Michael Chessum

8 December 2023

It Can’t Happen Here

‘Will Britain soon get its own Geert Wilders?’ Allison Pearson asked in the Telegraph. Britain already has several, and they have been running the government for years.

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23 June 2023

Ever Harder Borders

The Adriana, a fishing boat, left the port of Tobruk in Libya early on 10 June in an attempt to reach Italy. It was carrying up to 750 people, including more than a hundred children. After almost four days at sea, the boat’s engine broke down and it was left stranded fifty miles off the Peloponnesian coast. In the early hours of 14 June, the boat capsized, with hundreds trapped in the hold and no one on board wearing a life jacket. This is a vision of hell. It is also a glimpse of the future.

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21 March 2023

Not So Clever Politics

Ducking fights on difficult issues may work in the short term, if your aim is to win the support of this or that portion of the electorate. In the long run, it is a proven disaster. The last Labour government built an economy around financial services and an electoral strategy around accepting Thatcher’s legacy. It won three elections, but provided the Tory right with the materials it needed to deliver austerity, harsher border controls and deepening privatisation.

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6 December 2022

Disruptive Capacity

In the early 2010s, new social media sites like Facebook and Twitter were tools for emerging protest movements; now, they increasingly act as a substitute for them. The legacy of the pandemic has been decisive in this but there is a secular process at work, too. Viral content and online tools are a good way to influence and express opinion, but they are more about building an army of spectators than any disruptive capacity.

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19 September 2022

Paying Respect

When is it respectful not to go to work? In the run up to Queen Elizabeth’s state funeral, Tesco joined other retailers in announcing it would close all its stores ‘to allow our colleagues to pay their respects’. Center Parcs said it would mark the day by shutting down entirely, forcing visitors to find alternative accommodation in the middle of their holidays. Grieving families had funerals cancelled as crematoria and undertakers paid their respects. With NHS waiting lists at a record high, thousands of hospital appointments were postponed. For trade union members, the rules of respect flowed the other way. The Communication Workers Union cancelled its planned strikes the day after the queen died ‘out of respect for her service to the country and her family’.

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4 August 2022

Labour’s Dogmatism

At a moment when it should have been able to seize the political initiative, the Labour leadership has talked itself into a strategy of retreat. Boris Johnson has driven a train of sleaze through the Conservatives’ reputation as a stable party of government. After a decade of falling pay, wages are now plummeting in real terms. Energy bills are forecast to hit at least four thousand pounds a year by 2023, while BP and Shell have announced yet another round of record profits. The Bank of England’s interest rate hike, and predictions of a long recession, will mean more hardship for working-class people. Many, unsurprisingly, have had enough. But rather than seizing on the strikes as a way to talk about the injustices of Tory economics, the Labour front bench has squirmed.

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11 January 2016

Corbyn’s Right to Reshuffle

The old Labour establishment’s loud objections to Jeremy Corbyn’s reshuffle betray a belief that shadow cabinet members have a moral and democratic right to their jobs. Had Corbyn, like almost any party leader in history, appointed a shadow foreign secretary who shared his foreign policy, dismissing Hilary Benn would have prompted even more outrage from Labour’s centrists. The outrage has no democratic basis. The power to reshuffle and remove shadow ministers is, to be sure, a power from above, but it has been granted to Corbyn by the biggest popular mandate any Labour leader has ever had. Michael Dugher, Pat McFadden, Hilary Benn and Maria Eagle, on the other hand, were not elected by anyone to speak for the Labour Party as a whole. Their only mandate is from their constituents, which gives them the right to a seat in the Commons for the duration of this parliament, not a place in the shadow cabinet.

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3 December 2015

Hilary Benn’s ‘Internationalism’

Before Hilary Benn sat down from his contribution to the Syria debate in the House of Commons last night, the political echo chamber was reverberating. Over the applause, microphones picked up outbursts of praise from the Conservative benches that were echoed through the commentariat: ‘superb’, ‘historic’, ‘career-defining’. It was certainly an impressive feat of rhetoric, all the more so for having been written largely during the debate. But at the core of the rhetoric were two distortions, which aped the language of socialist internationalism while arguing for its opposite.

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