Don't blame HMV for its demise

It's our fault - because we're too lazy to support our shops

Much has been said of the strange aspects of human nature exposed by the online revolution. The fact that we're mean to people, for instance, in a way we'd never be face-to-face – or the countless positives, like generosity with sharing information, researching stuff just for the hell of it, helping people we’ll never meet. But the HMV story this week shows that the internet has also become, quite powerfully, a justification for being tight-fisted, idle and, worst of all, proud of it. We’ve watched intelligent people from the entertainment industry make mournful pronouncements at the store’s collapse, at the same time as admitting that – “naturally” – they can’t remember when they last set foot in it. One such bloke I know lives in central London; he is a serious music lover who orders all his albums, including new releases, on vinyl, and has a vast collection. On Tuesday he said, it is a dark day, “but the fact is, the thought of going across town to buy something I could get two quid cheaper on line is now baffling to me.” This man is healthy, with the use of both of his legs. He has a good income, he’s generous with it, and he has time. Most importantly, he loves music and films and believes in paying for them. But get off a chair to do so? So forcefully have similar opinions been coming out this week, on Twitter and Facebook, they appear to be the views of any rational, media-savvy human being. But it’s only part of the story.

On Saturday afternoons, or late on weekday nights, or bank holidays, or any of the other times in which people are wont to relax, the flagship HMV store on Oxford Street is teeming with people (it’s hard not to be capital-centric here, because the smaller stores have been de-stocked as the company suffers). Some old photos from the ’60s have been doing the rounds this week making people nostalgic for a better age, but the fact is, the scenes of happy HMV shoppers 40 years ago are very much the same as those on New Year’s Day 2013 (sadly, so too are most of the prices). I know this because I was there. People are not in the music section any more, of course, but the film section  – and for really simple reasons, which are worth reiterating, if just for posterity. They want to see a movie, but they don’t know which one. They come here because there are hardly any video rental places now. They need the physical product to make their choices, because often, it’s simply a case of being reminded that movie "x" or "y"
In the next few weeks we will watch everything that happened to CDS being played out, fast-forward, in the DVD industry; in six months we won’t believe we ever “browsed” for films, or lived without Netflix – that’s inevitable, and it’s stupid to get sad about it. But please, let’s not blame HMV for its own demise – they lasted longer than anyone, and they did what they could. And let’s not blame the recession, or digital downloads in the abstract. The future of entertainment consumption has been decided, for all of us, by people who no longer think it’s acceptable to get off their rosy red arse and spend the price of their lunch on an album or a film they want to own.
An HMV store in central London (Getty Images)

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses