Monday, 20 March 2023

Can the Labour Left Make a Comeback?

Along with tens of millions of others, over the weekend a tweet appeared. Translated from internet speak, it asked "what opinion do you, as a leftist, hold that would draw denunciations from other leftists?". There followed a long thread, but one of the most pointed was simple. "The British left needs to get over Corbyn." I know where the sentiment comes from. Not a day passes on my feed without criticisms of what was done to him, praise of a latest speech or intervention, or the ubiquitous photo of Corbyn smelling flowers appearing and getting shared. While the people doing this are on the left, they are not "the left". Most activists are now involved in a variety of struggles outside of the Labour Party, even those who were inspired by Corbyn's leadership challenge. They are organising, not mourning. However, there are some other people who definitely can't get over Corbyn. He's the alp that weighs on the brains of the Labour right, as Patrick Maguire demonstrates.

Looking at the field of selections, of which only two out of 100 have been won by "the left", Maguire writes of a Labour left in despair. The Socialist Campaign Group, who've always been less than the sum of its parts are "terrified", worried that they'll be deselected for being close to Stop the War. One anonymous source opines to Maguire that there won't be a single left-wing idea left on the table by the time Keir Starmer is done. But amid the gloom, the slightest glimmer of hope! Another anonymous mouthpiece loyal to the Starmer project reckoned all their work driving out the left could be undone if a major union swings to the left. I.e. Unison or GMB. Or, assuming a small majority, the left will be able to extract a series of concessions from a Starmer government. As if implementing policies that make life better is a bad thing. The not so subtle argument pushed by Maguire being that Starmer should have purged the SCG from parliamentary party when he had the chance. Now all of them are on "best behaviour", moving now would come with political costs attached. Such as galvanising the remains of the left activist base, prodding trade unions to do more than issue meek protests, or failing to capitalise on the latest Tory calamity.

The right worrying about the left now sounds absurd now, but it does represent an unease embedded in the character of Labourism itself. As a politics that emerged from the struggles of the working class two centuries ago, it replicates and, in practice, reproduces the split in capitalism between employer and state, between economics and politics. As a result, the varieties of Labourism that have issued from this have ranged from conservative to accommodating, from reform-minded to the radical. And their respective periods of dominance in the party roughly correspond with the advance and retreat of the labour movement. For instance, the 1945 Labour government was the beneficiary of an upsurge of working class confidence and radicalism during the war. 70 years later, Corbyn's victory in the leadership contest condensed the politicisation of millions which reflected their experience of life and work, and an establishment politics that didn't speak to them at all. New Labour, on the other hand, was a product of labour movement defeat. With the trade unions in serious retreat after the 1980s, combined with the decomposition/recomposition of the working class, the increasing privatisation of social life, and the end of Stalinism in Eastern Europe and Russia, the collapse of organisation and consciousness made the conditions for Blairism's centrist and authoritarian politics possible in the Labour Party.

Because of Labour's link to the labour movement, the right's victory over the left can never be total and permanent. The relationship is simultaneously a source of stability and uncertainty. In terms of a cadre of activists and ready money, friendly trade union leaders can help steady the ship and did, in the past, police the industrial activism of their members. Which is what we've historically seen from right wing trade unionists. But if the wider trade union movement is active and millions of workers are moving into industrial action, the possibility of that politics making its way into the Labour Party is a live one.

Which is where we are now. The comparison is often made between Starmerism and Blairism, and there are some similarities. The language of modernisation and authoritarianism being the most obvious. But they face different circumstances. Tony Blair presided over the aftermath of labour movement defeat, and not only had it not recovered by the time he left office New Labour policies actively stymied it. If there is a parallel for Starmer, it's the Harold Wilson/Jim Callaghan governments in the sense that they faced a rising tide of workers' struggle while trying to keep a lid on it. Obviously, what is happening now is at a lower pitch of intensity and isn't drawing in as many people, but for the right wingers who have Starmer's ear it's enough to feel the tug of its coalescing political gravity. Corbynism was an unwelcome surprise for them that no one saw coming, including the Labour left itself. But industrial unrest has prefaced and fuelled radicalism in the past, which is a fact not even selective readings of history can deny. Therefore the concern, even though the left in Labour are at a low ebb, with the possibility of a return. But this time rooted in a movement outside of the party and carrying institutional heft within it.

Despite the right wing anxieties and where it's coming from, I don't think the right wing night terrors are about to materialise. Even though there have been some stunning victories, especially with the RMT's victorious result over Network Rail. For one, Starmer has made it clear that Labour is no home for radical or socialist politics, and he's been marginal to irrelevant in the industrial disputes and struggles of the last couple of years. And when he's in government and the inevitable attacks on workers come, it's doubly unlikely they will move into the party in response. It didn't happen in the Blair/Brown years, after all. In fact, it wasn't until well after they had both departed from office that a left anti-Blairist politics coalesced around Corbyn. In other words, we're looking at the medium term. Instead, with the likelihood of the Tories taking a sharp right turn following their coming defeat, other alternatives to Labour are set to benefit. The Liberal Democrats? Possibly. They did well out of the Blair years. The Greens? Almost certainly, especially as the climate crisis really starts biting. The SNP? Provided their current difficulties don't prove fatal, they cannot be discounted given their position of strength vis a vis Scottish Labour. This is all outside of Labour, but 10 years down the line after Starmer has left office something like the Bennite or Corbynite surges cannot be ruled out. If an opportunity opens and it hasn't found expression elsewhere, then Labour could again become the key political battleground.

Saturday, 18 March 2023

Deleuze and the Dividuum

Apologies for the writerly slacking, it will be taking the back seat to other stuff for the next week or so. But in the mean time, enjoy this discussion about some of the latest Deleuze and Guattari scholarship. As always, thanks to the Acid Horizon comrades for their work.

Thursday, 16 March 2023

Forgetting Forde

We've talked about the lies of Starmerism before, and it's fair to say dishonesty is as much a feature of the Labour leadership as its state modernisation project. But one thing that strikes me about it is the chutzpah. Keir Starmer and other shadow cabinet members can repeat the most blatant untruths about what happened during Jeremy Corbyn's leadership to the point of rewriting history. And they can do this because, as the government-in-waiting, they know the lobby hacks have to keep them sweet if they want the inside track after the election. They also know a lot of the British media establishment are on side, and would veto anything too critical anyway.

Which brings us back to the Forde Report. Commissioned by Starmer himself after the biggest unauthorised release of documents in British political history, it's true to say the Labour leader's lackeys have shown more interest in determining the leak's source than their scandalous contents. And the same is true of the media's attitude too. It was a non-event, and was treated like a local newspaper reporting a change to supermarket opening hours. When Martin Forde KC finally reported in July last year, not only did the occasion go unremarked again, the Labour leadership chose to bury it. Because it did not fit their narrative.

What happened next? As part of the Al-Jazeera Labour Files series, they spoke to Forde himself. In the report below, Forde said he has not received any communication from the party since it was published. There was only one media inquiry, which was quickly nixed. There was some interest from the BBC though - it and Panorama's John Ware got shirty over the characterisation of that episode as "misleading". Did they think a senior barrister didn't know anything about libel law?

Enough preamble from me, just watch.

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

The Economics of a Depleted State

If you take what Jeremy Hunt says as good coin, his statement earlier today was a "growth budget", or a "back to work budget". It was neither of these things. It was just the same tired, declinist tune we've grown accustomed to under Rishi Sunak. It gives off the pretence of doing something, but in the end it doesn't do anything.

There were three big eye catchers which, on closer examination, amounted to not very much. On energy bills, the good news is we're keeping the energy price cap at £2,500. The bad news is that the government are doing nothing to stop the scheduled unit price increase in April. The seemingly most helpful announcement - the extension of free 30 hours of child care for the under-fives - looks really good on the surface. Except its introduction is going to be staggered, and so there's every chance Godot could turn up before the policy is implemented. If that wasn't bad enough, the Chancellor simply assumes there are enough nursery places for every child. In fact, there has been a decline in provision over the last three years and the money the government is making available is not sufficient to fund the staff required to meet demand. Indeed, Hunt recognises this himself. Which is why the number of children nursery staff can supervise under the regulations has been increased from four to five.

The final big policy piece was Hunt's fiddling with pension entitlements. Or rather the big subsidy he's handed to those on high salaries. Apparently, the over 50s are going to be tempted back into the workforce by scrapping the tax cap on pension pots, as well as increasing the threshold at which tax kicks in on payments into pensions. This rises from £40k to £60k. That's definitely going to bring back the hundreds of thousands of essential workers the Tories and their supporters applauded in 2020, and have since been variously rewarded with 1% pay rises and the worst cost of living crisis since the 1970s. He's having a laugh. It's a pill to sugar coat the lowering of 45p threshold from £150k to £125k, a position forced on the Tories in part by their last attempt at a bold budget, and the growing public intolerance toward those troughing while everyone else is making sacrifices.

Hunt included a sop to Time Gentlemen, Please-type landlords with the cringe-worthy "Brexit Pubs Guarantee": a freeze on draft ale duties. Car owners saw fuel duty frozen again for the 13th year on the trot, and a modest fund set aside to help leisure centres and swimming pools stay open. With 7,200 leisure centres and over 3,000 swimming pools that money is not going very far.

And that was it. This budget designed to get Britain off its arse and firing on all cylinders was just vapours. No money for fixing the decrepit state of the state, nothing to help people with the Tories' inflation crisis, absolutely no hope for a better life. Some commentators have speculated this is the "boring" budget before Hunt throws out the bribes in next year's pre-election budget. No jam today means the jam tomorrow of mega tax cuts. The problem with tax cuts when what people need is money in their pockets, is for most they are a marginal benefit. Unless they're VAT cuts, they always benefit the wealthiest the most. Which is why Hunt is likely to appease the Tories' tax rebels eventually, but you can forget about them ever being a vote winner.

In all, this was an eyes-down-seeking-fag-butts budget, the very epitome of the Tory effort to keep expectations low and minimise the scope of politics. Hunt did stabilise the Liz Truss "situation", but he's content to maintain the stagnation. As long as the government keeps resisting pressure on public sector pay, ensures the wage relation is tickety boo, and the profits are flowing, growth - which was unsupported by any new announcement - is simply a nice-to-have.

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Tuesday, 14 March 2023

Five Lineker Takeaways

And so the BBC caved, offering Gary Linker his Match of the Day gig back and has promised to review its guidelines on impartiality. It also acknowledged they haven't always been consistently applied in the past. Are there any takeways from this affair?

1. The BBC is sensitive to criticisms that point out the cosy relationship between senior management, the chair, and the Tory party itself. The round robin letter written by rent-a-gob Tory MPs and Lords only drew more attention to the connections, and backfired. As such the hypocrisy, nay generosity afforded right wing celebrities and political commentators versus the BBC's overreaction to criticism of the government was thrown into sharp relief.

2. It is a defeat for the Tories. And they know it, hence why we have dim bulbs like the honourable member for the Vale of Glamorgan complaining that the BBC let itself get "pushed around by a privileged and overpaid elite". Alan Cairns presumably had no problem with the pressure his handsomely remunerated colleagues crudely brought to bear. It reminds them that the country is moving away from them, and their time at the top is coming to a close. They're also unused to such a concerted outburst of opposition from the liberal/centrist establishment, and are concerned that their victory in this culture war skirmish has put them on the backfoot.

3. They needn't be worried. Lineker's criticism of the Tories' Illegal Migration Bill has segued the focus away from refugees to a free speech/BBC impartiality issue. Even when Labour eventually followed public opinion, it was to talk about the hash the BBC made of the issue. Keir Starmer criticised the BBC's Chair, calling Richard Sharp's position "increasingly untenable" but accidentally on purpose forgot what got Lineker into hot water in the first place. This "win" for the "liberal left" has not challenged how refugees are framed in the British media, nor are Labour interested in challenging it. They want refugees to remain a "problem" for their own reasons.

4. While it was right for the left to stand with Lineker despite the less than obliging comments he made about Jeremy Corbyn in the past, we have to think about our own impact on the course of events. It was primarily left wingers, unbidden and uncoordinated, that kicked up a fuss on social media and helped frame subsequent media coverage of the sacking. Remember, while Twitter is not the British public is it the place where media elites, politics watchers, and politicians ike to congregate. What happens on Twitter, therefore, does not stay on Twitter. If an issue excites and persists, it will get reflected in broadcast and press output. Obviously, more is owed to the adverse coverage and the complete collapse of BBC football programming, but the left deserves its due.

5. There would never be any reciprocation though. For the left to force such a climbdown by itself, it has to command greater social weight. Perhaps we're not that far off.

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Friday, 10 March 2023

Gary Lineker Vs the BBC

From the Queen Mother of football to woke Anti-Christ, the weekly hate has settled on Gary Lineker for not playing by the establishment's rules. Tory politicians, right wing commentators, and the Conservative press have called for his head for likening the government's anti-immigration bill to the rhetoric you might expect from 1930's Germany. When people trafficked to the UK via small boats in the Channel are set to be criminalised, the comparison is neither crass nor far-fetched. In true fashion, the BBC relented to the pressure and said Lineker had "stepped back" from Match of the Day. He denied any such thing, and his co-presenters - Ian Wright and Alan Shearer - announced they would be walking out in solidarity. Immediately, in its clumsy stupidity the BBC's Tory management have created a cause celebre and shone a spotlight on its much vaunted "impartiality".

We don't need to recall the most egregious examples. They're readily found on your social media outlet of choice. But they all follow a distinct pattern. Right wing "celebrities" and "stars", like Alan Sugar and Andrew Neil, copped nothing but acquiescence from the BBC when they were letting the world know their very important opinions. Even Lineker himself got a pass when, in April 2017, he tweeted "bin Corbyn". It's almost as if impartiality and balance at the BBC was and is a complete fiction, as long as it's tilted toward the right.

There is something different about the Lineker sacking. With sport stars voicing support, celebs having a go, and prominent ex-BBC staff putting the boot in, it seems we're at something of a moment. Even Labour reversed the mid-week "it's a matter for the BBC" line and has said the "BBC’s cowardly decision to take Lineker off air is an assault on free speech in face of political pressure. Tory politicians lobbying to get people sacked for disagreeing w govt policies should be laughed at, not pandered to. BBC should rethink decision”.

As argued here many times, the BBC has always been a defender and a champion of establishment politics. When the Labour left were a threat, it was only too happy to join in the charge by running anti-Corbyn material morning, noon, and night. Meanwhile, it indulged the populist turn in right wing politics. It not just enabled the likes of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, but has happily promoted back bench Tory horrors these last 13 years. Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg didn't get their prominence because of loyalty to Johnson, it was because the BBC boosted and authenticated them. But more than this, the BBC has accepted whatever rubbish the right wing press define as news as the news. Consider the moment we're in. Another energy price hike due, despite the falling wholesale cost of gas, the NHS on its knees, the cost of living making life a misery everywhere, and what we get are the BBC bulletins faithfully parroting Tory crock about refugees crossing the English Channel.

How has this happened? The merry-go-round between senior BBC staff and the Tory party's associates do play a role. The most obvious being the BBC's Chair, Richard Sharp, as a Tory donor and facilitator of Johnson's spendthrift lifestyle. These two happenstances and his appointment to the position being entirely coincidental, of course. And we have to mention John McAndrew, head of programming at the ever-so-successful GB News, migrating over to the BBC as Director of News. Never has the top of the BBC been so nakedly partisan. But this is rather effect than cause, a culmination. One of the ironies is the men leading the counter-charge against Lineker's effective sacking is Alastair Campbell, whose attacks on the BBC as Tony Blair's top spinner put the corporation on its current slavish trajectory.

Readers with long memories will recall how Downing Street went to war against the BBC in 2003 after Andrew Gilligan alleged the then government had "sexed up" its dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which subsequently created quite a stir. After threats, the BBC let Gilligan go and prostrated itself before Blair and Campbell. Never as fearless nor as independent as advertised, the BBC did surrender a degree of editorial independence and started working towards the government. I.e. Ensuring its reporting never crossed the line to challenge official narratives directly, and merely repeating critical stories when they had first got a proper trailing in the Tory press. It was a period of accommodation to those who held all the power, bringing its editorial practices in line with the cosy relationships its politics journalists had long forged with New Labour figures. When the Tories came to office, what was now customary continued. Ingratiating itself to the new government, taking its lead from the right wing press, and happily doing the spade work of framing their austerity politics in commonsensical/there is no alternative terms is what the BBC then went and did. With the right in government, they accommodated and, indeed, went out its way to appease the Tories lest they chop down the licence fee or privatise/sell off bits of the corporation. Which the Tories did anyway. Hence the easy ride given to right wing populism, and the rough treatment doled out to Corbyn and the left.

Given the BBC's capture by a Tory cabal, the Lineker nonsense and its refusal to screen a David Attenborough documentary because of his sharply critical remarks demonstrates how far this accommodation to those with power has gone, and out of step the BBC is with the changing political situation. Given his authoritarian character, it's unlikely a Keir Starmer government would stand for such an overtly Tory BBC. They would expect it to start working toward its priorities, and framing political issues in the way they, and not the dying right wing press, would frame them. In this the BBC is an outlier, and why there is an establishment-based push back. The problem is the BBC is not being run by people with its institutional interests at heart, and they care nothing for its health in the time before the next election, let alone afterwards.

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Wednesday, 8 March 2023

Cultivating Labour's Scapegoats

No one wants people to cross the Channel in dinghies and small boats. Except perhaps the Tories, because they think it plays to their strengths. No one should have to resort risking life and limb and brave the busiest shipping lane in the world in the flimsiest of craft. As a minimum, there should be an asylum processing centre in Calais and a multiplication of safe routes to the UK. None of this we'll-give-Lebanon-a-pittance-to-support-Syrian-refugees nonsense, which is just a Tory body swerve to evade our treaty obligations. That people actually want to come to this rainy grey island is something worth celebrating.

Turning to Prime Minister's Questions this Wednesday, given Rishi Sunak's song and dance about his Illegal Migration Bill Keir Starmer used all his five questions to rubbish the Tories' record on asylum. He was in his element. The government had made promises about getting numbers down, applications processed, and people deported. Another symptom of state dilapidation and failure. But these were, as with so much of Starmer's critique, process criticisms. It fell to SNP Commons leader Stephen Flynn to attack the Tories on the Kafkaesque immorality of their proposed laws.

Starmer's attack on Sunak's record was foreshadowed in Labour's social media blitz on Monday. Memeable content like this shared by Stephen Kinnock stresses the record numbers of crossings and the money it's costing to put people up in hotels. Who needs Jonathan Gullis and the co-called "Patriotic Alternative" when the Labour Party is lamenting the expenditure of miniscule sums? None of this is a bolt from the blue. Throughout Covid, throughout the Johnson years, and even now with the Tories on their knees, Keir Starmer-flavoured Labourism fights shy of challenging the political consensus. More authoritarianism, good. Businesses fleecing the public sector, also good. Treating refugees as unpeople that need deterring from coming to Britain, yes, Starmer is on board with that too.

Why? "Racism" as an explanation isn't really satisfying. They can turn it off and on if occasion demands. Neither is chasing the "social conservatives" in the seats Labour lost in 2019. By default, Labour is currently the recipient of a powerful electoral coalition of anti-Tory sentiment it has done little to cohere or win. I suppose the argument that going on cost while refusing to contest the sewer politics of the Tories might be explained as shoring up support among tabloid-reading pensioners worried their place in the Post Office queue will be usurped by Iranians. I can imagine the shadcab away days nodding away at the PowerPoints making these points. Labour has "earned permission" from these voters to "get a hearing", and conceding their "real concerns" means the party is on its way to "sealing the deal". Yes, but entirely unnecessary. The cost of living crisis is doing more for Labour's vote than anything else.

We therefore have to consider the consequences of Starmer's refusal to venture into moral criticisms. Taking on the arguments politically instead of as a manager and a bureaucrat means telling people with unfounded prejudices and racist attitudes that they're wrong. Which is something the Labour right are never willing to do, unless the public are opposed to a war or, as per more recently, want the nationalisation of water and energy. Offering political leadership is hard. It's much easier to surf the wave of reactionary public opinion than challenge it, because the press are on side. And second, bringing morality into politics hamstrings future action. Treating refugees like human beings now hampers Labour's room for manoeuvre later. Especially when the very right wing Yvette Cooper will be responsible for asylum after the next election.

And there's another thing. Right wing politics has to have its scapegoats. This was as true of the New Labour years as any Conservative government before it and since. Young people, Muslims, benefits cheats, and refugees each took their turn in the Blair years to star as monster-of-the-week. We can see from the emerging Starmerist politics that young people are going to again be in Labour's sights with the proposed son-of-ASBOs schemes. And, naturally, keeping refugees in play as a political football might prove just as useful to Starmer's authoritarian politics as it has done for Sunak's authoritarian politics. In other words, any moral or political criticism the Labour leader makes of the Tories, if he should - my word - defend refugees from the calumny heaped on them, Starmer would draw some of the strength from attempts his government makes to peddle these poisonous politics. And so he doesn't. Choosing to play the establishment politics game incentivises against it.

This is how it's going to be between now and the next election. The Tories will grand stand, and all Starmer and Cooper will do is quote back at them the falling number of deportations. What a grim, ghastly spectacle we have to look forward to.

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Solidarity with Apsana Begum

On International Women's Day, there's a sort-of tradition around these parts to celebrate the women who've contributed to our movement. This year, we visit the appalling way Apsana Begum has been treated by the Labour Party. The "feminist" usual suspects in the PLP are conspicuously absent with their solidarity, and Keir Starmer and the apparatus have closed their eyes and ears to the systematic abuse Apsana has faced. The Labour leadership are against racism, just not as against it where Muslim women are concerned. Therefore, why not mark this International Women's Day by listening to Apsana's story and sharing it with others. As we've seen, bad behaviour gets a pass in the Labour Party because often there's little push back. So let's start pushing.

Tuesday, 7 March 2023

Stop the Boats to Win More Votes

Who is Rishi Sunak trying to impress with the Tories' Stop-the-boats-to-win-more-votes campaign? Their Illegal Migration Bill which, by the government's own admission, "stretches the law", is a classic example of distractionism. Economy in the toilet? Cost of living spiralling out of control? Look over there at the wretched of the earth trying to reach these shores on small boats. A coincidence that the Tories are going after a group of powerless people when everything else is going wrong for them? Of course not. There's no such thing in politics.

This isn't all that's happening. Sunak's bill, which he ludicrously and dishonestly describes as "fair", is one of the cruellest pieces of legislation tabled by any government in the last 30 years. Ignoring how there are no safe, legal routes for refugees to come to the UK, because the Tories shut them all down, the bill says people trafficked here illegally - the very definition of trafficking - will not gain access to modern slavery protections. Refugees are effectively denied the protection of the law within the first 28 days of their arrival. Illegal arrivals will be packed off to Rwanda or other "safe" countries, and asylum claims will get heard remotely only after their removal. Even Suella Braverman acknowledges there's more than a fifty-fifty chance the bill's provisions fall foul of the UK's treaty obligations, and Sunak says he's "up for the fight" to get the legislation enacted and working.

To their minds, it's a stroke of political genius. They don't actually care whether the policy works or not. They need to be seen battling the do-gooding blob of the all-powerful refugee lobby. "Protecting" Britain's borders was the main reason why Leave voters supported Brexit, so the thinking goes that acting beastly toward asylum seekers and having liberal lefty lawyers and campaigners up in arms will recall memories of hardcore remainers derailing Brexit's passage through the Commons. By placing small boats at the top of the government's priorities, the ensuing parliamentary theatre is designed to bubble up the mass resentment that served the Tories well in 2019.

But it's based on two fundamental misrecognitions. There is a mass market for cruelty and racism in this country, but it's not as broad as the Tories - and most of the establishment - supposes. YouGov found that 50% of voters support banning small boat arrivals from the UK, but that doesn't necessarily mean they also endorse the cruel and unusual treatment the Tories want to mete out. Nor that it's at the top of their priority list. Following what happened in September, most of the public have more pressing concerns. If the Tories aren't going to tackle the cost of living, then most people, including those who spent the last decade voting for them, won't have their heads turned by National Front-style posturing.

The second mistake is that the whole affair will make the Tories look good. The small boats aren't going to stop coming, regardless of how many times you threaten to break the Refugee Convention in an exclusive Sun interview. Are the Tories so far gone that they think talking tough and then being seen to fail to prevent the Channel crossings is going to make them look like a competent and strong government? Like other recent Sunak moves, it smacks of utter desperation. That would be all very well if their anti-refugee policy was a pure car crash with ministerial positions and political careers the only victims, but for the sake of grubby headlines in a dying right wing press and more (anticipated) racist votes, the lives of refugees are going to be made more miserable and more dangerous.

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Monday, 6 March 2023

A Bureaucrat First and Foremost

We saw the other day their ham-fisted efforts and trying to make political capital from Keir Starmer's appointment of Sue Gray as his new Chief of Staff. The Tory little helpers over at Guido splashed on Jacob Rees-Mogg referring to Gray as a "friend of the socialists" in the Commons, and others have gone with how her son, Liam Conlon, chairs the Labour Irish organisation. Devastating attacks, I'm sure you'll agree. But does is this the usual Westminster pantomime, or is it something worth paying attention to?

As noted on Friday, Gray is absolutely ideal for the Starmerist project. When he was Director of Public Prosecutions, he diligently acquitted his role and served the Coalition government well. As Oliver Eagleton painstakingly outlined in The Starmer Project, he didn't even have to be told by the Tories what to do. He leant into their objectives as an "enterprising" civil servant - the very sort Michael Gove wanted to encourage. During the 2011 London riots, on his initiative Starmer ran the courts around the clock to lock people up. It was Starmer who voluntarily committed the DPP to pursuing the maximum penalties possible against social security "cheats". And it was Starmer who took the DPP global, offering all kinds of unsavoury regimes and authoritarian governments the stamp of British probity on their justice systems. Since becoming the Labour leader, he's treated the party just like a state bureaucracy, even to the point of getting the management consultants in to advise on electoral strategy, branding, and internal party organisation.

Starmer noted in his car crash LBC interview, Gray was someone he'd tete tete with at receptions and the like before he became an honourable member. He was impressed by her work and professional-mindedness. In the Cabinet Office, where the work was especially sensitive and often politically embarrassing, Starmer was impressed by her discretion and, crucially, ability to walk the delicate tight rope of managing the tensions while ensuring the smooth running of the executive. It's the kind of skill set a bureaucratic imaginary can appreciate. And for Starmer's core support, which is the small but politically influential layers of the senior civil service, academia, broadcast media, other senior public servants (police, prison governors), and politicians themselves, the move to recruit Gray is as welcome as it was audacious. The vibes are perfect. Gray is one of them, Starmer is one of them, and her appointment is confirming that Starmer means business. And business here means, for want of a better phrase, the take over of the state by the state. Hence his politics is an exercise in modernisation. So much for Labour as a moral crusade.

But for "Mr Rules", there was obvious discomfiture when it came to answering elementary questions about Gray's appointment. Here the Tories have a point, even if they've shown scant respect for conventions and codes in the recent past. The rules are clear in that someone in Gray's position has to report communication with opposition politicians to the relevant minister. If Gray had done this with Starmer's approach, then that would be out and about in the columns, talking points, and social media threads already. Starmer also knows the rules and knows there was an "oversight". And so on this, as distasteful as it is, the Tories have him bang to rights. Starmer's reaction is what happens when someone gets found out: a disassembling and, as per Monday morning's LBC broadcast, the refusal to answer Nick Ferrari's reasonable question about when Starmer and Gray first spoke about the Chief of Staff job. Repeating "there's nothing improper here" didn't sound particularly convincing. Like all senior bureaucrats who know best, Starmer feels the rules don't apply to him and he has a certain dispensation. But, unlike Boris Johnson, he isn't daft enough to try the innocent face routine. Awkward evasion, which has worked before, works to move the subject on. As well as an assumption that most aren't watching, don't care for this political theatre, and have more pressing concerns.

Here is Starmer's problem. He has a habit of being economical with the truth, to put it mildly. He's far from alone in this where the upper reaches of the Labour Party are concerned, but there's only so much the media and, by extension, the public will swallow. His grey man with a grey personality routine, the being boring shtick can only carry him so far. And this dishonesty is a massive problem when a core objective of the modernisation project is the restoration of trust in state institutions. The duplicity with which he's treated the left, his seeming amnesia as de facto head of the second referendum campaign, and the evasions over Gray's appointment don't matter much now, but over time they will be added to. Every time he's dishonest, he's giving the Tories and their press more and more chisels to chip at the edifice he's trying to construct. My advice would be to stop doing stuff corrosive of political culture and democratic norms if he wants to avoid this difficulties in the future, but Starmer won't. He is a bureaucrat first and foremost.

Sunday, 5 March 2023

Gala - Freed from Desire

Book working and packing, today. Packing and book working. Time enough to get the newsletter done, but not for something more substantial. In lieu of anything else, try this eurodance monster on for size.

Friday, 3 March 2023

The Nifty Shade of Gray

The Privileges Committee findings into Boris Johnson's conduct during partygate must have sat in Labour's media grid for a while. Quite why Keir Starmer chose yesterday to confirm that he'd offered Sue Gray, who oversaw the initial inquiry into the affair, a job as his chief of staff is quite the head scratcher. For a brief moment on Friday morning, the news allowed the Tory press to put a lot of flak into the air. Gray's report was "tainted". Gray was a Labour Party stooge all along. Gray had stitched Johnson like a kipper. Yadda yadda, snore snore. Thankfully, we don't need whingeing Tories to tell us what Gray said back then. Her report is freely available. And for those who care to look, what we find is a circumspect piece of work. She blamed a "drinking culture" for what happened during the darkest days of Covid, for which no one was responsible. Stories of parties in the Downing Street flat were passed over in silence, and Johnson didn't receive so much as a tap on the wrist. The discretion her report displayed allowed Johnson to cling on for a few months more. She had the opportunity to finish him, but didn't.

It's this that attracts Starmer. As a "respected" senior civil servant, Gray would be more than capable of prepping shadow cabinet members and their spads for government. But more than that she respects state authority. Given the chance to plunge the knife into the most ridiculous, reckless Prime Minister this country has ever seen (that was until his successor came along), she didn't. The proprietaries and conventions of the government/civil service relationship mattered more, and that's certainly something Starmer can respect. Especially when his political project begins and ends with the the modernisation of the state.

Still, letting Gray's appointment slip just as the Privileges Committee were about to hammer Johnson is another case of bad timing. Readers might recall that happy time a year ago when partygate was all the rage. Speculation was rife about backbench letters flying into Graham Brady's PO Box. Johnson was wounded and he might have been put out of his misery. And then Starmer welcomed Christian Wakeford into the fold. He might have held out a couple of weeks to make sure the infighting was as bloody as possible, but instead it reminded the Tories that they were behind in the polls and Johnson was the best they got. There were even reports of MPs reaching into the 1922 Committee's mailbag to pull their letters. Creating an unnecessary distraction likely to backfire and help get your opponents off the hook? It's happened twice now, so something to watch out for as Starmer approaches and when he enters Downing Street.

Luck was on Labour's side this time. The Tories crying over Gray's new job were all haplessly compromised by singing her praises and telling everyone in the media how respected and impartial she was at the time. And, in the end, shouting about bias didn't stop the damaging findings propagating into the wild. At a party to see off a staff member, Johnson quipped this was "probably the most unsocially distanced gathering in the UK right now." Johnson was a regular as "wine and cheese Fridays". New photos of Johnson appeared with champagne stacked on the table, and transcripts of Number 10 spinners discussing how to kill stories about the "PM having a piss up". And in parliamentary, almost Delphic language the committee concludes Johnson may have misled Parliament on more than one occasion. Do you think? Are we expected to believe his denials that he knew anything about parties when, time and again, he was getting stuck into festivities?

How has Johnson responded to the committee? With as much chutzpah as he can muster. He said he didn't intend to mislead the Commons, was not aware he was breaking any rules, and that the investigation had not produced any evidence to suggest otherwise. If you're caught red handed, why not style it out? It worked the first time for Johnson, and he would have got away with it had he handled the Christopher Pincher case differently. Johnson is surely hoping Tories on the committee will see him evade the indignity of a suspension recommendation and with it a possible by-election. Those in the associations, who've been flexing their muscles and deselecting MPs of late, might focus their minds towards leniency. Johnson has admitted his time in front-line politics are over, but his fans (and Nadine Dorries) are hoping otherwise.

Which brings us to another delicious dilemma for Rishi Sunak. The last time the suspension of a Tory MP came before the Commons, it cause a a spot of bother and a famous by-election loss. With Johnson and his egregious rule breaking, Sunak can whip to protect him and cop a load of electoral and reputational damage, or hang him out to dry and brace the Tories for civil war. Starting the week with a triumph, the Tories finish with the embarrassment of Matt Hancock's WhatsApp leaks and Johnson's blatant lying. With friends like these, does Sunak need any more enemies?

Thursday, 2 March 2023

Labour's Cost-Free Stitch-Ups

It's alive! It's alive! Following the exclusion of local favourite Greg Marshall from the Broxtowe parliamentary shortlist, the trade union movement have finally woken up. East Mids Unison region have asked the NEC to revisit the decision, as has ASLEF. The latter's general secretary is Mick Whelan, who happens to be the chair of TULO. This suggests more than aggrieved activists are getting irked by the right wing veto on would-be candidates whose face doesn't fit.

The right have got away with their shameless stitching for so long because they can. I doubt Keir Starmer scrutinises every application. He's content to leave matters to his team of fixers. Charged with excluding candidates who could embarrass the party, as factional warriors to their core that means anyone who utters the S word and means it. Opposition to Britain's current and future military adventures also qualifies, as does a record of protest against its allies. A reputation as a left wing councillor or being seen too close to trade unions fits the exclusionary template too. And not facing any push back, they've been fearless in who they shaft. After dispatching Sam Tarry without too much difficulty, they carried on showing their contempt for Angela Rayner's writ and carried on as if she wasn't Labour's deputy leader. And so the Chair of the North West party was barred from standing. It's almost as if some in Starmer's circle are more interested in avenging themselves for how Rayner made their boss look like an idiot than selecting quality candidates rooted in their communities.

Throughout, the "Starmerites" have got away with their grubby war on the left. No one in the press is bothered, bar the few voices of the left who've got a column. The news bulletins aren't going to scrutinise the stitch ups hatched over WhatsApp. And Newsnight won't be running a feature on the blatant factional abuse of process. For one, because most of these people have no time for the left, except save as a token voice from time-to-time. And second, they know Starmer's going to win the next election. Breaking future politics stories and getting the inside track depends on sucking up to the Shadow Cabinet now. The only way the stitchers will be reigned in is by increasing the costs of stitching up. The complaining of two unions covers for movements behind the scene, and they should not be afraid of throwing their weight around lest it embarrass the leader. It's at his behest the selections are getting nobbled, and therefore Starmer's responsibility if the party cops any heat from it.

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Wednesday, 1 March 2023

Five Most Popular Posts in February

Time to separate the hotties from the notties. What did the business last month?

1. The Rise of Lee Anderson
2. White Riot
3. What Might a Keir Starmer Government Look Like?
4. The Delusion is Strong With This One
5. The Tory Corporation Tax Fantasy

I had an inkling Lee Anderson would be up there. Asked at the weekend by a Tory paper if anyone in the party has tried reigning him in since his elevation to Tory vice chair, he said the party keeps telling him to carry on saying what he's saying. It's almost as if my analysis of his promotion is right on the money. Coming in second was how mainstream politics, particularly Tory rhetoric, prepared the ground for the anti-refugee "protests" in Knowsley. Next up was my dip into the scrying pool to see what Keir Starmer has in store for us when he receives the keys to Number 10. Long and short of it? Some reform and a lot of authoritarianism. With Liz Truss inflicting her sort-of-comeback on us in February, it would have been rude not to reflect on her 4,000 word apologia that apologised for nothing. And coming in at the bottom of the tops was the simmering rebellion on the backbenches over Corporation Tax. We'll see if Rishi Sunak's resolution of the Northern Ireland Protocol and its hailing by former Brexit ultras will dampen the revolting mood.

A couple of soaks for the second chance saloon this month. The new edition of the book merits a mention because it's my blog and I'll plug if I want to. I've very nearly finished the first draft of the revisions. Just got to add a bit to the Sunak bit because news, write in something I omitted from post-2019 Boris Johnson section, and make sure it all knits together. And then off to the editorial office it goes and hoping Lord Verso isn't mad about my tardiness. And its plus one at the bar is ... Disraeli's Sybil. An excellent novel and the promulgation of a conservative philosophy no Tory politician has practiced for over 40 years. But on the plus side, it has minded me to write more about books.

And there we are for the month of February. No idea what March will bring, except a long overdue house move. We await the hand the fates will deal us. If you've made it this far, chances are you're a regular reader so many thanks for sticking with the blog. Don't forget to follow the free weekly newsletter, and if you like what I do (and you're not skint), you can help support the blog via the unobtrusive Patreon link that-a-way >>>>. Following me on Twitter and Facebook are cost-free ways of showing your backing for this corner of the internet.

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Monday, 27 February 2023

The Triumph Before the Tragedy

Rishi Sunak is probably the most politically flat-footed Prime Minister since ... Liz Truss. But not everything has to be 4D chess. Simple crudity can and does work. In selling his Northern Ireland Brexit deal, there were two very clumsy, clod-hopping moves that made Gordon Brown look the picture of subtlety. We had Sunak's address in the Commons this evening. Showing an uncharacteristic appreciation of his backbenchers and their peccadilloes, he sold his deal with the EU as an exercise in cutting red tape. The successful conclusion of the negotiations, he said, deleted 1,700 pages of EU law. That sounds good to them, and looks good if you want to style out the rest of this calamitous Tory government as something of a "reformer" who doused hundreds and hundreds of regulations in petrol.

The second was a bit too much on the nose, even for Sunak. We noted yesterday the aborted weekend meeting between the King and EU president Ursula von der Leyen, and how Brexiteers and the DUP cried themselves a river over it. Associating the King with the deal was an obvious attempt at emotional blackmail against two political tendencies who define themselves in relation to the Crown. It was therefore not enough for the tea and tiffin to actually go ahead this Monday afternoon. To almost dare them to vote against the deal it has now been christened the 'Windsor Framework'.

What a clunker of a strategy, but it seems to have worked. Most of the Brexity voices have made emollient noises, with the ERG promising to look carefully at the text of the deal. Even the DUP aren't united in intransigence. Boris Johnson, who kept the running sore of the Northern Ireland Protocol open purely for political posturing purposes has kept a low profile and chose to stay away from the Commons. He's decided not to lead an assault on the deal. With Labour and the Liberal Democrats, and perhaps the SNP all backing the Prime Minister, the Tory right, who've been flexing of late might not choose this as their hill to stand on either. Sunak, therefore, has the first genuine triumph of his premiership. And one that, ultimately, will do nothing to save his government.

Sunday, 26 February 2023

Brexit Vs the Northern Ireland Protocol

Towards the end of his time as Prince of Wales, the King said he would be politically impartial and aloof as per convention when he became monarch. More than a few Westminster eyebrows were raised when he was scheduled to meet EU president Ursula von der Leyen this weekend. Because coincidences don't happen in politics, several Brexiteers were quick to cry foul. According to the Daily Mail, the DUP and Jacob Rees-Mogg protested the King's meeting at the juncture of advanced talks between the UK and the EU set on resolving the Northern Ireland Protocol quagmire. They're right to have picked up something fishy. With all the subtlety of a brick through a constituency office window, facing opposition from his backbenches Rishi Sunak knows associating the King with whatever deal they cook up will make it harder for the Brexit ultras and DUP to vote against.

Nevertheless, news of advanced talks and the seeming likelihood of a resolution marks a clean break with Boris Johnson's handling of the mess. For starters, he was primarily responsible for it. Recalling the turbulent parliamentary year of 2019, after making a song and dance about Theresa May's efforts to secure a deal with the EU, Johnson was able to cobble something together that bore more than a passing resemblance to the document he resigned from May's cabinet over. The UK would leave the EU's customs area in its entirety, except the small print said that while an EU/UK land border lies along the line between the north and the Republic for the purposes of the deal it would move into the Irish Sea. This customs frontier meant goods from the UK mainland passing into the North would be liable for customs charges if they carried a risk of heading south. Bear in mind this deal was supposed to be an insurance policy, the terms of which the UK and EU would default to if a proper trade deal between the two was not secured. In typical slapdash fashion, Johnson didn't care about the detail of the deal. It was done, he could slap "oven ready" on it, and worry about it after winning a general election.

31st January, 2020 comes and we're outside the EU. The UK immediately moves into the transitional period where little to nothing changes. It's the holding pattern until a new trading partnership is negotiated. However, in February the Tories signalled they would be approaching the coming negotiations as a zero sum game. Having seen how Brexit brinkmanship benefited their electoral fortunes, talking up the talks as a battle of plucky Britain versus the combined might of Europe was yet more cynical games playing. While outlines of a draft trade deal were quick to emerge, by the summer talks had stalled and the UK was threatening to walk away if the EU persisted with the Northern Ireland Protocol. Indeed, the government announced it was introducing a UK internal markets bill which, while sounding dry on the surface, amounted to unilaterally altering the withdrawal agreement. It conceded it was preparing to break the law in a "very specific and limited way". This was the usual Johnson theatre, and therefore Downing Street greeted the election of Joe Biden with some dismay. Johnson believed the promise of a quick trade deal with the United States would give him leverage in the talks, and that was on the cards if Donald Trump had won re-election. Furthermore, given the pro-Irish component of American politics, Johnson was aware brinkmanship and threats towards Ireland were no longer consequence-free.

The talks were not looking good, and in December Johnson was talking about an Australian as opposed to a Canadian-style relationship with the EU. I.e. A euphemism for a no-deal scenario. Yet a deal was finally struck on Christmas Eve. It was a poor agreement that erected more bureaucracy, and particularly hammered the UK's efforts at selling services into the EU. A disaster considering the sector comprised 80% of GDP. The language about regulatory divergence covered for the fact £650bn of annual trade with the EU was bound up with conforming to its standards. As far as Northern Ireland was concerned, the new trade deal looked an awful lot like the withdrawal agreement. The UK still could not freely sell goods into one part of its territory, and the new rules governing UK/EU trade solidified it. Disruptions to the flow of goods under this arrangement were described by Johnson as "teething troubles", and the long and interminable negotiations about the implementation of the Protocol started in earnest after it came into force. Matters weren't helped by the DUP and their unwillingness to make it work. They boycotted talks, attempted to use the courts to block the Protocol, and shrugged their shoulders as loyalist areas erupted with violence. The resignation of Arlene Foster and her replacement by Edwin Poots gets off to a great start as he threatens to suspend checks on goods coming from the UK, making the agreement unworkable. This proved to be an empty threat as within two months of Foster's departure he was gone.

For the remainder of the year, EU threats of legal action and Downing Street threats of unilateral action meant the unsteady status quo persisted. Fast forward to the Assembly elections, and because of Northern Ireland's peculiar status its economy was actually outperforming the rest of the UK. Johnson's hasty approach to deal making was laying the material basis for unification, and loyalism was stuck on an existential cliff's edge. Remaining in the UK is its raison d'etre, but how can it retain mass support if loyalty to king and country means making its community poorer? Small wonder they fractured and we're in the absurd situation of having Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill in position as First Minister-in-waiting. As far as Johnson was concerned, the moment demanded more brinkmanship and on 13th June the government published its Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which in UK law would grant ministers powers to set aside the treaty and implement new rules. Never mind this would contravene international law, jeopardise trade with the EU, and undermine the UK's ability to sign future deals with other countries. The passing of the Bill into the committee stage saw the EU begin legal proceedings. But with the departure of Johnson, things start cooling down. When Liz Truss enters office she says she looks forward to a reset of UK-Ireland relations. This carries on when Sunak takes over, and slow progress turns into real progress, to the point where we are today with resolution in sight.

What the Brexit ultras and the DUP fear, and what is likely to be struck with the EU, is some sort of confirmation of the status quo. A characteristic Johnsonian fudge has now governed UK trade into Northern Ireland for two years, and the relatively light touch controls have suited both sides of the border ensuring the disruption of Brexit has been mitigated. Affirming what is with a new range of oversight mechanisms, scopes for further talks and so on, locks a part of the UK into the EU, which limits the prospects of regulatory divergence. It makes a nonsense of the entire Brexit prospectus and will underline the argument frequently made by the remain camp, of the UK's transition from a rule maker to a rule taker outside the EU. It will make the UK look weak, and where the responsibility for this state of affairs lies is very clear. And, like the DUP, the Brexiteers worry what it's doing to the union. For Johnson it's just another issue he can use to remind the media that he still exists and will do politics in between his busy, lucrative speaking schedule. But for Sunak, it would be a real coup. With nothing much going for the Tories in the polls, a victory for sensible briefcase Toryism might turn some floating voter heads - especially those who like their "grown ups". The problem he has if should he get this through, the right of the party are going to become even more ungovernable. Especially if it only passes the Commons with Labour votes. For once, Sunak is doing the right thing. And it could prematurely end his premiership.

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Saturday, 25 February 2023

Sybil, or The Two Nations

"I would like my portrait to depict me with pimples, warts and everything." These words uttered by the Lord Protector could equally apply to Sybil, or The Two Nations, the celebrated 1845 novel by (then) future Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. It's true this place has little time for Conservatism as a philosophy save its rhetorical commitment to pragmatism, but in its One Nation manifestations it still gets taken out for a tour around public discourse. Boris Johnson perhaps being the Tory leader who talks about it more than most. But in his hands it's meaningless piffle, a few leaves and garnish to the verbose word salad he serves up in his speeches. Yet Sybil, which is widely regarded as the inspiration for one nation conservatism (despite the phrase not appearing in its pages), isn't a paean to warm beer and maids riding in the mist. It is a warning.

Readers are more likely to be familiar with Engels's reporting in The Condition of the Working Class in England. Disraeli's fictionalisation, which was published in the same year, is no less sparing in his portrayal of the poverty and degradation of workers. Both men were as outraged. However, while Disraeli depicts the misery he also goes all out on the glamour. The early part of the book is littered with an enthusiastic description of the parliamentary shenanigans of 200 plus years ago, and the opulence of the gentry with their kinships and Austenian matchmaking. It's in stark contrast to the destitution and humiliation visited on the many, hence the two nations. In a conversation with Charles Egremont, the novel's old Etonian hero, it's put to him that,
Yes ... Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws. (Oxford edition, p.60)
Yet Disraeli never gets preachy. The titular Sybil is the daughter of Walter Gerard, a Chartist who goes on to play a leading role in the petitioning of parliament. For Gerard and other Chartist activists, Disraeli sympathetically and accurately narrates their complaints and demands, and shows an understanding of why the radical elements of the movement were driven to violence. Would you ever expect a 21st century Tory to show a similar understanding of the workers' plight today? When Gerard is arrested because the government believes the Chartist Convention is hatching a rising in London, Disraeli, to invert John Major's famous phrase, is interested in understanding a little more and condemning a little less.

Egremont, as the "spare" to the Marney family titles embodies the patricianism now associated with old-style Toryism. He goes out among the people in his district, and when he's "elected" to the Commons he uses his position to speak up for workers' grievances and presses for their inclusion in the commonwealth. During his travels, he meets with and strikes up a friendship with Gerard and, as per a couple more male characters, falls in love with Sybil. Disraeli describes her in possession of heart stopping beauty, which reflects the angelic innocence of her character. Having been brought up by nuns she spends much of her time at cloisters with a view to entering a convent, but shares her father's politics and sees herself as a daughter of labour. She too goes among the people and does charitable works. When the inevitable declaration of intent comes from Egremont, she rebuffs him because the gulf is too wide between them.

Sybil is not a story of love trumping class location, however. Sybil is somewhat removed from the social setting because of her religious affiliations. This affords her critical distance and she becomes distressed when she sees her father moving in a more radical direction. Her faith inclines Sybil to solidarity and taking up the lot of her own people, but not the violent prosecution of their claims. In this, her political journey is on a trajectory to meet Egremont's. But it's events and tragedy, not ethical commitments, that bring about their union.

Throughout the Chartist cause is pressured by radicalism, but we find extremism on the other side too. Egremont's elder brother, the Lord Marney has little time for the little people. They are slovenly, care-free and, in many ways, have it better than aristocrats like him who are responsible for running estates and attending the rounds of social functions. Poverty is a myth and simultaneously good for them, as extra money will only cause drunkenness, debauchery, and laziness. Disraeli also introduces us to the angry petit bourgeoisie. The Diggs', a father-and-son operation own a few fields and lord it over the local populace through their shop. While the men are down the pit, their wives and sometimes children are forced to humiliate themselves in the lines for their store. Joseph Diggs Jr is particularly brutal, enjoying his station as a tyrant over these women, insulting them, causing them to beg for credit, and jumping in among them with a belt and whip to thrash them. He's indifferent when he puts out the eye of a customer's baby. Ditto for when among them a young boy is found to have been crushed by the stampede away from his blows. The Diggs are not fully fleshed out by Disraeli, but serve as another aspect of the injustice that degrades the life of the poor.

Disraeli's lesson manifests in the rising towards the end. A mob is whipped up into a frenzy under the leadership of a corpulent bishop who styles himself the "Liberator". They rampage through the countryside with the intent of firing factories and farms where the general strike he called is not being observed. For example, the mob stop by the Diggs's shop where they're fired upon by Joseph jr armed with a blunderbuss. In retaliation, they set his building on fire and he's seen perishing in the flames clutching his ledger with the records of all his debtors. Later, at another factory the crowd are halted by an impassioned speech by Gerard, who had earned their respect for his Chartist work and serving time for the cause. He assured them the workers there were on strike, and diverted the mob to one of the nearby estates. The bishop fancies liberating the wine cellar of its contents and they make haste to the big house. It happens that Sybil is there and she and the resident family are terrorised as the mob storms the stairs, take the library, and force themselves into the cellar. Sybil escapes as Egremont and an attachment of yeomanry under his command arrive and drive off the mob. But not before fire consumes the house's lower reaches, and the bishop and his band of sodden lieutenants greet their demise in a haze of insensible drunkenness. Meanwhile, away from the scene the crowd are dispersing when they're attacked by Lord Marney's yeomanry. He fires and kills Gerard, who was merely present. Seeing their leader dead, the mob is reignited and they tear him off his horse and bludgeon him to death.

Months later with the dust settled, everything has come good. With his older brother dead and childless, Egremont inherits the title. And following the recovery of title deeds in one of the book's sub-plots, Sybil is declared blue-blooded and no longer has any hesitancy marrying her Etonian darling. A couple of Chartist allies of Gerard trade in their radicalism and become successful capitalists. Disraeli's message? Class division with its cruelties and inequalities can only lead to mutual ruin if not ameliorated. The deaths of Diggs, Lord Marney, and Gerard demonstrate the zero-sum nature of social conflict. Wise rulers and voices of moderation are not exciting, but they are the best bets for social peace. And when barriers from above and below are cleared, even the most resolute of radicals can become successful in conventional terms and achieve respectability. It's exclusion that breeds disaffection and rebellion. Disraeli here is anticipating, by 150 years, the New Labour discourse around inclusion and exclusion. A discourse that still dominates discussions about "social mobility" and "aspiration". Here, Disraeli is suggesting the war between above and below can be averted if common sense prevails - that legitimate grievances be dealt with, but within the bounds of a law that mutually protects the haves and the have nots.

As limited and as distorting of politics this is, if the Tories want to have a future beyond the catastrophe the polls are expecting, going back to Disraeli and heeding his warnings about stoking two nation politics is a necessity. But One Nation politics and meaning it appears well beyond the ken of today's Conservative Party, and that is why the fall, when it comes, will prove itself unsparing.

Friday, 24 February 2023

Local Council By-Elections February 2023

This month saw 26,947 votes cast in 14 local authority contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Eight council seats changed hands. For comparison with January's results, see here.

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/- Feb 22
Lib Dem

* There was one by-election in Scotland
** There were three by-elections in Wales
*** There was one Independent clash
**** Others in February consisted of Alba (178), Christian People's Alliance (93), Reform (85), Rejoin (99), Scottish Family Party (60)

Another bad month for the Tories. Unexpectedly picking up a seat from Labour in Denbighshire is small consolation for hammerings almost everywhere else. The vote tally really flatters them as the crisis carries on biting into the government's performance in the polls. Significant moments on the list below is probably Labour's taking out the Tories in Aberdeen. Some cheer for those who think the SNP are beyond the pail given they topped first preferences, but it underlines what we already know from Scottish polling: the Tories are third place in Scotland and have lost out badly to Labour.

Also notable was the Green victory in Bristol, which significantly increases their chance of taking Thangham Debbonaire's seat and returning their second MP when the time comes. But everywhere else the Lib Dems recovered after January's blip and did the bulk of the month's Tory bashing. Hence why I think they'll do better at the next election than polls are suggesting.

Next month there are 17 contests to look forward to, but luckily for the Tories they're defending just five of them. So even if they lose everything it won't look disastrously embarrassing.

2nd February
Bristol, Hotwells & Harbourside, Grn gain from LDem
North Northamptonshire, Northall, Lab gain from Con
Torfaen, Llantarnam, Ind hold

9th February
Cheltenham, Battledown, LDem gain from Con
Dartford, Wilmington, Sutton-at-Hone & Hawley, Con hold
Denbighshire, Rhyl Ty Newydd, Con gain from Lab
Hertfordshire, Hitchin North, Lab hold
North Yorkshire, Masham & Fountains, LDem gain from Con

16th February
Barnet, Golders Green, Con hold
Cambridgeshire, St Neots The Eatons, LDem gain from Ind
Cornwall, Long Rock, Marazion & St Erth, LDem gain from Con
Sefton, Netherton & Orrell, Lab hold

23rd February
Aberdeen, Dyce, Bucksburn & Danestone, Lab gain from Con
Wrexham, Smithfield, Plaid Cymru hold

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