On a Wednesday morning at the end of November, an angry crowd gathered outside a hotel in Sparta. A group of 180 refugees was expected to arrive at any moment. They had been evacuated from the Greek islands, where conditions have reached a new nadir. On Lesvos, for instance, more than 16,000 people are crammed into facilities designed for around 3000. The mayor of Sparta said he hadn’t been informed in advance. ‘I hope this situation ends with the people that have just arrived,’ he told the TV cameras. (A total of 750 were being distributed across the Lakonia municipality, which has a population of 35,000.) ‘Our municipality is already under strain. The day before yesterday five hundred people from Pakistan arrived to work in Geraki. This is not possible. Are we the dumping ground of Greece? We have no growth, no nothing. They shut down the universities, the hospital, they’ve taken away everything.’
Despite their far-reaching consequences, the horizons in elections can seem narrow, confined to the five-odd weeks of the campaign, strewn with invocations of the recent past. Zoom out, though, and one thing that comes into focus is that the anti-austerity movement in the UK – the chief engine of the rise of Corbynism – is the last in Europe to reach its major electoral showdown. It does so in unique circumstances, forced to grapple with inimical constitutional questions that warp its electoral calculus, and later than its sister movements in other countries, which, though they found more immediately amenable political vehicles, either burned up on contact with the might of the ECB or were neutered in wider political coalitions.
At the House of European History in Brussels, a long display cabinet sets out the forces that have shaped Europe through the centuries: philosophy, democracy, rule of law, ‘omnipresence of Christianity’, state terror, the slave trade, colonialism, humanism, the Enlightenment, revolutions, capitalism, Marxism, the nation state. For each, a historical image is matched with something contemporary: for philosophy, you get a bust of Socrates and a photograph of Žižek; for revolutions, Liberty Leading the People and the uprising in Kiev’s Maidan Square; for the slave trade, iron shackles and a Banksy painting about child labour.
Last Wednesday, at a time when I would have been delivering an undergraduate lecture on feminism, my students organised a teach-out on some of the themes of the course: capitalism, work and reproduction. I sat at the back of a crowded seminar room in Balliol College – the Oxford colleges don’t recognise the UCU, which means that when we strike it is only with respect to our university, not college, contracts – and listened as students spoke about wages for housework and sex work, marketisation and commodification, Rosa Luxemburg and Silvia Federici.
Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones were killed at London Bridge on Friday, at a conference on prisoner rehabilitation. Their murderer, Usman Khan, had been imprisoned for terrorist offences, and was released last year; the Guardian warned at the time that the police and probation services lacked the resources to deal adequately with a wave of prisoner releases. Khan was electronically tagged, and had been given permission to go to the conference. It seems he planned the attack, making himself a fake suicide vest. He was stopped from further bloodshed when members of the public, including other former prisoners at the conference, intervened to stop him. Police, responding to the hoax vest, shot and killed him. Merritt’s grieving father made this plea: ‘My son, Jack, who was killed in this attack, would not wish his death to be used as the pretext for more draconian sentences or for detaining people unnecessarily.’
YouGov has released the results of its MRP (multilevel regression and post-stratification) model. It shows the Tories taking 359 seats, Labour reduced to 211 – losing significant heartland constituencies to the Conservatives – and Boris Johnson winning his party’s first substantial majority, of 68, since Margaret Thatcher’s in 1987 of 102. The political impact of such a result is hard to overstate: it would mean a reworked Conservative Party in parliament, singing in unison from Johnson’s hymn sheet, clearing the way for his Brexit deal to pass without a hitch – along with everything else in the manifesto.