“How the fuck is that even possible?”

Reflections on the last few weeks in UK politics, by John Medhurst, author of the forthcoming No Less Than Mystic: A History of the Russian Revolution for a 21st Century Left (out August 2017). 

This is a British revolution.

As I write, the last few weeks have seen:

  • An apparently secure and unassailable Tory Prime Minister, Theresa May, call a General Election that looked set to produce a Tory landslide and the annihilation of the Labour Party.
  • The Labour Party respond with a bold, radical manifesto that promised nationalisation of privatised services such as the Royal Mail, energy companies, the buses and railways; a 50% tax rate for the top 5% of earners allied to increased Corporation tax to fund the NHS; scrapping of student Tuition Fees, the re-introduction of Grants and the cancellation of all existing student debt; a ban on Fracking; and state-led public investment to grow the economy, including a million new homes and the capping of rent increases.
  • A response from young people that exceeded even the most optimistic expectations, as this historically under-registered and under-engaged group turned out to vote for Labour in record numbers.
  • The belated emergence of a solidly oppositional, reactive and effective social media presence into the British political arena, so much so that where the Sun once boasted it won elections for the Tories, that same media now looks a paper tiger, shouting splenetic hate in an echo chamber.
  • The visible, palpable collapse of Tory swagger and energy after losing its majority and coming within a whisker of being defeated by a confident socialist opposition.
  • That same party’s desperate and unprincipled willingness to endanger the Good Friday Agreement and peace in Northern Ireland in order to prop itself up with a handful of votes from a fringe Unionist party renowned for vicious homophobia.
  • The Brexit process thrown into utter chaos, as the government struggles to construct a coherent negotiating strategy, with a cross-party majority in the new Parliament pushing for a “soft Brexit” that retains access to the European Single Market.
  • A terrible fire ripping through a local council tower block in a poor area of the richest borough in the country, Kensington and Chelsea. A fire that could have been contained had not the council and the arms-length body to which it outsourced estate management used the cheapest and most flammable material to clad the building.
  • A horrific (and still rising) death toll of mostly ethnic minority, poor and disabled tenants.
  • A brief visit to the scene by Theresa May in which she met senior fire and police officials but failed to meet survivors and volunteer workers, in stark contrast to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
  • A tsunami of outrage and bad publicity descending on May’s head, a massive, irrecoverable political blunder that will define her and her premiership.
  • Corbyn’s call for the requisitioning of the many vacant properties in the borough, left empty as investments by rich or non-domiciled residents, and wide-spread popular support for this policy.
  • The cold, indifferent response from the council to survivors, leaving them for days on the floor of local churches and sports centres, failing to co-ordinate emergency collections, failing to inform those put into hotels of other relief, or provide food beyond a free breakfast.
  • Massive anger sweeping the local community, resulting in the storming and occupation of Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall. At the same time, a spontaneous mass march on Downing St to demand May resign and justice be done for the survivors.
  • Labour calling for a million-person march to overturn a failing and bankrupt government. Labour now six points ahead in the polls, with Corbyn vastly more popular than May.
  • Corbyn’s astonishing appearance at Glastonbury as thousands of festival goers chant his name and he delivers a blast of pure socialist passion, concluding with Shelley’s “Masque of Anarchy” to rapturous applause.

Continue reading “How the fuck is that even possible?”

For the first time in my life, I don’t feel like things can only get worse—Juliet Jacques

Unlike many London left friends, who’ve been better than me at going to demonstrations, I’ve never met Jeremy Corbyn. To my shame – and perhaps because my anxiety and depression stopped me travelling from Manchester to London for the anti-war demo in February 2003  – I’d never even heard of him before he ran for Labour leader two years ago.

I had met John McDonnell though – at a People’s Parliament event that he organised with (the old) Zero Books at the House of Commons in March 2014. McDonnell explained that he put on the sessions to get different voices into Parliament, where MPs might hear them. He held monthly panels on various subjects; while many were for workers and trade unionists, he often brought in writers and activists. This time, those writers were Mark Fisher, Rhian Jones and Alex Niven – all people I’d met in London, and considered friends, after spending two years moving through writing and journalistic circles until finding the one that excited me the most, centred around Zero (now Repeater) and Verso Books. (J. D. Taylor, whom I hadn’t encountered, was the final panellist.) Continue reading For the first time in my life, I don’t feel like things can only get worse—Juliet Jacques

Come what may this Thursday, the future belongs to the left—Carl Neville

 In a sense, Theresa May has done the left a great service by calling an early election. Had she not done so, and had the war of attrition between Corbyn’s enclave and the overwhelmingly hostile Labour right had continued until 2020, momentum, and indeed Momentum, would have dissipated, Corbyn would have got old and fatigued, another leadership election would have been on the cards and we would have ended up with a compromise candidate, an Owen Smith light, if such insubstantiality were even attainable in physical form. The popularity, or otherwise, of Corbyn and a manifesto that could only have been drawn up from the left of the party, only emerged through a Momentum/Corbyn/McDonnell axis, would never have been publically tried. We would never have had a surge in young people registering to vote, never have had the opportunity for a broadly social democratic project to have access to the media or tour the country holding rallies, we wouldn’t have had a groundswell of grassroots’ participation. Most importantly, perhaps, the general public wouldn’t have had any kind of unmediated access to Corbyn himself.

 

Continue reading Come what may this Thursday, the future belongs to the left—Carl Neville

Only got better? David Stubbs on the Blair “revolution” of 1997

This is part one of an edited extract from 1996 and the End of History by David Stubbs, published last year by Repeater. Part two coming next week. 

“For the future, not the past. For the many, not the few. For trust, not betrayal. For the age of achievement, not the age of decline.” – Tony Blair, Labour Party Conference, 1996.

“I think if we win the election, the greatest burden on Tony Blair and the rest of us will not be delivering on the economy so much as the huge expectation that we will somehow be the agents of a different ethical order.” – Jack Straw, 1996.

In 1996, the Labour Party were regularly commanding leads of over 30 in opinion polls against the Tories. The party was in a unique position. In the past, it could only hope to achieve power when the incumbent Conservatives had made a hash of the economy, or plunged the country into darkness through their industrial relations incompetence. In 1996, however, this was not the case. Mortgage interest rates had dropped from double figures in the 1990s to under 7%. John Major’s administration had put the brakes on some of the worst, conspicuous excesses and injustices of Thatcherism. There was already a feelgood factor in the air. As the Guardian airily put it, “Unemployment is down, people are shopping more (car sales are up more than 10%), house prices are rising, the London Evening Standard says ‘Suddenly, Britain is feeling really good’, building societies are soon to create millions of new shareholders”.

And yet, fewer and fewer people felt good about the Tories. A series of allegations of sleaze involving Neil Hamilton and Jonathan Aitken, amongst others, spoke of a party who had done themselves too well and for too long at the political high table. Major himself cut a greying, weary, beleaguered figure. His risible, high profile Cones Hotline, in which members of the public could report apparently unnecessary traffic cones, had been quietly closed in 1995, having fielded fewer than 20,000 calls in its three- year life (a figure that frankly seems remarkably high). Major’s wistful visions of a Britain of warm beer and “old maids cycling to church in the morning mist” seemed to belong to the credits of some Sunday evening middlebrow period drama rather than a Britain whose heartbeat was pounding assertively with the delirium of the End of History. This was a dead man talking. Continue reading Only got better? David Stubbs on the Blair “revolution” of 1997

It’s been over a month since we “got our country back” – but do we still want it?

Guest post by Niall Griffiths 

At the time of writing, six weeks have passed since the EU referendum and what have we learned, in that time? That ‘Brexit means Brexit’ (whatever that means), that ‘we’ve got our country back’ (the same), that ‘we’ve regained our sovereignty’ (ditto, because we’d never lost it) and ‘taken back control of our borders’ (you get the picture). We’ve been told that to categorise every Leave voter as an uneducated, xenophobic hick is offensive and wrong (but that every Remain voter was a spoilt middle class brat), and that people were sick and tired of answering to an unelected elite; Nigel ‘Breaking Point’ Farage has told us this, as has Boris ‘Piccaninnies’ Johnson, and Michael ‘Had Enough of Experts’ Gove, and we should believe them, exclusively educated and powerful as they are, because they’re evidently superior to us. And we should believe Theresa May too, unelected leader though she is, because, well, the disenfranchised have spoken, haven’t they? They’ve had their voices heard, and now they want something to be done, although no-one has any idea of what that might be. It’s just, well, y’know; British values and all that. Freedom from Johnny Foreigner and his wily ways. Straight bananas, health and safety gone mad, that sort of thing.

So, what will be your abiding memory of the last days of June 2016? Will it be of Farage, declaring ‘this is our independence day’ and that ‘this was a revolution without a shot being fired’, or will it be of Jo Cox and her shattered family, or of the fact that many countries on the planet have their own independence day and it usually signifies independence from Britain? Or will you remember Nige in Brussels, little man with his little flag, scion of Dulwich College, son of a wealthy stockbroker, telling the gathered grandees that they’ve ‘never done a proper job in their lives’? Or will it be of the Lithuanian representative, cringing at those words, the man who was born in a gulag, everything in his early life militating against the highly respected and successful heart surgeon that he would become? Perhaps you’ll remember Nige and his Breaking Point poster; the immigrant-descended, immigrant-marrying heroic defender of Britain’s borders using an image of Syrian refugees attempting to enter Slovenia from Croatia to illustrate the threat to Lincolnshire of eastern European agricultural labourers? Continue reading It’s been over a month since we “got our country back” – but do we still want it?

Interview with JD Taylor, author of Island Story—podcast and transcript

 

 I interviewed JD Taylor—author of Island Story: Journeys Around Unfamiliar Britain—about the motives behind his extraordinary 4-month bike tour of the UK. Dan explains that the bicycle was secondary–what was important was to get out of London and see the parts of the island that have been written out of the story—JT

Listen to the interview here, or read the full transcript below:

JT: When you set out on this journey, what did you expect to find?

island storyJD Taylor: I had been writing a lot about politics in Britain, and I was expecting that the decreases in the standard of living would really stand out. I expected that the recession and unemployment would have caused a kickback reaction of people starting to demand a more democratic way of life. That hadn’t happened and I was quite surprised by that. It made me come to realize that perhaps what is most instrumental is not what is external, but the internal and state of culture and politics, particularly the rule of fear. I sensed that people were very afraid.

When I set out, I wanted to find out why people weren’t doing more to take their communities into their own hands…why people weren’t shocked that their children/grandchildren were going to have a much worse quality of life than they have. I sensed a confusion and inertia about what could be done. I felt like people were very disempowered.

But at the start of it, I was just completely open. I was almost confused by my own country. Continue reading Interview with JD Taylor, author of Island Story—podcast and transcript

Statement on Brexit

Soon it will be difficult to find anyone who will have admitted to doing it. Leave’s leaders are dropping like flies – they can emigrate to Canada and enjoy the perks of an open society they affect to despise, leaving the foot soldiers behind to pick up a bill of opprobrium, self-harm and shame that follows from being had. No one sings “no one likes us, we don’t care” and really means it. The referendum was the wrong place to make a valid point against poverty and exclusion, an exclusion even more of us will share living in a country we don’t want to be identified with.

Repeater is more London-based than anything else, but we don’t exist in a London bubble. Our editors and staff are based in London, Newcastle, Wiltshire, Suffolk, and Argentina; our authors all over the UK, Europe and the world. We refuse to paint over half the country as dim racists beyond salvation. Yet no-one could deny the racism of much of the leave campaign, and the damage this has done. Racism is nothing new – in London or the rest of the UK. But what may have been covered with a thin veneer before is coming swaggering into the light, emboldened.

Unity is needed right now, but that unity must not come at the price of pandering to racism and anti-migrant rhetoric. As publishers and as people we pledge to do what we can to work towards unity, to defend and boost the marginalised, to listen, to learn, and to fight encroaching fascism wherever we can.

 

Repeater Books

Dawn Foster on Theresa May

 

In an extract from her recent book Lean Out, Dawn Foster explores the limits of self-proclaimed feminist Theresa May’s solidarity with women.

The notorious Yarl’s Wood detention centre was opened in 2001, under the last Labour government, and management was outsourced to private company Serco in 2007. Poor conditions in the centre and protests against the 400-capacity facility have intensified in recent years, coming to a head in 2015. Reports of sexual abuse and mistreatment in the compound became increasingly common, and self-harm was rife among the women, who comprised of failed asylum seekers awaiting deportation, imprisoned despite committing no crime. A Channel 4 investigation obtained footage of the systemic mistreatment of women detained in the centre, included a guard shouting “Headbutt the bitch. I’d beat her up.”

Rashida Manjoo, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on violence against women, was barred from Yarl’s Wood by the Home Office in April 2014 when she tried to investigate complaints as part of her fact-finding mission into violence against women in the UK. Cameras have never been allowed in. In April 2015, in the same week as a woman died in Yarl’s Wood and a guard with a history of sexually inappropriate behaviour was suspended pending investigation for a revenge assault, Cristel Amiss, of the Black Women’s Rape Action Project, told The Guardian: “We’ve been supporting women in Yarl’s Wood for over a decade and have heard consistent reports from brave whistleblowers exposing abusive treatment and sexually predatory behaviour by guards.”

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Continue reading Dawn Foster on Theresa May

The camouflage of conspicuity—Tristam Vivian Adams on psychopathy and sociopathy

 

Psychopathy and sociopathy

In my forthcoming book, The Psychopath Factory: How Capitalism Organizes Empathy (forthcoming from Repeater), I make a distinction between psychopathy and sociopathy. The two terms are commonly used in an interchangeable way, as if they are one and the same, but in my view there is an important difference. I argue that sociopathy ought to refer to behaviour whereas psychopathy ought to refer to internal psychology. More precisely, sociopathy ought to refer to behaviour that fails to meet our expectations and psychopathy to a psychology that does not align with how we expect others to feel and think.

Let’s consider sociopathy first and look at how and why persons fall foul of social expectations or do not conform to social code. People may fall foul of social code for any number of reasons. The reasons could be linked to malice, kindness or ignorance. David Brent from The Office, for example, is reflexively impoverished—he just isn’t aware of his faux pas; he cannot see himself from the view of the other. Brent thinks he is a charming and smooth operator Continue reading The camouflage of conspicuity—Tristam Vivian Adams on psychopathy and sociopathy

In a stink about a pink St George Cross

Professional controversialist Toby Young has got himself all in a froth about a pink St George Cross at England’s international this week

By Mark Perryman

Oh dear. Toby Young is all in a lather, a victim once more of the ‘PC brigade’.

Writing in the Daily Mail, he describes the scene he seems to have witnessed at Tuesday night’s England international versus the Netherlands. “It was fitting that Tuesday’s England match was awash with pink shirts, pink ribbons and pink flags. After all, football — along with rugby, cricket and every other traditionally male sport — has been forced to undergo what you might call, to borrow a fashionable phrase, gender re-assignment surgery in the past few years. An area of life that used to be associated with men has been colonised by women determined to prove a point about gender equality, regardless of whether they have any genuine interest in the sports in question.”

Oh dear, the thinking-bloke’s Jeremy Clarkson really has his boxer shorts in a twist hasn’t he? I have a confession to make to Toby. I’d spent most of Tuesday afternoon laying out thousands of cards across the England home end in the stadium. It’s a fan-led initiative called ‘Raise the Flag’, and when God Save the Queen strikes up they’re held up to form a huge St George Cross flag, mosaic-style. Except this time, when the anthem came to an end, the red cross was flipped to form a pink one, honouring the victims and survivors of this most deadly of diseases, breast cancer. I’m not sure where Toby was sitting in the stands but where I was there wasn’t one murmur of discontent but, rather, a ‘wow moment’ and widespread approval. Then the game kicked off; what Toby fails entirely to mention was what happened at the 14th minute, the entire crowd – English and Dutch – standing to honour the memory of Johan Cruyff. The cancer that killed Johan attacked his lungs, not his breasts – same disease, different body parts. Continue reading In a stink about a pink St George Cross