Sunday 31 December 2023

Top Ten Dance Songs 2023

The final post of the year is here, and have I got some choice cuts for you. This year I've eschewed the Mixmag-stylee commentary accompanying each song because, tbh, places to go and people to see. Instead, here's the no-frills count down from ten to two.

10.Stay Awake by Ferry Corsten feat. Diandra Faye
9.Take It Off by Fisher x Aatig
8.Circle of Light by Because of Art feat. Antony Szmierek
7.Clouds by BUNT., Nate Traveller
6.Mantra by Alex Sonata and TheRio
5. Voodoo by Gorgon City
4. Shades of Love by The Blessed Madonna feat. The Joy
3. Warehouse Requiem by Orkidea
2. Drifting by Tiƫsto

On last year's list, I lamented that yours truly's genre of choice - trance - was stuck in a deeply unoriginal groove and was looking to the past for inspiration. In practice, this meant a plethora of dull remixes of the classics and naff facsimiles. Those that did not fear to tread out a new path were recognised here but, unfortunately, the rest of the scene paid no notice. However, one did stand apart from the crowd because it did its own thing, and that's Subterranean by Miss Monique and AVIRA feat. LUNA. Play it loud.

Saturday 30 December 2023

The Most Read 20 of 2023

Having provided the year's overview, what has 2023 looked like in blog posts? I wish I could say all of human life is here, but according to the internet travelling public that pertaining to the Labour Party matters the most. Over half are directly related to the doings of Keir Starmer and crew. If that's your jam, this blog has the jars. Considering the Conservatives are my specialist subject only one post made this most esteemed of lists. The Greens, UFOs, and Russell Brand filled in the rest. But I am pleased a meditation on Antonio Negri's book, From the Factory to the Metropolis came out top. Especially considering he passed away shortly before Christmas.

Here then are the 20 that attracted the plenty.

1. The Class Struggle Vs Cognitive Capitalism
2. The Prospects of a Corbyn-Led Left Party
3. Why Do the Millennials Hate the Tories?
4. Exposing Russell Brand
5. Keir Starmer's Divided Base
6. Nick Cohen and Media Solidarity
7. UFO Disinformation as Social Control
8. Labour's Racist Attack Ad
9. Cultivating Labour's Scapegoats
10. Writing About Keir Starmer
11. BBC Framing and Distortion: A Case Study
12. A Bureaucrat First and Foremost
13. Untangling Reevenomics
14. Politics After the Local Elections
15. Never Apologise, Never Explain
16. And Then They Came for the Soft Left
17. Does Greatness Await the Greens?
18. Can the Labour Left Make a Comeback?
19. Strong on the Weak
20. The Repeated Surrender to Tory Framing

A surprising number read the monthly round up of the most popular posts. If you're one of those, you'll know I regularly plug missives that didn't catch the audiences but are worthy of a wider readership. Here are a dozen pieces, one from each month, that fall into this category. Read them, share them with your friends, and read them some more!

January: Can the Tories Make a 1992-Style Comeback?
February: Sybil, or, The Two Nations
March: The Economics of a Depleted State
April: Labour's Hierarchy of Racism
May: Patients and Profits
June: Hegel's Political Uses
July: Tony Blair Vs the NHS
August: Tronti's Defeatism
September: Habermas's Legitimation Crisis Today
October: Rachel Reeves's Plagiarism Scandal
November: On Tory Briefcases
December: Pondering Science Fiction

Last thing to note before the curtain falls on 2023. Regardless of what this blog ends up doing, it will always remain free to read. But if you do enjoy what appears here and you are fortunate to have quids to spare there are worse ways of disposing disposal cash than supporting this corner of the internet. If you can't or won't, that's fine. Cop us a follow and a like on Twitter or Facebook instead!

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Thursday 28 December 2023

What I've Been Reading Recently

The final three months of 2023 are up. As a stickler for tradition, it's time to visit the books read during this final quarter. And I'm pleased to report I got through a lot of hot while avoiding the rot.

Evelina by Frances Burney
What Maisie Knew by Henry James
Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Caleb Williams by William Godwin
The Perfect Hoax by Italo Svevo
A Nation of Shopkeepers by Dan Evans
The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester
Language and Hegemony in Gramsci by Peter Ives
The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis
The Virginian by Owen Wister
The History of Rasselas by Samuel Johnson
MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
The Aftermath of Feminism by Angela McRobbie
The Cattle Truck by George Semprun
Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
The Female Quixote by Charlotte Lennox
Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo
Best SF Stories of Brain W Aldiss by Brian W Aldiss
Without Gurantees by Paul Gilroy, Lawrence Grossberg, and Angela McRobbie (eds)
The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis
The Man of Feeling by Henry MacKenzie
Reading Science Fiction by James Gunn, Marleen S Barr, and Matthew Candelaria (eds)

I'm going to leave talking about the Ellis to one side as I'm planning on writing about it. But of the others, the stand outs from this quarter's book pile was The Female Quixote. Probably the funniest book I've read this year, which isn't bad for something that's been out for 270 years. It complemented Evelina as 18th century novels of manners, despite the latter being (ostensibly) more serious and less satirical. Sticking with the 1700s, Caleb Williams was a rousing, radical masterpiece from one of the founding thinkers of anarchism. Efforts were made to ban it because the book dared to suggest landowners might be prepared to lie when their interests are at stake. Speaking of naughty books, I got round to reading The Last Temptation, which got on the Vatican's index for blasphemy. For most of the book I was entirely nonplussed. Okay, so some liberties are taken by Kazantzakis in his novelisation of Jesus's adult life but nothing to get the devout too sweaty. But that was before we get toward the end of the book, of which I'll say no more.

Also in there is Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man. Considered one of if not his best, I'm sorry to say I didn't get on with it. But the happy sequel to reading this was a realisation more science fiction was needed in my life, hence the new turn in what this blog will be covering. And why there's a nice academic tome about SF at the bottom of the list.

Did Christmas shower any books upon you? And what are you reading at the moment?

2023 in Politics

Time to toot my horn. Looking back over the year, on balance most of the stuff argued on this blog has come to pass. With one exception.

Following the last general election, professional political understanderers embarrassed themselves about what Boris Johnson's victory meant. Labour faced extinction. The Conservatives could look forward to a decade in power. You don't need me to repeat anything else. Even in the aftermath of this calamity, one corner of the internet held fast to the conclusion the Tories were in long-term decline and had the analysis to back it up. Everything since has vindicated that argument, and nothing in 2023 has suggested otherwise. Even some Tories have tried reckoning with the realities of their predicament. With zero success.

Since Liz Truss disastrously swung by Number 10, the long-term trend and the conjunctural have closely intertwined. It was possible before Johnson's hubris brought us Partygate and for the Tories to win again in 2024, but the actions of both have sped politics up and accelerated the Tories' demise. And Rishi Sunak has done nothing to apply the brakes. At the beginning of the year, he committed his government to do absolutely nothing and he's stuck to his promise. By letting their crisis unfold unimpeded, the local government base got a battering and demonstrated - despite what Saint John of Curtice said at the time - that the Tory doom was almost upon them. Things were no better with parliamentary by-elections, though their barely hanging on in Johnson's old seat saw them switch to anti-environmental and pro-motorist messaging as if this could save their bacon.

As long argued here, if a strategy is discernible among
the crying and the panic, it's a reassertion of core vote concerns. Hammering the environment, attacking trans people, campaigning against refugees and migrants, and giving more money to the better off. All these are signs the Tories have given up trying to win over the undecided. And with Jeremy Hunt already announcing the date for the next budget, that suggests even bigger bribes are incoming. Not that it will help. The Tories are done and it's difficult to see how they might even begin a comeback, let alone make one.

The second concerns a forecast made three years ago. At a small online conference, I argued that Keir Starmer's strategies threatened to break up the core class coalition he'd inherited from Jeremy Corbyn. If he did not push policies with mass appeal that spoke to and articulated their interests, Labour's support would decompose. This was published by Political Quarterly, but has been revisited many times here since. 2023 also confirmed how right this argument was. In recent months, despite still enjoying strong polling leads over the Tories Labour's numbers have gone from hanging around the high to the low 40s, and its council by-election performance hasn't been stellar. With the consolations of spectacular parliamentary by-election wins at the Tories' and SNP's expense, some might think none of this matters. But it does. Starmer's repudiation or watering down of the pledges he was elected leader on has alienated millions of people. Most of these are still going to vote Labour at the election, but without any enthusiasm. And others have taken their votes elsewhere. It's no accident that the Liberal Democrats and the Greens have done so well this year.

When writing the paper I thought this might cause Starmer a significant issue in the medium time vis a vis the Tories. But as they have largely taken themselves out of contention, what this slight decomposition of the Labour vote has meant is a bump in support for the aforementioned parties, and setting themselves up nicely to do well out of the electoral opposition to a Starmer government. Again, people aren't about to start voting Tory again after the last 14 years. In other words, the consequences of Starmer's dispersal of Labour's new base will take place later rather than sooner. Though, to give the man credit, like his Tory counterparts he's doing his bit to speed the process up.

And so, political trends identified on this blog have continued to play themselves out. There is nothing new under the sun. But what did I get wrong in 2023? It was this: I gave Starmer too much credit that he would stick to his pledges. Sort of. Back in February, I reflected on his promises and where, if at all, he can be trusted to deliver. Since then the water has been muddied by the abandonment of more progressive policies and the £28bn/year on green modernisation is constantly briefed against. It is also now shackled to self-imposed fiscal rules set by the plagiarist Rachel Reeves, which will be wheeled out as an excuse not to do anything transformative. While the post on trusting Starmer noted how all Labour governments have had to be forced to make genuine concessions by labour movement pressure, even I was shocked by the scale of their retreat. With every passing day, Starmer and co make the positive case for their Labour government more and more fanciful.

Thinking ahead to 2024, it's obvious Labour are going to win an outright majority. But in their hubris they could drop another seat to the Greens. This time at Thangam Debbonaire's expense in the new Bristol Central seat. And if Aspire put someone up in Bethnal Green and Bow's successor seat, Rushinara Ali could be in trouble. The Tories are going to carry on as they are, hoping beyond hope more tax cuts and more meanness will carry them over the finish line. They will be looking back at 1992 with fondness, and believing a core vote strategy seemingly won 2019. And when defeat comes, the conclusion is going to be a lurch further right. Rather than trying to make political weather, don't be surprised if Starmer continues to tail the Tories on acceptable scapegoats.

One wishes this was not so, but there are reasons to be hopeful. The spike in strike days this year has led to a mix of modest victories and stalemates. Where workers have been defeated, these have not been strategic defeats. There is plenty of combativity left in the labour movement. And, most encouragingly, the swift emergence of an absolutely huge Palestinian solidarity movement has put the frighteners on establishment politics. Authoritarian Tory legislation against industrial action and protest haven't bitten yet, and given the wider mood is one of anger rather than despondency politics in 2024 could be a lot more interesting than the staid exchange of one set of establishment shills for another.

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Tuesday 26 December 2023

Pondering Science Fiction

There's a bit of indecision about what my first "proper" science fiction novel was. I remember getting Fred and Geoffrey Hoyle's The Planet of Death as part of a Ladybird promotion in the mid-late 80s. There were the space-based tales from the Choose Your Own Adventure and Fighting Fantasy ranges. But the first "adult" book depends on how you think the cookie crumbles. It was either HG Wells's The War of the Worlds, which was acquired one Christmas in the midst of an obsession with Jeff Wayne's eponymous concept album. Or if you insist on dating modern SF from the mid-1920s, Larry Niven's Ringworld was the first. It was unlike anything I'd seen or read before, and I remember it leaving a peculiar impression. I found the sense of wonder and discovery gripping. But as an adult SF novel I was unprepared for the weird ideas such as the somewhat pervy sex scenes with aliens, which the lead character took to with some enthusiasm. My 14 year old brain didn't know what to make of it. But I pressed on with The Ringworld Engineers and understood even less. Though I cottoned on that Niven's novels were situated in a setting he'd visited time and again in other stories, the reading experience was so unsettling that I wanted to try other SF-themed things that were a little less expansive. Video games offered a more limited, and to my mind, more appealing explorations of possible futures.

As a student my reading was almost exclusively social theory and sociology texts, with the odd SF novel pitched in here and there. Such as Greg Bear's Eon, coincidentally another dumb object novel. I do remember visiting Marge Piercy's Woman on the Edge of Time after one of my lecturers raved about it, and also William Gibson's Neuromancer, which I understood about as well as anything I tried by Jacques Derrida. The only fiction I read with any consistency was the World War series of books by Harry Turtledove. An alternate history where alien lizards from Tau Ceti invade the earth in summer 1942, the scenario worked as a thriller and a war novel before grinding its way through four books to an inconclusive ending. It was enough to get me interested in trying something else, and not long afterwards I gave Iain M Banks's Excession a go, Which also stumped me. And then Peter F Hamilton's breeze block-sized The Reality Dysfunction - the first in his Night's Dawn trilogy. This successfully held my attention as an entry-level SF reader. It was packed with ideas, a fully-realised and believable space opera setting, and - to me, then - an original conceit. Despite each three of its volumes clocking in at over 1,000 pages, the pacing, characterisation, action, and how-the-bloody-hell-is-this-going-to-be-resolved hooked me in.

I only started with mainstream literary fiction 20 years ago, beginning - funnily enough - with an SF novel that is lauded from all quarters: Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. Since then I've read widely, taken in a lot of classics, and kept up a regular SF intake. As you can see from the occasional What I've Been Readings, it is well represented. But to my thinking, not enough. I've read some of the classics and have my favourites, but there's an ocean of work I was, until recently, ignorant of. I've never read Octavia E Butler, Gene Wolfe, nor Robert Silverberg. My back catalogue is bereft of English and American New Wave. Philip K Dick, Isaac Asimov, and even Arthur C Clarke have barely featured. I intend to remedy these omissions over the coming year by visiting these and other giants of SF. It is the literature of change, and in a time like ours when the social and political imagination is stultified, to looking forward might benefit from reading back. This project, if you will, is going to have an impact on blog content, seeing as I'm slowing down the politics commentary.

But to get into the mood, there are a few things worth saying about SF titles I have read this year. Among the acknowledged classics are Christopher Priest's The Prestige, which hoodwinks the reader into thinking it's mainstream literary fiction until the SF element is introduced. It's won plenty of prizes and had a film made, but I still don't think it - or Priest for that matter - get the respect that is deserved. Then there's Walter M Miller Jr's A Canticle for Lebowitz. A series of fixed up shorts threaded together in a post-apocalyptic tale, it ponders the preservation of knowledge, myth-making and dogma, and the warmongering stupidities of power politics. It's cheesy in places what with radioactive mutants knocking about but that does not detract from the book's strengths. Late, but better late than never, was Stanislaw Lem's Solaris. Perhaps the book with the biggest reputation I read this year, it is a touch weirder than I was expecting. But by no means impenetrable or imponderable.

I also finally got round to Peter F Hamilton's latest trilogy, or at least the first in the sequence. As per previous novels, Salvation offers multiple viewpoints and, like his Void trilogy, switches between two distinctly different but linked settings. It involves religious aliens, conspiracy and secret enemies (another well-worn Hamilton theme), and young people training for war. It took me a while to get into, but I'm glad I persevered. 2023 was also the year I read my first Adrian Tchaikovsky. Not his celebrated Children of Time (it's on the list), but his Doors of Eden. If novels can be so characterised, this was easily the most Deleuzian work I've read in years. Stretching across dozens of parallel worlds, it's a polemic against rigid identities and world views and subtly argues that embracing multiplicity is essential not just for a better future, but our survival. More explicitly philosophical was Rian Hughes's The Black Locomotive. Featuring another dumb alien object, this time under London, steam trains and rail hobbyists play a central role in unravelling the mystery of how it got there and what it means. It also features some of the most disturbing aliens recently seen in SF thanks to their ability to manipulate time, consciousness, and memory. Mind bending and unconventional as decent SF should be.

The best SF novel I've read this year left a lingering impression. And that's Jacqueline Harpman's I Who Have Never Known Men. Our unnamed protagonist awakes in a cell she shares with 39 other women. She has no memory of who she is or how she got there, and all she knows are the company of the inmates and the indignities forced upon them by their guards. Then one day an alarm sounds, the screws flee, and by chance the prisoners are able to escape. And what they find outside is a mysteriously empty world. Harpman's book imposes an all-encompassing mystery on her characters as they start exploring, form new, freer relationships with each other, and work to survive. It's bleak, and works as a meditation on making meaning in a meaningless place. I can't recommend it enough.

Why take a turn to SF? Now is a good a time as any, but think about where we are. Poised on the verge of 2024, the political horizon is devoid of hope. Clouded in smoke from the ruins of Gaza, our government and political establishments have openly supported the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. This has gone along with more governments overseas falling to the far right, and our domestic scene promises nothing except more of the same. We are in a peculiar moment. The ruling class have dispensed with the usual fairy tales about the realities of bourgeois politics and seemingly don't care that capitalism and big power interests are striding about the world stage, naked. This offers our class opportunities not just to contest their rules of the game, but think about our alternatives. We're good at the how we live part, less so on the how we might. By spending less time on the day-to-day of politics and more on the politics of thinking through possible futures, this blog could make a small contribution to re-imagining the 21st century and making it a time fit to be alive in.

Monday 25 December 2023

Merry Christmas

Here's one Leninist party we can all get behind.

Saturday 23 December 2023

Local Council By-Elections: 2023 in Aggregate

419,300 votes were cast over 209 local authority contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest decimal place. Please note some by-elections were for newly created or previously uncontested seats, so seats gained/lost will not tally. Likewise, some contests were for double vacancies. For comparison you can view last year's results here.

* There were nine by-elections in Scotland
** There were 11 by-elections in Wales
*** There were 23 contests with Independent clashes
**** See the quarterly round ups for the results from smaller parties

It's customary around these parts to do an end-of-year round up of forecasts made during the year, and looking at these result two that have been consistently made over a series of posts are being borne out. You don't need me to tell you there's zero enthusiasm for Keir Starmer in real world land, and so it has proved. The numbers have dropped on 2022, dipping beneath even 2021's vote haul. A year which was by no means a good year for the party. Worth noting the seven net gains registered here were entirely from the first quarter.

The second is as Labour continues to disappoint, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens pick up the slack instead. The yellow party's performance has only improved as the year has worn on, and party big wigs have got to be expecting a relatively handsome take when the general election lands seeing as almost all of them come at the Tories' expense. The rise of the Greens continues as well, performing better in by-elections than Labour. It also matched the seats gained last year and has improved its votes share by over two points, despite only standing nine more candidates. The move to the Greens is real.

Not that this will cause the Labour leadership any headaches yet, but - as if it needs saying again - its dearth of genuine support will cause them problems when they enter government, and the Greens and Lib Dems are very well placed to capitalise on the electoral fall out.

The main loser this year is hardly a shocker. If there's a consolation for the Tories it's that they didn't lose quite as many by-elections this year and therefore councillors. Notwithstanding the utter massacre in May where their losses amounted to over 1,000 seats. But their vote is plunging and tells of the crisis in support among the layers the Tories need to win again. Bearing in mind older people are likelier to trek to the polls for council by-elections and the huge advantage the party has built up among this layer, to find them trailing Labour all year and, on occasion, the Lib Dems is suggestive of real trouble. It couldn't happen to a nicer party.

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Friday 22 December 2023

Quarter Four By-Election Results 2023

This quarter 83,859 votes were cast in 55 local authority contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. 16 council seats changed hands. For comparison you can view Quarter three's results here.

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/- Q4 2022

* There were two by-elections in Scotland
** There were four by-elections in Wales
*** There were 10 Independent clashes
**** Others consisted of Alba (66), British Unionist Party (96), Coventry Citizens (107), Farnworth and Kearsley First (1,081), Freedom Alliance (7), Molesley Residents' Association (523), Monster Raving Loony (20), People Against Bureaucracy (644), Reform (58, 82, 121, 101, 98, 29, 36), Residents for Guildford and Villages (1,095), SPGB (9), TUSC (144, 37), UKIP (24, 25), Yorkshire Party (38, 35)

It's a three horse race! For once, the famed Liberal Democrat device would accurately describe the outcome of this quarter's popular vote. The Lib Dems have cleaned up in seat terms, but Labour just about edge it in raw votes cast. The Tories come in a close third but, fun fact, I believe this is the first time they have done so in a quarterly round up. The shape of things just around the corner, one hopes. Labour and the Greens will be happy to have finished the quarter and the year with net gains, and the Greens' ll.5% is a solid result from which to build.

As we build up to the general election, which will probably be the Spring but Autumn can't be ruled out, might we start seeing the Tory vote firm up as its support realise protest voting this close to the contest is pointless. Or will by-elections continue to register the seeping away of the Conservatives' lifeblood in local government?

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Local Council By-Elections December 2023

This month saw 20,444 votes cast in 14 local authority contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. Only three council seats changed hands. For comparison with November's results, see here.

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/- Nov
+/- Dec 22
Lib Dem

* There were no by-elections in Scotland
** There was one by-election in Wales
*** There was one Independent clash
**** Others this month consisted solely of Reform (36)

There isn't a great deal to say about this month's crop of contests. As noted in the November write up, December was destined to be a Tory/Liberal Democrat clash and so it proved. Labour came in a distant third and the Lib Dems have triumphed with a three seat haul and, if memory serves, their highest share of the popular vote ever. Does it mean much? Not really. The results are reiterating the re-emergence of the Lib Dems as the protest party of choice for disgruntled Tory voters. Whether this carries through into a general election scenario is something we will find out next year.

For once, January is offering an embarrassment of riches where the number of contests are concerned. Normally the slowest month on the by-election calendar, we can look forward to 11 of them.

7th December
Bromley, Hayes & Coney Hall, Con hold
Denbighshire, Rhyl South West, Lab hold
Hertfordshire, Harpenden Rural, LDem gain from Con
North Norfolk, Briston, LDem hold
St Albans, Sandridge & Wheathampstead, LDem hold

14th December
Cotswold, Lechlade, Kempsford & Fairford South, LDem hold
North Kesteven, Billinghay Rural, LDem gain from Con
Rugby, Dunsmore, LDem gain from Con, Con hold
Swale, Abbey, LDem hold
Three Rivers, Chorleywood South & Maple Cross, LDem hold
Warwickshire, Dunsmore & Leam Valley, Con hold

21st December
Blaby, Glen Parva, LDem hold
Isle of Wight, Ventnor & St Lawrence, Con hold
Leicestershire, Blaby & Glen Parva, LDem hold

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