Posts Tagged 'Politics'

Loudrib’s Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #1

Don't look too hard... This isn't a very good pshop.

More fun when fat

Morning Lemmings. A while back I wrote about how I’ve considered doing post Question Time match reports but never got round to it, mainly for reasons involving drunkardness. Well, today I’ve finally bitten the bullet. Welcome to Loudrib’s Curmudgeonry Corner Post Question Time Match Report #1. So without further ado, let’s get this party started…

The Line Up.

In the Red Corner: Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter and Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Me and Ben Bradshaw go back a long way. Not in any personal sense, but mainly because he was elected in my neck of the woods (at the time) in the first election I was really paying attention to. And what a heady day that was. I was 17 at the time, had known nothing but Tory governments and like most people, was desparate for a change of government. Ben Bradshaw himself pretty much epitomised the optimism of that period and the halycion days of New Labour. Not only was he relatively young, but he was also rather dashing in his looks, rode about on a quaint looking push bike (very Exeter darling, very Exeter) and was openly gay. Given that the majority of MP’s at that point were either Tory Cads, Tory Bores, Labour Hacks or Generic Greysuits, his being elected (among others) really added to the feeling that things were changing and that we were heading towards a brighter, more ‘can do’ age in politics. Alas, his career after this point has pretty much mirrored New Labours trajectory and as time has gone on, he seems to have morphed into some sort of mini-Blair, both in looks and substance. On the face of it, he should be pretty good at this Question Time lark. He speaks with confidence, isn’t afraid of getting in a scrap and is quick to push home any advantage. However, he carries around the air of a man who has been super-briefed and that doesn’t play with the QT audience. He also has habit of making the cardinal sin of slagging off the BBC on their turf. In some ways, this is to be expected, after all, his is the Secretary of State for Culture and if anyone should be in a position to slag off the Beeb, it’s him. On the flip side though, I don’t think he quite understands the high esteem that the Corporation is held in. I was trying to think a while back about stuff the British public would riot for. The list was surprisingly sparse and all I could come up with in the end was the NHS and the Beeb. For a man who comes from the New Labour school of touchy-feely, ‘don’t stray too far from the mainstream’ politics, this is a massive vulnerabilty and one that’s led to his undoing on previous episodes. So how did he fare this time round? Luckily for him, Auntie was off the off the agenda. However, there were a few sticky wickets to face, namely the Afghan Clusterfuck, cutting the defecite, climate change and the perennial Brokun Britun question. In fairness to him, it was a tough crowd last night who were clearly spoiling for a fight and being the Labour meatpuppet on QT these days is a pretty shitty deal. His answers are pretty much what we’d expect from someone who’s been caught up in the New Labour machine for so long, being largely a mixture of hedged bets, pleas of ‘Come on guys, this is, you know, complicated stuff’ and earnest brow furrowing. However, what let him down is that tinge of spin that seems to coat everyone who was in close contact with Blair. This game is old and the public have no time for it anymore. He also got into a bit of a kerfuffle when trying to pull Douglas Murray on whatever batshit crazy point he was making about climate change and fumbled the ball by going on about how George W. Bush is both stupid and right at the same time. Dimbleby, who clearly stills hasn’t forgotten about his Beeb baiting, jumped all over this and toyed with him for a while like a cat with a cornered mouse. It was a little unfair, but then again if you are stupid enough to take a dump on the coffee table in the Beebs living room, you have to expect them to be less than forgiving.

All-in-all: A ‘meh’ of a performance. 4/10

In the Blue Corner: Lord Lawson of Blaby (seriously, Blaby), Father of Nigella.

When I think of a Tory Chancellor, I think of the Nigel Lawson of Yore. He’s the first Chancellor I have any memories of and he totally looked the part. Fat, opulent and pinstriped, he perfectly fitted the role of Chancellor to the Rich and didn’t look a million miles away from Steve Bell’s fat cats. Alas, time and excessive dieting are a harsh mistress that have rendered this once perfect caricature of The Unacceptable Face Of Capitalism into what appears to be a maudlin panto dame. Satirists the country over must have quietly wept. I also question exactly why the Conservatives put him on the show at this stage in the game as while they’ve done quite a good job of decontaminating the Tory brand per se, no amount of caustic soda, DDT and carbolic acid are going to erase the memories of Thatcher’s more excessive reforms. Lawson is like a living reminder of those days. Having said that, I do quite like it when the Tories wheel out a big beast as it harks back to simpler days when there was a yawning chasm between the two sides in the political spectrum and you knew exactly where everyone stood. This was most apparent in the Afghan question and Lawson quickly reverted to type, invoking tales of the Great Game and getting very Geo-Political about everything (as well as muttering something daft about airstrikes). The fact that the 21st century has rendered the business of Britain blighthly shunting countries around the map from the safety of the Foreign Office obsolete, seems to be entirely lost on him but the nostalgia did have somewhat of an infectious quality. However, whatever limited capital he managed to accrue there was quickly squandered by his claims that the Tories were the shit when it came to his stint at the Treasury. Cue audience grumblings, bitter memories and a mini Poll Tax riot. To top it all off, he also fell into the climate change trap. The Tory party are now claiming to take all of this very, very seriously, but quite clearly the party isn’t convinced and as soon as the question was raised you could see his blood pressure hit the roof whilst collective groans filled the air at the Conservative HQ. Dashing aside any semblance of being ‘on-message’, Lawson threw caution to the wind and dived head first into a rabid denounciation of all things green. He may be completely wrong, but it was fun to witness.

The Assessment: 6/10 for the memories alone.

In the Yellow Corner: Jenny Tonge

OK, I’ll fess up. I have no strong recollections of Jenny Tonge’s past performances on QT (she’s been on twice before) and I don’t really have that much familiarity with her full stop. On the face of it, she’s got the easy deal. Despite their piss poor poll ratings, the Liberals always do pretty well on the show. That’s the beauty of being the third party, in that you usually have plenty of leeway as it’s a very outside chance that you’ll actually have to put your ideas into action. However, now that we’re in election territory, the scrutiny has been cranked up a couple of notches and a lot of the more crowd pleasing points are now tempered with a modicum of reality. As for her performance, well it was a bit skittish. The crowd was largely hostile to politians in general so no-one was getting a free ride on the night. Most of the stuff she came out with made sense and sounded fairly grounded but the crowd weren’t in the mood for sensible. They just wanted a scrap. She also got into an entertaining bout of fisticuffs with Douglas Murray on her meeting with Hamas members a while back, but that seemed to be a private affair that didn’t really capture the imagination of anyone in particular. She also got wrong footed by her support for the Kosovo intervention but not for Iraq war. Again though, this seemed to be an in house brawl between the political factions rather than something that conjured up genuine interest from the assembled rabble. I wish I could say more about her, but at present she’s somewhat of a blindspot in my QT knowledge. Will try harder in future. Promise.

The final verdict: An ambivalent 5/10.

In the Minority/Brainy Corner: Douglas Murray, Director of the Centre For Social Cohesion and full time right wing nut.

By rights, I should hate Douglas Murray. On nearly every issue, we are diametrically opposed and he has the dubious distinction of writing a book called “Neoconservatism: Why We Need It.” as well as endorsing pre-emptive nuclear strikes against states developing WMD’s. The first time I saw him on QT I was absolutely appalled and I recall shouting at the screen a number of times that night. In a nutshell, he’s not my kind of guy. However, he is great to watch, mainly because he doesn’t give a shit and has an absolutely unshakable belief in everything he says. True to form, he came to the show with a clutch of positively mental views and a near psychopathic disregard for anyone else’s viewpoint. Say what you want about his outlook, at least he’s unnervingly honest about it all. So what did he pull out of his bag of crazy this week? Well, on Afghanistan his position can be pretty much summed up as “Kill ‘em all before they kill us” and went as far as to imply that airstriking the crap out of civilians is fine as long as you’re honest about it. On the economy he managed to pick a fight with everyone, including the Tories as he felt that their proposed cuts don’t go far enough. That’s a pretty bold position to take and I imagine that his view of a perfect government is one that you could fit in a garden shed (apart from the folks involved in killing terrorist/civilians…they’d get a palacial residence of their own). He also poo-pooed global warming, poured scorn on Brokun Britun and generally rubbed everyone up the wrong way. Does he hang out anywhere near the vicinity of sanity? No. Is he a hoot to watch? Absolutely.

And the bell tolls for he… A resoundingly unhinged 8/10

In the Funny/I’m Just Like You Corner: Jane Moore, Sun columnist and Loose Woman

Jane Moore has been on Question Time a fair few times, but it does’nt show. Being a Sun columnist, her default position can be summed up as ‘Lowest Common Denominator/Shrill Dog Whistles/Hell-In-A-Handcart” type posturing. By rights, this should have gone down a treat with the Basildon crowd who were thirsty for blood and unimpressed with reason. However, it didn’t turn out that way. She had some early gains with the “paying the Taliban to stop killing us” issue but she came unstuck when advising on how she would save Britain from the impending economic apocalypse we hear so much about. Apparently if we get rid of the British Potato Council it’s all gravy. This was followed by a rash lunge to condemn Britain as the worlds leading hell hole and have a pop at the government for the Eddlington case. That didn’t go down too well and not only did the other panellists take her to task but she also looked in danger of losing what should have been a dream audience for her. Unnerved by the fact that her plan had not survived first contact with the enemy, she then spent the rest of the show trying to dig herself out of the hole which made it look even worse. She ended the show looking shellshocked and ragged around the edges. Not her finest hour.

The sum of all these parts: A woeful 3/10

The Audience: Basildon

Apparently, Basildon is a weathervane constituency that has an uncanny knack of picking the winning party. In that case, colour me shit scared. The paying off the Taliban issue was probably the most frightening as there was absolutely no market for nuance going and the crowd plunged in a headlong race to the bottom, decrying it all as ‘a bladdy disgrace, guv!’. Cuts in public services got a big thumbs up whilst the Brokun Britun fuss veered dangerously towards the ‘it’s the bladdy immigents innit’ angle but managed to just stop shy of it. There was also a women with a weird hybrid Italian/Essex accent that span me out a bit and a very self satisfied “student of law” who seemed to be besotted with Douglas Murray. Each to their own, I guess. What this audience were really missing were pitchforks and burning torches. Maybe next time.

At the final count: A somewhat scary 4/10.

So after all this gum flapping, I’m shocked to announce that against all the odds, Douglas Murray is the undisputed champion of this week’s question time. I find it hard to believe that I arrived at this conclusion, but there you go. I hope in future to keep a running tally of each weeks scores (although this will involve some mastery of the dark art of Excel, something that is above my pay grade right now) so stay tuned and pray I don’t get too drunk next week. If, however, you thought this was a pointless exercise and wish never again to be burdened by such an ordeal, feel free to send me some booze. I like Tyskie. It’s good beer.


Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Solemn Farewell To The Decade Without An Adequate Name…

Big old phrenology head full of fear and a silly hat

Hats FTW

Good morning and ‘Merry’ Yule, Lemmings. I’ve been racking my brains for a while, trying to come up with some sort of ‘end of decade’ post that would sum up the general state of perplexity that abounds, but short of jumping on the ‘list’ bandwagon (I think Cracked have got that covered) ideas were far from abundant. Earlier today however, I remembered something. A few months ago, I was manning a stall at a freshers fair at a large university. I was there on the company dime, all in the name of mental health promotion (which to those unfamiliar with the practice involves not only singing to choir, but doing so in a purpose built echo chamber whilst simultaneously webcasting it directly in their brains on an infinite loop). There was nothing unusual about the fair (aside from the Live Role Play Society giving a demo outside….things have changed since I was a student) which was essentially a Free Stationary Drive. But about 2 hours in, I had a chilling thought: “These guys were 10 when 9-11 happened”. Back when I was 10, we lived in a pretty self-satisfied world. The commies had thrown in the towel, history was over, Saddam was about to get a reality check and in the process set the tone of wars to come (largely bloodless, provided you’re on our side) while the excesses of Thatcherism were set to be replaced by the comfortable malaise of the Major years. Any clouds on the horizon spelt only scattered showers or maybe welcome shade from the frighteningly bright sun that appeared to be shining out of our arse’s (OK, I’m wantonly exaggerating, as we shall see later, but allow me this brief flight of fancy). Not so for this year’s crop of the Indebted Best and Maxed Out Brightest, for they came of age in a decade marked by one overriding factor: Anxiety.

I feel comfortable on the territory of anxiety. Not only am I a born worrier but I’ve also managed to make a living out of it so no matter how much it takes out of me, at least I get a pay cheque at the end of the month. However, I am alarmed by how anxious we are as a culture and the extent to which it has permeated every facet of our society. As a nation, we worry: We worry about how good we are at this, at how we’ve failed at that, about the damned uncertainty of it all and our impotence to do anything about it. We are fed on a diet of expectations we cannot meet, guidelines we cannot follow, and threats we can neither substantiate nor dismiss. You don’t need letters at the end of your name to figure out that none of this is a particularly healthy way to live, which in turn begs the question, “How the hell did we end up here”?

Before embarking on this exercise, perhaps it’s worth looking back at the world we came from because within it lies a paradox. Let’s start by turning the clock back to 1940. Britain is at war with an enemy who have proved themselves to be a) not fucking about and b) bloody good at fighting wars. America is dragging its heels, Russia have written themselves out of the game (for now) and more people are killed in a single night in Coventry than servicemen and women have died in the last 8 years of continuous war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The threat of national starvation is a real and worrying concern and conscription means that even if you, personally are out of harms way, someone you care for won’t be. To be sure, there was a great deal of anxiety around (fear of death, fear of loss, fear of subjugation, etc) but in a sense, that was a good thing as anxiety can be a blessing as well as a curse. When rendered in its purest form anxiety allows us to remain vigilant when we need it most. It allows our bodies to perform feats they are otherwise incapable of and on a sociological level it can be a great force for unity, galvanising us to act for a greater good. You can see it in the accounts and recollections of veterans: To be sure, there were moments of abject horror and scenes of indescribable carnage, but the overall picture we take from these years (propaganda, stiff-upper-lip and rose tinted glasses not withstanding) is one of shared purpose, a society greater than the sum of its parts and a good fight fought. Those that participated even got the honour of flaky sociologist naming them as The Greatest Generation.

Fast forward to 1963 and a different but not entirely alien picture emerges. On the one hand, Earth is poised on the brink of Armageddon. The two superpowers have amassed the most terrible stockpile of diabolical weapons and all that stands between Joe Public and a Fallout 3-esque wasteland is a shaky understanding that neither side really wants this. In fact, only a year earlier, the world was bought to the brink of total destruction in the Cuban Missile Crisis that was only averted by desperate brinkmanship by the leadership of both sides. If you want something to worry about (and herein lies the paradox), I guess this is as big as it comes. Yet again though, this doesn’t appear to be a society racked with worry. There was a confidence on both sides of the Atlantic that things were getting better and that in many ways humanity was reaching an apex in its achievements. This was the year that Harold Wilson gave his ‘white heat of technology’ speech, Martin Luther King his ‘I have a dream’ and the great powers signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. On less dramatic fronts, there were other reasons for hope. Britain was becoming more equal and the stuffiness of post war society began to loosen up as the Beatles geared up for their assault on the world of popular culture. JFK’s assassination bought some rain to the parade late in the day, but in the face of the most titanic threat earth has ever seen, people managed to keep their shit together and even enjoy themselves. Again, there are caveats: To think everyone was swimming in a giant tub of happiness is clearly untrue and the very understanding of the term ‘anxiety’ at the time was very different to the over-pathologised version we used today. Doubtlessly, much was swept under the carpet with the blanket use of Valium, but in many respects it was a far mentally healthier period of time to grow up in.

Alas, all good things come to an end and by the turn of the decade the world was looking a lot less rosy. The cheery optimism of the early 60’s had been bludgeoned to death in the paddies of South East Asia, the streets of Memphis and in front of the stage at Altamont. While the headline event of Mutually Assured Destruction chuntered relentlessly away in the background, something more subtle was afoot in the way we view ourselves. On the one hand, the Hippy movement (though well intentioned) released the genie of individualism out of the bottle while at the same time the medical profession set about turning the world of mental health into something they thought could be ordered, categorised and treated. I’m not going to go into too much detail here because it’s already been comprehensively and brilliantly covered by Adam Curtis in both The Trap: Whatever Happened To Our Dreams Of Freedom and The Century Of The Self. If you haven’t watched them already, stop wasting your time reading this clap-trap and get amongst it. The long and short of it though was that the 70’s were the seed from which the world we recognise today grew. It was a decade characterised by paranoia, economic crisis, dented pride and a new found pessimism. The collective bonds that had done so much to hold everything together in the face of real and imminent danger were strained to breaking point and society was left adrift, buffeted by forces it couldn’t quite get it’s head round. This confused, lost decade finally groped its way to its inevitable conclusion with the Winter of Discontent in 78/79 and from its ashes rose the oddest phoenix: Thatcherism.

Thatcherism was never a certainty and had it not been for an opportune war, the chances were that the project as we know it now would have been stillborn. That aside, it does mark one of the greatest social upheavals in living memory. The old orthodoxy of ‘society’ as we knew it was turned on its head and was replaced by a collection of individuals, each with their own agenda and a god given mandate to fulfil their own desires. Things we had taken for granted as ‘ours’ (water, electricity, railways, etc) suddenly weren’t and a new cockiness seeped into the national discourse. Gone was the certainty of the ‘cradle to grave’ state and in was the law of the jungle, red in tooth and claw. But perhaps the biggest change was the most imperceptible: Class. Prior to this period, you were born in a bracket and there you died. What Thatcherism did (and it’s bloody clever) was not abolish class (the Tories were still as Blue Blooded as they had ever been) but to spin a mirage that it no longer mattered. There were some real changes at ground level (like the ability to buy council houses, a policy that we are still living with the consequences of) but the real meat of the matter occurred at a far more profound level. To the average citizen, it was no longer about the constraints of birth or the bondage of heritage that stopped one form advancing because Thatcher had declared these concepts obsolete. Instead the spotlight swung to glare directly on the individual: If YOUR lot is shitty it’s because YOU didn’t do anything about it. WE’VE given YOU the tools so the ball of failure is in YOUR court. Keep this in mind because it’s important and I’m going to be talking a lot more about it in the next part.

In practice, Thatcherism had two faces. To some, it represented a golden age where the individual, free from the constraints of an overbearing state, could apply themselves and reap the rewards. To the hordes of City traders, The Big Bang marked the death of the frail and infirm Britain of 70’s and ushered a brave new world where the sky was the limit. To a great many more people, it was an utter disaster. The safety nets that had made the 70’s bearable for those less fortunately were savagely cut and the idea that the state had anything other than the most basic duty of care was left to whither on the vine. More importantly, the glue of society was coming unstuck. As deprived communities struggled to keep their heads above water, the very bonds that kept them together weakened. Family breakdown, the lack of secure work and the rise of social ills such as heroin abuse rose steadily while the old touchstones of solidarity such as unions and churches lost their influence and began to perish. However, there was a unifying thread that ran through both these aspects and that was uncertainty. For those at the bottom of the pile, there was the knowledge that they had been effectively forgotten and from here on in, they were at the mercy of the gods. For those who were living the high life, there was still a voice at the back of their heads saying “if this goes sideways, we’re screwed” and a tacit understanding that the very system that created their wealth could also destroy it. As it turned out, a great many were screwed and as Thatcher departed Downing Street, recession set in and many of those who had rushed towards the mirage in hope of quenching their thirst found only sand. Thatcher was followed by Major who did precisely fuck all (oh no, wait…I forgot about the Cones Hotline) and it looked like the dream was over. Labour was resurgent and a great many of us hoped that their entrance would herald a redressing of the balance. The first three years of Labour certainly did provide some sunshine and a feeling that things could be better, but it was a fleeting moment that masked the arrival of a bizarre chimera that would dictate the terms for the next decade, New Labour.

I’ve been very scathing of New Labour in the past and while this is a giant ball of cathartic fun, I do admit that it’s all too easy. However, to really get to grips with how their project turned out to be as weird as it did, you have to look at the conditions from which it rose. Only then can you trace the line to the consequences we live with today. During the mid-nineties it was clear that the right had the ideological high ground. Labour had failed to make any significant gains in three subsequent elections and despite a hard core of traditional supporters it was clear that they couldn’t fight on their own terms any more. Any appeal to public sentiment that the current system was flawed were met with howls from the opposing benches that the solution they had in mind was no better. You want to redistribute wealth? Well, I hope you like uncontrollable inflation. You want people to have a greater say in their working lives? Then I hope you like being held hostage by the unions and their vested interests. In short, they were flogging a dead horse. The solution, it seemed was to play the Tories at their own game, yield ground where they had to, accept the bulk of the Thatcherite consensus but reconcile that with their reason d’etre by trying to nudge the debate in the direction of social justice and a more equitable deal for the many (the mythical Third Way). This strategy required sacrifices that were very hard for some to swallow, such as the abolition of Clause 4, but the result had the desired effect. Labour became electable (and not only electable, but landslide-electable). On the face of it, that was the heavy lifting done with. We’ve got the keys right? So let’s lets drive this baby as far left as we can! Wrong. Once in power, New Labour became paralysed by a fear of losing it again and a strange new breed of politics began its ascent: The politics of managerialism.

Labours astonishing success at the polls was bought about because they had been willing to give up some very deep rooted ideas in the hope that the end (a more equal and socially just country) justified the means. However, that experience had a lasting effect on the party and over time it was the means (obtaining and sustaining power) that became the end. I doubt whether this was a conscious decision (I’m a big fan of headless conspiracies) but the end result was that Labour was a hostage to its own success. From here on in, their modus operandi was triangulation (whenever confronted by two opposing viewpoints, go straight down the middle) and politics was no longer about a battle of big ideas and more a glorified beauty contest. So, for example, if public opinion seems to be drifting left, then that’s where we shall go. If it drifts right, there too we shall follow. On the face of it, there is not a great deal to dislike about this approach as at the end of the day, the majority of people are getting what they want. That’s democracy, right? In theory, yes, but the one thing the theory didn’t take into account were the quirks of the UK’s electoral system. Because we use an outdated and frankly lunatic way of electing politicians, the actual outcome of elections are decide by a relative handful of people in marginal constituencies, most of which fall broadly in the category of ‘Middle Britain’. As a result, these people (who tend to be inclined to the right)  have enormous political clout, their own mouthpiece (the Daily Fail) which sold papers by invoking spectres and demons and then berating the government for not doing enough about them (creating an unholy feedback loop). Labour were well aware that if they didn’t keep theses people onside, they’d lose the next election and all the sacrifice would be for nowt. Thus Labour turned its back on it’s political heritage and became little more than an electioneering machine, constantly trying to protect it’s flanks for fear of failure. You can still see it today, as we shift through the ashes of an economic crisis, bought about Thatcherite economics, that they still can’t bring themselves to depart from the script. Fear does funny things to people.

So there’s the backdrop. How, you may ask, has this got anything to do with us being a uniquely anxious society? A lot, so far as I’m concerned. Allow me to elaborate. I worked for three years as an NHS therapist specialising in mild to moderate mental health problems. During that time, I estimate I treated around 450 different individuals, a large proportion of which (perhaps a majority) presented with anxiety related problems. In a very unscientific nutshell, these people could be lumped in to a 3 of broad categories.

1) Those who were anxious because something horrible had happened to them or that they had seen something horrible. This is pretty standard stuff and it’s a case of your body doing what its supposed to, just with too much gusto. Most of the time, you could help them, things would get better and they could chalk up whatever it was that bought them there to life being a bastard at times.

2) Those who, for want of a better word, had shit lives. Be it an alcoholic partner, unemployed for 18 years, whatever, there were aspects of their lives that were crap and as a consequence, they felt crap. Sometimes you could help take the edges off the nastiness of it all and sometimes you could even present them with a picture of a better life. Quite often, you couldn’t and they tended to float around the system, bouncing from therapeutic post to the next.

3) Those, whose lives were completely unremarkable or sometimes even quite good by regular standards, yet who were beset with inner turmoil for reasons that they could not comprehend. These are the ones I want to focus on.

Predominately, but by no means exclusively, they were young (early-20’s to early-40’s), well educated, conscientious and at first, their problems were just as perplexing to me as they were to them (they certainly weren’t covered in my whistle-stop training but that’s a different story altogether). However, after a year or so in the job, I began to see some common threads running through their cases and in some respects, I recognised them from my own life. One thing that struck me was that there lifestyles weren’t usually extravagant, but neither were they impoverished. In fact, when compared to historical and international examples, their lot was good. But that wasn’t the full story. While it was true that grinding poverty wasn’t the issue, much of what they had was built on very shaky foundations. They were often homeowners who had bought completely overpriced housing on easy credit and much of their lifestyle was financed by similar tenuous arrangements. When asked whether they needed all this stuff, the answer would usually be “No”. So why did they do it? This stuff wasn’t exactly necessary and many of them were either racked with guilt at having it or somewhat stressed by the inescapable thought that one day they would have to square the bill. The answer was invariably that they thought this is what they ‘should’ be doing. This is what life ‘should’ look like.

Hand in hand with these confusing notions of material worth was their own self worth. As I mentioned earlier, many of these people were very well meaning, thoughtful people who wanted to be liked and wanted to be useful. A frighteningly large proportion of them were also teachers and in many respects, they pegged their own merit against what they perceived as how ‘good’ they were in their chosen field. Now, anyone who worked in the public sector during New Labour’s long reign will be familiar with the following:

Everyday, I go to work and try to do the best I can. I teach a class of kids who don’t want to be taught, I don’t have the resources to do the job and every day I live in fear of being found out. When OFSTED time approaches, I don’t sleep. I can’t. I think about what they’ll find and the fact that I haven’t met target X or benchmark Y. I’ve done everything I can, but it’s not enough. I’m just a shit teacher and I’ve failed myself and my students.”

In the cold light of day, this appears to be a nonsense statement. It’s hardly their fault that the system is too rigid to allow for circumstance or that the decisions that set the targets were carried out in a parallel universe astride the Thames? The problem is that truth is subjective and if that’s how the truth feels, that’s what the truth is. These problems weren’t just confined to the sphere of work either. People would constantly fret that they were drinking too much, that they hadn’t had there 5-a-day, that they watched far too much telly even though they were in great physical shape and their lifestyles were generally very balanced. New Labour’s preoccupation with securing its political flanks from a hostile and at times irresponsible press (who are equally, if not more culpable) had grave consequences for some people. Throw into the mix the various paedo/terror/cancer/binge drinking hullabaloos, a freaky cult of celebrity and nation in awe of consumerism and you have yourself a heady mix indeed.

Another part of the problem were their own standards. If you always aim for 100%, you are always going to fail. I could help with that a little, but it was only half the battle. There were some other specific problems. We, as a nation have grown accustomed to the notion that once we reach a certain level of success, our lifestyle should change to reflect this. However, this has become untenable in an age when nearly a third of young people end up in university but here there are precious few jobs available that reflect that level of education. What were once the trappings of an elite are now heading towards commodity status, but our perception of how we should reflect this hasn’t caught up yet. As Orwell once said “Here I am, for instance, with a bourgeois upbringing and a working-class income. Which class do I belong to?”. To large extent, cheap credit has managed to fill this yawning cognitive gap, but it’s a fragile and temporary solution that will one day (very soon, I believe) run out of road.

The other problem was much deeper and it is the part that connects the political to the personal. All their lives, these people were told that they could achieve their dreams, that constraints were purely self inflicted and that hard graft would always result in success. This is a lie. A pernicious and dangerous lie that fails to take into account that life isn’t geared that way. The truth of the matter is that we can’t all be winners. The maths simple doesn’t work. But the difference between now and 50 years ago is where the blame lies. Back then, if you weren’t from a background that gave you opportunities, the chances were you wouldn’t really go anywhere and would end up pretty much where you started. That is somewhat tragic, but there is some compensation in the fact that you are not the victim of your own design. “It was life wot did it”. If Thatcherism has left us with one overriding legacy, it is this and it is neither helpful nor healthy.

So what is to be done? The government know there is a problem (they got a Lord to look into it) and have convinced themselves that something must be done, partly because that will generate huge savings from the benefit bill. Their solution is the snappily named IAPT or Increasing Access To Psychological Therapies programme and it aims to provide a staggering 10’000 extra therapists to salve our tortured minds. Having survived a fair few DoH mental health policy drives myself, I have grave misgivings about how it’s all going to work, but that’ll have to wait for another time. The main point about IAPT is that it totally misses the point. It simply serves to patch the holes and mop the brow of mischiefs largely inflicted by a wonky system. What does need tackling is the way we think about ourselves, as people, as a society, as a culture. Some of that will mean curbing some nasty habits (like our addiction to stuff) and facing some hard truths (that admitting that the way we live now is probably not a great way of doing things) and finally get back into the business of ideas. Not ideas about how we can offer A World Class Customer Experience That Cements Our Reputation As A World Leader In Field Of Bollocks or Innovative Solutions To The Challenges Posed By An Economy That Rides Upon A Chariot Of Bullshit. We need to start think about the big things again, stuff that really matters. If we don’t, we’ll only have ourselves to blame when we’re still ‘documentaries’ about Peaches Geldof in 2019.

Happy New Decade y’all.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Tardy Response To The Question Time Shitstorm Special

This Is What Britain Looks Like

Cheers to James W Bell for the original.

Good morning Lemmings and holy crap, you are actually reading the second post in the space of a week. Trust me, I have better things to do (my kill kill/death ratio in Team Fortress 2 is not going populate itself) but something’s really got my hackles up this week, hackled enough to prompt a response. I’m talking about the Question Time shitstorm. It’s been nearly a week now, but this seems to have really got under everyones skin, generating tremendous amounts of heat and preciously little light. Somehow, I think we’ve missed the point.

OK, first things first, a small confession. I’m a complete Question Time geek. Seriously, it’s my equivalent of sport and Thursday is a hallowed day in the House of Ribs. I’ve toyed with the idea of producing a post-match report every week and posting up but have yet to do so because a) I’m usually too drunk on the night (I like booze with my bile) to make anything coherent out of it and thus too hungover the next day and b) I think I will have crossed some sort of nerdy Rubicon from which there is no going back. Anyhoo, I love it. When I watch it there’s a weird mental commentary that goes on in my head (“Prescott lunges at Widecome, lands a glancing blow on her cheek, but leaves himself exposed….And Widdecombe’s in there, pummeling that gut!”) and naturally, having Griffin on was going to lend it a whole new element of visceral eye scratching to it. And so it turned out to be, but not as I expected.

Given the extensive lead up to events, I had plenty of time to ponder who my dream line up would be. It looked like this:

Labour: There should be no debate in this matter as Cruddas was clearly the man for the job. A grassroots man of the people with impeccable left wing credentials, a sharp mind and extensive experience of combating the BNP on his own doorstep, he’s the real deal. Tony Benn came a close second for his slightly offbeat gravitas and the fact that he actually did fly planes in the war. Take that, Spitfire purloining Nazi’s!

Conservatives: New boys need not apply. This is the sort of thing that one of the old monsters should be well suited to, Heseltine perhaps, but in the end I plumped for David Davis. His ‘I’ve killed before so don’t fuck with me’ manner combined with his alarming (to Conservative Central Office) tendency to speak his own mind would have made for a killer combo.

Lib Dems: A clear win for Shirley Williams on this front as she’s got that whole righteous anger/eminent wisdom thing going and isn’t averse to telling people off. Ashdown did cross my mind (for reasons similar to my Davis punt), but then I realised that he had, at one point, been a de-facto dictator. That took the wind out of his sails a little.

The Non-Party One: This was the hardest one as there was so much choice about. I toyed with Lenny Henry as saying anything remotely nasty about race around him would look like a fat kid punching a baby and National Treasure status would give him a leeway the others don’t have (even if he isn’t funny any more). However, George Galloway won out in the end on pure value-for-money terms. His to-do at that Congressional Hearing is still one of my favourite bits of TV and the opportunity to hear Griffin being called a toady/lickspittle/poppinjay/brigand was too good to turn down. The Specials or a reanimated Joe Strummer were turned down for reasons of practicality.

That was what I wanted. This is what I got:

Labour: Jack Cocking Straw? Really? I mean, I don’t debate the fact that he’s a crafty (to the point of underhand) and canny (to the point of war criminal bastard) operator but his credibility is shot to pieces and he has a nasty habit of defensive wriggling. Not appealing.

Conservatives: They made an interesting choice in Baroness Warsi. On the one hand, she’s not afraid to get stuck in, is a poster girl for successful cultural assimilation and is quite quick on her feet. The downside is she overextends herself. Time and time again on Question Time I’ve seen her land a skillfull jab and then suddenly turn into some sort of Ruth Badger on PCP, relentlessly piling in until she’s dangerously off-kilter and then crashes and burns. Could have been worse though. It could have been Boris.

Lib Dems: Chris Hulne is a steady politician. And that’s the problem, he just reeks of generic, career, politician. He never says anything too rash, never overplays his hand and is ideal for the ‘steady pair of hands’ role. But for the fight of a lifetime? Nope.

The Non Party One: I was kind of pleased to see Bonnie Greer in. She’s got an air of confidence and authority that play well and is free from political constraints to say whatever she damn well pleases. However, there is a down side: She can get a little tangential and lose her focus, chasing after dead points. Not a bad choice though.

 nerdy rubicon

Oh great... it finally happened... I'm crossing the Nerdy Rubicon.

So what happened? Weirdness, that’s what. It was always going to be a highly charged event but there was blood in the air that night. Griffin did awesomely well in proving himself to be an utter shit and the audience did a stand up job at making it clear that his brand of crap is not going to fly. For the other panelists, it was open season with low hanging fruit positively cluttering up the place. The man was (rightly) damned, pilloried and exposed as the fuckface that he is and by the end, it looked like the forces of progress and reason had triumphed over the vile standard bearers of hatred. Yes, Jack Straw practised some of his trademark chicanery, Warsi briefly got stuck out on a limb and Bonnie Greer got totally sidetracked with genetics, but all in all it was a case of mission accomplished. Personally, I thought it was a riot. Far right twat gets pwnd by more palatable people and Britain once again displays its famed tolerance? What’s not to like? At least that’s how it appeared at the time.

The morning after, amid the usual post QTime hangover I started thinking about it a bit more. One thing in particular was grating at me, the immigration question. As soon as the question was uttered, you could see all the party panelists have an ‘Oh Fuck’ moment and they immediately turned to point the finger at each other. A minor scuffle ensued, a few cheap blows were traded and then things rapidly moved on. But the funny thing was that crowd also hushed themselves. Suddenly, the elephant lumbered into the room. From a personal point of view, I haven’t got a problem with immigration. I think it makes this country richer in many ways but I have to concede that it does make a lot of people very angry for various reasons (some valid, some not) and for a smaller proportion, it is the most important political issue to them. Yet the politicians couldn’t bear to look it, just in case that somehow validated it and made it real. Unfortunately, it is real.

While this episode may seem like a minor crack in the facade, briefly glimpsed from the corner of an eye, it belies something deeper and something that all the post QTime fuss has not yet addressed. The BNP got a million votes from regular people. In that pool, there will be a certain proportion racist, hateful nutters who are repulsive to everything this country stands for, but the rest of them are probably aren’t your regular skinhead thugs. So who are they? Stand by for me to sound slightly sanctimonious.   My job means I spend a lot of time in poor, white areas of a large city in the north. My bread and butter is woe and anguish, so naturally, these places tend to get a lot of my time. The weird thing is that before I did these sort of jobs, these places might as well not have existed. They were bus stops that you don’t get off at, a place of ‘others’ and of potential danger. It inhabitants could usually be summed up as chavs or scallies and to all intents and purposes I had no reason to give them the time of day. However, now I have to (the early days were fucking scary) and over time, I’ve had to revise the way I look at them. Something that struck me early on was that everyone in these places looked like they had had the life sucked out of them. Physically, people were either too thin or too fat, their skin pasty and their habits destructive. But it was deeper. In none of these places was there any sense of hope or a vision of how things could be. Basically, ‘life’ was something that happened to them, not something they had a say in. Various do-gooders like myself would occasionally pass through their lives, promise the earth and deliver very little while the state’s carrot and stick approach would usually want the responsibility up front and the reward on the never-never. Watching the news in one of these households would usually end up with a weary round of “I’d like to see them live off sixty quid a week” and “they’re all same”-ing while the adbreaks would taunt them stuff they could have, if only they weren’t them (although sometimes, by means of dodgy credit or DLA back payments, 40” LCD’s would magically appear). To them, the world outside the estate was as unreal and ethereal as their world had been to me, the only difference being that in their eyes my world was intent of fucking over there’s.

These people were largely invisible because no-one really represented them. The left had pretty much collapsed with Labour morphing from the party of the people to the party of whatever keeps the fun times going and nothing came along to fill its place. As a result, this clutch of people effectively wrote themselves out of the game. They did this by not voting. Now they were really in the shit because no one could see any benefit in fighting their corner. The battle for power became about Middle England and the underclass were left to fester, an angry boil tucked out of sight but getting bigger with every passing day. Unfortunately, someone is offering these people a vision now and in their eyes, it’s a far better prospect than the helping of Shit Pie they’ve got right now. That someone is the BNP.

In the eyes of the rest of the world, the BNP seem to stand for one thing and one thing alone: Racism. Whilst I wouldn’t argue for a second that they are anything other than a bunch of biggoted fucktards who appall me, that’s only half the picture. The part we don’t talk about is the vision that they are selling which is far broader. They are offering these angry, pissed off people something that no-one else does: Pride and a perceived righting of perceived wrongs. To some of them, the BNP are people who do have an idea of what it’s like to live in a shitty estate, they are people who will stand up for their interests, will not cave in to Big Money and they are people who can conceivably make life better for them, even if that means swallowing a hearty dose of race hate. After all, what has immigration ever given them? From their point of view, it’s made a housing system that was already buckling completely collapse and made those elusive career prospects even scanter (and in some cases, there is an element of crude racism). The benefits that we reap from it simple aren’t visible in their world and if someone was going to frame the debate in terms of ‘Us or Them’, then they’re going to plump for ‘Us’.

Don’t get me wrong, I in no way condone anything that BNP stand for and don’t think for a second that these areas are exclusively made up from the downtrodden and repressed masses of toiling salts of the earth. The truth is that there are some real shits who don’t take responsibility for anything, harbour some sickening views and generally weaken their communities. But the same can be said for any walk of life. That’s humanity. However, what I do caution against is turning this into a one dimensional conflict where if you’re with the BNP, you’re a racist and that’s the end of the argument. It achieves little than to confirm our own prejudices and mask the wider argument. An interesting parallel is Germany in the 20’s and 30’s. Looking back after the event, it is easy to equate pretty much everything the Nazi’s did to their racial policy and thus conclude that the German people were simply a nation of closet racists just waiting for the opportunity to unleash their hatred upon Europe. But it’s not that simple. Many of Germany’s people either did not share the Nazi’s opinion on the Jews or simply didn’t feel very strongly about it. What they did feel, and oh so keenly, was that their nation had been broken, humiliated and given the beat down by a world that was exacting revenge. That was the fuel that allowed the Nazi’s in and although the aspects of racial hatred were often explicit among the hardcore supporters, it simply wasn’t the big issue for the many and the ghastly policies that eventually emerged developed at a slow but relentless pace. It was a trade off the people may not have been comfortable with, but the pro’s outweighed the cons. A graphic illustration of how this operates in our time is that I’ve met Asians who are considering voting for the BNP. While this fact is by turns mind boggling and stomach turning, it warrants further examination. The said people I’ve met have also lived in grotty areas, have very few prospects and feel that no-one stands up for them. They and their families have lived in Britain long enough for them to consider themselves ‘British’ and like their white counterparts, see immigration as a further threat to the tenuous existence that cling on to. When you try and point out that the BNP has an extensive history of hatred towards Asians and explicitly bans them from membership, there doesn’t seem to be any resonance. It’s about the trade off. These guys might believe some pretty horrific stuff, but at least they also have some of my interests at heart. And that’s the problem.

I’m guessing that some of the stuff I’ve written might make a few people very angry and I want to make it clear that have a lot of sympathy for the argument that racists shouldn’t be given the time of day. It’s easy for me, being white and never having been the victim of direct racism to spout off about ‘grey areas’ and I’m sure it would be very different if I had grown up with the NF at my school gates, singling me out for no better reason than the colour of my skin. Nor do I want to be misunderstood as believing that racism isn’t a problem in this country. It is and I encounter it far too often in my work to write it off as anything other than a serious and ugly blight on our society.  However, I think it’s of the utmost importance that we avoid this argument become polaraised into a battle over one issue and one issue alone. If we do that, we risk taking our eye off the ball to the issues that actually count for the people who are considering voting for the BNP, fail to do anything about them and then let in an abhorrent party by the back door. Again, Germany springs to mind where the debate in the 30’s became about Communists vs. Fascists. The middle ground simply ceased to exist as mainstream parties failed to recognize that the battle wasn’t just about a very select few specific beliefs. What I believe Question Time demonstrated was that the mainstream parties are on notice: There is an army of people who you have forgotten. They are angry, hurt and at the point where they will consider actions that we feel to be the unreasonable. They may not have voted in the past, but that’s because they felt there was no-one to vote for. Now they do. Cater for these people now or face genuine and widespread support for the diabolical on your doorstep. You have been warned.

Oh great! I ended all depressing again! It ain’t easy being me.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Corner Belated Post-Conference Season Catharsis

Morning Lemmings and welcome once again to the agonizing grind that is my Curmudgeonry Corner. Now that we’ve managed to make it through the hell that is conference season, I thought it might be opportune to look back and heave a collective “WTF?!” at the frankly confusing events that occurred during those three weeks. But first, a brief wander down memory lane.

Many years ago, I was a fresh faced A-level student who uncool enough to take Politics and Government as one of my subjects. Part of our studies revolved around political theory and ideology, something that I thought would probably be quite interesting at the time. As it turned out, our lecturer managed to extract any semblance of relevance or meaning from it and managed to convert what should have been an inspirational eye-opener into the dried out husk of a reverse engineered exam. However, I did learn stuff…and things for that matter. One of the greatest bits of stuff (or perhaps a thing) was Hans Slomp’s Projection Of The European Political Spectrum, handily displayed below.

Many thanks to wikipedia user Mcduarte200 for making the original Public Domain.

Many thanks to wikipedia user Mcduarte200 for making the original Public Domain.

It’s basically a graphic crib sheet that you figure out where certain people were on the political spectrum. For example, Old Labour were usually pretty progressive in both social and economic matters so we could plonk them squarely in the top left segment, just about where social democracy sits. The Tories, on the other hand, were pretty much conservative on both fronts so they got to sit in the bottom right pane while the Lib Dems, being all things to all men had the joy of hovering around the middle. Looking at it, there was a nice sort of symmetry to it…the little X’s for all the major parties were pretty evenly spaced , formed a nice straight line if you connected them and stayed away from the dangerous corners of communism and fascism. To me, that looked like a pretty good recipe for a healthy democracy, a fair spread with something for everyone but nothing for real lunatics. And like all things great, I bloody well took it for granted. Fast forward 10 years and a very different picture emerges, a picture that this conference season threw into sharp relief, but more on that later. So without further ado, let’s delve into the maw of the beast and pray to god that we somehow manage to clamber back out.

In the Used To Be Red Corner…..New Labour:

I feel a bit sorry for Gordon Brown these days. No matter what he does, it is always spun in terms of ‘the fight of his political life’ or ‘the speech of a lifetime’. I’m sure that if he makes a cup of tea in the morning some hot headed apparatchik will burst into the kitchen to yell “Gordon, for God’s sake man! This is your cup of tea of a lifetime! DON’T FUCK IT UP!”. And so the scene was set for yet another ‘[insert activity here] of a lifetime’. Where I start to lose sympathy for Gordon Brown is the way he always just manages to scrape through but never has the guts to try something that veers too far from the script. The performance is usually muddled, lacklustre and a hodge-potch of ‘whatever looks good this season’, thrown together in the hope that this scattergun approach might spray enough political buckshot over a wide enough arc to at least clip someone and leave them with a nasty scratch. What he doesn’t do is radical departures or bold thrusts into the unknown and that’s pretty much what we got from the conference.

Let’s look at the economic side of things first, because this is where Brown has the greatest leeway for calling bullshit on the Tory’s. It’s no great secret that pretty much every economist worth their salts (so minus the crazy free market fundamentalists) are frankly appalled at the Conservatives latest take on money matters. Their plan basically amounts to paying back everything we owe in record time and a middle finger to public services. It’s a seductive argument, if you’re into the business of relating the macro-economic behemoth to a simple household budget, but also an argument that is made of bricks of pure stupid. If Brown had any sense/gumption he would have trashed the Tory’s plan in the crudest terms and then proudly declared that he would continue spending with wild abandon until it became clear that the world as we know it was in no danger of imploding. Instead, he did what New Labour usually does and fudged it by basically saying “Yeah, we won’t cut back that much and we will pay back a little”. The very act of doing that is bloody stupid because it credits the Troy plan with a modicum of sense, rather than shitload of crazy that it actually is. As a result, the Tory’s now have the initiative and are dictating the terms of the economic argument. Nice one Gordy, way to miss an open goal. As for the bankers, Gordy tried to sound well ‘ard, but ended up sounding just a bit bland. Again, this is another fumbled ball as he could well have got away with a policy aimed at tarring and feathering errant bankers. The public would have happily obliged, feasted riotously on the pound of flesh that they have (justifiably) hankered after so long and then  gone to the polls with a song in their heart and blood round their chops. Alas, it was not to be.

So how about social policy, surely he’ll fare better here? Well, yes and no. As is obligatory at New Labour Conferences, he did The Big List. “We got X-million benefit claimants into crappy temporary agency jobs, X-million families in poverty into the arms of Cash Converter, blah blah blah”. OK, I sound a little churlish now, but that’s the nature of the beast. Labour has done some good things, to which I doff my cap, but I’m a fickle voter and I don’t want to hear about what you’ve done. I want to hear about what you’ll do. On that front, he got into even more of a pickle with an epic exercise in hedge betting. For the left, there were the back down on compulsory ID cards, the commitment to foreign aid, abolition of means testing for elderly care and the protection of school spending. All well and good, except that some of these things will really wind up the right of the party and the overly powerful Middle England crowd. To remedy this problem, some of the other announcements pandered to that end of the spectrum (tighter booze controls, gulags hostels for single mums and benefit cuts for parents of ASBO kids who don’t fall into line) but also had the effect of then pissing off the left.  In the end, you get the political equivalent of Modest Mouse’s “Good News For People Who Like Bad News”, an album that is half solid gold, half turgid shit. The same applied to electoral reform. The bold move would be to realise that the chances of winning the next election are pretty much slim to nil and to go out with a scorched earth policy by allowing a referendum for PR (thus restoring a modicum of sanity to a lunatic political system and denying the Tory’s any future landslides). Again, he went for the triangulation approach and opted for a referendum on AV if they win the election. Given that AV is widely regarded as worse than first-past-the-post and that their current chances of winning look like a turd in the rain, this was nothing more than a fop to shut up the awkward squad. Which pretty much sums up the Labour Conference.

Maybe I’m doing to harsh here. For a party that’s been in power for as long as New Labour have, it’s pretty hard to learn new tricks. While their future prospects look grim and changes are needed, a wholesale deviation from the blueprint is a tricky thing to pull off (remember, for every Sgt. Pepper there’s a St. Anger). However, I can’t help but think that what we got here was the worst of both worlds, a wrong headed attempt to fuse together the incompatible (much like my partners brain wave to try All Bran with orange juice instead of milk. Trust me, it didn’t end well).

Final Verdict: File under ‘L’ for ‘Lacklustre’

In The Probably Still Blue Corner: The Conservatives

This was the scary one. If, like me, the sum of all your fears boils down to the Tories back in power then this was the conference to watch. After all, the pressure was on and it was apparent that they couldn’t carry on by just making vague statements and praying people will vote them in on account of not being Labour. This was the time when they had to look a bunch of people who could govern rather than just criticise. From my point of view, it got off to a belting start with Ireland giving a resounding ‘Yes’ to the Lisbon Treaty. “Thank God!” I thought, “Europe is here to plunge the Tory’s back to the Dark Ages and spare us all 4 years of Bullingdonocracy!”. David Cameron tried his best to defend the indefensible by resolutely refusing to answer any question about what happens if the Czechs also ratify the treaty but was soon outflanked by Boris who took it upon himself to make numerous harebrained and impossible proposals in the opposite direction, all good times in my book. As it stands, we’re yet to hear a definitive answer on the question of  “will you really tell the entirety of Europe to get bent and thus undo decades delicate diplomacy” question. It could yet prove to be their undoing.

However, the glory of a foes folly was short lived and the conference began to take a very scary turn with George Osborne’s speech. As you may well have guessed by now, I have little love for the boys in blue, but I reserve a special ring of hell for Osborne. To me, he is the embodiment of everything that is wrong with British politics. His perma-sneer, that look of a raging cokehead (speculation, of course), the old school tie elitism and his complete disconnection from reality as we know it all combine to make me shudder whenever I see him. The only thing in his favour is that he is very bad at disguising these character flaws and usually comes across as Head Smarmy Bastard, something that tends not to endear him to voters. So imagine my horror when he gets on the stage and somehow manages to conceal these usually all too obvious traits under a veil of bullshit. Somehow, I guess with the aid of superglue between gums and lips, he managed not to sneer and present himself as vaguely credible. I say vaguely, because the content was all over the show but in the world we live, presentation pwns content to the power of ten. So what of this content?  Well, how about the (oft repeated) “We’re all in this together” line? Excuse me? From a party that has both a base and a front bench full of multi-millionaires? A little fatuous don’t you think? Then came the “We have become the party of the NHS” swizz. Now don’t get me wrong, I have no love for New Labour’s meddling with NHS and having spent three years as a front line clinician during the height of their reforms, I can tell you that they were wrong headed, ill-conceived and destined to failure. That fact, however, does make the Tory’s (who have said or done nothing to indicate otherwise) any better on that front. And the bankers? Osborne apparently “reserves the right” to get hot under the collar about it so I wouldn’t hold your breath for that pound of flesh you so desperately crave. Finally, there was the “age of austerity” business, designed (I suspect) to conjure up wholesome images of 50’s nuclear families settling down to a hearty meal of rationed spam before darning their socks and counting their blessings. Personally, I see all this as a softening up manoeuvre for another bout of ‘for your own good’ Thatcherism, clad in the clothing of ‘compassionate conservatism’. The thing that bothers me is that he may have got away with it.

Worse was to come as Call Me Dave performed a similar trick. Credit where credit’s due, he has worked some sort of miracle in decontaminating the Tory brand, from the point of view of perception at least. In his speech, this boiled down to a masterclass in political cross dressing. On the one hand, he paid lip service to the old touchstones of conservatism: Labour are too statist, love taxes too much and want to monitor how many times you go to the toilet each. It was  your basic ‘down with Big Government’ call to arms’. So far, so Tory. However, the surprising bit was his sudden new found social responsibility: It will be the Conservatives who save the poor (who stand to do sooooo well out of their inheritance tax reforms) and heal the sick, who will stitch our fragmented society back together and go back to the good old Blighty of cricket and young boys in short shorts and knee high socks. All those people we used to call slackers and scroungers are now the downtrodden we will  lift out of poverty with our benign and paternal endeavours. While I can’t disagree with such a mobile intention, I have grave reservations about whether they really mean it. For a start, the funding for all these plans is fanciful. The general plan is that services will be cut, waste will be dealt with ruthlessly, taxes won’t go up and then spontaneously a recovery will appear and we’ll all be made up, free to pursue our now poverty free lives without the state getting all up in our faces. The trouble is that the economics just don’t stack up. The service cuts will hit the poor the hardest, the ‘savings’ probably won’t materialise and the cuts themselves only cover a tiny fraction of the money we owe. Again, I see this as pretty much the same old Thatcherism, just this time garnished with New Labour platitudes. In short, it’s a fantasy, but one he sold very well. Colour me worried.

In other news, the party as a whole were under strict orders not to look like a bunch of multi-millionaires, yahooing their way to power and Bono made a video appearance. Just when I thought I couldn’t  hate Bono any more.

Verdict: File under ‘F’ for ‘Frightening’.

In the WTF?! Corner, The Lib Dems.

*sigh* Ok, I’m going to be brief here because I found this to be a heart breaking experience. On the face of it, the Lib Dems should have making a shitload of hay for the last 5 years, but are still scoring around the 20% mark. Part of that is not their fault and is to do with our demented political system. However, a lot of it is to do with the fact that they are simply not coherent. They’ve got some great political real estate in the shape of Vince Cable (who would look great in a shop keepers jacket a la Ronnie Barker in Open All Hours) and Shirley Williams (Sarah Tether and Norman Baker put in some good work as well), but it is squandered because a) the party as a whole have no idea what they’re doing and b) they’re leader is as memorable as whoever came 7th in The X-Factor last year. Take for example Cable’s proposal to tax homes worth over a million. I’m on board with this and there’s an appetite for it out there. Not only that, but it would put clear water between the Lib Dems and the other parties. However, once it received a savaging in the right wing press the party simply fell apart on the issue and ended up looking a bunch of startled cattle. And that’s the problem: they don’t seem to have the ideological gumption to find a cohesive position on anything. Sense would dictate that now is the time for them to move left as there is no competition and plenty of demand, but they simply don’t have the stones. And that’s tragic.

Srsly Vince, it's a good look. You carry it well.

Srsly Vince, it's a good look. You carry it well.

Moving onto the next problem, WHY THE FUCK DID YOU ELECT CLEGG? His speech was the political equivalent or weak lemon drink in a plastic beaker. Seriously, whenever he’s on TV I seem to suffer some sort of absence, only to come round five minutes later wondering what just happened. The speech itself was crap. Every time he claimed he could be PM (which was many, but I simply don’t have the will to look it up), something inside of me died. He wants to out Cameron Cameron and out Blair Blair but just ends up coming across as a creature with all the substance of a set of net curtains. Seriously, have a coup. You guys are quite good at that now so why not do us all a favour and send him quietly into the night.

Final Verdict: File under ‘F’ for ‘Futile’

So that was the conference season, but there’s another point here. Go back to the marvellously named Slomp Projection and have a crack at plotting where the parties stand now. In fact, don’t bother, I’ve done it for you.

O hai! I fuxed ur politcal spectrum!

O hai! I fuxed ur politcal spectrum!

As you can see, it is by turns mind boggling and depressing. The left has completely caved and what we are left is an amphorous mass, slowly cannibalising each other and offering voters a choice of basically nothing. Over the last 12 years, politics in this country has gradually turned from a real battle between competing versions of reality to a pissing match in which the distinction between parties is measured only in tone and the issue of substance is but an afterthought. The more frightening aspect is that leaves the door open for real nutters like the BNP. With such massive gaping holes in the graph, the people left in the desolate sections have no choice but to gravitate to the extremes, much to the detriment of all. Politics should be about offering people a hopeful narrative and the promise of something better. I fear that in this country we have lost that fire and now simply treat politics as an exercise in management, a mundane necessity that whirs away in the background while life trundles on. And that cannot be a good thing.

Loudribs Curmudgeonry Current Affairs Corner

1st Battalion, Internetz Regiment, yeah?

1st Battalion, Internetz Regiment, yeah?

Another day, another turgid outpouring of near random anger. Today, ladies and gents, it is the lucky old war in Afghanistan that gets to have a bunch of my bile slowly dribbled all over it. To be fair, that’s the least of their problems but being one never to miss an opportunity to make a bad situation worse, I feel obliged to get stuck in with a good old surge of nay-saying.

Alright, let’s get this show on the road. By their very nature, wars are messy affairs that often blur the lines between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and consequently need mythologising the fuck out of if they are going to go anywhere. Sometimes the myths work really well and we all get to pat each other on the back in the name of a ‘good’ war while thousands die untimely deaths as a result of stuff they had absolutely no control over. Fig. 1 in ‘The Good War Fun Book’ is WWII for the following reasons:

A) We really didn’t start that one. Further to that, the guy who did start it seemed to really enjoy being Global Dickhead #1.

B) We won…it’s really hard to have a ‘good war’ without winning.

C) By the time we did win, we had uncovered some of the most unholy bullshit ever perpetrated which lends a whole load of credibility to the ‘good war’ claim.

D) Our armed forces appeared to be composed of wholesome stereotypes (like the Cock-er-ny Tommies whistling ‘Knees-Up Muvver Brahhhn’ and “Gawd blessing” ‘er Majesty as they march off to certain death or the unflappable, pipe-chomping chaps from the home counties who quaintly understate everything before unleashing several tonnes of high explosives over a civilian area).

E) You can legitimately claim that the war fell into the category of ‘Battle for Existence’. I mean Hitler wasn’t really pissing about, was he?

Of course, if you scratch the surface a little, then things aren’t quite that simple. The bombing of Dresden doesn’t fit in quite so well with the glorious narrative we grew up with and to think it was only the bad guys who committed war crimes is plain old wishful thinking. However, those are the things that history tends to gloss over and our enduring memory is of how we bailed Jonny Europe out of a tight spot and thus gave the Daily Mail an Unlimited Ammo cheat code for the next 60 years of bitching about foreigners. So there’s World War 2. File it under ‘G’ for ‘Good’.

At the other end of the spectrum is your ‘Bad War’ and although many start out in popular perception as ‘Good Wars’, it usually isn’t too long before they’re quickly shunted over to the ‘Bad’ pile and then consigned to fester on history’s naughty step. The First Opium War is a great example (and one of many outstandingly ‘Bad’ British wars) for the following reasons.

A)    We really did start that one. The Chinese were happily minding their own business when the British took it upon themselves to sell shitloads of opium to the Chinese people. When the Chinese government understandable took umbrage to this turn of events, we killed over 22’000 of them and nicked Hong Kong. Yoink!

B)    OK, we didn’t lose that one (in fact, we won pretty convincingly) but      it was a case of the school bully beating seven bells out of the fat and slow kid who isn’t allowed to do PE because his mum won’t let him.

C)    We didn’t exactly act too sorry about it all, even though it was pretty clear that we had been utter cads. The Chinese didn’t get Hong Kong back for another 150 years.

D)    Although the soldiers were still generally stereotypically wholesome, the government that sent them to war certainly didn’t end up looking too rosy and the war divided the nation.

E)    There’s absolutely no fucking way you play the old ‘Battle for Existence’ card with this baby. Seriously, a war to ensure the future of our narcotic distribution infrastructure and the profits that go with it? Pull the other one.

So clearly, this ends up as a ‘Bad War’. And herein lies one of the many problems with Afghanistan: No one has been able to file it properly. Some want it in the Good pile, some in the Bad, but no one has been able to convince enough people that it’s one or the other. Being creatures who like to deal in certainties, this puts us in an uncomfortable position, like fancying a BNP member or harbouring a taste for human flesh. Although I’ve been quite firmly at the Bad end of the spectrum, it’s fair to say that it’s never been a crystal clear position and part of that is down to the fact that we’ve never been able to get a handle as to what this war is all about.

When the war kicked off in 2001, the rationale seemed pretty clear. The alleged mastermind of 9-11 was being sheltered by the government of Afghanistan and I think it’s fair to say that although quite a few of us had some misgivings, opinion in general was that America needed its pound of flesh and if that meant a bunch of Afghan civilians getting caught in the crossfire, then so be it (or as the sublime ‘Get Your War On’ put it, “You can’t make a freedom omelette without breaking a few human rights eggs”). Britain, wedded as ever to the ‘Special Relationship’ (shorthand for “We don’t have an independent foreign policy”) signed up without argument and I think it’s safe to say that most people felt comfortable in putting into the Good War bracket.  And there it would have stayed, if only Bin Laden had been good enough to be easily captured, the Taliban capitulated without a fight and a vibrant democracy spontaneously bloomed in a nation with very little history of central government.

What actually transpired was a somewhat different kettle of fish. Bin Laden (the cad) managed to evade the most powerful military on earth while the Taliban went to ground and started a bloody insurgency that lasts to this day. Not only that, but it started to become clear that the original pretext wasn’t quite as plausible as it seemed. For starters, people started to point out that the vast majority of those involved with 9-11 were Saudi’s and perhaps we were barking up the wrong tree. No one doubted that Bin Laden was a de-facto war criminal, but did that really justify the tearing apart of a nation that was only really implicated by association (not mention the fact that he probably wasn’t in Afghanistan at all and more likely over the border in Pakistan)? Also, Rumsfeld’s brand of warmongering (which can be described as ‘on the cheap’) was running out of road as it became clear that you need more than a couple of divisions to build a nation from scratch. And just to top it all off, NATO as a whole was also looking decidedly unimpressed with the way things were shaping up. From their point of view, this should have been a quick smash-and-grab with everyone home in time for tea and cake. While the ‘smashing’ component went terrifyingly well, the ‘grab’ aspect was found to be somewhat more elusive. From this angle, the Good War hypothesis was starting to look shaky. Luckily, a distraction was at hand in the shape of the Iraq War (which, I’m pretty sure, will forever be in the Bad War pile) and as we all ohhhhh-ed and ahhhhhhh-ed at the fireworks of Shock and Awe, Afghanistan proceeded to slip inexorably down the news agenda and festered away like an angry sore.

By 2006, the grim realization that this democracy lark wasn’t doing what it said on the on the tin began to set in and the war entered a new phase. Concerned that large tracts of the south effectively belonged to the Taliban and their copious cash crops of opium, NATO decided that more troops were needed with the hotspots of Helmand and Kandahar falling under the purview of the UK and Canadian forces respectively. Cue John Reed’s now infamous ‘without a shot being fired’ speech (OK, so he might not have really that but the last I heard, British forces had got through 12 million rounds) and much talk of hearts and minds. However, the reality turned out to be far more grizzle. The Taliban, far from being a rag-tag militia, turned out to be Central Asia’s Society of Double Hard Bastards who flat out refused to play war by western rules (i.e. standing about in the open, waiting to be airstruck the fuck out of). Recruitment was hardly a problem for them either, what with NATO’s fondness for bombing wedding parties and the Afghan’s government excellence in the field of corruption. Furthermore, attempts to cut off their cash supply by torching opium fields simply made the problem even worse by driving otherwise sympathetic civilians into the arms of the Taliban. Three years on and things are worse. ‘Victory’ is as far off as it is ever has been, but the level of killing has accelerated. What was once a conflict on the fringe, playing second fiddle to the spectacle in Iraq is now in voters living room every night, a relentless drip-drip of tragedy that shows no sign of abating. The narrative is in serious trouble as well. The ‘avenging 9-11’ line no longer has any purchase and anyone with half a brain can see that the ‘fighting them there, not here’ argument is of the purest bullshit. As a result, governments have had to fall back on ‘nation-building’ and ‘counter-narcotics’ arguments to try and shore up the ebbing support for the war, but the line doesn’t match the reality of elections where no-one votes and heroin that’s as available as it’s ever been. The grim reality is that we’re now in a similar position to that of the Vietnam War in ’69. Everybody knows the reasoning is bollocks and destined to failure, but somehow we can’t admit that to ourselves andend up throwing away lives to save face on the world stage. But that can’t go on for ever. At some point, something has to give and we will withdraw. The government know that. They just can’t let that happen on their watch. In short, it’s a clusterfuck. A giant clusterfuck that’s heading firmly to the ‘Bad’ pile.

OK, well done: That’s the history bit over and done with (sort of). Now to the serious business of bile and its venting. As a nation, it seems that we have absolutely no concept of what war is. Look out your window right now. Is there a war on? Do you feel like part of a ‘war-effort’? Do you wake up in the morning terrified by what the news will bring today? I’m guessing that you don’t because unless you happen to know someone deployed in Afghanistan, you have nothing to fear. This is in stark contrast to the people in Afghanistan who really do know what fear is. It’s a night letter from the Taliban or a raid by NATO troops. It’s the sound of a jet plane, unloading death as it passes, all of this paid for by you. For all the talk of ‘smart weapons’ and ‘precision strikes’, the currency of war is still the same as it ever was. It’s dead kids. It’s grieving mothers. It’s lives destroyed and burning homes. You don’t see too much of that on the breakfast news.

On top of this is our perverse attitude towards the military. We seem to have this grotesque duality in our dealings with them where we laud their bravery and heroics (bizarrely illustrated by the macabre and, I suspect, media engineered circus that is Wooton-Basset), yet we (and New Labour) treat them like civil servants whose role is to do our governments bidding just so long as they promise not to get killed. Well I’ve got news for you. War doesn’t work like that. Take the helicopter shitstorm for instance. Men and women are being killed in Afghanistan because the Taliban mine the roads. Some would say (myself included) that that is what happens when you invade a sovereign nation, but that is by-the-by. In response, the media (encouraged by the Conservatives) whips up a sweaty fuss about choppers and vehicles designed, it seems, to batter the prime minister and score some cheap points. ‘Outrage’ ensues and the 6 o’Clock News is littered with vox pops of red faced shoppers, deploring the governments decision to send our boys to war without the right kit while generals are conjured up to confirm that they want more of this or that (which is, of course, their job….do you seriously think that if you asked a general “Hey there Big Hat, want some more shit hot toys to blow the crap out of stuff with?” he’s going to say ‘”No, that’s quite alright, old chap. Plenty to be getting on with and all that.”?). The fundamental point missing in all this is a tolerance for the grim fact that if you send people to war, a lot of them are not going to come back. You can rock up in god damn 100 ft Japanese robot battle suits that shoot lasers out of it’s adamantium maw, but give it enough time and someone will figure out how to blow them up. Instead of engaging with this reality and thinking about just why the fuck it is we’re there in the first place, we hide ourselves in blame games, angrily jabbing at the screen with pointed fingers whilst denying that we, as a nation, are in a hell of our own making. We need to start making like the Canadians and set a date for withdrawal.

OK. I feel better now. I’m filing this sorry page of history under a resounding ‘B’ for ‘Bad’. If you fancy reading some hefty tomes on this sort of thing, I wholeheartedly recommend Robert Fisk’s The Great War For Civilisation, Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Towers, Richard A. Clarke’s Against All Enemies and Seymour Hersch’s Chain of Command. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to killing some dusky looking fellows on Call Of Duty 4. Hypocrite? Moi?

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March 2023

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