Theresa May: Woman of the People or Beyond Parody?

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.

Home secretary Theresa May finished her speech to the Conservative party conference by holding her hand up to the audience. Unfortunately, in the process she accidentally rewrote the Conservatives' "Better Future" slogan.

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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…

It’s All A Load Of Kabul Sh*t

The lyrics of Lily Allen’s song Kabul Shit speak for themselves. Climate change, corrupt politics and warmongering foreign policy are all astutely analysed in rhyming verses. So before you cast your vote this Thursday think on the words of that famous mockney singer:
 

There’s a hole in our logic,
There’s a hole in the sky
And one day just like magic
We’re all going to die,
‘Cause we didn’t turn the lights off
And we didn’t take the bus,
Even though we know we should have
Oh, silly old us.

 

These lines refer to the hole in the ozone caused by a range of chemicals including CFCs. Interestingly, in 1987 the Montreal Protocol was signed: an international treaty that phased out the production of numerous substances that contributed to ozone depletion. Unfortunately, the Kyoto Protocol – designed to limit the amount of carbon emissions and hence curb global warming – has proven much less effective even though 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming. As Allen points out we carry on ignoring the evidence and consuming resources at a planetary pace, “Oh, silly old us.”

 

Well we should have recycled
And saved our resources
While there’s still someone else’s
Someone call the armed forces,
And we’ll blame it on terror
Also known as religion
But we shouldn’t feel guilt
For protecting our children.

 

Here Allen references resource wars – wars fought to gain control of a specific resource, such as land or water. The song alludes to the Iraq War – waged by the US and UK to allegedly find weapons of mass destruction but subsequently revealed to have been about ensuring access to oil. The war has been deemed illegal and many want to see George Bush and Tony Blair put on trial as war criminals. The lyrics also refer to terrorism, often evoked by Western governments to further justify racist and belligerent policies. Of course, some terrorism does reside in extreme forms of religion and one could even argue that capitalism is its own extreme religion forcing us to kill others for continued growth and profit. “But we shouldn’t feel guilt for protecting our children” is a wonderful sign off as Allen notes people’s tendencies to justify all sorts of actions for the safety of their own family, even if other families are harmed in the process – many of us did support the Iraq War even though it proved devastating for Iraqi civilians.

 

I don’t have the answers
I don’t know where we start,
Start to pick up all the pieces
Of everything we’ve torn apart.
Now, you’d think that we’d be grateful
For the fact we’ve got a choice
Instead we throw it back at people
Who don’t even have a voice.

 

This verse refers to scapegoating – the act of blaming someone for another’s wrongdoing. Recently we have seen Ukip scapegoating immigrants for the UK’s economic woes. Yet inherent to capitalist economics are periods of boom and bust linked to speculation on commodities (e.g. the internet, housing, financial ‘innovations’). However, rather than try and understand the root causes of these problems racist right-wing groups like Ukip play on xenophobia to try to turn people against immigrants. In the early 1900s the Jews were scapegoats, in the 1960s Enoch Powell called for ‘rivers of blood’ and recently Nigel Farage has been blaming Romanians. This is an ignorant and pernicious trope that Allen rightly challenges.

 

And the teachers always told us
Told us we should love thy neighbour,
And my mother always told me
Told me I should vote new labour,
But I don’t know who to trust
And I just find it all confusing,
All as useless as each other
Past the point of being amusing.
 

Allen highlights the increasing adoption of neoliberal policies by the UK’s main political parties. A trend initiated by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative party in the 1980s and adopted by Blair’s ‘New Labour’ party in the 90s and 00s. Now it seems that neoliberalism is a song all the parties sing too – one that promotes privatisation, austerity and deregulation. When all parties put profit over people it’s not surprising they all appear as “as useless as each other“.

Lily Allen’s is a political and pop tour de force. In a few verses she analyses the status quo with laser precision. So, before you put a cross in a box remember that this status quo does not have to go unchallenged – the power of elites and capital, the neoliberal consensus, the damage of climate change, the erosion of democracy and the waging of wars are all things that can change if we adopt policies that promote people and planet together. We do have agency and we can take action – it begins with a vote. The alternative is denial, the consequences of which are already proving dire:

 

Excuse me, sir,
But is this what they call denial,
Just to carry on regardless
We’ll only do it for a while.
We’ll carry on straight down the line,
Down the road to nowhere,
Do you know where it is leading us
And do we even wanna go there?

50 Shades of Neoliberalism

The Green Party’s 2015 Election Broadcast is spot on – David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Nigel Farage and Ed Miliband all singing to the same tune. And that tune is neoliberalism. Whilst having many definitions neoliberalism is a form of capitalism typified by a laissez faire approach to economics that prioritises privatisation, free trade and austerity. Neoliberalism is also underpinned by an adversity to state intervention, unless that state intervention is designed to facilitate privatisation, free trade and austerity.

The Green Party’s music video shows Ed Miliband being tempted to join the other ‘old boys’ reminding us that once upon a time Labour stood for a neoclassical  approach to capitalism – one that encouraged state intervention in economics and championed workers rather than bosses. Unfortunately for neoclassicalism New Labour happened and as Margaret Thatcher – arch neoliberal – once said, her greatest achievement was Tony Blair. He set the ball rolling for Labour’s adoption of neoliberalism.

So it seems that when we’re asked to vote on politics come May what we are inevitably voting on is economics. Be it Tory, Lib Dem, Ukip or Labour, all are just different shades of neoliberalism, with some making tokenistic gestures towards alleviating poverty whilst others roll back the state faster and harder. But the Greens aren’t grey and are questioning these economic paradigms. Paradigms that have been so embedded in our culture over the past few decades that they seem like immutable truths.

But just as one globally popular boyband will inevitably be  replaced by another so too can the economic status quo shift. It’s just that we’re the ones that are going to have to vote on it.