Very sad to hear about the death of Dawn Foster yesterday. I did not know Dawn but genuinely loved her on Twitter. She was one of the most consistently entertaining and insightful people on the platform. It was fitting, then, that she was trending well into the evening. It was a bittersweet moment, and very reminiscent of when we lost both Mark Fisher and David Graeber. It is always wonderful to see how much impact a person’s work can have on people’s sense of the world and, particularly in Dawn’s case, their class consciousness.
I was actually just revisiting Dawn’s book Lean Out the other day. After Repeater Books published its 100th book, The Melancholia of Class by Cynthia Cruz, I was remined that Dawn’s book was the first. I ended up pointing to it in a footnote for a book chapter I’m working on, wondering about the contentious history of the book’s sentiment. Everyone from Jacques Lacan and Luce Irigaray to Sadie Plant as made some argument about the radicality of a feminist leaning-out. It’s a miracle, in some ways, that someone like Dawn was able to make her case so poignantly and, indeed, make it go mainstream when you consider how abstruse many of those other names are… (There is a great interview with her on Novara Media about the book too, for the curious.)
I have nothing more to say that others haven’t already said on Twitter, but I did want to clip a few things that I came across over there, for posterity and for the unfamiliar if nothing else.
Phil BC shared this excellent video on his blog:
…Which led me down a bit of a rabbit hole, where I came across this clip for Good Morning Britain, in which Dawn calls Piers Morgan “morally reprehensible” without so much as blinking. (Unfortunately, the audio is broken from about 4 minutes onwards.)
That fearlessness seems to be the most prominent thing Dawn will be remembered for — and that really is something to be remember for. The best example, Twitter seemed to unanimously agree, was an article for the Guardian she wrote in 2019 around the UK general election, arguing that “If Tom Watson had guts, he would quit Labour. Instead he is weakening the party”. (Apparently, Dawn was let go as a columnist not long after publishing it.)
Bask in the glory of her utter demolition of the UK’s hegemonic centrism:
In 1911 in Prague, the writer Jaroslav Hašek formed the satirical group The Party of Moderate Progress Within the Bounds of the Law, mocking the overtly accommodating tendencies of the Czech Social Democrats. Centrists might balk at Hašek’s manifesto promises, including mandatory alcoholism and the institutionalisation of feeble-minded MPs, but the tendency he mocked remains: proposing political reform, but ever so slowly; refusing to grapple with the speed with which the world is changing, or the fact the economy has for four decades been working for few but the wealthiest.
Centrist thinking is focused on two false premises. The first is that the 2012 London Olympic ceremony represented an idyllic high-point of culture and unity in the UK, rather than occurring amid the brutal onslaught of austerity, with food bank use growing and the bedroom tax ruining lives. The second is that the UK became divided by Brexit and the 2016 vote, rather than it being a symptom of long-term problems: the decline of industry and the public sector begun by Margaret Thatcher and continued by Tony Blair and David Cameron; vast inequality of opportunity, wealth and health; and the number of people being routinely ignored in a system with a huge democratic and electoral deficit.
The 2017 manifesto helped Labour to increase its vote share because it addressed so many of the problems faced by people and communities across the country. Labour won more seats, in spite of people like Tom Watson and his ideological bedfellows. Many centrist Labour MPs desperately wanted the party to lose heavily so they could depose Jeremy Corbyn. They still do. A Labour government with Corbyn in charge is less preferable to them than an indefinite Tory government.
If Tom Watson – the MP who said he “lost sleep” after Phil Woolas was found guilty of lying in racially inflammatory leaflets and stripped of his seat – had guts, he would quit the party and try to prove that his ideas have electoral traction. Yet, as he has probably discovered, it is hard to come up with bold and original ideas that benefit the electorate and prove popular with voters: it is far easier to stay in a party, wrecking it week by week, hoping to terminally undermine the leader and then inherit the ruins.
But the end result of Watson et al’s constant attacks will not be electoral success under another Labour leader, but a Tory victory. And the people who need a Labour government to change their lives and communities are unlikely to forgive people like him.
Rest in power, Dawn Foster!