Class Act

Class. Like politics and religion, it’s one of those things that is supposed to make fastidious Brits uncomfortable if the subject comes up in polite conversation. Yet everyone’s talking about it.

I used to be a very simple soul. I thought that class was, in essence, a category used in social science to describe and explain the distinctive patterns of experience and behaviour of large social groups. There are major disagreements in sociology about definitions, of course; the Marxist idea of classes that power social and economic change through a war of wills and agency (“All history is the history of class struggle”), is very different from essentially descriptive definitions, such as those bloodless categories used by psephologists – AB, C1, C2, DE. But Marx, Weber, Durkheim, poor things, are not the source of today’s arguments about class on this island.

Class is now overwhelmingly a badge of identity. A manufactured identity sometimes pinned on others, sometimes claimed for oneself, and linked materially to consumption , and emotionally to sentiment. It’s become a tabloid concept for a vapid age.

The dominant class, hailed for its ‘authenticity’, is the “white working class”. Old Etonians and academics on the make write books about these stout, commonsensical folk, mostly male, in their distinctive white vans, with their proud banner, the cross of St George. They hate immigrants, especially darker skinned ones, and that is why they commonsensically voted to leave the Pakistani-led European Union. These salt of the earth types love fish and the fishing industry, but won’t eat mackerel, preferring a good British curry. Very importantly, they must not make any effort at school. They must reject the damaging practice of reading books, although they are allowed to “do their own research”. Educational achievement confers no benefits on these people, as evidence shows that white working class men earn more than many professional workers of colour, despite their lack of qualifications. They can be found in towns, preferably those without a university. Their main social activities are watching football in pubs, and giving interviews to the BBC in Dudley market. They used to vote Labour, but now they say that their dad will be spinning in his grave, but they just had to vote for ‘Boris’.

The non-white working class does not exist. Nor can any white working class be found in cities, except, occasionally, in constituencies on the poignant peripheral areas.

When I say that the non-white working class does not exist, I am taking the theorists of the white working class at their word. But not everyone agrees with them.

For there are other definitions which include people of colour. This is where people ostensibly on the left, but eschewing Marxism in favour of identity labels, see ‘working class’ as applying to anyone with a sentimental attachment to some real or imagined aspect of their family history. Generally speaking, such working class people do not have working lives spent on the factory floor, or Amazon warehouse. They are more likely to be found in the creative industries, in education, and other professions, as a study this year from the LSE and published in the journal Sociology, reported.

The middle class has always been a minefield in this island. There are many gradations of class within this category, as the eminent sociologist Grayson Perry has described so well. But ‘middle class’, as James O’Brien has quite rightly suggested, is now primarily a synonym for ‘educated’. Many live in cities, which, far from being large and dynamic places, are actually voids, rendering their middle class inhabitants ‘citizens of nowhere’. They are also known as the ‘metropolitan elite’.

People who went to public schools, attended posh universities, and entertain themselves with ‘work’ in the media, in right-wing ‘think tanks’, or who take interludes doing serious work in The City or the law, before entering politics at the highest level, are not ‘middle class’ in this sense. These people are above labels. They can safely sneer at the labelled ones.

Or at least, that’s what they tell themselves. I have made a study of these people. It’s quite right not to see them as a class, or even as a sub-section of a class. They are a court.

Courts are places of hierarchy. Traditionally the top of the pyramid has been hereditary, but these days to ascend to the top of the court requires a series of markers to be passed, rather like ascent through the levels of a computer game. Prep school, public school, Oxford, the Bullingdon Club, Oxford Union presidency, The Spectator, perhaps a right-wing tabloid or a Murdoch or Barclay Brothers broadsheet, before the inevitable Tory seat, preferably in the ‘Home Counties’.

Others admitted to the court are there as supplicants. Thus they must learn to speak a code, a ‘court patois’ that amuses those who are there by divine right. Phrases like ‘cultural Marxist’ and ‘critical race theory’ are used as incantations, praise songs.

But this metropolis-dwelling, exclusive set (not a ‘metropolitan elite’, nothing so common), somehow brings to mind not the complacent upper classes of the past, but something new, something befitting ‘Global Britain’. For in this court, Johnson, Cameron, Osborne, they are men sliding down the ladder of privilege, and their hangers on, Patel, Williamson, Raab, Javid, et al, descend with them.

Rishi is the cuckoo in this nest. Johnson surely fears him not because he is more popular in polls, or with the party membership, or because his Thatcherite orthodoxy is more in tune with the party’s self-image than Borisian excess. Sunak, unlike any of the rest of them, is a real Sun King.

The angst at the top of the Tory Party, and in the ruling class of this island more generally, has been stoked by class envy. Old Toryism was built on a successful cross-class alliance between the wealthiest in society (Johnson isn’t one of those by a long chalk – the Johnson family faked it till they made it), the ‘respectable’ middle classes, the professions, and business, with a large, but minority tranche of the deferential working class to add voter ballast. But globalisation, the continuing free movement of capital, has unanchored business and most finance from a need to have deep bonds with a ruling class in one country. The expansion of education has democratised the middle class, who no longer cling to one party as a defence against a no-longer organised working class. And London has become a global city, (second) home to the international billionaire class.

The psychological stress this has caused to the old ruling class ought not be to underestimated. All accounts of Johnson, even from his friends, speak of his money worries, his status anxiety. But the chillaxed, insouciance of the likes of Cameron is an act now. His desperate pursuit of Lex Greensill, his fawning over the killers of Jamal Khashoggi, his anxiety to ingratiate himself with Rupert Murdoch, these are the signs of a decaying class desperate to retain wealth and status in the face of the stark reality of their relative fall from the summit.

But Rishi Sunak is one of the new, global citizens. His own efforts (with a leg up from wealthy parents and a public school education) made him seriously rich, and marriage into the billionaire class puts him in a different place to the plodding, dreary millionaires at the top of the Tories. He represents power in a way that they do not. And they hate it.

Class isn’t about identity, it isn’t about morality. It’s about power, who, collectively, has it, who doesn’t, and how that is contested.

The rest is a lot of mildly diverting nonsense.

Me? I’m a socially mobile peasant from the tea growing hills of Asia. A middle class pauper. An authentic white working class kid turned citizen of nowhere. The metropolitan elite. I’m quite content with that.

What Is The Point of Dominic Cummings?

Like many other people, I gave up an hour of my life to watch the BBC’s Political Editor, Laura Kuenssberg, interview celebrity SPAD Dominic Cummings about his recent time working with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. And like fewer people, I then listened to the longer version of the interview available on BBC Sounds. So what did I learn?

My initial response to the TV interview was to satirise it. Cummings would be strange casting for an evil genius. He appears, with his twitching, uncomfortable body language, and slightly truculent Durham accent, like someone you’d be more likely to encounter in a police tape of an interview with a suspect in a missing persons case. That he takes himself extremely seriously only adds to his risibility. He’d have fitted into The Office very well, muttering darkly about getting shot of David Brent, whilst misfiling invoices.

But the air of bathos is misleading. The man is not destined to be at most a mere footnote in the political history of early 21st Century Britain. He has been, and plainly still sees himself as a player at the very top of high politics.

There has always been something usually unspoken lurking at the fringes of the British Establishment which surfaces briefly from time to time, usually when there’s an air of crisis. We last glimpsed it in the 1970s, when some military and intelligence figures were rumoured to be plotting coups against the Labour government. But mostly the collective might of party politics and the institutions that constitute or surround the state have rallied in stout defence of democracy.

I think that Cummings is currently the most publicly visible manifestation of that malign tendency. He is also the most indiscreet. Where the ‘think tanks’ of Tufton Street mostly operate in the shadows of party politics, or use PR gloss to second their operatives to the media to peddle their influence, Cummings eschews metropolitan smoothness for smirking aggression.

Let’s take what he actually said in the interview. He indicated that he was one of a group of “dozens” of people working together to change the nature of the British state. He said that they intend to destroy the party system, either by entryism, taking over an existing party, or by setting up a new and insurgent vehicle for their ambitions.

Cummings was imprecise about what the ultimate purpose of this would be. He spoke in vague generalisations about ‘networks’, ‘data’, and ‘science’. Prodded occasionally by Kuenssberg about what this might mean for democracy, for popular consent, Cummings sidestepped the question.

By the end of the interview I was minded to add it to the file in my mind which also contains Branson and Bezos’s recent trips into the fringe of space. It’s all an oligarchical fantasy of reshaping, or even escaping, the world as it is, and imposing an order that suits the interests of the powerful who have enough to be unanchored from the societies in which the rest of humanity lives.

The trouble is, Cummings’ dream of smashing up everything in order to put ‘brilliant’, unanswerable, unaccountable people in charge, is one he has been well placed to advance, both through the Vote Leave campaign – which he admitted might have been a bad idea – and through effectively running the government for a year. Presumably some of his “dozens of people” are still there, at the highest levels of power and influence.

Cummings, of course, is wealthy, and married to wealth and old Establishment privilege, but he’s not remotely an oligarch. He is, like Johnson himself, and those who still surround him, a courtier. They are not power, they serve power. If we have a PM who calls the Daily Telegraph “my real boss”, as Cummings plausibly asserted, we can see that concentrated media power, and the wealth that buys baubles like fancy wallpaper, is more in control than the actors who go through the motions.

It’s tempting to see Cummings as indiscreet, wounded, angry and lashing out. But that would be to mistake style for purpose.

Cummings is not the puppet master spurned by his marionettes.

He’s got strings too, and someone, something else is jerking them.

How Galloway Won It For Labour

Perception is everything. By the time the result of the Batley and Spen by-election came in after dawn on the 2nd July, the articles had been written, the running order, and guests for the breakfast shows had been decided, and the opinion pieces for the weekend papers had already been drafted.

Which just goes to show that overnight is a long time in politics.

Batley and Spen was never going to be a re-run of Hartlepool. The constituency is one spanning a clutch of towns and villages on the Yorkshire side of the mid-Pennine belt between Leeds and Manchester. Anyone who has ever taken the scenic rail route linking Yorkshire and Lancashire, essentially Scarborough to Blackpool, can see the ways in which prosperity is generated by cities on the up, which seeps out to the hinterland, as commuters move out to find bigger homes, or prettier landscapes, within reach of a railway link or the M62. It’s a complicated part of the country, long hindered by the inadequate transport infrastructure, but not at all stifled by it. The insularity of old mill towns is being diluted by new blood.

The Batley and Spen constituency turned Tory with Thatcher, and Labour with Blair. But it’s no political weathervane. That it didn’t turn Tory in Johnson’s 2019 landslide is significant as an indicator of the salience of local factors, or rather the ways in which disaffection with the major parties can be expressed in idiosyncratic ways. Who had heard of the Yorkshire Heavy Woollen District Independents before the by-election? Only the 12% of the local electorate who voted for them at the last general election, not to mention the other 88% who presumably got a leaflet through the door.

For the truth is that over-centralised parties, and a London-centric media are often not very good at seeing things through local eyes. Assumptions are made, stereotypes mobilised. ‘The white working class’, no longer with flat caps and whippets, but Brexity types with St George flags and white vans, are pitted against ‘scary Muslims’ with beards who vote as a bloc just as the ‘community leaders’ or ‘elders’ tell them. Neither stereotype is much help at understanding the complexities of a real place undergoing the profound change that we are all experiencing now.

This was meant to be a by-election gift to Boris Johnson. The ‘white working class’ allied to the grateful vaccinated folk (also implicitly white) were to rally to the Tories, and Labour’s bedrock ‘ethnic minorities’ were supposed to break for George Galloway and his embrace of Hamas over Heckmondwike, thereby sending Keir Starmer and Labour into dark perdition. How could it be otherwise?

That didn’t happen, to the astonishment of the media, and, let’s face it, the rest of us. What was happening, that those people in the constituency as our eyes and ears, didn’t see?

Enter the women who grasped the nettle, who made a victory happen where none was predicted. Kim Leadbeater herself, obviously. But less acknowledged has been the role of Shabana Mahmood and Naz Shah. Shabana Mahmood was recently installed as Labour’s National Campaign Coordinator, and might well be the most important figure in the party right now.

For this is where the old, failing politics fell prey to the new. Starmer has not been an MP for very long. Siren voices sought him out, Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson, the brains and enforcers of New Labour’s victories were assuring him that they knew the secret of electoral success. And they did, perhaps, in 1997. But that’s a long time ago, before most people had a smartphone, or a home computer, and a time when Rupert Murdoch could be a kingmaker. A time when the stereotypes of class and race, gender too, had larger traces of truth to them. Shabana Mahmood represents a new perspective, just as sharp, disciplined and professional as any 1990s suit, but radically different, attuned to things as they are now, not as they were once.

The team in Batley and Spen was thus very different from the ill-fated campaigners of Hartlepool. Kim Leadbeater knows the terrain. The only candidate on the ballot who could vote for herself (as she alone is on the local electoral register), she can, with her own life, map the subtleties of each town, each ward.

Shabana Mahmood is the brilliant organising mind. She galvanised the operation, pumping MPs and activists into the constituency and phonebanks into the backup.

And Naz Shah, the woman with experience of taking on Galloway and winning, was sent to take up residence in her neighbouring constituency. Those WhatsApp groups of Muslim women who took on Galloway’s goons? I doubt that Naz, a woman who has seen oppression up close and very personal, was far from that initiative. Connecting with women voters to take down Galloway’s misogyny, and to assert women’s own political agency.

Labour’s leadership deserves some respect for realising that Batley and Spen was lost without something bold. Questions at PMQs about Palestine had looked crudely opportunistic. The leaflet about Modi and Johnson has been condemned by hypocritical Tories who have been dog whistling ever since PM David Cameron shared a platform at a BJP rally in Wembley. So it’s not fair? This has never been a level playing field. They needed to do what Ed Miliband in his new role as sage has said – Go Big.

Shabana Mahmood, Naz Shah, Kim Leadbeater played a blinder.

But they couldn’t have done it without Galloway.

Galloway’s candidature compelled Starmer to confront his ignorance. To make crystal clear that the ‘advice’ of Mandelson and others is, in 2021, irrelevant. To accept that each constituency is an island to itself. To hand over control to those who were fit to do the job. That’s a lesson that can’t be purchased from a communications agency.

And so the new team forced Galloway and his macho men to slink away as bad losers. For Galloway that doesn’t matter. He pitches his tent, then moves on leaving not a trace. But his local army? They’ve been beaten back by the women with their WhatsApp letters, locally challenging, and defeating, the patriarchs of old.

That’s the delicious irony – Galloway inadvertently won it for Labour.

The lesson is that any party, even Johnson’s Tories rampant, can be defeated by hard campaigning on the ground led by those who understand the terrain, and the latent, or evident, fissures in a complex electorate. Labour looks, finally, to be building an operation that understands that truth.

Three Word Slogan

Like the three chord song of legend, the three word slogan is the catchy riff that can storm the charts, sweeping aside the ponderous and the earnest, and lodging like an ear worm in the head. Take Back Control! Get Brexit Done! Build Back Better! Gordon Brown’s ‘Neo-classical endogenous growth theory’ is like a heavy dose of Tangerine Dream in comparison with the Gerry Goffin/Carole King numbers the other side dreamt up. Do the Locomotion, indeed.

The three word slogan is deceptive. It seems simple, but it really isn’t. ‘Hope Not Hate’ has three words. ‘Black Lives Matter’. ‘Coal Not Dole’. Short isn’t necessarily either sharp or sweet. The first of these slogans is typical left liberal abstraction. Hope, hate, are words that describe feelings. But often the most powerful feelings are the ones that are evoked by political rhetoric, but crucially are not named.

BLM is another unsurprisingly moral demand. Sadly many people have been primed to be impervious to morality in politics, or to see it in relative rather than absolute terms. The ‘All Lives Matter’ retort is political homeopathy, in which the power of the injustice named by BLM is diluted to nothing in a sea of vagueness.

‘Coal Not Dole’ a relic of the 1980s Miners’ strike, is elegant, a synecdoche in which the simple product, coal, denotes the dignity of labour, and the popular name for unemployment benefits is its rhyming opposite. But the slogan is slightly wistful, elegiac even. It isn’t just hindsight that makes it feel more than a little desperate.

For these short slogans to work, the powerful three words ought to be imperative, with a strong, active verb. That’s the genius of ‘Take Back Control’. Action is there, in the first short, simple word. But we’re not being urged to ‘take’ anything that requires effort to imagine, something new, or different. We are told to take ‘back’ something we used to have, but which, by implication, has been stolen from us. It powerfully combines nostalgia with resentment. The final word is an abstract one, in some ways, but not a difficult or challenging abstraction. All people like to feel they have some control over their lives, but there’s also a slightly gendered feel to ‘control’, implying power and even coercion. The point is that ‘control’ is open to different interpretations, depending on the disposition of the individual. But the real power is in the taking back.

Interpreting things doesn’t change them, as Marx once almost said. Does this mean that we must accept that the Right will always have the best three word tunes?

I’m inclined to recommend a bit of ironic plagiarism. The three words on my light box at the moment read ‘Lock Him Up’, and I’ll certainly be yelling them at the PM when the Public Inquiry finally starts. The never ending Brexity chaos makes ‘Take Back Control’ the ideal Remainer revenge taunt. But I’m not sure we’re looking in the right place if we waste our time trying to create a tribute act. As another three word slogan went, on a placard at an AUT rally long ago, ‘Rectify the Anomaly!’ It’s never going to work.

Short slogans and misleading analogies have been weaponised by the right in an age dominated by retail politics, in which bigger visions of the world we want to create are swapped for popular, but disparate policies, as tested to death by pollsters and focus groups. These are the techniques of Madmen, applied to democracies, and they are, ultimately, as we now see, corrosive.

Progressive politics can be popular, but not by being simplistic and manipulative. The periods in which the left has thrived have been times when a combination of practical policies and a clear vision based in action on the ground have taken root. These have usually been times of radical and unsettling change, like the Great Depression in the USA, of the Second World War here.

We are in such a period right now. The pandemic, climate change, fire and flood and pestilence, anyone who thinks that the 21st Century is going to ‘go back to normal’ hasn’t been paying attention. This is a time for big visions, and for dissolving borders. It’s a time to mobilise people for action. And we need leaders who are bold and brave enough to be honest about the future we face, and the actions we can take to make it better than the past.

Now how can I get that on a tee shirt?

Focus Pocus

Focus groups are things that are ‘done’ to that mysterious category of citizens, the ones who aren’t the well-connected metropolitan professionals (or, indeed, trust fund dilettantes) who make up the ‘Official Political Classes’.  Those who run focus groups, such as James Johnson, who once ran No 10’s polling for Theresa May, and ex-Labour pollster, Deborah Mattinson of Britain Thinks, are latter day ring masters.  They set up groups of exotic types from places like Stoke or Boston, in safe pens, and let politicians or journalists ‘observe’ the ring from behind two way mirrors. 

These things used to be known as ‘freak shows’, and for good reason. Bearded ladies, people of restricted growth, riders of unicycles, were paraded to reassure respectable, god-fearing folk that whilst the stuff of their nightmares did indeed exist, it was possible to corral, to tame, and to render inert the dangerous wildness that exists in the world.

So it is today. Bearded ladies now epilate, short people can become unremarkable citizens, or glamorous celebrities, as suits their ambitions, and unicycle riders are now confined to Extinction Rebellion protests. The old circuses have been replaced by a trade that provides a stage and a megaphone for ill-informed bigotry, a relish for aggression, and a taste for vulgarity.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m fascinated, too, when I get a peek at those freaks. Channel Four News did a series of focus groups with voters in the Birmingham Northfield constituency, where the Tories took the Brexity edge of city seat from Labour in 2019.  I didn’t see any bad people in the focus group run by James Johnson. I saw quite normal people from a constituency in which I once lived, the sort of people I’d have lived next door to, or gone to school with. The sort of people who would normally be unlikely to find themselves sitting with a group of strangers being asked to discuss their own political attitudes.  Not surprisingly, this novel situation has a similar effect to, say, putting an assortment of lobby journalists, fellows of Oxford colleges, and unpaid interns from Conde Nast in a Novotel meeting room and asking them to discuss Grime music, daytime television, and bus services.  They might need a convenor to get them going, but no doubt they’d be able to fill an hour or two with half remembered nonsense on subjects they’d never previously given a second thought to.  Whether the exercise has the capacity to tell us much is debatable. Whether the uses of focus groups includes grooming the public to think barely considered assumptions and prejudices widespread and acceptable is less debatable.

Deborah Mattinson describes a particularly sadistic focus group exercise in which two groups of actual, or former, Labour voters are assembled.  One group, younger, urban, often graduates, are 2016 Remain voters. The other, small town, older, non-graduate, are Brexiters.  They are first asked to meet in their bubbles, and to create their ideal political party, including a sense of who would lead it, and what the key policies should be. They then come together, each group presenting their ideal vision of a party to the other.

Brexity-small towners wanted a party led by ‘Spoons magnate, Tim Martin. The urban eggheads preferred a leader “like a young David Attenborough”.  From this unpromising start, the groups had to imagine that they had no choice but to form a coalition to work together. What were their red lines? Where could they make compromises?

Unsurprisingly, the Brexity bunch wouldn’t budge an inch. They couldn’t see the need for compromises. The boffins, understanding how democracy is supposed to work, could.  Mattinson said that the only way they could work together was if the urban voters capitulated to the whims of the resentful ex-Red Wall folk.

The way such an outcome is no doubt being ‘explained’ to Starmer and his team right now, is that the urban voter is open to compromise, having nowhere else to go, whereas the Blue Wallies won’t ever back down on flag and bunting patriotism, kicking out Muslims, and bringing back dead industries.  But is that the right conclusion to draw from a deeply suspect research method?  And more to the point, is it politically advantageous, or even necessary?

To hell with principle, some might say, bring on power! Win an election in order to do something, or sit on the sidelines in powerless purity forever.

There’s a cautionary tale here. James Johnson told similar stories to Theresa May. May’s known for her defeat, but she actually raised the Tory vote considerably in 2017, and basically did the groundwork for ‘Boris’ Johnson’s victory two years later. May’s ground campaign was exemplary, the problem was that her leadership lacked ‘authentic’, vulgar, conviction. Despite her solid record at the Home Office of deep and enduring lack of simple human compassion, including the hostile environment and the Windrush cruelty, May failed to understand that “it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it”.  A classic ‘gin and Jag set’ Tory, May lacked that magic Wetherspoons touch.

It’s not merely a question of style. May could not, in all conscience, ditch “her people”, the materially comfortable middle class of the southern shires.  Yet the focus group logic for the Tories is that those Home Counties voters need to ‘compromise’, to pay more, get less, in order to transfer wealth and power to the new part of the Tory coalition. I’m not at all sure that this is a stable long term realignment.

Nor is it clear that Keir Starmer, or any other plausible Labour leader, is capable of being convincing as an Ing-er-lund  flag-waver, up for a fight with ‘feminazis’ and readers of books, a loud, proud, John Bull vulgarian. Even if a Labour leader could act the part, would Labour’s urban, graduate, feminised membership, and those urban voters they resemble, actually compromise on their social liberalism? I’m not convinced, at least not long term.  We saw what happened under Blair. There are limits to triangulation, and it’s a trick that loses potency with repetition. 

Focus groups are money-spinners for those who service the political class, but are they useful for much beyond road testing a three word slogan?  

If electoral politics is merely about the retail transaction – find out what the punters will buy, and sell it to them – then perhaps there’s a point to focus groups.  But if democratic politics is about more than that, and many of us believe it is, or at least it ought to be, then let’s put focus groups back in the box marked ‘Open With Care’.

Instead how about a new kind of ‘authentic’ politician?   People who believe in things, say what they mean, and lead people through complicated problems with honesty.

I really do think that even people in focus groups, once they’re back in their normal lives, will respond to the good honest truth with a sigh of relief.

It’s a Funny Old World

Five years ago I started this blog to record my thoughts on the general election.  It was, I suppose, a small act of hope.  The Coalition had felt like a gigantic confidence trick. Five years earlier I had assumed, as did many others, that whichever was the largest party after a general election would need to do a deal with the Liberal Democrats along ‘Confidence and Supply’ lines, which would essentially produce a government unable to do anything but keep the system ticking over.  But as we now know, the result was very different, a last, turbo powered gasp of the late 20th Century.

In 2015 I had hoped that Ed Miliband, an essentially decent and intelligent man trying to do politics in a vicious and grubby world, might start to restore Labour’s fortunes.  But that was not to be.  The 2014 Scottish independence referendum saw to that.  That first bid at partition mobilised latent English nationalism, which was then weaponised by the Tories as a way to wound Labour.  Ed Miliband was depicted as a puppet operated by Alex Salmond, a trick as cynical as the effective but untrue slogans five years earlier about Labour ‘crashing the economy’, or ‘maxing out the credit card’.  Once again it worked.  Too well.

Too well for its creators, certainly.  Cameron and Osborne won a great victory in 2015, and were out of office and out of power within a year.  English nationalism unleashed was a beast that turned on the overconfident men who opened the cage.  Thus, in the last five years we have had three Prime Ministers, and three Leaders of the Opposition, plague stalks the land, extreme weather threatens to fry us or drown us, and we are entering a Great Depression that could make the 1930s look like a cakewalk.

In this place and time it feels pointless to blog about the ins and outs of Westminster politics, even if it is as seen from outside the bubble.  I’m one of those lately labelled a ‘citizen of nowhere’ merely on the basis of a vote I cast four years ago, when in reality I’m a woman living in my unfashionable hometown observing the people around me; people who are as diverse in their attitudes, opinions, beliefs, hopes, fears and desires as any, anywhere.  Nowhere are there just two types of people, and government isn’t – or ought not to be – about serving only one type of person. The system we have does not fit the people we are, and it cannot make the future we need.

Because this is a revolutionary age.  The 21st Century began in January 2020.  It will sweep away all we have known.  And as in all periods of revolutionary change, we will have to decide which side we are on.

The trouble with revolutions is that whilst they are happening, who knows what the ‘sides’ are?  

The side we might call the ‘counter-revolutionaries’ are clearly visible.  The water-muddying tricksters, the sowers of seeds of doubt, the conspiracy theorists, the anti-vaxxers, the millenarian preachers (who accept PayPal), the Trumps, and Putins, Erdogans, Bolsonaros, Modis, Orbans, and yes, the Johnsons, and all their little counterparts, from Belarus to Zimbabwe.  These are people selling fear of the big wide world, whilst filling their own pockets, or those of their friends.  They are in power, or claim influence in many places, because they offer a vision that anxious people can grasp, a vague reflection of an idealised past when virgins with crocks of gold walked unmolested from John o’Groats to Lands End; when only temples stood in Ayodhya, only mosques in Istanbul; when men went out to work in mines and steel works, whilst women stirred pots on the range; a world of faith, and order, of people knowing their place; coal fires, and cups of tea, apple pie and home-made lemonade, Kinder, Küche, Kirche, harvests without fear of locusts or drought, you knew where you were when the rich man was in his castle, and the poor man at the gate.

Set out their prospectus like this, and it is absurd.  But it is powerful stuff because people know that things are changing in ways they cannot control, and can barely imagine.  What could be more appealing than the promise of a strong leader who takes back control, makes your country great again, restores national pride, keeps out foreigners, turns their backs on their neighbours?  When Trump promises to bring back the old jobs to the Rust Belt, or Johnson says he’ll reopen a few northern rail lines cut by Beeching, there is a poignant power to these pledges. But it’s a case of wielding nostalgia as a lethal weapon; the steel mills of old are gone forever, and those restored trains will fill with commuters from nearby cities attracted by lower house prices, fuelling more resentment from those ‘left behind’, in the condescending phrase used only by those who aren’t.

The age we are now leaving forever is one in which we saw our planet as a store of things we could use in whatever ways we wished, or could get away with.  We have as much right as any creature to shape our immediate environment to offer us food, shelter, and happiness. The radical alteration of the natural world through human civilisation has brought us great benefits, material and emotional.  But the age of nations, and of industrial capitalism had within it the seeds of its own destruction, a dialectic that is not about economic and social relations, but about economic and natural relations.

Our cupboard is starting to look bare, the next village is on fire, down the road the crops are under water, the castle has pulled up the drawbridge in a vain attempt at keeping out the pox, and the lake is awash with dead fish.  We can’t make society work for humans any more until we start to repair the damage we have done, and that means everywhere.  When Bolsonaro wishes rainforests would burn down, that’s the lungs of my city and yours, and of every square centimetre of the earth, river deep, mountain high.  The rare earths and minerals involved in making the device upon which I write this are finite resources.  We are going to have to decide who gets to use them, for what purpose, and how they might be reused.  We have to decide where people live, as coastal areas, even whole countries, sink into rising oceans.  Everything we have known materially and, indeed, economically and politically, needs to change. Because change is going to happen anyway.

So how do we get from where we are, to where we need to be?  It’s politics at its most essential – the distribution of resources.

For what it’s worth, I’m going to try to imagine what the next steps could be. That’s where this blog is going now. If you’ve done me the courtesy of reading this, I’d be very grateful for suggestions.

Get Serious

I’m a new member of the Labour Party, though a long time Labour voter. Not that I joined the party with any sense of hope, optimism, or even conviction. I joined wearily, just as I’d cast my Labour vote in the 2019 general election with a sense of fatalism about the outcome.

So to this seemingly interminable Labour leadership race. Viewed from my sofa, via TV screens and social media, it was becoming tedious, the candidates simultaneously bland and irritating. I found myself observing it all with a sense of detachment. I was always going to vote for Keir Starmer, though that was more a hard-headed assessment of who, of those on offer, would be best placed to make the party functional again. I have also watched the others with interest.

Early on, I was interested in what Clive Lewis had to say. As the field narrowed, the clear rift between sections of the so-called ‘left’ over Rebecca Long-Bailey, and her increasingly anxious attempts at presenting herself as a women in her own right, rather than the hostage of a faction, made me soften towards her, though strictly in personal, not political terms. Her rapid elevation with the patronage of old men who thought they could control her, could end up killing her career dead.

The third candidate, Lisa Nandy, was the biggest disappointment. She looked like an interesting contender at first, with important things to say, but as time has gone on, she has shown herself to be shallow and opportunistic. Her bid to paint all front benchers as equally complicit in the disaster that Labour has been as an Opposition over the last five years is not the ‘hard truth’ telling that she pretends it is. It comes across as a pitch to journalists to increase her profile as a political contrarian (they have been very fashionable of late). But it’s also divisive, and very negative. There are hard questions to be faced, but they need to be faced by putting forward answers, not by impugning the motives of others. Nandy has shrunk, rather than grown during the campaign, a combative performance with Andrew Neil notwithstanding. But no one had exactly excited the membership, let alone cut through with the public. There was a bit of a feeling of ‘going through the motions’ about it all.

So it was with no great sense of anticipation that I went along to a rally yesterday to see Keir Starmer. Like many Labour voters, I’ve spent several years seeing him as one of the few adults in the Shadow Cabinet, though his competence has plainly been a source of irritation and resentment to those in charge. Mostly Starmer has kept his head down, concentrated on the Brexit brief, and modelled loyalty to the leader. In this campaign the front runner according to polls, he seemed to be following the Boris Johnson rules for contesting a party leadership: say as little as possible in public, in order to cruise to victory.

As I sat waiting for the meeting to begin, watching people in respectable numbers coming through the doors, I thought of the only other such rally I have ever attended. That was in 2015, and the candidate was Jeremy Corbyn. The contrast between the two events could not have been starker.

Corbyn in 2015

The event five years earlier had been closer in mood to a revivalist religious gathering than a political rally, albeit one in which quite a lot of the audience, myself included, were definitely in the agnostic camp. ‘Jeremy’ was raised up above us at his pulpit, and many of the young people in attendance gazed at him in awe, for his words, however anti-climactic his style, were wholly new to them, and thrilling. We old timers, who knew these hymns of old, had become amnesiac about the man who was singing them. Jaded by years of timidity in power, we had forgotten that the magic of 1945 was not the property of those whose real dream was of 1917. More pertinently, we had forgotten how those factions operate politically, and their obsession with ‘seizing the levers of power’ in the party to the exclusion of actually doing anything with that power.

2020 felt very different. A corporate events room in a chain hotel, and an audience of the battle-hardened made for an atmosphere of hopeful realism tinged with scepticism. Keir Starmer would receive a warm welcome, but he would have to work for his applause.

He must have given the same speech a hundred times, but it didn’t feel like that. Where Lisa Nandy has banged on in public about being ‘the only candidate to talk honestly’ about where Labour failed, and what it got badly wrong, Starmer calmly set out a devastating, but implicit analysis, all the time spelling out exactly what needed to be done, when, how, and by whom. He didn’t blame people, because he and we know where blame lies, and we know that the immediate satisfactions of the blame game are negated by the rancour and division it generates. We can’t afford the luxury of that.

I joined the party because I want to be able to cheer for a competent PLP with a front bench of all the talents, not place men and women chosen for their ideological purity or simpering obedience. Keir Starmer set out how he would build such a team with urgency, holding the ‘dangerous’ (Starmer’s description) Johnson and his government to account, refuting their lies with alacrity, and ruthlessly honing Labour’s message to voters from the start.

But others, perhaps most others, in the audience were more concerned about the party on the ground. As a new party member, I don’t think it my place to detail the stories told by good people frustrated beyond endurance by the institutional incompetence and sectarian myopia of party administration and governance over the last few years. But broadly, some of those stories included things I have read in the media, or heard discussed on podcasts, about the hobbling of CLPs, the imposition of unsuitable candidates, and a general drag on effective local political strategies by the party machine. As angry people laid out their frustrations in the starkest terms, it all felt very raw, and deadly serious.

For all the trappings of the modern political age – the selfies with Starmer, the handshakes and backslapping, the phones videoing the event – there was something fundamental happening in that room. The resetting of a political party of government at every level from grassroots to local and national power, and international cooperation and influence.

It was about much more than what had gone wrong. It was very much not about ‘reverting’ to some golden age. It was a very raw glimpse of a party recognising that being fit for purpose, rooted in community, and respected in the world was not going to be easy, but it could, with the right leadership, be done.

Labour, to be successful in the 21st Century, needs to let go of the 20th. The party’s history is honourable and inspiring, but it can’t be the message now. I’ve been as guilty of anyone in having been enraptured by Attlee’s government and its achievements, but that was a different time, and a different world. And even Attlee’s government made bad decisions.

The people Labour needs to speak for, and to, can’t be thought of in sentimental terms as ‘the working class’. Widening economic divisions no longer map those old class (and cultural) markers. There is no ‘Red Wall’. The skilled working class, the “labour aristocracy” that was the backbone of the party for much of the last century now consists of their grandchildren, the insecure but highly educated precariat, the urban public sector workers, teachers, medics, administrators, tech wizards. Many of them are, objectively, ‘poor’, with insecure jobs and pay, high rents, and a need for good services.

But nobody ever thinks of themselves as ‘poor’. There’s something alienating to normal people when Labour speaks a language of ‘poverty’. We don’t see ourselves in it. But nor is it better to speak a language of ‘aspiration’, of ‘entrepreneurship’, which can make people feel like failures, when the failure is that of politics.

There are big debates ahead for Labour on how the party roots itself once more in the reality of life as it is lived.

But first, we need a leader.

Labour Got Brexit Wrong – And Is Still Getting It Wrong

As soon as the scale of Labour’s election defeat last week became clear – at 10.00 pm on 12th December 2019 – the party’s Brexit divisions were mobilised once again as ‘explanations’ for the failure of the party under Jeremy Corbyn to win power against a ramshackle bunch of lying chancers in their 9th year of office.

And these explanations are bogus. Labour got Brexit wrong from the start, and how and why it was so mistaken reveals the conservatism at the heart of the Corbyn project.

A referendum on EU membership was in the 2015 Tory Manifesto, so Labour knew that it was on the cards throughout the leadership campaign that followed the resignation of Ed Miliband. The party also knew that the previous year’s Scottish independence referendum had ignited political debate on all sorts of issues way beyond the constitutional question, and ought to have anticipated that a referendum across the UK might have the same propensity to be about something, many things, not on the ballot paper. For whoever was to win the Labour leadership in 2015, the referendum was an opportunity to road test the new leader’s approach.

Corbyn won, and his approach to the referendum was essentially to ignore it. Paying lip service to party democracy, a key element of his leadership platform, Labour remained formally supportive of continued membership of the EU, but in practice the Labour Party under Corbyn opted out of the campaign.

Why they were so lukewarm, to put it mildly, was partly obvious, partly a mystery. The obvious bit was that Corbyn was, and remains, an unreconstructed Bennite. The EU was a ‘capitalist club’, a block on ‘socialism in one country’, went the view behind the scenes. It’s easy to pick holes in that threadbare Stalinist perspective, not least that the world in 2016 was very different to that in 1973. But is it true that unshakeable faith in the old Bennite religion was the primary driver of Corbyn’s inertia in 2016?

Look instead to the clique around Corbyn. The influence of Len McCluskey and his plants in the leader’s office. Perhaps they used the language of the 20th Century British left to justify their position (though they were always too cowardly to make the case publicly, hiding behind the language of ‘party democracy’), but one suspects that other factors were in play.

The first, and this is the weakness at the heart of Corbynism from the start, is a leaden footed inability to respond nimbly to new, unforeseen challenges. Their political playbook envisions a war between top hatted, cigar smoking, factory owners, and heroic male workers in ragged coats and flat caps. Perhaps it can also be clad in the garb of the National Coal Board Vs the miners, but the vision is much the same. ‘Class war’ is, like Premier League football, a game for men (though unlike soccer, a game for white men).

Race and gender don’t figure much in the Corbyn world view, even if both are now deeply entrenched in contemporary politics as much as in the wider world. His supporters made much of his ‘anti-racist’ credentials (and tried to use them as a defence against accusations of anti-Semitism), but the photographs of Corbyn on Anti-Apartheid demonstrations rather made the opposite point. He belongs to a ‘left’ that is more comfortable with the notion of anti-colonial struggles far away, rather than the complications of race and class at home. Other politicians of his vintage, like Peter Hain, managed to be both major figures in the Anti-Apartheid struggle, and in the Anti-Nazi League which took up the battle against the far-right on British streets in the 1970s. I’m not aware that Corbyn was ever a major figure in that movement.

So as the 2016 referendum campaign took off, noisily and nastily, Corbyn and therefore Labour, was ill-equipped to respond. Individual MPs were essentially on their own, ditto party members. There was a major political event unfolding, and the leadership was AWOL. Even the assassination of Jo Cox was treated by Corbyn as a shocking and unexpected event, rather than a consequence of the virtual civil war taking place on the streets and across social media. Why didn’t Corbyn at that point demand that the whole campaign be called off? It had all gone too far, dangerous political currents were being unleashed. Even if legally there was little that could have been done to halt the vote, some proper outrage, and, dare I say it, some statesmanship was needed, but none ever came.

All that has unfolded since goes back to that time. It doesn’t appear to matter to Corbyn’s uncritical supporters that most Labour voters, even in Brexit voting constituencies, were Remainers. Brexit was framed as an authentic (white) working class position, whereas the cities where the most loyal Labour heartlands are, were dismissed as somehow inauthentic, too Gina Yashere, not enough Bernard Manning. That’s not a ‘class analysis’, comrades. It’s something else entirely.

Having decided on their perspective on Brexit, they used it as an explanatory tool to understand everything else. Crucially the 2017 general election.

Labour got a huge 40% of the vote in June 2017. The Tories got 42%. But let’s look at the local elections the month before. The Tories then got a respectable 38%, Labour a derisory 27%. What changed?

Corbyn’s supporters say he had a popular manifesto and ran a good campaign. There is some truth in both, plus there was a fair wind from the media, in that as no one thought Labour had a cat in hell’s chance of victory, they didn’t bother with a serious attack strategy against the party.

For the truth is that Labour’s lack of a clear strategy on Brexit was not a brilliant triangulation to hold together Leave and Remain voters. Remainers, including many tactical voters backed the party as a means of trying to stop May in her tracks. It wasn’t an unambiguously pro-Corbyn vote, it was anti-Tory. It was gained despite, not because of Labour’s position.

And so to the big failure of 2019. Follow it back to the beginning. Labour opted out of the only big political battle that mattered in the period 2016-19. It was absent from the biggest political movement on the streets, its banners missing from marches of a million people. Yet nor was it making the case for Brexit, if that is what the leader believed. It was a party making no meaningful offer to either side, and its late position of trying to ‘bring together’ both sides was a nice try, just either far too late, or far too early, but certainly, painfully mistimed.

For Labour to recover from the election defeat it needs to look long and hard at Brexit. Don’t try to fudge it again, don’t try to pretend that it’s all over now, nothing to see, move on. A proper post-mortem is necessary.

The next Labour leader needs to tell the party that Brexit remains a dangerous project of the hard-right which is not over, not done, nor will it be for a decade or more. The future, whether it’s around trade, the economy more broadly, or the key questions of security and the climate emergency, will require cooperation across borders, indeed the very notion of borders will become increasingly untenable.

Brexit sank Labour because it is useful only to the right. That’s the truth.

The Resistance

The general election of 2019 was like no other. The Tories defied political gravity to emerge with a healthy majority after their 4th election as the largest party in Parliament. Labour was eviscerated, or perhaps was guilty of a massive act of self-harm, and returns as the Official Opposition, but badly shaken and still led by the team responsible for the debacle. The Liberal Democrats got a bigger percentage rise in their vote than even the Tories, but from a low base, and in Commons terms they have shrunk, and are now, perhaps happily, leaderless. The SNP has a load of MPs, and nothing much for them to do, and Northern Ireland may be turning their backs on Westminster sooner rather than later. I didn’t mention Wales. What is there to say?

None of those things actually explain why this election is different. It’s different, because the Tory Party is different. Johnson is mercurial World King at the head of a party of the similarly grandiose and dangerous. And they are planning to ensure that it stays that way, using any means necessary.

The election campaign run by the Tories was far dirtier than that run by any other party. They are a party that wants power for power’s sake. Where there are other centres of countervailing power, they will seek to weaken, sideline, or even abolish them.

In that sense, they’re continuity Tories, Thatcher-style. The over centralisation of power in Westminster was turbo-charged in the 1980s. Powerful centres of local government were abolished completely (the Greater London Council and the Metropolitan Counties), and the others had their ability to decide policy locally around such crucial things as education and housing severely curtailed. Tories have form when it comes to power grabs.

But this time their sights are on the fundamental nature of the state. A professional, politically impartial, Civil Service is set to be weakened further, in the American manner, with political appointments from outside to “shake things up”. International Development is to be turned into a highly politicised tool of, not British, but Tory foreign interests. The House of Lords is first to be packed with stooges, then ‘reformed’ until it becomes nothing more than a pleasant London club for retired Tory Grandees. As for the judiciary, they look likely to be an early target.

For in strength the Tories plan not magnanimity, but vengeance.

Expect a lot of rule changes immediately to restrict the power of the Commons to hold the government to account. They’ll be technical measures, will probably be scarcely reported, but they will change the balance of power, handing No 10 the whip hand over mere MPs.

The courts, and the wider criminal justice system, have been weakened steadily since 2010. Access to justice for the average citizen is now much more difficult, with a loss of legal aid, a raising of fees, the restriction of access to timely redress through the closure of courts, and much else. But all that was merely ‘shrinking the state’, the punitive effects being merely an amusing by-product. Now they mean business.

The abolition of the Supreme Court seems likely. It could merely be made less powerful, but the Tory taste for vengeance suggests that abolition would be more ‘popular’ with right-wing newspapers and Tory MPs and members. Elsewhere expect legislation to limit the power of the judiciary to hold the executive (government) to account.

This is radical stuff, only hinted at in the manifesto, but within the power of a government with a solid majority facing a feeble opposition.

Which is why we cannot wait for other parties to sort themselves out. By the time they have done so, the government will have done a whole raft of things, particularly around electoral boundaries, voter suppression measures, and more. The resistance must begin now.

A lesson of the last few years is that this country has a taste for extra-party political movements with clear goals. The campaigns for another referendum lost, but we were defeated by a rigged system. What we won was a moral authority which ought not to squandered now. Our side marched in our millions, organised local groups which worked their socks off on High Streets and in market squares around the country come rain or shine. We know what can be done, and we’ve all learned skills which are transferable to other political tasks.

We need a Resistance!

The Resistance can happen now. It doesn’t need to wait for the parties to lick their wounds. We need in the first instance to establish some kind of loose convention to come up with things we can agree on, whatever party we support. Defence of the judiciary, the restoration of local government with power to do things, reform of parliament, and a new voting system ought to be on the list.

Personally I’d like to see a wider movement calling for all state education to be secular and under democratic local control, the restoration of a nation-wide professional public library service, and a ‘culture covenant’ to protect local museums, galleries, theatres, parks, and municipal sports facilities, giving them enough money to run properly, professionally, and with free or inexpensive access for all citizens. But even if we just stick to the nuts and bolts of democracy, that’s a start.

For the government needs to know that we are watching them. They are not our masters. They can rig, lie, scheme, dissemble, bamboozle all they like, but we need an amplified voice to call them out, and above all, to spread knowledge of how the system works, to train up active citizens, and to campaign on specific, concrete constitutional demands.

So how do we do this, people?

Apocalypse Now

Who is to blame?

The election that never should have happened is over, and the result, almost every pundit is saying, will gift the Tories the country (or what subsequently remains of it) for the whole of the Twenties, for no Opposition has ever come back from such a bad defeat in a single election.

That instant wisdom may, or may not be true. It’s not even the immediate question. We need to apportion blame before we can work out what to do. Which is where it all gets very tricky. Because who, or what is to blame rather depends on who or what you want to blame. The left, the right, centrists, dads or otherwise, the media, old people, feminists, fascists, immigration, bigotry, fake news, globalisation, take your pick. If you don’t fancy any of those I’ve got plenty more excuses for the fact that the least suitable Prime Minister of my lifetime, and I’ve seen some shockers, is now safely tucked up in Downing Street for five years or more.

So I’m not going to apportion blame to any of the actors in this tragedy. The quicker the losers shuffle off stage, the better. Instead let’s look at the causes of the Tory-Brexit ascendency.

All across the world we see unhappy populations causing political upsets. The Middle East and North Africa is in tumult, from Turkey through Eastern and Central Europe we see people turning to ‘strong men’ promising national pride and traditional values. The Superpowers, (and the ex-superpower with nukes), currently favour leaders with little appetite for democratic norms. Then there’s India, Brazil, the Philippines – the list seems endless. Why should Britain be immune from the contagion?

We aren’t, we can’t. However, what we do have, in common with the USA, is a mature democracy which not even the experience of war has shaken. That’s supposed to be what gets us through difficult times.

And I think that our current crisis speaks to the failure of our democracy.

The British Constitution is a ‘bodge job’, a bit like the Palace of Westminster itself. It looks fantastic. Great location, (fake) Gothic drama, a swoon of flying buttresses, thrones, Woolsacks, Black Rod, Sergeants at Arms. But it’s falling down, not fit for purpose, riddled with vermin, dry rot, flooded basements, crumbling ceilings, and too small for the job.

Walter Bagehot, a Spin Doctor of the Victorian Era, told a comforting tale of the British Constitution evolving to meet the needs of changing times, whilst preserving the essence of government through Parliament. No need for a founding document, no need for revolutions, stable government in perpetuity guaranteed by the Crown in Parliament.

And we’ve all sort of bought into this nonsense. We lobby, we petition, we hold demonstrations and marches, and write to our MPs. If we are in parties we contest elections, thinking, somehow, that we need one more heave, one more twist left, or right, better organisation, more members, more money.

But look honestly at our system. It’s not working.

The referendums of 2014 and 2016 showed us exactly what was wrong.

The binary nature of the votes combined with the nebulous nature of the questions meant that each campaign could be about anything the voters wanted. To be fair to supporters of Scottish nationalism, they have a clear nationalist agenda, and well developed plans for a new Scottish Constitution, and for the challenges and consequences of independence. The Brexiters had nothing. But in 2014 the thrill of the referendum campaign for many voters lay in the fact that they could project anything they wanted onto it. The campaign was frequently a rejection of ‘Austerity’ and a song of praise to the NHS. Neither of which has anything much to do with a major constitutional change.

A similar scenario played out in 2016 in England and Wales, albeit with more savage rancour, and actually, at least in England, with much more vicious nationalism. But what both referendums had in common was that, unlike elections, they seemed to promise fast and major change that would deliver voters from their problems at a single bound.

Because British democracy isn’t working. It is a rigged system designed to concentrate power in the capital, and to ensure almost perpetual Tory rule. This is what has frustrated voters. That meaningful change, and government responsiveness to voters’ problems is so slow and inadequate.

I first reached that conclusion as a canvasser in the 1983 general election, the last election in which the left were in the ascendency in the Labour Party, and in which the party was lucky to survive in second place, narrowly defeating the SDP-Liberal Alliance (the Tories had a majority then of 144 seats). My memories of that election are mainly of arguing with my fellow canvassers about the electoral system. Wasn’t it time for a PR system?

Had Blair won narrowly in 1997 he would probably have introduced some form of PR. It was a part of a constitutional reform programme which included devolution. But a landslide victory swept away the immediate pressure for change, which, for me at least, was one of the reasons for becoming a Blair-sceptic well before the Iraq war.

That was the last opportunity to have a fair voting system. And it has made me sceptical about relying on a political party that wins office under FPTP ever delivering voting reform.

Which is the point of this reflection on yesterday’s nightmare election result.

The Tories and Brexiters, and Labour and the other second referendumers, got a roughly equal share of the votes. The Tories will disappoint their voters, inevitably, and the other parties have also disappointed their voters. The cycle continues, with voting producing earthquakes that usually change little, and power remains centralised, and remote.

However, the last 4 years have seen the emergence of a mass movement resisting Brexit. For all that there were campaigns like the People’s Vote Campaign, and others, mostly the movement was highly localised and grass roots, crossing party lines. Tellingly, nothing comparable emerged on the Brexit side.

So I’d like to make a suggestion to people who want to renew our democracy, and to make it responsive and fit for purpose. Change the anti-Brexit movement into a movement for constitutional change, starting with (but not ending with) voting reform.

12th December was a bad day for Britain. But it could be the point at which things finally begin to change.