Friday, 21 July 2017

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Monday, 3 July 2017

The Establishment Ponders

I should be working, but the world is so fascinating just now, that the internet keeps calling me back.

Here is a discussion between three luminaries of the establishment about the UK election, recorded just a day or so after the poll. Roger Cohen of the New York Times, and GIllian Tett of The Financial Times, recoil in shock and pessimism over the result.

Best passage: Cohen says,

There was a lot of idealism about Corbyn. I mean, we with our experience of the 20th century and what Marxism and socialism, extreme socialism produce may find that strange. But I think you have to respect this idealism of the young people and, you know, when you think that all these old people with 10 years to live on the actuarial tables voted Britain out of the European Union and thereby condemned people with 70 years to live to accept a Britain that they don’t want, I think that was terrible.

I hate to say this, but I think the PM may have been right all along: this election was about Brexit, just not in the way she hoped. At the march on Saturday, there were a lot of EU flags, and for a munber of people I spoke to, the argument is not over about whether to try to stay in the Union. On Quora, yesterday, I posted this response to a pretty loaded question about it.

Read Peter Mason‘s >Why do people consider one who refuses to accept a very slim, not legally binding (only advisory) referendum result undemocratic or unpatriotic? on Quora

I realise that I haven’t got my thoughts completely clear about this issue. I have been trying to be a gracious loser, and to avoid it being a topic in which we would get bogged down, when I think the first issue is to establish a fair, rational and honest government for this country. Today I watched a recent Channel 4 interview with Slavoj Žižek and, amid the characteristic noise, he had some pretty interesting things to say about Europe. If you have 45 minutes, I recommend watching it.

Friday, 30 June 2017

The Election: A Post-Non-Mortem

It was glorious, but it ain’t over.


Forgive me allowing myself a little boast, but I feel as though, for once in my life, I was ahead of the herd. I joined the Labour Party because of Jeremy Corbyn, have voted for him for leader twice, and have never lost faith in his power to be a potent influence for good in British life. I have a ‘Corbynista’ shirt which I have worn to local party meetings throughout the Blairite fightback, and I have held out hope, through two turbulent, contentious years, that a lucid, honest politician, who talks about real life rather than rarefied, contained abstractions, could bring British politics back to sanity.

Of course, I am in the lowest twenty percent of median average household incomes, and approximately £500 per year worse off than I was before 2008, which is probably, when we get past the hypnotised fixation with media control, a pretty good driver of mood. I’ve also been working in public service throughout the period in which the Tory hit squads have been ‘working tirelessly’ to destroy them.

Until a couple of weeks ago, being a Corbyn supporting member of the Labour Party was seen widely as an extreme position, but it suddenly appears mainstream, and the violent, corrupt, brutish, hateful extremism that has passed as the political centre-ground for most of my life, just as suddenly, seems like a marginal, confused, farcical and outmoded embarrassment. It’s not gone; it’s still hanging on and still a danger, but a visible one, stripped of its disguising power to confuse. Neo-liberalism is looking vulnerable, fragile.


Nine weeks ago, it seemed as though we were enduring business as usual and that it was fixed and eternal. True, the Labour Party continued to make dangerously reasonable and realistic policy statements, as they had been doing for the last year, but they were drowned beneath news stories that all started with “the trouble with these ideas is that they’re not part of the proper political dialogue”. I was avoiding media, reading the LRB but staying away from the ‘news’, because its hypocrisy just enraged me. Every time I heard a commentator who was, supposedly, ‘in the loop’, I was reminded of my favourite piece of cartoon art.

So, we had a government committed to an ideology that was impossible to pin down, but amounted to the idea that the state and state institutions are somehow inherently evil and must be dismantled. In practice, what that meant was that they had to make life as hard as possible for ordinary people. There was a crisis, which, again, they couldn’t clearly identify, but it involved, variously,

  • being threatened by refugees, who were about to ‘flood’ this country and destroy some, again unidentifiable, quality of Britishness. The fact that those refugees were mainly children, starving in abject, wretched poverty in a field in Calais, didn’t reduce the threat.
  • being ripped off by an endless horde of people who pretended to be ill, or disabled, or dying, or old, so that they could live at the expense of Tory voters whose property is more sacrosanct than the lives of people with disabilities.
  • being incandescently offended by a failure to worship at the altar of the military, or the royal family, or not eating fish and chips in a suitably patriotic manner.

The method they chose for addressing the nagging sense of threat they were so busy maintaining was to impoverish the majority of British people and tell us that it was for our own good. In the meantime, the publicly owned structures -our shared wealth- was to be stolen from us and given to various privatisation parasites, prominent among whom were Richard Branson, American banks and Rupert Murdoch’s advertisers, all of whom seemed to be, mysteriously, clients of Theresa May’s husband.

It also meant, as Chris Riddell’s brilliant depiction of the establishment delusion illustrates, that they were compelled to continue making more refugees, by manufacturing excuses for constant, unending war. And, it turns out with only a very little googling, that most of the government had financial interests in that process as well.


Picture of Penfold from Danger Mouse
Michael Gove: not a genius.

It sounds as though it should be a story about evil genius, but the truth is they’re not geniuses. To list the parade of fools who make up the front row of our current government is to court despair: Michael Gove, the Penfold lookalike who dreams of an illiterate peasantry; Chris Grayling, who reversed a decade’s improvements in the criminal justice system in a few short years of amateurish profiteering; David Davis, who is currently humiliating us with his cluelessness in the Brexit ‘negotiations’, and Boris Johnson, whom Marina Hyde brilliantly described last week as “Britain’s foremost stupid-person’s-idea-of-a-clever-person”. Then there’s the odious and openly corrupt Jeremy Hunt, who never saw a piece of public property he didn’t try to flog and the floundering and out-of-his-depth chancellor Philip Hammond: they’re all dim-witted crooks, propped up by worn-out spin and at one another’s throats because they serve the deepest right-wing lie: look after number one and never tell the truth when a good lie will do. They are, as Frankie Boyle says in the video below, “…some of the worst people in the world…broken sociopaths.”

The battles they’re really concerned with are not the challenges of taking responsibility for the safety, well-being and prosperity of this country. Rather, they are fixed on their own in-fighting; the maintenance of their individual positions in a deeply antagonistic and futile occupation: professional establishment politicking. It’s a game to them. I’ve linked elsewhere to a compellingly lucid explanation of the power shift that took place when the previous gang of crooks decided to retire to spend more time with the profits of their back-handers. When we ask what on Earth Theresa May was thinking, calling an early election just after having declared to the EU that we were off, we have to remember: it wasn’t about us. Their gameplaying is never about us. It’s about their strange little world, in which their concerns, their insecurities and their weird fantasy bubble-world are all that matter.


Theresa May, it turned out, is no brighter than the rest of them. An element of the game-players’ corruption was a sense of entitlement, buttressed by the belief that the Labour Party, having stepped out of the establishment bubble with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader, was out of the game. Who’d listen to a party that wanted to [snort] privatise the railways?

Anyway, they had the media on their side.

Except, the suspicion that the backbone of establishment power, a uniform and breathtakingly malign press, was on the wane was a key reason why, when May called the election, I had real hope that she had made a mistake. The overwhelming prejudice of the public environment in the UK said that it would be a foregone conclusion, but that didn’t ring true in the way it had in 2015, when the media had actually worked to try to make the election seem tighter than it was. The people I knew, who in 2015 were reliably parroting the approved lines from The Sun and The Mail about Europe and immigrants, had lost track of what they were supposed to believe and had started focussing on the difficulties in their lives. Very few of them thought by this time that those difficulties had anything to do with immigrants or terrorism: they could see that their enemies were the increasingly fascist dole office, the eviscerated council, the absence of the police in their communities, the rising costs of food, electricity and other luxuries.

Perhaps most hurtfully, they saw their children being victimised. They moaned about the impossibility of getting a place at the few good schools around here. They spoke in resentful rather than aspirational tones about the ‘free’ schools, the fee-paying schools and the ‘academies’ that were sucking all the educational resources out of the Island for the profit of a group of foreign investors and that were, effectively, if not explicitly, establishments reserved for the children of people who had large houses and big cars and friends on the Council.

In the children’s centres where I do a lot of my work, the service users were presented with the steady reduction of options. My own learners had gone through the period of uncertainty about their chances of completing their courses. The Tory/UKip council had abolished our council funding, almost as an afterthought, and the contempt behind that act had registered. My learners knew that we were (and still are) hanging on by a thread, and that the abandonment of all these services is a process of calculated insult, class-to-class.

Beneath all these frustrations, there was the nagging knowledge that our positions within society are becoming embedded and inherited: the Samanthas and Tobies who go to the ‘free’ (private, exclusive, racially and class homogenous) school up the road will be richer, happier, fitter and will live longer than the children of my community, however good the teachers and leadership in the local council school are.

Awareness had cut through all the bullshit about immigration and ‘our brave troops’. The word ‘inequality’ had gone from a slogan to an experienced truth in the two years between the two elections. I felt that there was a chance to connect people with politics in a way I hadn’t seen in my adult lifetime and, thank God, so did the leadership of the Labour Party. They pushed fairness, they pushed change and they made the approved establishment narrative seem what it truly is: the visceral hatred of the bullying classes who gain their sense of undeserved self-worth from their loathing of the mass of their fellow citizens.

So, telling the corrupt rich that their shit does smell was the right message at the right time, but what had made it so? Was it really that people had put two and two together over the previous two years? Well, yes, in part. Poor people aren’t stupid, but they have been persuaded, by the very political environment that causes their dis-empowerment, to believe that politics was inherently corrupt and they were powerless. Other voices, some well-intentioned, but many less so, had turned disengagement into a form of rebellion: a political anorexia that imagined it was hitting back while playing into the hands of its abusers.

Certainly, the Labour Party offered something completely new in this election: a genuine, meaningful political alternative from a major party with a real prospect of having an effect. In our first past the post system, it may be nice to vote Green, but it’s pretty useless. Labour, on the other hand, even though it lost the election in terms of both votes and seats, has already shaped government policy to a degree that has scared the establishment, and its rabid lackeys, to their shrivelled souls. Click those two links. I love the undertone of panic in Andrea Leadsom’s stupid drift towards totalitarianism, and even more so the failure of certainty in the Guido Fawkes piece, piercing his habitual above-the-fray affectation. It’s like his smirk has faltered, but then, he’s suddenly got a lot less to smirk about. He’s a true believer whose world-view has just collapsed. What is the point of selling yourself to Satan if you can’t spit on the poor?


Amid the glory of the election campaign’s powerful attack upon the status quo, we suffered four outrages to decency that were all symptomatic of the hatred that is at the heart of neo-liberal capitalist politics: two horrible ‘blowback’ incidents from the genocidal warfare of the capitalist war machine, an attack on faith by a far-right lackey of the ruling classes and a mass-killing as a result of reduced state oversight of housing and safety systems. We must not let the anger these events inspire divert us from focussing on the true enemy: the ruling classes of this country. Magnificently, it seems that the purpose of the never-ending, racist ‘terrorist’ emergency that the establishment maintains has lost its power to sway mass opinion: the response has been, overwhelmingly, to choose love, rather than division.

We are, for the first time in my lifetime, fighting fit to resist the divisive power of racist hatred, and we see where our anger should, rightfully, be directed.


It’s not over.

Live a good life, because living a good life is a good in itself. Go vegan, recycle, ride a bike to work rather than using your car.

But, more than anything, it is time to get involved in the political process, and to fight the power of insane, self-serving neo-liberal capitalism.

Tomorrow, Amanda and I and a group of Isle of Wight Labour comrades will be in London, marching for better housing, better wages and better public services. Will we see you there?

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

You Cannot Achieve Change By Short-Circuiting Democracy

It is easy to be cynical about democracy. It has been abused, controlled and manipulated to the point that it has come to seem like a method for embedding the dictatorship of the establishment into Western society: providing a corrupt gangster class with an excuse for their parasitism of the masses of populations.

Yet, at heart, democracy is an expression of collective will and, like so much that humans do as social animals, it relies upon certain individual qualities to be effective. A properly functioning democracy requires that its participants be informed, attentive and, above all, honest.

One of the most disheartening responses among people with whom I share a political outlook is the belief that, in order to oppose the establishment lock upon democratic outcomes, we must resort to tactics that are as ‘smart’, or, as I would put it, corrupt, as the establishment does. It was this attitude that led to professionalized, stand-for-nothing-and-dress-for-the-part, pander-to-the-city, dominate-the-news-cycle Clintonism in British politics.  Well, so much for that: Blair is hawking Israeli weapons to the despots of the world, and we have had six and a half years of corrupt Tory rule as a result of trying to play them at their own game. What few pay-offs we gained from the last Labour government-rational, effective criminal justice reforms; better public services; early-years care and education,-have been squeezed, snatched and abandoned by the Tory backlash.

Unfortunately, the dream of being able to short-circuit democracy persists among people who aren’t as clever as they think they are. Its latest manifestation is the influence of ‘tactical voting’ websites in this election. There are two main ones: Tactical2017 and Best For Britain, which, at least, has the honesty to wear its condescending arrogance in its name.

…websites that, with the tap of a touchscreen, lift the burden of democratic decision-making from their users.

They both have flashy JSON/CMS responsive websites that, with the tap of a touchscreen, lift the burden of democratic decision-making from their users. They use their web-design savvy well, loading their pages with scroll-down statements of noble intent that lend an air of knowing inevitability to their manipulative, partisan projects. Best For Britain is, more-or-less openly, an anti-Brexit site: Tactical2017 seems to be a broader, more honest attempt to attack Tory rule, but they both miss an essential point: this election is not the 2015 election, and it is most certainly not the recent local elections.

When you delve behind the Tactical 2017 site, you get a shonky CSV file, incomplete and muddled. They state that it is no longer maintained and we should rely upon the API because it is better for mobile devices. Well, I don’t know about you, but I can read a spreadsheet, but being given computer code to interpret goes beyond the layer of transparent comprehensibility that I require of my information sources. They might as well be shrieking “Leviatus” and blinding me with flashy wand movements. It is meaningless.

The Best For Britain site publishes graphs that, they claim, justify their stupid conclusions. Super. However, they are graphs of the 2015 election result. Here is their justification for instructing us to vote Green on the Isle of Wight:

What’s changed since then, do you think?

They also publish a helpful recap of voting statistics, just to labour the meaningless point:

Again, does anything strike you as a little out-of-date?

In answer to my captions, what has changed is two-fold. Firstly, there is only one returning candidate, and she has not a hope in hell of winning. All Vix can do is further split the non-Tory vote, but that’s okay, because that is what she is supposed to do.

  • The UKIP candidate from 2015, Ian McKie, balked when his party’s racism got too much even for him, and is sniping at his replacement on local media, but that doesn’t matter, because UKIP are as much a spent force here as they are everywhere else. 15,000 votes are thus released.
  • Andrew Turner has been given the unceremonious boot retired to spend more time with his heretical and bigoted misapprehensions of Christianity. His replacement is a camera-shy scion of local landed gentry who was heard apologizing to his party members for his uselessness at the hustings. He is campaigning on trains. Trains. In a constituency with under twenty miles of track and poverty levels rivaling the worst of any area in Britain.
  • The LibDems have run a really nice twelve year old as a candidate, but are getting no more attention here than nationally.
  • Ian Stephens has been replaced by a sweety who seems to be throwing money at a vanity project.
  • Stewart Blackmore has had to stand down because of family health reasons and has been replaced by another superb Labour candidate.

Secondly, Labour are running an unbelievably effective national campaign: the Tories are in meltdown. There is no way that Labour will not significantly increase its national vote share; that battle is won. What we have to do now is translate that vote share into seats.

Seriously, voting Green on the Isle of Wight is the stupidest thing that an anti-Tory voter could do in this election. It is splitting the left-of-Tory vote; it is a vote for Theresa May. Think of the upset results that we see at every election: think of 1997, when Labour got a lower absolute vote nationally than they are polling for now. Think of Portillo’s face at the count. Think of what a Labour victory on the Isle of Wight would mean for the Tories. Tory voters are abandoning the party they have supported all their lives: that is not just anecdotal, although I have, personally, spoken to three such people now. A two percent drop in their core vote, which the polls are suggesting now, with a week still to go, could have a huge impact nationally, and, given that the UKIP vote on the Island last time was widely reported as strongly at the expense of Labour, we could be seeing an end to tribal Tory automatic voting having the Island sewn up. LABOUR CAN WIN.

I want to return to honest voting. I have no problem with honest, heartfelt Green voters. If what the Green Party represents, whatever that is, chimes with you, plod on, with my respect. I would love to see a fairer voting system, where Greens, Cornish Nationalists, and even the hard-core racist right, have a democratic outlet for their views, whether I agree with them all or not. (For the record: I have no problem with Green politics, am not even sure Cornish Nationalism exists and I have a fiery antipathy for the hard-core racist right.)

However, for now, we have the first-past-the-post system, and we must make it work with integrity, solidarity and intelligence. When you feel that you must treat my, honestly cast, passionately and proudly arrived at, Labour vote as “wasted”, that is not a sign of political realism, informed cleverness or idealism.

It is anti-democratic, and it is stupid. You don’t change the world by playing a computer game.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Monday, 29 May 2017

Toon!

I’ve just bought my copy and you can get yours, without patronizing the tax-dodging Apple Corporation, by clicking on the link above. Pay a little extra if you can: the profits are going to food banks and the People’s Assembly Against Austerity. I don’t normally like to do repetitive embeds, but the video is worth watching, as much as anything, for the succession of fake-sincere expressions on the various Tory also-rans’ faces.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Howdy

Fed up of dribbling my tea and beer down my front, I decided to get rid of my beard yesterday. Halfway through the process, I stopped to see what having a moustache looked like. Brokeback Trump supporter springs to mind.

The moustache lasted another two minutes. 

Monday, 27 March 2017

Anger Issues

This is the racists’ dream: the endemic violence of the state made normal. This policeman is facing vilification in Israel, but his actions are, according to Gideon Levy in Haaretz, an everyday occurrence. The only difference here is that he has been filmed. The Israeli police and military are usually very good at ensuring that their excesses are not witnessed, and at muddying the issues when they are.

What broke my heart was the look of hurt in the face of the truck driver. He didn’t see the policeman as an enemy, but as someone who was transgressing that most normal of social expectations: the obligation to be respectful.

Gideon Levy does not take comfort in the outrage inspired in Israel by the video. He finishes his article thus:

A few hours after the video was broadcast, a reception was held at the home of peace activist Alice Krieger. Guest of honor was Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, the doctor from Gaza [who lost three daughters during Operation Cast Lead]. “Hatred is weakness,” the bereaved father said in Hebrew, a language that only a few are still able to understand in Israel. “Kindness, tolerance and patience are power.” In the darkness of the evening and the video footage, the doctor’s noble words reverberated as detached, ridiculous, almost hallucinatory.

I, however, living in a country that has not travelled as far down the road of racial division and hatred, am able to see the beauty and political power of Dr. Abuelaish’s statement. It is fundamental. All our systems, all our powers, are shaped by what is in the hearts and minds of individuals. We can choose to give way to mistrust and hatred, and diminish ourselves to the condition of that bullying, ultimately impotent thug of a police officer, or we can choose to understand one another and forgive one another our errors. It is a choice: there is no imperative to be a thug. It is a choice, and our choices are what define us.

 

Wednesday, 1 March 2017