One of the many reasons I will vote to Remain

Many will feel detached from this referendum, disinterested even. Up until last week I had sympathy for that approach. I am approaching peak political fatigue myself, and I love nothing more than a bit of red vs blue. Yet tomorrow we vote, perhaps in the biggest single referendum any of us will ever have the opportunity to engage in.

Last week a young woman, an MP elected by her community, was brutally murdered in a quiet West Yorkshire street. She wasn’t killed because of atrocities she was complicit in, or personal mendacity leading to injustice elsewhere. She wasn’t even killed simply because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was killed because of her political views, a set of views that include aiding refugees and a commitment to minimising conflict and division. She was killed because underneath our social artifice their still lies a small but active fascist sentiment that permeates throughout the land.

It is impossible not to draw comparisons as a result with the events of the 30s and 40s when fascism and the unending desire for territory reached its zenith in Europe. Those events in some part, but a very decisive part, led to the creation of what has now become the European Union. Anyone who says otherwise does a disservice to the concerted efforts of millions.

Not since the 10 day war in 1956, when the Soviet Union invaded Hungary, have European countries gone to war with one another (there have been internal conflicts of course such as that of Yugoslavia).

This may all be a startling coincidence, and peace could simply be the result of US domination of capital and arms. Neither is completely true, and equally neither is entirely false.

I only ask that you watch this video and absorb just how many died in those 6 fateful years between 1939-45 and ask yourself – is removing one of our only proven bulwarks against this a good idea?

Rough estimates suggest 61 million people died during those 6 years. Many of them were non-combatants, the vast majority were Europeans. 388,000 were citizens of the UK and its dependencies. The average age was 23 years old of those who died in combat. Many of horrific injuries. The deaths that occurred later due to not immediately lethal injuries is perhaps as many again.

All you have to do is go and vote…if you think this could not happen again you are repeating the very same delusions many in Europe suffered at the end of the Great War.

I hope you vote Remain. Many whose children, and their children after them, who were never born would certainly envy your opportunity to make that choice.

p.s Nigel Farage is a catastrophic fuck nugget and we should all celebrate any opportunity to destroy the man’s pin striped Home Counties wet dream.

‘The Non-Life and Death of Scandinavian Scotland’ and Other Tales From #SP16

In 2014 I wrote an article entitled ‘Heroes of a Deferred Nation in which I opined that far from having the potential of a Nordic social-democratic economy, an independent Scotland was better placed to remain a rainy small C conservative outpost – not dissimilar to the one it would have recently left. I feel that last week’s Holyrood elections proved I and many others correct in this regard. You may thank me later, but here is why:

Blue is the colour
Scotland has always had Tories. I see them walking their nonsensically named dogs through the park, clad in tartan jackets for that Walter Scott feel you need when dressing a Yorkshire Terrier. Occasionally you will also see them on the news postulating social cynicism and economic mania, but in that guise they are more likely to say they are SNP or Labour. That works as follows:

David Cameron: “We need to make savings in public expenditure to secure the future prosperity of Britain”

Reaction: “Booooo, bloody Tory filth. Go back to London and shag a pig”

Nicola Sturgeon: “We cannot increase tax, it will make high earners flee Scotland”

Reaction: “Goan yersel Nicola! One of us, one of us, one of us!”

It’s a simple yet effective equation.

For a great deal of time this hedging brought many a traditional Tory voter to the door of Labour or the SNP, and as long as taxes remained relatively low, and petrol was reasonable at the pump – all was well. That is of course until the constitutional issue became precipitous. Once the prospect of independence barged down the door of sedantry Edinburgh politics, many true blues decided simply trading off their vote to the most steady handed of the two dominant parties would not cut it. The churn of this rising vote has its origins in a number of as yet ill defined demographics, and it is fair to say it was not simply a matter of a Labour to Tory swing. If we strip away the party clothes and poke at the naked flesh of ruddy political policy there is a clear swing towards economic conservatism, the final destination of which usually depends on your position on independence.

Labour seemed to be ashamed to say they are avowedly unionist (secret sources have told me they very much are), and the SNP for all their middle ground omertà cannot go a day without scaring the flock with talk of another referendum. There are a great many people who genuinely do not wish to leave the United Kingdom, there was a big vote on this and everything – you might be surprised. It is therefore not shocking that a party running on a platform of ‘we are going to oppose the dangerous separatists at the gates’ did quite well with those who go in for all that.

A short addendum to this: it is nothing new that parties seen to be competent often do well, and regularly win. Can anyone honestly say that any party in Scotland at the moment looks competent outside the SNP and Conservatives? The Tories knew this and tailored their election materials around competence and their inexplicably popular leader Ruth Davidson.

A lot of people are tight

If we take a very base analysis of what defines the social-democratic ‘Nordic’ economies it has to pivot on the fact they are much more willing to pay higher rates of tax. This assumes a modicum of affectless cynicism about the complex and varied contributory factors, so you will have to bear with me.

Denmark (61.12%) , Sweden (56.8%) both have average top rates of income tax between 1995-2015 well above our own current top rate of 45%. That should be the jumping off point for any comparison. Scotland belly flops in the first round here without any help from Gordon Strachan.

We should not only focus on income tax however, the Scandinavian welfare apparatus germinates from a wide range of personal taxes and employer contributions, many of which are higher than what we pay here. A better overview is how much tax constitutes the various countries’ overall GDP. For this purpose we will also include Finland, which may not strictly be ‘Scandinavian’, yet does follow a very similar socio-economic model:

UK – 37.5%
Scotland – 37.7%
Denmark – 49%
Finland – 43.6%
Norway – 43.6%
Sweden – 45.8%

It would be heart-warming to assume that there is swelling desire within Scotland for greater taxation which might emulate the Nordic economies, but last week 68.5% of voters in the constituency ballot, and 64.6% on the regional list voted for either the SNP or Conservative parties…both of whom promised a 45p top rate of tax. If philosophy is the discovery of the obvious, you may cry EUREKA.

The SNP are an economically conservative party, and their supporters like them that way. If you have convinced yourself otherwise may I interest you in a timeshare in Bulgaria?

Dominic Hinde posits this more effectively when he writes:

High basic wages, free education and good housing were the  foundation of the Nordic model from the 30s onwards, and in time environmental responsibility and greater gender equality were added to the mix. To the wealthy these things are prosaic details, to those less well-off they create a life worth living.

Look through the SNP manifesto though and it is very difficult to find anything that would make Scotland more Nordic in the immediate future.

The two parties proposing a 60p top rate of tax (something I personally agree with) the Scottish Green Party and RISE managed 7.1% on the regional lists between them. Tommy Sheridan’s, Solidarity, may have also proposed this but every time I seek to uncover this information I find myself lost in Tommy’s treacherous gaze.

Parties positing such ‘radical’ policies are regularly forming governments and oppositions in the aforementioned Nordic countries. This is not the case perpetually, many softer conservative governments have attempted to draw back the social-democratic consensus (Swedish Moderates 0614, Danish Venstre 0111), but few have lasted long enough or commanded the majority needed to overhaul it entirely.

Perhaps we can sustain a cognitive dissonance that sees this disparity as a by-product of a British political tradition during cross-party referendum campaigns, yet when manifestos are printed and Ponsonby deployed, it becomes evident that the predators in this ecosystem closely resemble their southern genus.

Leave them kids alone’

It is reasonable to wonder if this election had any big issues whatsoever (Buzzfeed tells me Willie Rennie and a slide was an ‘unforgettable’ moment). At a cursory glance around Glasgow I would guess that Nicola Sturgeon’s face was atop the agenda quite a lot, otherwise why would I need to look at it as I approach Ibrox? I don’t need another reason to avoid Ibrox after all.

For all the posturing from parties across the spectrum, education only briefly appeared in any meaningful sense during recent months, most notably when Calamity Constance got her face on television.

Education requires fundamental reform in Scotland. Whether it needs to abandon the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) as seemed to be hailed by Sturgeon’s desire to bring back standardised testing for primary school pupils, is another matter.

Continuously saying that the cuts threaten educational attainment is important, honest, and true…..but it does not actually say a great deal about what any of the parties wanted to do to improve teaching and schools. Here are some of the manifesto examples that I would put in the ‘non-policy’ category:

SNP:

Oversee a “revolution in transparency” about school performance

Ensure that every child in early education in the most deprived communities will have access to an additional teacher or childcare graduate by 2018

Scottish Labour:

Bridge the gap between “the richest and the rest” in classrooms

Give every primary school the opportunity to establish a breakfast club

Scottish Conservatives:

New measures should be put in place to ensure the best possible teachers are recruited

The Scottish government should be “far bolder” in measuring progress in the education system

Scottish Greens:

Help for all pupils experiencing poverty

Fair funding for college and university students

I suppose I was not alone in thinking ‘and how are you going to do that?’ when reading these pledges. Of course each party had other policies which were more cohesive. I would particularly welcome the plans from Labour and the Greens to considerably increase apprenticeships. Despite this there seemed to be no other area quite as mottled with pecuniary detail as that of education. A trend I dare say will continue in Scotland for some time to come.

The unending appearance and disappearance of SNP education policies has oft left me wondering if these are to follow the purpose of Dewar’s ‘Pied Wagtail Preservation Order of 1968’ – existing only to distract or delay some inevitable banality. Yet what rankles with greater torment is how soft, and I mean ‘Carry On…Up the Khyber’ soft, the press in this country are in regards to these half steps and mistruths. If the mainstream press have at any point questioned continuously the obscene gaps in attainment between rich and poorer areas in Scotland, I simply have not seen it.

As you were

To conclude, not much went on, not much at all. Scottish politics remains dominated by the question of sovereignty – and divvies will continue to write books and think pieces claiming there is a ‘rennaissance’ of activism and political debate north of Carlisle.

There really isn’t.

No one cares.

They care so little they reelected the government for the third term running.

Scotland? Bit boring really.

Until next time.

The Blunt Sword of Anti-Semitism

This week Ken Livingstone, ex-Mayor of London and long-time campaigner for those at the sharper end of capitalism’s rusty knife said the following in reference to comments by suspended MP Naz Shah – it was stupid and wrong, and he should apologise:

“It’s completely over the top but it’s not anti-semitism. Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

Ken said other things that are apparently offensive in the interview, largely about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, but they are so blatantly factual that any one finding themselves offended by them is clearly Islamophobic (see what I did there? Read on to see the divine logic).

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Ken Livingstone, a very bad lad

Livingstone’s comments were a one day front page story at best – especially given the decades awaited verdict this week apportioning blame to South Yorkshire Police in the case pertaining to the Hillsborough disaster.

How this could possibly have garnered more attention than the race baiting Zac Goldsmith has attempted in his London mayoral campaign requires contortions the likes of which only the British media can manage. This however, I expect. After all – it is the very same media that decided 96 deaths at an FA Cup semi-final were most probably the fault of drunken hooligans.

What disappoints me so much more is to see Labour members, and supposed Labour advocates in the press (special mention must go to Owen Jones here), helping virulently hostile media machines to keep the story going throughout the week. Further continuation of this thread – that bonds together the alleged Labourite anti-Semitism conspiracy – serves only those who seek to destroy Labour and working class representation in this country. These people should really know better. I suppose there are not many column inches in saying ‘calm down and be serious’.

Ken was suspended, and rightfully so. Corbyn has set up an inquiry into anti-semitism and racism in the party, again rightfully so. What more is required here? The media have decided in unison that Labour is now a hotbed of anti-semites before a moment of investigation has taken place, and by extension Jeremy Corbyn must also be an anti-semite, yes? Well as you are likely beginning to understand it is not particularly important wherther he is or not. What is important to his detractors is that he falls on that sword, even if most of the reported incidents occurred before his leadership began.

Here I would like to ask the question, what does it mean to be anti-semitic in the context that someone like John Mann means it, by which I mean a very narrow political-media context? How sharp is the sword destined for the leader of Labour Party’s knape when the term anti-semitism is so carelessly stapled on the backs of those who dissent from the UK line on Israel?

With this territory comes a certain inevitability. Observers may read my subsequent words, and those of others simply seeking to balance out the torrential attack, and think – “he’s clearly trying to mask obvious anti-semitism”. In the face of charges of that ilk no satisfactory justification will ever be provided. I have attended meetings packed with relatively representative cross sections of society on the issue of Israel/Palestine for years, meetings that largely displayed no philosophy more radical than simple peace advocacy. Very few of the attendees felt Israel had ‘no right to exist’ at all – as is often claimed. I was called an anti-Semite for attending those. After the fifth or sixth occasion I stopped hearing it. I believe something similar is happening in our political culture.

But let me say, I am not interested in winning some moralistic debate about the correct terms and accordance for various treaties and myopic 20th century decisions in a contested land more foreign to me than the Arctic circle. I just want to prevent people from being murdered and having their homes stolen because we have so internalised the idea that anti-Zionism is the same as anti-semitism to a point at which we cannot reasonably criticise these actions. I am not interested in winning the approval of such catastrophically pathetic individuals as Wes Streeting and Luke Akehurst. They would appear as tadpoles in a teaspoon of water. So please call myself and others what you like, I am not the sensitive type.

I see a great deal of evidence both anecdotally and in the current media hyperbole, that attacks such as those laid at the door of Labour this week have served to nullify the term ‘anti-semite’ to the point of near redundancy.

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John Mann. King of the gobshites

There will be few who may describe themselves as pro-Palestinian activists who will not have been called an anti-semite on numerous occasions. At this point trying to decipher between those who are principled peace activists, and the tiny minority who are ‘THE ROTHSCHILDS ARE RUNNING THE WORLD’ delusionists is utterly impossible. For decades the tarpaulin of shame has been cast over each and every one of them, unsuccessfully. If you want a serious discussion about this issue then let us have some respect and admit that pro-Palestinian activism is a legitimate and worthy cause, and allow for some media reflection on the imperialism club that is Labour Friends of Israel. Until that day your claims are beyond hypocrisy, they are ashes in the mouths of lemmings.

So when I am told that you can be anti-Zionist, and not be an anti-Semite – I wonder why it is so many people who are the former are referred to as the latter? I can only conclude therefore that an anti-semite, at least in one variety, is someone who critcises the current borders of Israel. If I am wrong then there is hope yet.

Livingstone is most definitely a buffoon. There is little of intellectual merit or even contemporary relevance about discussing whether or not Hitler had Zionist sympathies (for my own money I see no evidence of this, only the fact Hitler was happy to utilise it as an apparatus of manipulation), no matter what you say you are going to end up discussing Hitler in some sort of revisionist light. Ken should know better both as a seasoned politician, and as a man of principle that this would not end well for him, or the party, and would undoubtedly upset a constituency of people who demand respect on this issue. Gladly the Jewish Socialist’s Group  and a number of concerned and prominent Jewish members of Labour have written to express a more balanced approach in recent days.

There is one big aspect missing from all of these balanced accounts however, and that is how the media seek to report this entire debate. Stories such as those detailing the air assaults on Gaza hospitals in 2014  received only cursory attention in the British press in comparison to this week’s pantomime (thankfully Channel 4 were a rare exception), while the moralistic chieftains of ‘sensible’ Labour so vocal this week could not have been quieter in their opposition at the time. Where it did exist, it was meek and cautionary.

Is it fair to take these two events, anti-semitism in British politics and Israeli aggression, and draw indicative comparisons? I would say yes, it most definitely is. The reason I do so is simple. The same individuals today chaining themselves to the fences of social media in opposition at the evil that is Ken Livingstone, were tacitly justifying this barbarity as ‘self-defence’ but two summers ago.

Where lies the moral compass of these individuals? The Nick Cohen’s and Tim Stanley’s of this world? Do they expect us to believe that a foolish statement from a politician is tantamount to the collapse of credibility on the left, yet tangential support for child murder is significant of political maturity? I am no pacifist, far from it, yet I would have to witness irrefutable evidence not seen since Bernadette bumped into the Virgin Mary at Lourdes before you could get me into a conversation about the strategic and moral legitimacy of firing missiles at hospitals.

If those of us seeking balance are justifying anti-semitism, then the logic that defending Israel justifies such egregious attacks, holds true also. You simply cannot have it both ways.

The reason Ken Livingstone will be dragged out for the next year or more for summary tar and feathering, is the exact same reason the bombing of hospitals is swept under the carpet. That reason is the oldest of all, power.

Muslim bashing is de rigueur in this country, it’s almost an entire media sub-industry. Very few people, beyond those with some sense of consistency, find this troublesome whatsoever it seems. Naturally many will opine that each subsequent attack has ‘gone a bit far’, but you will never see a week long media circus and resignations aplenty over it. Let us take the case of Zac Goldsmith’s race baiting in London again, where he claimed the Labour candidate and Muslim Sadiq Khan did not want to talk about Tamils when in government and expressed a desire to tax jewellery and heirlooms in leaflets directed at Hindus. Policies one onlooker stated “seemed as though he picked the brains of an adviser and has played on the anxieties of the south Asian community.” I have neither the time nor inclination to quantify the relative column inches, tweets, and television minutes the two tales received in comparison – but I am willing to make a healthy bet that the one which gave succour to those wishing to dethrone Corbyn received a great deal more.

These power dynamics, and resulting slavish devotion to ignoring them from our pensmiths and politicians, create perverse situations such as Saudi Arabia, a despicably anti-Semitic country, being treated as friends and welcomed with open arms. It’s the same reason Hillsborough will finally reach some sort of conclusion in the coming years, yet those murdered by the state in Northern Ireland will die without answers.

Power and politics, that’s all it is. Keep your eyes away from the petrol being poured on the fire, it’s the flames that are important…..nothing more. There are people holding anti-Semitic views who are members of the Labour Party. No one can deny that. There are also members of the SNP and Conservatives who have publicly exhibited such inclinations, facts that appear fundamentally disinteresting when not coupled with an emerging coup opportunity.

As long as we focus on Livingstone’s peculiar understanding of history, not the junior doctors leaving the country because they are being overworked and understaffed this perpetual idiocy will continue, and with it so too the intelligence vacuum that is Tory rule will continue.

After all, it makes for a better headline – and that’s what really matters…

Addendum: I did not have time to comment on the actions of John Mann here.

How We Respond to Woodcock and Smith

Very simply this is a turning point for Corbyn’s leadership. Now that hostilities are out in the open, we can safely assume the right have begun the process of lining someone up to depose him. The safe money is on Dan Jarvis for now.
This leaves us with clarity on the way the party must progress.

1. Woodcock and Smith should apologise and seek reconciliation with the party, at which point we can continue on with the task at hand, preventing another Tory government. If they do so…their intended goal of placing a more ‘moderate’ figure in charge will be greatly improved at such a time that Corbyn leaves. The membership will see consistent principle in their approach – this is after all why Corbyn won so convincingly in the first place – and potentially reward them for it.

 

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Angela Smith, John Woodcock, and Jamie Reed. Three of the MPs who disavow democracy in favour of their own entitlement. Unfortunately, there will be many more.

2. They can cross the floor or disavow the whip and seek the protection of their constituents as independents or members of another party. I wish them luck in that endeavour. This would be wholly democratic and fair. Should they choose to continue their onslaught yet carry the banner of Labour then they will naturally at some point have to face the accountability of members in their constituency. I again…wish them luck in this endeavour.

The left will not cower to this nonsense, not after so many years in the wilderness. If there is an ideological war to be had then I for one am happy to wage it, unfortunately I do not think it would benefit those we are seeking to represent.

Let’s get round the table and bash this out. If the belligerents in opposition to the leadership are unwilling to do so then the full force of the membership should be levied against them.

As I wrote recently, there is a worrying trend among young members and purportedly sympathetic journalists to attack Corbyn no matter how well he does. The Labour Right have replaced the Conservative 1922 Comittee as the problem child of British politics. This is not a dissatisfaction reflected in any reality, it is pent up adolescent aggression against a world that does not accept focus groups and opinion polled slogans can truly change anything.

There is no space for this when we are doing so well elsewhere. I understand that there are many signs of our electoral frailty, but for the sake of all logic and reason….Corbyn has been in charge for 7 months. They gave David Moyes more time than that. Were this principled opposition over a war, or a significant policy affecting the poor I could entirely sympathise. Unfortunately it is self serving and childish.

Let everyone make it known that this is the state of play. We cannot continue being kind and fair to individuals who do not treat us with the same respect.

Things must change, and change quickly.

Critical Hostility – A personal reflection

In the years following Tony Blair’s departure the soft left made a brief return to power on the back of union votes and left activism.

This suggested to many that there was scope for an anti-austerity caucus of left and centre-left voices in Labour that could form a coalition to drown out the right. I would have put myself in that bracket, straddling the two divides on an issue by issue basis in the hope that I would never again have to listen to the likes of John Woodcock on a Labour podium.

What I and others had not reckoned in any serious way was the absolute devotion the young shock troops of Blairism would have to his doctrine of insincere nothingness. Sadly they simply will not go away, and this I am afraid is a big problem for the pursuit of a fairer politics in this land for those who need it most.

These people are not socialists, they never have been, and they have no intention of ever being so. They are for want of a better comparison West Wing junkies who think Justin Trudeau represents a sea change in global politics because he scrubs up well and is not scared of saying he is a feminist.

He was big in the 90s, like Pogs.

Before you cry hypocrite, I am well aware that I supported Andy Burnham for the leadership in 2015. I also supported Neil Findlay for the leadership in Scotland, and campaigned for Diane Abbott and Ed Miliband in 2010 simultaneously – what a bloody weirdo. I second preferenced Jeremy Corbyn last year….and voted for absolutely no one else. If you have universally supported David Miliband, Liz Kendall, and Jim Murphy then you are of course a much more principled individual than I for electing all of those people with….no principles.

How does this chime with my dissatisfaction with the self-proclaimed soft left you ask? Well the answer is twofold.

I like many others cannot exist outside the rampant media onslaught which reiterates day after day that left candidates do not win, I have made attempts to, but sometimes you find yourself desirous of a piece by Nick Cohen explaining why America is great and anti-private school sentiment is simply reverse snobbery. I had assumed quite naturally that one of Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall would mount a serious challenge for the leadership, leaving a more ‘pragmatic’ (I am growing to despise this word) Burnham led campaign in a much better position to keep the right out than Corbyn’s campaign would have managed, a campaign which I foolishly thought would go the way of Diane Abbott’s in 2010. How wrong I was.

The second reason is much more related to the point at hand, and this is where I have changed my position. The centre left, or soft left as they seem fond of calling themselves (imagine thinking ‘soft’ was an attractive political prefix…) – I had long believed to be more amenable to a leftwards latitude than seeking to return to the failed 90’s project of soft Thatcherism. The victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership has unfortunately proved that I was mistaken in this regard, at least among the vocal soft left.

Those who warned me that these people were irreconcilable devotees to a form of politics that values style over substance were very much correct. I am even aghast to see that the majority support Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in the U.S., a politician who would not be out of place in the 1970’s Liberal Party. Their hypocrisy and short sightedness seems to know no bounds. The litany of stories and whinge pieces decrying Corbyn for doing what he is mandated to do, defend the interests of those worst off in society, has been absolutely obscene. On a very base level we could ascribe this to a distinct fear that they will lose influence, but it cannot only be this. As we know from characters like Peter Mandelson in the past, there are few as adaptable as those who lack any real political principles.

There must be something more – and I suspect we can see the seeds of this fear in Scotland.

If you think Blairism is dead you really have not spent enough time in Scotland, at least among the overly vocal membership it remains ‘the’ way to do things. There is clearly a strong left constituency here (under the new OMOV rules Neil Findlay would likely have beaten Jim Murphy)  but they are not making the noises we see in parts of England.

He’s football crazy, he’s power mad…

In Glasgow it is often quipped that Labour had no ground campaign because they did not need one, when the time came to change this we engaged in delusions. I cannot personally attest to the truth of this as I live in a hardworking constituency that is well run by fairly principled individuals, but I have heard tell of it from supporters of all parties. This meant that MPs and their acolytes rarely spoke to the people they represent directly. I saw it when I arrived in 2013, there was a fear of the working class here. They knew that underneath the decades of ‘we built the NHS’ rhetoric lay a deep seated dissatisfaction with careerist politics and Westminster centrism. Now I am not claiming those are fair assumptions, but they certainly were prevalent, and they remain so.

This created a peculiar reaction when the proverbial hit the fan after the referendum, an overt and patronising “we are just like you” campaign led by Jim Murphy – that focused on football and drinking, because that’s all people do you know? This was coupled with a commitment to patriotism, which somewhat undermines your argument that nationalism is divisive and regressive. I hear the same rhetoric among online detractors of Corbyn within Labour back in England, focused on UK issues. Ideas such as:

The people voted for cuts, we can’t pretend otherwise

We cannot enter an election appearing to be critical of the armed forces

Austerity may be wrong, but let’s work within the government’s parameters to ameliorate it

Don’t criticise private or free schools, it makes us seem like we hate aspiration

The core theme running through all of this is simple, what the media reports is the truth, and no one will ever be convinced otherwise. Well quite frankly, bollocks to that.

This stems from a largely (though not completely) middle class pseudo-intelligentsia who feel they know what is best for working class people even if that constituency tells them otherwise.

They work for political parties, they are the most prominent journalists, and they all went to the same universities (as articulated by this wonderful twitter account). To anyone from the long since abandoned mining communities of Cornwall, or the industrial north of England for example (like me – shock horror, I am talking from experience here rather than simply espousing working class notions only for it then to transpire I went to Eton) these considerations are alien. Why should a man losing his job in Middlesbrough care about ISIS more than he cares about the safety net that should be in place to help him? The answer is obvious, that narrative is absolutely everywhere, he hears little else unless he goes out of his way to do so. Thankfully many responsible and considered people did go out of their way, and that is why we now have a socialist leading the party.

The media is able to do this online in the same way they do on television and in print because there is such an influential constituency of young activists giving them a free ride when they do so.

This is why it is so important that social media, and any sort of ‘citizen’ media becomes a critical hotbed of opposition to the Conservative Party. Enter stage right our friends from the soft left, who sadly do not understand this concept in the slightest.

In a week that has seen Iain Duncan Smith forced to resign, after endless pressure from Labour – I have read tweet after tweet completely disregarding the idea that the current leadership had anything to do with it. Two polls were released putting Labour level and one point ahead of the Tories have been denounced as nonsense. Several articles have been printed discussing who the next leader should be, and who that person’s team may well be.

All of this almost exclusively from Labour members who would describe themselves as centrist or soft left, or the mostly inane journalists who work at the New Statesman, which has come to resemble a tribute band at an office Christmas party for all of the worst people in Shoreditch.

It’s nice to be nice

This is an organised campaign to depose a democratically elected leader, and to wrestle control of the party from those seeking to bring it back to ordinary members and away from spin doctors at Westminster. As such it appears to me there are only two options:

1. The culprits of this fairly pathetic conspiracy can settle down, get behind the leadership, and reproduce results such as those we saw this week. This will be in the interest of both sides of the debate, and most importantly it will give the poorest in our society a shot at ousting this pernicious government. I truly hope this can be the case.

2. Recreate the SDP, or potentially migrate to the Liberal Democrats, in short….leave. I know it is completely frowned upon to suggest such action but you are quite simply in the wrong party. It happens, you made a mistake, do not blame yourself. The change that occurred in the membership after Corbyn took over is a long term trend, your style of politics needs to change or you will be ejected from every seat of power we can muster. This party has no loyalty to you, it is only loyal to the collective membership and those we seek to convince of our argument. I am not a member of Momentum but they are to my mind simply expressing a fundamental principle of democracy, you must represent the views of those who elected you. If you balk at this idea then you are more than welcome to run as an independent.

My call here is not only to those who think being ‘soft’ means actively trying to destabilise the labour movement. It also reaches out the wider left, the mass majority of this party across the UK. We must be bold and relentless in our pursuit of change in the structures of this party. There must be working class voices at every level.

The struggle begins within. Corbyn is only the first of a new generation, and with each subsequent electoral cycle the very idea of a return to Blairism should become patently ridiculous.

One place we can actively enact this change is online. Am I advocating hostility? If you are defending the approach of George Osborne, or placating it with apologism…..then yes, I am. I am advocating critical hostility without personal or private motive. Rudeness is unacceptable, but when people with a far reaching voice seek to undermine what we are working for we should critically dismantle their argument. There should be a flood of critique and open opposition. Let us make it the case that to join the Labour Party means to join a group committed to renationalisation of the railways, a group committed to ending our interventionist wars in the Middle East. You should know by intuition what this party is and who it stands for, this must be a core project of the coming four years alongside returning to power.

We should be hostile towards the argument that John McDonnell is incompetent, we should be hostile to any suggestion that austerity is necessary whatsoever, and we should be hostile to the section of this broad church that wants to keep the largest part of it silent. I saw the SNP do this with great success in Scotland. No longer can unionists (of which I am one) laugh off independence as a fantasy and be treated with any real respect. I would like to see a similar change across the UK in regards to the core principles of Labour that unfortunately were silenced during the 1980s. Austerity should become a byword for economic idiocy. I believe this is something achievable with a collective voice online and on the streets. Make them know that we create the news, we do not have it dictated to us.

This party was founded on hostility against the ruling classes, it is time we stopped being so sensitive and realised that it is only through struggle we will achieve the same heights we have in the past.

Let us set about this task.

Was Blair’s Labour programme more working class than Corbyn’s? No, of course it bloody wasn’t

In recent weeks there has been an attempt to pitch Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party as one predicated on the votes and sentiments of the urban middle class by the ‘moderate’ wing of the party, who are running an unending eulogy for Tony Blair in the process. The basis for this argument is as follows:

1. They were mostly student champagne socialist types. The kind of people at UCL now refusing to pay rent on single rooms which at the lowest end cost £542.36 per month. Sure they could afford it if they stopped guzzling bottles of Krug of course.

2. Corbyn represents a constituency (Islington North) full of hipsters, students, and lefty lawyers with a weekly podcast about their bicycle, whilst also having been the beneficiary of an independent school education. Unlike Tony Blair who represented George Formby’s flat cap, and graduated from Barnsley technical college with a BTEC in pigeon racing.

3. Blair’s position and policy foundation was one based on realism and the pragmatic concerns of working class people, such as introducing Private Finance Initiatives to the NHS which are now crippling hospitals across the country. Corbyn’s is based on mad ideas like nationalisation of vital public services, the kind of ideas only found in peasant socialist countries like the Netherlands and France.

In short, all of this is nonsense. Unadulterated opportunism from a set of self-entitled political activists and commentators who scraped a 2:1 in political science and now believe they know the one way, the only way, to win elections.

Corbyn in his moment of victory

Here’s why:

1. Let’s look at the data:

Corbyn received 59.5% of the vote, winning 251,417 votes. The total number of votes cast in the election was 422,664. Among party members (245,520 voters) he received 49.6% of the vote, among affiliates (mostly trade union voters equalling 71,546 voters) 57.6% of the vote, and among the controversial (broadening democracy is only non-controversial when it’s in Iraq) registered supporters (105,598 voters) who paid £3 for the pleasure he won 83.7% of the vote.

That’s a lot of middle-class urbanites who joined the party, paid £3 to vote, or signed up for their affiliated union to elect a man who was relatively obscure even a few months before and help him win in every single category.

If we move the question more keenly towards how working class voters in general see Corbyn now he is leader then it is impossible to say that at this moment in time the result would be good. Broaden that out somewhat however and replace the name Corbyn with any political leader and you will get a negative result overall. More interestingly still a recent Panelbase poll found that when asked ‘Who would make you more likely to vote Labour?’ the results were Jeremy Corbyn 28% Tony Blair: 31%. Hardly a resounding victory for a three time election winner against a man who has led the party for less than six months.

The claim that most of the new members who have joined since Corbyn’s leadership are ‘high-status’ urban dwellers seems to have some veracity, yet surely this is simply a comment on the way politics is conducted in this country, and how for so long the fundamental concerns of working class people were ignored to the point at which such people felt politics was not for them? That is not going to be rectified overnight by the election of Corbyn.

We can clearly dismiss the idea that Corbyn’s rise to power was on the back of Goldsmiths art students, and in regards to working class popularity it would be a fair and measured statement to say that no one in UK politics is banging down the doors of the Rovers Return just now. If this is the best attack so called ‘moderates’ can muster then Corbyn’s stay in power will last quite some time yet.

2. It cannot be denied that Corbyn is another privately educated leader, a demographic that dominates positions of major influence in our country’s politics, but that is even truer of Blair, as such it is a moot point in comparison. Corbyn does have the notable honour of not being Oxbridge educated at least, a factor which dominates our Parliament with just under 30% of MPs having attended one of the big two in the last parliament. Given so many of those who are targeting Corbyn on the charges of being a champagne socialist are disciples of the Blairite Progress wing paid for by Lord Sainsbury, I think it is safe to say this criticism has more than a whiff of opportunism.

On to Islington North, now this is a persistent one. Very clearly this is a lie. Islington in general has one of the highest rates child poverty in the country and this is mostly concentrated in Corbyn’s constituency. Further to this, Islington is the 14th most deprived local authority in England hardly what you would call a constituency dripping in wealth and out of touch voters. The constituency also contains exceedingly expensive homes of course, often inhabited by the sort of aspirational left leaning voters Blair did so much to court, which makes me wonder why now Corbyn is a leader such high income earners are in for denunciation from the Mandelson’s of this world? Opportunism again? Surely not…

3. Here we must both understand what working class now means, if anything, and which policies such people tend to support.

As we all know the working class died out with the advent of smartphones and games consoles, so is the resplendent wealth of even the lowest earners in our society. Had Marxist advocates of redistribution in the early 20th century known class would be abolished once average income reached £26,500 p/a they may not have bothered, after all such an income could afford you a one bedroom flat in Leith, Edinburgh on a £100,000 mortgage. Assuming you don’t bother having more than one child and they are alright on the sofa after the age of six, you too can join the great British middle class.

Tony Blair telling those who elected Corbyn to ‘get a heart transplant’

In 2013 the British Social Attitudes Survey found that 60% of people see themselves as working class. Without investigating too deeply how people understand that term, and how much it is a cultural concept, we can at least assume a lot of people felt their hard work was not rewarding them with sufficient financial benefits to feel as if they are middle class. Once we accept this then the idea that your first concern should be attracting middle class votes, as working class ones are locked in, becomes somewhat suspect. It often felt the New Labour technique to protect their base was to roll out John Prescott and Alan Johnson to talk about how much they like the football. I can say proudly that in the opening months of his leadership Corbyn visited my hometown of Scunthorpe to speak to steelworkers whose jobs are under threat. That’s working class engagement, being there not only for those who might vote for you, but being seen to care about those who always did. If any examples of Blair doing something similar exists I would like to see them.

Immigration is where Corbyn’s class detractors have a point, even if data does suggest attitudes to this variable are more about age than class. Thus far his leadership has dealt nobly with the issue of refugees traversing Europe and treacherous seas, however – this accounts for a small proportion of the new arrivals to the UK. As a party we are avoiding immigration as a topic because Corbyn’s team has seen the same statistics we all have. Immigration was mentioned by 46% of respondents a core concern in a recent poll, making it the top issue overall. In our traditional heartlands immigration is the topic we are further away from a significant and vocal proportion of our voters than on any other issue. If Corbyn wishes to pitch himself as burgeoning voice for the ignored working class he will have to tackle this issue head on and begin a campaign to convince such voters that immigration is not only a benefit to our economy, but a fundamental part of what makes us remarkable as a country.

During Blair’s time in power and the few years that were book ended by Gordon Brown it lost five million votes. This cannot be attributed purely to the migration of Labour’s core working class vote, most obviously because the middle class has grown in that time. What we can say however is that the net effect of Blair’s time in office was to lose working class votes with each subsequent election, by 2005 on a grand scale. Where did most of these voters go during that period? The Liberal Democrats. The recession of 2008 increased the number of working class voters going Tory in 2010 – something they largely maintained in 2015, though by this time Labour had regained plenty of those Lib Dem voters. That clearly suggests there is a significant number of working class and younger low income voters who consistently move left/centre-left.

On policy we can see in the data that when asked which issues are most important to them and their family the consistent differences between the two general class blocs are:

  • Working class voters deem the economy the most important issue, but they are 9% less likely to cite it than middle class voters.
  • They are 6% less likely to be concerned about tax issues.
  • Welfare and benefits is a concern for 24% of working class voters, as opposed to 9% for middle class voters.
  • 21% of working class voters say immigration is a concern for them and their family, only 13% of middle class voters say so.

If we take the above as intuitive of some elusive working class consciousness, then I dare say the party best representing working class concerns in the last election were UKIP.

Let’s break it down to more specific issues however:

  • Working class people are 10% more likely to favour government intervention in the rental sector – a policy Corbyn approves of, Blair opposed.
  • 70% of working class voters, and as it happens 74% of middle class voters, are in favour of the government controlling rail prices – a policy Corbyn approves of, and Blair opposed.
  • On maintaining the NHS as a state run entity, 84% in both social grades agreed. A policy Blair actively drew back, and again….Corbyn approves of.
  • 68% of working class voters feel the railways should be nationalised, and 71% believe the same about energy. Again…well, you get the idea.

The conclusion here is overwhelming. On a great many issues that the general public, and particularly working class voters, tack left on – Blair tacked right. Jeremy Corbyn on the other hand appears to closely align with both the core Labour vote and a wider working class electorate on many issues of public service provision and economic policy. I am beginning to get the feeling proponents of the Islingtonian prosecco proletarian image have not really looked at the facts.

The wider point here is simple. Corbyn’s leadership should be defined and appreciated under its own merits, and not those of a declining party dogma that had its day in the sun, albeit an electorally successful day. Blair did a lot of important things to take children out of poverty and increase educational opportunities for working class kids (including myself). That cannot, and should not, be denied.

Corbyn at the Durham Miner’s Gala

The argument that the Labour Party is a machine for the winning of elections first, and a vehicle for moderate social change second, has been lost. Not only did this thesis fail to perform in the 2010 leadership election, it was utterly embarrassed in the 2015 leadership contest (I should know, I wrote this imploring people to vote for Andy Burnham)

Both of these leaders wish to bring along a politically invested middle class, the difference is one did it by acceding to most of their often short sighted concerns, the other hopes to do so by exampling the necessity of serious social change.

Let us not forget that Blair’s New Labour was famously built around the idea that ‘everyone is middle class now’, and if they were not then they certainly wanted to be. A phenomenon I did not really recognise until I came to university and realised that Blair and Mandelson’s experience of the working class was people like me, people who they assume educated themselves for financial advancement, and not because they might be just as smart as them. In this rhetoric the student from a low income family works four nights a week to ‘better themselves’, not because it’s that or the dole. As Mark Steel pointed out “when politicians who believe everyone is middle class see vast decaying housing estates, they must think someone’s having a giant dinner party with a Victorian theme”.

Corbyn may not be the son of Fred Dibnah that I have been praying to come and lead the Labour Party for over a decade; despite this he seems to know the working class exists. When it comes to dear Tony I do wonder if the concept passed him by altogether.

Labour Must Lead Britain Into a New European Age

This article was written in partnership with Nathaniel Butler Blondel, a Labour Party activist and student at the University of Glasgow who currently sits as the Secretary of Scottish Young Labour.

The Labour Party’s relationship with Europe has forever entailed parallel tendencies that have never been entirely clear to the electorate, or perhaps even to the party itself.

It was during Harold Wilson’s third government in 1975 that the bellicose Labour MP for Fife Central, Willie Hamilton scolded the Prime Minister on the issue of entry into Europe. “First we’re in, then we’re out…. It’s exactly like coitus-interruptus” as the house stumbled over themselves laughing one Tory MP cried “Withdraw!” – fortunately for us, Mr. Wilson stayed the course.

Despite the resounding Yes vote in that year’s referendum the issue of Europe remains one that interrupts Labour’s rhythm on the doorstep every year.

The mid 1970s were a time when prominent members of the cabinet including Tony Benn, and future leader Michael Foot campaigned for Britain to leave the European Economic Community (EEC) as it was then. Little would they have imagined that four decades later one of their accidental protégés Jeremy Corbyn would sit atop the Labour throne, leading his party somewhat indifferently into the next opportunity to stick or twist on the grand table of Europe.

Thankfully any concern as to where Corbyn’s allegiances lie have been assuaged when he stated confidently in September:

An unlikely European champion. Will Jeremy Corbyn be a strong voice for the pro-EU bloc?

“We will make the case that membership of the European Union helps Britain to create jobs, secure growth, encourage investment and tackle the issues that cross borders – like climate change, terrorism, tax havens and the current refugee crisis.”

This is a position we can find no disagreement with, and one we look forward to campaigning strongly with the whole party on, to once and for all put an end to UKIP’s divisive rhetoric.

But what form can this campaign take, and are we as a party sleepwalking into one of the most important battles over jobs and conditions for British workers for decades?

Direct comparisons between this referendum and the previous are misplaced. The 1975 referendum primarily focused on the common market. Despite claims to the contrary the approaching referendum will be fought on two fronts; immigration and the EU’s actual utility in a globalised world – which ultimately means job creation.

Between 3- 4.5 million jobs in Britain are directly linked to exports to the EU and these exports account for around 45% of Britain’s total. Trade with the EU has fallen over the past few years – but if the value of exports are examined (and this is what those jobs rely on), it has risen year on year, on average at 5% annually since 1999. Furthermore, over 50% of Britain’s imports come from the EU – whilst the UK is currently running a trade deficit. Three out of our top five trading partners are in the EU – and the other two trade with the UK on the basis of a treaty negotiated as part of the EU.

To cut a long story short: millions of jobs rely on trade with the EU. Just under half of what we earn, and over half of what we buy, comes from the EU. We may not like globalisation, but those are the facts on the ground. There is no analysis which can avoid the fact that in the short term at least we are facing significant adverse economic effects if we choose to leave the other 27 member states behind.

There is a further concern here that Labour should be at the forefront of nationally, borrowing costs. Yesterday the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, stated that any UK exit from the EU (or even the realistic likelihood of it) would seriously threaten interest rate levels. The reason this is so worrying is simple, UK households are currently burdened with total debts higher than at any previous time in history. This is an issue that strikes home with Labour’s core vote who are often asset poor and debt laden. The UK’s relationship with our largest trading partners, namely other EU countries, is fundamental to the stability of our banking and business sectors – any existential threat to that (which an EU exit very much is) trading relationship may have severe consequences in the short term, especially in regards to external investment. This would further weaken the pound, thereby making overseas lenders charge us more, and in turn bump up interest rates for individual borrowers.

Despite what you might wish to believe about Labour or see as the historical nature of the party, from the day Michael Foot left office to the moment Jeremy Corbyn arrived and for a great deal of time before that, Labour was a social-democratic party. The European Union has continuously been a focal point of the social democratic project and thus membership of that union in every section of the party except various trade unions has been entirely non-controversial.

Given this fact, it should be a straight road to a united Labour campaign to remain in Europe – or so you would think. One of the aggravating technicalities of democracy is that you occasionally have to take heed of your vote, and on the issue of Europe (read specifically ‘immigration’) Labour’s vote is demographically and regionally divided.

Ed Miliband’s leadership never really convinced when it came to discussing immigration or Europe, and this revealed itself in May. Despite not conceding any seats to UKIP the vote for Nigel Farage’s party theoretically made the difference between Labour and the Tories in 57 seats. This effect was particularly pronounced in suburban seats in Northern England and the entire Midlands. Any ground campaign aimed at saving us from a Farage led European exit will have to seriously concern itself with why this key demographic moved away from Labour and more moderate Conservatism.

This was an issue adequately represented by Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham at the party conference in September:

“Freedom of movement has built the economic power of the big cities. But it has also made life harder in our poorest communities, where the rules have been exploited to undercut people’s wages, undermine their job security and create a race-to-the-bottom. Those same places get no extra funding to deal with the pressure that comes on primary schools, GP services and housing.”

Regardless of how obvious this argument seems to anyone left-leaning, in constituencies like Derby North and Bolton West it was one spoken of in hushed tones. Repeating this mistake could potentially turn the UK back into a solitary island in the North Atlantic, rather than a member of an imperfect, yet relatively successful union.

During the Labour leadership contest the issue of Europe was curiously muted. This belies a truth that many have failed to take into account, the EU does not enthuse anyone beyond those who vehemently wish to leave it. As such the Labour In campaign is to be an argument predicated on ambivalence at worst, and business rationale at best. Neither of these Labour do well. As such it was a wise move to appoint broadly popular Alan Johnson to lead the campaign. If there is one thing the Blairites did well, it was Europe, and if you had to pick the most likeable Blairite around Mr. Johnson would be a popular choice in most quarters.

Reasons to be fearful, the dull business face of the official campaign to Remain

However, the official campaign cross party campaign to Remain has thus far been underwhelming. The great mass of people in Britain are not plucky entrepreneurs nor do they travel frequently to the continent. Soft-Eurosceptics that could be won over are not even being targeted, because the whole campaign has singularly failed to mention immigration (sound familiar?). By omitting what makes Brexit so appealing to so many, the Remain campaign have shot themselves in the foot before the race has even begun. They have two choices: either argue for the positive effects of EU immigration, or argue that collective action through the EU to prevent wage depression can and will happen as part of a ‘reformed’ EU. People won’t forget immigration just because we fail to talk about it. No matter how many mugs we emblazon with our misguided intentions.

The rights afforded to workers in this country, guaranteed by the EU, are not Stuart Rose’s (leader of the cross party campaign to keep Britain in Europe) priority. Instead, the Remain campaign spends more time fawning over England’s nascent wine industry. It is run by individuals who are completely disconnected from ordinary people – and it shows. If we want to remain in the EU, Labour has a serious responsibility to take on the task, and make the case for the EU relatable and relevant to the lives of normal people. The sheer number of jobs under threat, and the rights at work which the EU provides should be a strong enough case – but it is a case you have to make. It will not simply occur to people.

The refugee crisis, combined with the attacks in Paris, have left Europhiles feeling uneasy. It is UKIP’s perfect cocktail, and appears to seriously undermine the argument that the EU makes us safer. We should not be afraid to challenge this line for the superficial nonsense that it is. Britain can be part of a pan-European plan to resettle refugees, or we can flounce out and pretend the problem will go away. Brexit does not mean we are raising the anchor and floating off – there is no escape from a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep.

Labour voters on the left who advocate an exit should realise that they are abdicating their responsibility in this tragedy. Unless that is, they seriously believe that a Tory government in the newly ‘independent’ UK will have a change of heart and throw open the doors to refugees?

The threat of terrorism is just as much of a homegrown problem as it is one emanating from Iraq and Syria. Within the EU, governments and regions can work together to coordinate a response, share information about suspects, and use the European Arrest Warrant to apprehend suspects who have escaped these shores. How would ‘pulling up the drawbridge’ protect us from our own citizens? We’ve got to tackle these arguments head on. Letting them go unanswered, particularly when they appeal to emotion rather than reality is conceding the point. Surely this is where we as a Labour party should be?

Sadly there is an inevitability to Cameron’s meandering demands regarding Europe. Ever since the fait accompli of the Common Fisheries Policy and other such bugbears were sealed during the Heath administration there has been a shadow upon the Tory soul regarding negotiations with Europe. UKIP could not exist today without this consternation at the heart business minded ‘patriotic’ Britain. This is a particularly difficult space for Labour to fill, especially given their current leadership is one defined by relative social and economic radicalism and as such notions of business and trade sovereignty are not included in their lexicon.

Just your cheeky neighbourhood xenophobe. Nigel Farage’s reputation rests on the result. 

Labour will inevitably have to accept that their role in this fight is to lead the charge against the social and economic myopia of leaving Europe.

If we have learned anything from the Scottish independence referendum it is this: economics might win the day, but economics without strongly argued for social and cultural foundations will leave you worryingly exposed to an opponent surging in the minds of more frequently ignored communities. There can be no room for complacency within the Labour ranks. We must treat this in the same way we would treat a general election (though….actually win it, that bit is important).

Undoubtedly the European Union debate contains multitudes that cannot be dealt with here, but in the end it is a simple consideration for the Labour movement. Do we continue to add our voice to reformist choruses within a wider social collective and maintain jobs for our core vote, or do we appease the right and immigration fear mongers – laying waste to the structure which brought us maternity leave, working time directives, and human rights?

It is our position that a Labour Party which fails to be the party of international cooperation, ultimately ceases to be a party of the working class. Whether voters come to agree with us entirely rests on the shoulders of our party, and those allies we will meet along the way.

Nathaniel Butler Blondel and Seán Duffy