Those she talked to who wanted the store to come here had hardly embraced evil. They talked about how hard things were, how they needed to shop more cheaply without spending a lot of money on petrol, how they and their relatives needed the jobs Sovo would provide. There was something of a class divide there. Those who weren’t well off tended to back the store on the basis of economic survival.

As Lizzie had seen so many times with victims, the harder your life had been, the harder it was to give yourself room for ethical choices.
(Witches of Lychford, p103)


“Victims” – remember the word “victims”.

I’m going to start with two apologies – or one apology and one partial apology. First, I apologise for starting a review with a longish quote from the book I am reviewing. I’ve always thought this is a bit lazy, but it’s no exaggeration to say that these two paragraphs made me so angry – punch walls and slap innocent bystanders angry – that I thought it was worth pulling them out and considering them in detail. And, second, I apologise, in advance for writing a review that won’t talk much about the plot, writing or anything else within the covers of Paul Cornell’s Witches Of Lychford except the way it talks about class.

Actually, I’m not really apologising for that one. Consider it more of a warning about what is to come.

I don’t imagine Paul Cornell will be bothered that I was annoyed by his book. This little novella has been very popular, warmly reviewed, award nominated and the basis for not just a sequel but also a soon-to-be-released third book. Lychford and its witches appear to becoming the foundation of an ongoing series. And Cornell writes well enough – his style is restrained and understated (English, you might even say), there’s nowhere where the writing really takes flight stylistically, but nowhere either where you’d be offended by the gratuitously stupid. If you like this sort of thing, and people evidently do, there’s no reason why you won’t like this.

In Witches of Lychford an idyllic English market town, nestled in the Cotswolds, faces an existential threat – the arrival of Sovo, a big-brand supermarket. But not just any big-brand supermarket. Sovo is, literally, the work of the devil and the only people that can stop the defiling of Lychford – this other Eden, this demi-paradise – are three women of various varieties of witchiness: old-style, new age and Church of England. Continue reading

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occupy-me-by-tricia-sullivanThe overwhelming sensation left at the end of Tricia Sullivan’s strange, awkward, new novel is of things straining and stretching and struggling to be free. This is true of the characters, all of whom seem to be constantly pushing against something literal and/or metaphorical, but also true of the book itself – it feels as though the story, the very fabric of the book is stretching and struggling to contain itself. There’s so much packed in here, and at such conflicting, awkward angles, that it’s as though the paperback covers might, at any moment, tear themselves asunder and the whole lot will flop, exhausted and spoilt, on to the floor. That Sullivan juggles it all so deftly, so that disaster is not just avoided but that a sort of triumph is delivered, is to her great credit. But, for the reader, I have to confess, the journey was not always comfortable.

At one level this is a straightforward book – a nowish/near-futurish thriller in which money and oil and intrigue lead characters around the world from exotic locales to, well, Edinburgh. Pace Industries, a rapacious oil company, is trying to recover stolen money and a mysterious briefcase.  The briefcase is in the possession Dr Sorle, the physician who cared for the former oil executive, financier and embezzler – Austen Stevens. But Sorle is also – it quickly emerges – something much stranger than that. And, behind all the thriller elements, driving itself to the surface through the book’s thin skin, is a story about time travel, a giant flying dinosaur, alien birds whose habits include collecting the “waveforms” of the lost, entropy, the end of the universe and Pearl, the lost angel. Continue reading

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Hannibal Barca
Last night I watched the first episode of The History Channel’s Barbarians Rising. The episode dealt with Hannibal’s invasion of Italy and it was not good. It started with a definition of barbarian (“anyone who was not Greek or Roman”) that would have embarrassed the most imperialist 19th Century historians, but it was actually when it staggered haplessly into an attempt to make links with contemporary concerns that it really fell to pieces.

The decision to try and make a link between Carthage’s war on Rome and the American Civil Rights struggle (Jesse Jackson and Clarence B Jones appear as talking heads) was misguided and badly handled. The lowest point comes when Jones said “it was the barbarians who opposed slavery, they were the first freedom fighters”. Continue reading

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Jeremy Corbyn set out his 10 point policy plan today – with lots of good intentions in it, though it didn’t quite address the concerns I have about Corbyn offering actual detailed policies – it remained a bit vague. In a speech full of non-specific hand-waving the biggest blur was how it was all to be paid for. I’m a big fan of ambitious investment plans for government, but they do have to be realistic, and Corbyn’s numbers today are pretty wild.

In 2015 the size of the UK economy, measured by nominal GDP, was around £2.2trillion. Corbyn has just promised to spend £500million (half a trillion) over 10 years through a National Investment bank.

This is a pretty astonishing number. That’s a sustained, additional, annual government spending of 2.5% of the current (and since we’re not looking at any economic growth over the next year or two – the near future) size of the UK economy – which is pretty unprecedented. In the crisis year of 2008, the Obama administration dropped that level of money into the US economy – but only for one year.

Asked how he would pay for this investment, Corbyn said it would be paid for by “a stronger economy and by cracking down on tax evasion”. Continue reading

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George Eaton’s Tweets (above) made me think about the pattern of Labour history and how the current mess is part of a cycle that goes right back to the very first Labour government. Here’s roughly what happens: Continue reading

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jeremy-corbyn-tuc-conference-september-2015-gestureSo, today, Jeremy Corbyn launched his leadership campaign. It was the opportunity for him to make the case that he was the genuine radical that his supporters have been claiming. To put his case that “Corbynism” was the revolutionary (perhaps that’s too charged a word) change that some see as inevitable if he is re-elected.

The speech, though, was a damp squib. There was almost no content and what there was as neither new nor particularly radical. Continue reading

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The referendum is over but that doesn’t and shouldn’t mean that the fight for Britain’s future in Europe is done. Forty-eight percent of the British people voted to remain in the European Union, and they did so in a campaign that was dominated by Leave promises that are rapidly and very publicly unravelling. There is no pot of gold for the NHS, there is no way to keep the economic benefits of membership of the single market without allowing free movement of labour and there is no magic wand that can be waved to reverse the global flows of migrants.

And, it turns out, all those “scare” stories about the economic impact are coming true. Those pesky experts weren’t lying after all.

The Leave campaign clearly never expected to win and have no immediate plans in place for a managed transition to a future outside the European Union. Boris Johnson, or whichever Brexiter leads the Tories after the summer, will almost certainly want to hold an election believing that, with the Labour Party in disarray, they can achieve their own mandate and a larger majority with which to exert control over a deeply divided party.

And, in this election, we’re going to have a serious problem. Continue reading

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article 6So, as the last comic book fan with a blog to express an opinion about Captain America: Steve Rogers No.1, I thought it’s probably necessary that I have a suitably clickbait-style headline so that people might pay some attention. For what it’s worth, though, I do believe that the current treatment of Peter Parker is worse (more disrespectful to the character, less interesting and less smart) than what appears to be in store for Steve Rogers, and I’ll come back to that at the end. On this new Captain America, I think that some of the reaction to what is, after all, the first chapter of what seems planned to be an extended story has been ludicrous. And some of the responses to the fact that Captain America utters the dread phrase “Hail Hydra” (and seems to mean in) in the final panel seem to have missed or deliberately ignored everything else on all the other pages of the book. In fact, given the approach to extremism displayed so far, I’m quietly hopeful that this comic is going to go somewhere worthwhile and, perhaps, will deal with extremism in an interesting way rather than blandly restate the usual vapid comic book platitudes. Continue reading

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A quick follow up to my last post. I’ve had people insist to me that it is perfectly valid to compare the latest local election results with the 2015 elections. So I want to make clear why this simply isn’t true.

Here are the results from the latest local elections presented in a map (see it in all it’s glory at Democratic Dashboard):

2016 actual local election results

2016 local election results

As you can see, there’s a lot of white space on this map. That’s because not everyone in the United Kingdom had the opportunity to vote in these elections.

That’s the main reason why trying to compare this election to the 2015 general election is silly. It’s different boundaries, a different electorate and, in places like Scotland and Wales, it’s even different electoral systems. It is, like your primary school teacher told you, wrong to try and add apples and oranges.

But the other thing it’s worth doing for Labour Party members (at least those who are genuinely interested in getting a clear view of where the party now stands and what we really need to do to win in 2020) is to look at those white spaces and think, for a minute about what kind of England they represent. Continue reading

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I don’t want to be one of those people in the Labour Party who constantly moans about the leadership. My natural instinct is to loyalty. I want Labour to do well because I believe the people I care about do better when Labour is in power and I think that constant infighting is, literally, self-defeating.

However, I think it’s also important that the Labour Party is honest with itself. I understand the desire to present the latest election results in a positive way, but it’s important that – as the dust settles – that we look plainly at the figures and assess where we are. And, the truth is, that we’re in a very bad place if our goal is to replace the Tories as a party of government.

The first thing to note is that, while it made sense to spin the election result as a step forward to journalists, being able to point to an increased national vote share of 2% since 2015 is a “good news story” – especially when you’re a leadership under pressure – it is not an honest story and we shouldn’t let the story we tell others lead us to delusions.

We have to set aside the spin when we, privately, look at the results and what they mean.  Comparing a general election to a set of local elections is like comparing apples with oranges. Not every part of the country voted yesterday, not everyone voted using the same electoral system and, despite the temptation to believe otherwise, local politics and local candidates do matter.

The only fair comparison is not with 2015 but with 2012 – the last time these specific wards and elections took place at the same time. And when we look at that, the picture is much less encouraging. Since 2012 Labour’s share of the vote has fallen, dramatically, everywhere:

-9% in Scotland
-8% in Wales
-7% in England

Yes, the 2012 result was a good one – the omnishambles budget – had the Tories in significant disarray. But this year’s Tory party – with another disastrous budget and constant bickering over the EU, a strike in the NHS, the steel industry’s implosion and everyone in the cabinet positioning themselves for the coming leadership contest – is hardly in a better position than it was then.

And yes, you can argue that it’s not fair to compare the performance of “peak-Miliband” – almost 2 years into a parliament and his leadership – with Corbyn only 8 months in the job. But comparing Corbyn’s performance with the 2011 election (when Miliband was in the same stage of his leadership) doesn’t do this performance any favours either. In 2011 local elections Miliband increased Labour’s national share of the vote to 37% (up 2% from the previous general election, 10% from the previous cycle of local elections) – a significant step forward in a way this very definitely wasn’t.

So, what next?

Corbynism isn’t going anywhere. He (or someone with the same beliefs) would walk a leadership election held in the foreseeable future. Fantasies of a coup are nothing more than fever dreams.

Labour needs the team around Corbyn need to do better. The last eight months have been littered with self-inflicted public relations disasters and a basic inability to identify, stick to and deliver a campaigning agenda that strikes a chord with the public outside their core supporters. Yes, they face a hostile media, but so do all Labour leaders, and their often inexplicable choices have made things worse. Someone needs to be ruthless with people who are plainly not up to their job, and everyone needs to do better.

And, for god’s sake, stop talking about foreign policy.

And the wider circle of people who support Corbyn need to realise that not all criticism is disloyal. Sometimes it’s okay to apply a critical eye to what the party is doing, no matter how much faith you have in the leader.

Of course there are also those whose constant moaning and whinging needs to take a less hysterical, less publicly damaging form. If some of those who oppose Corbyn devoted as much time to building a credible, intellectually coherent and popular alternative to Corbynism as they do to screaming insults, the Labour Party would be in a better place.

But, to the public (and it is the public, after all who will decide the future of our party) it is the leadership that matters most, and that means the leadership has got to look at these results and recognise that things are going badly wrong have to change.

The bunker mentality that has developed around the Corbyn leadership will, if it continues, lead Labour to disaster. No matter how important you consider your principles, there’s no way to win an election in the UK by pursuing only a core of ultra-committed supporters. Especially not for a Labour Party that has lost Scotland (and has only narrowly avoided a disaster in Wales).

I didn’t vote for Corbyn. I don’t think he is the best leader for the Labour Party. But since he is the Labour Party leader, I would like him to be the best leader of the party it is possible for him to be.

So, be honest Corbynites.

Look the situation we’re in and – privately, if not in public – start to address the fact that this week was a very bad result and, that if you really want to be a party that replaces the Tories, you’ve got to do better.

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