Thursday 30 November 2023

The Case Against Henry Kissinger

Christopher Hitchens was a contradictory character with some iffy politics, but among his best work were the attacks on the now late but very much lamented (by, among others, Tony Blair) Henry Kissinger. It's because this repugnant creature was never held to account for his crimes that today war crimes are committed with impunity by Netanyahu's government and the Israeli military. Who's going to hold them responsible for the needless death and destruction they have caused?

Monday 27 November 2023

The Demise of Rosie Duffield

Oh dear. The Times reported on Sunday that Rosie Duffield is under investigation by the Labour Party and is no longer on the NEC's list of approved candidates for the next general election. This is despite her being reselected by her local party last year. The sticking point is her liking a tweet by notorious transphobe and obnoxious celebrity troll, Graham Linehan. Eddie Izzard, who's hoping to represent for Labour against the Greens in Brighton Pavilion, tweeted about how in Nazi Germany someone like him would have been murdered for who he was. Linehan responded with the line "Ah, yes, the Nazis, famously bigoted against straight white men with blonde hair." Anyone who knows anything about the Holocaust are well aware that hundreds of thousands of gay men and women perished in the death camps alongside Jews. "Liking" such a statement is, of course, grotesquely offensive and brings the party into disrepute.

Duffield has, since this occurred, been on the receiving end of an investigation by the party's compliance unit. According to her "friends and allies" - who were much hotter on the Holocaust when the politics of the occasion demanded it - this is all a put up job because of her "gender critical" beliefs. "They haven't been able to get her on trans issues" they whinge, "so they've gone for her on antisemitism". Quite who this "they" are, given how Keir Starmer completely controls the Labour Party apparatus and has capitulated time and again to the transphobia on his front and back benches, is a complete mystery. LGBT Labour who, despite being a right wing organisation are pretty sound on most LGBTQ issues - as you would expect - aren't exactly powerful nor listened to by the leadership. So who is doing the targeting, and why?

As far as Starmer's authoritarian project is concerned, now the left have either been chased out of the party or forced into a Trappist-like silence, it stands to reason to widen the offensive against imagined and would-be opponents and critics. We saw how, in early September, Starmer moved against two prominent women in his shadow cabinet. Better for him to surround himself with pod people lest they outshine the dear leader. We've also seen how Angela Rayner has systematically been sidelined and humiliated by Starmer's office and the apparat. It also makes sense to take out no mark right wingers, like Duffield, who can only give the party grief further down the line.

Starmer might not know politics, but he's employed people who do. Despite his many surrenders to the lobbying of the gender cops, they are not satisfied and they will keep open this line of attack on Labour as the party enters into government. When it encounters difficulties, as it surely will, would they rather suffer someone like Duffield who can open lines of right wing pressure on the authoritarian modernisation project, or dispense with her dubious services now while there is a big poll lead and most of the media are soft soaping his leadership? The smart money should go on exclusion now. Headlines today are chip wrappings tomorrow, and Duffield will be a name seldom heard once Starmer's got his feet under the table in Number 10.

Dumping Duffield also serves another function. As we know, there are plenty of Labour MPs who are too cowardly to openly declare their transphobia. Removing their self-appointed spokeswoman reinforces the message that they should keep their views to themselves. Not because Starmer cares about trans people, but again because of party reputational issues. Unlike Rishi Sunak's contracting out of racism and anti-woke politics to the dear departed Suella Braverman, Starmer does not want Labour identified with the extreme transphobia associated with the likes of the Linehans and other gender obsessives. He has fixed Labour's prejudice at the level of "genuine concerns" and not outright bigotry, and for entirely cynical political reasons that's where he wants it to stay.

Still, it's not a done deal yet. Starmer and his friends might be spooked by the backlash from all the worst people who fought in Labour's antisemitism wars and who, ultimately, paved the way for his leadership. But just as they made him they are entitled to think they could destroy him too. If Duffield is reinstated is peace now at the price of strife later. The alternative is a few moans, whinges, and trending topics on Twitter now for one less headache in the future. What's it to be?

Saturday 25 November 2023

The Party's Over - Stoke-on-Trent, Friday 8th December, 6.30pm

Of all the speaking gigs I've done since Falling Down/The Party's Over came out, this is the engagement I'm looking forward to the most. Organised by North Staffs Trades Council, which I once had the privilege of being a delegate to, and Stoke's excellent new community book shop, Drop City Books, on Friday 8th December you can hear me talking about the book, the state the Tories are in now, and undoubtedly the conversation will drift on to Keir Starmer and the Labour Party.

This is a ticketed event, and they're available here. Looking forward to seeing you on the 8th!

Thursday 23 November 2023

Carnage in Croydon

I've told this story here before, so please indulge me. Many years ago, a comrade of mine went for selection in a seat designated by Labour as safe. The long and short listing exercise was observed, and they made it to the final three. Not wanting to mess about, they got the members' details and visited the first house on the list. They introduced themselves, and was told politely but firmly to save their patter. Why? Because they'd returned their voting papers by post the previous week, several full days before the shortlisting for the ballot was officially finalised. Knowing the selection was blatantly stitched for a favoured son of the machine, my comrade refused to participate in the farce, packed their bags, and went home. There might have been some shadenfreude when the party lost the seat at the subsequent election.

Stitch ups are as Labour as the NHS, SureStart centres, and bombing people. We've seen left wingers excluded from selection votes on the flimsiest of pretexts, and sitting officials barred from re-standing on spurious grounds. Because selections are screened right from Keir Starmer's office, via the ministrations of Morgan McSweeney and his allies and subordinates, nothing happens without their knowledge. Where stitching has to be done because someone left wing or someone whose face doesn't fit (i.e. allies of Angela Rayner), this clique nods it through. Any complaints about dodgy practice go straight in the bin.

Which makes the selection shenanigans in Croydon all the more interesting. The Croydon East constituency has been resurrected following the Tories' boundary review, and is a dead cert win for Labour at the next election. The CLP for the new seat doesn't exist yet, and so London region - a notoriously factional structure - imposed interim officers to decide the long list and the short list. Party democracy, such as it is, was entirely circumvented. As a result, four candidates got the rubber stamp. These included one Joel Bodmer, who happens to be a close ally of Steve Reed, the Croydon North MP and Starmer's shadow for DEFRA. Like Reed, Bodmer has a chequered history with the local Labour Party who, you might recall, bankrupted the council after turning the local authority into a property speculator.

But allowing the members to freely make a choice from the shortlisted four is too much democracy for the powers behind the scenes. Complaints reached the ears of Michael Crick, who has spent the last 18 months running a Twitter account publicising and investigating party selections. Earlier on Thursday, he reported that complaints had been made to London region and national HQ alleging fraud and tampering with membership lists. One member complained that an email address claiming to be her had requested an online vote, while noting she knew of others in the same boat. She also added she had left the party a year ago. Crick also says he has been handed the membership list that is given to shortlisted candidates for canvassing, noting it has been tampered with. "Dozens of members have had home addresses changed in ways which suggest systematic not human error." Egregious stitching in other words. However, following publicity the selection meeting has been postponed and all votes cast voided, with region announcing it will undertake an investigation/cover up.

Last year, Labour changed its rule book to say fairness and natural justice had no bearing on the expulsion process. That was merely a case of saying the quiet part out loud when it came to the party's operation in general. However, the Croydon case is so blatant and corrupt precisely because the McSweeney clique and their little helpers have grown accustomed to doing things their own way. The party is theirs, they are judge and jury so it doesn't matter how amateurish and in-your-face their stitching is because they control the process. But this relies on two things: that not enough people care and the media turn a blind eye. Crick is a famous and retired mainstream journalist, but his reporting has brought some of the Labour right's dark arts out into the light. And because the carnage in Croydon is so bad, is linked to a key Starmer lieutenant, and goes all the way up to his own office there is plenty here for an increasingly desperate Tory party looking for anything they can hit Labour with in this pre-pre-election period. And the likes of the Mail and Express to get their teeth into.

In this case, the ducking and a diving of Labour's new "grown up" politics is potentially very damaging and could, if it becomes widely known, knock holes in Starmer's reputation as "Mr Rules". Most people reading this know he's deceitful and shameless, but many don't. And already with the prospect of his replacing Rishi Sunak regarded an inevitability absent any enthusiasm or hope for something better, this is another one of those moments that chip away at his legitimacy. Even before he's entered office.

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Jeremy Hunt's Pre-Election Give Aways

At first glance Jeremy Hunt's second and, in all likelihood, last Autumn statement is unexpectedly good news. A cut to National Insurance, giving back £450/year to those on average salaries. This is due to come into force in January. Pensioners can look forward to a big hike in the state pension, with it increasing by 8.5% April. Social security up to match inflation. Local housing allowance was also put up, alcohol frozen, and the minimum wage cranked up to £11.44/hour, translating into a pay rise of £1,800/year for the lowest paid full time workers. Where has this Conservative Party been? Isn't Hunt trying to outflank a Labour Party who have said nothing and promised nothing on any of these issues?

Not in the slightest. These are measures designed to dazzle and bedazzle. The Tories know full well that their press allies are going to be effusive with praise. I can almost see The Sun's front page now, leading with the pension and wage increases superimposed onto a frozen bottle of booze. And this is exactly what any Tory chancellor would do. In an election year, it's the done thing for hitherto tight-pursed, penny-pinching occupants of Number 11 to shower the electorate with a generous helping of goodies. And the more mean spirited they usually are, the greater their largesse is talked up. Indeed, the fact the NI decrease is coming in imminently instead of waiting for the start of the new financial year suggests that election is coming sooner rather than later.

But this is smoke and mirrors stuff, and does not depart from Rishi Sunak's political strategy to manage expectations by dampening down belief in the capacity of the state to do anything. In Hunt's statement, this intent manifests in two ways. With £27bn more than expected to play with, rather than plugging gaps in eroding public services the Tories elected to give it away. The second is his announcement that state spending should never exceed economic growth, virtually guaranteeing even more cuts if the economy heads south. And his expectation that the public sector should strive to be more productive, with bureaucracy - that old Tory favourite - singled out as the barrier to efficiency. Never mind they're dropping to bits because the Tories have starved them of funds for nearly 14 years.

And consider who benefits from thse measures. Increasing benefits after holding them down so long still leaves this country the meanest in Western Europe where supporting the poorest are concerned. The big increase in the minimum wage is not before time, but only partially addresses the real terms erosion of wages that has characterised the sunset years of this Tory government. The state pension reaffirms their fidelity to the triple lock, hoping a generous bung to the pensioner base will turn them out at the next election and deliver them from a deserved drubbing. And that National Insurance cut? This applies to the 27 million workers who pay 12% on their salaries between £12,571 and £50,270. Higher paid employees pay two per cent on monies over the £50k mark. What that means is the higher the salary, the bigger the cut. Someone on an average salary will keep £450/year, but those at the top and beyond can look forward to pocketing a £750 saving. A subsidy for the wealthiest paid for by crumbling public services. Still, that's nothing compared to the billions handed to business. They will permanently enjoy a tax cut of 25p for every pound they invest in their firms.

The "good news" around benefits is tempered by a renewed assault on disabled people. As trailed last month, the Tories have now decided the flexible working that usually irks them offers a new excuse to tighten the screws. Their so-called back to work plan comes with more conditionalities, a more brutalising range of sanctions, and a new campaign of demonisation. As Hunt puts it, "Anyone choosing to coast on the hard work of taxpayers will lose their benefits." Red meat, they hope, for the crueller sections of the Tory base who might be Reform UK-curious.

In all, this is a short term budget designed to get the Tories over the electoral finishing line. There's nothing to address the anaemic growth forecast by the OBR. And no, reducing business taxes won't magically cut it. The headline grabbers are designed to bamboozle and hoodwink. But for most people, particularly working age people, they can see how even with higher benefits and/or NI cuts that they're worse off than before the pandemic. The prices have gone up and they keep going up, and the extra money can't stretch far enough. And that's why the Tory fates are sealed. They could have made other choices, but they didn't. Therefore, come the Spring it is their turn to suffer as the British electorate turns out and chooses to bury them. Possibly permanently.

The Human League - One Man In My Heart

While tonight's post is cooking, here's a ditty from the middle of the 90s to tide you over.

Sunday 19 November 2023

On Tory Briefcases

With the return of Dave to frontline politics and James Cleverly displacing the vengeful but weak Suella Braverman, there has been a sense among Westminster watchers that something has changed. The policy agenda hasn't. The new Home Secretary is apparently keen on making sure the Rwanda deal happens and the deportations begin as soon as possible. In time for May, perhaps? What we're seeing the return of is not "sensible politics", which have never really existed, but an attempted restoration of the pre-Brexit vibe economy.

What do we mean? Cast your mind back to how politics was performed before the referendum spoiled their game. On the one side there was Dave, George Osborne, and Nick Clegg. Opposing them was Ed Miliband and then, as now, an unremarkable clone army of inauthentic witterers and empty suits. There were some political differences between the two sides. Labour experimented with some social democratic-sounding policies and occasionally (very occasionally) uttered the word 'inequality'. All this while promising not to cut too far or too fast. There's a rousing slogan if there ever was one. And on the other? Some of the most appallingly destructive and cruel policies this country has ever seen. An unnecessary restructure that severely weakened the NHS but made it easier for Tory donors to get their slice of state money. The collapse of child and adult social care. Cuts to schools. The evisceration of the civil service and public services generally. And the return of social security cruelties not seen since the workhouse. Punitive sanctions that left people destitute. The grim farce of the bedroom tax, and the indignity of the work capability assessment. This is before we even mention the couple of hundred thousand excess deaths that occurred before the pandemic thanks to their programme of cuts.

Yet, to look at Dave, Osborne, and Clegg, their horrific legacy was delivered with an observance of the rules of the constitutional game. They were courteous in public, paid lip service to the rule of law, pretended their policies were driven by evidence and not ideology (and certainly not interests). They gave off a vibe of being at ease in office, of having a plan for dealing with the problems they defined and definitely exacerbated, and all three were accomplished performers in the media. Not that it mattered much. They too were beneficiaries of the real blue wall - the barrier collectively erected by the right wing press against criticism and democratic pressures. Marrying this to always being seen in a suit and never in casual clothing, and how comfortable they were in front of TV camera,s they gave off vibes of competence. They had their long-term economic plan, even though it didn't exist. They knew what they were doing, when the indices for GDP and living standards showed they did not. Their accomplishment was seeding a structure of feeling that appealed to just enough people to win the Tories their second term and a slim majority.

This is what briefcase Toryism is. For instance, if like Dave and Osborne Boris Johnson had nodded to constitutional niceties, never contrived to outrage, and wasn't stupid enough to unnecessarily break his own laws and shield favoured lackeys from accountability, he'd still be in office. To be seen playing by the rules of the game protects a politician from media commentators and other politicians who affect to uphold these conventions. This is what separates Rishi Sunak from Johnson and Liz Truss. His expensive suits and shoes, the efforts gone to for personal branding, the niche he carved out in the Tory leadership contest he lost - of lecturing the other candidates on fiscal probity - marked him out as the "serious" choice. Which is one reason why the membership rejected him. When the wheels fell off Truss's premiership, it was the sensible people who steadied government and then secured the top job for the right man. It's true Sunak has proven just as useless as his predecessor, but his own approach to governing the country is an unshowy affair of not doing much. Except for outsourcing the unpopular populism to noted right wingers.

Therefore, it doesn't matter what Sunak's particular politics are. It doesn't even count that he was a Brexiteer. He has the smooth, business-like habitus of a Cameroon. His very appearance and manner of speaking recalls the memory of the Coalition government, and the vibe he wants to give off is underscored by bringing Dave back into government. Briefcase Toryism is their version of sensible centrism, and ticks exactly the same boxes. Both pride themselves on what you might call heady pragmatism. A hard worship of accomplished fact, which are selected for and refined by media and political framing. In as much as they differ, it's on the specifics of managing the class relations and contradictions of British capitalism. And, true to this tradition, Keir Starmer has yet to offer a programme for fixing its problems. He too is content to emit the right vibes, and this is undoubtedly a preview of what to expect more of when he's in office.

However, a long hibernation awaits Tory briefcaseism. With defeat inevitable and a period of right wing ascendency in the party likely, where do the so-called "good" Tories go? Do they snipe from the sidelines to fill the copy of their dwindling press? Cross the floor? Leave the Commons for profitable opportunities outside? Bed down and snooze until better times come? Whatever is the case, now the briefcase tendency has a firm grip on the leadership they are the ones who will cop the blame for the coming disaster. At least their outfits will come in handy for the post-politics job interviews.

Saturday 18 November 2023

A Tour of Stoke-on-Trent

I was there for 27-and-a-bit years, and I'll always have an abiding affection for the place. This video does a good job of providing an outsider's point of view without being condescending or doing crap town gloating. Help unbreak Stoke by visiting!

Also good to see Drop City Books getting a plug. Some more news about that coming up ...

Thursday 16 November 2023

How Damaged is Keir Starmer?

That was a bit bruising. 56 Labour MPs rebelled against Keir Starmer's command to abstain, and joined 69 other MPs supporting the SNP's amendment calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. After briefing suggested 18 front benchers would resign/be sacked for defying the whip, in the end only 10 had the courage to do so. Perhaps most surprising among their number was Jess Phillips. It might have more to do with "constituency reasons" (41,000 - or 35% of her constituents are Muslims) than a principled stand, but a vote against is a vote against. And besides, she showed more dignity and courage than those MPs who spoke in the Commons in favour of a ceasefire, then abstained. Or abstained, and then tweeted as if they had voted for the amendment. Or had previously supported a ceasefire and then decided career came before conscience. Nevertheless, not great for the Labour leadership. But how damaging is this for Starmer's leadership?

In one respect, Freddie Hayward's assessment of the immediate damage seems spot on. No one, not even the left MPs portrayed the vote as a rebellion against Starmer. The vituperative and hurt language of Suella Braverman's sacking statement was absent, and it was Israel's genocidal assault on the people of Gaza that was the focus of Labour rebels' speeches. Not the mental gymnastics of Labour's tacit support. Everyone was very careful to not challenge the leadership's politics. Second, while there was a breadth in the vote against (alongside Phillips, Liam Byrne and Stella Creasy are hardly "usual suspects" and they supported the amendment) a lot of those outside the left MPs are broadly supportive of Starmerism and the transformation of the Labour Party. Ergo Starmer slept easily in his bed last night, safe in the knowledge the vote presents no challenge whatsoever to his tenure.

On top of this, there was more good news for Starmer on Thursday. Polling suggests 64% of Muslims still plan on voting Labour, with Gaza being fourth on their overall list of priorities. It was beaten out by bread and butter issues - the cost of living, NHS, and the economy. This is still down a quarter on the support attracted in 2019, but with Labour riding high in the polls there are plenty in Labour - and certainly in the whip's office - who believe they can afford to lose these voters. And in their cynicism they have a point. Even a large rebellion of Muslim communities against Labour is unlikely to cost them the election.

In a paper for an online conference back in 2020, I argued the risk Starmer's winding back from the politics of the preceding years was a demobilisation and disintegration of the electoral coalition Labour put together at the two general elections. Jeremy Corbyn's enduring achievement was not the worst vote since 1935, but the sedimentation of a new, solid bedrock of support Labour could build on to win big in the future. Starmer's gallop to the right risked quarrying out the new base and erecting a substitute coalition on quicksand. Because it was a different time and neither Partygate nor Liz Truss had happened, the concern was this would cost support in the marginals Labour could ill-afford if the election was as polarised as its two predecessors. Politics has moved on, but the insight has not. Starmer is driving loyal voters away and will continue to do so, but the appearance of a pronounced anti-Tory sentiment, which Labour is benefiting from, means the danger to Labour has changed. Starmer will enter Number 10, perhaps as early as next May, with little fanfare, a deficit of enthusiasm apart from a tiny sliver of people, and a low to no amount of leeway with the public where "tough decisions" are concerned.

The Tories are exceedingly unlikely to benefit from any difficulties the new government would encounter. And so an historic opportunity opens up for the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. But because of the arrogance Labour has repeatedly shown its Muslim support, there's an opening there to for the left. It's not hard to suppose independent left challenges from the likes of Aspire in Bethnal Green and Bow, or other left independents in places like Walsall South could scoop up enough disaffected Muslims and others outraged by Starmer's knee bending to US interests to unseat Labour. And it might cost seats in some of the marginals along the lines identified previously. Kim Leadbeater better be hoping the good people of Batley and Spen find the Tories more objectionable than the say-one-thing-vote-the-other-way trick she pulled on Wednesday, for instance. I am and remain sceptical of left wing challenges to Labour under First Past the Post, but a handful of seats could be tipped. And this becomes a problem because there's a chance independent left wingers in the Commons could become the nucleus of a new alternative to Labour, especially with the Tories out of the picture and mass opposition to Starmer being to the left of his government. A situation that could float Lib Dem and Green boats might finally furnish the left with a sea worthy vessel as well. If this comes to pass, all three of them will have Starmer to thank for his carelessness.

Image Credit

Tuesday 14 November 2023

Suella Braverman's Feeble Revenge

Suella Braverman's letter to the Prime Minister is funny. The petulant, almost childish tone, the unrestrained spitefulness and lying, and the delusions of grandeur. Braverman would never do well at stand up, but she at least raised a few titters from me.

Where to begin with her three page epistle? We learn that Braverman extracted a price from Rishi Sunak when he signed her up for the second crack at Home Secretary. Their alleged agreement committed him to reducing immigration, introducing legislation that would box out the provisions of the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights, stick with the Northern Ireland Protocol as was and keep the Retained EU Law bill, and formally institutionalise transphobia through the issuing of statutory guidance to schools. By my reckoning, that's three issues that weren't in the 2019 manifesto and, indeed, the last one breaks it. The Tories were previously committed to LGBTQ inclusive education.

The rest of Braverman's letter is a long complaint about how these unilaterally declared policies went nowhere. "I wrote you letters", she whinges, "but you never answered them!". She moans about how robust legislation wasn't in place that would put the disgusting Rwanda scheme on a firm footing, and how Sunak wasn't interested in pursuing this further/ He was seemingly content to leave it to the fates or good fortune. Instead, the government were thwarted in the courts. This should have been taken as a warning, but nothing more has been done to save the scheme ahead of the Supreme Court's imminent decision on Wednesday. As such, Braverman concludes that her former boss has "no appetite for doing what is necessary, and therefore no real intention of fulfilling your pledge to the British people". Ouch.

She then has a go over the Palestinian solidarity marches, showing no contrition for her role in Saturday's white riot. Braverman says she's "become hoarse in urging you to ban the hate marches [sic]" on grounds that they, not she, threaten "community cohesion". Again, she complains about his weakness and refusal to use his office to do things. I.e. Turn the country into an outright authoritarian hellhole in which Braverman has free rein to prosecute and persecute any groups she wishes to.

I can't really blame Braverman for not understanding why she was appointed, seeing as the Very Smart People paid to comment on politics don't either. Her purpose was to say racist things, be outrageous, wind up the public, and ram home new wedges the Tories might profit from. In search of some post-Brexit condiment to make the Conservative dish more appetising before the next election, Braverman was the woman to administer it. Would you like some xenophobic, anti-immigrant sauce on your chips sir? But the actual implementation of the policy didn't matter. Sunak was unconcerned about delays to the Rwanda plan because he only believed in it as a means of creating new opportunities for friction and grandstanding. He doesn't want to be known as leading the most authoritarian and racist government of recent times, especially with the glamorous thrum of Silicon Valley in his near future. And, to be fair to Sunak, he learned the importance of appearing to do something while doing nothing from Boris Johnson.

The chutzpah of the lies though. Not just the usual rubbish about the Palestinian solidarity movement, or claiming her policies are the people's priorities, or that they were in the manifesto. But the funniest and most desperately grasping line was this: "It is generally agreed that my support was a pivotal factor in winning the leadership contest and thus enabling you to become Prime Minister". Pah, she wishes. Of the 60-strong right wing group Braverman is loosely affiliated with, only 20 of them could be bothered to dial in or turn up for their "emergency meeting" after her overdue sacking. Interestingly, they have today launched yet another research group. The splintering cadres of post-war Trotskyism has nothing on these guys. The truth is the briefcase tendency stepped in after the Liz Truss disaster and agreed among themselves that Sunak was their man because the membership could not be trusted to make the right decision. The then just-resigned Braverman didn't have enough backbench supporters to make a blind bit of difference. Besides, she was hardly going to support Penny Mordaunt - the only other viable candidate.

And there, one has to hope, ends Braverman's career as a minister of state. Someone utterly without principle, driven by self-aggrandisement, petty-mindedness, and an authoritarian disrespect for the law and the lives of others. She's the sort of candidate UKIP would have rejected 10 years ago for being "too extreme". And yet here we are, a fascist-adjacent politician who slithered her way up the Tory pole and made the kind of speeches that might have given Nick Griffin pause. May a long period of irrelevance on the back benches beckon, followed by a richly deserved humiliation in the next Conservative leadership contest.

Image Credit

Monday 13 November 2023

The Return of Dave

Who saw that coming? No sooner were the lobby hacks getting over the expected demise of Suella Braverman than Rishi Sunak pulls off the unexpected: David Cameron enters into Downing Street and, following a hasty ennoblement, is appointed Foreign Secretary. I don't want to call it a master stroke, but in the game of politics no one saw it coming. We've gone from a day where Labour would have made hay over Braverman's departure to one where the headlines were occupied by Dave's return to frontline politics. Sunak has short circuited the "weak, weak, weak taunts and his appearance of buckling under political pressure. Which is just as well because the fates are not kind to Prime Ministers who hand active, mobilised social movements a ministerial scalp.

Getting rid of Braverman immediately posed the question: who now? As rightly forecasted, the honour of being her replacement and the sixth Home Secretary since 2016 (seven if you count Braverman twice) fell to James Cleverly. At the Foreign Office, he's burnished his reputation as a dependable pair of hands. Someone not given to grand standing and has loyally discharged Britain's traditional interests without any qualms. For Sunak, he's the natural counter to Braverman who, hired to say the unsayable, inevitably went off piste and threatened to bury the Tory ski resort under a political avalanche. With a reputation for seriousness, and as someone who has spoken sensitively and positively about his mixed race background, it is hoped Cleverly can repair the government's fraught relationship with the police and start undoing the damage left by his predecessor.

As many have pointed out, bringing Dave back into the fold after a
barely-reported scandal and, more recently, "working closely" with a UK-China investment firm shows up a paucity of talent on the Tory benches. An observation that won't find any quarrel round these parts. But within the terms of briefcase Toryism, Dave works on three counts. He is experienced, is well known among the foreign policy establishments of the States That Matter (though not always positively - see his frequent and not terribly successful efforts at handbagging the EU), and is a known quantity. He's not about to go rogue and sign Britain up to recognising Palestine. And his administration's extensive love-in with China won't do any harm given how much Sunak is pivoting to East Asia. Second, Dave had the special sauce where a layer of Tory and Tory-curious support was concerned. His slippery PR patter and teflon countenance served him well in office until the Brexit gamble destroyed his career. Might some be attracted back to the party now Sunak has disposed of Braverman's services? And thirdly, most outrageously, at a time of fraught politics and a mass movement against British foreign policy, making Dave a peer give the Foreign Office an extra layer of insulation from democratic accountability. Even Lindsay Hoyle expressed his annoyance. Dave will be taking questions in the Lords while a bag carrier becomes his meat shield in the Commons.

Sunak has won the day by keeping the fall out of Braverman from the main headlines, but is it going to make any difference to Tory prospects? No. Dave destroyed his cache with liberal-inclined Tory voters by delivering a Leave vote in the referendum, and then leaving others to clean up his mess. Nor are right wingers going to look at his return with favour. The never not ridiculous Andrea Jenkyns was hardly full of praise in her no confidence letter. And you can't imagine the Tory base being full of unalloyed enthusiasm, given it was he who "forced" many of them to support UKIP in 2015. He was woke before wokery was a glimmer in the Tory culture warrior's eye.

On the other hand, he reminds plenty of people of how made life worse. The cruelties he oversaw in social security, particularly the humiliations of the work capability assessment and the bedroom tax, the saddling of young people with unsustainable levels of debt, the flatlining of living standards - is it any wonder Dave accelerated the turning of an entire generation against the Tories?

Sunak seems to have realised this as the day wore on. Without any women occupying the four chief offices of state and no obvious right winger front and centre, he has belatedly resurrected the miserable career of Esther McVey. Dubbed the "Minister of Common sense" by The Sun, she will now work as a minister-without-portfolio with responsibility for fronting up the government in the media. In other words, someone else who will say the right wing things Sunak is too cowardly to repeat, but doesn't have any power to wreck stuff. Though being white means McVey does not have the same leeway Braverman had in her pronouncements.

In the social media branding accompanying the reshuffle, the Tories said Sunak was "strengthening his team". What this really means is briefcaseism dominates the cabinet more than hitherto. But it's the politics that matters. It doesn't matter who's selling it, be it Dave and his salesman slick, Cleverly and his new found seriousness, or McVey and the inevitable "I'm working class me" routine, no one is biting. Thankfully, the agony might soon be over. Dan Hodges alighted on the number of ministers stepping down voluntarily and how this points to a May election. I hope this is correct. The wipeout of the Tories, so thoroughly and richly deserved, cannot come soon enough.

The Afterlife of Liberal Zionism

In the latest edition of Politics Theory Other, Alex talks to Amjad Iraqi about Israel's ongoing massacres in Gaza, the Netanyahu government's war aims, the scant interest Western governments have shown in making a two-state solution workable, and the ethereal life led by liberal Zionism.

Saturday 11 November 2023

After Braverman's Bovver Boys

In politics, chains of causation are often fuzzy. They are subject to countervailing tendencies and the pressures of concurrent actions, movements, and affects. The relationship between Suella Braverman's repeated smears against Palestinian solidarity marches and the white riot of far right thugs by the Cenotaph was not one of them. Her comments, embellished and amplified by fash-adjacent commentators like Douglas Murray and Matthew Goodwin conjured up a mob who, without anyone to kick off against, attacked the police. Braverman got the ugly scenes on Remembrance Day that she wanted, except it was supposed to be the other people who were to go on a violent rampage. Not upstanding citizens who, in their patriotic fervour, screamed "where's your fucking poppy?" at the plod.

In the end, the figures speak for themselves. 92 arrests from the thousand or so fascists at the memorial, while the Met reported "no issues" on the Palestinian solidarity march. This was supplemented by some confrontations with a 150-strong group toward evening, but that's it. From a demonstration of between 700,000 and a million people. The biggest since Iraq, eclipsing the so-called People's Vote marches of several years ago. And whereas the Iraq demo was a mass, if sullen affair by all accounts today's marches in London, Glasgow, and Cardiff were more politically clued up and angry. The rarity of stupid and antisemitic signs, broadcast by social media's placard police as "proof" the whole demo was a racist endeavour, demonstrates the increased level of self-understanding as consciously anti-imperialist and solidaristic rather than simply being a "war is bad" mobilisation. No wonder it will continue to give the establishment the heebeegeebees.

But the immediate consequence is not only pressure on the government and opposition (after all, these are as much demonstrations against Labour Party policy as they are the Tories' backing of Israeli genocide), but a real falling out among the political establishment too. As last week wore on, more and more Tories and their allies were showing concern about the Home Secretary. When even Keir Starmer delivered a damaging broadside against Braverman and, by extension, Sunak too, he was speaking for plenty on the government benches who think the Pennywise clown show at the Home Office has gone on long enough. And yet where are the signs of her demise? In Sunak's statement put out this evening, he said there were bad people on both sides. Nothing, as you would expect, on Braverman's responsibility for the scenes in front of the Cenotaph.

Is he going to sack her then? The problem Sunak has got is while she is useful because she says the things he won't, it's obvious her perpetual campaigning has made her a liability. If the Prime Minister sticks by her, he's open to the not-entirely-accurate barbs that he's too weak to giver her the heave ho. And should he submit to the pressure, like his predecessors in the leader-centric game of Westminster politics, that invites further erosion of his authority. He's in a justly deserved position of exquisite political pain. No wonder she's apparently pleading with Sunak behind the scenes to call an election on stopping the boats. Her brand of toxicity would be indispensable for such a lurch into the gutter.

Unfortunately for Braverman and Sunak, her future is more than a matter of internal Tory politics and electoral strategy. Her week's worth of far right-enabling antics, on the streets and in the Jewish Chronicle's sheets, open insubordination, and unprecedented public criticism of the police is accumulating nothing but opposition among elite layers and opinion formers. If Sunak clings onto her, sooner rather than later he could face the kind of revolt he helped initiate against Boris Johnson.

Image Credit

Wednesday 8 November 2023

Laundering Sunak's Reputation

It keeps coming up and I'm sick of seeing it. Suella Braverman says something outrageous ... and Rishi Sunak is criticised not for sacking her, but for being too weak to do so..

Yesterday's exchange at King's Speech questions are a case in point. Criticising the light agenda of the coming year's legislative programme (it's almost as if an election is due), Keir Starmer mocked Braverman for dubbing homelessness "a lifestyle choice". He then goaded the Prime Minister, suggesting her posturing was driven by her future leadership campaign, and this reflected poorly on the government. Summoning his internal headmaster, Starmer told Sunak off and said neither the government nor him were "serious". The look on Sunak's face did suggest the criticism had punched a bruise. Immediately afterward, Yvette Cooper and sundry others took to the Twittersphere (Xsphere?) and immediately jumped on the "too-weak-to-sack-her" train..

It's time, once and for all, that this idea went to landfill. Because it's wrong. That all cabinets and shadow cabinets, from council chamber to Commons have to strike a balance between the factions sitting on the benches behind them is a truism of politics. Woe betide those who disregard it. But suggesting Sunak can't sack Braverman because she might cause trouble is ridiculous when you consider how slight her support is. The 2022 leadership election had Braverman on between two and five per cent of members polled - behind Kemi Badenoch, Penny Mordaunt, and Tom Tugendhat. Not to say Truss and Sunak. In the first ballot of MPs she got 32 votes, which fell to 27 in the second. And her popularity hasn't improved since. Sunak doesn't need her to shore up his position. Despite her ambitions and sense of aggrandisement, in parliamentary terms she's a minnow..

No. Sunak appointed Braverman within a week of her originally resigning as Home Secretary not because she is super competent and was what briefcase Toryism needed. It was to inflame, stoke up tensions, and say racist things. The Tories want a populist Brexit-style substitute to glue an electoral coalition together, and the dominant school of thought thinks going hard on reactionary tropes is the way to do it. Braverman is a megaphone for this politics. She does it so Sunak doesn't have to. He has a "reasonable" brand and a socially liberal vibe to protect, and he won't want the stain of overt racism spoiling his shiny suits as he circulates among Silicon Valley people after the next election. If you need more proof of his intentions, then why on earth did he appoint the thug Lee Anderson as deputy chair of his party if it was not to provide distance between himself and the strategy of engineering wedges?.

In other words, stop letting Sunak off the hook. Saying he's weak and has to suffer Braverman is giving him an alibi. Instead, the attacks on the homeless are his as much as they are the Home Secretary's. As is the Rwanda plan, the dangerously authoritarian rhetoric about Palestine solidarity, the gross abuse of trans people, and the thousand and one shitty things his government have done this last year. Responsibility rests with him, and it's a failure of the duty to oppose to launder his reputation in this way.

Monday 6 November 2023

A Curious Case of Reluctant Authoritarianism

The police waited until they left the Palace of Westminster. One by one, senior government figures were turfed from their ministerial cars and arrested. Backbench MPs were rounded up in their offices, and the few that had escaped back to their constituencies were apprehended. As they waited in the holding cells into the early hours, they reflected that perhaps it wasn't a good idea to pass Michael Gove's bill on insulting and undermining the UK. Of course, none of this will ever happen. The criminals who oversaw over 100,000 unnecessary deaths during their programme of social security and public sector cuts and managed to triple it with their reckless management of the pandemic are never going to face charges for mutilating the country they affect to love.

Leaked documents that made their way into Sunday's Observer showed how civil servants working under Gove's direction are looking to broaden the definition of "extremist" to anyone deemed to undermine the UK and UK institutions. The definition reads "Extremism is the promotion or advancement of any ideology which aims to overturn or undermine the UK’s system of parliamentary democracy, its institutions and values." This is so broad that 'extremism' could range from the advocacy of electoral reform to calls for abolishing the monarchy to the replacement of parliament by direct and participatory democracy. No one has had the chance to scuttle out to defend the expanded definition yet, but if they ever do they'll rule out it being used against "respectable" organisations and "decent citizens". Laughably, we're expected to take this government on its word. And should Gove see it through what are the chances of it getting vetoed by a Keir Starmer-led Labour government? Somewhere south of zero I'd wager.

This all adds to the atmosphere of drum banging authoritarianism since the Palestine solidarity movement threw the political establishment into a panic. The government's framing of the 7th October Hamas attack as some sort of year zero event, the official mourning the Tories and Labour colluded to enforce, the apologism for war crimes, and outright lying about protesters' character and intentions are not working. Even repeating the position in fluffier language, incorporating real concerns and taking a hand wringing approach hasn't convinced. And so as the rhetoric isn't demobilising anyone, they turn to the authoritarianism.

But there has been a curious reticence about it. Never one to mince her words, Suella Braverman is choosing her steps very carefully. She has straight up called the protests of the last few weeks "hate marches". Yet, if they really were hate marches and an occasion for anti-Jewish racism why has she not banned them? Instead, we're treated to a grim tete a tete where Braverman says she would look very favourably on any police application to stop demonstrations, while the Met Commissioner pleads ignorance about what a hate march is. Then we have her and other ministers arbitrarily designating "remembrance weekend" as something sacred and demand the police stop the desecration of the Cenotaph, when this Saturday's march starts well after the minute's silence and goes nowhere near it. And then earlier today the Met issued a request to postpone the demonstration. To which the organisers have said no. It's seems to be too hot an issue for anyone to handle.

Could the rumoured but seldom seen conservative conscience be kicking in? A case of not even Braverman or the cops wanting to be held responsible for an unwarranted attacked on liberty and freedom? Or, as is more likely, they haven't burned out all traces of political sense and realise that hundreds of thousands could well defy a ban anyway, leading to open defiance, ugly scenes, and the generalisation of a solidarity movement into something that calls into question wider issues: the authoritarian state, policing, the cosy establishment consensus. The growth and spread of Palestinian solidarity has shown the powers that be that, despite their hopes, not only is the left much stronger than Starmer's disposal of Corbynism suggested but that politics as a whole remains febrile. Authoritarianism is a reflex when the state is caught on the hop, but exercising it with relish could lead to all kinds of unforeseen consequences. The government are politically clueless, but they're not so far gone that they don't know when a crisis of legitimation could become a real possibility. And it's this that is staying their hand, for now.

Image Credit

Sunday 5 November 2023

Upholding the Status Quo

With the traditional party of British capitalism slated for an inevitable, historic defeat it's important that the B team is ready to pick up where the Tories have left off. And, indeed, that was looking to be the case until Keir Starmer fluffed his initial response to Israel's massacres in Gaza. Who knew soft soaping war crimes would lead to a loss of support among Muslims and parts of progressive opinion? And this is a problem for the smooth transfer of government custodianship. With a lot of MPs defying Starmer's line and calling for a ceasefire and the loyalty of a core constituency coming unstuck, the reliability of Labour as a stable vehicle for bourgeois interests comes into question. Can Starmer repair his coalition and allow the minority interest to carry on before without having conceded anything on Britain's settled pro-Israel and pro-American status quo?

The line from Labour spox pushed out the door to do the Sunday morning shows has been consistent with David Lammy's efforts at articulating Labour's position. And it's as wretched as you'd expect. Blithely skipping from the Yom Kippur war to the present, it's almost as if absolutely nothing happened between 1973 and 7th October of this year. As brutal and disgusting Hamas's attack was, how can this be separated out from and not be rooted in decades of assassinations, bombings, and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians? If horror is visited upon a colonised population, that they could bite back with ferocity and atrocity is always a possibility and one Israel's politicians invited. It was they, after all, who funded Hamas as a fundamentalist alternative to the PLO - a policy Netanyahu has carried on faithfully in an effort to divide resistance to the occupation. All of this will be known to Lammy, but because of Labour's historic fidelity to the bourgeois consensus on the Middle East this has to remain the great unsaid. Everyone was innocent prior to 7th October and responsibility for what came after falls squarely and solely on Hamas.

Lammy goes for the faux sympathy toward those who call of a ceasefire. We understand. "We all want the bloodshed and the suffering to end." Except, "we" don't. Does Netanyahu, who's stringing out the military campaign to forestall efforts at removing him from office? Do the murderous extremists of the settler movement using the cover of war to force Palestinians residents on the West Bank out of their homes? How about those wanting North Gaza annexed as a step toward their blood soaked fantasy of eretz Israel? Nor, actually, does the UK government and by extension Labour and the shadow foreign secretary. Lammy writes that a "humanitarian pause" is preferable to a ceasefire because Hamas will still hold hostages and fire its pitiful rockets at Israel. If he truly believes that's the case, then won't that happen anyway during the "pause"? If there was any honesty about the man he'd say what everyone already knows. The Labour leadership don't really care about Palestinians dying, and so are happy to wait for the White House to make the running. Humanitarian pauses are a form of words that mean nothing, but are a way of trying to appear concerned so Labour does not cop too much political damage.

When Lammy gets on to the subject of Palestinian casualties, the language used is Delphic to the point of obscenity. The siege conditions Gaza is under are "unacceptable". The spiralling number of dead is "shocking". Who's responsible? And when he does make a concrete demand of Israel, the coward hides behind Antony Blinken and his suggestion the IDF should make efforts to protect innocent lives. He goes on to describe a group of young Palestinians he met in the Summer whose lives were blighted by the occupation and settler encroachment. These weren't members of Hamas, but so moved was he by their plight that they got nary a mention in this year's party conference speech. Nor did Israel/Palestine figure in the year previously. But still, this is authentocrat posturing that shows he cares while limbering up to the big announcement - and one the leadership must be hoping will stem the crisis in core Muslim constituencies: that Labour in power will join most of the non-Western world and recognise a Palestinian state.

Language matters, and this "pledge" has more caveats than Rachel Reeves's book has plagiarised passages. "We will strive to recognise", not "we will". And this can only take place in the context of "efforts" to secure a two-state solution. The viability of which recedes further into the fanciful with every passing day. In fact, the only concrete promise Lammy makes is the appointment of a Middle Eastern envoy to restart the peace process. Or to put it into the Starmerish-to-English translator, they are not going to break with Washington's desires for the region. Everything is to be done within the constraints decided by the state department. Britain gets to bask in the imagined glory of brokering talks and being seen to take an interest in a seemingly intractable issue, but any settlement that is imposed cannot substantially change the status quo because of how Israel is constituted as a colonial project. The settler movement is too big and politically entrenched to be reined in without severe social dislocation and violence. They're not going to put away their guns and avert covetous eyes for the Palestinian village the next hill over because Uncle Sam or Keir Starmer tells them to. Nor is a Palestinian state viable on the meagre and disjointed territories occupied by Gaza and the Fatah-run cantons in the West Bank. And lastly, the US needs Israel as an ally/dependent to enforce its hegemony over the Middle East. It has no interest in ensuring a just outcome.

These are the immediate issues any settlement has to deal with, and both bring into play the unmentionable C-word. Lammy's piece speaks about how he and Starmer are "realists" and we have to deal with the world as we find it. Yet here we are, incapable of even speaking about what Israel is, and what it has done and is doing to Palestine and Palestinians. And because they can't even speak of this, how is anyone supposed to take Starmer/Lammy's commitment to doing anything about it seriously? They're selling a pup and no one's buying, least of all Britain's Muslims.

Image Credit

Saturday 4 November 2023

Performative Cruelty

Several years ago when the Tories still ran Stoke-on-Trent, they hit upon a wheeze they thought would galvanise public support and push homeless people out of the city centre: a de facto homeless tax. The idea was to make it an offence to erect and occupy a tent in the environs of Hanley, with fines escalating from £100 to £500 and £1,000 for repeat "offenders". The Tories soon dropped it, because going big on social cleansing and cruelty was not a good look as the council put the finishing touches on its City of Culture bid. But, as per my crank theory of Tory politics happening twice - first in Stoke, and then in the country - Suella Braverman has resurrected this dead idea and given it a spin of her own.

In a series of X/Twitter posts prefaced with the observation that "The British people are compassionate", she distinguished between the genuinely homeless and those for whom bedding down in shop doorways is "a lifestyle choice". Some of them are even "foreign", she adds. According to a splash in the FT, Braverman wants to see the banning of tents in urban centres and fines for charities that hand them out to homeless people. It's the typical cruelty that comes from the Tories as a matter of routine. There is no ground conceded to how Tory policies have exacerbated the housing crisis in this country and seen tens of thousands lose their home (just shy of 300,000 were registered homeless last Winter). And, naturally, the problem isn't dealt with at source. It's much to give the people they've slung onto the streets a punishment beating.

It's often argued here that conservative philosophy, such as it is, is bunk. This is because the nation comes first before all divisions and conservatism supposedly safeguards the national community. It's pure poppycock, a lie so transparent it's not even convincing enough to be an ideology. Time and again Tory policy is not about supporting people and building things but finding wedge issues to divide people up in a conscious promotion of beggar-thy-neighbour politics. And this is not a recent thing, as wet briefcase Tories like Rory Stewart and David Gauke pretend. Prior to the "populist turn" under Boris Johnson in which the Tories became the Brexit Party/UKIP, between 2010 and 2016 Dave and Osborne mercilessly traduced anyone dependent on social security. Including and especially disabled people and sufferers of chronic illnesses. Between 1997 and 2005 the Tories regularly employed xenophobia and scraped the anti-immigration barrel. Remember their scaremongering ahead of several East European states entering the EU in 2004? And do we really need to remind ourselves of the Thatcher-Major years? The "enemy within"? The unemployed? LGBTQ people? Single mums? Division is the Tory stock-in-trade. No institution has undermined the social fabric of this country more then their wretched party.

With recent polling suggesting a certain weariness toward culture war issues, attacking the homeless is Braverman pivoting away from her usual targets. Not keen on these scapegoats? Don't worry, I have others. Whoever the groups of people she has in her sights are, everything she does is with an eye not to the electorate and winning votes but securing her chances as Tory leader after the coming wipeout. Are the members radicalised enough to vote for this deeply unpleasant NF-adjacent chancer? With most of the overtly racist brigade now decamped to Reform or retirement from politics she could be overplaying her hand. We'll have to see.

Just over three years ago we saw the Tories abolish homelessness overnight in their package of Covid emergency measures. It's a problem they effectively recreated by withdrawing support when things returned to normal. Because promising nothing is central to Tory politics under Rishi Sunak, constructive solutions to problems are ruled out in advance. They have to be subordinated to the politics of permanent campaigning which, for the Tories, means turning homelessness into a wedge issue in which the most vulnerable are demonised and brutalised, and no one is taken off the streets and found accommodation.

The Bourgeois Politics of AI

Nice to know how, during a quiet political period, Rishi Sunak prioritised interviewing Elon Musk at this week's Artificial Intelligence safety summit. Dubbing it Rishi Sunak X Elon Musk as if the Prime Minister's a veteran DJ/Producer sprinkling career magic on a talented new face, there wasn't much of substance said during their 50 minute conversation. Except Sunak got to show off his superficial knowledge of "tech", undoubtedly to position himself as a future silicon valley/roundabout angel investor after the curtain has fallen.

As inexperienced an interviewer as he is a politician, Sunak's gushing indulgence of Musk allowed him to go full hype with the potentials of AI. The throttler of Twitter talked about the exponential development of the technology, estimating its capacity grows between five/ten-fold per year. We don't really need to worry too much about economic impacts because the time will come when no one needs a job. The productivity and automation AI promises means we can look forward to a pampered future with our needs met through a 'universal high income'. Technology will be the great leveller and an age of abundance beckons. "Read Iain Banks!" enthused Musk, showing absolutely no awareness of the political edge that suffuses the Culture novels.

This techtopianism was too much for Sunak, who has spent nearly four years clamping down on any sign of political hope. At the risk of challenging his future boss/client he gently pushed back saying work is important because it's the source of people's drives. AI should "assist" people at work, not replace it. This philosophy, of course, has nothing to do with senses of self-fulfilment. Like all Tory governments the primary concern is the preservation of the wage relation, hence their hostility to four-day week experiments and anything that loosens the tie between income and employment, and with it the dependence of the worker on their boss. Not that Musk takes his own communism-lite vision mongering seriously. A look at labour practices in the firms he's owned over the years is enough to tell you that.

The only other couple of nuggets worth commenting on was Musk's attempted justification of introducing charges for using X/Twitter. Because generative AI makes faking identities or putting out false information much easier, charging users a nominal fee of around $1/year would get around this authentication problem because no bot farm would dole out anything to run hundreds of thousands or millions of fake accounts. If the initial pilot in the Philippines and New Zealand is rolled out globally, surely this would sound the death-knell of the platform for many of its users (see you on Bluesky). The second was safety and regulation. Musk is a proponent of 'longtermism', the fad interior decor many silicon valley moguls have adopted for their mind palaces. It worries about possible future apocalypses, such as Terminator-style rogue AI scenarios. Though, tellingly, not environmental crises and climate collapse. And so he praised efforts at regulating AI, including congratulating Sunak on making sure China was present at his summit. He noted they had signed the official communique and were very interested in safety - a welcome alternative to the reflex Sinophobia fast becoming de rigeur in bourgeois circles.

All told, what was the point of the summit? Was it just an effort by Sunak to bask in reflected glory, rub shoulders with people even richer than him and set him up for a Nick Clegg-style exit? That's too simple an explanation. As Musk rightly noted, London is second only to Silicon Valley as a centre of AI development. True, but this is hardly an "indigenous" development seeing how Deep Mind - a world leader - was acquired by Google a decade ago. But, as far as British statecraft and capital are concerned, there are good reasons to keep their seats at AI's top table with the US and China. As noted here and elsewhere many times, the management of the UK's decline as a world power has seen it assume as close an alliance with the US as possible in a sort of elder statesman and, occasionally, backseat driver role. This is the imbibed foreign policy common sense as far as both parties of government go. The development of AI is another opportunity to enmesh those interests more closely and ensure the Americans don't have a complete monopoly on AI-enabled military hardware and intelligence technologies. The second is the City. The automation of trades and the increasingly complex algorithms and modelling that goes with them has and remains a key driver of IT innovation. If the City is to remain the global hub of commercial and finance capital it has a clear interest in keeping abreast of, driving, and integrating the development of generative AI. Something Sunak is keenly aware of and helps explains why he takes this seriously. He is from that world, after all.

For all the hype around AI, we have to temper the official optimism with more earthy realities. Musk's flights of fancy are a crude progressivism: AI offers the possibility of a life of ease, which means everything in the meantime can be justified with that end in mind. Sunak's aversion to this is more honest in the sense that positing AI as a workplace "co-pilot" asserts its unambiguous articulation with existing patterns of class power and exploitation. Our position is the opposite, separating out the cover for capital the utopian impulse provides and marrying it resolutely to social critique. All previous machinery have reconfigured and reinforced exploitation, but it's the opportunities in the here and now AI and further automation offers that we should grasp. First, as an internal critique of the narrow purposes of accumulation to which it will be put, but also as escape. I.e. A forceful assertion of our politics of work and what it should look like. The better tomorrow won't come with the Sunaks, the Musks, and the AI they're getting excited about. Struggle is our only means of deliverance.

Wednesday 1 November 2023

Five Most Popular Posts in October

No one at the beginning of October could have forecast how changed politics would become by the end of it. Labour went from looking secure to shaky and flailing, despite winning two by-elections. And establishment politics is yet to recover from a shock it never expected. Hamas's surprise attack on Israel and the appalling loss of life that came with it has been dwarfed by the war crimes committed by way of a reply. And that has upended things. Once again a mass movement is in play and the powers that be don't know how to handle it. As such these events are reflected in the month's most popular musings.

1. Keir Starmer's Muslim Support Crisis
2. Imperialism: An Old Labour Tradition
3. Forecasting the Future of the Tories
4. A United Front for Barbarity
5. The Labour Right's Inferiority Complex

The cowardly and evasive stance taken by Keir Starmer that saw him back war crimes, then saying he said no such thing, and later abusing the hospitality of a mosque in south Wales has shown up his ineptitude to Britain's Muslims, who time and again have proven to be among the most loyal Labour voters. It's hard to say whether Starmer's backing of Israel's massacres has caused lasting damage, but it's difficult to see how it could not. Coming in second was a brief consideration of Labour's reflex loyalty to British foreign policy interests. Third was something resembling the usual stock-in-trade: the Tories! And how people earnestly forecasting the return of a radicalised right wing Tory party in the late 2020s. This is exceedingly unlikely because where will the voters for such a party come from? Four is a surmise of the unanimity among the establishment for Israel's war on civilians, and last is another business as usual post. This time looking at the embarrassing self-loathing of the Labour right.

A couple for the second chance saloon on this new day of the new month. We have Monday's post on just what the mass expression of Palestinian solidarity has done to mainstream politics. And, because I despise political dishonesty, the sheer brazen cheek of Rachel Reeves, plagiarist deserves some puntage.

Unfortunately, it's very likely this time in four weeks will be a reflection on the vile behaviour of Netanyahu's government, the IDF and the apologists for murder in this country. Depressing. As ever, if you haven't already don't forget to follow the free newsletter, and if you like what I do (and you're not skint), you can help support the blog. Following me on Twitter and Facebook are cost-free ways of showing your backing for this corner of the internet.