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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One of the defining features of modern conservative politics is a fixation with the building of walls.

In America some of these walls are real – the notion of “securing” the US southern border with a physical wall, no matter how medieval that sounds, is now mainstream politics. It’s not just the wild rantings of Trump, all of the remaining prospective Republican candidates are committed to some form of a physical barrier between the USA and Mexico. So popular are walls amongst Republican activists that Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin and mayfly pursuer of the GOP nomination, went so far as to suggest a mirror project that would seal off the lower 48 states from the terrifying threat of marauding Canadians.

In Europe the walls are mostly, so far, symbolic. The disastrous crises in Africa and Asia have created unprecedented pressures that are far beyond anything any of our institutions were designed to manage. Faced with the horror of mass human suffering, many European conservatives have sought to retreat behind border restrictions and threats to rebuild legal walls that have been eroded by nearly seventy years of ever closer union. Continue reading

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Back at the end of 2010 I interviewed David Rain for the British Science Fiction Association’s Focus (no.54, 2011) – a magazine for writers. David was programme leader for the MA in Creative Writing at Middlesex University, which was at that time unique in having a science fiction thread to its teaching, and I was a freelancer. David passed away this week after a long illness. In one of those weird quirks, I now teach at Middlesex in the same department as David – though I never really got the chance to get to know him. However his loss has had an obvious impact on those who he worked with and taught.

David had written the Orokon fantasy series as Tom Arden and had been twice nominated for the British Fantasy Society’s Awards and had also written a number of well-received literary novels under his own name

Anyway, I thought I’d put the interview up on the blog as a small, inadequate remembrance. Continue reading

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War has always been a topic that has caused the Labour Party problems and it seems increasingly possible that whether or not Britain should bomb Syria has the potential to create deep, and possibly irreparable, splits in the modern party. There’s a particular oddness in this situation, since Britain’s capacity to have any significant influence in Syria is almost zero. But the symbolism is crucial, I suppose. It is, however, depressing that this moral debate has become a weapon in the battles of Labour factionalism.

Over the last week I have listened to those who oppose war at any cost and I wonder if some of them are aware that people are dying in their thousands at the hands of ISIS and Assad (and, indeed, those who are opposing both of these regimes). As long as they don’t have anything darkening their conscience this group seems willing to turn a blind eye to slaughter done by others. Not so much “Stop The War” as “Stop Some Wars”. By the same token, I listen to some of those who support intervention and I hear no realistic plan to achieve meaningful change in the region – nothing that dissuades me from the belief that, for many, bombing Syria is about satisfying a desire to smash someone, anyone, in frustration at not being able to do anything useful. Continue reading

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