Laurie Penny: The 20 best online pieces of 2013

Laurie Penny selects her favourite online writing from the last 12 months

This has been an extraordinary year for political writing, and almost all of the best of it has been online. Here, in no particular order of preference or importance, are 20 pieces that have made me punch the air, made me spin about in my seat, made me laugh and made me think. Of course, they somewhat reflect my reading interests:  tech writing, feminism and social justice, political smackdowns, pop-culture reviews. Some appear on personal blogs and some on professional news websites; some went viral and some didn't get the attention they deserved. I've not linked to the New Statesman, or to my own writing.

After some thought about who and what to include, I selected the following links on only two criteria: first, they were only published online (although I bent this rule for a few great pieces that appeared in print too) and second, the quality of the writing is stunning. Then I shut the internet, took a pen and paper, and scribbled the names of all the pieces I could think of that really, truly, moved me. And here they are. Most of the best pieces this year have been written by women and people of colour. Make of that what you will.

1. Ta Nehisi Coates' blog at the Atlantic: Coates has been my favourite online writer this year, bar none. If you haven't come across his work yet, set aside an evening to binge-read the whole thing. You won't regret it. 

2. What Doris Taught Us: Hannah Black on Doris Lessing for Dazed Digital

3. Letter Against Fear (unsent) by poet Sean Bonney for his blog, Abandoned Buildings 

4. Chelsea Manning and the Two Americas by Quinn Norton at Medium. (NB. this piece was published the week before Manning came out as trans, so the 'Bradley' name is maintained).

5. Book of Lamentations: This review by Sam Kriss of the DSM-V as a dystopian novel at The New Inquiry is the sort of smart, original piece of critical commentary that most print editors wouldn't understand. It broke the internet and you can see why.

6. Getting Over It: Walter Kirn on the NSA spying revelations at the New Republic. " I will always, when given the option, push Allow. I will hide nothing. But I will conceal everything. I will be a good American."

7. Where Are All The Women?: Sarah Nicole Prickett on the claustrophobia of girl-world at Vice Canada

8. Yes, America Has Gotten Better About Racism, but It Really Doesn’t Matter, by Mychal Denzel Smith, one of my favourite MSM bloggers, for The Nation.

9. Cockblocked by redistribution: a pick up artist in Denmark by Katie JM Baker at Dissent.

10. Gratuitous Pictures of your Grief: Lindsay Zoladz at Pitchfork talks us through mourning in the digital age. Brilliant piece. 

11. Feminism's Tipping Point: Kate Losse at Dissent on technology and the limits of “leaning in”. 

12. It Don't Gitmo Better than This: artist Molly Crabapple visits Guantanamo Bay for Vice.

13. Eton, by Tim Maly. "The PM deployed the army to a protest, killing 25. You are one of the soldiers. Describe how you would work through your PTSD, shame, and guilt". 

14. Short cuts: striking at Pret A Manger. Paul Myerscough on unionising fast-food workers in London and

15. Further Materials Toward a Theory of the Man-Child: Moira Weigel and Mal Ahern at the New Inquiry rip apart Tiqqun's gross Theory of the Young Girl. An epic takedown. 

16. The Reign of Morons is Here: Charles P Pierce mic drops at Esquire on the US government shutdown. "We have elected a national legislature that looks into the mirror and sees itself already cast in marble. We did this. We looked at our great legacy of self-government and we handed ourselves over to the reign of morons." 

17. I’m Daisy Coleman, the teenager at the center of the Maryville rape media storm and this is what really happened 
XOJane has pioneered a particular kind of confessional, intimate female narrative where the political forever collapses into the personal, but this piece bucks the trend hard and fierce.

18. Lindy West at Kinja , the internet's best pop culture critic, has been killing it all year.19. Remember who the enemy is 

19. Remember who the enemy is K-Punk on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. When Mark Fisher isn't trashing left intersectionality, he's still damn good.

20. On Calling In by Ngọc Loan Trần at Black Girl Dangerous. This is the sort of social justice piece the internet does best - a deep-feeling and deeply political intervention into a type of debate that has edged towards the toxic in recent months.

Photo: Getty.

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
Show Hide image

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.