Friday, 24 September 2021

Neoliberalising the Shadow Cabinet

The Labour Party is home to many dubious traditions. Stitch ups. Contempt for members. Leadership incompetence on the eve of conference. But another that often sails below the radar are the chummy, if not outright corrupt relationships between wealthy people, corporations, and Labour Party politicians. For the favoured, they can expect donations of tens of thousands each year to contribute toward "office costs". In the majority of cases this money doesn't ingress into the politicians' pockets and bank accounts, but is used to hire in more people, upgrade the office space, or pay for huge drops of very glossy leaflets. Often, this comes with no strings attached. But the understanding is there: lobby for their interests at local level, push against national-level policy moves that might harm their industry, etc.

Then comes the next layer: leading shadow ministers find themselves in receipt of the largesse of certain commercial behemoths. In addition to their one or two Westminster people and spad, outfits like KPMG and Serco have a history of seconding staff to their offices. And this "charity" pays itself back many times over: the genesis of nuts and bolts policy lie not in the political imagination or wonkish inclinations of shadow ministers, but in the schemes favoured and often pushed by their spads. A donation of a corporate employee brings a business's influence to bear directly to the policy formation process. Much of this practice was jacked in under Jeremy Corbyn, but was rife in the Ed Miiband years.

And now, we read, the process is about to go one step further. Last year, Labour received £6.5m in short money to fund its parliamentary business, including £850k for the Leader's office. A tidy sum, to be sure. But with 26 shadow cabinet members, seven more senior positions with attendance rights, and a layer of bag-carrying MPs beneath them, it's very easy to see how staffing costs can spiral. Especially if one is set on paying spad rates. This isn't a problem when Labour is relatively flush with cash as the party can (and did) stump up money to support parliamentary operations, but even without a cash crisis under Ed Miliband the gaps were plugged with generous donations from accountancy firms and public sector outsourcers. And now, there is a financial blackhole thanks to the membership collapse, withdrawal of union donations, and the leadership's money mismanagement, shadow ministers are competing for corporate sponsorship.

According to HuffPo, party cutbacks means less money for specialist staff. Isntead we have the spectacle of Wes Streeting and David Lammy raising large sums for their disposal. This could be spent to enhance their offices, or squirrelled away for a future leadership contest. But either way, it's setting the scene for a thorough neoliberalisation of the shadow cabinet. While this pair are sitting pretty, also swimming in outside cash are Rachel Reeves, Jess Phillips, and, outside the top body, Yvette Cooper and Dan Jarvis. In the game of politics, they now have extra resources to make themselves particularly effective, at least in the eyes of other Labour MPs, while, comparatively speaking, those not flush with support are going to have to get by with reduced teams. To highlight the absurdity of the situation, Streeting has potentially greater resources to meet his schooling and child poverty brief than his nominal boss, shadow education secretary Kate Green.

This situation is entirely consistent with Keir Starmer's managed democracy. The shadcab are not only disciplined by collective responsibility, political advancement is now tied to attracting "investment" from "philanthropists" like the Sainsbury clan, and entities like PwC. In other words, meltism is actively incentivised (not that it needed to be) and sections of capital have a greater, more direct relationship with with Labour's top team. It also behoves those wanting to move up the parliamentary ranks to pay the same game, effectively working toward what the priorities of wealthy backers as opposed to those the party occasionally affects to represent. This puts further distance between the party's elite and its constituency, insulating them from upwelling pressures, thickening the tin ears with coatings of lead, and more or less guaranteeing a future of further electoral woe.

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

A Tale of Two Podcasts

As readers know, the book is here and I've done a little bit of left media to push it. For your entertainment, here are the two shows I spoke to last week. In order of appearance, here's the conversation I had with Grace Blakeley at A World to Win.



And here I am chatting with Phil Dore from Unfashionably Internationalist.


Give them a listen while I spend my everning writing a module handbook!

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Keir Starmer's Managed Democracy

The Tories should be having a rough time. Their recent reshuffle compounds the calamities forced on us. They have presided over the worst foreign policy disasters in British political history twice in as many years. The triple lock is ending, National Insurance is going up for employees, and millions of working families are about to lose a £1,000/year. Shops are experiencing food shortages, the idiotic Tory Brexit deal has stoked the fires of a militant Unionism in the throes of decline, and now gas prices are threatening the production of meatstuffs and menacing Christmas into the bargain. We're at the reverse Midas touch stage of this Tory government, and one a competent opposition would have no problem carving up while serving as the repository for disaffection from all quarters. Sadly, we have an opposition that is missing in action.

Never have so many goals been missed or opportunities passed up by a Labour leader. In his person, Keir Starmer condenses all the place-seeking and petty-mindedness of the Labour right - except he's blissfully unaware how he's filleting his position like a kipper. Consider the latest wheeze, now confirmed to the BBC and given in writing in conference documents: the electoral college is returning. A fever dream of the Labour right just two years ago, the prospect of its return is real. It's entirely possible Starmer could end Labour's short experiment with elementary bourgeois democratic norms and retreat to the managed democracy his lackeys ostentatiously find objectionable in Russia, Belarus, Hungary, etc. Returning to the system that last ran in 2010, the proposals award each MP the equivalent of 2,000 member votes and even more affiliated trade unionist votes. Simply put, no defence of this exists on formal grounds, so out come the bullshit arguments.

The first is MPs are more representative of the population as a whole than the membership. This is obviously untrue, whichever way you look at it. Our parliamentarians can look forward to the basic tidy annual sum of £82k, easily putting them in the top 20% of earners. This leaves out perks, corporate comps, directorships and lucrative sidelines that have the fortuitous tendency to stop at their station. There is a widening gulf between them and the consequences of the policies they debate in the Commons. And while there are good sorts who demonstrate empathy because they've been there, or they have good politics, most do not feel an emotional attachment to the suffering governments inflict. Their position insulates them. Social being conditions consciousness and therefore politics, which is why it remains common to still find on the Labour benches fans of scrounger rhetoric, true believers in unemployment being a result of personal failings, and joblessness the consequence of "cultures of worklessness" - not lack of jobs. From here flow other sins, such as mistaking one's mediocrity for profundity, how the public champ at the bit for military intervention overseas, and that nothing has changed in fundamentals since 1997.

Inhabiting this rarefied space breathes life into one popular self-serving argument - at least popular among the Labour right. When they were temporarily out of office and out of sorts in the Corbyn interlude, every tweet or Facebook post mildly critical of the scabby behaviour of right wing Labour MPs was hysterically denounced as abuse, bullying, misogyny, and antisemitism. There was litte concern their mountains from molehills act would affect Labour's chances, because our self-styled election-winning specialists had no interest in winning an election. Quite the opposite. Now they're back in the driving seat purging the left and stitching up party democracy with an enthusiasm that would make the crudest Kremlin fixer blush, bloodletting is not only good when they're wielding the axe; the public love to see it too. At least according to them.

For Starmer, to his mind and those advising him choosing to go into conference promising a showdown with the left and the trade unions is Blairite colour-by-numbers. What better way to show the media and anyone watching that not only is he tuss enough to be a proper leader, but if circumstances demand he'd happily defend the bourgeois interest against the people his party was set up to represent. But this is a gamble, and could easily shade into overreach. With Corbyn sidelined, recent accidentally-on-purpose difficulties kept off the front pages, the right wing tilt to opposition causing Starmer little bother, and a change of leadership at Unite pledged to expend less energy on Labour Party affairs, why not strike while the iron is hot? Risky, yes. But what he's banking on is the plodding conservatism of loyalist union bureaucrats and CLP delegates. This is Starmer's first proper conference as party leader, so the pressure's on not to embarrass the leader by seeing him defeated. Even if he's determined to make an arse of himself. It's this loyalism they're banking on, because as the BBC piece notes, little preparation has been done.

You don't need me to tell you the Labour leader is digging his own grave. He's faithfully followed the Labour right play book since he lied his way into office, but apart from that, and much to the surprise of many who would not describe themselves as leftwingers, Starmer has shown himself up as useless and spineless. Worse, the amateurishness and non-opposition is grating. If Starmer's changes are passed by conference and the member influence is carved out, the grumbles will get louder. The anonymous briefers will command more column inches, and a poor by-election result or an awful showing at next year's locals means curtains, paving the way for someone else.

Monday, 20 September 2021

The Politics of AUKUS

Yet again, more excellent commentary from Politics Theory Other. The tripartite pact between Australia, the UK, and the United States (and the subsequent freezing out of France) with the aim of containing China has, understandably, stoked the fears of a new cold war. As Paul Rogers rightly argues in his interview, this might be a warning to Beijing that the Anglo-Saxon powers are back in business, but also the arms manufacturers need their military Keynesianism and all three governments get props (they think) from looking tough on the world stage. A virtuous political circle, in other words. In his contribution, David Brophy argues this is unlikely to disrupt the trading relationship between Australia and China yet, though notes that despite the latter being the country's largest partner by trade volumes the actual proportion of domestic capital dependent on strong Chinese links is nothing compared to the UK and US interests that dominate the economy. A case then of the National/Liberal coalition government knowing which side their bread is buttered, and throwing their lot in with their big brothers overseas.


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Sunday, 19 September 2021

Dead Wood and Crooked Timbers

Now the dust has settled and the most excitable media commentary is out of the way, what can be said of Boris Johnson's reshuffle? On one level, not a lot. The government has overseen 150,000 Covid deaths is bent on pushing the totals higher. The same war on woke rubbish hasn't gone away, nor has the determination to shield the wealthy. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Among the big ticket items was the bumping of Gavin Williamson down to the backbenches. Rumour has it there will be a knighthood in the post to ease his bruises, and knowing Williamson is the worst vainglorious place seeker he's going to insist on the "Sir" at every conceivable function. Up to and including dealings with his kids. As for offences committed during his time in office, Williamson distinguished himself with singular incompetence and arrogance and attracted the brickbats for it, which does provide the Prime Minister some service. The debacle of Covid in schools is the education secretary's fault and not Boris Johnson's responsibility, for instance. But there's only so much punishment such a figure can soak up before the flood of anger swamps the Prime Minister. Williamson was at saturation point and had to go. Moving Nadhim Zahawi indicates that Johnson has a similar role in mind for him. Zahawi has become a relatively familiar government face during the pandemic, but apart from that he's not well known among the public. On the surface more reasonable and more popular in Westminster than his predecessor, it's worth remembering his "reasonableness" extends to backing Johnson from the beginning, and claiming for heating his nags' stables on MP's expenses. A more emollient tone is the most that can be expected, and for his fans on the centre left and columnist land, that will be enough.

The other big casualty was the appalling Dominic Raab. Like Williamson, by the time Johnson shuffled him out of the foreign secretary role he was resembling a punch bag with stuffing spilling everywhere. His incompetence, like that of his boss, received the full glare of publicity following the disintegration of the British position in Afghanistan. And here, Raab performed the fall guy role brilliantly. At a rate of knots, the media spotlight shifted from the humiliation inflicted on the Western allies to the drama of the Pen Farthing animal airlift, and whether Raab picked up the phone to his outgoing counterpart in Kabul or not. A masterpiece of misdirection, having it consume the foreign secretary was a price Johnson was happy to pay. And with the energy bar depleted, he's been demoted - albeit disguised as a promotion - by his appointment as justice secretary, with the deputy PM dunce cap added to spare his blushes. Raab himself is as stupid as he is unsuited as a parliamentarian, let alone any office of government, but Westminster watchers and their appreciation of its history know that the last time the deputy honorific was doled out to ease a demotion - the blessed Margaret's "retirement" of Geoffrey Howe - the worm turned with devastating effect when the time was right. History could well repeat itself, but as we're dealing with Dominic Raab here it's unlikely to be anything other than farce. Moving up Liz Truss into Raab's boots is, from a Tory party point of view, a wise move. She's popular with the wider party and is seen as a "doer" thanks to her modest clutch of Brexit trade deals. Just don't ask about the abandonment of greenhouse standards in the Australian deal.

Meanwhile the actual deputy PM, Michael Gove, was awarded a super department. As politically awful Gove is he has proven himself a competent administrator, which is something of a rarity among Johnson's cabinet of prima donnas and failures. Having carried the Johnson operation on the business side of things, this most obsequious of satraps is in receipt of a mega office combining housing and local government with the official, no one's making this up, title of 'the Department of Levelling Up. As firm believers of 'if you repeat a lie enough the punters will believe it', the suspicion is we're going to see some "radical" thinking applied to housing, given the reputation as a reformer/wrecker Gove acquired when he was at education. When he held the shadow brief under Dave, Gove was interested in increasing the housing supply. But radical action in this direction, like a right to buy for private tenants, for example, is highly unlikely given the Tory dependence on propertied interests.

Naturally, neither Priti Patel nor Rishi Sunak were in any danger. As heirs apparent, getting shot of either would have riled up their followings on the backbenches. But what was entirely predictable was the elevation of the likes of Nadine Dorries and Kemi Badenoch. Dorries finds herself as culture secretary not because of her expanding library of romantic novels (readily available in a charity shop near you), but precisely because she's pig ignorant. Coming to notice as a "colourful" character after 2005 and best known for her stint in the celebrity jungle, Dorries's litany of "gaffes" and outright bullshit is perfect for upsetting liberal sensitivities and acting as a lightning rod for "elite" concerns with things like inconveniently situated listed structures. The same is true of Badenoch. Appointed equalities minister, the unearthing of homophobic and transphobic comments from three years ago are unsurprising. Johnson appointed her in the full knowledge of her views, and is fully aware past and future outrages would, in his view, play well in firming up the Conservative vote ahead of the next election. In true Tory form, that she will give succour to bigotry and make life a misery for precarious and targeted minorities counts for nothing.

Meet the new government, same as the old government. Johnson has cleared out the dead wood, firmed up his position by promoting new meat shields, and has signalled that it's business as usual as far as he's concerned. And with an opposition going nowhere fast, except inwards, the sad, awful truth is he's likely to get away with it.

Image Credit

Friday, 17 September 2021

Cock Up and Conspiracy

There are few things that can be described as coincidence in politics, and especially in the Labour Party. A bit more than a week has passed since Jess Barnard, the chair of Young Labour received a notice of investigation. A haphazard and pathetic effort sent at one in the morning, this implied solidarity against transphobia is something that has no place in Keir Starmer's Labour Party. If one was feeling generous it could be put down to a "tired and confused" staffer gone rogue and in no way reflects on the professional and neutral complaints process the current leadership have pledged to set up.

Except it's happened again. Kate Osborne, Labour MP for Jarrow has written about the notice of investigation she received on Friday morning. Told that she should not show it to anyone but could give the Samaritans a bell if she found it distressing, she obtained legal advice and by tea time the notice had been rescinded. She didn't say what the warning found so objectionable, but according to Aaron Bastani it was a tweet from June 2020 where she expressed her solidarity with Rebecca Long-Bailey. You might recall RLB was forced to resign as shadow education secretary for tweeting an interview with Maxine Peake published in The Independent.

Kate wonders aloud about the members targeted in a similar way who aren't as prominent as her and don't have legal advice to draw on. The dragnet, it seems, is being cast wide. Sienna Rodgers reports how one such letter was wrongly sent to an address where she lives. And meanwhile Heather Mendick, a Jewish party member and supporter of Jewish Voice for Labour, is being forced to answer a series of substantial charges without leave to properly prepare. Amateur hour meets abuse of process, a fitting summation of Starmerist managerialism.

What are we to make of this shambles? This is the week, in case anyone need reminding, where Labour should be capitalising on the Tory tax hike and knocking lumps out of Boris Johnson's plan for mass Covid infections. Instead, there's no follow up, no consistent pressure on the Tories, and no discipline in their party organisation as the apparat enjoy free reign to sate their bloodlust. How is anyone in the Labour Party supposed to direct their fire at the Tories when the leadership and its allies, satraps, and running dogs are determined to pettifog, intimidate and expel?

Going back to the Jess Barnard farce, the apparat was caught off guard by the backlash and very quickly it was blamed on the temps the party has hired to clear the backlog ahead of the new complaints system. If it was genuine inexperience and/or the zeal of a temp looking to impress in the hope of a permanent position, it ain't half funny how these notices keep hitting leftwingers. Rightwingers from parliamentary down to constituency level are somehow evading the grip of the manners police, as if Islamophobia, transphobia, and anti-black racism have teflon-like properties. It is, in other words, deliberate.

Consider the context. Of all the pledges of Starmer's leadership run, the pretended concern for unity is the one he has trampled on the most. Promises made and promises disregarded, this alone should disqualify him as Labour leader, let alone Prime Minister. With his pathetic witchhunt now backed by retrospective offences, in contravention of the most elementary bourgeois jurisprudence, the push for purging from the centre is empowering every mid-level pen pusher, self-appointed guardian of CLP probity, and Facebook screen-shotter. The culture is ripe for a tendency to work towards the leader, opportunistic forms of behaviour to be found in all organisations once the line of march is clear. I doubt Starmer or David Evans picked up the phone and commanded a minion to rid them of this troublesome Jarrow MP, but they have purposely created a culture where perverse and false accusations become the norm, not the exception. They don't need closed WhatsApp groups or secret shindigs on Teams. They wound the machine up and are watching it go. Everything is working as it should.

What's in it for them? Certainly nothing to do with getting match fit ahead of an early election in 2023. With a supine press not about to splash their reckless stupidities across their pages, the twin demons of intimidation and absurdity will drive dozens of their targets out of the party. And with each of them, hundreds of others disgusted at their charade. This is not accident, but design. This ultimately will cost the party dear, and rob Starmer of his chance at the top job. He might be naive enough to believe he has to do this to get to Number 10, but the people he listens to are not. For them, what matters is neither winning elections nor a formidable party organisation, but the security of an easy life. And Starmer in all his gormless stupidity is, for the moment, the right tool for their scabby wrecking job.

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Dannii Minogue - All I Wanna Do

Too tired for blogging this evening, but not enough for this underrated gem. Props to Alex for reminding me of it. Pro-tip: check out the album.

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

The Winter Covid Plan's Reckless Stupidity

Have you heard? According to the Prime Minister's press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Covid-19 is "still out there. Shocking if true. But more seriously, leading off with such a banal, self-evident statement, the fact Boris Johnson felt it necessary to remind people at home that the pandemic is causing sickness and death speaks to the false sense of security the government have constructed since nearly all restrictions were lifted. With the Tories acting as if the Delta variant is no bad thing, why should the public behave any different?

Indeed, this lack of seriousness characterises the Tory winter Covid plan. In the Commons earlier, Sajid Javid unveiled some initiatives to curb the spread of the virus. Central was the booster programme for the over 50s, the clinically vulnerable, and frontline health and care workers. This is supported by rolling out vaccinations to 12-15 year olds, and a renewed effort at encouraging the unvaccinated to take up their jabs. Can you spot the hole in this plan? This is an effort aimed at curbing serious illness, not the spread of the virus itself. Which, in case folks need reminding, is crucial if we want the world to resume some sort of normality any time soon. Why? Because new research suggests the evolution of Covid is accelerating. With more infections the scope for mutation expands and the selection for adapted strains becomes more probable. At the press conference, Chris Whitty's furrowed brow creased over the prospect of vaccine escape and resistant variations of the disease - something the Tories, judged by their actions, are chillaxed about.

Nothing emphasises this like the Javid/Johnson plan B if things get really bad. The Prime Minister's grand scheme would, as the emergency bites, start mandating masks in public places, bring in vaccine passports for mass events, and encourage public vigilance. In other words, a plan more appropriate to now than when the NHS is groaning under mass hospitalisations, more death, and the horrors a vaccine resistant strain would visit on us.

It really is quite simple. No one is advocating an immediate national lockdown, but mask mandates in public places, large workplaces, and educational settings, a reversal of the Tories' reckless and mind-bendingly stupid efforts at undermining the NHS app, a sensible approach to schooling as opposed to the dogmatic "you will send your children to school, even if everyone at home is riddled with Covid", and perhaps not being so determined to generate as many superspreader events as possible are good places a strategy aimed at "living with the virus" could start with. That is if the Tories are interested in stopping the spread of the disease at all.

They're not. The most malignant disease of the last 18 months could not have asked for a better ally than the country's most malignant political force for the last 180-odd years. When you look at their pitiful attempts at pandemic management, when they rely on a faulty theory of herd immunity, which is put into question every time a viable new variant emerges, and when they refuse to put into place the social safety net that would enforce effective social isolation and limit spread, one is forced to ask why. It's too coincidental and consistent to be the outcome of accident, incompetence, and ideology fighting shy of evidence. And it goes to the heart of what the Conservative Party is.

We visited this issue last year. Public health is secondary to what is truly important to the Tories: the protection of the wage relation, the preservation of the imbalance of power which sees labour dependent on capital, securing the property investments of institutional investors and petty landlordism, and ensuring society remains safe for the circulation of self-expanding capital. It's the interests, stupid. The Tories can believe whatever rubbish they like - Great Reset nonsense, face mask Stalinism, even anti-vax crap - it's funny how the logical outcomes of implementing policy informed by their concerns happens to make life sweeter for the interests the Tories organise and articulate. Capital's insatiable demand to accumulate, dependent on the continual reinforcement of class relationships cares not a jot about Covid or any other pathogen. It is a blind, remorseless, senseless beast that needs bodies working and spending. The Tories, as its most fervent political servitor are only too glad to do its bidding. Even if it means putting hundreds of thousands of lives at risk.

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Monday, 13 September 2021

A Man Without Qualities

Perhaps one day I'll write something that congratulates Keir Starmer for doing the right thing, but not today. Reflecting on his relationship with the Labour leader, Len McCluskey has penned a short piece on the deal he and a group of left Labour MPs put together with the leader's office and Angela Rayner to give the whip back to Jeremy Corbyn following his suspension. After negotiations the former leader did what was asked of him and signed a statement drafted by Starmer's team, only for Starmer to row back and start demanding apologies for Jeremy's - correct - claim that accusations of antisemitism were seized upon and used in transparently factional ways to undermine his leadership. The full detail of the sordid story was published by Novara in July.

What spooked Starmer into reneging on his deal? It was Margaret Hodge and the right wing astroturf outfit, the Jewish Labour Movement. As hardened factionalists and sensing an opportunity to give their nemesis the push, both threw their toys out of the proverbial and promised ructions if he was readmitted. As a pathetic weakling Starmer cleaved to their blackmail, fearful accusations of not taking antisemitism seriously would dog him just as they did his predecessor. In reality, both Hodge and the JLM's leading lights need the party label far more than Labour's good name needs them, but Starmer was more willing to risk the undying enmity of the left and a swathe of voters than stand up to right wing factionalism. And it's going to cost him.

Such cowardice suffuses Starmer's approach to politics. As noted plenty of times here before, Labour leaders have two choices. Either try and lead by putting forward their analysis, identify problems, and offer policies for addressing them, or just collapse like a jelly and try and tail public opinion as articulated by right wing editorials. Corbyn and, to a degree, Ed Miliband did the first. Starmer hasn't once, even during the solid gold opportunity offered by the Tory National Insurance increase. There's a path of least resistance, and another of completely keeping your head down in the hopes of squeaking in by default.

This most yellow-bellied politics conditions Starmer's attitude to the party membership. Not only are bureaucrats given carte blanche to harass young working class women at all hours of the night, the leader himself is petrified by the thought of rubbing shoulders with the people who gave him his job. Take humble old Stoke-on-Trent, for instance. His painful interview with Beth Rigby at Stoke Sixth Form College was preceded by his decision to visit the Potteries without bothering to let local Labour members know. For the third time. I understand a senior local activist got wind of the visit and asked about inviting the membership but was brusquely informed that Starmer was on a tight schedule and didn't have the time. It's almost as if he's running scared of someone asking an awkward question out of turn. If he can't handle a tame line of questioning about wealth taxes, imagine if he was asked about the Forde report, the ditching of his leadership pledges, or to account for his pitiful polling? Never has a Labour leader, not even one as under siege as Gordon Brown was, fought shy of the people he expects to campaign for him.

Anyone casting a cursory critical eye in Starmer's direction cannot fail to notice his complete lack of qualities. Authoritarian but thin-skinned, pretending to be left wing when it suited, but now pretending to be right wing in a wrong-headed approach at winning over Tory voters. Haughty, dishonest, untrustworthy, and cowardly, if he had appeared on the scene 10 years ago he would have been mistaken for a Blairite. Mistaken, because at least that caste of MPs have political backgrounds in spadding and bag carrying. Starmer is emptier than even that.

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Sunday, 12 September 2021

Falling Down: Author's Notes

The publication date of Falling Down: The Conservative Party and the Decline of Tory Britain draws near. Though, in reality, the buying public have been able to get hold of it this last fortnight via Verso themselves and other dispensers of books. All for the good.

Thinking about a book you have written just before the bulk of the reviews come trundling in is a new experience for me. On the whole, I think the left are going to like it and the centrists and the right will dismiss it as gobbledegook or hopelessly foolish. I mean, how can the Tories be said to be in decline when they've increased their popular vote at every election following the 1997 debacle? And those advancing that point will reveal themselves as someone who hasn't read the thing. Already I can find myself anticipating some criticisms with the stock "you haven't read it properly." Isn't this something all authors do? An adjacent criticism of would be imputing a demography-is-destiny argument, while the book is at pains to stress probabilities and tendencies. And another, this time coming from the left, might criticise the book for saying pensioners are the enemy and we need to unite on a class basis. Which, of course, it doesn't argue and has never been argued around these parts in the nine years I've been writing about this.

In truth, parrying criticisms in advance is a fruitless exercise. Reviewers are going to say what they're going to say, whether that is consistent with the argument made or not. But perhaps there is some utility in saying what I think the book tries to do.

1. Serve as an all-purpose leftwing introduction to the Tory party from 1979 to Johnson's election triumph in 2019. But with some necessary milestones from before this period name checked.

2. Advance a theory of Tory decline incorporating what is useful in existing approaches on the left and the right while overcoming their limits.

3. Demonstrate the Tories are a ruling class project and understanding this is key to interpreting seemingly contradictory and illogical political positions - from the standpoint of capitalist rationality the Tories have assumed.

4. Recapitulate the well-trodden territory of Thatcher's gradual imposition of neoliberal governance, but accord the John Major years their full importance in bedding it down. This remained the central concern of his government even after electoral defeat became increasingly obvious and he was beset with party management issues.

5. Argues these processes of subjectivation were entirely intentional. Thatcher was clear-eyed about their application and consequences to affect an atomisation of (particularly working class) voters and their re-interpellation as acquisitive, petit bourgeois monads (NB - I don't use this language in the book!). Property is central to this.

5. Break with dominant political science narratives about the Tories' 1997-2005 period. Far from an outbreak of bilious irrationality, it consolidated their base in the immediate aftermath of shattering defeat.

6. Defy received narratives of liberal/centrist Tory rebranding and discussing how touchy-feely posturing of Cameron in opposition turned into the two-nation Toryism of government. Again, the class characteristics are clearly visible during his six years in office.

7. Shows the Cameron years accelerated the age splits in politics around class and property owning cohorts, paving the way for the coalition building centred on retired people accomplished by May and Johnson and how their Brexit shenanigans have to be viewed in this light.

There is much more in the book, but these are the key points. Some dry detail about the formal Tory party and the ins and outs of policy were unavoidable, but there's also plenty on shenanigans and scandal. Including digging up some that have fallen down the politics memory hole. In the end, I couldn't cover everything. Indeed, substantial works could be written on the aspects of Tory politics and practice the book highlights. I'd like to revisit the Major years in more depth, for example. I hope the book meets the metric by which all scholarly socialist work should be judged: an ability to stimulate serious, activist research and make politics more knowable. In this case, understanding the past so we can change the future, and contributing to the most important, immediate objective of socialists everywhere: depriving the Conservative Party of office, and inflicting a historic defeat on this most incorrigible enemy of our movement.

Friday, 10 September 2021

Solidarity with Jess Barnard

I don't normally comment on ongoing party disciplinary cases, but Labour's decision to notify Jess Barnard, the Chair of Young Labour, was under investigation is repugnant, disgusting, and entirely cynical. Owen Jones reports how action was being taken for sending "threatening" tweets in October last year. These tweets, which you can view for yourself, do nothing but challenge the transphobia found depressingly common among the centre left, not least a number of Labour MPs. Yet Jess's remarks are beyond the pale as far as our complainant is concerned.

Apart from the spurious grounds for the suspension, in the statement Jess shared the email informing her of the party's decision was sent at 1am in the morning, and no safeguarding efforts have been made by in light of the mental health difficulties Jess lives with - something she has talked about on occsion and are known to Labour's top brass.

Naturally, this has absolutely nothing to do with policing the conduct of Labour Party members. It's an entirely transparent attempt at forcing out the chair of Young Labour and breaking up the organisation. Whether this was green lit by the general secretary, whether some jumped up junior staffer wanted to flex their bureaucratic muscles, or if the complaint was submitted by a left-hating cynic, they know it doesn't stand any chance of being upheld. But they also know about Jess's health, and their hope is by dragging her through the complaints process she will not have the energy to intervene in Labour party politics and, in the end, compel her to resign. Remember, we have the receipts where the abuse of admin privileges in the party are concerned.

But this is more than just neutralising a troublesome voice on the Labour left. Since Jeremy Corbyn's suspension from the parliamentary party, the right have been increasingly emboldened and are pursuing a strategy of friction. Try and make life hard for socialists in the party by adopting stupid positions and purging leftists, and watch the left leave. Membership is down by over a hundred thousand since Keir Starmer became leader, and the right know putting off more leftwingers makes it easier to maintain their grip. This end, the only end the Labour right care about always justifies the means. Even if a besieged and powerless minority are the ones ultimately damaged.

This conversion of the party into an open sewer cannot be allowed to stand. Give your Labour representatives and lay officers an earful, lobby NEC members, use Labour link networks in your union, kick up a stink in the CLP, and support the defence campaign. Full solidarity with Jess Barnard.

UPDATE: According to the Graun's Heather Stewart, Labour have rescinded the complaint.

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Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Geronimo and Conservative Philosophy

The saga of the dearly departed Geronimo rumbles on a week after he was put down at the government's behest. There's a lot of toing and froing between Defra vets and Geronimo's owner, Helen Macdonald, about the meaning of the results, but it's the actual politics surrounding the demise of the hapless alpaca that have got interesting.

As noted last month, this case allowed Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer to burnish their tough guy/tough choices credentials. We can't well have our leaders swayed by things like compassion or common sense, or allow a case such as this be seen to undermine their standing. For Johnson, too many u-turns undermines his precious authority. For Starmer, protecting and re-legitimising state institutions, particularly the power of the executive, are also central to his politics. It's not that he failed to make populist capital out of Geronimo's onrushing doom. I doubt the notion even occurred to him.

More interesting, however, is the popular reaction. Or, to be more precise, the reaction of voters who normally support the Tories. Tory press comment sections and Facebook groups are wall-to-wall with lamentations for the dear departed and anger aimed at Defra and the government both. Curious, one might think, how an animal can inspire a show of mass empathy and sadness when human tragedies caused by the wars of Western governments, like Afghanistan, for example, raise barely a murmur of concern from the same quarters. What is the difference?

If one has enjoyed a passing acquaintance with the banalities of conservative philosophy, its positioning of human nature has it as something heartless and cruel. The emergence and maintenance of tradition married to cautiously slow-paced change and the smack of firm government helps keep the demon spirits in check. What the Tories have managed to do, with the able assistance of New Labour, is over the course of 40 years is organise, socialise, and cultivate this misanthropic assumption via conscious political strategies and institutional design. A case of the reality of human nature catching up with its idea off the back of a programme of social engineering.

There are some exemptions to the de facto distrust and cynicism this organises in millions of minds. An ever-shrinking pool of who is permitted to be regarded as the deserving poor. And animals. Here, animals are positioned as innocents, helpless creatures who can't help but be the victims of cruel humans. Their non-sapience and relatively fixed natures, and ignorance of the human world simultaneously renders them objects to be pitied and entities to be envied. Because of their fundamental, essentialised naivete they require protection and, in the thoroughly neoliberalised conservative imaginary, are much more deserving, rank higher than, and find a place in the hearts of these people than human beings. After all, as sentient beings capable of making choices, if we end up in a bad or sad situation it's our responsibility we got into a mess and our responsibility to climb out of it.

In the case of Geronimo then, we're seeing a well publicised but modest blowback against the Tories. Having cultivated mass indifference to the suffering of other people, Johnson's complicity in the destruction of a harmless alpaca has struck at sections of his party's loyal supporter base like few things can.

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Tuesday, 7 September 2021

How to Ruin an Opportunity

In the interests of scrupulous fairness, Keir Starmer gave a good account of himself in the Commons. Replying to Boris Johnson's punitive plan to soak relatively comfortable pensioners to protect the wealthy from spiralling care costs, there were glimpses of what an effective parliamentary opposition might look like.

Starmer's response was hardly soaring, but it did the job. With the Tories protecting wealthy pensioners and landlords, and making everyone else cough up here was the shiniest of golden opportunities for Labour. A moment the party could demonstrate the Tories haven't changed, despite their levelling up con and the thousand and one pledges Johnson has made to build a blue Jerusalem in this green and pleasant land. A moment for showing up the Tories for standing with the classes, while Labour was with the masses. And in his own ponderous way, Starmer defied terribly low expectations and managed it.

The Labour leader being the Labour leader, there were the correct process criticisms. The money going to care isn't about improving quality or uprating the pay of this most undervalued of professions. There was no relief for unpaid carers in the family, nor a plan for the social care needs of disabled people. He attacked the Tories for breaking their manifesto commitment to not raise taxes. He even veered into left populist territory, noting how this is a tax rise on supermarket workers, nurses, and young people, sections of the workforce not known for being flush with cash. Landlords aren't affected but their renters are. Starmer mentioned how Labour would have approached this with a proper plan, and one that would not tinker with the funding but change it entirely. His favoured solution was expecting more from wealthy people by taxing stocks, shares, dividends, and property more effectively.

Has someone replaced the Leader of the Opposition? These lines would play well to the tens of millions hammered by the Tories, but unfortunately a lot of people who need inspiring and a reason to support Labour aren't likely to be enthused by the sound bite chosen to get pushed on social media.

When it comes to modern political speeches, standard practice is a series of bland statements with emphasis placed on the one-line message the writer and/or speaker wants to get across. And so while Starmer's reply to Johnson was borderline Corbynish in content, this talking point was designed to steal the show:
Mr Speaker, read my lips. The Tories could never again claim to be the party of low tax.
Not many people would appreciate (or for that matter, notice) the call back to George Bush Senior's 1988 tax promise, but as with everything else half way oppositional Starmer has uttered, it conforms to right wing framing. As if former Labour voters and Tory-leaning floaters were attracted to the Tories in 2017 and 2019 on the basis of tax promises. Small statism is not the battleground for winning over the Starmer-curious. What is is a credible plan that would properly address and reverse the class war policies the Tories have presided over for 11 years, and undo baleful legacies left by the last Labour government too. This is the prospectus that can win an election. What isn't is a platform that adopts Tory language and is more comfortable attacking the Tories from the right. It won't win over Conservative voters, but it will almost certainly put off sections of Labour's existing coalition it needs onside if the party is to stand a chance.

Overall and despite the bluebottle in the soup, is Starmer's leftish response a sign that the era of factionalist-driven policy and the Labour right's habitual attachment to the comfort zone of opposition is over? It takes more than one swallow to make a spring, and more than one good day in the Commons to establish a shift.

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The Tories' Regressive Social Care Plan

In the worst kept secret since the last one, Boris Johnson has announced National Insurance will be going up by 1.25% to pay for the crisis in social care. Monies paid are certainly going up, but its destination isn't what was widely trailed this last fortnight. Over half of the £12bn raised is to be funnelled toward the NHS to help tackle the waiting times backlog caused by the government's mishandling of the pandemic, while £5.6bn moves into care itself. Speaking at his press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Boris Johnson said it was a "fair" and "progressive" move - truly a case of effortless lying.

There are several reasons why this is risible. The first, most obvious fact is how workers are paying for this and those who don't pay National Insurance - the retired, landlords - are not. It doesn't take an eagle eye to draw inferences between the propensity to vote Tory and the government's happiness to shield certain groups from the costs of their policies. The second is how this is regressive in all sorts of ways. Businesses, for example, are having their contributions hiked as well but those under a certain size will either be exempt or have to pay it at a reduced rate. Protection for a sizeable proportion of the petit bourgeois, protection for another core group of Tory voters. The same courtesy however is not extended to wage earners, including small business staff, who are getting walloped with the flat rate. A mild inconvenience for someone pulling in £50k, but a big chunk out of the wage packet for the low paid. Who, readers will recall, are about to lose £20/week as Rishi Sunak chops down Universal Credit support. As a sop to "fairness", shareholders are facing a 1.25% levy on dividends.

Then there is the cap. In two years' time, a costs cap will be introduced ensuring personal care liabilities accrued over a lifetime will be capped at £86,000. This is also going to be tapered. Those with fewer than £20k in assets won't have to pay anything, and those upto £100k in assets will have to pay a reduced contribution. Undoudtedly we can expect to see the cap edge upwards over time in tune with property wealth, but this "progressive" measure, again, will hit the more modestly wealthy the hardest. With median house prices in England and Wales around £250k (for Wales it's £170k) as of December 2020, a lot of pensioners below the median - people of otherwise fairly modest means - are going to have a greater proportion of their estate eaten up than those in more expensive properties. It's a measure aimed at protecting the wealth of middle class and rich pensioners. The family of the retired stock broker will inherit a healthy chunk of their wealth because their former personal assistant, secretaries, and researchers are giving up a greater proportion of their assets. Obviously this gap becomes even starker if a couple go into care.

In short, forget the rubbish about the tax and spend Tories and the "you've got to hand it to them" plaudits. They've set up their proposed "rescue" of social care and the NHS in the most inequitable manner the party could get away with, shielding their important core constituencies while hoping poorer pensioners won't notice how they subsidise the rich. It's an abject lesson in how the concern for inequality and its perpetuation is at the heart of Tory policy.

At the press conference, Rishi Sunak defended the National Insurance increase by appealing to the instincts of Tory Britain: it was either do this, or borrow more money. A claim that is manifestly untrue. As the Evening Standard observed in May, the UK's 171 billionaires saw their wealth jump by £106.5bn - over a fifth - in the last year. There was no need to tax wage earners at all as a wealth tax of 12% on this tiny segment of the super rich would have more than covered the first year's costs. A bit less ambitious maybe, but Andy Burnham had his own cheaper alternative focused on taxing estates. Regressive, but nowhere near as regressive as the Tory bundle.

A couple more notes about the politics of this sorry announcement. This has clearly been done with an eye to the future. From April 2023 this will show up on payslips as a Health and Social Care Levy. Naming taxes and making them visible has long been a favoured right wing strategy to delegitimise public services and construct voters as taxpayers whose only interest in tax is to see it reduced. By signposting monies due to health and social care, it creates a query in the mind about where does the rest of tax paid go - a predisposition the Tories of the future will undoubtedly seek to exploit.

And the second, on the retired, the Tories had to noisily and publicly go after the working age people because of Sunak's desire to break the triple lock on pensions. As pensioners were in for a welcome and deserved increase to the basic pension of eight per cent this year, thanks to the rise in earnings following the Covid depression, Therese Coffey announced its suspension and a move to a rise determined by either inflation or 2.5%. She has said this will be for one year only, but given the constant rumours in the Tory press about the desire to do away with the triple lock, using the cover of an "exceptional year" and changes to social care is the way to do it.

In short, and with their characteristic instinct for divide and rule, the Tories have set about opposing the young to the old in a zero sum game of generational conflict - one they benefit from electorally - while ensuring the wellspring of all this, the system of class rule the Tories always put first, is secured against another potentially explosive challenge to its logics.

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Sunday, 5 September 2021

New Left Media September 2021

August is usually the quiet time in politics, but thankfully some new left media did come to prominence over the summer. Here's what caught my attention this last month. Please visit!

1. Africa, Africa! (Twitter) (YouTube channel)

2. Critical Mass (Twitter) (Facebook) (Magazine)

3. The Gentle Rambler (Twitter) (Podcast)

4. The People's Newsroom (Twitter) (Multimedia project)

If you know of any new(ish) blogs, podcasts, channels, Facebook pages or whatever that haven't featured before then drop me a line via the comments, email, Facebook, or Twitter. Please note I'm looking for new media that has started within the last 12 months. The round up appears hereabouts when there are enough new entrants to justify a post!

Saturday, 4 September 2021

Two Kinds of Capitalist Realism

In Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher talks about how capitalism constitutes the horizon of the possible. Picking up and popularising Fredric Jameson's 'it's easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism', he describes a habit of mind, a sensibility, that is entirely defined by the demands and rationalities of the system. This isn't the same as saying there is no alternative politics or imaginaries or that people can't resist capitalism, but rather this is an imaginary, and the dominant one at that, unable to conceive of differing imaginaries. Its sense of the real is all there is, nothing else. Capitalist realism then is more than "ideology" or, horror of horrors, "false class consciousness", but habits of thought, practices, doxa cultivated, reinforced, and reiterated relationally. Rarely does capitalist realism announce itself as something to be accepted or rejected, but proceeds and insinuates by a multiplicity of contacts. It works precisely because it appears spontaneous and natural, though its current manifestation has a history and a process of conscious political constitution by generations of policy makers, elected and not.

We can talk about varieties of capitalist realism at different times and places, but today capitalist realism in British politics manifests in two policy-making forms. There is "conventional" capitalist realism as it presents itself to self-defined progressives, centrists, and technocrats. There's no point wasting time talking about alternatives when capitalism is the only game in town, so the horizon of centre left politics is determined by presenting as better managers of the system. The growth imperative is never questioned. What's good for business is good for society. But there are irrationalities and impurities in the system, and the task of a reforming government is to legislate away the difficulties and run the state as if it's GB plc. Equality as a virtue is defined by opportunity, not outcomes. Social justice is understood by "inclusion" and removing barriers to "aspiration", of levelling the playing field so, in effect, we're all equal before capital. Capitalism then assumes abstract proportions, a knowable abstract machine, that will work the best when the right levers are pulled in the right order. This mindset is one you are more likely to find among Labour and the the Liberal Democrats than the Tories, with slight permutations.

Then there is the form of capitalist realism that doesn't often get talked about. What might be more properly called bourgeois realism. Its logics are rarely spelled out, and prefers to use the language of conventional capitalist realism. George Osborne, for example, was a past master at this. Growth, growth, growth, and when Tory austerity undermined their stated objective, they either made up nonsense about paying down the debt or asserted their objectives as if it was evidence. They weren't interested in justifying what they were doing, because at a gut level they knew what they were doing was unjustifiable: heightening inequality and strengthening the whip hand of capital over labour. Tory governments since have not departed from putting the bourgeois class interest before the abstract machine of a fair and technocratic capitalism, hence why Boris Johnson can abandon what were previously considered touchstones of capitalist realism. If state largesse and selective industrial activism suits the sectional interests of the class he leads better than deregulation, privatisation, and more markets, then this is what bourgeois realism will go for.

In his book on Thatcherism, Alexander Gallas makes a distinction between economic order politics and class politics and uses these to periodise the governments from 1979 to the Blair years. He argues at different times the Tories pitched toward outright class politics to smash the labour movement, and concentrated more on the economy in conventional capitalist realist terms as they were gearing up for their assault and after the trade union dragon had been slain. But thinking through this distinction via the two kinds of capitalist realism allows for finer grained analysis of government strategy on a by policy and by politician basis. It also recognises how, despite the two forms broadly mapping onto historic party associations, each can and do at times adopt the realism of the other. The Labour right's scorched earth cynicism is their own form of bourgeois realism, pared down to pathetic self-interest and struggling to ensure Labour is fit for capital's endorsement. Something we saw with liberal remainia too. And now, especially after winning big in former Labour strongholds, new Tory MPs from less than well-heeled backgrounds find themselves thinking through politics in conventional realist terms and find it baffling how the party of business is pushing Universal Credit cuts and National Insurance hikes to pay for adult social care, measures that would suck growth out of these places.

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Friday, 3 September 2021

Neil Kinnock's Timely Warning

If only Tony Blair intoned as infrequently as Neil Kinnock, I'm sure Labour politics would be a slightly better place. However, in a genuinely rare intervention the former big man from six leaders ago had some interesting things to say as he launched the Fit for the Future report, penned by the Labour in Communications group. The two items that made the headlines spoke to your favourite topic and mine: internal Labour Party politics.

Asked about Momentum and whether it bore comparison with the Militant Tendency, Kinnock dismissed it. He said
Momentum, by mixture of accident and design but I think mainly design, has avoided the errors of directly transgressing the constitution ... They do not make the errors that Militant made. And, in any case, Momentum is not Militant. I heard the questioner describe them as “anti-Labour Party”, and I am sure there are people in Momentum who are malevolent towards the Labour Party as an organisation for all kinds of fancied ideological reasons and some personal ones. But I don’t think they are the significant people. I think the significant people are the ones who joined Momentum with the best intentions and for the best purpose of encouraging and indeed ensuring the radicalism of the Labour Party.
He also had words of warning for those fixated on factional disputes. Kinnock said:
There have always been people in the Labour Party – fortunately never a majority – who value power in Labour greater than power for Labour ... The only way to deal with them conclusively is for the great majority of those in the party to be so committed to democratic power for Labour that those whose struggles at whatever level become insignificant and therefore irrelevant.”
He added the party needed to "face outwards and attack the real enemy and focus our attention and energies on that, rather than trying to prove our worth and earn our spurs by victories in internal battles." Labour oppose the Tories? What a radical suggestion.

Taking the Militant point first, he is entirely right. Momentum is a loose network of leftwingers who elect a steering committee, vote in policy primaries, mobilise for internal elections and, famously, do a much better job of organising hordes of activists for campaigning than the party proper. Militant was an undercover Trotskyist outfit who was in Labour to build its own disciplined party organisation. These days it ekes out an existence as the Socialist Party under somewhat reduced circumstances. Not the kind of helping hand LOTO would have wished for in their efforts to delegitimise the left: the architect of Militant's expulsion rejecting their hysterical, bad faith efforts.

And then the remarks on factionalism. Again, Kinnock's right. The majority of the people involved in the Labour Party want to win elections, apart from a small coterie for whom the party provides with a career and standing, and nothing else. It just so happens this group of people are disproportionately present in the Parliamentary party and have the ear of the leader's office. Ask yourself if putting forward policy positions to the Tories' right, having two rule books, one giving carte blanche to Islamophobes, transphobes, and domestic abusers if they're prominent enough or factionally convenient, and the other for the rest of us, and continually, gratuitously lying about and trashing Labour's record between 2015 and 2019 is consistent with a strategy concerned with winning elections?

What are the politics of Kinnock's intervention? It's worth remembering when he took over from Michael Foot in 1983 that he was considered a figure of the soft left, and of we're honest about the limitations and contradictions of this "tradition", stayed fully within it. Even when he was purging Militant and wibbling about taxis, even when he was abstaining from backing the miners. And, more recently, when he called for people to join Labour to oust Jeremy Corbyn. But also he publicly, and somewhat embarrassingly exclaimed "we've got out party back" following Ed Miliband's first leader's speech in September 2010. Therefore, like the current deputy Labour leader, he can talk left when the occasion arises and will go off message when the moment demands. And this is one such moment.

Thing is, those piloting the Keir Starmer's ship to its inevitable wreck aren't serious about winning elections doesn't mean this is true for all the Labour right. There are plenty of Labour MPs and councillors who want to keep their seats for entirely self-interested reasons, and others who fancy the idea of a ministerial car and a phalanx of civil servants. Some centrists and rightwingers also genuinely believe putting out anaemic policy and distancing Labour from anything smacking of radicalism is the path to winning elections (I know, I was one of them for a time). The point is there's a constituency on the right of the party who want to win, and they're finding Starmer's leadership trying, misdirected, and lost. Kinnock is giving voice to this jittery tendency, some of whom would have approached him with their concerns.

His comments aren't simply the meanderings of an old duffer who's well travelled around the block, but something of a warning and a notice. Starmer had a lucky escape when Kim Leadbeater squeaked home in Batley and Spen, and since then leadership speculation and the grumbles have died down. But unease is abroad in the party, and it's not confined only to a maligned and wilfully misunderstood left. Kinnock is reminding the leadership that things have got to change, or the leadership will, in due course, itself be changed.

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Wednesday, 1 September 2021

The Right Wing Attack on Young Labour

Glancing at the polls, we find Labour are flatlining in the early 30s. Keir Starmer's personal ratings are heading south, reporting minus 39% at the latest posting. In indicative ballots, Labour Party staff - the literal apparat who've overseen dirty tricks and bureaucratic exclusions during their inglorious history - are prepared to countenance strike action against the general secretary's ham-fisted redundancy plans. Labour is absent from the national conversation around Afghanistan, surging Covid infections, and pretty much any other political issue one can mention. And yet amongst it all, David Evans - him again - has unilaterally declared Young Labour persona non grata at this year's party conference.

Jess Barnard, chair of YL, writes about how the national party has ignored preparations and representations made by YL about their conference day, a provision mandated by the party rule book. Despite everything getting submitted on time Evans has effectively cancelled their conference because "due diligence" of speakers is impossible to complete before the doors open on 20th September. Bureaucratic screw up? Obviously not. As Young Labour are firmly on the left of the party and encompasses all party members under the age of 26, a leadership whose politics are driven not by winning elections but by making Labour safe for their careers has good reasons for reducing or abolishing it.

Naturally, as Starmerism is essentially a cowardly political formation. Whether it's standing up to the Tories or taking on its factional targets, it cannot fight openly, politically. It has to rely on bullshit, obfuscation, or the kindness of outriders. YL is obviously not to the leadership's political tastes, but rather than do battle themselves fools rush in where the disdainful fear to tread. People like Henry Jackson society signatory and Tony Blair cheerleader, Oliver Kamm.

Writing for CapX, the publishing outlet of last resort for articles too stupid for publication in the right wing bourgeois press, he argues YL should be shut down because it has no attachment to democratic politics. Beginning his piece with a tendentious description of Militant Tendency thuggery and accusations of violence against opponents he performs a clumsy sleight of hand by eliding the two as being "very distant from democratic politics." Militant allegedly shut doors to prevent other delegates from entering a meeting. YL's horrendous sins against liberal democratic politics is ... asking Jeremy Corbyn and a supporter from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to speak. But wait! Kamm has more dirt.

The first is YL's issuing their solidarity and support for Cuba against the long-standing US blockade. With a mouth awash with foam and the gnashing of teeth, he cites Human Rights Watch's critique and condemnation of state authoritarianism and exercise of arbitrary powers. Given this is what he thinks about Cuba, are these really such an affront to the Labourist tradition? For example, the Iraq War - an adventure Kamm supported on "democratic" grounds - was launched in defiance of public opinion, against what passed for the "laws" of the rules-based international order, paid no mind to the wishes and fates of hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded Iraqis, and ended up bequeathing an unstable, corrupt and fractured statelet. This, an outrage to democratic politics by any measure, was enthusiastically embraced by Kamm in violation of liberal norms. Second, and yes, I am going to do what aboutery, during his hero's time in government Tony Blair chummed up and palled around with a range of plutocrats and dictators: Gaddafi, Putin, the Saudis, Bashar al-Assad. Out of office he advised Nursultan Nazarbayev, the brutal strongman of Kazakhstan on public relations, and Egypt's Abdel Fattah el-Sisi - who came to power after overthrowing his democratically-elected predecessor. Given these associations, one might form the opinion that Kamm's concerns with democratic niceties are factionally based and not deeply held.

The second objection is YL's opposition to NATO. Apparently, being critical of the military alliance or suggesting that Britain might want to leave it is also "anti-democratic". He takes objection at NATO's activity being described as "continual aggression", a fact that can easily be verified by the numbers of bombs NATO member states have dropped on defenceless people these last 20 years versus other powers. As the motion YL passed at its 2017 conference rightly stated, "From Guyana to Vietnam to Iraq, the Labour party [has] all too often been complicit in American overseas aggression." Kamm's chosen example of the "good war" - the bombing of Serbia in 1999 targeted civilian infrastructure, including the RTS broadcasting HQ in Belgrade and, some might recall, the Chinese embassy. Indeed, what was classified as military targets had an expanded definition. All very above board and humanitarian.

Lastly, Kamm's claim YL stand for a second Holocaust because it raises the slogan 'from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free' is utterly risible. He knows Palestinians and their supporters are pushing for a democratic resolution to Israeli colonialism and dispossession of residents in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. What you might call a South African solution as opposed to his bad faith invocations of the final solution. As Alex observes, such casual, frivolous use of mass murder says a great deal about his complete lack of seriousness. One might also add his moral vacuity too.

In other words, as per other right wing defences of Starmerism and attacks on the left, Kamm's argument is based on twisting words, imputing motives that do not exist, and ascribing positions to his opponents they do not hold. It's also an example of the most tedious and boring genre of politics writing: a clueless wiseacre condemning the activities and attitudes of the young. Undoubtedly the audience for whom this diatribe is intended - LOTO and a cadre of the most unhinged right wing Labour MPs and their hangers on - will lap it up.

But what's the end game here? When it comes to weighing up factional manoeuvring and appreciating one's position in the party, none think these matters through more thoroughly than the Labour right. Sidelining and disestablishing Young Labour certainly helps their consolidation, but its absence can justify the eventual return of the one youth organisation right wing Labourites have never had a problem with: Labour Students. And for them, this is a strategic priority. Generations of Labour MPs have had what passes for their training in student politics. This is where they learn to fix, shaft others, articulate arguments no one really believes, and lie. This is their cadre school, and the long-term health of the Labour right, especially that section of the right allergic to trade unions and the requisite soft left posturing depends on bringing it back. If in the mean time it cuts the party off from young people and sends the message that they're not welcome in the party, the Labour leadership and its supporters are happy to go along with it. For that reason, the defence of what remains of democracy in Labour demands the left and the unions stand by Young Labour to see off this latest, petty, stupid, and entirely factional attack.

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Five Most Popular Posts in August

The summer is over! The skies might have stayed stubbornly grey over dear old Blighty in August, but the sun shone on this blog every day. Including my week-long break. What sizzled during the last 31 days?

1. The Appeal of Jess Phillips
2. Starmerism's Necessary Delusions
3. The Historic Role of Angela Rayner
4. Jameela Jamil: A Defence
5. From Blair to Nowhere

Yes, top of the pops is Jess Phillips. How she understands her own legend came under the spotlight on the occasion of another book launch. Given the numbers this post attracted, perhaps the more interesting question to ask is why she attracts more opprobrium and fascinated horror from leftists than other appalling denizens in the PLP. Answers on a postcard or, more conveniently, in the comments box. Our tour of the month's events also took in the rubbish LOTO tell themselves and why, before peering into the historic role of the soft left of the party, Angela Rayner's place in it, and how she's striding along a well-trodden path. Fourth place was taken up by a brief meditation on the leftish ramblings of noted celeb Jameel Jamil, and the chart finishes off with Starmerism's Blairist cosplay. I'm hoping that next month the Labour Party won't prove so dominant, but I know what you people like.

The two posts supping pints in the second chance saloon this week are the shock waves rippling through the West's self confidence after the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle, a "trauma" compounded by the British establishment's realisation that the US under nice Uncle Joe Biden are proving as arrogant and unreliable as it ever was under The Donald. The other choice is Monday night's screed on German politics and the "great replacement" the SPD appear to be pulling off. Having shed voters right, left, and centre it's now directly feasting on the Christian Democrats' coalition - a feat Keir Starmer and his allies are hoping beyond hope to repeat. Don't hold your breath, guys.

What September will bring apart from an explosion in Covid cases, no one knows. But you might be hearing some more about a little book due to be published on 14th September from Verso. Grab your copy now with 40% off until the end of the month!

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Monday, 30 August 2021

The SPD's Unexpected Comeback

Something strange is happening in Germany. According to weekend polling, the Social Democrats (SPD) are edging out the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) in the popular vote ahead of September's federal elections after a period as the junior partner in the grand coalition between right and left. Strange because, as far as leftist analyses of German politics are concerned, the SPD are a thoroughly Pasokified party. If the thesis is right its chances of becoming the largest party should be thin to non-existent, surely. What's going on?

Pasokification, for those unfamiliar with the term, is associated with the collapse of the mainstay of the Greek centre left and describes the process how it went from 44% of the popular vote to 12.3% in 2012 to 4.5% in 2015. So enfeebled this once mighty party was that PASOK has since merged with a couple of small centre left parties, forming the Macron/Change UK-sounding Movement for Change and returning 22 parliamentarians on eight per cent of the vote in 2019. What occasioned this sudden collapse was the party's embrace of austerity measures as the chill wind of the 2008 crisis bit into the Greek economy. They found, to their cost, that forcing workers to pay for a crisis of capital isn't a good idea for centre left parties. Who could have forecast that attacking their core constituencies would entail negative political consequences? Few on Europe's official social democratic and labour parties cottoned on and similar results repeated in the Netherlands, Italy, and France. In other countries, centre left parties who allied themselves with the main ruling class party of the right suffered similar fates. Scottish Labour here was one of them, but a party lucky to experience both was the SPD.

Between 1998 and 2005, the SPD governed in coalition with the Greens. Winning 41% in the first and 38.5% in the second, the pair ruled at the point Third Way politics dominated the horizon of bourgeois politics. In 2005 the SPD vote slid again to 34%, virtually level pegging with Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU, and on this occasion opted to form a grand coalition - the first in 40 years - that oversaw cuts to social security and increases to VAT and the equivalent to National Insurance contributions. In 2009 the SPD's service was awarded with a collapse in its vote down to 23% and the return of just 146 seats, its worst result since the first federal elections in 1949. They were dumped out of office as the Union turned to their preferred coalition partners, the right-liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP). A four-year period of opposition was good for the social democratic constitution as the SPD went on to regain three percentage points worth of lost ground, and presaging what happened in the UK the FDP were completely wiped out, losing every single seat. This was good enough for a resumption of the grand coalition in 2013 and, unsurprisingly, history repeated itself yet again in 2017 when the SPD vote dipped below 10 million again and won them 21%. The rise of Alternative for Deutschland (AfD) helped spare the SPD's blushes by making sure the Christian Democrat vote was hit with a nine-point drop, but as the two main parties remained the most viable partners they renewed their coalition following an appeal from the German president.

What has changed since then? The SPD's ride through the polls since 2017 have been a bumpy one. Upon entering government again the numbers absolutely tanked, occasionally dipping into fourth place behind the Greens and AfD. They reported ratings worse than the vote the SPD received in the fake election of 1933 where the Nazis used the force of the state to attack the party, engaged in ballot stuffing, and getting their bully boys to watch voters as they made their choices. But since June the Union have suffered, with their figures posting well below the 25% floor established in 1949 while the SPD have dramatically recovered and are touching a quarter of the popular vote. How to explain?

The first is the debacle of this year's floods, in which 184 people died. The Union's candidate, Armin Laschat, is the party leader and state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia's state, a place hit particularly hard by flooding. While there are questions about his regional government's handling of the crisis, what has harmed his chances was him laughing and joking with local officials in the background of a broadcast given by the President mourning victims of the disaster. With nothing left in the tank, Laschet has gone for good old fashioned red baiting, claiming the SPD can't wait to jump into bed with Die Linke, Germany's slowly shrinking SPD left split/fusion with the East German PDS - the successor to the former communist party. The tumbling numbers suggest the traction it's getting is minimal. The Greens have also taken a bit of a dive over the summer after briefly leading several polls. Their candidate for chancellor, Annalena Baerbock, has become embroiled in a plagiarism row which has hurt her personal standing as a fresh faced alternative to the primary parties. And the SPD itself? Their candidate, Olaf Scholz, seems to be winning by simply keeping his nose clean. As finance minister and vice-chancellor to Merkel, if anything he better represents continuity and stability - the CDU/CSU's traditional strong suit - than the Christian Democrats themselves. For many Germans, mainly older Germans, he is a known quantity. As Jeremy Cliffe notes, during this weekend's three-way debate he merely plodded through the answers and is content to trade off the mantle of Merkel's heir - undoubtedly assisted by his sceptical views on public spending and reining in debt. Apart from a preference for a Eurozone-wide financial transaction tax, there's little to suggest he is much of a social democrat.

Therefore what we're seeing is the possibility of a strange ending to the Pasokification process. The Greens are by far and away the most popular party among the young, followed by a reinvented FDP fishing from similar waters. What is saving the SPD is a two pronged assault on the right. The AfD have long soaked up the populist constituencies who might otherwise be relied on to vote reluctantly for the Union, while the SPD are living the Blairite dream of occupying the proving grounds of conservative politics and are proving successful at ripping these supporters away from the CDU/CSU. In other words, in 23 years the SPD have lost its mass base, done its best to liquidate its traditional support among workers, made it very clear the rising generation of immaterial workers aren't welcome, and look like they're coming out the other side with a chip off the old bed rock of dyed-in-the-wool centre right Christian Democrats.

Given what is happening in Germany, we can imagine someone one these shores is watching events closely. With its determination to disperse its coalition inherited from the past two general elections, and temper any policies that might be regarded as radical, such as abolishing tuition fees and improving trade union rights with right wing positioning and unconvincing flag waving, the Labour leadership are seeing their fondest dreams playing out across the North Sea. This gives them the evidence they think they need to plug away as they are doing, downplaying expectations, giving no reason to hope, and merely offering a competent steady-as-she-goes approach to politics. A position that could well lead to the liquidation of Labour without the consolation of replacing its vote with disgruntled Tories.

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