My Summer with Jez

If you cast your minds back to the dim and distant past (those of you who are old enough) some of you may remember the heady June of 1996. It was a hot and bright summer in the southeast and I was freshly free as school had just broken up. The internet was not what it is today. Whilst my Dad had a modem he used it for work, this was in the days of dial up and high cost for usage, as well as the fact you couldn’t pick up the phone while online. All this is to say as an early teen I wasn’t sitting around watching YouTube (it was still a decade away). It was the year of the N64 release but I wouldn’t get my own for a year or two yet (still the best Christmas present I ever got). As such I buried myself in books in my free time or found my one local friend and played outdoors. I also did a lot of writing at the time, telling epic tales that were light rip-offs of other favourite books/films/comics. Whitstable was less gentrified back then, still a bit grotty with the fronts of houses having last seen a lick of paint in the 70s and the front gardens having over grown in a charmingly wild way, pre-Titchmarsh and Co. Mr. Green was yet to takeover the town so the beach was a bit grubby, the notoriously lethal pre-‘health & safety gone mad’ diving platform still stood in the sea, the Neptune was still allowed its outdoor stage for music day and crowds only flocked into the town during July and August for the summer and the Regatta which always reminded me of that scene in Jaws. John Major was still Prime Minister having limped his way out of Black Wednesday 4 years previous to enjoy something of a reinvigoration of the markets that would lead to the now legendary Labour win the next year. The biggest boon at the time was in British culture, Cool Britannia (bleurgh) was on the up, post Grunge music meant giddy hedonism was in the music charts and it has never been so diverse. The world of modern art led by popular mouthpieces Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin was breaking up taboos and causing controversy. Television was enjoying a renaissance thanks to Channel 4 pushing the stuffy old BBC into more esoteric territory with shows like The Word having ended and TFI Friday and the Big Breakfast ruling the airwaves and setting the anarchic tone. In short Thatcher was gone, culture was fun and the sun was shining. Even for a kid as totally disengaged from reality as me the summer of 1996 felt optimistic and happy.

I have no interest in football. Or any sport for that matter. Unfortunately in Britain that doesn’t matter. During our MANY sporting events you are forcibly swept along and in the pre-digital multi channel days of the 90s, programming and discussion of sporting events dominated everything. World Cup 1990 and 94 were unavoidable, Wimbledon is still a source of national pride, the Ashes and the sodding ‘Ball of the Century’, was in every pub, every paper, every radio and television station bumped usual programming to favour overtime and rain stopping play. Into this all permeating culture of sport and summertime came Euro 96. Sick of the previous World Cup I was delighted to have a 4 year break from inescapable football coverage, sadly Euro 96 appeared and, in some ways, proved bigger mainly because it was held in England. What cut through to me most back then was the football superstars of the decade like Lineker, Seamen and Gazza but after 96 I knew all their bloody names and still do (some of them anyway): Pearce, Ince, Southgate, Platt, Shearer, Sheringham, Anderton, Redknapp, Campbell, Neville, Ferdinand and probably a few I’ve forgotten. As usual for England it was a deliriously gleeful charge toward the semi-finals against Germany prompting what I now recognise as rabid xenophobia and jingoism but was dismissed in the Sun(t) as “Bantahh”. We scraped a draw then lost on penalties because Southgate missed, which was soundly mocked to the point of Gareth being sent up in a MacDonald’s advert. As stupid and pointless as it all was, the march to almost glory caught everyone’s imagination created a new vigour in British pride (Scotland did alright too) and combined with our other cultural exports at the time, the mood was jubilant and even got to a spotty 12 year old me. Out of all this came an unlikely hero: Des Lynam who presented the BBC coverage with a dry humour and genuine warmth. He was a long-serving presenter of sport having even been present at the tragic Hillsboro Disaster 7 years previous, but after Euro 96 he was anointed National Treasure status by many. His stoic manner in the face of such hysteria and hyperbole (and bitchin moustache) seemed to capture everyone’s hearts and he still sticks in my mind as the gold standard for this sort of thing.

In a jump forward to the 1998, Britain was off its nut on itself, high on its own supply of British fervour. New Labour were in on a landslide, Conservatism was dead, Lady Diana’s death became a strange outpouring of grief far beyond that of the death of a former royal seeming to personify an overburdening sentimentality that had been growing and every part of culture was on that odd interim moment of being off your face when the jubilant part of the high has worn off but before the comedown when you’re doing everything to fast, too loud, too often and you’re starting to get on everyone’s nerves. Into this rather explosive mix came the metaphorical ‘second pill’ or ‘fifth line of the night’ that was the World Cup, reinvigorating the waning national fervour for Queen and country, Three Lions on a shirt, etc etc. As a sort of metaphor for this decline towards the millennium and the crashing, toilet coating come down that was to follow, England didn’t even make it to the quarter finals. But to coincide with the start of the tournament the BBC aired a one off TV drama written by comedian Arthur Smith and starring the then ultimate footy lout and man behaving badly, Neil Morrissey and a relatively unknown Rachel Weisz, called My Summer with Des. It’s a Rom-a-Com-a-ding-dong very much in the 90s mould of a Curtis-lite Four Weddings-a-like but played out against the backdrop of Euro 96, even featuring cameos by David Seamen and Peter Shilton. Lynam acts as a commentator on the fairly paint by numbers love story and that’s about the extent of it. It wasn’t particularly good or that bad but what it did do was crystalise that strange period in British culture beautifully and only two years later. It acts like a historical document to a bygone era yet made only 36 months after. Britain was different place and everyone seemed to be longing for that carefree time again. It sticks in my mind as a moment that changed my perception of change and of time, I could already be nostalgic for two years ago as the wizened, aged crone of a 14 year old wistfully remembering his youth and the heady days of summer. The summer of 96 still holds an oddly magical, probably mis-remembered charm to it even now. Abiding memories of reading book after book in the sun but every time I walked past any other part of humanity seeing or hearing three lions, or Blur and Oasis still duking it out in the charts, getting that weird green colour wash over your vision when you head inside after being in the sun all day, watching Dad at the sink whistling to the neighbours parrot through the window, cycling to the golf course to watch thunderstorms roll in, using my imagination everyday and filling whole worlds and my hometown with monsters and adventures I can barely summon through the clouds of cynicism these days, performing a newly learned magic trick to anyone I could collar for longer than two seconds and generally getting a lot out of life without realising it.

Everyone has a completely incorrect appraisal of their youth and loves to roll around in the warm, soft down of nostalgia these days. The digital revolution has killed the wonder and many levels of innocence that the pre-9/11 world preyed on and it is unlikely to get it back. With an electorate pummelled by constant innovation, terrorist extremism escalating, foreign wars, rolling news constantly informing you of it, endless REALITY television, meta-post-modernism being the basis of every artistic output, the lack of any centralised culture like the music chart, a shift by the media in response to all this towards clickbait and highly opinionated argument, all of which is another planet compared to the total stupidity and naivety of the 90s.

But this summer…

The snap election this year was met with a groan by the whole nation suffering from a morbid political fatigue post-EU referendum. With all the problems of the above and the cultural, artistic and commentariat class distancing themselves from any sort of collectivist arrangement, engaging instead in the increasingly niche sectors where their ‘fanbase’ can find them and add to the viewer or follower count, these disparate elements of British society looked set to desparingly nod along with the Tory party line and accept the vitriol and ignorance poured into the water supply by the print media.

Except that didn’t happen.

Instead of riding a wave of national pride and cultural fervour like Tony Blair and New Labour, Jeremy Corbyn shot a flare in the air to start the wave machine rolling. And roll the wave did. Anyone on the ground could see not just a meek and faltering optimism growing but a full-throated roar of hope and glee but that was completely either ignored at best or disparaged and insulted at worst by the media, the political parties (including most of the Labour Party) and wealthy business and investors. Unlike in the 90s the national media is not the main source, we are not limited to a small number of radio or television channels, and newspapers, for once the internet had made a community for the electorate to rally to instead of send everyone skittering away to their dens. Contrary to what many say about “not wanting to be dictated to anymore” by the media I find the reverse to be true. The Murdoch papers and TV love to get vox pops, act as your friend, use the chummy, post-modern, self-referential Bantz of the pub, nudge nudge wink wink, we’re all in it together aren’t we readers? mentality. Looking back to 96 when there was a national contest to rally around where we were GIVEN the story of Cool Britannia which became as self fulfilling prophecy and a tweedy Des Lynam warmly and comfortingly guiding us through it all and softening the blow of defeat. Corbyn did the same. He talked at us, gave us a narrative to understand that could be easily passed on and far from being ordered to your civic duty like the Daily Fail, Corbyn gave you his story and said do what you like with it and like Pavlov’s social reflex we gathered round it for warmth in such a bleak and dark time. As things grew bleaker with three terrorist attacks in two months we huddled closer, finding comfort in each other and a collective movement, a community we all fostered. I have never actively read the paper and certainly didn’t as a teen but I know the wave that met Blair’s campaign in 97 was a response to the ground born, cultural dialogue of the mid-nineties. The same is true of Corbyn, we all knew it, we just couldn’t articulate it, had nothing to rally behind. We just needed to be shown what it was that was pissing us all off. And then there it was, plain as day, and everyone who felt it teamed up and we were back to it being part of culture again with Grime superstars behind it, new media behind it, an en masse shift toward community thinking and rejection of the current political model. Everyone in that Establishment HATED it because you couldn’t make money out of it. This was the major difference with the Blair years, that kind of cultural revolution you could market and sell very easily, this kind you can’t. What Corbyn and his Manifesto offered was something not seen since Labour’s last boon in the post war years and it wasn’t just a return to Socialism. It was an interest and investment in contemporary culture. Labour was a Modernist movement in the post WWII era, using modern art and graphics, investing in new technologies and thinking, radical methods of education and restructuring, real boots-in-soil development of ideas and this was what Corbyn and his team understood but the rest of the party didn’t. Blair saw this was already happening and jumped on board instead of the Conservatives who were actively resisting it or just ignoring it. Corbyn wanted in on the ground floor and importantly LISTENED to what was being grumbled, what was wanted, what was needed: Change.

This early summer and Corbyn’s joyous, friendly campaign has created an undeniably buoyant mood (for those that agree with it) in a time of bleak and unremitting horror. His supporters understand the need for change and we voted for it. In droves. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough, largely because most voters (older voters) have not felt the pinch or seen the depravity to which the Conservatives will stoop. The past and nostalgia is comforting, many want the Blair years back but they won’t come. It was an audacious but failed experiment to try and promote that kind of community but appealing to it through centrist politics as opposed to actual community thinking i.e. respecting diversity of opinion and appearance and integrating it into policy not working around it. This election, far from crushing any will I had for the future of this country as a progressive, intelligent and contemporary element of the modern global society, has instead lit that same fire of the will I had way back when. That general feeling of good being done. Its not perfect and we still live in challenging times and I certainly don’t want to go back to the bloody 90s but I do want that sense of optimism and friendliness to return, the element that has been hammered from us these last 15 years. And for the first time since I was 12 it really feels like its back. So with a long hot summer ahead I hope we can all recapture that sense of community, helpfulness, enjoyment and positivity but minus the rose tinted nostalgia.

And all the bloody football.

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Designing the Future

 

In a sea of hot-takes and off-the-cuff put-downs regarding the current snap election in the UK, I realise adding yet another one to all the noise has all the effect of a fart in a tannery but I want to look specifically at the aesthetics of these campaigns and how it reveals more than you might think. A close look at the Labour and Conservative manifesto’s graphics can tell you just as much as the policies inside. In addition I want to look at some of the language used by both sides and how that also – literally – speaks volumes for their ideologies. I won’t be looking at policies necessarily and while there is some cross over this isn’t necessarily a criticism of either parties pledges or policies. Here is a link to Labour’s manifesto and the Conservative manifesto so we are all singing from the same hymn sheet.

Let’s start with the most glaring difference between the two: Web optimisation. Labour has dedicated an entire subsection of their site to their manifesto, each section of it has its own webpage making it quicker to load. You scroll or swipe down to carry on reading and on the desktop version an image is justified to the left and remains static. There is a menu for each chapter allowing you to jump easily to the section of the chapter you want to read. This all speeds up load times and is very efficient. The Conservative manifesto is pdf in a media player on a single page of their website. In the page it is small and difficult to read but you can full screen it, however it still displays as a pdf in a book format (complete with animated page turning) and does not fill the browser. The player is much slower to load too due to the more complicated requirements of the animated elements. In addition Labour’s is more web native so downscales well for mobile devices which is how a majority of people will get their first access to it whereas the Conservatives’ relies on the ISSUU player and does not alter its appearance depending on what device you view it from, whilst this maintains consistency cross platform it makes it much harder to read if you’re viewing it on a smaller device. Now, importantly, the Conservative web manifesto is less friendly to the differently abled, certainly people without finger dexterity or who have vision problems, whereas Labour’s is much simpler to use and easier to read.

Now let’s look at font and text layout. The Conservatives have gone for a classical serif-based approach with Garamond (the font this article is written in), Labour instead have gone for the sans-serif, clean lines of Helvetica. As well as being visually opposite to one another the history of these fonts is poles apart too. Garamond was designed by engraver Claude Garamond in the 16th century for old printing presses, Helvetica on the other hand is a modernist font from the 50s by designer Max Miedinger. Generally in English we are used to seeing the printed word in a serif type like Baskerville or Times New Roman (named after the paper it was designed for) as it more readily appeals to our eyes that seek more human handwriting patterns, whereas Helvetica is much more a display font due to its clarity (used in the logos for American Airlines, Toyota, North Face, FedEx). Now on the printed page I’d argue Garamond works better in the lengthier prose sections except it has the effect of making the Conservative manifesto look dense an impenetrable, like the long form prose of a novel. Labour’s font may be plain and rather flat but it looks much easier to take in at a glance and therefore more welcoming. Online however it’s a different story. There are more sans-serif fonts on websites than serif, Helvetica is a fit for purpose multi-platform font that is clear and simple whatever device you read it on, Garamond is not (he said, writing in Garamond). Whilst it is definitely not like other web fonts and certainly looks ‘classier’ it is neither inviting nor easy to read. Unfortunately the Conservatives further compound this illegibility by seriously messing up the kerning (the spacing between characters). The Initial (those big letters that start the chapters) is really badly cramped against the paragraph, to the point of nearly overlapping – a design no no. Labour’s kerning is on point however, plenty of spacing between characters, aided by Helvetica’s clean lines, and a pronounced white box around the Initials Also the Conservatives’ page layout is cluttered and dense, Labour’s is sparse and minimal. The Conservative Manifesto reads more like a text whereas Labour’s reads like a power point presentation. The former is undoubtedly ‘powerful’, with more gravitas, but Labour’s is much more like the bulletin board it should be.

Labour’s Manifesto is much more in keeping with the design aesthetic of today (specifically web design) whereas the Conservatives’ is more like what we picture a formal legal or government document to look like. The latter is very much in keeping with the repeated dirge of ‘Strong and Stable’ and portrays the Conservatives as a more classical, traditional party but it is undeniably drab with it’s dour palette of Black, White and Blue. Labour’s on the other hand looks like every pamphlet you get dropped through the door: bright red, with the white shining cleanly through and – importantly – full colour images and colour coded sections. This speaks of Labour’s idea of inclusion, it is open and inviting with pictures of different people of varying gender and ethnicity. The Conservatives’ speaks more of its belief in individualism and the state stepping back to allow you to imprint you personality on to the policies and their presentation. In both cases both designs are not bad at all, they both reflect the message the party wishes to impart in the content of the writing itself and does so admirably, the point I’m making is that these designs are specifically tailored to appeal to their core voter and any undecided voter. Personally I find the Conservatives’ design to be an ugly, cluttered, austere mess with kerning issues and a shocking lack of understanding about web optimisation, whereas Labour’s is a minimalist, modernist’s wet dream i.e. Me.

Then there is the question of cost. Labour provided a financial break down of their manifesto promise in a separate sheet that broke down the costing. This was due to constant criticism by the press and the other parties that the socialist program was a myth and could not be properly funded. The Conservatives, with no such pressure, have provided no information on how their manifesto pledges will be paid for.

Now let’s look at the language of these manifestos and their respective launches. The Conservatives seem to be pushing the party to the background by constantly referring to Theresa May and her team, her foreword is littered with “I” and “My”, promoting the idea of individuality and (rather ironically given her and the party’s criticism of the ‘identity politics’ around Corbyn) that you would be voting for the leader who is much more popular than her party because apparently people still have the Mummy issues left over from the Thatcher era. Ahem. Labour talk about “we” “us” and “our” promoting their ideology of a shared society, community and a government integrated with the populace instead of one that steps back at times of crisis. Then there was the way the leader’s introduced their manifestos. Alright this is where I really get on my soapbox. Jeremy Corbyn used the same language in introducing his policies in an open airy space, unmolested or delayed by protesters. Theresa May’s however was delayed not just on the day but the manifesto’s printing itself was delayed four times (allegedly). Corbyn spoke of we and you and us and our where May talked of I and me and my. For all the talk of not trusting Corbyn you had better really bloody trust May as her words were that this was “My manifesto … a vision of the country I want this to be after Brexit”. That to me is terrifying and the true politics of identity. She spoke of wanting “to build a country” and that is telling. Brexit to her means destruction. It means the collapse of the previous Britain with its worker’s rights and moves toward equality, so the Conservatives would then have the ability after Brexit to build the country anew in their own image, or should I say hers. Corbyn’s introduction spoke of “unleashing Britain’s potential” after Brexit not attempting to reconstruct and introduced the policies saying “I am very proud to present OUR manifesto”. Believe what you like about the cult of Corbyn he is not the one publicising it, Theresa May – despite point blank denying it – most definitely is relying on the cult of her own.

My personal politics and loathing for the Tories and Theresa May aside what the manifesto launches and the manifestos themselves make plain is what is on offer from either party and not just in the policies themselves. On the one hand you have a severe, cold, austere, classical, stately manifesto of gravitas and great circumstance and on the other you have an open, warm, colourful, modern, simple manifesto of inclusion and assistance. I know which one I’ll be buying a hard copy of.

There’s still time to register to vote. Takes two minutes. Click here. Then vote for anyone except the Tories.

Generation Loss

Generation loss is a term for when something is transferred, replicated into another format or reproduced and the quality decreases incrementally with each copy. This happens across all formats, analogue and digital, be it a negative that has another negative made from it or an online video that is downloaded, no replica is ever perfect. This theory has been explored in science fiction fairly regularly when clones deteriorate at an accelerated rate or when multiple clones are made the later ones are less like the original, this was confirmed when the world famous Dolly the Sheep, the first living clone of an animal, was found to have debilitating arthritis and died relatively young. The more you reproduce something the poorer the reproductions become. Have you ever played chinese whispers? The final phrase, announced after having been heard and retold to a group of people, has suffered from generation loss. The photograph of a beautiful valley reproduced a thousand times becomes and green and blue smudge.

Socialism is (contrary to popular belief) not Communism. Communism is the opposite of Capitalism, Socialism accepts Capitalism but believes in democratic state intervention to curb its excesses. Y’know, the ones that result in people dying or being abused or discriminated against. It’s original meaning, coined by Henri de Saint-Simon, was to refute the individualism espoused by liberal politics i.e. that people prosper when we work together for a common goal as opposed to everyone being “out for themselves”. Socialism developed into a genuine political force in the 19th century and whilst the history of it is convoluted and difficult, one of its first major ‘wins’ can be seen in the Paris Commune of 1871, a short lived French Government post Franco-Prussian War that didn’t result in many decrees being passed but ones that did were significant. The separation of Church and State for instance. But in Britain in 1900 was when socialism took a larger part in the politics of this country. The Labour party was formed under the banner of socialism and rights for workers (hence the name) and overtook the Liberal party as the major opposition to the Conservatives. Since then the Labour party has remained the main ‘other’ party in Parliament.

Rather amazingly Labour’s impact is profound on any British resident. Even people who claim to be adamant Conservatives still believe in an awful lot of socialist principles: free health care, legal aid, social housing (to combat those pesky homeless people who want your change), maternity leave, and a myriad of other things that we in this country, when we are not taking them for granted, overwhelmingly agree with and actively fight to maintain. The post WWII two Labour government developed the Welfare State and the NHS, put many services into public hands by Nationalising things like the Bank of England. After the decimation of land, property and populace wrought by the war something drastic had to be done and Clement Atlee’s Labour Government, with the help of William Beveridge and Aneurin Bevan. developed this rather radical socialist agenda into policy. It worked and within 6 years the country was transformed to the point where, even though the Conservatives won the 1951 election, it was only by accepting these substantial social changes as a rousing success known as the Post-War Consensus. A lot of these ideals did not survive Thatcherism but some did, notably the NHS and the Welfare State and it is rather encouraging that even as Labour shifted right in the 90s many of these ideals were still maintained. Until today.

The generation loss of socialism has come to the point now where it is so muddied and unrecognisable that people cry foul at its nearest mention and, as mentioned earlier, confuse it with the unmitigated disaster of Soviet Communism. With names like Social Justice Warrior, Feminist and Do-Gooder used as pejorative terms this shows the deterioration of an ideology that was seen as a consensus, an objectively beneficial set of economic and ethical principles. From generation to generation we have been handed these political ideas but shuffled in amongst growing disparity in class and increasing austerity from every political party in the UK. This has created a contempt for this mode of political thinking whilst taking the surviving elements still seen as good and repurposing them; the Conservatives notably referred to themselves as the ‘Party of the NHS’. The result is that the Labour Party of 2017, despite having the largest membership of any party and espousing policies that benefit a massive proportion of the country of all classes, is rife with civil war from its own MPs who demand Labour return to its more right leaning ways so it might win the snap election against an unabashed and staggeringly popular Conservative Party that are doubling down on a glassy-eyed nationalism and individualist manifesto. Politics that once saved and united a nation is now dismissed as a chaotic mess and actively maligned as out-of-date and impractical. Socialism’s generation loss has left it barely perceivable from its source.

This is not unique to the UK. You need only look at the dawning of the Trump era of Rule by Whim and Oligarchy, the rise of sanitised Fascism in Le Pen in France, North Korea’s existence under the boot of a Dictator, Syria’s near total collapse under Assad, Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte saying he literally doesn’t give a shit about human rights and is “angry. I will kill people” make it quite clear that in the 70 years since the greatest humanitarian disaster in human history, there has been a deterioration in the memory of that era that revealed to everyone the depths of depravity and unconscionable evil mankind can stoop to under the guise of individualist pride and nationalism. As a child, the values espoused by socialism: fairness, equity and altruism – seemed to be a given, countries and people that did not go along with these kind of egalitarian and (I believed) forward thinking ideas were confronted and taught “that’s not how we do things now”. In the last 3 years or so this seems to have done an about face. Endless reams have been written on the subject, analysing why from every side of the argument but, to me at least, they all fall short of describing the paucity of humanity inherent in nearly every nation across the globe today. That verdant green valley and it’s crystalline blue river, now nothing but a hazy cyan smudge.

When Theresa May wins the General Election in June and England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland become single party Nations, when we leave the EU to our unmitigated detriment due to a myopic and over inflated sense of self worth, it is unlikely anyone reading this will feel the sociological tremors resulting in the genuine catastrophe that awaits. That will be the next generation. The next generation, in the wake of unchecked totalitarian political control, fascist governments, nationalist policy and a total lack of diversity in any field, will lose more than we can comprehend. In just this country alone the NHS will be privatised, the Pound will be one of the lowest valued currencies, class divisions will result in substantial ghettoisation, a hard border in Ireland will plunge us back to ‘The Troubles’ of the 70s that cost thousands of lives, all combined with general economic disparity that will produce a generation bereft of any of the socialist ideals that, ironically, the right wing trumpet as our great institutions. It is the next generation who will be described in history as the Generation of Loss.

Let us hope they develop a radical political idea of working together for a common good. A party of, I dunno, being social?

Observation Not Admiration

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This post will be a relatively short one as it revolves around a request and a task I’d like to give you. The next time you are out of the house and walking to the shops or walking down your local high street for whatever reason I want you to have a really close look at everything you see. All the stuff you see day in, day out, that you know like the back of your hand, stop and really look at every inch of it, especially the people you pass. I know this goes against the grain of the British temperament of staring at our feet and not making eye contact in case you get beaten up or whatever but just do it. And when I say ‘look at’ I mean observe.

Sherlock made the distinction to Watson that he “sees but you do not observe”. It’s actually very easy to do as we tend to glance at things we pass anyway, all observation is is absorbing what you see and analysing it as opposed to just letting it slide past for the thousandth time. So don’t just watch, watching implies waiting, observe and digest what you see. Look at the condition of the house or the shop, what do they sell? Is it new or old? What do they have in the windows? What day of the week and what time is it? Does the shop or home look welcoming? What are the people you pass wearing? Are they with anyone? Who are they with? What are they doing/wearing? Are they talking? Do they have an accent? What is the snatch of conversation you hear from them about? How fast are they moving? How are they standing? Are they engaged in a task? Just take a stroll down the street you know so well and look at it with fresh eyes.

The reason I ask is, yes, the Election. What I want you to do is look at your surroundings and really critically analyse what you see, then think about how that influences you. Then, MOST IMPORTANTLY, what you don’t see. Our day to day surroundings are the most influential thing to our political beliefs alongside our family.

I’ve been making an effort to do this as I complain I live in an area that is geometrically opposed to all my political and social values. I am left-leaning (but will never call myself a ‘lefty’) and live in a safe Tory seat. I complain because of all sorts of local bias and so on but I decided this is equally as prejudiced of me as the more conservative attitudes of the locals is. So I took a stroll down the high street with my eyes wide open at the weekend and saw people waving at one another in the street, saw a group of handicapped youngsters in wheelchairs being taken around town by carers, I saw lots and lots of prams with lots of well dressed Mums/Nannys/Grandparents pushing them, I saw a woman taking down a sign for free tea and coffee at the church, I saw form and structure, I saw a lot of elderly people (by which I mean 60+ as the state dictates this is pension age) going about daily errands and an awful lot of well kept cars. I didn’t see any non-white people except one of the people in the wheelchairs, I didn’t see any one not dressed smartly or at least ‘presentably’, I didn’t see any ‘cheap’ clothing, I didn’t see any ‘old’ shops unless they were presented or faked to look as such, certainly nothing that looked like it had been made in the 70s or 80s except some of the people, I didn’t see call signs of poverty (homelessness, poorly tended buildings, a mood of anger or unhappiness), I didn’t see anyone I knew, I didn’t see many smiles and I didn’t see any cars older than 10 years.

I’m not going to tell you what conclusions I drew from that and you are welcome to draw your own but the point was, I observed more than I usually did. You should do the same and think about what you see. We tend to let our surroundings slide by unnoticed due to familiarity and that which we do pay attention we tend to simply admire. There is a difference between admiration and appreciation. To admire is to see something with respect or approval, that tends not to extend to a critical evaluation of that thing. This is not necessarily bad but it doesn’t really benefit anyone. To appreciate means understand something fully, its faults and its favours. To do that you must truly observe it. To observe something means to take notice or literally perceive something. Start observing what is around you: What values do the people in your area have? What values do you have? Are they shared? I want you to keep all that in mind come the 7th.

The Public Gate

Voters at the polls 1945
Voters at the polls 1945

We are a month away from the next General Election here in the UK and in case you hadn’t noticed it is something I feel very strongly about. Cards on the table I despise the Conservative party for what they did in the 70s and 80s and especially for what they have done in the last 5 years. They have improved nothing but their own pocket lining and, yet again, ruined the lives of millions. I will also admit I am prejudiced against them by an inherited dislike courtesy of my parents, in exactly the same way as Tories have an inherited dislike of everyone that isn’t wealthy because of their parents. I am saying this now so you know I am biased against them and I have my own agenda in asking you to vote I do REALLY want you to Vote. Whoever it is for.

In the 2010 election the voter turnout according to parliament.uk was just 65% and we ended up with a hung parliament that no one wanted and a government that was elected on just a 36% share of the vote by forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. In the years since the Lib Dems have been sidelined so that it has essentially been a Conservative government for the last few years. In summary this was a mess, nobody got what they wanted, except the Conservatives perhaps but even then a lot of back benchers were made unhappy by the coalition. The reason I’m saying all this is everyone seems to have a very short memory and we could really do without a repeat of that. If you don’t want a repeat of that, you should vote.

To those who choose not to vote I fully understand your apathy. The system is broken and we live in a world run by banks and companies, not elected officials but I believe that because voter turnout is so low that is precisely WHY this has happened. People who don’t vote are ignored by policy makers and if you truly believe the anti-voting rhetoric that a “revolution is coming” that is the last thing anyone wants or needs. If anything we need more democracy not less. Abstaining from voting does not help this process at all, things have rarely changed for the better with a violent revolution. What should happen is that everyone turns out to vote and votes for whoever the hell they like. Then, if there still isn’t a majority the powers that be will recognise they need to change and diversify and actually structure themselves around these people who are voting. We are a large and increasingly diverse nation, the current main parties are not treating us as such; prove them wrong.

A former friend of mine published a ‘Zine prior to the 2010 election in which I contributed a piece about why you should vote and she contributed a piece about why you shouldn’t. I’m not going to be so fair minded. You should absolutely vote. My argument then was mostly centred around the fact that the right to vote is a hard won privilege that people within living memory have died to offer you. I do not take that lightly. During WWII there was no election and Churchill remained in office with the Conservative party with a caretaker Government and a wartime coalition. I admit the Conservative ideology is a much more practical and functional system of rule in wartime. We are not at war. But also, by comparison to what was going on in Europe in the 10 years Churchill was in power, the British were paragons of democracy.

1f80eb8d6a8f1abafbe15b483d085463In the Autumn of 1938 there was a by-election in Oxford as the sitting MP had died, Civil war was happening in Spain and the Munich agreement was being arranged, this served as the backdrop for an Epic Poem in 24 Cantos written by Louis MacNiece. It is an incredible piece of work that plunges you into the atmosphere of pre-war Britain but Canto 14 is to me an incredibly relevant poem at the moment. It would be histrionic to claim the Conservatives and UKIP are akin to Hitler but they are certainly doing a lot of damage and MacNiece’s defence of our system of democracy at a time when it was never more under threat is rather pertinent. As such I am going to replicate it in full here and I encourage you to read it but if not do skip to the end.

Autumn Journal – Canto XIV, by Louis MacNiece

The next day I drove by night / Among red and amber and green, spears and candles, / Corkscrews and slivers of reflected light / In the mirror of the rainy asphalt / Along the North Circular and the Great West roads / Running the gauntlet of impoverished fancy / Where housewives bolster up their jerry-built abodes / With amour propre and the habit of Hire Purchase. / The wheels whished in the wet, the flashy strings / Of neon lights unravelled, the windscreen-wiper / Kept at its job like a tiger in a cage or a cricket that sings / All night through for nothing. / Factory, a site for a factory, rubbish dumps, / Bungalows in lath and plaster, in brick, in concrete, / And shining semi-circles of petrol pumps / Like intransigent gangs of idols. / And the road swings round my head like a lasso / Looping wider and wider tracts of darkness / and the country succeeds the town and the country too / Is damp and dark and evil. / And coming over the Chilterns the dead leaves leap / Charging the windscreen like a barrage of angry / Birds as I take the steep / Plunge to Henley or Hades. And at the curves of the road the telephone wires / Shine like strands of silk and the hedge solicits / My irresponsible tyres / To an accident, to a bed in the wet grasses. / And in the quiet crooked streets only the village pub / Spills a golden puddle / Over the pavement and trees bend down and rub / Unopened dormer windows with their knuckles. / Nettlebed, Shillingford, Dorchester – each urolls / The road to Oxford; Qu’allais-je faire tomorrow / Driving voters to the polls / In that home of lost illusions? / And what am I doing it for? / Mainly for fun, partly for a half believed in / Principle, a core / Of fact in a pulp of verbiage, / Remembering that this crude and so-called obsolete / Top-heavy tedious parliamentary system / Is our only ready weapon to defeat / the legions’ eagles and the lictors’ axes; / And remembering that those who by their habit hate / Politics can no longer keep their private / Values unless they open the public Gate / To a better political system. / That Rome was not built in a day is no excuse / For laissez-faire, for bowing to the odds against us; / What is the use / Of asking what is the use of one brick only: / The perfectionist stands for ever in a fog / Waiting for the fog to clear: better to be vulgar / And use your legs and leave a blank for Hogg / And put a cross for Lindsay. / There are only too many who say ‘ What difference does it make / One way or the other? / To turn the stream of history will take / More than a by-election.’ / So Thursday came and Oxford went to the polls / And made its coward vote and the streets resounded / To the triumphant cheers of the lost souls– / The profiteers, the dunderheads, the smarties. / And I drove back to London in the dark of the morning, the trees / Standing out in the headlights cut from cardboard; / Wondering which disease / Is worse– the Status Quo or Mere Utopia. / For from now on / Each occasion must be used, however trivial, / To rally the ranks of those whose chance will soon be gone / For even guerilla warfare. / The nicest people in England have always been the least / Apt to solidarity or alignment / But all of them must now align against the beast / That prowls at every door and barks in every headline. / Dawn and London and daylight and last the sun: / I stop the car and take the yellow placard / Off the bonnet; that little job is done / Though without success or glory. / The plane-tree leaves come sidling down / (Catch my guineas, catch my guineas) / And the sun caresses Camden Town, / The barrows or oranges and apples.

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That says what I want to say better than I can but the main point there is that our vote is a hard won victory that must be used and make no mistake there IS a beast prowling at every door and barking in every headline. I would rather you didn’t vote for the Tories or UKIP but if you truly believe more cuts are a good idea and that class division is beneficial and that the poor are to blame for all that is bad right now and that millionaires should be subsidised and avoid fines or jail time and paying tax, if you REALLY TRULY TOTALLY believe that then for the love of God sign that box so hard the pen snaps. So long as you get up off your arse and go to the polling station. As you read there, MacNiece drove to Oxford just so he could drive people to the polls, he made an active effort in a time when the vote was most needed and valued to help people sign their cross. I don’t need to do that because you can vote however you like now (You can vote in person, by post or by proxy, couldn’t be easier! And most importantly there is still time to register! If you are eligible it takes 5 minutes, max and you’re doing your part. Click here and it’s done.) But this is my effort to drive people to the polls. From now till May 7th I will do all I can to get people into that booth but without telling them who to Vote for. But I may still point out who you shouldn’t vote for…

I am encouraged, however. The recent turnout for the Scottish Independence vote being so high was incredibly positive, Twitter is taking an active roll in reminding UK users when the cut off for registration is and initiatives like vInspired’s Swing the Vote campaign has incorporated the youtube generation to help get 18-25 year olds voting. With UKIP continually putting its foot in its mouth and THEN shooting it, they do bring (inadvertent and stupid) media attention to the debate and all publicity is good publicity. Add to that everyone’s unhappiness with the last election being dredged up and displayed as the wrong way to do it, I have a little hope there will be a pretty good turnout this time. What the result will be is anyone’s guess. It’s a worryingly close race all round so don’t let anyone tell you they know who the winner is, your vote could quite literally be the decider.

It is too easy to be lazy when it comes to voting. The great, and wholly incorrect, saying that “If voting changed anything they wouldn’t let you do it” is an easy shield to hide behind, said by ‘progressive’ people so they can feel free to pass comment on the political landscape without taking an active role in its shaping. It also recalls the Self and Other linguistic nuance I mentioned in the last post. Actively listening to the Other is what democracy should be about now. Voting is not a very loud voice but it IS STILL A VOICE. If you don’t use it you are not being heard.

If you are eligible please please please please please register and then vote in the General Election on 7th May. Keep your private values by opening that public gate.

The Other’s Way

Benjamin Franklin's cartoon of the Colonial Union in America from 1754
Benjamin Franklin’s cartoon of the Colonial Union in America from 1754

The Other is a philosophical idea coined by Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in the 18th century. It posits that the idea of one’s Self is defined by exterior forces, or an Other. The Other is not us but it shapes us. As babies we exist in a world of pure self, similar to dreaming, we can see and hear only indistinct shapes and sounds. When a baby moves its arm it does not understand why the rest of the world does not come with it, as the child grows it separates further from this world as it realises its own desires and pains are unique and distinct from it. Over the years we refine this into seeing into a broader sense of ‘Self’; the self of community, family, ideology and so on. This serves an evolutionary purpose as it is what helped early man hunt in packs, have a tribe that would look after children etc. This kind of “social reflex”, as Pavlov put it, can be seen in any church, a human need to metaphorically huddle together for warmth, to create a community. We see anything like us or with the same values as being like ourselves. A high and definable sense of self is healthy and natural.

But what of the Other?

The Other is all that we fear. It is all the things we are not. The Other stands against us, moulding us and shaping us. The Other is basically anything and everything we are not or we do not identify with and on a deep level we, for good reason, mistrust this. We have personified this hard-to-define Other as the ubiquitous ‘They’. “They don’t care”, “They are wrong”, “They think it is stupid” and so on. How often do we say “It’s raining”? Who is this ‘It’? The world? The It and They are the Other that we have created so we can stand as an individual in our lives. It is a ‘necessary evil’.

Far be it from me to question the father of modern philosophy but I don’t think Hegel’s idea of the Other is helpful anymore. Why am I saying this? Because we have an Election coming up here in the UK and that Other is being used really rather terrifyingly to remove our liberties and sway our decisions.

The Other is now so ingrained as a human model in the social sciences we never question it and it is part of our speech but this idea is now being used to manipulate people. You need only look at any advertising campaign to see how the Self is used to make you think you are missing out on the product or service they are selling: “Doctors recommend”, “here for you”, “real beauty campaign”. In short they say these people are you or are part of you culture/experience and they use this product and/or service so if you want to remain part of this social self then you had better buy into this. What troubles me the most is how insidiously the notion of the Other is being used. The rise of a Nu-Right in British politics is a prime example of this. UKIP stands on one policy: Immigration. The very notion of Immigration is a Hegelian legacy writ large – “THEY ARE NOT FROM HERE. THEY ARE NOT YOU. BE AFRAID.” UKIP uses this evolutionary fear of the outsider on which to base its policies. George W. Bush summed up this notion during the height of the “War on Terror” by stating simply: “Why do they hate us?” The Other is the language of politics, the ‘if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us’ mentality is now so loudly trumpeted it is deafening in the run up to the Election.

This needs to change.

I make no claim to being a great cultural theorist or critic but I am able to see problems where there are clearly problems. The notion of the Other was co-opted by Nazism, McCarthy-ism and eastern European communism in the 20th century to generate hate for people that were considered ‘Not Us’. For the Nazis it was non-Aryan people, for the Communists it was Capitalists and for the Capitalists it was the Communists. And we know how that all turned out. UKIP and the Conservatives, more so than any other parties, not only speak the language of the Other but actively propagate our hatred of them and drive a greater wedge between the Self and the Other. Yes, I am comparing UKIP and Tories to Nazis because it is the same ideology that drives them. A few friends of mine are academics and they have nothing but contempt for George Orwell’s novel 1984. This surprised me as I rather like that book and it has proved startlingly pertinent (ironically, since 1984). When I asked why he hated it, my friend pointed out “it has done more for the rhetoric of the Right than it has for the Left”. The more I thought about this the more I realised how easy it was for the Right to co-opt this vision of the future as the Other and use it to their advantage. You hold up the nightmare of big brother and parody it, make it a TV show, laugh at how wrong Orwell was, show how luxurious we all have it, create a new middle class that has everything with its iPhones and internet and loudly cry: “We’re not like that grey dystopia!” “Nobody wants an Orwellian regime” “This is why 1984 won’t be like 1984” all the while Edward Snowden points out exactly how we are having our liberties taken from us. A fascist culture of control is never going to be like 1984 because it can’t happen like that, we would see it coming. The true 21st Century oppressive society is one of extreme decadence, giving everyone what they want so we can continue to live happily with this sense of self, meanwhile ostracising, vilifying and ultimately destroying The Other. I would hope I am not perceived as ‘Other’ in that scenario…

This is not a new cultural theory and seems resoundingly hysterical to posit that we are heading for another controlling system of Government but every time I look at a news outlet or talk to my friends in any industry this is all I ever hear. That our culture and society is being shaped to fit a very small percentage of people with substantial penalties if you fail to comply. This CANNOT be allowed to go on. The world is changing and everything we consider the norm is going to be very different by the end of our children’s generation. We can no longer fear the outsider, we are literally running out of time. With the growth in communication and the distribution of knowledge the world is a tiny place and there is no excuse not to understand or communicate with one another. Borders are human inventions built to keep this ‘Other’ out, the cities and their industries came first and then the borders were built up around them to create a stronger sense of self. These borders are actively being felled both metaphorically and literally every day. To quote a recent blockbuster “We must not act as individuals but as a species”. Do not listen to the backwards thinking of the modern Right because it is so transparently and incredibly damaging we may not be able to recover.

The reason I am saying all this is because the Election looms here in the UK and we really badly need a change. I won’t tell you who to vote for but I can’t in good conscience say it is okay to vote for either UKIP or Conservative. What I will say is that EVERY VOTE counts, really and truly and deeply. I am writing another post to follow this about why you should vote but for now hopefully you will be given an inkling into why we should mistrust the established political model and the language they use but instead of simply removing the voting system as the Russell Brands of the world would have us do the best we can do is nail our colours to the mast so the mast is weighed down with sails and flags of every colour. If we do that it shows a faith in a DEMOCRATIC system that we all want to be involved in, a system we all consider part of our Self. If we can take that back maybe then we can start listening to that Other and maybe help shape it as well as it shape us.

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Register to vote here.

Have a look at who you should be voting for here.

UKIP Manifesto Here

Labour Manifesto Here (pdf)

Sort of Tory Manifesto Here (an actual manifesto by them is actually hard to find but they are banging the Economy drum hard apparently) and their pledge on Europe here (pdf).

Green Manifesto Here

SNP Manifesto Here

Plaid Cymru Manifesto Here

Liberal Democrat Manifesto Here

All you need is right there. Please register to vote. At least enter the debate. Apathy and ignorance are no longer (and never have been) an excuse.

Thank you.

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