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Buns, bunting and retro-imperialism: Laurie Penny on British twee

Royal wedding cheerleaders want to drag us back to the days of deference.

As the Royal Wedding slouches into being, Britain is drowning under a wave of retro kitsch. The boho wankers of London have decided that liking the monarchy is vintage chic, a bit like owning a Gameboy from 1991, and have emblazoned club hoardings with the slogan 'don't hate on Kate' superimposed over the Union Jack.

On the glorious day itself, a street party will be held in Shoreditch, in the heart of the capital's trendy art district, to celebrate all things British and bygone -- like wartime "victory rolls", the lindy hop and the relevance of the house of Windsor. This bric-a-brac of old-fashioned Englishness does not include a polio float or imprisonment for homosexuals, but there will be a Chas-and-Dave tribute band.

For some, this is more supporting evidence in the case for Shoreditch to be purified with fire, its juice-bars sacked, its art toffs and trust-fund junkies driven weeping to Camberwell and Newham where they may have to pay for their own drugs. The retro rot has spread beyond hipsterville, however.

Other street parties in the capital will be distributing T-shirts printed with the omnipresent "Keep Calm and Carry On" design, the "ironic" wartime propaganda poster that now infests the chinaware of the middle classes, reminding us that fortitude in the face of government-imposed austerity is just like fortitude in the face of Nazi invasion. As with the "victory rolls", the message is confused: precisely what does the marriage of a young 21st-century aristocrat have to do with a war we fought almost 70 years ago?

Twee aesthetic nostalgia for a fantasy of "lost Britishness" has reached fever pitch. It goes way beyond the Wedding. A part of the Daily Mail offices is wallpapered with images of bulldogs, telephone boxes and, yes, spitfires, done out in patriotic red, white and blue. Consumers are exhorted to buy dairy products on which, according to the advertisers, "Empires were Built".

There is something monstrous in this fetishisation of wartime austerity and imperial pride, given that our government is currently dismantling the Attlee settlement and dispatching troops for yet another war of intervention -- but there is something tragic there, too.

Inherent in this accumulation of cultural relics is the belief that modern Britain has little to feel proud of, and less to look forward to. Millions of people are about to lose their jobs and millions more are waiting for their living standards to drop through the floor as education, housing and basic consumer goods become harder to access.

There is a sense that the future is closing down, while Britain's glorious past shines ever brighter.

The Second World War is reserved for special reverence, because this is the last moment in recent British history where we can be sure that our country was unmitigatedly on the side of good. Most of us want to be able to feel proud of being British, but that desire is being ruthlessly exploited in the quest for public acquiescence to enforced austerity.

The "Blitz Spirit" is evoked by PR managers from Dalston to Downing Street, encouraging us to summon that deferential British ability to weather any storm our rulers happen to steer us into. What nobody mentions is that this willingness to Keep Calm and Carry On is one of the very worst features of our national character.

All of this is no good reason not to take advantage of a day off and a party in the sunshine. But there is far more to Britain today than buns, bunting and retro-imperialism.

This country does not have to behave like a reclusive elderly person, polishing its relics in darkened rooms, hoarding mementos and paranoid prejudices from a time when the world made sense. This country doesn't just have a past. It also has a future.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things .

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
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Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.