As we bid a fond farewell to our dear David Cameron let us remember a few of the highlights. He measured our happiness. He did, honest! Back in 2010 he launched the UK’s Measuring Well-being Initiative, how marvellous and how happy we all must be now. Boris Johnson. He imposed austerity, sadly not quite such a happiness-inducing policy. He appointed George Osborne to oversee this process with promises of cutting the deficit, he did no such thing. Michael Gove. He aired his party’s dirty laundry in public by promising the electorate a referendum. Theresa May. He oversaw sweeping cuts to many of our public services making it harder for disabled people, kids, migrants and mothers. The bedroom tax. He also backtracked on his second general election promise to not cut the NHS. His government failed to tackle the housing crisis and that ‘big society’ he promised us, that ‘compassionate conservatism’ he promised us seemed to vanish. Then, when the referendum result came in and the public voted in a way he hadn’t expected, he resigned, whilst saying the vote had nothing to do with the economy. A paragon of public schoolboy courage, intelligence and honesty. Here’s to you, David, master of the house. Consider this a song in tribute to your legacy and I hope you enjoy a happy retirement in the Cotswolds.
“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).
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!
This is my 100th post and I’d planned the title to be “what’s the point of this blog?” and given the UK’s decision to leave the EU I think my comments on that might answer the question anyway. But, first things first, the Referendum wasn’t real, what’s that all about? OK. It was real, devastatingly so. It is already having vast emotional, social and economic ramifications. As Britain ‘goes it alone’ the pound has plummeted in value, the economy is wobbling and a shift to the right in mainstream politics is underway with the likes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove vying for power. Extremist right-wing parties like Ukip and their European counterparts are claiming this as a victory for xenophobia and hate. We’ve even recently witnessed one act of right-wing terrorism claim a life, that of Jo Cox. Uncertainty is rising as hope takes a blow to the chest. Yet, for all this, how can I claim the Referendum wasn’t real?
Because from the outset it was a farce. Firstly, democracy was boiled down to a single multiple choice question with only two answers, In or Out, that few people had actually wanted to be put to the public. This doesn’t respect the multi-faceted and multi-partied nature of our democracy it just promotes further divide and hostility as friends and families suddenly found themselves forced to pick a side. And asides for a select few bureaucrats in Brussels and maybe one or two British politicians no one, absolutely no one (myself very much included) could vote with a sufficient degree of knowledge – there are documents of tens of thousands of pages outlying all the treaties and clauses amassed over the decades Britain has been part of the EU and I certainly haven’t read them all. It’s funny that people were suddenly and arbitrarily forced to get knowledgeable and passionate about something they had not seemed to care that much about before.
Meanwhile, people who’ve lived in this country and contributed to its economy for longer than I’ve been alive weren’t allowed to vote. Teenagers weren’t allowed to vote even though they have more future to lose than the rest of us voters. Both campaigns used tactics of fear, hate and misinformation (aka lies) to cajole and manipulate. We’ve already seen Nigel Farage swiftly distance himself from the Leave pledge of £350 million to the NHS (but did we really think neoliberal parties would do an about turn on their views of the welfare state?). There were campaign posters that bore too much resemblance to ones used by Nazis and the media played on xenophobia, fear and outdated nationalistic sentiments to make people think that voting in the referendum was the equivalent to taking some sort of significant stand (it wasn’t, it just makes it easier for the rich to get richer whilst deepening austerity and rolling back the welfare state). Somehow the woes of neoliberal, consumer capitalism (see the rest of this blog for criticisms on that) were landed on the heads of some of the most powerless, namely refugees and immigrants, and a bunch of pro-establishment, old-Eatonians managed to dupe large chunks of the country into thinking voting Leave would lead us into a wonderful British revolution rather than entrenching inequality and recession. That being said, lots of utopic left wingers were somehow led to believe Brexit would yield a land of milk, honey and socialism (my fingers are still crossed). And let’s not forget why this referendum even happened in the first place: because David Cameron wanted to be Prime Minister and he needed the support of his more right-wing back benchers to get it, so he promised them a referendum to appease them rather than having the courage to say ‘no’ (he put it on our heads instead). That’s not democracy, that’s cynical party politics at the public’s expense.
So, yes, the referendum is real and it has happened and this is a rallying call for anyone of whatever political persuasion and however they voted in the referendum to choose peace and oppose the rise of extremism and the violence that goes with it. But, no, the origins of this referendum were neither hopeful nor fair nor democratic. So whatever people say, this was not a victory for the British and the public have not spoken because there was only 1% in it. Like austerity, the referendum is a story wrapped around an agenda. Many desperately believe in it, many just cynically use it to get more power, many misguidedly want it to become true in ways it never will but it is not ‘the truth and nothing but the truth’ it is just one story among many. Unfortunately, it is a very powerful story and its repercussions will prove fatal for many. But Britain has survived two world wars and I think we can survive this too. Now here’s Lady Gaga because why not 😉
James Bond, you might have heard of him. They say men want to be him and women want to be with him – apparently. But what’s he really like? Underneath the ski gear, tuxedo and bullet proof vest who is he really? Time for some pop psychology that will lead me to conclude that he probably votes Tory.
First things first, James Bond is an affluent, English, white, straight male. According to the books he spent much of his early life jet setting around Europe with his parents as his father worked for an armaments company (I guess guns run in the family). He briefly went to Eton before being expelled for a dalliance with a maid and then went to Fettes College, a private school in Scotland. He also went to University in Geneva. So Bond’s background was one of privilege and wealth (ring any bells?). These things often make people feel quite entitled, as if they deserve them rather than just having acquired them through the accident of birth. However, a boarding school upbringing comes with other things. Namely, the repression of emotion.
At school Bond will have been bullied for crying and general displays of emotion (save anger and the joy of victory). He’ll have been told that emotions are what women do and the worst thing a man can do is appear like a woman. So classes in misogyny will have been taught alongside classes in the stiff upper lip, nationalism and tying cravats, usually by sexist, posh and snobbish teachers (or men trying desperately to appear posh by association). Thus, a general environment of racism, classism and discrimination will have percolated into Bond’s psychology. Naturally, he’ll grow up to become cold-hearted and sexist, and we see this in his general treatment of women throughout the films/books. They often wind up dead and when they do Bond hardly seems to care. “The b*tch is dead,” says Daniel Craig’s Bond when he discovers that his lover Vesper Lynd has died. Whilst we know he did love her he lives in such a world where confessing that would be tantamount to joining the communists. Add to this ingrained misogyny a big dose of self-loathing.
His posh lifestyle will have forced him to define himself apart from others – he’s not poor, not common, not badly educated, not homosexual etc – so he’ll have had little chance to explore what he actually is or could be because he’s been forced into a specific, chauvinist mould. Fortunately though he’s landed in the one job that lets him live out this warped masculine stereotype because he gets to kill and fight a lot whilst womanising without consequences. And it’s precisely this job that belies his political orientation – I mean he loves a command/control approach to work as he’s very good at taking orders (whilst treating his boss like some sort of warped father/mother figure who affirms his acts of mass violence), he upholds the values of the British establishment even when its complicit in the global corruption it’s alleging to tackle and he kills a lot of people from other countries – I mean, he must be a Tory.
So, underneath it all, who really is James Bond? Well, a mass of insecurities and brutal conditionings. He’s inherited a woeful bunch of concepts with which to make an identity from and the consequences prove alcoholic, violent and unfriendly. For someone to be so out of touch with their emotions, so lacking in sympathy and so callous, well, they can’t really have ever got much love. However, there is more to him than a mish mash of masculine clichés and stereotypes. Occasionally he’ll come out with something quite brilliant like when Daniel Craig put us straight: “But let’s not forget that he’s actually a misogynist. A lot of women are drawn to him chiefly because he embodies a certain kind of danger and never sticks around for too long.” Yup, even Bond is aware of his own conditioning and therein lies hope, hope that he could change to become someone who treats others well, who can challenge his repressive upbringing and tackle the root causes of global problems (such as the British government’s proliferation of the arms trade and dubious foreign policy). Maybe one day Bond might just vote for Labour, or at least the Liberal Democrats.
Yup, Monica Belluci is spot on, Bond is “obviously crazy”.
The situation is bleak: humans have all but bled the world dry of fossil fuels. Oil has become exceptionally scarce and a prize over which violent factions will go to war. These factions take the form of vast, sprawling patriarchies built on bizarre cults and rituals. Selfish warlords rule over their subjects with force and violence and send their armies to war to fight for the earth’s dwindling resources.
In one of the kingdoms water, also scarce, has been privatised and is occasionally supplied to the population at the whims of the greedy tyrant. He gives them just enough so they can live and keep on serving him whilst taking extra for himself. Unless you’re the ruler life is one of gruelling servitude as people work at machines all day with little hope of remuneration. People are pale and unhappy due to lack of exposure to the sun. Desperation and SAD are rife.
The highways are dangerous places to be, full of gas chugging automobiles that run people down for sport. Deaths on the road have become so normalised that they’re just a part of everyday life, to be expected. People make a point of ignoring the speed limit. Young men, obsessed with cars, go joy riding and happily die in the pursuit of the ultimate thrill.
But in this world there is hope and that hope is women. Women will fight for their place at the table of power, in fact, women will fight to overthrow the table of power and build a new and better table – one at which all can sit – whatever creed, colour, race, religion, sexuality or gender. For now though things are not so equal. When a woman dares to speak out she will be hunted, ridiculed and oppressed by a twittering mass of overgrown men-children. These men consider women mere property and subject them to humiliating acts of objectification such as wet t-shirt competitions (even in the desert).
So, enough about Conservative led Britain, let’s talk about the exceptionally intense and adrenalin filled movie Mad Max: Fury Road. You can watch the harrowing trailer below…
Corbynmania is exciting stuff. It seems there’s actually debate to be had when it comes to politics. People are discussing things rather than just accepting the Tories’ line of austerity, tax breaks for the rich and cuts, as if these are immutable truths. Jeremy Corbyn, front-runner for the leadership of the Labour Party, is leading the debate and offering an alternative politics – one of hope. But it was Beyoncé who told her ex to put everything he owns in the box to the left and my concern is that Jeremy Corbyn is being resigned to that very same box.
One thing Corbynmania proves is that the Conservative victory at the last general election does not spell the end of politics. We are not consigned to a future of corporate giants crushing communities, endlessly bailing out big banks and the poor getting poorer until climate change melts us all, no, it seems politics could still shift leftwards – back to a bigger state that dares to close tax loopholes, challenge corporatocracy and reduce inequality.
But this isn’t enough (even if it happens). If we really want to change society for the best then we must recognise that some of the big issues we face are so much bigger than left and right-wing politics. For example, to address climate change we cannot just cut carbon emissions and green consumer capitalism because woven into the fabric of our political-economic system is an inherent flaw: it depends on endless economic growth on a planet that offers finite resources. As the name suggests a growth based economy has to keep growing to function but, as we saw with the banks, when things do get too big they can fail, except rather than just a financial system collapsing, rampant globalised capitalism threatens the very earth itself (imagine an impossible hamster getting bigger and bigger until it eats the whole world).
Whether you go rightwards to a smaller state and bigger corporations, or leftwards to a bigger state and smaller corporations, neither approach will tackle this underlying threat because both take capitalism at face value – they just have different ways of dealing with its problems (Labour tend to be nicer to the poor whilst the Tories like to ignore them). Corbyn hints at transcending party politics when he talks of distributing power beyond the state to include communities as well and certainly a push towards peace over arms proliferation could recognise that one of the many reasons we go to war is to ensure our economies can keep growing (the arms industry being a great example of the illogics of growth based economics because so much of the stuff it makes gets destroyed but this is a good thing for the economy because it means more stuff can be built to replace the old).
Corbynmania is exciting stuff. He’s diversifying and opening the debate, putting the demos back in democracy, but that doesn’t mean he’s answering all the questions which is why we’ve still got to keep asking them. We can’t let him get trapped in the box to the left because questioning our tired, destructive political-economic system in its entirety means transcending the left and right debate. Having enjoyed Beyoncé I’ll now leave you with a nice video of that impossible hamster I mentioned earlier…
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” said Evelyn Beatrice Hall, an English writer of the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s a nice summary of the principle of freedom of speech – i.e. we’re all free to say what we like and anything that curbs that freedom is a form of censorship and an abuse of our rights.
Well, I disapprove of what Quentin Letts had to say about the latest series of The Great British Bake Off, and whilst I’m probably not going to risk my life so he can repeat it I do wish to explain exactly why I disapprove in the hope that he’ll be less likely to say it again. To clarify, I am most certainly not advocating censorship, far from it, I think it better that the views of Letts are aired precisely so we can challenge them and in doing so maybe even inspire him to be a little less of a bigot.
He begins by describing the different contestants that have been chosen for the sixth series of Bake Off. He notes that one of them is Muslim and wears a headscarf, one is a house husband, another is a female vegan bodybuilder from Lithuania, one of the men has tattoos and wears a hat, one of them is Afro-Caribbean, there’s one on a gap year, at least one of the contestants lives in the north of England, there’s a British-Asian male and another man originally from the Philippines.
This might sound like an exciting and interesting group of people who we can look forward to getting to know as the series progresses but not for Letts. What he takes umbrage with is the very diversity that the contestants represent. He considers this part of a grand political conspiracy as perpetrated by the BBC, in his own (far too easily parodied) words: “a leaning to modernity, to fashion, to ‘the alternative’, the ‘different’, sometimes for reasons of group-think, sometimes out of a desire to jack up the ratings in the manner of a commercial TV station. It is in keeping with the creed of egalitarianism. It is deeply unconservative.” No doubt it’s political correctness gone mad, something he writes about in his book Bog Standard Britain as crushing “the individualism from our nation of once indignant eccentrics.”
Of course, Letts’ version of individualism (and conservatism) is of a particular hue: namely white. He makes it pretty clear that in his world it’s not Muslims or Lithuanians that bake but homosexual men or older, white, middle-aged women (“mum-next-doorish” types as he describes). As a white, middle class male Letts has the privilege of being one of the most represented groups in mainstream culture (and history in general), so it’s no surprise that he gets a bit uppity when suddenly there are fewer people like him appearing on his favourite television shows. He wants to see more “humdrum, plain-as-white-flour, Middle-English bumblers” (nice to see him appealing to the casual bigotry of equally insecure Middle-Englanders, that infamous squeezed middle beset upon by socialist loons, crafty immigrants and vicious feminists). His privilege is being undermined and whilst this is a good thing because it represents power being more equally distributed and an increase in equality all Letts wants to do is get angry. He expresses his anger (and deep set insecurity) by cracking racist, sexist, homophobic and Islamophobic jokes in his article, no doubt scoffing into his favourite suitably middle class and white supremacist breakfast cereal as he does so. For all his life Letts will have found positive discrimination working in his favour but because it’s so ingrained and commonplace he never will have questioned it, let alone give it a second thought. But now’s it not working in his favour he’s going to kick up a fuss.
“I just wish I didn’t feel, as I looked at the contestants yesterday, that I was being preached at – that the BBC’s social engineers were up to their transparently political tricks again.” Some unintentional comedy gold from Letts here who has just spent a whole article preaching bigotry and narrow-mindedness at us. He accuses the Beeb of having a political agenda whilst clearly forgetting that white, heteronormative, androcentric patriarchy fired at us on a daily basis is itself just drenched in politics. But it doesn’t suit Letts to acknowledge this so instead he’ll deride the “sinister” politics of the BBC, one that favours equality, diversity and representation – you know, those really sinister values. He’s scared these values depart so far from the mainstream “that they often fail to represent adequately that very mainstream” – but Letts doesn’t really care about these people, his article has shown such a lack of compassion that it’s hard to think he cares about anyone, no, he cares about himself and wants more men just like him on TV (he wont’ be happy until Mary Berry’s been replaced by Jeremy Clarkson and Sue Perkins has been ousted for someone overtly heterosexual, such as Katie Hopkins).
So no I don’t approve of what Letts has to say and whilst I won’t risk my life in defence of him saying it I still won’t call for its censorship. His argument is as floppy as a failed souffle and has the soggiest of soggy bottoms. Whilst the BBC’s sinister world of equality and diversity is just brimming with creamy Victoria sponges and rolling Swiss Rolls. He’ll figure it out one day – that a more equal and fair society works out better for everyone, even people like him, but in the meantime we’ll just have to tolerate the bitter aftertaste of his bigotry.
In a surprising act of radicalism David Cameron has called for a National Day of Heterophobia (NDH) in the UK. “For too long the citizens of the UK have been oppressed by a heteronormative, homophobic patriarchy, and I want to be part of the movement that changes that,” said Cameron yesterday on his YouTube channel ‘Camz4Change’.
A Whitehall source claimed that after discussing the recent budget Cameron proposed the idea of the NDH to the Cabinet. The planned date will be 24th September to coincide with the release of Karma Chameleon back in 1983 (“That album was a big part of my youth,” explained Cameron). Reactions were overwhelmingly positive. “I’d put it on a par with invading Iraq,” said Home Secretary Theresa May. Meanwhile Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne also gave it his support, “I was once teased at boarding school for kissing a boy, so I think it’s time those nasty straights had a taste of their own medicine.”
Planned activities for the day include:
- Shouting at straight couples in the street who are holding hands and/or expressing any act of affection.
- Trolling known heterosexual celebrities and leaving comments on their websites and blogs that attack them for their sexual behaviour.
- Prefixing all references to known heterosexual people with the word ‘straight’ – e.g. “this is my friend straight Alex”, “they’re a straight couple I know”. Using the term SBF – ‘Straight Best Friend’.
- Using the term straight as a pejorative adjective – e.g. “that’s so straight.”
- Using the term “straights” as a collective noun for heterosexual people.
- Going to straight clubs and shouting heterophobic abuse at the clientele.
- Regularly reminding heterosexual people that they are defined by their sexuality. “Oh, it’s because you’re straight.”
- Generally making heterosexual people feel like an oppressed minority.
- Forcing closeted straights out of the cupboard and shaming them.
Cameron’s suggestion has not gone entirely without criticism. “This is a democracy,” explained Harriet Harman, acting leader of the Labour Party, “An event like this needs to be voted on.” Cameron is yet to comment on whether or not a vote will be held at the Houses of Parliament but our Whitehall source implied that whatever the result of any vote Cameron would go ahead with what he wanted to do anyway.
The Context: at a science conference in South Korea earlier this year Sir Tim Hunt, a famous biochemist, told his audience about his “trouble with girls…Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry.” He claimed he was joking but lots of people didn’t find it funny.
In case you’re struggling to see why his comments are sexist, offensive and crass let me summarise: calling women ‘girls’ is demeaning and disturbingly sexually predatory. Reducing all women to an overly emotional caricature is inciting and purposefully ignoring their brilliance as scientists. If you still don’t get it why not replace ‘girls’ with a different group, e.g. homosexuals, Jews, immigrants, blacks. Being homophobic, racist or xenophobic isn’t OK but why is it alright to make jokes at the expense of women?
The backlash was big and Hunt went on to resign from his position at UCL. However, the backlash faced its own backlash. Many people, especially female scientists, who spoke out against Hunt’s sexism were hounded online and issued with death threats. It seems lots of people are passionate about defending a man’s right to be sexist. But it was when London Mayor Boris Johnson weighed in on the debate that I really got angry.
Enter Stage Left Boris Johnson: in an interview Johnson said Hunt had fallen victim to the “ferocious stinging bees of the Twittersphere” thereby trivialising the views of people who use Twitter. This just shows how desensitised he has become to his own power – he’s the mayor of London, a journalist, an MP – his voice can be easily heard over and over again, yet he doesn’t seem inclined to care about the views of those with less easy access to power. He then said people should take Hunt’s comment “in the spirit in which it was meant”, so basically asking us to enjoy sexist and misogynistic jokes that demean women. Really!?
He went on to write an article in the Telegraph, highlights include: “…the world’s leading expert on crying, Professor Ad Vingerhoets of Tilburg University, has shown that women on average cry 30-64 times a year, while men cry only between six and 17 times a year…Whether you say it is a function of biology or social expectation, it is a fact that – on the whole – men and women express emotion differently. There is, in other words, a gender difference, and it should not be an offence to say that.”
Hunt was categorically not merely stating a “gender difference” – he was making a joke at women’s expense. That Johnson attempts to back this up by referring to some scientist who has analysed how often men and women cry is somewhat comic. Furthermore, the study (withstanding questions of its validity and reliability) actually tells us very little because it doesn’t tell us why women might cry more than men. Perhaps living in a repressive, patriarchal, sexist, misogynistic, body shaming, slut shaming, rape culture as we do does make the victims of oppression cry a lot but Johnson doesn’t seem inclined to explore this context. And that’s just it, neither Johnson nor Hunt care because they’ve never been made to – they haven’t experienced oppression in the way women do and they clearly haven’t exercised their empathetic capacities to try to understand what it might be like to be discriminated against. That’s why Hunt can make such casually sexist remarks and why Johnson will defend him in doing so, they just don’t get it.
Contextualising Johnson: it’s not enough just to lambast Johnson, as fun and easy as it is, we must also try to understand how someone can make comments like his and not realise how offensive they are. So who is Boris Johnson?
He is a heterosexual, cisgendered, white male. He’s also privately educated having gone to Eton boarding school for (predominantly white) boys and he studied at Oxford University, founded around 919 years ago but only letting women in 90 years ago. The political world he navigates is dominated by men just like him making it far easier for him to rise through the ranks as he’s one of the ‘old boys’. In other words, he is exceptionally privileged – his suitability for a job will never have been questioned simply because he is a woman, he will rarely have found himself a minority figure in his chosen profession, he won’t have been cat called on his way to work or judged meriticious for his job based on his appearance or forced to accept a lower salary than a colleague of the opposite gender in the same position or slut shamed or a whole host of other acts of oppression and violence that are perpetrated against women in our society.
But Johnson isn’t only privileged he’s also ignorant. In a society rife with information he’s still managed to ignore the lessons that feminism tries to impart. Combine that ignorance with a lack of empathy – the ability to imagine what another person’s experience is like – and it’s no wonder he can’t fathom why people would be offended at Hunt’s ‘joke’. In the video below he gives his defence of Hunt – he cites his great work in science and his Nobel prize – in fact he defines Hunt’s worth by what he has achieved. But his achievements cannot excuse a terrible attitude that trivialises the continued prejudice women face, within and without of the scientific community.
With regards Hunt’s resignation Johnson says it’s a “bit hard”. Yes, it is a bit hard and it’s going to keep getting harder and harder for out of touch sexists to maintain positions of responsibility whilst they continue making women’s lives more difficult. Anyway, far worse than Hunt’s resignation is the continued prejudice women face within the patriarchy – that’s the real issue here, not Hunt’s job position, and that’s what we need to unite in challenging and changing. Hunt and Johnson will be key figures in this change but first they need some serious re-education and a few basic lessons in compassion because, at the end of the day, the trouble isn’t with “girls” it’s with sexists.
The Tories have long been considered the party of the rich and, now they have power, they’re doing an awful lot to help their rich chums – repealing the fox-hunting ban (a sport only really enjoyed by a few), reducing union and employment rights (so big business owners won’t face as much threat from their workers) and continuing to turn a blind eye to tax avoidance (a pursuit the wealthy enjoy even more than hunting). With poverty, inequality and income disparity on the rise it really does seem as if all the rich are doing is getting richer.
However, despite this depressing trend it still seems as if we are enamoured of the rich – why else would we spend so much time watching them. They’re on television – Downton Abbey, Mr Selfridge, 90210, Gossip Girl, Revenge, The Kardashians, Made in Chelsea, they’re in film – A Little Chaos, The Great Gatsby, Match Point, The Aviator, The Riot Club, The Queen, they’re in books – Brideshead Revisited, The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street and they’re on stage – Arcadia, Hay Fever, Posh, The Audience. It seems that despite the rich undermining the social fabric of our society by putting wealth before morality we do quite enjoy watching them do it.
This contradictory and voyeuristic behaviour is easily explained. On the one hand the rich tend to bank roll culture – they’re the ones that can afford West End ticket prices and they like nothing better than having themselves portrayed on stage. The plays may well be a little satirical but they are always disappointingly harmless as tools for social change, here may I refer you to Acykborn, Bennett, Stoppard and the like. Also, the rhetoric of social advancement is deeply embedded in British society. There is a steady stream of messaging that vilifies working class people and people on low-income – Benefit Streets, Little Britain, the Conservative Party election campaign to name but a few. We’re encouraged to despise and ridicule ‘chavs’ and do all that we can to ascend the social ranks. Of course, what they don’t tell you is that there are limited seats at top table and however hard one aspires the likelihood of becoming one of the ‘rich’ is slim.
So, as desperate as we are to get rich the reality is that this is very hard and it’s far easier just to watch them on telly. There’s something quite fascinating in watching the lives of those who live without consequences, where money really is no object. To be able to eat baby octopi off a bed of diamonds whilst blowing up yachts off the coast of Barbados – why not. It’s an odd social contract but so long as money is king, and it will be until we better understand how to take the -ism out of capitalism, we will have to settle for being rich vicariously.
My addition to this rich tradition of richness is The Wellington Boot Club – a murder mystery comedy showing at the Burton Taylor Studio in Oxford from 26th – 30th May, 7.30pm. Get your tickets here! A whodunnit that sees Esther Jones, a psychology student at Oxford University, turn detective when one of the members of The Wellington Boot Club – an all male drinking society – is bashed to death during an initiation ceremony. The play explores the ‘laddish’ and misogynistic drinking culture at Oxford University that can often result in criminal behaviour. So expect another play that pokes at the rich and tries to baffle the audience with a slew of red herrings.
It’s obvious what we need to do – we need to stop encouraging the rich and stop watching them. We don’t need to constantly compare ourselves because there will always be someone wealthier and our lives are important and meaningful without bottomless bank accounts. The trouble is the rich are very reliable for behaving ridiculously (they can afford to) which makes them sitting ducks for parody. So it looks like we’re caught somewhere between a trust fund and an offshore bank account.