Anti-Corbyn MPs: Do you really need to make up things to be angry about?

This is going to be brief, because I really want to give as little airing to this McDonald’s/Labour conference non-troversy as I possibly can, but if I don’t say something I’ll probably end up at the top of a clock tower with a rifle.

Here is the state of play:

  • McDonald’s offers the Labour party £30,000 for them to have a stall at the Labour conference about British farm produce.
  • The Labour NEC (important note: the NEC has absolutely nothing to do with Jeremy Corbyn whatsoever) stops McDonald’s having a stall at the Labour conference because of concerns over its antipathy to trade unions. To clarify, this is a party that is more or less founded on the principle of unions being a good thing, that has significant influence from unions. So it stands to reason they’d have a bone to pick with a company that has about as much time for trade unions as Margaret Thatcher.
  • Wes Streeting, one of the small group of Labour MPs who is always good for a rent-a-quote when the press comes calling and the topic of discussion is what a tosser Jeremy Corbyn is, pops up in the Sun whinging about how horrible this decision is because families across the country like McDonald’s.

Some questions come to mind:

  • If you’re going to have a public disagreement with the elected leader of the Labour party, why can’t you do it on a decision that he actually had something to do with?
  • Why is trades unionism not a valid thing for a party that is more or less based around and founded upon the concept of trades unionism to take a stand on?
  • If we assume that trades unionism is a valid thing for a party that is based around the concept of trades unionism to take a stand on, why should Labour then compromise this stance for a relatively piddling sum of money?
  • Why, of all outlets for this disagreement, do you need to choose the Murdoch press to vent it?
  • Since when did people eating McDonald’s mean that we have to accept their money or give them a platform?
  • If you’re a Labour MP, who presumably at some point wants to be re-elected under the Labour banner and wants a Labour government, at what point is trying to paint the Labour party as a whole as home to a bunch of snobbish falafel-eating elitists (presumably falafel is the new muesli) not going to be a really, really bad idea?

Clearly these questions, blindingly obvious as some of them are, didn’t occur to Wes Streeting. I’d speculate that this is because for a significant proportion of Labour MPs, including apparently the aforementioned Streeting, “destroy Jeremy Corbyn” appears to have become a preoccupation, ranking above any concept of trying to boost (or maintain) the party’s image or of trying to put actual party messages across to the public. The sheer idiocy of this strange “destroy the village in order to save it” strategy, which apparently involves completely wrecking the public image of your own party and its leader in order to rehabilitate it in the eyes of swing voters and centrists everywhere (who as well as constantly obsessing over the deficit and aspiring to own houses to the exclusion of all else also apparently now eat a shitload of Big Macs — “swing voter” appears to be the political equivalent of a Rorschach test at this point), is nothing short of breathtaking. It has now stooped to the level of trying to associate Jeremy Corbyn with a decision he had nothing to do with that Labour had excellent reasons for making in a paper that is so intrinsically hostile to Labour at this point that it may as well come with a Conservative Party membership application form. This is only a few days after another Labour MP decided it would be a really good idea, in a week where David Cameron had been on the back foot over his (at the very least) morally grey tax affairs, to give a quote to the Telegraph about how “remarkable” it was that Corbyn has been paid £3million by the state over 33 years to be an MP, thus adding needless fuel to a non-story that has to rank as the biggest load of utter shite published this month. I can only assume that the reason it’s listed as having two authors is because neither of them wanted all of the blame.

I don’t give a shit if you don’t like Corbyn. I don’t give a shit if you don’t agree with him, don’t agree with his vegetarianism, don’t like his beard or just think he’s a cunt. I genuinely couldn’t give a toss — I have no personal loyalty to the man other than that I would like the Labour party to go a bit more to the left and he’s the one doing that. But would it really, really be so horrible if the people who are so vocal about what a waste of space he is didn’t try and drag the entire Labour party down with them when they agitate against him, didn’t ally themselves with people and organisations who have about as much interest in Labour being a viable force for the future as George Osborne and also tried to keep their concerns to rational ones had by people with an intelligence level that’s slightly higher than that of a glass of water? Would that really be so hard?

The Government can either have a referendum or you can campaign to stay in. It can’t have both.

As I’ve noted before, I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to vote in the EU referendum, or even if I would vote at all. There are a lot of thorny issues surrounding our membership of the EU, and realistically I don’t think I or anyone else has enough impartial, balanced information to make an informed choice over what would be best for the country – meaning that a significant number of people are going to be voting based on either gut feeling or whatever they’ve heard from wherever, no matter how factual.

It’s in the spirit of this desire for information, apparently, that the government is spending over £9million on leaflets giving voters lots of information about the EU… and why they think we should stay in it.

Oh, and a companion website, complete with the HM Government crest, about why we should stay in the EU.

Now. I was under the impression that this referendum, by the definition of the Government (or rather that offered by the man with the face that looks like it’s permanently covered in Diprobase emollient cream who currently heads it) was a chance for the British people to provide their view on a contentious subject. Not only that, but to not offer such a referendum was, apparently, undemocratic and denying the public a choice over their own destiny. In fact, I distinctly recall David Cameron saying that this was all our choice and absolutely nothing to do with him or the government. To then put out official Government communications specifically arguing in favour of one particular position on what is a matter of public controversy, and one which we are directly voting on, seems first of all contradictory to the stated aims of the referendum, and secondly just a mite scary given the implication that even if we do something in a directly democratic way, the government feels it is entitled to stick its oar in.

Anything else we should expect coming up? An official government pamphlet in February 2020 about the dangers of a Labour government and the stability and security provided by another Conservative one? Idiotic and illiberal as that sounds, given that the whole point of this stupid process was supposedly to solicit everyone’s views on the matter, to then use the government’s largesse and the government’s inherent gravitas to try and swing it in one particular direction (i.e. the one the leadership of the party currently in power wants) is no less idiotic and illiberal.

And I’m not even a “leave”r. I can only imagine the incandescent rage currently being felt by Vote Leave et al at the fact that government money has gone to opposing them, although I can’t cry too much for them, given the nakedly cynical ploy they plumped for of putting out a leaflet entitled “The Facts” which is actually just pro-leave campaign literature. But then, they’re a privately funded and privately organised political campaign that is outwardly and sincerely about agitating for a vote to leave the EU and, realistically, so long as what they do is within the guidelines set by the ASA (and in fairness, it’s difficult to see how the above is anything but deliberately deceptive), they can do what they damn well like. It becomes another issue entirely when the money being spent on promoting a particular point of view is from government coffers, the leaflets bear the government’s logo and they are being sent to the entire electorate. So, while Vote Leave can’t exactly claim to be paragons of ethical excellence, at least they aren’t the government intervening in what is supposed to be a free and fair referendum.

As for the information itself, it’s about as substantial as a fart in a wind tunnel. Aside from the obvious slant towards positive facts about the EU, there’s simply not very much of it. I read the whole website in about 5 minutes. If this is all supposed to quench my desire for unbiased information then it fails miserably at satisfying that first word and is only tenuously described by the second.

If the government wanted to do this right, it should have made a rigorous document giving both sides on a number of issues, cribbing from both one of the two leave campaigns and the remain campaign (because Britain Stronger In Europe appears to be the only one anyone cares about) on a number of things, with obvious vetting for stupidity like clear factual inaccuracy, misrepresentation or blatant lies. It would be quite easy to set up an independent group to produce such a leaflet, although admittedly trying to be an independent middle ground between BSIE and whichever leave campaign takes their fancy isn’t a job I’d relish. Unfortunately for all of us, they’ve taken the easy way out of just putting out communications following the Tory leadership line on everything (even pushing Cameron’s damp squib of a deal as something meaningful) as a naked attempt of swinging some votes “their” way. Such a thing is not only lazy and half-arsed, but also deeply disgraceful that an elected government should try, themselves, to influence an election using taxpayer money.

Some bullshit about dogs that played the piano in order to fight the USSR during the Cold War

Backstory: My partner was writing an essay, and I wanted to prove that 2000 words was a relatively small goal and that I could in fact write an essay about a concept that didn’t exist, which is doubtless harder than writing about something that verifiably exists in the real world. So I wrote this in about an hour. It is the biggest load of fucking nonsense I’ve ever laid eyes on, and I’m the idiot who wrote it.

Dogs that can play the piano: a historical study

Introduction

In this essay, I will attempt to describe the historical background and mechanics behind human efforts to make dogs play the piano, and the often shadowy reasons for this endeavour — nothing to do with entertainment or mere merriment, but espionage, intrigue and psychological warfare at the most dangerous time in human history.

Beginnings

For centuries, human civilization has attempted to make various animals play musical instruments. In ancient Rome, poets attempted to make horses blow across open bottles in order to produce a crude facsimile of the sound of panpipes; Shakespeare once forcibly inserted a hammer into a cat’s anus in order to make a violin-like screeching noise by twisting it. However, as part of secret Cold War research, there are now a secret race of dogs, canis pianis, that can play the Piano.

Obviously, with these experiments taking place behind the Iron Curtain in the secretive Soviet Union, records of piano playing dogs have been hard to come by. However, since the fall of the USSR, we have been able to gain access to a vast archive of data on these extraordinary creatures. Declassified documents from the US, meanwhile, show that the United States Army was also conducting its own research into piano-playing dogs for use in psychological warfare. To quote an unnamed colonel at the time, speaking frankly to a congressional investigation into the practise in 1996, after the Soviet studies came to light:

The idea was that Communist subverters or spies would walk into a building and see a Dachshund playing “The Entertainer”, shit and piss themselves in fear and run away screaming that they do not wish to be in the Soviet Union any more as the United States deserves to win because they have dogs that play the piano. Problem was, they’d just go back to their hotel and get an update via a numbers station about how there was a spaniel in Minsk that was playing Chopsticks better than the human that taught it. We didn’t know that at the time. If we did we’d probably have not bothered.

This was yet another example of the red queen’s race of offensive technology between the two great Cold War adversaries, coming firstly after the famous contest between Nikita Kruschchev and Richard Nixon to see who could swear the most in a single sentence and secondly after the secret experiments in underground bunkers to weaponise Cilla Black against a theorised Soviet invasion of extremely irritating KGB Saturday night entertainers infiltrating ITV quiz shows (of which Keith Chegwin was a theorised participant.) But the call for piano playing dogs was strong from the upper echelons of both the US and USSR governments. Leonid Brezhnev was reportedly the inspiration for the entire idea in the first place as he was drunk and thought it was funny; he relayed this idea to the KGB, who immediately started work on the idea, but was unable to retract the order the next morning once he was sober. CIA spies then got wind of the project and decided that, not wishing to have a musical dog gap, they must start work on a matching project — Jimmy Carter was reportedly so terrified of the prospect of dogs on flatcars being towed through the streets of smalltown America playing songs of Communism on pianos that, after hearing of the Soviet project, he refused to leave his bedroom for two days and screamed the entire time. An observer reported:

He just screamed and screamed and screamed. It was constant, and deafening. Sometimes you could make out words, like “dogs” or “Communism” or “Pedigree Chum” but other than that it was just incoherent noise. We did consult to see if we could sedate the President with a tranquiliser dart, to try and get him to calm down, but we were told that it would just make him more upset. The First Lady was damn near inconsolable. It was worse when he spotted some guy just innocently walking his dog on the sidewalk outside the White House — I don’t think he appreciated what the Secret Service did to that poor thing when Carter got his way.

How it worked

The mechanics of the dog playing the piano differed according to the country that was pursuing it. The Soviet Union preferred a system in which metal braces were fitted into the dog’s mouth which controlled a series of pulleys, lifting up and pushing down a set of metal fingers attached to the dog simulating it playing the piano with real human hands. Meanwhile, the US independently pursued bionic implants into the dog’s paws, allowing it to play the piano directly using its own appendages. The Soviet system appears to have worked earlier, albeit being unwieldy and difficult to set up, while the development of the US system was fraught with delays but, eventually, produced a more reliable system. The Soviet system had an unfortunate and fatal flaw, that was considered tolerable in service; if the dog reached a particularly energetic passage of a piece of music and became too enthused by it, it would rip its own head off using the force of the braces, often sending it flying directly at a nearby bystander observing the process. Seven people lost their sight from this, receiving high-ranking medals from the Soviet government for their sacrifice.

The US effort was not without tragedy either. While the dogs in their programme were able to play the piano with greater precision and poise, and with much less removal and disposal of their own heads into the faces of people nearby, the bionic implants were large and ugly, often frightening and traumatising those who saw the dog wearing them, as it resembled a spider with four fully metal legs, the body of a dog, the head of a dog and four legs of a dog with metal versions of human hands on the end of them. The same observer who saw Carter’s reaction to news of the Soviet project also recorded his reaction when he saw an initial US prototype, codenamed “Rick Wakedog” after the Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman:

The meltdown Carter went into when he saw Rick for the first time was just tremendous. He went white and then red and then he just let rip. He was a very devout man, and he was just very insistent that we had created something unholy and against God’s will, but that because it existed it meant that Satan had won and that we must all swear allegiance to him. He wanted to kill it, to “sacrifice it to Baphomet and his eternal glory” and “to appease the many-headed goat being that now rules us all forever” (sic). We tried to tell him, no, this isn’t proof of Satan’s dominion of Earth and the coming of the end of days, it’s a dog that plays piano and we’ve called it Rick Wakedog, and that just made it worse for him because he hated Yes ever since someone bought him one of their albums for Christmas in 1971 and he spent four years listening to a boring guitar solo with awful lyrics over the top. He had to be physically restrained by the Secret Service from going and getting his shotgun and, in his words, “grabbing the hellish hound by the face, throwing it in the air and blasting it into a million f**king pieces with my glorious weapon of Christ.” It was very unnerving.

Ronald Reagan was also privy to the project after becoming President in 1980, although his visit to the project to see another prototype, “Anne Doglead”, went rather better:

He just walked in and saw the dog and immediately he took on an entirely new attitude. “I want to have sex with it,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything quite so arousing in all my life. I am engorged in every part of me that can be engorged. Let me in it.” I think the Secret Service had to defuse that one somehow. They wouldn’t tell me how and I don’t really want to know.

Mikhail Gorbachev also reminisced about his experiences with the Soviet piano-playing dogs, although the differences between the two nations’ methods and their end results are clear:

I walked into the room and there was a smell of blood. There was a dog’s head on a stick for some reason. There was a dog at a piano and it was making attempts to play. It played the right note and a KGB officer gave it a treat. It played the wrong note and the officer put 20,000 volts through it. I watched this process for about 15 minutes. I grew nauseous. But — if the dog could put this fear into me, what would it do to the capitalist enemy?

This also sheds some light on, having first solved the problem of how to allow a dog to hit piano keys, the two countries actually got the dogs to play a tune. As above, the Soviet effort focused on a simple punishment/reward conditioning system, which led again to an earlier result but a less flexible one in which the dog can only play one song — this was a specific composition for the project that, to modern ears, sounds atonal and dismal, or for a more direct comparison akin to “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor. This song was composed with the specific intention of, combined with the shock of seeing a dog playing piano, grinding down the observer’s will to live so that they will either convert to communism or simply kill themselves. The US project meanwhile involved a number of high profile piano players and tutors being drafted in to teach the dogs how to both read sheet music and play piano using patient teaching and special dog enhancement drugs.

This produced a situation where the more “rough and ready” Soviet dogs could effectively demoralise, disable and collectivise an entire medium sized city extremely quickly and with brute force, after which point its head would most likely come off, while the American dogs could pursue a subtler approach of being manoeuvred into position disguised as a contemporary lounge musician, playing commensurate music, and then suddenly playing songs of freedom and liberty causing a violent anarcho-capitalist overthrow of the Soviet establishment. The dog could then be undressed by its handlers and set loose to blend into society, or possibly have the bionic spider leg implants retained and a minigun added in order to effectively fight any remaining Communists.

What happened to the projects?

Neither the US or Soviet piano playing dogs were ever used in military or espionage service. In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed and was replaced with the Russian Federation — incoming president Boris Yeltsin was reportedly, in one of his more lucid moments, overheard describing the project as “a load of old boiled-away piss leaving behind only remnants of urea and shattered kidney stone”, cancelling it immediately. The dogs were put into civilian usage and entered into Eurovision in 1995 under the name “Soyuz Ner-woof-shimi”, placing second with the song “Bonio Rodeo” and with dancers mimicking the dogs in everything they did, including the grand finale of their heads flying off.

The American dogs meanwhile were, in view of their classified implants, intended to be humanely euthanised in a peaceful manner. This was, however, not to be; as former US presidents are able to receive security briefings, President Carter got word of the decommissioning of the dogs, infiltrated the facility in which they were hiding and reportedly was found the next morning covered in dog blood and entrails, feasting on the brains of one of the dogs and repeatedly saying “his dark majesty is satisfied by my offering of penance for the sin of humankind”. The US government forbids any media disclosure of this event on grounds of national security.

Since this point, there have been fears that the so-called Islamic State will similarly independently develop piano-playing dogs, however many security experts downplay this on the basis that it is and always has been a fucking stupid idea.

Originally published on Medium. Someone did respond that they didn’t agree with the idea that making things up is harder than researching and properly citing real sources on real things, which I concede is the only factual inaccuracy in this piece.

Economic debate is completely idiotic, and that’s a serious problem

For the sake of argument, let’s say that you’re the leader of the Labour party, and you’re a bit of a leftie. Perish the thought. You’ve got an idea for a platform for the next general election that you think could be a vote winner and you want to put it into practise. You want to spend more money on the NHS (because it’s significantly under-resourced), you want to build social housing (because we don’t have enough of it and private rents are ridiculously expensive) and you want to renationalise the railways as their franchises finish. All fairly popular policies. Ignore them. They’re just examples. If you don’t like them, pretend they’re your pet policies that need spending. Whatever.

You say you want to do all this, and then a little voice pops up. It’s your policy adviser, and he has a bit of an issue for how this all might go over with the public. “How are we going to pay for it?”, they ask.

Oh. That.

This is the thorny issue with any policy now, because the debate is so completely slanted towards one big-C Conservative stance on public spending that absolutely no method of financing any spending is allowed, and you will be torn to shreds for suggesting any of them:

  • “OK, let’s raise taxes to put them up — taxes on the rich, inheritance taxes, things like that. Few people will object to that.” Bad move — now, in all the papers and in an email campaign the Conservative party sends round about six femtoseconds after the words leave your lips, you are now the wealth-stealing evil socialists returning to “tax and spend” policies. You are now “Red [whatever your name is]” and you are bad and wrong. The implication that raising taxes from the public to pay for things that the public want and need (i.e. the role of government according to anyone who isn’t an anarcho-capitalist loon) is somehow a bad thing to do is ignored. You can’t raise taxes.
  • “Well, we can borrow money, and then the spending will benefit the economy overall and we’ll see growth of many times the amount we borrowed. That’s what the economists say.” Even worse! You can try to make that argument if you want to, however increased public borrowing is now roughly on par in the public mind with sodomising a sheep to death in front of a nursery. (Never mind that the Tories have borrowed more than all Labour governments in history combined.) The papers and that lovely Tory mailshot are now going to refer to you as mortgaging the country to pay for profligate spending that will eventually lead to us becoming like Greece, which is of course a great comparison if you ignore all the ways in which one of the world’s biggest economies with its own sovereign currency and a reasonably efficient tax collection system differs from Greece. Feel free to try to make the economic argument , or even the argument that a business that refused on ideological grounds to borrow at low interest rates to grow itself would be a miserable failure in a world where nobody else has any such compunction — you would be entirely right, but nobody will broadcast it, much less print it, even less believe it, because profligate Greece borrowing mortgage running up the credit card. You can’t borrow money either.
  • “OK, no borrowing, no taxes. Right, sod it, la-la land idea — this bloke says something about ‘People’s QE’. It sounds completely crazy, and we’d have to do it very carefully to not ruin everything, but it might work; it doesn’t involve any borrowing or new taxes.” See the above scenario, only replacing “Greece” with “the Weimar Republic and Zimbabwe”, with the same end result. You can, again, argue that judicious use of the Peoples’ QE idea to fund public services is a bit different from a forcibly-deindustrialised power with a shattered economy arbitrarily and endlessly printing money to repay an externally-imposed inter-war debt it couldn’t possibly afford to repay otherwise, or a corrupt African basket case printing money to finance a war, but nobody will listen. Your name is now somehow integrated with that of Robert Mugabe in the public eye to form another delightful nickname (because nobody knows who the leader of the Weimar Republic was). You can’t use this idea either.*

You’ll notice that there is a fourth option which the Conservatives won’t whinge as much if you do it, or the media that supports them. That option is “don’t spend any more money on anything”. That happens to be the option which they intend to pursue themselves and which suits them ideologically. It is also the only answer that is now acceptable in mainstream public discourse. Ed Miliband ended up in this bind in 2015; he was completely beholden to the public perception of Labour as financially profligate, and acutely aware of the fact that every penny of spending Labour proposed would be scrutinised in great detail while the vagaries of half-baked Tory pledges like a £12bn saving on benefits (which no Tory deigned to explain or pinpoint at the time) or a massive splurge on the NHS (ditto) would be given the occasional going over in interviews with Andrew Neil that nobody watched. As a result, he ended up trying to push the idea that he would spend more and cut the deficit, but couldn’t say that he wanted to do so by cutting the deficit slower (i.e. borrowing more) because he’d be savaged, but his only reward was to be savaged for not saying how he was going to pay for his pledges.

Essentially, through an absolutely incredible PR machine and the willing participation of a media that is at best allied with the Tories for convenience and at worse actively supportive of them, Labour has been constrained into a single binary choice as regards the economy: they can either not spend any money on anything, or they can be a bunch of profligate tax and spend socialist Greece Weimar spendthrift irresponsible can’t be trusted Mugabes. At the same time, the Conservatives can make as many unfunded promises as they like, borrow as much as they like and miss as many of their idiotic, ideological deficit reduction targets as they like, and not suffer anywhere near the same level of scrutiny or public bollocking. They know full well that their programme is economically indefensible, in fact outright harmful, but know they will receive precisely zero scrutiny for it. The only people who will care are the people who already vote Labour sharing stories about it on Twitter and tutting.

Usually, I think blaming the Tory media for Labour’s unpopularity is, at best, an attempt to shirk blame; a means of Labour activists passing the buck for the party’s manifest failure at ginning up a coherent public relations strategy that doesn’t revolve around Facebook and Twitter echo chambers. However, most peoples’ exposure to news about the economy and economics is through that same Tory media, and its politically motivated monstering of any means of financing public spending has destroyed any meaningful public debate on the economy or the government’s role in it. It has turned what should be a rational and serious debate into a completely irrational one moderated by petulant children, where all but one option is taken off the table and anyone who disagrees is a dangerous and stupid lunatic, crippling the ability of Labour (or anyone else) to put forward any alternative economic arguments without being dismissed out of hand. I have absolutely no idea how this could be solved, or if there is any way around it; but then I am not the Director of Communications of the Labour party, and I would hope to Christ that whoever that person is incredibly competent at PR and has some really solid ideas for doing so, otherwise the 2020 uphill struggle is only about to get a bit steeper.

…Oh dear.

*For what it’s worth, I don’t think Peoples’ QE as espoused by John McDonnell and co is a terrible idea as such, but it would clearly need a lot more thought before it was used, if at all. It’s nowhere near an unequivocal good.

Originally posted on Medium.

No wonder the young are supporting unapologetic socialists— they’re fucked

There’s a rather similar back story to the rise of both Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. Both have been propelled to, in Corbyn’s case, the office of Leader of the Opposition, and in Sanders’ case the current front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination (and, if the polling is correct, winner of the presidential race overall; Sanders handily cleans the clock of every single one of his potential Republican opponents, except Marco Rubio, who is now at best an irrelevance after taking great pains to tell us all that Barack Obama knows exactly what he’s doing). Both also have a significant base among young people — YouGov identifies Corbyn’s supporters as being predominantly aged between 18–24 (compared to David Cameron, who does better amongst those aged over 55), with similar results for Bernie Sanders (Hillary Clinton getting the same results as Cameron). In both cases these are unapologetic firebrand socialists with a reputation for sticking to their principles and envisioning a more Scandinavian, social democratic society for their respective countries. And young people are lapping this up.

It’s quite easy to reflexively dismiss this as just idealistic students being idealistic students. However, I think there is something far more important at play in the overwhelming enthusiasm now being shown amongst those who may have just voted in their first general election, and those who are going to in four years’ time. And that something is the fact that young people are fucked. Something I’m going to illustrate with a couple of worked examples.

Let’s say you’re 66, a state pensioner; a group that very heavily broke for David Cameron and the Conservatives in the 2015 election, winning 47% of the over 65s. Born in 1950 into a working class family, you were born close to the end of Clement Attlee’s term as Prime Minister, two years after the NHS had been founded and five after the end of World War 2. The country is in the midst of a massive rebuilding programme and, under Attlee’s direction, a significant expansion of social services and the role of government. New homes are being built, new towns are planned to provide a greater supply of new, modern housing — massive central government subsidies are provided to councils to achieve this aim, ultimately leading to over a million new homes being built by the time you’re one year old. Your education is free, you get free school meals as your family’s on a low income, and if you want to go to university this is paid for out of general taxation, along with you receiving a grant for your essentials. As you grow up and grow older, you can live in a subsidised council house, eventually perhaps buying a home of your own; your wages go up year on year and living standards in general go up with them. Jobs are plentiful in all sorts of trades and professions, housing is plentiful, all sorts of local amenities from libraries to swimming pools are available for you and if you fall on hard times there’s a social safety net to support you. No, not everything is perfect, and to be sure there’s a significant amount of “…however”s to all of the above, but you can live a happy life with an array of social services there to support you. All that the government asks is that if you are one of the few that is really, really successful, you pay more in tax to support the people who aren’t and to pay for the system that nurtured you into that success.

Just a reminder that the people who grew up and reached adulthood under that system are those who, overwhelmingly, voted for David Cameron in the last election. Now think about what things are like if you’re 23.

You were born in 1993 at the fag end of the Thatcher-Major years into an upper-working class family. Tax rates are the lowest they’ve ever been. Social services improve markedly from their low bar at the start of your life over the New Labour government, albeit floated up on a bed of horrid PFI contracts, however when you’re 15 the financial crash of 2008 hits, everything goes tits-up and the government has to bail out Lloyds, Northern Rock and RBS to stop the entire economy from going any more tits-up than it just did. You had absolutely no part to play in any of it (beyond your dad having to put stuff on tick for you, which is a bit tangential) but, ultimately, you’re going to have to pay for it over the rest of your working life. You turn 17 in 2010 when the Tory/Lib Dem coalition comes to power after promising to cut government borrowing.

You leave school and go to college — this, at least, costs nothing. You could have got some money to fund your studies at college in the form of EMA before — this meagre £30 a week handout is now gone, as the government needs to cut the deficit. But the state pension now goes up at the greater of inflation, wage increases or 2.5%. The government can afford this but can’t afford your £30 a week. It also cuts taxes on people earning over £150,000 a year specifically, while cutting everyone else’s taxes too to a somewhat lesser degree by raising the personal allowance. The government can afford to somehow reduce its income drastically, but can’t afford to support you through further education, because it needs to save money.

(You don’t really notice the bit about the pensions or the tax system at the time, because you’re 17 and probably more concerned with trying to fuck things. I don’t blame you. I was 17 once too, although my wayward youth was spent carrying a Lib Dem membership card and talking about it on the Internet rather more than it was spent having sex. It shows.)

You can, of course, go to university; tuition fees came in when you were 13, and these went up to £9,000 when you were 17. It used to be free; now you get charged, and you will now pay for it directly from your income as soon as you earn over £21,000. The people who voted for this change are all the same people who previously didn’t have to pay anything. You go through university, conscious that every penny you spend has to be paid for eventually, and come out with a degree. Well done.

After finishing your degree at age 22 and moving back home you notice that there’s a bit of a shortage of jobs. Manufacturing is in decline, high-tech jobs are stagnant, services are where it’s at. Services like working in Domino’s making pizza on a zero-hours contract. You do this while waiting to see if a job posting relevant to your degree pops up, which pays for your mobile bill and whatever your mum charges to live with her (you can’t afford to rent) but not much else. Virtually all of the social housing has been bought by the people who lived in it under right-to-buy, and are now looking to rent it out to you for profit — there’s none for you to rent and eventually buy though. They aren’t building any more, and for the sake of argument, you’re male, so you can’t even do the “getting pregnant to get a council flat” thing people keep talking about as an argument for why welfare is bollocks but you never see anyone actually doing because getting pregnant is a real pain in the arse (if you’re doing it wrong, that is) and it makes no sense.

You manage to somehow get a job which isn’t on a zero hours contract, even if it still has no real relation to your degree, and you now work full time — £7 an hour, 39 hours a week, you lucky ducky, now you earn £14k! Your mum doesn’t really want to keep you in the house since you have a job of your own, so you have to move out. You bring home about £1050 a month; your choices are to either rent a shoebox close to your work on your own for £550 a month plus bills (so really about £800 a month) or rent a room in someone’s former council house for £300 a month where you have very little legal protection, can be turfed out at a moment’s notice and your landlord can control your time not spent at work as much as they please because you’d rather be silent, bored and lonely than homeless. You choose the latter because it’s cheaper and take care not to fart too loudly during the night and upset your landlord — too bad the house is a fair distance from your workplace, so that means you spend more or less the difference in rental costs in transport to and from your job, either by a shit bus or a shit train or an expensive-to-run car. Meanwhile the government is talking about how it’ll give you a discount on buying your first home, just so long as you can pull thousands of pounds out for a deposit first. You can’t save any money because all your money goes to rent, food, bills, transport and the merest bit of leisure you can afford. You can’t afford a deposit. Even if you could, a house near you is £150,000 and rising. That’s a lot of money for someone earning £14,000 a year. People keep talking about salary multiples; you think about how many multiples of your salary £150,000 is and die a little inside.

Your work is more or less the same; you hate it, and your boss makes you work unpaid hours constantly and you’re frequently driven to distraction by stress, but you daren’t say anything because you’d rather be miserable than broke and homeless, and employment tribunals cost money now so you don’t even get help from them. Luckily, this becomes irrelevant as soon as the company ceases to tread water as it was doing previously and makes you redundant. People who have been working there longer than two years get redundancy pay — you get jack shit. You now have no income. You can go on Jobseeker’s Allowance, but you have to keep going back and forward between the Jobcentre (which is near where your work is/was) to sign on and prove that you’ve been looking for work exhaustively, and there’s a pervading sense that they are just looking for any excuse to trip you up and cut off your payments. You can’t afford the room in the house any more, let alone the room plus the transport to and from the Jobcentre; back to your mum’s house it is.

You apply for jobs. You apply for more jobs. You apply for more and more jobs. There are at least a hundred people applying for every job going, but you put applications in anyway. You have a degree so you’re overqualified so get knocked back. You keep applying. You show the list of applications as long as your arm to the Jobcentre person and they tell you you’re now on the Work Programme and must go and stack shelves in Poundland for free or they’re cutting off your JSA. The government trumpets the great recovery and all the jobs it has created. It says it wants to encourage entrepreneurship; you’d love to start a business, but you rather need money to do so, so you can’t. Oh well. You apply for more jobs in between stacking shelves in Poundland.

The upshot is this: You’re 24, in what should be the prime of your life. You have no money. There are no jobs. You live with your mum and probably will for a long time because rent is extortionate and you can’t afford to buy. You work for free in Poundland so you can get JSA, which even then they are trying to devise ways of prying you off. Your options diminish daily. You have little money for leisure. There’s no libraries and no swimming pools that you can afford as the council has had to slash its budget; there’s no real leisure activities available in your price range beyond getting shitfaced on whatever cheap shit booze you can get. Public services are being run down and you don’t feel safe out at night on the few chances you get to go out. You have a millstone of debt around your neck so even if you have the wherewithal to get out of your current rut, you’ll still be paying for the degree that makes you “overqualified” as soon as you earn even the national average wage, as well as paying through taxation for the inflated state pensions of the people who previously had it far better and have now voted for a government to pull the ladder up, who incidentally vote in far greater numbers than your generation so your interests will never win out. There are few unions and employment tribunals cost thousands of pounds, so any job you do get will, de facto, be at-will employment where you can be sacked for any reason or no reason at all unless you can spring money from somewhere; that is, if you can even get a job. Everything your parents and grandparents had has been taken from you and they’re telling you it’s for your own good. You are fucked.

The nature of the fuckery

Now, that’s a deliberately worst-case scenario. Not everyone who leaves university right now is going to immediately spiral into some sort of hell of joblessness and horror. I am a few years older than 25 and I am lucky to have been able to find a relatively secure, stable job before the financial crash hit and to have escaped the worst of the ensuing shitstorm as a result (I’m by no means well off either, incidentally; buying a house is a pipe dream). But it isan illustration of how thoroughly, and how nakedly, the young have been systematically ripped off. Their parents and their grandparents got to grow up in an era of full employment and economic growth; of the government intervening to ensure that they were safe, secure, well fed and healthy, and investing in the economy to ensure that it grew and provided jobs for all. Those parents and grandparents, or at least the governments they elected, have now deigned to pull the last rungs of the ladder up from their children, to abandon them to the mercies of what passes for a free market after all the assets the government used to have have been sold off and are now rented back to the population with a profit margin attached, and to strip them of the social services that helped nurture them and the social safety net that kept them secure; all on the basis that a debt the young had absolutely no part in creating (indeed, could not have had any part in creating) must be repaid by them.

The question is, why in the name of Christ would anyone catapulted headlong into the above environment of pure fuckery want to support it or prolong it?Why would someone faced with chronic insecurity and inequality not want to see a massive, diametric change in their lives? To be sure, one does not have to be a raving, little-red-book-toting Marxist to think that the above is neither a good state of affairs or a fair or just inheritance for the people just now coming to adulthood. Despite the protestations of his opponents, Jeremy Corbyn is not a raving, little-red-book-toting Marxist. Neither is Bernie Sanders. (John McDonnell might be at least the first bit, though.) Neither are their supporters. Neither, incidentally, is Ed Miliband, who also intuitively recognises the issues surrounding inequality and its effects on the young but never particularly put it across well during his time as Labour leader (a fact he himself acknowledges).

The young people who voted for Jeremy Corbyn, or who are voting for Bernie Sanders, and who are supporting socialist candidates the world over, do so because they can see exactly how fucked they are, and because these candidates have both articulated not only an understanding of that fucked-ness but have articulated a way out of it — a way back to an era of security, greater equality and greater opportunity that is within living memory. That articulated solution is democratic socialism; an unapologetic and sincere desire to use the state’s power and resources to improve the lives of its citizens. While this might be terrifying to some, it’s worth pointing out that“socialism” to someone who’s 18 or so is not a bogeyman or an instinctive threat compared to what it may have been to their parents. Someone turning 18 today was born seven years after the Cold War ended; to them, socialism is not the Soviet Union and its associated repression and threat of nuclear armageddon, the Winter of Discontent or the Militant Tendency. To them, socialism is the NHS, Clement Attlee and, yes, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders and their prescriptions for more, more affordable and better housing, government investment in jobs and better wages and working conditions.

To understand this is absolutely crucial for both politicians in general and specifically for those who wish to unseat or derail Corbyn and Sanders respectively. Young, not very well off people have flocked to these leaders and the unapologetically socialist ideas they espouse because they have promised an improvement in their lives, and because the status quo is so drastically against them that they (correctly) perceive the problems with it to be systemic and indicative of a system rigged to reward and insulate their seniors and those above them in the social pecking order at the expense of their own comfort, wellbeing and happiness. Any potential challenger to this new surge in socialist thinking needs to have a concrete and workable proposal to address the things Corbyn and Sanders have made so much goodwill out of eloquently addressing; inequality, insecurity and the distinct feeling of intergenerational sabotage of their lives. An 18 year old with a shit life ahead of them doesn’t want or need a dose of centrist reality from a Liz Kendall or of slow, pragmatically-obtained progress from an Yvette Cooper or a Hillary Clinton; they want and need to be able to afford somewhere decent to live in a community worth living in and to have a job to go to after they finish their education. That’s not much to ask for, but simultaneously the only people promising any concrete action towards it are the people who were previously on the fringes. Anyone looking to swing those people back towards the notional “centre” needs to have something to offer the victims of the current system, or else they are doomed.

Note: This article got a fair amount of shares and views when I first posted it on Medium, having got about 143,000 page views – it is easily, by a long shot, the most read thing I have ever written. On reflection, one thing I could have made clearer is that I wasn’t trying to make an argument specifically in favour of Sanders/Corbyn the individuals; more that there is an understandable reason for the surge in popularity amongst the young, that being because they are (or were) the only people of any prominence with any shot at power who spoke to young peoples’ concerns. Even if you have a distaste for either man or their politics, there are good reasons why they are so popular that can’t just be boiled down to “young’uns want free shit and cuddles” as many friendly commenters deigned to tell me.

Why I left Labour, why I came back a couple of months later and what I think about it

So, a few days ago, I rejoined the Labour party, after leaving it in more-or-less a fit of pique in November. I was pissed off then, beyond words.

Why I left and why I came back

I’d just watched (or rather, read about and formed a mental image of) George Osborne swanning out in front of Parliament to tell everyone what a fucking clown he is. Were George Osborne a person to whom normal human emotions aren’t just something he has to emulate to not cause actual, of-woman-born people to run away screaming in fear, he would have been filled with shame. He’d laid a political trap, see; something which said that if the government wanted to spend more than a certain amount on welfare, it would have to report to Parliament about it and its tragic failure to do so. It was entirely intended to wrongfoot Labour and force them to either vote against this cap, and therefore be the spendthrift profligate socialist bastards Osborne and his colleagues were desperate to paint them as, or vote for it and really, really piss off their voter base by essentially voting along with Tory welfare cuts. In the event, Labour voted along with it, making the calculation that the cap is pointless anyway (Parliament can’t bind itself) and that it made political sense to do so in any event given the climate.

Osborne laid this political trap thinking (as he does, being in the nicest possible way an arrogant, not-as-clever-as-he-thinks-he-is cock) that he was some sort of chessmaster, which didn’t really work because it promptly blew up in his face around the time of the Autumn statement. His proposed cuts to tax credits would have so badly pissed off people who relied upon them to supplement their meagre wages and allow them to live that it would have kneecapped the Conservative party for the foreseeable future. The political punishment would have been brutal, and his own party were beginning to see the danger. It must be said also that, in most cases, the moral aspect of taking money from people who really cannot afford to live without it was at the very least a concern — Tory MPs may be many things but they are not all a bunch of heartless, “let them eat cake” Scrooges.

So, the tax credit cuts had to be shelved, the welfare cap would be breached, and Mr Osborne would have to eat humble pie. It would be a humiliating climbdown for a chancellor who, with all due respect to the man, is very good at politics, even if he has been an execrable chancellor with less economic acumen than my left bollock and someone I would not allow in charge of a Cancer Research donation tin, let alone an entire country’s treasury. If you fed Justin Bieber a large amount of ketamine, recorded the sounds he made over the next hour and then played them backwards, the resulting noises would make more economic sense than anything George Osborne has ever said.

My odd digression about a drugged up Bieber aside, you would expect Labour to have absolutely destroyed Osborne on this point. They had enough material; to summarise, the Tories had just attempted to impoverish a large number of people by doing something that wasn’t in their manifesto and that David Cameron had gone on television and expressly said he would not do, in a manner that would hit immediately before Christmas, had been rebuffed by the House of Lords that they were a staunch supporter of the existence of but were now going to attempt to neuter to stop such a thing happening again, had had to climb down in the face of significant opposition from people both within and outside the government after making such a half-arsed defence that nobody could really believe it, and were now falling into the very same political trap that they had laid for the “profligate” Labour because their house of cards of crap political gambits had just fallen in on itself. Labour could have absolutely pummelled the shit out of them. John McDonnell could have verbally beaten the piss out of Osborne, even if he didn’t want to humour my personal fantasy of him beating the piss out of Osborne physically. It would have been a significant humiliation for the Tories and a political coup for the still-bedding-in Corbyn-led party.

Instead, the shadow chancellor stood up, ignored all of the above facts, burbled something about Chinese ownership of state assets (a reasonable point, if the wrong time to make it) and decided to finish by making a joke about Chairman Mao’s little red book, including quoting from it, and then tossing it over at George Osborne. The shadow chancellor chosen by the leader who needed to shake off an image of being an unreconstructed communist. The shadow chancellor who made Osborne smile a smile that probably killed some weakling children somewhere. A smile of utter relief and bewilderment at his luck. Osborne even got to make a quip about the little red book being McDonnell’s personal signed copy. It was a funny quip. I’m not so ideologically blinded as to think it wasn’t funny because it was. It’d have been funnier if it came from someone who wasn’t an incompetent twat but it was still funny. McDonnell had, somehow, managed to take an open goal and kick the ball hard in the back of his own net. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is a bit too nice a term. He’d fucked up, and worse the party leadership and communications staff — including Seumas Milne-had fucked up too by thinking this was something to allow him to do, rather than taking him aside and pointing out that the optics of this were terrible. It was a disaster.

I resigned my party membership that day.

Optics

I say I resigned in a “fit of pique” at the start of this article because that was more or less what it was. I didn’t especially have much against John McDonnell, or Jeremy Corbyn; I was a supporter of Corbyn from as soon as I’d heard about his candidacy for the leadership, and still remain one. Seumas Milne I’m still undecided on on the whole, aside from the observation that he is demonstrably completely incompetent in his current role and I’m mystified as to why he was chosen to do it and why he has not been sacked for being a bag of shite. Either way, it wasn’t an issue with the leadership itself, other than that in this case they had shown some truly breathtakingly bad judgment.

Mainly, the pique was caused by abject disappointment that we had taken a golden opportunity to finally, finally, show the Tories and Cameron up for their economically stupid, short-termist, politically-motivated policies, and shat all over it. We were on the same side as most of the country on tax credits, most importantly the people who had done their best to do as they were asked — to go to work each day, to abide by the law, to work themselves silly in low-paid jobs so as to scrape by and scratch a living for themselves and their families— and who were going to be punished the most by this policy we had worked hard to get a climbdown from. What we should have done was to underline that; make it clear that yes, Labour under Corbyn was on their side, on the side of the normal worker who doesn’t claim benefits as a “lifestyle choice” or as a “scrounger” but just to supplement their low wages enough to live on, while what the Tories were doing was against them, was going to directly harm them. The Tories wanted to ruin them and make their lives harder; Labour would work to protect them and make their lives better as best they could. If we got that message across, we could build on that; that could be the start of a campaign, a story to tell; we’re on your side. We will fight your corner. We will help you. They will not.

We didn’t do that. We chucked around a dictator’s book and looked completely fucking stupid. We may as well have not turned up.

If there’s one thing that Corbyn and his allies need to learn, it’s that optics matter. David Cameron has not been a good prime minister, and George Osborne has not been a good chancellor. They have failed by their own standards; the (irrelevant) deficit is not gone as they promised it would be, their (pointless) immigration targets have been blown past, the economy is stagnant at best, Cameron is currently undertaking an attempt to renegotiate the UK’s deal with the EU more or less entirely to save his political bacon, and property prices are now plainly unaffordable for basically anyone whose parents don’t have spare capital. David Cameron, objectively, is crap at being Prime Minister, and George Osborne, objectively, is crap at being Chancellor. Despite this, Cameron has cultivated an image of being Prime Ministerial and statesmanlike, and Osborne has somehow managed to cultivate an image of being a safe pair of hands who has turned around the British economy. This is due to the fact that, for all their numerous flaws, the Conservatives understand PR and filter everything through it — much as New Labour did.

Corbyn, meanwhile, is authentic, as is McDonnell. He (and McDonnell) can quite justifiably claim to be something of a maverick (rebelling against the whip as often as he has will do that to you) and an outsider, someone who isn’t obsessed with how he looks and is more concerned with the things he says and the ends he wishes to achieve. While this admirable, and probably resonates quite nicely with a lot of people, it must be said that one does not have to be a New Labour-esque slave to PR to think about how your words and actions will come across; inversely, thinking about your audience and how they will perceive your words and actions does not make you less authentic than if you just say and do the first thing that pops into your head. This is especially true if, like Corbyn and McDonnell, you have a history of stances that are at best unpopular (e.g. unilateral disarmament or leaving NATO) and at worst actively repellent (e.g. Corbyn’s neither-here-nor-there “support” for the IRA, which while not actually expressly proven he has enough of a link with to taint him); Corbyn himself needs to be told, quite bluntly, to stop talking about these things, and if asked about them to change the subject. It’s not like this is hard to do — just say “I don’t want to talk about Trident/NATO/the Falklands, that’s something to decide in the future or something that was decided long in the past and is irrelevant to the problems normal people face, let’s talk about…” or basically something to move the conversation on. Every time his mouth opens on the subject of nuclear weapons, NATO, the Falklands or any one of the other ultimately not very important battles we seem to be re-running from the early 1980s, it puts off people who otherwise might be receptive to his policies. He needs to stop doing that yesterday and start insisting on talking about the positive things he’d do for the country.

In other words, optics matter. How you look and what you say matters, and it isn’t failing yourself if you talk more about your popular policies and less about electoral poison.

Incidentally, and since this regularly comes up, it is simply not good enough to blame a biased media for highlighting things like Trident, the Falklands and NATO as an excuse for his overwillingness to expound views on such things. The media is largely biased against Corbyn, but Corbyn is the one voluntarily answering questions about things he should know by now are voter repellent. The media ask questions about them because they know his views on them are voter repellent. For them to set traps for him is bad, but for him to fall into them is stupid. It would be lovely if the media weren’t largely pro-Tory or Blairite, but they are, and that is the reality Labour and Corbyn have to work with. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away; it just makes the problem worse.

Blame game

So, here’s the question; if I think Corbyn is behaving stupidly by running his mouth about Trident, and I think McDonnell acted like a twat around the Autumn statement to the point I left the party, why did I rejoin and why did I not directly blame Corbyn and McDonnell for this and why do I not want them gone as a result?

The simple reason is that both Corbyn and McDonnell are what they are. They are, at their core, old Labour social democrats (not, as it happens, Marxists by any stretch) who came into Parliament in the middle of the 1980s and whose views have perhaps developed somewhat since but have largely stayed the same. Corbyn has always been for unilateral disarmament, and McDonnell has pretty much always been a socialist. Expecting their views to change wholesale after appearing at the top of the Labour party would be unreasonable and, moreover, be a betrayal of the people who voted for Corbyn in the leadership election on the basis of his consistently expressed opinions. I can’t blame Corbyn for being a unilateralist any more than I can blame a gun for shooting bullets, and if McDonnell read some Marx in his wayward youth then, fuck it, have a broad mind, read what you like — read Mein Kampf from cover to cover for all I care so long as you don’t try and put its teachings into practice (or, for that matter, bring it into the House of Commons). Corbyn is what he is, McDonnell is what he is.

However, the Labour party is not (as many are keen to remind us on all sides) only one person, the leader, acting solely on his own in a top down fashion, it is a whole organisation. That organisation’s sole raison d’etre is to pull in the direction of getting the Labour party returned to power, regardless of who the leader is or what he thinks about Trident, and to do so it needs to have a public relations strategy that includes message discipline and a means of approaching thorny issues without throwing the baby out with the rhetorical bathwater. It is clearly failing at that because nobody is telling Jeremy Corbyn to stop talking about Trident, NATO and the Falklands, and nobody took John McDonnell aside before the Autumn statement and told him that perhaps the little red book thing, while a bit funny on its own merits, wouldn’t really play well in the public eye. I place that failure solely upon Seumas Milne. As Director of Communications, he should have the nous to see this sort of thing coming. He clearly doesn’t and he is therefore demonstrably incompetent and should be gone as soon as possible. (This is of course leaving aside the fact that he is, if not actually a Stalinist, someone with a very strong track record of associating with, supporting, speaking favourably of and defending Stalinists, including the ultimate Stalinist — Stalin himself. If Corbyn’s left-wing tendencies are supposedly repulsive to voters, what the hell is Seumas Milne?)

Put simply, Corbyn can’t really be blamed for holding the views he does, they’re common knowledge and, ultimately, legitimate and defensible views to hold, and McDonnell can’t really be blamed for having an offputting sense of humour. But he should have a competent PR man willing to tell him to stop talking about those views or not tell stupid counterproductive jokes, and Seumas Milne clearly isn’t one. That Corbyn hired him is, admittedly, a significant question mark over his judgment on this front; I do hope he sees sense before long.

So why rejoin?

Admittedly, this was in a fit of pique too. I had just read about the Tory government’s latest skilled worker visa nonsense and had had enough.

In case you haven’t heard about this, the Tories have had significant trouble meeting their own self-imposed immigration targets, chiefly because of EU immigration they are treaty-bound to not restrict in any way which makes the entire concept of setting immigration targets utterly pointless. Another failure on their own terms. In order to paper over this and try to get immigration down regardless, the Government has been steadily making it harder for people to come here legally from non-EU countries. Study-to-work visas for foreign students are being abolished, and those who want to switch their visas from study visas to sponsored work visas at the end of their courses are finding it harder to do so as they are being required to leave the country entirely first; to be able to bring a non-EU spouse to the UK, a British citizen must earn a minimum of £18,600 a year (or have £62,500 in savings, or some combination of the above), essentially putting a price on love. In addition to this, the government’s latest wheezes are to charge a levy of £1,000 a year to companies that wish to sponsor a non-EU citizen for a visa (in addition to the fees that must be paid for such visas) and now to add an income requirement — someone here on a work visa must earn at least £30,000 in order to stay after five years. Don’t earn that amount (which is far more than the average UK salary)? Off you fuck.

The message given here is this; the UK is for Britons. Period. If you wish to come here from outside the EU, you are not welcome. We will set such absurdly high barriers to you coming here with the express intention of making it nigh on impossible, and we will then impose further barriers to you staying. While you are here, and before you come, we will milk you for every penny you have. You are here at our whim and we will make that abundantly clear in every single action we take. You are not welcome, because the UK is for Britons and we don’t want you here. This is a local country, for local people.

Unless you’re rich. In which case, come on in!

I’d find this repellent enough were I not in the position of having a partner from the USA, and therefore being faced with losing her because of the financial requirements (that I can’t possibly meet) and the pointless barriers on skilled individuals — who we educated in our universities! — from coming here. And I am. So hearing about the Government further clamping down on probably the most benign group of people possible — skilled people who don’t have to get the taxpayer to pay for their upbringing or education, but do pay in to the tax system to fund everyone else’s— in a way that further increases the chance of me losing someone I love pisses me off. It gets me into fits of pique where I do things like rejoining the Labour party.

Because at the end of the day, no matter how many books John McDonnell waves around, no matter how much Jeremy Corbyn likes to talk about unilateral disarmament, and no matter how much of a smarmy, inept, deeply suspect twat Seumas Milne is, they’re not going to set themselves a stupid, unattainable target that they know they can’t meet and then ruin my life to hopelessly try and meet it.

So what do I think of Labour and Corbyn?

Well. This is going to be interesting for me. I’ve never really written this down before, so I will try and keep it somewhat coherent.

The leadership election

As mentioned above, like some 49% of Labour members (and 59% of the selectorate) I voted for Corbyn as my first preference for leader. I don’t regret that, even in light of everything that’s happened since. This is partly because the other choices were, frankly, uninspiring beyond words.

Liz Kendall was the first and only candidate of the four that there were to go on my “no, thank you” list right off the bat. Kendall’s entire platform appeared to be a repeat of the “concede and move on” tactic that New Labour successfully used in the 1990s. This was a successful move; it got Labour elected, and in the short term this allowed Tony Blair to push through important reforms that had a lasting and positive impact on peoples’ lives. The problem is the long term effect; by conceding basic tenets of economic policy (non-intervention by the state, privatisation of state-owned businesses, a belief in competition as the best way to run public services), Labour conceded some of the basic things that made it Labour and made it far less ideologically distinct from the Conservative party. Worse, it is saying that, in the end, the Conservatives were right — the Conservatives had the right answers, we were just ideologically blind to them. The Conservatives already think and put across that they are the responsible adults, here to mop up after the excesses of dangerous leftie Labour administrations; we do not need to legitimise that view by adopting their ideology wholesale in a naked attempt to win votes, as if that is the sole arbiter by which our projected beliefs should be decided.

That is why Kendall was automatically a “no way”. We had already conceded privatisation, low taxation, right to buy and private sector competition and PFI in public services to the Tories. Conceding even the idea that state run education is something to be supported and that free schools are a step in the wrong direction seemed like the final straw. There was nothing, meaningfully, left to concede.

Then there were “the other two”. Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham. In the event I went for Yvette as my second preference because, at the end of the day, she remained consistent; she was the continuity Miliband candidate, plain and simple, whereas Burnham did a weathervane impression as soon as Corbyn was an option and decided to start proposing things that were maybe quite left-wing, radical and different, if your idea of “radical and different” is getting the Finest vanilla ice cream with the little bits of vanilla pod in it rather than the Walls stuff you usually get. Quite frankly, I didn’t really want either of them. They were such a much of a muchness that I couldn’t really make out that much of a difference between them. In fact, I may not actually be certain that Cooper was my second preference. She might have been my third, and Burnham my second. Such was my level of apathy towards both of them.

Either way, completely irrelevant. Corbyn had it all bang to rights, as far as I was concerned. Finally, someone was actually willing to stand up and make the arguments for things that had been swept under the rug; actual public investment in public services! A demand-side economic policy! Defence of the principle of a welfare system, rather than a rush to consider it a problem to be managed! This was an absolute no-brainer. First preference, hands down.

It’s also worth pointing out that Corbyn was the only one of the leadership candidates who made actual concrete proposals that would assist young voters. The coalition and the current Government have hobbled the current generation badly; house prices are unaffordable and rents are going through the roof as a result of the buy-to-let boom. Simple supply and demand means that good housing is a scarce, expensive commodity. Work is often low-paid and low-skilled; low-paid work with high outgoings on rent, fuel and transport means that even if someone wanted to become self-employed they won’t have the funds to do so. Your education will leave a millstone of debt around your neck, even though you don’t have to pay it back straight away. Put simply, the way things are currently means that if you’re young you are going to spend a lot of time renting and a lot of time in debt or in low-paid work, unless your parents have enough capital to get you going. The current system systematically fails young people; Corbyn was the only candidate to identify that and make concrete proposals that would actually help them, and thus earned their support. That is part of why he still has mine.

So, I was happy Corbyn had won. And, for what it’s worth, I still am.

The parliamentary party

To say Corbyn’s election has set cats amongst pigeons is a bit of an understatement. The shadow cabinet itself was hastily cobbled together from those who would serve under him (to his credit, Burnham did) as it’s fair to say there was something of a reluctance to accept that this person, an unreconstructed democratic socialist, had just been propelled to the top of Britain’s opposition. Ironically, it’s this reluctance (and the continued employment of fucking Seumas fucking fucker Milne) that gives me the most pause for thought about the party and my support for it.

Put simply, while the parliamentary Labour party may well be at odds with Jeremy Corbyn in many respects, and that is to be respected and is something that will have to ultimately be resolved with dialogue between all sides, the treatment he has received from them has hardly been becoming of a decent organisation. Anonymous and non-anonymous briefings in the Murdoch press and the Daily Mail regarding Corbyn are simply beyond the pale, and do nothing but tarnish the name of the party. Do these people really believe that by publicly slating their leader — who, after all, quite frankly beat the everloving shit out of every other candidate on the ballot by all measures — they are somehow advancing the Labour party in any way? You can, I suppose, make the argument that if Corbyn is awful, unelectable etc. then by slating him you are somehow working towards getting him out so you can get a better leader in; but then, how does this not somehow also drag the party down, creating (and at this point now reinforcing) the image of a party at war with itself and therefore too fractious and factional to govern coherently in a way that will last long after Jeremy Corbyn hangs up his sandals? There is short-termism and then there is turning your fire on someone who has, after all, doubled the membership base of the party in a few short months after being duly elected, without having a real thought or coherent plan for what comes afterwards?

I have still, despite the sniping at Corbyn, not seen a coherent statement or plan for what a post-Corbyn Labour party would look like, or who would lead it, or what it would be like ideologically. It is clear that the current crop of Labour MPs differ vastly in beliefs from the majority of the party’s members; given the voting system and the people that will be selecting the next leader in any putative leadership election, it is even more unlikely now that they are going to vote for a Kendall or an Umunna or a Jarvis without any of those candidates suddenly undergoing a Damascene conversion and shifting dramatically to the left, which will necessarily involve pissing off the MPs. Of course, they could shift back to the right after being elected leader in order to please the MPs, at which point those members desert the party after being outright lied to.

I am, of course, not saying that the entire problem with Labour is the PLP or that they should all shut the fuck up and defer to Chairman Corbyn or that I want them all deselected and replaced with new left wing candidates. No. Most Labour MPs are diligent, hard workers and conscientious, and in the end want the same thing as everyone else in the party; a Labour government that they agree with. The problem is that the same notes about the need to think about the optics apply in this case, and the optics of sitting Labour MPs publicly denigrating their elected leader are terrible. They are damaging the party more than Corbyn ever could alone. At the very least they read like an attempt to make the warnings of Corbyn’s destruction of Labour a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the long term, something will have to give; in this sort of scenario, the only options are to either change the membership, change the MPs or change the leader. The latter is unlikely to happen due to the lack of a viable successor who is palatable to the membership; the former just isn’t going to happen (and can’t happen with the party’s finances as they are); the only option that could happen, and indeed the best one in the long run where there’s such a conflict with the beliefs of the membership, is the middle one, but it’s unlikely at best in the short term since any moves to deselect sitting MPs would inevitably lead to the party fracturing itself completely.

Corbyn’s chances

Finally, what do I think of Corbyn’s chances in an election? Well…

Put simply, I think he has a shot. Perhaps a longer shot than many would like, but a shot. He has problems, in some cases quite big ones, but these are not insurmountable and require compromises and changes that may not be palatable to either him, his team, the membership or the PLP.

The chief one, and I cannot stress this enough, is a proper media strategy that isn’t devised by a man who defends Stalin whose name is Seumas Milne who used to be a Guardian journalist and in fact still kind of is and is also a total and utter cunt who isn’t very good at being the Director of Communications. That is the main thing I would suggest. The Tories have failed miserably and are still failing. They are currently trying to paper over their incredible weaknesses in domestic and economic policy by attacking Corbyn over defence policy. This is why Labour needs to go on the attack; the government has failed. It is failing young people, it is failing workers, it is failing the self-employed, it is failing everyone. We don’t have enough homes, we don’t have enough investment, and the economic case the Tories have made is complete bollocks. Withdrawing government money from the economy makes no sense and just hurts working people, and the society the Tories will leave behind is one you or I would not like to live in.

That is the message. The Tories are failing, and worse they are not on your side. Labour is on your side. Labour will help you achieve and will make sure everyone — everyone — has a good start in life and the means to achieve more. If you want to talk about aspiration, talk about how someone in a low-paid job spending 50% of their income on a shoebox on the outskirts of London or Leeds and giving the other 25% to Abellio Greater Anglia or Northern Rail so they can get to work on time most of the time simply can’t start that new business they aspire to run that would generate tax income, and employ people, and make the country more prosperous, because they have no money to spare, and that the system — that the Tories want to perpetuate — is thoroughly broken. The Tories are failing the aspirational because they are not providing a way for people who have nothing but aspiration to fulfil it. They are failing the country by not letting people fulfil their potential, and Labour will make sure everyone can fulfil their potential. The debate needs to be reframed away from aspiration simply being a desire to own a house or a car or a shitload of cash, but towards a happy, fulfilled life in a country where your children can grow up happy and fulfilled too. That would take concerted effort and it would take a lot of doing but it is doable, and it is exactly the sort of optimistic message Labour and Corbyn should be trying to put across. I think he can put it across, but somebody needs to give him the push and the media training to do so. That person, for the avoidance of all doubt, is not named Seumas Milne.

Secondly, the PLP need to show a bit more deference to Corbyn, and Corbyn needs to perhaps be a bit more sensitive to concerns they have. The current arrangement simply isn’t tenable; until the time at which Corbyn really has demonstrably failed (say, by getting the party destroyed at an actual election of some kind, which hasn’t happened yet), and until there is a viable candidate to replace him who is palatable to all the relevant stakeholders, there is nothing to be gained with the current public squabbling — all it does is drag the party as a whole down. By attacking Corbyn, they are not attacking him alone, they are attacking the membership that elected him and joined because of him, and by extension the party itself as an organisation. Simply put, Corbyn has not as yet cost the Labour party anything material — the only proper election since his election as leader was the Oldham by-election which returned an increased Labour vote share. If he can’t turn things around, if he can’t get some momentum (no pun intended) going and if the party does suffer at the local elections or some such, then you know what? Boot him. But give him space and time. He is, after all, who he is, and needs some time to grow into the role without knives being waved in his direction.

If we can get those two things in place, like I say, I think Corbyn has a potential shot. I’m not going to predict that he’ll win an instant landslide, but he has shaken up British politics somewhat; young people who have been sidelined by successive governments and have restricted opportunities as a result now have someone standing up for their interest, someone who might actually change things for the better. If Corbyn can mobilise these people and get them to turn out and vote for him in enough numbers, we could see something very interesting happen. But it will involve time, and patience, and effort, and compromise.

And, for the last time, getting rid of Seumas fucking Milne.

Christmas Advert Autopsy 2015

Every year, there are new Christmas adverts, and they get crasser and crasser and crasser by the year. This appears to be the year in which hashtags hit in earnest, and it’s truly intolerable, since putting a hashtag on something automatically cheapens it and dates it. Do you remember around the height of the dot com bubble, when companies stuck “@” symbols everywhere and put references to texting and the Internet in unrelated places, so as to appear hip and trendy? That’s what hashtags remind me of; something you don’t do because you think it adds any merit, but something you do because you want to appear “in” and everyone else is doing it. That I can see this, and people whose entire jobs are to make branding and adverts don’t, worries me a bit.

Asda’s people have seen the shit trend and gone balls deep into hashtag wankery with “#becauseitschristmas”, which due to the lack of an apostrophe just looks wrong, in addition to being so generic that it has no real association with Asda at all which makes the entire endeavour completely pointless. They are also continuing their new trend of having the same completely irrelevant song in every advert, this time an upbeat number about playing a sax which started off a bit crap and is now, after hearing it about fifty times, the worst collection of sounds I’ve ever heard. Seeing that the song was somewhere near the top of the iTunes charts recently almost made me commit genocide.

It’s still better than House of Fraser’s effort, which stars a group of obnoxious looking people doing strange dances like they’re tearing their hair out in the midst of a painful-looking and quite possibly terminal neurological event. The main lyric of the equally obnoxious song is “you don’t own me”, which is a rather odd sentiment for a Christmas advert to begin with (even more so than “play that sax”) but downright strange for a business whose entire reason for existence is for you to buy things that you can then own. What relevance any of it has to the festive season at all is beyond me, aside from the fact that it makes me want everyone in it to get a house fire for Christmas. The hashtag for this one is “#yourrules”, which actually is vaguely relevant, because I’ve had to institute a house rule that the channel be changed whenever this advert is on, lest I throw the entire fucking TV right out the window.

Should my girlfriend be unable to restrain me after the remote gets lost somewhere, I could always go to Littlewoods and get a new TV through them; helpfully, they tell me, I can spread the cost, which is an innovative idea which in no way is superfluous to the existence of credit cards that can be used anywhere, including places which are cheaper than Littlewoods to begin with. Given that Littlewoods are essentially a massive firm of bastard debt collectors with an overpriced Argos attached, it’s no surprise that they avoid mentioning this aspect; in fact, they avoid mentioning much of anything. All that happens is that that a woman silently plays piano outside in the snow for some reason, she smiles beatifically into the camera, and then you’re shown some electronic tat that you can buy. The entire message of the advert confused me at first, since the woman playing piano in the snow doesn’t seem to have any relation to anything at all (a running theme in all of these adverts), but then I realised that she looks an awful lot like the fire-worshipping religious fanatic Melisandre from Game of Thrones, and it all fell into place – it’s a threat. Buy an Xbox from Littlewoods or be roasted alive in a sacrifice to the fire god. Already a more compelling sell than the Asda thing, and no pointless hashtag or irritating song to boot – although they still have a way to go to make up for the horrid thing they unleashed upon the world in 2011, that more or less ruined Christmas for anyone who saw it and may as well have ended with Santa being drowned in TCP.

The best so far, indisputably, is that of M&S (cretinous pound sign: #TheArtOfChristmas), who in complete opposition to Littlewoods’ quiet pointlessness have gone for a more “shock and awe” tactic of simply playing a good song extremely loud and then shoving their wares in your face as quickly as they can, so you don’t quite get a good look at anything shown but you still want it anyway. As adverts go it’s as simple as you can get, the basic message being “look at all the cool shit we sell, buy it you bastards”, but it’s the presentation that it gets very right – less a statement of purpose than a declaration of war. It looks like what you would see if you recorded an entire Christmas Day using a head mounted camera, sped up the footage to fit the whole thing into 60 seconds and then sat down to watch it after drinking an entire bottle of Night Nurse – a riotous and slightly trippy series of bizarre scenes of multiple children jumping on multiple beds, a family sitting on a house-sized sofa, Morecambe and Wise and, for some reason, a reference to the 80s avant-garde synthpop band Art of Noise. As the barrage of flashing images of nice looking food and frolicking people and loud, brash music ends, and the advert with it, there’s almost a quiet air of “there. Take that, John Lewis, and stick it right up your arses.”

Still got a fucking hashtag on it though.

Ah, John Lewis. Talking about John Lewis’ advert (useless hashtag: “#ManOnTheMoon”) is mandatory, since it’s a yearly event now on par with Christmas itself. This year’s is (surprise) another attempt to make people cry and, in their moment of weakness, buy expensive homewares – I give it three years until they simply edit their logo into The Pianist and go with that. Unfortunately for JL, this year’s offering isn’t very good at the whole mawkishness thing – in these post-Yewtree years, perhaps an advert revolving around an old man being shipped a device with which he can observe little girls through the windows of their houses from a distance is a bit inadvisable. In fairness, the advert is supposed to be a collaboration with Age UK to raise awareness of the plight of lonely elderly people, which would be alright if all the television showings hadn’t completely excised the bit at the end where it says this and therefore just makes it a rather stupid and tedious story, and a nakedly manipulative one at that. “Diminishing returns” springs to mind. So does “fucking hashtags”.

Easily the worst and most odious, however, is Tesco’s cringeworthy, unbearable shitblips with Ben Miller. Do you remember corporate-agent-of-Satan BT’s attempt at creating a lovable family in all of their adverts, which you could follow along and grow to love? Do you remember how it took approximately two looks at them to want to kill all of them? Tesco have managed to outdo this, somehow, by making a family so hateful they could have made them more likeable by showing them being enthusiastic participants at the Nuremberg rally. Every single one is a supposedly-amusing but actually horrifying look into the world of three people who are about as relatable and filled with charm as Mr Blobby and are approximately twelve thousand times as annoying, especially the “kooky” teenager who appears to have some sort of mental disorder that makes him the most obnoxious pisswipe in the room at any given time. He’s shown sexually harassing a random customer and being confused as to whether lightbulbs are gluten free, which at least gives me the cheering thought of him being forced to eat one. On the plus side, Tesco have deigned not to include a hashtag, possibly aware that the only cogent comment anyone could make on this bollocks is “I’m going to Sainsbury’s”.

In fact the ones I’ve appreciated most of all have been those from Waitrose, Morrisons and Iceland, because they’re simple, low budget affairs. They’re not trying to make me laugh, cry or (in the case of M&S) feel like I’ve just sat through a nuclear war. They just show me a nice looking Christmas pudding, tell me what it is, show their logos and fuck off and leave me in peace. Iceland have even had the good sense to fuck off Peter Andre for a bit; because of this my entire Christmas food supply is now coming from there, with the added bonus that it will cost me about £2 in total and I’ll get at least 50 grams of free added salt. Get in.