more 'conventional', so we'll see if this run of good fortune carries on.

1st August
Huntingdonshire DC, Godmanchester & Hemingford Abbots, LDem hold
Stockport MB, Hazel Grove, LDem hold

8th August
Cambridge BC, Newnham, LDem hold
East Northamptonshire DC, Irthlingborough Waterloo, Con hold
Worcester BC, Claines, LDem gain from Con

15th August
Shropshire UA, Moele, Con hold

22nd August
Rugby BC, Rokeby & Overslade, LDem hold

29th August
Bury MBC, Radcliffe West, Oth gain from Lab
South Lanarkshire UA, East Kilbride Central North, SNP hold

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Thursday 29 August 2019

The Politics of Ruth Davidson's Resignation

The departure of Ruth Davidson from the lofty heights of the Scottish Tories would normally make big news, but thanks to a certain announcement and attendant preoccupations, her eminence was relegated to the literal margins of the nation's news sites. Don't worry Ruth fans, it won't be the last we see of her.

Davidson's resignation letter didn't say much of note, which makes it interesting. As a new mum wanting more time with her son and family, who can blame her from bailing out of front line politics while matters are this fraught and chaotic? Well, ever keen to find a subtext a line of interpretation on pundit Twitter has zeroed in on her concluding remarks. She writes "Be assured I will continue to support the party, the Prime Minister and Scotland's place in the United Kingdom from the backbenches and beyond." A coded warning to Johnson to not jeopardise the union for Brexit? I smell over-interpretation. If Davidson wanted to troll the Prime Minister, she would troll him. There's no need for hack CSI forensics on every sentence and word for tone and syllable, as if pregnant with the DNA of political intent. Quite purposely, her resignation said nothing. Davidson has spent her career avoiding the pointy bits of politics, and she carries on doing so as the curtain falls on its first act. .

It has been variously observed that Ruth Davidson's greatest achievement was getting noticed by the SW1 lobby pack. That's not strictly speaking true. Her achievements in leading the Tories back from utter irrelevance in Scotland are real enough. Unlike her hapless and clueless predecessors, she is a proven operator, a fair effort at distilling Cameroon conservatism as if Dave meant it. Gay as a matter of fact, unfussy, no bullshit, normal background and, to some, a centrist, non-polarising charismatic appeal, these were all traits mobilised for the detoxification of the Scottish Tories. She had no baggage (on the surface), and most importantly she has no real politics. Apart from unionism and EU remainism, what was, what is distinctly Davidson? On the stump and in the studio, her vacuity meant she could pose as a representative for any of the Westminster parties. There's nothing that would rule her out from sitting on the LibDem benches (reportedly, while Chuka and co. were cooking up their dog's breakfast, they approached Davidson to lead it). And, I'm sorry to say, there are sitting Labour MPs more objectionable than her. She is pretty indistinguishable from most right wing Labourites, especially the weekend army cosplayers who enjoy roughing it on "manoeuvres".

And so she proved a boon to the Tories, taking them from also rans to the official opposition at Holyrood. By subsuming the party to her chummy, cheery image the Tories thought they had hit upon a master key for elsewhere. For instance, Davidson piloted the Britain-wide roll out of Theresa May's Tories during the 2016 Holyrood elections. Following the Davidson model, the Conservative Party branding vanished and it was all about Theresa May and her team. We know how that turned out. But in Scotland, Davidson is still front and centre. Even in the Scottish parliamentary by-election taking place in Shetland today, the Tories' Brydon Goodlad is introduced on their literature as Ruth Davidson's candidate. They've got a real hole to fill, then. The rest of the Tories in Holyrood are a mix of dyed in wool reactionaries, landed money, and on-message careerists - Davidson appeared so personable because the rest of them lack basic human traits. It's going to be difficult to find someone with the cut through appeal, and that in itself presents Boris Johnson with a problem. Tempted by an election he may be, without Davidson the chances of the Tories holding onto anything like their 13 Scottish seats is remote to non-existent.

What now for Davidson? Her long-stated ambition of becoming First Minister was always fluff for the profile writers. But what isn't is the possibility of a return to front line politics. The long-term future of the Tories depends on building beyond their declining constituency, and she is just the sort of established and (relatively) popular figure who could head up a more liberal, more centre facing Tory party that has broken with its toxic past. By bowing out at this crucial moment she's avoiding the taint Johnson and friends are busily covering themselves with, effectively meaning she's politically clean when the sharp contradictions of Brexit have receded into the past and the Tories must reach beyond their unhinged core. As for the letter, it's smart politics. Because she was diplomatically silent about the controversies of the day she'll have a certain unity figure cache to draw upon in any future leadership contest.

That is assuming there's going to be a Tory party left for her to lead. Johnson's gamble could easily go awry. With the Financial Times and Ken Clarke now stating a Corbyn caretaker government is a lesser evil, more Tories announcing their impending retirement from the Commons planning to move against no deal, the Johnson/Cummings closing down of the parliamentary timetable is focusing minds around the legislative means to thwart Johnson's scheme, upto and including no confidence following last week's nonsense. If they manage to impose their will on Number 10 and Brexit doesn't happen by 31st October, the Tories are stuffed. And if they fail and Johnson does pull it off, it's going to take more than a newly returned Ruth Davidson five, six years down the line to dispel the visceral contempt many millions will still feel toward them.

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Wednesday 28 August 2019

Why Boris Johnson is Closing Parliament

Can Boris Johnson's proposed suspension of parliament be described as a coup? No. But is it a very serious matter? Yes.

Effectively what the government are trying to do is extend the parliamentary recess for conference season. Which has the added bonus of reducing sitting time and the possibility the honourable members will throw a spanner into the Brexit works. Which, at the moment, is looking like we're odds on for the idiocy of a no deal exit.

This is a response to the widely-reported success of Jeremy Corbyn's meeting yesterday with other opposition parties. After a summer of posturing, bad faith demands, and mind-boggling weirdness, everyone involved came round to a common position of looking at legislative means of preventing a no deal Brexit. Readers will recall from the indicative votes early on in the year that there is a majority in the Commons against no deal, but not for any other flavour of Brexit. However, the two proposals that came the nearest to succeeding, which were permutations of a deal keeping the UK in a customs union with the EU, only fell because the remain ultras of what was then Change UK voted against, Vince Cable and Tim Farron were absent doing other things, and the usual Labour suspects rebelled. This time with all the parties on board the danger is for Johnson and his schemes that they will succeed and his hands would be tied. He knows full well, given how he's painted himself into a corner, extending Article 50 and not leaving the EU on 31st October is curtains for him and curtains for the Tories.

Hence reducing the amount of time the Commons can sit chokes off this possibility. As Tory "rebel" Dominic Grieve observes, this makes a vote of no confidence in Johnson more likely. Indeed it does, but he's chill with the prospect. Again, after a summer of wrangling and the public display of Corbynphobia from recalcitrant Tory MPs and all the opposition parties save the SNP Johnson thinks he has more chance of surviving this than seeing off legislative assaults on Brexit. And he has a point. A no confidence multiplies the chances of a general election, and the likes of the various independents and pro-EU Tories aren't about to vote themselves out of existence.

This is the game Johnson is playing. It's not without risks. Again, it is not a coup and is well within the bounds of constitutionalism, but it does smack of desperation and shows the government is spooked by its opponents. He's provided a rallying point for all the forces arrayed against him. As Stephen Bush notes though, by putting all his opponents in one place he can go for an election in which his Tories are the voice of the people vs elite MPs riding roughshod all over the referendum's democratic will. And with no Brexit Party breathing down his neck, as per Nigel Farage's comments yesterday, if the opposition is divided he can win big. That is, assuming, Labour and the SNP support his attempts to call an election. In all other circumstances, they would, but at this hour and in a situation in which Johnson appears to be going for one from a position with every advantage? Who can say.

Hold on to your hats. Politics is getting interesting again.

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Tuesday 27 August 2019

ContraPoints on Men and Masculine Crisis

Great video essay on disposable men, invisibility, privilege and existential angst, traps with straps, and the necessity of forging a non-toxic masculinity for the 21st century. A superb piece.

Monday 26 August 2019

Plaid Cymru's Grubby Letter to Labour

"Dear Mr Johnson", begins Plaid Cymru's latest data harvesting exercise, "Rule out No Deal, Commit to a Final Say Referendum, Start investing in our country". And it's signed off, rather presumptuously, by "the people of Wales". The very same people who voted 854,572 to 772,347 to leave the European Union, just so you know. Okay, so what do you note about this "letter" to the Prime Minister? It is reiterating in Plaid Cymru's Brexit policy, which as it happens is the same as the Liberal Democrats (whose position is not to revoke Article 50, despite their posturing), and also Labour's position. Readers will recall the Labour's policy set by conference last year is to push for a general election, and if we can't get one push for a referendum as a means of preventing a no deal Brexit or one based on Theresa May's withdrawal agreement.

Consider Plaid Cymru's position as of this morning. Ahead of Tuesday's meeting between Jeremy Corbyn and other parties, including even Anna Soubry for the Independent Group for Change, Plaid's new leader, Adam Price, has issued a "message to Corbyn". Talking up his party's contribution to the Brecon by-election and the EU election results in which they beat Welsh Labour by 40,000 votes, he says Plaid will only support Labour's plan for a caretaker government if it commits to remain in advance.

Let's just set this out as crystal as language allows. Labour plan to no confidence Boris Johnson's government. If it is successful Corbyn will try and form a caretaker government for the single express purpose of extending Article 50, and calling a general election with a second referendum on Brexit in Labour's manifesto. Caroline Lucas for the Greens prefers a referendum first, the LibDems aren't keen on the idea because Jo Swinson is vulnerable to the SNP, and neither are the two halves of Change UK nor the Tory "rebels" who we keep hearing rumours about. Why? Because after an election, none of these people will exist. Nevertheless the general election plank of Labour's position is flexible and might be up for negotiation if it means stopping a no deal - no doubt this will be a topic for some discussion tomorrow. Once in office, all Corbyn has pledged to do is these tasks. So, unfortunately, all those things our centrist friends hold dear, like benefits sanctions, the housing crisis, and crippling tuition fee debt will go unaddressed.

It turns out this isn't enough for Price who has chosen to demand more from Jeremy Corbyn than their pitiful "Dear Mr Johnson" letter asks of the Prime Minister. For someone boasting "under my leadership, Plaid Cymru has taken the strongest anti-Brexit stance", this is a funny way of averting no deal and securing the second referendum he supposedly covets. What is Price's game?

Party politics, of course. Unlike Leanne Wood whose politics were firmly on the left of the party, her successor is firmly in the socially liberal, economically liberal mould. And by economically liberal, I mean a fervent enthusiast for the Thatcherite settlement: income tax cuts, driving down council tax bills, and corporation tax to try and tempt companies from England to relocate. No wonder as she departed office Wood accused him of being willing to do a deal with the Tories - and in quick response Price ruled out any coalition with any party. Furthermore, Price has doubled down on Welsh nationalism and has argued for an independence referendum of its own. It's more than coincidence then that he found cosying up with the LibDems in their so-called remain alliance a more inviting prospect than Jeremy Corbyn's Labour, even to the point of adopting the same tactics.

Like Swinson, Price is overplaying his hand. Drunk on the fragmented EU election results, he thinks Plaid's position can improve by appearing the most ultra of ultra remainers. The party's banked its present electorate, and so going all-out remain presumably would peel off Labour voters and remain-inclined Tories. The problem with this, as noted many times before, is most remainy Labour voters support a Labour government for reasons other than Brexit (the myth Corbyn and co. hoodwinked remain voters in 2017 on the basis of an explicit 'we'll deliver Brexit' manifesto refuses to die). By pushing neoliberalism on a bed of daffodils Price is running the risk of losing the left flank Wood helped build up over years. His ridiculous open letter to the Labour leader was sure to have gone down like the proverbial cup of cold sick among these activists, members, and voters.

This isn't Price's sole consideration. He is desperate for the remain alliance to work as clear runs in a number of seats could help him achieve the party's objective of doubling representation in the Welsh Assembly in 2021 and scooping up more seats in Westminster. By demonstrating his Corbynphobic creds, formalising this arrangement with the LibDems becomes more certain.

"This is not a time for political posturing", when every single angle of this stunt screams political posturing. No deal might be bad, but placing impossible demands on Labour just goes to show Adam Price is willing to sacrifice the well being and livelihoods of others for the miserable prospect of winning a few extra parliamentary seats. He might style himself an iconoclast and a "progressive", but his politics are as grubby and self-interested as any establishment politician's.

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Sunday 25 August 2019

The Long-Term Decline of the Tories

One of the key points this blog has hammered time and again is how the Conservative Party is in long-term decline, and many of its pathologies, from extreme short-termism to the predominance of unprincipled, incompetent chancers are symptoms of a slow burning crisis now coming to a head. I say slow burning because the argument the party is in long-term decline was first ventured by John Ross in his 1983 book, Thatcher and Friends: The Anatomy of the Tory Party. And as might readers know, I'm working on a book on the very same topic. What then does a book a stone's throw from 40 years of age reveal about the Tory party today? Quite a bit as it turns out.

The main thrust of John's argument is based on the declining votes of the Tories since their peak in 1931. Prior to then, between 1859 and 1931 the party was in a long term ascendency, and assumed a dominant position from 1886. Of course there were peaks and troughs in both periods, but vote proportions plotted in a graph demonstrate a rise and fall tendency. More specifically, between 1931 and 1983 John observes that with the single exception of 1955, the Tories won elections with a decreasing portion of the overall vote compared to their previous outing. For instance, Ted Heath's Tories won in 1970 with 46.4%, and Thatcher in 1979 and 1983 with 43.9% and 42.4%. How did this trend stand up after the book was published? 1987 saw 42.2%, and 1992 41.9%. Leaving out the trough years of opposition, the Tories returned to government in the 2010 hung parliament with 36.1%, but won a majority in 2015 with 36.9%, and lost its majority on the basis of 42.4% in 2017. Therefore the pattern John identified was broken between 2010 and 2015. Indeed, writing in 2013 John forecast the Tories would get 30.3% at the following election, a prediction that unfortunately turned out not to be the case.

Does this mean the long-term decline thesis is bunk? If we rely on the vote proportion argument, not necessarily. It is quite possible, indeed likely, the Tories at the next election won't be able to repeat Theresa May's feat. Partly because Boris Johnson's entirely transparent strategy is to repeat what she managed in 2017, and the problem with that is this particular voter coalition itself is in long-term decline and not renewing itself. And the possibility the Brexit Party could still menace the Tories from the right, which is what Annunziata Rees-Mogg suggests regardless of political circumstances. Therefore the downward trend can easily reassert itself, and probably would.

Can't we make similar observations about Labour? Rising from 1900 to 1945 and 1950 where Labour polled 47.7% and then losing the election the following year on 48.8% (despite getting 200,000 more votes than the Tories), haven't we seen decline since? When it next won office in 1964 it got 44.1%, then 48% in 1966, and declining to 37.2% at its next victory in February 1974 and 39.2% in the year's Autumn election. Then it was 43.2% in 1997, 40.7% in 2001, and lastly 35.2% in 2005. Therefore not as neat a pattern, but the same overall direction is evident. Meanwhile the combined vote share of the two main parties has also suffered. From 96.8% in 1951 it declined to an all-time low of 65.1% in 2010 before rebounding slightly in 2015 with 67.3% and then very strongly at the last election with 82.4% - the best performance since 1970. Is it the case that as more options have presented themselves at the polls, the duopoly has found it increasingly difficult to hold on and that Tory decline isn't Tory decline as such but a consequence of politics fragmenting thanks an increasingly complex society?

Thatcher and Friends suggests not. In fact, John contests the very notion the party system can be considered a duopoly. Since the eclipse of the Liberals in 1918 the last century is characterised by a unipolar political system in which the Tories were in power much longer than the rest put together. It has won general elections, defined here as having the most seats, on 18 out of 27 occasions and has been in government 61 out of the last 101 years. He argues by virtue of the party's long history, it being the preferred party of British capital, its weight in the institutions and wider culture, and overweening material resources, it is the chief prop of our party system. A crisis of the Tories therefore impacts on the rest of the system and portends its end. This, he argues, is part of a pattern of cycles that have characterised British politics since the 17th century, and these cycles are conditioned by the developments of types of capital. From 1688 to 1783, the domination of parliament by the Whigs coincided with the accumulation of landed, mercantile and banking capital. This was followed by a period of Tory dominance lasting until 1832, and proceeded alongside the industrial revolution and the rise of manufacturing capital. Following their crisis and split, the newly-formed Liberals fused with the Whigs and commanded politics up until 1885 and coincided with laissez-faire capitalism, before getting overtaken by a new Tory supremacy from 1886 based on imperialism and overseas investment, which persisted to when John was writing and, arguably, to the present day. Toward the end of each period of dominance, the commanding party enters into crisis and something else takes over, with the next period being a period of convalescence and recomposition.

John's argument in 1983 was that the decline of Tory electoral performance and the emergence of the SDP/Liberal Alliance as a viable third party suggested the crisis was at hand. And yet they went on to win another two elections and saw its opponents adopt the mainstays of the Thatcherite settlement. Nevertheless, despite forming a coalition in 2010, bouncing back and winning a majority in 2015, and getting 42% at the last election the party is currently and obviously in its worst crisis since 1836. May left the party on the brink, and Johnson's pitch to no deal and reckless brinkmanship is a means of forestalling the party's existential crisis. This year's EU elections offer Tories a glimpse of what could happen to their party if it does not placate its voter coalition. Given the choice between avoiding permanent damage to the British economy and preserving the Tory party, because it is the primary instrument by which bourgeois interests are articulated and served the viability of the latter will trump the former every single time. But this only averts an immediate crisis. Should Johnson get through Brexit, call a general election and win it, which is possible, the party does not escape the challenge of long-term decline: the non-replacement of its core voters, its toxicity, its being out-of-step with the values, experiences, and interests of the rising generation.

The book also makes a number of other interesting and valuable observations: that the Tories were formed as and remained the party of landed, mercantile, and finance capital, and how it actively stymied the industrial development of the British economy after the 1830s and encouraged investment overseas because it foresaw the rapid emergence of a numerically dominant working class as a political challenge it'd rather not deal with. In this sense, Thatcher's attack on the post-war consensus by breaking up the labour movement was entirely in line with the politics of her 19th century forebears. And also, John warns how making anti-Toryism the baselines of your politics can disarm the labour movement, which we saw with the triumph of New Labour and the occasional appeal, to some, by the Liberal Democrats.

In short, plenty of material for me to chew on with relation to my own project. But truly, it should not be a book left to gather dust on charity shop shelves. The historical argument about the periodisation of political cycles, and of the class alliances comprising the Tory party remain as relevant now as they were first written. A forgotten but important contribution to the Marxist analysis of ruling class politics, and one worth seeking out.

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Friday 23 August 2019

Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Master System

I remember well seeing Sonic the Hedgehog running for the first time. It was at a long defunct Japanese import emporium in Derby, it was on the MegaDrive, and it looked every bit as pretty as the magazine screenshots promised. I just had to have it, and at some point in the Autumn of 1991 that's exactly what happened - for the princely sum of £34.99 it became the third game added to my trusty collection, where it resides to this day along with the first two. Much fun was had to the point where my brother developed a deathly obsession, going into debug mode and playing it in every way it was never intended to be. And then came something of a surprise. This supposed MegaDrive exclusive conceived to trounce Nintendo's Mario and sell the machine, which it did (for a time) ended up getting an outing on the Sega Master System. And, truth be told, it was well worth the effort.

Naturally, Sonic in its new surrounds could not match the premium product of Sega's flagship console, but nevertheless accomplished a number of commercial objectives in its own right. The Master System was dead in Japan and the US, but the hype attending the MegaDrive version ensured sales were brisk everywhere else. When the Master System II was released as a stripped down budget system, making Sonic the inbuilt game helped endear the console and the character to entry level gamers, and by offering a quality platformer on a system littered with ropey games, it hints at the mega fun that can be had not just with the inevitable sequels (the humble MS received its own version of Sonic 2 and an original game, Sonic Chaos), but by upgrading to the better, more expensive machine.

Anyone familiar with the MegaDrive version, which would be a fair chunk of 30 and early-40-somethings, knows the score. Run (at pace) across a landscape littered with chutes, springs, and loops. Collect all the rings for entry into the bonus stage, and a hundred for an extra life, and grab all the chaos emeralds. The Master System, however, changes it up a little bit. While there are sections for Roadrunner-style sprinting they are, understandably, truncated. When you're hit by a baddie you lose all your rings and you can't collect a few of them up, as per the sibling's iteration. And the third act of each stage is a boss confrontation with Dr Robotnik, of whatever he's called in the Sonic universe these days.

Some borrowing was inevitable. Green Hill zone, Labyrinth zone, and Scrap Brain zone are repeated in 8-bit glory, but we also find new additions: Bridge, Jungle, and Sky Base. Each have their original lay outs, and are soundtracked by a mix of bespoke tunes (pleasingly composed by Yuzo Koshiro) and renditions of the original jingles. And considering the poor regard the sound chip was held in (and the complete inability of many dev teams to programme it properly), the compositions are superb - especially Bridge zone's, which is one of the best 8-bit chip tunes ever. And as for the game play, well, it's Sonic. At a slightly slower pace to be sure, but those habituated to the 16-bit platformers know what to expect. Though do spend some time exploring the levels for the chaos emeralds are secreted in hidden locations. No stomach-troubling rotating bonus mazes on this occasion.

In short, this is as near a perfect game you'll find on the Master System. And an important one. Not just for what it did for Sega in terms of brand recognition and underlining the then trajectory to mascot-themed video games, but thanks to the introduction of another very 90s trope: the weird tendency to corporate green washing.

While some games clobbered their audiences with environmentalist creds, Sonic took a more subtle, some might say Lord of the Rings approach to these matters. Here the game begins with pleasant, leafy landscapes otherwise blemished by Robotnik's mechanical minions which, as any Sonic player will tell you, entombs a furry animal. Smash an enemy and off hops a furry little friend. As you make your way through, you start seeing the darkening hand of technology run amok. Prior to each level the game provides a route map through the imaginatively-named South Island which is nice and pristine, save Robotnik's hideout atop the mountain that spews out poisons and pollution. Apart from Sonic's famous running shoes, the only technology on your side are the monitors to be smashed for rings, shields and temporary invincibility. The rest of it is geared toward your demise. Your job then is to break the mechanical enslavement and despoliation of your world and presumably return it to how things were. And to make matters worse, the blighting of the landscape is the result of just one power-crazed scientist. Imagine if there were other humans in the game - what a shambles everything would be. Ironic then how Sonic's/the player's allying to good/nature opposed to the evil/machine takes place while abiding by the prescribed, repetitive and almost mechanical input of timed button presses and making their own contribution to carbon emissions. A bit like mining bitcoin to fund Greenpeace I suppose, but on a lower, entirely virtual level in which a simplistic anti-technology message is conferred, but wrapped up in a package designed to make you play more and buy more similar games. A nice wee contradiction, to be sure.

Nevertheless, a great game and one oft-overlooked in retrospectives of the 8-bit console era.

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