Tuesday, 7 April 2015


Little Atoms, 7 April 2015

The Beijing Bookworm literary festival offers a chance to explore the limits to criticism in the People's Republic

 I’m just back in Britain from a whistle-stop tour of China, where I was speaking at the Bookworm Literary Festival, a fortnight-long talkfest organised by the leading independent English-language bookshop in China. I went with Anna Chen, who was one of the headline stars of the show – and it was one of the most stimulating foreign trips I’ve ever made.

 The itinerary was hectic. Bookworm has three bookshops-cafes, in Beijing, Chengdu and Suzhou, and one of its sponsors is the Chinese branch of Nottingham University in Ningbo: fitting all of them into 10 days of a two-week trip as we did meant travelling vast distances (Chengdu-Suzhou-Ningbo-Beijing) by plane and high-speed train and forgetting about sleep. But, boy, was it worth it. The festival itself was an almost madly diverse series of talks and readings by an extraordinary selection of authors from China, the Anglophone world, Europe, the Middle East – poets, novelists, journalists, travel-writers, writers for kids, biographers, historians – and everything about China was breathtaking.

 It was my first time in the country, I don’t speak the language, and two weeks in China spent staying in hotels and largely inside the protective bubble of a speaking tour (with a few days at the end to see Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall) doesn’t make me an authority on anything. My role model is not the American muckraker Lincoln Steffens who famously declared “I have seen the future and it works” after a brief visit to Bolshevik Russia. But one of the great things about the festival was that we met a large number of people with vast experience of China – Chinese who have never left the country, Chinese living abroad, western and other expat academics, teachers, students, journalists working in China, many of them from the Chinese diaspora – who were happy to share their stories and views freely (at least in private). And although it’s all second-hand, it’s worth relaying some of what they said (although I’m not for the most part naming names).

 To start as everyone, without exception, started. China has gone through a gigantic and extraordinarily rapid economic and social transformation in the past 30 years, and although the pace might be slowing a little it’s still extremely fast – GDP growth will be “only” 7 per cent this year after 30 years of 10 per cent or more on average. This is of course a statement of the obvious that can be found in any western newspaper, but its truth is in your face from the moment you touch down in China. The first thing I noticed on arriving, in the Sichuan capital of Chengdu, was – yes – just how new and big everything appeared: the massive new airport terminal buildings, the new eight-lane motorway to the city thronged with traffic and criss-crossed by spectacular flyovers, the giant new apartment blocks stretching as far as the eye can see on the city periphery, the gargantuan new city-centre skyscrapers, the enormous building sites and cranes everywhere.

The second thing that struck me (apart from the sheer number of people in the streets – in cars, on motorbikes, on bicycles, on foot – I learned later that Chengdu has 14 million inhabitants in its urban area, 6 million more than London) was the rampant consumerism on display everywhere: the shiny new cars that jam every highway, the designer-brand and consumer-electronics shops in street after street, the mini-skirted girls chatting on their smartphones. OK, I’d not been expecting party bureaucrats in Mao suits and workers in blue denim overalls cycling to the cement factory down dirt roads, but this was stunningly full-on.

Mass migration
This is mundane stuff for anyone who lives in China or knows it well, and our interlocutors at the Bookworm festival took my amazement in their stride: many had felt it themselves once and some were still prone to moments of astonishment, but nearly all also sounded notes of caution. Yes, the economic and social transformation of China is profound; yes, the state is an enormously powerful actor, capable of feats of infrastructure development inconceivable in western liberal democracies – to take just one example, 10,000 miles of high-speed railway built in less than 10 years, the equivalent of constructing Britain’s planned HS2 line from London to the west Midlands once every couple of months.

But the purpose of all the high-speed railways, motorways and apartment blocks is a helter-skelter urbanisation and industrialisation of China to get it to a European standard of living in a decade, involving a mass migration from countryside to city of extraordinary proportions, and it is fraught with problems. The urban population has been boosted by state diktat and market forces from around a quarter of the national 1.1 billion 25 years ago to around a half of the 1.4 billion or so today, and the dislocation is immense. As a teacher in Chengdu put it: it’s the entire population of the European Union and Russia arriving in town.

David Goodman, a British academic in Suzhou, author of 2014’s must-read Class in Contemporary China, says that the migrants from the countryside have become a new urban underclass, reliant on low-paid menial and casual work: the extraordinary economic growth of the past 20 years is based on super-exploitation of poor recently-peasant proletarians in factories and service industries. Anyone who skates over this fundamental truth is at best a fool, he says – singling out Martin Jacques, the former editor of Marxism Today magazine in London, whose book When China Rules the World has been an improbable global best-seller since 2009.

 Most migrant workers – and most workers are migrant workers of one kind or another – live in horribly overcrowded conditions, says Goodman. In Beijing, says a British journalist working in the city, some subsist in underground dormitories that were once air-raid shelters. (He offers to take us round but we don’t have time.) Everywhere we go, people tell us that many of the giant new apartment blocks were built or started during a vast speculative real-estate bubble that has burst, the apartments often empty (if they are finished) because they are too expensive for most workers to buy or rent. Even the relatively well-off pay vast proportions of their incomes for housing. It’s quite normal in a big city to spend two or three hours commuting each day and not to know anyone who lives near you. The consumerism is greedy and unthinking, they all say, the main means by which the party hopes to keep the lid on opposition, and the party itself is corrupt, its leaders enriching themselves through the proceeds of self-offs and real-estate deals despite its campaign against corruption…

The party line
Ah, the party – the Communist Party of China. It might have nearly 90 million members, it might run one of the biggest and most powerful states in the world with unmatched ruthlessness, but to a foreign visitor unable to read or speak Chinese it is an eerie presence. There’s the famous giant portrait of Mao overlooking Tiananmen Square – in front of which every Chinese tourist from the provinces as well as every foreign visitor takes a selfie – and at the tourist tat stalls by the Great Wall and in central Beijing you can buy People’s Liberation Army hats, Mao badges, the Little Red Book and fridge magnets depicting the Great Helmsman. Otherwise, there’s the party line on the state TV English language service in your hotel and in China Daily, the official English language newspaper, full of stories about foreign policy and great successes in the struggle against corruption. But neither is intrusive, and that’s about it.

This impression of absence is of course illusory, but it is reinforced in microcosm by the apparent freedom enjoyed by the Bookworm festival. Here we were, more than 120 authors from all over the world coming along to three of China’s major cities – some of the writers long-standing critics of the regime, including a few who have been expelled for their work – and talking freely about anything we wanted. No one intervened to stop it. What’s not to like?

Well, nothing. But it’s a bit more complicated than it first appears. The Bookworm bookshop-cafes are great places to hang out, eat, drink and buy books – we could do with a few more like them in the UK – and they are qualified free-speech places (in English and Chinese) where there are no obvious limits on what is on sale (in English at least), which are accepted as legitimate businesses by the state. That is a remarkable space to have established.

But there are constraints on what Bookworm can do. The festival is monitored by the authorities – less for what speakers say than for contributions from Chinese members of the audience. My talk,"East of England: communism in Britain", was about communism in Britain and British admirers of communist China: the Bookworm organisers said that they’d been unable to find anyone to interpret my remarks into Chinese because their translators were worried about getting the blame for something I said, and after two of my sessions I was told I’d had officials in the audience. So what: it was rather less intrusive than the norm in eastern Europe 30 years ago, and it all went ahead.

More importantly, Chinese customs routinely impound books – and although Peter Goff, the affable Irish former-Guardian journalist who set up Bookworm with others 10 years ago and is general manager of the bookshop and the festival’s kingpin, says there is no obvious policy on what is stopped and what is not, there are certain key subjects and authors that are beyond the pale for the authorities, however blurred their lines. I couldn’t find Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao: The Unknown Story or anything by the historian Frank Dikötter on Bookworm’s shelves, but historical work as critical as theirs was on display. The boundaries of what can be said in a public forum are just as difficult to discern. Talk about the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 is OK in a reference from a novelist or a western academic but not from a former activist who might incite the audience to do it again; and it’s difficult but not impossible to get anyone associated with the ongoing protests in Hong Kong into the mainland to speak, for the same reason. Tibet is pretty-much taboo. Goff’s stories of running Bookworm are sometimes frightening – they include being arrested – and he knows he walks a tightrope, but his successes are extraordinary: he’s always got books and people in for the festival, including “banned” authors, but it takes time and guile.

This year, as on eight previous occasions, he and his team managed to get some of the best people writing about China to talk at the festival, as well as dozens of writers with no Chinese connection to their work. There were more than 120 in total, and we were at only a tiny fraction of their events – but nearly everything we saw was impressive. I was particularly wowed by the novelist and film-maker Xiaolu Guo (A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, I Am China), the novelist Wena Poon (who launched her latest book, Café Jause: A Story of Viennese Shanghai, at the festival) and the British non-fiction writer Horatio Clare (A Single Swallow, Down to the Sea in Ships). But there were also fascinating sessions from the veteran American Beat poet and translator Willis Barnstone, the British historical novelist Victoria Hislop (with husband Ian in tow as bag-carrier), the author-illustrators for children Frané Lessac and Bridget Stevens-Marzo, the journalist-academic-analysts Michael Meyer (In Manchuria) and Francesco Sisci (A Brave New China)…

The most important thing about Bookworm, however, is that it’s marginal. It’s a tolerated showcase that could be taken down at any time – and it’s tolerated because it casts the party-state in a favourable light in the outside world and does not threaten its existence. The availability of critical books in English and the accessibility of critical debate in English in small venues in three cities are – even more than the availability of the Financial Times and the International New York Times, BBC World and CNN in posh hotels – pin-prick challenges to the regime by comparison with those posed by the internet, and the party-state has missed few tricks in ensuring that it controls what its citizens can see on their screens.

The “great firewall of China”, blocking access to much critical material online from outside China, is not impermeable, but you have to make an effort to get through it and you are not completely safe if you do. Although the world wide web as taken for granted in most of the west is accessible if you have a virtual private network, a dedicated encrypted link between your computer in China and another elsewhere, VPN users are tracked by the authorities. More important than the “great firewall”, online postings from inside China are monitored relentlessly by the state – thousands of bureaucrats beavering away to snoop – and systematically censored. You can criticise the local party boss, but never suggest a demonstration. I don’t have the expertise to read the evidence – some say China will inevitably loosen up and that Bookworm presages big changes, others that the party-state is interested only in keeping control, scared by the Chinese history of unpredicted social explosions and by the implosion of the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago. But I’m bitten by China, and I’ve got to go back to see more and talk more. My thanks to Bookworm for giving me a first taste.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014


I'm giving the Tribune column a rest after 15 years and am up to my ears with Aaaargh! Press work, writing books and academic papers and earning a living, so expect nothing here for a bit for some time.

Friday, 7 February 2014


Paul Anderson, Tribune column, 7 February 2014

Labour’s relationship with the trade unions has always been a problem.

The formalities of it date from 1918, when Labour was still, essentially, a means of getting working-class men (no girls allowed) elected to parliament – and when there was a vast number of trade unions, most of them either small or very decentralised. The party then drew up a new constitution (which also included the vague promise of socialism in Clause Four) giving the unions the defining role in the new structure at every level except electing the parliamentary leader.

The deal started to look creaky within a few years, as Ernest Bevin created a giant general union by amalgamation, the Transport and General Workers, in which power was concentrated at the top – and then other big unions, representing miners, engineers, railwaymen, local authority workers, more or less successfully emulated the T and G’s transformation into national centrally managed bureaucracies.

Union barons became fixtures in Labour politics, controlling local parties through their surrogates in much of the country and wielding decisive influence over the party conference – and between conferences they ran the National Executive Committee.

There’s no romantic narrative of class struggle. From the late 20s until the 50s, the unions were mostly bastions of the Labour right; in the 60s and 70s the left took control of many unions. But until the 80s the unions’ position in the party was taken as read by just about everyone – members, the party leadership and most MPs – as a fact of life. Yes, the block vote was ridiculous, yes the union bureaucrats acted as if they owned the show … but the unions had no role in leadership elections and they weren’t (generally) a co-ordinated bloc on policy. Anyone could get around them when necessary (well, most of the time).

Two things changed that happy world: Labour’s internal constitutional reforms introduced in 1980, which created an “electoral college” for leadership elections in which unions had a third of the vote; and the collapse of trade union membership as Tory Britain deindustrialised.

Changing the leadership election system was a left cause, the key victory of the idiotic left insurgency led by Tony Benn after Labour’s 1979 general election defeat to Margaret Thatcher. But it was a very dodgy business. Until 1993, actual members of trade unions had no right to vote unless their union boss decided otherwise. Fat blokes in pubs ruled supreme. It was a blessed relief for Labour that Neil Kinnock and John Smith were elected by massive margins under the system – and that the challenge to Kinnock from Benn in 1988 was so completely, utterly and totally inept in every respect.

Much more important, however, was the impact of the collapse of union membership during the 1980s and 1990s. There were 13 million trade union members in 1979: now the figure is half that. The main reason was simple: the closure of production in mining, steel, engineering; technological change in office work, printing, film and TV. And the way unions responded was simple too: merge.

Of the 6.5 million union members today, roughly half are members of three: Unite, with 1.4 million; Unison, with 1.3 million; and the GMB, with 600,000. Add the shop workers, the teachers, the civil servants, postal workers and construction workers and you’re over 5 million.

That makes Labour's federal structure particularly difficult to sustain. I’m all in favour of the old Wobbly slogan of one big union – but amalgamations create a problem for a national social democratic party with affiliates. Federalism works only with a plurality of engaged organisations. There’s a point where an affiliate gets too big.

Unless Labour is prepared to say that Unite and Unison should dictate policy it has to change its rules. But that’s only part of the issue.

In general, given a choice, you don’t put idiots in charge of anything – but with very few exceptions, Britain’s unions do just that. They are appallingly run. Their leaders are the worst we’ve seen for years and their research departments largely inept. When was the last time a trade union report made a headline? With very few exceptions, they’ve done bugger-all organising for years and years.

Useless unions deserve no role in Labour politics. And we’ve got spectacularly useless unions right now. Ed Miliband is going for change where it’s least necessary. His experience in the 2010 leadership election obviously matters to him, but he would have won anyway. And under his proposed changes there is nothing to stop Unite or Unison sending out voting recommendations to their members...

He should have got rid of the block vote at party conference.

Thursday, 9 January 2014


Tribune column, 10 January 2014

Scene in the local off-license, Ipswich, New Year’s Eve:
Old boy from Suffolk (white, about 75, slightly tipsy) Well, they’re coming over here...
Shopkeeper (brown, mid-50s, Punjabi) Yeah, they don’t wanna work, they just wanna nick stuff.
Old boy But it’s better now the scrap’s not cash. They can’t get the wire off the railway and flog it. Now they’ll just sign on.
Shopkeeper They’ve got to stop them coming. It’s out of control. 
The young man behind me in the queue coughs politely and I instinctively turn my head to him. He grins. I grin back. I don’t know him, but he must be Polish – who else would buy Polish beer?


The past few months have seen the popular press whipping up panic about the supposed threat posed by Bulgarians and Romanians coming over to Britain now they’re properly part of the European Union’s single market for labour. They’re taking our jobs and houses and signing on for lavish benefits, we’re told – and it looks as if the nasty anti-foreigner mood will lead to a triumph for the saloon-bar rightists of UKIP in the European Parliament elections in spring.

Well, they’ve done it before – UKIP came second in share of the vote in the 2009 Euro-elections. But it doesn’t necessarily mean too much for the next general election. In 2010, UKIP slumped to 3 per cent of the vote and failed to win a single seat in the House of Commons. And I don’t think xenophobia is Labour’s main problem right now. The party is undoubtedly on the defensive on immigration and welfare scroungers and it still hasn’t killed the story that it was Labour profligacy that got us into this mess in the first place. But its biggest difficulty is the prospect of a house-price boom engineered by the coalition to make mortgage-holders feel good just in time for the 2015 general election.


Of course, it’s not out of Labour’s control. Britain has a housing crisis: there are too few homes to satisfy demand, and prices and rents are ludicrously inflated. But inflated house prices and rents are very advantageous to a sizable minority of voters.

Most people who have bought a home in the past 50 years – whether a straight mortgage purchase or a subsidised council sale – have done very nicely, thank you very much. Particularly in London, if you were in on the act, you’ve got an asset that has appreciated by the week (for the most part) and in any case can be rented out for more than the repayments on what you borrowed.

There’s now a giant group of home-owners whose sense of well-being is based on what the estate agent says their home is worth (and who borrow to consume in line with that) and another, smaller, group of landlords living off the money they charge to other people to live in their properties, with rents inflated by shortage. The lovely Fergus and Judith Wilson, the buy-to-let millionaires of Kent, made the headlines again last weekend, this time not for charging extortionate fees to tenants but for deciding they’d no longer rent to anyone on benefits.

OK, spiralling property prices and rents are bad for everyone who is excluded from the bonanza, and they redistribute wealth and income in a radically unequal way – with a massive state subsidy for landlords in the form of housing benefit, even if the Wilsons reckon it’s no longer as bankable as it used to be. But housing is very dangerous territory for Labour. The party can win support by attacking rack-renting landlords and demanding the construction of affordable housing – but it also needs the votes of owner-occupiers whose interest is in the maintenance of the value of their properties. I’m sorry to start 2014 on a pessimistic note, but I’ve a horrible feeling that, come 2015, those owner-occupiers will prefer to vote Tory – and give David Cameron a victory that his party’s current poll ratings suggest is very unlikely.

Thursday, 28 November 2013


Tribune column, 29 November 2013

Maybe I’m a naïve libertarian, but I can’t be that bothered whether the Reverend Paul Flowers, the Methodist minister who was chairman of the Co-operative Bank, took illegal drugs and had sex with rent boys.

Not that I think that the Mail on Sunday should have been prevented from exposing him: it’s not good for people who run banks to be off their heads on crystal meth, just as it’s not good for airline pilots to be drunk, and religious leaders who preach against prostitution and hire prostitutes on the side are fair game. Even if it turns out that the Rev Flowers got wasted only at weekends and never met rent boys on Sundays, there is a public interest in the intrusion into his privacy that cannot be reduced to prurience, even before his links with Labour Party high-ups come into the equation …

But that’s as may be: the Rev Flowers’ louche lifestyle isn’t what really matters in the extraordinary story of the Co-op Bank. He wasn’t at the helm when it took the fateful decision to take over the Britannia Building Society in 2009, and he was by no means solely responsible for the bank’s subsequent failed attempt to acquire 631 branches of Lloyds Bank. Although he was obviously not up to the job of chairing the bank’s board – his display of ignorance of its assets in front of the Commons Treasury select committee was breathtaking – he should not be made a scapegoat for systemic failures of which his appointment was a symptom.

And, boy, were there a few of those. The most important factor in the story is the hubris that infected the upper echelons of the Co-operative Group, which owns the Co-op Bank, in the mid-noughties. Thirty years ago, what you might call the official Co-op – the consumer organisation with shops, insurance, banking and funeral services rather than the myriad co-operatively run businesses in industry and agriculture – appeared to be in terminal decline. It was fragmented into regional societies, split between wholesale and retail operations, ludicrously bureaucratic at every level. Its shops were losing trade to the big supermarkets. Its accountability to its members was minimal, its business acumen non-existent.

But in the course of the late 1980s and 1990s, the Co-op got its act together, or so it seemed. Most of the regional societies merged into a national body, and in 2000 the retail and wholesale sides of the national Co-op became one. The Co-op Bank began a successful campaign emphasising that its principles were different from its competitors’. Managers with serious experience were given key positions in the retail and wholesale operations. By the mid-noughties, the Co-op seemed to be in good shape.

Then, however, its bosses got hungry for growth – and that’s where it all started to go horribly wrong. The Co-op expanded aggressively, encouraged by the then Labour government. As well as the Co-op Bank taking over the Britannia Building Society, the group swallowed the ailing supermarket chain Somerfield. Concerns that it was moving too fast and carelessly were given short shrift both by politicians of all parties and by the markets – and in 2010 the Co-op Bank was given the go-ahead by the Tory chancellor, George Osborne, to take over branches of Lloyds, temporarily nationalised to prevent its collapse, to enhance banking competition on the high street.

I’ll come clean: I thought that the Co-op becoming a serious contender in consumer banking and growing as a supermarket was rather a good idea. But I wasn’t in any position to know whether it had the necessary means or whether its actual or potential acquisitions were turkeys. The members of the Co-op Bank board were. They all screwed up.

So is this the end of mutualism, proof that complex stuff like banking has to be left to the experts with no input from the oiks? You’d think so from most of the press, but I demur. The supposed experts got it as wrong in 2007-08 as the amateurs. And the problem with the Co-op is not that it’s too democratic, but that it’s not democratic enough. As in every other large mutual, supposedly member-controlled, organisation, including the trade unions, hardly anyone votes. And one reason for this is that elections are depoliticised: candidates for office never declare their intentions, affiliations or beliefs beyond motherhood and apple pie. The Co-op, like most of the trade unions, is dominated by a Tammany Hall culture of stitch-up and buggin’s turn in which knowing the right people and being part of the right set matters more than competence, integrity or principles.

It’s an old story: the pioneering political sociologist Robert Michels identified the “iron law of oligarchy” more than a century ago in his seminal work, Political Parties. How to break that iron law remains the biggest quandary of radical politics.

Thursday, 31 October 2013


Tribune column, 1 November 2013

There’s one song every band can play. If the words don’t ring a bell:
Standing on a corner
Suitcase in my hand
the riff will do it for you. Da – da, da, di, da – da, da, di,da.

OK, maybe not. It’s “Sweet Jane”, and it was not a hit for the New York band that ripped off the lick and recorded it in 1970, the Velvet Underground. I don’t think it charted anywhere until Mott the Hoople, a cheery bunch of British rockers fronted by the great Ian Hunter, covered it in 1972 and released it as a single in Canada and Portugal.

The Velvets weren’t exactly obscure. Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Mo Tucker were the house band at Andy Warhol’s studio-cum-party, The Factory. Reed and Cale had by 1970 established serious reputations as artistes (though Cale had left the band and Reed was on the way out) even if no one bought their records.

But it was only after the Velvet Underground went under, after the release of Loaded, their most commercially-oriented LP, that people got Lou Reed. He was turned into an international superstar by David Bowie, then at the height of his fame, who produced Reed’s second solo album, Transformer, which became a global hit in 1972. After that Reed had a mixed career. There are plenty of his records that are very good – Berlin, Rock and Roll Animal, Coney Island Baby and Street Hassle stand out, and the Take No Prisoners live set from 1978 is stunning, one of the funniest recordings made by a rock musician. I’m a fan of New York and of Songs for Drella, the album Reed and Cale put out as a tribute to Warhol in 1990. I’ve even had Metal Machine Music moments. But nothing ever matched Transformer or the Velvets’ recordings.

Now he’s dead, and I’m sad. It might seem odd, but Lou mattered a lot to kids in Suffolk in the 1970s. He was a subversive suburban geek, and there weren’t too many of them around at the time. We bought sunglasses to try to look like him, We did his songs, badly but enthusiastically, in punk bands. I’d say he was more of an inspiration than Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones.

“Give me an issue and I’ll give you a tissue – and wipe my ass with it.” he told his liberal New York audience in 1978. They loved it. In later life he ditched some of the cynicism and came out for the Democrats in a rather curmudgeonly manner, but I’m not really sure it was an improvement.


Russell Brand is a very different beast. The controversial comedian is in the spotlight after editing an issue of the New Statesman and appearing on Newsnight.

His not-so-unique selling point is that he is an anarchist. He thinks that Britain needs a revolution and needs it now – and his plea for revolution has gone viral.

I have some sympathy. Thirty-five years ago, when I wanted to be Lou Reed, well, I used to be an anarchist just like Russell Brand, though I wasn’t famous. I went on every demo against the Labour government in the late 1970s and lots against the Tories after that. I didn’t vote. I squatted.

Revolution was a lot of fun – certainly more fun than straight politics. I met some of my best friends through the anarchist scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s – and some of the ideas we were into back then have stood the test of time pretty well. Anarchism inoculated me for life against the authoritarianism of the Leninist left, and I’ve always held its do-it-yourself ethic in high regard. I also retain my disdain for the timidity of centre-left politicians whose actions are dictated by the findings of opinion polls and focus groups.

But anarchism also has severe limitations – not least that there aren’t many anarchists, which makes the dream of revolution just a little unrealistic. Even if there were lots more anarchists and revolution were a realistic goal, however, I’m not sure I’d actually want one these days. Revolutions are usually nasty, bloody things that lead to different wrong people being in charge. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I’d be quite happy settling for a robust universal welfare state and lots more spending on public transport, social housing, libraries and the arts. Which is what Labour used to offer, though now I’m not so sure.