Wednesday, 28 April 2010

"Whose idea was that?": Gordon, Gillian and the election pantomime

Despite Gordon Brown apparently being determined to lose the election by insulting a pensioner in the presence of the national media, I doubt his description of Rochdale voter Gillian Duffy as a “bigoted woman” will have any effect on the election result.

It's moments like this which reveal the stage-managed nature of the election. The political “walkabouts” taken by leaders surrounded by media types, suited spin doctors and members of their own party pass for genuine campaigning. Brown was heard saying “they should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that? It's just ridiculous...”

Ridiculous, presumably, that a voter could slip through the net of vetted individuals and ask a politician to explain their policies in real time without an autocue. Brown's apparent irritation with having to deal with a conversation that departed from pre-arranged scripts is an indictment of the contempt with which the entire political class treats all of us. What was interesting about his initial exchange with Mrs Duffy was how Brown kept interrupting her with a string of soundbites. “We're for fairness... for hard-working families...better schools...” It was as if he couldn't think of anything substantive to say.

What about the “bigot” comment? Duffy's politics were of a type familiar to anyone who has done any political campaigning in recent years. It could be summed up, very crudely, as Welfare State = Good, Immigration = Bad. She is, apparently, a lifelong Labour supporter who has worked in the public sector for decades. While she mentioned having to pay for the national debt, and why tutition fees were bad, her attack on Brown was mostly from the Right; lock up the criminals, crack down on the scroungers, sort out the Poles. The sort of populist, reactionary shite that will no doubt inspire a proliferation of “Gillian Duffy should be PM” Facebook groups.

So Brown perhaps really did think that Duffy's views on immigration were bigoted. But he should perhaps indulge in a bit of self-criticism. His Party's citizenship tests, “British Jobs For British Workers”, points-based immigration scheme, demonisation of Muslims, have all pandered to racism in society rather than combating it. It's no surprise that a Labour candidate like John Cowan could come out with disgusting anti-Muslim comments.

Working-class racism should be condemned as any other racism should be. Anti-immigrant feeling should be fought. But it's more than a bit rich for the leader of a Party that has presided over all this to throw around allegations of bigotry.

As usual I'm taking an Everyone Involved Is Wrong position on this one. Brown, like all politicians, wants his politics stage-managed and stale, without argument, confrontation, or possible embarrassment. Duffy should probably go and buy some Polish sausages, they're fucking delicious. The media should piss off from her front lawn and go and cover a real story.

What sort of democracy are we in where Politician Meets Voter is front page news?

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Rage Against the Liberal Democrats

The news that the RATM for Christmas No. 1 group has inspired a Facebook campaign to get the LibDems into office has been met with a positive response. The band have produced a new version of their cover of Springsteen's Ghost of Tom Joad to help the LibDem election campaign. A RATM spokesman said, “Anyone who listens to our music will know that we're especially hot on their free-market economic policies and support for the imperialist adventure in Afghanistan.”

The Ghost of Nick Clegg

Man walks into your TV studios
He's got a name and a face that no-one knows
He looks and he talks like just another posh twat
But he's different 'cos he's Liberal Democrat
Now adoring fans stretching around the corner
Welcome to the New Liberal Order
Gonna take some marginals down in the Southwest
Get people's votes because they're SICK OF THE REST

This election is alive tonight
Gonna force a hung Parliament if we're able
I'm standing under these TV studio lights
Searchin' for the ghost of old Vince Cable

Pulls the Orange Book out from behind his back
Says “Fooled you all with my charm attack
And all your false hope ain't gonna protect ya
When I impose a pay freeze on the public sector”
With a one way ticket to Downing Street
With clouds in my head and the world at my feet
A new fairer Britain and the politics of trust
To keep you warm through all our “savage cuts”

This election is alive today
Gonna break the mold of politics soon
The bankers fucked up but I'll make you pay
While I'm searchin' for the ghost of Chris Huhne

[Guitar solo]

Now Nick says, “Wherever you see a cop beatin' a guy
We'll set up an ineffectual inquiry
Where there's services to privatise, I'm laissez faire
Look to the Right, I'll be there
Wherever someone's strugglin' in a foreign nation
Fuck 'em, we're keeping points-based immigration
If you doubt where I stand on the economy
Look to the Right, you'll see me
You'll see me!
You'll see me!
You'll see me!
You'll see me!
You'll see me!
You'll see me!
You'll see me!
You'll see me!”

This election is alive tonight
Gonna add more seats to our Parliamentary tally
Who'd vote for all this shite?
I'm searchin' for the ghost of Lord McNally (wait, who?)

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Romsey Election Poster League Table

Election window posters currently up in this end of Cambridge:

Greens: Quite a lot
Liberal Democrats: Not as many as you'd think
Socialists: A good few
Labour: One
Tories: Zero

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Passengers Face TRAVEL CHAOS

Air passengers face travel chaos after a gigantic plume of volcanic ash from Iceland forced the closure of airports and the cancellation of flights. 600,000 people are affected.

A spokesman for British Airways said: "It's totally inappropriate for this cloud of ash to drift here during the busy Easter period. This will hurt businesses and families who have saved up for their holidays and probably puppies too.

"We have tried to reason with the ash cloud but it refuses to get round the table and hammer out a deal."

BA say that, even though all the airports have been shut, up to 85% of their planes are still flying.

Have you been affected by the giant cloud of ash? Why not send us your no doubt considered and reasoned opinions on this story?

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Politics and Bullshit

(Apologies for not posting for a while, a virus ate my laptop)

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefencible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.”

George Orwell, 1946

“We're in the future business.”

Gordon Brown, 2010

“We stand for society, that's the right idea for a better future.”

David Cameron, 2010

“The thing I really want to change is to give people greater fairness.”

Nick Clegg, 2010

“It's Greens who are standing up for fairness.”

Caroline Lucas, 2010

I recently read a great short essay by George Orwell, called 'Politics and the English Language,' from which the quote above is taken. Orwell made the point that politicians either make their language deliberately unintelligible so we have no idea what's they really think, or else use a constant stream of cliches* so we have no idea what they really think. At no time is this more true than in the run up to an election.

The quotes from the politicians that I've used above aren't chosen because they particularly illustrate this point more than anything else any of them have said. They're just what I found in about a minute of Googling.

Labour say, “A Future Fair For All.” Tories say “Now For Change.” Greens say “Fair is Worth Fighting For.” I'm not actually sure what the LibDems' main tagline is, probably “For God's Sake Give Us A Go, It's Been 85 Years!” Let's be clear: none of these are political slogans. “All Power to the Soviets” is a political slogan. “Keep Britain White” is a political slogan. Anything that someone, somewhere, might actually disagree with is a political slogan. In this election they all crap on about “fairness” (whatever that is). A few years ago it was promising a better life for “hard-working families.” As if anyone would read this and think, “I'm so fucking sick of these hard-working families, they've had it too good for too long.”

Taking this into account, forgive me for not looking forward to the televised “debates” with any excitement. I imagine they might go something like this:

What the Tories don't understand is that Britain is crying out for us to finish our unfinished business. This election is about the future. By the way, remember how awful the Tories were in the past.

We need change, based on our British values. Something a Scotsman would know nothing about.

Clegg: Both the old parties have forgotten that people on the doorstep want a fair deal in the home, at work, in the school system, on the buses, in the fields, on the beaches, in any tug-of-war contests they feel like entering. Fairness is the key to a fairer society.

No society can exist without fairness. Playing by the rules should be rewarded...

… by a government which looks forward and has bold...

… radical...

… and pragmatic policies and vis...

...ion to lead in a challenging age where tou...

Clegg: decisions need to be made.

At the end of the debate, the Four Horsemen of the Public Sector Apocalypse (Cuts, Pay Freezes, Redundancy and Privatisation) will ride out from the mouths of the party leaders and lay waste to the land.

How's that for an election prediction?

I may write a more serious post on the political implications of excessive bullshit in due course, if I can bring myself to listen to any more of it without breaking down and weeping.

* I'm aware that “constant stream of cliches is itself a cliché, but give me a break, it's 1a.m.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

The anti-justice system and bullying managements

Network Rail has launched a legal challenge to try to get a national rail strike by the RMT and TSSA delayed. They are citing ‘irregularities’ in the strike ballot, which will be eerily familiar to BA cabin crew. According to the BBC, the legal challenge contains a written document which states:

“The strike will have the effect of preventing about 80% of all rail services in the UK, so causing immense damage to the economy, to businesses depending on rail for freight and/or transport of commuting workers, and to a great many individual rail users.”

I’m sorry, what? How does the potential effectiveness of any strike have any bearing on whether or not the ballot was legal? Would the supposed ballot ‘irregularities’ have ceased to exist if only 30% of rail services were being cancelled? What about 50%? Before Christmas, the BA strike was postponed by a court injunction. Similarly, Mrs Justice Cox said when making her ruling:

“A strike of this kind over the 12 days of Christmas is fundamentally more damaging to BA and the wider public than a strike taking place at almost any other time of the year.”

So I suppose the ‘irregularities’ in the cabin crews’ strike ballot would have been less ‘illegal’ at a quieter time of year? All this begs the question, are strikes being ruled illegal because they might actually be effective? Do we now only have the right to withdraw our labour as long as no-one gets annoyed about it?

The complex anti-union laws that govern balloting, brought in by the Tories and maintained under 13 years of a Labour government, are designed to make it as difficult as possible for a group of workers to strike, and give managements enough time to prepare if a strike does go ahead.

Also this week, the cop who was up for assaulting a protester at last year’s G20 summit got off. He admitted to repeatedly striking her with a baton after mistaking her carton of orange juice for a weapon. It’s good to know police training doesn’t extend as far as being able to distinguish household objects from deadly weapons from a few feet away.

It has long been the case that in practice, the burden of proof falls a different way for police officers. If I beat someone repeatedly with a metal stick for threatening me with a dangerous Ribena, I would have to prove that I was acting in self-defence. The police officer got off because there was apparently no evidence that he wasn’t acting in self-defence.

Back to the strikes: Increasingly the justice system is being used as the first avenue of attack by bosses who are used to getting their own way. We shouldn’t be surprised. A common accusation in all the recent industrial disputes that have blown up into national stories has been that there exists a culture of bullying in the workplace. This was the case in the bus drivers’ dispute in South Yorkshire last year, where drivers actually voted ‘No’ to striking against a pay freeze, but overwhelmingly ‘Yes’ to striking against harsh disciplinary procedures. And just ask any BA picket what they think of their management. British Gas workers, too have voted overwhelmingly to strike, after the GMB union found that a staggering 85% of them regarded management bullying to be a problem.

Imagine, rolling out across every industry, every workplace, a generation of managers who walk straight into desk jobs, who have never done the same work as the people they are ‘in charge’ of, and who have no idea what to do when the tacky models they learned on their Management Studies courses encounter resistance when they try to force them on real people. Just like a schoolyard bully who can’t get what he wants, they throw a tantrum. Unlike the bully, though, they have powerful friends in positions of authority who will help them.

Imagine, in every industry and every workplace, a generation of workers entering jobs with no idea of what their rights are at work, with no union representation, who have had their expectations of what working life is going to be like lowered by their first experiences of service sector jobs where you have to smile while you’re treated like shit. Where the bosses expect you to stay late after your paid hours, just to help us finish something off, it’ll only take half an hour, maybe an hour, here’s a free phone in case we need to reach you at home…

People only have good working conditions because they stood up and fought for them. That’s why the whole of the working class can’t afford these strikes to fail.