Thursday, 20 August 2015

The Sociology of Unemployment: A choice between hard labour or destitution?

Tom Boland and Ray Griffin, authors of The sociology of unemployment have a new article in The Irish Examiner this week...Since 2012 social welfare in Ireland has been radically reformed in ways that are not widely known or understood. The Government’s Pathways to Work policy has been consistently linked to the Action Plan for Jobs. Yet, the relationship between welfare and the economy and the consequences of welfare reform for individual lives has been subject to very little scrutiny.

Read the full article.

More about The sociology of unemployment

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Oratory and the Labour Leadership Election

By Andrew S. Crines,
British Politics Lecturer
University of Liverpool

One of the most fundamental necessities of a potential leader is the ability to communicate a political message to as broad an audience as possible. The construction of political discourse is the life-blood of the political process given it enables actors to persuade the electorate to lend them their vote. The ability to orate (deliver) a speech facilities this process, but also the rhetoric (content) of a speech must be appealing to the broader as well as immediate audience. As the speech travels into the broader demos, the orator may expect his/her impact to be felt amongst supporters and non-supporters alike. How these oratorical and rhetorical techniques function are explored in some detail in the edited collection Labour Orators from Bevan to Miliband, recently published by Manchester University Press (along with its sister volume, Conservative Orators from Baldwin to Cameron). See below for a special discount on both these titles.

The current leadership election is, of course, no different. The core strategy of each of the four candidates is to leave a positive impression upon the electorate, which in this case is the Labour membership and associates. The four contenders each have distinctive styles which they have used to try and convince the electorate to nominate them as their first choice. For example Liz Kendall has set out an empirical argument of how she believes Labour needs to change in order to address the concerns of the broader electorate concerning Labour’s electability. It is driven by the pragmatic need to embrace more closely the centrist voter, whilst arguing certain tenets of Labour principle may need to be sacrificed. Andy Burnham, in contrast, presents a more centre-left vision which accepts some changes are needed, however the core thrust of what comprises Labour values are vital in informing the future renewal strategy. This is similar to Yvette Cooper, however her style of delivery has a forceful edge which, potentially, could be problematic should she become leader. Finally Jeremy Corbyn’s rhetorical style aims to place a more fundamental interpretation of Labourism at the heart of Labour’s future, with a staunchly value-driven approach. Of these contenders, both Liz Kendall and Jeremy Corbyn offer a distinctive alternative to the voters. Each have an entirely different vision of Labour, and how it can appeal. Burnham and Cooper each speak to the renewal strategies outlined by Miliband, however their distinctiveness comes in which policies they believe are deserving of the greatest attention.

Ultimately, these Labour orators are each striving to make an impression with asymmetrical results. Kendall’s campaign has not received the support which the Blairites may have been forgiven for anticipating. Similarly, Cooper’s campaign has not gained the momentum which a long-serving Labour cabinet member may have expected. Only Burnham and Corbyn have garnered sufficient prominence within the campaign for them to be in with a realistic chance of securing the top job. However, it must be remembered that second preferences are key in determining the outcome, and so it would be foolhardy to rely upon a single measure for anticipating the outcome. Despite this, Corbyn’s oratory has been most effective because his style inspires his audiences to listen. His is an epideictic style of oratory, with emotive rhetoric. Furthermore, he is supported by figures such as Owen Jones and Tony Mulhearn, which positions his rhetoric within a traditionalist left position. In concert with the £3 supporters, Corbyn’s momentum has developed to such an extent that it challenges the mainstream.

Looking at Labour oratory more broadly, it is unsurprising to find that Corbyn’s rhetoric rests within the Bennite tradition. The Bennite tradition believes in advancing socialist causes through direct action outside of the Parliamentary route. During the Benn period, this was through groups like the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy who, following the abolition of the Proscribed List in 1973, were able to mould the CLP’s towards a more radical interpretation of socialism. This is a very different tradition to Labour’s moderate left (such as Aneurin Bevan, Michael Foot, Barbara Castle), who use the institution of Parliament to drive social change and promote a more egalitarian society.

Furthermore, the Corbynite perspective offers a very different interpretation of political power, which sees electoral victory as secondary to ideological cohesion. This conception of power is rooted far more within the demos, which believes the capacity to change society rests within the power of protest. This contrasts with Bevan, Foot, Castle, Burnham, Cooper, and Kendall’s belief that to change the direction of society towards equality necessitates political power expressed through the Parliamentary system.

As a consequence, although Corbyn’s message may be appealing to the current Labour electorate, it is unlikely to resonate with the broader electorate because it doesn’t include them. Corbyn’s conception of power is alien to the centrist voter who infrequently engages within the political process. However, given Burnham, Cooper, and Kendall each embrace ideological and rhetorical perspectives which have more successful traditions within Labour history, they have greater potential in making Labour electable again in 2020 or 2025. That said, whoever emerges as leader will have a very difficult five years ahead if Labour is to begin making its way back to the number of MPs required to secure a majority.

Special two for one offer

Purchase Labour orators from Bevan to Miliband and Conservative orators: From Baldwin to Cameron together, and get one FREE! Simply contact our distributors on +44 (0)1752 202301, or email you order details to, quoting the discount code OTH548, expires 30/09/2015.

Labour orators from Bevan to Miliband
Edited by Andrew S. Crines and Richard Hayton
 978-0-7190-8980-0  £65.00

Conservative orators: From Baldwin to Cameron
Edited by Richard Hayton and Andrew S. Crines
978-0-7190-9724-9  £75.00

Monday, 3 August 2015


By Sarah Glynn, author of Class, ethnicity and religion in the Bengali East End
Almost every day we hear the question asked: why are people turning to ‘Islamic extremism’? But in mainstream discussion, no-one mentions the elephant in the room - or rather no longer in the room. The rise of Islamist politics, both reformist and revolutionary, is a relatively new phenomenon; so what has changed that has allowed this to happen?  My historical and sociological research into immigrant politics, and especially the politics of the Bengalis in London’s East End, leads to an answer that few politicians want to hear. Islamism has been able to attract people looking for an escape from the brutality and banality of capitalism because the socialist alternative that would once have claimed them has been systematically traduced and undermined. The rise of Islamism has been made possible by the decline of socialism – which has been under constant attack from the same powers who publicly bemoan Islamist dominance. (And this is still going on, as the deliberate marginalisation of the secular and leftist Kurdish movement in northern Syria so poignantly demonstrates.) The 2002 article in which I first made these arguments has been
widely quoted, including in a paper commissioned by the UK Government; but my
inconvenient argument is never taken up or even discussed.

 Of course, the process of this political evolution has been complicated; and, as the Bengali case history demonstrates, these realignments are a product of developments in progressive left politics as well as of the apparent triumph of neoliberal capitalism. Comparisons are often made between the Bengali East End and the Jewish East End of an earlier generation. That Jewish East End nurtured a tradition of active secular left politics, including strong support for the Communist Party. The Communist Party was a dominant influence on the political mobilisation of the early Bengali immigrants too, as it was in anti-colonial and post-colonial movements more generally.  But, as in other similar movements, the popular-front politics promoted by the Communist international allowed socialist aims to be postponed into an indefinite future while activists focused on the ‘first stage’ of national liberation. For the people from East Bengal, their struggle for independence from the British Empire, which took place when the immigrant community numbered only one or two hundred, had been riven by religious sectarianism; but the bloody battle for an independent Bangladesh in 1971 was fought in the name of a secular socialist republic. The more radical left put aside their differences with the nationalists in the joint fight for independence, but when that independence was won, the left found themselves side-lined. This was true among the East-End Bengalis too. The left had been so busy campaigning for independence and organising day to day community work that their socialism had been left on the back burner.

These first London Bengali activists had built up a strong practice of grass-roots political organisation, but it was focused on the practical issues that beset a poor immigrant community facing increasingly racist immigration restrictions. It failed to aspire to make more ideological change.

Meanwhile, wider progressive politics was undergoing a cultural turn that downplayed the role of economic forces and class conflict and prioritised the politics of identity. In the East End, Black Radical activists from Race Today were instrumental in establishing the Bengali Housing Action Group that helped solidify campaigning along ethnic lines; and growing racism was countered by Bengali youth groups. These mobilisations achieved real improvements to people’s lives and to Bengali self-confidence, but they could not build bridges between different ethnicities as had been so deliberately achieved by the class-based politics of the 1930s. Nor could they address the fundamental economic inequalities that transcended different ethnic groups.

Black Radicalism opened a Pandora’s Box of separatist organisation, and as this approach became institutionalised into political multiculturalism, these different organisations were encouraged to compete with each other for portions of government funding. Lingering traces of radicalism were tamed and incorporated into the system. Meanwhile, the East End, like other immigrant areas, remained a significantly deprived area, and the Bengalis remained a disproportionately deprived group.

While the turn to religion can be understood as responding to the need for an ideological counter to a system that produced such deprivation, religious identity has also been encouraged by multicultural policies that have increasingly regarded people as members of religious groups and awarded prominent roles to religious organisations and leaders. Some left organisations have also been complicit in this, blurring the line between campaigning against religious discrimination and actively promoting religious groups. The Stop the War Movement and George Galloway’s Respect that emerged out of it allowed the popular front put together to oppose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq not just to eclipse much of their left ideology but also to strengthen political involvement via Muslim (and Bengali) identity.

The impact of Western foreign policy on Islamist radicalisation has been widely acknowledged, but the growth of British Islamism preceded 9/11. Islamist movements were already well established even before the boosts given by the perceived neglect of the suffering of Bosnian Muslims and the publication of Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. For young Bengalis growing up with limited prospects, Islamist idealism and the international brotherhood of the ummah (or Muslim community) can be seen as an inspiring alternative to the pointless selfishness of capitalist materialism – and an escape from the temptations of drugs and gang wars. The mainstream reformist Islamist groups around the East London Mosque have strengthened their position in the wider Bengali community through a well-ordered structure and active participation in grassroots community-work – aping the tactics of communist organisations. More revolutionary groups have been active in colleges and universities.

The inverse relationship between strong left movements and strong political Islam has long been understood by Islamists, just as it has by Marxists. They recognise each other as incompatible ideological systems, and they know that both will compete for supporters from the same disgruntled victims of capitalism. Among immigrants of Muslim background, just as in the countries of the Middle East, the effective counter to Islamic radicalism has been historically demonstrated to be a strong secular socialist movement. Try telling that to David Cameron.

Special 20% discount
To order your copy of Class, ethnicity and religion in the Bengali East End with a special 20% discount, simply contact NBN International on +44 (0)1752 202301, or email, quoting the discount code OTH547. Offer expires 31/12/2015.