Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

9/11 – Ten Years On

In Opinion on September 11, 2011 at 12:45 PM

Tuesday the 11th of September 2001 started off as just any ordinary working day, personally and for the vast majority of the rest of the world, notably, that ever-numinous idea – the ‘Western World’. By 2 pm GMT, though, there had been a mammoth, irreversible tectonic shift in the global political landscape. I speak, of course, of the 9/11 attacks. Ten years on from that fateful day, I take a look at the wider effect the attacks have had on politics and relationships between peoples.

I remember returning home from school that day and putting on MTV to see some nubile, young girls gyrating to their over-produced schlock, a vainglorious bastard essentially masturbating over his swimming pool, home cinema and expensive array of cars. Or some such shit. But even the shallow self-absorption of MTV recognised the enormity of the harrowing events taking place, which were  undeniably more real than the fluff it was peddling, with bulletins at the bottom of the screen and once or twice I think even interrupting some bint dancing to show footage of the attacks. At this stage in my life (just gone 13), I was far too interested in collecting Pokemon and gawping at Britney Spears to be interested in such ‘boring’ matters as current affairs and politics. But even I could gather that this was kind of state of the nation stuff going down, if not state of the world, if you will, which it has turned out to be.

As explained, I was distinctly indifferent to and uninformed about serious matters before the 9/11 attacks, and for a good while after too. I can, however, say with a fair deal of confidence that relations between different nations, religions, races and classes – so inherently ambiguous and debatable – were significantly less strained than they are now. Arguably, this seeming relative peace and co-operation, in fact, merely stemmed from people viewing their countries and communities as distinct entities, with causes and effects nearly exclusively self-contained.

9/11 was a dagger to the heart of this. Relations between countries and religions were always problematic (and have always been), but 9/11, so intensely broadcasted, blogged and brandished across front pages, thrust pressing issues inexorably into mainstream consciousness and the forefronts of peoples’ minds. The attacks were such an unavoidably ‘real’ attack on, if not actual home turf, then at least metaphorical home turf, as the twin towers represented, or at least came torepresent, all that the Western World stood for (this is largely why I focus on Western politics here). Therefore, the anger, and for some – pain, was very visceral, even personal. No longer could many people live happily in their particular communities, largely unknowing and uncaring to issues elsewhere in the world. Their issues have increasingly become our issues, and our issues have increasingly become their issues. Not that I realised this at the time, but my first hearing of 9/11 was extremely apposite in a way; woken up to the brutal realities of this world from my cocoon of escapist MTV. And, indeed, fitting in the sense I was part of what caused the attacks; the supposedly vacuous, materialist, Western ‘ills’ of pop culture in part fuelling the attackers’ deep contempt of the Western World, particularly America.

The political climate we inhabit today is one in which we are increasingly perceiving issues as global ones. Although many – typically on the left – believe we still do not do this enough, we now consider impacts of actions and potential actions not just to the organisations or countries directly affected but to those other companies and countries indirectly affected. Where once we saw countries as somewhat absolute, independent, self-affecting entities, we are coming to see the earth as inter-connected, fragile whole subject to very complex webs of causes and effects, with the former view merely caused by rather arbitrary division. This is largely because of the incidence of pressing global issues not directly related to 9/11 – such as global warming and the recent global recession – but the suggestion that this has somewhat been caused by the increased global awareness engendered by 9/11 is a persuasive one.

Simmering, or just non-existent, social tensions have now erupted like a hitherto dormant volcano. In the Western World, the latter half of the 20th century history – and before and elsewhere, of course – included many harsh, brittle, authoritarian political systems and environments: General Franco’s regime in Spain; the Cold War waged between an America ruled by Nixon and others  and Soviet Russia; and Thatcher’s premiership of Britain. By the end of the century, though, it seemed that the Western World was making significant – or at least well-intentioned – steps towards peace and prosperity. 9/11 has proved a dagger to the heart of this collective effort to build unified societies and a unified world.

The outrage was such that many began to distrust or disdain Muslims (often through rash misconceptions of the religion), and many people called for or employed reactionary measures, such as far harsher policy on immigration and even a vengeful war on a nebulousthem.  Whatever the actual reasons for the Iraq War, George Bush (or, perhaps, rather his spin doctors) ruthlessly played on this fragile, EDGY political environment. 9/11 confirmed in the head’s of those in Bush’s premiership that they were in a ‘war on terror’. This zeitgeist was then ruthlessly manipulated by the US goverment, with the conflict painted as largely black (again, the nebulous them) and white (U…S…A!!), over political, religious and ethical lines. Republican spin-machine masquerading as news channel, Fox News, was instrumental in this. And, indeed, is to this day, ‘terror’ having become a buzzword, if you will, largely due to Roger Ailes and his reactionary hold of so much of the American media, most notably Fox News.

This spin, even ‘propaganda’, proved a vital basis upon which the U.S. could justify the invasion of Iraq (and, to an extent, in other countries, too). The idea that there was a sizeable, significant enemy played very well into the illiberal, patriotic/nationalistic forthrightness of many Americans, particularly in the Mid-West where Christian Manichean thought prevails. Generally speaking, while the aggressive imperialism of the ‘war on terror’ succeeded in unifying such people against a common enemy, it had the opposite effect on many through alienating them from the supposedly short-sighted, power- (and oil-)hungry, war-mongers.

Since the turn of the century, extreme far-right groups, notable for their tough laws on immigration or ‘racist’ views depending on your opinion, have prospered across the West. Neofascist groups have gained momentum in both Germany and Britain, whilst right-wing politics has become, ashamedly, more commonplace, with groups such as the BNP (GB), Front Nationale (France) and the Tea Party (USA) having found sympathisers. That this rise is happening in the wake of 9/11 (and incidents such as the 7/7 bombings) is no coincidence. Leaders of these parties/movements (/‘angry mobs’?) passionately proffer the idea that theyunjustly come over to their country and take their jobs, yet stubbornly refuse to buy into their culture (the desired culture is always homogenous) and just generally don’t give back to the country which has freelygiven them so much. Particularly in areas where racial violence is rife, some groups/strands thereof even imply or explicitly call for the physical protection their country and communities (the consensus in such cases is usually that these groups mix up cause and effect). Carefully selected local news and isolated tragedies such as 9/11 and 7/7 bombings are now increasingly seen to support this purported image of most foreigners being ungratefully insular, even thieves, especially so when conveyed to the public with rousing rhetoric by party leaders. Though such groups are still on the fringes of political thought, they are definitely gaining support and sympathy.

It is still hard to conclusively gauge how much and how irrevocably the world has changed in the wake of 9/11 – that will be left to history and posterity – because we are still dealing with so much of the direct and indirect fallout of the catastrophic, world-changing event. But what is clear is that is that the world has changed. A lot. Not even Paul the Psychic octopus could predict what the next ten years have in store; but what we can be sure of is that whatever this decade (and a bit) does throw up will be of vital importance…

Joel Durston

Question Time for Wenger

In Sport on September 5, 2011 at 12:45 PM

The clouds gathering over Mr Wenger’s head grew heavier and a distinct shade darker after his Arsenal’s 8-2 loss to Manchester United. For it really was just avisit; Arsenal’s only real contribution was to permit Manchester United to play some attractive, attacking football, in what appeared to be a very one-sided training game of ‘attack v defence’. The criticism often levelled at Arsenal of being mere boys – talented but fragile compared to the men of other supposed peers – has never been more appropriate than at Old Trafford last Sunday. Almost to a man, Arsenal were mere awe-struck spectators, playing with the fear and timidity of a team with just one point from two very winnable games and starlets leaving the seemingly sinking ship, rather than the fearless abandon the same situation could engender; rabbits in Ashley Young’s luminescent headlights; lambs to the slaughter of Rooney’s ruthless rapier.

As pointed out by Paul Merson – who in all his anger seemed to be at great pains to stop himself exploding in the Sky Sports studio – the team’s respective managers will have gone into the two week international break in very different positions. With the major summer signings bedding in well (De Gea somewhat excepted), a 100% record and, even, an audacious silencing of the ‘noisy neighbours’ by with the 6-goal winning margin, Ferguson could well be off sunning himself in an exotic holiday resort. The mental image is a strange and not particularly appetising one, but pretty accurate. Wenger, on the other hand, has been in the office, assessing the damage of Sunday’s humiliating defeat and searching for last-minute deals which could save Arsenal’s wretched start the season.

Wenger’s parsimony in the transfer market has largely been both the making and the recent undoing of his tenure in North-West London. In the halcyon early years, which saw their zenith in the ‘Invincibles’ team of 2003/04, his economical approach saw him bring in Vieira, Henry, Bergkamp, Petit, Overmars and (Kolo) Toure for a combined fee of just over £30 million. Throughout his fourteen years in charge, his forward thinking commitment to beautiful football on a (relative) budget has been unwavering. Remember, this is the man largely responsible for changing Arsenal from long-ball merchants who specialised in 1-0 victories, to exponents of technical, skilful, flowing, even, ‘total’ football. Also, Wenger has been largely responsible for changing top-flight footballers from pie-eating alcoholics (small exaggeration) to calorie-counting tee-totallers (smaller exaggeration). He thus rightly gained a reputation as one greatest managers ever, having being ranked 8th in a Four Four Two list.

With all these achievements, expectations were inevitably set higher than the already high bar. However, his incredible (former?) glories have also, quite rightly, bought Wenger a lot of time in the 5 (basically) largely trophy-less years up until this day. This idea that it is almost blasphemous to call for Wenger’s exit was evident in Sky Sports’ coverage of the game. Straight after the game, at the height of his ire, Merson claimed that serious questions needed to be asked about Wenger, before appearing to back-track after the ad break in stating that he didn’t mean to imply for a minute that Wenger should go. Also, Ferguson, once seemingly hostile to the Frenchman, outright denied Geoff Shreeves’ suggestion that Wenger may have to go. He pointed out what a great manager Wenger is, all that he has done for the club and how many players Arsenal were missing.

It is true that Arsenal were missing key players: Vermaelen, Sagna and Wilshere through injury and Song and Gervinho through suspension. Arsenal’s starting eleven at Old Trafford was significantly inferior on paper and even more woefully inferior on grass.  Jenkinson up against Young, Koscielny marking Rooney (or doing a vague impression of marking), Traore vs Nani – the list goes on…

With such mismatches of talent, there were no great expectations, indeed Paddy Power even said they would refund all losing bets if Arsenal won. Yet, somehow, these saplings even fell below zero expectation.  For a club with serious -though quickly diminishing – title aspirations, this excuse just isn’t good enough. Injuries and suspensions are part and parcel of football, which managers must make provision for. This excuse also hides the fact that Manchester United have are also started the season without at least 6 key players: Ferdinand, Vidic, Fabio, Fletcher, Valencia and Carrick. It’s fair to say that they have covered their absence fairly well so far.

Not only do United have far more squad depth at the moment, they also have far more quality in their best eleven. The fact that is hard to say what their ‘best XI’ is attests to their quality. The litmus test is to consider what current Arsenal players would make it into an Arsenal/Manchester United XI. With Fabregas and Nasri gone, Van Persie is probably the only player that would, apart from Wilshere to gain experience, perhaps.

The other common excuse is that of Arsenal players’ prodigious promise for their tender years. Completely besides the fact that this has been used- in conjunction with Wenger’s deified status- to excuse near misses and relative mediocrity for about five years, it is misleading because the average age of the Manchester United team on Sunday was, like Arsenal, just 23. Unlike Arsenal sometimes, Ferguson has long struck a pitch-perfect balance between youth and experience.

The classic case of this was how he bled in the prodigal ‘Class of 91’ (Scholes, Giggs, Beckham, the Neville brothers etc.) in the mid nineties. He waited patiently until he was sure they were ready for the top-flight, then when he was certain– and only when-  gave them their chance. What’s more, he earned a healthy profit in doing so, with Ince, Kanchelskis and others being sold to make way for Becks and co., in decisions that baffled many at the time, but proved visionary in hindsight. Mr. Hansen will know this only too well, having had to eat his infamous line: “you don’t win anything with kids.”

Recently, they seem to have managed just fine the transition from the last remnants of the class of ’91 to the youth of Welbeck, Cleverley, Fabio, Rafael, Jones, Smalling and others. This is largely due to Ferguson’s savvy use of the loan system – a tactic that Wenger might be well advised to employ more effectively. For example, last season, whilst the already world-class talent of Van Der Sar, Giggs, Rooney et. al. were grinding out results to knock Liverpool “off their f***ing perch”, the nascent talent of their successors was on exhibit on loan in the lower echelons of the Premiership (Welbeck and Cleverley) or being carefully dipped into the cut-throat world of the top 4/5/6. Conversely, Arsenal youngsters were left pretty much to their own devices. After late February, Arsenal crashed out of the F.A. Cup and the Champions League, almost literally handed later-relegated Birmingham the Carling Cup Final and faded out of contention in the league.

The thing is, by general consensus, Wenger only really has himself to blame for his current woes. His thriftiness in the transfer market was once admirably economical, but now seems positively Scrooge-like. Many recent transfers have proved flops and Wenger’s previously faultless radar for spotting talent has also failed a fair bit recently. Koscielny, Squillaci, Eboue, Bendtner, Djourou, Traore and others have all proved transfer flops or misfirings of the extensive scouting system. He has brought in Mikael Arteta who may prove a useful addition, as well as German Per Mertesacker and Brazillian Santos, but these somewhat pale in comparison to the astuteness and financial muscle showed by other top Premiership clubs in the transfer market recently.

If these signings do not prove good and Wenger remains relatively tight in the transfer market, serious questions need to be asked of Wenger’s position at the club. He has undoubtedly experienced great success at the club, but it is time that people stopped giving him so much time because of this. It is strange place when Premiership football has got to where new managers can be sacked almost on presumption of inadequacy (Hughton at Newcastle, Hughes at Manchester City and others), while Wenger is given inordinate amounts of forgiveness. Maybe, just maybe, Arsenal’s fans and board should amicably part ways with Wenger, in acknowledgement of great times that were had, but also, that the relationship is no longer working.

Joel Durston

The Case Against Morrissey

In Opinion on September 4, 2011 at 11:53 PM

Before anyone accuses me of absolute ‘heresy’ (more later), I do like some of The Smiths’ songs; the breezy ‘Charming Man’, the urgency of ‘How Soon is Now?’ and the romance of ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’. As such, most of what I write is directed as Morrissey and his solo output. To me, the vast majority of his music post-Smiths canon is mediocre indie music, vastly overrated due to the almost godly reputation accrued during the Smiths. Admittedly, Morrissey’s music largely bypassed me for much of my life as I have either been too unborn, young or engrossed in chart R&B/dance to hear them at the time. Thus, I perhaps judge it more harshly for ‘coming second’ to music he probably actually influenced. Similarly, I don’t worship at the feet of The Libertines or The Strokes like many do. This hasn’t stopped me loving other much-loved and imitated oldies though (The Beatles, Michael Jackson and Led Zeppelin to name a few).

So, detached from any particular cultural or personal significance (no to mention the technical genius of Johnny Marr), Morrissey’s music just seems drab. It’s asking a lot for fans to put themselves in this position, but do try it. For me, the majority his solo oeuvre is just depressing; the lyrics and their delivery self-important, posturing and fatally narcissistic and the instrumentation plodding, unvaried, mid-tempo fare. His trademark unrhythmic, out-of-kilter singing, as if he’s largely too good to get embroiled in piffling considerations such as melodies and harmonies, also irks. In a word, I think it’s dirge. As hinted at, if he were to make music now devoid of his reputation and influence (hypothethical, I know), I feel he would be far more labelled as ‘mediocre’ and ‘generic’. Even some of his fans claimed that many albums were ‘plagued’ by a Morrissey ‘uni-song’, as fan and critic Douglas Coupland put it.

Many a ‘Mozzaholic’ (‘Mozzie’? ‘Moz’turbator’?) will claim that this is ‘common misinterpretation’ of Mozza’s work (note not a different interpretation, but just plain wrong). Many claim his oeuvre in fact encompasses the whole gamut of human emotion and/or there is actually a lot of hope in his despair, especially in the sharing of this with fans who believe to be or are in similar situations. All I really hear is moaning though. See the song titles: People Are the Same Everywhere, Life is a Pigsty, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, Everyday is Like Sunday, We Hate it When our Friends Become Successful, You Have Killed Me and Satan Rejected My Soul. Viewing the lyrics plain, there is some arguable optimism. Though, for me, even this is strangled out by the drab instrumentation, Morrissey’s humourless delivery and his seemingly pathological desire to see dark in any light. Take To Me You Are a Work of Art, in which Mozza sees someone who can “soothe” him in a world that “makes (him) puke”: “To me you are a work of art, And I would give you my heart, But that’s if I had one”. At times, it appears he actively cultivates this ‘moaning’ image and sound (I picture him trying overcome writer’s block with exhortations to “EMOTE!”).

The most striking example of this is How Could Anybody Possibly Know How I Feel.   (if you are short on time, for this paragraph, read: ‘Morrissey needs to lighten up and enjoy his great life’). I suppose he’s technically not wrong with the title as his extreme emotional landscape certainly makes him unique, arguably ‘emotionally incontinent’, but it’s the spiteful, self-importance that gets me. He claims a woman “must be insane” for telling him she loved him and “their judgement is crazy” for saying “they respect him”. He claims to dislike having his “face dragged in fifteen miles of shit”, but his pithy spurning of close one’s love and respect personally leaves little sympathy and even suggests a kind of artistic sell-flagellation. Also, in Panic, he calls for the burning down of the disco and the hanging of the DJ for merely playing music that says nothing about to him about his life. Bit much, no? Morrissey’s music doesn’t speak to me, but I’m not calling for his head. Now I understand artistic licence and know these are just two songs, but I feel they’re symptomatic of his oeuvre of (generally) self-absorbed misery, which personally runs contrary to his moneyed and adored status. I recognise these are not the be all and end all for personal happiness, but I have little sympathy for those who intentionally reject the love/support of others and outcast themselves in personal woes, as I feel Morrissey does.

An argument that a Mozzaholic may advance at this point is that people such as myself must then just prefer asinine, vacuous, ‘untaxing’ music, often by definition of disliking Morrissey. I do like my fair share of music typically fitting this bill, but also much which is commonly labelled ‘depressing’/’taxing’, such as Arcade Fire, Radiohead and Muse. So I don’t think it’s fair to tar to with this brush.

While I think, when read properly, his comments on immigration causing a loss of British identity aren’t ‘racist’ as they are often derided, I do disagree with many of his personal views, or at least the way he expresses them. Most notably his forthright views on animal rights, which are frequently expressed with great insensitivity. There’s his belief in violent activism, his labelling of the Chinese as a ‘subspecies’ for their animal treatment and most recently his comments on the Norway deaths being ‘nothing’ compared to the daily actions of McDonalds and ‘Kentucky Fried Shit’. I don’t really agree with his views, but my main issue with them is the insensitivity. I am not denying his right to say it, but personally it show him in a very unfavourable light that he is willing to essentially hijack a tragedy which still burns very raw to advance his own ethical views.

I’m also not saying that you have to share similar interests or personality traits in order to like someone’s music, because for me that’s the point of music; to figuratively take you to different places, emotional or conceptual. Since you’re kind of inviting the band/artists into your ear, though, I do think they need to be the kind of people you’d happily invite to a party. A bit of a weird analogy, granted, but it works for all the bands/artists I like that I’ve it applied to (from the impression I get of them). I wouldn’t want Morrissey at my party because I feel that he’d just moan about his problems, yet downright scorn any consolatory, empathetic gestures, and then hog the dance floor for a few songs with his trademark swinging arms.

So, it’s fair to say that I don’t care much for Morrissey as a singer, nor much as a person from the impression I get. But this makes him no different from other bands/artists that I hate. What differentiates my disdain for Mozza is his, or probably more accurately many of his fans’, humourless objection to any criticism in what is a particularly free medium in a democratic society. This is what I was angrily met with in the aforementioned argument when I had the…’temerity’, I suppose to criticise Morrissey. With some, it’s not just the disparate views, but the very fact that they are expressed;’ blasphemy’ essentially. The most ridiculous and baffling with me was the assertion that my dislike of Morrissey necessarily meant ‘I did not love music’. This is analogous to telling your mate that he does not really love that girl because she is ‘ugly’ and ‘nasty’. The person saying it may never love that girl or understand why their friend does, but, in an ironically Morrissey-esque way, they’re his emotions so he can’t be wrong. This vicious objection is a trait typical of Morrissey fandom which I find second only to that other ‘muso’ cliché – ‘the Bob Dylan fan’.  It’s not just a personal thing either because, doing some research, I stumbled on a whole academic paper devoted to examining the phenomenon: ‘Morrissey-solo or Morrissey “So Low”? Exploring the Rhetoric of Hate in Defense of the One They Love’. This claims in its synopsis: ‘the suggestion that the admired (Morrissey) might be humanly fallible is met with vitriol’.

This annoys me far more as a general philosophical point. One of the most important principles for prosperous societies is democracy; founded upon oft-quoted (summarised) Voltaire quote: “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Yes, at least on the surface, slagging off a musician on the internet is far less important than this, but I don’t see why the same principles shouldn’t be applied.

This is especially due to the idea held by myself and many others that music is a very subjective art; nothing like mathematics where 2+2 absolutely equals 4. I think music can’t be viewed in a vacuum whereby it is judged purely on its technical form (quality of the playing, lyrics etc); for me it is so much about the political, emotional context in which it was written and received and the connection it has with the listeners. This means that while I think the majority of Morrissey’s solo output is ‘dull’, I don’t have what I see as the intellectual/cultural arrogance to say those who interpret it differently necessarily have defective ears. There is a huge diversity of musical tastes in the world. Is everyone who interprets a song differently or disagrees with another objectively wrong and not a music lover?! I don’t think so.

This assertion doesn’t solely work for artists I dislike either. I generally like Kanye West, but was irked by his disclaimer on his new video stating ‘it shall not be interpreted as derogatory to any peoples in any way’. My mental reaction to this was: ’well, Kanye, it’s art which you have put out there for public consumption, so I will interpret how I wish, thank you very much’ (for the record, I didn’t actually find it too derogatory). Also, I love Arcade Fire and Radiohead, but can understand the ‘whiny, self-indulgent’ tag; like the Pipettes and much ‘pop’, but understand the ‘shallow’ tag; love The Arctic Monkeys, but understand the ‘generic’ tag etc. etc.  There are problems with this subjectivist/relativist view, but I think it’s generally far more plausible than the opposite, at least when it comes to music.

Essentially, I think Morrissey’s music is dull and the man dislikable, but what I object more to is the idea held by some fans (directly or indirectly) that I have no right to say this. I do and I just have.

Joel Durston

Blair’s Hot Air

In Opinion on September 1, 2011 at 12:42 AM

It seems post-riots Britain is caught up in a morass of vilification, trolling, finger-pointing, theorising, soap-box preaching and chin-stroking pondering. But fear not, readers, for Tony Blair is here to save us; to steer us onto the one true path of political enlightenment! At least that was how he came across reading his thoughts as reported by the Observer.  So, here follows a critique of his ideas, hopefully showing how it’s all a load of ol’ codswallop. *Disclaimer: this article is written with reference to the aforementioned article, which I trust reported Blair’s thoughts accurately and, more importantly, comprehensively. I recognise that this could in theory be a misappropriation of Blair’s views. In which case, some criticisms may not apply.

Blair’s main point is that elevating the riots ‘into a highfalutin wail about a Britain that has lost its way morally will depress ourselves unnecessarily, trash our reputation abroad, and worst of all, miss the chance to deal with the problem in the only way that will work.’ He claims we have all been embroiled in ‘muddle-headed analysis’, with both the left and the right ‘missing the point’. Upon reading this, I was expecting some interesting new take on the riots to be advanced, despite of course knowing of politicians’ penchant for superficial PR, particularly Blair and his party’s.

He claims that the ‘left says they’re victims of social deprivation, the right says they (the rioters) need to take personal responsibility for their actions’. Although of course generalised, this is clear and concise summary of the reaction to the riots. Though, with Blair claiming he doesn’t see any value in either assessment, or any other opinion in the political jungle, one is left wondering what the fuck he does think caused them….

First (as his views are recorded), he claims that ‘the police need to know they have strong support’ from the politicians and the public. I’m not quite sure what real point there is in saying this. Maybe he’s after a biscuit for being a good little politician. Of course the police need support – the only people who would even possibly deny this are the fuckwits rioting in the first place. It’s not just tautological, though; it’s just plain facile. What good is mere abstract ‘support’, like that shown by the million-strong FACEBOOK GROUP, really going to do the address the perennial issue of (supposed) insufficient police resources/funding (especially in light of proposed 20% funding cuts)…

So, I read on, in hope of getting to the kind of holy grail he gives the impression he is in possession of. The next reason given is that Britain has a group of people who are beyond the pale that we need to address, like “virtually all developed nations,” he states: “the big cause is the group of alienated, disaffected youth who are outside the social mainstream and who live in a culture at odds with any canons of proper behaviour.’’ It’s phrased well, I’ll give him that, but it’s not saying anything that hasn’t been said before. It’s patently fucking obvious that people who smash windows, burn public property and loot shops, often without remorse too, are ‘outside the social mainstream’. I’m actually surprised, given how slippery and wishy-washy the rest of the speech is, that he didn’t feel the need to clarify that the rioters weren’t all ‘youths’. No closer to finding an elusive root cause then…

He declares: ‘the truth is that many of these people are from families that are profoundly dysfunctional, operating on completely different terms from the rest of society, either middle class or poor.’ Firstly, arguably thisis a form social deprivation. If it is, this makes Blair a hypocrite for decrying the left’s claims that the riots were primarily caused by social deprivation. More importantly, these descriptions of morality and family are just that: descriptions – not the enlightened analysis of causes and solutions Blair so obviously believes them to be. The right and the left assert that the rioters are outside the mainstream and, broadly speaking, that this is largely down due dysfunctional families. Therefore, all Blair is doing is saying what everyone else is, however articulately he is doing it.

I’m sure you, fine reader, will know this, but Blair doesn’t seem to, so I will spell it out; what people are primarily disagreeing on is the causes of rebel youths, dysfunctional families and other such issues. The lefty reaction to the riots is – generally speaking – that the rioting was wrong, but the riots must be understood in a context of disaffection, stemming from myriad factors such as social dysfunction, social deprivation and the negative consequences of materialism and laissez-faire capitalism. Then there is a scale of how much this supposed social context is an accurate depiction of reality and how much it can excuse the actions. This goes literally right up to the general reaction of The Daily Mail, typified by this article. In it, Max Hastings affirms that the youth (note, not just the rioters) are all completelypersonally responsible, being the morally bankrupt, feral beasts that they are, and they thus need to be hung, drawn and quartered (ok, so I made that last bit up, but can you honestly tell me it didn’t fit well…). Oh, wouldn’t you look at that; there’s those two ideas that Blair thought couldn’t explain the riots: ‘social deprivation’ and ‘personal responsibility’. This question of how much the rioters are culprits and how much they are victims is the question of profound importance, because it is central to policy on matters of inequality and what punishment should be meted out to convicted rioters.

Blair furthers that neither a ‘conventional social programme’ nor ‘tougher penalties’ will help the rioters. Quite why he thinks they point blank won’t is left a mystery, though, begging the question: ‘what the fuck would you do then, Ton’?! Personally, there’s much to say for both ideas, especially in harmony. Tough penalties may be seen to bring justice (especially for those personally affected), cause the rioters to realise their wrongs and deter other criminality. Whereas social programmes such as benefits, workforce schemes, youth projects and rehabilitation schemes may significantly decrease crime in the longer term. For example, by re-integrating ex-convicts into society and creating a positive sense of community (or, to the cynical, just ‘keeping people off the streets’). Funny, Tony saying this kind of thing won’t work because New Labour were pretty hot on this as I remember. Some right-wing commentators have even blamed such Labour policies for leading to the riots, in the supposed culture of dependency engendered and/or the budget deficit accrued through supposedly reckless spending. It would have been nice if Blair had told us how to tangibly tackle the issues, rather than preach to the choir about the problems (and glibly slam suggested solutions). One would have thought his tenure would have led him to the see the superficiality of ‘armchair politicking’, if you will. Obviously not.

Apparently, this is all a ‘deeply specific problem’ to which we need ‘a deeply specific solution. (This apparent specificity is completely contradicted by Blair’s statement that this is a ‘phenomenon of the late 20th century…(found) in virtually every developed nation… (to which Labour’s solution about 7 years ago was) intervention family-by-family, a reform of criminal justice around antisocial behaviour, organised crime, persistent offenders and gangs.’) Surely, every political problem is specific. With talk of rubber bullets and water cannons, it’s hardly as if Cameron thinks he is merely reacting to a standard incident of shoplifting. What’s more, if the problem really was uniquely specific then crime in the areas where the rioters live would not be as disproportionately high as it is. Isn’t it just typical crime, arguably stemming from typical social problems, sparked by a gangland killing and exacerbated by technologically-driven opportunism?

As for the solution itself, it’s good to see Blair finally offered one, but again it’s not really any different to what is being put forward or criticised by many. It is also arguably unfeasible. The ideas of a presumably left-leaning reform of the criminal justice system are being proposed by many on the left in light of the riots. Intervention by family, essentially, already occurs with counsellors and social workers, who are often criticised for being too controlling and draconian. And, completely besides all the often ‘nanny state’ objections, increasing such provision would cost a bomb.

For me, all these comments amount to is political weaseling; using nice language and clever rhetoric to manouevre himself into a position whereby he can exonerate his leadership and criticise everyone else. Yet, he says very little of actual substance, and when he does it is ironically similar to those who he is denouncing. Not only is Blair saying nothing, though, he seems to paint himself as the one enlightened political pariah, in possession of the supreme knowledge and courage to speak absolute political truths. How else to explain his insistence that there is only one way that will work, his repeated avowals that all politicians ‘miss the point’ and his refusal to truly understand their views. It can only serve to make him appear superior, but ironically, because he offers no decent alternative, it leads to himself doing the finger-pointing he so objects to.

As for his apparent remarkable bravery, he claims his comments on social dysfunction are ‘a hard thing to say’. Personally, it’s not a very contentious thing to say that many of the rioters came from dysfunctional families. If he thinks it is, then maybe he needs to grow some balls to go against the sometimes ridiculous political correctness in this country that his leadership largely fostered.

Personally most irksome, however, is Blair’s admission that his supposedly rash response to the murder of James Bulger (he talked of a ‘moral breakdown’) was ‘good politics, but bad policy’. It is not the action or admission itself that grates, but his idea that politics and policy are somehow two distinct entities. From this one can only assume that he stands by the sentiment, but not the fact that he said it. This intentional divorce of what one believes politically from what one does politically renders his time at No. 10, far more than hitherto thought, mere insincere spin. Maybe politics is, depressingly, mostly spin, but if you’re an important politician you have to be quite a tool to imply this. We (thankfully) live in a democracy whereby politicians can espouse what they want. Some of the time anyway. Is it really too much to ask that they actually believe what they espouse?!

I can imagine Blair being one of those prats on Dragons’ Den who fails to get investment, even if the product’s good, because he just pisses off the Dragons by side-stepping and white-lying around all their questions. Coupled with unbelievably vague views on the Riots in general, one wonders if Blair is in his mind playing a kind of Politics version of the Sims computer game, making facile, insincere proclamations to appeal to ‘dumb automatons’ in order to up his friendshipsintelligence stats and politics level. At least those ‘idiots’ have the heart to say what they truly believe without pithy declarations of the supposed difficulty of expressing it.

I realise ‘criticising the criticiser’ could come across as hypocritical because I don’t know all the causes and solutions by any means, but the difference is that I don’t profess to, much less profess this is a serious political article. What I do know, though, is that Blair is spouting a load of hot air.

Joel Durston