This House: Comedy, Tragedy or Farce?

It’s the all-singing, all-dancing play about British politics in 1974 (well, there’s a little bit of singing and dancing but not much). The Labour government can barely keep it together and the Tories are about to turn to that infamous Iron Lady. Behind the scenes at Westminster the Whips are doing their best to keep their parties in shape and to keep their MPs voting for the right side. It’s harder than it sounds given that some MPs think it more important to fake their own deaths, to actually die, to stand by their principles and/to to defect to the other side. What ensues is simultaneously funny, tragic and farcical as history plays itself out and the Labour Party, the last bastion of the working classes, crumbles from within and without. It’s also far too close to home what with faffing over an EU referendum, Scottish devolution and austerity. I laughed but I also cried. Now, I could go on to write a review of the play but I basically wouldn’t be saying anything the guardian hasn’t already said, it really is great.

Instead, I want to briefly reference an interview with the writer of the play, James Graham. He says that “theatre is a democratic space. You still have to bring people together collectively into a room, you lock the doors, you turn the lights down and you thrash it out live, there and then.” I think this is a wonderfully idealistic view of what theatre can do but I think the irony is that if the theatre is a democratic space it’s got more in common with the sort of farcical democracy we witness in This House rather than any ideal version where we actually have equality. Firstly, you have to pay to get into the theatre, which immediately prioritises the space for the rich. Much like Britain with its private education, increasingly private healthcare and astronomical public transport fares. Not to mention the wealthy politicians who can afford houses and flats in London making it much easier to access the Houses of Parliament. The poor barely scrape by and settle for limited view seating if they’re lucky enough to get in. And, yes, our democracy is like being locked in a room as any vain attempt to escape – say by voting for the Lib Dems or Greens – is met by the Yale lock of the two-party system. And just like at the theatre we are forced to silently watch as those on stage, the politicians, play their own games at the expense of the nation. We’re the ones who get thrashed. Meanwhile, the script is off-limits to the audience apart from once in every five years when we’re tricked into believing we can edit it. And our rounds of applause are reserved for two specific moments, the interval and the end – not much wiggle room there.

I think Graham has a laudable view of the theatre as a genuine tool for change-making within society. But, in our time of relentless consumerism, I fear that theatre is gobbled up as greedily as television and cinema. We’re often going in to escape, not to deeply engage with our inner values, and will come out with much the same view of the world with which we went in. However, I do believe theatre can contribute to culture change but as the phrase suggests it is going to take more than one very good play to change the culture. It’s going to take lots of plays asides many other forms of cultural interaction. As Graham says “we should be getting together like we used to and talking about things.” I couldn’t agree more but I’m not sure that is necessarily going to happen in the imposed silence of a theatre’s auditorium.

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Theresa May: Woman of the People or Beyond Parody?

If there’s one thing Prime Ministers have known since Margaret Thatcher got Saatchi to do her advertising it’s that PR trumps politics. Tony Blair befriended Rupert Murdoch, promised us things could only get better then went about selling out Labour values and destroying Iraq. Gordon Brown was a bit of a non-event but David Cameron was all schmooze and no substance, the friendly face of a decidedly unfriendly party (he was so nice about gay people after all). Now Theresa May’s on the case and she really is positioning herself as woman of the people if her party conference speech is anything to go by. Of course, it’s not and we know it’s bullshit, she knows it’s bullshit (unless she’s deluded enough to believe it) and the rest will be the continual unravelling of the welfare state, increasing inequality, a fallback to xenophobia and darker times ahead. Seriously, do humans ever learn their lessons?

First she claimed Brexit was a “quiet revolution” during which the people had spoken and they could not be ignored. Remember the referendum?! It was a slim majority, not everyone voted or could vote and the whole reason it happened was because Cameron cocked up. And remember the last general election!? The Tories got a tiny majority and that was with David Cameron as leader, who promptly went about ignoring the people anyway. And who actually voted for May to be PM? Oh, no one. But being a Conservative revolutionary (yup, it’s an oxymoron) wasn’t enough for May. It seems she also wants to put off people from other countries from working and studying here. Remember Brexit!? Hasn’t Britain done enough already in telling the rest of the world to fuck off and scapegoating immigrants. Fortunately she wants us to be less selfish and individualistic, much like the triathlete Alistair Brownlee who gave up his chance to win so he could help his ailing brother over the line. Remember the job market!? It’s inherently competitive and actively discourages us from helping others. But she does want more state intervention in helping British people get jobs and claims the Tory party is the party of the NHS, of teachers, etc. Remember austerity?! That cut the welfare state and undermined the jobs of those who work within it. She then went on to tell big companies and big bosses not to avoid tax and do other nasty things. Remember the Tory Party!? These big bosses are the very people who fund it and the companies that benefit from the neoliberal policies it has promoted for decades. Finally, she reminded us that change is what people want and “a change is going to come.” Remember the laws of physics? Cause and effect, change always happens, it’s inevitable. But the implication was that the Tories have a plan and a well-thought through policy. Remember well-thought through Tory policies!? The big society, austerity, cutting the deficit. Um, none of those worked and the Tories just did what most governments do, ride out the booms and busts of capitalism and hope for an economic upturn come election time.

All together now: “I call bullshit!” She says she wants the Tory party to be the new party of the centre but can I remind you that the centre has never really existed. It’s a nice myth that perfectly polite middle class people want to believe: that somewhere between those mad socialists and crazy Ukips is a peaceful middle ground of politics where everyone can have their cake and eat it (well, not everyone, especially not poor people and poor foreigners). Capitalism, resting as it does on a military industrial complex, can never be peaceful and it can never be middling. But it seems May is choosing to ignore that and telling nice tales about fictional worlds where things end happily ever after. It’s called lying and politicians have done it for a long time. As for the rest of us, let’s be more like Alistair Brownlee, and give each other a helping hand because I really doubt the government is going to.

Home secretary Theresa May finished her speech to the Conservative party conference by holding her hand up to the audience. Unfortunately, in the process she accidentally rewrote the Conservatives' "Better Future" slogan.

Is It Time The Labour Party Got A Divorce?

It seems one thing British political parties need to do right now is act and act quick. The Tories are already rallying around Margaret Thatcher Mark 2 who is prepping to eject the UK from the EU and send us into outer space. Meanwhile, John McDonnell of the Labour Party is calling many in his party “fucking useless” whilst Angela Eagle isn’t offering much in the way of new policies and Jeremy Corbyn keeps missing opportunities to stick it to the Tories. It’s also becoming violent as Eagle recently had a brick thrown through her window. This is highly distressing and the question I’m asking is if Labour, under Corbyn or Eagle, can keep it together?

At the moment it seems like it can’t. I don’t buy all of the hype around the conspiratorial nature of the ‘coup’ and think Corbyn is somewhat deluded to think everyone is out to get him but you don’t have to be a Blairite to be disappointed with some of his actions – I mean, the man took a holiday during the referendum, the single biggest thing to happen in politics since Cameron was accused of putting his willy in a pig’s head. And watching the short VICE documentary on Corbyn’s team ‘doing’ politics is like watching a slow episode of The Thick of It – I thought that programme was supposed to be fictional. But at the same time Corbyn’s is the loudest anti-austerity voice in mainstream politics and it’s clear he’s riled the establishment somewhat given that the media is going all out to render him ‘unelectable’. And the Party putting the membership fee up from £3 to £25 is a nasty joke that reaffirms how out of touch they are with their support base. But it seems many in the Party are falling out irrevocably and don’t want to try and form a unified front, especially if Corbyn is re-elected.

So, maybe that split needs to happen pronto. For those who oppose Corbyn but still advocate neoliberal, capitalist economics maybe they could join the Lib Dems or make a new party with some vague euphemism for a title and continue presenting themselves as the lighter shade of blue option, which Blair began many years ago. I’m not trying to be glib in my analysis of their economics and, boy, do we need a functioning alternative to the Tories, but whilst I think the ‘centre’ ground of politics has just torn itself apart there are plenty of people who still wish to inhabit it (not that neoliberal capitalism can ever really be the ‘centre’ because money will always promote inequality unless suitably contained). Let them have their ‘soft left’ cakes and eat ’em whilst they carry on failing to beat the Tories at their own game. Anyway, Tariq Ali said all this before me in his book The Extreme Centre: A Warning. Meanwhile, the Corbynistas can either keep the Labour Party title or just call themselves Momentum or something. Although I do hope they stop being so violent and hostile toward alternative views because they’ll need to make a lot of new political allies. In fact, the reports of bullying in the Labour Party, stalking, and Corbyn’s refusal to support a secret ballot (so as to protect the identities of those who voted against him) suggest there are still many emotionally immature and unstable people in the Party.

One hundred and thirty-two years ago the Fabian Society was established as a precursor to the Labour Party. At its heart was representing the ‘working man’ and challenging the establishment but this was when there were flourishing working class communities centred around key industries like mining. Those industries no longer exist and work isn’t what it used to be (especially with the rise of automisation), so whilst the ideals of Corbyn’s Labour are still vital (we do need a welfare state and an end to austerity), yesterday’s solutions cannot answer all of today’s problems. We need a lot of big new ideas. But there aren’t any, I hear you cry. Wrong. I know someone’s whose got ’em and her name is Caroline Lucas – y’know, the woman who is always spot on in the things she says but gets basically 0 seconds of media time. Gotta love ’em Greens.

 

Operation Breentry

Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

The Red Queen, Alice In Wonderland

If we can put people on the moon, if we can build a world-wide web, if we can invent the Hoover, then we might as well try to keep Britain in the EU. We are caught in a unique period of time and history: the leading parties have no plan for the future and faith in our country and economy is wavering yet the catalyst at the heart of it – the Brexit vote – has not been rendered fact. It is still just a story. It’s a powerful one that many people have accepted and has already had adverse social, political and economic impact but it’s still a story that can be challenged. It’s time for Operation Breentry.

What’s Breentry? It is a movement to stop Britain leaving the EU. It involves emailing MPs asking them to reject the result of the referendum. There’s another initiative to call for a second Referendum and the Parliamentary Petition for that has over 4 million signatures. Meanwhile, people are demonstrating in the street to Remain in the EU and other European leaders like Angela Merkel are advising us to think twice. Unfortunately, many people are already resigned to letting Brexit happen and/or think Breentry could/should never happen. I want to challenge these beliefs.

It’s anti-democratic: To annul a referendum certainly appears anti-democratic but that surely requires living in a functioning democracy. But we don’t. The Leave campaign was anti-democratic – it lied with regards spending on the NHS, it lied with regards limiting immigration (the deals we might do with the EU would involve maintaining freedom of movement anyway) and it was only campaigning against something, it had no plans for after winning. However, even taking the Leave-Remain decision at face value is wrong because the calling for the Referendum itself was anti-democratic. David Cameron, who had entered into Parliament with a slim majority, called it to appease his right-wing back benchers so he could become PM. That is power politics at its worst especially when so many of the electorate did not even vote him in. Remember, our head of state isn’t elected, our House of Lords isn’t elected, our mainstream media is privatised and has a clear agenda and we only vote once very five years. So, yes, Britain is an aspiring democracy but it hasn’t got there yet. All is still to be striven for.

It’s too late: No it’s not. Article 50 has not been signed. We can still petition all MPs and leaders of all parties (the Tories included) to not make one of the worst decisions in recent British history. Furthermore, even if Article 50 were signed we could still challenge it. Or perhaps this isn’t about being late or early at all, if we were on time we would have trialled all war criminals, transcended growth-based consumer capitalism, ended all wars and avoided climate change. Let’s just be pragmatic and do what we can in the time we’ve got.

It would lead to violence and civil war: Breentry would certainly anger voters who wanted to Leave but their actual vote to Leave has acted as a rallying call to violent racists and xenophobes. Police have registered a fivefold increase in race-hate complaints since Brexit. Immigrants have been verbally abused, attacked and fire bombed in the past few days. This proves again how misled and misguided many Leave voters were, that they actually believed Britain might become some free-standing, all-white nation surrounded by high walls. That was never what the Leave vote was offering even if the likes of Nigel Farage might have encouraged it. If people do threaten violence in response to Breentry and we don’t act as a consequence then we are negotiating with terrorists, kowtowing to criminals and appeasing racists. We categorically cannot let the bullies win. As for civil war, well, currently the Tory and Labour parties seem to be hellbent on ripping themselves apart as the vote has unleashed a whole wave of vitriol and back stabbing from the parties. Meanwhile, the Referendum has split families and friends, as people fall out with each other in bitter arguments. And every economic forecast looks bleak. Perhaps we’ve always been at war in Britain, certainly a class war, and the Referendum just proves what has always been true. Hence why we must do all we can on all fronts to heal the many deep wounds in our country rather than stick the knives in further.

The Tories will negotiate a good deal outside the EU: No they won’t. The Tory party is swift revealing it’s inability to steer a post-Brexit course. Gove stabbed Johnson in the back and does not have a plan for a Brexit future despite co-leading the Leave campaign. Theresa May is notoriously anti-immigration and yet might have to be the one negotiating a deal with the EU that involves keeping freedom of movement – that’s like asking a racist to argue for multiculturalism. Meanwhile, Liam Fox is anti-EU (and anti-gay marriage, he said it’s ‘absurd’ and ‘social engineering’). Angela Leadsom loves Europe apparently but says, “What I hate is the EU and the way it is destroying such a fabulous continent” – good luck negotiating with the likes of Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker then (she also abstained from voting on gay marriage, she believed it didn’t have a mandate). The irony is that the one pro-Remain candidate, Stephen Crabb, will lose support because of that stance, although he only adopted it out of loyalty to David Cameron even though he’s largely anti-EU. He also opposed gay marriage but apparently is OK with it now, phew. None of these people have the country’s best interests at heart or the intelligence to guide this country into recovery. They’re also all pro-austerity, an economic decision that will grind this country down even further and exacerbate the unrest we’re witnessing. I thought the Tories were supposed to oppose Labour but turns out they oppose themselves as well.

Labour could negotiate a deal instead: No it couldn’t. There’s almost more infighting there than in the Tory party. Corbyn is being relentlessly stabbed in the back by Blairite MPs even though he has a huge amount of grassroots support. He was also anti-EU and decidedly quiet on calling for Remain. If he miraculously became PM (which would be no bad thing as he’d challenge austerity and enrich the welfare state) would he really have the best interests of the UK at heart when dealing with EU bureaucrats? Perhaps he’ll wake up to the Breentry call and take us back, although he’ll have a vicious, untrustworthy party behind him that is just waiting for his political demise. I thought Labour was supposed to oppose the Tories but turns out they oppose themselves as well.

The UK is strong, we’ll get what we want in the end, we’ll “take back control”: No we won’t. Nicola Sturgeon is calling for a second Scottish referendum. Leanne Woods, leader of Plaid Cymru, is calling for Welsh independence, “redesigning the current UK is the only option.” There are calls to unite Ireland and even for London to go independent. Turns out it’s not just political parties that don’t get on, countries don’t either. Add to this deepening austerity, companies threatening to leave/leaving the UK, the loss of our triple A credit rating, a rise in racist violence and I’m struggling to see how the UK stays united. That selfish little world of capitalist consumerism and middle-England-ism is imploding and is trying to take its neighbours down with it. This isn’t new – this has been an ongoing problem for decades, Brexit has just exposed it more starkly. Breentry would just be the first step in trying to patch back together the social fabric of the UK.

But migrants are a problem, we need less of them: No. That is taking Tory and Leave propaganda at face value, as well as various Labour views. Stirring up racial hatred and anti-immigration sentiments are a timeless tactic used to distract attention from underlying economic issues which include rising inequality (how come so many people can’t afford their rent whilst so many others have multiple houses around the world) and austerity (we keep forgetting that it was the 2008 financial crash that brought the global economy to its knees not a “bunch of migrants” nor over-generous Labour government spending on the economy, remember, Osborne’s deficit has been so much higher than that of Brown’s). If we scapegoat and abuse migrants and people whose skin isn’t white enough we will set this country back decades and fall into the same bigoted trap of history. We are better than this and we can learn our lesson.

What if we’d voted Remain and the Leave campaign wanted to challenge it: Then they’d have every right to and could use the same arguments that I have. Except many of the Leave camp voted out of protest on the proviso that Britain would take back sovereignty and control, but that was a lie. They voted to get more money spent on the NHS, that was a lie. They voted for less migrants, that was a lie (plus, I don’t negotiate with racists). But even if this scenario were true the state of our country would still be to play for. We’d still be realising, all too late, that whilst political statements seem like irrefutable truths they are in fact stories and agendas that can be challenged, whoever’s side your on. The game is afoot (and always has been but for too long we’ve let others, including elitist, old-Etonians, play it for us).

The EU won’t get any better: I agree that the EU is a problematic institution. The economic bullying of countries like Germany and France against Greece is outrageous. I know my grandparents didn’t risk their lives against the Nazis just so economic powerhouses could drive other countries into recession. However, I do know they risked their lives to stop war on the continent and that worked, for now. With the rise of the extreme right and this includes the neo-Nazis we risk undoing their good work and whilst we might not have a war with trenches and obvious beginning/end points we will witness the rise of extremist terrorism in Europe directed at groups including Muslims, Jews, the Romani, queers and any other convenient scapegoats. The EU, problematic as it is, is a supra-national organisation built to enhance unity and promote peace but this won’t happen by magic and we must challenge and change it from within to ensure peace reigns. My grandparents fought the Nazis, I think I can fight corrupt EU politics. And the latter is itself a victim of globalised, growth-obsessed, consumer capitalism (that’s the real fight, see rest of blog for thoughts on that).

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There is another way and it’s called Breentry. Email your MP and ask them to vote out the Referendum, sign the petition to call for another one, wear a safety-pin to show support with the immigrant population, challenge hate crime, hug your friends, let yourself cry, howl in anger at the moon, smile at strangers and talk, talk, talk. We must dare to be political and we must dare to call for change. A positive post on Breenty and a possible future will come next but this one is getting far too long. Please do challenge me, this is just my opinion, but please let’s keep talking about this. May the force of Lady Gaga be with you – she’s right, we are on the edge but we don’t have to fall.

And news just in, this hilarious facebook post that sums the situation up perfectly!