Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Donald Trump set for shock turn in Game of Thrones

In Satire on June 17, 2015 at 4:19 PM

Donald Trump, who yesterday announced he is running for American president, could be set for a surprise role in Season 6 of Game of Thrones, according to a leaked email from the show’s production team.

The popular fantasy show has now caught up with George R.R. Martin’s novels, its source material, and is looking for fresh characters and stories for season 6, especially after the deaths of major characters in a bloodbath of a finale to season 5.

And it seems the American businessman, with his obsession with riches and power, is the perfect fit.

Game of Thrones creator, David Benioff, wrote: “Megalomaniacal, egotistical and paranoid – he’d fit right in in Westeros!

“I mean, immediately building a ‘great, great wall’ to stop Mexico “sending people who have lots of problems” to America…and then asking Mexico to foot the bill! Even Tywin Lannister would probably consider that a bit strong.

“He’s just said ‘our enemies are getting stronger’, that America is a third world country and that it needs a ‘truly great leader and we need a truly great leader now’.

What better place than Westeros to prove his ability to lead America to the ‘promised land’?!”

“Plus we’re running short on characters for season 6 now and viewers would love to see Trump beheaded. So it’s a win-win-win.”

Are they really all the same?!

In Opinion on February 19, 2015 at 12:25 AM

It’s almost a given that on any particular week on Question Time there will be at least one bright-eyed sixth former, spouting platitudes such as politicians are all the same. ‘OK, so the youth are disillusioned, so what?’ I hear you say. Plus ça change. There’s no doubt some truth in that, but I don’t think they/we (I’m 26 – I don’t know if I still qualify as ‘youth’) used to be so deified, especially when they offer such inanity. Now you can rely on the Question Time crowd to applaud such thought and Russell Brand has 9.14 million Facebook followers, a bestselling book called ‘Revolution’ and is treated as a serious political figure.

Such young people should not automatically be lauded. They are idiots. A lot of the time at least. Certainly, those who sympathise with or support the contradictory politics offered by movements like Anonymous. They complain that governments are “unconstitutional”, “oppressing” us by “infringing our civil liberties”, meaning “LIBERTY NO LONGER EXISTS”. Yet they also “PROTEST AGAINST AUSTERITY”. So they simultaneously despise the state but are furious that it is being taken away from them. That makes them either masochists or morons. Personally, they only serve to remind that it’s far easier to oppose something than to have made it in the first place.

Am I alone, at least among non-Daily Mail readers, in thinking the vapidness of many young people is about as much to blame as deficiencies in the political system for the fact just 24% of under-25s declare an interest in politics (according to a Hansard report). I don’t actually think this is necessarily a bad thing; people can live a perfectly moral and decent life just doing well by friends and family and watching the X-Factor or playing football. In fact, doing such arguably indicates a measure of contentment with one’s life and leisure time which allows this, and which is notably absent in less democratic countries riven by some hellish mix of corruption, civil war, crumbling infrastructure and disease. Frankly, the world, in many respects, could do with giving less of a shit – if this was the case there wouldn’t be nearly as much homophobia, slut-shaming or body hang-ups, for instance.

Granted, it’s arguable how much difference there is between the two/three main parties, the Conservatives, Labour and, to a lesser extent, the Lib Dems (I think there are fairly significant differences). But even if you believe there is little between them, these are far from the only viable parties to support, especially at the moment as traditional voting patterns collapse and fringe, or once-fringe, parties come to the fore. To the left of these parties, you have the Greens; who believe in just giving people money (the citizens’ income); a zero growth, sustainable economy; decriminalising weed and legalising membership of terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. (They actually share many views with Russell Brand, so I find it bizarre why he and like-minded people don’t vote for them.) And to what I will call the ‘right’ – with some caution because the definition, and indeed the party, is far from precise – is UKIP, a party whose only defining characteristics would seem to scepticism of immigration, hatred of the EU and angry righteousness.

Some of these ideas might make sense (though I’m sceptical), but truly there are some really quite radical ideas and characters on both sides, and neither have had significant power as yet, undermining the cliché that they are all the same. And there’s now a good chance that one such party could have a significant effect one way or another in the election – forming a coalition government or gaining more seats – or, as Armando Iannucci says, further on in the linked Question Time, this is the most open election in about 30 years. The Green Party have embraced crowdfunding to help them stand in 75% of constituencies (a 50% increase from the last election) and fringe parties like the National Health Action Party are standing in some places. Indeed, the changing dynamics are already having an effect as parties seek to stop voters, and MPs, moving elsewhere, notably to UKIP.

The times we live are painted by many – Russell Brand types on one side, Daily Telegraph readers (comments section) on the other and David Icke types on 17 different sides simultaneously – as some kind of Orwellian hell-hole people are condemned to live in, with an array of “manipulative” bete noires arraigned against them; The BBC, ‘eco warriors’, the ‘human rights judicial dictatorship’ and bankers/the “elite”/”the 1%”, to name but a few. But these are not the times we live in. Never has there been more information channels and never have they been easier to access (arguably too easy, as reputable newspapers across the world struggle to survive in a digital era). And, unsurprisingly, never have they been more accessed. Indeed, not just accessed – never have they been made more, by any old Tom, Dick or Harry, as testified by the fact we now have words which basically didn’t exist a decade or two ago (or at least not in the same context); tweeting, googling, Facebooking, Instagramming, blogging, vlogging and so forth. (If those verbs which I capitalised should be, they might not be ten years from now.)

Not only is there wide array of political parties and organisations, it’s never been easy to find out about them and push their message. So I don’t buy people espousing this one-sided rose-tinted idea of the dispossessed youth, wronged by the system and valiantly speaking truth to power with coruscating political analysis. Far more, I’m reminded of Winston Churchill’s line: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

Politicians DO listen to us…too much

In Opinion on February 6, 2014 at 12:25 PM

Politicians just don’t listen to us these days – so goes probably the common, and personally most inane, refrain in current UK politics. But is there actually much truth to it? I don’t think so. In fact, I think quite the opposite is true, and that that’s slightly dangerous as people can be idiots – as Mark Corrigan says, “People like Coldplay and voted for the Nazis. You can’t trust people, Jeremy!” (I like Coldplay too.)

Certainly in many respects, we have a political culture relentlessly focused on the ‘common man’ (speaking figuratively, not in gender terms). Twitter is used as a soundboard for political ideas. A few hundred complaints about a TV show to Ofcom from lily-livered Guardian readers and/or boring old Daily Mail-reading farts are taken seriously as ‘outrage’. TV news will often go to the person in the street, even if the story is really about nationwide or global economic changes average Joes, to be frank, do not know much about (I’d pretty much include myself in this). And newspapers very often report polls on what we think, to the extent Survation, YougGov and Ipsos MORI are almost the Holy Trinity of politics (this trend sometimes creates an echo chamber of rubbish, like when the Daily Express reports that its readers oppose immigration. People who constantly read that they are being ripped off and robbed off their identity by ‘alien parasites and fraudsters’ don’t like immigration – no shit!).

And then there’s the focus group, the idea which started in the corporate world but has become almost the holy grail of modern policymaking. Bill Clinton called members of focus groups the most powerful people in America. All the main UK parties have tech wizards in their teams to scrutinise every minute detail of demographic polling, and then feed this back to politicians so they can decide, say, if ‘striver’, ‘strong middle-class’ or ‘hard-working Britons’ is the best way to build support for their policies. The Thick of It is the best satire of this culture I’ve ever seen, exposing the huge disconnect between politicians’ stage-managed public and private personas. (The show is of course ostensibly fiction, but could well be what actually goes on behind the cameras. Indeed, many policies shown actually prefigure ones later announced by the real-life government, and, according to The Independent, Armando Iannucci’s team have been approached by real-life politicians looking for their political insights.) I should say none of this applies to UKIP, which is basically its main appeal.

As for the effects of all this, just look at politicians pronouncements, politicians routinely talk about their constituents they have spoken to and meld their lives into heartwarming stories to back up their policies (the link is an Owen Jones rant, but the left do this about as much as the right). Of course these will be selective, but I’d like to assume that politicians are not such complete shits that they regularly make such stories up.

And in the run up to next year’s election, with polling currently finely split between Labour and Conservatives, politicians are jumping over themselves to appeal to that mythical political haven, ‘the centre ground’. Indeed, to the extent they’re kind of stealing each other’s policies and become somewhat hard to define. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, after initially railing against austerity economically (and socially) but then finding trust in Conservatives running the economy was outpacing that of Labour, agreed to match the Coalition’s government’s “day to day spending totals” if elected. (Yet on Sunday, he told the Andrew Marr Show the last Labour government’s public spending was not to blame for the financial crisis and George Osborne choked off a recovery. Beats me.)

Also, after general support for the Coalition’s welfare changes, shadow welfare secretary Rachel Reeves has claimed Labour would be “tougher than the Tories” on benefits. Which is confusing for anyone who has listened to the party’s persistent criticism’s of the perceived harshness of Iain Duncan Smith’s policies. And, as polls show toughening views on immigration, Ed Miliband issued a significant mea culpa for Labour’s previously liberal policy on immigration.

But the Tories do it a lot too, for better or for worse. After calls of excessively high energy bills, notably due to green levies, David Cameron recently rolled them back. (Granted, traditionally the Tories have not always been supportive of higher taxation and combating global warming, but David Cameron did plan to be the “greenest government ever” – what appears in hindsight a superficial populist pledge). And in response to many people and Ed Miliband’s regular calls of a “cost of living crisis”, George Osborne has gone against the Tory tendency to leave business alone by calling for an above-inflation rise in the minimum wage to around £7.

Yet despite all this populism, hardly anyone actually likes or trusts politicians any more. For official evidence, look at official voter turnout rates; for anecdotal evidence, just look in any newspaper, pub or social media site.

Maybe we actually want to be led not followed. As resident right-wing crank Janet Daley says in The Telegraph, focus groups “are a denial of what politics is all about. They are an insidious reversal of the political process, turning leaders into followers.” These, and to a lesser extent polls, also pose inherent problems for policymaking, such as how questions are phrased, how one influential person can skew opinion and that they will inevitably, such is human nature, result in desire for more public spending yet lower taxes. On the other hand, Twitter lends itself to glib soundbites of opinion, often expressed by attention-seeking idiots – see, most recently, the reaction to Benefits Street. The most realistic way of canvassing opinion might be to go to the pub – but then who wants to have a pint with a politician (except Farage and Boris)?!

Maybe we don’t want to be listened to, or at least not if that same right extends to those we deem ‘fools’ or ‘fruitcakes’ – which in a democracy it does. This means, paradoxically, if we listened to everyone we have to both have raise and lower taxes; ban fossil fuels immediately and ignore climate change; and banish and burnish benefit claimants. Arguably, we already pay too much attention to people – stopping or delaying long-term energy and transport projects for any Tom, Dick and Harry annoyed about a bit more noise in their town or a few dozen frogs getting displaced. For it is human nature to be somewhat Nimbyish and short-termist, but these are not very useful qualities for running a country. The NHS, the welfare state, a national rail system were not very popular when first proposed, but are now (generally) regarded as essential. And, recently, the Olympics faced huge scepticism and controversy before turning out to be almost faultless success. Politics often requires a ‘fuck it, let’s do it approach’.

As the great (/mental) Kanye Wests puts it, “see there’s leaders, and there’s followers. But I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.”

A U-turn to End All U-turns?

In Satire on June 3, 2012 at 4:31 PM

With the news of the government’s most recent U-turn, regarding plans to set a maximum cap on philanthropic donations, David Cameron has sensationally announced a U-turn on U-turns, TAY can reveal.

The news follows several about-turns this week – on pasties, static caravans, secret trials evidence, and buzzard killing.  Mr Cameron said: “In tough times, like this, we need strong governance, and after careful consideration we have decided to deliver what we actually propose to…pinky promise.

“The thing is, it’s hard to rule a country when some of those in power are Draco Malfoys and some of them are Neville Longbottoms.

“For instance, just law week, we went on a team bonding exercise to see that clever fellow Ali G’s new motion picture, The Dictator, I believe it’s called.

“All the Lib Dems thought it was a shocking, dangerous piece of cinema which needed to be censored immediately; and all the Tories found it spot on and bloody hilarious, some backbenchers even thinking Admiral General Aladeen was a bit soft.”

The Prime Minister went on to speak of all the consequent troubles of deciding Coalition policy – citing House of Lords reform as a bone he threw Clegg to chew – and other tough decisions in Parliament such as what is a reasonable proportion of tea rounds for Nick to do.

He admitted that this discord had led to some policy proposals being decided by rock-paper-scissors (“proportionally weighted – we may often be considered bastards, us Conservatives, but to our grave we are fair bastards”).

And, in a potentially damning revelation for the government, he admitted the pasty tax was such a parliamentary hot potato that it was decided by a magic 8-ball.

“We were just at a complete and utter impasse,” he said. “It seemed the fairest way to leave it up to the political gods.”
“The first time it said ‘focus and ask again; and the second, ‘as I see it, yes’. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, then, I’m not quite sure what is!”

Tory Party members are quick to remind people that after proposals they carefully listened to the press and public and changed their mind in line with the consensus, but opposition leaders are claiming that this should not have needed to happen in the first place.

Labour leader, Ed Milliband, said: “These U-turns have once again shown David Cameron to be indecisive, misguided and, well, quite frankly, a wet blanket. This country, in times of harsh recession brought about by the nasty Tories and sycophantic Lib Dems, needs the strong, decisive leadership that a Labour government would present.”

However, when pressed on what his policy would be on the matters at hand, he merely proceeded to offer the same statement in about 17 different grammatical forms.

Meanwhile, newspapers editors were gleefully rubbing their hands at how much they could influence government.

The Sun’s Editor said: “It’s great; it’s like playing with little figures on a political version of Risk.

“Just chuck in a letter or two from Barry in Scunthorpe and Nora from Derby, ranting about how ‘rich’ Tories, who have ‘probably never ate a pasty in their life’, don’t understand the plight of the working man or woman, and they’re putty in your hands; slaves to your agenda.”

Adding, as he patted a little framed picture of David Cameron, “isn’t that right, Dave?!”

Joel Durston

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

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

What I Should Have Said to the Bitch on the Train

In Opinion, Satire on August 12, 2011 at 6:11 PM

It started as inauspiciously as any old train ticket inspection. Then the ticket inspector turned to the teenage girl on the table adjacent to mine expecting her to produce her ticket as any upstanding citizen would do (I refuse to call this person a ‘woman’ for reasons that will become apparent). She gave some tall story about ticket machines being down at Preston Park (a small, often unmanned station in North Brighton) and then not being able to get money out at Brighton station, where she had connected to this London and Bedford, because a new card was in the post or some such spiel. I was focusing more on my beloved Sudoku at this point, having heard people try on this kind of trick countless times. Hell, I even have myself twice. The first did happen to be a (mostly) an honest confusion, however seemingly contrived, and the second, I just plain lost my ticket on the train (the guy genuinely seemed to believe me, but alas had to fine me anyway). Essentially, hers was a story that, even if somehow true/honest, was far more likely to be judged dishonest by the unknowing ears of a train conductor. It certainly was to these ears.

So, nothing remarkable at this point; chancers/scumbags try and catch a (literal) free ride on trains all the time. Most though, at least have some sense of perspective/moral compass to face up to the penalty (often £20) when they roll the dice and lose, so to speak. Or, they have some cunning in their mischief, for example, the classic remarkably convenient trip to the toilet.

How this progressed was remarkable, though. Not believing the tall tale of the girl who was quickly descending in my estimation to the titular ‘Bitch’, the ticket inspector calmly, comprehensibly and professionally explained the flaws in Bitch’s story. Thus, she reasonably (even if wrongly) deemed Bitch’s actions criminal, and outlined the subsequent choices she had for the penalty. The preferable option was that Bitch pay some of the penalty there and then, but, of course, this was not possible because of the card situation – a situation the inspector, quite understandably, had a little trouble understanding and offering a solution to. This hesitation was, however, interpreted as severe linguistic and/or comprehension-based failings by Bitch, who attacked them mercilessly. At this point, my eyes and ears had pricked up a little as Bitch claimed; “if (the inspector) can’t speak English, then (she) shouldn’t be working on this train” (at a guess, the inspector was of Italian or Eastern European descent). The judgement was frankly ridiculous given that they had understood each other perfectly until now.

But oh no, it didn’t stop there. Bitch somehow thought that it was that a polite request to pay for a service which openly advertises the fact that it charges (and prosecutes those who don’t pay) was ‘disrespectful’ to her, and that, thus, the inspector should “GET OUT OF MY FACE”…”GET OUT OF MY FACE”. Bitch also inferred from the inspector’s supposedly poor command of the English language that she should “get out of the country” and “go home”, despite knowing absolutely none of this woman’s cultural/racial heritage. She also plucked a straw man from thin air to aggressively argue against, claiming; “I was born here. I was born in Southampton and have lived here all my life!”. (Bitch was – well is – of mixed race). Below is how a better artist than myself might depict her.

Artist's likely representation of Bitch

Artist's likely representation of Bitch

For a good five minutes, I quietly seethed (as I assumed others were), hoping that Bitch would relent . Alas, she didn’t. So, ashamed to share oxygen, let alone a country with Bitch, especially in light of the bitches and dickheads of the recent riots, I thought the proper thing to do was to stand up to her in support of the inspector. I said something like “look, this woman is just doing her job and, to be fair, your story does seem far-fetched”. When she asked “what it had to do with” me (“not wanting to disrespect” me, surprisingly), I offered a vague, unconsidered suggestion that I did so because I was angered that it was people with a similar mindset who have caused ‘all this mess’ . She countered that she was “going through a hard time” and is “normally nice”. Needing to get off, I simply argued “well, that may be, but you shouldn’t be taking it out on this woman who has nothing to do with it and is just doing her job”.

I then pondered it and came to the conclusion I was largely right and, in doing so, rued all the clever lines and arguments I wish I’d had the balls, eloquence, quick-thinking and time to advance (I’m a little petty like that, you see). So, here is what I’d have said given the memory of Hawking, derring-do of Balotelli, eloquence of Fry and Click remote of…errm, Sandler….  *If you happen to know a girl fitting Bitch’s description who was travelling on the 14:04 First Capital Connect service from Brighton to Bedford, by all means forward this.*

“Hi there,

Yeah I was sitting over there, minding my own business, enjoying my Sudoku, but couldn’t help but overhear you being a self-righteous, racist (or at least xenophobic), disrespectful, small-minded, short-sighted bitch.

From the beginning…  Your tale of public transport and personal woe could be genuine, but how is this ticket inspector to know this. (*to ticket inspector*, sorry I didn’t catch your name in the midst of all her abuse *we’ll say it’s ‘Sofia’*).  Sofia wasn’t with you so doesn’t know and thus has to base it on her judgement. I can tell you from a fellow outsider’s view, I think you are being deceitful. At best, you have been negligent and short-sighted, for which you probably still deserve the fine. Yet, you stubbornly refuse to look at your tall tale from any perspective but your own.

This leads me on to my next point; as far as I know, Sofia is neutral. She is just doing her job, and in a professional and competent manner from what I’ve seen. Furthermore, it is a job which is necessary to ensure the continuation of a service which facilitates tourism, business, entertainment, sport and much, much more, and in an arguably ‘green’ way, too. Specifically, Sofia’s role involves ensuring people don’t catch a free ride, lest the industry miss out on a lot of the money necessary for its continuation. The alternative to inspectors is that the government dramatically raise taxes. Judging by your angry reaction to being asked for money now, this would not best please you. This is, of course, presuming you pay taxes in the first place.

As I’ve heard, nowhere has Sofia even implied a xenophobic comment, let alone a racist one. As such, your assertions that of your right to live “here” are merely a straw man, only serving to highlight the hypocrisy of your xenophobic/racist comments (I’ll come on to these). Even if Sofia privately harbours controversial thoughts on race relations (she certainly doesn’t seem to), it would be utterly retarded of her to bring these into her workplace given the aforementioned need for finance to sustain the industry and, by extension, her livelihood. What do you think; that inspectors really give a fuck what colour face they see in the backgrounds of their vision when inspecting tickets?!

Claiming that you have been racially targeted when there is, personally, no hint of evidence of this is just fucking arrogant and imbecilic. You are just dressing up in supposed racism the real reason Sofia is targeting you – you haven’t paid for a bloody ticket! This victim culture can be corrosive to society, even if warranted (which it isn’t here). Look at all these dickheads looting and rioting in the country at the moment. Regardless of how much they actually have been (which is too complex an argument for me to detail here), many people are rioting because they feel they are victims (of economic injustice, police malpractice, being ‘ignored’ by politicians and many other things). This victim culture can create a very dangerous cycle of blame begetting blame, and punishment begetting punishment (or just arseholery begetting arseholery). Instead we need to look at the bigger picture. The rioters are short-sighted enough not to fully comprehend the immense complexity of the web of cause and effect which has led to the socio-economic environment in which the riots occurred, instead typically blaming a vague ‘government’ or ‘rich’. You are too short-sighted to even see the straightforward need for the inspector to want you to pay your face (I shouldn’t need to explain these again). As such she will not ‘get out of your face’. You have not only failed to pay for an openly consumer service, but are now steadfastly refusing to comply with the stated punishment for not doing so. You should consider yourself lucky that the exact opposite is not true – namely, you are not being asked to get out of her face at the next station, which the train company is fully entitled to do.

I am also abhorred by the msiguided self-entitlement displayed by many rioters in believing to be somehow personally above the law. ‘Having a tough time’ and ‘normally being a nice person’ simply does not legally entitle you to hitch a free ride, much less be aggressively racist in my opinion. Excuse me if I’m wrong, but we are enjoying the service of a train, not a fucking therapist. The train is neutral to people’s emotions; you think the chairs are there to give you a supportive hug or the table is there to counsel you?! No. They’re there to be fucking sat on, rest papers on, and such like. You realise how fucking retarded your reasoning is if taken to its logical conclusion? People would be hitching free rides and spouting racist bile left, right and centre, consequently ruining the public transport system and inciting racial hatred, yet the individuals in question would be let off if they merely said I’m ‘having a tough time’, as authorities couldn’t verify this inherently subjective assertion. Do you happen to have some kind of device which instantly and accurately assesses the recent emotional situations of train passengers and the veracity of their convoluted excuses for not having valid tickets….. *pause, while, I imagine, Bitch exasperatingly scrabbles for an argument to follow “BUT…. BUT….”.*

As I suspected, no, you don’t. So, zip it, and pay your fucking penalty, which by the way has no doubt been exacerbated for your stubborn refusal to pay it in the first place.

*Getting up to get off* I’ve got to go back to sleepy, but ‘peaceful’, Devon.

*Turning back, remembering one last point* Oh yeah, and if you think I’m being mean and unsympathetic, you can find some solace (misguided , personally) in the fact that I’m considered ‘normally an o.k. person’….  ”

Joel Durston.

Freedom of Emission

In Opinion on April 12, 2011 at 4:09 PM

Browsing through my Facebook newsfeed the other day, as you do, I chanced upon a hilarious link sent by a friend to another titled: ‘Malawians outraged at the new farting bill’. I couldn’t not investigate….

It transpired that the article and news clip were about a new Local Courts Bill in the Malawi’s financial capital Blantyre, which legislated that: “Any person who vitiates the atmosphere in any place so as to make it noxious to the public, to the health of persons in general dwelling or carrying on business in the neighbourhood or passing along a public way, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.” The bill will also attempt to deal with citizens who hinder the burial of dead bodies, as well as people who pretend to be fortune tellers.

The locals were rightly outraged at the new bill. They cited both the political reasons, such as the corrupt government wrongly focusing on trivial matters like public flatulence, rather than more pressing matters, such as child immortality, violence and illiteracy. And the practical reasons, such as the difficulty in tracing the culprit. College student Matthews Phiri claimed: “We all fart in public and it will be difficult to tell who has done it. Some do it silently. In some cases it is like teargas which goes like shhhh! Our legislators need to concentrate on discussing development projects. They should not waste our time and money on childish issues. It would make sense if they talked about defecating and urinating anyhow but not farting. This will not work. We will keep on farting.” Good for you, Matthews; keep up the gassy resistance, I say! It’s enough to make one think that ‘freedom of emission’ should join ‘freedom of expression’ in that hallmark of Western moral liberalism; the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

As funny as this new motion undoubtedly is, it highlights a more serious, age-old political trend…and a rather worrying one it is too. Namely, the penchant for governments to, if you will, sweep all their problems under the carpet, masked by various perfidious ploys; in this case, perverse legislation totally unrelated to other efforts. It happens all the time at the Olympics and other such sporting tournament. The spectacular ‘Bird’s nest’ arena that admittedly played such a wonderful host to the 2008 Beijing Olympics was the product of what was in aspects a very tough construction effort, with very poor working conditions and pay, forcible reinforcement and even related deaths (The Times reported ten, whilst Reuters, in a rather suspicious-sounding  ‘association’ with the Chinese government, claimed two).

But the prime example, of course, has to be the, quite frankly, madhouse that is North Korea. To quell concerns about (especially rural) poverty and political violence, to name but a few, Junior and Senior Kim Jong-Il have created the myths that North Korea is the best country in the world, fighting off the dominant evil forces of the rest of the world; that they are fittingly godly leaders with powers similar to that of the Judaeo-Christian God. My personal favourite myth is that Junior Kim was conceived and delivered immaculately by his mother from whose ‘birthing passage he strode out magnificently, already aware of his own brilliance.

During the last World Cup there was a hilarious blogger’s mock report of North Korea’s 50-0 victory over Brazil, just google ‘North Korea beat brazil 50-0’. It describes Kim Jong-Il’s incredible performance as he scored 49 goals almost single-handedly in the first half then, just to make matters fair, subbed everyone else off, put himself in goal and invited Brazil’s all time greats to come on. Needless to say, the great Kim kept a clean sheet for 45 minutes before scoring a heaven sent 50th goal. The game had to be stopped because no-one could stop the tears of admiration stemming from everyone in the stadium. On first reading of this, I laughed…a lot. Then, after a little research, I got the impression that this article was in fact probably pretty similar to the kind of shit that North Koreans are mercilessly fed on a daily basis and thus felt rather bad for using my freedom of expression to laugh at those who are tragically without this Western world luxury. Indeed, it is suspected that the North Korean government edited the footage of their team’s efforts in the World Cup such that they were presented as the winners of the thing!

This is far from the only time football has been used as a propaganda tool. During the 1978 World Cup, dictator of Argentina Jorge Rafael Videla is believed to have threatened violence, even death, to ‘his’ players had they not won the coveted Jules Rimet trophy in their own back yard. Thankfully for the players’ sakes, they did, but only after allegations of intimidation of opposition and suspicious results and decisions, including a very doubtful 6-0 win against Peru in their final group game which edged Argentina through by virtue of goal difference (Peru were decidedly under-par and several decisions went Argentina’s way which probably shouldn’t have).

And at the previous World Cup in ‘74, the dictator of Zaire (as it was then), worried of national embarrassment and consequent unrest and upheaval, threatened the national team with execution should they concede more than ten goals.  This is the team infamous for the hilarious scenes of players continually running out of the wall prematurely to disrupt the Brazilians taking of a free-kick (do yourself a favour and Youtube it). These are scenes that caused me to mock and look down at the Zaire players as disobedient, even stupid, until I learnt of their horrific plight (this was the 70-somethingth minute and they had conceded 9 goals in the tournament), thereafter seeing them as heroic members of the political resistance, running out of that wall to hoof the ball up the pitch as if, well, because, their lives depended upon it. You will be pleased to know they survived. I’m surprised there hasn’t been a film adaptation including Denzel as the inspirational talisman, Cuba Gooding Junior as the willing debutante and Morgan Freeman; the wise, world-weary manager. The Oscars would practically be in the bag.

Anyway, back to my original point; in whatever combination of sheer ignorance, or blatant indifference, of ‘their’ citizens’ conditions, governments have done and continue to do shocking things to cover domestic problems. That’s hardly a revelatory piece of political analysis I realise, but hear me out if you will. What worries me about this is that it means that all the respective Western government’s admirable statements of intent, be they genuine or not, to increase aid to developing countries could prove ultimately pretty futile. Comic Relief and other such charities present a ‘Disney-fied’ account of the developing world, whereby it is nigh-on guaranteed that x amount of pence will pay for Mary’s education for a month and x amount of pounds will pay for Lulu to drink clean water for at least a year. Now don’t get me wrong, I have a huge amount of admiration for such charities, I try to give and think they are right to portray charity and the developing world in such a way; I’m just not entirely sure it’s a particularly accurate representation.

Obviously it is in neither the respective LEDCs governments’ nor the charities’ interests to say so, but it is always alleged (quietly) that developing countries’ governments cream off so much of the aid money in spurious taxes that that charities (or MEDCs’ governments’) efforts are rendered unproductive. The same could be said of the money for or from sporting events. Such financial aid is arguably counter-productive if the money is used to prop up corrupt officials and businessmen, whilst maintaining the image of the poor country, that just needs to be ‘helped to help itself’.

While I don’t deny this is a noble mantra for helping countless specific communities, I do wonder how easy it is to get into such communities due to government interference. For example, I remember watching a show maybe a year ago where the presenter, as far as possible, travelled across the world along the titular line. He very bravely ventured into Burma, whereupon just over the border he encountered a tiny destitute community, many of whom were in very poor health. Not only were the government and the militia doing nothing to help this community, they were actively preventing a small group of Christian health workers from getting to this community, and no doubt countless similar ones too, when the only possible agenda they had was to gently preach the message of a 2,000-year-old Jew. The presenter and cameramen soon got the hell outta there!

In many countries, I get the impression that senior politicians who want to keep hold of their leadership are in cahoots with the police or militia, who want a subordinate populace, who in turn are in league with heads of business who want to retain a huge sub-strata of society, willing to work for next to nothing. And these businessmen conspire with the politicians in the whole murky network where ‘power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

So, in addition to rueing the injustices of imperialism (especially throughout history) and Western apathy, I feel a lot of the blame for wealth differences lies with those at the top of the hierarchy, too self-interested to see or do anything about the strife on their doorstep.  In his new book The Chosen One, Sam Bourne writes: ‘politics would always rise up and strangle hope, like a weed choking a flower’….

So as I draw to a close, and seek to unite my many digressions, for which I am sorry, I start to hope that the above is the misguided ramblings of a cynic; that the world isn’t rife with unremitting corruption and pain. Or that this state of affairs doesn’t harness its power to entrench and self-perpetuate itself. Otherwise it may well be an accurate and depressing reflection of the world’s geo-political state; as we fail to disinfect the stagnant injustice that continues well into the 21st century.

Joel Durston