Late Election Special: Jeremy Corbyn

How the fuck did he do it, eh? How did Jeremy Corbyn lose the election so well? Labour went to war a listless, dejected outfit, pitied by the media (and Alan Sugar). The debate will rage on about whether the contempt of the commentariat shaped public distrust of the party or vice versa, the political equivalent of the nature/nurture argument, but everyone who saw the polling data and examined the recent local election results agreed – Jeremy Corbyn was going to be butchered at the ballot box. It would be like Murder on the Orient Express with each member of the public taking their turn to plunge in the knife.

Yet, with a final tally of 262 seats (that’s 30 gains), Jeremy Corbyn looks like a rock solid loser, the new Neil Kinnock. Accept, whereas the Welsh colossus had to compromise everything he believed in to end up further behind the Tories than Corbyn is today, Jeremy, leader for less than two years, wiped out the government’s majority on his general election debut, estranged from the party’s so-called modernisers.

The assumptions of the last 30 years were hit hard – perhaps harder than Clint Eastwood’s right hook to Jessica Walter’s face in Play Misty for Me. 13 million people turned out for Labour, motivated by noble causes like improving society and giving the Tories a good kicking. And the bedrock of this new support? Hitherto indifferent youngsters – fresh faced victims of government policy who’d grown up knowing nothing but Thatcherite continuity. Not old enough to have internalised propaganda about the insanity of the alternative, and largely ignorant of the 1980s, the kids liked the cut of his jib and intuited he had a slim chance of winning. Sure, he was an ideological Brexiteer who’d barely engaged in the referendum campaign, consigning Remain to defeat, but a helpful Theresa May neutralised the issue by triggering the Article 50 process. What a useful ally she was.

It was oft noted that Jeremy, by every measurable yardstick, was the opposite of Theresa May – ideologically, educationally, sartorially. He only had one pair of shoes. There was also a gulf in confidence, though Corbyn felt more comfortable sparring with May than Cameron, her lack of patrician self-belief and plastic charm going a long way to diffusing his inferiority complex. But who knew, as the Tories geared up for suicide, that Jezza, as he was known in the pubs around Belfast, was also the psychological antithesis of the Conservative leader and this factor, above all else, would prove decisive?

May went into the election expecting to win but, I suggest, daring herself to lose in the dark nook of the brain that knows the unspun self; the “me” plagued by doubt and an honest appraisal of one’s own limitations. Corbyn, by contrast, expected to lose but dared himself to win. His impetus? Not a belief in himself but in the message he carried; an unapologetically left wing programme based on the wholesale repudiation of Thatcherism and its attendant assumptions about markets, public services and the role of the state.

It wasn’t a hard sell for the Labour leader, he’d never wavered on the fundamentals, so already knew his lines backwards. His manifesto, only slightly watered down by the party machine, had existed in his head for 30 years, a copy and paste of Tony Benn’s speeches. Transposing it to paper was a mere formality. There’s an advantage to being the enemy of a tired consensus – everything you say reads as radical and fresh.

The problem with being the Tories is that a stupid amount of electoral success means the country runs and works according to your design; you’ve achieved everything you wanted, for the people you care about, and have disadvantaged the rest as planned. Consequently, all that’s left to do is undo any socially progressive measure that slipped onto the statute book during freak periods of Labour government. Corbyn’s switchbacks were plenty, but after 30 years of reversals there was more than enough to fill a manifesto – one no Labour leader had dared propose in modern times from fear of alienating the beneficiaries of Tory policies.

So-called moderate Labour MPs, “moderate” really being a euphemism for conditioned by Thatcherism, withdrew from the campaign completely, intent that Corbyn should own the disaster to come. The leader’s strategy was entirely predicated on galvanising millions of people to embrace an alternative to the politics of the past 30 years. As there was no proof enough sympathetic voters existed, this was a leap of faith – a mark of how socialism, at its most pure, functions like religion. Corbyn’s millions didn’t register in local elections, didn’t answer the phone to pollsters, and never appeared on television. They were, quite understandably, thought by political scientists to be fictitious. But Jeremy’s brain, covered in a thick membrane constituted from utopian (but most definitely not terrorist) cells, didn’t worry.

In parliament, in opposition, Corbyn had been mostly dreadful – a dispirited and miserable beta male flanked by two hundred bitter colleagues. By the time it came to fight the election, abysmal opinion polls reflected accurate reports of disunity and intellectual incoherence. Labour’s talent pool was so dry that only loyal lieutenants like Diane Abbot and Emily Thornberry could be ultilised in the campaign, spokespeople who despite John McDonnell’s post-election label of a constituting “a winning team”, were box office disasters – charmless, badly prepared, sanctimonious in the extreme and dogged by a long record of bare-faced hypocrisy. In short, they were the kind of social democrats Conservatives studied to feel good about themselves.

Corbyn, with extensive media training to smooth down any rough edges, had better human credentials and could simulate speaking from the heart. He single-handedly won over those who couldn’t cope with the spectre of a landslide Tory victory, giving them a positive reason to vote for something else. May lost the election but Corbyn lost it better. Climbing 12 points to cut a Tory poll lead of 20 to just 2 on the final count, was exclusively the achievement of him and his cabal. May launched the election hoping to build a nationwide personality cult. It was her only success.

So what next for Jeremy Corbyn? Is he really modest and unassuming as his spin doctors tell us, or, like most intellectually insecure men held together by an idealised sense of self, likely to be monstered by adulation? Assuming they’re amenable, will he now invite Labour’s old guard to professionalise the operation on the strict understanding that the core tenants of the programme aren’t up for negotiation? And can he win an election without first finding a way to convert soft Tories whose self-interest makes winning the 65 seats that separate him from the winning post a potential bridge too far?

There, Corbyn may finally have found an answer to a hitherto unanswerable question: what are moderate Labour voices for? But the 2017 campaign was based on the idea of no compromise and courting new voters. Doubling down next time against a better Tory leader, disinclined to repeat the party’s mistakes, will make the fight that much tougher. Voters, taking the prospect of a Corbyn government seriously, will expect a much stronger front bench. Jeremy knows how to galvanise the public but he’s never reached out to a single Labour MP. If he can do it and acknowledge there’s only so far you can travel without your parliamentary party, then the 2017 result may yet be a staging post rather than a peak.

Late Election Special: Theresa May

Between you and I, I’m very worried about Theresa May. The Prime Minister’s election campaign, that resulted in the legacy annulling, reputation destroying constitutional calamity of a hung parliament, might be the greatest act of political self-harm in decades. Not since Ted Heath dared the nation to match his sense of self-importance and gift him more seats, despite already having a working majority, has an incumbent Premier murdered their party’s prospects with such abandon. Wasteful? Disgraceful? John Rentoul? You better believe it. The 2017 election was worse than a defeat for the Tories; they now face the prospect of having to navigate the most turbulent political waters since the Second World War with no majority, no authority and no idea what to do next.

The conscious part of May’s mind might have hoped for a landslide but it’s now clear that her unconscious badly wanted to lose the election. One can imagine her having dreams in which Tory bodies were loaded onto carts and dumped on kindling, the ashen faced PM watching quietly as the thick plume from consumed futures billowed toward Brussels. This was a death drive election; the kind of campaign someone fronts when they’ve lost all connection with the human race and hope for deliverance. Desolate Tories will ask why their copper, verdigris-tinged talisman didn’t just go on a stabbing spree and wait for armed police.

May spent the campaign aloof and miserable, vexed by its absurd demands, namely that she interact with samples of those she presumed to represent, and sell them some sort of coherent vision for the future, consisting of more than long pauses, sharp intakes of breath and stolid phrase making. Brexit, she thought, would absent her from those outmoded expectations. What did the people need to know, other than she’d be fighting the good fight, the proxy for formally disenfranchised working class voters with whom she had nothing in common? She’d pre-fought the campaign she believed, circumventing its tricky complications. And a good job too – she hated people. Can you imagine having to justify yourself to such an ignorant bunch of bastards for seven weeks? Seven weeks?! That’s nearly a gutful.

Calls for the PM to explain herself to the man and the woman in the street (“cunts”, lest me forget, according to Sid Vicious), must have fed Theresa’s sub-conscious realisation that she was the wrong person, in the wrong party, vying for the wrong job. A prisoner of childhood indoctrination and social background – the Vicar’s daughter, a provincial non-entity, she naturally gravitated toward the Conservatives, a party that vouchsafed her aspic frozen, closed worldview. But interaction with its grass roots and election to its parliamentary ranks, lead to the accruing of doubt. This was mind sediment. And as it built, layer on layer, May started to feel its weight in her skull. One could see the tension in her face and neck muscles.

When she famously warned the Conservative conference they were thought of as “the nasty party”, something that had never seriously occurred to any ideological Tory, she inadvertently gifted a soundbite to the party’s enemies, the stock of which rose year on year. Many Tories never forgave the slight, nor the imposition of reality, but this bold observation was the first sign of May’s self-loathing and closet desire to have that hatred validated and reinforced by her colleagues.

Despite this, May’s burning ambition, tethered to fragile self-worth, the thread no more than a hair’s width, compelled her to rise in the ranks and in the early months of the year, seek a personal mandate. Her majority belonged to David Cameron after all, and she owed her crown to his mistakes. The public would have to be involved, worst luck, because without them she’d be an accidental Prime Minister in the eyes of her elected European counterparts, and a fraud when pitted against insufferable opposition like the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Salmond or something – a sanctimonious browbeater with nation leading pretensions.

As ever in politics, it’s not the cynicism that kills you, it’s your inability to hide it. Opposition parties dutifully, strategically, pointed out that May had timed the triggering of Article 50 to lock in Leave voters and boost her personal standing. Had May called the election in the national interest as she claimed, she’d surely have done it before we were tied to Brexit, thereby gifting us the chance to get out of it. But to do that would throw away the opportunity to consolidate the Tory vote – realigning the right, as well as the chance to command a reluctant consensus. No party with ambitions to govern dared run on a remain ticket, and Tory commitment to seeing separation through to the bitter end, staying in the car until it filled with carbon monoxide, seemed the most robust.

If May had been a consummate media performer, exuding a warmth and wit that cut across all groups, she might easily have convinced people that conferring greater power on her was a strong and stable idea. Unfortunately, when charged with wasting voters’ time and attempting to gerrymander the House of Commons in her favour, striking while Labour doddered and stuttered under a bewildered looking Jeremy Corbyn, she chose to hide from her accusers, instead opting to talk to handfuls of handpicked ballot botherers, rather than directly to unfiltered millions on television and radio.

When her manifesto was published, highly anticipated by hopeful right-wing hacks who dared to dream of its riches, the suspicions of many voters, that she’d gone to the country with no fucking idea what to do when re-elected, perhaps because part of her dared not contemplate victory, was confirmed. The wretched document, rather than reading like a great work of economics and philosophy, proved empty, bar a bold commitment to force the grieving families of recently deceased parents to sell the family home to pay the old man or woman’s social care bill.

Forcing asset rich clans to stump up, challenging the inviolability of inherited wealth – the idea that you should get a free house because a relative worked and paid for it, was a work of agitation worthy of an original thinker. Naturally, the public hated it. There aren’t many legitimate get rich quick schemes out there.

So May’s calculations were scrawled on a giant white board and displayed for all the nation to see. And let’s be clear – a part of her, the dominant part, wanted us to see them. Unable to communicate and incapable of selling herself as a visionary, Theresa fulfilled her destiny, a path she’d forged in dreams, off-the-cuff asides and rhetoric belying actions. She went to the country asking for its verdict and sure enough it came, as clear and brutal as feared. Self-harmers know they’ll be pain. You can’t cut into your own flesh and not suffer. But what they’re really doing is asking for delivery from torment – help from their better adjusted, happier peers. The public have told Theresa want to do. Leave politics and be happy. The only question that remains is whether she has the strength to take their advice.

Yes, I’m worried about Theresa May and I hope she finds peace very soon.

Tomorrow: Jeremy Corbyn

Published in: on June 10, 2017 at 13:33  Leave a Comment  
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A Snap Election? Thank God.

Fit me up for a giggle jacket if you like, but I’m delighted they’ll be a General Election on June 8th. No, really, and not just because This Week will be bumped in the schedules. There’s more at stake than that.

British Politics has been listless and dysfunctional these past two years. Both main parties are in limbo, beholden to, perhaps held hostage by, predatory vested interests. They’re begging to be liberated and a march to the ballot box can do just that.

Theresa May, lumbered with David Cameron’s rizla paper majority, also inherited her predecessor’s nightmare. She heads a Conservative Party dominated by hardline Eurosceptics, monstering her premiership, wielding great influence on the back of last June’s referendum. If she deviates one degree from the course they’ve laid out, she faces mutiny, perhaps even the indignity of a backbench seat next to Michael Gove.

With two-years of negotiations set to begin in June, little wonder she’s opted to dare to believe the polls and open the door to tens of newly elected loyalists who’ll dilute that dangerous group and give her space to make a deal both she and liberal Britain are more comfortable with. A personal mandate, a desirable prerequisite for constitutional change of this magnitude, will put her authority beyond doubt at home and in Brussels, settle the matter as far as the electorate’s concerned, and may, pun intended, complicate separatist calculations in Edinburgh and Belfast.

May also has the chance to liberate her domestic agenda and junk Cameron’s cynical, never-to-be-implemented 2015 manifesto – bad fiction that’s made even modest reforms, like Phillip Hammond’s attempt at changing National Insurance contributions for the self-employed, impossible. If the government’s serious it needs a serious blueprint.

Meanwhile, for the remnants of the Labour Party, the election provides the unexpected, but surely welcome prospect of early release from the Corbynite death pact. There’s been no functional opposition these past two years; an inevitable consequence of having an opposition leader whom 81% of the PLP didn’t vote for and don’t support. The so-called moderates may not have an alternative of course, or any bold or radical vision for what the party should do going forward, but they can’t begin rebuilding (or rebranding) until Jeremy, the man who leapfrogged all meritocratic stages to take the top job, is put in his political grave. Defeat does not guarantee his resignation of course; Jeremy doesn’t respond to the same hints as past leaders, but a massacre for Labour would surely provide the impetus and excuse they need to focus and initiate change, even if that means a split. It may even lead to a realignment of the left with newly emboldened Liberal Democrats as partners.

Speaking of the Liberal Democrats, Election 2017 is the best thing to happen to Tim Farron since God appeared to him in a dream and told him to run for party leader. Much sooner than expected, and before a single hour of Brexit talks have taken place, the Yellow Peril have been gifted the chance to revive on the back of the very Pro-European sentiment they’ve always espoused. At long last they’re fashionable amongst a significantly large and angry portion of the electorate.

Brexit is the new Iraq for the Liberals, and it’s just possible that disillusioned Labour voters who’ve awoken to Jeremy Corbyn’s referendum betrayal, and even Europhile Tories, for they must still congregate somewhere, perhaps in the pubs they used to meet in to weep over IDS, will be tempted to boost Tim’s numbers and send a signal to Mrs May, the PM-presumptive, that a Hard Brexit is not the settled will of the people.

Finally, in Scotland, there’s now the faint hope that Unionists will seize their chance to pour cold Irn Bru on Nicola Sturgeon’s IndyRef 2 dream. Unlikely though it is, any significant erosion of the SNP’s strength at Westminster, especially to the Tories, emboldens the UK and signals the First Minister has misjudged the mood. Scottish voters have the opportunity, if not the will, to give Ruth Davidson a boost and undermine Nationalist sentiment. Coupled with a UK-wide mandate for Brexit (it really must be reflected in all parts of the country to have legitimacy), that just might be enough to forestall a break up, at least until politics recovers.

And that’s why this election can’t come soon enough. British politics needs a reset; the prospect of a parliament where the government can govern, the opposition can oppose, and something other than Brexit can be factored into the agenda and direction of both. It’s also vital the Tories have popular rather than implicit support going into a deal. The binary choice of the referendum was the first stage. We’ve now had a year of debate on the substance of Brexit and its impact. Granted, we haven’t got very far but at least the reality of Brexit and what it could mean has begun to be understood. It’s time we had our say on that, not to mention a chance to give our beleaguered and struggling opposition parties help to help themselves.

See you at the polls (assuming you live in the right part of my constituency).

Published in: on April 18, 2017 at 13:56  Leave a Comment  
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Duck and Cover, Jeremy Corbyn’s about to embrace Donald Trump’s Populism

corbyn

How ironic that at the very moment Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party reflects the working man’s experiences, it’s about to embark on a policy of disinformation and fantasy.

Labour’s relevant right now. The majority of the population understand a dysfunctional, listless organisation, riven by confusion and internal contradictions, led by a cabal of cocksure fools promoted beyond their abilities, who absorbed by self-interest, refuse to submit to evidence that points to their inefficacy.

Today’s Labour is Britain’s councils, large companies and universities. It’s never been more representative. But the public want heroes not sad reflections of their own miserable lives, and consequently, Corbyn, the man who trumped meritocracy, thanks to the political illiteracy of the man and woman in the street (“cunts” according to Sid Vicious, who claimed to have met them), has turned to Trump to trump the meritocratic principle once again.

Last week we learned that Corbyn’s echo chamber have planned a re-launch under the banner, “Let Corbyn be Corbyn”. This will reposition Corbyn as a populist champion, using the same tactics successfully employed by condescending prole scoop, Donald Trump – “a relaxed approach to message discipline“.

Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign, that did to politics what Katie Price did to literature, has been watched closely by desolate Labour tacticians. Support for the Corbyn revolution remains stubbornly static, below 30%. Psephologists have crunched the numbers and prophesised doom. The old Labour left, that reads an empty glass as an intent to fill, has read these runes and concluded, as they must, that it’s a hostile mind controlling media, not them, that’s to blame.

Donald Trump may represent the opposite of what Corbyn says he believes in, but on the media they are one. Both believe that mainstream outlets (or as we used to think of them, legitimate news gathering organisations), are a cancer that’s eating them alive. If the public trust journalists, with their irritating propensity to ask questions, corroborate stories, report on matters deemed to be in the public interest, like hypocrisy and intellectual incoherence, constructing a narrative that runs counter to party propaganda or individual spin, then they’re sunk.

Trump and Corbyn don’t want to be interrogated or scrutinised, because it makes them look like a couple of preening amateurs. But whereas Jeremy has yet to find a formula that will free him from this tyranny of inquiry, America’s President-elect found a temporary workaround, and with it, hope for Labour’s current leader – an animate boil on Tony Benn’s putrefied dick.

Trump’s braintrust realised the trap for their village idiot with an inheritance, was engaging with the media on its own terms, because that gave their methodology and analysis legitimacy. Whereas previous political leaders in Western Democracies took it as red that journalistic inquiry was a necessary evil and feature of public life, and that mediating one’s message was a test of skill, as one could expect to have one’s pronouncements examined in detail and challenged, Team Trump saw the rise of fanatic-led alt-right websites as a model for capitalising on convenient strands of received wisdom; the cab driver and pub chat school of thought that’s kept Sid Vicious’s cunts happy in their ignorance for generations. The truism of choice? That you can’t trust the press, and that its agenda is to misinform and manipulate, rather than inform and educate.

You see, because some journalism is lazy, prurient and reactionary, it follows that all long-standing, well-funded media organisations are corrupt and self-serving. Just as it’s impossible to imagine a non-racist police officer or a grounded Hollywood actor, there’s really no such thing as professional journalism. Indeed, now the Internet’s democratised writing, with idiots free to unaccountably ramble on about any subject they like as I’m doing now, unburdened by old fashioned nonsense like checking facts, it can’t be of any value, can it?

The tenets of professional journalism – speaking truth to power, informed opinion, the public interest – these are but affectations, proffered by the privileged few; an elite who can’t believe their fucking luck at earning a crust doing this instead of real work, so must always maintain the illusion of utility and importance. The oldest lie after God.

Trump’s retinue understood there was a whole media underclass out there; millions of Americans who didn’t care for quality journalism or its presumed values, but nevertheless felt it patronised them, despite not consuming any of it. These people didn’t trust reporters. Hacks had an orthodoxy, whatever that is, that threatened age old assumptions about community, work and class. By disavowing the outlets that had alienated society’s discontents, and impugning their honesty and integrity, Trump played to a prejudice that made him immune from the media’s informed hostility.

By positioning himself as an honest Don, swimming against disinformation’s tide, he created a parallel reality. Grab ‘em by the pussy? No problem. Just frivolous talk. Allegations he’s Putin’s stooge? Mischief making by warmongers. Caught in a hotel, drenched in urine, kneeling over the dead body of a slain prostitute? Looking for the bathroom. Though there’s a dead girl in there too.

But as effective a strategy as it’s been, it’s not enough for Trump to allege media corruption and bias. To embed the idea, it’s necessary to sloganize it for the intended audience of deep thinkers, who, despite subjecting everything they see and hear to forensic analysis, nevertheless have a thing for catch-all terms that neatly summarise the phenomena they’ve carefully considered. Thus DJT has appropriated the buzz phrase of the moment, employed by journalists to describe their unaccountable and ill-informed opposite, “fake news”.

Labelling any story you don’t like as fake news is a great wheeze because it disobliges you from having to account for your actions. What a let off just to cry “fake news” in a crowded press gallery, and walk out, swigging an escort’s piss as you go.

Jeremy Corbyn must have spent his quiet autumn of 2016 watching Trump, while recalling the horrors of the anti-Semitism row, questions about his leadership, rumours of a deselection purge, and his alleged attempts at sabotaging Labour’s EU remain campaign, and felt nothing but envy. He loathed the media, the inquisitive shits, yet he lived in a political culture where he was expected to engage with it and acknowledge its role as a legitimate scrutineer. Trump, arguably a true outsider, as he’d never been a politician, just an establishment mainstay, simply brushed it off and met the press pack’s questions with belligerence. His supporters lapped it up. Like fresh piss.

So “Let Corbyn be Corbyn” will experiment with Jeremy doing the same thing, with the result that a terrible opposition will become a fantasy one. Worse, a fantasy opposition with a contempt for the inquiring minds of the electorate.

Corbyn began his career as the people’s politician by trying to bypass the media altogether; refusing to talk to them on the move, cancelling interviews. It was so successful that it was reversed within months when Seamus Milne, Corbyn’s weasel-in-chief, realised that the wider public saw this as a form of incompetence. Labour’s next Prime Minister, in a parallel universe where the government’s been outed as a paedophile ring with slave owning interests in third world countries, looked to Joe and Jacinda Public like a sneering, self-important arsehole, who was too good to answer the questions put to him on the people’s behalf.

Times have changed since attempts to refashion a Labour Leader to meet Middle England’s expectations resulted in disaster. Not least the assumption that what Middle England thinks matters. Corbyn isn’t in the same boat as David Hare’s Kinnock proxy in The Absence of War. He’s tried being unaffected (within certain professionalising media managed limits) and the result’s been a damaging consensus that he’s a student politician in a pensioner’s body; both detached from and disinterested in economic reality. This is why Trump’s methodology is so attractive. By crying “fake news” whenever unhelpful facts come to light, prompting uncomfortable questions, Corbyn can help Britain to become what Trump’s piloting in the US – a country where half the population see its media as a psychological abuser, tethered to special interests, attempting to destabilise the people’s chosen one.

All political parties spin. They have to. Policy formation and implementation is complicated; there are winners and losers from every proposed reform. The problem with making Trump the inspiration for his revival, aside from proving that Corbyn is no different from any other Atlanticist at Westminster, eager to copy the socially divisive mistakes of our American cousins, is that it’s a tacit acknowledgement that Labour’s thinking is intellectually wanting.

Any opposition that doesn’t trust the electorate to immerse itself in the debate on its policies and reach a favourable conclusion is not to be trusted. “Trumping” the operation means bypassing journalists to appeal directly to voters who have neither the time, political education or curiosity to coherently critique the populist promises that are about to be sprayed into their eyes. This gerrymandering of opinion; untested opposition; is an act of cynical desperation that has the potential to retard the political discourse for a generation.

A divided government of intellectual lightweights will press on with Brexit, one of the most complicated, far-reaching changes in Britain’s status for decades, while the official opposition embarks on a three-year daydream, hoping the politically ignorant will choose escapism over ugly reality. For “Make American Great Again” substitute “Straight Talking Honest Politics”. For hope substitute emigration. Norway, anyone?

When Ed Became a Man

A real man: Sir Roger Moore.

Three years ago I attended the Women of the World (WOW) festival at the Royal Festival Hall. The aim was to finally empathise with women and their concerns, having deeply despised the bevaginated up to that point. It worked but left my masculinity in crisis. Until WOW, all my assumptions about being a man were safe as overpriced houses. Signing letters with my ink-dipped Gentleman’s Relish, percussing a lady’s buttocks to make a backing track for homemade music; this seemed to me the quintessence of the male experience.

But now, though I regarded all the feminoids in my life as fully rounded human beings; a designation they accepted with gratitude; life was harder because I couldn’t fall back on those comforting, lazy behaviours, those handy bits of social programming that had hitherto formed the pillars of my identity. I was lost, deeply unhappy and, as you’ll have read recently, approaching a decade without second party genital stimulation; something I assumed to be a direct result of radiating contempt for anything with breasts for so many wasted years.

What I needed was an orientation in how to be a man in an era where showing up and placing your testicles on the counter was no longer enough. My old chum, Katrina, who’d originally insisted that I attend WOW as she could no longer explain to mutual acquaintances why I violently threw up whenever unisex socialisation was mentioned, again gallantly rode to my rescue, in a conscious inversion of the damsel in distress dynamic of yore.

There was a new event at Festival Hall, though complementary, not a competitor – competition’s the regressive imperative of the caveman. Organiser Judith Kelly, who’d later tell us she loved men despite the WOW 2013 observation that we were all potential rapists, had called it BAM: Being a Man. That’s being a man, as in exploring the condition of maleness, rather than any unreconstructed notion of manning up, drying any tears and thumping the first bastard who ogles your life partner (formally bird).

Why, that being the case, had she chosen a violent sounding acronym; the onomatopoeic evocation of an upper cut to some bloke’s Chevy Chase? Why did the women get something positive and complimentary, “Wow!”, while we were stuck with brutal and loutish – the sort of word men use when recounting a fight to other men after ten pints? Or could the title be an unconscious throwback to the Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do), when saying wham, indeed, bam, was a prelude to saying “I am a man”, and being proud of the fact, even if the song positioned it as something hedonistic and economically inactive? We’d never know for certain.

So on a cold Saturday in November, Katrina and I once again met at the food market outside the Hall and prepared for re-education. She was looking forward to learning the potential of maleness, perhaps even adopting some of that potential if she liked what was on offer, whereas I was nervous. What if, with each alternative iteration laid bare, I fancied my old way of thinking? What if I was bloke-shamed and couldn’t windmill and use gynocentric insults with the same abandon as before? Katrina, sensing my anxiety, tried to put my mind at rest. “You’re not much of a man, now,” she reminded me, “so whatever happens in there can only improve the situation. Who knows, after this, you might even be able to pull someone desperate, assuming you don’t mind bed sores and drooling!” Good ol’ Kat. She always knew what to say.

Having decided to avoid ‘How to be a Superman’ as neither of us approved of eugenics, our first event was a debate entitled, ‘Language Police: Can Men Say What They’re Thinking?’ This touched on the thorny issue of male expression, and how a changing political climate and new consciousness, sensitive to the arguments and demands of identity politics, had the potential to rob men of their voice. If I couldn’t be misogynistic, crude, boorish, aggressive and imperious, insisting on controlling and dominating every chat of which I was a part, then I might end up with no words left. I’d have to grunt and nod, and even that might be considered a bit much.

Chair Tim Samuels offered up the nightmarish spectre of political correctness as a form of tyranny; a brave position to take in an audience of beards and feminists, who were in no mood to be told that a mass no platforming was potentially unhealthy and might lead to some kind of reactionary backlash, an example of which is fortunately lacking in recent history.

Arguing the case for self-censorship was young buck Ben Norris – a poet, so on the sensitive side of the male spectrum, but also tardy; the seventh man to register his name on Twitter. Norris thought men, free of women’s civilising presence, needed “better jokes” and more self-discipline. He was part of the new generation of metrosexuals that watched their P’s and Q’s on social media – in fact, all ferry companies, and decreed that it was every man’s duty and responsibility to be a feminist, whether female activists and thinkers wanted it or not. He’d made this declaration because journalist Andrew Hankinson, the third man, had recalled being told to “fuck off” when weighing in on the subject by a defensive female comedian who saw any male thinking on the topic as a land grab. I reflected that I was a feminist, and that no one, of any gender-stripe, had the right to tell me otherwise. To do so was tantamount to policing thought; a view that put me both at odds and in agreement with Norris. Man, being a geezer was confusing.

With the temperature in the room rising (the air con was broken) and Hankinson getting a barracking from an angry gay man who took him to task for presuming to legally define hate crime (in a clumsy response to a question on the right to be offended), Judith Kelly, watching from the dugout, now intervened to re-frame the debate. Feminism wasn’t about excluding men, she explained, contradicting some of the evidence given by Hankinson, and BAM wasn’t about pulling men up on their deficiencies, though most of the sessions assumed they were profound, rather it was a celebration of brothers, lovers, fathers and sons. There was no mention of single men without family or a partner, but everyone agreed such a person wasn’t strictly human anyway.

I found the intervention strange, and by extension indicative of the fact that the longer a conversation on men being able to say what they wanted persisted, the uglier it was bound to get. Yet letting it go where it would was, I thought, the difference between a truthful exchange and one that made you feel better. What did Katrina think? “I want to talk to you about this but we’ve got to get on” she said. Denied a voice. Again!

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The mind your language debate, or whatever it was called.

Next was a session entitled ‘Youth and Young Manhood’, ostensibly a discussion on “how youth and subculture is used in men’s fashion” but actually a group of Grime artists and writers, including Grant Brydon and Halfbrother, who I was obviously familiar with, talking about their music and influences. Comparisons with punk were fallacious apparently, as Grime had not yet been co-opted by the mainstream, and its appeal lay in men who liked to go out, fuck and whatever, recounting their experiences, as such things were otherwise never discussed. I learned that something called The Flatbush Zombies existed, which sounded great, and from Katrina, an artist called Skepta, that didn’t. We left after a man channelling Steven Toast asked if the gang were aware that the organisers of a Brighton music festival had been worried about booking them because they were black. They didn’t know that and, one sensed, didn’t want to.

A note passed during the Grime discussion. Mine is the neat handwriting, obviously.

A note passed during the Grime discussion. Mine is the neat handwriting, obviously.

‘Shy Guys’ was a discussion around, er, shyness and introversion, which though celebrated in women, as no one likes a loud and familiar lady, ‘cause it’s vulgar and unvarnished, was considered a real handicap if you had a wang. Successful men, goes the old thinking, are assertive, voluble and confident. Those that have these traits get on, not to mention being revered, hypocritically, by women attracted to the qualities they are themselves encouraged to suppress, and which patriarchy in its wisdom has coded as male.

Joe Moran, chairing, turned the heads of the assembled inside out, articulating the thoughts of those in the room, male or female, who found this idiotic veneration of extroversion and brio both suffocating and anathema to their constitution. Shyness, we all understood, was a nuanced and ever shifting phenomenon that plagued you at certain times of life and varied according to context and company. That it was debilitating could not be denied, but only, one realised, because it was not understood (particularly by those of a different temperament) and had never been celebrated.

Alan Bennett, recalled Moran, was one writer who saw shyness as a virtue, signalling a thoughtful and refined mindset. I wasn’t going to be the one to say that when stumbling on my words and unable to make conversation I’m usually thinking of bare breasts clashing like symbols. Still, I left happy that as a shy man who often avoids social contact, because the prospect’s overwhelming, and who often stumbles when live, on account of feeling uncomfortable and self-conscious, I was normal, and it was those who shouted louder and made better connections who were attention seeking freaks just as I’d always suspected.

A shy snap of the discussion on the joys of being timid.

A shy snap of the discussion on the joys of being timid.

At this point we were due to see a session on Pornography, in which we expected to be told that it was about power, control and the crude, guilt-free objectification of ladies. The debate was to centre on how porn was warping male sexuality, normalising fantasy, ruining the act for women, not that I needed a primer on that, and retarding a generation. But when we got there we hit a tell-tale queue of men anxious to learn about something they’d never consumed, and knew only from media coverage. I imagined this less as a debate, more than an open invitation to therapy, but unable to join in, we left it behind, and perhaps the last chance I’d ever have to find out if joining a bukkake circle was a reasonable pre-condition for library membership, or just the twisted wheeze of my local council.

Following a lecture on masculinity by Grayson Perry, which I don’t recall in detail as I was focused on his shoes and how I’d love a pair just like them, Kat and I topped out our day with a debate on gender quality, imaginatively titled ‘Equal Rights’. This was the nub of the matter, how men could not only find it in their cocks to embrace a world in which they were no longer unconditionally dominant, but help the women in their life rob them of the power and privilege they’d worked so hard for since birth.

Judith Kelly was once again on hand to offer advice on maleness, as were a panel, who tackled thorny subjects like men checking out of feminism between ejaculations of activism, what the average man could do to expedite the revolution, and why expectations related to maleness, like being a father, earning a crust, were cruel constructs that had the potential to ruin lives. I listened hard and emerged with this simple five point guide to being a man.

  1. Being a man is giving yourself permission to fail at everything, especially your write up of BAM.
  2. Alpha males are indeed twats as we’ve always known, and can be ignored, as one day, a few centuries hence, they’ll be regarded the way we look back on slave owners today.
  3. Having a penis is a licence to have fun with your hair and clothes but it’s also a responsibility.
  4. A man who listens is much more likely to hear his name being called, and;
  5. Real men know women aren’t the enemy, just a critical friend who hates your guts.

As Katrina and I left Festival Hall, forever changed, she turned, daring to look me in the eyes for the first time that day. “Just so you know,” she said, “I’ve never thought of you as a man. I wouldn’t pigeonhole you.” And we made our way along the riverside, with enlightened tears of gratitude streaming down my bestubbled face.

The sun setting on the day and all my lazy male assumptions.

The sun setting on all my lazy male assumptions.

BAM was at the Southbank Centre from November 25th-27th 2016. If men survive, it will return. #BeingAManFest

Published in: on November 28, 2016 at 19:33  Leave a Comment  
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High Court rules “Thinking Allowed” in Brexit debate, Press Appalled.

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It’s official, Britain’s now a country officially suspicious of nuanced argument – a post-fact society. The High Court’s ruling on triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the starting gun for our exit from the EU, has caused moral outrage in the popular press. The judiciary dared to side with a concerned (and whisper it quietly, educated) citizen, Gina Miller, respecting the efforts of her and her lawyers to understand and interpret the law of the land. Contrast this with the increasingly belligerent and thought terminating mass of Leave voters; 17.4 million, who, just like the SNP in Scotland, now presume to speak for all of the people, just as I’ve presumed to speak for all of them.

The Mail was one of many rags incandescent that Miller, born in Guyana, which isn’t even in Britain, if you can believe the fucking cheek of it, had dared to challenge the Prime Minister’s naked attempt at political sleight of hand. May, with a wink and a grin, argued the referendum result gave her the authority to bypass Parliament and trigger the treaty’s get out clause, using enabling powers wrestled from the Crown; you know, the lever the Monarch used to pull when enacting God’s Will, that most divine instrument of mass democracy.

But as our terminal rights as EU citizens are guaranteed by an act of parliament, namely the 1972 European Communities Act, one can’t, to paraphrase the great philosopher Sean Bean, simply remove them using the Queen’s authority. You may remember we fought a bloody civil war over principles like this; the idea that Parliament was sovereign, and it should decide, as a law making body, representative of we the people, what we do or don’t enjoy. In fact, the Guardian pointed out that the legal precedent in question stretched back all the way to 1297 and a ruling against Henry IV, who tried to implement a blanket ban on merchants’ rights to work in London.

As UKIP and their ilk love Britain’s illustrious history and traditions (bar its post-war immigration policies), one would think they’d be delighted by this judicial history lesson, and affirmation of Parliamentary supremacy. Yet weirdly, Nigel Farage, Paul Dacre, Rupert Murdoch, and other patriots, saw it as an affront; a finger to the millions who understood, because David Cameron told them so, that their decision would mean an end to all debate on the subject, forever.

That’s right, there’d be no thought, post-referendum; no scrutiny, and certainly no changing of minds, which once upon a time was considered a sign of rude intellectual health. The 16.1m who voted to remain were expected to return to their lattes, gym memberships and Scandinavian boxsets, and close their blow holes. And that went double for their MPs.

You might think it healthy that Miller and her fellow campaigners, some of whom voted for Brexit, cared enough about our constitution to challenge May’s hijacking of Parliament. After all, how many people do you know understand that Bagehot isn’t an urban word meaning “great tits”?  How many pub Brexiters, knocking back a pint of dirty pipes and whining about their Columbian Doctor, have ever taken an independent interest in our great institutions of state?

Miller et al. fought for the principle that now the public’s made its light touch contribution, subjecting that simple, school leaver’s in/out choice to variable levels of scrutiny and understanding, our elected representatives should earn their salaries and thoroughly debate the terms of our departure, crucially reserving the right to vote against it if they didn’t like the direction of travel.

An affront to direct democracy, you say? Well, that’s the problem with referendums isn’t it? They only signal the destination, not the journey. That’s fine if the question is something elementary like choosing a voting system or changing the currency, but leaving the EU is an absurdly complicated business, impacting on every aspect of British life; it touches all our institutions, our economy, our culture, our rights. May, in effect, was saying, “I understand it’s complicated, but we’ve taken our instruction from those who at best were misinformed, at worst, driven by factors that had nothing to do with the cases presented in the campaign, and despite our contempt for these people and our belief that the subtleties of the argument are lost to many of them, we’re going to shamelessly appropriate that vote, recast it as moral authority, and use it to bypass those who would subject our approach to proper scrutiny. In short, the brain trust comprised of me, Liam Fox, David Davis and Boris Johnson – a man who actually invoked the Titanic when talking about our successes to come, are handling it. Now go back to sleep and we’ll see you in 2020.”

No one wants Brexit scrutinised, or even debated, least of all Nigel Farage and his retinue, because they quite rightly fear the consequences. You see, it’s just possible that when the terms of our exit are suggested and washed through the parliamentary system, subject to debate, legal opinions, upper house scrutiny, amendments, more debate, more thought, further amendments, more scrutiny, and so on, it may start to look somewhat problematic. It’s even possible that the public, as the reality dawns on them, may start to look at the problem more closely, demanding a general election to have a further right of reply.

Naturally, the “winners” in the Brexit debate are desperate that this doesn’t happen; that docility reigns. Consequently, the Europhobe press, who continue to write for those with a reading age of 11, have moved with rapidity and the panic dial set to the same figure, to quash their invitation to look again, before it gains troublesome momentum. Farage’s sheep, and their media apologists, want to keep it simple, because this both flatters their intellectually wanting conception of the issue, and remains their best chance of achieving a dream built on a boorish identity under threat.

Brexit’s disingenuous intellectuals, who’ve always known that their best chance of achieving a cultural and politically favourable nirvana was to appeal to the laziest instincts of the people, while burying the root causes of their discontentment, have declared war on argument and by extension, fact. The devil’s always been in the detail, but in our new post-fact culture, there’s a sinister new development. The devil’s now committed to denying the detail – neutralising nuance, terminating thought. Lucky for us that Gina Miller cared enough to use her own money to challenge that strategy. Thinking’s won its first post-referendum victory. Let’s hope it’s not the last, for the road ahead is so very long.

Published in: on November 4, 2016 at 15:16  Comments (1)  
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“Have you seen the Brian De Palma film, Sisters?”: Opinionoid sits down with Jeremy Corbyn

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In the wake of his decisive victory, I sat down with the Labour leader to discuss where he and the party go from here.

Ed: Jeremy, congratulations on your victory.

JC: Thank you.

Ed: But it was a pyrrhic victory, wasn’t it?

JC: I don’t know what you mean.

Ed: Oh, come on.

JC: No, I mean, I don’t know the word, what are you asking?

Ed: I’m suggesting that the 172 MPs who voted against you in the no confidence motion still don’t want you. You’ve essentially used the members to delegitimise both them and clause one of your own constitution, the party’s obligation to be a fighting force in parliament, gunning for government.

JC: But what does legitimacy mean in this context?

Ed: Que?

JC: Well, the current intake were elected on a prospectus which, as I’m sure is now obvious, no longer has any real relevance within the party. They’re products of an era of ideological infirmity within the Labour family, a time when we said, ‘Thatcherism’s the fashion and one has to wear the clothes to be accepted in polite society’. It’s not unlike when you’re a teenager and you feel you have to like a certain band or support a rugby team to fit in. But you grow out of it. We all grow out of it. I think we gave the PLP their head for a long time, and we were right to do so, because you have to give people their freedom to go out into the world and make their own mistakes, but rightly we’ve now taken a look at things and realised that mental discipline is more important. The party’s reasserting itself.

Ed: What did you wear when you were a teenager?

JC: Pretty much what I’m wearing now.

Ed: Are you saying your MPs are aberrations, then?

JC: No, that’s reductive journalism on your part, what I’m arguing, in fact saying, is that between say, 1983 and 2015, the Labour Party was subject to a period of faddism and silliness, which resulted in many people being brought up through the party who, through no fault of their own, simply weren’t up to it. They’d been conditioned to believe that the party had to reflect society as it was, and was becoming, rather than being clear that society must be rethought and remodelled, so it works for the party intellectually.

Ed: Rethought using old and flawed models like Maoism, that sort of thing?

JC: I see what you’re trying to do, I’ve read your blog, but collectivism is an evolving ideology, it’s not just a snapshot of late 19th, early 20th century political philosophy that dogmatically tunes out the experience of real people. It’s a lot more than that.

Ed: Right. So your MPs, then – you’re not going to deselect them?

JC: You’re obsessed with deselection, but I think you have to remember that the real question is about whether they’d want to continue, once their stabilisers are removed. Right now, many of them, and I do feel sorry for them because it’s not their fault, are going through that difficult period where they come to understand that every naïve and half-baked idea they’ve ever had is not reality. It was wrong of Ed Miliband to let them run on the basis that this would be the party’s programme going forward, because that was clearly a sort of waking dream on his part. So I’m saying to them now, ‘get on board, forget the past, understand that you’re a Labour MP and this is what we stand for’. Some will be able to internalise that and support the party and its members, and some won’t. But those who won’t should consider giving way to one of the new and enthused members of the party, the disciplined body that’s coming through, who understand our philosophy. Staying will only make them confused and unhappy.

Ed: But you’ve been an MP for the entire period you’re now saying has been a sort of child-like catatonic period. How is it that you and people like Diane Abbot and John McDonnell were immune from this infantilising?

JC: Have you seen the Brian De Palma film, “Sisters”?

Ed: No.

JC: It’s very good. Basically, it’s about twins who grow up together, one normal, one psychotic. So it makes the point that differences in people’s makeup can cause them to veer off on dangerous tangents. For every me, there’s a Tony Blair. For every Diane, there’s a Harriet Harman. Not everyone’s mentally robust; some are well intentioned but intellectually wanting. There are men and women, and there are sheep. I like sheep, I have to say; there’s a place for them in the party, because Labour’s always been a broad church; but you can’t have them telling the farmer how to run his business. We got timid in the ‘80s, and we didn’t slaughter them, or shear them – we just let them get ridiculously puffed out and old.

Ed: Right, so they have to fall into line or lose their seats?

JC: Well many of them will lose their seats next time anyway. You know, there’s going to be a recalibration of British politics as the electorate adjusts to the breadth and depth of our policies. I’d expect some to stand down, because I don’t think they’d take themselves seriously in an ideologically rich climate – they’ve been reared on platitudes and nebulous notions of compassion, etc. And they’ll be boundary changes of course, and some of those new seats we’ll want contested by serious candidates who believe in a comprehensive re-landscaping of British culture, with affordable ideas built on top.

Ed: So you wouldn’t interpret a wipeout of MPs as failure, then?

JC: Heavens, no.

Ed: What, even if you were reduced to a ton?

JC: A ton of what?

Ed: MPs. A hundred MPs.

JC: Oh – no, because it’d be the right one hundred.

Ed: What about fifty?

JC: Yes, fine.

Ed: Wait, so there’s no number of MPs that would stop and make you think, ‘perhaps the country’s not going for this’?

JC: Ed, listen – the party is a mass membership movement – all the Ms. It doesn’t exist simply to bolster parliamentary representation. We’ll get there, but we first have to find the human distillate of our philosophy and offer it up for the people to taste and study. Scrutiny follows, then enlightenment, then government.

Ed: So if the Labour Party was just you, Diane and John, you’d be okay with that?

JC: It was for thirty years; it could be again. Change takes time.

Ed: Okay, just quickly then – could we discuss some of the issues with your leadership?

JC: The myths, you mean?

Ed: If you like.

JC: Well, it’s terribly tedious, but fine, ask your questions.

Ed: Were you a friend of the IRA?

JC: I believe in a United Ireland.

Ed: Brought about by terrorism?

JC: No, not terrorism. But I support armed revolutionary struggle; I think freedom fighters must use whatever means necessary to overcome armies of occupation.

Ed: Thanks, that’s clear. Israel, do you support it?

JC: I support it in the abstract, naturally.

Ed: What about in reality?

JC: Well it doesn’t exist at the moment.

Ed: Huh?

JC: What exists now is the footprint of occupation; a gangster state. So when there’s a legitimate country there, backed by consent and democracy, of course it’ll have our support.

Ed: I think that’s what the Israelis already believe to exist.

JC: I know, tragic isn’t it?

Ed: Okay, what about the idea that you’re a hypocrite, because you’ve agitated to remove every Labour leader since Kinnock but now expect loyalty from people whose trust and respect you haven’t earned in parliament, whose entire political careers you’ve worked to undermine?

JC: Move on to your next question.

Ed: Many say you helped condemn Britain to Brexit by being deliberately low key and ambiguous during the campaign. They say you saw the EU as a capitalist cabal, that you’re secretly thrilled we’re leaving, and that the only thing you like about it – free movement of people – is antithetical to the values of the people you’re supposed to represent, namely the UK’s working classes, but you like it because it chimes with the metropolitan, café culture liberalism that you actually represent; a sort of left-wing middle class sect that doesn’t understand how ordinary people live. Any truth to that?

JC: Well, I don’t drink in cafés.

Ed: What about the more substantive points?

JC: I campaigned for Remain, I made it clear that I superficially understood the hopes and aspirations of young people who wanted to be a part of it. I understand it’s been fashionable for 40 years.

Ed: Fashionable? What, like, the movement to the right within the PLP? That kind of fashionable? Something that needs to be corrected?

JC: I’m very sorry, but your time is up. I have a rally to go to.

Ed: Fine. Jeremy Corbyn, thank you for your time.

JC: Thank you for filling it.

Jeremy Corbyn is represented by John McDonnell Management Ltd.

Published in: on September 25, 2016 at 19:01  Leave a Comment  
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The missing article on the new Ghostbusters movie

Sick children, their critical faculties ravaged by illness, unable to get to a cinema, had to endure a live action version of the new Ghostbusters.

Sick children, their critical faculties ravaged by illness, imagining themselves to be safe from the burden of cinema attendance, had to endure a live action version of the new Ghostbusters.

With the recent news that every article on the new Ghostbusters movie had been written bar one, I’ve bravely stepped in to complete the conversation. Feminists, film critics, feminoids, barely cognisant members of the commentariat – take a seat. It’s going to be a long few paragraphs.

To begin, let’s admit something to ourselves and mark this knowledge as an essential precondition for sensible, humane debate; the new Ghostbusters is a terrible movie. You can read my review of it if you like, but I ask you to accept, in the name of sanity, that it is a witless, underwritten, poorly structured, badly edited, ill-conceived (and we’ll return to that one), franchise embryo, that has no life or personality of its own, just the DNA of its grown up, sophisticated parents – Messrs Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis. Yet, unlike very similar films, like last summer’s Adam Sandler bomb, Pixels, it’s a terrible, lamentable Happy Meal of a flick that was critically cleansed and marked as progressive, pre-release, via politicisation. Whenever this happens in art or entertainment, though the new Ghostbusters is neither, it is inevitable that the conversation will shift from what’s relevant – i.e. is the work under glass any good, to the meta-narrative.

Let’s be unequivocal. There were people on Twitter and other social media that used the female leads of this movie as lazy shorthand for their general contempt for the project which they, like millions of others who hold the original film in high regard, intuited was a fucking terrible idea. They are misogynists. There’s no but, just a however.

However.

If we unpack this a little, and ask what this uneducated, sexually retarded group feared, it was, on closer examination, deficiencies that have been culturally coded as feminine; the idea that the film would be superficial, nonsensical, weak and flamboyant (a.k.a. theatrical). Why worry about this? Because the 1984 Ghostbusters has qualities which have, erroneously, been coded as male; it’s witty, deadpan, cynical, self-deprecating, grounded and structured. The “haters” as they came to be known, should have, to use a boorish male-centric sports metaphor, played the ball not the woman. But they either couldn’t, because they didn’t understand the difference between a woman and that which is culturally catalogued as female, or didn’t because they can’t identify with female characters, because they don’t like women.

These miscreants set the terms of trade; they made the conversation about whether male characters should be replaced by female characters, as if Paul Feig’s broad bit of schlock was a superconductive antenna for pulling in and concentrating castration anxiety. We should have been asking, what was great about Ivan Reitman’s version and did the new filmmakers have the talent to recapture that? These ghouls ensured that when the new film crowned and turned out to be, yes, you’ve guessed it, superficial, nonsensical, weak and flamboyant (a.k.a. theatrical), it was no longer possible to say so, because that, far from being a legitimate criticism of material originally constituted very differently – like remaking A Night to Remember as a slapstick spectacular, would be giving succour to misogynists.

One can imagine the anxiety that filled preview cinemas as critics, as some audaciously call themselves, sat down to watch the new movie for the first time. Just as it’s a critical sin to decide a film’s bad before you’ve laid eyes on it, there’s also a strict rule, or at least there should be, against deciding you’re going to like a movie, or are pre-disposed to like it, because you associate its pre-release detractors with the ugliest elements of society and yourself.

Ghostbusters 2016 wasn’t just another summer movie, it was the victim of trolls, and an apparent lightning rod for the kind of stereotypical and largely imaginary fanboy that ordinary people, who are also imaginary, despise; the obese, bespectacled manchild, living at home with his parents, masturbating between Babylon 5 episodes, brushing junk food detritus from gynaecomastic tits. To vouchsafe their own progressive credentials, whether the movie was progressive or not (it wasn’t, it just swapped casual misogyny for overt misandry), to make an emphatic statement that they were against these trolls, to be able to look their partners in the eye, or enjoy that scheduled drink with girlfriends, it was necessary for the glass to be half-full on this one. And thus, a film as bad in every way as Pixels, opened to overwhelmingly warm and positive reviews.

But for some critics it wasn’t enough to talk up the new Ghostbusters, one had to attack and denigrate the object of the haters’ affection, their prized original. Revisionism was the new reappraisal. Michael Hogan wrote an embarrassing piece that told people who knew the 1984 film better than their families, that it was slow, that there was no chemistry between the leads, that no-one had ever quoted this so-called quotable movie. Sure, no one had, apart from any film fan of a certain age who you’d heard reciting lines from it all your life (I’d like a sample of Hogan’s brain tissue), and yes, there was no chemistry between the leads, apart from that which was evident on screen and had always been evident, and right, the film takes a while to get going, which in the old days we used to call the story progressing and building toward the climax at a well-judged pace that allowed the premise to develop and the characters room to breathe, enhancing the viewer experience, but that aside, Hogan was spot on.

He was joined on the stump by the New Stateman’s Ryan Gilbey, who told a disbelieving world that Feig’s movie “improved in every way on the original”; a statement of profound critical illiteracy that would, were there any justice, be career ending. But that wasn’t all. He went on to argue that László Kovács’s original “stately cinematography” was, er, wrong for a comedy. Gilbey liked the new film’s cartoon tone, apparently the only legitimate comic mode, and the colour scheme that matched. What’s that, you thought the original Ghostbusters was full of joyous understatement and great comic tension from the collision of grounded characters with outré situations? Well, why don’t you fuck off and join your wanking buddies in their childhood bedroom? You know, the people Melissa McCarthy and Paul Feig talked about when building a rapport with fans of the film they were about to cluelessly reimagine.

So the new Ghostbusters is out and it’s awful. Not because it stars women – some of the best entertainments ever made have starred women, His Girl Friday, Alien, Eve of Destruction – but because it’s broad, self-conscious, badly-improvised and one dimensional. It is, to the original movie, what the BBC’s recent Brexit comedy special is to Brass Eye – a mirthless ghost of the original. In conclusion, and I’m sure you’d accept, to end this Ghostbusters conversation forever, let’s agree that from here on we’ll take care to keep commentary on a production and the finished product separate, lest we forget what a good or bad film actually looks like. Now if you’ll excuse me, I just heard a growl coming from my fridge.

Published in: on July 22, 2016 at 11:50  Comments (1)  
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Why you can have Jeremy Corbyn or the Labour Party but not both

British Labour party leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn poses for pictures with a tie that he was given by a charity worker as he arrives to address a public rally in Glasgow, Scotland, on August 14, 2015. Voting began Friday to elect the new leader of Britain's main opposition Labour party, with Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran socialist who would move the party significantly to the left, favourite to win. AFP PHOTO / LESLEY MARTIN (Photo credit should read LESLEY MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Welcome to my inaugural post from Brexit Britain – a country broken just as David Cameron promised (assuming I interpreted his 2010 election sloganeering correctly). Leave voters should note that in line with the now universally accepted notion that you’re thick as wet concrete, a single syllable version of this blog will be published tomorrow in Warm Glow magazine – still just half a crown.

Last September we all got together and agreed that the test for Jeremy Corbyn’s then presumed leadership would be cultivating the dormant radical instincts of the millions he, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, daughter of Newton, imagined to exist. These were the discontents, the victims of capitalism and decades of laissez-faire dogma, who didn’t vote and weren’t served by neoliberalism. Surely they’d show themselves once JC became their cheerleader?

We laughed about it and concluded that their existence was currently a matter of intense speculation, like dark matter and the God Particle once were. Because they didn’t turn out on election day, or register their support in opinion polls, their existence was theoretical, or a matter of faith for non-Marxists. But like the aforementioned dark matter, that’s thought to signal its presence by the difference between the gravity required to form a spiral galaxy and the potential of the visible bodies therein to generate it, young activists, who joined the party or paid an affiliate fee to guarantee the Corbyn succession, were thought to be the planets and gaseous swirls that proved a greater movement existed.

These kids – who’d devoted many weeks of their lives to politics, indifferent to its archaic mechanics and attendant complications, were vouchsafed by JC and his retinue as the first trickle from a cracked dam. They only numbered in their hundreds of thousands, and were to typical voters what the Eurasian Lynx is to the domestic cat, but when they filled a town hall or student union, it must have felt the world had finally woken up to the Bennite project. Soon, went the thinking, their peers would reverse decades of political disengagement and revive mass membership. Soon, inspired by JC’s rambling rhetoric, the millions who’d voted New Labour following Thatcher’s recalibration of British society would be comprehensively re-educated. But weirdly, this hasn’t happened.

Perhaps it could have, but as soon as Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader it was apparent that beating the system was harder than even Twitter realised. By winning the way he did, from the bottom up, JC broke all the laws of political advancement. His supporters’ code for this was “anti-establishment”; the idea that Corbyn, unlike the Blairite quislings in parliament, wasn’t part of the system, just an MP and part of Westminster’s closed shop since 1983. For anti-establishment read non-conformist and for non-conformist read campaigning socialist; a man with no ambition to advance his cause using the machinery of government, rather content to be a martyr to the same. Say what you like about Tony Blair, and I hope you will, but it took him 6 years as Prime Minister to hit that mark.

Because JC’s never had the tenacity and strength of character required to take on colleagues with different views and win them over, he’s not been subject to the usual shaping forces that prepare most would-be leaders for the tortuous slog that accompanies the top job. Parliament isn’t just a chamber for MPs to congregate. It’s a finishing school for debaters, orators and opinion formers. The word careerist has now become derogatory, but a political career is not simply a power trip for the unprincipled, though that’s one of its many attractions. It’s a test of will and character, a battle that can and does last many years. And in the midst of it all, with all the compromises, frustrations and media exposure that comes as standard, politicians are forged; politicians who impress their colleagues and the country with their presence in the bear pit and their ability to cut through and mediate their message to you, the barely cognisant horde.

When JC leapfrogged all the stages between lowly backbench rebel and party leader, he also skipped the trials that make MPs contenders; tests of mettle like the ability to communicate and build alliances. And whereas no one would argue the deserving always make it – William Hague, IDS and Ed Miliband being examples of how preferment, or not being someone else can inadvertently push the wrong person across the line – they’ve usually impressed enough of their colleagues to be given a fair shake. Corbyn circumvented that process, and curiously for a Labour politician, the principle of meritocracy. In so doing, he presumed to lead a party he’d never worked with.

Standing as the anti-politics candidate was an extraordinary idea; a conscious appropriation of the myth that you can institute meaningful change without first engaging with the system. Imagine applying to be an engineer on an anti-maths ticket, or applying to medical school singing homeopathy’s praises. But politics is a strange fish, because it’s a cerebral pursuit often conditioned by anti-intellectual forces. The public’s lack of nuanced understanding is breathtaking, which suits our rulers fine. Anyone who mischievously pretends that the game’s simple, or stacked against the righteous, is deemed to be a man or woman of the people – fatuous and meaningless a title though that is.

The kind thing to do would be to tell Joe and Jacinda Public to sod off and study politics, or perhaps watch the parliament channel all day, every day for a year, so they understood what the fuck was going on. But Jeremy Corbyn, the anti-politics candidate, gave newbies permission to know dick sizzle because he promised to change all the rules. He sold the dream of a new politics, one apparently divorced from the imperatives that shape the thing. It was the idea you could mount a parliamentary offensive without the hard won consent of your parliamentary colleagues. Incredibly, his supporters thought mystified MPs should give him that chance, which is a little like parents voting to let Brian Meek, the quiet school porter, become headmaster. Why won’t the teaching staff just let him try? Why are they so determined he should stand down? Why won’t the bloody establishment respect democracy and let Brian have a go, despite him being profoundly underqualified?

In office Corbyn wasted no time confirming the worst fears of well wishers. He was obstinate and uncooperative with the media, who he saw as propagandists rather than a mirror to people’s values and preoccupations; he was stuttering, long-winded and incoherent at the dispatch box; he was slow to react to events and hopeless at capitalising on them. And in an unprecedented situation for a new leader, his long standing opposition to the mainstream of party opinion made unity impossible; unity being, yawn, the prerequisite for strong opposition.

The party’s policy was to retain nuclear weapons, though Corbyn was unequivocal in saying that as Prime Minister he’d never use them. The party supported military action to tip the Syrian civil war in favour of the dispossessed but the leader did not, as all such action is a symptom of Western imperialist aggression. The party was overwhelmingly pro-European but JC saw the EU as an insidious capitalist club and affront to democracy. Arguments about whether he gave his all in the referendum are ludicrous, given his arguments for Remain came with a dozen caveats. Supporters liked Diane Abbott called it “nuanced” but desirable though that is in general debate, in a referendum where the choice is binary and the aim is to galvanise and maximise you support there can be no half measures. JC told interviewers he was “7.5 out of 10” in favour of Remain – overstating his support by a factor of 7. Subsequently, only 6.4 out of every 10 Labour voters turned out for the cause (the same number that March, pre-campaign polling for Remain said would do so anyway), though this may not have made any difference to the final result.

If there was any doubt, his passion for retaining his stranglehold on the leadership has been far greater than any exhibited during the EU campaign. That shouldn’t surprise anyone; JC’s finally fighting for something he believes in. Having waited all his adult life to have some influence on the direction of the Labour Party, he and his retinue are not going to give it up, just because 81% of his MPs think Tim Farron would make a better leader of the opposition. Nor will you hear him tell miserable and confused young fans why he didn’t wholeheartedly defend something they saw as integral to their future. He could try telling them they don’t get it; that the EU is ideologically impure; but when you’ve counted on the ignorance and historical illiteracy of your natural supporters to protect your position, you dare not draw attention to it.

If you try and explain this to “the movement”, as it’s sometimes known, and groups like Momentum – the cult’s campaigning wing, you’re told that any attempt to dislodge Corbyn is illegitimate, that the members are sovereign, that feckless and self-serving MPs, who only care about forming a government and implementing Labour policies, exist in a bubble divorced from political reality, if you can imagine such a thing.

Diane Abbott went on the Today programme and witheringly denounced talk of winning elections as “Westminster-centric”. Billy Bragg told Facebook that the coup against Corbyn, that now includes famous Blarites like Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, was based on a fallacy, because JC had won three safe seats in by-elections – proof that a 2020 landslide was a mere formality. Paul Mason, furious at Labour MPs’ disloyalty to a man imposed on them against their will, argued that the referendum result was just a pretext for removing JC, and this despite 64% of the party’s supporters voting Remain. Sure, there was no evidence Corbyn’s lukewarm endorsement informed that figure, and Nigel Farage, who’d barely shut up on behalf of Leave and had made himself ubiquitous on TV and radio, managed to deliver 93% of his supporters, but so the fuck what?

Then, last night on the BBC’s This Week, journalist and Corbyn cultist, Rachel Shabi, told a dumbfounded Michael Portillo that he was a fantasist for suggesting Corbyn would doom the Labour Party to the worst defeat in its history. JC’s supporters didn’t care about party unity or his MPs endorsements, she said; his popularity, in as far as one could measure it accurately, came from the country. A smirking Portillo replied, “you’ve just made my day”. Here was the Labour schism laid bare; those who believed Corbyn would win because their faith was indicative of those hitherto untapped and formerly voiceless millions, versus commentators – some at Westminster, some old enemies like Portillo, who looked at the sweep of electoral history, and the most up to date indications of how people vote, and saw a disaster unfolding in slow motion.

The masses, whoever the fuck you think you are, typically don’t vote for weak leaders or divided parties, or indeed a party that appears to be disinterested in the type of voter you imagine yourself to be – say white, working class and angry. Corbyn’s supporters see disunity as a symptom of treachery and media scrutiny as propaganda, but party discord’s inevitable if the parliamentary wing has not fully endorsed the candidates that finally get offered up to the membership. The Tories may be bastards but they understand this, hence their system that only lets card carrying Conservatives vote once MPs have whittled down candidates to two. Ed Miliband’s reform of the system for choosing the Labour leader dissolved the distinction between MP and member, and in doing so delegitimised the role of parliament in a system where having command of the parliamentary party and the chamber is a copper bottomed necessity.

So Labour’s PLP, directly elected by the general population, stands on the precipice, forced to contemplate either an ugly leadership contest or the nuclear option, unilateral independence and the search for a new base and party machine. Faced with his refusal to resign, they must contemplate the awful possibility that you can have Jeremy Corbyn or the Labour Party but not both.

History, it’s over to you.

My EU Nightmare Is Over

Lasted the Longest

It’s taken a while, four months to be precise, but I’ve finally reached a decision on how to vote on referendum day. Because this vote’s about me and not your so-called lives, the journey to the ballot box has engendered self-doubt and profound political anxiety; in short, an existential crisis.

Though liberal and internationalist by constitution, I’ve not been content to enjoy the virtue signalling arrogance and contempt for Brexiters that’s been the hallmark of chaise lounge pundits lacking the courage to reflect upon and challenge their most cherished assumptions, or the will to read around.

Yeah, that told you, didn’t it?

Back in February, as the referendum campaign yawned into life and the hawks on both sides began urinating on their favoured chunks of discursive territory, repelling neutrals and cats alike, I decided to benchmark my soft Euroscepticism, record where I was at the beginning as it were, and blogged a corrective to what I saw as a Europhile truism, the idea that the EU is a force for progressive politics, adding metropolitan spice to our cultural brew, and broadening our domestic outlook.

In doing so, I was conscious that I’d fallen into the Leave trap of wanting to give the aloof, haughty liberal intelligentsia an iron bar to the balls. People like me were the reason they wanted to disenfranchise millions of sentimental Westphalians. You can’t trust an idea as big and important as the United States of Europe with its presumptive citizens.

That the project was clandestine and furthered without popular consent was a huge problem for me, the kind that made me go for Remainers the way a psychosexually damaged person goes for anyone who shows an interest. European institutions and the democratic scaffolding bolted thereon, has been designed to keep voters at least two removes from the decision makers, with MEPs, the only verifiable manifestation of our glaze-eyed demos, elected on a proportional basis from a party list. One imagines they feel as directly accountable to us as a filmmaker does when you complain your cinema seat’s stained with cum.

Yes, this kept me up nights, long after the local prostitutes had tip-toed out, taking the counterfeit cash that they couldn’t quite scrutinise in the gloaming from the bedside table. It made we wonder, just as it plagued Euro-haters like the late Tony Benn, whether the fundamental left-wing case for Brexit was unassailable, regardless of the less cogent or inhumane arguments often grafted to it, then righteously proffered in its name. That’s right, I’m talkin’ ‘bout immigration. And feeling, knowing, that the EU had been built and strengthened as a means to safeguard peace and prosperity on the basis of doublethink like circumventing electors – a matter of record if you care to know it – made confronting the ugly side of the Brexit argument, the domestic violence that comes with the twelve cans of supermarket lager, an uncomfortable and dehumanising experience.

Forget the official faces of the Leave campaign – rabid monoculturist and hypocrite Nigel Farage (autocorrects to fascist), Harry Potter Basil Hallward portrait, Michael Gove, and narcissist strawman Boris Johnson – the problem with having any sympathy for the Brexit case is meeting ordinary Brexiters. Whether it’s the leafleteer on the high street who turns away in disgust when you suggest she may want to live and work on the continent, the man in the pub who conflates pulling out with imperial nostalgia, the dark side of Twitter, that without exception – and here I talk about ordinary epigrammists, not the blue tick brigade – see Brexit as a social cleansing exercise, every encounter is a direct and formidable challenge to the idea that denying these people their say in the country’s future has been an indefensible affront to the Great British Public (GBP). How formidable? Well, I doubt Smokin’ Joe Frasier felt any less apprehensive ahead of The Thriller in Manilla. At least he knew the worst that could happen was death. What’s worse than death? Living with the knowledge you’ve inadvertently allied yourself with the ugliest elements in society and the demagogues who’d manipulate them.

But immigration matters, because of the serious charge that it leads to wage compression at the low end of the income scale and is changing white working class communities beyond recognition. The BBC screened a fascinating documentary, The Last Whites of the East End, showing the 20th century residents of Newham, East London, contemplating white flight to the new safe harbour of Essex, in response to large-scale economic migration having comprehensively displaced their tribe. The argument, we learned, was not that foreigners had taken all the jobs, for such talk as Nicholas Barr at the LSE notes, is bollocks, as an upsurge in population creates greater demand in the economy (the idea that there’s x amount of jobs to go around is called the ‘lump of labour’ fallacy), rather than immigrants had vandalised the culture.

The multicultural dream in Newham was a fantasy, said the would-be Big Brother housemates under glass, as newbies refused to integrate. This made the only viable option moving to a single community where working class whites would do the exact same thing. Yet it was an eye-opener, a film that showed the issue was whatever passed for indigenous values, bound, naturally, to Christian virtues, and the perception these were now under threat.

Tony, a West Ham fan who no longer felt comfortable on the streets he’d pissed on as a child, had married a Romanian woman. But there was no contradiction because she shared his moral system. In other words, she wasn’t a Muslim. Watching this fascinating bit of anthropology, the participants unwilling or unable to confront their own hypocrisy, I had to accept that whatever one thought of the locals, most of whom were broad and boorish, they were victims of social policy in which market economics, rather than social cohesion, had been the primary driver. The key question was the identity of the culprit: domestic policy or the EU’s free movement of people principle. If the latter, did I care?

So it was around now, satisfied that I’d identified the key issues, namely sovereignty and immigration, (both cultural and economic), that I returned Daniel Hannan’s book Why Vote Leave to the ICU waiting room at my local hospital, and started to look for facts that would once and for all settle the question of whether the EU was something done to us that was good, like fluoride in tap water, or bad, like ATM bank charges.

I went to debates – lots of fucking debates, in which Leave’s simple message, delivered in the demotic, contrasted with the more nebulous arguments to remain, tellingly framed as a lecture in political science. I listened to hundreds of hours of TV and radio conversation in which representatives of the so-called establishment tried to fight off, half-heartedly, those who argued, with the force of history, that the EU was hostile to reform and allergic to scrutiny, defaulting to the government’s go-to strategy of fluffing your inner monetarist. A case of never mind the erosion of statehood and its social impact, feel the benefit to your mortgage rate, house price and employment prospects. I tried not to dwell on the irony that the tenets of Thatcherism were now being used to defend the creeping union she grew to despise.

But in the end, at long last, real information shorn of propaganda and prejudice, began to trickle though – in print, online, from independent economists I trusted like Paul Mason, and the case for Remain acquired heft. Bagehot was helpful in The Economist, arguing that real sovereignty was relative. This wasn’t just a comment on globalisation, though it informed the argument, rather than supra-national cooperation was a fact of life and would remain so, Brexit or no. North Korea was the most sovereign country on Earth, he said, because it was free of outside interference, though it struck me that even this wasn’t strictly true, as its madness was guaranteed by China and its isolation by the rest of the world – in other words, its xenophobia was conditioned by cultural, economic and politics forces external to it; it was a slave nation.

Depending on who you read, the UK was signatory to anything between 700 and 1400 international treaties, and held hands with the WTO, UN and NATO. Thinking of those three, it occurred to me that the great challenge to British identity came not from Europe but from the US, who’d bled into our language, economic policy and popular culture in a way our EU partners manifestly had not. No one talked about that because the ties that bound were invisible and for the most part, not formalised by a thumping great symbol like the Treaty of Lisbon. Even Kathy Beale on EastEnders drops the occasional Americanism into her chat these days. I’ve never heard her use French.

Paul Mason, writing a mini-manifesto for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, whose pro-EU stance on immigration makes Remain highly vulnerable to the wrath of threatened white working class voters, as featured in the BBC documentary, acknowledged that free movement in its current form did hurt low-income earners, and by the same token encouraged immigrants to come to poor areas. But in lucidly arguing for the Islington beard to hike the minimum wage to £12, make it illegal to hire staff from a single nationality for certain jobs, e.g. Italians as baristas, and introduce a training levy for employers hiring non-UK workers, amongst other things, he inadvertently reminded me that extant grievances were a consequence of domestic policy, not EU diktat, and could be changed at Westminster if the political will existed.

The Lisbon Treaty needs renegotiation, he added – debt written off, privatisation initiatives ended, the Stability and Growth Pact mandating austerity scrapped – but the message was, don’t throw the baby out with the goat’s blood. The arguments for these changes, crystallised by the referendum, would now be immediate like ever before. In other words, Europe was having a near death experience. Change or die. If we left, it might die anyway but we’d have the State version of locked in syndrome.

So the EU may have enabled mass immigration but it’s been our unwillingness to control the supply market that had caused social problems. The EU took away some of our sovereignty, but not enough to constitute a coup. 55,000 EU civil servants draft proposed legislation that 393,000 UK civil servants amend, with parliament ratifying the mongrel instruments. The democratic deficit was there, for the people are sovereign and most of them haven’t a clue what MEPs are doing in their name, or for that matter what the UK parliament’s giving away while they’re distracted by more immediate domestic concerns, but this can and I thought, on balance of probability, would be reformed in time.

And with that I decided to vote Remain on June 23rd. It has nothing whatsoever to with our idiotic Prime Minister or his imbecilic retinue, and quietly ignores the harping, sanctimonious Scottish Nationalists, whose hypocrisy is total and threat to decouple from the rest of the UK if England votes Leave, empty and politically unworkable in the timeframe they’d have to carry it out.

Rather, Brexit is a false God – an apparent panacea for our social ills and domestic policy fuck ups, wilfully blind to the interrelated political and economic forces that create them, and an argument for nationalism that masks a deep-seeded mistrust of difference. Its advocates use the language of compassion and inclusivity – caring for the health service, homes for everyone, better public services, while hoping to usher in a new era of hard-line Conservative thinking that would almost certainly destroy all of the above.

It’s been a long journey to end up where I’ve been most of my life then, but I can cast my vote next Thursday satisfied I’ve strength tested my instincts. If everyone who votes next week has also taken time to jump on the floorboards, the result will be considered, not an affirmation of prejudice or self-righteousness, and that can only add depth and understanding to the long and torturous debate that follows.

Published in: on June 16, 2016 at 11:03  Comments (1)  
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