Angels In America: A Gay Fantasia On National Themes is an epic play. It’s epic in length: together Parts 1 and 2 come to some eight hours of stage time. It’s epic in theme: it combines the AIDS crisis with Reaganite politics with tales of migration with unrest in heaven. It’s epic in presentation: angels descend from the skies, burning books rise through the floors and ghosts prance about on stage. It’s so epic in fact that I think it counts as a modern-day myth – it hones in so painfully close on the intimate details of the characters’ unhappy lives that we end up passing through their blood cells only to see stars. Not to mention its exploration of the history of the Jewish people in America, the impacts of the religion of neoliberal capitalism a la Reagan and the pain of being homosexual in a straight man’s world. Not forgetting the ghosts, heavenly hosts and valium-induced trips to Antarctica either! That really is epic.
I saw Part 1 at London’s National Theatre last night. It comes in three sections (we had two intervals!) and I’d say the first third is pretty tepid as the odd set of giant Lego-like structures jars with the up-close introduction to the protagonists. The second third gets a little warmer as the actors get into role (and I stopped comparing it with the epic HBO series which had Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and Emma Thompson, tough to beat), even if they did rely a little too much on shouting at other. It’s the third third that blew me away as the seams of reality start to unravel, the Lego bricks get pushed backstage and the sh*t hits the fan. This is when the epic got epic.
Set in 1985 and written in 1993 Angels In America is, in many ways, a period piece but one that still resonates today. It explores the early years of a politico-economic order that we have inherited and isn’t doing well. As one character tells us towards the end of Part 1, “History is about to crack wide open. Millennium Approaches.” So we’re living on the other side of Millennium and very much plunging into the crack, and not the sort of crack you might plunge into on a night stroll through Central Park. Whilst some of the characters appear to be cliché, for example, Belize the sassy, black drag queen (who only gets to steal one scene in Part 1 but will come back with a vengeance in Part 2), I think kudos is due to playwright Tony Kushner for inventing these clichés before they were clichés. However, I think both these concerns are reminders that we need more gay fantasias, lots more. Queer ones too and lesbian and trans and asexual and intersex and as multi-coloured as possible. We also need plays to remind us that today many people live with HIV and live very happily. Of course, many do not and the medication is still not widely available and there is just far too much stigma, as Angels aptly demonstrates. And that’s the thing about myths, while they are embedded in a certain time and place, say, Ancient Rome, a galaxy far, far away or 1980s New York, and focus on certain people’s lives they have the ability to transcend all this and echo throughout the ages. They appear universal because they tap deep into the human condition, a condition that might regularly change its clothes but still beats the same, dark blood. We might learn our lessons one day but in the mean time we can dance with those angels in America (bring on Part 2).
Bear with me. Terrorism is defined as the “unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”. We might associate it with the ongoing bombings and shootings taking place in European capitals. We might associate it with ISIS and Al-Qaeda and other groups of extreme Islamists. We might be less likely to associate it with similar acts of terror taking place in countries such as Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria. We might also not associate it with right-wing terrorism in the US (claiming more lives since the September 11 attacks to June 2015 than jihadist terrorism). Our media inclines us to believe certain things about terrorism whilst ignoring others. And one thing our media never inclines us to believe is that our government may be guilty of it.
If you remove the word ‘unlawful’ from the definition of terrorism to leave “the use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims” it’s not too much of a stretch to see how various policies pursued by the Conservative government over the past few years might fit this bill. The Tories have cut, amongst other things, spending on schools, disability benefits, social security, the NHS, housing benefits, the social housing stock, and support for women and children. In essence, they’ve cut spending on the threads that keep the social fabric together (and remember, they’re cutting because the banks were bailed out after the 2008 crash and never made to pay the money back) and the consequences have included death. One study suggests that 30,000 deaths in 2015 could be attributable to the “relentless cuts” the NHS faced. Of course, the results were contested but it’s worth asking that if there aren’t enough beds at your local hospital, the A&E waiting time is too long and without sufficient money to buy private healthcare where do you go to get support? A local example for me would be the cuts to the organisations in London who help people struggling with mental health problems and/or HIV, again, without this support system where do vulnerable people go to find community and care? It’s also worth noting that hand-in-hand with the cuts goes an increase in privatisation of services. This means what was once free at the point of delivery becomes priced, immediately making it harder for people on lower incomes to access, and it’s also led to people having exceptionally unpleasant and dehumanising experiences at the hands of companies such as G4S and Serco.
So, as the rich get richer but for everyone else the social fabric tears, I argue that one of the consequences of this is terror. People are dying because they’re not getting the support they need, that’s terrifying. Despite the incredible material wealth in 21st century Britain people are still in poverty, that’s terrifying. Local communities are falling apart and we’re turning on each other as a consequence, that’s terrifying. And our government’s solution is to exacerbate the problem, that’s terrifying. The Tories are implementing violent and intimidating policies to further their political aims except they are considered lawful because they’re the government – the ones that make the law! For this reason if you were to vote Conservative on 8th June you will be an active participant in this terrifying process.
However, I doubt that Theresa May sits with her Cabinet (and David Cameron sat with his) and asks, “How can we terrorise the poor today?” or “Who should we murder with our policies?”, instead, I think she and her party genuinely believe that what they’re doing (slavishly adhering to an increasingly feudalist form of neoliberal capitalism and market idolatry) is for the best. Quite how/why they believe is for another post but I think the one thing they lack, which terrorists do not, is intent. So, no, I don’t think the Tories are involved in a class war that involves murdering their opponents with economic policies but I do they are involved in a class war that consists of defeating their parliamentary opposition and its support base with economic policies that kill. Which makes the answer to the post’s title a no – voting Conservative is not an act of terrorism but I think the consequences of doing so will continue to be terrifying.
Now, on the off-chance any of my Tory-voting chums are reading this (and I do have some because I went to boarding school in Kent…but that’s for another post) I might hear them offer this question: weren’t the Labour Party under Ed Miliband committed to the cuts as well? My answer to this would be another question – what does it mean that back at the 2015 general election both of Britain’s major political parties were wedded to destabilising society? My Tory chums can answer for themselves but, if you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know that I like to look to the context and Britain’s current political context is one of different shades of capitalism. We were told this system would redistribute scarce resources into the hands of those that needed them but when money itself, the oil of the machine, is a scarce resource it’s no surprise that it’s the needs of the wealthy that are being met especially as they’ve managed to buy up so much of the market, media and politics for themselves. That’s also terrifying.
Terrorism is a tragic and horrific force in our world and every time anyone in any country dies at the hands of an extremist it is a tragedy. Every time anyone is injured by an act of terrorism it is a tragedy. Every time anyone loses a loved one due to terrorism it is a tragedy. This post categorically does not intend to diminish that truth by perhaps glibly referring to Tories and terrorists in the same sentence (as much as Tories like to compare, say, rail or mining strikers to terrorists and use anti-terror laws to silence opposition and protect corporate interests etc). However, history shows us time and time again that the self-interested pursuit of capital yields only inequality and that rising inequality leads to people taking more extreme actions to express themselves. Of course, the reality is far more complex than that but if we can’t see how these things connect then we won’t be able to change them and history will just repeat itself. However, a vote for any party but Conservative (and Ukip!) on June 8th might be a step in the right direction.
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…
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.
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.
“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.
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 😉
Shirley Bassey said it best, whatever innovations and revolutions are promised, it usually just turns out to be a little bit of history repeating. The same is true for British politics. David Cameron can walk triumphantly (and smugly) back into Number 10 whilst Ed Miliband hangs his head in shame and exits stage left but underneath the trials and tribulations of party politics history will just keep repeating. It is a history of capitalism in the UK and before we can change it we must have the courage to critique it.
“What we have seen is a failure of politics, a failure of democracy at a cultural level, part of a larger story playing out across the struggling countries of the post-industrial west.” These words are taken from Dougald Hine’s exemplary blog, a philosopher who understands the underlying tectonics of politics and economics. Using some of his blog as inspiration I will analyse why contemporary politics are caught in the endless repetition of history.
Tories: the Tories think they have won and, for now, they have. They quite marvellously (and maybe even unintentionally) weakened their political rival the Labour Party. The Tories successfully made people believe that Britain’s economic woes were the result of Labour’s over-spending and conveniently forgot to mention that the actual cause was the unregulated banking sector capitalising on the housing market and using too-good-to-be-true sub-prime mortgages to profit from toxic assets. The public bailout of the banks nationalised a private debt to the tune of billions that has still not been paid back. Yet the Tories have done next to nothing to try to re-regulate the banks thereby increasing the likelihood of another recession all too soon.
They tried to scare people into voting for them – it’s either our ‘sensible’ economic plan or ‘chaos’ – and it worked. Unfortunately, capitalism churns on unchallenged and booms and busts will continue to affect Britain. Yet, the Tories are unashamed in their imposition of austerity – a policy that will exacerbate inequality, weaken the working and middle classes and actually undermine Britain’s economic recovery. Even the IMF has advised against such a plan but George Osborne has ignored it. They got votes by promising people houses and security. But the middle classes will not be safe from the Tory cuts – austerity will undermine public services that middle class people rely on and increased inequality will cause greater social discord, discord that will reach the doorstep of middle class houses.
Meanwhile, with no serious redress of the housing crisis and no attempt to curb ruthless profiteering in the housing market, prices will continue to rise and people will find themselves trapped in unaffordable mortgages or conned into suspiciously affordable mortgages born on an ongoing housing bubble. The Tories are signing their own death warrant. They’ll take as much credit as possible for any minor growth in the economy and then squirm if/when the next bubble bursts and the economy dips. They told us that voting for Ed Miliband would result in ‘economic chaos’. That chaos is going to unravel anyway and this time it will be on the Tory watch and they won’t be able to scapegoat Labour anymore.
Labour: is trying to figure out how to rebrand themselves. Some think it best to become a New-New Labour type party, whilst others think they need to appeal more to the working classes. Going right for Labour means trying to play the Tories at their own game – using the defunct discourse of class politics to convince people that they can rise up through the social ranks and embed themselves comfortably in the land of the middle class. Heading this direction affirms the view that Labour have now shifted right of centre, a process initiated by Tony Blair as he embraced the precepts of neoliberalism (he was, after all, Margaret Thatcher’s self-professed “greatest legacy”).
Going left for Labour means trying to appeal more to the working classes but in a post-industrial society the working classes are not what they used to be. Firstly, Margaret Thatcher effectively won the class war when she crippled the mining communities and their means of representation in politics, i.e. the unions (it’s also worth bearing in mind that basing one’s community around the extraction of a finite resource, i.e. coal, is always going to ensure a limited shelf life). Secondly, in our post-industrial economy many of the industries we have now revolve around 0 hour contracts, call centres and other service sector jobs – it is very hard to imagine flourishing and cohesive communities forming around these sorts of work. We have also outsourced so much of our labour to countries like China that we have far less of a working class anyway. So if Labour do go left they won’t be able to rely on their old industrial working class style rhetoric.
Ukip: will do what they do best – completely ignore the larger macro-economic issues and scapegoat immigrants for the inevitable loss of jobs following a recession. A tried and tested approach, remember Enoch Powell.
The Next Five Years: sadly things won’t magically get better. Unless the ruling government addresses the economic instabilities built into the British capitalist system then history will keep repeating – we’ll have more recessions which will result in people losing jobs, even more jobs will be lost as labour is taken on by machines and the sectors in which new jobs are created will only provide temporary redress (although maybe not for hairdressers and plumbers).
So in about five years time we’ll be fed up of the Tories who will have crippled the long-term chances of the British economy with over-zealous austerity. We will be desperate for change and will turn to the rebranded Labour Party, they’ll promise a land of milk and honey, and will blame the Tories for causing the latest recession. If they get into power, which isn’t guaranteed, they’ll try to ride the wave of what little economic growth follows the recession. Meanwhile, extreme right-wing parties will scapegoat immigrants for our economic woes and stir up xenophobia. It will be all too similar to the times that Thatcher beat Callaghan, Thatcher lost to Blair and Brown lost to Cameron/Clegg. Indeed, as Shirley Bassey astutely observed, it will all just be a little bit of history repeating.
Following the election many are saying it is time Labour went back to the drawing board and engaged in some serious soul-searching. Two such pundits include Pat McFadden, shadow Europe minister, and Owen Jones, Guardian columnist. Below I analyse their views and argue that both do not go nearly far enough because they don’t address the underlying issue – an issue much bigger than a Labour party rebrand and petty party politics. In truth, it is an issue as big as capitalism itself.
McFadden was quoted in a Guardian article saying: “…if there was one thing Ed Miliband was clear about, he was turning the page on New Labour even more emphatically than Gordon Brown was, and we see the results even more emphatically last night. We don’t just need a new person at the top of the Labour party, we need a new argument, too. We will always be the people of the lower paid, but we need to be more than that and be the party of the aspirational family that wants to do well. We need to speak about wealth creation and not just wealth distribution.”
In his article Jones recounts the Conservatives’ masterful victory over their left-wing rivals: their successful scapegoating of the Labour Party for the 2008 recession, their forcing of Labour to turn their backs on immigrants and the right-wing media’s stirring of Scottish nationalism to ensure a mass shift to the SNP and their stirring/scaring of English nationalism to ensure more blue votes. The Tories severely weakened their opponent and are enjoying a majority for it. He concludes with his aspirations for a new Labour politics as so: “There will be a big debate now over the future of the Labour party, and what the left does next. This country desperately needs a politics of hope that answers people’s everyday problems on living standards, job security, housing, public services and the future of their children. That is needed more than ever, no matter what happens with the Labour leadership. What is needed is a movement rooted in the lives of working-class people and their communities. The future of millions of people depends on it.”
I do not think either of these views are good enough. McFadden argues that Miliband’s leftwards shift from New Labour policies was a mistake. Now, Margaret Thatcher herself said that her greatest legacy was Tony Blair – he adopted right-wing neoliberal policies that she had initiated. He turned his back on the working classes and encouraged a capitalist rhetoric of ‘get rich and get middle class’. But the constant surge of boom and bust in capitalist economics, increasing levels of inequality and the squeezing of the middle prove that when push comes to shove the middle classes will be ignored by the establishment. We know trickle down economics are a sham as we witness the elite 1% drain wealth from wider society (e.g. in the public bailout of the banks and in the privatisation of the public sector). Yet McFadden still suggests that a traditionally working class party try to out compete a party that represents the wealthy establishment on the grounds of ‘wealth creation’ – good luck to them.
Meanwhile, Jones calls for a politics of hope rooted in working-class communities. Yet his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Classes demonstrates how severely the working-class has been undermined since the class wars of Thatcher – working class industries obliterated, trade unions weakened and workers’ rights eroded. The working-class reality today is 0 hour contracts, abysmal working conditions (e.g. as in call centres), food banks and increasing poverty. Thatcher said there was no such thing as society and it seems her prophecy has proved self-fulfilling. So, whilst Jones’ critique is insightful his proposal is lacking. We need much more than a vague politics of hope: we need a pragmatic plan of action informed by an inspirational vision of what our society could be. We need a plan and vision that transcends petty party politics and, above all, transcends capitalism.
The recession of 2008 was not the fault of Labour it was the inevitable result of a deregulated and globalised banking sector that was ‘too big to fail’ and working under the ‘maximise profit’ mantra of capitalism. This trend of deregulation dates back to Thatcher and was not stalled by Blair, Brown, or Cameron. The rise (and rise) of the banking sector was a cross party achievement. Of course, the 2008 recession was just one of many – recessions are endemic to capitalist economics as bubbles are continually over-speculated upon and then burst. So Gordon Brown promising a departure from boom and bust economics during New Labour’s years, the Tories blaming Labour for the 2008 recession and George Osborne taking credit for the apparent economic recovery, are all just examples of a severely limited understanding of economics.
Neither McFadden nor Jones attempt to analyse the system of capitalism itself ensuring their proposals are either ill-informed or too flimsy. Booms and busts occur in capitalist economies because they have to – we are locked into a system that demands continual growth so we innovate new products and industries to ensure more money can circulate, and as the innovations increase so people speculate on them to make a profit. When one well of profit dries up the infrastructure built around it collapses and the speculators start mining elsewhere. Profit maximisation is even inscribed in law as companies are obligated to maximise shareholder return on investment. We are literally locked into a system that demands us to make money before anything else. Unfortunately, Jessie J got it very wrong, it is about the money.
Until we can effectively challenge the all-pervasive power of capital we will never be able to articulate a sustainable and humane alternative to the status quo. Labour will constantly find itself losing as it tries to play the Tory game and the Tories will easily be able to scaremonger and scapegoat to ensure the establishment stays put. But the Tories and Labour are engaged in the neoliberal game, a game of wealth accumulation, greed and class warfare. Fortunately, there are other much bigger games to play. A politics of more than just hope is possible. Indeed, a politics of pragmatism twinned with idealism founded on a sustainable and stable economic basis is already in the making. Our task must be to understand how it works, to champion it where it is working and, above all, to make it. We have at least to be able to imagine the blueprint so we can start building. All this in another blog post soon, in the meantime here’s a bit of Jessie J…
Some of those disappointed with the election results have blamed the concept of democracy. Others blame the British public themselves, the Guardian even called the electorate ‘evil’. I disagree with both of these views and think it unwise to blame a loosely understood theoretical system of rule and the people engaged in it.
Democracy: is often understood to mean ‘by the people, for the people’. Now, an ideal democracy – that is truly representative of people – in an ideal society – where the electorate understand the long-term impacts of their vote and have an equal say in affairs – sounds wonderful. Of course, the UK has neither an ideal democracy nor is an ideal society. Yet I think the latter should be blamed for poor election results before the former.
We live in a neoliberal, capitalist state run by politicians that have outsourced political power to corporations. Corporations who are now so embedded in politics that they can sue countries if their profits are threatened. Meanwhile, much of the so-called free press is owned by right wing media moguls who dictate that a certain message is shared – just think of The Sun before the election supporting the Tories in England and the SNP in Scotland, its anti-Labour agenda all too clear. Then there’s the competitive nature of capitalism, encouraging us to be selfish consumers and feeding us the myth that we are ‘self-made’ – as if we can achieve greatness without the help of others. And let’s not forget mass advertising that addicts us to products we don’t need and makes us feel ashamed of most aspects of our lives – we’re not rich/pretty/social enough etc.
So somehow in and amongst all these selfish incentives and mixed messages democracy is supposed to thrive? Unlikely. We must remember the sheer power of the establishment, power that runs back for centuries, physicalised in the very stonework of the Houses of Parliament themselves. The elite have had years of getting what they want. It’s not that democracy has failed it’s that it was bought out by the establishment before it even had a chance to work.
Evil People: so, just as the tears start to fall and people get angry what do we do – we turn on each other. Conservative voters are suddenly ‘evil’ as if people who raise families, suffer depression and worry about their retirement are related to Satan. No, this is far too simple and is just reverse snobbery. Now is not the time to write people off, we must try and understand why people vote the way they do – if someone has lived in a predominantly white and middle class community and read right wing newspapers then its not surprising they won’t trust immigrants, won’t know the extent of the suffering that austerity causes and will vote in a way they think will protect their best interests and, probably, the best interests of their immediate family. But behind crass stereotypes are real people worthy of friendship who can be inspired to join the movement to affect positive change, remember the time the York Mosque invited the EDL in for tea?
So let’s stop dismissing the British people for one box they tick every five years and let’s remember they are people just like us. They don’t want to be patronised or villified. Grass roots movements that oppose austerity and corporatocracy and want real democracy and community have the opportunity to invite all people into their movements, however they vote. Most of us do care about the well-being of our family, friends and environments, there is so much common ground to be had despite the media’s brilliant ability to conjure polarity out of potential cohesion.
Democracy does not work because the system does not work and that system is neoliberal capitalism. It facilitates psychopathy and rips apart community because everything is done for cash, not love. Even the Labour party are neoliberal. The Green party are the only one that discusses sustainable alternatives. Meanwhile, people are not evil they are just subject to the stresses and forces of large politico-economic systems that infiltrate so much of their lives – education, leisure, work, relationships etc. Now more than ever do we need to challenge the system. This is a cross party endeavour, something the Tory party will soon discover as the pillars of the economy carry on collapsing around them. Challening capitalism is often akin to farting in front of the Pope but we’ve got to do it. We cannot leave capitalism alone, for obvious reasons…