Tag Archives: Boris Johnson

Occupy everything

At first, like Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi, some of us could confess to having had mixed feelings about the Occupy movement.  For me, these may have been caused by distance and time difference getting in the way rather than anything more concrete, although other questions have surfaced about what the protesters stand for and what they could likely achieve.  Still, they seem to be annoying the right people, with Mayor Boris Johnson deriding the London wing of the movement as ‘fornicating hippies’ (ironic given the number of notches on his own bedpost).  Add in almost no-one’s favourite Blackshirt-lovers at the Daily Mail winding themselves up into apoplexy at the apparent emptiness of the tents (at 11pm, hardly a point at which your average protester would be tucked up with the cocoa) and it becomes easier to see the Occupiers as A Very Good Thing.

Mail-baiting aside, however, there are more positives to the movement.  Never has a motley collection of tents garnered so much commentary on what it could all mean and what the outcome could be.  Back to Mr Taibbi, who thinks:

This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it.

I think he is right.  This is a generation up to their eyes in debt, not because they bought eighteen-hundred dollar handbags, because often they needed the cash to cover the essentials.  Such fripperies as a roof over your head, a good education – or in America, healthcare – easily become millstones when the economic dice are so loaded.  I see the Occupy movement as an attempt to reimagine life, to try to envisage a world run for the benefit of the many and then bring it about.

Some have decried Occupy for a focus on the economic, when there are other matters of equal importance, however activist Silvia Federici, interviewed on libcom, notes:

…the economic crisis is bringing to light, in a dramatic way, the fact that the capitalist class has nothing to offer to the majority of the population except more misery, more destruction of the environment, and more war.

Occupations, in this context, are sites for the construction of a non-capitalist conception of society…

Sharon Borthwick, writing in The Commune, highlights another important function of the Occupy London site:

There are all manner of signs, some large ones, intricately written with many paragraphs describing their anti-capitalist message. The message is spreading. Londoners are stopping to read these long missives. They are also stopping in the street to talk to each other about how their lives are being run. They are in dire need of these alternative means of information.

The ‘Big Lie’ currently being peddled is that the responsibility for our ongoing economic woes can be laid almost anywhere except where it really should be planted.  The disinformation is spreading that governments or irresponsible borrowers or the welfare system was somehow to blame for banks deciding to follow a financial model more suitable to a casino.  Now overwhelmingly, it is the elderly, the young and the ill who are paying for the failure of that model, as the ones who created it skip off with the proceeds.  Matt Taibbi again:

People want out of this fiendish system, rigged to inexorably circumvent every hope we have for a more balanced world. They want major changes.

So what could victory look like?  It is difficult to say, since few past movements have even got close.  They have all ended up co-opted, watered down and bought off in the end.  Hopefully this one has a greater chance of success because it is attracting such a broad base, however, that is by no means assured. For now, I think it is enough to have our rulers clearly unsettled by the tents, while they are used to engage in a conversation about what comes next – especially with those who claim not to ‘do politics’ – and to be creating a space where people matter more than money.  To that end, perhaps the message should be moving from that of occupying the individual cities to one of ‘Occupy Everything’.  At this stage, there is little left to lose except our chains.

The other likely ending for any spontaneous movement is, of course, brutal repression.  ten minutes hate will be covering the authorities’ responses to the Occupy sites in another post soon.

Illustration by Barney Meeks

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Home strange home

I have been back in the UK for eight days and so far I have been unable to listen to any soundbite or speech by any politician all the way through.  It is a sad state of affairs for a political junkie.  Maybe I could blame the dulling effects of the jet lag, or maybe it is the vacuum where the moral authority should be that renders their words so jarring.  It is difficult to stomach a bunch of people who got the taxpayer to fund their plasma TVs and duck-houses when they start blethering about zero tolerance for criminality.  It is even harder to take from former members of a club with a reputation for smashing stuff up:

Presumably the main error the rioters made was in not being able to pay for the damage at the end of the evening.

Eight days ago, Southern England looked so English from 20,000 feet up.  The fields, houses and shopping centres were so resolutely un-Asian.  Everything looked so big – people included – it all felt familiar and alien at the same time.  We sat in the garden amongst wildflowers with wine and talked it all through, concluding that a complex mix of genuine grievance, political incompetence and the desire to get new stuff had driven the riots.  That there would be no easy, knee-jerk solution seemed obvious.

So it is also difficult to believe, as Caitlin Moran wrote on Saturday in The Times about the decision to close public libraries, that my country has taken a decision to be more stupid.  But that is what it feels like when any attempt to try to understand what has gone on is painted as a justification.  The shrill hysteria of the nightly news leaves me bewildered.  And I’m left to wonder, through a head foggy with tiredness and tea, if this will ever feel entirely like home again, this fractured, fractious country of mine.

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ten minutes hate

Seems perfectly made for a job at the Treasury, doesn't she?

ten minutes hate, the absolutely amazingly well-written and thought provoking website you are currently reading, famously takes its name in part from Nineteen Eighty Four.  However, there is another use of the term ‘ten minutes hate’ and that is to describe the final run-up to any hard-fought election.  It is meant to be the time when the gloves come off, the punches aren’t pulled before, inevitably, one of the challengers smacks the canvas.  [That’s enough terrible boxing metaphors, thanks, Smith – Ed]

However it seems that the UK election, which everyone surely knows is now taking place this May, is going to build up not so much to a ten minute hate as to a ten week stupidity.  Increasingly vacuous, lacking in concrete proposals and with politicians of all stripes outdoing each other to deny courses of action which we all know they won’t be able to avoid taking once elected, whether because circumstances or natural inclinations will force their hands.

And, just when you thought the political discourse in this country would struggle to get any more vacuous, up popped noted number-wrangler Carol Vorderman, to display about as much sense as she did in those adverts encouraging you to take out loans against your home.  In shrill tones that brought Sarah Palin to the memory of more than one viewer commenting on Twitter, she played to the gallery, dismissed other panelists who disagreed with her and – perhaps most surprisingly given her television experience – seemed to be reading from prepared notes.

So, is she a British version of Palin’s ‘soccermom’?  Judge for yourself, here.

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Politics will make you mad

you don't have to be... but it helps

you don't have to be... but it helps

A couple of different commentators in the same paper today (read it while you can – it is still free!) musing on the possibility of politics not being for the sane.  Over here, there is Rachel Sylvester pondering if politicians are born mad or driven that way by the need to pander to the demands of the electorate and over here, David Aaronovitch considering if Obama’s opponents are off with the pixies, reduced to heckling at open forum meetings and concocting ever-more bizarre conspiracy theories:

Why did — and does — a section of the American Right insist that its opponents are not just wrong, but actually illegitimate; not just mistaken, but anti-American?

Recent events could lead to the drawing of an inevitable conclusion that every person involved in politics anywhere in the world is up to no good, things have ever been thus and that nothing can ever change.  Yet, that’s not the attitude that got ordinary people the vote in the first place and isn’t the thinking that sees the people of Iran risking all for a greater stake in their country’s future.  Instead the question needs to be: what next?

Now that my own idea of heads on pikes on London Bridge and armed uprisings seems to have been dismissed out of hand (you lightweights!), it is both interesting and heartening to see some proper proposals coming forward.  I am sure that to most sensible people, the thought of constitutional reform fills them with a kind of dread and horror, but I hope it is clear that if we don’t want to continue being lied to, killed and ripped off, there is little else for it.

As I concur with the thought that wanting to achieve higher office should automatically disqualify you from it, I was interested to read proposals to use lots to select representatives in the House of Lords from two writers, Anthony Barnett and Peter Carty in their book ‘The Athenian Option’.  Mr Barnett considers the expenses scandal and its implications in this article on Open Democracy:

You could smell their fear of losing their claim to leadership as the populace howled with derision. Yet they also played for time: we are on your side they said, like all good therapists. Now go back to your “real lives”…

The most difficult problem, the one that demands organisation and invention, is how to bring people together so that each can see that they are not alone, their anger is healthy and justified and not in need of therapy.

It is clear that we are all going to have to get off our collective arses if we are not to find ourselves in the same situation in a year’s time, after a general election in which we have merely swapped one bunch of misfits for another.  Unfortunately, no easy answer presents itself, we are going to have to take control.

Real Change is one group attempting to explore ways in which reform could happen.  They don’t want to set out some conclusions and have you say yes or no to them, they would prefer you to tell them what you think.  So what do you think?  Do any of us know?  Is it even possible to have that kind of conversation when the political weathervane points ever more firmly towards the ridiculous?

In my cynical moments I think I know the answer, but I want to be proved wrong.  I want politics to be for all of us, not just the ones who didn’t inhale, the ones who never had a real job and the ones who are in it to live up to their fathers.  A final word, as ever, goes to Joe Strummer:

You gotta be able to go out there and do it for yourself.
No one’s gonna give it to you.

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Bastards

You can look back to the thirties and forties and think how much easier it was then, when the bad guys wore the hooked cross so lusted over by the toffs and the good guys were the ones who were against those guys, by whatever means were available to them.

Yet a look beneath the surface shows a time that was as conflicted as our own.  For instance, Orwell thought he could tell the difference between friend and foe when he headed to the front in  Spain – by the time he made the return journey in an ambulance he had been taught by events not to assume that his own ‘side’ were any less dangerous than the nominal enemy across the valley.  Naturally sympathetic to the causes of the left after his experiences in the pits around Wigan and the kitchens of Paris, he came to despise both the be sandalled socialists and the jackbooted communists who suppressed with enthusiastic ruthlessness the anarchist militias he fought with against the fascists.  He was no respecter of the adage that the enemy of your enemy is your friend, recognising that the enemy of your enemy is just the next arsehole on the list to be dealt with once you have finished kicking the main pig.

‘He may be a bastard, but he’s OUR bastard’

is not a thought that ever crossed Orwell’s mind, or so I think.  Nor would he have enjoyed the sight of tracksuit wearing secret police on our streets, imported from China like knock off Gucci handbags.  Or the vision of the Labour party walking around on two legs trying to convince us that they are the autocratic masters, while the Tories trot around on four, snuggling up to hoodies, trees, Shami Chakrabati and anything else that looks like it needs a hug.

What the people of this land should realise is that if we stop shooting, knifing, cheating and dragging each other onto the Jeremy Kyle show for a good shout, stop paying any attention whatsoever to Kerry Katona and the latest skid in her car crash of a life and instead, say, started taking out Cabinet Ministers in hand-to-hand combat, we would pathetically quickly gain the upper hand.  Those Kevlar vests they wear still leave a few major arteries open to the imagination.  Imagine Harriet Harman taking a Hummer trip around her constituency because she cannot be protected from us any other way.  Imagine Ed Balls fleeing from the kids’ playground because those same kids are chasing him off their turf, intent on pounding him with baseball bats.  I wonder if you can?

Let’s make them fear us for a change, Britain.
Let’s give them sleepless nights instead

Don’t lie there worrying about your mortgage payments; ponder which one of Brown’s bull-shitting bastards you would like to take out first.  Let them see that power brings consequences other than a shed-load of free John Lewis furnishings, great responsibility other than making sure your kids have a job for life.  Well, you can keep the £4,000 a-roll wallpaper, Lord Chancellor, but with it comes a free Battle Royale style death match involving both Houses on Canvey Island. Last wo/man standing gets to rule.  Perhaps it would also follow that seeing their backbench colleagues brutally massacred by feral teens would make them less keen on creating carnage in other people’s backyards?

Instead of Gladiators, let’s see Brown and Cameron really battle it out: just how bad do you want it, fella?  Dave, want to see a wind turbine on every roof so much that you will gouge out Gordon’s other eye to triumph?  Come on, Ken, now that there’s nothing to lose, let’s see how much of a class warrior you really are. I hear the argument that the landed gentry fight dirty and have been doing so for generations, but have always felt that in a street fight Red Ken would be naturally adept at the no-holds-barred style – after all, you can’t be that close to Stalin and Castro without picking up a few tricks.  Boris pleading, claiming to be a lover not a fighter, while the newt-fancier stomps on the usurper’s crown jewels might be the best, most crowd pleasing way to decide a future Mayoral contest since Dick Whittington started talking to his cat.

I for one am sick of a no-choice vote deciding between competing mediocrities

I think it is possible that you, my fellow electors, are with me on this.  Dwindling turnouts cannot only be blamed on a clash with a crucial episode of Eastenders.  What is the point of getting off the couch to mark an X if all it serves to do is duck out of taking responsibility for another few years?  Where is the incentive when 862,415 Irish voters can say they don’t want something and their rulers decide that actually, in fact, they do?  Whaaat? is never happy advocating violence and I am sure there will be a lengthy editorial disclaimer somewhere about leaving minister’s arteries alone (Eh?  Oh, yes.  Very bad.  Absolutely – Ed) but perhaps, just this once, it is time to act with aggression.  Our marching taught them nothing.  They need to be shown that they can no longer rely on the passivity of our implied goodwill.

Four hundred years after the last one, Britain needs to reclaim the brand of civil war she has been exporting in recent years and set it free to run amok on her own streets.  Violence is a game we are playing from Basra to Kandahar – why should Basingstoke and Kensington miss out?  Except that we are not going to turn brother against brother, putting fellow victims up against the wall: it is going to be strictly US v. THEM – the ones who presume to rule us based on flimsy margins, taken out by an electorate that have taken enough.  They have squandered the peace our grandparents bought for them and in return given us nothing but penury, cronyism and state interference.

We have been complacent for too long; it is time to discover if there is sand underneath the cobble stones after all…

First published September 2008 in issue two of whaaat?

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