Just Jeremy : between a miliband pledge rock and a hard left place

Politics

Just Jeremey

Image result for jeremy and miliband

Credit ITN

People do not believe ideas they believe in the people who hold the ideas. The kind of politics which has gripped labour will remain long after Jeremy has gone. We are party with a crisis of identity with infighting built on cults of personality. Labour must become a party  uncomfortable with disagreeing with  itself and comfortable with agreeing with country. Maybe one strong enough to disagree with the country and change its mind. Cultivating a successful personality has been key to Corbyn’s internal rise and it will be centrals to labours electoral demise. Jeremy will preside over a failure not simply because of his public perception but that his perception is within the narrative of  an opponent’s story.  Sadly the greater defeats we are to  have are much bigger than Jeremy.

If labour replaces Corbyn and fails to create its own narrative it will fail. The stories we have to tell the public – to hold their attention can’t be Blairism with a meme or Corbynism with a gif . It can’t be cultivated by our media silence our political naivety. A combination of a fast changing media landscape, have changed the game whilst the political realties and challenges are enormous . We need clarity of viewpoints and generality of sentiment.; messages which capture the zeitgeist but that is not beholden to it, that massages nostalgia but does not falsely indulge it. People need to know what we stand for what we are going to do and believe that its possible ; for that we need ideas, a leader and a story to combine which combines them both.

Obsessed by the question of leadership

All throughout the labour membership we have indulged in factionalism built around mythology and conjecture of senior political figures. Ideas and issues are expressed in a deeply embedded personality politics. Simply understood this is the presidentialisation of politics but its expression on the British left is more complex. Presidential leaderships styles aren’t unusual ,what’s problematic is when they arise when factionalism is strong and  leaders are weak. So in this particular environment of strong belief and leaderlessness , Jeremy was a shocking but not surprising champion. He was the right man at the right time, calm and angry in equal measure. But unlike other president-style leaders -Jeremys weakness and the  weakness of party organisation –there is a constant undercurrent of candidates and critics . Internal politics moves less like factions vying for influence and policy positions  and more like a never-ending  uncontested convention. In the past two years  criticism has been more focused on different  people not different ideas .

Jeremy would say they are “obsessed by question of leadership”. The media alongside charismatic politicians have exaggerated personality as division not ideas for their own advantages. This isn’t new but digital media, virality and social media accentuates the theatrics. The media enjoys the simplicity of it, clear-cut division and the ratings/clicks it brings. Partisanship has found comfort not in the obvious ideological division but in hyper personality. This poses significant challenge for a Labour party, lost inside itself. One that’s obsessed  not in its values for a modern world but in its figurehead and its inability to reconcile leadership and ideological crisis .

Now it’s about people as ideas rather than the  ideas of people .This is key to Corbyn’s internal success and public failure. OMOV dysregulated the mechanisms that power brokers in the labour party had for checking voters leftist tendencies and narrowing the field.  Corbyn’s success isn’t the pity nominations and luck ,but it was strong pre-existing  ideological partisanship .There was a large number of partisans who were revelling in division, seeking purity .But more importantly is that these people aren’t just ideologues they had attached themselves to the Corbyn personality. In response those on centre and soft left have left to seek their own champions .Failing to create their own ideas or narratives but hoping in the empty whispers of Nandy or Kinnock or whoever wrote the most recent op-ed .Our wilderness is not rival socialist newspapers and men in donkey jackets.  It’s our politics lost insides the conceptions of a few people about political figures.

Labour members are fundamentally different from the rest of the public. More so than at any other time do they make up such a small sector of the population. They are less a reflection of the labour base more its fringe .They are significantly  more left wing more  liberal   more politically engaged. They consume narrow media  and have narrow social circles – politics rather than a 5 yearly event is  a moralist sentiment a strand of identity. This  aspect of politics as part of internet culture – is probably a refection of individualisation  on culture. Demographic and political labels are deeply intertwined, like sociology as one of incarnations of the trinity. This is a combination of the mainstreaming of radical identity politics into the left-wing mainstream and added societal atomisation. Hence members, conceptualise party loyalty to individual narrow markers of social justice. This can make arguments deeply personal.

Though understating all of this. The X-Factorisation of politics, the echo chambers of social media the deeply held views of members; I’m still surprised we are at this point . You have varying political traditions shaky institutions and alternative fact permeating access to information. The twitter arguments, the trolling, memes become murkier. Somehow we end up with bricks in MPs offices, sexist taunts, racist abuse, booing journalists, petitionering and  anti-Semitism scandals. Or perhaps less obvious the conspicuous silence of pretend unity ;lies and obfuscation about future electoral performance and more time spent criticising the media than the government . And losses : MP’s, Councillors ,Mayors, communities , hearts and minds . But failure is either spun, rejoiced or its a shouting match about Corbyn between factions . Little thought of polices which are only ghosts in the minds of Labour politicians , polices which haunt the lives of those who would have  been helped .

Stuck between a Miliband Pledge Rock and Hard left place

People believe their views, values and their leader is an ethical decision a personal one. It’s a paradoxical mix of identity politics and individualisation . We are no longer  a broad church and  worse still division is based on personality and its relation to ideas rather than policy and values in a wider context. For many arguments are extensions of how you conceive your identity, making it more than just a leader. This is something opponents of Corbyn failed to understand to their own Owen Smith shaped disaster. They not only failed to realise they were guilty of similar shortcomings of conception but failed to understand why it meant their arguments fail and candidates fail.

The leadership crisis has allowed the vacuum only to be filled by speculation into future leaders not future ideas. It’s meant that the party is stuck between a Miliband Pledge Rock and a Hard left place. Ideas are swinging between blindly positively polled and classical Corbynomics. I’m not suggesting the leaked draft manifesto is bad nor the 2015 manifesto .But people don’t read manifestos but they are symbol of the priorities .  Labour has lacked the emotional precepts needed to usher in change. They can’t frame peoples situations and put policy in there  context. Its not that ideas are bad its not that the public may think them silly .They just  don’t see them as credible or believable without any story for their necessity. And out the mouth of Jeremy – well I don’t need to explain that . These words may to us indignant in our opposition to tory failure seem facile but for voters they mean a lot.

We must be careful to avoid myths of a  prodigal Miliband returning  whilst “things can only get better” plays in the background. Or believe that a sexier Corbyn can turn everything around . These ideas are popular because many of us believe the problem is just Jeremy. They don’t understand the distance between members and the public, they don’t understand how to deal with personalised 24 news cycles, nor how to craft a politician who is credible but rooted more than a personality attuned to members but one for the country.

The next labour leader must be King Canute . They must understand they cannot change the tide, by simply commanding it. Though I stress the crafting of a message for how people consume media, it’s not just about media management.  I’m cautious of  the current landscape –  a preference for  polar personality rather than coalition building ideas . We can’t  save ourselves by snappy press releases or witty soundbites or kind by-lines, but a national story. One that builds and emboldens a new political coalition .Jeremy’s  failure can not be a Trojan horse for reheated blairism or bland centrism. It cannot be used as analgesic to swallow to wet soft left politics nor is it the ground for an electable Corbyn. Simply its not an excuse to shoe horn your politics but actually a time for labour to look out to the country .Labour has to reembrace a new country  distinct  from the politics its applied in the past. Political stories require clarity of belief and a sentiment to which people  can apply  their own pre-existing values . It’s not just about bland slogans but its about a message that someone can meaningfully apply if only briefly to their real lived lives and hopefully remember at the ballot box.

We must remove the solipsism which surrounds our factionalism. We must engage in our party’s problems but that reflection must not happen within the echo chamber of Labour party .We cannot sacrifice our chance  at power on the altar of a nice man from Islington nor pretend any future challenger has tendency  to the  godlike. We are in leadership crisis but that mustn’t mean that a leader is the only solution to that. We shouldn’t sorrow in our history or mythologise our challenges we should have clear principle not rigid ideology .Crucially we must  create a story that tells the British people  that thy deserve more than they get ,that life chances opportunities and  success should be more available to us . That there is an alternative , beyond austerity and in the misery of Brexit some grander future  is possible . And we might just create a clearing to escape out through the wilderness.
 

 

 

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No Change

Politics

nigel-farage-brexit-getty

There was a ‘Knutian’ tide of growth ,of change.

The State was only an actor in individualism ;liberator of the social and economic forces of our time. Except it wasn’t. It was a middle man; it sold personal liberty to external institutions. Everyone believed in everything less as there were less of an ‘everything’ as we were all individuals. Just customers, service user,consumers not citizens so less bound to believe in the institutions which used to define citizenry or community. So, facts from these institutions collapsed from view. The cultural notions broadly described as liberal were ascendant  and inexorably rose leaving some “left behind “.Traditional were once criticised and then left intellectually  unengaged  with. So many ideas were left to fester in more nefarious praxis. Whilst GDP’s grew  those tied to an older illiberal conception of society were muffled by what was seen as polite society. There was a delay ,then the system exploded.

The slogan of the force who have upset politics should be No Change. The acolyte of the resurgent right all exist in unique political and economic circumstances. The constellation of economic crisis ,institutional malaise ,perceived prioritisation of political correctness created a new political coalition across the western world. A rejection of, (neo)Liberalism.  Brought together by a fundamental distrust of social change – which is tied to a distrust of institutions seen as the propagators of change. Those who’d lost from the economic shifts of the 21st century whilst those more off resentful for a perceived decline of their own cultural attitudes on society structure banded together led by Maverick and Populists .

These new figure were a Ideologically a collection of the random bag of ideas floating on niche ultra right wing websites ;unsold books of conservative academics and  poorly subscribed to radios shows ad  blogs. They effectively harked to a non existent age. They blamed a a disparate group of people and  called them elite.They attacked an economic system (which had made these new often non-politicians wealthy and privileged ) they were going to barely change for those on the lower income scale of their own coalition .They stood merely for disruption but for those who were now petrified by change this was electorally exciting. In different cultural contexts this Populism this change  hated Muslims, Migrants,Women LGBT (often T)people  and other Minorities. These groups were connected also to economic forces of global capitalism and institutions seemed to be connected to both economic and social liberalism from the EU,to NAFTA, or Economists and Academia. Change was vague but for populist that was convenient as there was some aspect of liberal consensus post-2008 for everyone to hate .

For many people material reality caused a visceral response whipped up by bigots and their conspirators. Whilst those comfortable wanted to assert themselves in culture war – because they feared irrelevance driven by social change which diminished their cultural power. The populists created a coalition of the No-Changers, of the material and culturally bereft. And now they seek to change the tide which had ebbed and flowed for more than 30 years.

 

Just a Bloke

Gender, Politics

Gender is as complex as it is simple. There are clear rules on how to be a man and how not to be a man. If you fall foul of what the boundaries of being man are you are punished,chastised, bullied and vilified.Except the rules aren’t clear, you just need to believe they are.

Men hold power disproportionately and force themselves and others to contort into peculiar gender shapes. They are the gatekeeper of what is deemed socially acceptable . Men as a collective  execute social exclusion to men who fail to properly act out  masculinity. Pressure is unduly exerted on women and gender minorities to follow vague  yet specific rules . It can often be gentle social nudges . Sometimes called banter or parental/ professional correction. It’s school uniform saying who must wear what who distracts who;High heels at work  or accepting bullying language as part of normal conversation. The process of correcting and regulating gender is a nefarious and complex business . There is well documented evidence of how  insidious gender norms harm women and good  Feminist writers can describe it better than i can  . But all men and more acutely Queer Men and Trans + people deal with troubling exclusion .

Then it escalates: verbal abuse, online abuse, attacking visibly non-conforming people in the streets, its violence extended to “feminine” people as they are perceived as performing , gender incorrectly. Feminine trans people simply existing subjects them to abuse, as they exist outside of the boundary of gender expression set out by masculine men . As they fail to fit the male model. The policing of gender expression is forcing men and others to twist themselves into funny shapes

Masculinity is a cultural force which is effective at asserting the power imbalance between men women and others . Society is built mostly to empower  the sets of social characteristics predicated on traditional masculinity. Let alone the explicit social and economic punishments of caring role women are still expected to deal with. This imbalances allows Men stratified by race and class to succeed .The more you fit into masculine ideals the more likely you are to get on is the suggestion.

Yet,the same social norms which are enabling can be toxic. Men and women have similar rates of depression whilst it is men have higher suicide rates. Simplistically men unlike women aren’t encouraged to a talk ;are worse at social cues ;building informal networks or seeking professional help.  This is not that being bloke or manly are dangerous in and of itself ,  but that  the performance  of masculinity  must be so tightly choreographed  to hit peak social   inclusion as to nix the necessary  emotional exchanges needed to care for the self.  Caring for male peers or of the self fails to fit into the bloke you narrative and men punish themselves.

Chance and advertisers are deftly in tune to the glass house with the  stone trebuchet that is blokeiness. The advertisers know how to sell things by embossing black labels and thick font, using  bare breasts, and ironic gentlemanliness. They can sell products that queer men were shamed for  using as it was “feminine” as long as  some tits or a fast car are part of the marketing strategy .It’s not that some broadening of being a man that bothers me but tha t masculinity chooses its enemies and traps its own only to be wrestled by the fine hands of coke zero or Gillette triple strength . masculinity is toxic in that it punishes you by pretending the false lines are clear to understand .

Bloke is warm and comfortable  and its vital that you think that. The empowered want to convince you  the rules are easy to follow so as to convince themselves the moral values in punishing you for not following them. Being a man is easier as boundaries are pushed but if masculinity asserts itself as club with clear rules it punishes itself as there is little basis for those rules to exist .We should be wary of progressivism  wrapped in marketing techniques. Men and  women and everyone in between still twists and turns their body into the gender shapes.Whilst the horror of bigotry and depression circle masculinity we need to think about getting rid of the rules of being a bloke.

 

Falling in Love with Barack Obama

Politics

On the internet, you will find well-argued criticism of the former president. You will find liberals and conservatives using attack lines like the dogs in “lady and the tramp” sharing spaghetti. You will find cynical, critical and genuine commentary. You will find precision words and well documented citations to give perfectly balanced op-eds. You will find fake news. You will find an outpouring of human emotion which is only weakly reflected in written words. Here is one of the latter. This is not just a comment about the 44th president but it is a love letter.

The reality of Black President born in a country which was unified on compromises about the value of a black body is difficult. The role of America’s racial sins is made more obvious when a black figure is set amongst the white contrast of system built on racism. “I wake up every morning In house built by slaves” says Mrs Obama. All Americans wake up in country defined by that fact. To some blackness itself is inherently divisive. Inoffensive and obvious commentary about race is electrified when communicated through the mouth piece of Barack Obama. This is the privilege of his critics. His Blackness is inescapable, it’s dissected and deconstructed its metaphorically chewy. Few have their identity made as a factory template for discourse. In praise and in criticism Obama is rendered as just a symbol . Black president is an adduct, a caveat, it’s a point damned to be prefixed with a discursive marker . But symbols are everything, they  can’t truly be predicated with the word just . Humanity reveres in symbology its crucifixes, Golden arches and Presidents. Obama will now serve as a vast reference point of black identity. He enters the lexicon of everyone in the World to ascribe black male identity.

The very reality of his blackness was perhaps what sparked my adoration. His confident navigation of a world which was set up to watch him fail. The reverence in meandering through white spaces so successfully as to occupy not just a seat at the table but the seat of power. Barack was my political naissance, I was 12 years old and I was watching the inauguration like other 12 year old boys watch the world cup final.  He forced each person to grapple with the uncomfortableness of racial discourse just by entering a white space. For a brief second of time more,the clock of the American conscious was spent considering difference. It’s something so fundamentally inescapable, his model of being was folded into the  ruggae of my forming brain- into a multitudes of people’s  greater conceptualization of themselves . I can only imagine that sense of identity revealing itself to many young people in America. For those stuck in the silos of sociology it was nothing another day ,the same system a different face a darker one. Hyphenated America had found themselves a character even if not everyone was sure he was the protagonist – and I was perhaps in love.

He is an excellent story. An American story. He balances absurdity with genuine reality. Barack Obama is not only  a story but he is his own storyteller .American presidents are a reflection for the country of it best and its worst of its excesses and its limits. Barack Obama was the kind of country the US sought to be. To be hopeful . Obama was able to convince you he was like you, he was your friend, father, priest and lover. Some might call it pandering; I will call it what it is: representation.

The best politicians don’t reflect the times – they define them. A Born campaigner who became a steely pragmatist . He in the blink of an eye went from upstart swot to the president who made America ask questions of itself.  So much his ascendancy was that democrat’s vied to show their love of Obama in the 2016  debates. That liberals and progressives clutch on so tightly to every ex-president comment. He constructed a simple story ,politics lacks this too often, simplicity seems to only be in the hands of liars and racists. It was honest and you  wanted to believe ;there was authenticity which did not mean vulgarity, idealism which did not mean fallacious it was an excellent story

His wholesomeness was sickening to critics.The lanky kid from Waikiki ,had given the political oral  tradition what Aretha Franklin gave to soul .His greatest flaw was his ability to make him trust you or to trust fallible institutions. His weakness was not just his own his sometimes faulty centrism or hawkishness but that institutions he relied on did not hope. HThe spiriting narrative could not muster a true rebuild of institutions holding back progress. Perhaps mostly( as unrealised by his acolytes) he believed those fallible institutes more than he suggested in catchphrases.

When partisans read the audacity of hope they stopped after the first word. Some accuse him of believing his own hype -too naively accepting his simplest campaign pronouncements- reality was that  he is guilty of a worse crime not believing in them enough.It wasn’t  the hoping .It was the silent words, for to understand “yes we can: you have to know that ‘doing’ is hidden between the words. So hesitancy can’t be excused in  a purpose so characterised  by hope

His America with no hyphen was still dogged in the discrimination of punctuation the complexities of grammar to racial indemnity. The sense of what was an American or what was America and who ran it and for whom were still open questions by 2016.

The only thing I’m sure of is that Obama is flawed and that I still “love” him. I think the mistakes the transgressions are when Obama chose to answer questions with the vagueness of hope when the question was “will you ?”  not “can you”. Obama is flawed and that’s okay. Only real things are flawed – whether stories or symbols because flaws are real. Obama was able to convince me he was real.

Very few politicians feel human, nor could properly engage with my innocence, and for that he has my respect for ever.

“If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every fucking grammar school”

Politics

-Anthony Crossland Education Secretary 1966

We must not let life chances be reduced to competency at verbal reasoning at age 10 and 3/4. The selective system doesn’t work. If you advocate selection show me your evidence. There are two arguments for a selective system; improvement in social mobility and a better education. Anecdotes and nostalgia don’t compare to 40 years of data .If you look at fully or partially selective areas in the UK they fail on both counts. Grammars are a 1940’s anachronism. They are an emotive idea and that makes them dangerous. Arguments against selection are not about individual schools, aspirational parents and certainly not about your personal experience; they are about an ineffective and divisive system.

Let’s be clear there is no social mobility, no class elevator and no rising of all boats – there is malaise, failure, rejection and inequity.

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Credit ITN- ITV News. PM Rt Hon Theresa May MP

A selective system assumes opportunity has been equal up until the point of test taking. It hasn’t. Gaps in educational attainment between poor and wealthy children exist by age five.Age eleven is too late to redress opportunity. With poorer children facing complex and structural disadvantage.Any pretence that  working class children do badly because they don’t work hard is a cynical lie. The reality is that a  lack of inter-generational aspiration, poor well being and poor preschool are the chains around the necks of the poor but bright. When your community is made up of those who don’t work or have insecure work;where mum has no time to help with homework; dad struggles to  afford child-care class based division widens. Evidence suggest a comfortable background can increase a child’s IQ score by 6 points. This means the kids who ‘need’ grammars can’t access them because of systemic disadvantage(which this government has made worse). So whilst some grammar schools  have quotas  for disadvantaged children and an  “untutorable”  test  it seems unlikely these interventions  can counter all the problems of selection. These attempts to modify grammar schools highlight the problems they fundamentally have. Grammars on the whole remain privileged isles for the middle class. Let’s be clear there is no social mobility, no class elevator and no rising of all boats – there is malaise, failure, rejection and inequity.

A Grammar schools system does not possess a magic formula for success. Across the country many rooms full of clever kids do well. Many studies suggest marginal or negligible improvement in grades as compared with pupils of the same social background in the comprehensive sector .What’s alarming is children from poorer backgrounds who make it in to grammars are still three times more likely to leave without any GCSE’s than their wealthier grammar school peers. Those who don’t make it in to the grammars from poorer background do worse than pupils in the comprehensive system. In fact areas like London which is almost completely comprehensive has better schools than Kent which is selective.The best areas for results in Britain are comprehensive, the best countries for  education around the world are comprehensive.

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Even if grammar schools are the answer to a question about educational woes we are we are asking the wrong question. In a battle of a statistics and heart the proponents of selection will win the politics.It is  the job of those who don’t hold facts in contempt or haven’t had enough of experts to argue better. We must measure our education policy by the standards we set our children. If we ask our children to sit and memorise facts and apply them we must demand the same of law makers. The argument against a selective system must not just be a data dump but a battle of values. Aspiration and social mobility aren’t owned by one side of this argument. The government say parents want choice. Parents want good schools for all their kids regardless of their aptitude .No parents want a failing comprehensive school or a rebranded secondary modern. We must not fall for rose-tinted idealism but make an evidence-based and emotive case for a prioritisation on early years care, valuable vocational education and good comprehensive education.

A child who is in a failing school currently will not be helped by this policy.

Perhaps you’ll say my criticism is irrelevant. Just because grammars are an idea created in 1944  does not mean its’ going back to the past. The PM has made it clear that it’s not return to the 1950s .But what in fact has the PM  has made clear seems to be very little. Current proposals seem to be for an asymmetric system, random and disorganised. Individual schools can introduce selection, at whatever age without any need or want or regard of the local area. Perhaps the new grammar system will work but who knows?  It’s a strange thing for a government who lacks a mandate for this policy to ignore every major educational authority and expert. Opposition to this unites liberal Conservatives, Labour politicians, teachers unions, the Chief inspector of schools,the Sutton trust and even  the Policy exchange. However according to one ex-Education secretary we have “had enough of experts”.

Grammars do no create opportunity they reduce it. Our modern desire for them is predicated on years of failure on education reform. We have failed to provide early years support in health, education and well-being. Parents are inadequately equipped to support their children. Primary school education has failed to equalise gaps. Teachers numbers are low and  the workforce are underpaid and over worked  .We have failed to design amodern 14-19 qualifications for prospective students or comparable opportunities for vocational training. Children’s experience of the comprehensive sector isn’t one of perfection. There are real challenges. None of these are solved by grammars. A child who is in a failing school currently will not be helped by this policy.

I’m sympathetic to the idea of grammar schools. The arguments are tangible. It’s the politics of pulling oneself up by one’s boot straps. Selection seems obvious, nay logical and thus is always politically tempting. Yet the concept hinges on a flawed social analysis. Grammars need a truly meritocratic society to work. They are conceptually audacious in their assertion that when all kids put pen to paper we can lift the brightest no matter how disadvantaged they are.But remains fundamentally dishonest about social mobility and raising of educational standard.

The PM waxes lyrical about meritocracy and social mobility like she has hired and unemployed Ed Miliband as speech writer. Her language is liberal it prioritises choice and hard work. The arguments are constructed to sway the prince and the pauper or perhaps the software developer and the PC World shop assistant. A grammar school system of any description is meritocratic which means it’s utopian. But utopia doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist in Kent, Lincolnshire, Birmingham or anywhere else for that matter. Facts get in the way. Selection is an idea created for a fictional 1950 Britain’s. Nostalgia for a culture that didn’t quite exist and constructed for an economy that no longer exists .Grammars are an idea artificially supported by assumption, political nimbyism and an adverse reaction to evidence .