After the party

I’ve seen quite a few friends (and opponents) leaving the party over the last day or so, generally people who have a more anti-Corbyn or party right perspective than me. On a personal level, it’s really sad to see.

Their legit complaints about anti-Semitism, majoritarian bullying and so forth should have been listened to long ago.

I don’t want anyone to leave, and I think us having developed a traditionalist left which can’t tolerate any level of success for any other part of the Party, but which also effectively has a power monopoly going forward, has made that very difficult.

But why be selective? I also want people from a broadly ‘Blairite’ perspective to have a clear understanding that they’ve also contributed to getting us here.

Their politics are a form of Labour and deserve some sort of future. However, the folks at Progress alongside their journo and PLP allies gambled very hard and lost. They lost because they mischaracterised the left as invalid, badly organised, and with some irony, as without any social weight. They also lost because they overrated their own public appeal and lacked humbleness.

They had gambled over allowing random members of the public to vote for our leaders, and over the 2016 leadership election – a terrible play which dragged other parts of the party in even if they thought it was a crap idea. And it was.

If ‘third way politics’ had its day again in public opinion, they still couldn’t get it through the Labour Party firstly because it is now effectively locked, and secondly because there is no bridge between their politics and the rest of social democracy. I can understand why they feel there’s not really any hope here for what they believe. It’s like when they lost, all avenues to ever winning again were shut down.

I don’t want the same sort of party that Blairites do, straight up. I identify more with the policies of the left, and I am more happy with a member and union led party even when I disagree with fellow members.

But it’s sad to see many of these people leaving, because these people have dedicated big parts of their lives to the party and lost any connection to it, because some bits of sense they have talked have been ignored, and because we do need Nuneaton et al to vote for any type of Labour Party, whoever leads it.

Most powerful of all the factors from my point of view is the knowledge that people like me have absolutely no power or influence to fix this. Unless you are an insider who comes from a Momentum or trad left perspective, you’re in a minority that can’t nudge anyone to listen to you. Like Progress, I also can’t make it politically necessary for anyone to give a shit what I think as a member, because I don’t have 70,000 people on a factional mailing list.

Given that much of the Momentum left is emotionally motivated by blindly returning the trauma and caprice all of us from the broad left felt in the Blair years, and that nobody *has* to listen to people from different factions any more, all I can really do is hope that some of those members who do still matter are big enough to rise above the cycle, and listen just for a moment to what I’m saying here. Your voice still counts as a member where mine does not, so please pause for a second. So I guess this feels pathetic as well as sad. How uplifting for us all.

Brexit: voters deserve honesty

The worst line on the Brexit negotiating strategy is one shared by most Tories (including their front bench) and many lexiters.

This is the idea that we can have everything we want whilst accepting nothing our negotiating partners want.

We are in a process with at least two points of view involved, in which we have fewer cards to play because of our smaller economy and its level of dependency on trade and selling services.

1) Like us, the EU will act in their material interests rather than to give us a hand for no reason.

2) This means only mutually acceptable solutions or situations which come close can avoid us (or potentially both parties) ending up worse off.

3) The main difference is the power imbalance, as the EU economy is far larger and more diverse than ours, so we are down on leverage. It is in our interest therefore to lead the negotiation with constructive suggestions. Which means we need a model they may accept. Which probably means the four freedoms, in one form or another. This doesn’t have to mean losing all political influence, as it would potentially mean a new treaty.

If you want to honour the vote and this is not the strategy you prefer, it is better to just say you want out in all ways and will accept the costs imposed to industry as supply lines are broken, or trade becomes uncertain, and employment gaps begin to emerge.

If you want to honour the vote but aren’t happy with big costs and competitive disadvantage to British industry, it is much more honest to say you want out of the EU but will take a realistic economic solution than it is to make one up yourself which we all know is unlikely to succeed.

It’s high time people in Labour were more honest about this. The public get that we face a choice if we go ahead.

Show me an honest man, and I’ll show you a fool...
Show me an honest man, and I’ll show you a fool…

Enough voters are persuadable over soft Brexit models, especially with working examples, and it’s by far more likely to be better for Britain and industrial workers in particular. Like Labour’s struggle with the Thatcherite consensus, we also know that it will be impossible to win people over without making the argument. And if we were being more honest about what’s acceptable to both parties, it’s the argument we would have to make.

If leaving the EU, the ballot paper question, means Turkey or Norway are out as examples, those countries should by all rights be sending MEPs to Brussels. They are self-evidently not EU members and have a purely economic and cultural relationship. The fact this simple point is not made is also because of a vacuum left where Labour should be – at the front.

On a side note, the approach Labour are taking of mandating a government negotiating strategy by statute is a very strange one. It reminds me of the Brown years and the push at the time to simply make climate change and child poverty illegal. Again, we all know that this is not how negotiations work. As a party we are at risk of being seen to piss people about. In my mind at least, always better to just tell a difficult truth.

Right now looking at all of the major political parties I’m reminded of a story about the Cynic philosopher Diogenes. When asked why he was stalking Athens in an agitated fashion, never putting down his lamp despite the abundant sunlight, he replied that he was looking for something perhaps impossible to find: an honest man. Read anyone of note discussing Brexit strategy, and awareness sets in; the disillusion washes over. Soon, the lamp will run out of oil.

Young men and their bullshit

I’m sure a million people have had this thought, but it strikes me that half the developed world’s political challenges – from terrorism to the alt-right, Russian and Eastern European nationalism, urban gang culture, suicide rates – they revolve around the insecurities of young men.

One thing that is interesting about all these areas is how low a view the younger men involved have of themselves and the shared feeling that they have no place, ability to contribute, or change anything. Or in the case of 4chan users, no way to overcome crippling social and sexual inadequacy.

A lot of this is bound up in the expectations men have of a perhaps slightly imagined past, in which everybody was important but there were also privileged male roles, which gave young male lives a sense of prestige and importance. Unfortunately this is a long way from the reality of whole communities working fields or stuck down mines, the real history we are all descended from, but it’s the presentation of frames like this which matter, not accuracy. The very existence of liberalisation of the family and of feminism offer a way in to making vulnerable young men believe this stuff and return to the certainties of past glory, simply because a person who feels vulnerable will see this as the most obvious alternative to the instability in their own lives that social change may cause.

In the case of gang culture the opposite frame is used to exploit the same feeling, namely the pervasive idea that inequality and historic injustice in working class and BAME communities is impossible to escape, particularly if you don’t see yourself as ‘special’.

Both frames of argument have the effect of robbing young men of agency and power, cementing vulnerability, which is very much an intentional step in creating an extremist or a criminal.

People can say what they like about the likes of Jordan Peterson, but I don’t believe writing this feeling off and ignoring it is a good way forward, and people like him earn their success on the back of addressing it. As do all kinds of manipulators. Unfortunately for the left, practically every other social force (nationalism, organised crime, traditional conservatism, religious supremacists) have seen opportunity in the problem and sought to offer solutions to young male insecurity. On the left for some reason we often see this as in competition with feminism or other types of liberation politics, where in my view it’s a necessary part of protecting its structures and gains, simply in the sense that feminism, antiracism etc are movements that men should be secure enough to feel supportive of, or at least at ease with.

There’s a big and wholly legitimate list of social needs, like secure skilled jobs and some level of security of living, most obviously. Capitalism is failing monumentally in developed countries to provide young men with the opportunity for dignified labour or fair recompense, and the only reaction of the clueless bourgeois press is to sit around scratching its head wondering why younger people want to eat well and why they haven’t suddenly bought a car and pulled a house deposit out of their ass.

But as a leftist I churn that shite out every day. Insofar as men are concerned, part of this has to be about individual responsibility to find hope, strength, compassion; to make their own sense of place and to contribute. This is certainly true when things get as far as a young man needing to resist exploitation or manipulation – this is impossible without optimism, a critical mind, or a sense of pride in self. Any of this is obviously challenging if you don’t have a supportive family or if your social capital is poor, of course. Maybe that’s where the left needs to head, in terms of organising and in terms of policy. Young men and their bullshit are actually quite important, after all.

I probably don’t have the answers, in fairness. This post might as well just be the lyrics of YMCA.

The Labour right and how it got here

I’ve recently read this Jacobin article about the Labour right and its history, which is a good left critique, though it doesn’t dip too much into some of the bigger differences on issues of policy. That’s actually a welcome departure, as much material assessing the various splits of opinion between Labour’s traditions of thought and organisation seem to concentrate exclusively on that. As important as policy can be, it’s more important in my view that we talk about politics in terms of social and political forces, and in terms of schools of thought.

The reason I say this is that most of Labour’s membership is new, and in my experience a tremendous amount of it is very opinionated about Labour and its history, whilst simultaneously unengaged with it and thus very badly educated. I think in terms of bringing together the Labour Party of 2025, it is vital that this situation turns around, and that new members in particular have a better understanding of (and greater respect for) what they have joined.

Another key thing of interest for ten years hence will be the right of the party and where it goes. God knows, those of us coming from an Open Labour perspective have plenty of problems of our own, mostly to do with a lack of finance and organisation impeding our ability to speak out and organise. But I can write about that another time.

I have a lot of respect for the Labour right, and particularly the older social democratic right, very much along the lines of the Jacobin article. Even the Blairites are responsible for some big gains for working class people, and I prefer their lines on constitutional reform and Europe to those of the old right. In other words, both have had things to offer, and as a stronger socialist myself, as long as I am not denied mine, both have a place in my party. But they are difficult neighbours, and my god, they are bad at taking care of themselves.

A lot of the Labour right can be highly invested in anti-intellectual ‘get on the doorstep’ ‘practical’ type culture (what Marxists loosely term ‘workerism‘, in a social democratic sense). In my view this is based on a stereotyping of working people as not engaged in debate and as uneducated, which is bollocks, but that’s also an argument for another day. What it means is that only some strands of thought on Labour’s right flank are into thinking, mostly around Progress and the Fabians. Even then, it seems that introspection is particularly steered around.

Personally, I’ve always felt that it’s good to learn and develop, good to know yourself. But I think that’s particularly true when you are in the shit.

The party right often make it very difficult to have any sympathy with them, basically because both of its wings seem very set on not evolving. Labour first has made big strands in making a jump from being a semi-secret organisation into the open light, and started organising, which is commendable. They are ahead of us in the soft left and have raised money for it well. But it’s a bit cosmetic, and the numbers are very simple, and if we are to have a Labour party which represents a broad spectrum of democratic left opinion rather than two separate poles, then it’s the right which is going to have to do the bulk of the work on trust building, and the left which is going to have to do the bulk of the work on tolerance and inclusion. For the right in particular, there is no other way forward.

The problem is, they don’t see it this way at all. The solution is always to escalate conflict and never to evolve, coexist or compromise. When the numbers aren’t there, change the rules, boot someone, administrate the problem away. I say when you are outnumbered, escalating big open conflicts is exactly what you want to avoid – it’s a trap. And don’t bother thinking you will rescue everything with some NEC vote, because you’re still ignoring the numbers problem and your dying roots as it gets worse for you.

What holds both parts of the party right back is about both attitudes and policies. Their approach to both of these issues has built a long and slow burning anger which has massively helped the left to organise. As someone who experienced this for a long time as a party left, for over a decade pre-Corbyn, I have to say I think attitudes has been by far the biggest thing. One of Open Labour’s members, Charlie Mansell, has identified some very clear points about some massive historic own goals racked up by the Labour right whilst in office, which have effectively destroyed any trust in them.

– “Intensely comfortable”
– “You have nowhere else to go, you must back us”
– “You have to support everything that you feel is totally contrary to you values”

These are all messages those of us in the left or centre of Labour had to soak up for years. If you’re not one of the people on the recieving end, perhaps ponder for a moment how that feels?

I’ll add in some of my own:
– “Outvote us and we’ll ignore  you, or abolish this”
– “Unions. Vested interests.”
– “Politics is about MPs and media, not you or your life”
– “Party members should deliver our leaflets but don’t actually matter”

Most of these are a bourgeois way of saying ‘fuck you’. To even bother implying them in a magazine or from a platform is an insult to intelligence.

This is was sometimes done to deliberately provoke a reaction, which not only tells us that nurses and checkout staff are to be used as pawns in stupid speeches, but more importantly what the emotional climate has been like between people who identify with factions or schools of thought inside Labour.

Taken together, the attitudes above and their replication in GCs across the country gives a picture of a wider macho political culture, and a right in power which acted a bit like an abusive partner. If you were outside them, they still wanted rights to what your labours and affections, but the condition was that they wanted total control over you, would never acknowledge your concerns or motivations, and wouldn’t under any circumstances give back what you put in.

These outlooks and behaviours on the Labour right were (and continue to be) the most potent mobiliser of people on both the soft left and the hard left of the party. If you’ve bought into them before, bury them now. For years such interventions have bound a lot of people from the dead centre of the party spectrum to the same critique as the broad left – they are unifying points, because simply put, nobody likes a bastard.

Miliband voters came from the centre right through to the hard left, and were able to organise behind the same change of direction. This radicalised significantly in 2015 as austerity tightened, and despite the bleatings of some of the right that Ed was to blame, I can say with confidence that 9/10ths of Corbyn’s success in internal politics was actually caused indirectly by them. Even a substantial number of people who voted for David Miliband then voted for Corbyn. But two years on, I have seen incredibly few attempts to actually deal with this – it seems to only happen at Labour Vision.

The Labour right is in a dodgy state politically. There are obviously strategic and policy goals to work out. You need to get organised, but what for? What do you want the country to look like? What do you expect from the Labour Party? What do you positively offer to either of them? How will you win enough people over, and who the hell are they?

But it’s about behaviours more than beliefs.

It’s simply a mathematical and historic fact to say that you have no alternative to a total rethink regarding attitudes and political culture. Personally speaking, I think policy can wait. It starts with respecting people who differ from you – remembering that they also need to trust, and that they are also politically diverse. How you get to that position will be everything.

I was a teenage communist

The 100 year anniversary of the October revolution is a strange one for someone who developed their political opinions as a Communist. I remember learning about the revolution in school and, unlike almost all of my classmates, being totally inspired. Though I never joined any Communist party, by late teenage years I was fully signed up on the revolution and the great historical movement I felt it represented. Though I suppose at that age, and particularly as someone who was very much into the punk scene, I was never going to pledge my loyalty to someone else’s views. Which is funny – I routinely have to do this as a Labour Councillor. Which feels a lot safer.

At 32 now, I am just about old enough to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet collapse. But to someone ten years older than me, the idea that ‘any system which had to wall people in must be a bit fucked’ would have been a lot more obvious. Instead my only concentration was really on the failures of various types of conservative thinking. At 16 I was not formed, but I grew up in the North East, a proud but badly hit part of the world. With my family had I moved to Woking at a couple of years beforehand, and I had said goodbye to that part of the world.

As well as disliking aristocracy and hating Fascist-like-stuff, I disliked how unequally people had been treated between and within parts of my own country, and I was decidedly anti-capitalist.

I couldn’t get my head around how people in a single lifetime could accumulate thousands of times more stuff, thousands of times more power over others, or such a greater opportunity to do well in life than someone else. I also couldn’t get why it was ever right for those things to be inherited if it was about working for it. I couldn’t justify how ancient traditions or polite legalities justified any of it. Whether times were good or bad, it couldn’t be meritocratic and it didn’t give people a chance. It certainly hadn’t in 90s Newcastle, and that was pretty clear all round.

So I knew what I was against. The gaps filled quickly.

To me at 16, the October revolution represented the death of a system which literally starved millions in order to preserve class privilege – a system which had to be dragged kicking and screaming even to abandon serfdom, the practice of tying peasants to land as a form of indentured servitude.

It also represented the birth in the largest country in the world of a new social and economic class that most of us now simply recognise as ‘normal people’ – people who work for a living. For most of the revolutionary process, these people had been joined with middle-class liberal business owners and professionals in a struggle to overthrow a regime which hadn’t even allowed free speech or elections.

When the ‘progressive middle classes’ used this platform to continue to force starvation wages and conscription for a murderous and needless world war, it was clear that only a different type of democracy could triumph – these people too had become oppressors and defenders of something profoundly backwards.

But the new democracy never really came to be – again, the people who captured the state put their own protection first.

Realising this critique of the early soviet years and the direction it led to under Stalin gave me an interest in Trotskyism, but again the sects behind this line of thinking seemed even weirder and more out of touch than the official Communists, who themselves were totally out of touch with working class people’s lives and opinions – and modern history.

Despite the value in some of the left press’s reporting, you couldn’t even make arguments from the Morning Star in most pubs without getting the piss ripped out of you, let alone something from Socialist Appeal or Solidarity. Turns out loads of the publishing sects have covered up rape or sexual abuse too, which is obviously down to vile individuals, but facilitated by the secretive political cultures and power structures which would not have been alien to the Russian emigre exiles of the 1910s.

The revolution did lead to some clear historical victories, to the benefit of liberal democracies as well as for Communists. It is no coincidence that voters in liberal countries strongly favoured Communism over fascism before WWII, nor that this trend continues in modern Britain, even expressing itself among Tory voters.

It’s worth wondering, without the Bolsheviks, whether the revolution could have survived – would any of the other parties have managed to protect it against the well organised and financed White Russians, or their international allies including Britain, 14 of whom invaded the country?

Consequently, would Hitler would have been defeated with no USSR, no partisans? Would Fascism have taken over Europe before then with no Spanish volunteers? Would social democracy would have succeeded in the post-war West? Would China would have remained a feudal society, and would the imperial subjects of the world now be free from colonial rule? All of these look unlikely.

We can wonder whether we would have gone to space. Remembering in particular that long before Stalin banned homosexuality, it had been legalised under Lenin… that the Male pale and stale USSR financed anti-racist and anti-colonial projects around the world, and mandated workplace equality for women… we also have to wonder whether feminists, black activists and LGBT people would have had a tougher struggle without being able to point to these examples.


Most fundamentally of all, the USSR collapsed, and for good reasons, some of which took decades to play out. The truth became fiction in what passed for political debate. Famines, judicial murder and mass killings spent a couple of decades becoming normalised, before being buried by the secret state, backed up by waves of surveillance and censorship. The country along with its vassals and allies fell victim to the economic and cultural stagnation inherent to statist centralism. People overall felt they had no control over the system or stake in it. And on all levels, it eventually collapsed in.

In doing so, it destroyed Soviet countries societies and economies, and discredited the whole left internationally for at least 3 decades – something which had sold itself as the biggest step forward left us only with the biggest step back. A true believer will always blame the wolves of the West for post-Soviet hardship and the drubbing of the wider left – and then politely rub their hands when you point out it was their system which collapsed, or which mutated before, yes – collapsing.

This is something I’m glad to have recognised by the time I turn 20 – I know quite a few for whom this didn’t really register.

So many of the drawbacks and costs of the Soviet Union and the Bolshevik legacy were totally unnecessary, even in the conditions of its under-developed civil society and economy, and some powerful external threats. Basic civil rights, aspects of multi-party democracy, and some level of economic autonomy were all things which could have been afforded without placing the gains of the October revolution in danger. It was not external threats which brought down the Soviet Union, but its own internal contradictions and the fact that so few people ended up left with much to support about it continuing. After all, they had been shut out from governing or steering it for decades.

At the end of the day, it’s better when anyone in power has to have majority opinion on side, even if it means limits and compromises. For the left it is an essential.

By this time I realised this I’d also had a near miss in a workplace safety incident and I joined a union not long after. I started to think about politics in terms of mainstream beliefs and every day life. The Iraq war was now raging without much justification, and thousands of civilians were needlessly dying. Real world shit.

My increasing distance from Communism and ‘abstract academic politics’ generally was settled by my second year of uni, and unlike many who left over Iraq, the war meant that I felt a burning need to get into Labour and turn it around.

I see nothing wrong with political intellectuals, but ‘adult me’ only really sees a point in that when it is realistic and applied. People need reasons but ultimately what you do matters more than what you think or say. As the years went, I stopped even caring about foreign policy as much, compared to what I know I can affect closer to home.

But, 1917 swirls around us. There are those in politics who are unable to imagine a left not based in some kind of past experiences, especially in an era which has been a bit uncontested and boring, in which our opponents have dominated even our own movement. But unless checked with an ear for real lived experiences, this outlook can make it difficult to tell past failures failures from successes, or to engage with how political and economic forces have changed or re-aligned.

Ironically, this kind of ‘trad left’ disposition was part of what drove the latter years of Soviet failure. Whilst ‘horseshoe theory’ is bollocks (and an aid to both the alt-right and Holocaust revisionists), there is no need to base any modern political outlook on Soviet templates, nor to deny Soviet crimes, or try to find prestige in its widely discredited name. Outside of the far left, there isn’t any.

The democratic left allying with Communists has been important to past campaigns, from the Bevanites supporting the Spanish Republican war drive through to anti-Apartheid and the Poll Tax. But whilst it’s useful to strike together, there is only cost without benefit when it comes to sharing a marching banner. As memory of the Soviet Union fades with its shit cars, bans on rock music and its elderly male wardens, nostalgia or apologetics are no more useful, but they are asserted with growing confidence.

And sure, the soviet system had progressive achievements, and there is nothing wrong with admitting this (as I have above). But so did Victorian capitalism. Who cares? The point is that it is not a useful blueprint.

Some of the USSR’s problems and flaws were only fully apparent by the late 1960s or mid 70s, but all of them had common roots in 1917, which removed the need for participation or popular consent, both of which were actively suppressed by the mid-1920s. For socialists living in modern western-style democracies the long-burn lessons of the Soviet Union’s collapse (and how some of us reacted) should seem obvious.

  • There’s no point in a left which isn’t about winning or majority support, or which depends on shutting down basic freedoms.
  • Mainstream class politics with wide backing trumps small sects and cults – rarely indeed do the two meet.
  • Debates within the left should be honest, open and transparent. Internal politics should be seriously contested.
  • The broad left itself is a coalition of different voices and class forces. Usually they can coexist, and when politically diverse parts of the left and centre-left have reason to throw their lot together with organised workers, the common project is stronger.
  • Not everything in politics is about the economic base even for many Marxists. We’ve evolved a complex and political culture as well as a very politically and economically diverse class system. People expect outreach and participation.
  • Groups are oppressed in capitalism for reasons not directly about class.
  • The right dominates culture, and we must challenge this to win any control.
  • We can’t run an economy without international trade or demand-led production, or people have no stake in economic success. It will rely on inflation, and then shut down as quick as a Cuban railway system. Nor can we capitulate to the right as many 90s centre-lefts did, outsourcing politics to market competition, when private interests also don’t give people a stake in success, especially when private productivity stalls, we lack national leadership and we have weak unions . This is really the key point behind the modern left’s existence, but tensions with the need for global trade define our challenges.
  • Public good trumps private good. But political systems need reasons to act accordingly. Public ownership needs to have tangible benefits for control and reward to workers and customers, as well as having a strategic role for the state. Without these, we might as well let someone else take financial risks, private or mutual, and mitigate resulting social risks. Likewise, one of the early successes of the USSR was the NEP. Makes sense. Centralist production in the USSR often failed to meet basic need and fell over completely when consumer goods were needed. Does anyone really need nationalised rationing of telephone handsets?
  • Art, science, journalism, politics. Let people express themselves.
  • Modernity and fluidity fights stagnation and has intrinsic value, not least in the era of global warming, ageing societies, and mass migration. Stagnant politics which resists change is bad news for humans. Ease up and don’t create brittle political systems. If they are popular enough to defend, and can also adapt, they will survive.
  • Our international alliances should encourage peace as a primary goal, but let’s demand policies of economic and social liberation from our allies instead of ‘uncritical support’ type ‘anti-imperialism’. The Cold War set low standards for everyone involved and meant that internationalism for the Svoiet state was not always about greater autonomy for working people. Why continue?
  • We need to organise ourselves, find allies, and be rooted in the present.

These opinions are as compatible with much of Marxism as they are with social democracy and the centre left. There is no reason not to share a basic platform, when it comes to learning from Soviet shortcomings. But admittedly, they have less to say to the developing world generally, and especially in formally Communist states. What people like me say cannot matter there.

100 years on, the legacy of 1917 is a long way from clear, particularly with the international rise of China and similar states such as Vietnam, as well as the stagnation and isolation of post-Soviet Russia. The revolution trickles down as finance in huge engineering projects, private investments in capitalist markets across the globe, and military geopolitics between great powers – a hilarious historical irony.

Despite the failure of the soviets and of western Communist Parties, parts of Marxism still inspire me. Marx took economics, relationships between ‘things’, and made clear that it is really about relationships between people. His work made clear that this can be expressed in formal politics, latent ideologies, or simply going to work. In doing so, he showed us the poverty of high-minded moral philosophy or epistemology when it ignores the importance everyday experience, overlooks power and society, and does not produce social change.

And it is not just about economics, because everyday life and political being is about culture too. Marxists like Eric Hobsbawm or Stuart Hall, both of the Gramscian tradition, are invaluable to helping leftists understand the realism of a world which jarrs with our outlooks, and also the advanced strategies of our well financed modern opponents in liberal democracies – the so called ‘war of position’. But despite the Leninist origins of their thought, it is precisely the steps which they take beyond Leninism which release their value.

The Russian revolution and the society it gave birth to fundamentally gives shape to the context of post-Soviet Marxism, but vastly more importantly shapes politics in every aspect of the modern world. As a result of its ignominious conclusion in Russia and the Eastern bloc, the workers movement which was rising before 1917 all over the world has long been in need of adaption and recovery.

The above bullet points should be clear enough to people on the left in Europe and the Americas. In the world as it is now, if we are to have a transformative left, it must be an open one.

Freedom of conscience and Muslim women – the illogic of it all

People who want to ban the veil are interesting, not least because many of them argue that they wish to do this not because they are specifically Islamophobic or sexist, but because they are against compulsion and they believe this to be rife. 

This is, of course, despite women wearing the veil when out on their own and free of their fellers, for example. And what seems to be a general lack of an evidence base for an assumption we are all supposed to unquestioningly accept.

Given that the proposed remedy can include fines, prosecution or deprivation of liberty, I’m often surprised when normally sober minded people are willing to propose things which impact so fundamentally on people’s lives when their working seems to be based more on hunches, preconceptions or anecdotes than any serious or credible stats or research I am aware of.

The choice of ‘remedy’ (or less charitably put, the means of coercion) selected by proponents to be used by the state to ‘save’ Muslim women is also interesting. It is curious that they propose a law which targets the women they argue are the victims, rather than proposing a law against religious compulsion, for example.

The subject matter also seems a strange choice. In Islam and Judaism, in fact males are circumcised at an age when they are far young to be able to meaningfully consent. I’ll leave the ethics of that practice open, but put into comparison, it makes a proposal targeting of adult women who may well be out and about on their own all the more difficult to explain or fathom. How can you target this on the basis of religious compulsion whilst the practice of circumcision goes unexamined? 

The most obvious answer I can reach to explain this question is that it would also affect Jewish communities. Perhaps a measure which restricts faiths other than Islam is less acceptable to argue for in the polite company of our media and political circles?

The same argument also seems to apply to calls to ‘ban Sharia courts’, where (anecdotally of course) the similar practice of the Beth Din does not seem to get the same level of attention. 

Firstly, again it seems that some find religious freedom an issue of little concern unless said freedom of conscience and action is used by Muslims. 

Secondly, in the case of Sharia courts, much of their function concerns the legal administration of Islamic finance. Can proponents of banning them imagine the level of financial difficulty and restriction this would then place upon people seeking to follow Islamic principles? Again, this would amount to a massively unforeseen restriction of liberty which, again, starts with denying religious choice – but also then ends up highly restricting financial freedom for individuals.

Thirdly, why do people who want to buy them believe that Muslim women are uniquely defenceless? Like any other contract in English law, decisions to enter contractual decisions like marriage or divorce in either a Beth Din or a Sharia court are subject to the protections of English contract law. This means that if there is evidence of duress which looks more probable than not, then the Sharia arrangement becomes non-actionable as a voluntary contract under law.

Are women more likely to be under duress than if they enter a Beth Din? Are they more likely to be under duress than if they enter any other kind of contract under English law? Would it be uniquely difficult to evidence this across a substantial number of cases? I see no evidence to support any of these three assumptions.

I see little evidence to suggest that there is a hugely widespread problem of compulsion in dress. I don’t discount it, but I’m not the one who has reached conclusions about the matter.

I see little evidence that Muslim women have unique problems compared to a Jewish women in some highly analogous situations, but I have a lot of experience of a ‘Muslim issues’ being raised by non-Muslims in a way which really doesn’t appear to happen if it would mean imposing restrictive rules affecting Jewish women.

Last of all, if all these issues are about male compulsion, I see little evidence or logic which suggests that it should be the women who bear the brunt of legal restrictions to their religious practices, or punishment measures.

It seems therefore that ere is very little about this which I can logically understand.

Unless of course we have some sort of problem with Muslims and Muslim women among polite commentators in this country, perhaps one which sits more quietly alongside he open tabloid racism and islamophobia to which they are routinely subjected. Perhaps one in which many well intentioned and intelligent people actually have some pretty bad underlying prejudices about people of one select faith which they haven’t really taken the time to examine or challenge. Perhaps because this stuff doesn’t affect their own financial situation, cultural heritage, or freedom to dress how they like, they don’t rate freedom of conscience and religion with other freedoms they are more used to using. I dunno.

I really wouldn’t want any of that to be true, you know. If it was true of course, all of the logic-free arguments above would suddenly start to make sense in a way that they otherwise don’t.

In a smart and tolerant country like ours, with principled and equally applied liberal freedoms, our enlightened chattering classes – having underlying horrors like this to acknowledge… well that really would be a shame, wouldn’t it?

By the way. Before I’m accused of simply dismissing everyone as a massive racist. The point I’m making here is not about blame or trying to exclude or dismiss you. It’s just that I’ve yet to see a case made that the only people who can have prejudiced views also believe these views to be prejudiced when they argue them. Pretty likely then that a lot of people with some prejudiced views are well intentioned and just not critical or open-minded enough, isn’t it. We have problems with faith and ethnicity based bigotry at the moment, not least the scourge of anti-Semitism. 

Muslims in particular take a lot of shit in the press these days. It’s not a competition, but I cannot deny that this is generally at a volume and level of viciousness viciousness which other groups don’t suffer. 

The voices of the affected communities, insofar as they get attention at all, are often those of men from community groups, or male religious leaders, with Muslim women not getting the hearing they deserve, in my opinion. 

If you’re not a Muslim woman it might be worth thinking about whether your views of veils and Islamic marriages is influenced more by this than you are influenced by Muslim women themselves.

Trident is weird

Jeremy Corbyn had a good night in this evening’s debate, but had a really tough time over Trident, where he refused to commit to retaliatory use. Tough gig.

Cards on the table, I am against Trident and Britain keeping nukes, an indefensible use of public money in my opinion. I’m coming at this from the point of view of being disappointed that they even exist so long after the cold war, which doesn’t seem very modern, and doubting the honesty of many self-declared multilateralists about changing that. I know my union won’t be happy.

This hasn’t always been my view, and from a Labour point of view I also think if the public rate them or want Labour to keep them (not the same thing), we are right to concede to renewing. My views aren’t always popular, and besides, this is party policy. If we go down this line though, what would be the point in having them but not putting a serious retaliatory threat behind it, or stepping away from NATO’s involvement in this?

I’m pleasing no-one here, am I. At least my union will be happy.

But Trident is weird, in its emotiveness. It’s fully understandable that something so awful gets an emotional reaction. But the fact that the emotive side of the Trident argument is all about some quite distant hypothetical scenarios which in reality would generally result in nothing nuclear happening, even if we were stupid enough to get into them.

Mutually assured destruction works as a deterrent and prevents nuclear war. The whole point is that the ability to use them means you don’t get into that situation without first strike, so people who argue for saying we should be prepared to use trident in retaliation should actually be seen as arguing we would never to have to. An acceptable reason to have nukes.

Not having nuclear weapons has been shown to be pretty much comparable in terms of results and also gets you ‘not nuclear bombed’. There’s no strategic incentive. You can’t get much out of occupying or exploiting a destroyed or irradiated country, so the real danger is becoming a third party to someone else’s nuclear conflict. People who favour nuclear disarmament should also be seen as arguing we should never really need to use nukes. An acceptable reason to go without nukes.

Despite opposing Trident I can admit that both logics work and that both are motivated by achieving safety.

More broadly I think there are good enough arguments from many angles of Trident for me to be convinced that our country can manage defence and avoid any kind of nuclear annihilation with it or without it. I think therefore that the real and usually ignored issue is actually mostly an argument about public spending and employment, or wider foreign policy issues such as power projection and the role it plays in modern strategy.

Given this, I’m not very susceptible to the emotional arguments which suggest that millions of humans here or elsewhere will shortly all be vaporised because Britain has nuclear weapons/no longer has nuclear weapons. In reality, we are not going to get drawn into using them either way, are we?

Despite the power of these things and the polarity of the debate, it doesn’t really matter all that much unless we are talking about public spending, skilled jobs, or much wider geopolitical strategy. It definitely shouldn’t be the shibboleth it gets made out to be, and in any event, if you’re going to get angry about something, it might as well be something more immediate and relevant to your life, closer to home. Call me parochial but I’m more worried about whether kids are going hungry.

Thoughts on Labour’s manifesto

1. Not bad at all – quite forward looking with minimal hard leftism.

2. Beautifully designed. Really fantastic.

3. Should have had detail on costing each policy.

4. Disappointed not to see tougher lines on crime and ASB, and a plan for tackling violent extremism.

5. Could have done with more on local government and a bolder line on Federalism and England.

6. Best line available on Europe.

7. If we are keeping the benefit cap, that’s very weird, and in my opinion pretty right-wing.

8. Needs more slogans and catchphrases, especially re. 6 above. More generally, framing and targeting around the manifesto is completely lacking because there is no political strategy, so it’s not based on who we want to win. That’s a big flaw.

Politics does not equal policy

Some Corbyn backers on the left of the Labour Party are losing optimism fast. Hope is of course necessary, but I’d argue that a bit of intellectual pessimism is always healthy anyway, myself.

Some of those I’ve witnessed on social media are manning the defences, making the perhaps valid argument that “it’s not the policies” which are costing Labour support. I’ve found that a predictable but still ‘difficult to understand’ reaction, because most people outside party politics wouldn’t even think that’s an argument worth considering either way. I’m not saying policies don’t matter, but people don’t literally sit down and read manifestos, do they?

Politics is about all sorts of emotional stuff. Whether people feel you are on their side. Whether they feel that you could stick up for them competently. Whether they feel you could make deal, and then whether you could negotiate well. Whether they feel you can get others behind you, or manage well. That’s just the personal stuff, before you even get onto what people think of political parties.

Example: if you mess up how you pay for a policy, to many people that says a lot more about you and whether you deserve support than the actual policy itself.

Then you have how these things come through our own personal histories, ways of explaining things, media and leisure choices, our local areas, and experience of the world – what we might politically call ‘culture’. In addition to our emotions, which are important and powerful, there is plenty of intellectual stuff which isn’t conscious or examined – a normal part of life. Like, for example, which assumptions affect our judgement of the facts we are given when we think about something political. “It says here someone was claiming benefits – what do I already think of that?”.

The fact that anyone would ever simply assumes that the debate about Labour and its leadership is a debate solely or mostly about policy only shows how unusual – well, weird – people active in politics tend to be.

Policies matter, but they don’t stand alone, and are only part of the picture.

Tony Benn famously said that politics is about policies, not personalities. It would be a lot more fair to say that it should be. But of course, really it’s about both, and plenty more.

Update: what could really say it better?

Understanding the ‘ethical split’

I am increasingly captivated by accessible bits of writing about social psychology, perhaps because I think it is key to rebooting the political strategy Labour has really lacked since 2010. It can be the bridge between pretentious articles such as this one, and the pub-type situation that I always end up on relying on to symbolise non-metropolitan England. It’s about what people care about and how we talk to them. Forget about policies for a minute – I think these are actually the big things that Labour is missing.

At present the left arrives in ever more consensus based positions on areas of economic policy and the like, but I think that we are living with the legacy of a very big gap where political strategy is supposed to go. Successive Labour leaders since Tony Blair have engaged with the concept of political strategy less and less, despite knowing that most of the people in the country are actually quite different to us and don’t support us. It seems moves to the left for some reason come with more emphasis on policy rights and wrongs and less on politically getting there. I’m increasingly persuaded by the view that this is to do with what people from the top to the bottom of the Labour Party, ‘pioneers’, value.


I have some sympathy with Charlie Mansell’s argument that this is basically where the new split in politics resides – between people who value ethical certainty and people who value ethical complexity. I certainly think this is true within the organised left, which is dominated by ‘pioneer’ personality types – people who are concerned with change and ethics.

There seem to be two types of ethically driven people:

The ethically certain tend to be looking for ways that they can express themselves and act in accordance with ethical values that they are sure of. This ‘sureness’ is something they actively seek, defining against threats and risks they also see as clear, and since they have often achieved the sureness, what is left is to express. Certainty and expression are valued as part of defining the self and one’s place in the world, and as a clear defence against the ethical challenges it presents. This is perceived by some as a pessimistic emotional approach. People with this disposition are often at a loss as to why others don’t take positions which are clear, stand up for themselves, or ‘say what they mean’. They can seem overly sure of themselves, dismissive, or overbearing.

The ethically complex tend to lean more towards how ethics are used, what they are applied to, what results. They are invested in the power of ethics to change and improve situations. They feel that to be used to full effect, ethical frameworks must be designed with the full complexity of their environment to mind, firstly because this makes best use of opportunities, secondly because if ethics are well designed then they cope better with risks. It’s optimistic and about getting the most out of one’s ethics. Complexity and producing better results are valued, and being able to admit that you don’t know everything or are unsure is simply seen as more honest and useful – optimism is found amidst relative chaos. People with this disposition are often at a loss to understand why complexity, nuance or qualification in ideas often meets such strong rejection from many others. They can seem detached, aloof, and sometimes indecisive.

This is not to say that:
1) one of these positions is more ‘right’ than the other
2) the two cannot be allies of each other or complementary.

However it is a clear divergence of outlook – and in my view one which increasingly characterises the rift in the left. And in the internet age, both types seem to have decreasing tolerance for one another.

The basis for all of this is in Maslow’s categorisation of social-psychological needs, by the way, potentially with some borrowing from Carl Jung I think.