Sunday, 27 December 2009

RIP David Taylor

Some sad news; David Taylor, the Labour M.P for N.W. Leicestershire, has died. Of course, the moral stature of M.P's has taken a massive fall this year (due to the corruption of a handful and the propensity for petty venality of the sort most people are vulnerable to of the rest), to the extent that a tribute to one of them from someone who isn't a political hack might seem a little strange, but Taylor was one of the good guys - a decent man, a man of principle, a good Socialist, a good Christian and, as far as I know, a very good local M.P. He also developed the wonderful habit of exploiting loopholes in parliamentary procedure so that he could rebel and not vote against the Government at the same time - sheer class and within the best of the Labourist mentality. The political process was set to lose him next year anyway (he was retiring), but this is still a tragic, and at 63 an early, death. RIP.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

'twas the night before Christmas, et cetera, et cetera

With Christmas less than half an hour away, I thought a short post on a theme related to religion might be a good idea. So, two points relating to the role of religion in society that I've given a bit of thought to recently:

1. The link between Secularism and the historical process usually known as Secularisation is insignificant. Secularisation has seen (as we all know) massive falls in Church attendance and an apparently massive shift away from orthodox beliefs*. This has not, however, been matched by Secularist influence over the political process or even by much of an increase in genuinely atheistic views on religion (especially when you consider the great expansion in the number of people likely to be subject to atheistic and Secularist influences). Indeed, anticlericalism as a political movement (once an incredibly powerful force in the politics of many European countries, especially, but not only, France) is effectively dead. It is certainly interesting to note that most of the high profile atheist propagandists in recent years have been as aggressive-defensive in the arguments they deploy as religious propagandists have tended to be for the past fourty years or so. Individualist apathy has turned out to be dreadful news for both sides.

2. There's a stronger chronological link between the process of Secularisation and the decline of other collective cultural traditions and movements - such as mass membership political parties, Trade Unions, a whole host of clubs and societies, and, of course, the institution of the pub. The Pub appears to be in as much of crisis as The Church has been in recent decades and I would argue that the causes are in some way related.

With that out the way, Happy Christmas to all three occasional readers of this blog no matter what your faith or religious identity.

*The interesting, and unanswerable question, is whether this merely reflects changing social pressures and conventions - it is certainly possible that orthodoxy (small "o") never commanded a majority in any large Western country and that the religious beliefs (such as they are) of ordinary people have changed less than is often thought.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Barack Obama's Ambulance Wagon

In an attempt to defend the limited scope of the National Insurance scheme that he was closely associated with, David Lloyd George famously compared to the programme to an ambulance wagon - in other words on the one hand an emergency measure, offering services that, while limited, were life saving, and on the other as an implied promise for something grander and more comprehensive in the future*.

I mention this because the general situation seems oddly close to the highly limited healthcare reforms that, at the time I write this, appear likely to be passed in the United States. So instead of 'Lloyd George's Ambulance Wagon', make that 'Barack Obama's Ambulance Wagon'. Or perhaps not. Because, and this is both astonishing and sickening, the healthcare reform that looks set to become law in America is actually even more limited than the National Insurance system designed by Lloyd George in 1911. I'm not going to embark on a detailed, point-by-point comparative analysis of the two (in part because radically different societies make for radically different political discourse and social policy details, in part because the healthcare bill is so long), and I acknowledge that in some respects the reverse is true (NI only covered the working population, for example). But one of the main themes in the history of social policy is precedent (whether intentional or not), and as such one reason to look on NI as a positive development is that, although administered by private insurance companies, it represented a massive increase in the role of the state in some of the most critical areas of social policy. Yes, it was a conservative measure, but also a far sighted one (even if most of its supporters in the Liberal Party did not see so far ahead and would presumably not have supported it had they done so). Alas, the same cannot be said of legislation that (essentially) forces people to buy private sector insurance**. I think that the Ambulance Wagon imagery is still useful, but only if a little detail is added. An axel is broken and the horses are tired.

*Those that have seen in this evidence of plans by the wider Liberal Party to create a comprehensive welfare state are sadly mistaken. While Lloyd George's advocacy of social reform was genuine enough, the same can't really be said of the rest of his party. Serving the needs of capitalism and the 'British race' was one thing... a comprehensive welfare state would have been, well, Socialism.

**Just stripping it down to the essentials. It is, of course, far more complicated than that.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009


"We are confectionary!"

Oh, Nightwaves...

Friday, 27 November 2009

UKIP comes out for positive discrimination

...for the mentally ill. From the BBC's profile of their new leader:

"In his time he has declared war on, among others, Lloyd's of London, the Home Office and Marxism."

Fascinating. Wait! There's more!

"...the Muslims are breeding ten times faster than us". He says: "I don't know at what point they reach such a number we are no longer able to resist the rest of their demands."

Who would have thought that UKIP, of all parties, would be the first to combat discrimination against those with severe and delusional mental illness? While I'm not exactly sold on positive discrimination, UKIP's u-turn on the issue is, I think, one to be welcomed.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Oor Wullie

A little detail of interest from the recent Glasgow North East* by-election reproduced from the blog of BBC's Scotland's political editor:

"Big question for [the SNP] is why the seat is so different from Glasgow East, which they won in the summer of 2008.

Party strategists say the big difference is that, in east, they were able to corral aspirational voters and persuade them things could and should be better.

Faced with the hopelessness witnessed in Glasgow North East, that was a much tougher task."

Fascinating. Not because it's true (it isn't much more than a classist slur - the main difference between Glasgow North East and Glasgow East being that the latter includes a surprisingly large swath of lower middle class suburbia, while the former is about as close to being totally proletarian as places get anywhere. There are minor exceptions, but only minor exceptions. Of course, that in itself doesn't explain the massive disparity in the results - all it tells us is that there was never any chance of Glasgow North East being lost) but because of what it says about the SNP's real attitude to the Working Class and to poverty. Much the same can be said of the disgusting tendency to argue that poor people voting Labour is an example of pure studity and nothing else (a line of "thought" demolished (though surely not for the last time) over here). Anyway, the real question is this: why should political parties that accuse people of being stupid and "hopeless" be surprised when these people don't vote for them? And why should these people be criticised for voting for political parties that value them as human beings?

Update: I see that a Scottish Labour activist is appropriately irritated by the SNP's "aspirational" and "hopelessness" comments.

*I miss the old Glasgow constituency names - and Glasgow Springburn was one of the best.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Actually they did this on Christmas Day, but it's related...

On a happier note, the last movement of the Bernstein "Ode to Freedom" version of Beethoven's 9th can be found here.

Presentism and the Berlin Wall

There's no point going into great depth about the historic importance of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Empire and so on and so forth, as that has been done better elsewhere. And while it's easy to rail against the human obsession with dates, anniversaries and so on, to do is ultimately to be a hypocrite, because we all do it*... and it's wrong to do so, because of its importance in keeping the historical memory of important events alive. So I'll pick up on something else - the disappointing tinge of presentism to much of the coverage (in Britain anyway) of the anniversary of the Fall of the Wall. If you'd only watched the BBC coverage of the marking of the event earlier and knew little else about it, you could be forgiven for assuming that the real significance of the Fall of the Wall was that it ultimately allowed Angela Merkel to become the Chancellor of a united Germany. At its most absurd, it almost seemed as though the journalists commenting on proceedings believed that Merkel was a significant figure in East Germany at the time or even some kind of resistence leader (which is nonsense - she, like the overwhelming majority of Ossies, made her own private compromises with the regime in order to pursue her career and to get on with her life). It is almost as though the British media is incapable of understanding the historic importance of anything unless it can be placed in a comfortable and easy-to-understand contemporary framework.

*Though it's certainly legitimate to rail against the tendency to be so mindlessly and utterly obsessed with such things as the media tends to be. Though quite futile.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Demographic analysis of the New York Mayoral election - part three

Ethnicity and yet more cultural fragmentation

The final part of this little series concerns ethnic origin - which, due to the institutionalisation of the concept of "race" and the country's history as a beacon for mass immigration- has a slightly different meaning in the United States than it does over here. To a large extent "ethnic" means white immigrants (including and especially 19th century ones) and their descendants - non-white immigrants are covered by "racial" catagories (with several exceptions, more of which later). As whites (as currently defined) are a minority in New York only a minority of people in 2000 fitted into one of the census bureau's ancestry-ethnicity groups. The following a basic list in order of size:

Other ancestries - 53.2%
Italian - 8.7%
West Indian - 6.9% (the important non-white exception)
Irish - 5.3%
German - 3.2%
Russian - 3.0%
"American" - 3.0%
Polish - 2.7%
English - 1.6%
Subsaharan African - 1.5%
Greek - 1.0%
All other groups were under 1%

And now, the fun stuff...


29% - Bloomberg 4
19% - Bloomberg 4, Thompson 1
12% - Bloomberg 6, Thompson 1

Bloomberg took over 70% in three of the four most Italian districts.

West Indian

31% - Thompson 4
13% - Bloomberg 1, Thompson 10


16% - Bloomberg 2
12% - Bloomberg 6


10% - Bloomberg 2


8% - Bloomberg 7


11% - Thompson 1
6% - Bloomberg 3


6% - Bloomberg 6

Subsaharan African

4% - Bloomberg 1, Thompson 5


7% - Bloomberg 2

At some point I may look at the same sort of thing at block-group level. Finally, something else relating to cultural fragmention... the percentage born outside the United States:

41% - Bloomberg 16, Thompson 14

Fascinating. It's quite clear that whether an area is full of immigrants or not had no bearing on its voting patterns - what mattered is who these immigrants are. For example, Bloomberg took over 80% in AD 45 (which has lots of Russian immigrants) while Thompson took over 80% in nearby AD 58 (which has lots of West Indian immigrants).

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Demographic analysis of the New York Mayoral election - part two

Class, inequality and the election

Class is, of course, notoriously difficult to define in precise statistical terms and I've made no attempt to do any such thing here. What I've done instead is simple - several possible indicators of class and of inequality used in the same way that the various (and in America legally precise) "racial" catagories were in the previous post, but to a slightly different end. This is an attempt to slowly build up an impression of a single variable, rather than comparing and combing different groups. Again, mistakes are possible and will be corrected as soon as possible.

The first list is of the percentage employed in managerial or professional occupations - an obvious place to start:

55% - Bloomberg 8
41% - Bloomberg 5
33% - Bloomberg 10, Thompson 3
25% - Bloomberg 8, Thompson 10
16% - Bloomberg 3, Thompson, 19

A fairly stark pattern with no exceptions at the top end. The lower end exceptions are two of the districts that were also exceptional in the minorities table, and 38 - also in Queens, also minority-majority and also with a low Black population and a relatively high (about 12%) Asian one.

Some more occupation statistics now, though only for the higher tiers. First, percentage employed in "construction, extraction & maintance occupations":

8% - Bloomberg 9, Thompson 7

And now, percentage employed in "production, transport & material moving occupations":

13% - Bloomberg 9, Thompson 13

Thompson was very strong at the upper end of the latter catagory.

And finally, percentage employed in manual service-sector occupations:

25% - Bloomberg 1, Thompson 20

From which we can conclude that in terms of occupation, it appears that Bloomberg's base was the city's bourgeoisie while Thompson's came from the lowest strata of the proletariat. The "geological" pattern within obviously Working Class occupation groups is hardly surprising, but is interesting and worth noting all the same.

Moving away from occupation statistics now and on to housing. First up, median monthly (gross) rent in 2000... but only at the extremes (between the two things get a little complicated because higher rates of owner-occupation in the outer boroughs scew the figures):

Above $931 - Bloomberg 7
Below $543 - Thompson 8

As no further comment is needed, I'll move swiftly onto tenure...

Over 80% rented - Bloomberg 4, Thompson 18
Under 50% rented - Bloomberg 8, Thompson 3

It's certainly interesting that the difference is sharper at the upper end of the table than the lower. This doesn't just relate to the fact that property prices in Manhatten are too high even for most yuppies, but to the "racial" patterns of the previous post - owner occupation dominates in even the majority Black parts of eastern Queens.

Income brackets are always an interesting way of looking at this sort of election, and so can't be avoided even if their relationship to class is complicated. I've used median household income from 2000:

$65,000 - Bloomberg 5
$49,000 - Bloomberg 8, Thompson 2
$38,000 - Bloomberg 11, Thompson 3
$29,000 - Bloomberg 8, Thompson 10
$17,000 - Thompson 17

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the pattern is rather stark. And finally, I'll also add that Thompson won all fifteen districts where over 30% of the population is classified as being in poverty for official purposes.

What can be concluded from all this? The obvious point is that class was a significant factor in this election - perhaps not quite on the same level as "race", but then the two are difficult to fully divide in large American cities. It's an important point to make, despite being obvious, as there's a tendency to downplay the significance of class in American electoral behavior - it is clear that at a municipal level class polarisation is certainly not dead in New York, even if it has played second fiddle to "race" for decades.

Demographic analysis of the New York Mayoral election - part one


I suppose that the first thing to say is how oddly pleasing the overall numbers were - Bloomberg didn't lose (alas) but came far closer than the idiotic journalistic consensus suggested; more proof that journalists and their ilk do not understand municipal politics. Anyway, what follows is a very simple demographic analysis of the election results by Assembly District and using the 2000 census (way out of date, but I've not seen ACS data for AD's yet). Minor errors possible and will be corrected when spotted.

Minorities and the Politics of "Race"

The following is a list of districts broken down by how they voted and the % non-white in the 2000 census:

80% - Bloomberg 3, Thompson 27
60% - Bloomberg 3, Thompson 2
50% - Bloomberg 4, Thompson 1
40% - Bloomberg 9, Thompson 2
30% - Bloomberg, 5
20% - Bloomberg, 6
10% - Bloomberg, 3

The numbers here tell their own story, really. Thompson's main strength was with Black voters, Bloomberg's with Whites - not exactly a surprise (Thompson winning two white majority AD's perhaps is - perhaps demographic shifts from 2000 will explain part of that). Thompson's best AD's (56, 55) are both over 80% Black, while Bloomberg's best (73) is the whitest district in the city outside Staten Island. Things were slightly more complicated in heavily Hispanic districts:

80%, Thompson 1
60%, Thompson 5, Bloomberg 1
50%, Thompson 6, Bloomberg 1

Clearly favouring Thompson, but not so overwhelmingly as heavily Black districts - two of Bloomberg's 80% minority AD's appear on the above table. Doing the same with Asians*, however...

50%, Bloomberg 1
40%, Bloomberg 1
30%, Bloomberg 5, Thompson 1

...and the last 80% minority AD for Bloomberg is explained. Perhaps the other two to an extent as well - while 34 and 39 are Hispanic majority, they both have large Asian populations.

It is worthing noting that, despite "race" dominating voting preferences to a great extent, in some cases "racial" polarisation clearly declined in this election - in both 2001 and 2005 Bloomberg polled around 77% on Staten Island. This time he polled less than that even in his best AD on the island (74% in 62). It's interesting to speculate quite what have happend had Bloomberg faced a credible White challenger.

The next post on this subject will concern variables linked to Class and income.

*In an American context, this means something different to how it's used in Britain. In the case of New York, most Asians are Chinese.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

American off-year elections

Today is election day in the U.S - for a wide range of different positions at state and municipal level. Most of these are only of interest to dedicated election junkies, but some are interesting enough in their own right. They are;

*New York Mayor - while the result itself seems like a foregone conclusion (Bloomberg being defeated would be one of the biggest upsets in the history of the city) it ought to be closer than last time. But the reason for its importance is in the details; municipal politics in New York has broken down on extremely stark "racial" lines since Dinkins ousted Koch in the 1989 Democratic primary (and especially since Giuliani defeated Dinkins in 1993 - a nasty election even by New York standards and fought against the backdrop of the Crown Heights riot) and this has been as true of Bloomberg's elections as Giuliani's. But there have been a few indications that this may be breaking down to an extent, perhaps as a result of Bloomberg getting the rules changed to allow him to run again. While I wouldn't be at all surprised if such indications prove to be illusions, attention must be paid regardless. It should also be noted that there has been a marked anti-incumbent trend in recent municipal elections in the U.S (the recent Republican victory in Albuquerque being the most dramatic case) and that this extended to the Democratic primaries for New York City Council. Socialists should, by the way, hope for Bloomberg's defeat and not just because of his wealth and his status as a successful capitalist. Do not be fooled by his apparently moderate stance on national political issues - in terms of municipal politics, he's the leading example of the sort of vapid municipal conservatism that residents of London and Birmingham (amongst other places) should now be familiar with. He's unlikely to lose, but hope springs eternal.

*New Jersey Governor - on one level this doesn't matter at all; Corzine is the sort of worthless business Democrat (literally - he used to be the CEO of Goldman Sachs) and has (like Bloomberg) used his personal fortune to buy himself political office, while Christie appears to be an equally unpleasant Republican hack. But it matters all the same, in part because a Corzine defeat will be spun as representing a defeat for the Obama administration (and who knows what the knock-on effect of that might be), but also because of the domination of New Jersey politics by laughably corrupt political machines combine with it stark social divisions (some of the most disgustingly bourgeois suburbs on Earth plus wealthy seaside resorts combined with proletarian banlieu and decayed industrial cities) make its electoral patterns endlessly fascinating and unusually revealing about the nature of class and political organisation in the U.S.

*NY-23 by-election - I'm not going to go into detail about the ins and outs of this strange, mad race in the far north of Upstate New York, all I'm going to do is write why it matters, why it is important. The election coalition of the Conservative Party candidate resembles (or appears to resemble) nothing so much as that of a class early 20th century mature fascist party - and the NSDAP in particular.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Out of Touch

I read, without much surprise, the following headline on the BBC news website a few minutes ago: "Tories could 'rip up' BBC charter". That the Tories are even more blatantly in the pocket of the Murdoch Empire than has become the norm for British politicians is hardly news and the same goes for the fact that they are ideologically opposed to the corporation*, so I almost didn't bother to read further. But I did. And I'm glad that I did because I found this gem:

"...Jeremy Hunt told the Financial Times that the corporation was "out of touch with the hard times the rest of the electorate is going through"..."

This struck me as interesting because I knew that Jeremy Hunt is a Surrey M.P and "Jeremy Hunt" does not exactly sound like a working class (or even lower middle class) name. After a few minutes seaching my suspicions were confirmed.

It occurs to me that the Charterhouse-and-Oxbridge-educated, multi-millionaire M.P for one of the richest parts of Britain is less than entirely familiar with "the hard times the rest of the electorate is going through" himself.

*Consider for a moment the implications of this. The BBC is, in most respects, a fairly conservative institution (though perhaps "establishment liberal" would be more accurate) and the Tories, our next government alas, are ideologically opposed to it. From the right.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Hypothetical Question

Let us suppose that after the next election Labour swings far further to the left than anyone sane would predict and in the process becomes strongly anti-E.U (a hilariously improbable scenario, I know. But stay with me here). Let us suppose that the party's new anti-European stance placed it at odds with the other parties in the S&D group. Let us suppose that Labour were then to pull out of S&D and join the EUL-NGL group... along with unrepentant Leninist parties such as the KKE, the KSČM, the PCF and the PCP, along with the likes of Die Linke and along with Sinn Fein. Now then. What, exactly, would the reaction from the Tories and the right-wing media be like?

Monday, 12 October 2009


Given that I do not like to call myself a Marxist*, given the popularity of liberalism and related ideologies on the internet and given the increasing (and disturbing) tendency imported from America to equate "left-wing" and "liberal",a quick explanation of why there is an the anti-liberal aspect to this blog (presuming that it gets off the ground) is probably necessary. This post will, regrettably, deal in generalisation and simplification. But as this is a theme that I shall return to (repeatedly) I don't think this is a serious concern.

1. On one level I'm not actually anti-liberal at all; that is, to the extent that democracy, freedom of speech and other such basic rights can be considered as being "liberal". They sometimes are and, to an extent, with good reason. This is an important caveat, I think. My anti-liberalism lies elsewhere.

2. But one of my major problems with liberalism is actually its (fundamental and foundational) emphasis on rights and on liberty. Ultimately, liberalism holds that something is "good" if it maximises "freedom" and "bad" if it reduces or restricts it. Divisions within liberalism are largely concerned with the definition of "freedom" of "rights" and of "liberties" rather than anything more complex: compare New Liberalism (and its grandchildren), with its emphasis on "positive liberties" with the crazy world of American internet "libertarianism". They have apparently little in common (and in terms of public policy are often diametrically opposite - you only have to observe much of the opposition to the current administration in America to see that) but share common foundational assumptions and make judgements based on the same sort of critera). Liberalism does not, cannot, consider the possibility that restrictions on certain human behavior might sometimes be appropriate. Inevitably, liberal attempts to deal with this "problem" often reek of the worst sort of paternalism and double standards.

3. Which brings me to another issue I have with liberalism - its insufferable elitism. Liberalism is hardly alone in this respect (what was early Fabianism if not elitist
? Are delusions of a "vanguard party" anything other than profoundly elitist ?) but of all ideologies with a universalist bent, it is clearly the worst offender historically (liberal opposition to universal sufferage was not exactly rare) and currently. Given that liberalism is an ideology of the Enlightenment (even to the extent of being an ideology of supposed enlightenment - there's a reason for the traditional liberal emphasis on the importance of education beyond altruism and the needs of capitalism) this is perhaps inevitable. I find this objectionable not just for the predictable issues that the son of a manual worker might have with elitism, but because contempt for ordinary people is, in my opinion, anathema to Socialism.

4. It must also (and finally for now) be recognised that liberalism is, above all, an individualist ideology and individualism is ultimately opposed to collectivism**. This may seem like an obvious point, but it's one that seems to be increasingly forgotten by much of the intellectual Left these days. It matters because there is no way that society can be significantly changed in a positive direction as a result of policies designed by an individualist thought process (another basic and totally obvious point, I hope) and because collective rights are ultimately incompatible with an ideology that places the rights and the liberty of the individual before everything else.

There is more to say, of course. But that can be left for later.

*Which isn't to deny being influenced by Marx and Marxism to an extent - though often as a reaction against it. Also, given the lack of knowledge of Marxism possessed by the average professed "Marxist ", "I do not like to call myself a Marxist" made more sense to write than "I am not a Marxist" as many, probably a majority, of self-identified Marxists cannot seriously be considered as such.

**Which isn't to say that collectivism must always deny the existence and rights of an individual. Still, individualistic ideologies seem to be as prone to do that as collectivist ones these days...

Sunday, 11 October 2009


This blog has been created for a single purpose - to advance* a particular (and perhaps peculier) worldview that could be described as sort of romantic, moralistic, anti-liberal** Socialism or perhaps as a form of Socialism that rejects the idea of progress. It will largely be concerned with politics, culture, society (and related issues) and history, though other subjects will doubtless crop up from time to time. Besy, the transliteration of the Russian title of Dostoyevsky's great anti-revolutionary novel, might seem like an unusual title for an ostensibly Socialist blog but may make more sense to readers (if there ever are any) with time.

Al Widdershins is, of course, a pseudonym. And the profile picture isn't of me... it is, instead, a picture of someone who appears to have looked amusingly similar to me (Alexandre Benois). I find that amusing, others might not.

And with that little formality over with...

*Or to at least try. I'm not expecting much success.
**But democratic, all the same.