The Little Shop that Shouldn’t

Every day I walk past a little shop: The Village something or other. Some whimsical misnomer that transports one’s mind to the pastoral wholesomeness of a little hamlet set into greening mountainside, far from the bustling grey of London, far from the anonymous rush and the industrial, faceless cement and plastic flimsiness of relentless commercialism, to a quaint place of smiles and bowed roofs where cows chew the cud and the smell of slow baking bread fills the valley with its hearthside scent.  

Through the windows of the shop I see great loaves and cakes and biscuits and exotic chorizo, crumbly cheese and jam jars of chutney spread out on a bare, gnarled tabletop. The table legs are painted pastel and the tops are barren and raw and unvarnished, as if the table was rescued from the kitchen of a farmer’s homestead somewhere in rural Cyprus. The floor is bare wood and were it not for the warmth dribbling up from the underfloor heating, one would feel as though they had stepped in the romantic idea of some well kept peasant’s hovel. Brown twine hangs by the window frames and tied into are cloves of garlic interspersed by little packages of delectable niceties. Their sugar coatings glisten innocently. 

The bread, rotund and fat and welcoming, looks freshly baked but there is no oven in the small room. The crusts are cracked and tanned as if they had been sprayed by an artist and they are just the right amount of imperfect, just the right amount of misshaped. Sourdough, pumpernickel, ciabatta, focaccia; loaves with seeds in them, loaves dotted with raisins, square loaves and spherical loaves; all picketed by their own twee little signs denoting the prices: £4, £5, £6 and so on. Pleasantries and trite nothings are scrawled crudely and in charming handwriting about the walls of the shop and words jump from the curated mess: “Artisanal”, “Freshly baked”, “Organic”. In the fridge humming and casting a lazy glow by the wall, cans and pop-cap bottles with unrecognisable, calligraphic labels and beautiful pictures of lemons and hops and barley, and rose-cheeked children smiling, that look to have been masterfully designed in a loft in Paris, shiver with seeping droplets of condensation.

And each day, alone in his empty little shop, the proprietor, a young man in the mire of his thirties stands clicking dolefully on a Mac upon the table top, one foot crossed over the other. He glances outside past the milk cart he has sawn in half and placed pristinely by the doorway next to two empty milk pails and sees me stroll past. I imagine him to have started his stupid little shop on the capital of a trust fund. I imagine him to have thought himself mightily clever for noticing a gap in the market for unpackaged bread that warrants being sold for quadruple what it is worth, since it is wrapped in brown grease proof paper and tied with twine. I imagine him to delude himself that he is a self-sufficient entrepreneur and happily contributing to Britain’s economic growth.

I see him, and I look into his eyes and a small, guilty, fantastical part of me wishes that one day I could walk by his shop and see its doors shut, the lights off, and just beyond the glint of the window panes, the silhouette of his feet dangling loosely, rotating, ever so gradually, North East to South East and back again. He having despaired at the ruination of his silly, silly business.

For he is a symptom of the attritional gentrification that pours like a plague over London. He moves in flogging bread that, unless its flour is harvested from the fields of Elysium, is possible only of being marginally better than whatever is on the shelves of Sainsburys. He marks up his wares so they are unaffordable to all but the slickest of City bankers. And with him come those inordinately, undeservedly wealthy bankers. And with the suits comes higher rent, higher house prices and more expensive pints. And slowly, slowly, unnoticeably withdraw the poor citizens from this little area of London further afield, kowtowed and beaten by the subterfuge of gentrification that does not push them, but gnaws its way into their being and forces them to march. With this man’s faux-wholesome bollocks – a little play at purity and rugged pastoralness in a place devoid of it – come wankers who slurp it up because “you can taste the quality, Grace” and “well, actually, Oliver won’t eat Hovis; he’s very discerning!”

That is just the way of it. Slowly the culture of London that comes only from the poor is bought by the rich for pennies on the pound and turned into a gross parody of itself; it is purchased like intellectual property and framed on the white walls of large living rooms in the penthouse suites of glass towers. And the painters are left to scrounge on the dole, the inventors and creators scrabble for the crumbs. There is no stopping the advance of Artisanal bread.

Well, today I walked by the shop. The lights were off, the doors were shut, and in the window a sign said “Shop to Let”.

It seems the invisible hand of the free market has some welly in it yet.

That is, until the next foppish young scout comes along, and just behind him waiting, his clientele. 

Brexit Litigation in the Court, and Brexit Litigation in the Court of Public Opinion

Every person has the capacity to act intelligently, to consider calmly and to do what is right, so long as they are equipped with the proper tools. The problem is that instead of comprehensive and investigatory news built on facts and a neutral eye, they have been fed shocking and angry tabloid headlines that pander to their basic animalistic predilections for protectionism and tribalism. Instead of being immersed in a culture of intellectualism and willingness to accept progressive change that might benefit them, despite it being alien and overwhelming, they are swaddled by the Kardashians and information within traditional parameters of what seems logical based on outdated notions that were only relevant to a world that has since changed. Instead of having had fostered for them a culture of involvement in civic duty and public discourse, and having responsibility for their society, they are removed and taught only to focus on what they can materially gain. They are bred on a culture of lethargy and apathy toward matters of Government based on ideas that nothing changes and the institutions of state do not represent them, that they are something distinct from the people themselves, when in reality, removing this perception would remove this problem, since the people would realise they can be as involved as they like and they do form an important part of their society.

So, when suddenly a matter of extreme constitutional importance, a matter that affects the future of global geo-political relations, that affects humanity’s culture and the next steps that we take, is thrust upon them, they react as only they could be expected to, having been bottle fed on nonsense and lies and having had their knee-jerk, archaic instincts pandered to. The people have been bred in a culture that wilfully allows them to retreat to comfort and ignorance.

When David Cameron announced that the people would have a direct say over Britain’s membership of the EU, he was not affected by an unusual desire to empower the British people. He was affected by panic over losing power with the rise of UKIP and right wing populism generally. He was affected by fear of the oncoming shift in the political status-quo that he could see on the horizon. He was scared that neoliberalism and globalisation would soon be undermined by the will of the people. And instead of combatting populism, which is an erroneous, knee-jerk and uninformed solution to undeniable problems surrounding immigration specifically, and globalisation generally, as well as the lack of democracy in global institutions, he pandered to it. He chose the tactic of the East German Soviet government, to attempt to appease the people with the illusion of control, hoping that they would then shut up and sit down. But, as in East Germany, it only meant that they grasped the opportunity and rode the wave until it crashed down around their superiors. Because deep down the people know that they want control over their destinies. They simply have not been equipped with the right tools to exercise it with the requisite foresight and understanding.

The people voted to leave, and they expected to leave. They did not expect that their decision would be reviewed by the High Court in the first instance, and now the Supreme Court on appeal. And so we find the first example of the disparity between the law, and the law as reported by the media and by manipulative campaigns. The referendum took place pursuant to the European Union Referendum Act 2015, which the High Court reiterated does not confer a statutory power (as does no other piece of legislation) to give notice of withdrawal from the EU under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. This is not what the people thought. The literature disseminated by the Government of the day told them that their say was final. The decision was reported by the media as one that would be final.

The media, especially the British tabloids, instead of telling the people the true state of the law and the true position of the referendum – never mind giving them a true account of the specificities and complexities of either side of the argument – pandered to their flag-boners and to illusive, chimerical notions of abstract control and tribalism, which in any real sense no longer exist. In doing so, once the decision of the High Court had been handed down, the Daily Mail, the Express and the Sun et al. had set the tone to be able wantonly and without consequence or shame to brand the judges as traitors to their country and usurpers of democracy. The irony is that in actual fact the journalists, owners and editors of these papers are the true traitors to their country and to their countrymen, and their publications actively and maliciously undermine the proper exercise of democracy.

The judges in the High Court, far from deciding on the merits or demerits of Brexit, were deciding on the proper, lawful process according to the British constitution by which it should be brought about. That is, they were deciding whether the Government could ‘trigger’ Article 50 unilaterally using the Queen’s prerogative or whether Parliament is required to vote on the matter. The second irony, then, is that in condemning the judges for deciding that Parliament needs to vote, the papers were impliedly supporting the use of a monarch’s undemocratic executive power and rejecting parliamentary sovereignty, which is the very thing that was being voted for in voting to leave the EU.

The Brexit litigation was reported as if the judges were deciding on Brexit. The legal issues were not communicated properly to the people. You have been lied to from the very start of this referendum by the institutions who owe you a duty to equip you with ample and correct informational tools to be able to form a constructive and responsible part of this society.

The tabloids’ treatment of the Brexit litigation goes far beyond issues of shoddy journalism. It strikes at the very heart of our political and legal structures. The law is given legitimacy through consent. We all impliedly, by not revolting, consent to the legal structures in place and the laws that mediate our social relations. This is important because without consent a legal and political system is not legitimate and it then has one of two recourses. One, it breaks up at the behest of the people and a new system is formed. Two, and far more likely, those responsible for its continuation and who benefit from that continuation use coercion to keep it in place. Behind every law and every institution of state is the inference of force. That is what gives a Government made up of thousands of people power over millions of people. And this is fine, since for the most part we all impliedly agree that the legal system, the constitution and the political framework work in our favour and that their use of force will be legitimate because it will only be used in the event of someone or something breaching the social contract, and that it will be used for the good of the majority.

Therefore, when we get to a state of affairs in which an unrestrained media can demonise members of the most evolved judiciary on the planet and undermine their very position as arbiters of the law and checks on Government power by deliberately mis-communicating that law and said judiciary’s actions, we risk a breakdown in the social contract and the consent by which we are all governed.

Rest assured, the judiciary is exercising its constitutional duty. It is deliberating on the law and on the law alone. It is not deciding whether Brexit should happen. At the very worst it is deciding whether Parliament should decide whether Brexit should happen. And Parliament is made up of MPs who are your representatives, who you elected. Do not take my word for it though, read the summary of the case in the High Court. Before you take a position on the basis of the propagation of massive media corporations, think to yourself firstly, why are they shouting so loudly? It is always the case that those who shout loudest are either the weakest or the most scared. The media is both, because the people are the ones with ultimate power; all you have to do is equip yourself.

You Can’t be Trusted with Democracy

Pure, direct democracy is an unfeasible and unattainable aim.

 

The people have proved they simply cannot be trusted with it.

 

Like a big fat baby gurgling lumpy phlegm they throw the right across the room like a rattle in a fit of tantrum, not realising that the vote actually means something, that the rattle is made of titanium and can crack the wall.

 

Of course, the people could be trusted with direct democracy if they were properly informed. Perhaps they could make educated and tempered decisions en masse; perhaps national conversations would be possible without resorting to slogans and clumsy statistics recited into oblivion until the breath that gives utterance to them forms a giant swirling vortex and all forms of intelligence and knowledge are sucked down into it and we forget what thinking even is. Perhaps we could have a population all on the same page as to the best path for humanity to take.

 

But who has the time to get properly informed, to gain a comprehensive and explorative understanding of any given issue, let alone all of them? You do not have the time. And nor should you be expected to make the time. The majority of us were not put on this earth to contemplate philosophical, ideological or pragmatic ramifications of policy. We elect representatives because they do have the time; it is literally their job to be properly informed, to cut behind the media’s bullshit, behind misinformation and misunderstanding; to gain a broad and overarching view.

 

People want to enjoy their lives. They want to finish work and be allowed to zone out, to relish in their leisure time. They do not and, if the system was well, would not, be obligated to be as informed on matters of complex policy as politicians are so as to become de facto captains of our collective ship.

 

Of course, it could be that we enact ample media regulation, for instance, or campaign regulation, so that the people are well enough informed (because those informing them are prohibited under pain of penalty from misinforming them) so that they are theoretically capable of making the decisions required of them in a pure democracy – their personal prejudices notwithstanding (or made irrelevant through enlightenment).

 

The print media in the UK, for instance, is – you may be surprised to know (or not, having seen the bottom feeding content of the tabloids) – entirely self-regulating. It has established Independent Press Standards Commission of its own volition. The only sanction if a consumer complaint is deemed valid? That the paper publish the PCC’s finding, and/or a fine.

 

But of course, regulation of the media is a slippery slope. Even when proposals seem wholly for good, one must always question the loopholes they may give rise to for the regulators and the regulators’ influencers, and the motivations of those drawing up the laws. Perhaps statutory regulation would give rise to a maelstrom of complications.

 

So then, media regulation is without doubt a dire necessity. The abhorrent, despicable, retrograde, embarrassing, childish, stupid front-page reactions to the High Court Brexit litigation by the Daily Mail et al shows this. And so too is campaign regulation a necessity. The abomination of the £350 million lie, and how it went unchallenged until recently when a complaint was made to the Crown Prosecution Service under the Representation of the People Act 1983 (now it is too late) proves this. Although both are necessary, neither can be as comprehensive as each of us in our personal inclinations would perhaps wish them to be. Since thereafter bias has the potential to follow.

 

One may say the internet means that a universe of information has been opened up to us. We can draw one story from Breitbart, another from the Guardian, and yet another from Buzzfeed and we can be ensured that we are chewing on all sides of the fat. But unfortunately that just does not happen. The people cannot be trusted. They plop themselves in their echo chambers and scream and delight in hearing their intonations crash back to them a million times louder.

 

We must entrust policy and major decisions to representatives. But this comes with the crucial caveat that those representatives be accountable more so than they are now. To us. As it is meant to be. We decide the ideology we want our species to represent and we ensure that the policies of our governments are dictated within the boundaries of said ideology through the use and utilisation of proper laws, checks, balances and regulation.

 

Our representatives cannot, as a prerequisite, be allowed to be influenced by self-interested lobbyists or bloated financial or corporate interests.

 

MPs expenses, lobbying transparency and limitation, backroom trade deals like TTIP, MPs’ employment before and after Parliament, and campaign funding are all particular flashpoints of the battle over this dearth of regulation. But there are many others, all in need of tightening and reforming as part of a bolstering of the girders of our great political and legal system.

 

A representative democracy – as would a pure democracy – also necessitates fostering a culture of intellectualism. It means bridging the gap between the academy and the builder, between scholars and scaffolders; thinks tanks and warehouse workers. I call bullshit on the claim that the British people are tired of experts. What the British people are tired of is condescension. What people everywhere are tired of is condescension. And if 2016 has taught us anything, it is that condescension breeds populism, which rises like the perennial serpent to bite us all in the ass.

 

So no, the people cannot be trusted with pure, direct democracy.

 

But this is not to despair. This is not to render you an impotent observer watching in conscious paralysis as your betters carve up your beating cadaver. For a representative democracy comes with a crucial benefit. It means that you may holler and scream in favour of the cause you promote through whatever medium you choose in the hope people flock to you and the government hears, and when they do, you are absolved of the responsibility of making it work. It is up to them. They are your representatives; they must represent your interests.

 

So, if you reject being detached from democracy like this, then there are routes in to the fray for those so inclined. You need not run for Parliament.

 

You could write, for instance. Write and disseminate your views.

 

That is how policy should and usually is made. First the people stir; then the intellectuals write about the opinions and examine them, validate them if they are deserved of validation; then the active sea change occurs within the ranks of the population and opinion shifts and then, finally, the politicians enact the people’s will if it is sensible and has passed through the various filters and, fundamentally, they are pressured enough.

 

Take gay marriage for instance. The LGBTQ community owes no debt of gratitude to Cameron’s government for legalising it. Nor are any of the companies now cynically promoting LGBTQ rights as if they did all along deserved of congratulation. All they did was rubberstamp something the people had already decided amongst themselves. That is one of the government’s jobs. They are the final filter, the final legitimating force – legitimate themselves only because we trust that they will act as such.

 

Life is about balance. Populism belies that balance. Populism is a reaction to a detached political class and to gross inequality. But, though understandable – we are human after all – it is the wrong reaction. What is required is considered, informed, unified pressure on our representatives. This itself is dependent on a reformed system, which we can only achieve through revolution. A system built so that checks and balances are better placed. We cannot rid ourselves of representatives; they are what ensure our civilization.

 

Representative democracy also comes with a duty, because no checks and no balances are without corners around which psychopathic politicians can peer to find the boundless freedom of corruption beyond. This duty is eternal vigilance. It was said that every generation must have its revolution. This is the price we pay.

 

The necessity for representative democracy, as oppose to populism or direct rule by the many, is that if done properly, it makes ignorant reactionism impossible. Because policy is dictated by ideology arrived at by the process above mentioned, rather than ideology being an unfortunate concomitant of policies arrived at as knee jerk reactions by the majority, it means that a solid foundation is built from which to construct policy and sensible, informed decisions in response to contemporary issues.

 

Plato, after all, said that “Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty”. Looking at the blonde-haired demagogue who got so popular so recently, and the state of discourse on our Emerald Isle after a vote, essentially, for isolationism, I would be inclined to agree with him.

 

Balance must be restored through understanding and being informed. Not despite being human, but exactly because we are human – the most intelligent and adaptable species we know of.

 

I urge you to get involved in one aspect or another, whether activism or contribution to the intellectual ether. And if you do not want to, then that is exactly why you cannot be trusted with direct democracy, and that is fine.

 

In support of Jeremy Corbyn

“Of course you know that ambition and avarice are held to be, as indeed they are, a disgrace? … [T]he forwardness to take office, instead of waiting to be compelled, has been deemed dishonourable. Now the worst part of the punishment [punishment being the third of three inducements to rule, the first two being money and honour] is that he who refuses to rule is liable to be ruled by one who is worse than himself.” Socrates said that, in Plato’s ‘The Republic’, but in Greek originally, obviously. Stupid, innit, bringing ancient Greek political philosophy into a debate about Corbyn. But it isn’t, really. I mean, our entire democratic system is borne of ancient Greek politicial philosophy. The word itself is Greek. So it’s weird, then, that our political thinking and analysis and punditry has become so detached from ancient political wisdom. There is no reason that a vast majority of the truisms of old can’t hold true now. I mean, now we wear lenseless, thick-rimmed glasses and beanies that look like deflated ball-sacks instead of togas, and we carry iPads with Pokemons on them rather than tablets with inscriptions, but really nothing’s changed – not to us, not to our humanity. And it is our humanity, after all, with which politics should concern itself.

 

That quote of Plato’s was what came into my mind when I saw Angela Eagle’s desperate, cynical, grasping, fickle, stupid attempt to become head of the coup currently floundering in the Labour party. That eighties gay-club pink Union Jack scrawled over by the lady’s pretty signature recalls Ed’s Labour’s cynical and mis-judged pink battle bus – a futile attempt to court the female vote. You’ll remember, of course, that Corbyn was a dark horse when he was first nominated to stand in the Labour leadership election of 2015 after Ed’s resignation. He came out of nowhere, he didn’t really put forward a campaign to stand, and he had expressed no desire previously to stand (and not in a Govian the-lady-doth-protest-too-much way – he just had expressed no desire). But he was nominated and then he was elected by the party members. More members elected Corbs than Tories and the Liberal Democrats have combined members in total. Truly, he was an unwilling leader chosen by the people.

 

“And the fear of [punishment], as I conceive, induces the good to take office, not because they would, but because they cannot help – not under the idea that they are going to have any benefit or enjoyment themselves, but as a necessity, and because they are not able to commit the task of ruling to anyone who is better than themselves, or indeed as good.” (That’s Plato again, by the way.)

 

And ever since taking the podium, Jez has faced slander and malice at the hands of the right-wing press, the Blair-leaning Labour MP’s, the Tories and basically anyone who fears the rhetoric of egalitarianism and change that comes out of the mouth of this scruffy, beige-jacketed socialist. Cameron famously shouted in his plum-mouthed tones that Jeremy should “put on a proper suit [and] do up [his] tie”. I get it, I do. I love nothing better than a good suit, and I think the British should keep up their image abroad as suited, top-hatted gentlemen swinging umbrellas and controlling the world’s finances – always silently superior. But I see something in that uneven face, that silver shock of hair, that train conductor’s hat, that sports jacket and that starkly tieless un-ironed shirt. I see something I didn’t see in Cameron’s middle-management cufflinks and his lighthouse forehead. I see something I do not see in Angela’s identikit campaign. I see truth. I see someone who’s too bothered with principles and ideology and with believing the words he says, with wanting to effect something progressive for this country, to bother with his public image. I see someone unwilling to engage in PR and spin, unwilling to play the shallow, nonsensical, irrelevant, bullshit games of Westminster – who actually gives a shit about people with Northern accents or black skin or vaginas that used to be dicks, or wheels where legs used to be.

 

You know that feeling after you eat a Maccy D’s? You know the one. When you’ve gorged yourself on a Big Mac and you’re full for ten minutes, tops, but when the initial sensation of an object having descended your trachea fades, you’re left with the feeling that you haven’t really consumed anything. Your organs don’t feel rejuvenated like after food with any actual nutritional value, you don’t feel warmed or fed; you just feel like you inhaled some synthetic food-like product; some plastic-based, cardboard-flavoured trash that really is nothing – it looks colourful and like food should look, but inside it’s hollow ash and empty calories. Well that’s the feeling I had looking at Eagle’s campaign when she unveiled it. She wrote an article for the Guardian to coincide with it and oh-my-fucking-God it was a whole mess of nothing. It contained such insightful, sparkling, intelligent, ideological, meaningful tidbits as these:

 

“It is our duty to ensure that the new prime minister, Theresa May, faces a credible and forensic opposition, and to offer a bright future for our damaged economy and fractured society.”

 

“I’m no Blairite, Brownite or Corbynista. What I am is my own woman”.

 

“But if we are to succeed, we need to concentrate on the politics of hope, not on grievance and blame. That’s the only way we can deliver on our principles of equality, social justice and social mobility.”

 

She’s said… nothing, really, has she? Nothing that hasn’t already been spouted by others of her ilk, anyway. Corbyn is unelectable. That’s basically what she said. Oh and remember – she’s her own woman. Phew. I was worried she wasn’t. She did make the recycled point that MPs who were elected by 8,000,000 constituents are trying to get rid of Corbyn, and therefore, arguably, they have more of a democratic mandate than Corbyn does, elected as he was by a paltry couple hundred-thousand members. But this point is rather easily quashed. You know how much it cost to be a Labour party member? Three quid. All 8,000,000 of those constituents, if they agreed with the MPs to whom they have given a mandate, can register as members and get rid of the old man before you can say “worker’s revolution”. Now they can register as members of the Unite union for 50p a week. They can become members for £25. But they didn’t, and they don’t. Which suggests one of two things. Either they are ambivalent towards Corbyn or they actively like him. And if they just don’t have 25 quid going spare… Well, then, we need Corbyn now more than ever.

 

To be honest, I am not even sure, personally, that I want Corbyn in power. I have no horse in the race, truly. I’m a white, middle-class, straight, mentally balanced male from the south of England with two law degrees. The dude isn’t looking after me. I don’t need looking after. Whatever system we have ever had so far has done that pretty well for people like me. But I am damn sure I want him in opposition, because I care about Britain and its people. I want him, shadowed by his massive grass roots support and Momentum – a united political movement the likes of which people of my generation have never seen – across the dispatch box from the Tories, bearing down upon them, snarling at them that we will not take neoliberalism and globalisation if it means our infrastructure, our rights, our livelihoods get destroyed.

 

Perhaps he may be misguided. I wasn’t alive during the seventies. I didn’t see the mining unions hold the country to ransom; I didn’t see bin bags piled high in the street; I didn’t see ‘Communist’ Russia, so I don’t have any of that to refer to. But I tell you what I have seen: I have seen a Department of Work and Pensions responsible for indirect manslaughter because the private profiteers to whom it contracts out care more about cutting costs that ensuring Johnny Disabled can eat. I have seen food banks proliferate in my great country – a country I deem to be the best in the world, which should be able to engineer a state that ensures the poorest in society are looked after if the private sector fails them. I saw banks get bailed out by the government while the people get poorer on zero-hour contracts. I saw financial criminals given a slap on the wrist in the papers and a bonus by their bosses for ruining this country and bringing its main industry – the City – to the precipice. I’ve seen the systematic selling off of our industries and our infrastructure and the gradual privatisation of public services we rely on. I see an electoral system plagued by billionaire donor money and corrupt media moguls. And I do not want to see it any longer. Those policies are not sound economics, they are not long-term ideas to generate sustainable growth and prosperity – they are the last belches of a country sick of itself, that has run out of steam like a bankrupt Aristocrat selling all the old paintings of his descendants. It can’t last. I want to see some nationalisation, some investment in the public sector and some regulation of the private sector, an end to the illusory, fallacious rhetoric of defecit economics.

 

I would like to see the private train system, an effective monopoly, taken back in to public hands so it can no longer raise ticket prices year on year beyond inflation while gutting the service it offers with no accountability besides a complaints procedure. I would like to see our head of state at least lead the world in a conversation about nuclear disarmament. I know, you may think his view on Trident is wildly dangerous, but remember it is still Labour policy to renew it. At least we would have a leader willing to discuss the issue. And when it comes to Trident, I always like to think of something Carl Sagan said – the concept of nuclear deterrents and mutually assured destruction is like having two people standing waist deep in petrol, one holding three matches, the other five. I would like to see our NHS not only protected, but improved, built upon and thriving. And I would like to see an end to the rape of our lands through fracking, and a new dawn for renewable energy. All this is to say nothing of the valuing of the poor and the workers and their rights.

 

And you know what? Maybe it won’t work as well as idealists and socialists hope. But that doesn’t matter. Not in the long run. It seems our politics is always preoccupied with the idea of the “final solution” when it comes to progress. That we need policies in place and a governing ideology that can stand forever, always working. There isn’t one. There are merely solutions to situations that present themselves. I applaud Thatcher for breaking the grip of the Unions in the eighties and taking our country into an era of economic prosperity. The only problem was that she did it not only for the purpose of ending the union tyranny, but because she was clinging vehemently to the ideology of neoliberalism. The neoliberal philosophy that informed her actions became scripture, and still is – unable to be altered or argued against. There is no flexibility and it has meant that we are where we are now – stuck with an economic policy that seeks to whore our country out to the highest bidder and which fetishises and idolises individualism to the point of isolation and which is, when you get down to it, nothing but numbers circulating on trading-floor screens, and waiters and waitresses. Really, we should place flexibility and freedom upon the pedestals of our regard. Remember what Churchill said of democracy after all: that it is the worst system we currently have, apart from all the others. Flexibility informed always by overarching goals: those of progress, of satisfaction and high living standards, of cohesion and competition, of liberty and work and intellectual evolution.

 

The fear mongering is unwarranted. I voted ‘in’ in the referendum, but I buy in to no fear mongering. The FTSE 100 – arguably as good a gauge of how things are going as a Twitter poll, being as it is an externalisation of the fears and prejudices of detached, money-hungry investors rather than a measure of the actual productivity of the companies themselves – is doing okay. As is the pound. We will be fine. Likewise, we will be fine if Corbyn gets elected. And, on top of that, perhaps we’ll have a country informed more by ideas of egalitarianism, a country less divisive and divided and more prosperous, run for its citizens rather than CEO coffers, and a society more collusive in its capitalism. I support Corbyn, because he is the solution to the issues that blight us right now.

 

 

 

Pulling out is effective 73-96% of the time, so how effective could it be for Britain?

The concentric circles of society go outwards, more or less, as follows: the individual at the centre, who then hopefully forms part of a family (not necessarily nuclear), the cornerstone of society, multiple of which come together to form first the tribe, then later the city or region or province, which collectivise under one administration in the nation state and, after the nation state, the intra-national super-state – a cohesive collection of individual countries under one administration. Eventually, it seems logical to conclude, the one world government follows, notwithstanding the logistical practicality of such an undertaking.

 

Since 1973, we in Britain have been wrestling with the transition from independent nation state to being part of a collection of countries that together increasingly form something with some of the trappings of the intra-national super-state. And now, 43 years after our tried accession into the EU, we the British people are being given the say on whether or not we remain a part of this intra-national bureaucratic-commercial collective, or whether we pull out and hope there are no nasty consequences 9 months down the line.

 

For something that represents such a fundamental turning point, not only in the British trajectory, but in that of the world – for if we reject political globalisation in this manner, what does it mean for everyone else? – the debate has been thoroughly mediocre.

 

‘Britain stronger in Europe’ say on their website that “almost half of everything we sell to the rest of the world we sell to Europe – and we get an average of £24 billion of investment in Britain per year from Europe”. In retort ‘Get Britain out’, on their website, state firmly in rebuttal that “less than 5% of UK businesses trade directly with the EU” and that “EU Regulations cost the UK economy a staggering £33.3 billion per year”. The IN campaign note that the Confederation of British Industry estimates that “3 million jobs in Britain are linked to trade with the rest of Europe” while the Outies say these jobs aren’t reliant on EU membership and “not 1 job is at risk from Brexit”. And back and forth and back forth it goes ad infinitum.

 

So how can the suits at either side of this tug of war both be so assured of facts in direct contradiction to each other? Well, it’s because either side uses different figures from different sources using different methods of arriving at their figures. Each side will quote the CBI, for instance, until it doesn’t suit them, in which case they’ll ignore what the CBI says and go with another source. Both the Office of National Statistics and the Treasury publish figures for the same things, and both of them differ.

 

The debate is mediocre at best, and insulting at worst. When the opposing campaigners trot out their tired slogans on leaflets and website front pages – “Protect out heritage, control our borders, believe in Britain” versus the admittedly less catchy “The government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK” – they are banking on you looking no further. They are banking on you taking their and only their numerical milk and honey or dark numerical water of the River Styx, depending on the strategy.

 

The integrationists and isolationists are just as grasping when it comes to celebrity endorsements. In October 2015 the Innies opened their campaign by wheeling out June Sarpong, some TV head with an adorable gap in her front teeth but who has no qualifications to be waxing lyrical about the EU aside from chatting inane shite on Loose Women. Similarly, Nigel Farage was delighted when national treasure Michael Cain came out in favour of coming out. Yeah, he’s really good at telling you how many people know his name in a cockney accent but what relevance is it what he thinks?

 

For every figure on one side, there is a different figure on the other. For every claim a counter-claim. And why? Because neither side knows what’ll happen. There is no truth in this debate, there is no right and there is no wrong. Neither side can tell you what money we’ll lose and what we’ll win, who’ll get fired and who won’t, which countries will desert us and which won’t should we leave or not leave. All we can know for certain is the amount of money the EU costs us and how much it makes us right now.

 

But even that we don’t really know. For instance, ‘Full Fact’ state that our membership of the EU isn’t “nearly £20 billion” a year as ‘Vote Leave’ like to regurgitate. This is because we get a £5 billion rebate immediately on our payment, as well as £4 billion being spent by the EU on British farmers and poorer regions in the UK, and upwards of £1 billion to the private sector for things like research grants. And this needs to be added to the money we get back in trade, investments and jobs, for which it’s “far harder to be sure about how much comes back in benefits”.

 

The House of Common Library has said in a briefing paper of February 2016 “there is no definitive study of the economic impact of the UK’s EU membership or the costs and benefits of withdrawal. Many of the costs and benefits are subjective or intangible and a host of assumptions must be made to reach an estimate. If the UK were to remain in a reformed EU, assumptions would need to be made about what the reforms might be. Any estimate of the effects of withdrawal will be highly sensitive to such assumptions.” So don’t listen to that bellend at your dinner party when he pipes up with a figure he’s learned by rote from either some liberal think piece or the lungs of Farage, because he doesn’t have a clue. He’s regurgitating what seems plausible to reinforce an opinion he probably held anyway but was insecure about because he had no factual way of validating or justifying it.

 

The underwhelming nature of the debate is compounded by the fact that all parties involved are trying their hardest to reduce a quandary of major constitutional and politico-philosophical significance down to paltry numbers and un-nourishing sound bites.

 

Gideon has said that leaving the EU will effectively leave every British household £4,300 per year worse off. But do you really think it would? Do you really think leaving the EU will mean you have £4,300 less coming into your bank account? Inversely similarly, Leave.EU say we would be £933 better off if we left. Again, do you think you’ll see a grand more pop up on your statement each year once we leave? Do you think these figures that get tossed around mean anything? They don’t. Each side is trying to tell the future and the fact is they can’t. The only purpose these figures serve is for people to quote in an effort to sound like they’ve put some thought into the question of Brexit.

 

But ‘Brexit question-mark’ is a question far more meaningful than ghostly numbers. And the majority of people know this, really. The basic impetus for leaving seems to be lust for sovereignty lost. UKIP and the right promise control of our borders, an end to “open door” immigration – the benefits and costs of which are hotly debated, as is whether or not leaving the EU will do anything to it. They also promise that no more will 75% of our laws be made in Brussels. It should be noted that this statistic is another illusory number that is by no means true. Business for Britain created a “definitive” study in which they found that “EU rules account for 65% of UK law” (I guess they don’t realise that there is no such thing as UK law). While they do admit that “not every EU regulation will impact Britain[,] such as rules on olive and tobacco growing”, the number is still misleading. Some measures take into account legislation with only a passing reference to the EU. However, a large chunk – anywhere between 15% and 50% – of laws around the UK have Brussels’ fingerprints on them, but the majority of those laws are regulations that you never even notice anyway, or they are Directives that force our government to create legislation, such as the Employment Rights Act 1996, which codifies a minimum period of maternity leave and notice, and the Employment Relations Act 1999, which covers things like collective bargaining: legislation that wholly protects you, the worker.

 

But the right’s appeal to sovereignty is muddied and confused. We are the descendants of warring barbarians and proud Saxons; the British are brawlers, imperialists. We are the sons and daughters of an Empire over which the sun never set. We are the saviours of Europe – the scrappy, innovative fighters. We are the moneymen of the world, the bankers and shopkeepers and the stoic council estate tenants. It is hard to reconcile such a proud heritage and such a powerful personality with horror stories of a Britain now the cowed Bulldog under the shadow of the mighty Alsatian’s dripping fangs.

 

If you define individual sovereignty as pertaining to your self-determination, your power over your reality, with the minimum of interference from third parties, then leaving the EU won’t grant you the individual sovereignty you think it will. It is Theresa May seeking greater powers to watch your social media activity and your phone calls through her Draft Investigatory Powers Bill. It is the Tories cutting disability benefits, not only robbing the wheelchair-bound of their right to self-determination through a lack of means, but so too, perhaps, the right to any meaningful life at all. As for national sovereignty – the independence and self-determination of the nation as a whole, not subject to “Brussels’ bureaucrats” – this vision is out-dated. It forgets one thing – the world has changed. Sovereignty is not sovereignty in the way it used to be. Not being part of a political trading bloc does not automatically render Britain an independent, sovereign nation again. In this age of globalisation, one cannot equate sovereignty with isolationism. In the age of lobbying and massive multinational corporate interests, of Facebook getting away with paying £4,327 in corporation tax and Google striking a ‘deal’ and paying £130 million settlement to HMRC, the concept of self-governance is wobbly.

 

Meanwhile, those on the left of an outward persuasion charge the EU with being an undemocratic institution run by unelected bureaucrats. It is a charge hard to deny. According to Europa.eu, it is the European Commission (composed of 28 nominated commissioners) that proposes and enforces legislation “in the general interest of the EU”. Albeit, said legislation has to be passed by the European Parliament, which is composed of directly elected MEPs, but they can only vote “yes” or “no” or to “amend” legislation. The Council of the European Union is the second chamber of the European Parliament, made up of ministers sent from the member states depending on the area of policy who we haven’t elected to act in such a capacity (but… y’know… we didn’t elect the House of Lords either). As well, the Council of Europe – I guess the guy in charge of naming things took a day off when it came to those two bodies – is made up of heads of state of each member state and decides the EU’s overall policy and direction, and negotiates on difficult and sensitive areas of EU policy.

 

So the EU might be relatively undemocratic, but it would be hard to have an international organisation, governing aspects of the lives of around 508 million people, be entirely democratic. Thus far, the EU acts in the best interests of its population. The problem comes, one supposes, when it begins not to, since if there is one solid lesson history has taught us, it is that we can never ever rely on the openness, truthfulness and perennial honesty of those governing us.

 

At home, if the machinations of Parliament become far too audaciously mendacious and corrupt for us merely to stand on the sidelines watching them on the BBC, we can take to the streets. Although 60 million people is a lot, they can still unite within the bounds of one nation state rather effectively against their Government should the need arise. The suffragette movement shows this, as do the Police Strikes of 1918-1919. Can we guarantee that we can retain such self-representation and self-determination through direct action on such a grand scale as that spanning 28 countries? Well, the current massive protests against the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership are putting that issue to the test.

 

The furore surrounding the utter bastardry that is TTIP is something that should figure into your Brexit calculations. Although it is ostensibly an EU-driven trade agreement, leaving the EU doesn’t guarantee its stymying. In fact, it might speed it up. Yannis Varoufakis, the unfortunate but immensely qualified and immensely intelligent economist and previous Greek Finance Minister said in an interview with Owen Jones that it is only as a collusive, entire whole united across the countries of Europe that we can stop TTIP. Add to this that it was Cameron’s government that actually demanded one of the most controversial and destructive aspects of TTIP – the inclusion of investor-state arbitration dispute clauses in trade agreements. These basically give private corporations the power to sue countries if they find their local laws – laws that are there for the protection of the people – to get in the way of their profit margins. This isn’t some far off nightmare, it’s already happening – look to Australia, Canada and Argentina.

 

The reality of the EU referendum is that where it matters, it is largely meaningless. Neoliberalism is still our serenading song, the same multi-national corporations hold the power, the same bankers rip us off, the same Governments trade the will of the people for the will of the financial sector and the same lands get fracked. Really, reformation of our institutions of power is what’s needed, not deciding whether they break apart or not.

 

If you want to cease our immigration obligations under the Schengen agreement and bring all legislative power back to Parliament and the parties in control, and you don’t want undemocratic, out of sight, multi-national institutions making decisions that could affect your small business, then I suggest you vote out. But if you want to be sure your Easyjet flight to Benidorm will stay cheap and passport control simple, and you want to ensure Vodafone don’t up their charges when you’re in Crete, and you reject isolationism, then I suggest you vote to stay in. At the end of the day, the choice is yours, but remember, the result of this referendum is piss in the wind without anything to follow it.

Britain is no longer an Empire

I’m not sure why, but it seems in the British media recently self-flagellation because of Britain’s colonial past, and paltry atonement for its once earth-straddling empire, are at a fever pitch.

Reports noting that 43% of Britons thought Britain’s Imperial roots are a “good thing” were branded in headlines followed by critical think pieces listing the atrocities committed by our forefathers, and urging us to, just at the very least, feel a tad ashamed as we sip our tea.

The tone is insidious. One that evokes angered, judgmental eyes and an aggressive, exasperated “phhhah!” before it asks “how dare you?! How dare you walk in British streets as a British person and not feel ashamed for the oppression and exploitation your countrymen wrought upon colonials all those years ago?! How dare you? THINK ABOUT IT ALL THE FUCKING TIME YOU WORTHLESS PIECE OF SHIT!”

Now, I’m not going to try and argue that abominable acts weren’t carried out by mustachioed, explorer-hatted, pip-pipping gentlemen who liked to carry canes and wear trousers that puff out at the thighs, all in the name of the British Empire. They most certainly were. Concentration camps in Boer at the turn of the century in which nearly 30,000 Boers died, the massacre in Amritsar in 1919 in which 1,000 Indians were killed by British soldiers, and the Mau Mau concentration camps in the ’50s in which at least 20,000 Kenyans died are all a testament to this.

Neither am I going to argue that the Empire was good for the lands it colonised and the people over whom it ruled. Although, one cannot deny that the British Empire vastly improved and sometimes even built from scratch the infrastructures of many of the countries it ruled over, it imported medicines and modern science, and it provided a blueprint to countries like India and the US for their democracies.

No, rather, I’ll only say this: for all the bad that happened, and the wealth of good, it is irrelevant, for if we hadn’t done it – any of it – someone else would have.

If it hadn’t been the British empire, it would have been another one. Because that was the age of Empires, the age of competition and world domination, and it was either win or lose.

We won.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not living in some swirling UKIPian dream, pining for Empire, masturbating over the Queen and plotting my revenge on the yanks. It would be far better had humans realised immediately, rather than slowly as we are now doing, that we are all equal and better off working together and that fairness and the success of each individual leads to the betterment of the whole.

But we have to realise we inhabit the world we inhabit, and history happened as it happened, not as we wish it did. And the age of Empires happened, and Britain won, and a great many countries lost. Britain didn’t invent the idea of the Empire, it didn’t commence conquest and plundering and colonisation; but I suppose, in the simplest of senses, it realised that that was the game, and that to win it had to play.

I therefore will not feel ashamed for my country’s Imperial legacy.

In fact, I am glad it happened.

And if you live in Britain and enjoy a good quality of life, access to vast opportunity, the fruits of London being the most competitive financial centre in the world and Britain being the sixth best country in the world to do business, the protection and access granted you by your passport – the most powerful passport in the world, the fact that everyone everywhere in the world speaks your language and you needn’t learn their’s, the international clout of your qualifications taken as they were at great British educational institutions, and the great diversity in this country – to name but a few advantages of being British – then you, my friend, are glad the Empire happened as well.

Because make no mistake; you would have none of that had your forefathers not conquered and plundered the world.

There is no superiority in outrage, only in intelligence and intellectual honesty. We must be honest with ourselves, and we can be satisfied with neither celebrating, nor constantly chiding ourselves for the Empire. Though we need, of course, to make reparations where they are due – so long, of course, as those reparations don’t adversely affect us. Indeed one may argue that our foreign aid budget – nearly £12,000,000,000 – and the fact that we were the first G7 country to ring fence 0.7% of our gross national income for foreign aid, goes someway towards reparations. For otherwise we owe nothing to other countries. We are using our prosperity, prosperity that it is no small part a hangover of the Empire, to benefit other countries.

One flash point for Imperial regret and the scorn of the perpetually pissed-off is the statue of Rhodes at Oxford University. Rhodes was by all accounts a bastard – he obtained mining concessions in South Africa for the British government and seized control of, what he named – in the pattern of all great tyrants – Rhodesia; thereafter he stole land from the black population and effectively disenfranchised them.

A young, highly intelligent boy called Ntokozo Qwabe has decided to aim his intelligence toward taking up the flag of a meaningless cause in trying to get the statue of Rhodes felled. Because like an atheist who constantly seeks religious debate, he wants an easy target, I suppose.

To accusations of hypocrisy on his part through being at Oxford in the first place thanks to the scholarship set up in Rhodes’ name, he has responded that “I’m no beneficiary of Rhodes, I’m a beneficiary of the resources and labor of my people which Rhodes pillaged and slaved.” And I would be inclined to agree with that line of thinking; that he is merely accepting reparations in the form of opportunity denied his relatives because of the Empire.

However, while that is fair and right and must be our aim as a country that has benefited from the sufferance of other countries, erasing our history at the behest of a vocal minority is unjustified.

One strain of argument may be that if you don’t like Oxford’s colonial roots, don’t go there. Of course, one may well opine in response that that is reductive, childish reasoning. People should have the freedom to be educated wherever they want, dependent on their merit and their work ethic, and should not be put off by what they deem to be exclusionary symbolism. But then, one must ask the question, why do you want to be educated at Oxford? Because, of course, it is one of the best universities in the world, with a global reputation. And how did it get to be that? Why, of course, through the fruits of the Empire, through things such as the money bequeathed by Cecil Rhodes.

Either you want to reap the benefits of this great country, attributable as they are to our dark Imperial past, or you want to overturn everything, to destroy everything you see as a vestige of the Empire – in the interests of intellectual consistency, of course. In which case, the whole of Britain must burn. Because, I’m afraid, you cannot have those benefits and not acknowledge where they came from.

The rampant and blinkered hyper-morality of the #RhodesMustFall crew was best exemplified in their reaction to the reason for Oriel College deciding not to take the statue down. Through reports leaked by the Telegraph, it came to light that if they were to, they would lose more than £100,000,000. To this the campaigners charged the University with ‘selling out’. For which there is but one reasonable response. Are you fucking stupid? Do they think that education is free? That world class lecturers and expertly written text books and wonderful, ornate libraries are free?

This need to try to constantly censor the parts of history that are undesirable because certain groups feel they were robbed of something as a result of it, is one that can never be satisfied. It is an endless spiral, an ouroboros. Because to condemn the Empire so fervently assumes that things would have turned out differently had it not happened, it is to act retrospectively to right a perceived wrong, to ‘correct’ our timeline’s trajectory, or indeed try to recreate a parallel timeline that was never allowed to come to fruition; it is to second guess chaos theory.

The need is for more information, not less of it. Teach the Empire’s holocausts in school, shout them from the rooftops. But stop trying to cover up the bits of its legacy you don’t like.

Be glad the Empire happened, because it allowed us to learn our lessons and to begin to develop into a better humanity. Humans have a penchant for learning lessons the hard way. We didn’t decide nuclear weapons were a bad thing without first using them, that slavery was awful without first giving it a go or that Jedward need culling without first letting them sing.

The Empire happened, and spending all your time on trying to fell Rhodes or inspire guilt in it won’t bring about renewable energy reliance or stop needless wars in the Middle East or tackle real and contemporary systemic and institutionalised racism and sexism.