Britain Is Not A Fart

Better In than Out I say. And there are many reasons for it. Human rights, for example, we like those don’t we? And we get a lot more of them when we’re in the EU. Easy holidays abroad. We love them too and we’ll get lots more if we stay in. Greater security from, for example, terrorist attacks as we share intel with other European countries. Greater diversity, more interesting people coming to Britain more of the time to make our lives more interesting (of course, this one might not convince you if you’re a xenophobe). More stability in the West, something that Obama (leader of the Free World) really wants whilst the likes of Putin and ISIS leaders don’t. More jobs, stronger economy, reduced risk of armed conflict…but we know all these things already (and if you don’t check out the Stronger In website), so I’ve got another reason we should stay in the EU: my grandparents would have wanted it.

All my grandparents fought in the Second World War. One grandfather stormed the beaches at Normandy, the other was based at the caves of Malta, one grandmother drove lorries and fire engines around Britain (imagine that, a woman driving a truck, that was a big deal back in the day), whilst the other helped crack the Enigma code at Bletchley Park (but no, she wasn’t mentioned in that film with Benedict Cumberbatch, hmmm). They all contributed to the war effort for the sake of peace – they believed the Nazi threat had to be challenged, and so they did what they thought was right and put their lives on the line.

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Now, I’m not using this blog to condone war, indeed nothing’s black and white (save zebras and old photographs) and much history has shed complicating lights on the geopolitics of WW2. Secret plots, subterfuge and much anti-Semitism within British politics. So I’m still a big ‘no’ to war but I do think that my grandparents believed they were doing the right thing and I have an awful lot to thank them for. After the war ended the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1952 was the first step in the federation of Europe, an effort to curb the rise of extreme nationalism on the continent that had led to fighting. Unsurprisingly, my grandparents and many others never wanted to see Europe go to war again. The EU was created to maintain peace.

Of course, there were other motives at play. The Coal and Steel Community is hardly the Culture and Peace Community, it was about business, specifically capitalist business. Opening markets and freeing trade were seen as key ways of ensuring countries stayed on amicable terms. There’s much logic in the idea but when making money takes precedence over making lasting friendships it’s easy to forget why some random village in the south of England is twinned with an equally random village in the north of Germany. Furthermore, when recessions hit and economies get rocky countries all too quickly revert to nationalistic policies (may I refer you to what happened in Europe before WW2 and what’s happening right now).

In many ways the EU has failed us – the bullying tactics that the likes of Germany and France impose on countries like Greece and Spain; the fact that it’s predicated on capitalist growth-based consumer economics (see many previous posts on why that’s a disaster); the undemocratic nature of the Council and Commission; the giant gravy train that is EU bureaucracy (I once met an EU bureaucrat…but that’s another story); the relative ease with which individuals (especially extremist ones) can get into the Parliament solely with an aim to disrupt negotiations, remember Nigel Farage’s shenanigans. The list goes on. But these are not reasons to leave. At a time of huge global problems – looming world war 3, climate change, nuclear threats, terrorism, recession – we need huge global solutions and political transnational bodies like the UN and EU are part of that. They might not be fit enough for purpose but it’s our job to make them better and in doing so make the larger system better rather than blame the likes of the EU for the failings of said system. And it’s what my grandparents risked their lives for and who am I to trash their legacy?

Now, perhaps for the only time, I will give the last word to Margaret Thatcher (full Evening Standard article here): “To come out [of Europe] now, with nowhere else to go, would jeopardise our own and our children’s future … In politics we always have to consider ‘What is the alternative?’ The European Community or what? If we came out now we should be…cold-shouldering our friends…The reasons for staying in…are concerned with the ideal and vision of what we could do together…and with the consequences that would arise for Britain if instead of solving our problems as part of a partnership we withdrew into the unknown…At a time of uncertainty in world affairs, Europe gives us a far better chance of peace and security, and if we want our children to continue to enjoy the benefits of peace our best course of action is to stay in Europe.”

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The Museum Of Statues

You might have heard that Oriel College, Oxford, has come under a lot of scrutiny recently with regards whether or not its statue of Cecil Rhodes should be removed. Rhodes was a Victorian mining magnate who made lots of money from diamonds and the exploitation of labour, however, he did give some of his cash to Oxford University to set up a scholarship for international students. On one side are the students leading the Rhodes Must Fall campaign demanding that the statue be removed because Rhodes was a notorious racist and it’s pretty offensive having to walk past his effigy on a daily basis. Then there are the conservatives (for want of a better word) demanding that the statue stay because students these days are too easily offended and removing a statue is tantamount to erasing history. And there’s Oriel College staff – caught in the middle of it until a recent article revealed that a bunch of wealthy college alumni threatened to withdraw hundreds of thousands of pounds if the statue was removed. So, because money speaks louder than students (unless they’re very rich students) the statue will stay. I agree – I think the statue should stay – just not in Oriel College.

Different sides of the debate keep asking us to focus on the ‘bigger picture’ – be it the reputation of Oxford University, the literal whitewashing of history, historical legacies of racism and not forgetting the contemporary incidences of racism in a notoriously white university, brilliantly explained in this article. However, there’s another bit of the ‘bigger picture’ that I would humbly suggest we are missing – our obsession with statues. I mean seriously, they’re everywhere, whole buildings festooned in big blocks of stone carved into the likenesses of…well…mainly white men. White men who led us into war (Winston Churchill, Nelson), white men who got rich (Cecil Rhodes, George Peabody) and white men who fought dragons (St George). Sure, women get statues too – Queen Victoria and Elizabeth, two women who by the sheer accident of birth ended up ruling our country. There’s Justice and Britannia, not real women who existed and actually did things but personifications of moral sensibilities and countries. And Jane Austen gets some odd statue-plaster-thing outside her museum in Bath but then it’s not as if her novels were known for their diversity.

Nowadays we tend not to erect statues to random rich and belligerent men – it’s not as if Cameron and Blair are getting plinths any time soon (at least I hope not). But back in the day people loved it or at least the people who actually had the money and power to demand a statue be built in the middle of London or on an Oxford University college. And that’s because back in the day rich, white men were writing history – a history far too many of us take at face value when we decry that removing Cecil Rhodes’ statue is akin to rewriting history. No, it’s recognising that history tends to be some terrible, bigoted agenda written by the victors (aka supremacists) with whom we no longer want to associate ourselves.

So where should the statues go? Into the fifth or sixth empty home of some random rich person who would rather their house lie empty than house people in need of accommodation. So it can accommodate statues instead. They could all be lined up for people (well, overly sensitive people who get easily offended when people ask for old statues to be taken down) to look at and underneath each statue there would be a plaque that contexualises it according to the latest, historical findings. Thus, underneath Cecil Rhodes would appear, amongst other things, the word RACIST. And we don’t approve of racism anymore which is why we don’t need statues of racists lining our streets and educational institutions. And rather than faff about spending lots of money on new statues we can build affordable housing instead.

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The Museum of Statues (aka The Ashmolean)

The Anatomy Of James Bond (Or Why Bond Votes Conservative)

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”.

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…

Cameron Calls For National Day of Heterophobia

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.

David Cameron: an unlikely champion of equality.
David Cameron: an unlikely champion of equality.