Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Today I had a not very nice flight but made friends with a violinist who was in the seat next to me, and then I bought a Pepsi on the train from Frankfurt and the man in the shop gave me a cup which he had modified with two drink-stirrers sellotaped to the bottom to make it look like an alien and drawn a face on it. SO that was ok.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

"We don't believe in you and your wrecking crew/We don't believe in you wedontbelieveinyou"

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Election innit

I don't really know all that much about Politics. Unfortunately my sixth form college went in for Politics less than GNVQs in beauty therapy; but that is rather beside the point as in all honesty I was too busy doing any number of wildly stupid things to pursue any kind of personal education in the subject. This isn't something I'm proud of, and it is something that I hope to rectify one day. On an entirely personal level, this election has made me feel rather ashamed of my shallow knowledge of British politics. Theoretically, I have it all there. I can discuss social contract theory until the cows come home – I know Hobbes and Locke and Rousseau, I have dabbled in Marx and Marcuse (too much Marcuse, not enough Marx, some might say), I can understand (although for some almost indiscernible reason disagree with) Rawls – I can even, on some level, consider that all property (all proper tea?) is theft. Give me a half a pint, twenty minutes and s topic and I can discuss the hows, whys and wherefores of any number of complex theoretical political “big ideas.” However, when it comes to the ins and outs of British politics – of economics, of first past the post, of strategic voting and percentages and all these fiddly but violently important little aspects of the actual system in which we find ourselves I am blind. I am as blind as the next man and blinder than most. I am not good at politics. But, I am good at people. Not in terms of interaction - but I understand people, to a degree, and I do a lot of listening. And this time round, I have heard a few things. This is what I have learned.

[+]'Voting for Policies' has a nice ring to it and would perhaps work in a system of proportional representation but that isn't the system we have so we just have to make the best of it, really, and hope that things are different next time round.

[+]I have never met anybody who lived through the 80s (and by lived, I mean, was of an age to be more concerned with the poll tax and less with gnawing on their transformer toys) who wants another Tory government. Never. I suppose that anybody likely to think that the Thatcherite years were a good thing is probably fairly unlikely to be hob-nobbing around with the likes of me, but nevertheless, I think this is telling. I know with hindsight it's easier to find things to appreciate, and people keep telling me that Thatcher did do some good things (allegedly.. probably.... possibly?) – but then, even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day, doesn't it?

[+]When talking about Politics, most people don't seem to know what they are talking about. I mean of course, there are many people who do – I have enjoyed, this time around, listening to the thoughts and opinions of people far more politically educated than myself and I have found it very insightful, a definite learning curve. I have witnessed some passionate debates and had ideas suggested to me that never ocurred to me before. However, none of this detracts from the fact that it seems like, to me, a lot of political debate amongst your average citizen is basically just everyone trying to sound like they know what they're talking about more than the person next to them. It so often seems to descend into petty point-scoring and pedantism - “Please, correct terminology, cretin.” As if tarting up your views more prettily is somehow more important than the fact that you're trying to polish a turd. I feel like I've spent a great deal of time watching people bluster through discussions that are based far more about who is the most confident and who has the most aggressive debating technique than who actually has arguments of substance. But then, I suppose that's the case with everything, it's just that politics seems to particularly titillate it.

[+]Before the circus began, it seemed like it was the general consensus that we were going to get a Tory government. However, I soon realised, whilst venturing out of my cosy little middle class student enclave, that this wasn't anything resembling the consensus of everybody at all. In Leeds a few months ago I had a really interesting conversation with some of the regulars in the pub I used to work in. They were the first people I encountered who genuinely didn't see a Tory government as being an inevitability. Furthermore, they didn't see Labour – 'warmongering, disappointing, rebranded' New Labour – as being backstabbing failures. I come from a middle class background. I know 'everyone' does these days – that, I suppose, was one of Thatchers victories, the rise and sprawl of the middle classes. Convincing everyone, even those on not all that many grand a year who are realistically one paycheque away from the breadline, that they are middle class and should vote to protect their own small interests. To convince the more affluent of the working class that they should vote in the interests of the wealthy, than the masses..... because One Day, You could Be Here Too! Why give up anything to support those who are in need? Because it requires sacrifice, and Hell, I don't Need It – I'm Doing Just Fine, and I Worked For My Money, and So Anyone Who Doesn't Have Money Doesn't Have it Because They Are Lazy And Unmotivated Scroungers and so Why Should I Carry Them? Completely disregarding the fact that wealth distribution is at best based on an arbitrary system of birth and circumstance and most of all luck. 'Why not reward the rich and successful? That's where we all want to be, right?' And one of Thatchers victories was convincing us that we could be. Fact: We won't. Not all of us. That is an impossibility in a society based on massive inequality. Statistically, you are probably not going to get There – so why are you protecting the interests of those who will? They aren't playing on the same pitch as most of us – they aren't even playing the same fucking ball game. But my point is, that although to some of us, it might not seem like there is much difference between Labour and Tory, there are people to whom it makes a massive difference. See: Surestart. See: Child trust fund initiative.

[+]On May 1st,1997, I was on a school overnight trip. It was a sunny evening. I remember our teachers (well, most of them) walking off to the pub, even clapping each other on the back. I remember, far before I could understand what it meant, grown ups saying that things were going to change. That this was it – finally. It was going to be okay from now on. It wasn't. My mum puts it best – with the Tories, you expected it, but with Labour, they stabbed you in the back. All of the problems we have are not simply a result of some evil Tory deathstar and would be totally resolved by a labour government. Labour fucked us. In 1997 they wined us, dined us, told us we looked awful pretty in our nice new dress and hey, maybe did we want to come back to their place just 'to talk', and then bent us over a desk and buggered us. But at the end of the day – they are So Much Better than the alternative. If I were to vote Labour, I would not be voting pro Labour, I would be voting Not Tory.

[+]I'm from the kind of family where it would be tantamount to sacrilege to vote Tory. This kind of tribal politics seems to be sneered at now; somehow it is considered weak or ill-informed to vote on the basis of social class, to continue the values inherited from parents, grandparents, eras with values that we are convinced are so alien to our own.We should vote how we feel, however suits us best – we should forget all the lessons history has taught us and vote on the basis of policies, because, as we all know, Politicians Of Course Stand By Their Election Pledges. (see: 1979 (78 maybe), The Sun front page: ten pledges of Thatcher's government. Five years later, all broken) However, if I genuinely felt voting Tory would be in the best interests of our state I would do so. I don't vote on the basis of how I have been told; I would never be a part of some blind indoctrination process and my parents would never expect or desire me to be. But, having grown up with the values my parents have instilled in me – values which are based on equality and fairness and the importance of a chance for all, of working to dismantle the class system which for some reason is still so pervasive in our society, of valuing everybody as being of equal worth regardless of their origin – having grown up with these values I would never dream of voting Tory.

[+]I wouldn't vote Tory because of a very distinct ideological difference between my own views and theirs. I wouldn't vote Tory because I don't believe it's okay to sacrifice the poorest people in society on the altar of “free enterprise.” I know this more American concept of freedom is catching on in Britain – I know that suddenly anything which prevents us from striving to achieve our ambition to basically be as successful as we want and to hell with whoever pays the price is viewed as a bad thing, but I don't agree. It would be one thing to value unhindered ambition if the starting society was a level playing field, but it isn't. Alls it means to give Everybody a chance to Make Their Fortune is that those at the middle and upper echelons of the system are somehow justified in indulging their greed by professing that They Deserve It, and the poorest in the system are left to stagnate in their pool of 'primordial ooze' regardless of how much Ambition, Talent and Drive they display. Anyone who claims that the above three qualities pave the way to success in an unequal society is talking bullshit. The path to success is paved with money. Money begets money. I am not claiming that everyone who has achieved success has done so on the basis of great wealth, or that they somehow don't deserve this success – far from it. In fact I applaud those who, from whatever background they come, have managed to achieve something in our society off the back of hard work and clever decisions. What I am pointing out is that it is utterly utterly misguided to say that all of those who achieve under our present system have done so purely on the back of wit, intelligence and dilligence and all of those who fail to achieve are simply lazy, unmotivated and untalented. It's just bullshit – it's utter, utter bullshit and makes no sense, and to justify inequality on this basis defies belief.

[+]I know there are people who, when one brings up the subject of the 80s, automatically switch off. We weren't alive then, things change! Lets move on! But I grew up with the shadow of that decade hanging over me. I knew from a very young age that some deep rooted ideological inequality had somehow marred the world into which I was born. That somehow, people were confused – that even those with not-very-much nurtured a sense of entitlement coupled with a fear of losing it all that somehow seemed to justify clutching their own tiny piece of cheese to their chest even as it melted away.

[+]At the end of the day, we don't live in an ideal world. We should strive for utopia..... of COURSE we should strive for Utopia; if we ever for one second stop dreaming that we can make things better then we would be a lost cause. But that shouldn't stop us facing the reality of our situation. By all means, usher in a new era – Storm the fucking Bastille, I'll be right alongside you, but until that day, we have to do the best with what we have. Hope for the best, but plan for reality.

So that's what I think, and that's what I've learned. This should have been a lot longer but it's 4.59 am, I still need to pack for a flight tomorrow and I don't function well on no sleep. I hope when you go to cast your vote, in whatever direction you may choose, you do it with conviction. I hope, when you justify it in years to come, that your justification is not made purely on the basis that you thought it would see you and you alone through the next few years of turmoil – that you saved a few hundred quid in taxes, to the detriment of public services. Public services that perhaps you might not benefit from most – but which have a massive impact on others who share our tiny island. Britain. We love it passionately and we hate it in equal measure; we can't even agree on the matter of what it is and what it means, let alone where we should take it – but it is ours. All of it. And regardless of how you define it, we have a duty to all of Britain to do the best with it that we possibly can for all of our citizens. When you vote – please, PLEASE, think.

So that's my opinion, anyway. I'm sure somebody will be along any minute now to tell me why it's wrong – and actually, I'm sort of looking forward to it.

Ps I know this is heavy on the emotive and rather light on substance in terms of opinion on actual policy but you're going to make up your own mind anyway on those matters, so.....

Sunday, May 02, 2010

"Bromidia is the hypnotic par excellence."

"We've noticed for years that the British public would like to have Swedish levels of public services married to American levels of taxation; they would like much more local control over services so they can have what they like, but of course they would also like somebody to guarantee that services were the same everywhere so that it wasn't unfair and there was no postcode lottery.." - on the cognitive polyphasia of the British voting public.