Why Slytherin Deserves A Rebrand

When I was a teenagar I went to a boarding school in the south of England. Picture tall sandstone buildings and large quadrangles of well-cut grass. Picture hundreds of boys in grey uniforms singing the national anthem, tackling each other to the ground on rugby pitches and sharing a common disdain for the local ‘chavs’. Picture, also, rampant masculinity, repressed emotions and a punishment system that involved either an early morning run or copying an article from The Times by hand. Yes, at my boarding school I was taught all the qualities a true man should have: ambition, cunning, resourcefulness, pride (in the British class system) and an unceasing desire to win at all costs. Sound familiar? Yup, I basically went to Slytherin.

Slytherin gets all the bad rep because it’s the house that attracts most aspiring fascists. Its founder, Salazar Slytherin, was a famed racial purist who despied m*dbloods and desired only the breeding of pure-bloods. In other words, a eugenicist, Social Darwinist and sociopath. This is categorically the last person who should be put in charge of the education of minors but then maybe the same could be said for some of the teachers at my school. OK, they weren’t Neo-Nazis but sexism, racism and homophobia were often popular. Yet despite the fact that it appears Slytherin has no redeeming features whatsoever why do I think it deserves a rebrand?

Because on paper lots of the qualities a Slytherin possesses are great, it’s just the fascist bit that’s problematic. If we take ambition, resourcefulness and pride whilst maybe dropping the cunning (unless it’s the non-evil sort) and unceasing desire to win (replacing it with a healthy competitiveness), then I reckon that’s a pretty good combo. Add to them Dumbledore’s observation that Slytherins also possess “a certain disregard for the rules” then it’s clear that these snakey folk are more than capable of answering for themselves. Of course, the other key is to not put a fascist in charge. Maybe have some inspiring role models like Merlin (he went to Slytherin!), Ghandi and Brene Brown and these ambitious folks might not end up heading the Tory party, burning money in front of homeless people and/or burning money on trading floors but could form a vital part of the movement to build a just, sustainable and loving future. Don’t worry, I can hear you snorting, how could a bunch of Slytherins become nice people!? Well, I actually think this question is quite important because it’s clear we Slytherins cannot manage our own emotions and aren’t taught how, only to end up taking them out on the people around us. Furthermore, if we’re ignored or under the tutorship of fascists it’s highly likely we’ll grow up to become dysfunctional, angry people. Not only that but we’ll take over the banking system, the political system and any other hierarchical institution that promises wealth and status. And that’s not a threat, it’s just kinda true. So get us while we’re young and please, please don’t leave it to the likes of Salazar Psychopath.

Advertisements

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.

I’m Voting For Trump Because…

I’m voting for Trump because over the last few decades I have seen my local community decimated. After the factory closed down there weren’t that many jobs going around and more and more folk got into money troubles. People got in debt, people got depressed and some people started taking drugs. I was told America was the land of the great but I ain’t seeing much greatness around. I voted for Obama because he promised change but there’s been jack all change over the past few years. If anything, things are getting worse and I don’t trust Hillary Clinton, she’s part of the elite just like all the others. America needs to sort things out again and I just want a decent job.

I’m voting for Trump because I’ve been a proud Republican my whole life and I believe in the free market. It worked for me. I set up my own business back in the 80s and now I’m a millionaire. Ronald Reagan was a godsend, freeing the market and letting business take the stage. I’ve put my kids through top college educations and now one is an actress, another is a banker and one’s run off to join a hippy circus (we tend not to invite her over for Christmas, she doesn’t eat Turkey). Trump’s controversial, of course, but he’s a Republican and that’s where my heart lies. God bless America. I’m voting for Trump because I don’t like blacks and Jews. I’ve never had much respect for women and I hate those Femi-nazis who get all angry and red in the face. Women need to know when to speak and when to shut up. I mean, a black president is bad enough but now they want a woman president. I do not condone this and nor does Trump, that’s why he’s my man and he’s got my vote. I’m voting for Trump because I was going to vote for Bernie and I do not trust Hillary Clinton. I’m voting for Trump because it’s high time America had a revolution. I’m voting for Trump because Muslims should be banned. I’m voting for Trump because I’m a passionate Muslim businessman and I quite like the guy.

These may or may not be some of the reasons why people are voting for Donald Trump but having watched this Jeremy Paxman film and read this article I know not all of the above sentiments are too far off the mark. And the point I’m trying to make is just as there’s no such thing as an ‘average Brexit voter’ so there is no such thing as an ‘average Trump voter’. There are so many different reasons for why people are voting Trump and whilst some may be contradictory, confused or misguided and others just are bigoted, racist and sexist there are many that are concerned, earnest and hopeful. However, one thing I thing I think might be true across the spectrum of Trump voters is that they don’t want to be patronised. It’s all well and good for Paxman to call Trump voters “mad” to their face and to emphasise just how much of a loon Trump is but for every cutting and sarky ‘Trump voters are morons’ type comment there is someone getting insulted on the receiving end. This sarcastic and condescending tone just adds fuel to an anti-establishment fire that is already burning strong. Of course, many would want to contest that Trump is actually a genuine leader of such an anti-establishment movement (just as Farage clearly wasn’t) but that requires a more nuanced conversation not just labelling someone moronic. It’s not that all Trump voters are deplorable it’s that the system that routinely ignores and scapegoats them is deplorable.

And, yes, I am well aware of the sort of person Trump is – he’s bigoted, he condones and trivialises sexual assault and he’s an arch hypocrite. And, of course, I am not voting for him because I’m not a US citizen but I did think that title was more attention grabbing than ‘The Bourgeoise Left-Wing Metropolitan Elite Need To Brush Up On Their Empathy Skills’. But there’s far more to the American election than a single vote happening tomorrow. The divisions we see boiling to the surface are symptomatic of a vicious and unfair class war that has been waging for decades, which many of us benefit from without thinking much of those who miss out. This will continue to be the case regardless of who becomes the next president. Until we get to the bottom of this mess and learn how to listen to each other we’re going to keep seeing the same feuds play themselves out over and over again.  To be continued…

I Call Bullshit: Bored Of Being Polite To Bigots

“I call bullshit!” It’s my favourite post-referendum phrase at the moment and basically it’s a catch-all for whenever I hear someone chatting a whole load of bollocks. Whether it’s Theresa May promising greater equality in Britain, or Borish Johnson saying you can contextualise away his many racist and sexist slurs, or anyone saying Britain can be great again without even the semblance of a back-up plan. I call bullshit to all that. But there’s something I call even greater bullshit to and that’s intolerance.

I was brought up to be polite. Very polite. In many ways that’s a good thing, I always got on well with my friends’ parents and I tended not to go around brazenly offending people. On the other hand it did mean I avoided conflict and internalised the majority of slights I suffered only to let them fester and reappear as passive aggressive comments or sudden outbursts of anger, neither of which were particularly helpful. So, I think there’s a balance to be struck between being polite enough – i.e. not being a total wanker to people – and being blunt – i.e. being honest to call out bullshit when you see it. A bit of conflict is healthy after all.

So, this is one for all the casually bigoted people I know – the sort of people who profess to not being racist but crack the odd joke about people of colour; the sort of people who profess to being tolerant but don’t really like Muslims; the sort of people who profess to not being homophobic but call bad stuff ‘gay’; the sort of men who profess to not being sexist but tell women to get back in the kitchen; the sort of Tory voter who genuinely thinks a party wedded to the banks and neoliberal capitalism can get us out of this mess; the sort of Brexiteer who doesn’t like the democratic deficit in the EU but is blind to the democratic deficit in the UK and the sort of privileged cynic who criticises society and the people in it whilst selling out to be a banker. Basically, I call bullshit to any of the crap that undermines equality and diversity in this country.

I believe in a plurality of values: I am happy for people to practice different faiths, I am happy for people to vote for different parties (e.g. between Labour and Green), I am happy for people to have differences of opinion but I am not happy if any of this promotes hostility and hate. For the sake of Britain being great again we must be intolerant of intolerance. It is not true that anything goes and I will fight tooth and nail to combat prejudice. So, yes, I will throw off the shackles of over-politeness and call bullshit to bigotry. Bigots beware (and while you’re at it, just piss off and get a life)!

Keep Calm

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.

 

Class Warriors

They say England has only had one Civil War, from 1642 – 1651, when a bunch of Parliamentarians went to war with a bunch of Royalists over the nature of the English government. One King was executed, another was exiled and the monarchy was replaced with the Commonwealth of England and then a military dictatorship under Oliver Cromwell. After that failed the exiled monarch came back to carry on being King. However, I would suggest that England has always been at war and that this war is still being fought throughout Britain. It is a class war, a war of the rich and poor, and with the recent referendum result its truth has never been more stark.

It is not necessarily a war of guns and trenches but it is a war of status, money and shame. It is played out in political and economic policy, what with a welfare state being created to support all in Britain, especially those on lower-incomes, now being rolled back as the current government imposes austerity. Austerity that eviscerates local communities and takes money away from local libraries, social support and healthcare. As the social fabric frays it’s no wonder people turn their ire on one another as the media stirs conflict with inciting stereotypes and scapegoats. This civil war also drenches our culture as ‘chavs’ and ‘poor people’ are routinely demonised and mocked on television (see also, Owen Jones’ book Chavs: The Demonisations of the Working Class for more of this). Of course, the rich get mocked as well but they’ve got all the cash and can afford private healthcare. This war heated up in the 1980s when the Conservative establishment under Margaret Thatcher went head to head with the Unions and miners under Arthur Scargill. The left put in a good fight but the establishment won in the end and have been turning the screws ever since.

And now, after the referendum, our class war has worsened. Many are falling back on old stereotypes of ‘ignorant, racist working class’ people who voted for Brexit whilst others are blaming ‘self-serving, posh, toffs’ for doing the same. Meanwhile, ‘foreign scum’ are being vilified and abused. It seems the better angels of our nature have fled as we’re left with plenty of worser demons but anger will not rebuild broken Britain. Yet after a revolution a power vacuum is left. This is often filled by more of the same/ worse (Cromwell, Robspierre, Stalin, Franco) but there is still a chance to build something new, to stitch the social fabric back together. For Britain, this will take a heroic effort on behalf of all classes. We must transcend petty differences and intolerances, we must work together and share our resources (including our wealth…especially our wealth) and call on the government to follow our lead because, right now, we lack good leadership. We can end this class war now and transcend the violence and suffering that it perpetuates. We can rebuild Britain and keep it great, for all the right reasons. So let’s seize this moment of uncertainty and fill that power vacuum with love (it sounds cheesy but, my god, none of us will want to be here if hate wins the day).