Category Archives: Satire

New Year, New Labour

by Anne Archist

Labour are trying once again to re-invent themselves; 2012 has already seen a new attitude that amounts to exhuming the short-lived corpse of Blue Labour.

The media identified prior ‘re-launches’ under Miliband’s stewardship in June of last year and November of the year before, not to mention that his election as leader was itself supposed to de-toxify the Labour brand after the Blair-Brown years. Each previous attempt also utilised Maurice ‘The Baron’ Glasman’s “if you can’t beat them, imitate them” logic; this time, though, the leadership’s ‘Kinder, Küche, Kirche’ ideology has been dressed up in Beveridge’s old clothes, saved for just such an occasion.

The Baron was disappointed to learn that Jon Crudas had skipped Sunday service.

Blue Labour is enough to make a Marxist miss Brown Labour. At least Gordon ‘Golden’ Brown realised it was “the economy, stupid” and had some tentative ideas what could be done about it – The Baron would rather have us believe that modern society’s inexorable autosarcophagy can be stemmed by getting more bums on pews at St Saviour in the Marshes. Liam Byrne is the whipping-boy tasked with the triumphant fanfair, and is at least an improvement on Glasman. The Baron wrote and said the sorts of things that would make you choke on your bourbon biscuit in shock as you casually perused the Guardian website over a cuppa. Byrne is the kind of character who might make you emit involuntary Marge Simpson impressions, but not cough up crumbs and hot tea over your keyboard.

The big news is that Labour are “reclaiming [Beveridge’s] vision, learning from his political courage, understanding what has gone wrong in recent years as well as what has worked”; they must “become the radical reformers again”. Like a student who forgets to attach their essay to the e-mail, Byrne seems to have all-too-conveniently left out the details. There are hints at what the new approach to welfare policy might be, and some of them aren’t pretty.

Encouragingly, Byrne savages the current system’s treatment of the ill and disabled, and ends on a high note: “Beveridge’s first principles are the right place to begin”. But the warning signs are all there, and we have come to expect no better from ‘triangulated’ Labour: “Beveridge would have wanted determined action from government to get communities working once again, not least to bring down that benefits bill to help pay down the national debt”, “He never saw unearned support as desirable”, so “let’s restore the idea of ‘something for something’”.


Now, as it happens, although Liam Byrne was neither born nor elected in my local area, he was educated here in his adolescence. I would like to think, then, that having experienced a world where around 30% have no qualifications, unemployment has frequently hit 10% or higher (with youth unemployment particularly high and a relatively high number of people never having worked), there is a high measure of overcrowding and 30% live in council housing, Byrne might have some understanding of the problems facing – and generally the lives of – those who rely on the welfare state in some form.

On the other hand, Byrne also sat on the committee that drafted legislation penalising phone usage by drivers, and then got a fine and points on his license for… yep, you guessed it, using a phone while driving. Perhaps, then, it would be too much to expect of him. While paying lip service to the content of Beveridge’s skilful and considered (though still imperfect) report, one gets the impression that Labour are more keen to vicariously cash in on its kudos than to implement its ideas as policy. This impression is all the more forgivable in light of New Labour’s record, and especially given the continued influence that Glasman’s ideas exercise over the party leadership (despite the formal dissolution of the Blue Labour project after the aforementioned ugly comments made by The Baron himself).

It would be a massive coup if Labour could produce something like the Beveridge report these days. Of late, state-commissioned research has been getting more slapdash and significantly shorter, with all of the loss of detail, balance and elucidation that implies; consider the 2010 Browne report into Higher Education, a total wash-out weighing in at only a nominal 60 pages (which is misleadingly high considering that ~5 pages of that are taken up by appendices and references, and the report itself contains more blank space and pictures than your average colouring book). The 1963 Robbins Report into Higher Education, to put that into perspective, had 335 pages. Obviously I’d rather give the number of words since this is a better standard of comparison, but this is difficult for technical reasons and you get the picture at any rate.

Beveridge struggles to find anything of any intellectual merit in the Browne Report.

It’s not just a question of the length of the report and the level of detail and the development of the logic that was possible as a result. It’s also a question of the mind and principles behind the recommendations; the principles were laid out honestly, the best practical application was explained meticulously and with sharp insight. As Liam Byrne points out in his article, the general public responded so positively that there were queues to buy the report. Beveridge strips his subject matter bare and builds his thought process up in a clear and honest way that can be followed by anyone inclined to do so, rather than filling the text with jargon or tacitly presupposing a narrow ideology. If every report were like the Beveridge report, bureaucracy would not be such a bad thing.

Labour have two choices. They could attach a dynamo to Beveridge’s coffin and prove themselves partially useful by forcing him to spin – with a bit of luck they might be able to power a constituency office with the electricity generated. Alternatively, they can take the challenge seriously and commission talented intellects to conduct a wholesale enquiry into the modern benefits system and its intersections with other areas of state and market activity. Taking this route would mean considering not only issues like the incentives provided by child benefits, but also the relationship between wages and benefits in their various forms, the future of social housing stock, the feasibility of full employment (which Beveridge assumed in his report), etc.

While it may not be immediately apparent, these questions are vital to understanding why the benefits system works as it does, and how it might work differently. The level of benefits or the conditions associated with them do supply incentives to act in one way or another, but they do not do so in a vacuum. The consequence of a particular policy (setting a threshold just so, or banning this type of person from receiving that payment) depends hugely upon other social variables that exist alongside the benefits system but are not themselves part of it. Even Byrne’s colleague Diane Abbott made this point effectively when she noted that the housing benefit bill “reflects a conscious political decision by successive governments to subsidise (mostly) private landlords rather than invest in affordable council housing”.

While we’re looking at benefits from different angles, let’s also remember that there are more things in heaven and earth, neoliberal, than are dreamt of in your economics. It shouldn’t be a surprise if someone values 15 hrs of their time more highly than the £15 difference it would make to their income. We should re-evaluate which factors are taken into consideration in determining payments and how – should 2 friends living together get any more or less than 2 partners living together? We should be clear about what sort of behaviours we are incentivising or penalising and why – do we want less children (say, for environmentalist reasons) or more (to counteract the aging population and pay for their parents’ pensions and healthcare, perhaps)?

If a re-examination of the welfare state dodges problems like this then it will have ensured its irrelevance and its inferiority to the original. In fact, it’s tempting to suggest that Miliband might as well just re-publish and re-read the original Beveridge report in its entirety and apply the principles and arguments laid out in it to the contemporary situation, since it’s difficult to imagine the modern Labour party producing or commissioning anything of great positive significance.

Byrne hits the nail on the head when he says that what is needed is radicalism, though I doubt he has the stomach to put this concept into action – healing the malaise of the welfare state may mean rebuilding the entire taxation system from the ground up, ensuring structural full employment, introducing a universal minimum income (like that proposed by the Green Party), or other wholesale changes to basic components of our economy and society. Byrne is all bluster, but calling his bluff could yield real fruit.

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Filed under Current Affairs, Liberation issues, Political Strategy, Satire, Uncategorized

The Strange Death of Nick Clegg

by Liam McNulty

Polls are predicting a Liberal Democrat wipe-out in today’s local elections.  The party is expected to lose Sheffield, where this blog has already covered Paul Scriven’s antics, and several other councils in the north of England.  Is this the beginning of the end for the Liberal Democrats or am I tempting fate?  But if it is, how will this impact on popular consciousness?  Let’s imagine:

Exam papers

University of Cambridge Historical Tripos 2018, Part I, Paper 6:

1. ‘To what extent is Nick Clegg to blame for the destruction of the Liberal tradition in British politics?’

2. ‘Who is the most inept politician in British parliamentary history?  Candidates may answer with reference to one of the following: (a) Nick Clegg.’


‘Penguin has announced a new edition of George Dangerfield’s classic book ‘The Strange Death of Liberal England’ with a foreword by  former Liberal Democrat leader and expert in the field, Nick Clegg.’

‘Having reinvented himself as an essayist, failed politician Nick Clegg has been commissioned to write a new introductory chapter to Toby Young’s ‘How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.’  It is understood that the two met after Mr. Clegg opened Young’s free school in West London in 2011.’

‘Failed essayist and politician, Nick Clegg, has entered the world of books with a self-penned work of theology.  Entitled ‘Judas Iscariot: A Defense,’ Clegg seeks to rehabilitate the eponymous traitor with access to new archive material.  Mr. Clegg’s agents refused to confirm the value of the advance paid to the former deputy Prime Minister but sources close to the publisher suggest it was in the region of thirty pieces of silver.’


Clegg (vulgar) -noun

1. A superficial and dishonest politician: You are nothing but a Clegg

Clegg -verb

1. To say one thing and do another.

Cleggmania -noun

1.  Short-lived naive hysteria over the supposed merits of a bourgeois politician.

2.  The name given to the events of 5th May, 2011, when a disillusioned pitchfork-wielding mob drove Nick Clegg out of Sheffield.


‘Nick Clegg was accused of yet another U-turn today after it emerged that the Liberal Democrats had launched a new range of Clegg-themed punchbags.  Sources close to the deputy Prime Minister revealed that, just weeks after Mr. Clegg insisted that he ‘was not a punchbag’, the party’s dire financial position had forced them to market the product after an enthusiastic response from focus groups.  Shoppers have been camping outside Liberal Democrat headquarters since the early morning, indicating that demand is likely to be very high.’


Filed under Current Affairs, Satire

The Russian Revolution, as covered by Sky.

by Liam McNulty

In the wake of the first Russian Revolution in March 1917, let’s survey some of the media coverage.

Sky News

-There are fears in London tonight over just who will come to power in the wake of this week’s events in Petrograd.  Just days after US President Wilson insisted that the Tsarist regime was ‘stable’, reports from Russia indicate that Tsar Nicolas II has abdicated, leaving a dangerous power vacuum in the capital.  To help make sense of the recent political developments, we have on the line Prof. Hawk Stanford from the Hoover Institute. Professor, what sort of regime do you predict will take power in Russia after this week’s revolution?

-Well, Kay, the first thing to note is that this revolution will not be welcomed in the West for several reasons.  Despite Russia lacking any of the political freedoms and civil liberties that we preach to the world about, the Tsar did bring a measure of stability to Russia.  Also, Tsar Nicolas II was a key ally in the War on Germany and any indication that the new régime may scale back Russia’s military commitments on the Eastern Front will be met with consternation in Whitehall.  Did I mention stability? Oh yes. Finally, there is a worry that anti-Western elements may exploit the situation to establish international socialism.  This would not be conducive to British geopolitical interests in the region.

-Thanks, Professor.  We’ll have to cut it short now because on the line from Petrograd we have the Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet, Irakli Tsereteli.  Mr. Tsereteli, there have been concerns about the use of violence during the course of revolution, reports of broken windows at the Winter Palace and some Cossacks have been injured.  Do you condemn the violence?

-Well, Kay, this was a revolution so it would be very surprising if there was no violence of any sort…

-So, what you are saying is that the violence this week was acceptable?  The broken windows?

-What you have to understand is that we have had peaceful demonstrations in the past and they have just been ignored by the media- or worse, violently massacred…

-But violence is violence.

-Kay, the main violence in Russia has always come from the state.  Bloody Sunday, the Lena Goldfields Massacre-

-But it is the case, Mr. Tsereteli, that viewers at home will see broken windows and turn off.  What does this criminal damage achieve?

-It has achieved the abdication of the Tsar and the establishment of a Provisional Government.

-Mr. Tsereteli, we’ll have to end this here.  Irakli Tsereteli there, from the Petrograd Soviet defending this week’s violence.

BBC News

-Following the revolutions in Russia last week, Prime Minister Lloyd George has come under fire for the UK Government’s botched attempts to evacuate British holidaymakers.  We turn now to our correspondent in Petrograd.

-Yes, John.  I’m here at Petrograd airport and have been talking to people cutting their holidays short in an attempt to get home safely. The Coalition Government has faced heavy criticism from holidaymakers for what they say was a hesitant and incompetent effort to evacuate UK nationals from Russia in the wake of the revolution.  I’m joined here by Phil who took his family on a ten-day package holiday to a ski resort in the Caucuses.  Phil, what has been your experience of the revolution?

-Well, I booked this package over the summer and we’re absolutely gutted that the Russian proletariat has chosen to launch its revolution now.  At the end of the day, we’ve worked hard and saved our money to go on this holiday and it’s disappointing that our enjoyment has been marred by people seeking fundamental human rights.  We’re gonna try and get the Provisional Government to pay the excess on the holiday insurance but I’ll not hold me breath.

-As you said, John, some disgruntled holidaymakers.  Back to the studio.

The New Statesman columnist

It’s a cold morning outside the Putilov factory and the workers are on strike.  Across the promenade, a line of Cossacks stare menacingly at us, like furry-headed agents of Tsarist absolutism.  Glass lies strewn on the street, each glittering shard a symbol of a potential future.  I meet the eyes of a Russian worker, just for a second.  I can tell he is not a seasoned Socialist Revolutionary from the tremble of his lips; a steely resolve matched with the nervousness of a naive first-time striker.

Elsewhere, dourfaced Bolsheviks are selling Pravda.  It’s frustrating to see the old parties attempt to control what has thus far been a spontaneous and creative movement.  Yesterday morning we were kettled by Cossacks for several hours.  Kids lit fires to keep warm, burning priceless artefacts from a nearby palace.  I’m not interested in whether this is a bourgeois-democratic revolution or will pass uninterruptedly into a socialist revolution because only the proletarian dictatorship is capable of solving the necessary tasks; I care about who can generate heat from a Rembrandt.

Standing shoulder to shoulder with a crowd of angry women, something remarkable happened.  They reached a line of soldiers, eyeball to eyeball they lined up in an ostensible display of mutual antipathy.  Then one of the soldiers winked in a friendly manner.  With this almost imperceptible gesture I knew, at that moment, that a movement had been born.  This is only the beginning.


Filed under History, Satire