Owen Jones, Will You Marry Me?

It’s the Conservative Party conference and what should any leader of the opposition be doing? Absolutely destroying it with zinging one liners and put downs then explaining how their progressive and innovative alternative is what this country needs to transcend the woeful contradictions of capitalism, deal with climate change, end inequality and ensure people can get back to the important task of being happy and watching Bake Off. So, what’s Jeremy Corbyn doing? Tweeting about the Labour film festival. Facepalm.

Fortunately, someone whose a fan of Labour lives in the 21st century and understands how social media works and that’s everyone’s favourite cherubic Guardian (or is it guardian?) journalist, Owen Jones. “Labour need clear, crisp, repeated messages on everything from the Government’s retreat on economic policy to Brexit chaos – and fast” he said yesterday, whilst actually at the conference. He was going around with his cheeky-chappy grin and interviewing Tories, helping the rest of us see that these people are human even if many of their policies are inhumane. “The Tories’ harsh Brexit puts your job at risk – only a Labour Brexit will protect your job. Labour’s line should be something like that.” Say it like you see it Jones and thank god someone is. As for Corybyn, “. is coming to the North West for the 1st time. Find out about the great films they’re showing here → .” Ok, so the current Chancellor is basically backtracking on a load of Tory economic policies and resigning this country to another ‘lost decade’ and you have nothing to say about it? The Tories are practically handing you their own heads on silver platters and you’re too busy tweeting about a film festival!? You can tweet about more than one thing!

If, like me, you find yourself frustrated with some of Corbyn’s behaviour but realise he has just been re-elected as head of the opposition then I reckon now is the time to call on him to step up. Yes, he has many great principles and ideals but that’s not enough. They must be used as beacons to guide a very practical and pragmatic politics for right now. The situation is dire and we aren’t going to get any form of socialist utopia anytime soon. Behavioural and value change across a nation will take at least a generation, this is barely the start. So, Jeremy, get tweeting, get zinging and call out the many failures of the Tories. Please make good on your re-election and prove to us you really can be the next Prime Minister because Britain is scared of change and we need to have confidence in the one who professes to be the harbinger of said change. And, Owen, marry me?

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Owen Jones grins at Tories at last year’s conference
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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!

The European Dream

The United States of America has one, a dream, “the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved.” It’s basically the Cinderella fairy tale made available to all Americans. By ‘all’ Americans I mean white, straight men born into wealth but sometimes a woman slips through the net and occasionally a person of colour does as well. That the dream is founded on huge levels of debt, totally unsustainable levels of consumption and dog-eat-dog capitalist politics is by-the-by, the point is America has a dream, a big one, and apparently it’s for everyone. But what does Europe have?

Europe also has huge levels of debt, totally unsustainable levels of consumption and dog-eat-dog capitalist politics but I’m not so sure Europe can simply adopt the American dream. For starters, Europe didn’t begin as one country (or at least one colonialist attempt to make a country), it started as many, often belligerent nation states vying for power with each other. A history of Europe is often a history of war until the end of WW2 when people had had enough. Successive generations of the same families had gone to war twice in the 20th century and people knew this couldn’t last. So, as I described in a previous blog, the beginnings of the European Union were formed to ensure Europe did not go to war again.

However, European societies are going through yet more social, political and economic upheaval following the 2008 financial crisis and ongoing policies of austerity. Similarly to after the Great Depression of 1929 countries are becoming increasingly isolationist and extremist parties are on the rise. Now, more than ever, does Europe need a dream because it’s clear we cannot leave things in the hands of Brussels based bureaucrats and technocrats. Sure, they get to swan around the corridors of the European Commission and Parliament looking all self-important but how many of them have tried to run a sheep farm, worked in a hair salon or held any number of ‘real’ jobs that people across Europe may have?

For those of us who care about Europe who, despite how disappointed they may be at the EU itself, believe it’s important to get on well with one’s neighbours and to form transnational organisations to combat transnational issues such as climate change, terrorism and corporatism, and to champion transnational solutions such as human and environmental rights, coming up with the European Dream is our responsibility. It will be different for all of us (and maybe that’s part of its strength) but, boy, do we need to start articulating positive and exciting messages about what it means to be European. So, I’ll take a stab but I reckon you should too.

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The European Dream: a continent where people are happy to make fun of one another’s accents and national cuisines knowing that underneath the banter there’s grim accord that the world is a dark place but if we work together we can make it lighter. We might often do things differently (e.g. how we do or don’t worship; how we eat our steak; how we do or don’t protest) and whilst we will talk about these things (eventually) we also know there’s nothing worse than tyranny, oppression and war. Europe has to be a family – a queer, straight, Muslim, of colour, trans, white, polyamorous, Atheist, monamorous, hippy, business family – and even if the siblings don’t always get on we’ll still stick it out for the sake of our brood. Perhaps, at its simplest the European Dream is to ensure a stable and prosperous continent upon which the inhabitants can freely and peacefully eat different dishes and make fun of each other for doing so. I mean, snails, gross.

Now, what’s your European Dream? You can write it in the comments below but because not that many people read this blog why not share it on your facebook, blog or twitter – get it out to your networks and see what else people come up with. Especially useful for us cynical Brits who talk of ‘continental Europe’ as if tiny island Britain is still its own Great Kingdom (c’mon, we can British and European at the same time!)

How Can We Help Jeremy?

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader as of yesterday, has a big task ahead of him – to challenge and change the economic and political status quo, to unite the Labour party, to endure the slings and arrows of an often outrageous press and to somehow continue to get away with wearing pulled up socks and sandals. So, sartorial advice aside, what can we do to help?

Fortunately, the answer is simple – we can do exactly what Corbyn is doing – utilising the power that he’s got to make a difference. Most of us aren’t leading a political party but I’m sure we’re all doing things – we might write blogs, we might volunteer in our local community, we might have drinks with mates down the pub, we might watch Bake Off, we might tweet. Fortunately, all of these provide opportunities to exert the power that we do have to engage with the shift in politics and economics that Corbyn is calling for.

For example, we can write blogs on issues that we’re passionate about; we can chat to the people in our community about the things they care about and how we can support each other; we can offer inspiring visions of a better future to our mates over a pint (and if they challenge us we can calmly remind them that this change is for the best, what’s not to like about greater equality and prosperity!?); we can get inspired to bake cakes for our friends (and decorate them with the Labour flag); and we can tweet stuff too.

This may all be incredibly obvious but I really think it can be that simple – for too long a narrative of individualism, self-interest and cynicism has told us we’re worthless and trying to make a difference is pointless. But it’s just not true, we all have power and we can all use it for good. It might be something incredibly small – a tweet – or something bigger – a cake – but all these things add up. We need community again, we need to start working together, whoever we are and however small the action. And even if it’s just a drop in the ocean what is an ocean other than multitude of drops.

Thanks to Corbynmania politics is finally getting political again – we’re not just being forced to believe some monomythic, dubious status quo there’s actually room for debate. We can get political too by getting clued up on the issues and chatting about them. We don’t have to get it right but starting to investigate the issues is better than not starting at all. We’ll find that beyond the narrative of individualism and self-interest there are many other ways of doing politics and economics, ways that can be inclusive, inspiring, empowering and, most importantly, fun. Understanding the details of the bigger picture can inform the stuff we do at a local level, gradually (or perhaps surprisingly quickly) shifting our politics in a new direction. So many factors and contexts affect the societies we live in and it’s vital we begin exploring them. And that’s how I hope this blog can help. Time for an uplifting video about positive change…

Corbyn: In The Box To The Left

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…