Friday, 24 April 2015

Of #Milifandom

It's my party and I'll be late if I want to. News of the unexpected #Milifandom around comrade number one, Ed "Milibae" are chip wrappers humming in the nation's bins alongside tea bags and gravy-speckled LibDem leaflets, but a conspiracy hatched by campaigning and a dud internet connection has blocked yours truly from commenting. Until now.

1. How short political comment's memory is. The rise of Miliband fandom, and its entirely confected and useless Tory countershove, the "Cameronettes", are not without precedent. Recall last November when, for the best part of a month, #webacked and #CameronMustGo topped trending topics like a boss. Then, it was plots and rumours of plots against Ed Miliband that, again, emerged spontaneously from pissed off Labour people and used the collective power of Twitter to challenge the media common sense. The same is here too. Except this time, against some of the most scurrilous attacks ever mounted on a mainstream politician, young women and teenage girls have led a fightback in their own inimitable fashion.

2. This is 2015, not 1992. The lesson the Tories and their media friends won't learn is that the media landscape has changed irrevocably. The right wing press still have a mass audience, but it's shrinking. As they drop anywhere between five and ten per cent year on year, their reach and influence shrinks. Even worse for them, social media is more demanding and often more rewarding for many of its younger readerships. The diet of propaganda masquerading as news that once addressed its audiences more directly are now effectively filtered/stymied by one's social media networks. Sun editorial ranting about Ed Miliband in increasingly desperate tones? When one pops onto social media, one is likely to at least note the trends, status updates, tweets, etc. offering alternative viewpoints. There is no reason why social media should challenge dominant narratives - anyone venturing into poverty porn-related chatter can tell you that. However, when something goes viral in response to a Tory attack - as Miliband fandom has - the more likely it will impinge on a reader's extended networks, become a talking point, and offers access to opinions the right wing press are unsuccessfully trying to crowd out. The more egregious the smear, the stronger the backwash.

3. I haven't been on t'internets too much these last couple of days, but I am surprised the fangirling around Ed Miliband hasn't brought forth a ripple of snarks. What's going on here is a double subversion/appropriation of the leader's image by intellects both warm and sympathetic. Yes, it is ridiculous to photoshop Ed's face onto ripped, muscular bodies but at the same time, in each case, the juxtaposition serves to underline his quiet strength. Instead of the tired Wallace comparisons gifted us by our unimaginative press, the choice of bodies are about a can-do attitude. Some might even say "hell yes". It's a laugh, but if you like this is a more authentic Ed because the images are the results of grassroots collaboration and sharing. They're not the contrived offspring of party press'ers or beleaguered editors getting the hairdrier treatment from their overseas gaffer. These, just like what came before, are reclamations of the Labour leader. The affectionate joshing is proprietorship, identification, and a flowery, soft-focus middle finger to Labour's enemies.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Tory Party's Tartan Trauma

There's not much left the Tories can do to turn the polls in their favour. Attacking Ed Miliband personally hasn't worked, and the more it's done the more credible he appears. Neither has spraying around the cash in what, at best, can only be described as a series of fiscally incontinent pledges. With the momentum appearing to cohere around Labour, and the party in front on the key indicators health, immigration, education, and social security, you can see the desperation emanating from Dave and co's TV appearances. Patriotism, as Samuel Johnson exclaimed, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Lo and behold, it's that our Tory friends now turn to in lieu of anything else.

The thing is, their attack lines of the last few days, the 'coalition of chaos' nonsense, of a lefty party being propped up by an even leftier party isn't even new. Back in early March, which seems like a foreign country already, Dave was mouthing off about a Labour/SNP deal. "You could end up with an alliance between the people who want to bankrupt Britain and the people who want to break up Britain", says the man waving £25bn worth of unfunded promises. However, the Tories think they're on to a winner this time. After spending time with focus groups (which is a problematic method for finding out what "real people" think), they've come to the conclusion that sufficient numbers of voters would be concerned if the SNP were to use their leverage to fleece the English taxpayer. If you put it to your focus groups in those terms, it's hardly shock, horror.

There is something to this though. Nationalism by its very nature is divisive. Our friend Nicola Sturgeon, for example, might hold to a nice civic nationalism in which anyone identifying as a Scot is welcome (in itself, not different from the contemporary recasting of British nationalism) but it still creates an in group and out group that pays no respect to the class underpinnings of social democratic/labourist politics, which the SNP have adopted with no small success. As the Scottish independence party, its 'other' is the multinational state that lays claim to majority of these isles. That implicitly means the majority shareholder of that construct: England. It's a politics whose vision of the good society is contingent on separating from us down in the warmer climes. Unsurprisingly, it feeds the deeply anxious beast that is English nationalism. The very idea of the SNP extracting special favours for Scottish budgets at the English taxpayers' expense is something the Tories are banking on. They talk up the SNP to stoke a resentful Englishness - never minding that they're imperilling the very union they profess to love. The main question, however, is will it get traction?

Undoubtedly it will get some sort of an echo. Those tending toward UKIP might be tempted. Voters who were in the habit of giving electoral time to the BNP by way of a protest too. Also layers of people who don't pay close attention to politics, but occasionally pick up a bit of messaging. Among those who have been softened up by years of propaganda against benefits cheats and immigrants, it addresses the interplay between hard-done-to taxpayer and workers-as-martyrs. It will niggle and nag at people, snap at their thoughts, and make them think twice about voting Labour or supporting UKIP. Is that really the case though? So far, painting Ed Miliband as the dolewaller's champion hasn't worked, nor have the dire warnings of economic catastrophe. Also, if you want to get into the scaremongering business, Labour has a much bigger weapon in the Tory record on the NHS than the blues have with constitutional jiggery pokery.

Nevertheless, to their credit the SNP and Labour both moved to quash this attack before Dave reheated it this week. In the leaders' debates Nicola Sturgeon has somewhat successfully detoxified English expectations of what the SNP are about. And for his part, Ed Miliband continues to rule out a coalition - it looks like his favoured approach, assuming Labour forms a minority administration, will be to forge his own policy agenda and dare the other parties to vote it down. There's no way, for example, the SNP would not support those recognisably social democratic aspects of Labour's programme, nor would the Tories say no to Trident replacement. Also, if the Tories want to play the narrow nationalist card they could lose as much as they gain. Their esteemed lordships Norman Tebbit and Micheal Forsyth are of this opinion, and it cedes crucial 'one nation' ground to Ed Miliband too - a point not lost on the Labour leader. And if they really want to throw in the nationalist card, UKIP can beat them at that game every time.

In all, there are not many more places the Tories can go. As Labour runs with the NHS this week and living standards the next, as their village idiot is embroiled in another scandal, time is running out for the Tories. And if they lose, their appalling campaign merely prefaces the death agonies to come.

Monday, 20 April 2015

In Defence of Jim Jepps

Thatcher once noted that when opponents resort to personal attacks, it signals their inability to argue the politics. What then to make of the concerted attack on my friend and comrade Jim Jepps by the Fawkes rabble, The Mail, and the Daily Mirror. Jim is very much away from the limelight, quietly plugging away at his own activist projects and not courting the media at all. And yet he's become fair game in the desperate attempts by idiot journalism to smear his partner, the Green Party leader Natalie Bennett.

Let's be clear here. I am a Labour party person. I am firmly of the belief that the overwhelming majority of Greens would have more influence were they in the same party as me. Their recent Green surge, if repeated in Labour, would make it more likely that policies we share in common - such as a basic income for all, a more generous minimum wage, and an end to austerity - would make it onto the agenda. To win Greens over, Labour has to offer something positive and not overly rely on it's us or the Tories. Politics itself, however, is about the clash of interests and pursuit of well-remunerated, powerful positions. It's a dirty business and won't change as long as our society is underpinned by social conflict. That, however, does not mean we should resign ourselves to bathing in swill if we wade into the public arena. Nothing turns people off politics more than needless abuse and attacks by association. In this case, for Labour supporters to use/endorse methods favoured by the poltroons of The Mail and Guido only legitimates similar tactics deployed against our own side. It opens us up to charges of hypocrisy too.

Of the posts that must have taken an enterprising Mirror hack all of half an hour to find are no biggie. That's right. Musing aloud about the ethics of sexual relationships between teachers and 17 year old students and rape fantasies is totally unremarkable. Especially when many of the journos and the readers they titillate and scandalise rarely get exercised by the existence of teacher/pupil role play and violent pornography always a few mouse clicks away. And there's this:
It seems to me that the sex offenders register is a sledgehammer to crack a nut sometimes. When you have a teacher who kissed a 17-year-old placed on the same register as Gary Glitter it does make you wonder how useful the list is, no matter how creepy that teacher might be.
What is this loony libertarian shit? Such are the cynical depths to which our supposedly left-wing press stoop to that apparently, ordinary people - who just happen to be the significant other of a public figure - are not permitted to ask probing questions about the nature of sexuality and the official discourse on sex crimes. This while The Mirror pores over the bikini-clad bodies of female celebrities, while the Daily Mail happily ogles under age teenage bodies, while the Fawkes rabble plays host to rape threats and grotesque woman-hating, you can be forgiven for thinking that they should get their own households in order before drawing attention to others.

The attack on Jim Jepps as a way of getting at Natalie Bennett is pathetic and bang out of order. Jim is one of the kindest, most decent, hardest working, and supportive socialists I've had the pleasure to meet. So fuck you, Mirror Group Newspapers. I'd rather have one comrade like Jim in my corner than any number of cowardly, phone-fiddling Mirror hacks.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Ashiva - Sunrise

No time for blogging this evening. Dissertations to mark, pots to wash, litter trays to clean. The blog, however, is my canvas to deface as I see fit and here for your perusal is a genuine hidden gem. Ashiva's Sunrise is a great poppy trance track that troubled MTV Dance viewers circa 2004, and promptly disappeared - save for a vapid cover much later by the awful Angel City. Yours truly never fully forgot it. And you can see why, this is a proper summery song and should be played very loud indeed.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

The Moral Vacuity of Katie Hopkins

Four years ago, I wrote about the functions of bigotry in the mass media, and the ever charming Melanie Phillips was my case study. Then, somewhat counter-intuitively, The Daily Mail made use of Mel to get the lefties in and boost their clicks per second average. Every idiocy that tripped off her keyboard was then, in the infant days of social media, pounced upon and shared by the angry, which in turn help push those page views through the roof. This now is 2015, things are more settled now. Our audiences are sophisticated and savvy. The media bigots have had their day, or have they?

Bidding for the title of vile personage of the year is the execrable Katie Hopkins, a woman so toxic that Sellafield wouldn't touch her. The now notorious article, Rescue Boats? I'd use gunships to stop migrants in your snore-away currant bun is probably the most disgusting, stupid, stone-hearted and cretinous piece published by the Murdoch press this century. It's no exaggeration to say you'd find a more compassion toward refugees fleeing violence in Libya and Syria in the BNP rag, Freedom. Advocating the shooting up rafts full of helpless people, leaving kids to drown, and that's before you start likening human beings to cockroaches. Now there's an expression without any historical baggage at all.

Unlike other right wing celebrities, such as Clarkson, Hopkins doesn't have a fan base as such. There won't be anyone tweeting death threats on her behalf as she cowers in the basement while the outrage howls overhead. Everyone hates her, and that's the basis of her celebrity. Beginning in The Apprentice as the contestant everyone detested, she has only been able to maintain her fame since - and therefore her income - by becoming ever more objectionable. She's by means not the only one. However, there does come a point when one cannot go any further before getting into really dodgy territory. Hopkins has made a career mocking the unemployed, the disabled, the overweight, the mentally ill. The only way is even further down into the black hole of racism and xenophobia.

The thing with Hopkins is it's (mostly) an act. To have made a lucrative career out of booting the voiceless and powerless demands a cunning of a certain kind. She has a rabble rouser's nous for issues that, framed in a certain way, would appeal to the most backward and bigoted. Politics-wise she's no different to the hardened Tories who spend their retirements propping up the bar at the precious few Conservative Clubs still trading. A little bit racist, perhaps; but not a dickheaded blood-and-soil fascist. And yet here we are. The ability to sit there and pen something so incredibly offensive that you don't even take it seriously yourself, that takes a special kind of cynicism and one only possible after all traces of humanity have been liposuctioned out. What Hopkins has done by sharing her ghastly pearls with us is to bare a void where a person should be.

When you exercise your right to speak freely, you have to accept the consequences. When I write critical things about the Tories or my erstwhile comrades I don't expect speaking invites to come from those directions. Similarly with Hopkins. The point is not to ban her or get her prosecuted - not that such an action would succeed, except to make another tedious free speech martyr - but to pressure the BBC and ITV studios to ensure This Morning, This Week, Loose Women, and whatever are closed to her. Our society is too indulgent of those who seek to whip up hatred and fear, and its only right the platforms from which their bullshit is promulgated can and should be closed to them.

And that brings me to The Sun, the paper that published Hopkins and stuck her article under a headline of their devising. They too are responsible. They didn't have to ask her to write a provocative column. They didn't have to publish it in this form. And they certainly can't plead the "she's a columnist guv, nothing to do with us" defence given decades-long effluvia flow to have dribbled from its pages. It thoroughly deserves to haunt news agents' store rooms in unread, unopened bundles, and a plunging circulation suggests that happy future might not be too far away. Yet consider their position for a moment. Since Uncle Rupert squirreled away his titles behind a paywall, The Sun's popular cultural relevancy has taken a huge hit. The Telegraph, Mail, Graun, even The Mirror, while also suffering, find their content regularly shared and talked about over social media. The Sun cannot do that, and their ridiculous mini-me - Sun Nation - is lousy with Johnny-come-lately and reeks of the same desperate-to-be-relevant that attends the Desmond press. To be in the national conversation, they have to throw their own dead cat in from time-to-time. Last time it was the will they, won't they over Page 3. This time it was Hopkins. The problem for them, however, is this can only work the once. When they employ her or some other vacuity in human skin to say something outrageous next, The Sun faces the ignominy of getting ignored. It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch.

Friday, 17 April 2015

On the Star Wars Episode VII Trailer


Okay, so it's not mahoosively spectacular or anything, but when casting my cynical eye over the trailer earlier I was not expecting the kind of gut reaction that came at me. It was a strange tingly blast of nostalgia, something last felt had when I played an old game for the first time in 20 years or have caught an earful of a song that hasn't troubled me for a long time. There was none of this nonsense when the prequels did the rounds in the early 00s, nor did any occasion the special editions upon their re-release back when your author was t'yoof.

Here's the thing. I'm not a massive Star Wars fan. The parents dragged me to the pictures to watch The Empire Strikes Back as a brattish but excitable kiddy-wink. My brother and I were smothered in the toys, and we even had a, ahem, naughty copy of Return of the Jedi before it came out in British cinemas. The simple goodies vs baddies narrative was just the foil for typical boys, which we were, who couldn't get enough of their militarised toys. Though I could never fathom how the plastic rendering of the Rebel Alliance Snow Speeder was half the size of the Imperial AT-AT when the film showed the latter to be many times bigger. But as I grew up the fictive universe never held its appeal. It was all too simple. And besides, as an advocate for sociological realism in science fiction the idea of a Roman-style republic/empire with slaves, magic, spaceships, and sentient robots is complete hooey.

All that said, come Christmas a sad sack collection of 30-something Stokie comrades shall duly traipse to the nearest big screen for the thrills 'n' spills on offer. And among them I will be.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Trial of Greville Janner

Is it possible to not be surprised yet be shocked at the same time? If it is, that's what I felt this morning when the news came through that Lord Janner, the former Labour MP for Leicester West would not be charged. Shocked because the testimony and evidence is compelling, not surprised because of the crippled, senile old man Janner has become. The Crown Prosecution Service concluded that it would not be in the public interest to follow through with a prosecution and, as much as I wish it was otherwise, this decision is the right one.

"As a Labour Party member he would say that." Well, no. As someone interested in justice being seen to be done, I am saying that. Anyone following the Janner case will have their opinion about his guilt or otherwise. I certainly have my views, and they're not a million miles away from the sentiment that's been gushing like a torrent on Twitter all afternoon. Yet we still - just - have the right to innocence until proven otherwise, and that applies to those accused of the most disgusting crimes. So where the evidence is concerned, let's just say there is a compelling case to answer. And on this point the CPS agrees.

Unfortunately, the reality of the situation is this. When Thatcher died, the truth was the woman who inspired admiration and hatred in equal measure had been killed by her dementia many years previously. All that was left was a flailing body scarcely aware of the passage of the day, let alone knowledge of who she once was. The same goes for Janner too. I haven't got access to his medical records, and neither has anyone else. Though one fully expects the CPS have, and took the trouble to examine them thoroughly. I think we can be reasonably confident that Janner's legal team haven't pulled an Ernest Saunders, who secured an early release from prison after being diagnosed with senile dementia, only to make a remarkable recovery after several months of freedom. Though, of course, the concealment of these records from public view are likely to fuel the notion this is the establishment covering for one of their own.

Ultimately, the question comes down to this. Ideally, should Janner have his day in court? Most certainly, and it is appalling that allegations made previously were brushed under the carpet and ignored. But what justice can possibly seen to be done by putting a dribbling invalid on the stand who is incapable of answering the charges and following proceedings? We do not hold trials in abstentia for defendants who no longer possess the capacity to understand what's happening to them, which is the only possible "equitable" solution under these circumstances.

It is awful that Janner's accusers can never confront him. But his figure is tainted, his reputation trashed, and trial by media well underway. Justice wasn't done, but Greville Janner has been crucified before the public all the same.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Banality of Internet Death Threats

So I was going to write something about this when after Oisin Tymon, the producer attacked by man-child Jeremy Clarkson received death threats on social media for, um, having the temerity to be attacked by man-child Jeremy Clarkson. Fitting then that Top Gear should be at the centre of the latest crop of threats. This time there was a rumour that Clarkson was to be replaced by Sue Perkins. In case you haven't read about it on the news, here's what she has to say.

There are some sad sacks out there. It's so ubiquitous, however, that it's more than just a few inadequates raging against the world. True, there is a specific gender component to this behaviour, but something else is happening in conjunction with this too.

Recently BBC journalists have been complaining about mobs of cybernats trolling, abusing, and threatening their social media accounts for asking pretty innocuous questions of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. Anyone who's vaguely left will, at some point, have attracted a few unhinged UKIP-types. Top Gear viewers, One Direction fans, all have a reputation for - how shall we say - having a forthright tweeting style. Death threats are ten-a-penny. If these are the nuclear option of social media comment, then the world is a toasted, radioactive desert many times over. While much less rabid, I do encounter some of the same behaviours (intolerance, quickness to anger, eager to dish out abuse) among Labour supporters on t'internet too. All tend to hold in common a recent(ish) arrival to the joys of web-based political knockabout.

This, I think, is key. Social media is a great leveller. Preceding forms: pamphlets, journals, newspapers, film, radio, TV, these have been run and controlled by someone else. In all essentials they do not require an audience input beyond purchasing them and/or tuning in. Social media, particularly Twitter, gives everyone their own megaphone and earpiece. Suddenly, people who'd never dream of having an audience find themselves with one. And more importantly, no matter how many millions a celebrity Twitter user may have, an illusion of immediacy is generated - they can be tweeted at and, sometimes, they may condescend to answer. Even a backwoods blogging oik like me has had responses back from luminaries such as Vince Cable and have, though heavens know why, been blocked by Toby Young. Suddenly, the wealthy, the powerful, and everyone's pet hate figures are but a few keystrokes away.

Historically speaking, this is a tremendous novelty. We should therefore not be at all surprised that large numbers of people behave in ways they wouldn't think to in real life. Everything we see - the ubiquitous death threats, the animosity, the trolling, these are symptoms of masses of numbers of people taking up a new technology there is no real precedent for. I'm tempted to say its symptomatic of our unfamiliarity and immaturity with it, mixed with the myriad frustrations and ceaseless collapse of all that is taken for granted and inviolate.

What that means is the tone of social media is likely to change over the coming decades. As presentation of the self is supplemented by a social media footprint of one, two, many platforms the less likely most people will want their output associated with idiocy of the kind experienced by Sue Perkins et al, especially as it's well on the way to not being socially acceptable. Furthermore, after a while, abuse will become so passé as social media becomes another banal aspect of everyday life. None of this excuses it, or minimises the misery and discomfort some feel when they're on the receiving end of it, but as time presses on it will eventually get better. The ubiquity of the internet death threat has long lost its potency, and its shelf life is now quite limited.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

The Mystery of the Unfunded Tory Pledges

If you're the tiny section of this blog's readership contemplating voting Conservative, be aware that you're voting for communism! Yes, we've had the £8bn NHS pledge, the policy of freezing rail fares, the promise of 30 hours a week childcare, and now the Tories are threatening to expropriate housing associations and pass them on at a huge discount to tenants. Yes, just when the election couldn't get more Fortean it takes yet another weird turn. Step back and consider the scene for a moment. Yesterday Ed Miliband took to the podium and gave an authoritative presentation setting out Labour's priorities, with full costings. Prudence and sound finance, which includes the requisite deficit pledges, are to be the bedrock of a policy agenda significantly to the left of any government since Jim Callaghan left office. By way of contrast, the Tories have contracted a bout of fiscal incontinence. £25bn worth of unfunded pledges? No problem! We'll just say the money will be found as and when it's needed. Verily, their policy slate is the unwholesome offspring of Milton Friedman and Labour's 1983 manifesto. Bonkers.

Dave was his usual slick self as he launched their manifesto. Picking up on the thrust of Labour's recent pronouncements, this was about seizing ownership of security from the opposition. Perhaps unexpectedly they played on their "success" fighting terrorism by listing the number of hate preachers kept out of Britain, the success of foiling plots - which handily cannot be addressed in detail due to security concerns, and standing up to ISIS and their ilk. However, one line that seemed to have missed the eager eyes of the assembled press pack is allowing the police to circumvent the Crown Prosecution Service and make decisions about to prosecute. Complementing "Beria" May, Dave laid on thick the security theme - the Tories had a stable economy, a plan for the deficit, "sensible savings", tax cuts, a guaranteed public spending surplus by 2018 all underpinned by, of course, that long-term economic plan. To be fair, there were elements of an industrial strategy here. Osborne's talk of the "northern powerhouse", road building, high speed rail, the spread of technical colleges and a splurge on apprenticeships, the Tories have belatedly woken up to the state having a role in shepherding the economy.

Then there were the eye-catching policies. To take the first 30 hours of the minimum wage earners out of tax is merely their raising of the basic threshold, repackaged. Much more interesting was the pledge of 30 hours free childcare. We don't know the details yet, but it's unlikely to be available to parents who do not work full-time. Nevertheless it is very attractive and would make a massive difference to anyone who pays through the nose for nursery care. I'm surprised the Tories haven't made more of it. But the big headline grabber was, of course, their right-to-buy pledge. This is incredibly stupid for all kinds of reasons. Even right wing journos like Julia Hartly-Brewer dub it "economically illiterate and morally wrong". However, it's clear what the Tories are trying to do. In their typical dumb way, because right-to-buy was popular among council tenants back in the 80s, the hope is that enough people renting housing association homes will vote Tory as a means of getting themselves on the housing ladder. It was a transparent move by Thatcher to try and social engineer a bloc of working class Tory voters. It made little difference. The bulk of tenants who became home owners took the opportunity but didn't change their voting habits. Then again, the Tories are desperate for something - anything - to turn their electoral fortunes around. Except this time, their clever-clever logic might bite them on the bum. There are a layer of usually loyal Tory voters attracted to the party because of their (undeserved) reputation for careful economics and "responsible" approach to public spending. Policies like this nonsense put their key reputational asset into question.

Then what are the Tories playing at? Is it hidden genius? Is it panic? Is it cluelessness? It's worse than all three, it's pure cynicism. Dave and Osborne know a majority government eludes them. They've seen the scenarios, they know that the permutations of Labour-led coalitions or Labour minorities are against the Conservatives perhaps ever forming a government again - at least under First Past the Post. So they're throwing everything out there. It doesn't matter that their spending splurge is almost entirely uncosted. The Tory hope is that a largely uninformed public will pick up on the NHS, tax cuts, and right-to-buy pledges, won't be party to the "wonkish" conversation of politicos and journalists, and come election day shall unthinkingly place their cross in the Conservative box. If that is their hope, they can expect to have it dashed.

Monday, 13 April 2015

On the Far Left's General Election Campaign

As well as being a pretty weird general election, 2015's will see a record number of far left candidates standing. As if to underline the peculiarity of the campaign, even anarchists are standing. So let's have a bit of a burrow into the lists and see what it says about the far left party family.

No one in a revolutionary socialist or anarchist outfit now would say women's rights and the question of gender are distractions from the hard graft of knuckling down and prosecuting the class struggle. At least aloud, or for public consumption. As self-declared representatives of the most class conscious sections of the British proletariat, they're the best fighters for women's liberation. The implementation of their programmes would strike a permanent and irreversible blow for equitable gender relations. We're a long way off from that happy day, however. So how do women fair as a percentage of far left candidates? I make it 52 out of the 223 listed so far. That's 23.3%. For TUSC specifically of 131 seats contested women are standing in 34 of them, or 25.9%. What to say about this. The LibDems say that just 26% of their candidates are women. Annoyingly, comparable figures for the Tories and Labour are hard to come by (I don't have the inclination to run through every single constituency). But of interest 29 for the former and 54 for the latter have been selected for the parties' top 100 winnable seats. Among all party selections done up until last November - including incumbents - it was 73-27 men-women. Of new candidates, Labour had selected 39% women, the Tories 31%, LibDems 30%, Greens 37%, and UKIP 12%.

Pretty poor for the far left as a whole to be outdone on women's representation by all bar UKIP, and to be less representative than the field of candidates as a whole. However, the far left should be cut a bit of slack, but only a little. They can only stand the activists they have on the books, and in the Socialist Party's case - who've provided the bulk of TUSC candidates - the party comprises one quarter to one third women. To be fair, during my membership they did encourage women to come to the fore and its leading body, the executive committee, had a slight female majority. Still, the same searching questions about why more women aren't involved have to be asked.

The second thing I want to look at is how much the election campaign is a party building opportunity. We know that far left candidates generally get pretty poor results - see last year's European election and 2010's outing, for example. To try and build a head of steam behind your campaigns, you require consistent electoral activity in a given area and a long-term strategic plan. Can we see evidence of that here? Last time, the far left contested 120 seats with 135 candidates. Have they built on this? Well, 92 of our candidates are standing in seats that were previously contested, which is 41%. This doesn't look too good but do remember that TUSC has massively upped its electoral game. 53 were contested in 2010, 26 of which were under TUSC's banner (I've included here the four Socialist Alternative candidates). Quite why the 17 that previously had TUSC haven't been so visited this time is a mystery. Also, only 15 candidates are standing in the same seat as 2010, ten of which are TUSC. Sitting MPs aside, I expect the proportion in the bigger parties is about the same or even lower. However, when you're in the business of building a radical alternative consistency and continuity between elections is important provided the candidate has been working the seat hard in the meantime.

All this begs the question of why. I doubt the CPB, SEP, CL, and WRP central committees sat down to determine their general election intervention believing a general breakthrough lies just over the horizon. Sure, like the SPGB, AGS, Workers' Party, SSP, and Class War, it's an opportunity to get the organisation and your work known. You're taking advantage of a wider interest in politics than is hitherto the case. But is it worth it? Taking 2010 as our benchmark, polling scores were more often beneath one per cent than not. However, the far left tend not to measure success in terms of votes scored - as anyone familiar with post-election write ups by those concerned will tell you. It's about the breadth of the message, of the leaflets distributed, papers solds, contacts made, and recruits who've signed up. There is also the experience of taking part in the campaign itself. To be involved and live in the micro universe of a campaign can be a gratifying experience, even if you don't win. It's an occasion of forming close ties, of working together collectively around a clearly definable common objective, of deepening one's relationship with the group. It's the stuff fond memories are made of. Or can be, provided it's not deeply dysfunctional and characterised by fraying friendships. So for a small party, it's a bonding experience, of toughening up collective discipline and identity. But it's a risk. For newer recruits the poor result can be an occasion for disillusion and burnout.

TUSC is qualitatively different. While the general election is an occasion for party building on the Socialist Party's part (and, to a lesser extent, the SWP's), the objective is to work TUSC up into an electoral force that will be taken seriously over the longer term. It's their contribution toward the new workers' party they believe is a necessity since Labour stopped conforming to what they think such a party should look like. Implicitly, TUSC exists to show an electoral life for leftist class politics outside Labour is possible. However, there are a number of problems.

As we know, the Green Party has grown massively since last summer, a growth reflected in its spread of candidates. TUSC's challenge, however, is not a result of organic growth. As far as I can tell, the SP is roughly the same size it was five years ago and the SWP, of course, are much diminished. Nor has there been an upsurge of active opposition to never-ending austerity that can power TUSC's 100% no cuts message. Why then such an effort which, lest we forget, is also supported by about 600 local council candidates?

There are two things going on here. SP cadre are keen to flag up how much more advanced TUSC is compared to UKIP after the first five years of its existence, while accidentally on purpose forgetting the last 25 years of the SP standing against Labour under a variety of labels. TUSC appears to be a project that has stalled. The 2010 results were down on its predecessor's 2005 efforts, including in its Coventry and Lewisham "strongholds". Since then local election results have given little cheer, even if they had a councillor elected last year ... on an independent ticket. As growth eludes TUSC, voluntarism has stepped into the breach. By pulling out all the stops and standing absolutely everywhere they can reflect back a sense of dynamism to their members, that this project might actually be going somewhere. The second issue is their friends in the RMT. As the sleeping partner in the TUSC initiative, it remains a source of acute embarrassment that barely any of its 72,000 members are aware of what TUSC is, let alone that their union is an affiliate. Even the much-missed Bob Crow studiously avoided all mention of the coalition of which he was a founder on his Question Time appearances. And now the RMT has Mick Cash, a Labour Party member at the helm, it's reasonable to suppose the union's support is living on borrowed time. In this context, to try and keep them on board, running a large campaign is about showing the RMT that another party is possible. It won't deliver the votes, but the SP must be hoping that the sheer size of the "biggest post-war left electoral challenge" will squeeze out a respectable - by far left standards - result. Because without the RMT, not only does TUSC go the way of the dodo,their perspectives suffer ignominious collapse and a good chunk of their membership will be profoundly demoralised.

But can TUSC and the other comrades standing in the election expect a continuation of poor results? Thanks to the rise of social media, the traditional press and TV matter less this time than has ever hitherto the case. They may be locked out of the leaders' debates but they can, to a degree, bypass them. There is also the general mood too. If by some dark miracle the Tories scrape their way into power again, it won't be because of a resigned acceptance of the need for more austerity. It's not uniform, it's complex and contradictory, but the much hallowed centre ground has moved left on a number of key issues. And also the far right has disappeared up its own backside. However, with established "anti-establishment" parties in the shape of UKIP and the Greens, and with the latter fielding its own anti-austerity message, it's hard to see how TUSC and family can hope to poll anything other than derisory votes in the absence of name recognition, consistent work, and in competition with more viable alternatives to mainstream politics.