Friday 31 March 2023

Local Council By-Elections March 2023

This month saw 37,794 votes cast in 17 local authority contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Four council seats changed hands. For comparison with February's results, see here.

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

* There were two by-elections in Scotland
** There was one by-election in Wales
*** There were three Independent clashes
**** Others this month consisted of Breakthrough Party (120), Christian People's Alliance (35), Libertarian (20), Monster Raving Loony (22), Reform (40, 110, 37), Scottish Family Party (90, 50), TUSC (23, 12)

What a quiet month! Only four seats changing hands, Labour ending its run of net gains, the Tories only being down one, the main two parties' votes depressed by strong showings from the Liberal Democrats and Independents. There's nothing much to be said. The Greens turned in a solid performance. The Indies were flattered by two City of London by-elections, the Breakthrough Party put in a creditable first try - just compare their score to TUSC, who were almost outperformed by the Monster Raving Loonies this month. But in all, March was electoral tumbleweed.

I'm sorry to sat things won't get much better in April. As far as I can tell, there are only three by-elections scheduled.

2nd March:
Kent, Hythe West, Grn gain from Con
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Byker, Lab hold
Oxford, Littlemore, Lab hold
Oxfordshire, Rose Hill & Littlemore, Lab hold
Staffordshire, Watling South, Con hold
Tamworth, Belgrave, Con hold

9th March:
Edinburgh, Corstorphine/Murrayfield, LDem gain from SNP
Haringey, Tottenham Hale, Lab hold
Hounslow, Heston West, Lab hold

16 March:
South Cambridgeshire, Cottenham, LDem hold
Stirling, Dunblane & Bridge of Allan, Con gain from SNP

23 March:
City of London, Castle Baynard, Ind hold
City of London, Cripplegate, Ind hold
North Northamptonshire, Rushden South, Con hold

30 March:
Anglesey, Aethwy, PC hold
Barking & Dagenham, Heath, Lab hold
Gloucester, Westgate, LDem gain from Con

Wednesday 29 March 2023

The Prospects of a Corbyn-Led Left Party

And so Jeremy Corbyn has now been formally banned from standing as a Labour candidate. What a pathetic state of affairs. For Keir Starmer, this is as much about excising the influence of the left from the party as it is telling the rest of the establishment that he can be relied on to punch left (and down) when occasion demands. What next? John McDonnell has called for a campaign for his reinstatement across constituency parties which, to put matters euphemistically, is not terribly likely to succeed. Therefore, the ball is now in Corbyn's court. Is he going to stand as an independent, despite the urgings of allies like Jon Lansman and Barry Gardiner not to? Probably. But how about a new party?

Long time readers know I'm sceptical about the prospects of new parties from the left. Indeed, we specifically addressed the possibility of a new Corbyn-led left party just over a year ago. The fundamentals remain the same. No sitting Labour politician is going to defect, and no existing trade union affiliates are likely to bid adios to the party - though it might attract some support from unaffiliated unions like the Bakers' Union and the RMT (who, after all, indulged the notoriously ineffective TUSC for over a decade). Acting as big drags would be sections of the far left who would undertake entry jobs and inevitably get caught up in recruitment turf wars with one another. Imagine the Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal duking it out in branches across the country. Scintillating stuff. And the undisciplined rabble of self-promoting narcissists - the George Galloways, Chris Williamsons, Tommy Sheridans and the dozens of activists who "accidentally" indulge antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories on their social media feeds - will ensure a new left party would become a toxic swamp very quickly. And there's the small matter of the election system, of which more in a moment.

Yet, there is a kernal of potential. There are tens of thousands of leftists who are looking for a new political home, and would sign up in a heart beat if Corbyn declared for a new party. A Corbyn party could attract wider layers as well. For example, the other day Sebastian Payne was wittering in The Times about how Keir Starmer lacks any big ideas, which makes him vulnerable to the competence (lol) affected by Rishi Sunak re: the Northern Ireland Protocol and the other policy deliverables. It's unlikely Labour have much to fear from this direction, and is part of the relentless effort of the Tory press to keep Starmer tacking right. The Tories might be staring defeat in their face, but their politics don't have to be vanquished. But Payne is right to scent a danger, albeit it's wafting in from the left. At the moment, most left wing voters - and there were over 10 million of them in 2019 - are supporting Starmer's Labour because they want the Tories out, and there's no credible alternative. But if there was ...

It's worth remembering why Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership election and then the support of millions. There was no Magic Grandpa nonsense. Corbyn simply stated that cutting public services was a bad idea because it hurt the most vulnerable, he talked about the housing crisis, was against shovelling public money into private pockets, and believed, to channel the popular meme, that society can and should be improved somewhat. Millions responded to this not because Corbyn was a messianic figure, but because he tapped into the hopes, aspirations, and interests that had long been neglected by establishment politics of the right and the left. It was a return of the repressed, and since the near death experience of 2017 the hallmark of "grown up politics" is to shove this back down into the hole. A new Corbyn-fronted party could open this up again and make politics more interesting.

But there is the historical record to contend with. The electoral system has proven an insurmountable barrier for the left outside of Labour, and challenges from this direction have only been episodically successful. The most high profile examples being Ken Livingstone winning the London mayoralty in 2000, and Galloway taking Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005 and Bradford West in 2012. A personality-centred challenge can work, and I have no doubt Corbyn would win Islington North either as an independent or at the head of the hypothetical party. Beyond that, victories elsewhere are unlikely. But it might not matter. The real potency for a Corbyn-led left party, provided it's not strangled by the wrecking left, is as blackmail potential. Before 2015 and in 2019, Nigel Farage was able to leverage the potential threat UKIP and the Brexit Party presented the Tories to achieve his aims: a referendum on EU membership, and then ensuring a hard Brexit was the only kind of EU exit the Tories could win an election on. The Starmerism-by-default position of millions of left voters could be thrown into question, and force Labour to attend to its natural support. If only a Corbyn-led party managed modest single figure polls, consistent numbers above five per cent would be enough to worry the more strategically savvy people in Starmer's office and force them to tack left. This could take the form of "rediscovering" the 10 leadership pledges, deciding "common ownership" means nationalising utilities after all, or emphasising policies already on the books, like the potentially transformative commitment to workers' rights.

True, the omens aren't good for a Corbyn-led party. But the potential to disrupt is there, and with politics still in a febrile state, despite the best efforts of government and opposition to calm things down post-Johnson/Truss and post-Corbyn, it could catalyse enough discontent that isn't to the liking of any wing of the political establishment.

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Tuesday 28 March 2023

Wendy Brown on Democracy

"At a minimum ... democracy requires that the people authorise their own laws and major political decisions, whether directly or through elected representatives, and also that they share modestly in other, nonlegal powers governing their lives. Anything less means the people do not rule.

In addition to basic principles, democracy has certain conditions without which it cannot be even minimally nourished or sustained. Democracy does not require absolute social and economic equality, but it cannot withstand large and fixed extremes of wealth and poverty, because these undermine the work of legislating in common. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau insisted, when such extremes prevail, shared values vanish, and class powers and resentments become decisive, making the act of combining to rule together impossible."

Undoing the Demos (2015, p.170)

Hello Derbados

From the pearl of North Staffordshire to the South Derbyshire riviera!

Leaving Stoke-on-Trent

Farewell, old friend.

Wednesday 22 March 2023

Boris Johnson Vs Accountability

The Partygate allegations have followed Boris Johnson for over a year. His long-awaited appointment with the Privileges Committee finally happened this afternoon, and you could have got ChatGPT to transcribe the whole three hours before the meeting even commenced. The self-styled "Big Dog" tried shaking off accusations that he knowingly and/or recklessly misled the Commons. You might recall how Johnson forswore any knowledge of parties, and attempted to join in the language of condemnation that quickly blew up around them. As the dossier compiled for the hearing showed, Johnson was present at many of the gatherings he claimed to have no idea were happening. That, your honour, is an open and shut case. But this is politics, and nothing is ever cut and dried.

With overwhelming evidence weighing against him, Johnson's strategy was typically Johnson. In the lead up, he attacked the committee as a put up job. Here, though a separate investigation, news about Keir Starmer's wish to appoint Sue Gray as his chief of staff was one straw at in the wind Johnson eagerly grasped at. The average punter doesn't know nor care about the difference between the Cabinet Office and the Privileges Committee, but casting doubt on one casts doubt on all. To the untrained eye, Johnson's picture of victimisation might look like a reasonable sketch. Then in the committee itself, Johnson played more to the gallery of fans tuning in at home. The metaphors and rhetorical devices employed made his testimony sound more like a column written for the Telegraph than a last ditch effort to save his political career.

Johnson's strategy was a defiant sand-in-your-eye defence. The line was he honestly thought all the gatherings were within the guidelines because they allowed employers a certain lassitude in their application. He refused to refer to any gathering as a party, despite reams and reams of email and testimony that make clear their convivial purposes, and deliberately tried muddying the waters to suggest leaving dos, cheese and wine Fridays, etc. were essential for keeping up morale as Number 10 staff were under the twin pressures of Covid and a prospective no deal Brexit. If you were to take Johnson at face value, and there are still plenty of people who would buy a bridge from him, all that happened was a bit of hair being let down while people were at their desks fighting the pandemic. If these were against the rules, Johnson argued, his senior officials would have warned him. And for good measure, having convinced himself he'd done nothing wrong, there were a few outbursts - aimed particularly at fellow Tory Bernard Jenkin - for the evening news bulletins to chew on.

Was it convincing? Not a bit of it. But Johnson's I-always-acted-in-good-faith arguments are not meant for the likes of me. They're designed to introduce reasonable doubt when there isn't really any, and, should the Committee find against him, provide materials for a stab-in-the-back myth that's good for the North American lecture circuit or a future political comeback. However, despite the obvious contempt Johnson has for the whole process - remember, accountability doesn't apply to him - there is a chance the Tory majority on the committee won't be on board with recommending a suspension from the Commons. Some of them have their reselections to worry about. And forget Harriet Harman's fluff about leaving party affiliations at the committee room door. No Tory wants to see the party lose a seat in a by-election to Labour, and one in which Johnson's character and conduct is the main issue driving what would be a huge protest vote. We apparently won't know until after May as they don't want to affect the upcoming local elections, but politicians are inveterate leakers. I doubt their verdict will stay secret for long.

If Johnson does survive the committee, it's still doubtful he could make the return to Number 10 that he believes is his as of right. His famous luck might get him put of this scrape, but his support is too narrow and, as the marketeers might say, his brand too toxic with the public. Win or lose, today's Privileges Committee theatre is probably the last, long wheeze of an expired political career that doesn't know it's dead.

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Tuesday 21 March 2023

Abolish Policing

It's times like these when we see plenty of establishment hand wringing. The report into the Metropolitan Police by Baroness Louise Casey condemned the force as institutionally racist, misogynistic, and homophobic. The objects of this hate are staff, including serving officers, and members of the public. Casey's review found that prejudice was part of everyday life in the Met, that minority ethnicities were disproportionately singled out for police attention, and bullying in the ranks was rife. Nor is there any guarantee there aren't more predators like Wayne Couzens and David Carrick using their uniform to attack women. Responding, Suella Braverman reached for the tried and tested "few bad apples" routine. She said most coppers were motivated by "the utmost professionalism", but the task of "rooting out unfit officers" continues. Current Met Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley accepted the report but said the force had problems with "bias" and that its difficulties are neither systematic nor institutional. Keir Starmer said there was indeed need for "systemic change", and that Labour would be "relentless in demanding progress." Another problem to be solved through better admin.

The New Statesman's editorial argues the Met is beyond saving. It either needs breaking up or abolishing completely. It argues that the Met acts like a semi-autonomous organisation with its own culture, rituals, rules, and a strong sense of collective identity that closes ranks when threatened. It is more akin to the gangs they supposedly police than any law enforcement ideal type one can conjure up. This is undoubtedly true, and it's interesting this line of thinking is also shared by some establishment figures too. The recognition there's something rotten in New Scotland Yard is no longer the preserve of the far left nor the black communities that have suffered at the Met's hands.

But what is to be done? Key actors inside the police are already on the case. They know the force attracts people for whom police powers are a means to a criminal end. We're not talking Ryan from The Line of Duty, but they have actively sought to raise the calibre of the average copper. The on again/off again dalliance with requiring all new recruits to attend university and get a policing degree reveals an Eliasian faith in the civilising process of higher education that would turn out empathetic and more rounded officers. This, they hope, would short circuit the harrowing canteen cultures harboured by many a force. It would wheedle out the would-be predators, the boy racers, and the thugs, and create new constables equipped for conflict resolution and handling mental health crises, which has become increasingly common as the Tories have run the NHS down. This is the culmination of the bad apples/attracting the wrong people critique. Enlightened chief superintendents know what the problems are, and they're replacing the old guard with carefully curated new model coppers.

The problem, however, is less a matter of personnel. If for the next 20 years the Met exclusively recruited graduates, the same issues would manifest and not because there are plenty of the old sweats still about. It's a matter of what the institution is about, what the purpose of policing is. The police's raison d'etre is raison d'etat. They are the force for maintaining "public order", which is always the preservation of the state and, by extension, the rule of capital. It is the first line in the physical application of state authority with crime detection its secondary function. It is set up as an institution of disciplined violence with its militaristic command and control structure, its capacity for "undercover intelligence" (see the spy cops scandal, the targeting of trade unionists, and even the Met's spying on the Lawrence family), and its deployment against designated undesirables: activists, protesters, "illegal" immigrants. None of these are quirks of individual forces, but are characteristics shared by every police organisation not just in Britain but pretty much everywhere you look. They are systemic features. A repressive state apparatus, as Althusser pithily put it.

The toxic culture of the Met corresponds entirely with the organisation's toxic purposes. Discharging the state's monopoly on legitimate violence inculcates a dehumanising outlook. Even if it does not attract the absolute worst people, its framing of certain groups as public order problems encourages racist, sexist, and homophobic conduct and reiterates that as a norm. Even if it goes against regs and the occasional bit of diversity training. And it cannot be otherwise given the police's authoritarian purposes. Having a clear out, putting recruits through university, breaking up and abolishing forces aren't going to turn them into paragons of civic and legal rectitude. No matter how the institution is badged, the same old crap forces itself back up the pipe.

Abolish the police then? Why not? If the aim is the abolition of class society, what purpose for the police? They become entirely superfluous considering their primary role in capitalist society. Crime won't disappear in the future society, but that can easily be the property of some other agency that does not have the maintenance of minority class rule as its purpose. But that's all very well for then, what about now? Given how police powers are employed against racialised communities, and are used to abuse women and sexual minorities, the American call to defund the police can have resonance here, especially where "policing" is the by-word for harassment and curtailing meagre liberties. But this does not go far enough. Just as it's right to load down capital with obligations and regulations - something the workers' movement has long fought for - we should do the same with the police. This is not a call for more bureaucratic oversight as per key performance indicators of the Starmerist imagination, but rather more democracy. It recognises the limited accountability of the old police and fire authorities, and offices of Police and Crime Commissioners never challenged policing, and indeed were/are half-hearted sops to popular accountability. I haven't got a ready made model, but the aim of extending democratic control is about eroding policing and the policing function, of problematising the 'repressive' and the 'state' aspects of the repressive state apparatus, working to neutralise them, and refocusing it on crime detection and community priorities. Which, after all, is why a lot of police recruits join the police in the first place. The demand for democracy is about initiating a process, one moment of transforming/undermining a key prop of the state and empowering our collective strength.

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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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