Saturday, 2 July 2016

Stage Managing a Power Play --- Labour Managerialists fail to Manage Effectively, going forward

If you're going to stage manage a power play, you need to inform your actors, not only of their roles and lines but that they are actually actors in the play, otherwise you will find them feeling just a little pissed when they see their names in the promotional literature, billed as actors in a play for which they never auditioned, much less signed up for.

The Labour managerialists omitted to tell many Labour councillors that they had a role in this play for power. The councillors are angry

(When you follow the link above, scroll down to the section titled: "Forged Signatures", which includes a screen grab, providing evidence)

Meanwhile leading method actor Angela Eagle (recall the tears?) is now reclining in her dressing room back stage, with her bowl of red and blue M&Ms, being interviewed by Owen Jones. 
The opening night has been delayed.


This does not have to be about being a Corbynista, or even about being a Labour party supporter. It is about reasonable expectations of honesty, integrity and responsibility-to-office placed by us on our elected representatives in a time of national insecurity. This time of national insecurity is being played out now as a large increase in racist & xenophobic abuse and violence on our streets, an imminent change in Prime Minister without a general election taking place (meaning a lurch further towards the libertarian right in economic policy), unprecedented market instability, and a history-making vote having been based on lies, etc, etc, etc...  

Friday, 1 July 2016

Politics as Managerialism: the self-denying, sublimated, ideology of New Labour

Labour Party divisions are basically between the managerialists and those who come out of the labour movement and who continue to see their role as first and foremost to represent working people, and society's poorest and most vulnerable social groups. Then there are the opportunists who simply want to back a winner.

The managerialists are responsible for where we are now, because when they controlled the party from the mid-nineties until very recently they effectively deserted the labour movement and workers, leaving many localised vacuums for the right to exploit: when you're ignored, someone appearing to listen to you, represent you and articulate (& re-package) your anxieties can seem like your friend; they can seem like they've got your back.

So, with their burgundy ties, well cut suits, backgrounds as parliamentary advisers, and with neutral accents softened by trained, considered use of contractions like 'gonna', the managerialists and their wannabe acolytes readjusted their focus, away from the core vote base and onto the periphery: the PR-company-fabled Mondeo man; the floating voter who could, if won over to New Labour, keep them in office beyond a single term. 

The thought seemed to be that the core was always going to be the core, so it could be left alone, while the periphery got all the attention.

So, what do you do to court this peripheral demographic which only ever seems to have voted for you, as opposed to the Tories, as a protest at Tory mismanagement? Well, you speak their language, fit in with their hopes, desires and prejudices. Do some focus groups, and employ some people to engage in perception management. 

Basically: give up the ideological battle, where what was being fought over were the rules by which we play the game of government. Instead, claim to be post-ideological and start to play the game by the Tory rules. 

Of course, you're not post-ideological, you've embraced the dominant ideology, the one your party was founded to challenge. You can't acknowledge this is what you've done, so you explicitly deny you're ideological, and talk of this being post-ideological politics: your ideology is sublimated to become management.

And this was the problem. Those Tory rules that were embraced rigged the game in favour of certain players, which was after all why, historically, political movements on the left had emerged to challenge them. Those rules really did and do need challenging, not embracing and following by anyone representing the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society. 

But then this didn't present a problem for the managerialists, because they didn't represent the working class anymore, or even the poorest and most vulnerable, but rather they represented "hard working families", which was code for: people who are good at playing the game. Lose at the game and the managerialists are not interested in you. Losing is your fault. Complain about the rules of the game and you're perceptions need re-calibrating: perhaps work unpaid at Poundland, this will give you the social capital required to acknowledge the rules, follow them and be manageable.

So, to some working class people finding themselves in a vacuum of representation, looking for people to question the rules of the game, which seemed so stacked against them, the right seemed to do this questioning, and that is what makes this such a destructive disaster.

Disastrously, sadly, and with real dangerous consequences, some people embraced the right wing racist narrative.
Now we're in an almighty mess, decades in the making. This isn't just a political mess of interest to the commentators, but a mess that will impoverish the lives of people already struggling, people who were tricked in to thinking this was the answer to their problems; It's a mess that has violence, racist violence, as part of it.

This is a failure of the Labour party, which I have a strong suspicion it cannot overcome.

Jeremy Corbyn's surprising but overwhelmingly large election win to become leader in 2015 to some extent slowed what had seemed to me the terminal degeneration of Labour as a party which was supposed to challenge the rules of a game which was rigged to the perpetual disadvantage of Britain's poorest and most vulnerable social groups. But it is too late, the essence, the core, of the party has already become so irreversibly managerialist that even a large democratic mandate and well-argued re-positioning of party priorities cannot serve to effect a reversal. 

Corbyn's election as leader did not mark an end to the degeneration of the Labour Party but instead showed us that there was hunger for genuine left representation among many of those the managerialists had deserted.

The Labour party is the final stages of a terminal degeneration. It is, in effect, a zombie party, or perhaps a reanimated corpse. Some recognise it as the old guy they once knew, but in reality everything that made him that guy is gone. The managerialists killed him and now they fight for the right to continue to try to reanimate the corpse to fight one more election. 

Maybe this also marks a near-terminal staging post for the old left politics. The World is a radically different place to what it was in the 100 year period between 1850-1950, arguably the golden age of traditional modern left wing thinking, theorising and political gains. We need to be aware that the categories one learns from that golden age might not be appropriate to, speak to, or be the most optimal for making sense of our age: think of the 20th century revolution in modern medicine, the progress made in thinking about sex and gender, how we now understand the centrality of thinking ecologically (limits to growth, climate change, soil depletion, biodiversity collapse, etc.), and how different early 21st century global geopolitics is. Just perhaps we need new categories. 

Perhaps Labour is beyond saving, but maybe that is not a bad thing. Let's leave it to the managerialists and their PR consultancies. Those of us who believe passionately in the political project of challenging the rules of this rigged, socially and ecologically destructive, game should join with others and set about building new global grassroots movements which are responsive to the challenges we now face.

This is England (and Wales) 2016

I cannot believe this is happening here. It makes me weep.
The dividing line between civility and barbarity can seem distant and remote, but in reality the line is so easily crossed, almost before you notice it's there.

History is full of periods where the line was crossed, where people who had been neighbours for decades, families that had lived along side each other as friends for generations, turned on each other murderously, as those pursuing right wing agendas exploited anxieties and fears through the promotion of hatred and suspicion.

To say this is not to be over the top, examples exist throughout recent history: Rwanda, former Yugoslavia, many parts of Europe during the late 1930s and early 40s. Ironically, the EU emerged as an attempt to prevent a recurrence of this.

This is not something you play with. We sat and watched while our politicians did just that, bringing their decades-long game of blame the migrant to its most damaging climax (no doubt soon to be recommenced) in the EU Referendum campaign. 

Now we're here standing on the line.

Turn back Britain. Turn back.

Go out and smile at everyone you pass. Be kind. Share. And if you witness aggression and abuse, stand with, stand alongside, the person being abused. Show them they are not alone.

[Check the comments below this post for continually updated list of links to articles on post-Brexit racist incidents, plus one or two overviews. 
I'll be posting these here as I come across them]

Remember the tears..?

Remember Angela Eagle's tears..?

       ... They were crocodile tears, shed by a croc who was part of a planned, orchestrated, feeding frenzy. It seems their victim shook-free and lives to drink at the waterhole another day. As for the crocs, they'll be hungrier than ever now.

As the sweltering heat from the hostile media glare continues, it will lead to a need to drink sooner or later. The crocs will be waiting.

For we now know that two days before her resignation, two days before her tears on national television, and the day prior to Sunday morning’s sacking of Hilary Benn, a website was registered with the domain name: “”

Angela Eagle wasn't the person named as registering the domain name, of course. It was one Joe McCrea, who, the i news report informs us, is a PR executive who served as a special adviser in Downing Street during Tony Blair’s tenure.

Are we getting the picture now..?

(Can I also be congratulated for resisting the Eagle puns and avoiding some strained Eagle/bird of prey/croc/predator extended metaphor mash-up? Thanks)

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Arguing on Social Media 101: The ................... 4-Step (insert the name of your favourite exponent of the art on the dotted line)

1. Identify the person with whom you disagree (remember: they are wrong)

3. Hope others join in, and also scream loudly and point

4. await praise

Why is it like this?

Well: what have the superficial appearance of arguments, dialogues and deliberations on social media are often, actually, sanitised versions of courtship rituals or ritualistic sacrifice, or some sanitised hybrid version of the two.

Some poor soul thinks they've been invited to a discussion to find out only too late that they are actually the sacrificial lamb: imagine a kind of Hammer Horror for the Social Media generation - "hey, let's debate ............." ... "Okay, great! Oh, you have a particularly ornate, one might say ceremonial, knife. Why are you wearing that odd hooded cape? What's with the chanting..? Oh, hang on...".

So, starting to realise things are not as they had initially assumed, our hero tries to reason, tries to rebut accusations, challenge premises and expose the flaws in the arguments, but all the participants in the ritual hear is bleating, which in turn just makes them more frenzied: 

In the hybrid version, the participants are further motivated by the thought of courting favour with their emperor or empress, who is looking on, and who might occasionally offer encouragement. Such favour makes them feel purposeful and worthwhile.

Go on, indulge me. It's been a long day ;-)

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Hijack and Chill

Let's say there's a disagreement between housemates about whether or not to get rid of the house television. A date is set for the final decision (June 23rd) and then the housemates set about discussing the issue, prior to decision day.  

When the discussion begins it seems that the relevant issues are the quality of content that is accessible via the TV (is it worth it for that content?), the financial cost of the TV, the space it takes up and time spent watching it just because it's there, time that could be spent doing other things.  As time goes on the debate gets hijacked somewhat by a particularly domineering and perpetually angry housemate.

This housemate wants rid of the TV because he sees it as something which attracts outsiders to the house to watch football, to watch Eurovision or to Netflix and chill.  This housemate hates this and for this reason he wants the TV gone. 

This housemate is domineering and somewhat charismatic, moreover, his argument plays on certain anxieties some of his other housemates are susceptible to. He mentions that those visiting to watch football are likely violent and might well attack him and his fellow housemates. He throws in certain unpleasant, bigoted and homophobic, scare stories about the sort of people who watch Eurovision. He talks of outsiders chilling for free after exploiting 'his' Netflix subscription. The outsiders are freeloaders. 

These fear stories seem to gain traction. Some of the housemates point out that there has been no trouble when football was viewed, that the Eurovision night was universally acclaimed as fun and that was due in large part to the presence of the visitors. One or two confess that it's not only the visitors that gain enjoyment from the post-Netflix chilling.  It's also pointed out that the monthly cost of Netflix subscription is cancelled out by the first bottle of wine brought round by a guest each month, if one insists on seeing this purely in financial terms.  

It then transpires that some of those identified as outsiders coming in to the house for the football, are housemates themselves and have been for sometime, it's just they rarely make an appearance unless there is football on the TV, or Eurovision. Of course, they weren't always housemates, and it's true that they became housemates after the arrival of the TV, but they are housemates all the same and any warrant for seeing them otherwise is simply illegitimate. 

Some of the housemates then point out that the process of discussing the merits of the TV has now become something else, it has been hijacked in the pursuit of a bigoted agenda. This changes the nature of the decision on the 23rd. A decision to get rid of the television will have obvious impacts beyond the presence of the TV in the living room. It will make visitors less likely and unwelcome. It will make those branded as visitors, though actually housemates, feel unwelcome. It will embolden the bigoted fear-mongering housemate and serve to frame future discussions of house policy. It will make the house less fun and less welcoming. It will be a decision based on irrational and un-evidenced, though populist, fears about outsiders, not about rational, evidenced facts about the role of the television in the life of the house. It will transform the culture of the house, to one of suspicion and hostility to outsiders. None of these things were on the agenda when the future of the TV was mooted but they have become precisely what the decision is now about. 

I would insist on keeping the TV, even if I had no intention of watching it.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Misrepresenting Britain: BBC Radio 4 Today and Keighley in West Yorkshire

On Saturday June 18th, 2016, in the final days before the EU referendum and a couple of days after the murder of Jo Cox by a Neo-Nazi supporter of Britain First, the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme broadcast an extended report by John Humphrys based primarily on a visit to Keighley in West Yorkshire. (Humphrys also visited Shirebrook in Derbyshire)

I know Keighley well. I worked in the town for 4 years as a mechanic shortly after leaving school aged 16, and I was a member of Keighley Boys Amateur Boxing club for long enough to realise I didn't have the requisite skills. I still go to Keighley now, when I return to Yorkshire to visit my parents. Both my brothers work in a town with similar demographics just down the road from Keighley. One brother, John, has lived for the past ten years in Keighley (4 years) and Bradford (6 years). (Bradford is another former mill town mentioned in the report, larger than Keighley but with similar demographics).

So, when John Humphrys interviews 4 or 5 people in Keighley and then concludes his report by saying Keighley proves "that if you allow disproportionate numbers of immigrants to settle in one small town the local people pay a price". I can tell you he is simply wrong. His thesis would fail as a GCSE sociology or social geography paper, because it is poorly argued, systematically biased, and wrong in its conclusions.

The large 'migrant community' in Keighley was brought here when this country needed people to work in the mills, three generations ago. Britain needed them and they answered the call and uprooted families to come here, to the rain and bland food, to help Britain rebuild its economy, which was on its knees after the 2nd World War.

What happened next is: The mills closed as the British textile industry declined. Keighley, like its larger neighbour Bradford, and like the Lancashire towns of Colne and Nelson, was a mill town. The industry that sustained these towns practically disappeared within a generation.

To talk, in 2016, about any ills in Keighley and focus on 'migrants' is messed up, misleading and serves a right wing agenda. The migrants Humphrys refers to are in reality families who have been in Keighley for generations now. When one of the report's vox pops (a women who Humphrys bumps into in a restaurant) talks about large numbers of non-English speakers among that community, she does so without comment or challenge; has this person conducted well-designed research on this, so as to arrive at this conclusion? How does she know? In fact, there are very very few non-English speakers, but plenty who are bi- and multi-lingual.

Moreover, what was absent from the report was any talk of how the descendants of these mid-twentieth century migrants who came here by invitation and helped the nation rebuild after the war, now contribute in full to the local economy, running businesses, employing local people, and . . . often speaking with broad West Yorkshire accents.

This is to be wilfully biased and divisive.

Keighley isn't a wealthy town. That's because the economy it grew up around, based on the textile mills, no longer exists. Those fellow Yorkshire folk who can trace their ancestry to the Indian Sub Continent have done as much as anyone to save Keighley from terminal decline, just as their grandparents and parents helped save the national economy from terminal decline 60 or so years ago; in doing so they have been an intrinsic and crucially important part in making Keighley a town, though not wealthy, which still has life and where people still stay and work as they leave school.

In my teens and early twenties I spent a lot of time living and socialising in two parts of West Yorkshire: the West Yorkshire ex-mill towns of Bradford and Keighley and the West Yorkshire mining towns (in the process of becoming ex-mining towns) of Kippax and Castleford. At this time, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Kippax and Castleford had no notable history of immigration from outside the UK; those communities were almost exclusively what would be described as working class white British. Yet here's the thing: all the problems faced by Keighley and Bradford were evident in equal measure in Kippax and Castleford. Industries that each of these towns grew-up to serve had all-but gone within a generation. There was mass unemployment and a truly shameful lack of investment to address the problems that are caused by such economic collapse. This brief comparison should be enough to draw into serious question not only the conclusions Humphrys drew in his report, but also his methods and motives. We all deserve better.