Recently I’ve been pondering why, despite a deep resentment of austerity and extreme wealth inequality, the UK doesn’t yet have populist leftist movements like Greece’s Syriza and Spain’s Podemos. The answer of course is that things aren’t as bad here as they are in those countries. But there are signs of a resurgence of populist, anti-establishment movements in the UK: the SNP landslide in Scotland, 3.9 million votes for UKIP, 1.1 million votes for the Green Party, and now Jeremy Corbyn’s performance in the Labour leadership race.
I also wrote about the recent history of the contemporary Labour party, and how Blair’s 1997 landslide victory was the worst thing that ever happened to it. Many Labour supporters, and most of the parliamentary party, confused correlation for causation and became convinced that Blairism was the reason Labour was elected. They forget that a) anyone could have led Labour to a victory against Major’s hated minority government in 1997, and b) Blair would have lost had he still been party leader in 2010 (which is exactly why, with characteristic savviness, he wasn’t). They remain convinced of this fallacy today, and are now in a panic that the grassroots party might choose a leader who isn’t from the approved list of “new” Labour robots.
Meanwhile, old lefties, young idealists, the unions, and anyone who prefers sincerity and principle to weaselly poll-chasing, are putting their hopes on Jeremy Corbyn. But rather than a victory for the left of the party, a Corbyn win could actually mean the final victory of Blairism and the end of Labour as the leading organisation of the left.
Have you decided how to cast your vote on Thursday? Will it really make any difference?
The 2015 general election actually presents the UK with a greater opportunity for real change at national level than any in recent history. After decades of the two-and-a-half party system, this year there are four parties (Conservative, Labour, SNP and the Liberal Democrats) which stand a genuine chance of having a significant role in government during the next parliament.
But the paradox for an individual voter deciding what to do with their ballot paper is still the same: for the vast majority, it will have no effect. The reality is that 90% of the 650 seats up for grabs on Thursday are safe seats, with such a big majority that the conclusion is foregone. The election will be decided by the results in the remaining marginals, where the 2010 results and the polls are so close that there’s a real chance of seats changing hands. So unless you live in one of the small number of marginal constituencies, your vote is effectively pointless.
It gets worse. Even in marginal seats, the winner is likely to end up with a lead of certainly hundreds, perhaps even a few thousand, votes. The chances of a seat being won by one vote are vanishingly small. On the rare occasion that the candidates’ results are within even a few tens of each other, they’ll demand a recount, and when recounts have occurred, the results have changed by several votes each time. In other words, your vote is smaller than the margin of error.
The revelation that the Bush-era US was a rogue state responsible for systematic torture and other human rights abuses is as outrageous as it is unsurprising. For the world-weary and cynical like myself, it’s depressingly predictable that the only person currently in prison in connection with the CIA’s torture programme is John Kiriakou, the whistleblower who uncovered it. The US and its allies, including the UK, have a long history of committing monstrous acts against their own citizens and those of other states worldwide, and there is no indication that this is likely to change any time soon.
But while all reasonable and decent people should be appalled at the actions of Western governments, there are some who go too far, losing all perspective and pursuing their hatred of the West to illogical extremes. Here’s a typically nutty example I encountered recently:
“Anyone who believes the ISIS beheadings are real are deluded beyond belief. Watch the videos with a critical eye and then watch a real beheading. The west creates Muslims as enemy’s to push their agenda. Pure and simple. It is so they can attack poor brown people and take their natural resources like oil etc. Google the difference between say Afghanistan before American intervention and after. America and Britain are the real terrorists whose politicians earn more from war than peace. It’s not the people who need to give more but politicians and bankers who need to fuck off.“
My first reaction was ultra-cynical. The Conservatives are faced with the threat of another by-election against UKIP in a couple of weeks. Perhaps the whole thing had been orchestrated in cahoots with the EU as an elaborate charade. Here’s how it works in Cameron’s favour: the EU pretends to be owed £1.7bn, Cameron makes a big stand and refuses to pay, the EU backs down from its fictitious demand and Cameron struts around like he’s proved he can defeat them. Wobbly Eurosceptic voters decide he’s the real anti-EU statesman and stick with the Tories instead of haemorrhaging to UKIP.
In the 1960s, Harvard sociologist Daniel Bell declared the ‘end of ideology’. The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had been a time of big, competing ideas about how to organise human society, but these were exhausted; centrist free-market democracy had won.
The concept took a few decades to come to fruition. The world was still divided by the Cold War, a real and dangerous instantiation of competing ideologies. Even within UK politics, ideology was still alive in the 1980s, when Thatcherite free-market economics faced off against a diverse but identifiable left wing, comprising a mixture of militant Trotskyists, restless unions and mainstream social democrats.
In the 1990s, Bell’s prediction was proven correct by global events, with the USSR swept away and replaced by free market democracy. It was further vindicated within British politics later in the decade, with Tony Blair’s reform of the Labour party. By dropping Clause IV from the party’s constitution, its commitment to an ideology of nationalisation was removed, and the party was rebranded as ‘New Labour’, a centrist free-market party occupying roughly the same political territory as moderate Conservatives.
Today, I experienced the most inappropriate and falsely aimed attempt to Stick It To The Man that I’ve ever seen.
I was working in Manchester Central Library. At one point in the late afternoon, someone started playing Elton John’s ‘Are You Ready For Love?’ very loudly on one of the library computers. People were tutting and looking around to see who it was. I think everyone was assuming it was an unruly teenager.
A librarian shouted out to tell whoever it was to stop, but it continued. Eventually the librarian came over and tracked down the source of the music: an elderly lady, who at first appeared oblivious to the fact that the music was even coming from her computer. The librarian showed her how to turn the music down, and left.
About a minute later, ‘Are You Ready For Love?’ was playing at full volume again. The librarian returned, thinking the dotty old crone was a bit confused and had accidentally repeated her error. But this time, rather than apologising and turning it off again, the old woman kicked off, cantankerously arguing with the librarian, calling her a ‘small-minded council bureaucrat’ and insisting on her right to play Elton John as loudly as she liked (on the computer facilities provided to her by small-minded council bureaucrats).
Then, she looked around at everyone else in the room, as if expecting us all to be right behind her in her crusade against petty officialdom. We weren’t. We all wanted her to stop playing Elton John as well.
The 2014 Indian general election is currently under way. With over 800 million people eligible to vote, it’s a long and complicated process: polls are being held on different dates across the 543 parliamentary constituencies, over the course of five weeks. The first were held a week ago, on 7 April, while the last won’t be until 12 May, with the final result due to be announced on 16 May.
With that ongoing, I thought I’d record my observations from travelling around the country at the end of last year.
As soon as the Coalition Government started cutting the flood defence budget in 2010, it was as predictable as the water cycle what would happen next: within no more than a few years and probably within the lifetime of the government which made the cuts, there would be heavy rainfall, resulting in massive floods, and a backtrack on the cuts – emergency spending if not a change to the planned budget – either way, a tacit admission of failure.
This sort of thing seems crashingly inevitable to me. There’s an obvious trajectory, of reduced budgets, reduced regulation or reduced oversight, followed by conspicuous calamity, followed by attempts to mop up the mess which generally involve reimplementing whatever system had originally been in place to prevent the calamity.
I’m not here to congratulate myself on uselessly predicting the flooding crisis (also, because I never went on record predicting it, so there’s no proof I ever did). I want to teach you how to predict similar balls-ups in the future, because the depressing thing is, it’s not that difficult.
When it’s from a faith school, and the exam boards have redacted all questions about evolution from the exams, in order to respect religious sensitivities.
Unfortunately, it’s not a joke.
Here’s the article from the Sunday Times (paywall) which broke the story about exam board OCR removing questions about evolution from the science GCSE papers at Yesodey Hatorah Senior Girls’ School, a Jewish faith school in Hackney. And here’s a freely available summary of the story from the BBC.
One of the events contributing to the current media and political fury over the evils of social networks and internet trolls has been the death of Hannah Smith, a Leicester teenager who committed suicide after apparently being bullied on Ask.fm.