Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What BBC Newsnight did to Shanene Thorpe posted by Richard Seymour

I knew I'd seen Allegra Stratton's name somewhere before.  Her byline used to appear on her Guardian articles.  Not long ago, she was headhunted by BBC Newsnight, who made her their political editor.  You would think, wouldn't you, that such a person would come to the job accoutred at least with a mild consensual liberalism.  And perhaps she did.  But when Stratton was given the job of investigating whether the nice Mr Cameron was right to say that there were a lot of young scroungers who should be living at home with their parents, she seems to have taken pains to arrive at the affirmative.

This is what she, and her employers, did: they found a working mother who is in receipt of housing benefits, obtained her consent to be interviewed about her situation, and they fucked her over.  You can follow the link and watch the interview, then proceed to see what Shanene Thorpe, the interviewee, has to say about it.  The footage shows Stratton calmly interrogating Shanene Thorpe, challenging her decision to live in her own digs despite her mother having a perfectly serviceable two-bedroom flat in which she could raise her child.  Stratton suggests that such a choice is unacceptable if it has to be supported by - oh, 'the state', 'the taxpayer', 'overtaxed television professionals'?  One of those, I'm sure. 

Now, much of the coverage of this sorry affair has thus far led with the way viewers were misled.  At no point in the interview were those watching allowed to know that Thorpe is actually in full-time, paid work, and that she only needed housing benefit due to the exorbitant cost of living and working in the capital.  I understand the reason for that being the focus.  Yet, clearly, such an omission by itself could have been benign.  It is the manner in which this lie is articulated with a moral ideology that has got people's backs up, and quite correctly.  As Shanene Thorpe puts it: "I did not expect to be personally scrutinised, have judgements made about my choices and asked why I didn’t choose to get rid of my child."  Of course, Thorpe, being a pretty normal person with a normal set of mixed reactions, partly wants to defend herself in the very terms of this moral ideology that was used against her: I work hard, I am a taxpayer, I don't agree with handouts, I personally struggled with asking for benefits, etc.  All of this indignant, defensive reaction coming out in a series of tweeted statements as she explains how unjustly she has been treated.

Looking a little further into this moral ideology, it revolves around the dichotomy of stigma, and respectability.  The reason why Thorpe is so revolted is that she has been stigmatised.  She is a respectable 'working mother' (I chose the phrase carefully), and she has been made to look like one of them, a scrounger, a social parasite, the worst sort of person.  Those people, we have been told over and over, caused the recession, the subsequent social crisis and the galactic destruction of wealth, through their feckless borrowing and dependence on unsustainable tax-funded welfarism.  Moreover, do you see what they do with the money?  The gold chains, the twenty-four packs, the violent sprees?  They are represented as the cause of all our misery, and to be identified as one of them is to incur real social costs.  This, palpably, is the real horror here.  And I am not blaming Shanene Thorpe for being horrified: she didn't create the stigma; she is one of its victims.  For if paid work, a commodity whose stock increases as it becomes more scarce, is the ultimate guarantor of respectability in English culture - this is a truism - it is so to the extent that unemployment and poverty are associated with a social demonology, an image of criminal violence, uncultured hedonism, and savagery.  So, embedded in respectability is an image of an ideal life, part of whose appeal is that it is clearly demarcated from the dissolute lives of those whom people now call, without embarrassment, 'the underclass'.  

Since paid work guarantees the demarcation, Shanene Thorpe had every reason to expect that she would be treated as a respectable person by the BBC.  She could not have anticipated that the boundaries of respectability in popular culture are being shifted by a considerable ideological effort.  The ideologically coded but otherwise far-from-subtle reason for this shift is an attempt to suppress the wage bill.  The accent may fall on benefits, but these are merely a social wage: the costs of the reproduction of labour, however they are covered, are to be reduced through this expedient of forcing millions of young people and their parents to share cramped accomodation.  Even having paid work isn't a guarantee of respectaility, now, if soaring living costs mean that you still partially depend on the social wage.

But who produces this social image of the ideal life, to which workers aspire?  For whom is one respectable?  Obviously, the answer is, in part, the people who produce social images: the class of professionals, from media and academia, to the upper reaches of social work and civil service, whose function it is to reflect on social problems, critically account for them, and prescribe some form of intervention.  Notice, when watching the interview, that Stratton's metropolitan, upper middle class manners, don't seriously veil her attack - but they do make it seem almost natural that she should be treating her subject in this abusive, judgmental, moralising way.  She deploys the skills of her class, their ways of speaking to social inferiors, with persuasive authority.  She invokes what "we all know" with absolute assuredness.  Of course, she is prepared and well-trained, while her subject isn't - but these are attributes of her location in the class matrix as much as accent, comportment, education, sartorientation, and so on.  And it is she who, in this transaction, dangles the carrot of respectability.  In general, respectability is something that is conferred by social superiors.  Or, as Hall et al put it in Policing the Crisis: "Respectability is the collective internalisation, by the lower orders, of an image of the 'ideal life' held out for them by those who stand higher in the scheme of things; it disciplines society from end to end, rank by rank."

There is, though, just one other question, of what role this interview plays in the encoding of the ideological product contained in the programme.  It's well known that scenes of 'actuality' are there in part to conceal the produced nature of what the news is bringing us: the scenes from press briefings, war zones, conferences floors, etc., reinforce the spoken narrative of the newscaster, and attest that this is just 'what happened'.  Also corroborating the narrative in a different way is the 'live debate': it shows that we don't 'take sides', but rather explore the issues raised by 'what happened' in a way that reflects no partisanship.  So, this is the 'window-on-the-world' view of the media.  In real life, the actual 'message' of the media passes through a complex series of apparatuses, each with its own logic and hierarchies, before it is received and implemented by the viewer.  (I use the word 'implemented' very deliberately - it is intended to have an effect, to be put into practice, otherwise it would have no purpose). And in this chain of apparatuses, the media is usually articulated with several others which supply it with a product - the administration, the courts, the MoD, think-tanks, etc.  The extent of this articulation is such that, for example, it makes no sense to think of the BBC as merely reporting on government policy.  Like all media outlets, it is part of policymaking, a factor in its formulation, an vector for its promulgation, a condition for its success.  So, one can't begin to look at how Stratton and her employers came up with this idea without looking at how policymakers, civil servants and, at a longer range, other sites of power outside the state (businesses, lobbies, financial corporations, other news media, etc), have already determined that this is a suitable and urgently relevant topic.  

But to return to the interview, it combines the functions of the actuality and the live debate - there are elements of both.  And it was necessary for the purposes of the programme that someone more or less like Shanene Thorpe, at least not too different in the details of her life, should have been the interviewee-cum-scapegoat here.  It bore witness to the substance of the encoded message.  That is why they fucked her over.

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Monday, May 28, 2012

The Orwell Prize gets Hitched posted by Richard Seymour

I wrote this for The Guardian in response to the late Hitchens receiving a memorial award from the Orwell Prize:

...Yet in his final years, Hitchens resembled nothing so much as the wretched apostate assayed by William Hazlitt – haunted by "the phantoms of his altered principles", driven "to loathe and execrate them", offering "all his thoughts, hopes, wishes, from youth upwards… at the shrine of matured servility", becoming, at last, "one vile antithesis, a living and ignominious satire on himself". And it is a sorry thing, but I suspect it is that Hitchens who has been posthumously honoured by the Orwell prize.
Go read the whole thing. You'll lol.

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Saturday, May 26, 2012

American Insurgents reviewed posted by Richard Seymour

Znet has what I think is the first review of American Insurgents:

American Insurgents is a fantastic synthesis of a rich but often-neglected history. It offers inspiring stories of past US anti-imperialists as well as important advice for present-day organizers. At a time when the US government and ruling class remain committed to global domination and roguishly disdainful of international law and opinion, the book merits close attention from readers living in the belly of the imperial beast.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Who are you calling a 'socialist'? posted by Richard Seymour

My latest in The Guardian:

Nick Clegg, a "communist". Vince Cable, a "socialist". This is the euphonious sound of the Tory right on the warpath – and with every marble intact. Dismiss such invective as mere boilerplate if you will, but the increasing tendency to reach for the S word as a polemical armament against the most humble proposals for reform from pro-business centrists has a lineage, which it would be a mistake to miss.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The illustrated works posted by Richard Seymour

The Liberal Defence of Murder:

American Insurgents:

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Greek election results analysis posted by Richard Seymour

A bit of psephological analysis has been carried out on the recent election results in Greece.  The first finding was that in Athens, about half of police men and women voted for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.  So, think about that next time you see the kindly officers helping protesters on their way with tear gas and batons.  The more substantial survey, however, is here.  I don't have the time to fully parse these, but the key points as appropriated from Facebook are:

The flurry of constitutional wrangling to one side - and today's financial and political panics over a Eurozone exit will undoubtedly be used to pressure DIMAR into commiting suicide by throwing itself into a coalition with the austerity parties - is entirely short-term, intended to buy time for the bourgeois parties, the state bureaucracy and the troika to cobble together some solution viable for capital.  But their ability to do so for any length of time depends on their holding the initiative, which they won't if the struggles - strikes, occupations, protests - continue.  Meanwhile, the forms of political representation emerging are profoundly strengthening the Left in ways that could only be reversed by means of a shattering defeat of the working class.

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Friday, May 11, 2012

American Insurgents excerpt posted by Richard Seymour

You can read and download an excerpt from my latest, a brief history of anti-imperialism in the U.S., here.

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Monday, May 07, 2012

France: Sarkozy's defeat is our victory, but there are bigger battles to come posted by Richard Seymour

Guest post by John Mullen

Hundreds of thousands were on the streets of Paris on the night of Sunday 6th May to celebrate the fall of the monster, and they had every reason to be happy about Sarkozy’s defeat. Champion of tax cuts for the rich and public service cuts for the rest of us, his election campaign moved further right every day in the desperate hope of attracting the votes which went to the fascists in the first round. On the first of May he bussed in supporters from all over France to be filmed in front of the Eiffel tower while he demanded of trade unions “Put down your red flag, and serve France instead.”

So Sarkozy’s sacking is excellent news. If he had been re-elected, his plans for cuts and other attacks would have been accelerated many times over. He has already raised the retirement age and savaged our schools. It would have been open season on Trade union rights and workers’ conditions in general, and privatizations of pared-down public services would have been the order of the day.

In addition, some of the policies proposed by Hollande, first Socialist president for seventeen years, are very welcome - the right to vote for immigrants at local elections, immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan, gay marriage, more nursery school places and a women’s rights ministry, to cite some examples. He is also proposing other modest reforms which are in the interests of workers - higher taxes for the rich (up to 75% for the filthy rich) and more social help for parents of school-age children. His programme pledges him not to continue privatization of electricity or the railways, to create 60 000 jobs in education, to limit rent rises, to defend public sector health services and to renegotiate European-wide agreements which impose ever harsher austerity policies. This week millions of immigrants are feeling that the police will be less encouraged to give free rein to their racism, and millions of workers are feeling that their pensions are less under threat. Hollande’s first decrees will reduce his own salary by thirty per cent and restore the right to retire at sixty to part of the workforce.

Reformist parties are contradictory animals: at the same time, Hollande has been wanting to reassure the more right-wing element of his electorate by insisting that there will be no more residence papers for illegal immigrants asking for them than there were under Sarkozy. And the Socialist Party, just like the right wing, has been involved in islamophobic scaremongering of late.

Low Expectations 
 Expectations on Left governments are massively lower than thirty years ago. No-one thinks that the lives of the 4.3 million unemployed in France, or the standard of living of the 3.3 million minimum wage workers will radically improve because of the new president. Hollande will keep in place the neoliberal reforms of universities and public utilities and will no doubt add more of his own. This is why the Socialist Party campaign didn’t raise much popular enthusiasm, and the main thrust of Left sentiment was “at least we’ll get rid of Sarkozy”. Exactly how much the new president will do in the workers’ interest will depend on the mobilizations of the working class and its unions.

Hollande insists he can improve social justice at the same time as reducing the national debt, but, if and when the financial markets get even greedier, his priority will always be to satisfy them first. At that point, workers’ struggle is what will count, even to make Hollande keep the promises he has made. It is quite wrong to consider that reformist governments today cannot deliver reforms. They do tend to deliver ever smaller reforms in the workers’ interests and to donate ever more presents from public funds to the bosses. But they still reflect class mobilization and can be forced to hand over the goods. Ten years ago in France, a Socialist Party government introduced the thirty-five hour week, and brought in healthcare coverage for the poorest in society for the first time. Reforms are possible. This is why The Economist magazine, outspoken voice of neoliberal supporters of market dictatorship, is worried. “Mr. Hollande evinces a deep anti-business attitude”, they write, “nothing [in his past] suggests that Mr. Hollande is brave enough to rip up his manifesto and change France.” The Economist does not trust Hollande to decisively fight for the bosses. But they go on to outline what they think the future of France could be made of: “The response of the markets could be brutal.” “Do not conclude”, they squeal, “that Mr Hollande will impose tough reforms and demanding sacrifices on an unwilling public without having his own arm twisted” by the bond markets.

In a vain attempt to “reassure the markets” it has been Left governments in Spain and in Greece who have introduced vicious austerity programmes. If push comes to shove, Hollande will be prepared to do the same. This is why the key element today is the building of working class confidence, organization and consciousness.

Polarization to the Left and to the Right 
 The deepening social crisis has led to a political polarization which is the essential feature of French politics today and which determines what anticapitalist activists need to be doing. Four million people voted for the Left Front, headed up by Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Their dynamic campaign (several meetings of over a hundred thousand) put radical class demands back in the forefront of politics, and made a priority of denouncing the fascist Front National.

Mélenchon called for the imposition of a ceiling on boss’s salaries, the return of retirement at sixty for all and a large increase in the minimum wage. “Let’s put finance back in its place” was one of the slogans, and many thousands of trade unionists and former left activists of all sorts joined in a tremendously exciting campaign. During the two weeks between the first and second round, Mélenchon and his activists pulled out all the stops to make sure that Sarkozy suffered the heaviest defeat possible. Mélenchon in his meetings called for a new June 1936 (when two million strikers won important victories, including paid holidays for all), and laughed at the idea of joining a Socialist Party government as a minister. “If the Socialist party is saying of its programme ‘take it or leave it’, we’ll leave it!” he declared. The Front de Gauche, set up as an electoral coalition between the Communist Party, the Left Party and some smaller revolutionary or Red/Green groups seems to be becoming a new activist force in its own right. This is an excellent thing, in particular if antifascist campaigning is brought to the fore in a way it hasn’t been for the last ten years.

Not that the Left Front doesn’t have faults. Mélenchon’s calls for “a citizens’ revolution” and “a revolution through the ballot box” suffer of course from the difficulty that the world doesn’t work like that. But it is in the struggle that this can be clarified. It would be wonderful if there were millions of revolutionaries in France today, but there aren’t. What is new now is that there are millions of people who believe radical reform is possible to advance workers’ living conditions and standard of living, and who are prepared to fight for it. The Left Front is also not good on islamophobia. Mélenchon loudly denounced the NPA a few years back, when one of the NPA electoral candidates was a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf. Things may be getting better - he denounced the victimisation of Muslims several times during the campaign, and another leader of the Left Front condemned the instrumentalisation of feminist ideas by islamophobes. Still, a major re-think on anti-Muslim racism is required.

There is everything to fight for in the Left Front. One of its biggest member parties, the Communist Party, has frequently been much more interested in running local and regional councils, often passing on government austerity measures, than in class struggle. And Mélenchon’s left nationalist nonsense is a problem. There is no guarantee that the class struggle current will maintain the upper hand, and there may even be pressures for the Left Front to join a Socialist Party government after the legislatives. But the rise of this dynamic movement is the best opportunity for decades to offer the radical fighting Left alternative which is so sorely needed.

Revamped fascists 
The other side of the polarization is the far right. The revamped fascist National Front, led by Marine Le Pen, got 6.4 million votes in the first round, the highest score in their history. On the ground, it has not yet been able to rebuild an activist organization as strong as the one it had in the late 1990s before antifascist activity put it under so much pressure that it split in two. But it is now recruiting again and there is no time to waste: a national, very broadly based, active antifascist organization is urgently needed. In the last thirty years the biggest antiracist and antifascist organizations in France have tended to fall into one or other mistake - either very broad but purely moralistic antiracist organizations which don’t try to stop the fascists organizing, or smallish networks based on purely physical opposition to the fascists or on “red antifascism,” which you can only join in if you have read half of Trotsky’s writings.

Anticapitalists gotta relate! 
The main task for revolutionaries in France today is how to relate to the activists of the Left Front. One option is to ignore them because some of their ideas are confused or involve illusions in the possibilities of constitutional action. This is a disastrous mistake. What is needed is to get stuck in alongside them, not just in individual campaigns and strikes but also in a political and electoral bloc which, independent from the Socialist Party, fights to build class combativity and consciousness. Mélenchon has said he would welcome a broadening of the Left Front to include revolutionary organizations who want to join the alliance while maintaining their autonomy.

The strongest openly revolutionary organization in France, the NPA (Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste), which is always in there doing the legwork on rank and file campaigns and strikes, had a dreadful presidential campaign, concentrating on the fact that the candidate was “not a professional politician” but a manual worker, and having nothing specific to say to the millions attracted by the Left Front. When Mélenchon had over a hundred thousand at a meeting, there were no NPA leafletters or paper-sellers to be seen! But in a crisis as deep as today’s, workers under attack don’t care whether the candidate is straight from the factory or not! The NPA came over as sectarian, and out-of-touch, and its score dropped from 4% in the previous presidentials to 1.15% this time round. Once the first round results came through, the party made a call to vote against Sarkozy in the second round, and then seemed to close down for holidays.

Meanwhile the Left Front was holding mass meetings calling for the heaviest possible defeat of Sarkozy, and for the building of the resistance, reminding Hollande of some of his positive promises, and of the Left Front’s demands which have to be fought for, against Hollande if necessary. The NPA paper simply commented that the success of the Left Front “can be seen as something positive, but we must bear in mind the limits of Mélenchon’s programme.” As a result of all this, the NPA’s crisis has deepened and a sizeable minority current within it, the Gauche Anticapitaliste, will no doubt leave the NPA and join the Left Front, while maintaining political independence. This newish grouping will be heterogeneous, but promising, I think. There will be legislative elections in June which the Socialist Party is most likely to win. The new Socialist government will come under attack at once from the financial markets, and will be immediately put to the test. The Left Front will be put to the test too: we will see if it can take a major role in organizing resistance to Socialist party austerity policies. These are exciting times: revolutionaries must be in the thick of the reconstruction, fighting, organizing and explaining, and not heckling from the sidelines.

John Mullen John Mullen is a member of the NPA in the Paris area. His blog is here: http://johnmullenagen.blogspot.fr/

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Sunday, May 06, 2012

Syriza! posted by Richard Seymour

In recent days, the signs have been accumulating to suggest that the radical left coalition SYRIZA would perform some sort of remarkable upset in the Greek elections. Well, stow your cynicism because the exit polls say they're in second place in this election. In the actual vote, poll experts say they may even come first, though I hasten to say that we need make no such assumption in order to appreciate that this is a tremendous victory for the Left.

At present, SYRIZA appears to have 16-18% of the vote, with New Democracy first on about 19-20%, PASOK third on 16%, Independent Greece (right-wing anti-austerity) fourth on 10%, Communist KKE fifth on 9%, the neo-Nazis of the Goldan Dawn (note, actual hard-core neo-Nazis) on 7-8%, with other left parties and the Greens taking up the remainder.  The distribution of the seats will probably favour a coalition of the capitalist austerity parties, with New Democracy and PASOK forming a government. But make no mistake: this is a cataclysm for the Greek and by extension European political establishment. It signals a fundamental realignment of Greek politics, to an extent that wouldn't have been predictable even weeks ago.

Importantly, SYRIZA have taken the lead in all of the major cities of Greece, meaning that they have made real in-roads into the core working class constituencies resisting the cuts. This party had less than 5% of the vote at the last election, which PASOK won. SYRIZA have now pushed the winners of the last general election into third place, and have become the leading left party. This is not only important because of the rejection of austerity politics that it signals (and the austerity parties are in a minority), not only because of the new possibilities for resistance that will now become apparent, but also because of the crisis and re-thinking it will create within the anti-austerity Left. For example, the KKE's consistently sectarian approach of staging separate marches, rallies and events from the rest of the Left, their refusal to countenance unity with forces to their own left, will come under scrutiny from the section of the working class which it still leads. Those workers who support the KKE will want to be united with, or at least open to, those workers who support SYRIZA. The argument that they can't do so because of the ambivalent attitude of some SYRIZA leaders to PASOK was always dangerously Third Period, and is unlikely to be persuasive now. That too will create new possibilities for unity in the workers' movement.

The neo-Nazis should not be ignored. Their emergence, almost out of nowhere, as a mass fascist organisation with actual Third Reich-style paraphernalia, shows how perilous the terrain is, and how much danger awaits Greece's most vulnerable communities. Recently, the state has been stoking up racism toward immigrants and planning a crackdown on the grounds that they 'spread diseases'. In this toxic, unpredictable climate, any gains made by the radical Left are likely to be subject to new tests on a routine basis. Any serious defeat for the Left amid continued austerity and the ongoing stalemate of the parliamentary system would certainly give the far right their best chance since the dictatorship. Already, they stand poised with their legions of voters and their parliamentary delegates and their marching squads of thugs to wreak havoc. Do not underestimate them.

But for now, the radical Left has siezed the initiative, upended the electoral system, and torn apart the austerity script so painstakingly drafted by the ECB, the presidency and the finance ministers. And in this context, the defeat of Sarkozy assumes a new significance. The mandarins of the EU are worried, as they should be, by the failure of the austerity formula to permit resumed dynamism even in the core European states. From rattled heads of state to the head of the ECB, they have started to wonder if there might not be a case for emphasising growth policies, stimulus rather than austerity. This is all very timid, and it is by no means intended to benefit the working class. But EU elites are also aware that they face an even graver climacteric than two quarters of negative growth if they cannot appear to offer some material inducement to the working class to acquiesce in the politics of austerity. In that situation, the deposal of PASOK as the main party of the workers in the weakest link of a weakened chain of national states, gives the EU leadership all the more incentive to rethink what they have been doing. And that means a more divided and uncertain ruling class than we have hitherto seen.

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Saturday, May 05, 2012

The anti- vote. posted by Richard Seymour

I am currently on a writing job, so can't spend too much time on this.  But the elections deserve at least a word or two on the Tomb. 

First of all, let us all rejoice in another Liberal Democide, a Liberal Defenestration, a Liberal Decomposition, a Liberal Debacle, a Liberal Demolition Derby, a Liberal Demise.  Let's hug ourselves with pleasure at Liberals Demolished, and Liberals Disemboweled.  There is no more civilized spectator sport than rubber-necking at a Liberal Democrash.  They're Lib Dead, Lib Dumped, and Lib Derelict.  They're finished.  Brian Paddick got less than 5% in the London mayoral elections, actually losing to Jenny Jones of the Greens, only just beating the ex-civil servant 'non-party-political' Siobhan Benita (to whom we will return).  Nationwide, they were mauled by Labour.  Their share of the vote remained in the region of 15%, meaning that they haven't recovered from their nadir last year.  They lost over three hundred councillors.  They held onto six councils, all in relatively wealthy areas of Cheltenham, Hertfordshire, the Lake District, Hampshire, and Portsmouth.  Their long march into Labour heartlands has been reversed, and their retreat has left orange carcasses everywhere.  It is not so much that the centre is collapsing, though there is an element of that.  It is that the Liberals can no longer occupy any space to the left of the centre. 

The wolf-eyed replicant seems unperturbed.  Watching him on the news yesterday, I suddenly saw that he had the look of a man who did not give an immense fuck.  He said the words 'sad' and 'sorry', and pouted in what might be a cyborg's imitation of human affect.  But it was as frigid as a penguin's fart.  One imagines him, faced with a demoralised membership and backbench, scowling at them all to grow up and live in the real world.  This is what it costs to be in office, to make difficult decisions.  There are parties and party leaders across Europe who are willingly immolating themselves in order to implement austerity measures and appease the gods of finance.  For Nick Clegg, to be down to 16% in local elections is no great pain.  He expects growth to resume at some point before 2015, and Osborne to introduce an inflationary, give-away budget just before the general election.  And perhaps there will be some landmark liberal reform just in time for the vote: the abolition of badger confinement, or the introduction of large print safety tags on electric blankets.

Second, and much better, the Tories finally got some of what they are due.  Their share of the vote is back down to 31%, they lost the GLA, and they lost over four hundred council seats.  Their notoriously ill-disciplined backbenchers are already decrying Cameronite triangulation for having failed to motivate grassroots conservatives with the classic poujadist pabulum: prison for strikers, deportation of you-know-who, and the restoration of the cat o' nine tails.  How about that?  And the reactionaries are not stupid.  They may slightly over-estimate the challenge from UKIP, for now, but they understand the need for a more populist conservatism.  One Tory MP complained yesterday that the government had wasted the last budget cutting taxes for the rich when they could have cut fuel duty.  The latter would have been a conventionally right-wing policy, while also handing a material incentive to the base.  Because the major reason the Tories lost was not due to a Labour surge, but to the complete demoralisation of the right-wing vote.  Turnout was the lowest for over a decade.  Labour under Ed Miliband certainly can't be credited with galvanising people on the basis of anything so tangible as an agenda.  It was almost wholly an anti-government vote.

Third - oh, and this is delicious - the rout of the fascists.  As things stand, the BNP seem to have lost every seat they contested, and their mayoral candidate received less than 2% in London.  The sad old geezer with the orange Sainsbury's bag who returned twice to deliver BNP newsletters in our area won't live to the see the Fourth Reich after all.  Their electoral meltdown, after a decade of constantly expanding their base, seemed to have come very suddenly after their peak in 2009.  It must be said, because few will admit it, that it didn't actually happen that way; there was a great deal of hard work by anti-fascists going on below the media radar to split the fascists from their right-wing, racist electoral base, thus preventing these racists from empowering a bunch of Nazis.  Such campaigns made all the difference in Barking and Stoke, which were the key electoral battlegrounds in 2010, where the BNP's slide began.  Simultaneously, there were ongoing fights to prevent the 'mainstreaming' of Griffin and the BNP, by fighting for a 'no platform' position within unions, student bodies and so on.  And of course, the physical obstruction of the far right organised under the canopy of the EDL, whose aim has been to incite the sort of riots and racial polarisation that gave the BNP their first open door in Burnley, Bradford and elsewhere.  (How different those cities look and feel today).  The EDL's decisive setback, I still maintain, was in Tower Hamlets.  Since then, they have been losing momentum and numbers.  There is still a mass base for right-wing, racist and authoritarian politics.  It just won't find expression in an empowered fascist bloc for now.

Finally, and this is no good at all, Boris Johnson returns to City Hall.  His friendships with Alexander Lebedev and Sarah Sands - respectively, proprietor and editor of the Evening Standard - undoubtedly helped.  The Standard ran a scare campaign to mobilise the anti-Ken Livingstone vote, claiming that reams of illegitimate votes were being racked up for Ken in Muslim areas.  But this would have had less traction were it not for the Labour Right.  These people embarked on a sabotage campaign in print and on television, their hatred for him vastly disproportionate to their real political differences with him.  Some openly said they supported Boris Johnson and would vote for him.  Others muttered darkly that it was far from ideal that Ken was the candidate.  'Hold your nose' and vote for him was Tom Watson's advice.  Some of this reflected resentment over the way Livingstone had himself defied the party bosses and the right-wing managerial establishment in the East End to back Lutfur Rahman.  More generally, it reflected discontent with Ken's anti-racist, centre-left politics, the way that he would occasionally shoot from the hip and embarrass the functionaries of our increasingly managed democracy.  And it has been suggested, and I can't help concurring, that there's a certain amount of resentment in the charisma-free political class over his ability to communicate with the plebs.

I don't completely disagree with those who say that Ken Livingstone helped sabotaged himself.  It's true that he could have motivated more people to turn out and vote for him, that his campaign wasn't hugely ambitious and that he's far too fond of the Metropolitan Police.  It's also true that he said some stupid things, offered some hostages to fortune, and allowed Andrew Gilligan to provoke him into a ridiculous miscalculation over his tax affairs.  But he would have carried an election on this agenda in 2000 or 2004.  His defeat cannot largely be explained by his lack of radicalism alone.  The fact is that he got fewer votes than the Labour Party itself, which was hardly running on a programme of radicalism; meanwhile, Boris received considerably more votes than the Conservatives.  There was an active anti-Ken vote.  This could only have been neutralised to the extent that Johnson was successfully depicted as an ally and confederate of the government, which he adamantly refused to be.  That is why it was so important that sections of the Labour Right endorsed Johnson, thus colluding in the attempt to represent him as something other than a Tory.

There was also a slight whimper of excitement among some Labourites over Siobhan Benita, a former civil servant who espoused a vague, seemingly apolitical liberalism - a drip, you might say, of the first water.  Well, why not?  She was a close colleague of Gus O'Donnell, the former Blairite cabinet secretary, and had accumulated supporters such as Sir Richard Branson and Michael Portillo.  She had high profile communications experts on her campaign team, who procured some glittering coverage of the passionate 'Mum for London' with her 'People Not Politics' schtick.  They made her a t-shirt which, appropriating a recent Stonewall campaign, said "I'm an independent.  Get over it."  Inevitably her clothing and appearance came up.  Because she's a lady and, well, that goes with territory does it not?  Between lechery on the one hand, and condescension on the other ("she's awfully pretty, but..."), it seemed that her professional dress and business-like demeanour conformed to a certain ego-ideal among the capital's petty bourgeois ideological producers.  She was like Nicola Horlick, supermum, juggling a career and a family, striking an almost Zen balance on all sides.   As a consequence, Benita polled much better than pre-election surveys anticipated.  But if London's politicos have got that out of their system, I hope it's the last we'll be seeing of that sort of thing.  I disapprove of the 'non-political' politician, just as I think we need more of what the bores call 'punch and judy politics', not less.

As for Livingstone, I regret that this was his last election.  As the results came in, and his tally crept ever closer to Boris, one almost thought he might do it on second preference votes.  To paraphrase P G Wodehouse, the voice of Fate seemed to call him, but it was the wrong number.  "Harrow?  Is it me you're looking for?  No?"  No.  Goodbye, Ken.

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Friday, May 04, 2012

Hard copy posted by Richard Seymour

Accept no substitutes:

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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

May Day posted by Richard Seymour

My latest in The Guardian is a brief history of international workers' day:

If you see a history of May Day in the newspapers this year, it is most likely to recount the mystical, medieval origins of a pagan fertility festival. And though you may never have seen a maypole in your life, you will be assured that a ribboned piece of birchwood is the sign and sanction of May Day.
Yet this has little to do with the reason that 1 May is celebrated in Britain, or why it is an international holiday, or why the Occupy movement is planning "global disruption" today. May Day is international workers day. As such, it is – in the words of Eric Hobsbawm – "the only unquestionable dent made by a secular movement in the Christian or any other official calendar". And its past is more rowdy than is suggested by the imagery of Morris dancers serenely waving hankies and bells around...

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