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

The Dual Society: A risk postponed

This article was originally pulished on the blog Exploring Youth Issues for my friend Alan Mackie, who is also researching the sociology and policy of youth at The University of Edinburgh.

I began my research into the deleterious effects of austerity on young people in 2011. At that time the consequences of the first Conservative government since 1997 were somewhat difficult to comprehend – we only knew that for those under 25 there was to be no let up.

At the time I was living in Nottingham no more than a half a mile away from a police station that had been petrol bombed during the now infamous English riots a few months prior. It was not lost on me that every week graffiti would reappear opposite the station stating ‘If you take our future, we will take it back’. Who knows whether it was one of the participants or a particularly self-important art school student who daubed the wording, it was emblematic of a time, and significant of a generation that knew for them there would be no boom, only bust.  https://i0.wp.com/b.3cdn.net/unitevol/352bd0fb6b8c505713_5nm6bxi3u.jpg

It’s now 2015 and I am sat in Glasgow where the graffiti is council sponsored, yet the age has not ended. The Conservatives have returned and with them an ideology that sets generations against one another. For people like myself this is research manna; but for some young people it is becoming the only early adulthood they have known. My fundamental concern as a sociologist is the future of this conflict and within that what work and employment will become, or more accurately if it can ever become anything else at all.

There are two theories that are key to understanding this I believe, one well known, one less so. I would like to briefly highlight their importance:

The ‘risk society’ described by Beck (1992) sees the labour market as the motor of individualised risk. This individualisation manifests itself in the acquisition, proffering, and application of a variety of work skills which in turn creates a sense that failure to succeed is a failure on your part alone. If our current political narrative says anything it says this in bright neon lights. We saw this rhetoric writ large during the English riots and in policy after policy from the government that has followed (Workfare chief amongst them). Risk, in this case unemployment, is being mitigated solely for the benefit of the state as welfare quickly becomes a debate about who is undeserving rather than deserving – and whether that is immoral or simply unfair it is incredibly divisive.

In order to avoid this uncompromising reality a great many more young people are extending their education beyond secondary school whether it benefits them or not – with the explicit approval of the state. This expansion and elongation of education as such seeks to mitigate the risks of having too many unqualified jobseekers looking for the kinds of employment that now predominate in a post-industrial society (Bell, 1999). Thus creating a situation in which more and more young people are delaying their transition into work, or in the case of some idle PhD students postponing it altogether. That’s what work is for young people but let’s now ask what it can become.

Sociological debates concerning young people are underpinned by a normative understanding which views youth as inherently transitional; we ‘become’ someone. It is less common however to consider to what extent this ‘becoming’ is actually a cessation of something fundamental. Work when considered in a purely economic sense takes on a dutiful role, which gradually becomes apparent in young people’s perceptions of it (as I am finding quite distinctly in my own research). Given the political climate for this duty to be seen as something owed to the state as recompense for minimal benefits (Davies, 2014), it is perhaps time we asked whether our work and employment can extend to autonomous human activity, and increase the possibilities for individual self-fulfilment – or as the graffiti suggested, allow young people to take their future back.

I have attempted to approach this problem utilising a concept André Gorz refers to as the ‘dual society’. This is a conflict between the heteronomous and autonomous aspects of our lives and primarily concerns the distribution of work and the form and content of non-working time (Gorz, 1994). Gorz would argue that there isn’t a need to eliminate heteronomous control of work, but there is a need to delimit and subordinates its worst excesses in order to let the autonomous predominate. This was a fundamental concern of Marx, yet seems to be largely ignored by both his contemporary political advocates and those who espouse his name in sociology.

Gorz is often misrepresented as subscribing to a purely existential analysis, but with increased interest in ideas he pioneered in the social sciences like a Basic Citizen’s Income (BCI) there is now space to incorporate his analysis more widely. Our inability to gauge the value of activities and relationships which have neither economic worth nor societal utility, as exemplified by our resistance to the BCI, is in itself symptomatic of ‘the production of a world without sensory values and a hardened sensibility, which hardens thought in its turn’ (Gorz cited in Bowring, 1996). In essence we mitigate risk by simply withdrawing options altogether thereby giving primacy to the heteronomous aspects of our lives.

This is the future facing young people. The days of craftspeople have been replaced by a focus on human association and solving technical problems, so keenly articulated by Daniel Bell and Richard Sennett, to my mind the two great sociologists of the late 20th century. Customer service, a sector with the highest percentage of employees under the age of 25, requires workers to perform their task with enthusiasm and personal engagement with those they encounter. This lacks any thought or autonomy in one very expressive sense, but in a financially damaging one also. There is very little notion of building a career in these jobs or a ‘work identity’ which leaves participants without an attainable narrative of occupational development. We are introducing generations of young people to work by strangling any sense of freedom or creativity they might have…and we aren’t adequately remunerating them for it either – be it financially or in terms of sustainable opportunity.

Nothing reflects how we understand this problem, yet administer it in completely the wrong way and for the wrong reasons, than the 2010 coalition policy of the ‘Big Society’. Under the auspices of what has variously been referred to as civil society this was ‘a transfer of responsibility for meeting needs away from the public sector, to social enterprises, community groups, the private sector and individuals and families’ (North, 2011:2). This focus on community responsibility and a desire to create alternative services, is simply not present however when considered in regards to young people – and I have spent many interviews and days reading the research to find it. It is difficult to look at these outcomes and think anything other than autonomy is for those who can buy it (or be taxed adequately for it) but for everyone else and especially the young the whip hand remains raised.

If we continue to withhold the security of benefits, and postpone the autonomy of those young people who do work then I can safely say that twenty or thirty years from now this will no longer be an academic question but a serious threat to the prosperity of our youth. I hope at some point the government will take notice and that sociology will return to an understanding of work as the key site of social change – but I am not holding my breath.

References

Beck, U. (1992), Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, Theory, Culture & Society. London, Sage.
Bell, D. (1999) The Coming of the Post Industrial Society. Basic Books, New York.

Davies, J. (2014) Rethinking Urban Power and the Local State: Hegemony, Domination and Resistance in Neoliberal Cities, Urban Studies, 51 (15), pp.3215-3232
Gorz, A. (1994) Capitalism, Socialism, and Ecology. Verso, London.

Bowring, F. (1996) Misreading Gorz, New Left Review, 217, pp. 102–122
North, P (2011) Geographies and utopias of Cameron’s Big Society. Social and Cultural Geography. 12 (8) pp. 1-11.

The Labour Right Have Not Learned….Again

The key claim of Labour’s rightwards orbit is that the party does not listen to those beyond its confines. This claim is not altogether unfair – yet the conclusion that you should elect the most unprincipled centrist candidate possible to accommodate for this is somewhat more suspect. This is not the key point to be made however. What is key in regards to this claim is the simple fact that while the left may not be listening to the country beyond, the right is not even bothering to take stock of the party they actually inhabit.

Today on the BBC’s ‘Sunday Politics’ the current Progress backed hope Liz Kendall steered firmly into the approaching tidal wave, all but guaranteeing her wreckage on the shores of the often volatile Labour Party membership. A 45p tax rate, legislated for budget surpluses, confused tax credit messages that amount to cuts, and a remarkable ability to patronise the campaign’s most likeable figure Jeremy Corbyn were all included in today’s desperate attempt for perceived credibility.

On the same day John Rentoul, arch apologist for Labour’s more blue environs, wrote openly regarding the failures of Kendall’s campaign – a step which inevitably caused him great pain. He got time in to mention that he’s still right about Liz being the chosen one and how the rest of us are all lacking some imperceptible foresight that you only acquire by spending all of your time drinking flat whites around Fleet Street nonetheless.

As right of centre of Labour leadership candidates go Liz Kendall is in a league of her own when it comes to failing to judge the mood. She is certainly no Gaitskell, Castle, or Jenkins and I doubt were there even someone of the meagre calibre of David Miliband to oppose her she would have a look in. Let me enumerate her startling tactical failings since entering the race back in May:

1. Legislating for budget surpluses

This is a nonsensical policy that was met with consternation from every party except the Conservatives and referred to by the likes of Thomas Piketty and Ha-Joon Chang as ludicrous. That in and of itself should be a warning sign for any keen observer. Liz pushed ahead nonetheless. This announcement came at a crucial time when members and affiliate voters were learning who the candidates really were beyond vague ideas they may have held prior to the race. It is surely then no surprise that within this active period the narrative that Liz is a ‘Tory’ took hold. This is of course unfair in many ways, yet in essence it is simply useful short hand to say ‘she is not one of us’. Political parties are strange things, and like any group they have insiders and outsiders. Outsiders who do not have an incredible strength of personality and will do not become leaders. Liz has none of those qualities.

2. Negative Union rhetoric

One of Kendall’s early forays into the print media was to openly disparage union power within the party. Her team unwisely believed Jim Murphy’s open contestation with the likes of Len McCluskey would harken a new age of anti-union sentiment. It did not, largely because Murphy at that point was a discredited and exiting leader. In very simple terms – not many people cared to hear what he had to say. Liz of course was never going to rake in the union vote regardless, but even for those who share her concerns the idea that Labour would actively antagonise the unions is a step too far. Blair completely understood this – no other Progress backed candidate since has.

3. Attacking Corbyn (or anyone at all)

 It is obvious to anyone who is in and around the party membership on a regular basis that the majority of committed members are somewhere situated within the centre left, with a sizeable minority positioned to the far left, and a much smaller but often more savvy and well connected collective positioned on the right. As a result you are tasked with keeping all of these elements at best fervently positive about you, at worst allowing some to be generally neutral about you. The Kendall campaign has successively mobilised the right…and absolutely no one else. Their response to this has been to attack the left candidate Jeremy Corbyn in quite unflattering terms and hope this will somehow scare people into voting for Liz. Whomever thought of that must have failed to notice there are two other candidates in Burnham (centre-left) and Cooper (firm centre) who would be much more acceptable destinations for such voters. Furthermore as we all have probably heard a million times before, negative campaigns do not win.

4. Failure to understand the momentum of the CLP vote

The CLP vote should not be taken as any great signifier of the final result, but it does correlate to some extent with the placement of first preferences. On that basis the first candidate to be eliminated will almost certainly be Liz Kendall. I can only assume Liz’s team did not take this facet seriously or her campaign truly has been as poorly deployed as I suspect and she simply is not connecting with party activists outside suburban London.

5. Being seen to be about nothing other than winning and confusing this with Blairism

Blairism is a strange term which could just mean pragmatic populism tinged with economic liberalism, or it can also imply a sort of southern English centred ultra Gaitskellite antagonism that seeks to boldly replace the Tories as Britain’s natural party of government – regardless of where that takes you on the spectrum. In the end it matters little, because Liz Kendall is not a Blairite, if by that we mean someone in the image of Blair. Tony Blair more than understood the necessity of taking his party with him come the general election. His positioning to gain the leadership, or at least be seen as the natural successor to John Smith rather than Gordon Brown, was altogether not dissimilar to where Yvette Cooper is placing herself today. Albeit with a much less formidable Tory government than that which is currently present. Yet when we try to rationalise the ill fitting approach of Kendall’s campaign it is not to Blair we should look, but to the once touted wunderkind of New Labour – David Miliband.

The 2010 leadership election should have been a serious wake up call for the Progress aligned factions in the party, in just the same way the 2015 general election should have served as a jolt for those aligned to the more traditional left. David Miliband stood as by far the most popular candidate with the country, and his name recognition was only challenged by Ed Balls within the party itself. He was by no overestimation the runaway favourite – and then his brother entered the race. Ed Miliband whether you adore or deplore him understands strategy. David Miliband does not. Famously David Miliband was dubbed a ‘serial bottler’ by Gordon Brown’s chief spin doctor Damian McBride, and was known to have attempted short lived coups on as many as three occasions, often with the help of John Reid. This does not a unifying leader make, and once things started getting heated between he and Ed in 2010 David’s backers were all but silent. That loss may have been under a different voting system but under certain scenarios the One Member One Vote system could well hinder the right even further. To combat this Kendall’s team should have placated the party’s centre left much more openly rather than seeking to cast them as dinosaurs.

Kendall has been unfortunate in some ways. It has rarely been spoken of but the fact is Kendall wanted to run a campaign based on the success of the London campaign in 2015. She would do so as the only southern MP in the race (at least in terms of personal background) and use the swiftly departed Umunna and other prominent supporters in the capital to run a vibrant and forward looking campaign. Then Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North entered the race. Suddenly Kendall wasn’t the interesting candidate fighting against the (unfairly referred to) ‘continuity candidates’ in the North, she was the right wing pole on a clearly left leaning field. The energy of Corbyn’s campaign in the capital and many of Britain’s biggest cities quashed any hope of a cosmopolitan insurgence for Kendall and left Burnham and Cooper to battle for the North, Wales, Scotland, and the South West. Northern Ireland was decisively taken by Burnham early on, however the number of members there is negligible. It might still be the case that the candidate of the two supposed front runners (though Corbyn is now seriously challenging this outcome) who does better with members in and around the capital will take the prize but it is quite clear that Kendall just does not have the required support across the country and will likely finish no better than 3rd in September.

The summation of all of this can easily be understood in a simple idea that someone tweeted to me today :

‘Kendall has not applied her key campaign message, that you need to be in power to change things, to her own campaign’

That’s it, right there. The leadership contest is the first step on the road to winning back power. If you are incapable of seeing the need to appeal to members and supporters then how likely is it that you will be able to adapt to the concerns of the electorate? The centre right can win a leadership contest, but it seems the one they should have won yet failed to do so in 2010, has completely knocked them for six and half a decade later they simply have not recovered.

Unless a new leadership contest comes in the next 5 years Liz Kendall may forever be the candidate who just didn’t get it, and for those who share my politics at least that is a very welcome result.

Why I Will Vote Labour Tomorrow: A heartfelt plea

I will be voting Labour on Thursday 7th May 2015, I hope you do too. Here’s why:

When I was a boy the most common indicator of the coming day, aside from the changing heavens, were the workers – young and old – in high-vis clothing covered in thick black dust cycling to the steel works in the damp morning. At times I too was walking alongside them, to my heinously low paid shelf stacking job, having only been informed to come in an hour or so before.

That was over a decade ago, and I kept working in such jobs well up until my early 20s – reading books, acting the wazzock, and assuming that politics would always just be a game I enjoyed rather than an outlet for serious advancement.

One of the books I read most in my days at college was by an old academic named Ralph Miliband…’Marxism and Politics’, which contained the passage:

“It is clearly the case that the struggle for reforms in a bourgeois democratic regime was never taken by classical Marxism to be incompatible with the advancement of revolutionary aims and purposes. On the contrary such a struggle is an intrinsic part of the Marxist tradition. Within that tradition, there is undoubtedly room for much controversy and debate as to the kind of reforms to be pursued. Thus supporters of a ‘revolutionary’ as opposed to ‘reformist’ strategy have generally tended to place less emphasis and value on reforms, and to press for reforms which they did not believe to be attainable, as part of a ‘politics of exposure’ of capitalism – and also of ‘reformist’ labour leaders. But there are limits to this kind of politics, which are imposed inter alia by the working class movement itself: if the ‘politics of exposure’ are pushed too far, all that they are likely to expose are the people who practice them, and leave such people in a state of ineffectual sectarian isolation.”

When I was 17 I thought this was cowardice, now I’m an old hound I see that not only was he right then, he is right now. There are far too many good intentioned people inadvertently taking their eye off the needs of those in most danger of dropping off the map altogether, in favour of traversing new – yet to my mind at least, sadly identical – terrain. People should be explorative, what they should not do is gleefully dance on the fresh soil of the Labour Party’s grave. If it is to pass on (first in Scotland, then perhaps elsewhere) then that is the death of well over a century’s aspirations and victories for the working class (and others too). Until another organised force with the labour movement at heart can command such loyalty and activity I cannot think anything other than it should be a moment of sorrow, not glee.

I might have left Scunthorpe, but those workers are still there – and year after year their jobs are threatened. Many of them have seen their careers and livelihoods taken away long before, in the wake of an incredibly myopic agenda put forward by successive Thatcherite governments, and I am ashamed to say – a couple of Labour ones too. Their numbers decrease every year. A tale you could tell in most towns across Britain. A tale often written by the Conservative Party.

If you think Thatcher is dead, you’re wrong. Just this week documents were leaked showing the Con/LD coalition have considered suggestions by the DWP to abolish statutory maternity pay, bar under-25s from claiming incapacity or housing benefit, and to increase the bedroom tax where possible. This is the rapid erosion of the welfare state in technicolour. The welfare state that our families built so you and I, and our children too, could go to school and not have to worry about your little brother or sister dying in their bed from slum housing and malnutrition….and if you think that sounds extreme there is a reason food banks have multiplied exponentially, it isn’t because people are ‘bone idle’. The people have stepped in where the state have abandoned them, it’s time to put a stop to it.

As pragmatic choices go, there are reluctant ones and absolutely necessary ones, a vote for Labour, and within that a vote for Ed Miliband to be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is I believe an absolutely necessary choice.

I’ve had zero hours contracts; they’re incredibly demoralising when you’re already working for a poverty wage. I’ve been on minimum wage (most of you will have too) – if you think the proposed increase won’t make a difference ask yourself if you would have thought that when you were on that wage – and then imagine the same situation if you had a child to look after. I’ve long since given up on the idea of having regulated rent or even having my own home, the only party even paying lip service are the Labour Party. The right to buy is why this situation exists in the first place. It isn’t a solution.

Politics is fundamentally about one thing – fairness. We all have different opinions on what that is, but there is no one who can truly believe that attacking the sick, the disabled, and worst of all the NHS – that we all built from top to bottom regardless of regional allegiances – is anything but cruel and unnecessary.

People say Labour don’t make a difference, and when you hear the likes of Rachel Reeves decrying those out of work it is hard to disagree. But I disagree nonetheless. With each successive Labour government from Attlee to Wilson and even to Blair the living standards of the working class have improved, and were it not for governments like that there is no way a young man from my background would be fortunate enough to be studying for a PhD and teaching at a university. I won’t settle for young kids growing up now having worse opportunities, or even the same ones, we have a responsibility to do better. We have a responsibility to the women and men who feared having children knowing maternity/paternity pay would not come. We have a responsibility to the doctors and nurses who want to help people, not invoice people. The charge sheet of injustice is endless, don’t turn away from it because Ed Miliband doesn’t look like Cary Grant.

Nothing can be guaranteed, and I would remind Miliband of the words of Harold Wilson when he said “The Labour party is a moral crusade or it is nothing.” – and I would remind him too that if he strays from this path he will not only lose Scotland, he will sound the death knell for Labour across Britain.

The people of Wales, England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland can’t take 5 more years of the Conservative Party.

Nicola Sturgeon knows that.

Natalie Bennett knows that.

Even Nigel Dodds bloody knows that.

Ed Miliband will stop that.

Good luck to anyone who has campaigned, and I hope to see us better off on the other side

‘The Scottish Miracle’: What will become of the English and Scottish Left?

This article was first published by Uncivil Society under the same title on 14/02/2015. Please click on the link for the original text . Additionally, please follow Uncivil Society on Twitter or find them on Facebook for more articles and discussion.

The left in Scotland has experienced a resurgence in activism since 2011. In England, by comparison, little has changed, and the culture of anti-war and anti-cuts activism remains the dominant site of debate and protest.

The vocal sections of the Scottish Left’s independence supporting contingent expect to see gains for the SNP and the Greens in May, and significant victories for independence supporting parties further to the left in 2016’s Holyrood elections. The behemoth of a continuously swelling Scottish National Party has thus far put pay to any talk of a ‘Yes Alliance’ and it seems at face value that far too many of the foot soldiers of the Yes campaign are now sporting the yellow and black on the campaign trail.

In amongst this there is a narrative trend which sees the British Left as a separate entity, though for brevity it is wise to look only at England and Scotland for now. The English Left, and the Scottish Left – are they really so different – and if so, how has this manifested since September 2014?

The biggest event for both constituents since the Scottish Independence Referendum did not occur in Britain at all but in Greece last month. The radical importance of Syriza’s election remains to be seen, but cannot be dismissed as anything other than momentous. This was an impressive event in part because of the sheer number of young activists from Britain who travelled to Greece to help, or more cynically simply to get their photos taken under the gaze of the Parthenon waving a red flag.

The Greek elections allow an insight into the trajectories of the two activist forces. The English Left has maintained business as usual with the critically pro-Labour Left favouring a pro-European anti-austerity message that supports the undulating views of the recently elected Greek PM Alexis Tsipras.The difference between the two lefts however is one of long term intent, a difference which sees the Scottish Left use the Greek narrative of change to push the idea that ‘This is what Scotland can be’. It seems now that any threat to the status quo in Europe is a boon for the Scottish Left with little analysis to back it up, as Conor Cheyne writes for the Scottish Left Project:

“On the back of the referendum we have a unique chance to build something that could mount a challenge first to the status-quo in Britain and then the status-quo in Europe and the World. We must join Syriza on the world stage and only then can we show true solidarity as only then can we fight with them against the power of the capitalist elite.”

‘Only then can we show true solidarity’ is a line which sets up the ultimate precondition of independence to act in the global fight against capitalism. But to argue that the fight against capitalism must be international-institutional is to move worryingly far from the lives of the majority of working class people in Britain – in particular the English urban working class. It relies on the idea of Scottish sovereignty as the only way to act on the global stage, which is unquestioningly accepted as the ideal place for the Left to be.

Currently this situation provided by the prospect of Scottish independence maintains a sense of freshness for the British Left and appears normal to socialist sympathisers throughout the country who grew fervent in light of the constitutional threat to ideas of Empire and capital that independence purportedly presented. Despite this there is a tendency to conflate the conditions of Scotland with that of countries like Greece, all the while failing to adequately represent the shared struggles with places like England. The Scottish Left thrives on this comparison, and sets out on a global stage with the winds of change in its sails, but this is not true of Scotland and Greece, nor is it true of the Scottish Left and groups like Syriza.

Much like Syriza the Scottish Left is a coalition of greens, socialists, social democrats, and mixed centrists. Unlike Syriza it is not well organised now that independence has taken its ball and gone home, and furthermore it has no real ideological coherence, a charge equally applicable to the English Left. What the Scottish Left does have are groups like the Common Weal and The Scottish Green Party who espouse a palatable minimal class politics that is whispered in hushed tones, seeking to imbibe social democratic ideals via the side door.

Cartoon figures like Robin McAlpine seek to push a notion of a positively divided English and Scottish Left that can come together only once Scotland has nipped out to the shops and never returned. This was evidenced recently when he announced his ambassadorial trip to England to meet George Monbiot and others on the English Left who apparently entirely live and work in London. Robin stated that:

“There are people on the English left who genuinely refer to the ‘Scottish miracle’. For a lot of activists in England the kind of open, non-party campaign in Scotland that threw up lots and lots of active, radical campaigning groups was a revelation.The English left has been so beleaguered that the Scottish precedent has been a real shot in the arm and there has been much more communication between campaign groups on either side of the border than most people will realise”

This idea that there has been a revitalisation in exchange of ideas between the Scottish and English Left is a convenient fantasy. This is something that has existed and flourished since the very birth of the labour movement and has born just as much fruit on the right as on the left, perhaps more.

Then we have more interesting proposals such as the Scottish Left Project, who despite doing little of note since the referendum do seem to be the successors of the relatively influential Radical Independence Campaign which engaged in interesting class focused politics, yet ultimately fell in line behind a constitutionally focused credo that now affects all on the Scottish political stage. Repeated comparisons with Syriza and Podemos fall somewhat flat given those organisations have policies and largely coherent economic plans; something even the traditional heavyweight parties are struggling with in Scotland.

The biggest political change therefore is that whilst England’s left wing may well still be holding onto the life vest of the eternally disappointing Labour Party, their Scottish equivalent is gradually moving laterally towards the SNP. All the while peripheral groups act in the interests of the SNP leadership in Scotland and Labour leadership in England. The result is that we find ourselves with a stifled yet very familiar consensus in both nations.

The Scottish Left now finds itself uniquely placed to chart a new course by openly criticising the policies, processes, and undue pandering to Civic Scotland that directly or indirectly stymie the interests of working people across Britain. This will not be achieved by basking in the momentary jubilance afforded by those parties opposing European austerity, it will be found in effectively utilising the constitutional powers that Scotland has.

Bella Caledonia and the Art of Comment Baiting

Bella Caledonia’s homepage

Recently Mike Small at Bella Caledonia wrote a piece denouncing two articles/blogs by members of the ‘English left’ [http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2015/01/03/risk-and-the-union/]. The first by James Stafford a PhD student in History/Politics at the University of Cambridge and commissioning editor of Renewal Journal [http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/the-radical-proponents-of-scottish-independence-dramatically-overstated-its-potential-to-transform-britains-broken-political-economy/], the second by me, Seán Duffy…also a PhD student in Sociology/Education at the University of Glasgow, commissioning editor of the Snaffle Bit’s premier second place pub quiz team [https://themortalash.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/heroes-of-a-deferred-nation/]

The first thing we should probably deal with here is that yes I am English, and I assume James is too, though you would think we are fully signed up members of the Morris dancing stonemasons of Glastonbury Tor, who know one another well, based on the article. This in and of itself is pretty unremarkable. There are a lot of English people commenting on Scottish politics, many of them live and work in Scotland, I am one of those people. With that fact in mind it seems somewhat odd to describe me as on the ‘English left’. This English left is of course always referred to as ‘in crisis’, whereas the flourishing socialist rhetoric reaping the streets of Scotland is incomparable in its fervour…or so I am told.

This is characteristic of the sort of in group/out group rhetoric that those espousing divisive concepts like ‘the 45’ have come to use as conversational. It’s fine being English, as long as you agree with us. If you do not, it’s because of your Englishness, which is exactly why English Scots for Yes became such a ubiquitous campaigning tool in the final months of the referendum. There is no better tool for a winning national rhetoric than co-opting the imagined nationalism of your imagined opponent.

This was remarkably prevalent in Robin McAlpine’s article ‘So Far So Good. British Unionism’s Review of 2014’ for Bella Caledonia [http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2014/12/30/so-far-so-good-british-unionisms-review-of-2014/] in which he remarks:

In the end, reality wins out over fantasy. No blood was spilled, no glass was broken; Scotland lived up to its democratic duty in a way and with a maturity that should shame the current British Empire. Remember, Scots-born voters voted Yes. Without ‘English immigration’ Scotland would now be independent (English-born voters voted three to one against). Yet everyone of us ‘barbarians’ embraces the ideal of those resident being part of our community wherever they started their lives. Not a single one of us has formed a UKIP, not one of us has talked about the ‘English problem’ or asked whether these incomers have distorted out politics and what we should do about it.

As Rory Scothorne (@shirkerism) commented on Twitter ‘here’s robin mcalpine expecting us to pat him on the back for not hating english people’ and that is exactly what such a paragraph is. It is a plea to the mushed minds of England that no matter how many of you own holiday homes in Ayr, or how frequently you come to our golf courses and embarrass yourselves in front of your kids we are never going to run you out of town, like you lot are doing with your saviour Nigel Farage. Well thanks for that Robin…top man.

What’s more is that this is remarkably unrepresentative of my experiences in Scotland, and I must admit by that I largely mean Glasgow. I have rarely heard anything remotely as stupid as this, and no one has ever made me feel unwelcome – except those two times we thumped you in the football. What does Robin even mean when he says ‘not a single one of us has formed a UKIP’? Did the European elections pass him by, or did he conveniently forget the decades of anti-Irish prejudice that still leaves its mark to this day?

In fact, this categorisation of the ‘English left’ seems almost deliberately designed to illicit a particular kind of response. If we follow the comments section of said article we can see some prime examples (disclaimer comments sections should not be read as representative of the views of the website bearing the article – though they are a good laugh)

MBC comments:

I think you are spot on. And though Mr Stafford does raise some good points in his angry riposte to Mike, explaining for instance that his polemical article was intended merely as an opinion piece, and is not definitive in scholarly terms, but can still be backed up by his wider scholarship, if Mike cares to examine it, it is undeniable that what has really riled him is that Mike and others on this thread have pointed out the paucity of his aspirations as a wannabe English radical. Thus showing the futility of the Union as a vehicle for progress. Mr Stafford accepts neo-liberalism as a universal system and thinks that all you can do is nibble your way around the edges, and that the crumbs that are released are worth having. The Scottish ambition to establish a new state which frees itself from the wrong patterns and worst decisions of neo-liberal austerity Britain raises resentment not admiration, because it reveals how much further the radical tradition is in Scotland than in England. And as an Englishman that galls him.

His reaction is significant for a number of reasons.

It is hypocritical to aspire to be any kind of radical yet despise the radical pretensions of fellow-Britons by defence of the forces of reaction and power that radicals struggle against.

It also reveals the lack of fellowship in the concept of ‘Briton’, or any sense of the term ‘Briton’ as meaning something progressive.

In short, Mr Stafford is an Englishman first, a radical second, and a fellow-Briton, last.

Here’s the wonderfully named Big Jock in reply:

MBC. We can use all the polite reasons and excuses for how people voted. But if you are asked ,should Scotland be independent. You are offering nationhood in a referendum. You cannot choose to be a nation for football or at a Burns night. Its not a part time job. Being a nation means you accept everything, and the responsibility of being independent. You can’t have it both ways. The world looked on and saw that Scotland chose to remain a region of the UK. Whether we view ourselves as such doesn’t really matter. Legally and politically we are not a nation in the UN.

We can’t keep making excuses for people running away from things. I know businessmen,poor people,old people young people who voted yes. Why because regardless of money,wealth or even political persuasion. They agreed Scotland was a real country. Everyone has personal circumstances! Is the cleaner in my work less worthy because she doesn’t have a car and large mortgage. The argument being that poor people have less to lose. I am middle class have a mortgage and cars and wife and bills. Why did I not care about any of that when I ticked my box. Because it wasn’t about me,it was about Scotland my nation.

Me and the lads back home.

I have had enough of apologists having their personal circumstances as an excuse for voting no.Everyone who voted yes has personal circumstances, and how dare no people presume theirs are unique or more important than the 45.

I am not sure how else you can read this other than to say it is xenophobia, and I do not say that lightly. As a white, male from Northern Europe it’s not often I have ever felt pigeon holed but reading this attack piece it was difficult not to consider it.

Of course these quotes are out of context and if you want to read the full discussion between MBC and Big Jock to remind you what it might have been like to encounter Popper and Wittgenstein going at it you should visit the original site.  There’s plenty more where that came from.

Yet quotes out of context are far from off the cards for Mike Small as he writes that:

Seán’s analysis is par for the course: set a radical critique of the independence movement and adjourn to the Labour Party as default lounge of historical choice; declare nationalism a corrupt and useless vehicle; finally, declare all of Scottish politics redundant and file ALL of the indy movement as being about the ‘Yesnp’. As he boldly declares: “If independence is a ‘movement’ then it’s only functioning and influential facet are the SNP and their business cohort.”

Which is all well and good, except I am fairly sure I have never used the term ‘Yesnp’ (if I am wrong then I shall retract that) and the culminating quote is actually from a tweet I wrote but a few days ago on my handle @seantduffy, and has nothing to do with any analysis I included in my article. Despite pointing this out to Mike he has refused to change the attribution. Any casual reader would assume I had written that in my article, I certainly did on first perusal. Prior to my request Mike had also failed to link to my article that he is critiquing, nor even do me or James the courtesy of pointing out this denouncement had been written. Perhaps I am simply not important enough, and if so why bother in the first place, but this is hardly in line with the kind of spirit of debate I believed sites like Bella Caledonia were set up to foster.

The insubstantial demonisation continues throughout as Mike seeks to attach everything James or I write to the Labour Party. His belief that my article was designed to persuade people to ‘adjourn to the Labour party’ is not supported by a single thing I wrote. This is pure conjecture and not in line with my views at all. In truth I think Scottish Labour deserve a right royal thumping, and in cities like Glasgow they have operated almost as monarchical tyranny. This does not mean to say I would seek to unseat them and hand power to the Conservative Party at Westminster of course, but I would certainly never belittle anyone for abandoning Scottish Labour given the recent context and new leadership.

It seems ‘strange’ and ‘bizarre’ that  I would criticise Better Together to many of the readers of this article. Why is that strange? Do the self-appointed doyens of Scottish new media really believe there is no one on the left of the Labour party who thinks the concept of Better Together was severely flawed if not borderline suicidal? If the contest by Neil Findlay to take the leadership, and the surprise level of support it received, was not testament to that then I am not sure what will convince such characters, characters who think simply using the word ‘dialectic’ equates to quoting Marx. I really do despair. I accept the need for commentary not to be a preserve of academia but this is exactly the kind of anti-intellectual nonsense my original article was trying to highlight and therefore I must be grateful to Mike for adding further fuel to the flames.

James has adequately defended himself in the comments against a wall of white noise, so I shall let him speak for himself. I would implore you to read his thoughts however as they highlight many worrying trends prevalent here that I do not have time to go into.

Another point of note that keen observers will have picked up on are the graphics chosen to adorn this article. One depicting a reactionary protest against the ‘Islamification’ of Britain with a noose and plentiful union jacks in shot, the other of the now infamous ‘Go Home’ vans that blighted parts of the South East due to a heavily ill-advised policy by the incumbent coalition government. All interesting sociological images I am sure you will agree, but what they have to do with my article or James’ work seems to be a mystery. Presumably because we criticise the Scottish independence movement we are as a result advocating the worst kinds of neo-fascism going on in Britain today?

This is by and large tabloid comment baiting. Mike knows that his readership loves nothing more than a good swipe at the British state and/or the Labour party. Finding two relatively tame articles by largely inconsequential early career academics who just happen to favour the Labour party is manna from heaven for this cause. Be they English? Even better.

This highlights a prevalent trend that many friends have commented on of denouncing any reluctant defence of the union as being a symptom of a lack of ‘thinking big’. This is the language of Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, not serious economic consideration. I suppose that many Bella Caledonia supporters would describe their constant banging on about Tom Nairn and similar writers as part of a ‘democratic intellect’, whereas the snobby intelligentsia  that James and I produce is of the old guard, there’s something of the imperial about us etc. This is a tiring dualism that really should have no place in serious debate. Most PhD students are paid well below a living wage if at all, and not all are privately educated Oxbridge graduates (as the common demonisation goes), so it would be heartwarming for once to see some recognition of this instead of constant berating of any attempts to academically discuss a phenomenon with a blanket attribution of elitism to anyone who might be working at a university.

In many ways this is sad to see as I have enjoyed a number of articles on Bella Caledonia over the past year, and believe it has provided occasional glimpses of the kind of quality citizen journalism that is required in any locale, never mind Scotland.

It is time those on the left of any inclination in regards to the independence referendum began discussing substance and engaged in serious polemics that are not chock full of ad hominems. I would like to think that these prejudicial definitions were not deliberate, but consistent identification of this by myself and others has not led to any change in tone by Bella Caledonia and other much worse imposters.

I see myself as part of the Scottish Left, and it’s future, and the British Left and our future. That is still a thing….isn’t it?