Friday, 29 August 2014

Why Clacton Matters for Labour

A very quick something bashed out for LabourList this morning and published here. In case you missed it ...

Make yourself a cuppa, pull up a comfy chair, and watch. Since Douglas Carswell’s surprise/no-surprise defection to UKIP yesterday and the forcing of a by-election in Clacton, there will be some in the party tempted to adopt this attitude. And not without good reason. Consider the previous by-election outings over the last year or so.

In Eastleigh, a Liberal Democrat/Tory marginal, from nowhere, became a LD/UKIP marginal. The Conservatives were dumped into third place and our vote stagnated at just under the 10% mark.

Consider Newark this June. Always something of a no-hope seat for Labour, the UKIP surge was never going to be enough to see off the Tories but it did make sure our party came a distant third. Our vote share slid by almost five percentage points as the two main combatants framed the contest as a UKIP-Tory fight.

In Eastleigh we selected a relatively high profile candidate, which enjoyed modest support from the national party. In Newark our established candidate and CLP was more or less left to their own devices. With UKIP throwing everything they have into Carswell’s re-election, and the Conservatives virtually moving their entire national operation to Clacton for the durĂ©e, the national leadership might wish to continue hoarding resources for the election proper next year and pass on fighting the good fight.

This would be a very big mistake.

Anecdotally, doorstep conversations and reports from Newark suggested the emergence of something new and potentially significant: an anti-UKIP protest vote. Protest voting against the ‘official’ protest party is novel, but it is not entirely without precedent. After all, Hope Not Hate, Searchlight, and Unite Against Fascism have expended a great deal of resource down the years encouraging an anti-BNP, anti-fascist vote to keep them out of office. In Newark, it is quite possible that a chunk of the missing Labour vote did not cross the floor to UKIP but rather transferred to the Tories to thwart Roger Helmer’s ambitions.

Labour needs to be the repository of the anti-UKIP protest vote.

The reasoning is quite simple. Up and down the country there are dozens of swing seats we need to win back from the Conservatives. On paper, the additional factor of UKIP makes more of these seats winnable. As they eat away at Tory associations and mobilise previously loyal Conservative voters, so the threshold of Labour victories are reduced. Yet voting is not a mechanical process. All kinds of uncertainties come into play. Like the anti-UKIP vote. While it is true people will be voting for a new government next year, just as some will stubbornly stick to UKIP and other parties with no chance of forming one, so an unknown number of voters will cast their ballots for the candidates they think are best placed to defeat UKIP. Assuming Carswell wins, and I think he will, UKIP will have added momentum and be more of a concern to moderate voters. What this means for Labour is that in Tory and LibDem marginals, it is quite possible that a sliver of voters will plump for their incumbents as a means of keeping UKIP out. It doesn’t matter that they may not have a realistic chance of winning that seat: people generally think about general elections in national terms, not the political intricacies of their own parliamentary constituencies. They see the grotesqueries of Farage, Nuttall, Hamilton, O’Flynn, etc. strutting about on television, and vote accordingly.

In Clacton then Labour has to put in the work to win over this vote, and not let it casually be scooped up by the Tories. Yes, while the seat today is a very different beast to the one our party used to hold 1997-2005, it’s full of the people we need to win over to win in 2015. And it’s not as though we do not have a policy agenda that does not speak to white, working class retirees. The NHS is our strongest suit here. But we also have plenty to say about pensions, utility bills, and housing and opportunities for their children.

Labour’s appeal does, or at least should, lie in it being the antithesis of all the rotten things UKIP stands for. We can be the natural home of anti-UKIP protest votes, and should be prepared to fight for that label wherever their ugly head is reared. Because if we don’t, it might cost us – and the people of Britain – dearly no too far down the line.

Local Council By-Elections August 2014

Number of Candidates
Total Vote
+/- July
Plaid Cymru**

* There were no by-elections in Scotland.
** There were no by-elections in Wales.
*** There were no independent clashes.
**** No 'others' stood this time round.

Overall, 9,236 votes were cast over nine local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. For comparison see July's results here.

A very quiet month to be sure. Who wants to fight by-elections in holiday season? But still interesting for all that.

First off some morale-boosting joy for the Liberal Democrats. 18.6% is a ridiculous vote for them these days and fully reflects the swings and roundabouts of local by-elections. Some months a disproportionate number of contests fall in seats not favourable to a particular party. In others they take place in super safe areas. Nevertheless, this month is the first time the LibDems have beaten UKIP to third overall in a very long time. An accident of geography? Yes, in all likelihood. The polls still consistently report poor figures for the yellow party. Whether this is a blip or not shall be answered in the fullness of time - though the fact they lost councillors to the Tories and UKIP might point more toward the former.

Apart from that, there is very little to talk about. After last month's walk-on bit part, the BNP have disappeared again. TUSC have stuck around and increased their average vote by 2 to a massive 16. Keep it up comrades.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Douglas Carswell's Defection: High Stakes

I know it was wrong, but when Douglas Carswell announced his defection to UKIP and the forcing of a by-election in his Clacton constituency, I couldn't help but think "brilliant!". I imagine the prime minister was somewhat less chuffed. His terrible summer has taken a distinct turn for the worst. And as for UKIP it needed something to command the headlines again, and they have successfully captured them with style.

Carswell, however, is not and won't be your archetypal 'kipper. Yes, he agrees with the party's europhobia and wants to see a little Britain paddle out into the mid-Atlantic. But that's about as far as he goes. He's a rare beast among the Tories, a politician who actually takes the hard right, libertarian principles he espouses seriously. Never mind that so-called "libertarianism" is the comfy shoe for capital's iron heel. Still, when Carswell gave his defection speech this morning and praised modern Britain for its tolerance, diversity and, yes, feminism; you don't have to be Mystic Meg to foresee tensions somewhere down the line.

That, however, is the far future. Now is what matters, and this contest is high, high stakes for UKIP and the Tories. For UKIP, it's obvious really. If Carswell wins it shows the party can win a first-past-the-post contest. The morale of 'kippers up and down the land will soar, Tory defections at the yellowing grass roots level will pick up and, more significantly, UKIP's co-religionists on the government benches might be emboldened to take the plunge. For Dave, this is the Tories worst nightmare. Carswell has not so much reopened Tory wounds over Europe, more ripped off the and stuck a whacking great oar in. There will be no talking up the economy and concentrating fire on Labour as per the Crosby playbook, instead Dave has been manoeuvred into trading blows on the ground of UKIP's own choosing, on an issue way down anyone but hard right voters' priority list. Win or lose in Clacton, the Tories will not be able to focus their attention on the centre ground and key marginals. Things were looking grim next year anyway. Carswell has just made their horizon look all the more threatening.

On the outcomes for Clacton, UKIP and the Tories will throw all they can at it. Just like Newark, the entire national apparatus of the Conservative Party will relocate for the duration. Unlike Newark, it is the Tories that are the challenger party. What was a huge majority for them is totally open to contestation.

Except it's not. UKIP have no local councillors, and of the nine seats they hold on Essex County Council, none hail from Clacton. What UKIP does have in its favour is their European election vote. They polled 19,398 votes, as against the Conservatives' 9,981 and Labour's 5,241. The standard, establishment argument is that protest votes tend to fall back in parliamentary elections as "these matter". However, the by-election (which is likely to take place in October) is, like the Euros, a second order election. Because it is an election that "doesn't matter" that huge UKIP vote, plus Carswell's incumbency advantage is likely to swing behind him. Today talk has been of a safe Tory seat becoming a three-way marginal overnight. No. On the basis of what's gone before, the character of the election, and the political mood it could well go from straight from safe Tory to safe UKIP. If seeing that happen doesn't embolden the hard Tory right, nothing will.

The one great unknown in the coming by-election is the anti-UKIP vote, and this is where Labour needs to be serious. In the Newark by-election, we saw the emergence of something novel: an anti-UKIP protest vote. As UKIP's vote has surged, so has a growing, hostile counter-reaction among more centrist voters of all political persuasions. Though a bampot like Roger Helmer was never really any threat to the Tory position there, anecdotal evidence suggests they were helped by voters who would never otherwise support the Conservatives to keep UKIP out. In Clacton, on the basis of the Euro poll, this might happen again. The temptation in London would be for Labour to commit few resources and leave it to the local party to fight off two national mobilisations. This must not happen. Labour needs to fight to be the repository of the anti-UKIP protest vote. The reasoning is quite simple. If we do not work to be the natural home of that reaction, then in the swing seats next year, everywhere on paper UKIP is in with a notional shout of winning, these seats, the ones our party needs to win off the Tories might find them strengthened by an anti-UKIP backlash as they're the "best-positioned" to keep Farage and company out. If I was the Tories, that's the card I'd play.

Clacton is high stakes all round. It's more than a family squabble among the right.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

How Not to Write About Rotherham

Sexual violence against women and girls comes in all skin colours, all languages, all forms of religious belief. One would hope its tacit acceptance by institutions laying claim to the protection of the most vulnerable lies in the distant past. But the report into the institutional silence, if not silencing of the victims of a Pakistani-descent paedophile gang shows this appalling abuse is not part of our uncomfortable yesterdays. It's contemporary, it's here, and lives are still being broken by sexual predators who rape children with seeming impunity.

Evidently, a lot of serious questions have to be asked in Rotherham. For instance, while our gutter press are playing up the Muslim/Pakistani connection I think more pertinent is a shared misogyny between the abusers and those tasked with enforcing the law and child protection. There's an obvious case for council officials and police officers to be investigated, for digging up the roots of this casual attitude to grooming and rape. Sackings should follow and, if the CPS deems it appropriate, prosecutions where there is evidence the law has been broken. The 1,400 girls and young women victimised by the paedophile gang deserve nothing less, as do children everywhere at risk because of lackadaisical institutions. The last thing needed is political point scoring. That is exactly how not to write about child sex crimes.

This is why I'm going to pick on Louise Mensch. From the salubrious surrounds of her upper westside apartment, last night our failed Tory MP-turned Murdoch shill proclaimed in a series of tweets everything that was wrong in Rotherham.

When a number of tweeters pointed out that by her logic the Tory party also has some very serious questions to answer about Jimmy Savile et al, the reply came:

If you're going to roll in muck, don't be shocked if you attract a few flies.

Mensch's line of argument has been picked up in the press today, and UKIP are running with it - as you might expect. After all, force a police and crime commissioner to step down and they have a reasonable chance of picking up the position and the patronage that comes with it. There are a couple of things worth noting with here. One is a shift in how social services work. As Paul from Though Cowards Flinch put it last night:

Paul is, of course, right. Social service departments across the land have been stripped of professional autonomy. The judgements of expert specialists have been trumped by a tier of local authority managers for whom their real concerns are the bottom line and career advancement. It's not just social services or councils. Teaching, nursing, social security, everywhere you look the public service ethos is being stripped out in favour of arbitrary targets, be they assessment scores, turn around times, or semi-official application caps. Against the backdrop of such a culture the needs are service users come second and perverse priorities - such as not being seen to be racist, as per Rotherham - come to the fore. As the crucible of this horrifying case things at the local authority and the police need looking at very carefully. But this is not enough: nothing less than a public inquiry and consultation into the prevailing culture of how our services are run is sufficient.

On the transparent attempt to damage Labour nationally by making out the local party in Rotherham was up to its neck in paedophiles, it is worth remembering that political parties do not run local authorities. They do not make day-to-day operational decisions or manage staff. Their job is to set the strategic priorities of a council, provide political direction, hold the officers (i.e. senior management) to account, and ensure the casework brought to their attention by residents is done. During my time scrutinising a local authority up-close, I lost count of the times senior officers circumvented elected member decision-making, and manipulated it by misrepresenting facts, telling porkies or failing to pass information on to the councillor nominally overseeing their area of work. Thankfully, none of these matters were especially serious in the grand scheme of things. Therefore what was the political culture like in Rotherham? Did senior officers inform the politicians that a sex abuse epidemic was happening in the town? I don't know, that is something to be established. If that was not passed on then appropriate action must be taken against officers who so acted.

Likewise, if any Labour councillors were aware of what happened and turned a blind eye, or took part in a cover up, then they should be prosecuted under the law. It really is that simple.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


Observant readers may have noticed a small change round these parts. If you're not among them, let your eyes float the the top of this page. There, nestling along with Home and About are seven new buttons; Sociology, Economics & Politics, Far Left, Gender, Sex, Books, and Games. Now, we know how unwieldy search and archiving functions are on blogs. If you're trying to find a half-remembered blog post either the search buggers up, or you have to wade through dozens and dozens of posts via the archive or label cloud. Not ideal. So I've grouped together a sort of 'greatest hits' by theme. It's not entirely comprehensive. There's a poor showing from before October 2012, but this has more to do with lack of time going back and mending broken photo links than anything else.

The buttons are more or less straight forward, but a few words are necessary.

Sociology covers loads of stuff. Here you can find posts on the character of capitalism, celebrity, class, Marxism, social theory, and sociology (i.e. case studies, methods, sociologically-informed commentary, etc.

Economics & Politics is the writing on the issues of the day. What you might call economic commentary is in there, alongside class and labour movement politics; and party politics proper. Tories, Labour, LibDems, UKIP, Greens, they all have their bits. And for the few Stokies who care about such things, there's a little section on local politics too.

Sadly, I have written enough for the Far Left to have its own section. Here you will find comment and polemic on the far left as a whole, as well as meditations on Left Unity, Respect, the SP, SWP, etc. etc.

Gender is self-explanatory, really. Sections here take in feminism, masculinity, intersectionality, and ... science fiction.

Sex isn't just about the old 'how's your father', it covers sexuality too - hence there's a lot of toe-treading/tank-parking with gender. Ranging from the chin-strokey to the tabloid, this is where you'll find the stuff other politics bloggers dare not write about.

Books are book reviews and comments about books. Novels and heavy duty social theory, it's all there.

Last but not least there's Video Games. Readers yet to come to terms with Space Invaders might be sorry to hear that I'll be peddling more video game writing in the near future. A diet of Tory skulduggery can only nourish me for so long.

Them's the buttons. Get pressing.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Top 100 Dance Songs of the 70s

The 1970s. A time of social dislocation, strife, dodgy fashions, and brilliant music. As it is August bank holiday, for your consideration here is the greatest dance songs of the 1970s. So you rock dinosaurs out there that means no Bowie, Sweet, Eagles or Bay City Rollers. In is soul, disco, and electronica. And perhaps the odd bit of bubblegum too. As is usually the case, there's bound to be a glaring oversight on my part somewhere. If there is, do let me know.

If you want more (of course you will), here are my top 100 dance tunes of the 1980s, the 1990s, and the 00s. Play them loud. Very loud.

100. I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper by Sarah Brightman (1979)
99. Rock the Boat by Hues Corporation (1974)
98. D.I.S.C.O. by Ottawan (1979)
97. Nice and Slow by Jesse Grey (1976)
96. Instant Replay by Dan Hartman (1978)
95. I Love the Nightlife by Alicia Bridges (1978)
94. If I Can't Have You by Yvonne Elliman (1978)
93. Ma Baker by Boney M (1977)
92. I'm Your Boogie Man by KC and the Sunshine Band (1977)
91. Play That Funky Music by Wild Cherry (1975)
90. Working My Way Back To You by The Spinners (1979)
89. The Hustle by Van McCoy & The Soul City Symphony (1975)
88. Shame by Evelyn Champagne King (1977)
87. Jungle Boogie by Kool & the Gang (1974)
86. And The Beat Goes On by The Whispers (1979)
85. I'm On My Way by Jackie Moore (1979)
84. Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel by Tavares (1976)
83. Every 1's A Winner by Hot Chocolate (1978)
82. Love Machine by The Miracles (1976)
81. Night On Disco Mountain by David Shire (1977)
80. Relight My Fire by Dan Hartman (1979)
79. Haven't Stopped Dancing Yet by Gonzalez (1977)
78. Get Down Tonight by KC and the Sunshine Band (1975)
77. The Second Time Around by Shalamar (1979)
76. Autobahn by Kraftwerk (1974)
75. Keep On Jumpin' by Musique (1978)
74. Love to Love by Tina Charles (1976)
73. Boogie Oogie Oogie by A Taste of Honey (1978)
72. On the Radio by Donna Summer (1979)
71. Lady Marmalade by La Belle (1974)
70. Thinking Of You by Sister Sledge (1979)
69. Knock On Wood by Amii Stewart (1979)
68. The Love I Lost by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes (1973)
67. In The Navy by Village People (1978)
66. Baby Don't Change Your Mind by Gladys Knight & The Pips (1977)
65. You Should Be Dancing by The Bee Gees (1976)
64. Can You Feel the Force by The Real Thing (1978)
63. Young Hearts Run Free by Candi Staton (1976)
62. Boogie Nights by Heat Wave (1977)
61. Money, Money, Money by ABBA (1976)
60. Lovely Day by Bill Withers (1977)
59. The Best of My Love by The Emotions (1977)
58. You Sexy Thing by Hot Chocolate (1975)
57. This Time Baby by Jackie Moore (1979)
56. That's The Way I Like It by KC and the Sunshine Band (1975)
55. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) by ABBA (1979)
54. Hot Stuff by Donna Summer (1979)
53. Trans-Europe Express by Kraftwerk (1977)
52. Pick Up the Pieces by Average White Band (1974)
51. Don't Leave Me This Way by Thelma Houston (1976)
50. Ladies Night by Kool & the Gang (1979)
49. Don't Take Away the Music by Tavares (1976)
48. Native New Yorker by Odyssey (1977)
47. Go West by Village People (1979)
46. Chase by Giorgio Moroder (1978)
45. Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe by Barry White (1974)
44. Spacer by Sheila & Black Devotion (1979)
43. Summer Night City by ABBA (1978)
42. I'm Every Woman by Chaka Khan (1979)
41. Theme From Shaft by Isaac Hayes (1971)
40. Everybody Dance by Chic (1978)
39. Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas (1974)
38. Night Fever by The Bee Gees (1977)
37. Supernature by Cerrone (1978)
36. September by Earth, Wind & Fire (1978)
35. December, 1963 (Oh What a Night) by The Four Seasons (1975)
34. Heart of Glass by Blondie (1979)
33. Oxygene by Jean Michel Jarre (1976)
32. Ain't No Stopping Us Now by McFadden and Whitehead (1979)
31. More Than A Woman by The Bee Gees (1978)
30. You See the Trouble With Me by Barry White (1973)
29. We Are Family by Sister Sledge (1979)
28. I'm Doin' Fine Now by New York City (1973)
27. Love Really Hurts Without You by Billy Ocean (1976)
26. So You Win Again by Hot Chocolate (1977)
25. Daddy Cool by Boney M (1976)
24. Le Freak by Chic (1978)
23. Is It Love You're After by Rose Royce (1979)
22. Mamma Mia by ABBA (1975)
21. Never Can Say Goodbye by Gloria Gaynor (1974)
20. You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real) by Sylvester (1978)
19. Stayin' Alive by The Bee Gees (1977)
18. Are 'Friends' Electric? by Tubeway Army (1979)
17. He's the Greatest Dancer by Sister Sledge (1979)
16. Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles (1979)
15. Voulez-Vous by ABBA (1979)
14. Car Wash by Rose Royce (1976)
13. Got To Be Real by Cheryl Lyn (1978)
12. Good Times by Chic (1979)
11. You're My First My Last My Everything by Barry White (1974)
10. Turn The Beat Around by Vickie Sue Robinson (1976)
9. Cars by Gary Numan (1979)
8. Fantasy by Earth, Wind & Fire (1978)
7. You To Me Are Everything by The Real Thing (1976)
6. I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor (1978)
5. Disco Inferno by The Trammps (1976)
4. YMCA by Village People (1978)
3. Dancing Queen by ABBA (1976)
2. Boogie Wonderland by Earth, Wind & Fire feat. The Emotions (1979)

And number one? The greatest dance song of the 1970s? It couldn't possibly be anything else.