Archive for December, 2009

New Year Dale Fest (part 2)

December 31, 2009 2 comments

While I’m on the subject of the boy Dale, I note he’s been having a go at Sunny from Pickled Politics/LibCon for Sunny’s somewhat bad taste twitter celebration of Rush Limbaugh being ill.

Mmm – kettle, black, Black, kettle. 

Here’s Mr Holier-Than-Sunny being so tasteless about Jack Jones immediately following his death in April that even some of his commenters remark on it.

Right, I promise that’s the last Dale for 2009. Unless he says something else stupid or hypocritical in the next 8 hours.  80% probability of another post on Dale then.

Categories: Terrible Tories

Dale saves the funniest post for last

December 31, 2009 Leave a comment


Tory bloggersupremo Iain Dale has saved his funniest post of 2009 for the very last day.

With delicious irony, he’s written a post in support of public sector workers, expressing outrage at the way they’re being maligned and insulted.

 Who’d have seen that coming?

This, remember, is the very same Iain Dale who just weeks ago was insulting half a million nurses by saying a) he was a nurse; b) they really shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads with anything as complicated as learning things.  

This is the very same Iain Dale who supports a party dedicated to the slashing of public services, a party which believes the public sector is intrinsically without value, a party that believes in selling the whole of Essex County Council to a computer firm.

 Of course, there is the more sinister side to this – that the only bit of the public sector that Dale appears to support is the bit which, should the Tories come to power, they will need to call on to break up picket lines and suppress public demonstrations of anger at their ruthlessly self-serving policies.

But it’s New Year’s Eve, so let’s be magnanimous.  Dale’s post is very, very funny, in a totally sick kind of way.


Categories: Terrible Tories

2009: Blogging Year in Review

December 31, 2009 8 comments

First there was Total Politics and the top 300 bloggers of the year. Then there was Phil’s top 100 twitterers of the year. Then Paul Sagar at Bad Conscience ran a list of which bloggers are his favourites from this year.

Like Paul, I believe wholeheartedly in giving lots of other blogs fillips throughout the year by linking to them. So I figured I would run a selection of my own favourite blogs and bloggers, with examples of some of their sterling efforts throughout the year.

Paul Cotterill of the Bickerstaffe Record and Though Cowards Flinch has saved me the bother of trawling through his work to pick out a selection of his best stuff; he has submitted it to the Orwell Prize committee for consideration. I wish him all the best of luck. I hope Paul won’t take it amiss that despite all his hard work on theory my favourite article, which appears on his list, is the personal account of why he believes in fighting the BNP up north: it is an account worth more than all the drivel from Comment is Free this year.

Phil at A Very Public Sociologist regularly tops my list of favourites. Every event and most theoretical questions, Phil makes a stab at answering and does so with what I feel is an unerring ability to capture the mood and needs of the moment. From his stuff on the Lindsey Oil Refinery Strike, where he defended the workers on strike, to his multipart series on Lukacs, or addressing questions which, in an activist context, are central to the movement like nationalisation vs socialisation of industry.

Relative new boys on the blogging scene, the Third Estate features pretty high on my list. I don’t usually bother with the high profile interviews – though if that’s your thing, there’s plenty of great stuff, but the material from the bloggers themselves leaves little to be desired. On voting come the EU elections, reviews of this year’s activist events, on primaries, on the gender of bloggers, it’s all intelligent attempts to engage with key issues, even if one disagrees violently now and again.

Splintered Sunrise is another one of my favourites. It’s frankly amazing how amusing Splinty can be whilst being devastatingly accurate, and in command of so many facts right down. The Catholic Church, or the nature of Anglican politics, for example. Splintered Sunrise is also a first class read for reasoned judgments on the activities of the Socialist Workers’ Party and some of the weird things that seem to go on in that organisation. I wouldn’t say I agree with all of Splinty’s assumptions, but unquestionably there’s a sharp mind at work.

Paul Sagar at Bad Conscience has been good enough to list me in his “top bloggers of 2009” post, but despite this, he’d have merited a mention here anyway. Plenty of our posts address similar matters, such as right-wing attempts to co-opt Left history, the No Platform Policy/Question Time or the question of Swiss democracy and banning minarets. I like to think our posts can be read as prime socialist/left-liberal answers to the questions of the day, and how we interact in the subsequent discussions often serves to illuminate our shared values and differences.

Currently on my RSS feeder are twenty three individual bloggers or collections of bloggers – including the five above – who deserve to be mentioned as well: Chris Dillow, Susan Press, Louise Whittle, Ten Percent, Jack Graves, Left Outside, Lenin’s Tomb, Left Foot Forward, Socialist Unity, Liam MacUaid, Peter Kenyon, Dave Osler, TFSCS, Duncan, Sunder Katwala, Obsolete, Laurie Penny and Jim Jepps. This year they’ve all aided my blogging repertoire and have solidly continued to get news and analysis out to as many interested people as will listen.

In this mission we’ve been ably assisted by sites like Liberal Conspiracy, with its own expert bloggers and editors, and Enemies of Reason, with its unfailing focus on the nonsense spewed forth by the tabloids day after day, week after week. This is my thank you and well done to everyone. We’ve done well this year. We’ll do better next year. Just remember, a spectre is haunting the blogosphere…

Orwell and me, 2009

December 30, 2009 1 comment

Here, doubling as a review of my blogging year, is my chronological (draft) list of 10 posts for Orwell Prize submission

I’ve tried to reflect a spread across the year, and a range of areas of interest, alongside a smattering of the autobiographical (Orwell was into that, so I might win).  

Plus there’s a couple where I’ve just been having a bit of a laugh.

Comments welcome, though not expected.   Be interesting to see Dave’s selection of his favourite posts of 2009, if he can be arsed.  And anyone else’s if they fancy it. Apart from Tom Harris.  His’ll just be crap.

The top ten

The socialist strategy of Laclau and Mouffe: the hegemonic baby of discursive social antagonsism and the murky bathwaters of post-Marxism  (28 January)

Churchill and my dad: Why I’ll march against the BNP (part 2)  (23 February)

Liberty, Liberals and the ‘I’ word: the challenge for socialists (01 March)

Fears for rightwing bloggers as ‘humourless’ gag not understood at all by dour lefties (24 April)

Blond: Brainy, brave but a bit too Blunkett (04 July)

Conservatives on international development: from dog whistle rhetoric to the slightly sickening (19 July)

Ideology over algebra (15 September)

Top Ten Tory conference lies  (09 October)

Liz Truss exclusive: new shocking revelations (16 November)

A short, personal history of class and gender inequality in the NHS (part 1) (21 November)

Categories: Miscellaneous

Will the British electorate decide who runs the country in 2010?

December 30, 2009 34 comments

I smiled a rueful smile when I heard David Cameron call for a ‘good clean fight’ in the forthcoming general election.

Let’s set aside for the moment the fact by pouring millions of Lord Ashcroft mega-wealth into marginal constituencies, the Conservatives are effectively buying up seats, while having the gall to suggest that it is the Labour party that prey to the agenda of its key financial backers.

Let’s set aside the fact that the Conservatives are so heavily reliant on the favours of the Murdoch empire for its media strategy.

We should forget these aspects not least because getting the mega-rich to win an election for you is copyright Blair c.1997. 

It may be wrong, but it’s not new this time around.

What is new this time around is that the result of the election may be decided, not by the apocryphal ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’ with a copy of the Sun in his hand, but by the apparently all-too-real ‘diffident Welshman who does not stand out on the bus from his home in North London’ (hat tip: Freethinking Economist).

This is the same diffident Welshman who, according to Chris Huhne in the linked Times article, single-handedly ‘downgraded the Greek Government’s credit rating.The result was to push up its cost of borrowing by 0.4 per cent in a week.’

On the basis of a single, methodologically obscure decision by a single credit ratings analyst – not necessarily that very Welshman, I know – may depend the tenor and outcome of the whole of the 2010 campaign.

Let’s let Stephanie Flanders take up the story, in her ‘intriguing question for 2010’:

 Everyone thinks that the markets will politely wait until Britain has gone to the polls to draw its verdict on the UK. Well, maybe.

But if sovereign debt is indeed the new sub-prime – at least where the markets are concerned – it’s difficult to believe that Britain will get through the months before the election without at least one major market wobble.

Perhaps one ratings agency will put the UK on negative watch. Or investors will get seized with the idea of a hung Parliament. Or Britain will simply get caught in the crosshairs of a market panic over sovereign debt in Central and Eastern Europe.

Who knows what the trigger will be. But my hunch is there will be something, this side of polling day. The question will be how the major political parties react.

In fact, the Conservative party is already reacting to the possibility of a ratings downgrade as part of its pre-election hype.  Here’s George Osborne in the Telegraph just before Christmas:

It is clear that 2010 will be the year when the world’s focus shifts from the debts in our banks to the enormous debts being run up by governments. The last month has seen a crucial change, beginning with Dubai and followed by Greece, Ireland and Spain, in the way that international investors perceive the riskiness of sovereign debt and the sustainability of public finances. On this count, the credit-rating agencies have singled out Britain as the most vulnerable of any top-rated country, with the biggest budget deficit in the G20.’

While this may not in fact be true (the US is placed in the same ‘resilient’ rather than resistant’ category by Moody’s), such technicalities are unimportant in the general narrative. 

When even Tory apparatchik Iain Dale, who wouldn’t recognise the workings of a bond market if they fell on him from a great height, starts predicting the loss of Aaa status in 2010, you know what the Conservative line is.

While they can’t go as far as express support for downgrading, you can bet your bottom dollar that behind closed doors they’re hoping that it will come early in the New Year, in the context of the ‘panic’ factors that Stephanie Flanders alludes to. 

And let’s face it.  While there is no evidence as yet to suggest that the rating agencies will actively collude with the Conservatives over producing a downgrade at an electorally convenient moment, it is also clear from their decisions on Greece that they favour stupidly radical budgetary cuts even in the face of the real prospect of major social unrest.   This is in spite of at least some evidence to suggest that the markets themselves actually favour a less draconian approach to fiscal balance.

The Conservative strategy, then, is clear enough.  They’ll continue to bang the drum about the possible loss of Aaa status, and they may even be trying to manipulate the actions of the rating agencies behind the scenes.  As and when it arrives, they’ll be shouting ‘bankrupt nation’ from the rooftops, in spite of inconvenient facts like the ten-year old Aa status of Japan.

For Labour, the response is trickier, and it’s even possible to sympathise with them in their predicament.  If they make too many signals to the markets and the rating agencies about plans for cutting the deficit (in the budget, assuming a May election), they risk abandoning their new class-focused narrative which looks like it may serve them well.  If they don’t do that, they risk a downgrade just weeks before polling day.

What Labour needs to do is take the bull by the horns, and attack the Tories and Cameron around their ‘good, clean fight claims’, as part of their evolving ‘them vs. us’ election narrative, but to imbue that narrative with the message that not only are the Tories just out for themselves and their own class, they’re also prepared to sacrifice the very spirit of democracy to get the power they want.rrin

With Ashcroft’s millions, this is already happening at a general level, though the amount of cash poured into each and every constituency needs to be made clearer (here’s a pretty good example from Tom Williams at Labourhome, though the focus is on an individual Zac Goldsmith of the North-type figure and how much personal wealth has been put in).

But the bigger story Labour can create, if it has the political will, is the one around the way a small set of anonymous financial analysts, from mega-earning firms that just twelve months ago were pinpointed as having caused the greatest financial crisis since 1929, are now in a position to undermine British democracy.  As Peter Apps of Reuters says

A year ago, they were being blamed for the financial crisis. Now, the three credit rating agencies are emerging as new powerhouses in European politics, driving policy as governments face record deficits………..

Britain’s AAA credit rating is also in the spotlight. S&P put it on negative outlook in May and while Moody’s and Fitch retained stable outlooks, they have made a string of comments demanding greater austerity…..

The opposition Conservative party has frequently cited the S&P move in speeches and policy statements to underscore its pledge to make stringent spending cuts.

Any downgrade before an expected May 2010 general election would be a heavy blow to Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s embattled Labour government.

Even more saliently, from the same article, Steve Shifferes (Professor of Financial Journalism at City University) says:

It is not that they necessarily know more than any other analysts. But because the credit rating is such an easy thing to focus on, they have much more power. It’s not very democratic.

Absolutely.  It’s not very democratic.  It’s not Cameron’s ‘good, clean fight’. 

Labour would do well to remind people that Cameron is a liar to suggest that he wants any such thing, when many his party’s efforts are directed at subverting the democratic process.

Enough to make me want to beat my head against a wall

December 30, 2009 18 comments

The idea of ‘class war’ is every-bloody-where in the centre-left blogosphere. 

If you read this blog, you know where I’m talking about and broadly what people are saying.

They’re all bleedin’ well-intentionedly wrong, apart from me (and bizarrely, Tom Harris, though for totally the wrong reasons and probably without any of the good intentions).

So I will say this one more time in 2009………..

The reason the working class got called the working class is that it was the class defined by its economic role in capitalist society, and its relationship to the bourgeoisie.  The working class works and is exploited (or is part of the surplus army); the bourgeoisie owns.

There’s no middle class in that.

The ‘middle class’ is a social construct, the attachment to which was reinforced under Thatcher and by the telly and the existence of Mondeo cars and posh trainers, but which isn’t any more intrinsically valuable because of that.

Until the different between economic relationships and socio-cultural identification (and self-identification) is grasped properly by the Left, we’re not going to get that far. 

We’ll not get that far, whether or not the appropriate election-fighting language is adapted, though clearly it’s better that we do so in the short term, what with an election to fight quite soon.

As Sunny admits, this language-based electoral strategy may stop us losing too badly, but nothing more.  To that extent, Tom Bleeding Harris is right.  About everything else in the world, he is wrong.

The Left can do better.  It can even do better before the election.

Now go read my two proper less shouty posts on this, you total bastards.  Happy New Year.

Sherlock Holmes is clichéd pigswill

December 29, 2009 5 comments

Okay, so I have an admission to make. I first read Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes character when I was about eleven. It was one of those summers I spent lounging at my gran’s house. Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I remember those days very fondly.

Since then I’ve collected all the Sherlock Holmes stories – and other authors and heroes, from Buchan’s Hannay to Fleming’s Bond, are only marginally talented (in Fleming’s case, plainly unimaginative and rubbish) compared to Conan Doyle’s cold, arrogant and brilliantly penned genius.

With that in mind, it was probably a bad idea for me to go see the new Sherlock Holmes movie, which I did tonight. It was, frankly, dreadful. One could have changed the names of everyone involved and never known it for a Sherlock Holmes movie.

Conan Doyle’s pantheon of characters, including Irene Adler – who Holmes, usually uninterested in women, ever referred to with distinction, even if in typical stoic Holmesian fashion – was ruthlessly pillaged in the interest of a rather staid, predictable plot complete with love interest. How boring.

The cinematography and special effects were, without question, marvellous. Yet they were the crutches of the movie, distractions rather than complementary to the plot. In fairness there were patent attempts to fix this, but rather clumsily in Downey Jr/Holmes’s summation of the case, as he tries to draw something from each event.

A final battle between Holmes and Lord Unmemorable and Camply Sinister Villain atop the half-built Tower Bridge was just silly.

Minor chronological irregularities, such as the story being set in 1891, despite Conan Doyle’s Watson having been married in 1887, are easy to ignore and I shan’t bother with them except to wonder what size of penis all these directors have, that they feel insecure enough about their craft to pointlessly change all manner of details about the story they pillage.

Greatest among Guy Ritchie’s sins, however, was his remorseless caricature of Holmes. Whilst Conan Doyle lent his central figure a logical mind and a rigorous attention to detail. which Ritchie attempts to copy (though again in ways which assume the audience is ignorant), I’d struggle to find the camp, flirtatious, one-line cracking Holmes anywhere in the literary canon.

Quite disappeared is the tall, gaunt, opiate addict, whose single-minded dedication to solving mystery is all that lifts him  out of apathy. Gone is the often humourless pedant. In his place stands the clichéd larger than life figure it seems audiences require.

Also gone are the nuanced mysteries of tension-heightening intensity, traded for pacy archetypal Hollywood-style take-over-the-world nonsense.

On the way home, a friend queried why this was important, why we shouldn’t simply have a Sherlock Holmes written for the 21st Century. I have two answers. The lesser is that it seems somehow an insult to pinch someone else’s idea and then imagine that, leaving aside necessary adaptations of making a book into a film, you can do it better than authors who have been enormously popular for a century.

The greater is that I find it unspeakably conceited for members of the artistic elite of our century to implicitly declare that our era has nothing to learn from the past, thus we may butcher it as we please. The particular quirks and traits of Holmes and Watson in c19th century are interesting of themselves; this was London at the height of British imperial power, with a rich culture (both aristocratic and working class) that Conan Doyle evinced.

Guy Ritchie seems to be satisfied with the standard literary tropes of a corrupt and weak politician, a megalomaniacal genius to balance the ‘good’ hero, and the awkwardness of a brotherly love between two heterosexual males. The latter doesn’t fail to provoke a laugh at how ineptly it is depicted in the film.

Then there’s the question of the themes the film addresses.

If it had been my choice, and Ritchie had wanted to put his 12 year old’s faith/reason dichotomy front and centre, I’d have chosen the Study in Scarlet. The villains are still villainous whilst giving us every reason to believe they are human, instead of being Mussolini impersonators.

Indeed, who could forget the building tension and danger of the midnight escape from Salt Lake City. This could easily have been reworked to forego Conan Doyle’s misconceptions about the Mormons and to escape the literary tactic Conan Doyle adopted of splitting the story into two (apparently, in the beginning, unrelated) parts.

I forget myself however. It is not on the possible but on the actual I wish to dwell. The movie rounds off with an attempt to set up Sherlock Holmes II, by the introduction of Professor Moriarty. Guy Ritchie must have had dollar signs in his eyes, else how does one explain the crass Batman Begins-copying manner of the segue to Moriarty’s crimes?

In sums total, I thought the movie was garbage. A.O. Scott of the New York Times rounds off my feelings perfectly, in his own review:

“[I]ntelligence has never ranked high among either Mr. Ritchie’s interests or his attributes as a filmmaker. His primary desire … has always been to be cool: to make cool movies about cool guys with cool stuff. Yes, ‘Sherlock Holmes’ is kind of cool. But that’s not really a compliment…. There are worse things than loutish, laddish cool, and as a series of poses and stunts, ‘Sherlock Holmes’ is intermittently diverting.”


Categories: Films, Miscellaneous

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