Wednesday, 24 August 2016

After Neoliberalism

It was with some interest I approached Martin Jacques's piece in The Graun, not least because he made his name in the 1980s describing the contours of the 'New Times' then being fashioned from the collapse of the post-war consensus and the broken bodies of the British and American labour movements. Much of what he and his comrades wrote in Marxism Today back in the day was spot on. The rise of flexible labour markets, inescapable consumer cultures, a displacement of class politics, deindustrialisation and the shift - at least in metropolitan countries like Britain - from the production of tangible commodities to service industries and knowledge/information production (of which more another time). They also advocated that the left in the shape of the jolly old Communist Party draw on the work of Antonio Gramsci and wage a cultural struggle as opposed to the trusty 'n' rusty industrial-focused strategy favoured by the left. In practice it meant embracing the "new" struggles around environmentalism, gender, anti-racism, and sexuality and placing less stress on class as traditionally conceived. Accused at the time of abandoning the field of class politics, Marxism Today was later held responsible for providing the intellectual heft of Blairism and New Labour.

That's by-the-by as far as this post is concerned. What Martin does in his article is catalogue the breakdown of neoliberalism but, despite the banner advertisement, he does not address what comes or is likely to happen after neoliberalism. And who can blame him? Forecasting in politics is a notoriously fraught business, as pundits and pollsters have found to their cost this last couple of years. Yet thinking about what might come after neoliberalism isn't click-attracting speculation and idle musing. Just as Martin and his comrades did in the 1980s, it's about understanding what's coming so it can be politically pre-empted.

Before we consider what's coming next, it's worth thinking about what neoliberalism is *now*. Traditionally, and understandably, it's seen as a matter of economics. After all, in terms of economic policy the kinds of measures it favours are easily distinguishable from the post-war consensus that came before it. To apply broad brush strokes, in the advanced countries it meant active intervention by the state in economic affairs to, above all, maintain full employment. Markets were strictly regulated, capital controls enforced, workers representatives (via unions or some other consultative mechanism) integrated into the management of the system, and the state itself had a considerable economic footprint in the shape of nationalised industries. Again, broadly and ideal-typically, neoliberal policy is about withdrawing the state and leaving the market to its own devices. Based on the idea that the anarchy of market relationships nevertheless produce the most efficient economic outcomes, evacuating the state from the market via privatisations of state-owned industries, the deregulation of finance, and the curbing of union power creates, Bentham-stylee, the greatest good for the greatest number. The objective now is not the maintenance of full employment. Key indicators of economic health are quarterly GDP growth, low inflation, low public spending, and low tax rates. In Britain, Nicola Sturgeon and Ed Miliband were the first mainstream political leaders to suggest neoliberal policies fuelled inequality and social dysfunction, and hence had broken from the neoliberal consensus. Ditto Theresa May and her wholesale pinching of the 2015 Labour Manifesto's economic policy.

That, however, is a very superficial understanding of what neoliberalism is. Yes, it's fundamentally about the market, but it's more than a macroeconomic policy preference: it is a mode of governance. Or, to put it plainly, a series of strategies deployed by institutions for managing populations and cultivating them as types of people, or subjects, conducive to capitalism in its neoliberal phase. What neoliberalism isn't is a conspiracy thought through in advance by various elites and implemented against an unwitting populace. As Dardot and Laval note in their The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society, neoliberalism didn't emerge as a coherent alternative to the crisis of the post-war Keynesian order. It came into the world bit by bit, as (apparently) pragmatic policy responses to pressing economic and political problems. Denis Healey didn't submit Britain to structural adjustment in return for an IMF loan because he was philosophically committed to the Mont Pelerin Society. At the time, it seemed like the loan could get the economy out of the toilet. Thatcher's government went after the trade unions because they represented a challenge and threatened the interests of British business, not because Hayek and Friedman were opposed to the "distortions" collectivised labour exercised over labour markets. In the process of struggle, governments introduced policies we now consider neoliberal and, especially in the case of Reaganomics and Thatcher, increasingly identified their economic and governance strategies with the intellectual spadework of the Chicago School and other cabals of neoliberal thinkers. As Thatcher herself admitted in The Downing Street Years, she didn't enter Number 10 with an intellectually rounded-out programme. It took on coherence largely after the fact. Before that point, what came to be neoliberalism was, in Dardot and Laval's words, effectively a set of strategies without a strategist.

To properly get to grips with neoliberalism, we should think about it on three levels. The first is economic policy, which we've already talked about. The other two, that interest us here, is the intertwining of government and subjectivity. Condensing Dardot and Laval's arguments, the incremental adoption of neoliberal strategies have resulted in what they call the 'entrepreneurial state'. Take Britain for example. As society has become more complex, so has the state. The classical Marxist conception of the state as a repressive body that defends and prosecutes capital's interests is right on a basic level, but doesn't capture the complexity of the body as it exists today. Rather than a unitary institution with an executive, a bureaucracy, and its repressive arms the state has developed into a more dispersed and diffuse gaggle of semi-autonomous institutions. In the British example, from Thatcher onwards the physicality of the state is distributed among a number of bureaucracies with areas of competence, each under a particular minister and therefore responsible to the government of the day. Think the DWP and its previous iterations, the MOD, the Education Dept, and so on. Each are operationally autonomous from one another but are united under a relationship of command to the executive. As well as this, we have the devolved administrations and local government, and any number of Quangos with areas of competence and specialism. On top of this there are subdivisions in each of these institutions, and various non-governmental organisations like charities, community groups, and so on can be incorporated into the mix. What they all have in common is the sharing of governance functions. Or, rather, they specialise in a particular kind of population management.

With the emergence of neoliberal policy in the 80s, so public spending cuts inculcated particular behaviours on the part of institutions funded by central government. Namely, to get by public bodies had to make cuts and think about ways to replace lost revenue. As night follows day, necessity was transformed into a virtue. Standards of measurement and evaluation were put into place to justify spending and act as 'performance indicators' aiming to demonstrate that 'the taxpayer' is getting value for money. Under these conditions, the management of the public sector underwent a profound transformation. Civil servants and other employees are performance managed in terms of specified targets they have to reach (waiting times and patient turnover in the NHS, grades in schools, bums on seats in universities), the efficient management of budgets, caseload churn, and income generation. In a lot of cases there is competition between state institutions in markets that have only recently come into being. As the bottom line is the relentless focus, so the state, its institutions, and its employees are positioned and forced to act entrepreneurial. Commercial enterprise is the model, to be applied to all institutions under all circumstances, and the penetration of market relationships and private capital into the public sector is the effect. In sum, government power was used to bring about this state of affairs and maintain it. It wasn't a retreat of the state but a rejigging of its configuration according to market fundamentals.

Yet neoliberalism is even more pernicious than this. These same strategies, impositions, and policy consequences have inculcated a particular way of being, a type of individual. Just as the state and its institutions are entrepreneurial in theory and practice, so the expectation is that we as human beings act in the same way. I've argued previously that the inculcation of the entrepreneurial, or neoliberal subject can be read as an attempt by the state and its institutions to step in and provide a particular kind of work ethic after the collapse of the labour movement. These working class communities themselves provided an ethics of wage labour, and in some cases where community and solidarity went hand in hand, this included collective action against employers to secure their immediate interests. But neoliberal governance became the norm across Western Europe even in countries that don't immediately appear to follow the Anglo-American model of capitalism, such as Germany. The features of this sensibility is treating oneself as a bearer of different kinds of capital that, regardless of your situation and personal outlooks on life, you're expected to deploy. In a work setting, you're performance-managed as an individual in terms of how you mobilise your capitals to get the tasks done and further the objectives of the employer. In leisure time, many practices revolve around looking after one's self. Health and wellbeing employ similar techniques exhorting you to motivate yourself and perform fitness regimens, abide by diets, take exercise. Package holidays with their itineraries are designed to maximise your limited 'time capital' with things you Must Simply See and Do, and if you're going to be a good neoliberal tourist you mobilise your time accordingly. It spills over into all endeavours of life. How big your collections of whatevers are. The cramming of free time with Interesting Things. The accumulation of friends/followers/likes on social media. The number of liaisons on the trendy dating app. The good life is defined in terms of the accumulation of things and experiences, and this behaviour is a mere extension of one's habits in "professional" life.

One is therefore positioned as an entrepreneur. As such, like businesses, you're in competition. The inculcation of competition among classes of employees is as old as capitalism, but it has undergone a qualitative transformation in the neoliberal era. Performance management benchmarks in the workplace are always constructed with an eye to your conduct vis a vis everyone else. Being a "team player" is not a question of being good in a team, but performing as someone who competes with others, consciously or otherwise, to fulfill the objectives set them by the boss. Being "helpful" or "supportive" is a measure always read off against others. Competition is bound up with recognition, and being seen and being noticed is culturally privileged in and out of work and bound up with affirmation and self-worth. It is, as such, a source of much anxiety as most of us know we're doomed to pass through life with nary a ripple beyond our immediate social circles. And undergirding the neoliberal subject is the principle of self-reliance and self-responsibility. You are solely responsible for your successes and your failures. The state will actively intervene to ensure you participate on a level playing field, but it and the rest of society owes you no favours, least of all a living, so make of the world what you will.

This form of subjection is and isn't imposed. Human beings aren't brain washed dopes. We all have agency, the capacity to think and the capacity to act. We may not know what we do half the time, but nevertheless our life is a ceaseless set of decisions. Being a neoliberal subject isn't an imposition in the sense of domination in dictatorships, where you either go along with things or get banged up or worse. It is a subjection of choice. To borrow Althusser's and Poulantzas's notion of interpellation, institutions in neoliberal society hail (or greet) you as entrepreneurial, neoliberal subjects. You have the choice of engaging with them, you're not forced to, but all choices have consequences. If you're unemployed, you don't have to sign on for Jobseekers Allowance. You don't have to put yourself through the regimen of compulsory job searches, interviews, CV workshops, "training", and forced labour in return for the dole, but the alternative is no money. You don't have to be the good entrepreneurial subject at work, but if you choose not to give it 110% your position is at risk. You don't have to choose a healthy lifestyle, but if your beer, fags, and takeaway-fed body is the butt of jokes and opprobrium, that's your fault. As a mode of subjection, neoliberalism is successful because it supports a particular socio-economic system founded on the private expropriation of socially generated wealth while completely depoliticising these relations and making capitalism appear the spontaneously natural way of doing things. The fact it is a class system in a permanent state of crisis because of its ensemble of contradictions is effaced and rendered invisible from the standpoint of neoliberal subjectivity. The politics appropriate to this situation where, effectively, there is no such thing as society, only individuals and their families is technocratic, managerial politics. Perhaps the most pristine example is this pamphlet issued by Scottish Labour in 2008, which defined the aspirations of its constituents as "second home ownership, two cars in the driveway, a nice garden, two foreign holidays a year, and leisure systems in the home such as sound, cinema, and gym equipment". Forget "tribalism" and other irrationalities: vote according to your individual interest.

Martin Jacques's piece therefore falls on two counts. He does not consider neoliberalism in its totality, as interlinked economic policies, a panoply of population management strategies, nor as a mode of subjectivity, an actively promoted standard way of being. Which is peculiar considering that the end of her time in power, Thatcher noted in a 1988 Times interview that "Economics are the method. The object is to change the soul". Nor does Martin consider what might come after neoliberalism.

We can see beginnings of what a world after neoliberalism might look like, but there's a key point worth remembering before we go there. First and foremost, governmental and governance techniques only appear to be active agents. As Foucault notes, power isn't repressive, it is productive and when set in train can, at particular historical intervals, produce subjects of certain kinds. However, what tends to be missed in discussions of Foucault's approach is that power is always reactive too. Scholars often note that he believed power always begat resistance, but an elaboration of what 'resistance' is went untheorised in his work. And, if you'll permit me this aside, that's not surprising. Foucault was interested in the genealogies of the technologies of power, of governmentality as revealed and developed in old texts, out of which he sketched lines of descent for disciplinary practices commonplace in the West. He was foremost a philosopher masquerading as a historian and philologist, not a sociologist. Anyway, the point is that from the very moment the state emerged in antiquity as an institution apart from and above society, its common purpose has been the defence of class and property. Sometimes in relation to other states, in relation to sections of its own class, and always with regard and against uprisings of peasants, slaves, subject peoples, and barbarian invaders. With regard to the latter, states have historically pursued all kinds of ways of seeing off sedition and rebellion among subject populations. These strategies, which for most of human history were episodic, crude, and violent, were about meeting resistance instead of forestalling it.

To a large degree, this remains the case now. Remember the 1970s. Capitalism underwent a period of crisis beset with all sorts of economic problems, but its freehand was everywhere challenged by the surging power of organised labour. France came the closest an advanced capitalist nation has ever done to a socialist revolution in 1968. Italy, Germany, and Britain were beset with industrial struggles, rebellion, and terrorism. The dictatorships of Spain, Portugal, and Greece collapsed with the left insurgent. Neoliberalism as an economics, a mode of governance, and an apparatus of subjection was not a technocratic response. It was shaped in a confrontation between classes, between authorities and rebellious populations. It proved efficacious in the heat of battle - in Britain its economics broke up concentrations of heavy industry that employed the backbone of the labour movement. Its governmentality disciplined and homogenised that state while its institutions and functions were dispersed, which in turn disciplined and homogenised other organisations with no formal connection to the state. And it inculcated a form of individuality in which collectivism of any sort, let alone collective action, is alien. And part of the success and persistence of neoliberalism is precisely because it has incorporated a number of things the 1960s and 1970s left were fighting for. It was Blairism's achievement to formally marry neoliberal equality of opportunity discourse and policy with the goals of anti-racist, feminist, and LGBT movements. The rebellious zeitgeist of the 1960s eventually found a home in the celebrated autonomy of the neoliberal subject. And so, through struggle, pacification, and consent, neoliberalism remade the world. That however is not the same as saying everyone is a happy little subject.

Neoliberalism is smooth, but it is neither indestructible nor for forever. Like other modes of population management it will pass from the scene, and it will, as before, be the result of resistance from below. As a socialist that can't come soon enough, but routing neoliberalism is a difficult task. Martin Jacques implies that it's quite a simple process. The economics have been found wanting, intellectuals are attacking it, and political outbursts from Trump and Sanders, to UKIP, the SNP, and Corbynism are rebellions against the prevailing order. If it was that easy.

Turning back to Dardot and Laval, they argue the 2008 crash didn't kill neoliberalism. In the years since, despite a reluctant move by governments to a more "managed" capitalism neoliberalism is alive and well. Nor would the crisis deposit the doctrine into the receptacle of history. There is no reason why governments adopting Keynesian-inflected industrial activism, of stepping in to promote their businesses, of enforcing tougher regulations, and building new institutions for the benefit of capital-in-general wouldn't be compatible with neoliberal governmentality and subjection. It underlines the point that while neoliberal economics are exhausted, that is far from the case where it comes to population management.

And so we're back to the question of resistance. Without it, what comes after neoliberalism could be an unholy marriage of Keynes and Hayek, or, in plain English, more neoliberalism. However, the political economy of capitalism and contradictions within governance and subjection point toward other possible futures. Despite the official promotion and constant hailing of neoliberal subjects, capitalism remains capitalism. The basics teased out and critiqued by Marx are still there, be it stagnant Japanese or Italian capitalism, authoritarian Russian capitalism, capitalism with "Chinese characteristics", Greek austerity capitalism, or British post-neoliberal neoliberal capitalism. The antagonism of interests, the struggle between class relationships at its heart defines capitalism and disfigures societies. It concentrates wealth at the top and leaves the rest of us to make do. And the basic contradiction between capital's ceaseless drive to pump more surplus (and, ultimately, profit) from labour power and labour power's defence of its wages, work conditions, and autonomy continues to find expression in struggle. From vast strikes and factory occupations in China to Californian Uber and London Deliveroo drivers, neoliberal smoothness meets resistance to its individualist logics.

Quite apart from the inescapable dynamics of capitalism, neoliberal subjectivity has its own contradictions. As we have seen, choice and agency is core to this mode of subjection. One cannot be a passive entrepreneur - action and performance is demanded of us. We cannot be dopes or sheeple, we have to strive to create our own opportunities. Neoliberalism inculcates a mindset that is sceptical of tradition for tradition's sake, hierarchy, and alive to opportunity. Therefore self-motivated action is necessarily analytical and critical. It mostly realises itself in choices ratified by neoliberal convention and mores, but can easily turn against the social relationships it is meant to serve. Entrepreneurship can find outlets in collective action, in the ceaseless mutation of mobilisation technique and the staking out of spaces for counter-neoliberal activity. The seeking of economic opportunities for oneself isn't a million miles away from identifying political opportunities for a collective. At the cognitive level, neoliberal subjectivity inculcates the sensibility that makes its overthrow possible. The problem for neoliberal capital is to ensure the rewards of entrepreneurial activity are readily available, and looking at persistent inequality, rocketing house prices, stagnant wages, precarious working, and jobs that fall far short of the promise of self-realisation, it's failing.

The other big challenge of neoliberalism and capital more generally is what to make of the opportunities and challenges posed by an increasingly networked world. For instance, Facebook makes its money by providing space for and targeting adverts at people using their platform to create content. It depends on the creativity of others to turn a buck. This rentier model is the dominant business model for social media and, well, virtually anyone who tries to make money off the internet without paywalls. From capital's point of view it is potentially dangerous because previous regimes of capitalist production depended on capital having the whip hand over labour - it foisted a relation of dependence on it with the back up of the state. Now, as digital capitalisms and the work practices associated with it become symbols of its modernity and dynamism, the terms of the dependence are reversed. It requires labour to be creative, free, and autonomous so capital can ponce off its product. Overt attempts at control stymies the new opportunities for profit, and so it has no choice but to double down on neoliberal subjectivity as a way of "disciplining" creativity within its tried and tested limits, even as it threatens it. The further spread of neoliberal governmentality in Britain after the alleged death of neoliberalism - the full marketisation of the NHS and Higher Education, toughened sanctions in welfare regimes, austerity - are not unconnected to the free, collectivist challenge a networked world poses.

What comes after neoliberalism? That depends on what happens to the resistances now being called into being. Assuming capitalism continues and nuclear war nor decades of dictatorship are avoided, the contours of post-neoliberal capitalism would, like other previous modes of governance, be concerned with containing the energy and aspirations of the mass. After all, capital as a relationship is an exercise of certain interests and their primary concern is a perpetuation of that relationship. Given what has already been said about the trends and challenges besetting capitalism now, by way of idle forecasting post-neoliberal management would likely see a more industrially active state, with and without nationalisation. It would probably continue to centralise the powers of surveillance and be less amenable to liberal democratic pressure. That much is apparent already. But this would be at odds with the most likely forms of governance and subject generation, it is possible the the basic income could be conceded as precarity and the attendant anxiety and anger is a potent axis future struggles can and are emerging along. The emerging hegemony of the network might see renewed attempts at popular capitalism. This is something Thatcher tried and was only partially successful in, and her legacy was a dysfunctional housing market and the usurpation of "popular" privatisations by institutional investors. The harnessing of the power of networks might see the state sponsor cooperative business, or the cooperatisation of existing public services and/or private utilities. And the subject appropriate to this? One concerned with partnership, the pooling of talents, and of mutual aid on top of the agent-centered, creative, and entrepreneurialism of the existing neoliberal subject.

And so the new post-neoliberal managerialism is born with an obvious contradiction. A popular participatory capitalism overseen by a surveilling, authoritarian state: an institution that acts as guarantor for capital's continuation in the face of its partial socialisation. Especially as the governance and subjection associated with this possible mutation in capitalism takes us much closer to socialism than the post-war settlement and the Soviet nightmare. And as capitalism becomes increasingly superfluous to the organisation of things, its dynamism exhausted as the new emerges from the chrysalis of old, it can then finally take its rightful place in the museum of social systems past.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Ants in the Coffee

I'm working on what the trendies and hipsters call a 'long read'. It's about Neoliberalism - what it is and what's likely to come after. I'm about 2,000 words in and not sure if the mid-point has been reached. Yikes.

You're here looking for a bit of blogging red meat to play with, and so ...

I've been making cups of coffee since I was a little kid, mostly for myself and mum. And I followed the standard prep format. Coffee and sugar in first, followed by the milk and then topped up with boiling water. Seeing the half/semi-dissolved granules swimming about the surface was, in my book, the sign of a drink well made.

Then, over 20 years ago, I went to university. In the second year our house was in a street about two minutes walk from the main entrance to the ivory tower, so all the folks we knew would pile round inbetween lectures. Many hours of Neighbours and Home and Away were spent with cakes from Wright's Pies and beverages from, well, me. And I recall one of my housemates (hello, Liv!) moaning about my "ants in the coffee". Imagine my horror that, apparently, the trusty and tried Cartledge way of doing things was wrong. The water goes in first and the "ants", my beloved melting coffee sands, were unworthy. Sad to say, I capitulated and adopted the "proper" method and have added the milk last ever since.

The important questions then are:

a) How do you make your (instant) coffee?

b) Is it a region thing?

c) Is it a class thing?

This has puzzled me for the best part of 15 minutes, so can you shed some light on the situation?

Saturday, 20 August 2016

The Annoying Necessity of Facebook

In the recent past, Facebook has advertised Britain First to me. It has dangled anti-semitic conspiracy sites before my eyes. I've had adverts for Nazi memorabilia and militaria. On occasion, it has even alerted me to Gary Barlow products. Imagine my surprise when, on Wednesday, I found this peddler of dodgy politics and suspect pastimes had banned me from posting links to this here blog. That's right, because - apparently - someone had made a complaint about my content, the site was on the naughty step before the ban was lifted this evening. Perhaps the fashions in the previous musical posting were too offensive for someone's snowflakish disposition.

Unfortunately, Facebook has come to matter. Social media-wise, I've always been into Twitter more, even though micro-blogging has tended to displace proper blogging, effectively leaving the field of extended political comment the preserve of professional journos. For me, Facebook has always been for snarky comments away from the public eye, sharing cat and retro game photos, and the things not entirely suitable for here. Only slowly have I woken up to the potential of Facebook as a platform for driving a larger audience this way. Probably because I'm a rubbish accelerationist and, well, you don't know despair until you've seen a Facebook group. Anyway, despite knowing for a while that a punter is more likely to follow a link from Facebook than practically any other social media platform, including Twitter, it was only last year I started taking it semi-seriously by setting up a dedicated page for the blog (give it a like if you haven't already!). And as you can see from the side bar, 223 likes isn't much to shout about. Yet in the last few months it has started paying dividends.

Blog traffic has shot up to just over 100,000 page views these last couple of months, and August is all set to be busier still. Chicken feed for the big boys, but a big deal for what is essentially a hobbyist's obsession. Obviously, recent events have suddenly made my wares more compelling to larger numbers, but the analytics show the sharing on Facebook is driving a not insignificant audience in this direction. And lo, for the four days it had banned links to here, readers dropped by about a quarter. This internet and social media lark is a funny old game.

Naturally, as a private network owned and operated for profit, Facebook can do what it likes. It is no more obliged to carry my content than I am the sundry ravings of assorted conspiracy theorists. Well, that is if you subscribe to an archaic notion of property completely unsuited to the internet age. There are two dimensions to Facebook that demand there be proper accountability and democratic say over what it can and can't do. In the 21st century, the platform is part of the global infrastructure. Business opportunities are scoped out and realised. Friendships are won and lost. Ideas are shared and debated. Had Facebook not emerged when it did, something very similar would have had to have been invented. Therefore to have such a key piece of infrastructure not only in private ownership, but ultimately under the sole, virtually unaccountable command of Mark Zuckerberg and his senior management team is not very zeitgeisty, at the very least.

Second, I've been on Facebook a long time. I got my account sorted in 2007 when it was a plaything for postgrad students looking for new procrastination opportunities. Instead of moaning about Facebook inconveniencing me, some might suggest I should be grateful for them providing me bandwidth for nine years' worth of status updates. Huh, pity the fools. Facebook's core business is data, masses of it. Every time they "do me a favour" by moaning about my age or a night out with the comrades, each utterance is mined for tiny packets of data about where I am and what I'm doing. Aggregated together, this data builds up a digital doppleganger about my preferences, behaviours, and so on. They do this with me. They do this with their 1.7bn active monthly users. All their big data is chopped and changed in any number of ways, and allows Facebook to sell targeted advertising to folks who want to flog their wares to particular demographics. The Tories, for example, used this to good effect in their social media campaign last year by funneling messages to key mosaic groups in key marginals. I don't know how much my data is worth, but as Facebook's profits were $1bn last year, they make more money from me, you, and everyone else on the site than the funds expended maintaining the network. There's an argument that all social media users should be paid directly for their data, but until such a time there is a relationship of unequal reciprocity, and this applies to Facebook and its users. Like the formal equality of employer and employee in a job contract, the relationship is mutually dependent but one profits more from it than the other, usually without the latter's knowledge. Therefore, as they profit from my data we should feel perfectly entitled to moan, gripe, and demand they be transparent and responsive.

As the networks continue to proliferate and social media becomes even more fundamental to the infrastructure of our globalising civilisation, so the democratic pressure on the tech giants and their business models will build. Until then, this small corner of the internet relies on those networks for making its mark on the world, much to my annoyance.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Can Owen Smith Win?

Long-term readers know one of my favourite games ever is Civilization III. As you busily set about conquering the world militarily or, depending on your play style, kindness, you get to sign treaties with computer-controlled opponents. It being a title from 2001, the options are a touch limited. You can put together a peace treaty if you’re concluding a war, sign a right of passage agreement, or a mutual protection pact. Signing the latter has you declaring war on anyone who attacks your ally, so it’s not something to enter into lightly. Should you break any of the treaties your civilisation will suffer a hit to its reputation, making future diplomacy more difficult and the odds of AI opponents attacking you more likely.

I mention this in light of the comments made about NATO by Jeremy Corbyn, and more pointedly his refusal to say whether a Jez-led Britain would come to the aid of an alliance member attacked by Russia. In real life, just like Civ that would have dire repercussions for Britain's standing in the world, as well as doubts over its commitments to other international treaties. Now, it might be unfair he was asked this question. Can you recall Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband getting asked something similar? Well, tough. Politics isn’t fair. Jeremy’s equivocal answer probably didn’t matter a great deal to his firm supporters. After all, we know that as a committed anti-war activist and critic of US foreign policy, he wouldn’t be fussed about the abolition of NATO. But, as I’ve argued before, giving the impression of being blasé about defence and security (and therefore stoking insecurity) never sits well with the electorate, and it might reap Team Jeremy negative dividends when it comes to the leadership contest.

Oh really? Hasn’t Jeremy got a commanding lead among the constituency parties? Yes, he has indeed. But as the Owen Smith camp (remember him?) have pointed out, taking together all the people to have indicated a preference so far the margin is much closer than you would expect. As Stephane notes, while Jez wracked up the CLP nominations the actual votes cast in the contest isn't as one-sided as they suggest. From the start, I’ve believed his challenge, as cobbled together and opportunist it is, Owen has stood an outside chance of winning, especially in the event of some Jez gaffe. And it’s not the membership Jeremy would have to worry about as they remain likely to back him, it’s the affiliated members in the trade unions.

Readers with long memories and/or an understanding of labour movement history will know well the balance of forces in the party in the 1970s and 80s. Despite being much stronger and a touch more militant, affiliated trade unions played a conservative role in the party. Uncle John Golding in his unmissable Hammer of the Left demonstrates how bureaucratic chicanery in the party allied to having the unions onside was the path to defeating and isolating the left in the 1980s – a lesson those who would follow in his footsteps failed to grasp because, well, they don’t understand how the party works, let alone the wider labour movement.

In the current leadership battle, it appears to me neither side have paid much attention to the affiliated members in the trade unions, but this would be a mistake. Having most of the unions formally endorse Jeremy was always going to happen. Likewise, Community and USDAW backing Owen was as predictable as tomorrow’s sun rise. The eyebrow raising came when the GMB’s membership plebiscite delivered the union’s support to our Owen. Sundry Corbynites cried foul. The general secretary’s preamble was “biased”. The wording on the ballot paper was tilted against Jez. And turnout was pitifully low. Oh dear. It appears the right of the PLP aren’t the only ones who don’t understand trade unions.

Despite the leftist reputation unions have acquired over the last decade-and-a-half, on the whole, they’re not stuffed with right-on lefties. A trade union is an institution supported by a collective of dues-paying workers to represent their interests in the workplace. That is all a trade union is. They are not a gaggle of bolshevists pregnant with insurrection. It’s an organisation that fights on issues of economic relevance to its members, and as such can only ever be as strong as the width and breadth of that membership. It's also why trade unions were won to founding the Labour Party. The separation of politics and economics exit only in the scholastic imagination; securing the economic interests of working people requires political struggle, up to and including winning parliamentary representation and forming governments. As such, while unions can mobilise large numbers of working people and see them engage in militant action, it doesn't necessarily mean they're equally militant in their politics. For instance, I remember a comrade telling me about how her then boyfriend came from a family of militant dockers. Yet above the family dining table was a portrait of the Queen.

In the seldom read but much maligned What is to be Done?, old Lenners talked about trade union consciousness, how the immediate realities of wages, speed ups, work load, managerial control, lay offs, and so on tends to focus the minds of workers around these issues. Winning wage rises or more autonomy in the work place does not put capitalism into question. The job of socialist politics is to bridge that gap, of linking the experience of working collectively to win concessions at work to the wider project of remaking society. And so, because trade union consciousness spontaneously coheres around economistic issues, there is a tendency for it to be expressed in sectional ways. For instance, workers who struck to to keep colour bars in place, the replacement of "indigenous" by migrant labour, or to keep in place the exclusion of women from workplaces are all examples where the immediate, sectional interest is at odds with the interests of labour in general.

Which brings us back to the situation we find ourselves in. As readers know, Jeremy has already copped criticism from Unite and the GMB for his opposition to Trident. From a trade union perspective, it's obvious: scrapping the replacement programme means no Trident jobs, and therefore an uncertain future in the shipyards and for the communities that depend on them. It doesn't matter that Jeremy supports the redeployment of these skills and reinvestment in socially useful industries of the future. There is a tangibility to Trident whereas the alternatives, at present, are a pipe dream. From this perspective, Jeremy represents a double whammy of insecurity: in terms of their livelihoods and in terms of making the country weak in the face of foreign foes. And for those groups of workers concerned about such things, yesterday's remarks about NATO is like topic off a toxic fudge cake with radioactive sprinkles.

This then is the only real possibility Owen has of winning, by banking on the less politically conscious component of the selectorate mix in the trade unions going for him because they feel Jeremy's leftyism isn't just a problem when it comes to elections, but that it appears to be against their interests. The question is whether there are enough to outweigh pro-Corbyn affiliated trade unionists, and the bulk of the membership and registered supporters. I would say no, but this is 2016, and stranger things have happened. It also presents a future problem for Jeremy if he does win. There is now a section of the trade union members that are opposed to his continued leadership, and this could prove useful to know for any future coup plotters unless his leadership ups its game. He and his team should regard the GMB vote as a warning and act accordingly.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Labour and Anti-Semitism

Like cat piss on your carpet, the stench comes back regardless of what you do to it. I'm talking, in this instance, about the Labour Party and anti-semitism. Despite an inquiry that issued clear guidelines and repeat condemnation by Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Momentum, and everyone associated with the party's leadership, it will not go away. So what is going on? As I've said on occasion, if you have recurring phenomena then we're talking about social relationships, not something that can be put down to individual oddities. And, to note, just because it has become a factional football doesn't mean anti-semitism is not important or isn't happening. It is. Where then does Labour's issue with anti-semitism come from?

What the party isn't is institutionally anti-semitic, in the sense it structurally discriminates and disadvantages members from a Jewish background. In fact, the argument can be turned on its head and the case made it's institutionally anti-anti-semitic, in the same way it is also institutionally anti-sexist and anti-racist. Before anyone rolls their eyes and gets a letter from compliance for it, this isn't the same as saying sexism and racism aren't problems in the Labour Party. Rather it is the banal observation that because of work done by previous and current generations of women and BME comrades, formally the party is against chauvinism and racism. Members can and do have action taken against them for making these unwelcome views known and engaging in unacceptable behaviour. And the party tries to overcome the legacies of sexism and racism through the use of shortlists, diversity training, and so on. That said, because Labour is a mass party and not an ideologically pure sect, its membership has, to greater and lesser degrees, the tendency to reflect the attitudes and prejudices of the constituency it reflects. If you like, the institutionalisation of progressive attitudes and the activists that uphold them are in a ceaseless battle against what we might euphemistically term "unreconstructed" views constantly being fed into the party from its relationship with wider society.

However, this can explain why racism and sexism remain party problems but it does not account for anti-semitism. While there have been spikes of anti-semitism over the years, it hasn't had a mass base or following in British society since the 1930s. What is it about the Labour Party now that is attracting anti-semites in disproportionate numbers and to the Corbyn campaign in particular? I think it's down to a mix of naivete, stupidity, and in a number of cases, hardcore racism.

Dealing with the first, Jeremy Corbyn has a long record of anti-war activity. His 33 years in Parliament have seen him take up the cudgels against British foreign policy, whether it was popular or politic or not. Similarly, he has never hidden his criticisms of US and Israeli policies in the Middle East either. Unfortunately, this kind of stance often comes with a studied silence about the countries and organisations at the receiving end of Western bombs and, in some cases, de facto united fronts with outright supporters of these regimes/outfits. These characters can be most unsavoury. You could say that some folks who are especially active in anti-war work are a little care free when it comes to associating with people who, on the one issue of opposing such-and-such a conflict, there is a shared position. And so where opposition to the criminal policies of the Israeli state are concerned, you might find people in this milieu, especially those new to it, getting rather over-enthusiastic in their denunciation of Israel's actions. They might bang on about Zionists and Zionism, might shout off about "Zios", and make clumsy, inappropriate, and offensive comparisons between the Nazis and the Holocaust and Israel and the occupation. And they do it because too few within this milieu actively challenge it. So as Jeremy has risen to prominence, this sort of clumsiness has been imported into the Labour Party and become more visible than has hitherto been the case. Something I've been worried about for a while.

Overlapping with this is an anti-establishment politics at its most basic and primitive: conspiracy theorists. If porn is the main contribution the internet has made to popular culture, opening mass audiences to the idiocies of conspiracy theorising comes in a close second. You can understand the cognitive basis for these views. The world is a complex scary mess with clear winners and losers, and can appear as if a shadowy elite has it all under their thumb. It's not. There is no one at the helm, and not even being the richest nation with the most powerful military the world has ever seen can impose its will at will on the world, or defy the head winds of global economic turbulence. Conspiracies then are comforting because there's a weird form of security knowing someone's in charge, and that you stand out from the herd because your keen brain has connected the dots and cut through the bullshit. After the September 11th attacks, the conspiranoid 9/11 Truth Movement were an identifiable anti-war trend that not only peddled nonsense about remote controlled airliners and buildings pre-packed with demolition charges, but fanned the flames of anti-semitic conspiracy theorising. It was a false flag operation run by Mossad, or Jewish employees were warned to stay away from the Twin Towers on the morning of the attack being two choice examples. The problem is this sort of thinking never disappeared. It scooped up gullible adherents here and there and continued to fester on email lists, forums, and Facebook groups. And so, just like the "careless" people this variegated bunch have also joined up and used their conspiranoia to make sense of Labour's faction fight. The links between some Labour MPs and Israel via Labour Friends of Israel are "proof" they are taking orders from Tel Aviv. Some are associated with very rich people, who happen to be Jewish, and, of course, because some sitting MPs helped save the banking system from collapse they're in the pay of the Rothschilds. These entirely unwelcome elements, again, aren't drawn to Jeremy because he's one of them, but rather in the terms of their anti-semitic conspiracy theology, it's him versus the Zionist lobby and therefore deserves their support.

These people are badly mistaken and seriously deluded, and I would say there are a portion of them who don't even realise they're being anti-semitic. But on those occasions it happens time and again, and despite it being pointed out to some of them carry on willy-nilly, then they have passed over into outright racism.

And this brings me to the third kind, those that really do have anti-semitic issues. It doesn't matter how they arrived at this perspective, the fact is they single out Jews and attribute all kinds of social problems to them. Classic scapegoating, classic racism. Wherever they are found they should be turfed out of the party, no ifs, no buts. However, while these people do undoubtedly exist, are there others at it? While anti-semitism in wider society is diminished, there are still enough people miles away from left wing politics with axes to grind. Grabbing a Momentum twibbon and using the furore around Labour anti-semitism to vent their bilge is easy enough to do. And then there are obvious troll accounts like this and this operated by folks unknown to keep those flames fanned. Imagine being an opponent of Jeremy Corbyn and cynically using racist abuse to "prove" his support is anti-semitic. Is that the mindset of someone you'd wish to be associated with? Do you think that sort of person should have a place in the Labour Party?

I am glad that most people in our movement have woken up to anti-semitism, and I hope wherever comrades find it a swift complaint to follows in short order. Anti-semitism is not just the socialism of fools, as August Bebel put it, but is the very antithesis of a politics founded on solidarity and collective action. It's in all our interests to be on our guard against it, and attack it wherever and whenever we can.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Jeremy Corbyn in Derby

12pm on a Tuesday in the middle of August perhaps isn't the best time ever to hold a rally, but the odd scheduling did nothing to depress turnout at Jeremy Corbyn's rally in Derby city centre earlier today. I'd say between 500-600 assembled in the summer sun to listen to what the Labour leader had to say, as well as a few others. Again, like last year's rally at the Roundhouse the former Derby North MP Chris Williamson oversaw proceedings.

If you've seen or heard a Jeremy Corbyn speech before, there isn't a great deal to tell. We too often think of the orator as a demagogue, but Jeremy's presentation is as far away from this as possible. His style consists of listing a series of problems and posing a number of solutions. It doesn't require much in the way of theatre nor the raising or lowering of the voice. And herein lies his appeal. As Chris rightly observed in his introduction, the people who label Corbyn's support as a cult don't understand or begin to address the causes of his popularity. The "secret" is he speaks up for an alternative politics that has equality, justice, and the good life at its heart. Jeremy says what was pretty much unsayable in politics for the last 30 years and it's refreshing to hear. For those entirely new this is the first time in their lives socialist ideas have gained any prominence. Jeremy's not-ranty and reasonable style works because these views are plainly stated. They require no spin.

That said, I would offer a couple of comradely criticism's of Jez's speech this lunchtime because, you know, I address rallies of hundreds and thousands regularly too. Firstly, his events are lefty rallies but he shouldn't assume everyone is conversant with the lingo and know what our movement's multiple acronyms mean. For instance, you and I know who the RMT are, but do the few students I spotted from my degree programme? Just prefacing it with something like "the railworkers' union, the RMT ..." might help cut through the blizzard of big letters. The other thing is I'd like to see Jeremy say more things about the party and trade unions. Hold on a minute, isn't that pretty much all he talks about? It's one thing to talk about the good works our unions do, and how we have the largest political party in Europe, but for us to succeed and win we've got to keep piling up the members. The vast bulk of today's audience weren't in the party, and I'd wager a good chunk aren't in a union either. Jeremy absolutely must use his platform to encourage/invite/cajole the crowds to join and join now.

The most interesting thing about today's rally, however, was the crowd. I've been around the block and lost count of the demonstrations, rallies, and other labour movement gatherings I've been on. But what they all had in common, regardless of size, militancy, and politics is their composition: they were all blessed with an over-preponderance of middle-aged men. It was nothing like this earlier. Young and old, women and men, disabled people, mums and dads with prams and pushchairs, it was easily the most mixed political crowd I've been in - even better than last year's Jeremy event. And from the standpoint of what rallies do, and the health of our movement, this is a good thing.

Overall, a job well done. A tired old cynic is what I am, but today I got a sense of the hope more enthusiastic Corbyn supporters feel. And when was that the last time a factor in our politics?

Monday, 15 August 2016

Animotion - Obsession

I have the lazy Monday blues, so no blogging tonight. Only a tune, and what a tune it is.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Jeremy Corbyn and Rallies

Provided I'm not knocked down by a bus or get buried by work, I should be attending a Jeremy Corbyn event this Tuesday lunch time in Derby. When the photos showing the crowd start circulating, knowing wags will put down their pipes, shake their heads and lecture the children about the difference between the people turning up to a rally and the wider electorate. Our Jackanorys might pepper their yarn with a choice Uncle John Golding quote about 50,000 fans thinking Michael Foot sounded wonderful on a speaker's platform, but at home there were millions who thought he was crackers.

The latest to spin a variation on the theme is Abby Tomlinson of Milifandom fame (remember that?). In her piece, Abby talks about her electrifying experience sharing a platform with Jez and Owen Jones in Manchester. Typifying Jeremy's political life, she argues this acts as a closed circuit. Jez says something at a rally, the crowd lap it up, and he comes away thinking he can win a general election. The problem, and one of the reasons why she's not supporting his leadership, is an apparent unwillingness to reach beyond the "safety" of the rallies where he preaches to the converted. As she acerbically observes, "do you know who have literally zero rallies? The Tories. Do you know who keep winning elections? Also the Tories ... there is no real correlation between rally attendance and being electable to the general public."

Abby is right. Then again, there is no evidence anyone but the rawest, freshest recruit believes Labour can win an election by having mass rallies here and there. But that isn't to say they don't have a place. They do.

Rallies are useful because the consolidate support and firm it up. When I was in the Socialist Party, Herculean efforts were made every year to turn out a few hundred members and guests for the annual Socialism rally at Friends Meeting House. This had the effect of sharing (drunken) experiences and the horrors of the youth hostel. All good bonding fodder. The Corbyn rallies have been and are necessary because the people his leadership has drawn into politics are mostly atomised and new. A rally is a way of sharing an experience that can be talked about with like-minded others in real life and on social media. They are also places where local party and Momentum activists speak to people, give them literature, let them know about meetings, and so on. They are moments that offer an opportunity to become familiar with the movement and, hopefully, get drawn further into it.

Secondly, to borrow a horrible phrase from spin-spaddery, it makes good optics. Traditionally, labour movements have mobilised large numbers and marched with the express purpose of demonstrating the strength of feeling about particular issues/policies, and pressuring Parliament into doing something about it. We've understood this for about 200 years and, as with any kind of extra-parliamentary activity, it has a mixed record. 250,000 in London followed by a riot brought Thatcher down in 1990. A dignified march of two million against the invasion of Iraq in 2003 wasn't able to dissuade Blair from the course that subsequently damned him.

A similar logic applies to rallies. You're walking about Liverpool city centre when, bugger, you bump into 5,000 people gathered to listen to the Labour leader. Impressive. You're at home despairing about the state of politics, and then a report comes up that sees Jeremy addressing huge crowds. Isn't he supposed to be really unpopular? Again, the optics appear to counter the established narrative, and it will have a modest but real impact on some voters.

More importantly, they can act as weapons of psychological warfare. As Abby notes, the Tories get by without rallies. That's because as a party of elites whose sole purpose is to win elections to defend entrenched interests, it doesn't need them. They don't even really need a mass membership, seeing as they are the party of the few and have the cash to make up the numbers. Whereas Labour, of course, is the party of the many and a mass membership is its lifeblood. So the sight of lots of people turning up can leave some people rattled. One of these is Jake Berry MP of Rossendale and Darwen. Writing last month, he frets that the massive, ravenous Labour beast could savage the Tory lambs, and that the Tories have to also pile up the members to counter this fiend. Wouldn't it be a shame if the Jeremy bandwagon was to roll into his constituency and add to his discombobulation and strengthen party organisation in that part of the world? If that was to happen in all of our target seats over the next couple of years, it would certainly make a number of their MPs sweaty.

Now, of course, Abby, John Golding, and the social media wiseheads are right up about rallies. They don't win elections in and of themselves, but they can make a useful contribution, and should be part of our electoral strategy. And while Jeremy needs to up his game when it comes to other aspects of his leadership, doing fewer rallies is something he shouldn't worry about.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

No Man's Sky and the Political Economy of Hype

You've heard of GamerGate, right? The "movement" of online men-babies who harassed, doxed, and attacked women game developers and game firm employees because they were ostensibly upset about "ethics in video game journalism". No? Well here, knock yourself out. Anyway, "professional" video game journalism has another problem: a tendency to fall for the hype it generates. This reveals itself in the release of Hello Games' No Man's Sky, the much-trailed space exploration game.

What is particularly eye-catching from a game development/technical point of view is that its universe contains over 18 quintillion planets. These are generated procedurally from the developers' algorithms, which specify planetary formation, the distribution of sea and land, atmospheric composition, toxicity/radiation, and the appearance and behaviour of alien flora and fauna. Players wake up on a random world and start their exploration from there, with an official (but non-compulsory) objective of working one's way to the centre of the galaxy. Money can be earned from identifying the native wildlife and uploading your discoveries to the servers where, in the first 24 hours, players had "discovered" some 10 million species. These discoveries become fixed points in the universe which can later be visited by other players, but given its size ... And that's all there is to it. Explore, mine, trade, very, very occasionally shoot things, and follow the loose story threads weaved into the game. It's definitely the kind of game I avoid because I'd never have the time to inflict my writing on you. But my nearest and dearest is hooked. She might resurface in time for Christmas.

Not everyone is satisfied, though. Destructoid moaned that it's all a bit samey, and the differences between worlds are cosmetic. Slapping down a six-out-of-ten, Video Gamer made similar points, saying it becomes endlessly repetitive. The question has to be asked, after talking it up for so long, what were they expecting?

Since I was a nipper, hype has been part of any big game's pre-release. Game mags did then as games mags and websites do now. They wax lyrical about the game, bigging it up right to the release date. As far as the industry's political economy is concerned, it serves the interests of the game companies because interest and sales go hand-in-hand. And for the reviewers, it drives sales and web traffic as regular readers stick around to await the final verdict. You don't have to pretend a conspiracy between developers and reviewers, even though they have been uncovered in the past. Both have an identity of interests in the hype and will work independently of each to feed the machine. In No Man's Sky's case, Sony threw their full weight behind the project and have ensured it got plenty of coverage since its first appeared in late 2013. But unlike other huge games, Hello Games' Sean Murray has been scrupulous describing what the game is and isn't. Extensive previewing and interviews have set out the game world, what the thing entails, the slim chance of ever bumping into another player in the universe, and the very light plot elements. So to see it copping criticisms for "being boring" and not being a fast-paced first person shooter like Destiny, well, it's a bit like attacking Tetris for lacking platforming action.

It's not like we haven't seen this sort of game before. No Man Sky is more of a direct sequel to the classic Elite than Elite's official follow ups are. Back in the day on the trusty old Spectrums, BBC Micros, and the like the same procedural trick was pulled to produce a universe of just over 2,000 planets. Game play was about trading commodities between planets, upgrading your ship, shooting up space pirates (or becoming one yourself), and that was it. Completely without aim, it was a fundamentally open gaming experience that just wasn't available elsewhere, and is rightly regarded as one of the greatest games ever made. I have very fond memories of using the mining laser to light everything other than asteroids up. I have not jumped on every scrap released or leaked about No Man's Sky but, again, no claim has ever been made that we were looking forward to something qualitatively different to its illustrious ancestor.

And here lies the problem. Hype is inevitable when it comes to entertainment commodities, but time and again the political economy of reviewing inflates and distorts expectations. A preview creates a frame which is populated by all manner of wonderments and claims designed to generate interest in the game and its coverage, and it is through this distorted view that the game is subsequently evaluated. It's a bit like economists or sociologists creating models of the world, and then criticising real-life social action for refusing to conform. And in some cases, it leads to reviews that are egregiously off-centre and structurally dishonest. How about a critique within its own terms, like the mysterious absence of gas giants (when they dominate our own universe), or lack of variety among solar systems which, again, nowhere near match the diversity we've turned up in our own telescopes?

No Man's Sky is a refreshing change to the cavalcade of shooters, action RPGs, shooters, and action RPGs that are the lot of modern video gaming. If you want a change of pace, then approach on its own terms.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Stoke Central CLP Nomination Meeting

46 people turned up for tonight's nomination meeting which, thanks to the Appeal Court ruling earlier today, depressed the numbers we were otherwise expecting. Indeed, two people that hadn't heard about the upholding of the NEC's decision had to be turned away. I do hope that isn't the last we see of them.

Looking around the meeting before it properly started, apart from a few folks away on holiday (which, in case you were wondering, included our MP) nearly all the stalwarts who attended religiously during the quiet times turned out. But there were a good chunk of newer members who had joined before the cut-off date. It's a bit weird not knowing everyone in the room any more, but a good weird. Also, I'd decided before the meeting not to say anything and give people who don't normally speak more of a chance. It seemed most of the regulars had taken the same view.

Anyway, as per the meeting running order handed down from on high, assembled members had 10 minutes to read the statements supplied by Owen Smith and Jeremy Corbyn, as well as have a bit of a catch up. Once sorted the speakers were called. The format was to be one Jeremy, one Owen, and on until the end of the meeting. Unfortunately, there proved to be a bit of a problem - only one person was willing to speak for Owen.

After the introductory remarks from one of the newer comrades, who noted Jeremy was a rarity in that he cared about the problems disabled people faced, our Owen Smith speaker spoke about the despair she felt about the state of the party. Having voted Jeremy last time thinking he'd be a breath of fresh air, she believes he has taken the party to the edge of the abyss, and it's possible it might not even survive the next few months. On electability, she was convinced we cannot win with him and he is driving voters away from us. Owen isn't ideal, but he is an interim answer to the danger facing us. She also expressed doubts whether the broad church would continue.

Member A's response was a broad church is fine, but when you have a prominent member calling on the Tories to crush a rail union that founded Labour, there are limits to how far this should stretch. He spoke with some anger about the misrepresentation of Corbyn and his positions in the media, an observation now backed up by two academic studies. He also noted how Owen was running with policies previously regarded as "unelectable" just to try and get elected, concluding he was a weather vein and not a leader. Member B focused on Jeremy's character as honest and caring, but the main reason he was supporting Corbyn was because he understood that party members need a proper input, not just the MPs. He was also against the constant sniping of the leader by the PLP and didn't believe getting into power to behave like the Conservatives was something worth working towards.

Member C echoed these comments saying we should be more than a pale blue opposition, and Jeremy was the man taking us where we needed to go. Member D was a bit more sceptical of Jeremy and said she wanted to vote for Owen, but feels like he can't be trusted. She was disgusted with the behaviour of the shadow cabinet (as was), and only someone like Corbyn can get Labour back to the kind of politics it should be espousing. Member E added that the party's achievements of the last nine months were purposely underplayed, while sedition has undermined Jeremy's position and masses of Labour supporters vilified. He noted there were people in the PLP who would rather see the party split than a socialist Labour government come to power. It's time for a new politics. Member F challenged the notion that Corbyn supporters are uninterested in winning elections - he's supporting him because there is no one better. The danger with Owen Smith winning is he would demobilise the huge interest in the Labour Party and take it back to where it's come from. Member G, a union rep in his warehouse, was keen to emphasise that Corbynism can win over workers when it gets a fair hearing. To illustrate, his workplace alone has 20 party members. Member H attacked the PLP for betraying the membership and not allowing their choice have the chance he should expect and deserve. He also cast doubt on Owen's candidacy, asking whether he was the best or the only candidate they could find. He was allowed to run precisely because there was no chance of him winning. Lastly, Member I said she was neither a Trot nor a Corbynista, but just wanted someone she could trust and had the right politics.

With the half hour over and no signs of abuse or uncomradely behaviour, we totted up the votes taken by secret ballot. As one of the tellers, even before counting started it was clear Jeremy had won by a landslide. The final result was two spoiled ballot papers, four votes for Owen, and 40 votes for Jeremy, making our existing leader Stoke Central CLP's nominee.