Saturday, May 16, 2015

Why Muslims cannot trust the legal system posted by Richard Seymour

Shortly before the most recent general elections, there occurred a legal coup d'etat against a democratically elected local authority.  The overthrow was justified on the basis of a series of racist claims against the Bangladeshi community of Tower Hamlets.  In a new article for Critical Legal Thinking, Nadine El-Enany anatomises the logic of this judicial putsch, and the implications it has for institutional racism:

“Let justice be done though the heavens fall”, Deputy High Court Judge, Richard Mawrey declared as he delivered a recent ruling which voided Lutfur Rahman’s reelection as Mayor of Tower Hamlets on 22 May 2014. Almost 37,000 people voted for Rahman in an election which saw a record turnout. In a 200 page judgement, Mawrey found Rahman guilty of a series of corrupt and illegal practices. But this verdict is not just. It rests on a failure to understand the meaning and extent of racism in Britain today and is itself based on racist and Islamophobic reasoning. How can Muslims in Britain be expected to have faith in a legal system that produces a judgement such as this?

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Friday, May 08, 2015

This is not 1992 posted by Richard Seymour

This is not 1992.  In a way, it's far worse than that.  Imagine this: Labour has given the Tories their 'Portillo moment', with Ed Balls losing his seat in Morley and Outwood, not from incumbency but from opposition.

The perspective gets even worse when you look at the figures.  Overall, the Tory vote has barely shifted from 36.1% to (on present counts) 36.8%.  That is, the Tories have a bit more than a third of the vote, and fractionally more than the total with which they failed to win a parliamentary majority in 2010.  This is not, chiefly, a Tory surge.  In previous elections, historically, a vote share of this scale would have left the Tories on the opposition benches.

But Labour's vote also flatlined, currently on about 30.6%, compared to 29% in 2010 - which was its worst share of the vote since 1918.  In key marginals, like Nuneaton, it barely made a dent.  In some relatively safe Tory seats where it should have had a swing, like North Swindon (safe Tory area since 2010 boundary changes), the Tories actually gained.  National turnout looks like it was about 66%, which is fractionally above the turnout in 2010, and most of that increase will have been in Scotland and certain UKIP hot spots like Thanet South.  So, Labour has mobilised almost no one who hadn't previously voted Labour during its worst election defeat since 1918.

Both Labour and the Conservatives are in the middle of a long-term crisis, neither has done anything to reverse that, and the question in this election was: whose crisis is worse?

Unsurprisingly, and highly satisfactorily, the Liberals have been crushed, their share of the vote falling from 23% to 7.7%.  Indeed, this is the big shift in the 2015 election: the collapse of the Liberals and the rise of the smaller parties.  I want to point out something of great importance regarding the Liberals.  I said before that the reason their leadership didn't care about getting mauled in the elections was because they were preparing themselves to act as kingmakers in future coalitions, as exercisers of 'responsible' political authority, detached from their base but integrated into the machinery of government.  This, let us be honest, is where they'd rather be.  And in the last few days, we've had Nick Clegg saying that a government without the Liberal Democrats involved would lack legitimacy: even knowing that his party would be hammered into fourth place, he still saw a central role for his wheelers and dealers.  In effect, the Liberal leadership chose, with the Orange Book coup, to turn their party into a mandarin, de facto apparatus of an increasingly post-democratic state.

The obverse of the Liberals in this election is the SNP.  Every tendency in advanced post-democracy is being reversed in Scotland, where working class electoral participation and party membership is rising, not falling.  The SNP took 56 seats, up from 6 in 2010.  The tsunami-like proportions of this wipe-out may be exaggerated by the electoral system, but the swing is huge and signifies something far deeper than a shift in voter identifications or, god help us, a 'protest vote'.  Old right-wing Labour stalwarts like Tom Harris vaguely understand that since the referendum, something at the deepest strata of Scottish working class consciousness shifted.  But he doesn't get what shifted, or why.  

The reality is that the referendum 'No' coalition signified everything that was wrong with Westminster politics: all the main parties in it together, on the side of militarism and the multinationals.  Despite Gordon Brown's absurd 'big beast' posturing, despite all the talk of the 'UK pension' and the 'UK NHS', Labour attacked independence from the Right, from a position of loyalty to the state, to the war machine, and to the neoliberal doctrines of the civil service.  Miliband, during the election campaign, tried to reassure middle class voters that Labour utterly ruled out any SNP influence on policies like austerity or Trident.  And while the Labour Party tailed the Tories on austerity, while they imitated Tory language on welfare, while they copied UKIP on immigration, the SNP defended a simple, civilised position: no austerity, stop demonising people on welfare, and welcome immigrants.  In England, Labour aping the Right just leads to its base abstaining, as they have done in growing numbers since 2001.  But in Scotland, working class voters had a tried and tested reformist alternative, with an optimistic political identity linked to a profound socio-demographic shift, and were able to rally to it.  And now, with England cleaving broadly to the right and Scotland shifting left, it's hard to see how the current constitutional arrangements are sustainable.  Scotland will simply not assent to being governed by the Tories, and Sturgeon will be under huge pressure to deliver another referendum.

There will be more to say, on the other side of the political spectrum, about the farraginous hordes that are banging at Cameron's door, but for now it's worth pointing out how many of them there are: almost four million in this election.  Only the perversities of the electoral system prevented UKIP from gaining the fifty or sixty seats they would have got if their vote was more geographically concentrated.  As it is, Douglas Carswell, the least UKIP of UKIPers, is the only one of them to have held onto a seat.  What is particularly absurd about this is that the distribution of UKIP's votes points to its political strength.  That is, it managed to eat into Labour heartlands almost as much as Tory seats, making UKIP possibly Britain's first truly successful, cross-class, populist formation.  For example, in Sunderland it drew tens of thousands of voters, a surge first noticed during the city council elections last year when it took almost a quarter of the vote.  Of course, the party is still very fragile, its momentum may now dissipate, and it will be much weaker if Farage resigns the leadership.  But the basis upon which they won these votes was ideologically hardcore, with Farage using the televised debates not to broaden his support but to consolidate his base.  If the dominant parties are forced to accept PR, as seems increasingly likely, this signifies a major realignment on the Right.

Finally, a word or two about the Greens.  They did well with 3.7% of the vote, about as well as they could reasonably have expected.  It looks as though in addition to keeping Brighton Pavilion, where they increased their margin with a 10% swing in their favour, they also gave Labour a run for their money in Bristol West, where the sitting Liberal was overturned, and came a good third in a number of constituencies, such as Norwich South, or Holborn and St Pancras where Natalie Bennett got over 7,000 votes.  I think this represents something more than a protest vote.  Once more, if we get anything like proportional representation, the game is up: in those circumstances, the Green vote will easily surge past 5% toward the double figures, and the Pasokification of Labour will take another lurch forward.

This election has been about the collapse of the Labour Party and of labour movement politics: precisely as I warned.

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Friday, April 24, 2015

A review of the Lutfur Rahman judgment posted by Richard Seymour

When I say that the law is the dominant form of the dominant ideology, you might see what I mean when you look at the trial and judgment of Lutfur Rahman and Tower Hamlets First councillors.  Not to worry if you don't - I will return to it.  But for now, it's important that someone should begin the work of critically reflecting on the judgment rather than - as has been the general tendency - treating it as holy writ.

Jen Izaakson has done sterling work in beginning this mammoth task here:

37,000 people voted for Lutfur Rahman in a record turnout. He has now been deposed – not by an election, not by arrest and not by a jury trial, but by four local politicians who took him to court. Sitting in judgment was one man only – not a qualified judge, only a barrister (assumed by the media and even myself, to be a Judge) – who has demonstrated previously a peculiar interest in Muslims and elections.
This man found Lutfur Rahman guilty of multiple offences under the Representation of the People Act 1983. This article goes over what they were...

If, having read the judgment and Jen's article, you find yourself outraged by such a flagrant attack on local democracy with such a flimsy rationale, then you can sign this petition as a start.  There will be a campaign around this.  Those prematurely braying and hugging themselves with joy this judgment have a lot of explaining to do.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Nigel and the petty bourgeoisie posted by Richard Seymour

A detailed psephological study of UKIPery, which demolishes the Ford and Goodwin analysis that UKIP is on its way to overtaking Labour as the dominant party of the working class:

Opinions are divided on whether the Conservatives or Labour need to worry most about UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the 2015 General Election. How do we reconcile evidence of substantial levels of UKIP support among traditional working class voters, and in Labour constituencies, with evidence that UKIP voters report voting Conservative in 2010? In this article, we resolve this implicit contradiction using long-term panel data to examine the sequencing of vote switching from Labour to UKIP. We argue that Labour's move to the ‘liberal consensus’ on the EU and immigration led to many of their core voters defecting before UKIP were an effective political presence. We show that not only is the working-class basis of UKIP overstated but the party is mainly attracting disaffected former Labour voters from the Conservatives and elsewhere, which is why the Conservatives, not Labour, will feel most of the electoral pain in 2015. 
Ford and Goodwin's argument that UKIP is dividing the left more than the right (Ford and Goodwin, 2014c) and replacing Labour as the main party of the working class misses the significance of the sequencing of voter defections: labour drove these people away before UKIP arrived. But we should also note that UKIP's rise has to be understood in the context not only of the Labour Party's move to the centre and its impact on their core support, but also in the Conservative Party's own resulting centrist shift, which will have in turn alienated some of its core supporters. The extent of support for RRPs by right-wing groups such as small business employers and the self-employed has been observed in many other European societies—even in 1930s Germany (Hamilton, 1983). These people have been overlooked in Ford and Goodwin's analysis, as has the rather more prosaic observation that most UKIP support actually comes from the established middle classes, if only because these are the largest classes. These are clearly not the ‘left behind’.

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Guido Fawkes posted by Richard Seymour

It's been a while since I paid much attention to the blogs, but 'Guido Fawkes' is one of the most popular bloggers in the UK, and arguably part of the Tory/UKIP media establishment, so was worth a review:

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Farage's market metaphysic. posted by Richard Seymour

I can only let this nonsense pass so many times.  Nigel Farage has been polishing this one-liner for a long time.  On every single issue related to immigration, he claims as his alibi the sacred laws of supply and demand.

Unemployment?  Simple.  You increase the supply of labour relative to demand, the level of unemployment will go up commensurately.  Low wages?  Simple.  You increase the supply of labour relative to demand, wages will go down commensurately.  Housing?  Simple.  You increase the demand for housing, and the price of houses goes up commensurately.  NHS?  Simple.  You increase the demand for NHS treatment, and foreigners with AIDS cause Brits to die of cancer commensurately.

And so on.  He did it again in the most recent leaders' debate.  These arguments are seductively simple, and tap into a certain common sense about how markets work, as well as into a nationalist presumption that the appropriate unit of analysis is the nation.  But they are also glib and misleading, and it is troubling that they haven't been seriously challenged.  Perhaps this is because the arguments against it are complex, but they can be distilled into a few simple, equally commonsensical points.  So, what follows is the long version, and then the shorter version.

Sticking with the example of wages and employment, any reasonably alert politician debating Farage could and should point out that the laws of supply and demand don't just exist within a given national market.  Markets are always politically constituted, but they don't have to be constituted exclusively at a national level.  The global trend toward regionalisation and the accompanying creation of 'free trade areas' demonstrates just this point.  The European Union free trade area is a politically constructed market in which there is currently relatively free movement in labour, capital and goods.  Now, UKIP specifically say that they would not try to remain within the free trade area as long as its treaties "maintain a principle of free movement of labour" - in other words, what they are opposed is not the free trade area, and not the free movement of capital and goods, but the free movement of people.  When we speak of the dynamics of supply and demand, we have to apply them across the whole free trade area.

So at one level it's very simple.  If you impose national restrictions on the movement of labour, especially while capital still has freedom of movement - and, to reiterate, it is the principle of free movement of labour that UKIP opposes, specifically not the free movement of capital - you create higher unemployment and lower wages.  Why?  Because if workers can't move where the jobs are, they are stuck competing for work where the jobs aren't.  This sustains artificially high rates of unemployment and drives down wages.  It would be as if one introduced laws in the UK preventing workers from migrating from Newcastle to London and vice versa.  One might, with a strictly London-centric view, imagine that a resulting lower rate of net migration to the capital actually created a tighter labour market and benefited wages.  But since supply and demand doesn't just apply in London, the aggregate effect across the whole economy would be to drive down employment.  Unless, of course, businesses moved from London to Newcastle to benefit from lower wages in an area which otherwise has a comparable infrastructure and labour force, in which case there might be no net effect on employment, but a significant downward effect on wages.

The fact that the European free trade area is composed of national markets adds another dimension to this.  Within national markets there is an average cost of labour, determined in part by various inputs such as the price of food, housing, transport, the costs of raising a family, and so on.  If the cost of labour is lower in one national market relative to another, as it usually is, then consider the effect of having a free movement of capital without a comparable free movement of labour.  Some businesses would be empowered to move production to areas with low labour costs - provided there is an appropriately skilled, educated workforce and a viable infrastructure - thus adding a downward pressure to wages.  If workers in these countries can't move abroad to find higher paid work, then there is nothing to counter this downward pressure.  On the other hand, if workers can move abroad, not only will this reduce the pool of available labour in the low-waged economy, but the relatively lower cost of their labour is likely to mean that it will be possible for employers in the higher-waged economy to create new jobs which would otherwise not have existed.  In other words, the total rate of employment will be increased, while the downward pressure on wages created by the relative freedom of movement for employers would be counteracted.

The short version of this is: immigration controls in a market where employers have freedom of movement would drive down employment and drive down wages.  They would enable employers to exploit labour at its cheapest prices while undercutting wages and conditions for all workers in that market.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Proper, British fascism posted by Richard Seymour

British towns are "festering sores", "plagued by swarms of migrants and asylum seekers". Immigrants are "like cockroaches", spreading like the "norovirus", who should be threatened "with violence until they bugger off". This is the language of the BNP.

What is more, it is ostentatiously the language of the BNP, self-consciously pushing buttons, soliciting disgust.  If it sounds like a classically fascist form of racial othering, that's because it is intended to be.  Of course, Katie Hopkins qua Katie Hopkins is not to be 'taken seriously'. But as a concentrated expression of contemporary British anti-immigrant racism, as an argument for the 'Australian model' that Nigel Farage champions, and as an attempt to push it further and popularise the most sadistic version of it (and note the enjoyment wrapped up in 'taking the emotion out of this'), it constitutes an appropriate point of intervention.

Of course it is a mistake to play the game of being investedly 'outraged' at the latest garbled atrocity from Hopkins's mouth or pen. There's no way to play that game and win. Her presentation, her 'crazy' opinions, her posh twittery, are intended to infuriate and keep you watching.  There is a libidinal economy here.  As with Ann Coulter, Boris Johnson and 'Foxy Knoxy', there is a strange sexual fascination in our culture with blonde psychopaths.  One need only wade through a few inches of the acres of coverage of Hopkins's various outrages, to stumble over embedded video footage which purports to be Hopkins 'getting naked'.  The 'outrage' is much too invested in this to be productive.

But we are not at liberty to somehow stand outside the media, as if we have clean hands and pure souls, and it has nothing to do with us.  We live in and through the media, we are part of its political economy, we supply the eyeball attention and the profits.  What we know of the world, what we're aware of in terms of the political spectrum, what issues matter to us, are all heavily dependent on mass state-corporate media.  This is how we are ideologically dominated.  The only question is when and how we 'intervene', not whether we do so.  I think we do so not on the basis of when we are 'outraged', which is all the time if we're paying attention, but on the basis of when there is an opportunity to shift the balance of ideological forces, to put the other side on the defensive and strengthen our own position.  And this is such a situation.

The point of provocateurs like Hopkins, beyond the marketing strategy in which we are perpetually reacting to an infuriating persona, is to function as a kind of ideological pathfinder, and push at the boundaries of acceptable reactionary discourse.  For a long time, they have done so without any serious challenge from the "political class and their mates in the media".  The "politically correct Westminster village" has put up surprisingly little resistance to Farageism.  In fact, if truth be told, they have provided all of the ideological talking points of UKIP, especially when it comes to immigration.  The BBC and New Labour intellectuals were mourning the abandoned 'white working class' before UKIP found its way onto this territory.  It is important to recognise this, as there is barely a day that Labour doesn't spend bashing immigrants from a new angle, and the excuse is always the fear of UKIP.

However, Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett have shown that even in mainstream, parliamentary politics, the anti-racist argument can be articulated and can win support in the UK. It isn't as difficult as one would have thought to isolate the UKIPers and make them look like the shifty, twitchy, paranoid racists that they are.  It is not that UKIP doesn't have a popular base.  It does, largely among older, whiter, generally male racists in areas which haven't seen much immigration.  But what the polls have told us, and what we have now seen demonstrated is that there is a very big section of the population, much larger than the number of people who will vote UKIP, who despise what Farage stands for.  And, as soon as that becomes clear, he loses his cool.  He loses his cool, because his entire persona is based on being the guy who heroically states the 'common sense' views that are excluded from the politically correct Westminster village debates.  If it's clear that he isn't articulating a 'common sense' view, but the views of a cranky, racist minority, he isn't sure how to deal with it.

The racist Right are on much shakier ground than they, or the parliamentary-media elites, seem to realise.  And it should be possible to make an example of Hopkins and The Sun over this, and to use this to spearhead a backlash, already incipient, against an increasingly brutal, racist culture.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bye Bye, Labour posted by Richard Seymour

My latest in the London Review of Books discusses the Pasokification of Labour:

Ironically, Labour’s electoral weakness may stave off the worst for it. The party is trapped in a spiral of self-destruction, which James Doran, a Labour activist, has called ‘Pasokification’. Greece’s dominant centre-left party implemented austerity and its vote collapsed from 43.9 per cent in 2009 to 4.7 per cent in 2015 – but Pasok’s fate is only an extreme form of the implosion threatening most European social democratic parties, from the German Social Democrats to the French Socialists. The Labour Party faces a dilemma in May. Defeat will be demoralising and will increase the possibility that the party will ultimately collapse. There is little evidence that any significant force, other than the Blairites, would be in a position to take advantage of Miliband’s loss, and certainly none that a Labour left with any influence would emerge from the ruins. Yet if it wins, Labour will be forced to implement an austerity agenda which, while not enough to satisfy Conservative voters, will turn its own remaining voters off in droves. That would be a defeat of a different order. For a vision of that future, one need only look across the Channel, at François Hollande sinking and sinking in the polls, and the Front National on the rise.

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