Saturday 31 July 2021

A Life of Grimes

Darren Grimes is a tedious little shit. But he has proven quite canny in one respect: how to work the outrage machine to lever himself more followers and more attention. Not bad for someone who's barely in the legacy media, and who most people haven't heard of. If you've had a brief brush with notoriety in the public gaze, it does take some skill to build something out of it. In this respect Grimes is much like Katie Hopkins and is treading a similar career trajectory.

Consider how Hopkins got her start. She was an also ran in the 2006-7 season of The Apprentice, and pulled out citing family pressures. Having acquired the eye of the tabloids for a relationship with another contestant, she subsequently levered this into a literal expose of getting "caught" in flagrante in a field with her married lover and had said incident plastered in the papers. She followed this up by doing the rounds on panel shows, chat shows, reality TV, and daytime television. Over time she cultivated an ostentatiously harsh personality. Her shtick as a "truth teller" was (and still is) about belittling and punching downwards, and she was able to build a career out of mocking the motes of others while the media overlooked the beams of her own. The passage into outright racism and anti-immigrant politics was inevitable because this was where outrage-driven attention was opening opportunities for her ilk, and she carried on pushing it - to the point of losing her house in a libel ruling, and arriving at where she is now: banging the drum for anti-vaxxers and getting deported from Australia for flouting Covid precautions.

Grimes by comparison is pond life, but the comparison works. Having started his political journey as a Liberal Democrat, he moved quickly onto matters Brexit and became the go-between/patsy for the Vote Leave campaign and its engaging the data services of AggregateIQ, a firm connected to our friends Cambridge Analytica. Initially successfully prosecuted by the Electoral Commission and fined for breaking the law, this was subsequently overturned on appeal. But for a brief moment Grimes was a cause celebre on the right, a wide-eyed innocent pursued by a vengeful remain establishment for his part in the Brexit campaign. As such, he secured a few non-jobs with BrexitCentral and the IEA in the referendum's aftermath, while poking his head up from time to time on right wing outlets and getting his case championed by the likes of Guido and an assortment of Leave luminaries. However, this was not enough exposure and so he started producing his own videos. This struck gold when he interviewed David Starkey, who dutifully obliged his host by saying racist things, ensuring Grimes went viral and boosting his modest social media presence. However, racist provocations still have consequences and this made him unemployable as far as more mainstream outlets were concerned, a point underlined by the failing GBeebies refusing to employ him.

Thrown on his own meagre devices and priced out of London, all Grimes has left is keeping on pulling the outrage machine's lever. Attacking the England team for taking the knee? Easy, but hard to get traction when A-list right wingers like the Home Secretary were doing it. Delighting in Marcus Rashford missing a penalty? Of course he was always going to do that too. But attacking the Royal National Lifeboat Institution for saving people in the Channel to catch a ride on the right's anti-refugee bandwagon? Low, and a place few right wingers would tread, despite what they say at dinner parties.

As we've seen previously, there is a furious effort by the right to push socially conservative politics. Indeed, some have misread the situation and fooled themselves into thinking there is a mass clamouring for the war on woke when in fact it's a media/Westminster confection, just like the mythical centre ground and whatever rubbish the hacks and politicians think working class people think. They know in their bones the tide of cultural change is creeping in, obliterating their lines in the sand, swamping the moats and drowning their castles. And the more undermined they are, the more shrill their hot takes and protests become. They want to normalise racism and antipathy to the world outside because the cultural logics of the present point toward a future where divide-and-rule politics become increasingly difficult. And that makes future electoral success for the Tories much harder, unless they adapt. And likewise opportunities for right wingers to enjoy the easy life of mouthing off become more competitive.

This is the imploding universe Grimes has hitched his career hopes to, and he knows that if he stops saying outrageous things he won't matter any more. He doesn't have the connections or the class background to trade this in for a standard media career, and so he's on his own, perpetually looking out for new ways to centre himself in social media conversation, and to suck up to someone who might employ him. Imagine living such a miserable and perpetually exhausting life.

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Friday 30 July 2021

Local Council By-Elections July 2021

This month saw 43,312 votes votes cast over 29 local authority contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Overall, 19(!) council seats changed hands. For comparison with June's results, see here.

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/- Feb 20

* There were no by-elections in Scotland
** There was one by-election in Wales
*** There were no independent clashes
**** Others this month consisted of Basildon Community Residents Party (82), Communist Party of Britain (61), For Britain (37, 26, 19) Reform (19, 29, 37, 23), Taking the Initiative Party (18), TUSC (24, 27, 9, 39), UKIP (11, 28), Women's Equality Party (37)

The churn in politics made itself felt in this month's elections. 19 seats changing hands is unprecedented in a "normal" month, so what does this indicate? It pretty much backs up the patterns seen in recent parliamentary by-elections. I.e. A shift to the Tories in "traditional" Labour areas, while the Tories find themselves menaced by the Liberal Democrats and the Greens in their alleged safe places. This, of course, is neither a natural process nor an inevitability. Older voters are disproportionately more likely to vote, and doubly so for council by-elections, so it's necessary to think about their reception to the key issues of the day. In Labour seats, they're fighting against a populist impulse its present leadership did plenty to nurture between 2016-19, and so it's a kick against what these voters see as the establishment. Likewise in Tory-held seats, it seems these same voters are turning to whoever is best at bludgeoning the blues - and this tends to be anyone but Labour.

Which helps explain why the Greens are doing so well. July marks their second best ever performance, coming after last month. And the Liberal Democrats only just beat them in the popular vote stakes by fielding more candidates. As I've argued previously, the Greens pose Labour a threat, particularly the new core vote Keir Starmer is happy to take for granted. But they also have a conservationist 'green and pleasant land' appeal to Tory voters who don't look too closely, and might want to do their bit for the planet. There's also cleave into LibDem support, and this is starkly revealed in the data tables of sundry polls - the party is practically extinct among the under 34s whereas the Greens have very obviously taken their place.

Anyway, lots of interesting things going on. Unusually August is set to be quite a busy by-election month with 17 contents to look forward to, and an over-preponderance of contests in Scotland. We'll see what patterns, if any, emerge.

1st July
Chelmsford DC, Wittle, Con hold
Elmbridge DC, Cobham and Downside, LDem gain from Con
Enfield LBC, Bush Hill Park, Con hold
Islington LBC, Tollington, Lab hold
Newark and Sherwood DC, Bridge, Con gain from Ind x2
North East Lincolnshire, Heneage, Con gain from Lab
Stoke-on-Trent UA, Penkhull and Stoke, Con gain from Ind

8th July
East Devon DC, Feniton, Con gain from Ind
East Devon DC, Honiton St Michael’s, Lab gain from LDem
East Suffolk DC, Aldeburgh and Leiston, Grn gain from Con, Con hold
Harlow DC, Mark Hall, Con gain from Lab
Huntingdonshire DC, St Neots East, Ind gain from Lab
Mid Sussex DC, Ardingly and Balcombe, Grn gain from Con

15th July
Sandwell MBC, Tividale, Con gain from Lab

22nd July
Camden LBC, Fortune Green, LDem hold
Dover DC, Alkham and Capel-le-Ferne, Con hold
Leicester UA, Humberstone and Hamilton, Con gain from Lab
North Somerset UA, Congresbury and Puxton, Grn gain from LDem
Rhondda Cynon Taf UA, Tyn-y-Nant, Lab hold
Spelthorne DC, Staines, Grn hold
Thanet DC, Cliftonville East, Con hold
Wirral MBC, Liscard, Lab hold

29th July
Bassetlaw DC, East Retford South, Con gain from Lab
Basildon DC, Pitsea North West, Con gain from Lab
Harrogate DC, Knaresborough Scriven Park, LDem gain from Con
Norfolk CC, Gaywood South, LDem gain from Con
South Tyneside DC, Fellgate and Hedworth, Lab gain from Ind

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Wednesday 28 July 2021

The Military-Directed Entertainment Complex

In Althusser's celebrated essay on ideology, he talks about how the ideological state apparatuses have their own repressive aspects (violence and discipline in the family and at school, sanctions and shunning in religious organisations), and how the apparatuses of repression secreted ideology. This is something we know well in this country, with the biggest and most critically acclaimed shows of recent years most likely to be cop shows. And it's barely different in the rest of Europe. But for those interested in analysing the production and consumption of shows of this kind, the default assumption is the show's creators and showrunners are (usually) working toward the values and myths repressive institutions surround themselves with. Few if anyone thinks the British military manipulate the Pride of Britain awards, for example. They're independent but ideologically conformist.

It turns out this is not the case in the United States. In this excellent video, Owen Jones speaks with Matthew Alford about his work on military interference in film and television production. He estimates that between 1911 and 2017 the military had a had in the direction of some 800 movies. Throw in TV and add the FBI, CIA, and other state security agencies and we're talking about 10,000 scripts. As Matthew argues, this might sound like tinfoil hattery but it isn't - his work has uncovered the documentation to find household favourites like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Terminator franchise (from the fourth film on), have been significantly interfered with in exchange for "advice" and "support" from the Pentagon and other agencies. I'm sure none of this would come as a surprise to folks here, but it's well worth hearing Matthew's argument for yourself.

Monday 26 July 2021

Playing the Covid Blame Game

It's oft been the contention of this place that while the Tories have horribly mismanaged the pandemic, they have proven themselves past masters at handling the politics. They've determined the timetable, defined the framing, sucked the sting out of procurement corruption, and effectively depoliticised their missteps by throwing the responsibility for infection onto the atomised individual. Transmission is not a result of lapses in government policy but a matter of bad luck or personal irresponsibility. It might be wearing a bit thin now following the unforced errors of Boris Johnson and Dishy Rishi. Declaring last week they wouldn't be self-isolating after coming into contact with an infectious Sajid Javid, they quickly u-turned as soon as they realised it was electoral kryptonite for the punters. But it has damaged them. The latest YouGov has reported the evaporation of their polling lead from 13 points to four in the space of a fortnight, whereas Survation sees it whittled down from 11 to just two in the same period.

Still, Tory necropolitics carry on regardless of what happens to the polls. Which brings us to the seemingly immovable obstacle to the government's vaccination strategy: the young. On top of Johnson's vaccine-passport-for-nightclubs plan, The Times reported this morning how they're being considered for university students and perhaps also football matches. Apparently, with take up among the 18-24s stubbornly stuck under 60% Johnson's chewing up the new Downing Street furnishings. No lamp shade, sofa, or rug is safe. And as such case rates are highest among this age group.

Why the reticence? Why aren't younger people queuing around the block for their jabs? A glance at anti-vax mobilisations, like the one in London last weekend, doesn't show an over-preponderance of zoomers. It seems most are far too sensible to fall for this stupidity. That said, periodic polling about attitudes to the pandemic seem to suggest the youngest cohorts are the most vaccine reluctant, and sceptical of lockdowns and legally-mandated precautions. In Johnson's rare honest moments, he does acknowledge how the young have borne the brunt of this crisis, so how to make sense of the disproportionate rejection?

A government study into compliance from April this year throws in some clues. Part of it is experience. As the young are more likely to have had to work through the pandemic thanks to the gaping holes left in the furlough scheme, most have not contracted the disease. This can help inculcate a sense of laissez-faire, a feeling this is much ado about nothing. And then we have the government's own advice. This time last year the reckless and stupid Eat Out to Help Out scheme was about to launch, and Johnson went on the record saying people should return to their workplaces, while at the same time keeping restrictions on other activities. This was reinforced by both the subsequent lockdowns. The government acted as though workplaces were magically inoculated against Covid while the family home, each other's houses, the coffee shop, and wherever young people meet were super-spreader events in waiting. Mixed messaging only muddied matters.

Another key finding was the well-known risk the pandemic presented the old and the chronically ill, and therefore wasn't much of a problem for the young and physically fit. If this was the case, then why the restrictions on meeting up with friends, provided one was careful and didn't pass it onto elderly or infirm family members? This didn't appear to make much sense, and especially so as testing capacity expanded and risk could be managed somewhat. Looking at the data in a bit more depth, most young people found the rules easy to follow and abided by the mask mandate indoors, social distancing of strangers outside, and (mostly) kept to meeting restrictions. Hardly a generation of carefree libertines acting like useful friends of Covid.

If the young want to do the right thing, why the vaccine hesitancy? Ultimately, the fault lies with government. On the one hand there has been enough vaccine-related swill around social media to give people pause when it comes to the uncertainty over side-effects. We're not talking about disinformation or great reset junk but the failure of the Tories to come out hard on vaccine safety - something not at all helped by the debate around whether AstraZeneca is safe for the under 30s and the decision to switch to other vaccines. In the middle of a pandemic, to see the government panic and twiddle its thumbs before hastily changing the advice is not going to command confidence. And the second is inescapably linked to this. The young are less likely to get seriously ill, but rather than noting this in passing the government and their press helpers have positively amplified this message. If Covid is a case of the sniffles and a sore throat, many young people are going to conclude that taking a risk on a jab isn't worth it. Despite the dangers of long Covid, and worrying consequences even mild infections might have down the line - such as Parkinson's and other neurological disorders. We like to think we live in an irreverent age, but people do listen to government guidance when it's not dressed up in the language of politics point-scoring, and the Tories are to be damned for not talking about these very real risks.

A public health failure? Absolutely. But the politics? Not so. Despite being the bedrock and the salt of the earth, young people are getting lined up as the latest Covid scapegoats in the Tories' endless will to divide and rule. It happened last year. News bulletins and tabloid websites carried footage of illegal house parties, which were amplified by what is left of the local press. Raves in the wood, the number of arrests, it was a constant drip, drip avidly lapped up by target demographics. This, it was said, was the driver of infections through July to September. Nothing at all to do with the young people working in hospitality serving up dinners to the Covid careless at the chancellor's behest. A year on the situation is the same. Most infections are among the young, they're the ones now filling up the acute respiratory wards, and as shops and leisure reopen are, again, disproportionately exposed. But because of how the low vaccine take up is being spun and will be spun, the politics are being sucked out and this very serious problem will be put down to irresponsible and stupid choices, helpfully highlighted by tabloid tales of family anxiety and woe. "Our 20-something bar manager son refuses to take the vaccine!". You can count on celebrities sharing their pain as well., with the cumulative effect of an impression of carelessness and selfishness.

The Tories never let a crisis go to waste. The prospect of tens of thousands of young people contracting a debilitating illness, for some leading to life-long complications, and the chance of hundreds of more unnecessary deaths is no different.

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Sunday 25 July 2021

Looking Back at the Wreckage

On the occasion of his ascension to office, I congratulated readers for surviving his first day as Prime Minister. Two years on from that blasted day, relaying the same message is enough to make one queasy because so many have not made it. Because of him. And many more are set to lose their good health if not their lives entirely unnecessarily. Any retrospective of the turbulence since that July day in 2019 does so in the shadow of death, of between 129,000 and 150,000 deaths. Ignoring it, putting out of sight so it's out of mind is disrespectful of all who have died. It's also a testament to the success the Tories have enjoyed that these do not weigh heavier on politics.

What has happened with Covid was always going to happen with Johnson as the head of the government. No one knew what was about to befall the world a couple of summers ago, but were one to venture a thought experiment back then about how Johnson would handle a hypothetical pandemic, I'm confident most would have forecast the debacle we're living through. The lack of timeliness, the half-arsed measures, and then the giving up trying to contain the virus because it's too much trouble, all could easily have been seen coming. This was because Johnson was a known quantity, a heap of fecklessness and laziness loosely tied up in a sack of skin. Everyone knew he would be a disaster even if Covid hadn't happened, but even this was infinitely preferable to the establishment in its centre left, centrist, and right wing guises than have their class cede a sliver of power to the forces Jeremy Corbyn was able to muster.

Johnson is a terrible Prime Minister and certainly the worst of my lifetime, which coming after Theresa May and Dave is no mean feat. But he started as he meant to go on. He has been consistent, whether Dominic Cummings has been inside the tent or outside it, consistently reckless. This wasn't a feature that distinguished his spell as part-time London mayor. His limitations were obvious, but he got the bodies in to cover for him. He confined himself to fronting things up and pursuing "opportunities" with Jennifer Arcuri. If the bull-in-a-china-shop proclivity did manifest, it was with his being accidentally controversial on purpose, like crudely caricaturing Muslim women in such a way to provide guaranteed succour to racists. But getting good old Boris plaudits from the press and the most backward sections of the electorate.

The recklessness for which he is known is product of a set of political circumstances. The 2017 general election showed the Tories their only route to a viable majority: being champions of Brexit. This was underlined by the evaporation of support in the 2019 European Union elections, but also showed what might be possible if they could unify leave voters. The other key take-home was seeing how Labour also suffered as its electoral coalition was prised apart by the hard remainism of the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. Uniting a leave vote as Labour was simultaneously split by remain was an obvious opportunity, and Johnson went for it. His immediate problem, despite being the leading face of Leave three years previous, was the dithering and splits among the Tories themselves. He had to establish credibility among Tory voters who had flirted with UKIP and the Brexit Party, and appeal to nominal Labour supporters who'd lent their votes to Nigel Farage too.

The strategy was as obvious as it was clumsy. Winning the Tory leadership contest meant being as Brexity as possible, which Johnson opted to do. He couldn't be bothered with most of the hustings as they'd only confuse matters, but he was keen to emphasise how getting Brexit sorted would be his number one priority, even if it meant sacking people and flouting the law of the land. After winning handily against the equivocating and remainy Jeremy Hunt, he took a wrecking ball to to the pro-EU opposition in the Commons. Parliament was prorogued, grandees were unceremoniously booted if they refused the line, and he sailed close to the wind of defying the law. It was all pure theatre, confrontation contrived for a very political spectacle. And it worked. The excitable types camped outside the Palace of Westminster were representative of millions watching the shenanigans unfold on their screens and the pages of their papers, and what they saw wasn't chaos. Instead it was something altogether more sinister: the attempt by the metropolitan elite to thwart their vote. Johnson's strategy was a reckless gamble, but it worked because the opposition stayed divided, Labour was led by a thoroughly demonised figure, and it was committed to setting aside the 2016 vote. The stars aligned with long-term demographic changes and the Tories won big. Boris Johnson, inveterate liar and the most untrustworthy man in politics turned out to be as good as his word, or at the very least ostentatiously demonstrated he was a better champion of democracy than any number of decents. And understanding this, sticking with Brexit in spite of the medical emergency has remained a high of not his government's highest priority.

There's a lesson there. If a politician says something and then does it, millions will stick by them. Especially if its popular and divisive. Unfortunately, this determination to get the EU business done as far as the popular imagination were concerned has not carried through to pandemic management. But what has is the recklessness. Reluctant to shut down and eager to open up again, and contracting Covid himself by refusing to following his own government's official advice, where the Tories have succeeded it's from adapting, without credit, suggestions made by Jeremy Corbyn in the dying days of his leadership. But the holes in their support schemes, their condemnation of entire sectors, the refusal to countenance holding down infections and performing a dangerous experiment on this country's population all speak to Johnson's default setting: laziness.

The recklessness then springs from two different sources. In the first phase of his premiership, it was the hyperactivity of getting Brexit done. And in the second, dating from the arrival of Coronavirus to these shores, it's lethargy. Johnson was prepared to burn the house down to put together a renewed voter coalition in 2019. And in the pandemic-blighted 2020 and 2021 he couldn't care less. Public health came second up to the very point necessity forced his hand. Once the immediate pressure is passed, he tries to pretend as if Covid is a minor inconvenience. Just like now. It's not like he's raring to go. The tedious talk of levelling up remains hot air, his promises to sort out social care are nowhere, and very little of the promised transformation of the country is in evidence.

The best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour. On all things Brexit-related, such as the Tory rediscovery of the Northern Ireland protocol they designed and signed, expect the usual bombast and brinkmanship. But on everything else, neglect is the watch word. How can anyone expect Johnson to put the effort in to address the country's multiple problems and challenges when the cataclysm of virulent disease has proven stubbornly unable to bring out the Prime Minister's best. Reckless indifference has guided his government, and that's not about to change - no matter how many people it endangers and kills.

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Yet Another Book Update

Your eyes do not decieve you. These are actual physical copies of Falling Down: The Conservative Party and the Decline of Tory Britain. It now resides in final printed form and is ready to ship. Only a month and a half to go before the launch. If you're not convinced yet, here are the endorsements printed on the rear:

If they aren't recommendations enough, regular consumers of left media may have already seen Alfie Steer's first review in Tribune. Look out for more nearer the time. Some quite interesting people have a copy in their possession too. I am intrigued to learn what Tories, particularly those who have a reputation for thoughtfulness make of the arguments contained therein. I also hope it falls into the hands of more than a few politically interested Conservative voters and helps them rethink things. A man can dream.

You can pre-order the book here. Verso's mammoth June sale is over but if you order now there is 20% off! It will be a while before the paperback edition is released so until then there is no better time to pick up a copy than now. Remember, release date is 14th September.

What next? There are a few projects simmering away, but it is highly likely the next book will be something on nation, class, and Blue Labour. I've already bought some of the books for this and have an argument, which can be distilled from the hundreds of pieces on Labour that have appeared on here. Just got to do the research and carve out the writing time. Easy!

Friday 23 July 2021

Divine - Native Love

Back to the early 1980s again to celebrate a hi-NRG Friday night.

Thursday 22 July 2021

Labour Leadership Vs Labour Staff

Comrades will have read about the Labour Party's cash crisis, or how in the space of 16 months the grown ups in the room turned a £13.5m reserve into just enough to cover one month's staff wages. How to make good the cash flow crisis? Why, by sacking people of course. Unfortunately for the leader and the general secretary, their plans leaked to the press before party employees could be spoken to about their fates, something they has to apologise for. 90 staff, or about a quarter of the apparat are due to be cut. And the staff? They're not happy, and they're not taking it lying down.

Extracted below are the statement and demands jointly arrived at by the party Unite and GMB branches. They starkly shows the callousness and cluelessness of our leadership, the inevitable flip side of high-minded and arrogant management. How can they be trusted to run a government when they can't even get the basics about their own party right?

Wednesday 21 July 2021

Dominic Cummings's Indecent Exposure

If you're reading this, there's a very good chance you watched Laura Kuenssberg's interview with Dominic Cummings. If you haven't, it's worth watching. The chaos inside Number 10 from the start of Boris Johnson's premiership to now is well known, if not well documented. But the vignettes of cluelessness and seat-of-the-pants winging it, while neither surprise nor shocker, help flesh out what life is like behind the famous black door. Naturally, Cummings had a lot to say, like last time, and much of it was damning. As someone fond of porkie pies himself, the precautionary principle would recommend a sceptical eye be cast over his claims. But we're talking about Boris Johnson here, so everything said about lack of preparedness, a callous disregard for the lives of others, herd immunity as the default Covid strategy (borne out at the moment), etc. have enough truthiness about them. And besides, Cummings was cocksure that a public inquiry with evidence given under oath will bear out his claims. He thinks too much of himself to say something now that would show him up later.

Cummings clarified the circumstances around his celebrated trip to Barnard Castle, how he came to be in Downing Street, and the power struggles between his faction of apparatchiks and the Carrie Johnson squad, who he relished referring to as a purposely infantilised "Prime Minister's girlfriend". But what really came across was less the detail of the Cummings exposure, but the manner of his statements. Every utterance dripped in arrogance, knowing cadences, and cynicism. Despite having a chummy relationship with Cummings, as well as the Prime Minister, Laura Kuenssberg clearly found the tone discomfiting. Talking about his role in brokering a failed Tory leadership deal between Johnson and Michael Gove in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, she was aghast that he, someone who wasn't elected should be playing such a crucial role in establishment politics. Her astonishment ramped up again when Cummings discussed the circumstances of his hiring just prior to Johnson's coronation. He said the future Prime Minister asked him to work in Downing Street. Cummings revealed his conditions: seeing Brexit through to its conclusion, serious investment, and doing something about civil service reform. That he had the temerity to seek assurances from Johnson before working for him was as if a blasphemy had been uttered in Kuenssberg's presence. Who were you to dictate terms to an elected politician was her exasperated response.

There was plenty more. Asked about the infamous £350m/week for the NHS splashed on the side of that bus, and the disingenuous spin put out about Turkey's accession to the European Union, he could not suppress a wry grin and a cheeky twinkle. He tried defending them as good faith interventions, but Kuenssberg's persistent line of questioning was surplus to requirements - anyone could see he was lying his head off, and was proud of duping the millions who took Leave's arguments at face value. Kuenssberg affected an appalled tone, as if this was the first time she had encountered cynicism in politics. Which, we know for a fact, it isn't. But what offended her most was Cummings's confessions of plotting. With the royal we, he talked about selecting the Tory candidate most amenable to his ends (Johnson), and within days of a famous victory was talking about getting shot. "Who are you to decide who stays and who goes Dominic Cummings?" intoned Kuenssberg on several occasions. Thankfully, on this occasion, she did not shy away from asking the most interesting question - who is this "we" Cummings was talking about? And he fessed up: a network of Vote Leave elites and interested others numbering no more than three dozen. This was almost too much for the BBC's chief political correspondent to bear. Here we had spelled out in black and white terms the reality of British politics, how its prime movers are mixes of elected and unelected players, the latter consisting of the propertied, the rich, and the well-connected. Cummings pulled down the pants of British parliamentary democracy and revealed the ugly truth in its naked obscenity. And all before the watershed.

Latter day adherents of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association were up in arms. Lisa Nandy condemned Cummings's performance as "incredibly narcissistic" and was outraged that someone appointed and unelected might try and bend government in the direction of their agenda. "How did Boris Johnson come to appoint a man of this moral character?" she asked. It's a good job the congenial hosts of Good Morning Britain didn't ask the shadow foreign secretary how Labour could readmit unelected officials who'd done so much to undermine the elected party leadership in the lead up to 2017. I also suppose Nandy has a poor grasp at what goes on in the constituency offices of Labour MPs, where unelected employees regularly bitch and plot against local councillors and sometimes, whisper it, sometimes talk about removing the elected member - their boss. Cummings is a toerag and no mistaking, but there was plenty of ammunition here Nandy might have used to to make some anti-Tory points, but given the opportunity to highlight Johnson's reckless Covid strategy she walloped the ball firmly into her own net. If past comments about letting the bodies pile high and repeated instances of lying isn't enough to move people, drawing attention to the PM's moral fibre was just about the weakest option in front of her. You can't say it enough: every hour is amateur hour on the shadow front bench.

As for Cummings himself, he'll no doubt be gratified. Kuenssberg will be chuffed with her "shocking" and much-discussed expose, but he emerges with his reputation enhanced. Lauded as a magus of the dark arts, unconcerned by petty things like public opinion and parties, Cummings is the distillation of bourgeois disdain with bourgeois democracy. But beneath the swagger and disrespect for the rules of the political game, what are we left with? A technocrat with a hard science fetish, a tough-talking apparatchik no different in substance to the likes of Andrew Adonis. His kind can thrive because both front benches are bereft of ideas, and trapped by their respective forms of decadence. This means we probably haven't seen the back of Cummings, and unless establishment politics is challenged by a new surge of politicisation along the lines of what happened in 2015, our leaderships will throw up one, two, many Cummings clones in the years to come.

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Tuesday 20 July 2021

The Billionaire Space Race: A Marxist Note

Why bother with space travel from the point of view of capital accumulation?

There are a several purposes. One of them is the class politics of wasteful spending. There are causes here on Earth that need addressing, with global poverty and climate change mitigation the foremost priorities, and yet billionaires are dumping their money into worthless boondoggles. Jeff Bezos would rather splash cash on a rocket-powered dildo than make sure his workers are properly paid. Why? If we assumed the standpoint of a naive bourgeois bystander, it doesn't make much sense. Give workers more spending power would float the boats of other businesses by having money to spend. Those businesses grow, take on extra staff, and we have a self-expanding virtuous circle of investing and spending.

Capitalism does not work like this. From the point of view of the billionaire class interest giving employees more money than what the labour market "determines" increases workers' economic power ever so slightly versus the plutocrats. That means less precarity, less physical and mental exhaustion, and a small space they can call their own. If workers feel secure in their position, they might start asking for things, and come to see themselves as a collective in struggle against their space travelling boss. And from here, who knows where? A critique of their station? A worked out understanding of how surplus value works? A direct challenge to the employer's authority?

A billionaire fully aware of their interests knows this in their marrow. Whatever Bezos spends money on, another mansion, another super yacht, a Bond villain lair, or a fleet of spaceships, he is disposing of his wealth in an entirely class conscious way. His rocket escapes the Earth's gravity well to keep his workers grounded by the pull of exploitation.

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Monday 19 July 2021

Freedom for Some Day

Warning more people will get sick and more people will die. This was how Boris Johnson chose to mark his government's grossly irresponsible experiment in Covid governance. At least the occasion of Freedom Day was spared the pantomime Churchillisms. Indeed, watching the press conference the message hammered by the medical advisors were at cross purposes with their support for the government's opening up plan. Sir Patrick Vallance told the assembled that 60% of current hospitalisations are among the double-jabbed, but thankfully later corrected himself - he meant to say 60% were unvaccinated. Unfortunately, there wasn't any hiding from the 40,000 new infections over the last 24 hour period, and increase of 5,000 on this time last week. Nor the graph showing their strong, upward trajectory.

As with all Johnson pressers, the issue is deliberately contrived to ward off or at least channel questions (and opposition) in easily managed directions. And today saw the deploying of two such stratagems. The first is well rehearsed: if we don't open up now and throw precaution to the wind, when can we open up? This lets Johnson and the government bang on about the dangers of lifting restrictions later when Covid can look forward to easy transmissibility as we head indoors over the autumn months. It is designed to police the horizon of response, and put on the spot anyone questioning it. The right answer is to contest the terms of the argument. There is no "need" for the relaxation of pandemic precautions, save that generated by the government itself. It claims businesses can't hold out for much longer, and people's mental health is suffering. Perhaps if the Tories were as generous as they claimed to be and made sure hospitality, for example, was properly supported clubs wouldn't have to open as super spreader events-in-waiting. Likewise, Sajid Javid recently fielded the mental health question, something that never troubled him as the severely ill and incapacitated were found fit for work by the DWP, nor for that matter the £20/week the government are determined to take off the country's lowest paid. Naturally there are issues, but if they wished the Tories could tackle the mental health crisis by ensuring people on furlough or forced into unemployment had enough to live on. It's bad faith framing all the way down.

The second argument is closely related to the first. Opening now gives the country more time to get more jabs done so the virus runs up against a "wall of immunity" later in the year. The latter phrase is a typical Johnsonism, an image of towering strength that reinforces dangerous assumptions. A double vaccination doesn't grant immunity: it protects against serious illness, and therefore dampens the chances of hospital admissions and deaths. It prevents some transmission. Vaccines are a mitigation, not a cure-all. Unfortunately, millions will read it as immunity and go about their business as if there isn't a pandemic. Some will catch it and it does nothing. Some are going to be hit hard by it, and some will spread it to the clinically vulnerable. The Tories' rhetoric is about to rob tens of thousands of their health and cause some people to die, entirely unnecessarily. Which brings us to the first part of this argument - how does the almost complete abolition of legally-enforced measures aid the take up of jabs? It doesn't. In fact, quite the opposite. More illness now means exhausted health workers come the autumn, and an increased chance of vaccine resistant variants. Their position actively undermines over a year's worth of effort and sacrifice.

If further proof was needed of their criminal negligence, consider the new nightclub plan. As of midnight last night, anyone can go to a club without masks, distancing, and the rest. The BBC have helpfully provided plenty of footage of folks enjoying their first night out in almost 18 months, which recalls last summer's Tory press strategy of amplifying every illegal party and rave as spreader events to blame young people for infections. Something that conveniently forgot the disproportionate numbers of the young in hospitality, which Rishi Sunak had opened up with the absurd Eat Out to Help Out scheme. I digress. The government will be requiring clubbers to provide proof of vaccinations come September. Let's work this through. According to the government's projections, infections are expected to peak and magically decline from some point in late August. Until then, clubs are open to all-comers, whether vaccinated or not. And then when the danger has supposedly passed the restriction comes in. A complete mess. Utter incoherence.

We've been here before so many times. The Tories have proven experts in managing the politics of the pandemic, but disastrous with the practicalities of public health. This is because they've been pulled in several directions at once by the interests they articulate and serve. The preservation of the health of the workforce has to be set against that of employer/employee relations. Keeping people away from workplaces is measured against the passing trade that keeps the small shopkeeper, and much larger retail chains afloat - and their landlords happy. It even goes down to the absurdities of Tory MPs not wanting to wear masks. Johnson's make or break date of the 19th was fixed by political, not scientific exigencies. Simply put, so cracked are Tory MPs that he might have to rely on Labour votes to get further pandemic measures through the Commons, despite his healthy majority. We can't have that, and so once more the party interest is put first.

While still enjoying enormous advantages, this remains a risky moment for the Tories. Public opinion is cautious and concerned, and it could be a disaster too far for Johnson. Especially if we head back into another set of restrictions, and they're unable to scapegoat young people out for a drink. Danger means the possibility of Labour reversing its fortunes too if the moment is seized. But this is for the immediate future. Now, today, Johnson and the Tories have destroyed the pandemic's precautionary principle in the most cavalier way. Freedom Day can only be Freedom for Some Day. As every conspiracy theorist, anti-vaxxer, and anti-masker are given free reign to endanger others, more people will be curbing their interaction and outdoor time. We're chancing a social catastrophe and a renewed public health disaster, and it's the responsibility of the carefree psychopathy of the Prime Minister, his lackeys, and his party.

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Saturday 17 July 2021

Keir Starmer's Pathetic Witch Hunt

We're told that opposition in the age of Covid is hard. Boris Johnson is enjoying a vaccine bounce, and people have tuned out from politicians who aren't in the government. This, according to Keir Starmer's defenders, is why Labour are trailing in the polls and done have badly in the last three by-elections. With the government determined to throw caution to the wind by dropping virtually all legal precautions from Monday, the public jittery about it, and Johnson forced to wind down his Freedom Day rubbish, Labour has a golden opportunity. Indeed, as hospitals fill up and infections mount the Labour leader has a rare second chance, a moment he could spend wiping the slate clean by articulating the anger and fear about the Tories' psychopathic course.

Instead, Keir Starmer is mounting a purge.

According to The Mirror, Starmer is to expel four groups of activists from the party next week. These are the Chris Williamson vehicle Resist (which, tbh, I thought was entirely outside of Labour anyway), Labour Against the Witchhunt, Labour in Exile, and Socialist Appeal. The paper is being very generous to say their total membership amounts to a thousand activists, which at first glance makes the mooted proscriptions somewhat puzzling. Given the faction wars the right provoked from the moment of Jeremy Corbyn's election, none of these organisations - with the exception of Chris himself - were key players. If anything, the first three are more or less groups that have come together in the conflict's aftermath, and groups individual activists and the odd small left outfit. Socialist Appeal is different, being a Trotskyist organisation and one of the descendents of the Militant tradition. Except they've hardly had a prominent role in Corbynism, and have been practically invisible to the wider labour movement since their formation in 1991/92. What is the thinking?

Control, of course. The only power the Labour right are serious about winning is in the party they deem theirs as of right. The four targeted organisations don't have mass followings and are inconsequential, which is entirely the point. Giving them the heave-ho sends a message to the much larger Momentum which, readers will know, is backed by a couple of unions and has deeper roots in the wider membership. It reads you're next. That is if it starts organising as seriously as Labour First does. Not that any of the left are going to be put off by this pathetic display of "strength". The mass base of Starmerism has been eroded in the party following the leader's lame stunts and dismal performance, and he and his close supporters know there isn't an appetite among his passive support in the ranks and, crucially, the union bureaucracies and sections of the party apparat for a return to open warfare. This is Mr Unity, and his position becomes even more precarious should the facedown with Momentum come - all the more reason then to ensure the Starmerist position isn't strengthened.

The second? It's how Tony Blair won things, innit. The mythology says New Labour only won in 1997 because of Blair's public confrontation with the Labour and union left over the old Clause IV. The likes of Peter Mandelson have likewise urged this course to make Labour electable - just ignore the polls that show Starmer is the main drag on the party's performance, and pay no mind to how Labour were doing before John Smith's untimely death. The thinking goes if the party is pacified then, and only then is it fit for office. It was rubbish in the 90s, and in the age where radical structural transformation is needed to mitigate climate change, tackle the health challenges, deal with Britain's continuing economic decllne, and manage the multiple crises of housing, adult care, the decay of social security and the public sector, it's the most foolish, electorally toxic, self-indulgent course of action available to the Labour leader. But the likes of the Mandelsons, the Blairs, the centrist newspaper columnists, and those elements of the Labour right more motivated by fighting the left than the Tories have to be mollified. Especially if the appearance of action, of making the party safe for capital again, attracts back "high net worth" donors. Chucking out Trots and undesirables is designed to show Starmer is following their playbook, and is happy to fire up a witchhunt down the line if necessary. But given how the targets are small fry, with what he perceives a minimum of political blowback.

We know what the game is, and obviously it has nothing to do with winning elections and taking the fight to the Tories. Proscribing these four organisations is driven by internal politicking, of consolidating Starmer's petty and brittle authoritarianism, of trying to cow the left and currying favour with (would-be) establishment backers concerned by his record of failure. Anyone with a leftwing, socialist bone in their body should stand against this petty purge. And remind ourselves again that we're not dealing with just another Tory-lite Labour leader but an existential threat. Starmer is more likely to lead the party into complete collapse than Number 10 and government.

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