Saturday 31 December 2022

Top Ten Dance Songs 2022

Whether it's hands in the air or dance floor stomping, this end of year review of 2022's hottest dance tunes is sure to have your jam. If beats and bleeps aren't your thing, or you've spent the last 12 months away from matters musical, your essential background listening is last year's list. Can you discern any hooks or features that might define this decade in dance yet?

As per tradition, 10 tracks have been selected for your aural fix but some always narrowly miss out. So let's extend them the courtesy of the spotlight. Our first is Nezuko by 2011 tune of the year winner, Shogun. It's a tight little number with lovely piano and manages the euphoric-melancholia clash with aplomb. Still hanging around trance town, we move to its techy suburbs with Will Atkinson and Stimulation. I can't decide if it's here because I like it or because it's an accomplished mess. A veritable Prometheus of a dance record, Will has crammed in so many nods, flourishes, and hat tips to other songs and genres, including his own exceptional Rush, that I can't make head nor tail of it. We'll chalk Stimulation up as note worthy and leave it at that. Finally, because all good things come in threes, we hop down the tracks to take in some future pop. Sweden's Ashbury Heights feat. Madil Hardis put out an if-goths-did-Eurovision ditty with A Cut in a Place. And what an exceptionally crafted cut. Your soundtrack to heavy eyeliner application.

How can the top 10 better this? Behold:

10. Young Parisians and Katherine Amy, Rediscover (Norman Doray Remix)

Good to see Solarstone still chucking them out the door, but it required Norman Doray to rediscover (groan) this sleepy affair as an adrenaline-pushing dance floor danger. Nothing here is wasted as a proper banger emerges fresh and ready for business from its heavily threaded progressive chrysalis. "I want to know you again", sings Katherine Amy. A commandment that will compel you to hit the replay button repeatedly.

9. LF System, Afraid to Feel

It's not the eight weeks at number one that lands LF System on this list, nor the ubiquity of their track. It's, simply put, down to the genius on display. Afraid feels retro in a way that is impossible to describe. Does it have something to do with the beats? The uncomplicated vocal recalling house divas of 20 years past? Or the switch up and dialled down changeability of the tempo? It's one of those that struggles for words, and reaches for the language of vibes. Simply put: it's summer in your headphones.

8. Final Request, Fallen Enemies

Once this hoodlum of a tune kicks in this melodic house scally, which is definitely not trance, will empty your pockets and nick your car. The slow build and barely-can-be-arsed vocal works as a paean to thug life anomie. But the weight of the tune sets its shoulder against the boulder of nihilism and continues pushing against the lyrical grain until we crest into something life-affirming and borderline transcendent. Exceptional work.

7. Kosh & Baker presents Taïko, Gate 1

The first of our uncloseted trance tunes, it breaks from 2022's boring pack of predicted and predictable genre bedfellows to try something new. The build is standard fare but when the nucleus of the song breaks in, its syncopated melodic core points to paths beyond the done-to-death liturgies of by-the-book trance music. Whether others will step where Kosh & Baker did not fear to tread we cannot say, but what we can is that Gate 1 opens up new pastures for others to canter into.

6. LP Giobbi and Bklava, Sinner

The blog is in danger of owing more to melody than Marxism if this carries on. A femme house monster that got a lot of mainstream airplay, there's another unpinnable retro angle to proceedings. Sinner could encompass a trinity: a hymn to empowerment, the perfect foil for a break up, and a nose thumbing at friendships turned sour. What runs the risk of becoming this year's theme, the duelling between high powered vocal and high powered chime ensured Sinner was the summer anthem to be seen (and heard) listening to.

5. Kryder, Wish

Having only just missed out on last year's list with the Balearic callback, Girlfriend, Kryder has jumped from beach party bopping to ethereal, Winter-inflected trance. The nods to gardenstate's output with its soaring, echoing melody and breakbeat backing once again point to the genre's future if it can wean itself off the 90s euphoria formula. Wish is where I wish more artists would go and explore. Snow boards and skis are optional.

4. Kudus, Liften

What's a Liften? No idea, but this progressive number smacks you in the face right out of the door. Demonstrating that tuneful creativity is partying in the house and techno scenes while struggling on life support elsewhere, I love anything that runs with tortured, wriggling sonics. Especially when it's racing across an uplifting soundscape that threatens to catapult our hero into orbit. Simply sublime.

3. Purple Disco Machine, Sophie and the Giants, In the Dark

Were you shuffling to this on an East Berlin dance floor in 1983? No, because In the Dark only came out in January. But its vibe evokes a kitsch remix of the GDR without the Stasi and a lot more neon. And that's without even watching the video. Another collab between the two show synth-inflected muziks doesn't have to be cringe, melding together 80s nu disco and left pop perfectly.

2. Bicep and Clara La San, Water

Ever wondered what it's like to be inside a dying computer? Me neither, but this seminal deepchill cut (with joyful characteristics) makes it sound appealing. Bicep have hovered around the edges of my awareness for ages, but it took until November for them to plant something list-worthy. It's clean, unfussy, and mercilessly wields chip tune sounds to masterful ends. A true classic sure to spend a lot of time in the old tape player.

1. System F, Adagio for Strings

Since Ferry Corsten unleashed his remix of William Orbit's Samuel Barber rework, there have been about 200 remixes of Adagio for Strings in the last 23 years. And of them, only Tiesto's 2005 stadium filler has brought something new to the table. When the 1999 original was and is arguably the greatest trance song ever produced, diminished returns are guaranteed. It therefore says something about the man that Ferry simply released his remix of his remix without any fanfare about a month ago, and did the impossible by improving on his most inspired moment. Hats off to this legend. He's smashed it yet again.

And that was the top 10 of the year. I'm sure I'll find more top tunes from 2022 as the decade wears on, or come to appreciate others I've dismissed. As the critics of rational choice theory have it we can never have perfect information. What were your top tunes of the year?

The Most Read 20 of 2022

That's 2022 almost done. The year of three Prime Ministers and Tory collapse, of land war in Europe for the first time since the implosion of Yugoslavia, and a terrible year of climate catastrophe. 2023 is going to be better, right? But as far as the blog is concerned, it's been a good year. Save for audience figures. It's not only the trains and the buses that are waiting for passengers to return to pre-pandemic levels. But on the analysis front, as explored last night, a lot of things have come right. Including the argument in the old book, of course.

As is customary, around these parts we mark the end of the year musically (coming later) and with a round-up of the 20 most-read post on here. Take it away.

1. The Pointlessness of Plotting
2. Jeremy Corbyn's Prospective New Party
From Comrade to Renegade
4. The Complacency of Tory Royalism
5. Inflation and Political Paralysis
6. The Labour Right's Corbyn Obsession
7. A Case Study in Decrepitude
8. Against Putin
9. The RMT Leaves TUSC
10. The Sun's Anxious Apology
11. Left Wing Ruthlessness
12. Keir Starmer's Bad Luck
13. Is Enough is Enough Enough?
14. USDAW and Right Wing Trade Unionism
15. Talk About a Revolution
16. Never Let a Crisis Go To Waste
17. The Main Enemy is at Home
18. On Operation Save Big Dog
19. Starmerism and Trade Unionism
20. The Faces of West Streeting

Anyone reading the monthly round up of the most popular reads know I regularly plug posts that didn't catch the audiences, but are worthy of a wider readership. This year I've collated together a dozen (no more, no less) pieces, one from each month, that fall into this category. Read them, share them with your friends, and read them some more!

Jan: The Tory Culture War on Universities
Feb: Wishing Covid Away
Mar: Paul Mason Vs Anti-Humanism
Apr: Immaterial Labour and its Discontents
May: Four Points on the Australian Election
Jun: Lamentable Labourism
Jul: The Hard Right and the Far Right
Aug: General Strikes
Sep: Royalism and Labourism
Oct: Our Anti-Democratic Comment Journalism
Nov: Stewarding the Depleted State
Dec The Right's Walking Wounded

One last thing. In 2022 I finally sorted the grift out. This blog will always be free to read, but if you do enjoy what appears here and you are fortunate to have quids to spare there are worse ways of disposing disposal cash than supporting this corner of the internet. If you can't or won't, that's fine. Cop us a follow and a like on Twitter or Facebook instead!

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Friday 30 December 2022

The Rights and Wrongs of 2022

A few years ago I learned a lesson. Having predicted Labour would win in 2015, that Remain would come out top in the EU referendum, and that Donald Trump would be defeated by Hillary Clinton, I gave up the New Year Nostradamus act. But in reality, I never stopped making forecasts about politics. The whole shtick of this blog is to analyse the present to grasp the likely trajectories of politics in the hope it will inform leftist strategy and practice in this country. And you know what, as everyone has taken to social media to burnish their finest contributions to the discourse it's fair to say, given how things have played out, much of what I've written about over the last few years have come to fruition. But to err is human, and there are a couple of things I got wrong as well. This post is me blowing my own trumpet, followed by a few toots on the sad trombone.

The biggest, of course, is the centrepiece of my book and the mainstay of this blog: the long-term decline of the Tories. Just over a year ago, one of its reviewers dismissed it as wishful thinking. In 2022 the arguments came home to roost. The central thesis, that property acquisition is breaking down and therefore destroying the basis of the political reproduction of mass conservatism, assisted by the decline of social conservatism and the rise of social liberalism as a class cohort effect, and how gluing together the Tory coalition of mostly older, property-owning people demands attacks on working age and younger people has been increasingly obvious since the Coalition years. Indeed, Boris Johnson's 2019 triumph was the argument's mic drop moment, not its refutation. However, the precise pattern of this decline, which I have been suggesting was starting to bite since Labour did unexpectedly well in 2017, could not be mapped out in advance. The Tories were never going to level up because it clashed too sharply with the priorities of briefcase Toryism and the needs of their base, and so the long slog to oblivion was locked in. As things stood, even with Johnson as leader, 2024 would be a much harder election than the one previous without the scandals of Party Gate and his own obvious corruption and dissolute behaviour. And if Johnson quickened the rot, Liz Truss enthusiastically pumped the poison round the Tory body politic to bring one a cardiac arrest. It was like John Major in reverse, the drawn out destruction of one Prime Minister's authority followed up by completely unforced Black Wednesday cosplaying - just over 30 years on from the original event. Rishi Sunak may have steadied the ship, but taking on so many striking workers can only hasten his party's decline.

Therefore, three related pieces on the specifics of the Tories' trajectory have come to pass. A year ago, Truss was tipped as the next leader and her approach to politics characterised as "the promise of handbagging the world and making it conform to a reheated Thatcherism." Reader, it was she and the British economy that got the handbagging. And second, the tensions explored in Johnson's cabinet over his levelling up failures and, particularly, the active desire of Sunak et al to not do anything to dampen expectations and therefore demands made of politics became the dominant strand in Tory ruling circles once Johnson was tossed out the window. Truss and Sunak offered variants of the same. The former brash and reckless, the latter more cautious and subtle and had been burrowing away at state capacity from the very moment Covid forced government to take emergency measures. Sunak's statecraft is the culmination of the class politics of government shoulder shrugging. On the topic of the same, having announced the withdrawal of any and all mitigation measures, we're dealing with the consequences. "Self-responsibility" has meant tens of millions think Covid has gone away or that they have some residual immunity to it, as if the disease is like measles. These vibes are entirely the Tories' fault for scrapping all public health messaging, and refusing to spell out the fact it attacks the immune system and can store up medium and long-term difficulties, even if the most immediate experience it is the sniffles and a light fever. And the consequences are plain to see: collapsing A&Es exacerbated by 12 years of defunding as the Covid afflicted fill departments up, and millions coming down with "bad colds" and other illnesses that prey on weakened immune systems. 10 months ago, I wrote "we are in a damnable situation with those in charge caring for everything but mitigating the mass casualty event we continue to live through." Nothing has changed. Hundreds continue to die unnecessarily. Tens of thousands are newly debilitated by serious, long-term illness that need not be.

I've got a bit of a claim to make about Keir Starmer as well. Unfortunately, most left takes on Starmer treat him as no different to a Tory and that's all that needs be said, or that he is a moustache-twirling villain who's the baddie to Jeremy Corbyn's goodie. To be opposed to Starmer means taking him seriously, and just like the Tories it's useful for left and labour movement people to know what his politics are about and what his trajectory is so we can take advantage of any openings and prepare for incoming attacks. It's ABC socialist politics. The analysis first ventured in February 2021, that Starmerism is a politics about state management and restitution of legitimacy in its institutions, has been borne out by Starmer's strategy ever since. His attitude to trade unionism smacks of it, and his recent commitment to constitutional reform confirms it. This is bourgeois politics, but a one different to that offered by the Tories. It has it own opportunities and threats for the labour movement, and we need to be ready for them.

On wrong things, there have been a few mistakes along the way. There's this analysis of Labour's local election performance which, I think, was right at the time but - particularly in the south - has been superseded by events. Albeit with caveats. In early August, I thought about how Liz Truss could pose a threat to Labour. I'd have been better spending my time chasing the cat around the house. I suppose the most egregious mistake was doubting the seriousness of Putin's posturing over Ukraine. In mitigation, plenty of Russia watchers made the same bad take. For once, the public briefings released by the US and UK governments were right. But, making up for the initial mistake the following analysis of state decrepitude has been confirmed by the course of the war, both in terms of Russia's stupid brutality and battlefield reverses, and has humiliated of Putin on the world stage. With any luck, this time next year he'll be in a war crimes court.

2022 has been a complex year, of so-called "poly-crisis". And this seems more concentrated and badly borne in the UK. The demise of the Tories, the stirrings of Starmerism's hegemony over establishment politics, and how both respond (or, in the Tories' case, don't) to the emergencies presenting as a grim version of whack-a-mole are going to be the main subjects covered by this blog next year. What a jolly thought. See you in 2023!

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Thursday 29 December 2022

What I've Been Reading Recently

The end of year edition of this totally pointless quarterly update. But would you believe that some people read it? So as long as they do I'll keep producing it. Anyway, here are the books I've read since the previous list.

The Glimpse by Arnold Bennett
Sabbat Worlds edited by Dan Abnett
The Emperor's Gift by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
Into the War by Italo Calvino
Priests of Mars by Graham McNeill
Lords of Mars by Graham McNeill
Gods of Mars by Graham McNeill
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Baneblade by Guy Haley
Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow by Mike Phipps
Fireworks by Angela Carter
States of Injury by Wendy Brown
Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet
The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth by William Boyd
Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
From the Factory to the Metropolis by Antonio Negri
To Sir With Love by ER Braithwaite

Some things worthwhile noting. Yes, I did have a bit of a Warhammer 40K splurge, with six books hailing from the grimdark future of the 41st millennium. And while their merit isn't about to be recognised by the gatekeepers of high literature, each one of these books are deftly plotted and well written. Ultimately, they're designed to sell even more books (there are now over 700 40K titles), but more importantly offload the overpriced Games Workshop boxed sets. With news that Amazon are stumping up the reddies for films and TV series over the next few years, the franchise is primed to go totally mainstream.

Elsewhere on the list, I'm going to stick up for Arnold Bennett for once. The Glimpse, his short 1909 novel about a near death experience was certainly ahead of its time. Thinking about Burroughs's Naked Lunch and the trippy sequence from Clarke's 2001, Stoke's finest has beaten them to it by over half a century. It does beg an interesting question - why wasn't it "rediscovered" during the 1960s? I guess Bennett never had the cache enjoyed by the likes of Henry Miller, and in this particular instance it's a real shame. The Glimpse broke new ground on its publication and deserves more than the obscurity it resides in.

What have you been reading recently?

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Tuesday 27 December 2022

On 30p Lee's Ha'penny Mini-Me

A couple of months ago I went to Tunstall. Never the most thriving of Stoke's six towns, my first trip there since before the pandemic found it even more down at heel. The Stoke North constituency, which its "famous" incumbent Jonathan Gullis likes to call Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove, and Talke to differentiate himself from his lately ennobled predecessor by adding the "and Talke", has suffered horribly under 12 years of Tory rule. More shops than ever are shut and boarded up, with many in advanced states of decay. Save Shelter and the indefatigable Iris's Cats in Need, the local economy is so hard up it cannot sustain more than these two charity stores. It has now been three years since Boris Johnson's famous election victory, and all this part of the Potteries has to show for it is a crumbling town centre, empty purses and wallets, and frightening levels of food poverty.

That's not the only thing falling into ruination. So are the Tories' chances at the next election, and this is something Tunstall shares with nearly all the so-called "red wall" areas. In Tuesday's FT, we learn from one of Gullis's Westminster colleagues that "the red wall is dead. It’s possible we won’t hold any of the seats we won at the last election. Some people are just hanging around for their severance payments." Our mysterious correspondent forgot to add many aren't even waiting for that, with another slew of announcements expected after Tory MPs have spent the festive season reflecting/hammering their contact books.

Perhaps remembering Johnson's broadside against the "doomsters" and the "gloomsters", Gullis looks on the bright side and says the Tories could hold on, but Rishi Sunak has to offer an inspiring vision. The punters need to "see and feel change." The problem is they do see and feel it every time they look at their shrinking incomes and growing outlays. Defending the record in Stoke, Gullis points to a few trifles, such as some funding won from government to improve local bus services. Which was only 26% of what the Tory-run City Council put the bid in for, so don't expect dramatic improvements in time for the general election. Then there are the 500 Home Office jobs slated to arrive in dribs and drabs over the next few years. Taking into account the 120 Hanley DWP staff about to be sacked after years of whittling down the work force, and the hundreds of jobs axed at the local authority, we might just be about breaking even. At least there is the town improvement deal granted to Newcastle and Kidsgrove. While Newcastle Borough Council (also Tory-run) are spending a huge wedge on a new multi-storey, Kidsgrove can look forward to a new ticket office and a (more modest) car park in the not-too-distant. Despite putting on the brave face, Gullis appears resigned; "Rishi has yet to lay out that vision for this area — or for the country, if I’m honest."

If Gullis and Tory MPs like him are disappointed their government aren't delivering, they haven't been paying attention. At the beginning of 2020 and at the height of imperious pomp, writing for ConHome Tory strategist James Frayne argued that the government didn't need to do anything to hold on to their new voters. Apparently, they didn't care about public transport and bus services, want to see social security ground into nothingness, don't mind if their local high street looks like a Depression-era shopping arcade, and want more tax cuts paid for by public sector "waste". With this level of misrecognition over who there 2019 voters were and why they supported the Tories in the first place, it's a wonder they won so handsomely. To be fair to Johnson, he did appear genuine about carrying through the so-called levelling up strategy. He understood that if his party was going to hold on in places like Stoke, they needed to deliver. Unfortunately for him and the political health of the Tories, the do-nothing counsel offered by Frayne was the Treasury orthodoxy, and accepted by many in Johnson's circle. Including Sunak. The Big Dog was effectively brought to heel in Cabinet, and now under the guise of repairing the country from the atom bomb dropped on the economy by Liz Truss, Sunak has made the depletion of the state his overall objective.

There are two ways a Tory politician can respond to a situation where government doesn't care for their seat or the people who live in them. You could try the ubiquitous community thing, like his Stoke Central colleague Jo Gideon is doing. There isn't a crisp packet opening she won't attend if there's a photo opportunity in it. Gullis, billed by the FT as a "restless and popular local campaigner", have mistaken his regular appearances in The Sentinel for appeal. My old friend, former Labour Council Leader Mohammed Pervez, might be available to provide some instruction on this. Knowing Stoke once had a recent problem with BNP support in the City - partly because the Tories used to be too weak to stand in most local elections - Gullis hasn't been shy about scapegoating asylum seekers and commanding coverage for his efforts. Affecting concern about the wellbeing of vulnerable adults, his scurrilous campaign names the two city hotels being used as temporary hostels, fully knowing how publicising them could lead to targeted attacks. Tabling his 10 Minute Rule Bill a few weeks ago to get the flights to Rwanda running had nothing to do with fairness for refugees, or protesting against the government for housing asylum seekers in the Potteries without making resources available to support them, it's his re-election strategy. He's consciously latching onto the anti-woke identity politics. In the absence of undoing the economic and social injuries done to Stoke by his party, he's picking at an imagined wound in in the hope rabble rousing and dog-whistling will save his bacon. Gullis is far from an original on the Tory back benches, and has something of the Lee Anderson about him. 30p Lee's ha'penny mini-me, you might say.

Despite sitting on a decent-sized majority, it's not likely Gullis's efforts will be enough to save him. He'll take his £20 grand "resettlement grant" when he loses, and not give Stoke a second thought beyond a place name he puts on future CVs for safer Tory seats. The division he's stirring up won't, sadly, disappear as quickly.

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Monday 26 December 2022

Michael Hardt: Empire 20 Years On

A useful discussion with one of the authors of this landmark book. As it happens, I've just finished a collection of Toni Negri's writing. Perhaps, just perhaps, I'll write about it in the next couple of days. Meanwhile, you can check out more of the Machinic Unconscious Happy Hour podcast here (plenty of Deleuze-friendly stuff to get your teeth into), and if you want to support their work they have a Patreon too.

Sunday 25 December 2022

A Marxist Analysis of Christmas

Or, to be more accurate, our friend ChatGPT's Marxist account of Christmas. Interestingly, it writes "please note that this is a theoretical exercise and the views expressed in this analysis do not necessarily reflect my own personal beliefs." Nce touch. The analysis is very bare bones, but it will do as Christmas Day stocking filler!

According to Marxist theory, Christmas is a cultural and economic phenomenon that is shaped by the underlying economic and social structures of a given society. In a capitalist society, these structures are characterized by the exploitation of the working class by the ruling class, which owns and controls the means of production. In this context, Christmas can be seen as a way for the ruling class to maintain its power and control over the working class by promoting consumerism and distracting people from the reality of their exploitation.

One way in which this occurs is through the creation of the "Christmas spirit," which is a culturally constructed idea that promotes feelings of goodwill and generosity. This spirit is often associated with the giving of gifts and the celebration of family and community. However, the emphasis on gift-giving serves to encourage consumerism and the buying of material goods, which benefits the ruling class by increasing their profits. In addition, the focus on family and community can serve to reinforce traditional gender roles and ideas of the nuclear family, which can serve to maintain the dominant social order.

Another aspect of the capitalist exploitation of Christmas is the way in which it is marketed and commercialized. The holiday is heavily promoted by businesses, which use it as an opportunity to sell their products and increase their profits. This often involves the use of advertising and media campaigns that create a sense of urgency and encourage people to buy more and spend more money. The holiday has also been appropriated by capitalist interests, with the image of Santa Claus being used to sell everything from toys to Coca-Cola.

In addition to promoting consumerism, the capitalist exploitation of Christmas can also have negative effects on workers. Many workers, particularly those in the retail and service sectors, are required to work long hours and weekends during the holiday season. This can lead to increased stress and exploitation, as employers take advantage of the increased demand for their products and services to extract more labor from their employees.

Furthermore, the emphasis on consumerism and material goods can create a false sense of happiness and fulfillment, leading people to believe that they can find happiness through the acquisition of material possessions. This can distract people from the real sources of their unhappiness, such as exploitation and social inequality, and prevent them from organizing and fighting against these conditions.

In contrast to the capitalist exploitation of Christmas, a Marxist perspective would argue that the holiday should be used as an opportunity to promote solidarity and resistance to exploitation. This could involve alternative gift-giving practices that prioritize the needs of the community over consumerism, as well as organizing efforts to improve the working conditions of those who are exploited during the holiday season.

In conclusion, a Marxist analysis of Christmas would view it as a cultural and economic phenomenon that is shaped by the underlying economic and social structures of a given society. In a capitalist society, the holiday is used to promote consumerism and distract people from the reality of their exploitation, leading to negative effects on workers and reinforcing the dominant social order. In contrast, a Marxist perspective would argue that the holiday should be used as an opportunity to promote solidarity and resistance to exploitation.

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Red Army Choir Sings Jingle Bells

As someone in the comments to this video put it, "It makes sense that the Red Army choir would celebrate a holiday about a guy with a long white beard who likes red and helps redestribute wealth to all the good kids of the world."

Saturday 24 December 2022

Local Council By-Elections: 2022 in Aggregate

453,772 votes were cast over 274 local authority contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Please note some by-elections were for newly created or previously uncontested seats, so seats gained/lost will not tally. For comparison you can view last year's results here.

* There were eight by-elections in Scotland
** There were seven by-elections in Wales
*** There were 17 contests with Independent clashes
**** See the quarterly round ups for the results from smaller parties

After their best year ever for by-election results, the only way for the Conservatives was down and down they slid. Across the country seats fell as the opposition parties surged, with Labour managing the rare feat of beating their raw vote tally and ending the year in a strongly positive position. Who knows, perhaps in 2023 the party will put the extra effort in and stand as many candidates as the Tories do? The Liberal Democrats will also be gratified with their performance, which continues to outshine national polling. And the Greens have managed respectably too, even if their vote share is slightly down on last year.

In case you're wondering where Reform UK are, they have done nothing but post derisory results in a handful of seats. They'll get serious by-election coverage once they start organising seriously. A few kind editorials from the Telegraph doesn't cut it with me. But whatever they do, the story of the next year will surely be another of serious Conservative decline. The local elections will be the moment of danger for Rishi Sunak, and if these results are anything to go by we might see another leadership contest in the not too distant.

Friday 23 December 2022

The Sun's Anxious Apology

For its part in the latest round of scurrilous attacks on Meghan Markle, The Sun has apologised. You will recall that Jeremy Clarkson, their pet stick of curly-haired tedium, launched an attack on the Duchess of Sussex from the pages of the Sunday edition last weekend. He wrote how he was "dreaming of the day when she is made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while crowds chant, 'Shame!' and throw lumps of excrement at her". It doesn't take much to unravel the vitriol he and fellow middle-aged-to-elderly columnists reserve for her. Meghan condenses everything they hate about this country and its younger people in particular. Their diversity, their tolerance, their socially liberal commonsense. In their right wing imaginations, Meghan's marrying into the royal family is a breach too far in this most sacred and white of institutions. As such, no matter the level of utterly disgusting press she receives, as outlined in that Netflix documentary, it's men like Clarkson who are really the wounded ones.

After a day of social media heat, Clarkson issued his faux apology on Monday. Claiming he had "put his foot in it", he was "horrified" that his toe curling rant had "gone down badly with a great many people". In other words, he wasn't sorry at all. Except for the fact he'd been called out, and made to feel his main television gig - hosting Who Wants to be a Millionaire? - was a little bit less secure. ITV is, according to the Daily Mail, a woke TV channel after all.

The Sun apology is along the same lines. While arguing Clarkson's views are his own, the paper recognises that "with free expression comes responsibility" and that "we at The Sun regret the publication of this article and we are sincerely sorry". Again, note no apology for the injured party. They've also scrubbed the article from their archive, which is probably as much contrition Meghan will ever receive. But this being The Sun, it couldn't simply say sorry. It had to pontificate about its good causes, such as its campaign against domestic abuse. Just don't talk about how the paper helped hound a mentally ill woman to death, has backed the government's criminal treatment of asylum seekers, spoke up for the Met as its officers cracked skulls at the Sarah Everard vigil, are right now are at the forefront of attacks on Mick Lynch and the RMT, egging on Rishi Sunak's war on striking workers, and earlier this year literally willed young people to go die in a field.

It normally takes months of court time and enormous legal bills to elicit a Sun apology, so this is unusual. 60 MPs, organised by Tory MP Caroline Nokes, wrote an open letter condemning the piece. But as the names were the usual suspects, it's not likely this had a bearing on the apology. Nor the fact Clarkson's own daughter joined in the condemnation. Rather, it comes down to the vulnerable position the paper is in. The Sun, like all Murdoch-owned rags, stopped publicly reporting its circulation figures in March 2020, just as the pandemic hit. Then it was 1.2m copies sold daily, and a million on Sundays. As per all newspapers, it was in long-term decline and is now likely to be behind the Mail, hovering at a daily (and decreasing) circulation of 800k. Its force mainly lies in framing news stories and selecting the issues of the day (which is lapped up and echoed by the BBC), and their (legacy) influence over politicians. It is a declining power in the land.

And yet, looked at another way The Sun couldn't be in ruder health. Its website has about 30 million views a month, constantly vying with the Mail for the top spot. But here in lies the problem. For both papers, their readers are there for the games, competitions, celebrity and human interest stories. They don't hurriedly rush to their Sun app in the morning for the latest ravings of Trevor Kavanagh, or whatever poison Victoria Newton has dripped into the day's editorial. Having found a business model that can make money, it comes at the price of a depletion of its political gravity. Also, because its dependence on internet traffic grows by the day "the brand" becomes increasingly sensitive to online push-pull factors, just like any other company. And so if one of its star columnists creates a stink, the fear is audiences will steer clear of the pong. And advertisers are easily spooked, who ultimately the business depends on. In other words, the perceived threat of user and marketing boycotts finds The Sun in a position of vulnerability, and they have to act swiftly if on the wrong end of a controversy.

All of a sudden, its persistent fretting over the "woke mob" and "cancelling" makes sense. In the attention economy, politicised audiences can leverage the power of the network in ways old school editorial offices cannot. It's simultaneously a realisation their institutional heft is degrading, and an anxiety that very soon none of it will be left. Jeremy Clarkson's carefully planned and cynically calibrated "outburst" at Meghan, with the full approval and connivance of The Sun's editor might well have had one unforeseen but welcome consequence: that the day of this demise has been hastened.

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Quarter Four By-Election Results 2022

This quarter 107,002 votes were cast over 71 local authority contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. 33 council seats changed hands. For comparison you can view Quarter three's results here.

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
Q3  22
+/- Q4 2021

* There were five by-elections in Scotland
** There were three by-elections in Wales
*** There were four Independent clashes
**** Others this quarter consisted of Alba (90, 81), Freedom Alliance (18), National Housing Party (59), Reform UK (144), Residents for Guildford and Villages (185), Scottish Socialist Party (46), TUSC (45, 23, 63, 26), UKIP (55, 19, 34), Vectis Party (36), Workers' Party (158)

Another good quarter for Labour. The third one in a row in that has seen it win the popular vote, the narrative that it's finally on its way to winning the next general election are supported by results like this. There's no reason to expect this encouraging run for Labour is going to exhaust itself, as Rishi Sunak and the Tories are beset on all sides by opposition and crises.

The Liberal Democrats will also he happy that their performance in actual elections is well in excess of their national polling figures. To a lesser extent this applies to the Greens too, even if they dropped one councillor in the quarter. Looking ahead to the next few months the opposition parties will continue to do well and the Tories are going to carry on bleeding.

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