Here’s why I’m IN!

It seems strange to be writing this on the very eve of the EU Referendum vote. I’ve wrestled with writing something for weeks now but this debate has made me so angry, depressed, upset and fearful there just doesn’t seem to have been a right time to do it. I’ve feared I’d slip into some sort of blinkered, personalised rant; filled with the very ire that to be fair the majority of the last 10 weeks of campaigning has been littered with.

This has not been the United Kingdom’s finest hour. Language on both sides of the debate has been at best highly charged and at worst fuelled by hate. I would argue that this type of discourse hasn’t started with the EU referendum campaign. The bile, veiled threats and gutter politics has been growing for well over a decade now. We’ve just seen a crescendo over the past 10 long weeks of which I personally, haven’t seen in my lifetime and I don’t know if we’ll ever recover from it in the near future whatever the result. More on that in a future blog I feel!

Putting all of that aside though, yes, I am a remainer! Feels good to write that. It’s a perfectly innocent word. To continue to be. I’m in and not out. I’m a British, English, Scouse European in no particular order of merit. I’m happy to embrace all sides of those cultures together with any remaining trace of Irish ancestry embedded within my own and many Liverpudlian’s DNA.

There’s no treachery there. There’s nothing unpatriotic about that. Nobody can seriously claim otherwise.

There are lots of reasons why I’ll be voting to stay in the EU. I won’t go through each of them here as over the last 10 weeks people far more eloquently have put arguments across that I’ve shared through social media. I will just touch upon the ones that I feel most strongly about.

Firstly, I’m from Liverpool. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that the European Union saved the city of Liverpool. The EU saved it from a Tory government with a Thatcherite policy of “managed decline”. Under that government Liverpool qualified for European Objective One status. Reserved only for the poorest parts of Europe as a whole. Just think about that for a moment. Our own government let Liverpool and other areas of the UK rot until they were officially the poorest regions of the entire EU. So much for the 5th most prosperous economy in the world! Europe bailed us out. You can’t walk around Liverpool without walking past something that is there only because of European funding. It’s a vibrant centre that millions visit. The bars and hotels are full every weekend and there are just so many of them now! It’s not Utopia but just what would have happened to Liverpool and other vast swathes of neglected, typically working class areas, without all that money from Europe? (Note to Frank Field: Can you actually remember how run down Liverpool and the City Region were? Are you sure you’re in the right party? Maybe you should take your own advice and “think the unthinkable” of a Merseyside devoid of all those European millions begging for the crumbs off the Tory table?)

Secondly and following on from above, the UK will not be able to get a better trade deal than almost an entire continent. There’ll be no special treatment for us from the rest of Europe if we decide to go. Quite the contrary. We’ll be made an example of to quell any other nations who may question their European status. The “5th largest economy” is a misnomer. The majority of that wealth sits with the top 2% of our population anyway and that’s not because of Europe! To suggest we’ll still have access to the European market on our terms because we’re Britain and they need us is nonsense. Leaving Europe will be like a bitter divorce and asking for free trade on only our terms would be like asking your ex-wife to have free access to her home and complete use of all the facilities whilst expecting to continue to make love to her on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Bank Holidays!

Thirdly, you simply have to look at who wants us to leave. On the face of it that’s a point based on personalities but it’s far deeper than that. It’s about their political DNA. Anyone contemplating voting to leave the EU has to at least stop for even a second and think about the long-held beliefs of those campaigning for Brexit. Why are this lot so keen to leave the European Union? Really, think carefully about it. Why? 

Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Ian Duncan Smith, Nigel Farage, Priti Patel, Paul Nutalls of the UKIPs, Toby Young, Katie Hopkins, Neil Hamilton, Julia Hartley-Brewer, Rupert Murdoch, Liam Fox, Nigel Lawson, Chris Grayling etc. Not one of them have done anything for or have any good will towards the working class. Between them their policies include, privatising the NHS, dismantling the BBC, scrapping workers’ rights, commercialisation of the education system, relaxing gun laws, denying climate change, further austerity, reducing public services even further, supporting bankers’ bonuses (yes those people who caused the financial crash in the first place!) banning satire, scrapping social housing, attacking the disabled, protecting tax havens, scrapping support for legal representation to those who cannot afford it, defending zero-hours contracts… The list goes on.

Why are those people with their track record so desperate to leave the EU?

Finally, I’ve seen so many people viewing this referendum as some sort of vote to get rid of the Conservatives. There’ll be no General Election as a consequence of this vote. We have fixed term parliaments now. You might see the back of Cameron and Osbourne only to usher in the new dawn of Johnson and Gove and strengthening the position of Farage and the far-right.

This isn’t about anything other than our future in Europe, potentially our future as a United Kingdom and protecting our children and grandchildren’s rights, mobility and influence on our own continent and beyond.

It really is no time, with all the issues facing us as a planet, never mind Europe, to be isolating ourselves on an opportunistic right-wing whim.

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A Progressive Nightmare

So it’s 5 years of Tory government.

Unadulterated Tory government this time as they gained seats against what the polls had indicated throughout the campaign and the Liberal Democrats capitulated. Indeed, the Liberal Democrats lost so many deposits they could have been mistaken for an absent minded banker. It seems only the Liberal Democrats themselves didn’t see their apocalypse coming. When the exit polls predicted their lowly seat count once the voting had closed Paddy Ashdown immediately rubbished them and declared that if correct he would, “eat his hat”. R.I.P. Paddy Ashdown’s hat. It was very rarely seen in public much like the Liberal Democrats of today. Let’s not forget that in the run up to the 2010 election when everyone was clambering to “agree with Nick”, the Liberal Democrats, under Clegg, had gained popularity using the left-leaning base that Charles Kennedy had previously solidified before turning to drink. Clegg had campaigned not for austerity, but similarly to Gordon Brown’s Labour had criticised the Conservative thinking of cutting welfare and public services as opposed to public investment to stimulate growth. Here is why Nick Clegg’s gambit of entering a coalition with the Conservatives was always going to be their downfall. You can’t pick up votes and seats using a left-leaning set of values and then prop up a right-wing Tory government. In effect they conned their own support and have paid a heavy but highly predictable price.

What happened to Labour though? Let’s be frank. Five years ago they picked the wrong man. Ed Miliband never convinced as a leader, rarely looked comfortable (with or without a bacon sandwich) and just didn’t strike anybody as a plausible winner. If one of the best moments in your election campaign is the trending Twitter hashtag of a 17 year-old girl then that really speaks volumes. Moving forward it is now so important that Labour picks the right person to start their recovery. There is now a debate, driven largely by a right-wing media, as to whether or not Ed Miliband’s Labour positioned itself too far to the left of centre-ground politics. This is well worth looking at more closely. In Scotland there was a very clear left-wing anti-austerity choice with a convincing party leader leading the charge. The result for Labour was a Nicola Sturgeon led SNP destroying the former safe Labour heartlands North of the Border. In England, there was no such credible anti-austerity ticket. You could have austerity max, austerity, austerity light or mildly racist. Labour lost votes to UKIP because many of its traditional voters lost trust in them as a party of working people. Sadly those defectors were falling for the Nigel Farage “man of the people” routine and “blame everything on immigrants” lines. Others, to a lesser extent, voted Green in terms of it having the most left-leaning policies available to vote for. Would this have happened though with a well reasoned, firm and credible rejection of Conservative austerity akin to what the Scots clearly chose in their thousands?

Overall, it was a nightmare for progressive politics in the United Kingdom. A Conservative majority in the House of Commons, an annihilation of the Liberal Democrats, Labour almost 100 seats behind the Tories and a popular, progressive SNP sweeping Scotland but without enough progressive allies to keep the Conservatives at bay.

At least Nigel Farage didn’t con the electorate of South Thanet.

Bloody polls eh?!!

Feeding the Beast. (Instantly)

Sue Perkins waved an enforced and indefinite goodbye to twitter this week as the Motor-freak Lunatic Fringe showered her with death threats on the popular social media tool. Her crime? She was linked, falsely as it happens, as the favourite to replace the prophet Jeremy Clarkson as the new Top Gear host. Clarkson’s disciples can’t bear any non-Clarkson replacement for Clarkson, particularly as Sue Perkins happens to be a woman and a lesbian. It’s probably just as well that she isn’t black or Muslim as burning effigies of her could well have littered some of Britain’s streets and social media timelines.

Makes you proud to be British doesn’t it?

You get hounded off twitter with death threats for having the sheer arrogance to be punched by Lord Clarkson for not providing any hot supper to his holiness. Then, for actually not being Clarkson or conforming to the bigotry of the Jesus of Chipping Norton, you can expect exactly the same treatment, if not worse. The story wasn’t even true, indeed Sue Perkins herself said of presenting the show that she, “couldn’t imagine anything worse than doing it.”

Ah, but let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story!!!

In 2015 that old media line probably couldn’t be more relevant. In the old days, before social media, the internet and making a career out of being a rent-a-gob scumbag like Jon Gaunt or Katie Hopkins there wasn’t much stuff about that was instant. Even instant stuff wasn’t that instant. There was instant coffee, but you still had to wait for the kettle to boil and stir the coffee in the hot water and even then bits of it would still float about the top. Similarly instant custard wasn’t quite so instant, you still had to get the amounts right and boil water and stir etc. Instant cameras were probably a bit more instant but then again you still had to wait for the picture to gradually appear and maybe have to shake the resulting photo about a bit, requiring some effort and possible wrist injury, for an image that wasn’t that great in the end. By today’s standards that definition of instant would probably be subject to the Trades Descriptions Act.

Nowadays, patience is thin and instant is king. People want stuff. Lots of it and they want it not in the future, not now, but then, just then. They need to access stuff “at the touch of a button”, “as quickly as possible”, “instantly”, “superfast”. There’s no time to waste, you must have your stuff now and be ready to move onto the next thing, and the next thing. Who wants to click on something more than once? Just give me it now, one click, speculate as you like, just give me it now before my finger falls off with repetitive mouse click injury.

There’s no time to actually research anything and form a well balanced view. We have 60 second news for God’s sake! There was a time when the opening titles of a news programme lasted longer than 60 seconds let alone the whole news bulletin! It’s instant though isn’t it? Forget any actual detail, or balance or heaven forbid actual facts. Here’s 5 news stories and the weather in 1 minute now go away and get back to watching Celebrity Flag Waving Extra with Stephen Mulhern.

Modern life has become a slave to the instant. The instant soundbite, the instant speculation, the instant social comment, instant news. In return everyone can react instantly too. We’re encouraged to instantly vote, to feedback instantly and so there is a prevalence to take information in instantly and to instantly like, hate, comment and worse still abuse.

There is a notion amongst a significant minority to read something on the internet, social media or to Google something and hit the first link that takes your fancy and believe everything in there and react instantly to it. I think some people must just move from outrage to outrage, spoon feeding themselves a diet of indignation and moral disbelief. Life has gotten faster and there’s no time to do any research anymore or to actually stop and think about consequences or hurt feelings. There’s a whole host of cowardly, faceless, “keyboard warriors” out there who revel in this new world of the instant and the ease of access that social media brings and joyously troll their way through anybody who doesn’t fit to their own personal tastes.

Don’t think this hasn’t gone unnoticed. It’s being gleefully used against us. Corporate companies, politicians and media groups know it and use it to their own advantage. The same lies, rumours and spin used over and over again to be liked, retweeted and shared until it becomes the truth as people can’t be bothered to find out what the facts might actually be. Look at how popular Britain First has become on Facebook. It doesn’t out itself per se as the fascist, far right, thug merchant organisation that it truly is. You actually have to do a little research to become au-fait with that. However, it constantly churns out memes and messages about Britain and the flag and the armed forces and lies about how badly done to white British folk are done to compared to foreigners. People who by and large wouldn’t class themselves as racist or thugs or fascists gleefully like and share this far-right nonsense without batting an eyelid. It callously uses the image of Lee Rigby for its own nasty propaganda, fully aware that’s his family condemn them for using those images and his name for a fascist cause that he didn’t and would never have supported. Ah, but people won’t find that out though will they? They’ll just see the plausible message and the picture of a dead soldier and click like or share in a second. You don’t actually need to think about it, just scroll and click. (We won a war remember against fascism, that’s kind of one of the reasons we have an armed forces.)

Britain First Lite or UKIP as they are more commonly referred to has Nigel Farrage declaring himself as a “man of the people” and “anti-establishment”. “Oooooh! Look at Nigel there all dressed in tweed and with a pint in his hand everywhere he goes!” people say, “He’s one of us isn’t he? Wearing all that tweed and drinking pints of real ale all the time, whatever he does, anywhere he goes, ever. Ah yes! There he is, good old Nige and that glorious tweed that we all wear don’t we? Drinking ale, good British, real ale, in pints, wherever he goes, not litres like in France but proper British pints for tweed wearing, common sense, men of the people. There he is, “The Fage” educated at public school in South London and going on to work in the City, trading commodities, perhaps tweed or real ale, just like us, Mr Anti-Establishment himself, ready to ditch workers rights and really putting two fingers up to the man, ready to dismiss us unfairly with no cause to redress whatsoever…”

The Establishment are cynically luring working class people, in a time of austerity, to blame everybody but themselves for cuts in public services, low wages and an unprecedented housing crisis. Protecting their own (bankers, non-doms, corporate tax-avoiders) whilst blaming immigrants, “benefit scroungers”, attacking the disabled and the working poor. Classic divide and rule. Retweet, share, like and believe. Just don’t check the facts.

Someone on my Facebook timeline, a young, white, working class male, argued that Clarkson was “one of them” and “spoke for people like us”. That of course will be the same Jeremy Clarkson who writes for The S*n, is a close friend and neighbour of David Cameron, supports fox hunting and was one of the invited guests to the funeral of Margaret Thatcher.

There is a whole beast out there feeding us constant information in an instant. It is a bigger beast than ever before and it’s growing. It is largely unmoderated and completely accessible. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the internet and social media and that very accessibility and freedom. We are all feeding it in some form or another, I am doing it now by writing this. It is a beast though and it can bite. Someone feeds it some nonsense about Sue Perkins and the beast bites and claims another victim.

Don’t believe everything you read. Never has this been more relevant and true in today’s society. Except it should probably be extended to read:

Don’t believe everything you read, or see liked, shared, favourited, retweeted, blogged or googled.

There’s a beast needs feeding, right now! It’s hungry and ready to bite.

Canterbury Tales

What on earth has happened to Question Time? Once a pillar of televisual political debate it has descended into some sort of dumbed down Wright Stuff. Whether that is a reflection on the BBC, popular culture or the state of politics in general is debatable. What is certain is that the late Robin Day would not have been impressed by what this show has become.

Last night’s episode had been built up by the Beeb themselves as a battle between the former addict and lethario Russell Brand and the acceptable face of the far right, Nigel Farage. At times the whole thing just collapsed. David Dimbleby seems to have just given up. Looking bemused at times, often not bothering to effecively chair proceedings, guests and audience members just shouted over each other.

The audience seemed to largely fall into Brand-ites, whooping and hollering at whatever he said like they were at an American stand-up gig and UKIP-ers baying for the blood of any potential immigrant within a 500 mile radius.

Canterbury’s finest were all there. The mad shouty woman, the shouty man with the stick and the classic, “now I’m not racist but…” lady. The local Head of Tourism must have been having cold sweats.

As light relief the potty mouthed, Tory diver Penny Mordaunt was there only to be reminded early doors by Dimbleby for her love of the word “cock” and she never recovered.

In truth the whole Brand vs Farage thing was an anti-climax. They might as well have re-booked that Welsh bloke from the call centre thing. Perhaps Question Time should go further and just book Anne Diamond,  Scott Capurro, any random Australian soap star and replace Dimbleby with Matthew Wright.