Wednesday, 13 December 2017

An Aside on Bourdieu

While you're going to be scoffing some mince pies, I'll be mulling over a learned reply to this piece, 'Bourdieu's Class Theory: The Academic as Revolutionary' by Dylan Riley in this summer's edition of Catalyst. You can read the piece here. In the mean time, here's the abstract:
What explains the enormous popularity of Bourdieu's critical theory in US academia and particularly in sociology? This paper considers two answers. One is that Bourdieu offers a compelling macrosociological account of contemporary society similar in scale to those of Marx, Weber, or Durkheim. However, a close examination shows that Bourdieu fails in this task. His work offers neither an empirically supported class analysis nor an account of social reproduction or social change. Thus, I conclude that Bourdieu's popularity cannot be a result of the power of his explanations.

There is, however, a second answer: that Bourdieu's sociology is popular because of the specific social conditions in US academia today. In this context, where intellectuals win rewards by pursuing a strategy of distinction, where they lack much organizational connection to popular movements, and where their material interests lie in a defense of their privileges, Bourdieu's sociology is highly attractive. It effectively resonates with academics' lived experience and serves to articulate their most fundamental political interests.
I'm a critical friend of Bourdieu and thinks he has a great deal to offer, so I look forward to going through this piece. Though I will note there is nothing new to the substitutionist claims made of professorial purveyours of social theory. When I were a lad the same was said of the linguistic turn in the social sciences, and the volumes of works thrown out on deconstruction, the decentred subject, the collapse of class and metanarratives, and the destabilisation of knowledge. Before that, 'twas ditto for Althusser's disciples, their attacks on empiricism and their attempt to reconstruct Marx sans Hegelian residues. Therefore I expect some elements of this argument will be persuasive.

I'll also note there's a certain implication of naivete in Dylan's abstract. The power of truth, the compelling qualities of an argument and so on do not have an efficacy of their own. There are sociological reasons for the prominence of Bourdieu in sociology, just as we have to look to the institutional and power assemblages producing economics as a discipline to explain the dominance of the neoclassical view. If truth, evidence and rigour were independent determinants then this blog, along with the doings of the left would have a much wider audience than bullshit peddlers like Dan Hannan and Nigel Farage.

Anyway, once it's done and if it gets accepted I'll let you all know.

Monday, 11 December 2017

The Intellectual Collapse of the Labour Right

Social being conditions consciousness, so they say. What's going on in your life, for good or ill, will impact on your thinking and opinions about it. When people live out similar circumstances, their views tend to have a certain homogeneity on particular issues. Take our beloved ruling class, for instance. Wherever they sit on the political spectrum they have the not-at-all-surprising tendency to think British capitalism is fundamentally fine. That these views are entirely congruent with their being the beneficiaries of this set up is not coincidental, and is simultaneously the great unsaid and unsayable of British politics. The collective fear gripping these people of Jeremy Corbyn is an anxiety that some of them are set to lose out, and the Labour leader is opening a Pandora's Box of demands set on eroding their power and privilege further. Rational to worry, yes. But they cannot say this. Which is why you have Toby Young likening Momentum to Britain First, and assorted hyperbole about gulaging Tories.

We find this refracted inside the Labour Party as well. For example, we find moaning in The Sunday Times NEC hopeful Gurinder Singh Josan, who argues, totally disingenuously, "many members are only concerned with the question 'do they support Momentum?' This coupled with the fact the influx of new members is disproportionately white and middle class, has resulted in the influence of minority groups being diluted." There are a few things worth noting here. First, Labour is more a working class organisation than it ever was when Gurinder's Progress and Labour First chums were in charge. Then we were told to forget about the working class as times had a-changed. Our traditional conceptions were out of date so we had to target all those white-collared folks. Now the boot's on the other foot, cloth caps, whippets and "real concerns about immigration" are clung to like the most pathetic fetish. Second, as the majority of Labour's councillors are white and male, highlighting the odd gay or black councillor who finds themselves deselected for political reasons while insinuating, non-too-subtly, that Momentum are a bunch of homophobes and racists says more about Gurinder and chums than anything else. Third, if getting more women and minorities into politics regardless of politics is the game, we're still waiting for Progress to undertake an auto-critique for backing David Miliband over Diane Abbott in 2010.

Another example is Nick Cohen's most recent regurgitation. And the up chuck metaphor is spot on, because there's nothing here our Nick hasn't made a meal out of before. In this universe, we are expected to believe the doddery and dozy Communist Party of Britain is a lean, mean, liquidatin' machine, and Corbyn's Britain promises something out of 1930s Stalinism. He simultaneously and somewhat confusingly casts our would-be totalitarians as "hyper-liberal"(!), and attacks the young left for its humourlessness and suspicion of complexity. A more open and shut case of projection is seldom found.

And there was dear old Roy Hattersley's feeble bombardment last week. Get a clue, Roy, and make sure you've not loaded duds before firing. Published hours before Survation gave Labour an eight point lead, Roy argued the party was in its greatest ever danger. The hard left are steering it onto the rocks and horror of horrors, they plan on changing the party's rules. Like so many others who know everything and understand nothing, Roy observes Labour's modest poll leads and confidently claims Labour should be 20 points in the lead. As someone who twice went up against a Tory government presiding over mass unemployment and lost, he really should know better: politics is never simple.

What do all these adventures in right wing factionalising have in common? It's their intellectual vacuity, a studied refusal to look the real world in the face and learn from it. A dishonest argument here, a demonstrable untruth there, these are the Labourist iterations of the shades summoned by what passes for Tory thought. But where does this utter aversion to thinking and indifference to looking stupid come from? It's part historical, and part conjunctural.

As argued on many occasions on this blog, at its origin the Labour Party was (and remains) a proletarian party. Banish the images of the working class you find hanging around today's Progress Magazine editorials and look at the coalition of interests the Labour Representation Committee brought together: the massed battalions organised labour via the trade unions, and the professional middle class organised through socialist societies and interest groups. A disparate constituency on the one hand, but on the other a condensation of millions of people with one thing in common: the necessity of selling their labour in return for a wage or a salary. The sorts of tensions Lenin and co wrote about in Western Labour and Social Democratic policies which they put down to the super profits of imperialism shared out among labour aristocracies who, in their turn, kept the rest of the movement under their heel, are not required. While Labour and similar parties founded around the same time were proletarian, they reflected (rather than challenged) pre-existing divisions within the wider labour-selling class. It meant workers from the white collar trades and professions had a tendency to dominate from the beginning. Perversely, this domination of the more intellectual strata guaranteed Labour's intellectual poverty.

Professional intellectuals at the time of Labour's foundation were much more privileged than their equivalents today. Standing above the mass, they could - and did - participate in polite, bourgeois society up and down the land. They formed close relationships with business as the purveyors of personal services, and saw their role as improving the working class comrades they rubbed shoulders with in the movement. Ethical socialism, which has deep roots in British politics, has a close if understated relationship with one nation patricianism of classical Toryism - as Ed Miliband helped remind us in more recent times. Their eyes were then fixed on pragmatism, of seeking an improvement here and there, of hobnobbing and persuading the powers that be to see sense and temper their capricious natures. They were Labourism's establishment insiders, trying to manage the aspirations the party drew together without exploding the system.

This isn't to deny organised labour any agency. Throughout the 19th century, the arc of history bent toward the growing strength, self-organisation, and latterly influence of our movement. Despite severe setbacks and reversals along that road, by the time Labour was founded the habits of mind forged in the workshop of the world favoured pragmatic consideration. The betterment of the working class wasn't achieved through utopian scheming and grand plans, but came by mobilising people in and out of work around easily recognised and tangible demands such as wages, safety, the length of the working day, women at work, and so on. Our movement's outlook was conditioned by its practice, of the guerrilla struggle that took place daily on the factory floor. Converted to a politics, you can see where Labourism's and Social Democracy's preoccupation with slow, reforming change come from. Again, you don't need super profits from the colonies to explain the preference for gradualism, of getting elected and making things better through one Act of Parliament at a time. Compromise and negotiation between representatives of organised labour and the boss class maps directly onto the constitutional parlour games of the elected chamber.

Where does this leave the intellectuals? Here, at least where Labourism was concerned, there are narrow slivers of permitted activity. Take policy, for example. Anyone familiar with the output of the Fabian Society will know what I'm talking about. Its regular publications are entirely policy focused and are about what Labour should do when it's in power. There is nothing wrong with being interested in this, but it is stultifying and comes packaged with a whole lot of preconceptions. The first and most foremost is the essential neutrality of the state. i.e. Government is an apparatus to be wielded for whatever ends and ensures the smooth implementation of the desires of the policy makers. Likewise, the other permissible intellectual is the pundit. They write in the press in support for Labour, proselytise party policies, attack and condemn the Tories, and may occasionally produce books highlighting a particular inequity. All good, useful fodder, but it fades into the background buzz surrounding the party. What is missing in both cases is politics. That is the job of excavating, pulling apart, descrying, and closely monitoring how politics works, whose interests they work in, the constellations of people they pull in and spit out, and what this says about the character of the society we live in. This is theory with a purpose, theory as a critique of all that exists so society can be remade. Labourism is therefore simultaneously technical and moral without being fused into a coherent whole. Injustice comes in for episodic condemnation, and technical solutions are proposed for complex problems. Nowhere is the question asked why they keep cropping up, nowhere is there even a recognition that Labourism itself is a collective response to the systemic conflict at the heart of British capitalism. However, the twin poles of the technical and the moral blinds are and are not theoretical errors: they're the outlook conditioned by the lived realities of Labourist intellectuals, wedged in and borne along by the weight of the party's investment in the day-to-day battles of constitutional democracy. Anything that isn't immediately tangible and requires a bit of abstract thought, like neoliberalism as a set of economic policies, a technology of governmentality, and the practice of class rule, is dismissed and disparaged.

Take the intellectual justifications of Blairism, for example. Drawing on bastardised spatial theories of voting, and with the collapse of Major's Tories into infighting and sleaze, Blair and his team reasoned the only way to win was to compete for the key marginal seats the Tories held onto. Therefore it was necessary to triangulate, that is ditch the kinds of traditional Labourist policies they think would scare off the horses, and pose as a moderate centre party that offered little more than a more competent pair of hands. As for the core loyal support, well, there was nowhere else for them to go. This was justified in terms of electoral pragmatism and has been repeated ever since (even though the facts have changed). However, there was need for some sort of pseudo-philosophical puff to make Blairism look more than naked electoral opportunism, and so Anthony Giddens coughed up the Third Way: an anemic bundle of insights chaining together the death of class politics, the emergence of individuated "life politics", and a big hell yeah for markets. Reportedly Blair and Brown used to waste time with Bill Clinton holding third way seminars at the White House, not that they should have bothered: no one now takes it remotely seriously as a body of political thought. Nevertheless, what it demonstrated was the development of theory on-the-hoof, not to explain anything but to justify the direction travelled. And as per the theory-lite tradition of Labourism, Blair more or less took it off the peg.

And so the intellectual culture of Labour has never been peachy. Pretty much anything and everything interesting to have emerged from the British left for the last 40 years, save Corbynism, has happened outside its ranks. Things then are bad. But compounding the difficulty and bringing into sharp relief the paucity of right-wing Labourism is its collapse. As we have seen before, one of the consequences of Blair's tenure was to hollow out the party. As he pitched the party to the right and treated the organised labour movement as embarrassing relatives, so the myriad relationships between it and the party were put under strain. Labour, which was set up to aggregate the interests of working people did, under Blair and Brown, go about disaggregating them. Yes, all Labour governments have done this to a degree, but here it became systematic. The pursuit of market fundamentalism via privatisations and the introduction of markets into public services, the gutting of occupational pensions, the retention of Tory trade union laws save a sop on balloting, and the imposition of neoliberal governmentality across every sphere of governmental endeavour ate away at the bonds of solidarity that made the movement/party relationship possible. Blairism was a symptom of labour movement weakness, going on to become its catalyst. This is important here because in so doing Blairism started consuming itself. The old Labour right, which made the New Labour right possible, were similarly dispersed by the chill winds of market fundamentalism. By the time the 2010 general election came around, Labour was rotting from the inside. Meanwhile, thanks to Blairist contempt for the unions, the left had been returned and/or were strong across all the major unions and slowly, tentatively, began reasserting themselves during the reign of the blessed Ed while the right carried on decomposing. When Corbynism caught them on the hop, the right found their institutional power had massively declined. What they once knew was destroyed as hundreds of thousands of new members poured into the party, followed by millions of new voters at this year's election. As surely as night follows day, this organisational collapse and their sudden thrusting into a situation they never expected or dreamed possible has occasioned their intellectual implosion.

Whom the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad. Except the madness (and badness) of the Labour right is symptomatic of their slowmo destruction. If there is a way for them to turn themselves around, they're showing scant sense of how to do so.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Three Things Stoke Got Wrong with its City of Culture Bid

And so Coventry is the City of Culture for 2021, which more or less knocks Stoke-on-Trent out of the running for 2025 too. Would you award the accolade to a West Midlands city twice on the trot? Nope, and so the time is now to pick over Stoke-on-Trent's bid. There were three very obvious things the Stoke team got so very wrong future entrants would do well to learn from. Whether they made much of a difference to the judging panel, headed by establishment lefty Phil Redmond, is not known nor are they ever likely to be known. Still, why leave anything to chance?

1. The first mistake was making the bid explicitly political. "Deputy" Council Leader Abi Brown (pictured) was all over it like a case of measles. She fronted the coverage and did all the important interviews. It was as if she was personally bidding for the City of Culture rather than a team of council officers and sundry specialists and notables. To anyone observing askance this looked desperately like a politician trying to own a good thing for their own profile while shoring up future electoral support. No doubt politicians were heavily involved in Coventry's successful bid, but they didn't make it about them.

2. Stoke-on-Trent City Council has an inglorious history of super-centralisation. How the bid was run by Abi, council chief executive David Sidaway, and a cabal of trusted lieutenants to the exclusion of others was no surprise. Okay, letting Labour councillors anywhere near the bid was never going to happen. But the Tories' own coalition partners, the City Independents, were kept out of view. If you are trying to draw the city together around a common cause, you have to practice unity and inclusion yourself. Nevertheless, this went above and beyond excluding rivals and opponents inside and outside the governing coalition. Local companies, local charities and third sector outfits, local schools, colleges and universities, all were involved but the involvement was on the bid leaders' terms. Suggestions for initiatives (especially if they referred to strategic issues) flew in one ear and out the other. This led to missed opportunities, inflexibility and, in some cases, incompetence. Like the shindig organised to promote the bid at Westminster, organised through the office of Jack Brereton - Stoke's only Tory MP. Movers and shakers from across North Staffordshire were invited down to London to rub shoulders and network with ... themselves. Meanwhile, Coventry's similar effort drew in politicians from the wider WestMids region and they used their contacts to ensure a decent group of the great and the good turned out from politics, media, business, etc. They had a good cluster going, while the stupid overmanagement of the Stoke bid led to a cluster of an altogether different character.

3. The City of Culture bid should be an occasion for showing off your home town. You know, highlighting all that is best and undiscovered about the place. The role of the politicians, therefore, is not to unveil stupid, petty-minded and cruel policies during the last stretch of the competition. That is all they need to do. So what did our Tory-led coalition with the City Independents and UKIP do? They announced they were consulting on a vindictive crack down on the homeless. Instead of banning rough sleepers outright from the environs of the city centre, they instead wanted to fine people for bedding down for the night in tents. That it was dropped earlier this week doesn't matter, it made national news. For a city recovering from a reputation for small-minded prejudice (witness difficulties with the BNP and more recently, UKIP), it doesn't take rocket science to suppose seeing this ugly side of the Potteries alive and well in its council blotted Stoke's copy book with the judging panel. Therein lies the perils of making the bid explicitly political. You can talk a good game of united strength being stronger, but publicly declaring an intention to victimise your most vulnerable residents shows you up as a hypocritical humbug.

Friday, 8 December 2017

The Right after the Brexit Deal

After wallowing in a lake of Brexit tears (Brexitears?), it's natural to survey the immediate political aftermath following this morning's joint press conference with Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker. The ridiculous fool and money counsellor to the global rich, John Redwood, was spitting feathers and thinks crashing out of the EU is better than the agreement. Arron Banks, the man with the magical pockets, called for a leadership challenge: "This traitorous, lily-livered embarrassment of a Prime Minister has just overseen the biggest sell out of this country ...". I suppose it takes one to know one. And Nigel Farage: "This is not a deal, it's a capitulation." Nothing from Rees-Mogg yet, but as he was cheering the DUP t'other day for "saving Brexit", you can imagine his day was somewhat ruined.

Of course, while this is being heralded as a breakthrough deal it is no such thing. The agreement reached with the EU27 on the UK's financial commitments, the status of resident EU citizens, and the Irish border was about preparing the ground for the main event, which is the putative trade deal May is desperate beyond desperate to get settled. And there is also the small matter of the transitional deal. We know the UK government's position. i.e. A bridging arrangement to last around two years to ease the UK's decaying economy into the choppy waters outside the EU's boat. And while, assuming sensible sensibleness continues, this would be in the EU's interest too its implementation cannot be guaranteed. Indeed if the Tories had sense, which the double calamity of May and David Davis have shown scant evidence of hitherto, they would prioritise the basic principles, commitments and undertaking of the transitional arrangements first and then negotiate the subsequent deal at leisure. Then again, the longer this drags on, the greater the uncertainty this introduces into the deals the EU want to fix up with the US, among others.

Still, May can breathe a sigh of relief. The chaos that began this week is temporarily tucked into bed, and all is well with the world. Progress has been made. Except it could unwind very quickly. Despite getting up in the Commons on Wednesday and declaring for the nth time the UK is leaving the single market and the customs union, judging by the report - Paragraph 49 to be exact - we're not. The avoidance of a hard border, the protection of the Northern Irish economy, and the maintenance of the internal integrity of the UK (i.e. no customs border in the Irish Sea) looks unsolvable outside of the EU. Therefore we have "in the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement." Exactly as predicted. All that remains are the fudgey words.

What now for our Brexiteers? It depends how much they can stir up the Brexit hardcore the Tories managed to win back from UKIP. So far, the Daily Mail are happy. Rejoice! We're On Our Way! screeches their Saturday front page. The Express in contrast go full on Farage. After all, why write anything when you can transcribe him verbatim? They also splash on US Cold War time travel experiments, which to be fair is more credible than their political coverage. The Sun is more sanguine with 'Done Deal', followed by "Theresa May faces Tory backlash". But they show no evidence of a backlash. They quote Redwood's tweet, but then wheel on the execrable Iain Duncan Smith to offer a lukewarm statement in support. So far, Tory Brexiteers are sticking close. It's a wonder what a single Survation poll can do.

How about those outside exalted Tory circles? As per the politics fatigue large numbers of voters are feeling, most leavers are probably happy to let May get on with it. Yes, it involves climb downs and humiliation but Brexit is not getting subverted. Flags will be waved and "Up Yours, Delors" murmured come 29th March, 2019. A hardcore minority are likely to think otherwise, but it's a question of whether this is enough to stir them into some sort of action. Were Farage still at UKIP's helm, then possibly. However, the conditions of UKIP's rise - notably the consistent support for their position by Britain's biggest right wing titles, the normalisation of their "novelty" politics via the broadcast media, the charismatic charlatan - are not present for a repeat performance. The fact the name of UKIP's new leader, Henry Bolton, doesn't immediately come to mind shows how far they've fallen. This means we won't see much movement in the polls from the Tories' present coalition, more's the pity.

Then again, perhaps not. As we have seen, all throughout Brexit Theresa May, just like her predecessor, has been driven by the short-term interests of the Tory Party. Historians will gawp in wonder at how the government of a leading liberal democracy consistently put favourable editorials and polling numbers above the interests of the class they represent and the system they profess to defend. If May's Brexit right were proper frothing up a fury, and the polls started showing a fracturing of the Tory vote and a bleed of a few percentage points UKIP's way, then we could see a lurch back into hard Brexit/no deal territory again. Just as winging it and short-termism accidentally finds us on the threshold of a potentially soft Brexit, Tory decadence might place us back in the mire.

This one's going to run-and-run. But it's worth observing that now the UK is signed up to the customs union in all but name, the cherished booby prize of the Brexiteers - Britain's freedom to strike bilateral trade agreements outside the EU - is looking like a fantasy, and may become a hill for them to die on later. Also, immigration from within the EU is up in the air, despite the agreement on domiciled citizens, and that is dependent on the trade deal. Anything resembling a liberalish agreement on movement, which is likely to be a condition of the frictionless trade promised, is all set on turning the Brexiteer right rabid. So for May, the immediate crisis is over, assuming no one prominent goes rogue over the weekend, but the potential for huge political damage is yet to be surmounted.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Bobina feat Betsie Larkin - You Belong To Me

And so it came to pass that Stoke-on-Trent missed out on the 2021 City of Culture, the accolade instead awarded to Coventry. Disappointing, but not entirely surprised. There were several serious flaws with Stoke's Tory-led bid, and that was without announcing their (now scrapped) plans to fine homeless people found using a tent in the final days of the competition. What can you say? Spitefulness and stupidity are our Tory/Indy/UKIP council's trusty companions, and there's a very good chance this has cost the city dear. Well done, chaps!

In lieu of a proper post and with an early night approaching, here is a tune.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Why Galloway Shouldn't Be Allowed Back

According to the Morning Star, chief Corbyn ally and top Unite mover and shaker, Andrew Murray, has intimated that George Galloway should be allowed to return to the Labour Party. You may recall the Gorgeous One was removed for bringing the party into disrepute after the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Opposition to Blair's ruinous and stupid war was one thing, but exhorting troops to refuse orders and arguing for Iraqis' right to resist gave Blair the pretext to get rid.

The problem many on the left of Labour have with Galloway isn't his anti-war stand per se, though his brand of anti-imperialism, which are often read as apologias for the most appalling regimes is bad enough. No, it's his sexism. Galloway has deeply dubious form in this regard. In his old Daily Record column, some 10 years ago he wrote "Take Kylie Minogue. For a singer she's always been not a bad looker. I voted with the majority for a change when her rear was the year's champion sight. I even bought my woman Kylie's range of underwear." Classy. Then there were his comments in defence of Julian Assange, which went above and beyond with observations like "not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion" and "Some people believe that when you go to bed with somebody, take off your clothes, and have sex with them and then fall asleep, you're already in the sex game with them." What about consent? What about the right of a woman to withdraw consent?

And then there was the 2015 General Election, which saw Galloway lose out to Labour's Naz Shah in Bradford West. Readers may remember the campaign was particularly filthy, with Galloway and supporters disputing Naz's claim of being a survivor of forced marriage. Infamously, this led to Galloway waving around a false birth certificate at a hustings that "proved" Naz was married at 16 and not before, a claim that was easily refuted. Well, Galloway did learn the art of dirty politics working his way up through Scottish Labour, so one shouldn't be surprised about this spell in the gutter.

Galloway may now have seen something of a light, attacking the sexist blowback against the appointment of Jodie Whittaker as the new Doctor, for example. But not once has he retracted these comments nor made amends for past behaviour. Therefore I cannot but agree with Emma Burnell who noted how his re-admittance would send an appalling message as the party gets to grip with its own shameful history of harassment and sexual assault.

Then why are we even talking about this? For Andrew Murray, what we're seeing here is some kite flying, a testing of the waters to see the kind of reaction the suggestion of Galloway's return might provoke. And it is what you might expect it to be: a lot of people are pissed off. But who are they, and what would they do? Plenty of Corbyn supporters wouldn't welcome him back but they would, on balance, lump it and carry on. However, for more than a few soft lefties, centrist types and Progress-y right wingers Galloway's re-admittance would be the final straw. Handy from the narrow standpoint of factional argy-bargy.

Handy, but ruinous from the standpoint of the party. I can't speak for Murray, but we all know there is a section of the left for whom the politics of sexism, like anti-racism and homophobia, are so much distractions from the class struggle. That so-called identity politics are an epiphenomenon and are inessential to the building of a new society. They are wrong. Identity politics is not a manifestation of false consciousness or some such horse shit, they're absolutely central to how advanced capitalist societies are organised and class struggle is expressed. Ignore that and readmit a celebrity sexist has-been like Galloway, you run the risk of alienating the people who are making Corbynism possible.

So, no. George Galloway shouldn't be readmitted to the Labour Party, and let this idiocy not be raised again.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Bordering on the Ridiculous

Theresa May's approach to Brexit was always going to run into difficulty. From her first proper pronouncements on leaving the EU at 2016 Tory party conference, it was clear she wanted to go for a hard, or what Brexit headbangers like to call a "clean" Brexit. That meant practically severing all ties - the single market, the customs union, the jurisdiction of the European Court and, separately given her authoritarian bent, an exit from the Council of Europe - while retaining the same movement of commodities and capital, but definitely not people. And why was this her Brexit of choice, despite her nominal (and minimal) endorsement of remain earlier that year? Because she, just like her predecessor, is guided by Tory short-termism. The health of British business and the cabal of interests the Tories are supposedly the custodians of have time and again been set aside for perceived electoral expediency.

Hence we've hit the buffers. The fantasists around the Cabinet table and the Brexit bams are richly, deservedly getting their delusions served up on a platter. On outstanding liabilities and spending commitments, the UK are coughing up despite promises of grandstanding and belly aching that never materialised. After some unnecessary quibbling, May has accepted the EU's position on its citizens remaining in the UK with their status virtually unchanged. That one must have hurt the PM. And as you've probably seen from the news, Ireland and the Irish border remains the sticking point.

Befitting the useless decadence of the Tory party and its habit of winging everything, in what little Brexit planning the government indulged they failed to condescend a few thoughts in the direction of the UK's land border with the EU. As any Brentish management consultant will tell you, if you fail to plan then you plan to fail. In their arrogance, they thought Britain would be able to roll Ireland over. After all, while cross border trade between the Republic and the North isn't quite as heavy as you might think, as the otherwise ridiculous Owen Patterson notes, 14 per cent of Irish exports head to mainland Britain and it imports a quarter from the same. The Tories were hoping a bit of divide and rule might work as Ireland, after the UK, will be most affected by Brexit and have the most to lose if we crash out sans a trade deal. The fools.

And so their unserious approach to the negotiations saw them boxed very quickly into an impossible position. A return to a hard border is a no, yet May formally remains committed to life totally outside of the EU. For the Tory right, the freedom for Britain to strike its own bilateral trade deals is the panacea for all our woes. Which, in practice, means becoming the world centre for tax avoidance and offshore dodgy-dealing. However, May retains just enough sense to realise that the finely-balanced factional hell of her Parliamentary party will not allow for this, and so has to do something about the border. The debate then about a border in Ireland, an airborne border, an e-border, and a border staked out in the Irish Sea have nothing to do with the intractability of the Irish and the rest of the EU, and everything to do with the Tory Party and their Democratic Unionist mates.

The sensible Brexit position, insofar as one can be said to exist, is for Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK to remain in the customs union at the very least. The process would be less damaging and economic dislocation kept to a minimum. A new deal setting out a settlement between the UK and EU would still be required, but it would best serve the interests of British business. However, the Tory right don't want it. The compromise position then was keeping the North in the customs union, while the rest of the UK would go its own way. This obviously is not acceptable to the DUP as, rightly, it would bring the North more into the EU's orbit at the expense of the UK and raises the prospect of the overdue unification of the province with the rest of Ireland. Incredibly, it appears May had forgot her party are in hock to Arlene Foster to get the rest of their business through the House and prematurely announced a deal had been reached with the EU on that basis. Cue mayhem. And, as it happens, the DUP vetoed it. Cue no deal.

As the Tories now shut themselves away with the DUP to sort something out - another bung, perhaps? - it seems the parliamentary arithmetic is punting May towards remaining within the customs union after all. Desperate to get the trade talks underway, which will no doubt entail a hefty annual sub on top of the billions already pledged, it is looking increasingly likely we'll see some sort of fudge: some language paying lip service to the indivisibility of the UK and being an independent free trading nation, but in practice pledges "continued regulatory alignment". The headbangers won't like it, the gruesome twosome definitely wouldn't, but it might be acceptable to the other parties and therefore a majority of the House. Crucially, it helps keep the Tories and May's beleaguered leadership afloat. They know well that screwing up, and being seen to screw it up hands the Labour Party the keys to Number 10. And if abandoning the previous position is what it takes to stop that from happening, May will do it.

And so, again, just as short-term party considerations initially pointed May toward the rocks of a hard Brexit, the very same interests are steering her back to a more sensible position. This is not pragmatism, it's panic.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Labour NEC Ballot: Vote Left

When I've finished writing this blog post, I'll be heading over to my inbox to send my National Executive Committee votes off for Yasmine Dar, Rachel Garnham and Jon Lansman. For obvious reasons this internal contest has been portrayed as pro-Jez or anti-Jez; you're either for him or against him. Yet it's worth remembering this isn't a case of Corbyn supporters motivated by the Labour leader's celebrity or unassuming style. It's about politics, and the Labour right, who don't really have any politics beyond hating the Labour left, would do well to remember the appeal of Corbynism is explicitly political. If you happen to be reading this and haven't made your mind up, these words might be of some use.

Let's begin with what sort of party Labour should be. Is it right and proper for people to be arbitrarily excluded without recourse? Should its apparatus have contempt for its voluntary membership, and routinely use officials to squash local parties, fix votes to regional boards, tip off favoured folk about upcoming juicy selections, and instruct delegates which way to vote at annual conference? Should the stacking of and nobbling of selection panels go unchallenged? Must parties meekly accept the "autonomy" MPs have of them, which too frequently leads to absurd situations and bad behaviour. Such as the honourable member who tells their CLP they're too busy in London to do campaigning, and at the same time tells the whip's office they're too crammed in their constituency to do national things? Should the party machine be the servant of the interests it was set up to represent, or its master?

This grim picture might sound like something out of Uncle John Golding's Hammer of the Left. That was then, surely? The early 1980s. The period of pitched battles between the apparatus and the left, namely the Bennites and Militant. But no. This was entirely routine under Ed Miliband's leadership, which you may recall lies but two-and-a-half years in the past. For all of his wonkery and well meaning politics, the party was rotten. These practices were so normal and normalised that when the apparatus in conjunction with the parliamentary party tried ousting Jeremy, the shenanigans, the fixing, the lying, the bad faith, the old establishment exposed the lot without any sense of shame to full public view. I don't know about you, but this shambles shouldn't be how a democratic political party should conduct itself. Party representatives should face mandatory reselection, party structures should be as straightforward as possible, party workers should ultimately be accountable to the membership, conference should be the sovereign decision-making body and constituency parties the crucible for forging new policy. The party is a voluntary organisation, and therefore should encourage that participation and deepen politicisation. The first question asked of new members should never be "do you want to be a councillor?" and more "how do you want to be involved?".

Party democracy is not a luxury. A more participatory, accountable culture is not an end in itself. The labour movement set up the party to prosecute the interests of our people, of the immense majority who have to sell our capacity to labour in return for a wage or a salary. As the labour movement declined, as per the last four decades so the party was hollowed out and became a plaything for careerists and ladder climbers. The sudden emergence of Corbynism has changed all this, with an influx of hundreds of thousands of new members and millions of voters bypassing the traditional organisations of our class and participating in the party directly. The task remains to carry that revolution within the party into the wider movement, but that's for another post. Corbyn and Corbynism struck a chord because Jeremy spoke to and for people locked out of the system. Not only did it intersect with a bunch of interests circulating around but not finding an expression in established politics (with the exception of the Yes movement and the SNP), Jeremy stood for hope, of doing things differently and better.

What's this got to do with democracy? Corbynism was an unexpected eruption from within left Labourism, but to succeed it must go beyond that. Corbynism is a class movement of large numbers of people coming into politics and using the Labour Party as their lever. They are typical of the rising constituency of networked/socialised workers, the people who are the rebooted proletariat for the 21st century. A transparent, democratic party is essential because it offers a means to articulate the mass interest and, crucially, constitute themselves as increasingly conscious class collectives. Through the party, our rising class starts to recognise itself as such, and pull the rest along with it. As 2016's leadership contest climaxed, I pointed out how under these circumstances the only possibility of Labour doing well and winning a general election lay not in clever, clever triangulation but transforming the party into an electoral factor in and of itself beyond the usual rounds of door knocking and campaigning. Thanks to the mushrooming of the membership, thanks to the networks they bring, whether digital or face-to-face, Labour used its social weight to power its general election vote. There are very few people now left in the country who don't have a Labour Party member among their friends or acquaintances. The party has gone from being an out-of-touch outfit beholden to council chamber or Parliamentary elites to something with a tangible, and in many cases an enthusiastic presence in the everyday lives of millions.

This was accomplished in spite of and not because of the obstructionism of established right wing cliques and obsolescent structures. A democratic Labour Party can more effectively harness the strength of our class, be enriched by the diversity of their experience, and draw down their collective wisdom to ensure our party's politics never lose touch with our people. A rotten party marked by chicanery and arbitrary power, nor an authoritarian fan club run by a distant, shiny figure can do this for us. A party inseparable from its class can.

A long-winded way then of saying vote for the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance, but that is the decision in front of members. A left victory allows for a consolidation of Corbynism at the top of the party, an irresistible pressure from above to bear down on the right's remaining fiefdoms. A victory for the so-called independents, backed enthusiastically (some might say desperately) by Progress and Labour First is a blow against Labour becoming fighting fit and drawing the correct lessons from the election. It's a recipe for more paralysis and more infighting, and an endorsement for all the shitty, banana republic practices that have gone on in the party under the Labour right's watch. Yes, I know some people don't like binary choices but sometimes that's how things turn out. Politics is about interests, after all, and it's our job to make sure that the shared interests of the overwhelming majority triumph in the end. Vote left.

New Left Blogs August/December 2017

At the Sociological Review's social media conference at Goldsmith's yesterday, there was a bit of a discussion around how blogging allows for more reflective (and editable!) forms of online engagement than the instapundit temptations of other social media. Unfortunately, blogging - once heralded the nemesis of the media - is a declining pursuit clung to by windbags and weirds; this place being a case in point. Hence why the roll call of new left blogs and bloggers is spread more thinly across the year and has fewer to show for it. Shame. All the more reason to give these hardy souls a plug.

1. Katie S (Unaligned) (Twitter)

2. Leak of Nations (Unaligned) (Twitter)

3. The Avenger (Unaligned) (Twitter)

4. The Red Roar (Labour) (Twitter)

If you know of any new(ish) blogs that haven't featured before then drop me a line via the comments, email, Facebook, or Twitter. Please note I'm looking for blogs that have started within the last 12 months. The new blog round up appears when there are enough new blogs knocking around.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Local Council By-Elections November 2017

This month saw 49,566 votes cast over 36 local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. 10 council seats changed hands in total. For comparison with October's results, see here.

Party
Number of Candidates
Total Vote
%
+/- 
Oct
+/- Nov 16
Average/
Contest
+/-
Seats
Conservative
           35
 18,095
    36.5%
   +6.2%
       -1.8%
    517
    -4
Labour
           31
 11,971
    24.2%
 -18.6%
       -2.4%
    386
    -2
LibDem
           30
 12,397
    25.0%
 +13.7%
      +7.6%
    413
   +7
UKIP
            9
    880
     1.8%
   -2.0%
       -2.8%
     98
    -2
Green
           16
  2,127
     4.3%
  +2.3%
      +1.9%
    133
   +1
SNP
            2
  2,616
     5.3%
  +3.1%
       -0.9%
  1,308
     0
PC**
            1
   525
     1.1%
  +1.1%
       -1.8%
    525
     0
Ind***
            9
    768
     1.6%
  -4.4%
      +0.5%
     85
     0
Other****
            2
    187
     0.4%
   -1.2%
      +0.0%
     94
     0

* There were two by-elections in Scotland
** There were two by-elections in Wales
*** There were two Independent clashes
**** Others this month consisted of the English Democrats (31), and Yorkshire Party (156)

Party like it's 2016! At least if you're a Liberal Democrat, because these are the weirdest ass results we've seen for a long time. This month's ward splits are responsible for the LibDems edging Labour out in the popular vote, so I'm afraid those hoping it will be a trend are going to be disappointed. The polarisation we're seeing in the polls is now a stubborn fact of political life, and is going to remain so unless Jeremy Corbyn is caught with several million stashed in an offshore account, or Theresa May decides to cancel Brexit. Nevertheless, a gain of seven councillors is no mean feat, so plenty of self-congratulatory back-slapping for the LibDems. It probably isn't going to repeat.

In other news, it's annoying to see Labour duck out of five by-election contests. The Tories, who probably now have fewer members than the SNP somehow manage to find someone to stand. For Labour to not with its humongous membership defies belief. Sort it out, please.

Any predictions for next month? Nope. December is normally quiet and there are only three scheduled that I'm aware of. We'll soon see what electoral gifts Santa is going to deliver some lucky candidates.

2nd November
Arun council, West Sussex, Lib gain from Con
Beaconsfield CC, Con hold
Beaconsfield North, South Bucks BC, Con hold
Braunton East, North Devon, Lib gain from Con
Copeland Egremont South, Lab hold
Sefton Duke's, Lib gain from Con

9th November
Camden, Gospel Oak, Lab hold
Fareham, Stubbington, Lib gain from UKIP
Flintshire, Buckley Bistre West, Lab hold
Limestone Peak, High Peak, Con hold
Wandsworth, Thamesfield, Con hold

16th November
Chiltern DC, Penn & Coleshill, Con hold
City of London Bishopgate, Ind gain from Ind
Darlington BC Mowden, Con hold
Darlington BC, Red Hall & Lingfield, Lab hold
Eden DC , Penrith North, Lib hold
Fylde BC Staining & Weeton, Con hold
Hartlepool BC Victoria, Lab hold
South Holland DC, Whaplode & Holbeach St Johns, Con hold
Waveney DC, Kirkley Lab hold
Waveney DC , St Margaret, Con gain from Lab
West Lindsey DC, Sudbrooke, Con hold

23rd November
Bishops Frome and Cradley, Grn gain from Con
Bryncoch South, Plaid hold
Chalford, Con hold
Eyres Monsell, Lab hold
Grumbolds Ash with Avening, Con hold
Parkfield and Oxbridge, Lab hold
Perth and Kinross, Perth City South, Con hold
Rutherglen Central and North, Lab hold
St Margaret's-at-Cliffe, Con hold
Wakefield West, Lab hold

30th November
Gosport,  Bridgemary North, Lib gain from Lab
Maidstone BC North, Lib gain from Con
Tandridge, Westway Lib hold
Torrington, Lib gain from UKIP