Friday 24 December 2010

Which side are you on ?

Everyone else in the lefty-blog world has an opinion. And although I have no inside information, and probably no original insight, - here's my view on Tommy-gate:  

It's not quite the same as my party - I don't see the need to juxtaposition the caricature of Tommy-the blameless and persecuted  hero to that of Tommy-the evil megalomaniac who destroyed the Scottish Left.  But it's certainly not that either of the Anti-Tommy alliance  from Anarchists to Tories who are rubbing their hands in delight at his downfall.

I don't know - or care that much - if Tommy was technically guilty of the charges against him. But although - as the official party line says he is  'innocent of crimes against the working class' - he is as far as I can see guilty of hubris, weakness and lack of judgement. It seems contradictory that a man strong enough to go to prison for his beliefs should also succumb to the social  pressures of convention in denying his sexual tastes. Tastes that if revealed would undermine a carefully constructed public image of a family man and regular guy. But then again (like myself) he was raised as a Catholic before he became a Marxist.

But contradictions are at the heart of the whole sad Tommy-gate tale - most fundamentally the contradiction that he could be the most charismatic left leader of a generation, the man who perhaps  made the single biggest contribution to a renaissance of a movement, and at the same time the man whose actions did the most to pull it apart.

And the biggest and most shocking contradiction of them all is that people who once called themselves Marxists - who understood that the State is an instrument of the ruling class - should think that a court case could deliver some sort of objective 'justice'  or 'truth' abstracted from its political context - and even worse were willing to collaborate in what can only be described as a conspiracy with those who were openly the enemies of the working class movement.

So, however much I may wish that back in 2004 when confronted with the evidence Tommy had taken a 'published and be damned - I'm kinky deal with it' line  - it is not possible to now  take a neutral stance and hand-wringingly reflect on the sadness of the whole affair. And for that reason alone I'm siding not so much with Tommy -  as against the state, the Murdoch press, embittered former comrades, and the Tories.

Thursday 23 December 2010


I watched the Ken Burn's epic documentary series. Twice. I read Shellby Foote's monumental three volume history. And numerous others. I chose to do a paper in it when I was at uni.

It's out of my system now, but I was a bit obsessed with the American Civil War. 

Not as obsessed however as many Americans  - as evident from the 150th anniversary this week of the secession of South Carolina from the Union. This obsession is probably a good thing - it is the skeleton in the closet of the American Dream. It's relatively recent and it still poses unresolved issues - an itch that needs to be scratched - whilst us Brits in typical fashion chose to politely sweep our own - equally defining - civil war under the carpet.

But their obsession seems to be for so many of the wrong reasons: Naivety - the romance of Rhett Butler and crinolined Southern belles and a romantic lost cause. Unabashed racism - and the lie that slavery in  the antebellum South was some sort of benevolent paternalism. Or sheer ignorance of how history works -  individuals and groups may say they are doing something for a stated reason (states-rights or  crusading abolitionism ) - they may  genuinely believe they are acting for these reasons - but it still doesn't make it objectively true.

My favourite Southerner -  Steve Earle -  cuts through this nonsense in a couple of minutes in a song intro that puts many academic analyses to shame. As Steve says 'it never sees to amaze me - the pinko-shit you can sneak in to a bluegrass song':

Monday 20 December 2010

Aspirational journeys

For a long while one of the main indices of social mobility was how many young people went to university from families where previous generations hadn't done so.  For many post-war working class grammar school kids it was probably the index of mobility.  

I've written before about my own experience of this and how social mobility isn't the same thing as social justice - by a long chalk. But it says something of a society that education - and at the very least a veneer of meritocracy -  is held up as  vehicle for mobility.  So the irony hasn't escaped me that in the same weeks as that  social ladder is being kicked away from a generation of school-leavers , we have the phenomenon of 'The Apprentice'.  It's a telling reflection of our times that brown-nosing, back-stabbing and bullshitting are now the preferred routes to 'betterment'.

This year and as in previous years, the winner was someone -  like Lord SirAlunSugar himself - who was self-made and had experienced a heart-warming 'journey' to get into the corporate world. I've got nothing against winner Stella English. I've been to Thamesmead a couple of times on anti-fascist activities - and can confirm that the estate she is from is every bit as desolate and downright scary as it is portrayed: Fair play to anyone who has managed to get out of it. 

But surely after all that  there are more worthwhile things to aspire to than a middle-management position at Sugar's IT-to-the-public-sector business Viglen Limited ? 

Tuesday 14 December 2010

The Decembrist Revolt

Today I've again got a guest piece at 'On This Deity' to mark the Decembrist Revolt; In a senario that sounds horribly topical, the mutinous troops were 'kettled' in St Petersburg's Senate Square before the Czarist authorities let loose with (actual not water) cannons - and killed over a thousand people in less than an hour. The Daily Mail would have been proud.

Monday 13 December 2010

Wrong priorities

An extraordinary - and rather obscene - juxtapostition in the media fall-out after the 9th December's fees protest:

Whilst it has been reported - although without any particular sense of burning outrage - that Alfie Meadows was truncheoned by the riot police and required brain surgery, focus is still on that incident when the royals found themselves in the middle of the protest and their car got a bit man-handled.

Never mind the outrageous revelation that police at Charing Cross Hospital tried to prevent Alfie from being treated and that he may well have died had it not been for the insistence of an ambulance paramedic. The Home Secretary has confirmed that in the royal incident  'contact' was made by a protester with the Duchess of Cornwall, and she may even - it is said in hushed tones - of been poked with a stick.

Resisting the temptation to crack funny about Camilla and barge-poles, I'm struck by this popular obsession with the sanctity of the royal personage. Touching a royal,  or in certain circumstances looking at one inappropriately, was once sufficient to warrant a death sentence (conversely a royal laying on of hands was thought to have healing powers). Not so long ago Aussie premier Paul Keating caused outrage when he put his arm around the queen. Maybe the divine right of kings is alive and well after all. 

There's  certainly an  obsession with the symbols of authority - notice the emphasis in recording how posh-boy protester Charlie Gilmour didn't just make a prat of himself - he actually swung on the union flag

Climbing on the cenotaph and re-decorating Churchill's statue are always going to be PR-home goals, but the real and  lasting damage and offence to society caused is nothing in comparison to what is being done by these cuts. And it's hard to believe that those who died in the war against Fascism ever envisaged that paramilitary police would be kicking shit out of their great grand-children right outside the 'mother of parliaments'.

Friday 10 December 2010

Slackers at the taxpayers' expense

Here's another  typical layabout who  got pretty mediocre results as a student but still feels the world owes him a living.

With only 5 'O' Levels and a B and a C at 'A Level' - he still somehow managed to blag his way into Trinity College Cambridge. When he was there he didn't study anything socially-useful or practical  but chose a soft subject - Archaeology and Anthropology - with one  of the worst rates of graduate employment. Fortunately  he didn't fancy going  into teaching because his 2.2 degree wouldn't be considered a sufficient qualification in some circles nowadays. 

Still he has undeniable  'street-smarts'  - he's one of the only people who last year managed to increase his income to just under £20million whilst at the same time also reducing his tax bill by 10%.  

Thursday 9 December 2010

The not so strange death of the LibDems ?

Although of course they are 'all in it together', the LibDem end of the coalition has become the particular target for anger at the attacks on education for all. And rightly so - odious though the unashamed defenders of privilege in the Tory party may be -  there is something particularly fucking offensive about the smug sanctimony of the Liberals who wring their hands (rather than gleefully smiling) whilst  putting the boot in on the hopes and ambitions of a generation.

The personification of all that is offensive in the LidDems can be found in the MP for the constituency neighbouring my own -  Lynne Featherstone of Hornsey & Wood Green. 

Of all things, she was the previous LibDem spokesperson for Youth & Equality (!!!) and is now the ConDem Minister for Equality. A quick look at her blog will show how she sees no irony in now being part of a government who with  a single set of measures, will turn back the clock on social mobility and equality of opportunity to before 1976 when student grants were first introduced.

But hey it's not all doom and gloom: George Dangerfield's 'The Strange Death Of Liberal England' described how it took only four years (1910-14) for the previous incarnation of the Liberals to go from the party of government to terminal decline. This time round it might just take a single parliamentary vote to lose its base in the angst-ridden middle classes and misguided Labour protest voters ...

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Secrets and lies

The whole WikiLeaks saga is unravelling like the plot of a lost Stig Larson novel. 

I'm not sure whether the diplomatic revelations expose sinister international conspiracies at the highest levels of the world's ruling class, or the petty bitchiness of overgrown-school boys with too much time on their hands. 

From what I have seen  I'm clear that there is an air if unreality about the whole business and very little to do with my life.  I'm reminded of  the Le Carre novels   - and their labyrinthine intrigues  of plots  and counter  plots - and the feeling that the world of diplomacy and epsisionage serves no more purpose other than just to keep going. A self-perpetuating game played in the final analysis for its own sake. 

Does the  diplomacy need to be secret? Within the narrow confines of the 'game' - then probably yes. But as soon as we start questioning whether the game is necessary at all or  if we are content to have a ruling class making decisions behind our backs then the answer has to be -  no. 

At the moment only the usual suspects on the Left and some eccentric right-wing libertarians have ralied to Julian  Assange's defence - Although he does seem to have pissed off all the right people;  from Sarah Plalin proclaiming some sort of fatwah, to the  US federal government banning employees from accessing Wikileaks... to the Colombian goverement telling students that they jeopradise their future job prospects if  they access the website.

Tellingly  though, these  diplomatic  revelations are supposedly just the tip of the iceburg and Assange is holding back dishing the dirt on international  big business until the shit really hits the fan. It speaks volumes that pissing of powerful national governements is one thing but taking on global capital is something else.

Thursday 2 December 2010

'Working from home' ?

The past couple of days I have chickened out  of riding my bike in the snow and have resigned myself to taking the tube to work. Today, looking at the surprisingly empty carriages, and now that I am in work at the half empty studio - I seem to be one of the few who hasn't succumbed to the bullshit of 'working from home'.

The concept of 'working from home' is a telling indicator of our times.

Firstly it shows quite  how far we have become ruled by the corporate culture of work and 'presentee-ism'. The snow is a freak occurrence for fuck's sake - many people can't get into work without ridiculous efforts - others are effectively cut off. But it is still not acceptable to say I'm staying in bed / watching daytime TV or DVDs of old black  and white movies / having a snowball fight / going sledging with the kids / drinking whisky hugging a radiator.  Instead there is the pretense of 'working from home'.

Which leads to the second point - the vast majority of  people with a 'proper job' simply can't work from home. If you actually make something or  provide some practical service you need a workplace to do it in - and usually other people to do it with. In the old days when most jobs were like this working from home would have been  unthinkable.

However if your job consists of gazing blankly into Excel spread sheets, preparing Powerpoint slides for meetings or writing a report of a meeting  you've been to - then working from home will suit you fine. And fucking good riddance too.