After almost three years and roughly three hundred articles, some members of the Social Review team have decided to step back from the site. In this piece, editors and contributors – those leaving and those staying – reflect on their time with the Social Review.
Well. It’s been almost three years. I’m proud of my time as part of the team at the Social Review (though I can finally be honest and admit that I never liked the name). I think we’ve published some genuinely good articles, some of which have even been read, as well as provided a platform for some people to take their first steps into writing about politics. During that time I have apparently written four articles (three screeds about Scottish politics which spared everyone a Twitter thread and one furious rant about the lockdown-busting antics of Dominic Cummings). I’ve edited an awful lot more than that.
But it’s time for both me and the site to move on. TSR was formed against a specific backdrop – that weird twilight zone between 2017 and 2019, when politics in the UK was in flux, nothing was certain and anything was possible. It’s fair to say that those days are firmly behind us and that we’ve now ended up in what feels like one of those futures which time travel films revolve around averting.
Looking at the last year with a clear eye, I don’t think we’ve yet adjusted to that – we haven’t defined what we stand for within the context provided by Johnson’s United Kingdom and Starmer’s Labour. I believe the task facing whoever remains involved with the site is first and foremost to answer that question and to take it from there.
In another world I’d probably be part of that project – I remain as dogged a Labourite as ever, and I absolutely think there is still a place for TSR. But I simply haven’t had the time for a while now, and it wouldn’t be fair to anyone to pretend otherwise, though I very much hope to remain a friend of the site.
I’d also like to say thank you to a fair few people (though far from enough), because I don’t see how I can end by doing anything else.
Julia, Eugenie, Wrenna, Will, Ciaran, Tyron, Pete, James, Sean, Henry: thank you for your service in being part of a group chat that has played a reasonable part in ensuring that I don’t need to set up an angry private Twitter account, and for everything you’ve all done in writing and editing some excellent articles (and Will’s Sims piece).
A huge debt of gratitude is owed to Jasper for expertly hosting our podcast (after relentlessly lobbying for it for months) as well as to Michael for taking it on more recently. Last, but emphatically not least – Joe, for everything he did in building us up and bringing a disparate collective of shitposters and hacks together, and Morgan, for writing about 95% of our best articles and absolutely carrying the editing workload on her back (along with Pete) in more recent months.
- Hugh Brechin
The first article I wrote for TSR was about my friend Amaya, who was then a political prisoner in Nicaragua, on what I felt – still feel – to be the tacit support that Corbyn’s Labour offered to the Ortega regime. When the left held the party leadership, I think there was a place for the Social Review to discuss the kind of genuinely exciting policy and vision being advanced by the party in good faith, while still allowing space to criticise Corbynism for its failures – most notably on antisemitism, and for me, on Nicaragua.
The time between the 2017 and 2019 general elections will, I think, come to be viewed as a discrete period in the history of the party and the British left. In this period, I really believed: I believed that things were horribly, brutally possible. This feeling of ragged optimism, of expanse, of things moving in the corner of your eye; it is a little like the feeling you get when you realise that you have become conversant in a language that you have been studying, and that you can now stumble imperfectly through a new world. I remember sitting in the manifesto briefing for PLP staff and being told that our manifesto would be characterised by the push to greater universalism and feeling I could almost see this new world that we might make.
Times have changed, more drastically, I think, than anyone would have predicted. Since that first piece, I have written 20 more articles for TSR, and edited countless more. We are a voluntary operation; what we do is squeezed around jobs and lives and done because we believe in it. My belief in TSR belonged to that world we might have made. We are in a different one now, and as such I feel it is time for me to wind up my time with the site. It has been a surprisingly big part of my life; through it I have made friends and comrades, and to me this is bittersweet. I am grateful to the team and its associates, to Joe, David, Nick, George, Will, Michael, probably some other men with generic sounding names as well and also Julia, and particularly to Jasper, podcast host extraordinaire; Wrenna, who generally knows best; Pete, my long-standing partner in many crimes; and to Hugh, the only person I don’t dislike being edited by.
- Morgan Jones
I will miss those leaving greatly. Not just because Hugh could turn my most incoherent sentences legible, but because they all sacrificed their time to carve out a thoughtful and welcoming place – which are often too few and far between in online Labour politics.
Without The Social Review I may not have started writing at all. It’s been great for my mental health and I’m very happy to get more involved to ensure it continues to be a place where people who otherwise may not have started writing can be given the opportunity to do so.
For me, The Social Review should exist as long as there’s a space for soft left politics within the Labour party. It will always be a welcoming place for all left of centre traditions. It’s in that spirit that those of us volunteering our time towards running The Social Review in its next phase – myself, Harry, Julia, Michael, Sean, Tyron, and Wrenna (and all others willing to – please do get in touch!) – hope to continue and honour the great work of those leaving.
- Ciaran McGurdy
I was a student, and very angry, when Morgan told me that I should send a piece I’d been writing, about advertising and mental health, to ‘this thing that Will’s mate Joe is doing. It’s called the Social Review’. I did, and a few lads knocked it about, and then it was on their website. I was quite proud of it at the time. It made me feel a bit better.
I wrote a few articles – ten, I think – and edited a load more. Not that Morgan ever needed much editing. We were, most of us, students, or at least ‘student-adjacent’, working through our degrees or our first post-uni jobs, hacking away at pieces in our spare time, editing where we could. I won’t rehash the points made by Hugh and Morgan – as usual, they’ve nailed it. We were writing and thinking in a space and at a time that felt very different for those of us on the left. Either circumstances, or ourselves. have changed from 3 years ago. Things no longer feel quite as possible – or at least not the same things. I look back to writing about the transformative power of ‘big bags of cans with the lads’ more grimly than I’d have hoped.
As I see it, those of us stepping down did good stuff. I’m proud of what I wrote, but I’m happier about the fact that ‘sling it to the Soc Review’ has become a thing that people (usually young writers trying to get better, or get themselves out there) can do. We were – I hope – kind and decent editors, and though it might have taken us longer to respond to pitches than we’d have liked, we usually were able to give some sort of coherent feedback. I can safely say that I wouldn’t have started writing without the Social Review to publish my stuff, and I sincerely hope that if we have any impact at all, it is precisely that – getting people to write.
I use it rarely, but I am actually – perhaps surprisingly, given our soft-left-melt credentials – a genuine fan of the term ‘comrade’. I consider the Social Review team friends and comrades. We collectively worked on something we thought was worth doing, and kept it going for enough time to do some good stuff.
For all of the people writing these notes, the Social Review played quite a big part in our lives for some time, and I think we all will look back fondly at our time with the site. I am proud to have played my part, and hope to remain a friend of the site, wishing the new team all the best from afar, sending Jeb! memes in place of any serious election analysis, and refusing to listen when Will starts trying to explain MMT.
With thanks to Hugh and his dogged attempts to make me use fewer italics (only because our website makes them look terrible – HB), which I will never do, Joe for keeping the show on the road, Wrenna for her thoughtfulness, and Morgan for the nights in the garden or at her place, opening another bottle of wine or hellish ‘Red Drink’ as I yelled about material conditions and spiritual decline.
All that time, and we never got round to reviewing Social. I’m still not sure if it’s any good.
- Peter Whitehead
The Social Review was founded out of frustration – what should have been a throwaway tweet that grew a life of its own. I have often been the kind of person who comes up with unworkable projects – it’s just that they usually don’t work. This one did and it was exclusively because of the time, energy and dedication of everybody who contributed to it. Hugh, Morgan, Pete, Michael, Wrenna, Jasper, Julia, Tyron, Will and so many more.
In the early days, it was also the people who egged us on. The original Slack was busy and the energy of that time is something I will always remember. Some of those people went on to help us out of situations that could have got a little sticky (I still have those screenshots of the libel section in your media law textbook saved on my phone, Stephanie), others contributed their time and energy through both the podcast and the website itself. I still remember the thrill of Tyron’s Stephen Bush interview going, for us at the time, semi-viral and then later making Morning Call with my interview of James Meadway. I have fond memories of Morgan’s Softlord article catching everybody out with the provocative tweet Hugh (I think?) paired it with and the article itself rightly receiving overwhelmingly high praise. It’s still, for my money, our best ever piece. Jamie Carragher retweeting our election video will never not be surreal and the way in which people rallied to collate a list of campaigns, causes and organisations worthy of support after the defeat in 2019 was a heartwarming respite from the misery of those days. Open Labour giving us the opportunity to both cover their leadership hustings and then host our first event at their conference were other personal highlights.
The frustration from which the Social Review was born remains in many ways. Many of the same Corbynsceptics responsible for creating the void that gave the site its mission remain better able to articulate a list of their enemies than a clear vision of their politics. Truthfully, however, there comes a moment when it is just time to do something else. It’s time to move on to another (perhaps unworkable) project. I have no clear idea what that will be, but I will miss TSR.
- Joseph Hamm
“Hello, and welcome to The Social Review Podcast! I am your host, Jasper, @Jasper_CH on Twitter, and today I’m…”
My exams are beginning imminently, necessitating that I attempt some actual revision, but instead of doing any of that, I’m engaging in the Labour Party’s favourite pastime: nostalgic eulogising!
When I joined The Social Review back in 2018, I didn’t need to worry about “exams,” or “revision,” or “academic rigour,” as I was (and continue to be) just a guy on Twitter. I sort-of pushed my way in, really, writing some “political commentary” for different blogs and making friends on That App, feeling the same sensation of burgeoning possibility which others here have illustrated so well. The entire 2010s, but especially the latter half, were characterised by the electric awareness that history was not inevitable or predetermined; rather, it was there to be grabbed, grasped, and shaped. Certainly, that electricity feels very dim now.
For me, I was in a very peculiar liminal space. I’d just dropped out of university and my life-long dream degree subject to apply to another university for a totally different course. I moved back to my childhood bedroom, began working full-time, tried to rack up some experience in the world of politics, made a feature film (long story…) and all sorts of other things. It was, franky, an absolutely insane plan with no guarantee of success, which I would not recommend trying at home.
Amidst all that, I was perpetually inspired by the prospects of politics, and wanted to do my bit – albeit, a very small bit – in this world wherein anything and everything seemed horribly, brutally possible. The same was true for my life; I was throwing myself into whatever I could find, gambling on plans and projects and seeing what, if anything, would pay off. So, my decision to message Joe and ask to be added to this “Slack” full of slightly-intimidating left-Twitter people, to actually *use it*, and to put myself forward as an editor for what quickly became known as The Social Review, should very much be seen in this context.
Ditto for what was my purview, and my baby – The Social Review Podcast. I wanted to do it for a few reasons: first, I wasn’t doing much and needed to be of use. Second, it was a fun way for me to garner more experience in audio production. But most importantly, it was a chance to help build a space for good faith, soft-left discussions about the past, present, and – crucially – future of British progressive politics. The mud-slinging factional fights of Twitter were perpetually nonsensical and exhausting, and I maintain that mediums like audio and video are lightyears ahead of the written (and tweeted) word when it comes to political debate and communication. Through the podcast, a collection of people can sit, think, and chat for an hour or so. We can hear one another’s tone of voice, we can relate, we can empathise, we can engage – we can do all the things you can’t convey through text alone. That, I think, was deeply important to the entire project, rooted in good faith engagement and fundamental positivity.
It’s funny to look back now and recall how terrified I was to start this whole endeavour, and intimidated by the possibility it would collapse in dismal failure. I had no idea how the format should go, what the most efficient production schedule would be, what the host dynamics would be, who the hosts should be, and, frankly, whether any of it would work at all. But, in no time at all, things fell into place. Guests were lined up, a schedule was laid out, regular hosts fell into place, and a just-built machine very quickly became well-oiled, chugging along for the next eighteen months. Funnily enough, it’s two years to the day since the very first episode went live.
The record speaks for itself. I am unabashedly and unreservedly incredibly proud of The Social Review Podcast, of my work, and of the work of my peers, colleagues, and friends who helped make it as brilliant, as fun, as creative, and as hopeful as it could possibly be. I am indebted and thankful to every single person who helped in any capacity with the pod, but I’d like to thank Joe, for listening to every single episode before it went live, working tirelessly to ensure I hadn’t screwed up the editing (it’s likelier than you’d think!) and/or got us cancelled. Morgan & Pete, for being welcoming hosts when I needed a place to crash, for always being effusively creative and excited about the podcast, and for devising and writing a truly unhinged – and truly iconic – Christmas special. Michael, for so kindly and wonderfully taking over production duties and doing a bang-up job already. And, particularly, Eugenie, who co-hosted with me for almost a year, working hard to build and nurture an identity and energy that infused the podcast. Where I rambled and spluttered, she was eloquent and intelligent; it never would have lasted for as long as it has without her help.
Over my tenure, we interviewed everyone from MPs to journalists, authors to activists, cultivating a weekly slot for the site to grow its reach and develop a unique identity even further. And, contrary to popular belief, people actually listened to it. About three hundred or more per week, to be specific.
Anyway, the gamble paid off; I’m finishing up my second year studying Politics at Cambridge. That liminality is long since gone, as is the sense of possibility of anything and everything occurring – for now. One day, it shall come back, because that is the way of the political world. When it does, I won’t do my bit by running a politics and culture chat show. But I’ll feel very, very proud when I fall back once more through the window of nostalgia and recall those heady days when I – when we – did.
- Jasper Cresdee-Hyde
Building is an honourable task, and it’s one I’m very glad to have pushed everyone I knew with a spare essay laying around to do The Social Review way back when. I was, and remain, in awe of the ambition and earnest want for better that all my co-writers and benevolent editors possess. We are not closer to the visions of the future we came together to produce, but it is a lot clearer what that vision is, and how we can build it.
I regret not having the time and effort (and academic rigour, to be honest!) to make more and better contributions to The Social Review. That said, I am immensely happy that I was invited to expand a politics little-seen in the UK into an accepting and responsive sphere. Yes, I’m talking about left-MMT. No, I won’t explain what it is. Read the Sims article.
We should be, and to my eyes are, proud of our legacies, of both past and future. The Social Review ought not become a self contained operation that existed between two dates. It is a positive for the left, and its influence ought to be felt long past the time that it ceases publication – and I appreciate that this project will continue.
We still need to abolish landlords, and we still need to abolish the Home Office. All my love to you soft abolitionists, and thank you all for being so readily accepting of my fringe views and eccentricities. Good luck to all moving on. Better luck to those yet to escape.
- william sorenson
Being in the Labour Party is a somewhat depressing experience. We never win anything, despite getting our hopes up that it might be different this time. In that way, it’s much like my other passion in life – Bristol Rovers Football Club. In 2018, after a particularly depressing spell for both the Labour Party (and Bristol Rovers) I first became involved in The Social Review in an attempt to articulate “this isn’t great – what comes next?” Well we’ve seen what came next, and I still think the reason the Social Review was set up, to articulate that position, remains valid and a needed contribution to *the discourse*
Without “the melt blog”, I don’t think my writing would have gone much further than a one off edition of a newsletter produced for my Young Labour group (in fact I don’t think I ever told the rest of the gang I basically nicked my first article from that verbatim). Instead it’s now got to the point where I’ve written intensely political but also at the same time extremely personal pieces that exist outside my google drive, and I am proud that this little corner of the internet allowed a load of other people both to write for the first time – but also, I hope as I did, to actually properly think about their politics for the first time. I will miss those who are moving on, because I have made a number of friends, too many to mention, from the “Social Review Extended Universe”. I am glad there are some of us planning to carry on the mantle, and to continue to provide that – and forgive me for using two of the worst phrases from left twitter – good faith, soft left platform, for people to develop and articulate a decent vision for the Labour movement.
- Sean Smyth
No endeavour is anything without those who make it up. I got involved with The Social Review through getting to know people on Twitter, so for me it has always been bound up with those people and that platform; a small niche, but one that was important for me to exist in. Fundamentally I got involved at a time when it felt being on the left in Labour and having criticisms of Corbyn and the way his project had manifested, or its mishandling of antisemitism, felt impossible. I am incorrigibly independent – the demand from factions on the left or the right of the party for followers to accept The Line, and to parrot it and fight the social media wars could never have been me. And yet I wanted to be on the left and to articulate things in the context of Labour, and to develop my own beliefs. It’s in that vein I got involved with TSR.
I’m proud of the few things I have written for the site: I still think that trans discourse on the Labour left and in the broader party sucks hot garbage, and I will happily tell anyone about that at length. I still think a radical openness to new ideas, left principles, and an understanding heart are a key part of my politics. I am proud to have helped edit the pieces I did: the point of TSR has always been, in my mind, to give people a space to articulate their own beliefs and ideas, away from any space that might demand a keeping to party lines. Being involved with TSR has made clearer political beliefs that I held naively; my fellow editors and other travellers have been good companions as the Ship of Labour travels on stormy seas.
I feel and fear to a degree that a window has closed, that the chance for Labour to truly think new ideas rather than fall into endless One-More-Heavism has closed. I hope that I am wrong. I hope that the Labour left can move on from failures of the past, what-might-have-been and endless factional war, and we can build something else. I hope, too, that outside the Labour party, the wider left continue to focus on the perils that surround our world, to stand for what is right, and to fight for it. For me, at least, TSR has helped to keep a little hope alive.
I wrote a short version of this which was “I just wanted to be on the Labour left and not be a wanker online and that’s how I became a melt writer, AMA”. Maybe I should have just gone with that – you decide.
I write this eulogy for one era of the site in my usual style for The Social Review – having completely ignored the group-chat and having randomly seen a message from Hugh. It’s fitting for my final contribution that I am, once again, completely out of the loop. All I can really say is thank you to everyone involved.
This website reignited my faith in a movement which I felt had left me behind and showed me what a couple of melts could achieve when we set our mind to it. There are far too many thank yous to list, but I want to give a special mention to Joe, who morphed from twitter friend to real life friend, Hugh, for helping hold the fort and for putting up with my online avoidance, and Jasper, for being a fantastic co-host, friend and tireless editor. If my reflections seem a little on the personal, sentimental side, rather than the wide-ranging reflections of my comrades, I posit to you – maybe the real social democracy was the friends we made along the way?
The Social Review came about in an odd time in politics and for me personally; I was an activist first and foremost, massively enthused by the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and principally influenced by/interested in the politics of my friends on the left in my local CLP. I can’t pinpoint exactly where I fell out of love with the project – it certainly wasn’t a policy thing, that’s for certain. But I think at its heart, the contradiction inherent to much of Corbynism – a project that promised the future, a freshness of ideas, and a return to a more stridently left Labour Party; while in the same breath demanding internal conformity and forgiving all manner of sins from our mates due to the virtue of being in the same faction just left a bad taste in my mouth. A lot of people I know felt the same and in the end thought about it long enough to create a website to cater that feeling of ennui.
My involvement in the early days was mostly tertiary. I couldn’t point to bits of the original mission statement I wrote, but I could rattle off quite a few articles I’m proud to say I had a hand in editing, and for a time while others had major work and academic commitments in that first year I was shifting through the bulk of submissions. The newer additions to the team have in many ways been the making of it. Morgan, being our best writer and sharpest editor, and Jasper carving out a whole podcast have elevated the site above its initial iteration into something I’m incredibly proud to have been a part of.
Naturally, the conditions that necessitated the site’s founding have largely been eroded by the passage of time, and now a lot of the old guard have found themselves in the position of wanting to move on. On the one hand it’s definitely sad: the people I’ve worked with over the past couple years have had an immense impact on my own politics and are all now firm friends of mine. It’s sad because endings are sad, and this particular ending feels a lot like one of the formative chapters of my life drawing to a close; where me and my pals had the audacity to try and build something.
But just as people leave and the site finds itself adapting to the new normal of life post-Corbyn and mid-pandemic, new people are coming in brimming with fresh ideas and enthusiasm for the site, its writers and readers. Though the yarn spun of the old reality of being on the left in the UK is surely at this point running a bit thin, it’s undeniable that a place for new writers is still sorely needed, and we’re fortunate to be welcoming in a new team of editors and writers to tell fresh stories.
I’m really excited for what comes next, keeping the podcast going and living up to the fine back catalogue Jasper and co created. I can’t wait to see where we can take the site next and what more we invariably do to piss off those who’ve managed to take exception with much of what we’ve done so far. I’m also looking forward to welcoming old friends back, be that for a chat on the pod. or publishing something brilliantly unhinged that nowhere properly respectable would touch with a barge pole. When it comes down to it I think that’s the essence of The Social Review, really.
Thank you to everyone leaving for all they’ve done, and all the best for the future.
- Michael Bawden
I don’t remember how I came across TSR, but I do remember that I was a nerdy student who wanted a space to write about the nerdier aspects of nerdy economic policy. I’d heard about wellbeing economics in passing in one of my lectures, and thought (and still think!) it was a fascinating concept – and one that I hadn’t necessarily heard people in my Labour Party circles discussing before. I did some more reading, wrote something up quite quickly, had it excellently edited and saw it on Twitter a few days later.
I think that sort of sums up what works so well about TSR. It gives a platform to mostly young people to discuss the things they find interesting and exciting and new, without needing a phonebook of contacts or a PhD in the subject. It is genuinely accessible to people who just want to write, and, in the process, it has probably made us all better writers.
TSR came into our lives at a time of real hope and excitement, but it also carried us through times of real despair. My last TSR piece was published the day before the 2019 General Election, after I’d taken quotes from a bunch of people about why they’d be voting Labour the next day. Reading it now makes me cry, predictably. A few days later, the editors put together a list of charities and organisations that would need our help following Labour’s defeat. Again, tears. I know I’ll still be thinking about those two pieces for a long time to come.
I’ll end with a huge thank you to everyone who has worked so hard keeping TSR going. I know it wasn’t always an easy task and I’m looking forward to seeing what you all do next. In particular, shout out to my friend Morgan, whose recent trade union merch ranking piece influenced me to buy a GMB beanie that I have worn exactly twice. If that’s not TSR cut-through, I don’t know what is.
- Caitlin Prowle