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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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

We Are Salvage. This is why you can't have nice things. posted by Richard Seymour

As you know, the magazine started by Rosie Warren, China Mieville, Charlotte Bence, Magpie Corvid, Jamie Allinson, myself and others, is called Salvage.  Between salvation and garbage...

The glorious new website is here.

As you can see, there is a sneak peek of many of the excellent articles from the first issue.  We're very close to being able to publish.  However.  We still need your help.  We're 72% of the way toward our budget on Indiegogo and, the truth is, we need all of it if we're going to be able to launch.  Please donate.

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Saturday, April 04, 2015

Who's afraid of the SNP? posted by Richard Seymour

The Telegraph reports that Nicola Sturgeon has 'secretly backed' David Cameron for Prime Minister.  The story has already been repudiated by the diplomat who supposedly heard these remarks, and Sturgeon has described it as categorically false - meaning that both sides of the alleged conversation deny it happened - yet it continues to circulate.  

We can digest what this means in a moment, but it is worth reflecting on at least one aspect of the story: an FCO memo had to be faked for this to be a story at all.  As Craig Murray points out, there is no protocol according to which diplomats are obliged to supply the Foreign Office with details of meetings held with British officials.  He concludes that the story is most likely an intelligence smear, which - given that the Telegraph is the leaking post of our security services - is very plausible.

So, what is the logic of this smear?  It would have been just as conceivable for intelligence, or the civil service, or anyone else, to leak false claims suggesting that Sturgeon thought Miliband would be an obedient little puppy, in her pocket and so on.  But this would only have worked to shore up the Tory vote in southern England.  The smear seeks, instead, to maximise the Labour vote in Scotland by representing the SNP as an ally of the hated Tories.  This makes sense.  Right-wing pundits have repeatedly claimed that if Labour doesn't hold onto Scotland, then the Union is doomed.  There is seemingly nothing that frightens them more than Labour having to negotiate a government with the SNP.  The enormous pressure placed on Ed Miliband to rule out such a coalition, which he has duly acceded to, is indicative of how seriously they take this problem.

Nor is the civil service neutral in this: as Craig Murray also points out, the civil service conspicuously abandoned its doctrine of impartiality in the independence campaign on the grounds that such guidelines didn't apply to such circumstances as the threatened break-up of the Union.  And this impartiality has always been shaky at best.  It is no secret that, during the coalition negotiations in 2010, the civil service under Gus O'Donnell applied strong pressure to the Tories and Liberals to form a stable coalition government in order to implement austerity.

The apparatuses of Project Fear were never really put on ice.  They couldn't be.  The referendum campaign proved itself to be a punctuating moment in a process of realignment and the likely decomposition of the British state, not an end.  The break-up of the British state and the repudiation of Trident would leave the rump UK seriously weakened as an imperialist power and pose serious logistical difficulties for the military.  That the position of the City of London, and British capital as a whole, would also be weakened was confirmed by the shellshocked response of banks, investors and business owners to the late surge for independence during the campaign.  That the EU business elites would also find it inconvenient to be deprived of a powerful British capitalist sector was indicated by Barroso's intervention in the referendum campaign.

In the immediate term, however, the future of the Union is not at stake.  What is at stake right now is the parliamentary pro-austerity consensus, reflecting the dominant strategy of British capital for resolving its dysfunctions.  The SNP is, for better or worse, the major party arguing against austerity in this election, at at a time when the strategy of the dominant Westminster parties for the last five years has been to pretend there is no real debate about the fundamentals.  

Of course, the SNP is a pro-business party and progressive rather than 'left', but it has a record of delivering modest yet decent reforms in office, and is by no means as socially grounded in the dominant sectors of British capital as the Westminster big hitters.  The parties of the bourgeois centre in Westminster have coalesced around the essential lineaments of austerity logic, in which the state is like a corner shop which can't afford to spend more than it takes in; in which growth must be trusted to a thriving private sector; in which unemployment is essentially a form of welfare dependency wherein the 'unproductive' layers leech of the 'productive, and must therefore be disciplined back to market dependency; in which the unions are a privileged layer within the workforce whose 'gold-plated pensions' and conditions must be rolled back in the name of fairness.  And so on.  This has been more or less abutted by the dominant media, for whom the boundaries of legitimate political debate tend to be set by the big parties.  Any crack in the parliamentary-media consensus is thus rare, and potentially one through which more radical forces can push.

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Friday, April 03, 2015

The whiff of Farageism posted by Richard Seymour

Although Nicola Sturgeon was the clear winner from last night's television debate, Nigel Farage came a close second in the polls.  Even so, UKIP's poll rating was nudged slightly downward, by two points.  I think this is because Farage spent his performance rallying the troops.  It was not just the cynical use of a canard about immigrants with HIV that suggested this, but the exaggeration of the best/worst aspects of his presentation - the sweaty, contorted face and jerky, staccato movements, which magnificently embody the irritation and resentment of his base, but would be off-putting to many others.  

Parenthetically, UKIP's press spokesperson, the oleaginous Patrick O'Flynn (formerly one of the Daily Express sniffer dogs), is selling this as a deliberate strategy.  Even if that's true, it was a big and obvious mistake for Farage to use his primetime big debate slot to harden up his core vote.  There are plenty of opportunities to do that, and he would have been smarter to elaborate a message targeted at the fairly sizeable swathe of people who would consider voting UKIP but currently aren't going to do so.  Still, if UKIP wants to brag about this strategy, let's look at how it works.

Farage claimed that 60% of new HIV diagnoses in the UK each year are made up of immigrants, which he claimed meant the NHS splashing out with £25,000 of free drugs for foreigners each year.  Briefly, this was a lie and, what is more, a lie that was started by the BNP with explicit reference to 'Africans' and cleaned up for presentation by Farage.  Of course it was.  Almost everyone watching knew it to be such, or at least suspected it.  Such figures coming from a party that habitually lies in order to arouse bigotry against immigrants are necessarily suspect.  That is one reason why Leanne Wood denounced him over the line, and why she gained applause for doing so.

But why, if it's so easy to catch UKIP out in a lie, do they persist with the strategy?  And why doesn't it hurt them?  They are supposed to be the 'honest brokers' standing against the dissimulating Westminster elite, but constantly perjure themselves in the court of public opinion.  And yet there is no evidence that it has done anything but good for their poll ratings.  Part of the problem is that our media has no interested in tracking these lies or researching them.  By and large it falls to bloggers or marginal commentators to point them out.  But more important is what I said before:

"UKIP are good at the numbers game, precisely because they understand that it is a purely rhetorical exercise.  The right figure is that which a) efficiently demonstrates a point, b) tells people what they expect to hear and confirms their 'worst fears' (even if they derive an obscure pleasure from it), and yet which is c) time- and effort-consuming to track down and rebut.  The right figure is just an element of a morality fable."

This is the problem.  There is no way that one can be prepared for every ingenious falsehood these scheming chancers might dream up - but it wouldn't matter much if the basic moral precepts underpinning the lie were not shared across the parliamentary-media spectrum.  When Farage sputtered, "we have to put our own people first!", the basic picture - that 'our own people' are white people who happen to have been born here, irrespective of who works, pays taxes or has citizenship, and that racial others are coming here and exploiting us - is omnipresent in the media, and in the briefings of the dominant parties.  Such 'politically incorrect' truths are espoused not just by obvious fascists or reactionaries, but by the likes of the New Labour drudge Trevor Phillips.  Farageism emerges as some sort of petty-minded, chauvinist rebellion against the 'politically correct' establishment ("politicians and their mates in the media" etc), but it is a pure product of that establishment.

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The declension of Cameronism posted by Richard Seymour

"Cameron enjoyed a very brief period of grace, as a kind of post-Thatcherite liberal.  By 'post-Thatcherite', I do not mean that Cameron rejected Thatcher's legacy, but that he operated basically on the same terrain secured by Thatcher, as do all the dominant parties now, while abjuring certain of the specific ideology and policy thematics that defined Thatcherism as an 'insurgent' political project.  He came across as an undogmatic, competent 'entrepreneur', comfortable with Britain's multiculture, and here to manage the country like a business gone awry.  Even his poshness wasn't necessarily a drawback.  Even as it poured execration on the poor, the dominant culture has learned once again to venerate dominant class values.  And, precisely as a toff and thus someone with a certain 'traditional' mien, he even effectively tapped into the ideology of 'fair play'*, an old theme of British nationalism, which returned like so much nostalgic kitsch in the aftermath of the credit crunch.

"There has always been a widespread belief among certain social classes, particularly the middle class, that if Britain is not actually a meritocratic society then it is at least not far from being one; that, at any rate, there is nostructural impediment to it being so.  It doesn't matter that 'meritocracy' is conceptually incoherent.  In its common sense understanding, it means 'fairness', which in its turn means whatever the dominant social norms prescribe.  In Cameron's earliest phase, he made it clear that 'fairness' would mean the bankers and the rich paying 'their share' toward clearing Britain's debt (no such thing happened, of course), while the poor would be weaned off the welfare teat and 'encouraged' back into work.  'Everyone' shares the costs, even if 'everyone' only includes those whom the greater number of the British middle class blamed for the crisis - reckless bankers and the feckless poor, those who either would not or could not keep a disciplined budget.  There will be tough times but if we all tighten our belts and grit our teeth, we can get through this and the good times will return.  Traditional British fair play.

"Well, few people believed for very long that this government was overseeing a fair and equitable settlement of the crisis.  Real incomes, and living standards, have declined year after year.  Nor has stagnation given way to buoyant growth.  We are left with neither fairness nor efficiency.  Somehow the invocation of the spirit of the Blitz, of empire, of the years of British grit and global power, did not help.  And then, along comes Nigel."

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Election review posted by Richard Seymour

After last night's television debate, my latest 'Media Review' for Telesur is about the British general election:

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