Posts Tagged ‘Labour’

I don’t really know what I’m doing here“.

Irrespective of how much money he was on, it was a bit much to make Roy Hodgson conduct a press conference the day after he’d resigned as England manager. What was all that about? His legitimacy evaporated when his exciting young players failed to beat (or even compete against) Iceland. He forfeited the authority due to him by virtue of his office when he read out his resignation statement at a press conference after the final whistle. And yet the very next day he was seemingly required to face the press once more in his capacity as…well, no one was quite sure.

It was a strange coda to a curious chapter in England’s footballing history, and very much in keeping with one of the weirder weeks in England’s and the UK’s political history. After all, the day after Hodgson briefed the press as a resigned England manager, David Cameron took Prime Minister’s Questions as a resigned PM across the dispatch box from a very much not resigned Leader of the Opposition whose parliamentary party had just rejected him 172-40 in a vote of no confidence and whose Shadow Cabinet had pretty much all quit in protest at his leadership.

It seems to me that the concept of mandate is central to the current power struggles in the Conservative and Labour parties. In this post I want to explore the different types of mandate being claimed by the various actors in our contemporary drama and suggest some possible ways forward for Labour and for the UK in its relationship with the EU. Executive summary: some people are going to have to grow up.


All around me feelings run high about Syria, Isil and Jeremy Corbyn, while Twitter is full of foreign policy experts. I don’t claim to be an expert myself but I’m interested in international politics and, well, my lack of expertise has never stopped me in the past. Now seems as good a time as any to explore some of the unspoken assumptions and values that underpin contemporary debates about the global security environment. Join me then for a quick dart through the foreign policy approaches of David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn and various Scottish nationalists, followed by an alternative view I’ve sketched on the bag of a metaphorical fag packet.


One year and one day ago I published the first entry on this blog, a long piece about the nature of democracy. There are sections of the essay that I no longer recognise and would not now defend (it’s been a long year), but I quite enjoyed the bit about the Labour Party.

I sketched a brief roman â clef about what might happen to someone who joins the party for good reasons, only to become engulfed in partizan point-scoring for the rest of their days.

Over the past year it has become all too clear that this phenomenon is far from being unique to Labour, particularly in Scotland. But a year after I started this blog, and on the day of Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory in the Labour leadership election, I want to revisit the relationship between political ideas and the party machine. It seems to me that the election of Corbyn might do some good here, albeit not in the way his supporters perhaps imagine.


When I was a politics student at the turn of the millennium, John Curtice ranked a distant second behind Prof Bill Miller in the league table of Scotland’s leading psephologists. It seems remarkable to look back on it now, I agree – Scottish political coverage without Curtice at the centre, his hair magnetised by the electoral currents raging in the atmosphere? You’d have more chance of seeing Jeremy Corbyn leading the race for Labour leade…oh.

Professor Miller was my lecturer when I studied voting behaviour, a staple of every politics student’s training and very much the professor’s specialist subject. I’ve carried the insights from his lectures with me ever since.

The key lesson, it seemed to me, is that the commonly accepted models for explaining voting behaviour are all partial at best, and disastrous at worst.

I’ve been reflecting on Miller’s lectures recently in a desperate attempt to make some sense of Corbynmania, for good and bad. Here’s where I’ve got to.

(Features Banquo’s ghost, Tony Benn at Glastonbury, and the left wing paradox of harmful kindness).


How, then, to make sense of Greece’s absurdist trauma?

Our public space has been saturated with competing images of Greece over the past month. The Greek people are condemned in certain quarters as lazy, workshy and feckless, while being celebrated in others as tireless participants in a vivid public democracy; denigrated as tax-evading spongers, or lionised as resourceful, communitarian survivors. Meanwhile the Greek government, dominated since January by the left-wing SYRIZA party, is lampooned one minute as a rabble of Marxist provocateurs prepared to ruin their country’s economy to prove an ideological point, and then defended moments later as the only party capable of a serious-minded analysis of the economic mess bequeathed to them by their spendthrift predecessors. And as for the Greek state; well, it’s either a corrupt oligarchy leeching off the tax-payers of more fiscally-responsible Eurozone members, or the site of a cataclysmic takeover by antidemocratic elements in Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin.

On my Twitter timeline, opinion is polarised between “they shouldn’t have run up all of those debts if they couldn’t afford to pay them back”, and “the Greek economy will never recover without debt cancellation”; between “German taxpayers shouldn’t have to subsidise a failed state” and “Greece forgave Germany’s debts in 1953 so Merkel should return the favour”; between #thisisacoup and #theyhaditcomingtothem.

While I acknowledge that my analysis will be of little interest today to a desperate Greek pensioner or an embattled Bundestag press officer, I humbly offer a perspective from political theory that (a) might help us find melody amidst the present cacophony, and (b) could offer a more ethically satisfactory foundation for future debates over debt. This is the idea of inter-generational justice, or our present obligations to future generations.

I will argue that the negotiations over Greece’s so-called ‘bailout’ and the wider public debates over the crisis have focused too much on the acts of past generations (mainly previous Greek governments) and present generations (Eurozone Finance Ministers and the SYRIZA government) and not enough on the impact of this issue on future generations (of Greeks and of Europeans in general). I’ll conclude with some suggestions about how we might protect the rights of future generations, and at the same time improve the quality of our own public lives.

(rejected titles for this post: Duty and the Greeks; Grights and Gresponsibilities; etc.)


In my opinion, much of what passes for public discourse these days can be characterised as antipolitics. In this post I’m going to deconstruct four images from modern life, which bring the shape and definition of antipolitics into focus. I’ll start with an image from British politics, before narrowing my focus to Scotland and then to Glasgow. I’ll then finish up by looking at a familiar trope from the world of social media. In the process I hope to convince you that much of the recent public activity people highlight as exciting and positive is actually the very opposite of politics.


Something about the General Election outcome has been nagging away at me since Friday morning. Something about the unexpected starkness and decisiveness of the result.

If you’ve ever discussed politics in the pub you’ll no doubt have found yourself entering the realm of speculation. What if this happens in the future? What if that had happened in the past?

I think the 2015 result looks like something you might dream up after a few pints. It looks like a counterfactual.

What if the SNP win basically all seats in Scotland? What if Cameron actually wins a majority? What if UKIP win 4 million votes and almost no seats? What if the Labour vote flatlines?

You may remember the Sliding Doors, a film which imagines two entirely different outcomes based on whether someone does or does not make it into a crowded Tube carriage. This election is a real life Sliding Doors moment.

As Labour try to pick up the pieces of their disastrous result, the party needs to see the clarity of its new circumstances as a blessing. Labour didn’t make it onto the train – so we’re all now actually in that alternative universe in which the Tories won outright and the SNP dismantled Labour’s Scottish power base.

So how did we get here? As ever, it was through a combination of accident and design; through a series of Sliding Doors moments, all of which might have gone differently. In this post I want to explore some other turning points that helped create our new reality.


Kevin Bridges had a great joke during the indyref, where he imagined parents fretting about their kids indulging in ‘underage voting’.

I was up for a bit of that. I couldn’t wait to vote, and I have loved election day ever since.


I don’t have much of a track record as a tipster – the horse I backed in last weekend’s Grand National exceeded my expectations simply by not dying – but even I feel emboldened to hazard that the SNP might do quite well in next month’s General Election.

The polls suggest the SNP will win a majority of Scottish votes and almost all available seats. On the face of it this looks like a deep political consensus, but in reality I don’t remember our political culture ever feeling so divided.

In this post I explore post-referendum polarisation and unpick some of the myths that have come to be accepted as reality by large swathes of the electorate.  (more…)

It all seemed so positive at the time.

In the run-up to the referendum, many, many thousands of people took the time to educate themselves, and each other, about how we in Scotland are governed. Information came to light about taxation flows, media coverage, oil revenues, voting records, expenses payments. Everywhere, people were interested in politics.

I always wanted that to happen, so the last few tumultuous months before the vote were quite dizzying to live through.

I voted Yes. I was sure it was the right thing to do.

It was an article of faith on the Yes side that lots of citizens had journeyed from No to Yes, but no one ever headed in the opposite direction.

Well, more than two months after September 18th, I look around me at what the Yes movement has become. And I think I want out.

It all seemed so positive at the time. But last week the Yes movement entered its imperial phase, signalled in particular by the massive SNP celebration event at the Hydro in Glasgow. And the jubilant tone of the thousands of Yes voters glorying in that event and others finally tipped me over the edge.

It’s that tone that makes me suspect the movement was built on a fundamentally flawed conception of power all along. It’s that tone that makes me question the credibility of the leaders who have emerged from the Yes movement, and the cheerleaders who hero-worship them. And it’s that tone that makes me doubt the progressive credentials of the entire enterprise.

It all seemed so positive at the time. But I’m increasingly concerned that the Scottish public sphere faces a serious threat from authoritarian, sanctimonious Yes fundamentalists.

And that’s the very opposite of what I thought I was voting for.

Allow me to explain.