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Archive for November, 2014|Monthly archive page

Why aren’t more people going Green with anger?

In Uncategorized on November 28, 2014 at 3:57 PM

The Scottish independence debate prompted numerous claims from the left of the Scots actually having a chance to decide their own future. This isn’t a new complaint – many groups, Occupy and the People’s Assembly among others, have been posing it, especially since the economic collapse.

I think there is a large aspect of contradiction in all this championing of ‘democracy’ when, like it or not, the Conservatives did get more votes than any other party in the last election, and by a non-negligible amount (7%). Yet I feel there is some merit to the arguments, partly because I read the Guardian and half-swallow its politics, but mostly because polling shows that people in the UK, when separated from party-political allegiances at least, actually mostly favour public ownership of the NHS, energy companies, Royal Mail and railway companies – only the former of which is actually, to generalise, under public ownership (‘state’ ownership, which tends to have more negative connotations, if you prefer). And because polls during this government have shown widespread rejection of austerity, sometimes by margins of about two to one, along with support for reducing inequality even if it cuts overall wealth(However, one should be wary of reading too much into these economic surveys, as recent polling shows that, despite significant cuts, 65% did not think the quality of council provision was falling, and of course there’s age-old political adage of people wanting lower taxes and more public spending…)

But I’m not here to preach either way. Merely to suggest – given there is such a mood where the newly political Russell Brand is not universally laughed off as some kind of ridiculous Private Eye satire come true – that people stop complaining about a lack of ‘political voice’ when they have a perfectly good outlet for it – the Green Party. Because despite passionate grassroots campaigning and support for the – popular – policies described above, they gained a measly 1% of the vote in the last election and that has only risen to around 2-5% (and even that may be benefiting from the ‘Shy Tory’ factor).

This is not meant as a sarcastic suggestion. I suggest it because, while I wouldn’t vote for the Green Party, I do respect them and think they are decent people and because their lack of support is so inimical to voters’ stated complaints and preferences. Anyone who complains about the self-serving mendacity or beige professionalism of current politicians would be well-served to remember that Caroline Lucas – the Green Party’s first and only MP, in Brighton got arrested for standing up to fracking on environmental grounds, by causing a roadblock and stubbornly resisting moving. If people want more more nationalisation and less austerity, why has the major political shift during this government, from former Tory and Labour voters, been to a party headed up by a former commodities trader which believes in “free trade, lower taxes, personal freedom and responsibility” and that “the state in Britain has become too large, too expensive and too dominant over civil society”? It’s the political equivalent of turkeys voting for Christmas…or at least it would seem that way. (A big caveat is that it’s a little selective to choose those measures of polling. Recent public attitude aligned far less well with the (typical) left on welfare, immigration and the EU, but still I think support for the Green Party is surprisingly low).

The most obvious reason for the lack of Green support is the – understandable – idea that they will just be a wasted vote for left-leaning voters, letting the Tories in by depriving Labour of a vote. But a lot of people are becoming with Labour now so this idea should hold less water. A big factor in must be an image problem for the Greens; tarnished by the idea it’s a single-issue party full of ‘self-righteous humanities graduates’. The latter is arguable, but the former isn’t, whatever you think of the policies themselves (the party name is probably a double-edged sword in this respect).

It also doesn’t get a great rap in the press. Unsurprisingly The Sun, Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph aren’t too enamoured to them or their motives, but more left-leaning papers such as the Guardian, surprisingly, and the Daily Mirror don’t give them much attention. Owen Jones and Polly Toynbee, among others, comment a lot that Labour is not strong enough in its left-wing convictions, which is arguable, but to me it begs the question: ‘why not consider going Green?’ In his most recent article, leftier-than-thou Seumas Milne describes an “insurgent campaign” (for a Yes vote but “present among Labour voters across Britain”), “fuelled by a rejection of austerity, privatisation, illegal wars and the grip of the Westminster elite”. But when he considers who will represent such people in England, he doesn’t even mention the Green Party, instead discussing Ukip and the Tories (critically).

That’s even for left-wing people who go in for the idea of conventional game of politics. Russell Brand has a lot to answer for here, since (somehow) a fair number of people actually think there’s something in his idea of not voting as a positive and viable means to change, so surely he’s shooting his cause in the foot by telling people not to vote. And therefore probably hurting the Green Party, which his views are closely aligned to.

I think represents Brand represents a growing trend in individualistic politics; selfie politics, if you will, whereby people are happy to be promote their politics but not so much to put them to use in the difficulty world complete with sometimes grubby compromises that is party politics, where their views would actually be of some use in our democratic system. Herein lies, I think, a couple of paradoxes of the left. There are big strains of individualism and libertarianism within left-wing movements sitting alongside ideas of co-operation and ‘solidarity’. The ideas aren’t necessarily irreconcilable, but they present issues. Is it ‘co-operation’ for rich people to be made to pay half or more of their income to the state, or ‘coercion’? How tolerant should we be of what could equally be called intolerance or ‘freely expressed opinion’? Is religion liberating or oppressive? And so on and so forth. Also, there has been an interesting coalition of much of the left and the libertarian right on state control over data in the wake of the Snowden revelations.

Part of the problem is that the idea of protest and progress against the establishment is pretty fundamental to the left, so what to do when the left becomes the establishment? Looking across the Channel, in just over two years as President, leader of the Socialist Party Francois Hollande has seen its approval rating drop as low 13%, amid a stagnating economy and unemployment doubling in 2013 to just over 11%.

A look at the Green Party’s record in power in Brighton since 2011 may also be instructive for this. Their running of the city has seen a vote of no confidence, ‘rebel’ Greens trying to oust council leader Jason Kitcat, rubbish going uncollected during a six-week dispute with refuse workers (in which Mr Kitcat was trying to push through changes while his deputy was protesting them with binmen, supported by MP Caroline Lucas) and widespread opposition to a proposed 4.75% council tax rise. To be sure, these will be not dissimilar to some problems in councils up and down the UK. But what makes it different is that the gritty realities of governance are much further removed from the Greens than the other three parties – and there are some measures they have introduced which, like them or not, only they could have introduced. For example, the (abandoned) plan to implement ‘meat-free Mondays’ at the council and removing Mr and Mrs from official council forms.

Also telling is the internet, which is riven with passionate debates about what you can and can’t say about certain minorities (‘intersectionality’ basically); throwaway lines about Brazilian transexuals or how men tend to be more campaigning in their atheism; if men can and should be feminists; what privilege people have and if/how much that disqualifies them from certain debates…and so on and so on. To be blunt, identity politics, with groups making various claims to their position on the victimhood hierarchy. It’s all certainly too much for ‘militant feminist’ Julie Bindel. This is harsh, because there is inequality and unfairness in the world that merits discussion, but in truth the idea of too many exponents of this kind of politics in serious power scares me.

I’ve somewhat argued against the thing I was suggesting. But still, if you think the UK is in the grip of a suffocating ‘neo-liberal consensus’, why not put your morals where your mouth is and vote Green, warts and all…

Could El Clasico be no more?!

In Sport on November 27, 2014 at 1:10 PM

Big change may be soon be afoot in Spanish football. The country’s football league chief, Javier Tebas, claimed, ahead of the possibility of an independence referendum for Catalonia on November 9, that Barcelona would not be allowed to compete in La Liga if the region broke away from Spain. He claims legislation only allows one non-Spanish territory to compete in the Spanish league system, and this is currently occupied by Andorra FC, who play in the sixth tier of Spanish football.

Today, president of Catalonia’s regional government Artur Mas has called off the official referendum in reaction to Madrid’s continued insistence that it would be unconstitutional – but he has said there will be an unofficial vote, organised by volunteers, in which Catalans can express their views. So although there is no imminent separation, Madrid’s refusal to sanction a referendum could serve only to inflame already significant separatist fervour. Polls show Catalans’ voting intentions are split roughly down the middle, with much depending on what type of agreement is being offered, but a strong majority – about 80% – want a say on their future. Indeed, David Cameron is regarded as something of a hero in the region for granting this to Scotland, even though many Catalans do not generally share his political views.

There is certainly a lot of momentum behind it. On September 11, the National Day of Catalonia, 1.8 million people brought Barcelona to a standstill by forming a dramatic ‘V’ shape along two main roads in the striking red and yellow of the Catalan flag – the ‘V’ standing for “votar” (voting) and “voluntat” (will). And president of Catalonia’s regional government, Artur Mas, had seemed willing to defy Madrid, talking of his commitment “to call, to organise and hold a referendum and let the Catalan people vote”.

Real Madrid and Barcelona have long mirrored, if not actively shaped, Spain’s complex political and social history. Real Madrid, traditionally at least, is the ‘regime team’ – it translates as Royal Madrid. It was General Franco’s team, and he used to use them as a means of advertising the regime’s supposed successes and the ‘Spanish way’. The notion of “la furia” (the fury), football based on character as opposed to ability, became prominent. After they won the Copa Latina in 1955, all squad members were granted the Imperial Order of the Yoke and Arrows, and president Santiago Bernabeu had the Grand Cross of Civil Merit bestowed upon him a year later. Barcelona, meanwhile, sees itself as an expression of Catalan identity – hence the slogan ‘Mes que un club’ (more than a club) – and the underdog fighting a corrupt system.

One major flashpoint in the rivalry dates back to the semi-final of the Generalissimo Cup in 1943, four years into General Franco’s dictatorship. Barcelona travelled with a 3-0 lead from the first leg to Madrid, where they received a surprise guest in their changing room before kick off – Franco’s director of state security. He told the players: “Do not forget that some of you are only playing because of the generosity of the regime that has forgiven you for your lack of patriotism.” They lost the match 11-1. Thereafter, Franco suppressed political opponents, the Catalan language (and others) and cultural activities, for many rendering football the best, or even only, outlet for expression of opposition and Catalan identity. Still, some Spanish people (or ‘people in Spain’?) are relatively indifferent to the fate of the national team, if not actively wishing them to lose. Indeed, many have claimed regional divisions in the Spanish national team have accounted for its relative lack of success until recent years – though these doubts are probably overplayed.

Most players have kept their thoughts on the issue of independence to themselves – a wise move considering the criticism received by Andy Murray for declaring support for an independent Scotland in a not dissimilar situation. And indeed received by Gerard Piqué for merely supporting Catalans’ right to have a referendum: “I defend the rights of the Catalan people to express themselves. It’s important they are allowed to do so. That’s another thing though, I’m happy to play for Spain. If they want me to keep playing, then that’s what I’ll do. I don’t know if people watch me through a magnifying glass. I express my opinions because I am a citizen as well as a footballer, if I feel like I have to say something, then I will. I don’t think it affects me as a footballer at all.” Xavi is another prominent player to have strongly advocated a referendum. In fact, there is already a Catalan national team which plays in unofficial friendlies. Quite a tasty line-up it has too, featuring as it does Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fabregas and (formerly) Victor Valdes and Xavi, all of whom won Euro 2012 with Spain.

Andy Mitten writes on ESPN that “if Catalonia were to join FIFA and UEFA independently of Spain, the assumption is they would have to form a separate football league too, as did the Balkan countries in the 1990s.” There are currently 10 professional teams in Catalonia, of which Espanyol are the only other team in the top flight. I don’t wish to ignore or belittle those teams, but I’ll focus on the impact separation could have on Barcelona because of their global reach. If Barca were to leave the La Liga (although any move might not be permanent), it would be a tectonic shift in the power structure of Spanish football – and also complicate how, indeed if, Barcelona would qualify for the Champions League. They and Real Madrid have dominated the league since the 2004-05 season, when they finished 15 and 19 points clear of nearest rival Villareal respectively. Since then, until Athletico Madrid’s surprise La Liga win last season, the average points gap between these two and the team in third have been, respectively, 12, 5, 12.5, 12.5, 26.5, 23, 34.5 and 17.5.

So basically, Spanish football for the past decade or so has been a joint fiefdom between the two; a duopoly that would be broken up under competition laws by the regulators in most industries. Obviously this is far from ideal from a fans’ perspective, as many games later on in the season are reduced to fairly pointless games between mid-table teams playing each other or teams going through the motions against one of the big two. But still, two is better than one, especially when the two teams are probably the greatest in world football at the moment (with the possible exception of Bayern Munich). And particularly over recent years El Clasico has accrued, for many, the mantle of biggest club game in world football – certainly the estimated viewing figures of around 400 million a match bear this out (Liverpool v Manchester United is widely regarded the other pretender to this title.) Former Real manager Jose Mourinho said: “When Madrid plays Barcelona, the world stops. It is definitely more than a normal league match.”

Just think of all the footballing majesty we would have missed without El Clasico – Bale’s stunning, running-through-the-technical-area, injury-time winner in April’s Copa del Rey final; Messi weaving through half of the Real team as if it were a school game rather than a Champions League semi-final; Ronaldinho being so good that even the Bernabeau gave him a standing ovation; this 4-3 thriller; the ‘birth of tiki-taka’ in a 6-2 Barcelona win at the Bernabeu. And this is not to mention the Messi v Ronaldo sub-plot or all the mind-games, melees and melodramatics, which, unappetising as they are, are bloody good entertainment, let’s be honest. Most notably the pig’s head thrown at Luis Figo by bitter Barcelona fans and basically any game involving Pepe, who you can always rely on to start to start a mass brawl due to his ability to act like a thug one minute and a petulant cry-baby the next.

All this is to say that – while I sympathise with Catalonians’ desire for independence and the associated grievances with the government and monarchy, and I of course think politics is more important than football – I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there a little voice inside my head thinking, similarly to a hysterical Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons, won’t somebody pleeeeease think of the football?!

Ed Miliband and ‘white van man’ Dan to star in TV show

In Satire on November 26, 2014 at 7:09 PM

Channel 4 has announced it will air ‘The Ed & Dan Show: It’s All About Respect’, a documentary with Ed Miliband and ‘white van man’ Dan, in the wake of last week’s controversy in the Rochester and Strood by-election.

Looking to reconnect with voters after last week’s embarrassing flag-gate saga, Labour are working with Channel 4 on the show, which will follow the Labour leader and Dan Ware as the Rochester resident goes about his day.

Ed Miliband said: “It’s a fantastic chance to connect with the type of salt of the earth voter quietly making this country tick, for whom I have such immense respect.”

And Labour’s press officer added: “This kind of ‘scripted reality’ television has worked brilliantly for shows such as The Only Way is Essex and Made in Chelsea.

“So hopefully, with a politician with such charisma as Ed Miliband and a colourful character like Dan, we can successfully transplant this idea into politics.”

It is understood Mr Ware agreed to do the show after being promised a lifetime supply of England flags and assorted merchandise embossed with the St George’s Cross, including a ‘hilarious’ small nodding-head Churchill Dog.

Based on a sneak preview of the first episode, it promises to be entertaining viewing.

In one scene, we see the pair watching football, and Miliband remarks: “I admire the Marxian ethos of football; how the collective must come together in purposeful pursuit of their end.”

“I was quite the player myself in my youth, you know,” he adds, with a guffaw.

Dan, far more interested in the game than Miliband’s musings, shouts at the TV: “MUGGY LITTLE DIVING CUNT! GO ON! NUT ‘IM, MATE!”

Miliband looks to the camera and says: “Ahhhh, the working man and his ribald sense of humour.”

Dan tears his eyes a way for a screen for a second and exclaims: “YOU WOT, MATE?! YOU CALLING ME BALD?! Shut your piehole, you mong.”

To which Miliband looks at the camera, awkward and scared – the kind of face he does so well.

Ed

Another scene shows Miliband asking Dan how to fly a flag out of the window. Dan shows him, he expresses his admiration at the “artistry” of the process and proceeds to try his hand with an EU flag.

“Herman Van Rompuy is showing Europe the way towards a progressive, socially democratic future, with peace and co-operation of all member states at its heart. It’s only fair I show my respect for that endeavour.”

Meanwhile, Dan looks as if he’s been asked to explain the theory of relativity.

Miliband, still struggling to bond and keen to impress upon Dan his supposed prolier-than-thou credentials, asks to tag along to some of Dan’s favourite night-time activities – cage-fighting and getting “blotto”.

At the cage-fighting, anyone watching the variety of expressions on Miliband would be watching a show in itself.

“urggh….eewwwww…….well, that’s…………..interesting,” he says at one point, grimacing about as much as the fighters. “The good news is that I’ve been assured by the owner that this is all above board, regulated and taxed.”

“I’m actually now considering about giving some business rates relief to MMA establishments due to the vital role they have in the community – giving virile men a safe space to express themselves.”

“That means less tax for you, Dan.” To which Dan grunts, not looking away from the action.

In the pub after with Dan and his mates, Miliband, copying others, orders a Guinness – “a proud, stout drink befitting these proud folk.”

Dan’s friends loudly encourage Miliband to “DOWN IT, WALLACE,” alluding to the Wallace from Wallace & Gromit. Gamely, he does – albeit in two minutes and about six attempts.

The episode ends with Miliband throwing up in the toilet, then looking up, very sweaty and fluestered, and flashing a thumbs up and a huge, gurning smile to the camera.

You’ve got to give it to him, though – with so many people complaining Westminster politicians are out of touch, at least Miliband’s trying…