The Power of Hope, Part 2: Campaign

In part 1: Context, I set the scene for our current politics, post-2008 crash, with hung parliaments, Brexit and Trump signalling that more and more people were voting for change – for the hope that by challenging the establishment they could better their lives. Part 2 looks at how this groundswell of feeling played out in the recent snap election.

Given the premise I have set up, it hardly needs pointing out that May’s campaign was the exact opposite to those run by Leave and Trump. Much like the previous Conservative campaign run to elect Cameron’s slim majority (and indeed, the Remain campaign run by Cameron et al), May’s campaign was based on the fear of what would happen if you didn’t vote to maintain the Conservative status quo. Whilst the Remain campaign’s ‘project fear’ at least tried to base itself in facts and figures and a genuine concern for the economic impact of Brexit, May’s ‘project fear’ decided to abandon any sense of justification and resorted to the worst kind of Conservative sneering.

The ‘Maybot’ repeatedly feeds the same audience the same cues to sneer at Corbyn et al; May and the Conservative team had no way of knowing how this would play with the electorate as there were none there to hear it. Such was the astonishing arrogance of the Tory campaign that they confidently created their own touring echo chamber and awaited feedback from the ballot box – certain that it would be a resounding majority for May.

May’s robotic performances, delivered in the same way, to the same Tory crowds, waving the same placards, in interchangeable soulless locations served only to emphasis the complete lack of change and hope offered by the Tories. It was supposed, no doubt, to symbolise and solidify the stability and strength of Theresa May, that she was an unchanging force that would weather any storms offered up by Brexit. It was supposed to be an election where the bovine masses would be utterly enthralled by the ‘strong and stable leadership’ only a domineering Thatcher-like (or rather, ‘Thatcher-lite’) PM could deliver.

The lesson the Conservative party didn’t learn from Brexit and Trump is that people didn’t vote for either to achieve stability and maintain the status quo, they voted for them because they are desperate for change. They wanted to shake up the political establishment and give it a kicking for neglecting them for so long. Brexit was – and remains – a tremendous gamble, but it is clearly one that 52% of the population are willing to take. So when May paused, in the video above, after each name to allow the Tory faithful to make the planned pantomime noises of fear, she was actually giving the voting audience a chance to actually imagine what it would be like to have Jeremy Corbyn et al in office. Given that Corbyn was clearly terrifying the establishment, was promising to fund the NHS, would employ 20,000 new police officers and tackle the social care funding crisis, a lot of people clearly liked what they imagined during those faux-dramatic pauses.

What is interesting is that this election should have been the one that cemented the Conservative right’s dominance in British politics. The accepted view was that Farage, Trump, Le Pen and fascism in general were supposed to be the main beneficiaries of this surge of anti-establishment feeling. The world looked on in horror at Trump’s election and wondered if Europe would – in the elections following – lurch back to Facism as it had done during the great depression of the 1930s.

But it hasn’t worked out that way – yet. Le Pen failed and May – who had moved the Conservatives firmly to the right in an attempt to mop up the disintegrating UKIP vote – didn’t get a thumping majority that had seemed so inevitable just days before the election. As we all know, May didn’t even get a majority, let alone a landslide. Instead Jeremy Corbyn – the most disastrous Labour leader in history, according to a lot of his own MPs, and utterly unelectable to most (probably because that’s what they kept being told by almost everyone, including most of the Labour party) – instead ended up with just 2% less vote share than Theresa May.

How Jeremy Corbyn did this is simple – and based on my premise, fairly obvious: he was anti-establishment, offered real change and campaigned on a basis of hope.

Brexit and Trump demonstrated that you don’t have to have a complex message to get people engaged and voting for you, you just have to sell – convincingly – the idea that you will do something to better their lives. For Trump it was putting America first, draining the swamp, banning Muslims and building walls – all to help the average American have a good job, take back control from Washington and be safe from crime. For Brexit it was taking back control – over borders, law and trade – again, to make you prosperous and safe.

Base instincts, simple messages and the clarity of the promise that the result would be something not offered by the current political system that would improve your life. Brexit and the recent election also saw an increased turn out, which is to be expected if change is offered. You don’t tackle voter apathy by offering the same thing, you also don’t inspire people by offering the same thing in a different colour rosette (take note Ed Miliband, you can’t beat the Tories by trying to be them with your anti-immigration mugs etc).

Whilst May was embodying the unchanging, uncaring establishment, Corbyn had a basic message: it doesn’t have to be this way, we can have a political party that represents the many, not the few; we can change the priorities of government so that investment in public services is at the heart of it. It gave people hope, it gave them a real choice – in the same way that Brexit got the voters out because the choice was so simple and binary – leave or remain. Corbyn framed this election in the same way: the end of the welfare state and ever-increasing austerity for the poor and tax giveaways to the rich, or taxing the rich a little more and properly funding our public services. For once voters had a real choice between left and right and this was reflected not just in British politics returning more closely to a two-party state, but also in increased turnout.

A lot was made of UKIP’s collapse and the inevitable Conservative surge this would generate. But in truth this view was always simplistic and wrong when you look at why people voted UKIP in the first place. It is a mistake to think that people voted UKIP or voted leave solely because they wanted to leave the EU and that what happened afterwards was an irrelevance. Actually, for many UKIP and leave voters, leaving the EU was a means to an end. In their eyes their poverty and life chances were being limited by being in the EU, therefore leaving the EU would lead to the changes that bettered their lives. Would all UKIP or Leave voters really care about the ideals of sovereignty or ‘unelected’ bureaucrats who may or may not be discussing the shape of bananas in Brussels if they had a good job, money and a sense that life was treating them fairly?

UKIP’s manifestos – once you got past the xenophobia – have always contained lots of left-wing, socialist details because they understood a lot of the issues that the disenfranchised voters care about. Working class votes were their bread and butter. It therefore shouldn’t be a surprise that an anti-establishment figure like Corbyn offering real change, real hope and a manifesto that clearly addressed the concerns of a lot of working class UKIP voters pulled in a significant share of the UKIP vote. This is even more logical given that Article 50 has already been triggered and that Corbyn’s approach to Brexit is ‘jobs first’ and accepting the will of the 52%.

There is another aspect that may have proved equally as important in the final vote share: the different approaches to the party leaders. May’s campaign has been criticised for trying to run a personality cult campaign based on someone with no personality. This is a fair criticism, but it also neglects that when May did speak she had nothing to offer – when you come face to face with a Nurse who hasn’t had a pay rise for years and your response is to shrug your shoulders and exclaim ‘there’s no magic money tree’ you’re probably not going to win any voters. Trump, on the other hand, didn’t just build a campaign around his personality, but also on making outlandish promises – building a wall and making Mexico pay, knowing more about ISIS than anyone, having all the best words and so on. May didn’t have the personality to draw a crowd or the promises to keep them.

Corbyn, on the other hand, could draw a crowd and had the manifesto of promises to keep them enthralled. That it was fully costed demonstrated that they weren’t just a list of fantasy policies – although this was the line pushed by the Tories and their friends in the media. But, ironically – given the huge crowds he drew and the success of his speeches – the Labour Party worked hard on the ground to not mention him if possible. That so many Labour MPs thought he was a huge handicap meant that they conducted very local campaigns, addressing local issues; selling themselves as excellent local MPs, distant from Westminster. This, in effect, created two separate campaigns, the national campaign led by Corbyn that was selling a manifesto and a vision for the country as a whole, and the local campaign that really targeted each constituency and selling each individual candidate.

Seeing Corbyn as a massive handicap seems to have energised the Corbyn sceptics to really work hard to knock doors and canvas for their local Labour candidate – because they couldn’t take for granted that the national campaign would drive local support. Meanwhile, Labour candidates – thanks to Corbyn – had access to huge number of members, often really quite devoted to Corbyn – who were working on behalf of both local and national campaigns to drum up support for Labour.

What this meant is that whilst Conservative candidates were hobbled by an abysmal manifesto and gagged by a Conservative campaign that put Theresa May front and centre (my local candidate sent me a leaflet telling me she ‘was standing with Theresa May’, listed the main ‘Maybot’ slogans and told me nothing about her at all). They had nothing to offer apart from slogans – and those slogans explicitly promised that nothing would change. It staggers me that a party that has been in power for 7 years in which wages have fallen, the NHS and social care are in crisis, education is heading that way, the police are down by 20,000 and all these austerity cuts have achieved is to double the national debt, can possibly think promising explicitly that they’ll only be offering ‘more of the same!’ is the kind of idea to build a campaign around.

Astonishingly, with an uncosted, back of the fag packet manifesto only remembered for the ‘dementia tax’, bringing back fox-hunting and threatening a no-deal Brexit they actually went a step further and promised to make things worse. It was at best, utterly incompetent, at worst, one of the most arrogant moves from a governing party in electoral history.

It remains to be said that the Conservative party still managed to receive the largest share of the vote, and to remain the largest party – even if it was the most remarkably incompetent campaign in history. But, given where Corbyn started, the nature of the snap election and the massively pro-May and viciously anti-Corbyn press, it is almost impossible to not see the overall result as a victory for Labour – and, more importantly, Corbyn.

It was, like Brexit and Trump, an upredictable success for the anti-establishment promise of hope and change.

It is also a campaign with a fascinating aftermath, which I’ll cover in part 3.

The Power of Hope, Part 1: Context

Introduction

For me the recent general election result – a largely unpredicted hung parliament in which Jeremy Corbyn got within 2% of the Conservative vote, despite being over 20 points behind just weeks before – is part of a wider trend of people choosing hope over fear, the chance of change over the continuance of the status quo. This post is the first in a 3 part series – Context, Campaign and Aftermath – that attempts to put forward a coherent argument as to why political voting has changed so much since the financial crash in 2008 – and what this means for future elections and the direction of politics in general.

The Power of Hope, Part 1: Context

It seems like a long time ago that the UK economy was rising happily and steadily, with New Labour so confident in the stability of the bubble lifting it that they declared an ‘end to boom and bust’. That all came crashing down in 2008, and looking back it seemed an act of breathtaking collective denial that so few people saw it coming. We live in a world in which there is almost inconceivable inequality, not just between the rich and the poor of developed and underdeveloped nations, but within developed nations as well.

This inequality has meant it has become increasingly difficult for the middle and lower classes not just to cling onto the consumerist lifestyles that they are encouraged to, but just to exist at all. It’s important to recognise that rising inequality isn’t just about CEOs taking increased salaries or corporations increased profits out of an economy, it is also the fall in real incomes for almost anyone below this top 5% of earners.

In the beginning it was easier for the 95% to cope with lower wages because families largely relied on one wage earner, the solution was to send both parents out to work. This kept the illusion that growing inequality was sustainable. When even two-parent-wage families still couldn’t meet their commitments, another solution was offered: cheap credit. That meant normalising credit cards, loans, equity release from property values or anything else that encouraged the ‘we can all have the things we want / we can all take part in this boom’ culture. It sustained the illusion that free market liberalism was enriching us all.

But the truth was it wasn’t, it was creating obscene wealth for the few and putting the majority into unsustainable, unaffordable and often unpayable debt. The reality is that under free market liberalism we can’t all afford a house, even if the banks are willing to give us a mortgage. We cannot all afford big TVs, luxury clothes, posh cars or any of the other things that are sold to us from birth as being a vital part of creating our sense of worth and self-esteem – even if loans and credit are offered to us so we can have them. Cheap credit allowed a lot of people to be fooled into thinking that they were part of the boom, that they were enjoying the rewards of a growing economy.

But they weren’t. They were, in reality, poorer than their parents – working longer, harder and in less secure jobs for lower wages and poorer pensions. They faced property prices that were completely out of sync with real earnings and a rental market dominated by private landlords and extremely limited access to social housing. The reality is that all loans, credit cards and mortgages – no matter how cheap they may at first appear – need to be repaid. In 2008 a crisis in sub-prime mortgages spiralled into the realisation that a significant part of the global economy was built on credit given to people who had no capacity to repay it. The bubble collapsed and people realised a new truth: they were being hit with the bill – austerity, cuts, debt to pay down; whilst almost universally the banks were bailed out in an act completely out of kilter with the free-market economics that had led to their de-regulation in the first place.

And so we live in a slightly altered reality, one defined by hung parliaments, Brexit and Trump. The crash in 2008 created a groundswell of anger and disillusion, but this anger was never legitimately directed at those who had caused the bubble and the crash, or the wider system that creates the conditions for a boom and bust economy. Governments that had been so enthralled by the free-market economics of Milton Freedman bailed out their banks in an act that demonstrated that socialism could be applied to the rich, whilst the rest of us were left impoverished by unchecked capitalism.

The long-term consequences of the 2008 crash were unclear. In the UK it spelled the end of New Labour and the start of hung parliaments or barely squeaked majorities. The media narrative sold by right-wing newspapers were that New Labour had maxed-out the credit card and we’d all need to repay it via austerity (whilst ‘bankers’ received a few half-hearted attacks, the newspapers largely let them walk away with the obscene wealth they had siphoned off from the credit bubble). Politics became increasingly right-wing as the ‘centre ground’ moved further and further away from any kind of expectation that the state was able to invest in public services or the economy – and indeed whether they should even attempt to, with the idea of ‘small government’ more traditionally associated with the American right becoming increasingly popular.

David Cameron tried to sell us a sanitised version of this with ‘the big society’ in 2010, where – in its most positive sense – power was given back to the people, thereby shrinking the role, influence and power of government over the people. However, the darker reality was the big society was a rather vague exhortation that people should support themselves and their communities, rather than rely on support and investment from the government. Cameron certainly provided the financial austerity underpinning the vision and eventually gave one decision back to the people in the form of the EU Referendum. Here the Leave campaign utilised this anti-establishment, anti-government feeling, arguing explicitly that leaving the EU was about ‘taking back control’ from distant and unaccountable politicians. Trump would later echo this during his presidential campaign, explicitly telling the American people during his inaugural speech that “We are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people”.

But what defines the politics of hung parliaments, Brexit and Trump isn’t actually the drive to transfer power from the few to the many, but rather the message of hope and the promise of change that is sold alongside it. Brexit came down to a simple choice, remaining in the EU and maintaining the status quo – the reality of which for many, many people is poverty in every sense; of opportunity, health, education and even hope itself – or leaving the EU, ‘taking back control’ and creating new opportunities of trade and progress as a free nation again.

The ‘remain’ campaign focused on staying in the UK primarily because it – almost undoubtedly – made economic sense to do so – that our growth and prosperity depended on it. Just imagine – you may not even need to – being one of the millions of people living in abject poverty in the UK, watching the current economically strong and secure system make cuts to social services, education, the NHS, local councils, community centres, libraries and so on. To them the reality of the status quo is one that serves only to impoverish them, ‘project fear’ – about the disastrous outcomes of leaving the EU – wasn’t just a negative campaign, it was one utterly powerless to strike fear into people who already felt as if they had nothing to lose. Indeed, telling poor people that staying in the EU was the best way of keeping them economically prosperous seems closer to a sick joke than an effective campaign.

The Leave campaign was able to win, even if only by a slither, because it offered hope. If the known quantity has led to poverty, austerity and division, then it is far more tempting to risk the unknown, because at least that holds the chance of a better future. The choice was simple: change and hope offered by Leave, or the status quo and fear offered by Remain.

Trump framed his election in the same way, Hillary Clinton represented the continuance of politics as usual – which has left millions in abject poverty in the richest nation on earth, Trump represented change and hope. It’s ironic that Obama perhaps created the politics of hope as the foundation for a political campaign, only to see it put a Republican President in the White House after he served his final term. That this President was Trump added significant insult to the injury.

This was the context in which Theresa May decided to call a snap election, one that seemed to guarantee her a crushing majority and might even end Labour as an electoral force. I’ll look at her campaign in Part 2 of this Power of Hope series.

Time passes, things get worse

It has been nearly two years since I last blogged and yet the post I want to sit down and write is essentially an update to that last post – which was, in itself, merely an evolution of earlier blogposts. All of those blogposts were discussing why I – and many others – blogged about dishonest newspapers and the narratives they sell so successfully to the public.

I know that blogging against established, monied, powerful and sadly extremely mainstream cultural institutions is, in many ways, pointless. Even when this blog had a fairly decent readership, it was almost always preaching to the converted and despite some very limited mainstream coverage of a couple of issues, it had no real impact.

I didn’t expect it to, but what I did try to do as much as possible was make the argument that whilst this blog – and the many like it – had no real importance, their exploration of how our press distorts reality does matter – and I am writing this now, because now I think we’re all really waking up to that fact.

One of my key frustrations when writing this blog was the argument that I would lead a happier, healthier and more productive life if I just stopped reading such media outlets. There is certainly some truth in that, my personal happiness has been greatly improved by not reading the Daily Mail or Mail Online, but that is missing the point. My counter-argument was always that this ‘ignorance-is-bliss’ approach would only be successful in the long run if the Daily Mail et al couldn’t have any other impact on my life.

But they do.

My analogy was always that you don’t have to smoke a cigarette to inhale the toxic fumes, but merely share the same atmosphere as a smoker and you’d get those fumes second-hand – passively, but just as deadly. This is true of media narratives, I don’t have to read newspapers to be profoundly impacted by the poisonous lies they craft. Those narratives shape our politics, distort our referendums and support the hatred and bigotry that we all encounter in our lives – either as victims or witnesses.

Perhaps if we had a political class prepared to base policy on sound evidence and not the editorials of our always outraged, reactive and regressive newspapers, we would not now be facing Brexit. Perhaps if newspapers had not spent decades deriding the European Union with lie after lie, or blaming it for problems firmly made in the UK and only fixable by our own government people might have voted differently.

But here we are, two years on, and the only thing that has changed is that newspapers are now more confidently racist, more openly hateful and more smilingly contemptuous of the public. The UK is a darker place, socially, politically and culturally than it has been for a very long time. We can no longer pretend that it is enough to simply not pick up a newspaper and we’ll be OK. That doesn’t work when those who are happy to believe the narratives are the majority and they have changed our society so dramatically.

The only real option left is to fight against the idea that we now live in a post-factual society, where opinion is all that matters and we’re sick of experts, figures and the truth.

The only real question is how?

Has the Daily Mail Jumped the Shark?

The TV show Happy Days in many people’s view went in to a terminal decline when The Fonze jumped over a shark whilst water-skiing. Watching the show always involved suspending disbelief to quite a large extent as the Fonze is clearly a ridiculous character but the point when he jumped over a shark was the point at which the writers went too far. Was it hubris or over-confidence or simply desperation that led the writers to take their audience for granted? Either way it was a watershed moment. I wonder whether the Mail has similarly over-reached itself – not with its attack on Ed Miliband via his father so much, but by their attempted defence.

fonzie_jumps_the_shark

In many ways the attack on Ralph Miliband was typical of the Daily Mail – it is typical of their Modus Operandi: prejudicial, ill-conceived and misrepresentive of the subject. This response by Miliband Senior’s biographer is very telling.

The sole basis for this assertion was a diary entry at the age of 16 in autumn 1940, where Ralph Miliband wrote that “the Englishman is a rabid nationalist” and, “when you hear the English talk of this war you sometimes almost want them to lose it to show how things are.” Such sentiments might sound shocking, but they need to be put into their real context.

A few months earlier Miliband had arrived in Britain with his father, having walked from Brussels to Ostend, where they took the last boat leaving for Britain. While working hard to improve his English, he was also spending much of his time wandering through the streets of London trying to make sense of his new environment. He was in a constant state of anxiety about the fate of his sister and mother, who had remained in Nazi occupied Belgium as stateless Jews.

Because he believed that the earlier appeasement of Hitler was largely responsible for the situation, he was occasionally exasperated by the atmosphere of complacency and superiority amongst the British upper classes, and this no doubt provoked his intemperate diary outburst.

There is nothing new in any of this: The Mail has done this to many others. What is unusual is that Daily Mail could not deny Ed Miliband a response.

 

The petulance that accompanied the printing of Ed Miliband very measured article was impressive to behold.

Ed Miliband:

Britain has always benefited from a free Press. Those freedoms should be treasured. They are vital for our democracy. Journalists need to hold politicians like me to account — none of us should be given an easy ride — and I look forward to a robust 19 months between now and the General Election.

<snip>

The Daily Mail sometimes claims it stands for the best of British values of decency. But something has really gone wrong when it attacks the family of a politician — any politician — in this way. It would be true of an attack on the father of David Cameron, Nick Clegg, or mine.

There was a time when politicians stayed silent if this kind of thing happened, in the hope that it wouldn’t happen again. And fear that if they spoke out, it would make things worse.

I will not do that. The stakes are too high for our country for politics to be conducted in this way. We owe it to Britain to have a debate which reflects the values of how we want the country run.

The Daily Mail Comment

Red Ed’s in a strop with the Mail. Doubtless, he’s miffed that his conference was overshadowed by the revelations of his former friend, the spin doctor Damian McBride, serialised in this paper, which exposed the poisonous heart of the Labour Party.

Nor did he see the funny side when we ridiculed the yucky, lovey-dovey photographs of him and his wife, behaving like a pair of hormonal teenagers in need of a private room.

But what has made him vent his spleen — indeed, he has stamped his feet and demanded a right of reply — is a Mail article by Geoffrey Levy on Saturday about the Labour leader’s late father, Ralph, under the arresting headline ‘The Man Who Hated Britain’.

They seem to want us to believe it was an act of great magnanimity for them to publish the response rather the act of cowardice and calculation it really was. They know how much worse it would be if it was published elsewhere under the headline What the Mail refused to print. The choice of the grave photo shows the standard dehumanising attitude of the DM to those they oppose – although to be fair to them they have at-least acknowledged that this was in poor taste. Note the choice of language – responding to a deeply personal attack on his father, Ed is characterised as behaving childishly, whilst the Mail repeat the words ‘evil’ in reference to Ralph Miliband’s views.

If the professional ethos of journalism is to speak the truth to power then the Mail is undoubtably the very antithesis of a journalistic organisation. The reaction to this particular example though is interesting. The hardcore Mailites remain loyal but their wider credibility as a newspaper has been compromised. I – and many others – have long seen through them but the Mail has always maintained this pretence of seriousness. It is interesting, and not a little ironic, to see this pretence stripped away by their own bloody-mindedness. While Stephen Glover whines about the leftist conspiracy and alleged hypocrisy, the country at-large seems to take a different view. I find myself wondering if they have perhaps over-reached themselves this time?

I for one, truly hope so.

 

AFZ

You do realise that anyone can apply?

In the United Kingdown people have free will and the right to pursue whatever career they wish. Not everyone will have an equal chance of getting the job that they want because people will be limited to different extents by inherent ability, social class and means and of course the education that is made available to them. If you are following the growing demonisation of the Public Sector you would think that to be in the employ of the state you have to win some kind of lottery or you inherit your position through some kind of birthright.

The truth is that there are many reasons why people prefer to work in the private sector. I’d like to receive an honest answer from those working in the Private Sector about whether they fancy some of the key positions available in the public sector.

Hands up who would like to be a Police Officer? And I don’t mean, hands up who would like the right to retire at 50 on a decent pension (length of service dependant or course) because surely we would all hold our hands up to that. I mean, who really, deep down, would like to perform the role of a Police Officer? The long shift patterns, dealing with the very worst aspects of society, the social stigma that goes with the role and the fact that to attain any kind of position in the Police you must do your time on the beat.

Then you ask yourself: are you adequately qualified to perform the role? Are you fit enough, can you pass the physical aspects of the application process and then can you pass the lengthy role-play sessions and interviews. Do you have a degree, have you any experience – most likely gained whilst as an un-paid (or at the very best low-paid) and essentiallly powerless Community Support Officer – and can you deal, in a non-judgemental way, with people from every possible background?

Getting into the Police is not easy, but neither is it a random lottery in which people are selected irrespective of personal qualities. It is an application process and anyone can apply. You just might not want to.

Hands up who fancies being a teacher? And no, I don’t mean who fancies the summer off, a pension at 60/65 and short working days. I mean, who fancies spending most of their working life in the glare of 30 school kids, who they have to get to a certain level each year irrespective of the quality of kids that turn up. Who fancies spending much of their time at home marking, planning and worrying about constant observations, grading and inspections?

It is the easiest thing in the world to suggest that the Public Sector is one big gravy train full of incompetents living the high life just waiting to retire on a huge pension. But it isn’t true, at all. The average Public Sector pension is just £4,000 a year, for example. As for the suggestion that every position is filled by simpletons who couldn’t survive in the Private Sector, then why don’t the whingers apply? If working in the Public Sector is such an easy ride, why isn’t every single post advertised deluged with millions of applicants all desperate for their slice of the easy pie?

Could it be that not everyone wants to spend 4 years training to become a teacher. Not everyone wants to go back to college to complete an Access to Nursing course (1 or 2 years, unfunded) only to face huge competition for a very limited amount of Nursing degree places (which is a further 3 years if they do get a place) – a large number of Access to Nursing students will simply not be accepted onto a university course.

You will never become rich working in the public sector. You can in certain job roles become very comfortably well-off (Headteachers, deputy heads, senior police, senior civil servants etc) but these are a tiny tip at the top of an pyramid in which the vast majority of public sector workers occupy the lower base. Teachers, nurses, fireman, admin VAT advisors, tax workers, call centre workers and everyone else working in the public sector knows that their earnings will always be clearly finite and relevant to the role they perform, which in turn is governed by their qualifications.

I don’t think it is unfair to expect to live in a country in which teachers, nurses, fireman, police officers, social workers (and who wants the grief that they get for working in often impossible situations?) etc should not have to worry about being poor, either during their working life or in retirement.

And, if you still think it’s easy, then why don’t you get a job in the Public Sector? No one is stopping you, it is not an exclusive club (although it is becoming harder to get into thanks to media-driven government cuts), anyone can apply. You just have to be qualified, experienced and prepared to put up with all the flak that most of the jobs entail.

A deafening No

I haven’t had a lot of time to post lately and the topics I have been tempted to write about require a bit more thought than I can really manage at the moment. Still, I can manage a few seconds to point out that the Daily Mail editorial (or ‘comment’ as it is referred to by the Mail) was again telling Nick Clegg that he had received a ‘deafening No’ from the public with regards to electoral reform. I guess I just wanted to point out – as someone did here in the comments recently – that the Mail’s beloved Tories are not exactly in any position to talk about what constitutes a deafening majority. In the 2010 election the UK public had just experienced a massive economic crash and the then Labour government was led by someone who was supposedly about as unpopular as it is possible to be, yet the Conservatives could still only gain 36.1% of the vote – just 7.1% more than Labour.

63.9% of voters said no to the Conservatives.

In the AV referendum 67.9% of people rejected the Alternative vote, just 4% more than had rejected the Tory party in the general election. Considering the Mail considers Clegg to have suffered a ‘resounding defeat in the AV referendum’ can we also assume they realise that David Cameron also suffered a resounding defeat in the general election?

The Mail might try to argue that the two things are very different: the AV referendum was a straight yes or no whereas the general election had numerous different parties to vote for and therefore it would be harder for any one party to pick up a clear majority. This is a perfectly valid argument. However, this also happens to be an argument that leads directly to the thought that perhaps the voting system needs to be rather more complex than FPTP to deal with this problem. All the current system allows us to conclude is that the Conservatives suffered a resounding no.

We get the governance we deserve

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.
Winston Churchill

So, an overwhelming no to even modest political reform. Money, power and fear have once again convinced people to vote against their own self-interest. I wonder in history lessons in the distant future school children will sit in wonder at how there grand parents could have been so subservient and easily scared by political propaganda.

The AV referendum was a chance to go into the polling box and instead of putting a cross next to one candidate, you could instead rank them in order of preference – making those in charge perfectly aware of not just who you wanted to win, but also the regard in which you held the other candidates.

Yet around 70% of voters decided that this was something they didn’t want.

I just find that unbelievable. I just cannot fathom why anyone would not want AV over FPTP (I’ll ignore valid arguments about AV being a miserable compromise because it was the best we were ever going to be offered and already No campaigners are already crowing about how they knew all along the masses didn’t want political reform – I think it highly unlikely we’ll ever get the chance to vote for any kind of reform again). People went out in their millions and actively said: ‘Don’t give me the chance to rank candidates! I don’t want that!’.

What makes it worse is that if I genuinely felt that people had considered the cold facts of AV and FPTP and preferred the FPTP system then I could accept that. But I just really don’t believe that they did. Instead they just picked up their newspapers, read the AV leaflets, got scared and voted no without even engaging their brains. It’s the same when any political debate begins and the masses just repeat the media narratives and we’re all soon lost in a cycle of pointless, endless arguments about immigration that never come close to addressing the facts of the matter.

It’s depressing. Very, very depressing.

What really annoys me is that people always seem angry about the government which just switches between the Conservatives and Labour every few years – each party voted out as being the worst government ever… before being re-elected a few years later because the other party is now the worst government ever – we seemingly forget the evils of the party that they in turn had replaced. FPTP has given us this system that everyone seems dissatisfied with, yet here we are as a populace voting in droves to keep this same two-party system that we’ll no doubt keep bitching about.

I would invite anyone to justify why they voted against AV, why they would not want the opportunity to rank preferences on a ballot paper rather than just getting one option. I will never understand the mentality of the no voters, just as they will probably never understand the consequences of their actions.

In Bury today after three recounts, Labour and Conservative posted the same number of votes in the Ransbottom ward. The two candidates then drew straws, with the Labour candidate drawing the longest one to gain an extra vote and win the seat – giving them a majority on the council. In actual fact they drew cable ties.

We have a system so staggeringly simple that the winners can be decided – quite literally – at random using the length of a cable tie. And over 10 million people were so happy with this system they went out and voted for it.

No wonder the world is such a messed-up place.

Complexity

After having exchanged a few words with Tom Harris MP on Twitter today regarding the increased complexity of AV I was trying to convey in no more than 140 characters the utter stupidity that underlies the argument that AV is too complex for the average voter or that complexity is in itself a negative quality.

Let’s try and put complexity into context.

People can walk somewhere if they want to. Walking (for most people) is a very simple, un-complex undertaking. People are unlikely to break down or encounter anything during a walk that they cannot deal with.

People can also take make the journey more complex by cycling, which introduces more possible difficulties (punctures, chain falling off and so forth) but also improves several elements of the journey (reduced journey time, reduced impact on crucial joints such as the knee and so forth).

People can take complexity to whole new levels by driving the journey instead, or taking any form of public transport. This level of complexity carries the great risk that the journey might not be completed because of a mechanical failure that cannot be rectified by the individual: for it is unlikely that they understand the complexity of an modern combustion engine or how to fix a train.

This does not stop people driving or taking public transport, as end users they very rarely need to know how such things work, what they do know is that mechanics exist to fix any problems that might arise.

Complexity is all around us, we embrace it because complexity is so intimately linked with progress and understanding.
It is very simple to think that the world is at the centre of the universe and that everything revolves around us. It is very complex to realise that we are one planet amongst almost infinite numbers that happens to revolve around the Sun in an ever-expanding universe. We don’t reject change simply because it is more complex. Otherwise we should throw away just about every single bit of technology in the world.

This is, of course, assuming that AV is actually complex – and if it is more complex than FPTP, who has to deal with that complexity?

From the point of view of the voter AV could not be simpler. You just rank the candidates in order of preference. You can vote for the person you really want to, rather than voting for a lesser candidate simply because you fear voting for your real choice would be a wasted vote. Tactical voting under AV is done with second or third preferences, i.e. I’d really like Mr A, but failing that I would rather have Mr D or Mr H (so rank them 2nd and 3rd) than the horrible Mr X.

That is not difficult and perhaps people can leave the polling station knowing that they actually voted for their first preference for once, rather than voting for someone merely to stop another more despised candidate. Wouldn’t that be a nice feeling? To know that you can actually voted for your real choice without feeling that you have just ‘wasted’ your vote?

Of course, this means that when the votes are counted if there is no clear winner the weakest candidate has to be eliminated and then second preferences are added to see if that can establish and so forth until one candidate has a majority of over 50%. Sure, this is more complex than first past the post, but it’s hardly the same as building a car and we are all happy to be the end user of those, so why not be the end user of the AV voting system?

Any complexity with AV is the problem of the government, not the voter. Perhaps we should also vote no to sewers as well because they’re complex and expensive and we’d all be much better off taking the simple option of emptying buckets of shit out of our windows like the good old days. Not that AV is expensive, that’s just another scare tactic employed by the old guard who are scared because a more democratic system does not help a very undemocratic elite.

The final point, the really important point I’d like to think, is that we are having a referendum on the way in which we elect MPs and consequently the governments that make the decisions that impact on us every day of our lives. Elections only take place every 5 years, the way in which that government is elected matters. This means I don’t want a simple system to determine this, I want a complex system that better reflects the actual will of those bothering to vote (and as for those complaining that AV will reduce voter turnout, how much lower do they think it can get?).

Think back to the days when computers were horrible great big boxes that didn’t do a great deal and what they did do they did very slowly. We’d look back and describe them as crude, in the same way that we would describe most ancient tools that were a product of physical limitation. Here we have a voting system that is not a product of physical limitation, but rather a philosophical limitation. We could if we wanted have AV or AV plus or full PR, in the same way that we could vote entirely online and get almost instant results. We don’t because the rich and powerful individuals that almost entirely make up our political class rely on an outdated system to cling to a two-party system that with FPTP forces the majority of voters to compromise at the ballot box, or worse still not vote at all.

You have a country divided between safe Labour seats and safe Conservative seats with any other party or individual merely trying to get their deposit back. You could lead a party with the support of a million voters and still not end up with a single seat in parliament.

The same is also true with AV, it is a miserable compromise. But this is not an argument against voting for AV, rather it is a damning indictment of the current government – if AV is a miserable compromise then why did you not offer us full PR – if you keep saying that is superior? Probably because PR would take away the very notion of a safe seat and the Conservatives – who only represent the interest of a small elite, would finally have that reflected in the number of seats they won. Likewise, the Labour party – who seemed to have abandoned the working classes in policy, but can still be guaranteed a huge amount of seats in working class areas – might actually have to start being the Labour party again; instead of the Conservatives with a different colour tie.

AV plus or true PR would be much better, but it turns out our ‘elected’ leaders actually despise democracy. ‘What about extremist parties, under PR they would get MPs elected’ they cry, such an argument seems almost directly against proper democracy. If the BNP or EDL (if they became a political party) or any other extremists gained seats it would not reflect poorly on democracy, merely on the level of debate that takes place on real issues of importance in this country. The EDL exists because our media constantly creates and feeds the narratives that sustain them – as do politicians when they blame the foreigner for all the ills that are a direct result of their policies.

If we elect a series of racist loons, we need more education, not less democracy.

Perhaps true PR might lead to a properly regulated press, a House of Commons that doesn’t descend into the infantile groaning and roaring of over-privileged, public-schooled pals mistaking running a country with messing around in their old common rooms and above all a political class that engages in real issues rather than petty political posturing and point-scoring. Maybe, just maybe, politicians would have to honestly answer the occasional question, rather than aloofly ignoring questions put to them as if we have no right to know what they are really up to.

AV is slightly more complex than FPTP – but only for the people counting, not the people voting – and like most increasingly complex things: this is a good thing. People don’t race out to buy the latest gadget because it does less than the old one; they buy it because it offers them more. We have voted with our wallets for hundreds of years for increasing complexity, increasing sophistication; for products that do similar things in better ways and for products that have revolutionised our lives.

The majority of humanity loves progress and change, capitalism, for example, is entirely reliant on this fact. It’s about time we put down our wallets for five minutes and instead voted with our ballet paper for increased political sophistication, for a voting system that offers us slightly more for the same exertion. AV is a compromise, it’s not the system that would bring true democracy to the UK, nor will it likely change the party system currently in place.

However, it is progress; it is increasing the sophistication of the way we are allowed to vote. It could be, if we all turn out to vote if given AV for the next election, the first step on the path to real democracy and real change.

Now that is change I do want to believe in.

March 26th old news already

Today’s front pages:

  • Daily Mail: ‘Fury over Bulger killer’s tryst with girl guard’, and a story about Princess Eugenie riding a bicycle.
  • Daily Star: ‘JORDAN: If I revealed what REALLY happened Alex would be destroyed for ever!’, a small piece about Sian O’Callaghan and another about Coleen Rooney.
  • Daily Mirror: ‘Back on the beach: Canoe man reveals how he faked death at scene of the crime’, some drivel about someone leaving Loose Women and a short intro piece on ‘Libya rape girl’.
  • The Sun: ‘Sian cops watched as suspect lit bonfire’, plus short piece on Libya and dancing on ice winner (I think, I can only view a tiny thumbnail of this front page, so I could be wrong).
  • The Independent: ‘Onwards to Triploi’, an advert for an article on ‘The toxic question of where the PM educates his children’ but it also advertises a story on the protests: ‘The protests carried a message the Government must hear’.
  • The Daily Telegraph: ‘Britain is open for business, say top investors’; some drivel about Princes Will and Harry and their stag do, an article on how ‘Anarchists “plan to target royal wedding”‘, some stuff about cancer drugs, Gaddafi and ‘A barbecue August’.
  • The Times: ‘Libya rebels close in on Gaddafi’s strongholds’, lots of other lead articles, too small to make out.
  • The Guardian: ‘Turkey offers to broker Libya ceasefire as rebels advance’, an article on Mansion tax, the Bank on England inflation forecast for 2012 and a small advert for an article on the demonstration – ‘Britain can still state a good demo – pity about the mini-mob who gave the tabloids their headlines’.

I know the demonstration was held on Saturday and that most newspapers covered it on their front pages yesterday, but not everyone buys a Sunday paper and doesn’t the demonstration deserve further prominent coverage? This is the main problem with our current media, all news is old news before we have even had the time to properly digest it. It is replaced, each day with something else to distract us. Except that this isn’t always the case, when it comes to speculation the front pages can be dedicated to the same topic for as long is as needed – the media furore over Joanna Yeates for example dominated front pages with nothing more than lurid, invasive and malicious speculation.

Yet as today demonstrates, when they have the chance to reflect on something important, something solid – a topic that requires careful consideration instead of mindless speculation – they fail, every single time, to provide it.

Switch off, log on

So, the Guardian reports today that the Daily Mail website is ‘most popular newspaper website in the UK, with nearly 18 million readers a month, and is second only to the New York Times worldwide’. This is not really a surprise, just more evidence that a huge amount of people enjoy mindless rubbish. Whenever I see the unique visitor count of the Daily Mail website I am saddened that Bill Hicks is no longer around to spell out just why such banal tripe is evil. His comments on the apathetic, mindless mass of Americans who could be sleepwalked into submission by 24-hour cable TV showing American Gladiators have never been more timely.

At the time when the Coalition government dismantles the welfare state because of a recession caused by stupendously irresponsible and wealthy banks; the majority of people in Britain are more concerned with logging into the Mail website to check out the latest celebrity to gain or lose weight whilst angrily reading about the ‘workshy’. I mean, sure, the banks may have lost hundreds of billions of pounds and inflated house prices so that most people have either been priced out of the market or now own a property worth far less than their mortgage, but the real problem is that couple down the road who don’t work and have too many children. Sure, stopping their benefits will hurt children who have played no part in their circumstance, but hey, I’m an angry Daily Mail reader so it’s fine to punish children so long as I feel that my taxes aren’t being wasted on things outside of my immediate circle.

The point that Bill Hicks wanted to drive home is that the majority of human beings are so easily distracted by moving images and flashing lights that they spend their lives politically nullified, the American elite don’t need guns or violence to maintain their hegemony, just the ownership of 24-hour cable TV.

It depresses me that the Mail website has so many readers. I know a lot of them are not Mail readers, but people with hearts, brains and souls who stare despairingly into the intellectual and moral abyss, just to remind themselves that we live in a society that has some serious issues. What concerned Hicks’ most was that people were so badly informed about how the rich were screwing them over everyday, and how easily such people could be nullified by a puerile, unthinking TV schedule. As long as people want to buy celebrity magazines or read the Mail website to be titillated and enraged in equal measure the world will never improve. The Mail isn’t entirely to blame, it is serving an audience, an audience that does want to know all about celebrities. An audience that wants to hate immigrants, single mothers and other easy targets because it satisfies a simplistic need to be angry and to know who is to blame. This audience learns its behaviours, and behaviours can be changed. There is hope, but only a thin slither.

Meanwhile, David Cameron can visit China to discuss international ‘trade imbalances’ without anyone asking about whether there are any other forms of trade inbalance that are far more pressing. Cameron argued – along with the US – that an unfair trade balance currently exists. Essentially, people in Britain and the US spend too much money consuming products that are made in China. People in China don’t spend as much, as they generally save a proportion of their income in case of illness because they have to foot the bill for medical care. This means that we buy more stuff from China than we sell to them, they have a big trade surplus, we have a big trade deficit. David Camerson says that this is bad because too much money is flowing from Britain and the US to China, which means less money is available to the UK economy and we become poorer.

This is all well and good, but what about the trade deficit that the population of planet earth has with global corporations? Why not mention this if he really is concerned with the flow of money from one group to another. Is is useful for the UK economy to have several large corporations taking billions of pounds out of circulation? Where did  the billions of pounds of record profits that the banks sucked out of the UK economy from the average earner go? None of this money was left when the crash hit, by then we all realised that the banks had given it all away to already wealthy share holders or wealthy employees who took so much in bonuses that the banks had to be bailed out by governments.

When China generates a trade surplus the British government gets concerned that too much money is taken out of the economy, yet when Tesco announce that they have made many more billions in profit than they managed last year it celebrates because businesses are supposed to grow. Why do they not question where this money is going, or realise that very little is going back into the economy. Capitalism generates wealth, the trouble is that wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of a few who have soo much money they cannot possibly spend it, and if they do spend it, they aren’t interested in the sort of products or services offered by the average guy. This means that the average person has to survive on less, or loses their job because there just isn’t enough money left in the system.

Billionaires have massive trade surpluses. The average person is likely to have a trade deficit. The two are linked, you just never seem to hear about it.

Anyway, forget about the millionaires and billionaires, switch off your brain, log on to the Mail website and look at all the juicy celebrity gossip. Look at this immigrant with a council house and flat screen TV, they are to blame you know, they are taking your money, not us. Have you seen how many workshy scroungers there are? Loads, we tried to give them jobs, but they said no, they’d rather sit at home and let you pay for them. Remember, the poor are at fault, the rich are your superiors. Have you seen Simon Cowell’s house? He’s a fantastic success story don’t you know. Rich people are good. We can all be rich you know. Keep working, keep trying.You can always buy a lottery ticket. Here, have a picture of a horse in the back of a car.