The morning after

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We are still picking up the emotional pieces in the immediate morning after the disaster before. Dazed, confused, barely able to appreciate the long, insurmountable task ahead. But if, amid the actual chaos, you want to understand why the election result is such a grim and terrible thing, check the stock market.

The “markets”, that celestial sphere of imagination and speculation where no actual goods are sold, reacted with nervousness before the election results were in, as the “markets” feared a Labour victory. They need not have worried.

Cameron’s smarmy victory calmed them all down and offered a happy finish, and all the bad guys got rich. The luxury property market for foreign investors; the large corporations who employ slave labour; the arms dealers; the private rail companies; the foreign-owned utility companies. See how many times you let out a triumphant cheer and effect an air-punch when you learn that Sports Direct, which has 15,000 of its employees on zero-hours contracts, added £95m to its share price overnight; the private rail operator Stagecoach added £140m to its stock market value as the “threat” of putting the East Coast mainline back into public ownership vanished; Babcock International and BAE Systems, war hawkers by appointment, celebrated the disappearance of the “threat” to Trident with rising share prices to the tune of £460m added to Babcock’s; shares in estate agents Savills, the London-based Foxtons and “upmarket” housebuilders Berkeley jumped upwards; surprisingly British-owned energy giant Centrica went up 8%; RBS and Lloyds added £5.5bn to their combined value (the Tories plan to sell their shares in both) and “cheers” were heard on the trading floor of the City when Ed Balls lost his seat (mind you, I cheered too, for different reasons); perhaps most galling of all, useless outsourcing companies G4S and Serco all benefited on the stock market as the Tories are gung-ho for farming out more public services to private companies, who will fuck them up; oh, and Ladbrokes, those arm’s-length destroyers of men, added £96m, as Milband had been planning to cut down on the number of fixed-odd “betting terminals” allowed in betting shops – and a continued Tory Britain will guarantee more people desperate for money, the bookies’ best customers.

That’s who’s going to benefit from five more years of this. If you’re happy about that, fine. Actually, no, if you’re happy about that, fuck off.

See you at the bottom.

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I warn you not to fall ill

ElectionDCpumped Tomorrow in this country we vote in a general election. I hope you’re going to vote. You should vote. Even Russell Brand has done a U-turn on this issue. And unless you have literally not a single thought or care for anyone but yourself and your immediate family, then you must not vote for this man.

There is a high probability that this man, who is called David Cameron, hates you. He wouldn’t care if you died – in fact, if you are not a “wealth creator”, he’d probably prefer it if you did die, as you are probably in the way and more likely to put pressure upon the state. He hates the state. He can see no better way of running a “society” than on the lines of a private company. He does not care about you unless you are already well off, or would be prepared to do anything to become well off (including voting for him – or at least, for his party, as he’s already confirmed that he’s not even going to stick around for the full five years).

He is not interested in politics, simply in feathering his own nest and the nests of those whose nests are already also pretty well feathered, but could always do with some extra feathers. In the far-off days when the Labour party meant something but found itself unelectable in the new Thatcherite climate of self-interest (except in places like Wales and Scotland), Neil Kinnock made a speech on 7 June 1983 in Bridgend, Glamorgan, that belatedly touched me deep inside and shaped my adult politics. Speaking two days before the election, he said:

If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday, I warn you not to be ordinary. I warn you not to be young. I warn you not to fall ill. I warn you not to get old.

It still rings true today, except perhaps even more so. Whether you vote Labour, or Green, or Plaid/SNP (depending on geography), or for an independent, you will be voting against David Cameron and another five years of destruction: of the state, of communities, of the NHS, of the BBC, of the ordinary, the young, the ill and the old. I am neither young, nor ill, nor old, but I’m voting for more than just me and my immediate family.

I am pumped up, actually. The Tories do not believe in compassion, or a safety net, or assistance, or local services, or local amenities, or loving thy neighbour. They would happily see a library close if it wasn’t profitable. The only useful public sector to the Tories is one that’s shriveled and decimated. They would privatise the health service on Friday if they thought they could get away with it. (They’ve already privatised the Royal Mail, something Thatcher wouldn’t even do.) They hate the arts. They hate humanities, and humanity. We know they’re going to cut £12bn from the welfare bill. We don’t know how, but we know they will. They’ve actually announced it. I can’t think of a single pound of that bill that isn’t going to make someone’s life less worth living. Possibly someone ordinary, young, ill or old.

He bangs on about the “chaos” of Labour, because it’s a soundbite and it works on a very basic level, which is the only level politicians like to work on (the deficit, immigration, jobs, waiting times). Such binary thinking is unquestioningly broadcast by the print media it owns until people in vox pops on the news actually start to parrot stuff about “getting the deficit down” without knowing what the deficit is, or why it needs to be “got down”. These same people think Nicola Sturgeon is the most dangerous woman in Britain. And that Labour caused the global financial crisis of 2008, which they didn’t, but were too timid to say so after Gordon Brown, because he had – it’s true – failed to regulate the banks and a cloud of embarassment fell upon the centre-left. The people who read the Sun and the Mail and the Telegraph think Labour will bring “chaos”. But I see “chaos” now. It’s going to be messy on Friday and in the weeks after, but let’s just do what it takes to keep this man out.

He is Margaret Thatcher without the ideology. Margaret Thatcher without the effort. Margaret Thatcher without the struggle. I did warn you.

Weapon of choice

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Let’s get this out of the way first: I am against chemical weapons. This really ought not need stating. Who, but a psychopath, would be for chemical weapons? However, after posting the following comment on Twitter the day before yesterday, it was implied by a join-the-dots minority that if I don’t believe it’s right for “Western allies” to bomb Syria, then I must approve of the use of the enzyme inhibitor Sarin on Syrians.

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As you can hopefully see, I was merely trying to expose what I see as the hypocrisy of American outrage at what John Kerry called Assad’s “cowardly” use of chemical weapons. (Anything outside of hand-to-hand combat might be defined as “cowardly”, but that’s a semantic quibble.) To take the moral high ground and start handing down judgements, you’d better be able to defend your position. While 300 or so re-Tweeted my statement wholesale (including Chuck D, one of the more surreal episodes in my life, I’ll be honest), plenty took exception to the link I was making, arguing that Agent Orange was a “biological” weapon only intended to destroy 13% of the vegetation in another country; that the comparison was worthless as it happened over 40 years ago; and that to hand-wring about US warmongering was to let Bashar al-Assad off the hook and – by implication – do a thumbs-up gesture to chemical attacks.

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Hey, let’s be lenient to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and say, OK, they only intended to decimate the trees, plants and crops by dropping millions of gallons of Monsanto and Dow herbicide mixed with jet fuel on rural South Vietnam between 1962 and 1971, and that they only truly accidentally killed and maimed hundreds of thousands, and caused untold thousands of future birth defects. (Not to mention health problems from leukemia to lymphoma caused in US service personnel exposed to the same toxins – almost 40,000 disability claims were made against the US government as a result.) This was chemical warfare, pure and simple; it’s just that such defoliants were not subsequently banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty of 1993, so they must be alright. An arbitrary “green line” is thus drawn.

To be honest, whenever the UK gets globally trigger-happy – and David Cameron and his Bullingdon pals seem currently gearing up for a whizzo “arm’s-length” adventure that is pretty much guaranteed not to dirty their hands – I get nervous. Like them, I lash out, but with words only. I grasp for historical comparisons and chinks in armour, and Twitter is a fast-typed medium. It’s the only one I’ve got when I have no time to blog.

At times of war, I become a cartoon lefty with a CND badge. I make no apology for that. Although the defoliation of Vietnam happened in my lifetime, it did not cross my young radar at the time. When Thatcher sent a thousand to their deaths in the South Atlantic in 1982, I felt that deep sense of powerless dread for the first time, and I’ve felt it again, all too regularly and under various administrations, ever since – none more deeply than during the first Gulf War, and none more profoundly than on the eve of the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, against which I marched twice, in disbelief that a Labour Prime Minister would form a human centipede with George W Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfield.

I’m getting that dread now. I can feel it in my chest. It’s hard enough coping with a recession, without war to worry about. And the Middle East is not a region to be messed with, as “the West” knows only too vividly, still wiping its bloodied hands after two previous suicide missions. If “the West” fires missiles at Syria, it risks making matters worse, not better. Assad seems unlikely to back down; he’s clearly a bit of a chinless nutcase with entitlement issues, whose monarchical authority has been under siege since the Arab Spring (remember that?), and whose big-stick regime is propped up by Iran, Russia and China. If we bomb his people, that’s great PR for him in his nice suit with his nice wife.

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The position of “the West” seems to be: shooting your own citizens and blowing them up is acceptable – as is arresting, detaining and torturing them under “emergency” powers, which the Assad family has been doing since 1963 when it seized power and set up its own quasi-royal line for perpetuity – but using chemical weapons on them is unacceptable. (We’ve heard talk of this “red line” that has been crossed, which is in effect a legal one, not a moral one in any case. This is why I made my original comment about US “outrage”. Why wasn’t the Obama administration equally “outraged” when Assad’s troops first fired on Syrian citizens in July 2011? As for the UK and France; we helped carve up the Middle East in the first place in our colonial pomp, but for some reason can’t resist donning the flak jacket and going back to knock on its door and run away.)

I understand that the world in which we’re living exists within a precarious framework of legality in terms of warfare, and the “rules of engagement” are our shared figleaf of decency while trying to kill each other. Conventions are agreed. Treaties are signed. The UN sits and debates. Motions are passed. Threats are made. Counter threats are made back. The Hague is constantly cited. Despots are supposed to be brought to justice, but are often just shot, or left to their own people to dispose of. If Assad has broken the law – a law which almost randomly precludes regimes from spraying certain listed chemicals on its own people as that’s, like, really out of order – then arrest him and put him in the dock. I am anti-chemical weapons, but then, I am the warmonger’s worst nightmare, as I am also generally anti-weapons. The multi-billion dollar defence industry would collapse if I had my dream.

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It struck me yesterday, as we joined hands across the world to celebrate those stirring words of Dr. Martin Luther King on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 – at a time, significantly, when many young black men were fighting and dying in South East Asia for a country that was two years away from enshrining their right to vote – that the world has not progressed that much in the intervening half-century in terms of morality and consistency. We have better technology, and can kill and maim from even greater distances, remotely and cleanly, but we still kill and maim. In the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Americans were prepared to march for causes they believed in (a quarter of a million heard Dr. King’s entreaty for “freedom to ring”). Obama may be the first black president – a democratic achievement beyond King’s wildest dreams – but he is currently gunning to gun civilians down. If he had his way – and if he sidesteps the UN, he is no better than Bush – the Xbox missiles would be raining down tomorrow. Tomorrow!

I haven’t voted Labour since 1997. If Ed Milliband allows this country to bomb another one, I will not vote for them again, any time soon. It is with mixed feelings that I note the number of Tory MPs currently ranging against Cameron’s bellicose wishes – around 70? – as I did not expect to agree with any of those bastards on anything. But to vote “no” to military action is not to vote “yes” to chemical weapons. Remember that. A man called “Greg” Tweeted me and Chuck D overnight – asking us how we’d like our families to be sprayed with Sarin. That showed us, right? For we would not like our families to be sprayed with Sarin. Fuck me, while there are people out there using that logic, we’re in trouble.

Let commonsense ring.

And stop shooting the badgers.

An open letter to Ed

Dear Ed Miliband,

I used to be a Labour loyalist. With my leftwing convictions hardened by inspiring conversations with my late grandfather, who was a shop steward, a book about the Labour movement by Jeremy Seabrook called What Went Wrong? and the persuasive, intelligent propaganda of Red Wedge, Billy Bragg and the NME, I voted Labour in 1987, and again in 1992 and 1997. I had been a Labour party member in 1992, but cancelled my subscription in a fit of self-destructive pique after the failure of a robust Neil Kinnock to unseat the deeply unimpressive John Major, leading to the Tories’ fourth consecutive victory.

Like many Labour supporters, I saw Tony Blair as a new start – despite the tragic circumstances that led to his election as party leader – and fell for his matey charm and modernising dynamism. When he took New Labour to power in 1997, I was as euphoric as anybody else who’d considered Labour unelectable. The scales soon fell from my eyes.

First there was Bernie Ecclestone. Then tuition fees. And then 9/11, which saw Blair line up right behind the most dangerous American President in history, ready and willing to send British troops to wherever Bush ordered them to be sent. The invasion of Iraq was the flashpoint for a lot of disillusioned, betrayed Labour supporters. To march that day against the war and be roundly ignored was a cosmic slap in the face, not least because Blair had already struck a deal behind the scenes, later verified by the New York Times in the form of a memo written by Blair adviser David Manning after a meeting on January 31, 2003, in which Bush names the date, already set.

Who was this monster we had elected only six years before? New Labour, new danger indeed. When Blair was re-elected in 2005, it wasn’t a victory for New Labour, but a defeat for the dilapidated Tories, who had replaced the unpopular Iain Duncan-Smith with the even less popular and frankly creepy Michael Howard. With a majority reduced over four years from 167 seats to 66, this was Labour exposed as a mess, with the lowest percentage of the popular vote of any majority government in British history.

Tony Blair finally stood down in 2007, a total liability. Gordon Brown, who presided over the economy when times were good, turned out to have booby-trapped it, and the bubble soon burst, taking any shred of Brownite credibility with it, despite his ascension. It was almost as if Blair had waited until the very worst moment to hand the reins of power over to his hated rival. It was a depressing period. I cannot lie: by the time of the 2010 election, I wanted to see the back of Labour. I actively wanted them out of power. I didn’t want the Tories in, and I knew the Liberals couldn’t do it, and when they formed a Coalition, I didn’t know what to think. I hated the fact that my support of Labour had curdled to active opposition, but an optimistic part of me hoped that maybe out of power they would re-group and come back without the “New.”

You, Ed Miliband, beat your brother to the leadership. You were handed the moral high ground on a silver platter. Cameron’s Tories were worse than Thatcher’s. Out of touch, preening, self-serving, a bit thick, lacking in empathy and life experience, and seemingly without passion or ideology, driven only by greed and self-interest. Their shock-doctrine response to the recession was to kick the poor when they were down and punish them for ever claiming a benefit, or taking a part-time job, or having a baby, or being disabled, or getting old. Hey, it was a recession – a recession inherited from Labour! Their hands were tied! If ever there was a time for the new Labour leader to emerge, like a nerd in a Marvel comic, as a superhero, it was now.

I don’t know if you are up to the job, Ed. I sort of need you to be. But something toxic is happening, and you seem to be letting it happen: the return of Tony Blair to Labour politics.

We learn that he is to take his most active part in the Labour party since retiring from frontline politics, contributing ideas and experience to your policy review, “giving advice on the Olympic legacy” and in particular how to “maximise both its economic and its sporting legacies”. Your words. Because Blair was in charge when London won the Olympic bid in 2005, you are now using this to paper over all the ill he caused at the very same time (not least firing up terrorism at home through his gung-ho colonial actions abroad, as evidenced by the horror of the day after we got the Olympic bid that July).

Do you really want Blair to reinforce your chances of election? Have you forgotten what he did to Labour? If I were you, I wouldn’t have even shared a platform with the money-grabbing egotist at the fundraising event at the Emirates stadium (organised by Alastair Campbell, as if to underline its old boys’ reunion party vibe). You were a Brownite, Ed. Sucking up to Blair is not “uniting the tribes,” it’s taking his side. It’s signing up to his “legacy”, which will always be that of a warmonger, not as a Middle East envoy or jet-setting author and after-dinner speaker. (To quote his vocal critic at the Leveson inquiry: “This man should be arrested for war crimes.” Exit, pursued by a bear.)

You praised him publicly, feeding his voracious ego, calling the Olympic bid “one of the many proud achievements of the governments that Tony led”, adding the following proud achievements: “saving the NHS, rebuilding our schools and cutting crime”. Saving the NHS? He pulled its guts out before handing it to the Tories to finish off. He and Brown put “public” and “private” together and made sure that the public sector ended up with a massive bill from the private sector for all its new hospitals and schools. Blair only rebuilt our schools by handing private contractors juicy contracts that the taxpayer would pay for, no matter how high they spiralled.

You again, Ed: “I want to thank Tony for what he did for our party and for our country. And I know how committed he is to Labour winning next time.” Yes, only if he can take some of the glory. Labour will not win next time if you allow Tony Blair anywhere near a platform you’re on.

Your spin doctors have been quick to warn us not to “over-interpret” Blair’s prodigal return to Labour. I call it plain old “interpret”: he’s back, and he’s going to win the next election for you. Except he isn’t. I can’t be the only person who would be physically unable to place a cross next to a party with Tony Blair in it.

Londoners were lucky enough to have Blair “guest-edit” an edition of the London Evening Standard last month. This was clearly the first stepping stone in his return to prominence. He told the paper, “What I can do is contribute to the debate, whether it is Europe or the Arab spring or areas to do with economy and public service reform here.” Of the financial crisis, he said, “My view is that you still, in order to win from the Labour perspective, have to have a strong alliance with business as well as the unions … I understand that some people think the financial crisis has altered everything. And the mood is against this. Personally I don’t think that’s correct.”

Keep your friends close, Mr Miliband, and your enemies at arm’s length. Ideally, keep them outside, in the car park. Tony Blair is not your friend. You do the maths.

A concerned voter

London’s rubbish

It’s not. London’s Rubbish was the title of a spoof of London’s Burning Stuart Maconie and I wrote for our first radio series in 1993, which – and this is pretty clever – instead of the fire brigade centred around the capital’s refuse collectors. (We were, historians will note, a year ahead of Common As Muck, William Ivory’s BBC comedy drama about binmen.) Although I was a permanent resident of London in 1993, Stuart lived in Birmingham – as indeed he still does – and had a more circumspect relationship with our glorious capital than I. Having spent my first 19 years in Northampton – a town I have a strong emotional bond with, and where the bulk of my family still reside – I fell for London within six months of emigrating here in 1984. I have never wished to live anywhere else. Except for Galway.

The important thing to note, on the day that the results of London’s Mayoral and Assembly elections come in, is that when I arrived here, in the mid-80s, all fired up by the left-wing politics of the NME (which provided me with a much-needed political education after indoctrination in Tory selfishness from my Dad), Ken Livingstone ran the place. Under siege from Margaret Thatcher’s ideological hatred of “Loony Left” policy, for which he was a lightning rod, and the public sector in general, his GLC was both a beacon and a blot on the landscape. It would be disbanded within two years after the Local Government Act of 1985. (ILEA, the Inner London Education Authority, which controlled the art school I went to, was also on the block, dissolved in 1990. Its decision to amalgamate the four London art schools in 1985 lit the spark under my first student demo, which took us to County Hall, Ken’s home, with our hand-painted placards.)

Because of the turbulent times, and a conversion to Labour that led me to joining the party in time for the 1987 General Election, I have only positive memories of “Red Ken.” He introduced “Fares Fair”, which reduced public transport costs through subsidy, proposed a statue of Nelson Mandela, and – whatever your feelings on the issue – was bold enough to conduct a dialogue with Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams in 1982, which was exactly what New Labour did some years later but was considered in poor taste at the time. The right-wing press was full of nonsense about the “Loony Left” and it would have been easy to get sucked into it, but my memory of Ken is one of admiration and a feeling that he was on the side of ordinary Londoners.

By the time of the 2000 Mayoral elections, Ken was out-manoeuvred by the Blair government and forced to stand against the Labour candidate, Frank Dobson. Again, I cheered him on, being well past the honeymoon period with Blairism and gung-ho for anyone who’d stand up to Blair. I voted for him. That he won seemed a moral victory as well as one for common sense. (He’d run London before; he was well qualified to do it again.) By the time of the 2004 Mayoral elections, he was readmitted to Labour, and I voted Green. Same again in 2008, by which time, unfortunately, a reinvigorated Conservative party had shrewdly fielded lovable TV buffoon Boris Johnson, and he swept Ken aside.

I would say, as a London resident, that the biggest issue is always public transport. Ken froze bus fares when he first got in, and introduced the Oyster swipe card to reduce queuing and delay on buses and trains, which definitely had the desired effect. It meant that travellers without an Oyster had to pay more per journey, which was seen as a disadvantage for visitors. I was against Oyster for years, mainly because I didn’t want to be electronically tagged every time I used a bus or Tube, but I gave in, as it was so financially advantageous to pay this way.

Ken introduced the infamous “bendy buses”, which because of their length were easy to sneak onto, wreaked articulated havoc on other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, and some of them caught on fire, and these have since been scrapped by Boris. But Ken was always against the Public Private Partnership as a way of regenerating the Underground, a point on which he and I agreed. He was also powerless to stop it going through, and, I think, unprincipled enough to still rejoin Labour when they courted him. Fares, especially for those commuting in from the outer reaches of Greater London, have shot up under Boris. Whether Ken could have stopped this, I don’t know.

The results are not yet in. Because of the make-up of the Assembly, and proportional representation, it’s actually worth voting Green, as you can actually place them in power. There are two Greens on the Assembly as I type. This pleases me. So, pretty much physically unable to put a cross next to “Labour” yet (the scars of betrayal are still weeping), I voted for Jenny Jones, the admirable Green candidate. You get a second choice, so I was forced to put a cross next to Ken, as a protest vote against Boris. (I almost bumped into him on the campaign trail in 2008 in a high street in South West London, and a schoolboy shouted out, as he passed, “Boris Johnson’s got a big fat head.” I admired this boy for his astute political observation – and the fact that he didn’t swear.)

I like going out to vote. I like clutching a polling card. I find it a novelty to walk into a church hall, which is not something I would normally do. I like to think I was one of the first to cast my vote yesterday morning, popping in at 7.10am on my way to get the paper. I don’t imagine my first- or second-choice votes really made a difference, as Londoners seem more invested in the cult of Boris (and perhaps a historical distaste for “Red Ken”) than in the party he stands for – a party who are surely close to being discredited forever nationally? I have a lot of time for Liberal candidate Brian Paddick, but the Liberal Democrats are as dead to me as the Tories.

I think what I like about elections is that they focus your mind. It’s all very well shouting at the news and throwing your newspaper down in disgust, but on a daily basis, you are powerless to do anything more meaningful about it. On election day, you get a cross, or four crosses in the case of yesterday’s.

London is a huge city with massive problems. We’re currently looking down the barrel, literally, of the Olympics, which promise to bring the place to a halt for weeks. (There are helpful posters up all over London advising us to leave for work earlier or later, or stay at home, or walk to work, or cycle, or if that’s not feasible just go and fuck ourselves, during the games.) It takes three hours to get into the place by airport. There are missiles mounted on a tower block in East London. The local paper, the London Evening Standard, is now almost totally given over to propaganda about the Olympics, and has been a parish magazine for Boris, who thinks that earning £250,000 a year for a newspaper column is “peanuts”.

As I publish this, he’s in the lead. I am delighted to see that Jenny Jones is ahead of Brian Paddick, as that feels like a slap in the face for the party that seems happy to act as David Cameron’s houseboy.

Whoever gets in, London will continue to be dirty, overcrowded, dangerous and slow, and the Tube will continue to fall to bits. But I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Except Galway.