Friday, 28 April 2017

Would an Anti-Tory government really be a Coalition of Chaos?

We are only just into the general election campaign but the Tory government’s themes are already crystal clear. They will paint themselves as the only party to deliver Brexit, attack Labour as economically incompetent and attack the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, as soft on defence and security. Part of this strategy is to claim that they are the only party who can deliver ‘strong and stable government.’

At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday in Parliament, every question from the Labour leader, went unanswered by Theresa May, the Prime Minister. Instead, she repeated campaign slogans, especially ‘strong and stable government,’ over and over again. She is not a quick thinker on her feet, and finds it difficult to respond properly to unexpected questions, which is why she is refusing to take part in televised debates, which have become de rigueur in recent general elections.

What the Tories are trying to do is frame the debate around the fact they are the only party likely to gain an overall majority in Parliament, at this election, and that Labour would need to form a coalition of at least three parties, probably more, to be able to form a government.

This worked well two years ago at the last general election, when they managed to worry English voters with the prospect of Labour needing to rely on the Scottish National Party (SNP), to form a government. This was graphically illustrated by the poster showing Ed Miliband, the Labour leader at the time, tucked away in the then SNP leader, Alex Salmond’s, top pocket.

So, this is a tried and trusted tactic, and the Tories have rehired Lynton Crosby who masterminded their successful 2015 campaign. They appear to be broadening this out this time to include the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru, the Northern Irish SDLP and the Greens, to make the prospect seem even more ‘chaotic.’ The Lib Dems sensibly, have ruled out a coalition with either Labour, or the Tories, so this may reassure voters to some extent, but the British tend not to like the idea of coalition governments, especially such a multi-party one.

The Tories themselves, of course, entered into a coalition with the Lib Dems in 2010, because they were short of an overall majority, but with just the Lib Dems as partners, and it was briefly popular. The Lib Dems were routed in 2015, by the Tories in the main, so the coalition in the end was not popular.

The British electoral system, first past the post, as it is known, makes for a clear winner more than in other countries which have a proportional electoral system, although over recent years, the number of voters that the big two parties, Labour and the Tories, can command has gradually got less and less of the share of the vote. So this may be changing a little on some levels, but I still think coalitions are something of an anathema to most British voters.

But maybe it is changing. Vince Cable, Lib Dem, who was business secretary in the last coalition government, told Sky News: “The coalition of chaos stuff is pathetic. It did work last time. People were frightened of Ed Miliband and the SNP. This [time it] isn’t cutting through, nobody seriously believes Jeremy Corbyn is going to get into government. It is almost certain that we are going get a Conservative government, probably with quite big numbers. What we now need is credible opposition.”

The point Cable is making is that a coalition government is unlikely, and not really the aim of tactical voting, but reducing the size of the Tory government, in what is a special election, centred mainly around the issue of Brexit.

I watched BBC TV Question Time last night with interest, and when they discussed tactical voting and coalitions, the audience didn’t seem to be phased by this, judging by the applause for points raised in favour. This was in Oxford, so may not be representative of the country at large, but even so, I was taken a little by surprise by the reaction.

If the opposition parties did achieve a majority, which is not impossible I think, I see no reason why a ‘progressive’ coalition could not be formed, and there is no inherent reason why this needs to be either chaotic or unstable, since there is plenty that these parties can agree on, enough for a full Parliamentary term at least. It will depend on how the numbers add up, of course.

Perhaps someone should knock up a meme (I don’t have the skills for it) showing Theresa May in Donald Trump’s top pocket? Now that would be a powerful image of what this election is all about.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

May’s ‘Country is Coming Together’ Exposed as Bogus by New Poll

When the Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced her intention to call a general election last week, she said that the election was necessary because ‘the country is coming together on Brexit but Westminster is not.’ Anyone who thought about this for five minutes, concluded that the real reason May was calling the election, was to take advantage of Labour’s weakness and to shore up her position as Prime Minister and Tory Party leader.

Today, we have some evidence to support this line of thinking. The Independent reports a YouGov poll which puts support and opposition to leaving the European Union (EU) neck and neck at 44% for each, which suggests the country is far from united on the issue. Split down the middle more like.

Although the Tories and May as Prime Minister are well ahead in voting intentions at the moment, these polling figures suggest that the election may not be as comfortable as the government seems to think it will be. In an election that the government are trying to turn into effectively EU referendum 2, they have no lead amongst the public at large on the issue.

This suggests that it is a dangerous strategy for the Tories to try to move the agenda onto this territory, rather than the usual ground at general elections of economic competence and tax and spending. This was reinforced by the Tories yesterday by giving no guarantees of not raising taxes after the election, at least not for the full Parliament. This is a highly unusual approach for the Tories to take.  

It is a rather curious approach for the Tories to neglect their strongest cards and instead fight an election on an issue where they do not hold a big lead. I guess, once May had decided to call the election, on the pretext of implementing the referendum result against hostile forces in Parliament, then logically the main issue had to be Brexit. May also probably thinks this will enable her to capture some Labour voting seats, where the people voted in favour of Brexit, but it is a strange tactic all the same.

The Tories will no doubt bang on about chaos if they are not returned to government, Labour’s profligacy with the public purse and Corbyn’s stance on defence issues, but they run the risk of all of this being lost to the issue they themselves say the election is about. 

The key to all of this may well be Lib Dem voters, living in Labour held seats and Tory held constituencies where Labour is best placed to win the seat. Will they vote Labour? Surely they can see what the alternative will be, the hardest of Brexits and an unrestrained hard right Tory government. Not a happy prospect for anyone of a moderate disposition.   

I thought that Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, made a decent speech today on Labour’s approach to the Brexit negotiations, offering a less risky exit from the EU, retaining single market access and remaining in the European Customs Union. The other opposition parties, Scottish National Party, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and Greens are all offering a softer Brexit, than the Tories, so there is some hope that May’s gamble could yet backfire.

The problem for the opposition parties and all of those who oppose the government’s interpretation of how we leave the EU, is the spread of these votes, in our grossly unfair electoral system, first past the post, but it also offers an opportunity. The 48% who voted to remain, (indeed the 44% concerned about a hard Brexit in the YouGov poll), if they turn out and vote tactically, can at the very least, remove the Tory's current 12 seat majority. Whether this will be enough to form an alternative government, is uncertain, but if the government does lose its majority in Parliament, it is a complete game changer as far as Brexit is concerned.

As living standards fall as rising prices outstrip near static wage rises as the election approaches, it may galvanise the opposition to the Tories, but it is more than just this. In this election, our values of tolerance, decency, fairness, respect and openness are under threat. A elective dictatorship, no less.

Various campaigns have been formed to support this tactical voting endeavour, Compass, Open Britain, and the campaigner Gina Miller’s Best for Britain, so there is an effort to make all of this real. Although you have to make the Tories favourites to win the election and increase its majority, all is not lost. There could be a surprise outcome to this election, there is still hope if we act together.   

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Where Should Greens Stand, and not Stand, in the UK General Election?

I don’t know about other local Green parties, but in mine, Haringey, in north London, the decision to stand, or not, in this year’s snap general election, is causing some angst. I think, given the fact that this election has been sprung on us, it is best to consider whether we stand from a tactical voting perspective. I hope other local parties are also thinking through this possibility.

The aim of any tactical voting should be to support whichever party is best placed to beat Tory candidates, which in England is likely to be Labour or the Lib Dems in most places. It is not something I’m particularly happy about, having for years urged the voters to vote on principle for the party (Greens) that they most prefer, rather than settle for the least worse option. Lesser evilism, as it is known.

But in the circumstances, the snap poll and what is at stake for the country and its future relationship with the European Union (EU), and the prospect of a rabid right wing Tory government, seemingly determined to sweep away what is left of the welfare state, I think we have to consider this.

Local factors of course come into it, not just who are the likely winners of these Parliamentary constituencies, but also local electoral plans. In England (and Scotland and Wales), there are local authority elections and regional Mayoral elections on 4 May. This might mean that local party’s strategies for local elections are fairly untouched by a general election a month later, so it could be easier to take a decision to not stand in the general election.

That is not the case with London though. London council elections are in 2018, so this June's general election is definitely part of the equation now. Will London Green Parties have to build this into the calculations for next year? I think most probably will.

What is at dispute in my local Green Party, is whether we should stand a candidate in Hornsey and Wood Green constituency, where I live, in the general election. We did well in the other Parliamentary seat in Haringey, Tottenham, in the 2015 general election, taking 9% of the vote and coming second, though a long way behind Labour. It is the best result by far that we have ever had in Tottenham. We are targeting a ward in Tottenham for next year’s council elections, and there is no argument about standing in the general election in June.

In Hornsey and Wood Green we scored 5.4% in 2015, and this seat has a recent history of managing to save our deposit by gaining 5% of the vote or more in 3 out of the last 4 general elections. So it is not completely hopeless. This seat is currently held with a 11,000 majority by Labour, but was held by the Lib Dems from 2005 to 2015, mainly on the back of the Iraq war. There is absolutely no chance the Tories will win this seat.

I think Labour will win the seat comfortably. Catherine West, wisely, voted against triggering Article 50 to initiate our rather reckless course on exiting the EU, in a constituency that was in the top 5 or 6 Remain constituencies in last year’s referendum. I think this will cover her against any Brexit backlash that may occur in other places, in favour of the Lib Dems.

I was the Green Party election agent in Hornsey & Wood Green from 2007 to 2014, and have studied the voting patterns very closely over time. What the voters tend to do here is punish incumbents who go against their wishes on national matters. Barbara Roche the sitting Labour MP was thrown out in 2005 because of the Iraq war, and her successor Lynne Featherstone, was thrown out in 2015 because of her party’s coalition with the Tories from 2010 to 2015. I see no threat of this kind for Catherine West, who seems to be a reasonably good MP too.

So, for me there is no tactical reason why the Greens should not stand here. I don’t see there is anything to lose by standing, but I think there is by not standing. If we don’t stand, and I don’t think it will make any difference to the outcome, one way or the other, but we will be giving the Lib Dems a free ride to rehabilitate themselves here. In fact, I think if we do not stand, we will make it more likely the Lib Dems do better than if we do stand.

As election agent over the years, you get to meet lots of activists from other parties, and many Labour activists have said to me that they were pleased we stood, because they think it takes votes off the Lib Dems, and they may well be right. I think we will take as many votes from the Lib Dems, probably more, than from Labour.

I must confess I don’t understand all the angst about this locally, but I suppose we are just in dread about what may happen generally on 9 June. But we should not lose sight of the fact that any tactical voting should be aimed at thwarting the Tories, not helping the Lib Dems.  

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Who’s ready for a snap election – and who isn’t?

Written by  And first published at The Conversation

Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to call an early general election was bold and unexpected. She could have waited three more years before going to the polls, by which time she would already have negotiated Britain’s exit from the EU. The word from Downing Street had repeatedly been that May opposed calling an early election, as there was too much to do with the Brexit talks approaching to justify taking time out.

And yet this once seemingly bland politician has again surprised everyone with her decisiveness. In announcing her intention to hold a vote on June 8, May explained that divisions in Westminster led her to seek a mandate for her Brexit vision. She accused the opposition parties of obstructionism, arguing that they are weakening the government’s negotiating hand with the EU. May’s hope is that a solid Conservative majority will settle the question of whether she has the consent of the electorate to take Britain out of the single market – a position her opponents have dubbed “hard Brexit”.

So, has May made the right call? UK election cycles are normally four to five years, but occasionally earlier elections are called. Harold Wilson called one in 1966, just two years after winning the 1964 election with a wafer-thin Labour majority of four seats. He increased that to 96. In February 1974, Labour, still led by Wilson, formed a minority government when the election resulted in a hung parliament. He called another election in October and this time secured a majority – although it was only by three seats.

One of the most famous instances of an early election, however, was one that was not called. In 2007, Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair as Labour prime minister, two years after the previous election. Three months into his premiership, Brown toyed with the idea of going to the country, encouraged by favourable polls. Speculation was allowed to build up over a fortnight to the point where an early election was expected. However, a shift in the polls during the Conservatives’ annual conference was enough to kill off the plan. Brown’s credibility never recovered from “the election that never was”. It symbolised his indecision and he was dubbed “bottler Brown” by his opponents. He would later face several coup attempts by Labour MPs, clinging on only to lead his party to defeat in 2010.

There appear to be no such dangers for May. Unlike Brown, she is seen as decisive and capable. She did not allow speculation about an early election to generate. Her announcement was a bolt from the blue. Neither is it likely that May was worried by the prospect of late poll swings. YouGov’s most recent poll put the Conservatives on 44%, a massive 21 points ahead of Labour on 23%. For a government with a small majority in parliament, that poll lead makes an early election extremely tempting.

Meanwhile, Labour continues to languish under Jeremy Corbyn. The party is split between centrist MPs who despair of their leader and a left-wing mass membership that has twice elected Corbyn with thumping majorities.

The party is in a desperate position and heads into an election in its worst shape since the collapse of Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government in 1931. That year saw Labour reduced to a rump of just 52 seats, and while a defeat on a similar scale won’t happen this time, Labour could well find itself losing seats for a fifth consecutive election – unprecedented for the party.

YouGov’s recent poll suggests a seven-point uniform swing from Labour to the Conservatives since 2015. Even if the polls narrowed somewhat, the Conservatives would still win about 40 seats from Labour on a five-point swing. Dozens of Labour MPs will be panicking at the prospect of this election, fearing that the Tory triumph in the Copeland by-election of February 2017 is a harbinger of things to come.

Brexit on the ballot

Does all this mean it’ll be plain sailing for the Conservatives? This will be a Brexit election and the government’s negotiating aims will come under fierce attack. The Liberal Democrats will hope to win back some of their lost seats in south-west England, urging a “soft Brexit” or even a second referendum.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) will accuse the Conservatives of ignoring Scotland’s vote against Brexit and the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, will fight the election seeking a mandate to hold a second independence referendum. If the SNP retains the vast majority of its Westminster seats – it won 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats in 2015 – Sturgeon will claim her mandate and May will find it harder to postpone a so-called #indyref2. However, if the SNP slips back, with gains for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, May will feel emboldened to resist Sturgeon’s demands.

There could have been greater dangers for May in delaying an election. Governments can easily be blown off course by events. James Callaghan might have won an election in the autumn of 1978 but decided to wait until 1979, by which time his government had been destroyed by the winter of discontent.
British politics is currently in a state of extreme flux, leaving the government at the mercy of events. The Brexit negotiations could get messy and heated. The Lib Dems could win by-elections. Labour could replace Corbyn with someone more credible. Given time, each could have eroded support for the government, leaving it electorally vulnerable and undermining its negotiating strength.

May might never get a better chance to drive home her advantage. If she wins big, she will be able to end the taunts that she is an “unelected prime minister” who has no direct mandate for her Brexit vision. If, somehow, things do go wrong, and she fails to achieve a majority, all bets will be off and a second EU referendum would become a realistic prospect. But as things stand, that looks highly unlikely. The smart money is on an increased Conservative majority.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Will June’s General Election see a return to Tactical Voting?

In calling a snap general election, the Prime Minister, Theresa May, is clearly hoping  to strengthen her position as Tory party leader and Prime Minister. The opinion polls suggest that she will increase her majority of MPs in Parliament, and she wouldn’t have called the election otherwise. It does look as though the Tories will win big, but there is, probably, just one hope for anti-Tory, anti-hard Brexit voters.

A formal alliance of parties to the left of the Tories is a non-starter, in England anyway, as Labour has ruled out working with any other party, and the Lib Dems have ruled out working with Labour. There may be some local deals, which will involve Greens not standing in some constituencies, in favour of Labour or Lib Dems, but that is far as it is likely to go. This will not be enough to defeat the Tories, but there is one other possibility.  

Tactical voting became fashionable in the 1990s, as a way to defeat the Tories. It came from the voters themselves, as the Lib Dems and Labour did not publicly advocate it, but voters worked this out for themselves.

How it worked was like this. Labour and Lib Dem voters looked at previous results and chose to back whichever of Labour or Lib Dems was best placed to beat the Tory candidate. It was very successful, and in the 1997 general election the Tories were reduced from a party of government to a party with less than 200 seats in Parliament.

The Lib Dems benefited from this by increasing their numbers of seats, but Labour were helped to a landslide victory, too. Even Tony Blair’s centrist (ring wing if you like) Labour were unable to beat the Tories in some areas, mainly in the south of England, but the Lib Dems did beat them. There was a time when there might have been a coalition government between Labour and the Lib Dems, but with Labour winning so big in 1997, the idea was dropped (by Labour).

The Lib Dems ruined all of this by entering into a coalition government with the Tories in 2010. In 2015 the Lib Dems were reduced from 57 MPs to just 8. What I think happened in large part was that Labour leaning voters, saw that voting Lib Dem did not keep the Tories out, as we ended up with a Tory led coalition, propped up by the Lib Dems.

Labour supporting voters, who had tactically supported the Lib Dems as best placed to beat the Tories, withdrew their support for the Lib Dems, understandably, and returned to voting Labour, or perhaps moved onto the Greens instead, or didn’t bother voting at all.

But I just wonder whether tactical voting will make a return now. The general election on 8 June is a special election, which will be dominated by the issue of Brexit. Around 70% of Labour voters voted to remain in the European Union (EU), and at the very least will be appalled by Theresa May’s hard Brexit strategy, even if they don’t want to overturn the referendum result entirely. Might these voters be tempted to vote tactically to get a softer Brexit? I think many of them will.

Lib Dem voters may be more reluctant to support Corbyn’s Labour, but the chance of Labour forming a government after the election are remote indeed. What a tactical voting approach on the leftish of UK politics might achieve though, is to remove the Tories overall majority. This would undoubtedly be the end for May as Prime Minister, and even if the Lib Dems entered another coalition with the Tories, they could influence the type of Brexit that would be pursued by the new coalition government. If the Lib Dems were wise they wouldn’t enter into another coalition with the Tories, but would support them on certain issues, and Brexit could be fashioned in a less reckless manner than what we appear to be on course for now.

For the Green Party, local parties might want to consider whether to even stand in some constituencies, to give this process a little help. I think they should at least think about it. And pro EU voters should familiarise themselves with the results of the last couple of elections where they live, to see who might beat the Tory candidate.

If this doesn’t happen, I fear an authoritarian Tory government, hell bent on a reckless Brexit and privatising the NHS, and generally finishing off the public sector, more benefit cuts and with massive tax cuts for big corporations and wealthy individuals.

Anything would be better than this, surely?

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Snap General Election – It’s Theresa May that is Playing Politics not the Opposition

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, surprised everyone today by calling for a snap general election, intended for 8 June. May has been saying for months that there is no need for a general election before the scheduled date in 2020, so today’s announcement is a complete U-turn.

With the Fixed Term Parliament Act, calling snap elections is now not in the gift of the Prime Minister, but needs a two thirds approval by MPs. The opposition parties though have said they will vote in favour of the early election, perhaps as soon as tomorrow.

May insists that her change of heart on the matter has been brought on by the opposition parties opposing, (which is what they are meant to do) her version of Brexit. This is a rather weak excuse, and I suspect will fool no one. People, I think, will see it for what it is, pure political opportunism.

With the main opposition party, Labour, in disarray, and big leads for the government in opinion polls, as much as a 21% lead over Labour in some polls, and with uncertainty over how the Brexit negotiations with European Union (EU) will pan out, the temptation to increase her government’s majority in Parliament, was too much.

The Tories will probably win the general election easily, but there are risks involved for May in holding the election next month. The first is of a possible backlash against the decision from voters, who have shown no desire for an early poll. We had a general election two years ago, and the EU referendum a year ago, and voters don’t like having listen to all the political spin on too regular a basis. And they don’t like politicians ’playing politics’ with important issues and they may decide to punish those responsible for this – the government.

Connected to this, could be a low turn-out at the election. The EU referendum last year had a higher turn-out than any UK general election since 1992. If some of those leave voters don’t bother voting, but remain voters are galvanised by the chance to clip May’s wings, and do turn-out in big numbers, anything is possible.

Even worse, voters might see May's tactics akin to that of Turkish President Erdoğan's, dictatorial power grab, with his dubious referendum win at the weekend, which increases his powers over Parliament considerably. This looks suspiciously like what May is up to here with the snap general election.

Another risk, with the Lib Dems recovering their popularity to an extent, and I hear that those Tory MPs who won seats from the Lib Dems in 2015, are nervous of losing to a resurgent Lib Dem party, especially in areas where the majority voted to remain in the EU. May could end up with a smaller majority than she has now, which would weaken her politically, if it didn’t finish her off as Prime Minister entirely.

And then there is Scotland. May’s argument for denying the Scots a second independence referendum, is that nobody wants one and that the Brexit deal will not be complete (in terms of the exact outcome) and will be unknown. May can’t really use these arguments anymore because exactly the same can be said of holding a general election now.

Perhaps the most unlikely risk is that Labour will pull themselves together and do better than the opinion polls are forecasting, but this can’t be ruled out completely. We live in strange electoral times as we have seen in the last year or so, so it is unwise to dismiss this possibility entirely.

This certainly looks like a cynical ploy from the Prime Minister. If she really wanted to give the ‘people’ a say in her Brexit strategy, she could have called the election before triggering Article 50, which was the starting pistol for our formal leaving of the EU. 

But she didn’t want that at all, she just wants to bolster her position, as leader of the Tory party and to wipe out any opposition to her version of how we exit the EU. I just hope this all backfires, and May’s political career is brought to an ignominious end.

That is a cheery thought to end on. Let’s throw the arrogant Tories out! 

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Russian Revolutionary Art 1917 to 1932 - From Socialism to Authoritarianism

I visited the Royal Academy of the Arts exhibition 'Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932' in London yesterday, just before it closes tomorrow. It is inspired by the exhibition shown in Russia in 1932, just before Stalin's clampdown on artistic free expression.

The exhibition covers paintings, films, sculpture, textiles and ceramics from the early days of the Russia revolution in 1917, and follows changes through the 1920s and into the 1930s under the influence of the Bolshevik leadership, particularly after the death of Lenin and the rise to power of Stalin.

In the early years of the revolution there was a great explosion of the arts, which built on the trend towards the avant garde that had already begun in Russian (and more widely) before the revolution. There was much excitement in artistic circles about the new dawn opening up in Russia, brought about by revolutionary thinking. Two examples are below.

(Ivan Kliun 1923)

(Lyubov Popova 1921)

The Bolshevik's were only a fairly small force with something like 350,000 supporters in a country with a population of 140 million at the time of the revolution. It was decided that propaganda was necessary to spread revolutionary thinking to the masses.

(I predict a riot: Bolshevik (1920) by Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev)    

By the late 1920s the Soviet authorities condemned the avant garde style and promoted what became known as Socialist Realism, a style that was easy for the masses to understand. For a few years these different approaches co-existed, but in 1932 Stalin decreed that Socialist Realism was the only acceptable style for the Soviet Union, ending a era of dazzling creativity in the arts.

(Poster shows the workers triump over the capitalists 1920)

 (The power of the workers 1931)

(Andrey Golubev, Red Spinner, 1930) 

Stalin's principle goal was to turn the Soviet Union into a world power by expanding its industrial production. In 1928 he introduced the first of his five year plans, which set targets for each factory. A new breed of superhero workers known as 'shock workers' symbolised this synthesis of man and machine. Artists were encouraged to depict this in their work.

Workers were seen as the liberated proletariat who no longer had to sell their life and labour for the profit of others. Together they collectively owned the means of production interpreting what Marx called the 'dictatorship of the proletariat,' in this new worker led productivist system.

This conveniently ignored Marx's concept of 'freely associated' producers, in favour of what Lenin first called 'state capitalism,' which was ruthlessly and brutally driven forward by Stalin. The reality was that many workers were effectively slaves, and strikers and slow workers were imprsioned or even shot. Thousands died in accidents, of starvation or from freezing temperatures.

After the revolution, the peasants were promoted as equal partners with industrial workers, symbolised by the by Soviet emblem the hammer and sickle.

(The poster above is actually from the 1960s, but captures this partnership of industrial and agricultural workers)

(1930s poster depicting agricultural workers)

Stalin's plan involved the industrialisation of agriculture which included the collectivisation of farms into large operations, but took little notice of local conditions and practises. Famine was the result where millions died of starvation, through crop failures.

Stalin also promoted sports in Russia, with the competition with the US in events such as the Olmypics eventually. By the 1970s it was seen as a demonstration of the strength of the Soviet system over the capitalist USA. In the same way, Russia beat the US into putting a man into space, only 40 years after the revolution, which had started from a low point of a virtual feudal economy.

  (The Shot-putter, by Alexander Samokhvalov, 1933)

The 1932 exhibition was the last call of freedom for the arts, afterwards avant garde art was suppressed. Within a year it had vanished from public view, locked in storerooms. From this moment onwards the Union of Soviet Artists was the sole arbiter of Soviet art. Socialist Realism became the only approved style in the USSR.

I knew from political history much of what this exhibition portrays, but it was still interesting to view it through the prism of art. The euphoria and promise of the early years of the revolution, with its upsurge in creative arts, gradually ground down into simplistic propaganda, in the cause of authoritarianism and suppression. A vivid dream turned into a nightmare. The exhibition details neatly the bastardisation of socialism in the USSR, and left me feeling sad, an opportunity missed.