Tuesday 31 October 2023

Master of Darkness for the Sega Master System

I am a complete wuss when it comes to horror. Novels, fine. I can handle them. Films, not so much. And video games? You can forget anything modern with their jump scares, creeping tension, gore, and all the rest of it. But things weren't always this way. Some time ago, and I mean a long time ago, in the halcyon days of the 8 and 16-bit era of video games horror was far from horrifying. Unless said title was spectacularly bad. Thankfully, that cannot be said of this Hallowe'en's pick: an entertaining romp that got welcome reviews at the time and now frequently features in the sundry best of lists that clutter up YouTube. Are you ready for the Master System's Master of Darkness?

You are Ferdinand Social, an Ouija board-using psychologist in late Victorian England who has turned to paranormal means for investigating and ending the reign of murderous terror visited on London by Jack the Ripper. And so begins an excuse to travel through five levels of platforming action to stop the murders, uncover the dark masterminds behind them and put pay to the resurrection of an ancient evil. Just the tonic for this time of year.

In gameplay terms, Master is not the most original platformer to have graced the humble Sega but it is certainly among the best. With the Castlevania franchise unavailable in 1992 for either the Master System or Mega Drive (where an instalment eventually landed a couple of years later), there are some "similarities" between the two titles. The destructible hidden blocks revealing energy boosts. Secondary weapons for more powerful enemies. The replacement of lanterns by floating faces with identical functions: the dropping of weapons and other goodies. An identical system of displaying the player character and bosses' energy bars. The bosses being quite redolent of Konami's celebrated franchise. And the fact the big bad you're up against is Dracula. It's all a bit de ja vu.

Except to say Master is more slickly presented than the NES Castlevania games. Rare among Master System games, the floaty controls, sprite flicker, awful music and the overall cheap feel is thankfully absent. Every level is prefaced by a strong narrative linking the plot together. Provided you take every step carefully and not come at it like a bull at a gate, the minions of darkness shouldn't prove much of a problem. Except for the dogs. And the bats. Both are supremely irritating to take out. And because we have respawning enemies, which is rare in a Sega game, that means those bats you previously offed after a painful energy draining encounter will come back for seconds if you have to backtrack. And you do a lot in the final maze level. Boss fights are fairly easy affairs. You can try and learn the attack patterns, but here if you are in a hurry you can slug it out and see if you can wear down the enemy's energy bar faster than your own. Recommended.

In all, there's little to fault in this game. It's a rarity in that some proper effort was put into a late period Master System game and out came a polished and accomplished product. The horror element is a touch twee as to be expected from the hardware limitations but the developers did a good job weaving it into something integral and compelling for the whole experience. And all without jump scares too. Whether Master of Darkness is worth playing today depends on one's taste in vintage gaming. Though well thought of it's not exactly famous, which is a shame. If you fancy a relatively undemanding platformer that's actually good, and you want to see what the SMS has to offer there are few games better.

Monday 30 October 2023

Establishment Politics Vs Palestine Solidarity

Speaking on the radio saying you support Israel's right to stop food, water, fuel, and other essentials from flowing into Gaza and then, nine days later, denying you'd never said such a thing does not tarnish the reputation of the Labour Party. But if you're a left wing MP at a Palestinian solidarity rally and you call for peace, that is a suspendable offence.

Welcome to the topsy turvy world of Keir Starmer's Labour Party, where down is up, imperialism is internationalism, and abiding by establishment group think is courageous. We can now add Andy McDonald's suspension to this list of shame. Except in this case it is almost beyond farce. Andy was kicked out because, apparently, The Times reported his speech at Saturday's demo in London as repeating "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free". A slogan some object to because, they argue, it has antisemitic intent. That this myth persists despite comprehensive debunking suggests those repeating the charge are either ignorant or mischievous. Nevertheless Andy was given the heave ho ... and then it turned out he said no such thing. As John McDonnell notes, Andy said "We won"t rest until we have justice, until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea can live in peaceful liberty." And The Times agreed, publishing a retraction. He's been thrown out the parliamentary party pending an investigation into remarks he did not make. More embarrassment for Starmer, if he wasn't already among the most shameless politicians in British politics.

Starmer's dishonesty was matched only by our beloved Home Secretary, Suella Braverman. On Monday morning Rishi Sunak chaired a meeting of COBRA amid "concerns" that extremism was on the march. You might recall that Braverman has been banging the drum on this for a while, previously asserting that the Palestinian national flag was a hateful symbol. In her interview with Sky News, she said the last few weekends have been hijacked by tens of thousands of people chanting for "the erasure of Israel from the map". A demonstrable lie. She goes on to describe them as "hate marches" and as such the police need to take a "zero tolerance approach to antisemitism". I suppose Braverman is disappointed that the "operationally independent" plod arrested just five people out of a march of over 300,000 on Saturday's London demo.

What unites Starmer and Braverman is more than an elastic definition of the truth. The huge marches in most Western cities have taken our respective political and media establishments by complete surprise. This is as true of Britain as anywhere else. With Corbynism effectively chased out of the Labour Party, Scottish nationalism and the SNP taking a hammering through electoral reverse and internal discord, and with the political peace suffering infrequent disruption by Just Stop Oil actions, there was reason to believe the shocks of recent years had gone away and managerial business as usual could be resumed. There was zero expectation that Israel's predictable bloody reply to the 7th October attacks would provoke a mobilisation larger than the usual suspects. Instead, with horror, a mass movement has materialised seemingly from nowhere and as the slaughter continues the numbers on the streets keep growing. A rude reminder that mainstream politics has no line to or purchase on the everyday lives and attitudes of masses of people.

As such, this has provoked two heavy-handed establishment responses. Those who maligned Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters as antisemitic are working overtime to delegitimate Palestinian solidarity as a de facto racist endeavour, and have been shocked to find their hyperbole and dishonest attacks are not working - except for inciting a furious and mocking pushback. The second is to threaten an authoritarian crack down. It's interesting that Braverman, for example, is not pushing for legislation despite the vituperative cadence of her slanders. That might prove too much for some Tories, as well as raise the political stakes. We've seen how Macron has lost face as solidarity demonstrations carried on in defiance of his bans, despite heavy police violence. Reflex authoritarians like Sunak and Braverman would not relish being so humbled. And if the police get stuck in against really large marches, there's the possibility of further disorder, loss of police and state legitimacy, and a chance the movement could expand to link up with other concerns and grievances. They don't know what to do. Doing nothing and the discontent grows. Come in with the size nines and dissent could explode and get very messy.

While Palestinian solidarity has put British foreign policy and the complicity of both parties under the microscope, at this moment one should not overstate its impact on politics. What is spooking the government and opposition most is the overnight appearance of a mass movement and its potential to challenge their way of doing things. What they take solace from is how public opinion finds sympathies more or less evenly split but with a majority being both sides and don't knows, and that the damage of spurning Labour's Muslim base is more anecdotal than statistical. At least according to the recent surveys with representative samples. If Labour's support was in free fall alongside a reviled Tory party, then establishment politics would be in trouble. But it's not, at the moment. That could change, and the suspension of Andy McDonald might make that worse.

The most likely way our rulers will head off a crisis of legitimacy is to try and wait the movement out. No movement can sustain the pitch of mass mobilisations indefinitely, and the political establishment with its centuries of received experience knows this better than most. And the Tories have had some success with this approach in the latest round of industrial disputes. As the bombs continue falling and the United States are supporting Israel's ethnic cleansing efforts, there will be protests and oher actions. When they stop, and they will eventually stop, the Tories and the Labour leadership are banking on Palestine fading from the news schedules and the limited bandwidth available for live concerns. Things can go back to normal, they always do. The problem with this is yes, they're right, but Labour generally and Starmer in particular has lost standing not just among Muslims but the not inconsiderable progressively-inclined sections of his natural support. It's long been the argument around these parts that Starmerism has been dispersing the voter coalition bequeathed Labour by the Corbyn years. This won't matter before the election as the anti-Tory sentiment will carry him to Number 10, but afterwards it could rapidly disintegrate because Starmer is offering little. The legacy of carrying on resisting the calls for a ceasefire won't be despondency, but a quiet hostility that could easily explode further down the line.

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Sunday 29 October 2023

Talking Tory Crisis in Cheltenham

How are your plans for the evening of Wednesday 1st November? Do you happen to live within striking distance of Cheltenham? If so ...

'The Conservative Party’s Crisis of Political Reproduction' a talk by Phil Burton-Cartledge

Are the difficulties facing the Tories simply a matter of exhaustion, of the public getting fed up with them as they did in 1997 and 1964-66? Without peering beneath the surface, that appears to be the case. The antics of Johnson, Truss, and the do-nothing politics of Sunak are enough to give the most loyal Conservative voter pause. But, as my book – The Party’s Over: The Rise and Fall of the Conservatives from Thatcher to Sunak – argues, the Tories have a far more serious problem: a crisis of political reproduction. The mass base the Tories have built is overly dependent on older people generally and retirees in particular, and is a coalition premised on high property values, home ownership, rising pensions, and (to an extent) shielding the elderly while attacking the living standards of working age people and gutting the state of its capacity to do anything. Voting Conservative is not a consequence of getting old, but of the tendency of acquiring property throughout one’s life – however meagre that might be. If a Tory government is a block on this process of acquisition, it’s not going to generate future Conservative voters. And that makes the job of winning elections progressively more difficult. Unfortunately for the Conservatives, their policy preferences and rhetoric, especially their emphasis on “anti-woke” politics is wedded to cohering this coalition, which rules out the possibility of their reaching out to younger layers. In short, it is very difficult to see how the party can forge a new coalition of voters that can win them the next two general elections.

My talk kicks off at 7pm at the University of Gloucestershire's Francis Close Hall on Swindon Road, Cheltenham. The details are here and it's free to attend!

Saturday 28 October 2023

List of MPs Calling for a Ceasefire

Here are a list of MPs who are backing a ceasefire in Gaza, whether they've put their name to an EDM, spoke for one in the Commons, or have otherwise indicated their position. The list will be updated as more add their names to the call.

Crispin Blunt
Peter Bottomley
Paul Bristow

Debbie Abrahams
Tahir Ali
Rosena Allin-Khan
Paula Barker
Apsana Begum
Clive Betts
Olivia Blake
Karen Buck (added 29/10)
Richard Burgon
Dawn Butler
Ian Byrne
Liam Byrne
Dan Carden (added 29/10)
Sarah Champion
Marsha De Cordova
Stella Creasy
Jon Cruddas
Alex Cunningham (added 31/10)
Tan Dhesi (added 2/11)
Julie Elliot
Mary Foy
Barry Gardiner
Fabian Hamilton (added 2/11)
Mark Hendrick (added 30/10)
Kate Hollern
Rachel Hopkins
Rupa Huq
Imran Hussain
Kim Johnson
Afzal Khan
Ian Lavery
Kim Leadbeter
Emma Lewell-Buck
Clive Lewis
Tony Lloyd
Rebecca Long-Bailey
Andy McDonald
John McDonnell
Khalid Mahmood
Seema Malhotra (added 2/11)
Rachel Maskell
Ian Mearns
Navendra Mishra (added 6/11)
Grahame Morris
Kate Osamor
Kate Osborne
Taiwo Owatemi (added 30/10)
Sarah Owen
Jess Phillips
Yasmin Qureshi
Bell Ribeiro-Addy
Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Naz Shah
Andy Slaughter
Cat Smith
Alex Sobel (added 30/10)
Zarah Sultana
Sam Tarry
Stephen Timms
Karl Turner
Jon Trickett
Valerie Vaz (added 29/10)
Matt Western (added 6/11)
Mick Whitley
Nadia Whittome
Beth Winter
Mohammed Yasin

Liberal Democrats
NB The Lib Dems have tabled their own 'humanitarian ceasefire' EDM. Interestingly, the only absent name is Tim Farron. This is probably why.
Alastair Carmichael
Wendy Chamberlain
Daisy Cooper
Ed Davey
Sarah Dyke
Richard Foord
Sarah Green
Wera Hobhouse
Christine Jardine
Layla Moran
Helen Morgan
Sarah Olney
Jamie Stone
Munira Wilson

Hannah Bardell
Mhairi Black
Kirsty Blackman (added 14/11)
Ian Blackford
Steven Bonnar
Deidre Brock
Alan Brown
Amy Callaghan
Douglas Chapman
Joanna Cherry
Ronnie Cowan
Angela Crawley
Martyn Day
Martin Docherty-Hughes
Dave Doogan
Allan Dorans
Marion Fellows
Stephen Flynn
Patricia Gibson
Patrick Grady
Peter Grant
Drew Hendry
Chris Law
David Linden
Stewart McDonald
Stuart McDonald
Anne McLaughlin
John McNally (added 14/11)
Carol Monaghan
Gavin Newlands
John Nicholson
Brendan O'Hara
Kirsten Oswald
Anum Qaisar
Tommy Sheppard
Alyn Smith
Chris Stephens
Alison Thewliss
Owen Thompson
Richard Thomson
Philippa Whitford
Pete Wishart

Diane Abbott (Ind)
Jeremy Corbyn (Ind)
Geraint Davies (Ind)
Colum Eastwood (SDLP)
Jonathan Edwards (Ind)
Stephen Farry (Alliance)
Claire Hanna (SDLP)
Neal Hanvey (Alba)
Ben Lake (Plaid Cymru)
Carolline Lucas (Green)
Kenny MacAskell (Alba)
Angus MacNeil (Ind)
Christina Rees (Ind)
Liz Saville Roberts (Plaid Cymru)
Claudia Webbe (Ind)
Hywel Williams (Plaid Cymru)

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Friday 27 October 2023

Local Council By-Elections October 2023

This month saw 26,450 votes cast in 15 local authority contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Three council seats changed hands. For comparison with September's results, see here.

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/- Sep
+/- Oct 22
Lib Dem

* There were no by-elections in Scotland
** There were no by-elections in Wales
*** There was one Independent clash this month
**** Others consisted of Coventry Citizens (107), People Against Bureaucrcy (644), Reform (98, 29), Residents for Guildford and Villages (1,095), SPGB (9), TUSC (144, 37), UKIP (25)

Only three seats changed hands, what a boring month! Actually, no. The Tory decline in local government continues, but more significant is yet another strong Green performance. It came out top winning two seats, got its highest proportion of the popular vote ever recorded on this blog, and managed an average votes cast per candidate performance better than the Tories and the Liberal Democrats! This comes with caveats, and in this case it would be that four of the contests took place in areas of Green strength and aren't generalisable. But then again, a steady stream of by-election gains and new bars set for popular votes does suggest the party is on the rise. If you're a Green supporter, another milestone worth celebrating.

It's also worth noting the Lib Dem's strength as well. Now stabilising at 20% in by-election round ups suggests the stain of the tuition fee/coalition government betrayal is now largely exorcised, at least where the punters who turn up for council by-elections are concerned. Their challenge is to translate this into a coalition that can knock over Tories in dozens of parliamentary seats, and here they're ably assisted by the government's awful record.

4th October:
Haringey, South Tottenham, Lab hold
Haringey, White Hart Lane, Lab hold

5th October:
Lambeth, Vauxhall, Lab hold
Tamworth, Amington, Lab hold

12th October:
Cheltenham, Prestbury, Oth hold
Suffolk, Woodbridge, LDem hold

19th October:
Shropshire, Alveley & Claverley, LDem gain from Con
Surrey, Horsleys, Oth hold
Worcester, Warndon Parish South, Grn gain from Con
Worcestershire, Warndon Parish, Grn gain from Con

26th October:
Burnley, Trinity, Grn hold
Coventry, Earlsdon, Lab hold
Herefordshire, Golden Valley South, Ind hold
Lancashire, Burnley Central West, Grn hold
Waltham Forest, Highams Hill, Lab hold

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Thursday 26 October 2023

Rachel Reeves's Plagiarism Scandal

Having 20-odd years experience dealing with plagiarism in assignments, it tends to come in two kinds. There's the "accidental" sort, where a student pleads ignorance or misunderstands what it is. Because they've changed a couple of words in a paragraph they think that's fine, or something has been shunted in verbatim and think it's okay because there's a proper reference appended. I tend not to go hard on these sorts, leaving a bit of feedback warning them about plagiarism, signposting the academic regs and study skills pages, and deducting marks. And that's because, after having marked thousands of pieces of work, you can more or less tell when malicious intent was not present. And then you have the other kind where passages are copied out without attribution or a covering reference, and every effort is made to pass the work off as their own. This does not get the kid gloves treatment. There's an investigation and punishments vary depending on the university. At ours, it means a black mark goes on the student's academic record and that debars them from a career in the legal profession and might throw up obstacles for other post-graduation destinations. Criminal justice occupations are usually hot on this kind of stuff, for instance.

This in mind, news that Rachel Reeves has plagiarised sections of her book should debar her from being an MP, let alone a candidate for the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer. If she does not resign in shame, she should be sacked in disgrace. It's true that politicians lie all the time, and being tied to Keir Starmer as he closes in on Boris Johnson's claim to the title of prince of the porkies means they're hardly a stranger to Reeves. But stealing other people's work to pass off as your own is beyond her boss's levels of shamelessness. How ironic that her book, The Women Who Made Modern Economics, is about women who never received proper credit for their contributions to the discipline.

I have an inkling how this could have come about. In Westminster, it's common for MPs to have everything done for them. Speeches and lectures are often produced by an office lackey. Getting a bag carrier to write them an article for the mainstream press they then collect the fee for is a perk of the job. The dear departed Johnson was a rarity in that he wrote his own articles, books, and a chunk of his speeches. Reeves, being an unoriginal plodder has gone with the parliamentary flow and contracted out her book. Whoever has done the work could not be bothered about the standards of the most rudimentary scholarship and chucked in any old tat they could find in five minutes with Wikipedia and Google. Why should they care? Their name doesn't appear on the copyright page. And, obviously, neither did Reeves. Has she even read the book she "wrote"? In her effort to craft an intellectual posture that is something more than loyally stringing out Bank of England orthodoxies, it shows up her light mindedness and lack of interest in women and mainstream economics - save her place as the inheritor and culmination of this history.

A couple of years ago Annalena Baerbock, the German Greens' candidate for Chancellor in the general election was also caught out in a plagiarism scandal. Originally denying the allegations when they broke, with the party attacking the claims as "character assassinations", she eventually owned up to copying other people's work for her book. It also turned out she had padded her CV as well. Consequently, the Greens took a hit in the polls. Of the three parties that now make up Germany's coalition government, up until then they were polling the highest and was a factor in the SPD's overtaking them and benefiting from a collapse in the CDU/CSU's support. Honesty and integrity matters to voters, who knew?

While Reeves's plagiarism has splashed all over social media, the press, and gives the Tories a good attack line on the shadow chancellor (which might have worked, were they not totally awful), sadly, no resignation will be forthcoming. Because media attention is largely focused on whitewashing a massacre, and the pressure on Starmer is coming from his inept handling of the fallout from Israel's carpet bombing of Gaza. Were the circumstances different, Reeves could have caused the Labour leadership some real embarrassment. As things are, she's lucky and this time next week it will be long forgotten. But just like what Starmer's compulsive lying means for his putative premiership, it puts down a marker about what we can expect from her time in Number 11. Intellectually vapid policy, a pilfering of other people's ideas, and a propensity to bullshit about the strength of Britain's economy in a way no different from any Tory chancellor. And these, remember, are the "grown ups".

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Tuesday 24 October 2023

Abandoning Muslim Supporters

To lose one councillor is careless. But 23? Since his unfortunate faux pas last week where Keir Starmer went on the record and backed Israeli war crimes in Gaza, the back-pedalling from those comments has got more frantic and desperate looking. It took him nine days to try and correct himself, and then he he ended up denying what he said. Just when you thought bare faced lying was over when Boris Johnson made his exit from politics. If it was a case of Starmer "misspeaking", I don't understand why he didn't say sorry and explain what he meant to say. That might have defused the issue a touch and eased the damage. But no, in bourgeois politics it always has to be never apologise, never explain.

And now Labour is paying the price. Last week's by-election victories show the party is well on its way to winning and that the fall out of genocide-gate had little to no effect on the overall result. But neither Tamworth nor Mid-Beds had large Labour-loyal Muslim communities in play. Many seats across London, the Midlands and the North do. And by his carelessness and bullishness, Starmer is risking this core component of Labour's coalition.

Let's be honest. Labour's Muslim supporters have been long suffering. Despite eight-out-of-ten Muslims voting Labour, they are taken for granted and occasionally traduced by their party. And you could be forgiven for thinking these last 20 years have tested their patience to breaking point. Subject to intense media and government surveillance after the September 11th attacks and in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, Labour was only too happy to reward decades of majority support with disrespect, insult, and cleaving to Islamophobic press campaigns. Yet the electoral rebellion against this was largely confined to some good election results for Respect, including George Galloway's twice getting elected to the Commons, and the rise of Aspire in Tower Hamlets. This suggests industrial levels of forbearance on the part of Muslim voters. But you can't go against the interests of your base forever and always.

I hear that as soon as Hamas launched its attack on Israel and it was understood that Netanyahu would commemorate the victims by massacring thousands of Palestinians, consultative meetings between the Labour leadership, its trusted lieutenants, council leaders - particularly in areas with large Muslim populations - and Muslim "notables" went into the grid to try and ensure Labour got its messaging right. We can see that process has been a complete failure, and it was always going to be the case. For one, loyalty to Britain's geopolitical interests are as Labourist as Sure Start centres. And that means Israel is to the Labour leadership what the Soviet Union was to the old Communist Party of Great Britain. Its works are never to be criticised, let alone condemned. And its doings are to be alibied if they cannot be passed over in silence. "Defending" Israel, which means defending its right to murder Palestinians and grab their land, cannot be reconciled with assuaging the disgust, anger, and fear British Muslims are feeling.

What makes this even worse is the shoddiness of Labour's efforts to try and square the circle. Quite a few Labour MPs have now come out and demanded Rishi Sunak pushes for a ceasefire (fat chance), but Starmer and friends have also avoided making this demand. We get platitudes about letting the aid into Gaza without reference to the hundreds being killed every night. It's incoherent and is damning the party among Muslims. Then over the weekend, we learned of the deception behind Starmer's photo opp at a South Wales mosque. The image it wanted to convey was of the Labour leader listening to worshippers' concerns while everyone were smiling away. Meanwhile, as Labour are half-arsing their spinning of an impossible position, you have the likes of Luke Akehurst - one of Starmer's key fixers - amplifying suggestions last weekend's solidarity marches were motivated by antisemitism, and helpful "anonymous" sources from Starmer's office saying that they don't care about Palestinian deaths.

It's difficult to overstate the seriousness of the crisis of Labour support among Muslims. Shredding the party's credibility among its most solid constituency is not only incredible stupidity, it is a foretaste of what we can expect from Starmer in government. I often talk about the long-term decline of the Tories, and - just like his adoption of Conservative policies and framing - Starmer seems determined to follow them in this as well.

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Sunday 22 October 2023

Anticipating Conservative Party Defeat

How do you know the Tories have given up on winning the next election? Is it when rumours hit the papers that Jeremy Hunt is standing down to avoid an election night humiliation? No, there is something even more obvious: when the Tories are publicly deliberating a core vote-only strategy.

What else are we supposed to make of widely-reported whispers that Rishi Sunak is considering tax cuts in response to his party's historic by-election drubbings? But these aren't any old tax cuts that would benefit everyone, as per the raising of the basic rate threshold. As if to prove that Liz Truss is still Prime Minister, Sunak is eyeing "relief" for the top rate payers. In other words, those earning £50k+/year are set to benefit from Tory largesse. Cutting stamp duty or abolishing inheritance tax are on the table as well.

The Tories like to talk about delivering on the "people's priorities", but poll after poll shows there is no popular appetite for tax cuts, let alone for those taking home a decent whack. There is a belief among Tory circles that cutting taxes is electoral gold. You could be forgiven for thinking the legacy of increased mortgage payments from the Truss interlude would have put a bullet in the brain of this zombie belief, but no. Here we are again. That said, putting forward tax cuts isn't entirely irrational.

As argued here and in the book, when the Tories lurched right after the 1997 disaster this wasn't "mad" or narcissistic politics. Coping with earth shattering defeat and finding your opponent annexing parts of your agenda for office, it makes sense to consolidate existing support and build from there. I'm not suggesting this was how William Hague and the Tories saw things then. Plenty of them believed anti-EUism and thinly-disguised racism was the route back to the big time, but the effect was a stabilisation of Tory support and, in the context of the desertion of Labour in 2005 by swathes of its support, afforded a modest advance. This gave them a base from which to intersect with discontent with Blair and later Brown, which was assisted by Dave and Osborne's splashings of liberal whitewash.

With a similar if not greater disaster in the offing, what the big brained politics commentators sneeringly refer to as "Tory Corbynism" is likely to have a similar effect. Tax cuts aren't going to win the Tories the next election. Neither will cancelling HS2, promising benefits crackdowns, deporting people to Rwanda, nor cutting the green crap. Again, plenty of Tories might think a manifesto framed around thin gruel and spite could win. In many ways, that's what Boris Johnson's 2019 platform was. But then isn't now. The Tories have completely destroyed their political credibility, and the narrowness of their policy offering reflects that.

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Saturday 21 October 2023

Palestinian Solidarity on the March

Well done everyone who made it to Saturday's demonstrations for Palestine. Here's a Novara report on why people marched.

Friday 20 October 2023

No Change after Tamworth and Mid-Beds

It's squeaky bum time in Tory land. Thursday's by-elections in supposedly-safe Tamworth and supposedly-safe Mid-Bedfordshire should destroy any complacency that set in following the narrow Uxbridge hold. Tamworth was always the more likely of the two to go Labour's way. The disgraced sex pest Christopher Pincher was returned with a 20,000 majority at the last election, and when the scandal blew up last summer I thought it likely the seat would come to Labour in the event of a by-election. So it has proved. Congratulations to Sarah Edwards for becoming Labour's sole MP in Staffordshire, for the moment. Mid-Bedfordshire was going to be tougher. The seat had never returned a Labour MP and was the bluest of true blue Tory fortresses. Furthermore, there was a concern that a strong Liberal Democrat challenge, which did materialise, would split the anti-Tory vote and let them retain the seat. In the end, those fears proved unfounded. A 24,000-strong majority evaporated and Labour snatched it.

Doing the TV rounds this morning, I almost pitied Greg Hands and his defence of a pitiful performance. Putting a brave face on things, he noted Labour's absolute vote tallies were either slightly down or practically static. This suggested most Tory supporters remained at home and would turn out when presented with an exciting offer. What might this be? Hands pointed to Rishi Sunak's cancellation of HS2, the smoking ban, and abolishing A-Levels. One is left wondering how this will fire Tory-leaning hearts further down the line when they're fresh in the memory and have proven less than beguiling to the faithful. Other Tories are a bit more on the ball. David Frost, who can do deluded with the best of them, found the official optimism too much to stomach. He said both results were worse than what is getting reported by the polls, and denying the party is in a hole won't help. This is backed up by mutters faithfully relayed by the politics stenographers that Tory MPs are preparing their letters of no confidence. But, officially at least, the government are putting on a brave face and insist that they're carrying on with their "plan".

The problem for the Tories is that both by-elections could support the warm bath of continued complacency. Hands finds solace in the low turn out, but others might look at the results of Reform, the artists formerly known as the Brexit Party. Despite getting talked up incessantly by the right wing press, their performance was somewhat short of fantastic. In Tamworth Reform managed to save its deposit and polled 1,373 votes. In Mid Bedfordshire it got 3.7%, or 1,487 votes. It hardly takes a forensic mind to note Labour's respective majorities are 1,316 and 1,192. Some might think that if the Tories embraced proper Conservative policies the difference would not have been split, and both seats would have stayed blue. This argument could prove attractive to Tory MPs for reasons other than an affinity with anti-woke posturing. For one, especially among the 2019 Tories, the common sense is they won their seats because the Leave voters abandoned by Labour supported Brexit for racist reasons. Doubling down on this might save their bacon. For another, with a Labour tidal wave incoming the Tories have to hold on to as much as they can so there's something left to salvage in the aftermath. Abandoning any effort at reaching out and going for a core vote strategy might save a handful of seats for the easy life of opposition, until (they think) their turn in office comes round again. Sunak and the rest of the parliamentary party are unlikely to listen to Frost's counsel not because they're blinkered, but because peddling reaction is the only way of saving their livelihood.

What of Labour? There were plenty of superlatives doing the rounds. Keir Starmer said Labour had "smashed it" and the results were a "gamechanger". Wes Streeting also chipped in, describing last night as "extraordinary" and "historic". If it wasn't already obvious after this year's local elections that Labour is well on its way to government, it is now. But like the defeated Tories, it's unlikely these huge wins are going to make any difference to the political trajectory the party is on. Both results are more rooted in disgust with the Conservatives than enthusiasm for Starmer. Consider the behaviour of Pincher and the virtual absence of Nadine Dorries on top of the Tories' record of cronyism and corruption, and the stupid behaviour of the Tories' Tamworth candidate, a cardboard cutout in a red rosette could scarcely have done a worse job. But, you might say, Labour's shift to the right and capitulation to Tory framing on a range of issues has made the party feel like a safe choice for Tory switchers. There is certainly some truth in that. Secondly, Starmer's choice to alibi genocide in Gaza and the subsequent difficulties this has caused the party and its Muslim base appear contained. There was no electoral punishment here for uncritically supporting Israel. Therefore, if Labour are pulling off huge victories like this - and with a couple more by-elections probable in Blackpool South and Wellingborough - why change the strategy?

And then there is turnout. A central feature of Tory excuses, it barely figured in Labour's celebrations. With a swing this big, why bother lamenting? This is true up to a point. By-elections almost always have reduced turnouts compared to general elections, with numbers turning up akin to those who head to the polls for council elections. But the caveats that can be drawn from the Rutherglen victory apply here. I.e. If the support is soft or grudging, that means any party new to government is going to face legitimacy issues fairly quickly. That applies as much to Labour as anyone else. My fear is similar to what we saw in Germany at the last elections and since. The SPD, having alienated so much of its base, gifted it away to the Greens and Free Democrats but took on a soft backlash against the Christian Democrats, enabling them to lead a coalition government. That support has since evaporated and the party is tanking in the polls. Translated to Britain, Starmer is winning soft support but his stance on Israel/Palestine and many other issues have struck at the core components of Labour's voter coalition. Labour will continue winning, but when that stops it's liable to find the bedrock of its most loyal support has crumbled away. Parties that dump on the interests and aspirations of its traditional backers soon notice they cannot do that forever.

Thursday 19 October 2023

Rishi Sunak in Israel

At the joint Israel-UK press conference earlier today, Benjamin Netanyahu gave a rambling denunciation of Hamas as "the new Nazis", and likened them to Islamic State. He said that this moment is Israel's and the world's darkest hour, and what his bombing raids over Gaza are is a "battle of the entire civilised world." As his terror strikes and repeated war crimes might drag others into the mire, he's not wrong.

Rishi Sunak could only offer Netanyahu words of encouragement. He said the UK "absolutely support Israel's right to defend itself", quickly adding "in line with international law". He urged the IDF "to go after Hamas, take back hostages, deter further incursions, and to strengthen your security". But without wanting to appear too bloodthirsty, he praised Israel for "taking every precaution to avoid harming civilians" and offered Bibi effusive thanks for opening routes for humanitarian aid. "We stand in solidarity with your people and we want you to win." No British Prime Minister since the war has so happily covered for the war crimes committed by a friendly, allied state. Netanyahu could have scripted his contribution.

With Sunak following Joe Biden and Olaf Scholz in delivering identical messages (it was Scholz who introduced the Nazi comparison), it's obvious that they're not about to stay the free hand of the Israeli government. The bombs will carry on falling, the propaganda and lies about Palestinians killing their own will continue, and the mass murder of civilians is not going to stop. Not in the north of Gaza. And not in the so-called "safe zones" declared by Israel in the south. This tiny strip of land has gone from an open air prison camp of two million people to an abattoir. This is how the Israeli government and its domestic and international supporters have chosen to memorialise the 1,400 dead from Hamas's unexpected attack.

The Tories, like the Labour leadership were always going to stand with and minimise Israeli war crimes. As the most overly militarist and warmongering of the main parties, the organic organisation of the British ruling class, and that most rooted in the institutions of state, it and Labour are more likely to see eye-to-eye on foreign affairs than not. Or "defence of the realm" as they euphemistically put it. But the Tory interest in Israel has slightly different roots to Labour's. While many Labour MPs found Zionism attractive because of its initial leftish hue and the historic debt Europe owed Jewish people for the Holocaust, Tory sympathies owe more to political alignments. First, like the Americans Britain saw Israel as a Cold War bulwark against communist and Arab nationalist movements - especially when many of Israel's neighbours were loosely allied to the USSR from the 1960s onwards. This became genuine enthusiasm in the 1980s with the Anglo-American alliance run by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Especially so in the case of American politics. No Republican candidate could hope to win the GOP nomination without courting the Christian fundamentalist right, among whom not a small number feted the existence of a Jewish home land as the prelude to the Biblical end times.

But this is Britain and the Tories we're talking about. As second fiddle to the US its priorities for the Middle East were the UK's, and therefore the Tories' priorities. As argued previously, one cannot separate the party from the weight fossil fuels have among British capital and the Tories. Because of the much reduced status of Britain as a global military power, its preservation and the rewards that come with this - added soft power from control over a strategic resource - can only be sustained by staying close to Uncle Sam. Israel, as is well known, is a destabilising force in the Middle East. Its presence is a source of friction between Arab states, and such division ultimately prevents the countries sitting atop the world's largest oil reserves from exercising the clout that comes from it in ways inimical to the US (and therefore the UK) interest. Furthermore, armed to the teeth as it is Israel is the gendarme of last resort in the region. Ethnically cleansing Palestinian territory is tolerated by the West as long as it checks pan-Arabism and assists regional divide and rule.

This is why the Tories are an instinctive supporter of Israel. Its aims and UK objectives tally. The Tories want the status quo maintained in the Middle East, and the likes of Netanyahu fully understand that this is expected of them. The green light to expel the population of northern Gaza and annex it to Israel proper can't be separated from the blind eye the US and UK have always turned toward illegal settlements and coloniser violence in the West Bank. A reward for services rendered you might say, and one Sunak was all too happy to convey.

Image Credit

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Israel's Genocidal War on Gaza

Already, the repost from Politics Theory Other from last night has become dated. I'm therefore giving a plug to the latest episode that's just dropped. In this what's happening on the West Bank, which has become overshadowed by the wanton murder in Gaza, is discussed as well as Israel's "war" aims. With protests breaking out in neighbouring Arab countries and tough talk coming from Turkey and Iran, what risks does the Netanyahu government pose international peace?

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