Friday, 23 June 2017

The Alt-Left: A Critical Appreciation










Among the big winners of the general election are the wave of new blogs collectively dubbed the "alt-left". You know who I'm talking about. The Canary, Skwawkbox, Novara, Evolve Politics and Another Angry Voice have been singled out by the mainstream as the authentic voices of the new socialism that has seized hold of the Labour Party and powered it to its highest number of votes for 20 years. Despite these blogs being around for some time (AAV since 2010, Skwawkbox 2012) they constitute part of the third age of blogging, which saw outsiders seemingly appear from nowhere to muscle in on online comment. In a short period of time, they have all carved out serious audiences, according to Buzzfeed's in-depth feature (itself a product of the third wave). How, and why is it - Novara's Aaron Bastani aside - they are all outsiders? Why didn't established radical journalists, other socialist blogs, or the regular output of the far left become key artefacts of the Corbynist zeitgeist? It's because of how this "outsiderness" relates to their content which, in turn, has found substantial audiences.

Putting Novara to one side (as its comment model is more "traditional"), each of the blogs try and do different things. The Canary and Evolve Politics offer partisan comment and investigative pieces, Skwawkbox combines similar with gossip from inside Labour (much to the chagrin of Guido). AAV provides easily-digested arguments and briefing notes that some activists have found useful on the doorstep, and memes that enjoy a wide circulation on social media. What they all share is a default (and correct) assumption that the system is rigged and the powers-that-be will conspire, collude, and collaborate to forever gerrymander privilege for themselves and their cronies. The stock-in-trade for the blogs are stories that reinforce this healthy scepticism. For example, one of the reasons why media bias - particularly the BBC's - gets a great deal of focus is because it has proven to be egregious and blatant, particularly over the two years coincident with Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. This is by no means their exclusive focus. Their treatments of the Grenfell disaster, NHS marketisation, social security reform, Labour Party shenanigans draws attention to privileged groups either looking to profit from the state of affairs or are covering their arses. Their output is a case of confirmation bias. We have a sense British society is unfair, and they dig out and post up the evidence.

In his critique of Skwawkbox, Bob Pitt argues that blog proprietor Steve, and by extension the rest of the alt-left stable, blur the line between political analysis and conspiracy theorising - and establishes this via a forensic analysis of Steve's piece on Grenfell and his argument the media were subject to a D Notice. As such, he suggests they have a cavalier attitude to the truth similar to the fake news we find peddled by Breitbart and co, except from the diametrically opposed perspective. Because these pieces can then easily be picked apart by fact-checking, Bob believes they flout journalistic ethics and embarrass the left as a whole.

We'll come back to the character of their commentary in just a moment, but I think the substance of the criticism is correct. Albeit with the caveat that Novara and AAV confront politics with an analytical mindset. That said, I don't think the conspiracy approach to politics is a cynical move either. It is instead an outlook conditioned by their status of outsiders. I can remember when Skwawkbox first started out. If memory serves its focus was on disability cuts and the Tory looting of the NHS. Kerry-Anne Mendoza and comrades were variously involved with Occupy and other protest movements before setting up The Canary. The rest of their writers and Evolve's contributors are/were, for whatever reason, locked out of writing careers in traditional media platforms. In all cases they were outside of and alienated from the established way of doing things, and as outsiders looking in politics, the media, the comment factories all looked (and look) sewn up. Even on the left it appeared less comrade and more chumrade, where everyone got on because everyone knew everyone. Whether this viewpoint accurately describes what happens is neither here nor there, it can appear that way and not just to the authors of our blogs. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions of frustrated and angry people share it - it's the stuff of the anti-politics wave you've all heard so much about. In our case, readers will recall that the first flush of Corbynism was made up of atomised but (social media-) connected people, folk who used to shout at Question Time but found an outlet via Facebook and Twitter. Jeremy Corbyn's candidacy was a lightning rod for their discontent and into the party they poured. At the moment his candidacy looked like it was going to win, he started attracting the bile to which we have grown accustomed and virtually all the media joined in. There weren't a great many lefties with a platform prepared to back him enthusiastically, and others doubted his ability he could ever win an election for the party (including me at the time). Unsurprisingly, this group bypassed hostile media and lighted upon the blogs who shared their views and articulated their position. And to their credit, they have backed Corbyn through thick and thin while others have wobbled. And this has allowed them to consolidate a mass readership.

The size of their audience is one reason why they cannot be dismissed with a flick of the polemical wrist. The other is their impact on the political process. Despite the conspiratorial thinking, they have proven effective in cohering armies of social media activists around the Corbyn project. During the election, they inspired and encouraged thousands of peoples to get active in campaigns independently of the herculean mobilisation efforts of Momentum. Those activists are not disappearing either. They're turning up to constituency meetings in increasing numbers and are steadily making their presence felt. In short, the new blogs top the collective propaganda efforts of established left activism and are helping touch off a mass radicalisation, and that is not to be sniffed at.

As with many things, their key strength is simultaneously the Achilles' Heel. Substituting conspiratorial suppositions for social and political analysis can hinder the further development of the movement. One of the many tasks we face, on top of everything else is to better understand the dynamics underlying Corbynism, the transformation of politics and how this is constituted by (and in it turn constitutes) a significant shift in the workings of global capitalism. This isn't because analysis and the elaboration of social theory is jolly interesting (though it is), but because we have to understand the world so we can consciously remake it. This includes working out appropriate strategies for defeating the Tories and the interests they represent, how to power our movement to greater heights while understanding and addressing its weaknesses, and elaborate the sorts of policies that don't just look after our people but positions them as active agents of their own political destiny.

Apart from Novara and, to a lesser extent, AAV, this is something the alt-left blogs do not do. Of course, no one should expect them to become theoreticians over night after cramming three volumes of Capital and assorted Marxist texts. But they do need to move beyond explaining power and inequality in terms of shadowy goings on and adopt the standpoint of social and political critique. Otherwise, at best, they will get left behind by the movement they've helped cohere as it develops. Or, at worst, they will act as a fetter on its growing sophistication. I hope the comrades understand this and act accordingly.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Wellred Films: Carry on Campaigning

Last week I enjoyed the worst train journey of my life. The rush hour choo-choo from Stockport to Sheffield is a busy service that ordinarily serves up four coaches. On this occasion, the powers that be at East Midlands trains decided to put just two on. That meant we were rammed in cheek by jowl, an experience that included being in the middle of a jam of 17 bodies in the vestibule area. Still, the passengers are only "beer-drinking, chip-eating, council house-dwelling, old Labour-voting masses", at least according to proprietor Brian Souter, so what does he care as the subsidies roll in?

No matter. The journey was worth it in the end as the comrades at Wellred films had asked me to appear on their latest show. Evidently, I hadn't scared them off last time despite trying my damnedest.

Carry on Campaigning features Malwina Modrak and Mick Napier discussing the state of politics and the kinds of campaigning/activism theyre involved with, and I'm there to make the numbers up. Discussion-wise the fur didn't fly, alas. Nor was it a Jeremy Corbyn ego-stroking party. Here, see for yourself.


CARRY ON CAMPAIGNING from wellredfilms on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Corbynism and the Middle Class






















You have your hot takes, and you have your duff takes. There's little doubt which category Daniel Allington's latest lazy missive on Corbynism and the Labour Party falls into. His piece looks at the some features of Labour's electoral performance that should be a cause of concern: that ethnically homogeneous (white) working class voters with few formal qualifications are less likely to vote Labour than was previously the case, and that this has accelerated between 2015 and 2017. He also notes that if a Labour-held constituency voted leave in the EU referendum, there was a swing toward the Conservatives and vice versa if it voted Remain. To use the old management speak cliche, it's one thing to bring me problems but I want to hear solutions. Otherwise, what is the point?

Alas, it quickly becomes clear this is a polemic without one. First things first, it's interesting that ethnicity, education, and "class" are the characteristics picked out to "prove" blue collar Toryism. Because if he had added age to the mix, a different story is told. Across all the so-called class categories, Labour was the preferred choice for young people, and here you found a class effect too. The lower down the grades you travel, the more youngsters turned out for Labour. Secondly, according to the same you found a less muted but nevertheless strong correlation between position on the scale and the 35-54s. Or, to you and me, the bulk of Britain's working population. The, for want of a better phrase, conservative worker effect primarily plays out on the over 55s. As these are more likely to vote than the rest of the population, it skews the figures for class in general, even though the bulk of this group do not work. Therefore, while there is much to be done addressing this issue, no one's interests are served by pretending the "working class problem" is bigger than it is - especially when, as noted by James Semple, the correlations on which Daniel's argument rests range from weak to the point of negligible.

Then there is the issue of class itself. As any half-decent sociologist will tell you, the social grades system used by the Office of National Statistics (your ABC1s and suchlike) carries two conceptual dangers. It is a static definition of class that maps occupation into discrete categories. As such it can only provide a snapshot of a process, for class is a set of fluid and dynamic relationships, at certain points in time. The second issue is a matter of definition. Because skill and knowledge are the defining characteristics, it falls well short of grasping the full complexity of class. For example, if I'm a computer programmer, am I in the AB group regardless of conditions of work, whether salaried, on a temporary or zero hours contract, or work for myself? Likewise, if I'm a manual labourer of some sort, a gardener, a window cleaner, a haulier, but work for myself where do I fit? The first example would see me in the top grades regardless, and the latter in the C2 or D bracket. Such a tick list approach distorts actual class relationships. This is fine for crunching numbers, but buyer beware if you want to do more with the scheme. It should be taken as an invitation for further, finer grained analysis. It definitely should not be used as the basis to draw political conclusions.

Unfortunately, these weaknesses are on show in Daniel's piece. He commits the basic scholastic error of confusing the things of logic with the logic of things, of treating class as if it really is a fixed, freeze dried phenomenon. I don't know if he claims to be a Marxist or thinks he's informed by materialist analysis, but his treatment of class leaves out a very basic property of social relationships: the law of tendency. That is, looked at at a certain level of abstraction, sets of relations tend to move and develop in particular directions. Daniel doesn't take the working class Tory vote and interrogate it in its movement, there is no sense of where it has come from (apart from Corbyn's bad mmmkay) or where it is going. I think that answer is pretty obvious, but Daniel doesn't ponder whether this is a trend or the high tide of the Tory vote. And because he can't get beyond a schematic view of the social world, he is blind to the wider processes that are reconfiguring society and redrawing class relations. I would contend the middle class/working class distinction is increasingly meaningless, especially when (outside of the professions) conditions of work are similar, cultural diversity has and is continually dissolving cultural barriers between the salaried and the waged, and that the nature of labour in advanced capitalist societies is increasingly immaterial. This is giving rise to a new proletarian mass of networked workers drawn from all socio-economic backgrounds. This is the law of tendency in action. Meanwhile, Daniel potters around an anachronistic approach to class and class division. All that's missing is t'cloth cap and whippet.

And this brings me on to the most hare brained of Daniel's innovations, the "socialism fans". Making a splash earlier in the year, his argument amounts to Labour getting taken over by virtue-signalling middle class lefties who aren't interested in changing the world but are in a narcissistic display of radical credentialism. It's a hobby for them, they don't need socialism, it's something jolly interesting for them to do when quinoa smuggling loses its shine. This argument isn't entirely a stranger to this blog - we were talking about lefty identity politics before virtue signalling became an insult of choice among hipster fascists and small-headed Tories. But in Daniel's case, it does fulfill two political objectives, whether he's aware of them or not. It allows for an out-of-hand dismissal of Corbynism, of not bothering to critique it seriously because it itself is unserious. And it circumvents the need to think, because grasping afresh what's happening can only raise serious questions about established politics. And for some, that is difficult bordering on the impossible - especially when it tells you everything you know is wrong.

The second point about the socialism fans argument is its historical ignorance. Just look at the state of the title, 'Does the working class need to ask for its Labour Party back?' It implies that the working class were in charge of the Labour Party prior to Jeremy Corbyn winning the leadership. That's right, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband, all of them horny handed sons of toil. In the real world, it's no coincidence they, and their army of Oxbridge spads-turned-frontbenchers came to the fore during a period in which the labour movement had been politically defeated, was in retreat, and barely asserted itself through the party. The second point is Labour wasn't founded as a "working class party", it was fundamentally a proletarian party. The distinction is important. It was and remains the party of people who have to sell their labour power in return for a wage or a salary, and that encompasses the overwhelming bulk of everyone who has to work. Nothing says this more clearly than the fact the Fabian Society is as much part of Labourism as the forerunners of today's affiliated unions, that the professional associations organised by the socialist societies were there from the start alongside the industrial worker. It has always been an alliance of "middling" and "working" strata because that's what the labouring class of 20th century Britain looked like. What is different now is as the 'old' working and middle classes makes way for the networked worker, so Labour is reflecting that change. It has to, otherwise it will die. Daniel's concept of the 'socialism fan' fails because it doesn't help understand any of this. Even worse, it actively hinders it.

When I write about political matters, which is nearly all the time these days, I always ask what am I trying to achieve. When it comes to the Tories and the right, it's checking and rechecking whether the decline thesis is being born out by events. When it's Labour it's getting to grips with its transformation and trying to offer words that might help it along. When Daniel sat down and wrote his piece, what was he trying to achieve? Without any suggestions of a solution, with a concept so flimsy it screams bad faith, we're left with a self-indulgent lament of narcissistic miserablism.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Consolidating Corbynism






















The unexpected happened, so where do we go from here? How can Corbynism, or the new socialism, build on what it has achieved so far? The Tories are in an unenviable position, but we cannot rely on their rolling catastrophe and infighting to win the next election for us. Besides, Labour is reborn as a social movement, it has shown that street politics can combine with electoral success. As such, while the party has Momentum, it needs to keep momentum too. For the Corbyn project to succeed and become the vehicle of the new class politics it needs to keep in mind three things: the transformation of the party, the winning of the next election, and the transformation of society. Luckily, the disarray the Tories are in gives us a moment to think and take stock as we consolidate our position.

First things first, the party. And let's start at the top. At a stroke, the electorate have proved the naysayers in the parliamentary party completely wrong. In truth, for a number of MPs the electability argument merely offered cover for those opposed to Jeremy Corbyn's politics but didn't have the wherewithal, and in some cases the ability, to oppose him politically. Ultimately the outlook characteristic of Fabianism, of enlightened legislators reforming society to make it a better place while a semi-apathetic mass pays attention only to politics at election time, is at odds with the campaigning street politics and, if you like, the reformism "from below" of the "hard" Labour left. With the electoral viability of the leader proven, there now remains three Corbyn-sceptic strands. Those whose opposition was genuinely based on the pragmatics of vote catching and are now repenting publicly and, it would seem, sincerely. The second strand remain politically opposed but are prepared to reconcile themselves to the new order, for whatever reason. And then there are the hardened critics who can look forward to an inglorious stint as this Parliament's Simon Danczuks, though with waning press power and constituency parties set to take future reselections very seriously, one hopes their reach and frequency is weaker.

While Jeremy got a standing ovation at last week's PLP meeting, and though the number of pro-Corbyn MPs have grown when it comes to filling out the front bench he should nevertheless appoint with an eye to two things (in addition to ability, of course): whether an appointee will be the source of future sabotage should things go south, and who will carry on building the left advance so far made. Understandably, Corbyn wants to bring in former rebels, but he can now do so from a position of strength. Therefore, making Owen Smith shadow Northern Ireland was a good move. As an oppositionist he is a spent force. He has been suitably contrite and is, from the point of view of Ulster politics, even-handed and experienced. Also, in the view of the diehards, he'd temper the pro-republican sympathies of Jeremy and John McDonnell. It also ticks the reaching out box. Additionally, there are calls to offer Ed Miliband something, preferably the environment. Here the same reasoning very much applies - assuming Ed fancies something, of course. However, when it comes to appointing from the second group of Corbyn-sceptics he has to be very careful. We've seen some whingeing from people who feel entitled to a position, which naturally rules them out. Much play has been made of Stephen Kinnock, Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper jockeying angling for a role too. And Jeremy would be mistaken to let them back. For Chuka, well, one wouldn't want to interrupt the interesting intellectual journey he's taking, and Yvette? Well. She talks about unity and conciliation now, but it's worth recalling she (and Chuka) had leadership bids on the runway before the electorate cratered the approaches. And there is her well-trodden disingenuousness to contend with. For all three, a front bench position keeps them in the spotlight while they play the long game and would, given half the chance, undo all that has been accomplished so far. I also don't think projecting a personnel management image is what the party needs right now, either.

While treating with the PLP, there should be no let up in the transformation of the party. Key here is cementing the sovereignty of the membership, particularly over policy direction and selection and reselection. The Labour right are weakened, retreating from their already reduced circumstances prior to the election. A flood of new members have simultaneously poured into the party, the union tops have no choice but to be even more solidly behind Corbyn and, crucially, whole swathes of formally Corbyn-sceptic activists have switched as Jeremy has proven himself a winner. The election has also made activists out of many of the recent arrivals. Here, the new wave of left blogs married to social media savvy helped cohere Corbynism and got supporters out on the doors. There is nothing stopping them from repeating the trick where it comes to internal party matters. Hence in the next couple of years the advantages Corbynism has must be played to extend the left's control over the party machinery to ensure it cannot be used as a base for the right. Of course, the leadership and key left activists know this, and so do the right. If the latter want to make a comeback, they should have to make the political case for their ideas and approach instead of relying on bureaucratic chicanery and scaremongering to do it for them.

As regards the Westminster game itself, I cannot recall in modern times when a party has been as paralysed as the Tories. Everything that could go wrong for them did as their incompetence and arrogance caught up with and helped them get found out. Labour then needs to think about how to make the most of this crisis and get the divisions in their parliamentary party to break out like a rash. There's some good advice from John McTernan(!) in this regard though, again, I don't think there's anything here the leadership doesn't already know. In addition, I would suggest the PLP collectively have a think about Private Members' Bills. If you're not au fait with procedure, backbenchers from all parties can bring forward proposals that go into a draw that then receive parliamentary time. Sometimes they're used as stunts to attack the party opposite, but at others it's usually an individual member's hobby horse and invariably gets defeated by indifference or a whipping operation by the government. There is a case therefore to use this session to coordinate entries to inflict maximum political damage and exacerbate them Tory divisions. As well as using Opposition Days, issues pertaining to care, the NHS, tax credits, fracking, on all these the Tory factions are at sixes and sevens. Some would balk at voting against the government on, say, lifting the public sector pay freeze but do so knowing their party and their would-be Prime Minister will take a reputation hit. In other words, the balance in Parliament and Tory disunity gives Labour an opportunity to effectively govern from the Opposition benches. At least at intervals.

This is important not just because we have to demoralise the Tories, but because we've got to make serious inroads into their vote. Despite losing seats, the Tories captured 42% of the vote. And in the latest Survation poll, while Labour enjoy a three-point lead the Tory vote is stubbornly high. That is after the dementia tax, after the shambles, and even after the fall out from the Grenfell disaster. This apparent solidity doesn't surprise me. Under the conditions of a polarising electorate, theirs is a bloc in which traditional Tory supporters are pressed cheek by jowl with Scottish unionists, the bulk of UKIP's refugees, and a layer of Corbyn-sceptic Labour voters. The power of the traditional media, though waning, is helping to keep the bloc together with nationalist appeals to Brexit and scaremongering about what a new Labour government means. This is an old vote and one most unlikely to replace itself like-for-like. In the medium to long-term they could well be screwed, especially as they busy themselves toxifying their party to anyone under the age of 50. Hence why Dave and May were so keen on the boundary review. Nevertheless, we can't wait for demography to crank out the right result, we need to chip at that Tory edifice further - especially when you consider in a number of post-industrial towns and cities (like Stoke, like Mansfield) Labour went backwards. It goes without saying this requires continual campaigning, but on the basis of emphasising aspects of our manifesto that didn't get much of an airing during the election. Hammond spent last Sunday touring the studios and moaning about the lack of focus on the economy, where the Tories think they have a good story to tell. They don't, but let Labour start going hard on their dismal record, fairness at work and, crucially, on the protection of pensions - understandably an issue on the minds of older workers as employers carry on trimming their contributions here and there. Pressing for more time off work under the Patron Saints' bank holiday pledge is something that more socially conservative voters who switched to the Tories this time might like to hear more about - perhaps that's one for the aforementioned Private Members Bill? And on old people, speaking to and getting their attention requires more than bundling up care and the NHS and hoping it will work. Serious thought has to be given to what their concerns are. Labour has to be seen to listen. For example, pensioners are disproportionately dependent on public transport and buses in particular. While this was addressed in the manifesto it was always the trains that grabbed the headlines. There's an open goal here waiting for a ball to be kicked at it, and it opens a new route for Labour to start addressing community life and senses of security in an insecure world. There's a reason why older people are more susceptible to the scaremongering of the right, but it can be neutered.

Lastly, there is that unique thing Jeremy's campaign and Labour's result brought to British politics: hope. Speaking for myself, I've only felt hope about the state of politics once before, and that was in 1992 when I was a teenage Tory. The Labour Party now has a rare opportunity to define what the future should look like, and not be afraid of saying what it should be. We've seen the experiences of Blair, Obama, and now Macron in France where hope is an empty signifier that invites supporters to project their own fantasies onto it. The result is bitter disappointment and right wing governments follow as constituencies are undermined and dispersed. Their hope is vapour, ours has substance. Policy does some of the leg work, but we need that vision thing. I hope John reconvenes his economic advisory council to draw back some of the best brains, but it shouldn't be limited to this. The Co-operative Party is too often Labour's forgotten affiliate, but their experience with shared ownership and cooperative economics should be heard by the leadership. Additionally, there is a case for a society advisory council that can assist in thinking through the general line of march and helping Labour align with the powerful dynamics that are transforming cultures, economies, and politics, including the party itself.

There is much to be done but for the first time during my 25 years on the left, Labour has the strength, ambition, motivation, and capacity to do what needs to be done. There's a planet to save and a world to win, so let's do this.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Why Far Right Terrorism is on the Rise



















And here we are again. Another day, another terror attack with one dead and eight others injured. Though, on this occasion it's definitely not Islamist-inspired. According to witnesses the man who rammed worshippers leaving Finsbury Park Mosque screamed "Kill me, kill me, I want to kill all Muslims". It's to the credit of the traumatised crowd that the suspect wasn't granted his wish and got carted off into police custody. As the legal process is now in train there is little that can be reported about him or his intentions, but there are points we can make about hate crime and political violence motivated by far right politics.

While incidences of Islamist terror are shocking, in another sense they aren't. For the last 16 years the press and politicians have talked up the possibility of attacks from this quarter to justify military action overseas and authoritarian legislation at home. It's part and parcel of measures that have the consequence of scaring, cowing, atomising large numbers of people. It is an approach utterly disinterested in dealing meaningfully with the roots of terror as it raises uncomfortable questions. And so we have a sensibility, a notion that as awful Islamist atrocities are they are also banal, or something to be expected. The state is prepped for it. Culture is prepped for it.

Unfortunately, it is possible we could be approaching a similar situation when it comes to far right terrorism. Permit me to quote this post on the murder of Jo Cox:

But you know what the really awful thing about this is? We should have seen it coming a mile off. In most of the advanced Western states, acts of political terror tend to be committed by two creeds of extremist. The Islamist, and the Neo-Nazi. The depths to which the debate around the referendum has plunged has seen Leave, and I'm singling out the Tory right and UKIP in particular, raid the BNP playbook and repeat their attack lines have contributed to a febrile atmosphere where migrants are terrified for their future, and a good many decent people share those fears too. But remember, it's definitely not racist to scaremonger about tens of millions of Turks coming here, about "rapist refugees", about people "with a different culture". This poisonous drivel is all about addressing "the very real concerns people have about immigration", not pandering to racism, whipping up hysteria and hate.

What happened to Jo is a violent culmination of a politics that has played out over decades. The finger should be pointed at every politician who has used immigration and race for their own selfish ends. Farage and Johnson are two well accustomed to the sewer, but all of the Leave campaign have been at it. They more than anyone are responsible for the present climate. But blaming them alone is too easy. The Conservative Party as a whole have played the immigration card repeatedly throughout its history, more recently the PM doing so by portraying Labour as the party of unmitigated immigration and open borders. And idiot Labour politicians calling for restrictions here and peddling stupid pledge mugs there have all done their bit in feeding the drip drip of toxicity. The media as well carry some of the can, especially those regular Daily Mail and Daily Express headlines that scream out as if ripped from Der Stürmer. Their ceaseless diet of Islamophobia and refugee-bashing pollute our politics and ensure its eyes are dragged to the gutter instead of being fixed on the horizon. The press are windows onto the political world for millions of people, and they what they see is tinted with purposive misrepresentation and lies. They too are culpable for this mess.

In short, when you have a huge propaganda operation, of so-called intellectuals poisoning the waters, and politicians seizing upon race and religion to grub for headlines and votes, we should not be shocked that a small subset of people who gorge on these lies should feel compelled to act on them. Mostly, they are content shitposting racist memes on social media or forming their own internet cesspits well away from the mainstream. Others get involved in political activity and/or the "street activity" of the English Defence League and/or Britain First. And for some, well, terror is a viable option - at least if the number of racists and far right activists banged up for weapons or bomb making offences are anything to go by.

While true, this propaganda apparatus has operated for a long time, so why should the prospect of far right terror become more likely? One cannot offer an exhaustive explanation, especially in the space of a blog post, but there are two things worth looking at. Firstly, there is the role of gender or, to avoid essentialist explanations rooting masculinity in hormonal aggression, the practices and expectations that come with being a man. After all, it is not insignificant that all the jihadi attacks and far right terrorist incidences to have taken place in Western Europe and North America over the past 20 or so years have exclusively been carried out by men? For younger men, the tendency toward the dissolution of gendered privileges but without a congruent retreat of gendered expectations is background noise to all extremist politics. For instance, IS is viciously misogynistic for a reason. For young white men, the parallel processes help fuel the ugly underbelly of online gynophobia and gay hatred though, it should be stressed, this has an outright purchase on only a minority of young guys just as the IS message draws in very small numbers. The fraying of gendered tradition impacts on older men differently. For some, they and wider society has undergone a process of emasculation, they just know it and feel it. Women don't know their place, boys are screwing around with boys, and men's jobs have given way to women's jobs. As far as UKIP and organisations further right go, part of their appeal is gendered nostalgia, of a strong Britain when men were men and took pride in being in charge and providing for their families. Nowadays, everything is so permissive and effete. Britain's gone soft, but something surely has to be done about Muslims taking the piss and killing girls and mums at pop concerts.

This is where masculine impotence intersects with political realities. With the collapse of UKIP at the general election from nearly 13% in 2015 to just under two per cent this year, effectively the constitutional outlet for right wing, xenophobic politics has dried up. And with the rise of the left, the general political culture is much less congenial to nudge nudge race hate than was even the case last year. Not least as politics is polarising and the Tories have smothered the political space the far right can operate in. With them locked out of the system, with politics more hostile and seemingly unconcerned by their hobby horses, and a studied refusal by the mainstream to blame Muslims in general for the terroristic acts of extremists, so non-constitutional methods start looking more attractive, be it vandalism of mosques or Muslim-owned businesses, hate crime, or terrorism. Their imagined grievances boil over into frustration, and that can in turn spin off into the kinds of actions we've seen a dramatic rise in.

That is why I believe the possibility of far right terrorism grows, not because it's strong, but because it's weak and out of kilter with the real world. What can be done? Using what laws already exist to round up and charge far right hate preachers, like the execrable Tommy Robinson, is something of a start. But more authoritarianism is not the answer, and so politics has to be. It means politicians should not be allowed to get away with toxic politics, that far right voices who pepper the airwaves and newspaper columns with barely coded race hate should be denied their berths in the mainstream, and a more robust challenging of this politics, be it the fascism lite of UKIP or the dyed-in-wool drivel of Britain First, wherever it appears sound like good places to begin.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Can Theresa May Survive?



















Theresa May is determined to grab the worst Prime Minister ever crown from her predecessor, at least if her incompetence over the Grenfell tragedy is anything to go by. Her initial visit to the site to meet emergency service workers but pointedly not surviving residents was incredibly cold, and incredibly damaging. For millions, May's behaviour sums up the contempt she and her ilk have for working class people, and those in particular forced to get by with social security support. On top of all that, more failures have come out that impact and reinforce the reception of Grenfell as an episode in the class war. We learn the Tories were slapping each others' backs for diluting fire safety regulations earlier this year. While Tory-run Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council could have been investing more in service provision, it turns out they've doled out council tax rebates while local authorities in poorer parts of the country winced under the cosh of cuts. And lastly, according to the recently-defenestrated Nick Clegg, he met resistance on social housing from Dave and Osborne because it only "creates Labour voters". No wonder people are bloody angry.

And so the Tories are getting found out. The party of the spiv, the rentier, the money grubber, and the parasite are having their ugly character exposed to the full glare of the British public, and what they see is appalling masses of people who've previously regarded anti-Tory rhetoric as political knockabout. Grenfell has been compared to the Poll Tax, but it is more than that. Remember, the Tories got shot of Thatcher and rebooted successfully in time for the 1992 general election. No, this crisis is altogether more serious as it threatens the very party itself. For the Tories, it is a crisis of legitimation, and they run the risk of taking damage so serious that a lengthy period out of government is almost inevitable, regardless of when the next general election falls. Their deal with the DUP certainly won't save them.

This begs the question then, given Grenfell and their political complicity in the lead up to an unnecessary tragedy, how can they and Theresa May, as their reviled figurehead, stay on? Unfortunately, I am forced to report that the demands of the moment would likely see the Tories and May cling on for dear life. On the Prime Minister's fate, assuming she is still in position by the time I've finished writing this post, it suits the interests of too many for her to remain. Reports that Johnson has told his supporters to fall in behind the PM seem credible enough. He's already sharing the burden of Brexit with David Davis and disgraced serving minister Liam Fox. Does he want Brexit to be his and his alone? Absolutely not. Does he also want to take over at a time when not even his faux bonhomie can save the Tories from a looming disaster? Hell no. There is however one person who would be willing, even is she's definitely not able, and that would be the dread Leadsom. Thankfully for the Tories, there is no situation so dire that she could possibly be the solution. Yet she, unlike her titular boss, did go down and speak to residents in and around Grenfell. I wonder if she prefaced her remarks with "As a mother ...".

Because Tory fractiousness means all interests are served by May carrying on as a meat shield, it's unlikely a putsch would come. There's another reason too that increases her chances of staying, a problem (for them at least) they rate higher than the Brexit negotiations themselves. According to Tory whips, she has said there are four words explaining her decision to soak it up and stagger on: Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn. It is difficult to put into words how much the prospect of an insurgent Labour Party terrifies them. Though, irony of ironies, if everything in Corbyn's manifesto was implemented capital as a whole would benefit. But for them, it's an instinct. If capital is subject to greater controls and responsibilities by a party with a mass, politicised and radicalising base, anything could happen. Not least the relationship of command their class privileges entitle them to would be under threat. Their objections and fears is not about having to pay more tax or getting forced to recognise trade unions, it's about power. Their ideological penchant for small-statism is a recognition that their state can, on occasion, be turned against them and that certain sections of capital be made to pay the price of restructuring capital as a whole. See the Attlee government and Swedish social democracy, for example.

Whether that fear is groundless or not, for the Tories it is real. If you combine that with a sense of certainty they will lose the next election, that many of our newly-minted MPs quite like the idea of staying on in the House and aren't going to give up their seats, and the slim chance any election call would clear the provisions of the fixed term, an election looks unlikely.

While there are powerful forces that frame and are expressed through politics, is there anything May's premiership can do to stabilise the situation? Her immediate aim is getting Brexit sorted, but there are a number of other things she can do to try and detoxify the outfit she has so indelibly stained. Given that many Tories are cottoning on to how the public's patience with austerity is at an end, it would be sensible for May to try and enact some of the more Milibandist moments from her manifesto. Keeping the promised funding and parity of treatment for mental health immediately springs to mind, for example. Though going too far in this direction could invite Tory rebellion, making her fatally dependent on Labour votes - assuming Labour agrees. I also expect attempts to try and knock Labour off course - she's likely to revisit her duff counter-terror strategy and, in what would be a surreal replay of the election, dare Corbyn not to back her. Whatever May tries, it's going to be scrappy, and it will certainly be unedifying.

Quite apart from their crisis now, the election reconfirmed their declinist tendency. Managing Brexit, running a feeble government, navigating inner party division, stymieing crisis bleeds here, there, and everywhere, it would stretch the most able of politicians. Theresa May, fortunately for us, doesn't come close to this and cannot but exacerbate her party's problems further.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Grenfell Tragedy is Class War



















The victims of yesterday’s fire at the Grenfell tower in north Kensington are casualties of the class war. There is no other frame, no other explanation that can convincingly thread together the answers to questions about how this unnecessary and entirely avoidable tragedy happened, and why it was allowed to happen.

Consider the circumstances:

Grenfell residents had repeatedly complained to the council (coincidentally, Conservative-run) about fire safety issues and were brushed off by councillors and officers.

Residents had also complained about their treatment at the hands of the contractors placed in charge of the two-year £10m block refurbishment. These complaints included allegations of physical intimidation on the part of the contractors.

The external refurbishment of the tower was added ostensibly to deal with water ingress into the building, but residents have suggested that cladding was added to make it look more agreeable to the eyes of nearby tenants and owners of luxury properties.

The fire happened in the context of the closure of ten fire stations in London at the behest of Boris Johnson during his time as London mayor. This is part of a nationwide package of measures aimed at reducing the numbers of firefighters and creating markets in the fire service through the outsourcing of calls, administration, and provision of equipment.

It comes after years of warnings and recommendations from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Fire Safety and Rescue that have routinely been ignored by successive governments. Their latest recommendations pertaining to high-rises were sat on for four years by the government.

It comes in the context of a government utterly beholden to the ridiculous view that regulation, and particularly health and safety regulations, are so much red tape. This was taken to its extreme by the Tories who ran on a platform pledging to scrap two regulations for every one introduced: an intellectually bankrupt and profoundly stupid approach that risks lives for the sake of core vote grubbing.

Though the Grenfell tower would not have been affected by it, the government benches voted down proposed legislation requiring landlords to guarantee a basic minimum standard of housing fit for human habitation.

And, in the aftermath, following the media attention and the outpouring of sympathy and grief, the Prime Minister was at the scene for a “private visit”. She decided against meeting surviving residents.

Today the media is overflowing with hot takes about how it is a very political tragedy. But it is more than that. This has been a gross episode, a massacre, in the class struggle. It is a moment where local and national politics, the economics of housing, the snobby cultures of the H-band classes, and the managerial arrogance attuned to tuning out poor and working class voices all came together and have robbed dozens – hopefully not hundreds – of people of their lives. It’s a consequence of markets run rampant, of the gutting of public service provision to squeeze more cash into private coffers. That cash now comes dipped in blood.

We’ve seen what class politics in the 21st century can look like. This, however, is what's going on on the other side. They still have the whip hand, they are responsible for this state of affairs, and these are the consequences when the war on the housing front has gone their way unimpeded for so long.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Labour and 21st Century Class Politics























It's taken me almost a week to write about Labour's result, that's how shocked I was. Just as that exit poll plunged millions of Labour supporters into gloomy depression in 2015, the one from last Thursday was an occasion of such jubilation that it will live on in the party's collective memory forever. I know it's been said, but it should always be said: we have not seen such an upset since 1945, we have never seen a turnaround of its like in such a short period of time, nor have we seen a politician with such abysmal ratings rise as quickly in the public's estimation. Labour did not win the election, but that banal statement reminds us the formalities of official politics cannot grasp the significance of what has happened.

Among Jeremy Corbyn's achievements are:

1. The destruction of the near-religious totem of the centre ground.
2. Providing proof that leading political opinion with a clear programme instead of kowtowing to it can lead to electoral success.
3. Linking with the above, showing that winning former Labour voters back from UKIP didn't and doesn't require making concessions to the right.
4. The ability to turn out large numbers of voters usually alienated from the electoral process - to Labour's benefit.
5. Using the election to politicise millions of people.
6. Building a reach unparalleled in British politics, bring together an electoral coalition that saw safe Tory seats tumble, leafy Labour marginals strengthen, and winning the 18-24 demographic in Scotland away from the SNP and the dead end of nationalist politics.
7. Creating dozens of marginal seats that, with one more heave, could easily fall to Labour.
8. Destroying the austerity myth to the extent that the Tories are now openly discussing its abandonment.
9. Inflicting a defeat on the Tories so profound they may never recover without painful self-adjustment.
10. Positioning Labour as an obvious government-in-waiting with the polls now putting them ahead of the Tories.

And all this in two years. Remember, under Kinnock and John Smith it took just over nine years to build up the momentum to the point Labour looked a dead cert for government, and even then it took the Tories' mishandling of Black Wednesday before winning was a foregone conclusion. Yes, undoubtedly the dementia tax debacle was very helpful, and May's mishandling of the terror attacks didn't rally the Tory vote like they were hoping, but had these not happened the same underlying dynamics would have been in play.

How to explain the success no one saw coming, and how did Corbyn manage to win over a varied demographic range? It all goes back to what happened these last two summers and what Corbynism, as a movement, is.

Readers may recall my why I voted for Jeremy Corbyn in the last leadership contest. Part of it had to do with a protest against the appalling behaviour of the Parliamentary Labour Party (nice to see a line get drawn under that with a standing ovation in the Commons today), and because what Corbynism represented. Basically, Corbynism is a movement of what I like to call the networked worker. What does this mean?

This is another way of describing what Italian Marxist and co-author of the celebrated Empire, Antonio Negri, calls the socialised worker (it also gets a look-in in Paul Mason's Postcapitalism). In an argument he has made since the 1970s, proletarians (i.e. people who sell their labour power for a set time in return for a wage or salary) have been undergoing something of a recomposition - an idea that's hardly news as far as this blog is concerned. However, rather than the banal observation that post-industrialism and the emergence of the knowledge economy doesn't mean much beyond the physical or otherwise character of commodities, for Negri it is a profound development.

To precis his argument, Negri argues that the working class under capitalism has undergone three broad phases. The first, when Marx was writing, coincides with the infancy of heavy industry. Here, formerly independent artisans and peasants are compelled to enter the factories in large numbers under pain of starvation. Here, they submitted to the command of the employer in return for (often poor) wages and expected to undertake a number of tasks. This was the age of the 'skilled worker': they became skilled at the work they had to perform and through their interaction with the technique of the day were able to build up an overarching picture of the labour process at their work. Simultaneously, thrown together in such numbers and individuated by the wage the skilled worker came to understand they had collective interests in common, and its from this period they started working autonomously of capital and against it by building labour parties and labour movements to better their lot and advance their interests.

As it grew in strength and power, achieving a breakthrough in Russia and badly threatening the social order of Europe after the First World War, capitalist management struck back. The innovation of Henry Ford's assembly line and Frederick Taylor's scientific management worked at breaking the power of workers in the workplace by subordinating the labour process to tight control. Taylor's time and motion studies were ostensibly about making work more efficient, but had the consequence of appropriating skill and knowledge about the work process and making it the property of management. This phase, the age of the 'mass worker' was a qualitative extension of the big enterprises into huge estates of factories, of an increase in scale and the full integration of industrial and finance capital. But it also meant labour was more alienating and simple. Capital had leverage over labour because the complexity of the division of labour was boiled down into a set of simple and repetitive tasks. In short, what Taylorism and Fordism managed was to make labour almost entirely abstract, to the point where any worker could be taken off any point of the assembly line and set to work on another with the minimum of training. Matching this extension of command down to the minutiae of work was, in the economic sphere, Keynes-inspired interventionist policies and, following the Second World War, the development of mass consumerism to complement mass production.

For Negri, the late 1960s saw this settlement start to fray. Whereas the mass strike was the weapon of choice for the skilled worker, to this repertoire the mass worker added occupations, symbolic acts of resistance, and, most crucially, the refusal to work. Despite the alienation at work, nevertheless the simultaneous positioning of workers as consumers deepened the individuating effects of the wage. Living standards grew, expectations grew, and the sophistication of the workers grew and increasingly sat uneasily with the top-down planning of Keynesian capitalism. Small wonder that as the 60s came to a close, movements from outside the institutionalised patterns of class compromise and conflict emerged and re-emerged in this period.

The abstraction of labour and the struggles of the 60s and early 70s for Negri revealed another truth about society: that capital had fully subsumed the social. While in Britain we tend to associate this with the penetration of ever greater areas of social life by market relationships, Negri argued that his native Italy and other Western countries were basically 'social factories' in which every facet of life contributed to capital accumulation in some way. There was no "outside" to capitalism: the social was permeated by capital and the logics of capital (hence why Pierre Bourdieu is so useful). Negri argued that under these circumstances, the nature of work shifted away from the production of (material) commodities to the business of reproducing the relationships underpinning the social factory. For instance, consider the millions of jobs in advanced countries tied to the public sector, of educating, surveilling, managing, healing, caring. These provide essential infrastructure that no complex society can manage without. Capital has also made a good fist out of directly profiting from this shift through the selling of professional services. For Negri, this signals the coming of the 'socialised worker' for whom the production of social relations is the object of their labour. In addition, this labour is immaterial; it cannot be appropriated directly as per the preceding generations of workers. The instrument of work here is the brain. Its use can be rented out, but suddenly the relationship between capital and labour shows up what has been the case all along: that the former is utterly dependent on the latter.

There's more bad news for capital, according to Negri. Immaterial, intellectual labour produces social relations and information. It means as a whole, as brains are set to work on particular projects the skills and knowledge acquired doesn't stay under lock and key. It's inseparable from those brains and effectively becomes part of a general intellect. As the collective knowledge of living labour grows, the relation between capital and labour becomes ever more stark. The former appears more parasitic, swooping in, trying to throw up fences around information and generally acting as a fetter on the free development of human culture. In this context, attempts to colonise the minds and imaginations of people through institutions and culture make sense. Ideas have always been a battleground in the class struggle, but in the age of the socialised worker the new front takes in the very components of consciousness. However, Negri is clear (and why his Marxism is so resolutely optimistic): the balance is shifting toward living labour and capitalism is becoming increasingly obviously superfluous. It's only a matter of time before the overwhelming mass of people realise it.

What has this got to do with what has happened to the Labour Party and its fortunes? In my view, the coalescing of the socialised worker is speeding up. It's condensing thanks to the invention of social media. The coming of the internet illustrates perfectly what Negri has written about. Software houses, IT firms, and social media monopolies do not train their key workers - they appropriate knowledges programmers (for instance) have acquired outside the sphere of work, through formal education and their own self-directed adventures in programming languages. Effectively, they're poncing off the general intellect. Social media has elevated this even further by capturing and storing your behaviour, amalgamating them into big data sets, and using your online comings and goings as a force or production, as a means of selling advertising space. Yes, capital and the internet reinforces Negri's observations about its parasitism. However, the internet and social media has another consequence: it's multiplying lines of contact between people, bringing more coherence to the general intellect as information is freely shared back and forth in defiance of propriety rights. It is driving forward the notion that work should be something you enjoy and "find yourself" in. It's effectively secularising the ethos and expectations of the socialised worker and extending it to those in occupations that retain skilled and mass worker characteristics. Employers often complain about not finding young people enough who'll work minimum wage in warehouse jobs or grubbing in fields for strawberries. This cultural shift and transformation of expectations is one reason why.

That is why I talk about the networked worker as opposed to just the socialised worker because everyone, regardless of the character of their work, are wirelessly wiring up and being drawn into the general intellect, of a social life increasingly distant to and alienated from the increasingly petulant demands capital makes. Class still matters, but it is being redefined and conflict is playing out in diffuse and multiple ways across axes of relationships within and extending beyond workplaces and immediate employer/employee relations. Hyper-individuated, the networked worker nevertheless is coming round to the view that they hold interests in common. And this is where the realm of theory touches down in political reality. The austerity and market fundamentalist policies the Tories have overseen, combined with scapegoating scaremongering is build up a head of grievance which, above all, cuts against the emerging consensus of what the good life is: freedom to be your own invention, and freedom from the economics, the housing crisis, the debt, the hate and xenophobia, of all the artificial social ills that threaten this.

The pull of Jeremy Corbyn at the start of his leadership campaign was, put plainly, someone who stood against all that. Largely unknown up until that point, his anti-austerity politics may have been decades old but they were absolutely of the moment. Because they were relevant and attractive, despite being forged in the class struggles of the 1970s the conjuncture - of decomposing Blairism, anaemic social democracy, and a seemingly triumphant neoliberalism - ensured his was the most modern politics. Corbyn was a lightning rod, a strange (and unlikely) attractor around which hitherto unorganised and raw layers of networked workers gathered over the course of his first year as leader and remaking the Labour Party in the process so it better reflected the realities of 21st century class politics. And then when the general election itself was called, the same process repeated itself on a far grander scale. This time it wasn't a couple of hundred thousand drawn to Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, it was millions, aided by the waging of the electoral battle across the peer-to-peer circuits social media enables. Corbyn, despite what the naysayers said, has saved the Labour Party and virtually guaranteed it the next general election because his simple anti-cuts politics, his authenticity and utter absence of cynicism swims with the stream of the general intellect. Rebooted Labourism with its social media savvy sensibility, its inclusivity, its message of hope and optimism bedded around a positive class politics of the overwhelming majority explains how networked workers from the cleaner and shelf stacker to the lifestyle consultant and marketing manager were pulled into its train. And what is more, the overt politicisation of the general intellect means Labour's vote can only but grow. The young are being born into and coming of age within this culture, this new politics of class. And its points of multiplication are reaching out to Tory supporters and bringing them in, corroding and challenging the irrationalisms and unthought assumptions underpinning that politics.

What is happening to Labour is the future. Britain, as the world's first industrial nation showed the rest of the globe its destiny. With the linkage between a transforming Labour Party and the networked worker accomplished, it's quite possible this little island could be about to do the same for politics.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Advice for the 2017 Labour Intake




















Taking a break from politics for a night because. However, it hasn't escaped my notice that 36 new Labour MPs were elected to the Commons last Thursday (well, 35 if you take of Chris Williamson as he is a repeat offender). That means I get to dust this down this (lightly edited) advice again from earlier in the year. Readers may recall its appearance in the wake of Labour's victorious by-election in Stoke. Some might ask what do I know about politics, and who the hell am I to proffer advice to Labour's newly-elected? After all, I'm just an ordinary member with a keyboard and internet connection. Well, unsolicited advice comes with the territory. If you happen to not be a MP, which is most of you, I hope this gives good insight into what a good MP is supposed to do.

Okay, well done, you've won your election and you're into your first week in the Commons. All of a sudden you're expected to be an advocate, a lobbyist, a leader, a tribune, an example, and an office manager more or less from day one. Oh yes, and you don't have much power either. Did no one tell you that? But you do have a pretty hefty salary. Your first decision is what you're going to do with it. You can trouser the lot, but that's not recommended. Nor is doing the workers-MP-on-a-workers-wage schtick if you don't want ostracising, which isn't good for getting stuff done on behalf of the people you're representing. So, once the PLP has taken its share (ah, you weren't told about that either), and with plenty left over a yearly donation to CLP/branch funds is a must, whether the local party is cash strapped or not. Also, during the last Parliament Ruth Smeeth was one of the few MPs to refuse the 10% pay rise and instead used that cash to fund charitable causes in her Stoke North and Kidsgrove constituency. Doing that or something similar is the right thing to do, and has the happy consequence of paying itself back many times over in goodwill.

That's the easy bit. Then comes the sorting out your staffing. The first rule here is do not employ your family. Conservative MPs are buggers for doing this. Nearly every Tory MP whose office arrangements I know something about employ otherwise unemployable husbands and wives and sons and daughters. All at the top of IPSA pay scales, funnily enough. Also, they tend not to get too much heat from the media for it. As you're Labour, if you're daft and go down this route there's a much greater chance you'll cop for it. So don't. Second, it is absolutely crucial you have two operations, regardless of whether you represent a London constituency or not. You need parliamentary staff (one usually suffices when you're a backbencher) and staff in a constituency office.

Your parliamentary assistant is useful for briefing notes, speeches, popping down to the Commons library, tours for constituents, babysitting guests and a thousand and one other things. Just don't get them washing your laundry or driving round London doing your shopping. That. Is. Not. What. They're. For. There is another, understated advantage for having permanent parliamentary staff. They will hang around and socialise with other bag carriers. This is good, so make sure you hire someone gregarious. Because they can do a lot of networking for you. If you're interested in making a splash in a particular policy area, a good staffer will have a working knowledge of what their mates are working on and might suggest meetings with such-and-such MP looking into something similar. That's the good, noble reason. Then there's gossip. You might have gathered by now, politics loves gossip and Westminster is full of it. Having a staffer helps keep you abreast of what's going on where indiscretions are rife and nothing stays under wraps for long. As much as you might dislike this sort of thing, you've got to have eyes and ears working for you because it will benefit you in some way down the line.

Constituency staff are slightly different but no less important. Unless you're from the the Paul Nuttall school of lazy arses, you're going to be in Parliament most of the time, so your constituency staff will be the main means by which the constituency and the members interact with you. So choose wisely. You don't want staff watching Jeremy Kyle all day instead of doing work. You don't want anyone taking a haughty attitude to members, and you certainly don't want employees causing embarrassment by inappropriately using your constituency property when you're not around. My recommendations would be two or three staff who don't necessarily share your brand of Labourist politics, which is good for advice/speaking truth to power. So go on, hire a Progress member and a Corbynist. Make sure you take on people with good writing and communication skills - they will be making representations on your behalf to ministers and sending things to constituents in your name. Preferably, hire people who live in or will move into your constituency and so know what it's like living there. And, this cannot be emphasised enough, employ party members. Membership is no guarantee of good judgement, but party members more likely have an eye for bits and bobs of casework that have local and national party political ramifications. Also, as members in the local party they straight away strengthen your base and will likely build close relationships with councillors and key local activists. The gossip function applies here too. Staff, however, aren't robots. Turn over is quite high, partly because there is no career progression. So give them autonomy. Allow them to fill their notebooks with contacts, to go on visits to local employers, public bodies, charities, etc. Give them projects to do and goals to work towards. Don't be an overbearing boss, don't micromanage and ensure you don't employ anyone as office manager with that kind of attitude. If you treat them well, take them seriously, listen to them, you will have their loyalty and support beyond the terms of their employment.

On your relationship to your constituency party, take it very seriously. Only fools don't believe the CLP is the boss. Remember, you're only going to Westminster because the Labour badge was against your name. So be hands on, but not too hands on. Make sure you turn up to constituency meetings and give your report. If you're invited to a local party event, make sure you're there much more than not. Go out for drinks with members after meetings. Organise affordable socials and muck in. Even accept the odd dinner invite, and not just with the nice middle class professionals who want to show you their bookshelves. Have time for people, don't give politicians' answers in meetings, and listen. One thing you'll find are lots of irritating members like me: people wanting to tell you how to do your job. Take the time to respond as the one thing you want to avoid is a reputation for having a tin ear. And if you haven't got it, you're going to have to dig deep wells of patience - there's no way round it. At the same time, don't be afraid to push your politics. The sad fact is the best place to go to avoid talking politics is a Labour Party meeting, so change that, politicise things, work to persuade members of the merits of your views. Also, be very clear and provide a political rationale for the two or three priorities/hobby horses you have and update folks on any progress made. The members chose you and are invested in your success, so make them feel part of it.

While we're talking constituencies, you simply must be all over yours like a rash. Good staff can cover for your absence some of the time, but you should lead from the front. This is doubly important in marginal seats, for obvious reasons, but also "stronghold" working class seats like Stoke Central to break the cycle of disenchantment and disengagement. Do the bulk of your surgeries. Make sure you or a staff member attends stuff you're invited to. Make sure you have an extremely good relationship with local unions and do what local members ask. Keep an eye on new businesses opening up and get in touch to offer support. Work to bring people together around common interests and projects. Build a good working relationship with the local authority, whether Labour-run or not, but do not be afraid to take them to task or go to war with them when necessary. And campaign hard by helping out local councillors, running your own doorknocking/leafleting sessions, and supporting local Labour Group priorities. Show you're an attentive, dynamic MP by putting yourself out there.

Last of all, remember you're a member of the PLP. You're in a privileged position, but that doesn't grant you a privileged point of view. You may be clever, be a good organiser, possess a silver tongue, great charisma, or an unaffected manner, but you're no better, smarter, or savvier than the great bulk of Labour activists. Luckier, maybe. Do bear that in mind as your brain starts playing host to the parliamentary ways of doing things. As an opposition MP, your powerlessness will be reinforced every time the Tories push through legislation that attacks our people. As you dwell inside a media bubble, all of a sudden things that barely registered when you were a civilian loom large in yours and others' imaginations. Both of these work together into a commonsense in which Parliament and getting power is the be-all and end-all, and that will work to distort your view of the world. Hence why you need good staff and good relations with your constituency party, these people can anchor you.

The second thing to remember is what politics is about. It's the interests, stupid. The Labour Party is the political expression of the labour movement, and was founded by the organised working class and the progressive middle class to prosecute their interests. Arguably, its failure to do so is the root of the party's malaise from Blair to just before the general election. The story is the same in France, where too many of our people have been abandoned to the fascists, and in Italy. Your job as a Labour Party activist who happens to be a MP is to follow those interests through. Westminster's boarding school/pressure cooker environment can engender the feeling of all MPs being in it together, regardless of party. You start feeling that way you need to shut that shit down. Go ahead, pursue friendly, congenial relations with politicians from other parties. Even go out of your way to attend maiden speeches - believe me, they'll remember who was there on the benches opposite - but never forget they're means to an end to get your way, the party's way. Because they will be doing exactly the same to you. Remember, it's only Labour MPs who think the party's there for the common good. The Tories aren't naive enough to entertain such a delusion. 

And one last point on loyalty. Not only are you in the Commons because of the Labour badge, some of you were lifted into the chamber because of Jeremy Corbyn. Keep abreast of the plots and the rumours of plots on the backbenches, but the world does not need another Jess Phillips. If you have complaints, don't moan to the Daily Mail about them but share them with your constituency people. You would be surprised by how many appreciate being told what some regard as privileged information. And always keep an eye on the future. Labour Party membership is mushrooming again, diminishing the sway the PLP have over the wider party even further. If you enjoy being an MP - and it is a fantastically privileged job to have - bear in mind reselections will be determined by an overwhelmingly pro-Corbyn membership.

That is all for now.