Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Top Ten Dance Songs 2014

The last day of the year and there's one final item of business for this blog to transact. It's tradition.

10. Loving Me Wrong by Stanton Warriors

9. Delorean Dynamite by Todd Terje

8. F For You by Disclosure feat. Mary J Blige

7. Conjure Superstar by Maceo Plex (NSFW!)

6. Love Taking Over by Dusky

5. Rather Be by Clean Bandit feat. Jess Glynne

4. Flicker by Porter Robinson

3. All I See by Bondax

2. Now I Feel Good by Starsmith

2014 was dismal for all sorts of reasons, and that was true for dance music too. This year not one single piece of trance made the list, which is disappointing as 2013 was something of a triumph. Less soaring and more snoring has been the scene. It's like no one was really trying, or were purposely falling short. Alex M.O.R.P.H.'s My Heaven came the nearest, but even that succumbed to running on vapours mid-way through. 

If anything, the mainstream of club/Ibiza bop-a-longs has been even worse. Superstar DJs continue to disappear up their backsides with EDM releases that vary little from one another. Chimes? Check. Pryda snare? Check. It's like being back with formulaic eurodance circa 1993, except not as good. It's been five years since Calvin Harris came up with anything listenable and even longer for Tiesto, Above and Beyond, and friends. Sort it out. As for the likes of Aoki and Avicii, I think we can write them off.

Thankfully (thankfully!) house music has stepped into the breach. It's been threatening for a wee while but 2014, at last, has seen a renaissance if not a new golden age of house. Sounding all low tech, deep, and a little bit nineties, small wonder a shedload went overground and reaped justified success. The trajectory of Disclosure, who are threatening to become regular fixtures in my end-of-year gathering, typify this. But undoubtedly the biggest hitter to make the picks are Clean Bandit's Rather Be. A clean, uncomplicated bouncy house anthem with compulsory diva vocals it proper cleaned up at the beginning of the year, and rightly so. Some superb work, however, kept to the shadows. Stanton Warriors, Dusky, and Bondax, wrapped their beats in a healthy coating of nostalgia. Maceo Plex's contribution from his Conjure sequence is the filthiest dancefloor sleaze I've heard since KIKO's gothy Slave of My Mind. Todd Terje sounded like he'd been out on the razz with Giorgio Moroder - no bad thing. And Porter Robinson slammed us face first into a wall of sound. Lastly, Starsmith's Now I Feel Good proper knocked my socks off. Its deceptively low-tech sounds deserve, no demands to be better known.

What about number one? R. Kelly isn't a name who hear much these days, thankfully. Yet Waze & Odyssey lifted the opening vocal from Bump 'n' Grind and crafted a perfectly mindless house monster around it. This is my track of the year, so crank it up.

Do you have any favourites?

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

2015 Politics Predictions

Seems like an opportune time to channel my inner Nostradamus. "Serious" political commentators as a rule fight shy of making hard and fast predictions because one's liable to get shown up, especially as the 2015 election will be a close-run affair with all kinds of political insurgents set to skew the result this way that way. But I'm not serious or, at least, I don't have a paid berth in a national daily to worry about. That makes me free to report on the images coalescing in my scrying pool. This is what peered back among the bubbles and steam.

2015's going to be a very dirty election
Hardly a prediction, seeing as we've been wallowing in the muck of an extended campaign for much of the last year. More business-as-usual. There will be more Ed Miliband character assassination, more exaggeration and lying about the economy, deficit, and debt, and perhaps more scaremongering than an election has ever seen before. Unfortunately, I can see myself indulging some. That's because it really is a crunch election. Who wins will make a massive difference to the fortunes of the labour movement and the people we stand for. And, be sure, if the Tories get in again they will gerrymander constituencies to give them an undue advantage in future contests. Fancy the idea of a three or four term Conservative government?

There will be an increased turn out
Despite the existing gerrymander of individual voter registration disproportionately affecting Labour support, turn out will be up. In 2010 it stood at 65%. Because there is clear water between the two main parties and an insurgent electorate behind UKIP, the SNP, and Greens for once there is real choice. In 1997, 71% of voters went to the polls. Will it be that high again? I don't think so, but it won't be far off. I'm plumping for the 69-70% range.

Labour will be the biggest party and will squeak an overall majority
The story of the polls over 2014 has been one of a closing gap between the blues and the reds. While normal in the year preceding, what is different is support is not flowing from one of these to the other but are being bled away at the margins. The Tories and, to a lesser extent, Labour are losing voters to UKIP while Labour is also getting stung by the SNP and Greens. Ouch. Still, in those key marginals Labour retain a lead despite the inclement weather. Even if there is a wipe out in Scotland enough seats there plus a majority in England will push it across the threshold. This is not a counsel for complacency, mind!

Ed Miliband will be Prime Minister
Obviously that's the case if the prediction above comes to pass. But if not, he will still be Prime Minister. There's been silliness in recent days about the SNP propping up a Tory government, partly thanks to disbarring Craig Murray from the parliamentary candidate list. If they return a substantial number of MPs to Westminster, they know as well as anyone that a deal with the Tories will sink their chances in Holyrood 2016. It's not going to happen. Secondly, the LibDems have got a long road back to political rehabilitation ahead of them. They happily dished out the austerity and gracefully shielded the Tories from getting a battering. Another five year term propping up the Tories will destroy them. Labour on the other hand, even if it's an arm's length confidence and supply, could put them back on track. This, of course, is much easier if Clegg and Alexander are shown the door by the voters. Yes, so there are rumours of LibDem MPs prepared to cut another deal with the Conservatives, but there's been plenty of behind the scenes footsie with the PLP too. If the LibDems weren't considering a pact of some kind, ask why - apart from Sheffield Hallam - they're concentrating their national resources defending seats that might fall to anyone but Labour?

UKIP will do well, but not as well as they think
It's been a good year for UKIP. Winning the European elections, getting two MPs, performing very creditably in local elections, leading the political news agenda, and regularly weighing in at around 15-19% in the polls. In advance of May this will continue. There will be a little bit of drop off come the election but we're talking figures of 12-13% here, certainly not a collapse the likes of Dan Hodges is predicting (hoping) for. A big slap on the back for them then. But my reading of the runes flags up a problem for them. They're only going to win one seat, and that will be Douglas Carswell's. Mark Reckless will depart from the Commons and Nigel Farage won't even make it in. Then comes the infighting, if Farage makes good his promise and resigns as UKIP leader. And when that happens I'll cheerfully pass round the popcorn.

The Tories bid Dave adieu
The 23rd anniversary of the 1992 general election will pass without them securing an overall majority. Dave will be ejected from Downing Street and the Tories will return to the opposition benches. That's when the real scrapping will start. Theresa May, George Osborne, Boris Johnson, Philip Hammond and David Davis are going to knock lumps out of each other for the sack of bones that is their party. None offer a way back to power, twisted as they are by europhobia (May, Hammond, Davis) or deficit determinism (all of them). When's all said and done, May will emerge as leader. And her reign shall see the Tories decline even further into ignominy and toxicity.

The far left will be nowhere
This blog wouldn't be this blog if I didn't say a few words about the fortunes of the far left. Well, here they are. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition will mount a bigger parliamentary challenge this time than 2010, and will be supported by local election challenges wherever they can put up the bodies. However, 2015 will not be a breakthrough year. Not one single deposit is going to be saved, and their tiny vote share is set to decline even further. In Scotland, the SSP did alright out of the referendum, apparently picking up a thousand extra members. But that will not translate into votes. Why plump for the SSP when a big SNP vote is a more effective way of telling Westminster to sod off?

These are the future truths revealed to me. Will they come to pass or turn all a bit Mystic Meg? Time will tell. Have you any additional or alternative predictions?

Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Most Read 14 Posts of 2014

It's the quiet time, that part of the year betwixt end of term and January 2nd where nothing happens. At least as far as blogging goes, anyway. Should writers venture into print their fare is the reflective post on 2014's happenings, predictions of events to come and perhaps, just perhaps, a meditation on Christmas telly. I won't be upsetting this apple cart, it's a holiday after all. So here, just for you, are the most read posts published since the beginning of the year. In reverse order they are ...

14. Identity Politics and Intersectionality
13. Obituary: Stuart Hall
12. Managing Ed Miliband
11. Who is White Van Dan?
10. When Men's Bodies Meet Side-Saddle Trunks
9. UKIP's Lizzy Vaid and Revenge Porn
8. A Defence of the SWP
7. UKIP's Turn to the Workers
6. SWP Bullies London Black Revolutionaries
5. Top 100 Independent Tweeting Bloggers 2013
4. Top 100 Tweeting Politics Commentators 2014
3. Sharon O'Donnell and Jumping the Gun
2. The Meaning of Conchita Wurst
1. Sex, Power Play, and Trotskyism

Sex, gender subversion, and extremist politics of the left and right is what you lot seem to like. I can promise more of the same in 2015.

As always, there is some good stuff that didn't make the grade, so here they are again in the hope of attracting a few more reads. Goffman and Video Games are some rough notes on how Goffman's interactionist sociology might be useful to understand the relationship we build with video games. If I get enough time between all the other things I'm doing, I hope to work this up into a proper paper over the course of next year. My next pick is Foucault, Discipline, and Work. These are a few hazy ideas on how Foucault can be used to understand the non-existent crisis of cultures of worklessness: namely the rise in vocationalism and business-facing education across all sectors, the draconian turn social security provision has taken these last 30 years, and the general obsession with work. Last but by no means least is my sequel to number 14 on my list, Intersectionality, Class, and Capitalism. Basically, intersectional politics without the context of capital, capitalism and class is a compass without a needle. Sounds crass? Yes, but it really isn't. Go and take a look.

Right. Now that's done it's time to clean the cat's litter tray.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

UN Squadron for the Super Nintendo

Nintendo's Super Famicom (SNES for the rest of us outside of Japan) was a relatively late entry into the 16 bit console market. As such, it came to the party with tech specs that, on paper, outclassed its main opposition: the PC Engine in Japan, Sega's MegaDrive everywhere else. Yet it was as true then as it is now: to win a console war a contender needs a decent library of games. In the SNES's case, it just so happened that incredible games came by the bucketload. Sitting at home, feeling slightly insecure with my own beloved MegaDrive and seeing amazing after amazing title featured in the multi-format mags of the day, I desperately, desperately wanted one. Capcom was one of Nintendo's key third party producers. Famous now for the Street Fighter and Resident Evil franchises, it was then known for superlative, slick and supercool arcade games. While nothing to shout about when it came to cabinet pyrotechnics (that was Sega's and Namco's domain), from the mid 80s to the early 90s Capcom had a run of the biggest names around. To have them converted to the SNES with greater fealty to the arcade original than any machine had managed before was an ace in Nintendo's hand.

UN Squadron was one of these games. Released in 1989, it was a horizontally scrolling shoot 'em up that was, all told, pretty unoriginal. You choose from one of three characters to play whose jet fighters correspond to the usual conventions of weak-but-fast, the all-rounder, and strong-but-slow and off you fly through 10 levels of dogfighting mayhem. You accumulate points and cash, which can be redeemed between levels at a shop in exchange for power ups. The plot, such as it is, involves the evil Project 4 invading a helpless kingdom and it's up to the heroes stationed at the base codenamed Area 88 to lead the fightback and destroy the ne'er do wells. Sounds like a right old excuse for a scrap.

As it happens, UN Squadron does have a rich backstory. Area 88 was a Manga available in Japan in the early 80s, and followed the adventures of Shin Kazama (one of the playable characters). The strip was more than just a mindless blast-a-thon. Once bound to the eponymous Area 88 mercenary squadron, a pilot had to either buy themselves out of their contract or complete a three year tour of duty. Going AWOL was punishable by death. So as the series wears on, the themes got progressively darker as Shin is consumed by self-loathing for all the killing he commits. The comic was full of Biggles-esque derring-do, but the psychological toll is not left unsaid. Unfortunately, the game has none of this complexity. Wave after wave of jets, tanks, gun emplacements, and helicopters contrive to put distance between the unthinking, reflex-heavy gameplay and the thoughtful quandaries of the source material. Shame.

As per Capcom games of the era, UN Squadron saw itself ported to all the main European computer formats (the Spectrum version, in my opinion, was especially noteworthy). The SNES conversion however was handled in-house by Capcom themselves. As a noted developer and publisher for the Famicom/NES, they had long adopted the practice of reworking arcade conversions for a home audience. This transformed arcade titles from relatively shallow experiences designed to eat quarters and 10p pieces into something with a bit more gameplay depth. This was their approach to the SNES version. The basic gameplay remained the same, but was significantly tweaked. Here, your pilot begins with a bog standard jet to which only a limited number of special weapons can be attached. The player has to accumulate enough cash to acquire increasingly powerful and specialised craft optimised for dealing with certain baddies. In addition, rather than progressing through the game in a linear fashion there is a level selection option that opens as you liberate successive areas. The game presents itself as a military map with any movements pinpointed. Their two lots of airforce and multiple supply convoys move around each turn, conveying a limited sense of being part of a campaign. They also have a sneaky nuclear submarine that was absent in the original.

Needless to say, the conversion was an absolute triumph. Few games in the 16 bit area were better than their arcade inspiration, but UN Squadron was one of them. On all three fronts - graphics, sound, and gameplay the Super Nintendo exceeded the original. It was just a very well-crafted game. And when it was released, all it had to compete with in the horizontally-scrolling department were Super R-Type and the little bit ropey Gradius III. The game was tough without being cheap, the bosses taxing without being frustrating, and the right sort of difficulty pitch that meant you got that little bit further with each returning play. Enemy design was utterly superb, if sometimes a little far fetched. As cool as they look, I cannot see the military utility of fixing booster rockets to huge boulders. Justifiably, it was critically acclaimed and has since settled into a snug corner in the SNES video game canon. That helps explains why a complete version can set you back a few nicker these days.

Bereft of its Area 88 background, UN Squadron slotted into the gaming landscape as yet another military shooter though, to be fair, jet-based fighting was and remained a relatively under used art style compared with the science fiction theme of most contemporary blasters. By this point the faceless, unproblematic cannon fodder of arcade enemies were well-established. Here, it's Project 4 waging aggressive war against an undefended population. What UN Squadron helped contribute toward, albeit in a minor, relatively insignificant way, was the sacralisation of the United Nations itself as an equally uncomplicated force for good. The instruction manual has it that all the available jets are manufactured by different countries with the most advanced, intriguingly, hailing from the Soviet Union. In essentials, the games utilises the pooled military know-how of member states to see off rogue nations with the player acting under the direct authority of the UN. Never mind that it has no sovereignty as such, never mind that it has long been the plaything of great power shenanigans. But, of course, what gave the UN Squadron scenario some plausibility is that by the time the SNES version was released in 1991, the second Gulf War had been and gone. Here, the official narrative of an aggressor invading a peaceful kingdom to whose aid the international community scrambled was pre-empted by and being programmed as the massacre of Iraq's ramshackle military was taking place. A fortuitous coincidence for Capcom, which helped give their game a contemporary edge. I'm sure it was not lost on the many gamers who picked it up. More than a few young players would have fantasised blasting away at Saddam Hussein's stealth bomber/battleship/land carrier/rocket-powered boulders. What the game did was in this context establish equivalence between the unproblematic good of liberating the kingdom from Project 4 and the liberation of Kuwait by allied forces.

UN Squadron is a very good, playable game I'd recommend to anyone, but it also serves as a useful case study (of which there are thousands of other examples) of fighting shy of narrative complexity, using existing tropes to construct a simple good and evil fairy tale that can influence and condition gameplayers' thinking about complex real world issues.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Wham! - Last Christmas

I've always had a soft spot for George Michael. Deal with it.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

UKIP and the Perils of Professionalism

UKIP have the opposite problem to the Conservatives. The Tories are a tuned machine being tested to destruction by the clods in the control room. UKIP on the other hand have a leadership who, in the main, know what they're doing but are cursed with a jerry-rig thrown together from whatever rusty parts they find lying around. And so we've had a kipper in a winnable seat resign after "chinky/poofter" gate. Another expelled for "jaw-dropping racism", and the purge of Neil Hamilton and the suspension of Winston McKenzie's branch. So, belatedly, UKIP are trying to professionalise the operation by marginalising the deluded and damaged, and dumping the bigoted and terminally dim. Good luck with that.

As Britain's most backward and misanthropic political party, they do run the risk of alienating themselves from what makes them "special". UKIP aren't into identikit politics, at least where their members are concerned. Unlike the besuited quinoa-quaffers said to inhabit the LibLabCon (snigger), the misnamed people's army are real people drawn from real life. That there Kerry Smith, for instance, the peasant shooting "rough diamond" from the council estate merely articulates the ignorance one can expect from such quarters. He's a proper prole and has the stupid to prove it. At least according to Nigel Farage. But the figures don't lie, poll after poll show UKIP are Britain's most working class party. It's full of uncut stones or, to be more accurate, grey rock like Smith. They're the mouthy know-it-alls from down the pub, or the former councillor who's been in for aeons who understands their community and - especially - how a bandwagon can secure the old allowance. They're the small business person having a precarious time, the middle-aged bloke discomfited by the number of brown faces on the telly and foreign names in the paper, or the parents worried for their kids as 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians take the jobs and spam the housing queues. They are the most backward and backward-looking sections of our class, twice blighted by the incapacity to look beyond the end of their noses and a whiny, self-obsessed, almost narcissistic victimology. Insecurity and hopelessness are the default destinations on the politics sat nav.

Their weakness is UKIP's strength. The promise of dystopic politics only goes so far. Farage's peculiar chemistry, which is lost on the 80%+ immune to his singular charm comes from a projected familiarity large groups of mainly working class men have or have had with business people of Farage's ilk. His person is of the gaffer who doesn't soft soap bad news, bullshits, or pretends to be your friend. He knows where he stands with you, and you with him, and from that grows a strange sense of respect. It has a similar root to Thatcher's appeal among working class Tory voters. Except for UKIP as a whole, it's stuffed full of character-types its voters are likely to know, meet or interact with regularly. That includes the more "colourful" ones too.

And here lies UKIP's problem. They urgently need to professionalise their operation. They have many veteran campaigners in their ranks who do know how to win elections, but in local branches it won't always be them who are the driving force. It might be the more eccentric, like our chum Winston. The necessity of electoral competition demands the most able take the reins. Then there is the small matter of former Tory donors. As small numbers of the most reactionary sections of capital see in UKIP a vehicle to pressure the Tories or supplant them completely, they need to know their million quid here, their 300 grand there is being made to work effectively. Turning in a creditable, well-managed, slick operation is the prerequisite for further future funds. But in starting to purge the idiots, it runs the risk of resembling the others. A UKIP run with message discipline, designated soundbites, and no gaffes? Sounds like a boring, racist New Labour.

If the local face of UKIP everywhere is suited and booted, coiffured and manicured, chiseled and cookie-cutted; the familiarity, the perceived social proximity between voter and party stretches out and starts resembling the real distance between their interests and the hard right policy platform UKIP stands on. And when that happens, the party will begin to wither and eventually pass as a moment in the long-term decline and fall of British conservatism.

Monday, 22 December 2014

The Tory Drive to Suicide

The Tory party is a peculiar beast. On the one hand, it's adept at getting the wealthy to part with their cash by open and less transparent methods. And all this money bankrolls a machine that has been and will continue to flood the key marginals with glossy, high production value literature. The troops are lacking so the Conservatives are trying to buy the next election, and in this respect they're doing a professional, determined job. Shifting your gaze to the control room of this cash-hungry, money-eating mechanism and you find pandemonium. The machinery's on autopilot, and it's a good job too. Were it under the personal direction of the leadership team the whole thing would fall apart like a clown's car. It's as if they took one look at the last few weeks' polling, some of which have awarded the Tories a modest lead, and set about wrecking their own chances. Let's take a refresher.

The so-called political genius that is George Osborne's come in for some stick. He's been caught lying about the deficit. Either that or he can't tell the difference between a third and a half, which is worrying consider his hand is on Britain's cash register. Then we have the gaping own goal of the Autumn Statement, which set out a vision of cuts so extreme the Institute of Fiscal Studies were moved to say that the government is driving public spending back to the 1930s. Okay, the truth is more nuanced than that but since when have the Tories respected the complexity of the issues they tub-thump on? Labour have rightly made much hay, and while it might be tempting to write it off as Westminster froth it will be effective among certain layers of voters. Lest we forget, public sector workers voted for the Tories in a slightly greater proportion than the general electorate in 2010. Let's not forget about the unfunded £7bn tax giveaway, a goodie surely now blown away by collapsing oil revenues. And then there is the small matter of upping his spad's pay to a cool £95k. Ironic that the unelected official credited with the government's austerity drive has done quite nicely out of it. Or hypocritical, you choose.

Missteps are not the sole preserve of the chancellor, however. Embarrassingly for Jeremy Hunt, in the midst of an A&E crisis that cannot be put down to flu epidemics or rough weather, his department has been caught discussing the possible lengthening of ambulance waiting times. Look over at the DWP and the Universal Credit debacle marches on while IBS himself is broadcasted chuckling his way through a parliamentary debate on the bedroom tax.

And lastly we have Theresa May. Tipped to succeed Dave ahead of Osborne and Johnson, here's another Tory determined to eat her own career. With an unjustified reputation for competence, she's now getting found out. Her desire to eject foreign students upon completion of their degrees typifies the dysfunctionality of this government from the perspective of British business as a whole. When industry is moaning about the lack of graduates with the right skills, what a brilliant way to address this problem by cutting off a ready supply of labour. There's also the incessant turf war between May and the Dave/Osborne entity. To have one spad debarred from applying to be a PPC is unfortunate, to have another is factional warfare. As it happens, I do have some sympathy with the suspensions. As a party person, I believe if you're too good to do any campaigning you're not good enough to sit in Parliament. It doesn't matter whether your anointment comes from on high or not. Yet in the context of overt post-Dave manoeuvrings (something we don't see among the Labour leadership team, at least not openly) it's another exchange of shelling that can only damage the Tories further. Good. Lastly, and perhaps most explosively of all, May has shown the most incredible incompetence with the investigation into the alleged Westminster paedophile ring - which was compounded over the weekend. Perish the thought that a Tory politician would want to delay an investigation into sexual abuse and murder allegedly involving living and dead Tory grandees. If Gordon Brown made the passage from Stalin to Mr Bean, then Theresa May has segued from Angela Merkel to Frank Spencer.

Okayish poll numbers, a burgeoning war chest, and significant leads on economic competence and Dave's personal ratings. Why then is the leadership beset with infighting, indiscipline, and a general abandonment of political savvy? Some of it can be laid at Dave's door. Attempting to square a circle encompassing recalcitrant MPs and members who wish UKIP was the Conservative Party, and core and potential Tory supporters who are resolutely anti-UKIP is guaranteed to keep any leadership off-balance. If only that was the limit of the Tory party's problems. Like Labour, the Tories are trapped in a spiral of long-term decline, of which UKIP's emergence is a late symptom. Adding to the mess is their break with a section of business, partly thanks to New Labour previously (and fleetingly) displacing them as capital's preferred party of government. Lastly, as it approaches the moment of its expiration the Tory party is politically exhausted. Because Dave hasn't reinvented the Tories as a moderate centre right outfit, they are monomaniacally locked into endless austerity and scaremongering. From a bourgeois point of view, while Thatcher's small state rhetoric was the ideological egg glaze for a fully baked and necessary class war assault on the labour movement, continuing to tread and retread those same lines are causing British capital to devour itself. Dependent on sections of business that either have immediate interests in keeping down pay and the social wage, or want to pocket more and more in the way of tax cuts, there is no material push toward a more rounded capitalism. As such it puts a break on Tory consciousness. Their brutal idiocy and petty infighting are symptomatic of this blockage.

Yet, regardless of all this and the Tories promise to continue playing Russian roulette with the economy and Britain's relationship with the EU, they could still be returned to power in May. Unlikely, yes, but not impossible. The choice is between a Tory-led government and a Labour-led government. Which is it to be?

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Local Council By-Election Results 2014

Number of candidates
Total vote
+/- Seats
Plaid Cymru**

*There were 15 by-elections in Scotland.
**There were 14 by-elections in Wales, seven of which were contested by Plaid Cymru.
***There were multiple independent clashes this year.
****There were multiple clashes in the same contests.

Overall 540,212 votes were cast over 303 individual local authority (tier one and tier two) contests. Fractions are rounded to one decimal place for percentages, and the nearest whole number for averages.

With the polls all over the place at the time of writing, it's poetic that the summary of this year's local council by-elections almost have the two main parties on a dead heat. Though one should look at the trend. The first half of 2014 had Labour in the lead consistently, with the pendulum swinging the other way as we approached year's end. Confusingly, this is at odds with this week's polling that shows modest to strong swings to Labour. In other words, there's a lot of volatility about at the moment.

Yet these results don't reflect much of that at all. Compared with 2013 the swing to the Tories from Labour is very modest indeed. And look elsewhere. In the year UKIP supposedly swept all before it their by-election points have increased less than a percentage point. And while poll after poll has the LibDems pirouetting into the abyss, consistently they have done better in actual flesh and blood elections. Look at the nationalist parties too. They've stayed rooted to the spot. Not surprising in Plaid's case but the SNP's? 15 contests, same number as last year, and seemingly little impact of their surging poll numbers. The average is static too. The shape of things to come? 

After the Tories, the biggest winners are the Greens. They have had a very good year, and Natalie Bennet deserves full credit for skilfully navigating the ship toward the sunlit uplands of electoral radicalism while avoiding the swamp of Brighton Council. But how soft is this vote? While their numbers here are lower than reported polling scores, it's worth noting that if their contest average was played out across as many seats as the Tories contested they would be on 11% of ballots cast, assuming all seats are equal, of course. Which they are not. 

One of this year's unmitigated goods has been the final collapse of the BNP. Contesting just three by-elections is a proper poor showing. Never say never in politics, but it's almost impossible to see how they can make their way back to the menace they presented in 2009. I'll be keeping an eye on them in the New Year, but as far as the results table are concerned they're going to be relegated to the 'Other' division.