White van graffiti – and two flags for the price of one.

In the week before the general election someone started spraying the word “TORY” all over the place around the down at heel suburb where I live in NW London – on bus shelters and walls – even on the sides of white vans. This must have been very upsetting for the owners, even if that’s how they voted.

It was hard to tell initially whether this was a declaration of support by a new sort of edgy vandal activist inspired by the US alt right spraying allegiance over his locality like a tom cat sprays urine- the spidery black lines showing a shock abandonment of all pretence at being law abiding and staying within bounds – reflecting times in which the leader of the Party could say “Fuck business” and their attack dog newspapers call for “traitors” to be cleared out of the Judiciary and House of Lords – or a false flag operation meant to look like someone from Labour was spraying an accusation of being a Tory on the sides of “white van man” vans – and the Kingsbury road temple – to propel people to the polls out of indignation.

This week, a variation on a theme confirmed that it was the former, with the word “TRUMP” in the same writing on the side of another vehicle – in this case a small truck – neatly symbolising the relative weight of UK and US Conservatism. The local Conservatives will presumably not put “spray cans” in their election expenses return and this is probably a “lone wolf cub” operation, but the writing is on the wall (and the vans) that we are in a new and unstable kind of politics.

A more light hearted and less indelible piece of graffiti was seen in Grays High Street a couple of years ago, where a similar van had the words “also available in white” scrawled into the tidal wave of sludge that covered its paintwork.

Meanwhile, our pro Brexit neighbour down the hill – who has had a “Get Ready for Brexit” ad in his window for several months – showed his British patriotism by putting up an England flag on 31st January. To be fair, this may have been for the Six Nations rubgy match the following day, in which England – having swaggered into Paris claiming they were going to “beat up” the French – were beaten in a way that was very therapeutic for anyone worried about nationalist triumphalism. As I walked past a week later, it looked as though he was putting up two flags in time for the Scotland match. But it turned out he was swapping one for the other – like a monk with a habit – one to wear, one in the wash – so it looks like this display might be permanent.

For anyone whose idea of heaven is an intense political discussion in a cafe, trying out a new coffee adds an additional layer to the experience. Turkish coffee in the Sim Sim bakery arrives with a flourish. Twice the size of an espresso but just as black and intense, set off in a small white cup and saucer. The spiritual opposite of cappuccino. No creamy, milky frothiness. Nothing easy drinking about it. Deep, dark, bitter; the bottom third like a mud bank of grounds. To be sipped slowly; a mouth can only take so much of an assault at once. An antidote to chugging. Almost an ordeal, it requires a slow, careful, thoughtful, disciplined approach that affects the way you think too. Profoundly mindful. Looking out of the plate glass window, another discussion going on silently. A man with a large head and close cropped curly beard is holding forth while smoking. His silent words come out with puffs of smoke.

The local library is buzzing. A dozen people working on the computers at the back. About twenty women learning English in the middle, their teacher moving round checking their writing. Old – slightly grumpy looking – guys reading the very grumpy papers. People checking books in and out; children hopping around the kids section. Toilets that are not “for customers only” as a community facility not a commercial one. The kindness of the public sector.

How dare you, Priti Patel?

The blog below was written before Home Secretary* Priti Patel’s interview on LBC in which she defended the reporting of climate change protesters to the Prevent programme on the grounds that police have to look at “a range of security risks.” This inability to tell the difference between high explosive and superglue reveals Prevent to be a vehicle for criminalising dissent more than safeguarding society from violence. The subsequent revelation that a counter terrorism policing guide from June 2019 included logos from Greenpeace, PETA, Stop the War, CND, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Anti Fascist and Anti racist groups underlines the point.

Given that they are often so keen to tell us that it is the first duty of government to keep its citizens safe, perhaps Patel should heed the warnings of the Ministry of Defence, which is planning for a more unstable world up to 2040 as a result of the impact of climate change, or, the recent US Army report on the security impact of climate change which predicts severe water shortages, increased incidence of “natural” disasters, floods, fires, hurricanes of unprecedented scope and scale, global pandemics, and a break down in vital infrastructure and state functions, including a possible collapse of the army itself – and conclude that the “unco-operative crusties” and, indeed, school students, taking to the streets calling for action to avert this might have a point.

If she can’t do that, and recognise that safeguarding our future is a government responsibility, she should resign or be sacked.

*”Home Secretary” sounds very cosy. Other countries, that don’t do official euphemisms, refer to Patel’s role as the Ministry of the Interior.

 

Criminalising dissent

The decision by “counter terrorism” police in the South East to include climate change activists who speak in “strong or emotive terms about environmental issues like climate change, ecology, species extinction, fracking, airport expansion or pollution” or “neglect to attend school” or “participate in planned school walkouts” or took part in “writing environmentally themed graffiti” in their list of  “extremists” who should be reported to Prevent by their teachers is very revealing about the way these people think.

There is a very revealing use of the word “or” in this description of what the guide was for. “This document is designed to help you recognise when young people or adults may be vulnerable to extreme or violent ideologies.” The safeguarding concern of Prevent is supposed to be about violence, but the term “extreme” is put in here as an equivalent concern of equal weight.

This is elaborated further, again in a very revealing way in which climate change activism is defined as arising from an “Anti-establishment philosophy that seeks system change…”  Given that the “establishment” and “system” that we have is heading for a global temperature rise of 3-4 C by the end of the century – with everything that flows from that (not least melted ice caps) – that we are in the middle of the 6th mass extinction, that we can see the effects of climate change around us now and the future is closing in like a trap; why is it the “system” and the “establishment” that they instinctively seek to safeguard – not the futures of everyone threatened by it? This is of a piece with the use of public money to pay for under cover police officers to infiltrate non violent environmental campaigns under assumed identities; sometimes forming relationships and fathering children with unsuspecting women activists – in a way that is never held to account by any values at all – let even “fundamental”, “British” ones.

The rapid retreat from this classification shows that they can’t get away with this kind of labeling as a way to inhibit the climate change movement as yet. But it also raises concerns about the Prevent approach in general.

 

Guilt by association

During a Prevent INSET at a school somewhere in North London a couple of years ago – one of those after school staff meetings at which a course that is supposed to take a whole day is rushed through in a one hour “death by” power point presentation for a room full of teachers who are in that fresh, receptive, alert state of mind always in evidence after a day’s teaching – the trainer, who was quite good as these people go and put a lot of emphasis on the growing threat from the far right, noted that in some parts of the country the biggest terror threat was from “vegans.” What he meant to refer to was the physical force wing of the animal rights movement, but the verbal slip indicates two things.

  1. That the issues involved in generating people prepared to take violent action to force change are only seen as the context for the actions, not as issues of wider concern that mostly DON’T lead to people taking violent actions. Vivisection. Animal rights. Invasions of other countries. Military violence. Discrimination. Unequal rights. Racism. All are issues that demand and deserve open argument. Feeding back from the actions to the ideas, and putting those ideas solely in the context of “safeguarding”, freezes necessary debate and argument, making them a matter for enforcement and suppression ; which is more likely to bottle up people at risk than allow the exploration of worries, concerns and fears in a safe context with trusted people.
  2. That a term that includes a wide set of people – in this case “vegans” – can be used as a short hand term for “terrorists” and thereby implicitly brands the whole lot of them. The trainer was very clear about this in the case of violent Jihadis, often referred to simply as “Muslims”. A nudge on this to a small group of public sector workers is all very well, but this usage is common in the media, which frames the discourse of most people. The far right are usually correctly referred to as fascists or racists. Never as “white people”; which would be the equivalent. In their cases of course, they are often individualised, or seen as individuals with mental health problems not part of a movement: especially by newspapers that have encouraged their fears and hatreds and could be seen to be complicit in their actions.

 

Fundamental? British? Values?

Napoleon’s Foreign Minister, Tallyrand, once remarked that the chief characteristics of the Holy Roman Empire were that it was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire.  “Fundamental British Values”  can equally be characterised as neither British, nor Fundamental, nor Values.

These – central to Government’s Prevent Strategy – require a closer examination because there is a statutory duty on public bodies not simply to respect them, but to promote them, and somehow quantify the impact of doing so.

When initially asked to define the sorts of things that might be considered “Fundamental British  Values”, then government Ministers like Eric Pickles came up with things like “the queen and red buses”; which are not values at all; more images from tourist postcards.  The real concern of government – it seems from this -was nothing to do with “values” at all, but just to draw on emotional signifiers of loyalty to a creaking established order.

Nevertheless, the values specifically listed (and for which public servants are accountable by law rather than ministerial prejudice) are

  • democracy,
  • the rule of law,
  • individual liberty,
  • mutual respect
  • and tolerance for those of different faiths or beliefs.

Most sets of values that emerge from genuine historic events come in threes (with only one of them as a phrase) whether its France’s Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, the US constitution’s Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, or, indeed, Superman’s Truth, Justice and the American Way. These have the advantage of being memorable and with a historical resonance. They tell a story. There is something rather stodgy, bland and committee like about this list of one word and four phrases; and an ambiguity in the last two points. The need to include “tolerance” as a bottom line indicating that “respect” might be too much to ask for in some cases.

Nevertheless, lukewarm as they are, these five points are presented as timeless, unchanging and unquestionable truths.  Set in stone just like the 10 commandments… or possibly the Asda price promise. So it was, is, and shall be. Permanently, forever.

Historically they are not “fundamental” at all – in the sense of being built into the foundation of the state. They were not truths that were held to be self evident in 1707 when the Act of Union  absorbed the independent Scottish Parliament into Westminster. This was not a foundation on any kind of liberating ideals. It was a deal to set up England and Scotland as a joint colonising enterprise – after the failure of the Darien expedition convinced the Scottish ruling class that they couldn’t build an Empire on their own.

  • Empires are not founded on mutual respect, and tolerance is often is short supply too. The 100 years after the establishment of Britain were the peak of the Slave trade and the colonisation of India. The state brought into being by that Act had religious discrimination against Catholics built into its foundation.
  • Democracy had nothing to do with it. It was an oligarchic monarchy with no popular sovereignty.
  • Individual liberties and the use of the law to defend them had began to be established with the 1679 Habeus Corpus Act, but as a general principle had to be fought for in tumultuous struggles throughout the ensuing century and the laws that ruled hung the poor in great number for crimes born of poverty.

The point here is that none of these are inherent or single edged- “the birthright of free born Englishmen (sic)” as conservatives would have us believe – all are the result of struggles. Nor is the current settlement either perfect or fixed. Nor are these struggles over. As they say in France “La lutte continue!”

Setting up a set of officially sanctioned values  seeks to freeze society in their image. Thus far and no further. The government would like us to treat them as articles of faith; and boxes to be ticked with no further thought; especially given that the “training” is a rushed online exercise carried out by frazzled people with too many other things to think about to properly reflect on what they are skimming.

However, if we are to keep faith with History,  we have to look at them as a living and necessarily malleable partial settlement of unresolved political conflicts.

Its probably best not to ask all of these questions to a trainer if you want to avoid being referred yourself, but obvious questions that can be asked of each of them should be borne in mind by anyone having to be trained.

  • to what extent they are actually characteristic of contemporary British society and do they apply to everyone equally?
  • how fundamental they are to it?
  • to what extent are any of them are qualified, and if so what by?
  • and sometimes to what extent do they contradict each other?

 

Democracy.

“And it’s through that there Magna Charter,  As were signed by the Barons of old,

That in England to-day we can do what we like,  So long as we do what we’re told.”

Marriott Edgar

Taking it for granted that democracy, rule of the people for the people by the people (Abraham Lincoln, unfortunately an American but no one from Britain has put it better) is a good thing, to what extent can this be considered fundamental to the British state (or the states that currently make up the UK) today, in their domestic history and history of overseas Empire? Those who argue that democracy is essential to its character at least have the obligation to tell us

  • At what point did we become democratic enough for the idea to be considered fundamental? 1215 when the Magna Carta was signed? 1649 when Charles 1 was overthrown and executed? 1688 when James II was overthrown? 1832 when Parliament was reformed? 1867 when the vote was extended to (some) working men? 1928 when the vote was extended to women?
  • Was democracy fundamental to ANY of the Acts of Union that formed the UK?
  • How did this democracy come about?
  • Who was fighting for it?
  • Who was opposing it?
  •  Do we currently have a fully realised democracy (both in constitutional terms and more broadly to what extent are the decisions made reflective of popular will or needs and to what extent to they reflect imbalances of power or wealth)?
  • Can we be more democratic than we are? If so, how?
  • Are the current forms of the British state the last word in democratic participation and to what extent to they embody – and to what extent deny – popular sovereignty?
  • Is not the right to have an argument about both the history and the current reality a hard earned democratic right?

The Rule of Law and individual liberty

“What you’re saying is that there’s one law for the rich…”

“Oh no! There’s FAR more than ONE law for the rich.”

Peter Cook 

These also look smooth on the surface, but when you examine them there are a lot of interesting questions which make them more problematic and therefore more alive.

  • To what extent does the rule of law conflict with the notion of individual liberty?
  • What are the constraints on individual liberty, and are these primarily codified by law?
  • To what extent is there are shared set of social mores and accepted ways of getting along without recourse to law; and if so what are they and where do they come from?
  • Who makes the laws, and who enforces them?
  • Is our current legal system equally accessible to all individuals and if not why not?
  • Is there a right of conscience to act “criminally” for the greater good? What might the parameters of that be? Anti-war protesters have been known to break into BAE factories to smash up fighter bombers about to be sold to dictatorships. Their defence was that they were committing criminal damage to save lives. They were acquitted by a jury. On the other hand, a recent City of London Police anti-terrorist exercise bracketed terrorists with Occupy and Environmental protesters; which is another way to look at it and could be where this legislation is leading us.
  • Isn’t part of living in a democracy that people argue about what laws are right or just?
  • Isn’t part of the rule of law the recognition that people will sometimes feel oppressed by specific laws, or the people who enforce them, and have a right to argue and organise to change them?
  • Are all liberties individual, or do some apply to collective groups (Companies, unions, protected groups in equalities legislation etc)?
  • Is it compatible with individual liberty for the state to define ideas as criminal or pre-criminal, or would it not be better simply to apply John Stuart Mill’s principle that people are free to think, speak or do as they wish, so long as by so doing they are causing no harm to someone else?

Mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths or beliefs.

This is a very desirable value – that we can see implemented in practice every day on the front pages of tabloid newspapers and for thirty years in the journalistic scribblings of our current Prime Minister – which have never been less than respectful to women, gays, ethnic or religious minorities. Although this has been promoted in UK public sector since the Race Relations Amendment Act of 2002; after 2010 the coalition government removed virtually all equalities guidance from the DFE website within months of coming into office,  which shows what they thought of it.

Indeed, David Cameron argued in 2014 that “multi-culturalism has failed”, then in the 2015 general election, the Conservative Party attracted the votes of high caste, well to do Hindus with a promise to take caste discrimination out of equalities legislation, so it seems that some discriminatory practices are more tolerable than others; even those that do not “unite us”.

This value is presented as though it is the norm. Looking at statistics for discriminatory patterns in housing, unemployment, employment prospects, employment by sector, school exclusions, stop and search, deaths in police custody, rates of imprisonment and poverty it’s clear that “mutual respect and tolerance” is little more than a self regarding denial of yawning cracks of inequality and injustice; which creates “a sense of grievance” and a “desire to change things”, that is entirely reasonable and justified; and therefore the Prevent guidance warns against it.

The giveaway here, which is itself an expression of the reality described in the last paragraph, is that the allocation of funding  for the Prevent strategy is based on the proportion of Muslims in a given area. This puts a paradox at the heart of this value. Although there is mention of “far right extremism” as also an area of concern, funding is not based on proportion of votes for far right parties in any given area. Now that Tommy Robinson has joined the Conservative Party, along with the entire membership of “Britain First”, and Priti Patel is in the Home Office, we should not hold our breath that this might change any time soon.

 

British Values? When will Britain live up to them?

There is a further purpose in describing these as British values even though – as described above – they are not actually applied in Britain in any consistent way as lived realities.

A desire for democratic rights, mutual respect, individual liberty and the rule of law (in the sense of putting limitations on arbitrary power) is widespread across the world, and they are embodied (to a greater or lesser extent) in many countries. They are not specifically British as values. Posing them as if they were is to take them out of a  human rights framework – which has to be struggled for – and to put them instead as a privilege of citizenship and a reward for loyalty. They take what we have fought for and they resisted, and shamelessly present them as though they were gifts from them to us.

How dare they.

Four reasons the Centre cannot hold.

Given the daily quantities of ordure dropped on Jeremy Corbyn from a great height since 2015 – with significant sections of the Parliamentary Labour Party throwing in their own faeces right up to polling day – its quite miraculous we did as well as we did in the December election. Despite these attacks, Corbyn’s leadership and politics have led to our two highest popular votes out of the four general elections held since the the 2008 crash and its important to register that.

This was never going to be easy.  A point in an article in New Left Review (1) of the problems facing elected left governments in Latin America trying to implement serious change also applies to us. “In liberal democracies, enormous pressures can be brought to bear upon radical administrations, whether at municipal, state or federal level. The mainstream media, the judiciary, the intelligence services, opposition parties may all come into play, with scandals whipped up over trifles, judicial harassment, dirty tricks or political manouevres – and this even before market pressures are taken into account.” This – oddly – misses out direct destabilisation and the use of the army/police whose high command are more loyal to the established order than any government elected that might challenge it – popular mandate or no popular mandate. This has been a regular event in Latin America – almost invariably prompted by the US – and was a preoccupation of – for example – the Italian Communist Party in the 1970’s who were always worried that, were they to come to office, a coup would be in the offing and should never be ruled out here. 

We can add that these pressures are brought to bear to stop such a government being elected in the first place. Looking back through the list above, we can check them off from our experience over the last five years. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described this as “running the gauntlet.” We cannot avoid doing this if we want to make the serious changes that we need.

Four key points for the challenges we face now which underline why a “move to the centre” cannot work.

  1. No “return to normalcy” is on the cards 

The period we are in is defined by the 2008 crash and its aftermath. People are insecure, pressured, uncertain. We  are – perhaps – about to hit another crash; with very little prospect of the same methods being viable to get out of it. At that point all sorts of unthinkable things will start to happen.

We also have the climate crisis inexorably becoming more apparent. Australia has just had to evacuate an area half the size of Belgium because of the unprecedented scale of forest fires. It is becoming apparent that we can no longer take our environment for granted as a generally safe space. People are waking up – and not just “woke” people. This makes the future a threat not a promise.

In such circumstances people tend to  polarise – to either cling on hard to the old apparent certainties that used to make sense, dancing ever more frantically to the old tunes while snatching gratefully after small mercies – or look for answers. On a global scale this can be simplified as a retreat into nationalism (Insert name of country here…First) and a “New Dark Age” (as the Daily Telegraph enthusiastically put it) or Global Green New Deal.

That requires parties of the Left to have answers that both pose solutions and develop deeper social roots; so what we are proposals an expression of where our communities are at and address the fear of change that freezes them like hedgehogs in headlights waiting to be squashed.  Labour’s manifesto could have been done, but  a realistic warning that

  1. Because these things are vital, we will face entrenched opposition to doing it that will need active support to carry it through
  2. This is not being done to you it will be done with you and by you
  3. It will take some blood, sweat, toil and tears to do it

would have been more realistic and fed into that slightly masochistic tendency in UK society that if we want any pud we’d better eat our greens.

The Green New Deal must be right at the heart of things – but also posed as – “this is what it will mean for (insert name of constituency/council area here)”. In the run up to the General election, Labour Local Authorities had been asked – for example – to make plans for home insulation so that an incoming Labour government could hit the ground running and get this done. Putting those plans on the leaflets, citing examples of where such plans had began to be implemented, holding meetings about them in the affected communities could have been very effective in making the prospect of positive change real for people who might be sceptical about it.  Not doing that allows the way this issue is understood to be the nihilistic “Labour want to stop you driving your car and eating meat” narrative  The Sun shouts out on behalf of the Conservative Party.

2. There is no individualist “apirational” solution.

People want life to be better. We want our children to have decent work and security.  This has too often been posed as “aspirational” in the sense of “getting up and out”, “social mobility” or, in the words of my incoming head teacher in assembly a couple of years ago “We’re all going to work hard, get our exams, go to university, get a good job, drive a big car and live in a big house.” As if we “all” could. As if there would be no consequences if we “all” did. A little bit of my soul died listening to that. Children being told to value themselves by how much they could contrive to take out rather than how much they could contribute.  There is no social mobility in the UK. We are the most unequal society in Europe and Brexit will copper bottom that. The individual route up and out is effectively blocked. This will only get worse under Johnson. We either try to organise collective solutions in this pressure cooker situation or people turn on each other with – expertly choreographed – blame games.

3. Neo -liberalism should not be up for “debate” – why Will Hutton is wrong.

Neo-liberalism – in shorthand – is the acceptance of the Thatcherite settlement. As a descriptive term it encompasses those strains of thought that argue that politics should be subordinated to a free market economics in which deregulation and privatisation are seen as solutions and the best those at the bottom can hope for is that the prosperity that this channels to the top will “trickle down”. Since 2008 it has survived because it functions very well for the 1%. It does nothing for the rest of us. Life expectancy in the UK is now in decline.

Will Hutton rewrites history in his Observer article Neo-liberal is an unthinking leftist insult (29/12/19). In 2010 part of the problem for Labour was that we embraced austerity almost as strongly as the Tories did. If you track the opinion polls from the election the point at which Labour ceased to be gaining ground on the Tories was when Alasdair Darling announced that the cuts Labour would make would be more severe than Thatcher’s. There was no “liberal- left hegemony” at the time of the crash. There was no attempt to take control of the banks when we bailed them out; so no collective solution to the problems of private capital. The result is that the same old system survives like a zombie on an ocean of socialised credit – which will be difficult to replicate when the next crash comes.

I am also always dubious when someone argues that X WOULD have happened if Y had been in place, but lets just say we did have a David Miliband government that Hutton blithely assumes would have resulted from his election as Labour leader. It would have been as committed in 2015 to the sort of spending cuts that Labour was in 2010.

  • Imagine what we’d be facing had we had a David Milliband government committed to austerity – as he was. In George Osborne’s first budget he announced £19 billion in cuts and was at pains to point out that this was £1 billion less than he had been advised to do by Alasdair Darling. Imagine the coalition economic programme being implemented by us. I don’t think there’d be much of a Party left.
  • Consider the fate of the European Social Democratic parties that have imposed such a programme in government. Ireland, Holland, France, Austria. We have just suffered a defeat. Some of these parties have been smashed into political irrelevance.
  • Compare with Portugal and Spain which have opposed austerity in government  for a way ahead that we need to stick to.

4. There are no “national” solutions and the Pax Americana guarantees war

There is an established view of what might be called the “national mission” which is replete with symbols and imagery from WW2 and Empire which holds us back into a nostalgia and fantasies of a “special relationship” with the United States that will undo us if we let it. This has more hold with the old, but going beyond it – which we will need to do – requires us to  not so much live up to our past but live it down, and make up for it too – posed as something we are not just doing for ourselves but the world.

This is a crucial issue because the glue that holds the right of the Labour Party together is not so much Europhilia as Atlanticism. A tricky act to pull off in the age of Trump, who makes no concessions to the vanity of his auxiliaries, and its rather difficult to argue that we should be for ever Robin to america’s Batman when Batman is behaving more and more overtly like the Joker: but it won’t stop them trying.

Being “pro Western”, in the way the Labour right supports, means being signed up to a Pax Americana that’s in crisis. It is not a “safe” option. Not only because the US’s global thrashing around to hold on to its dominance in the face of a level of Chinese growth that will make the Chinese economy half as big again as its own within the decades,nor the prospect of being pulled in Trump’s wake into the international axis for climate change denial, but because of the domestic consequences flowing from Johnson’s projected post Brexit US trade deal. This poses ever deepening national subordination and humiliation at the hands of the Americans as their pharmaceutical companies latch on to the NHS like so many vultures festooned with the stars and stripes and UK labour regulations are degraded to US levels. To pick two examples. the US is the only developed economy in which there is no guaranteed right to paid maternity leave and US holiday entitlements are half the European average. Taking back control?

With the US also now smashing up all the multilateral institutions that have previously mediated its dominance into a series of bilateral relationships that its easier for it to dominate – they are even blocking the selection of new judges for the WTO Court because they don’t want to be held accountable to it –  its hard to see how the sort of obsequious relationship Tony Blair had with whoever was in the White House could be viable – even if it were desirable – and there is no doubt that part of the price of the deal Johnson is lining up with Trump will be ever enthusiastic participation in US interventions, not just being a cheerleader for its destabilisation efforts across the world. The rapidity with which Dominic Raab flipped from calling for de-escalation to dropping right into line on Iran is the shape of things with this government. Not following suit is vital for Labour.

This is not just an argument with the overt right. A door can be opened to it by the argument to embrace “progressive patriotism”. This is a back handed acknowledgement that that for most leave voters and many of the Labour to Tory switchers in leave leaning areas, leave means an awful lot more than leave, but, in seeking to finesse their concerns it runs the danger of conceding premises which make getting beyond them impossible. 

To put it bluntly, these people weren’t rejecting Labour because we did not have a strong enough appreciation of the English radical tradition (and it is England we’re talking about here because the rejection of hard leave in the North of Ireland, Scotland and Wales was quite clear) from the Peasants revolt to the Levellers, the Chartists and the Suffragettes – to cite Tony Benn’s traditional list.

They are much more in thrall to the patriotism they were brought up with – I vow to thee my country, an increasingly maudlin cult of the armed forces and hostility to traditional (national) enemies and residual hostility to comer inners. Two world wars, one world cup…and one referendum.

Trying to chase them with an alternative tradition that might be interpretable as “national” doesn’t hack it at all. They have the real thing and are hanging on to it like grim death.

In do far as there is any mileage in this idea at all its about – for example – defence of the NHS against being sold off to US pharmaceuticals or defence of our right NOT to take part in insane US wars. The wave of attempts to Americanise the UK’s economy is an inexorable consequence of the Brexit that we are actually going to get. Resistance to this will be posed in patriotic terms by some, but its the social content of the gains being defended that will make these progressive struggles.

To return to the point at the beginning. In our current situation Corbyn’s call for resistance is exactly right. Politically it means not rolling over in the face of the attacks that will come from this government – which will be pretty sweeping. Resistance can and will take many forms. What Corbyn is doing is saying that Labour will be there as part of it. I hope that whoever takes over maintains this stance – the only one through which we can rebuild the scale and depth of support both to win an election and sustain a government in the face of the sorts of sabotage listed above.

Electing a leader that recognises this is also essential. So Rebecca Long Bailey gets my vote.

  1. NLR 120 Nov/Dec 2019. Snipers in the kitchen – State Theory and Latin America’s Left cycle. Juan Carlos Monodero

 

 

The UK General Election in 7 myths.

Sun Tsu wrote “In the absence of strategy, an argument about tactics is the noise before defeat.” He might have gone on to note that after a defeat, there is a tendency for people to hunker down back into default tactics and console themselves with self soothing myths. These set a course for future defeats. Here are some of the most potent and popular.

Myth 1. Boris Johnson won an overwhelming mandate for a hard Brexit.

No he didn’t. Winning a majority of seats in parliament is not the same as having majority support in society. A majority of seats in parliament means a government can ram through whatever legislation it likes, but, without majority support in the country that cannot be done with impunity – or sparking resistance. Given this government and who its leading figures are, there aren’t enough fridges in the country for them to hide in when the going gets tough – as it is bound to do. Here are the figures.

  • The total votes in the UK cast for the Conservatives and Brexit Parties in favour of a hard Brexit was 47%.
  • The total votes cast for parties opposed to hard Brexit was 52%. Essentially, this is the 2016 referendum in reverse, but, as with the last US Presidential election, the side with the lower popular vote winning.

brexit election votes

However you look at this, the blue slice isn’t even a majority, let alone an overwhelming one.

This matters because the end of 2020 is crunch time to decide if the UK stays in regulatory alignment with the EU or not. Johnson is already signalling that it won’t. The EU will not agree to this. So we are looking again at no deal and the rapid implementation of deal with Trump that has been being negotiated quietly behind our backs – and remains mostly redacted – for the last couple of years while the charade in Brussels has played itself out and occupied everyone’s attention. Resisting this from day 1 and getting the truth out as it unfolds is an imperative. Whatever the theoretical merits of a “Left Exit” from the EU in the eyes of those who support it – the Brexit we’re going to get has nothing in common with that and should be resisted by the whole Labour movement.

Myth 2. “The British Lion Roars for Boris and Brexit” Daily Express Headline 13 December 2019.

Not in Scotland, Ireland or Wales it didn’t. For the Express and a lot of its readers, “Britain” is basically Greater Little England. Given the figures, perhaps it was the idea of “Britain” that was roaring. But if that was the case, that idea is revealed to be only alive and well in small town England.

  • In Scotland the combined Conservative, Brexit Party, UKIP vote in favour of a hard Brexit was 26.6%, while the combined vote of the SNP Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens – opposed to hard Brexit – was 74.4%. Pretty overwhelming. The Scottish Lion was roaring “no”. Election Scotland
  • In Wales they did better, but were still a minority. The combined Conservative, Brexit Party, UKIP vote in favour of a hard Brexit was 41.4%, while the combined vote of  Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid and Greens – opposed to hard Brexit – was 58.8%.Wales election
  • In the North of Ireland the combined DUP, Northern Ireland Conservative and UKIP vote favouring hard Brexit was 30.8% while the combined vote of Sinn Fein, SDLP, Alliance, UUP, Aontu, People Before Profit and the Greens was 68.5%. This overstates the support for Johnson’s deal, because the DUP, although in favour of a hard Brexit in principle, are opposed to this one and any other that would lead to a border between North and South or in the Irish sea – i.e. any deal that might actually exist in the real world.Election N Ireland

I was going to make a joke about Johnson being “a one nation Conservative” in that he only represents one of the nations in the UK; but he doesn’t even do that. Even in England, hard Brexit did not win a majority. A damned close run thing, but the combined vote for the Conservatives, Brexit Party and UKIP was 49.3% while the combined votes for Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens was 49.4%.

So, Johnson’s huge majority in Parliament represents a minority in every country in the UK.

This matters because the attempt to implement his Trump Brexit will exacerbate the national tensions within the country and accelerate centrifugal tendencies.

  • At the moment there is no majority for independence in Scotland – because separation from the rest of the UK would be even more of a wrench than separation of the UK from the EU – but support for IndyRef2 is likely to be one form of resistance as Johnson tries to drive his deal through: in the same way that support for devolution reached tipping point when the Conservatives used the Scots as the guinea pigs for the Poll Tax in the 1980’s. Depending on how much this grows and how stiff necked and effortlessly offensive Johnson is – and he is, after all, a man who can’t resist making provocative “jokes” to see how much he can get away with – we could be seeing a dynamic like the one in Catalonia and “the British Lion” might find itself biting its own tail off.
  • Similarly in the North of Ireland. The current deal would see a tax border of sorts in the Irish Sea – with an inevitable depressing effect on the Northern Irish economy and letting it remain in orbit around Brussels even as the rest of the UK disengages. The geo-political logic of this is obvious. Going out with no deal would reopen the issue of the border in Ireland and there would be stronger support for a border poll to unite the country. In this election, for the first time ever, there are more nationalist MPs (Sinn Fein and SDLP) than Unionist. Johnson might find himself having to take the St Patrick’s cross out of the Union Flag quicker than he thinks.

The break up of the country is a worst case scenario from the point of view of anyone who wants to keep it together, but it follows the logic of taking back control at smaller and smaller levels. Whatever happens, it means trouble, not a return to calm or “normality”.

Myth 3. Johnson’s majority means that he can “face down the ERG”.

This piece of wishful thinking appeared in a number of places in the immediate aftermath of the election, not least the Guardian. The fraction of the ruling class opposed to Brexit but more worried that the only viable vehicle to stop it was a left Labour government, and poured more money into the Liberal Democrats than they knew what to do with, churned out some articles, possibly to keep their own hope alive and console themselves for the damage that’s coming. The measures in the Queen’s speech should have put paid to these delusions. Here they are in case anyone was in any doubt about where Johnson is heading.

  • The pledge to keep workers entitlements and rights up to at least EU standards has been discarded.
  • All out strikes in public transport and other services are to be banned.
  • The pledge to raise the minimum wage was dropped.
  • Britain is to be given the power to strike down EU protection on working hours.
  • Britain is to be given the power to strike down EU protection on holiday entitlements.
  • British judges are to be given the power to strike down EU protection on sick leave.
  • British judges are to be given the power to strike down EU protection on working hours.
  • Ways are to be sought to limit the right of the courts to limit government actions.
  • Even Lord Dubs amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill to continue to give refugee children sanctuary post-Brexit has been dumped.

Clear enough I think. This matters because Brexit is not “done”. The UK will leave the political structures of the EU at the end of January but still be inside the economic arrangements until the end of the transition period. The damage that will be done by a no deal exit is real; so this argument will continue. The extent to which it spills out from behind closed doors will indicate the extent to which any fraction of the ruling class is prepared to make a stand on the question of regulatory alignment. I wouldn’t hold my breath, but these articles are a sign that they haven’t entirely given up the ghost.

Myth 4: This was an unprecedented defeat for Labour and this is all Corbyn’s fault.

If we look at the results for the six General elections we’ve had this century, the graph looks like this.

labour vote 2001-2019

Its quite clear from this that Corbyn led Labour to its best (2017) and third best (2019) result this century. More than Blair in 2005, Brown in 2010 and Miliband in 2015. In 2005 far fewer Labour votes led to a majority government.

This matters because Labour’s stance in the next five years will determine whether it has any chance of toppling Johnson in 2025 – or possibly before then if things get bad enough – which they might. Corbyn’s politics – against austerity and for significant state investment to regenerate the economy, create  an inclusive and more equal society, make the green transition we need and distance ourselves from wars of intervention – are all needed if we are to resist and organise against the impact of Johnson’s Brexit.

Myth 5: the defeat is entirely down to what Labour did or did not do.

This is not usually stated as such, but seems to be a premise for a lot of the soul searching that has gone on since Friday the 13th, which has tended to look inwards at the Party, its leadership, policies and campaign. This is missing the bigger part of the picture; which is not just about how Labour lost but how the Conservatives won. Its a bit like if Napoleon’s Marshals sat down for a post mortem on Waterloo and paid no attention to anything the Duke of Wellington or Marshal Blucher had done.

it is a truth universally acknowledged that Theresa May’s 2017 election campaign was a bit of a car crash. But this judgement needs nuance. May increased the Tory vote over Cameron’s 2015 score more than Johnson did over hers this year. See graph.

tory vote 2015-19

However, what May’s campaign failed to do was neutralise the threat from Labour – which put on a spectacular increase in support during the election campaign which destroyed her majority. In 2017 the Conservatives were over confident. They believed that their initial 20 point lead was unassailable. They thought that they could get away with saying some of the unpopular things they would actually do before they did them – like the punitive social care policy which blew up in their faces. They hadn’t quite reached their current state of shamelessness and had the decency to look awkward when they ducked debates. They also thought that Corbyn’s “old fashioned socialist” ideas were sufficiently discredited that all they had to do was give him enough rope. which just shows how wrong you can be,

This time, knowing that their own vote was not going to go up much beyond the hard leave tribe, they played a cannier game to hold back a Labour surge.

  • They adjusted spending policy just enough to be able to talk about what looks like significant sums of money going into areas that they have been running down to destruction for the last ten years – while claiming that the previous policy had nothing to do with them guv – even though they were in Parliament (and sometimes the cabinet) voting for it. That these sums of money would still leave these services underfunded (and in the case of the NHS are a pre-emptive move to cover the costs of the increased drug bills it will be paying as a result of their pending and half negotiated deal with the US) passed most people by. This had a significant impact on people who previously might have come out to vote Labour to get any increase in funding for the health service. or their children’s school. In 2017, the NUT (now the NEU) waged a huge school gate campaign – without endorsing any party – on the impact of school spending cuts, which is credited with shifting 700 000 votes in Labour’s direction. In 2019 a similar campaign was waged by the NEU – with even more people taking part – but had nothing like the same impact. The Tories did just enough to innoculate themselves against this issue.
  • They were vague and bland about what their plans are. Beyond the mantra of “get Brexit done”, there was little concrete in their manifesto and they sold themselves on a false prospectus.
  • They fully embraced “post truth”politics. Having had Labour run rings round them online in 2017, they bought up space on websites so that whenever anyone searched for a Labour related item they were directed first to Conservative supporting sites attacking them. They were controlling the gateways to any narrative anyone wanted to find online as well as in most of the established mass media. Its amazing what money can do. They have picked up lying rebuttal techniques from sites with fake ids characteristic of the US Republican Party. So, the story about the little boy waiting on the floor in hospital – which was completely substantiated and documented by the Yorkshire Post and Daily Mirror, was rubbished online by anonymous sites claiming to be or know a nurse in the hospital who said it wasn’t true and then put around as fact by Tory supporters, or dupes. Moreover, 88% of Conservative online advertising was found to be at least “misleading”. The comparable figure for Labour was 0%.
  • They ran a tag team operation with other Parties. Most obvious was the role of “the Brexit Party” which withdrew from Tory marginals after being effectively instructed to by Donald Trump on a phone in to Nigel Farages’s LBC show. Farage blustered about second order issues as a bit of face saving but followed his master’s voice and did the deed.
  • The role of the Liberal Democrats bears deeper examination and they were essential to the Conservative win. They were dragged kicking and screaming into the alliance to stop no deal because it was being led by Corbyn. They blocked a transitional Corbyn government to block no deal, renegotiate with the EU to stay in the customs union and single market then put that back to the people, because keeping Corbyn out of No 10 was more important to them than stopping Brexit. At a ppoint that Johnson’s deal was about to be subject to scrutiny that would tear it apart, they and the SNP went behind Labour’s back to give Johnson the election he wanted, on the issue he wanted at the time he wanted it. One interpretation is that, lush with cash and the hubris of their rapid revival during the EU election campaign, they actually believed that they could win up to 100 seats and be in a position to hold the balance on a hung parliament or even provide a coalition Prime Minister. Another is that they were playing the role the ruling class – even their fraction of it – needed them to play; which was to split the vote against no deal Brexit and damage Labour in remain leaning marginals. This was built up throughout the campaign by “tactical voting” sites that initially advised voting Lib Dem in seats in which they’d been a distant third in 2017. Candidates who stood down to try to stave off a Tory win in Labour Tory marginals were slapped down and replaced by Jo Swinson. On polling day in London, the Evening Standard was covered in a wrap round advert calling for “Remainers” to vote Lib Dem – even though by this stage they were a busted flush almost everywhere and the effect of a Lib Dem vote would let in a hard Brexit supporting Tory. This was also behind the split in the People’s Vote campaign between those who saw it as a vehicle to stop Brexit and those – like Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell – who saw it as a vehicle to damage Corbyn. The logic of this was spelled out during the campaign by Lib Dem Deputy Leader Ed Davey, who said that in a choice between Corbyn and a hard Brexit, it would be a hard Brexit every time.

Myth 6. The leave vote is the voice of the working class.

Only if you believe

  • that there are no working class people in Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, London or any other big city.

The leave vote is a vote from small town England. Ashcroft’s poll after the referendum concluded that a typical leave voter was an ageing middle class white man who lived in the South of England and voted Tory.

Myth 7: Labour lost because it pledged to allow a second referendum on any deal negotiated with the EU.

There are a number of problems with this argument.

  1. It only looks at the seats Labour lost; which were all in regions in which there was an overall shift in votes to leave, not at the whole picture – including the marginal seats that Labour would have to gain to win an election in every other region – in which the overall shift to remain parties was substantially greater than the shift to Brexit supporting parties.
  2. It discounts any shift in voting intentions between 2017 and 2019 to make the false assertion that the primary potential damage to Labour was by leaking leave votes to the Conservatives. This is to turn Maths on its head. The Labour vote in the referendum was 37 leave to 63 remain. The damage done by losing remain votes was always going to be greater. And so it came to pass at the time of the EU election. Up to that point Labour had been level pegging with the Conservatives in voting intention polls. At the election there was a colossal hemorrhage of votes to the Lib Dems and- to a lesser extent – the Greens. Labour polled 14% and went down in national voting intention to the low 20s and didn’t recover. polling tracker

This matters because a shift towards “winning back traditional voters” has led to the nostrums of “Blue Labour” rising like a zombie waving a “controls on immigration” mug. Maurice Glassman’s slogan of “family, faith and flag” has some horrifying echoes that we could do without and would destroy Labour as any kind of progressive force.

On the Sixth Day – Mancunian Momentos

Visiting a city you once lived in after a period of years is always a jolting experience – perhaps more so if the visit is fleeting.

The old place is still there. Streets you can walk about by habit. Old haunts that ambush you back into your younger self as though you’ve walked through a portal into forgotten memories that are suddenly alive. But all the new stuff superimposed upon it makes it stranger, a different place. All your memories of what this place is become what this place was in a sudden brutal updating. The Manchester that lives in my head is what it was like in the 1980’s. Manchester as it is is full of personal echoes that, however powerful, are as insubstantial as whispers. Time can’t be held in your hands, only in your head. You remember the North, but the North has moved on and doesn’t remember you.

The pictures here were taken in the darkness of a Northern November evening.

20191120_181607
ON THE SIXTH DAY GOD CREATED MANchester.

These murals are everywhere. A lot of confidence in this, alongside the humour. Clearly, from this picture especially, this is still a work in progress. As we also say of London “It’ll be lovely when it’s finished.”

20191120_182038
75 Piccadilly

This was the street entrance to the silk screen printshop I used to work in, making posters for CND, student unions, factory occupations; and shamelessly ripping off designs from the Ateliers Populaires from Mai 68. Back then this was a very shabby part of the centre of town, with semi abandoned workshop spaces available to rent from The Salvation Army, among other unlikely landlords, for peppercorn rents. Now the whole street is swish and slick and exudes the air of valuable real estate. Piccadilly Gardens is similar. once quiet, contemplative, with a sorrowful dignity, it is now brash, lit up, commercial, lively. Richer but with less gravitas somehow. I’d forgotten about the stone lions carved on either side of the skylight. Their damp, crumbling dignity has a feel of Venice or some forgotten kingdom in Anatolia.

 

20191120_190950
The Midland Hotel

This was Adolf Hitler’s favourite building in Britain and would have been his northern HQ had Operation Sea Lion come off. A definite and in your face building. Not one you could miss. Ponderous, ugly pink sandstone. Empty overstated pomp. Right up Hitler’s street. Easy to mock. But had the occupation occurred it would have been one of those buildings that warps the space around it with the force field of all the terrible things being done or planned inside. Outside is St Peter’s Square – site of the Peterloo massacre in 1819 – commemorated discretely only by a blue plaque – so as not to draw too much attention to it or what it meant (and still does). Many people pass by every day, walk over the space where the Yeomanry cut down democracy protesters, and catch a tram without a second thought.

There is something inspiring about the trams though. Something continental and forward looking. Beyond the London model. More distinctive than red buses. Something greener than cars or buses. Thousands of people travelling on these mighty ships of the street with their friendly hoot as far out as Rochdale, Bury, Eccles, Altringham and Ashton. Someone forgot about Oldham – which isn’t easy to do. Nevertheless, as Ursula Le Guin wrote in The Dispossed, “It was hard to look at the trams of Anarres without wanting to cheer.”(1)

20191120_185436
The way Indian/Pakistani restaurants used to be.

Round where I live now, a lot of the Indian restaurants have gone up market in a modernist sort of way. There’s slick decor, flat screen TVs. mocktails, good food but at higher prices catering for a quite prosperous “aspirational” third or fourth generation. Back in the early 80’s there were several Pakistani run cafes in an Asian textile district at the back of the Arndale Centre. One of them, Yaqub’s, was a shack in the shadow of the multi story car park, with room for about five of us to squeeze in onto a counter along the window, while one of the staff of two took orders and an elderly, skinny guy with a long beard and shy smile grilled kebabs on skewers, where you could get a veg curry and Gulab Jamun for afters for 80p. My kind of place. There was another, the Lahore cafe, that was hidden away in a hole in a wall down a disused side street. Both these are long gone. The Yagdar, which is just opposite where Yaqub’s used to be, has come up in the world in the sense that it is no longer actually dangerous to eat there. The last time I was in Manchester for a union conference in 2008 the Yagdar had steps down to the toilets that you had to step on very carefully so as not to go through them and an internal decor that could best be described as improvised. Bits of decorative moulding that seemed to have been rescued from a skip had been stuck on the walls here and there and someone had brushed some gold paint across some of it. The food, however, was wonderful. Wholesome, home cooked, authentic and seriously inexpensive.  It looked a bit like this.

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The Yagdar. 3 curries, rice and chapati – £5.50. Recommended.

Since then they have cleaned up and sorted out the stairs. Everything is minimalist formica basic. Nothing fancy. But the food is just as good and just as good value. Served up by a friendly but lugubrious guy in Kurta Pajama (what he wears for work not how he dresses up for it) that you can talk to eye to eye. I love these places. I wish a few more of them had survived.

20191120_192720 (1)
A relatively honest War Memorial by Piccadilly Station

Most war memorials seek to glorify or to sanctify war. This one, although all the soldiers look far more clean cut and handsome than they can possibly have been, at least shows the damage that was done to so many of them. These were not the “glorious dead” but the shattered living, the Mutilles de Guerre, some of them with wounds that led to them being shunned as an inconvenient reminder of how terrible the war had been. The wounded were far more numerous than the dead. One and a half million in Britain (twice as many as those killed) more than four million in France and Germany. Many more – as with all wars – had wounds that could not be seen.

  1. This quotation is from memory. The book is well worth a read.

Something in the Air

When my grandfather was a soldier in India, 100 years ago; he said that whenever there was trouble in a village – as there increasingly was as the Raj began to slip in the 1920s  -they would send a detachment of troops to march through it to intimidate the villagers – flags flying, band playing, fixed bayonets, loads of shouting from NCOs and “bags of swank”. Gunboat diplomacy worked the same way. Send a battleship with huge guns capable of smashing buildings like eggshells into the principal port of any country not toeing the line of the Pax Britannica and the implied threat was often enough for a peaceful solution; that allowed the everyday violence of colonial exploitation to continue to run smoothly.

On December 1st six military helicopters – three twin engined heavy duty Chinooks at the rear with three lighter dragonfly looking types ahead of them – were circling in London’s airspace just ahead of Trump’s visit; noisily and often enough to be noticeable and noticed. There was something edgy and nervy about it. On December 4th, at the end of it, a low flying olive drab monstrosity of a Hercules transport aircraft cruised with almost impossible slowness over my head while I was leafleting on Wakeman’s Hill – heading, no doubt, for Northolt to pick up his enormous armoured motorcade – those 12 black vehicles that filled the Mall from one end to the other at self important speed. The Sopranos with state power. The last time Donald Trump came, we were similarly buzzed by evil looking Osprey helicopters sending the same message. The boss had come to case the place and inspect his future province – an overt display of a significant shift in power from here to there, that Boris Johnson is conniving at and Jeremy Corbyn is resisting.

 

 

Litter leafletting and other campaign oddities.

There are moments when wearing a badge matters. Sometimes you don’t want someone to prejudge you; and a badge puts you in a pigeon hole before you start. Unlabelled, anyone you are talking to is listening first to your thoughts and ideas without a preset filter set to dismiss. But sometimes a declaration of allegiance makes a difference. There was such a moment in 1977 outside Woolworths in Coney Street in York – which was the main pitch for the left to sell newspapers at the time (much to the annoyance of the Woolies management). For some weeks there had been small grumbling, gatherings of National Front supporters that had been getting increasingly threatening but the week after the Anti Nazi League’s bright yellow and red arrow badges went on sale there was a sudden flooding of them from one end of the street to the other. It seemed as though nearly everyone was wearing one; recognising each other as a new collective strength in an impromptu carnival of defiance and exuberation. It was like spring after winter, the sun breaking through an overcast sky.

So it is now. I have taken to wearing my Vote Labour sticker when I am not canvassing. This leads to people grinning at me on the tube and the bus, leaning across in the supermarket and saying “Good. Yes. I agree,” people in the choir in Kilburn pulling out Labour leaflets to talk about, a barmaid in the pub opposite the Kiln asking enthusiastically how the canvas is going, a lengthy friendly explorative discussion in an equally lengthy queue at Aldi, with other people listening in – and no hostility at all. In an election in which part of the campaign the right is waging is to make Labour seem a pariah, wearing the badge in public and just going about your everyday business is a statement in itself – and gives heart to others.

The Tories and Lib Dems locally seem to be unsure where one constituency starts and another ends. Harrow West Tory leaflets have been posted through doors in Brent North. Brent North Lib Dem leaflets have turned up in Brent Central. The importance of local knowledge? Another feature of their leafleting effort is that they are so stretched for supporters on the ground that they don’t go up steps to flats to actually put the leaflets through the letterboxes; leaving them in a pile at the bottom of the steps instead. They then get blown all over the place by the wind and pile up with the general street mulch of squashed plastic bottles and crushed Kronenburg cans that so enhances the aesthetic quality of our lives round here. There were something like thirty dull orange Lib Dem ones scattered on the pavement in front of the shops like fallen autumn leaves and people were walking all over them without a second glance. Given that litter has become a growing problem scumming up our streets locally this is not a good look for them.