As the UK pulls into position as a world-leader in COVID deaths, as the NHS, the legal system and the economy fall into chaos, as the Home Office scrabbles around trying to retrieve the latest batch of lost files, our PR-dependent government works day and night to keep all media voices and spaces filled with news of the one thing they are keeping pace with – vaccination centres. Twinned with their current obsession with trying to convince us that anything that goes wrong goes wrong because some people aren’t following the ever-changing government guidance, this suggests a desperate need to direct attention away from something…
I am really hoping that means it is still possible for ministers to make such a bad job of something that they get kicked out of their jobs.
It used to be a subject for comedy, the way government ministers are constantly shunted into jobs heading departments they knew nothing about – but it was a joke back then. We knew that really, a minister does not have to be an expert in the subject area. They are supposed to be good at listening, rallying and directing, tuning their departments into the direction they’ve been elected to take them, leaving the subject-management and delivery- based decisions to those out-of-fashion types – experts in the field
I acknowledge that focusing on one person may be a little unfair. Gavin Williamson is no more than a prize specimen of an era of government-by-guesswork. I am regarding him as a test case – are Conservative government ministers EVER bad enough at their actual job to sack? Yes, we’ve seen cheating, lying and general malpractice leading to ministers having to step down (eventually) but what about actually being so bad at your actual job, what if a minister has dug himself into a ditch so deep that no-one anywhere could mistake what he was doing for effective leadership?
In the run up to Christmas, when experts in virus control were saying schools were potentially a major spreader, the government threatened legal action against schools that wanted to close a few days early to make the Christmas holiday a more effective circuit-breaker. Williamson’s department did not tell schools what was expected of them after Christmas until halfway through the last day of term.
The aborted return
Then, when it had become patently obvious to just about everyone that schools shouldn’t kick off as normal after Christmas, Williamson decided that they should. And as the whole of education world tuned in to hear the announcement of return dates – that’s all they wanted, return dates – so they could actually start organising, in an extraordinary display of obliviousness, Williamson treated his infuriated audience to what felt like hours of flah about how education was a good thing and the government was good at it before announcing his seemingly random decisions about which schools would or would not be opening on the 5th January.
That moment must have seen the biggest simultaneous switch-off ever, as parents, teachers and school staff everywhere leapt into action to try and do three weeks work in one evening.
One day, we were back – one day, just enough to get the virus running round a horde of new little hosts, and then Williamson was finally forced to listen to the growing tide of teachers, doctors and trade unionists backing up the voices of the virus experts, and schools were closed again. Even those few who had wanted to take the risk and open all the schools were now infuriated by all the work the about-turn generated.
The sound and the fury were muted for a couple of weeks, as parents and teachers occupied every waking hour trying to sort out all the late-started plans the government last-minuteism had forced on them, but it’s back with extra flame now.
Pooled experience, blended learning
What expert timing true awfulness has! Having spent a lunchtime in a meeting where teachers discussed what they’ve learned and what they need to do now, and prepared a timetable with a good blend of live and recorded lessons and independent learning tasks, I spent the early evening in a huge, nationwide zoom where teachers everywhere were pooling ideas based on the same discoveries – that many kids thrive on some live learning but that very few kids benefit from dawn-to-dusk live instruction.
I emerged from that session full of ideas about using short online sessions to kick off good-quality independent work, and/or live lessons pointing to dip-in-and-out recorded materials, only to hear that Gavin Williamson, basing his idea on no known evidence whatsoever, had just announced that live learning was best and therefore the aim was to do it all the time.
Fuses blew. I ask now – is there any ditch deep enough that an expert-spurning, self-absorbed, arrogant, clueless, destruction-wreaking minister cannot be sacked for digging himself and his country into?
Speaking across the generations can be challenging to say the least. At 18, I found most over 40s clueless, condescending and often downright rude. Having just passed 60, I am beginning to notice for the first time that most under 40s are…
Well, let’s not perpetuate the mirage. I saw this meme today you see, about trying to explain to the parents that the under 40s are feeling pretty bad…
Like most of the people I know of my age, I feel deeply worried about what the up-coming generations are going through. Have you noticed how many grey heads there are amongst the socialist and environmentalist activists? You’d have to look on zoom now – marches and camps sadly are… Anyway – we do that because we’re deeply worried about what up-coming generations are going through, and how on earth their children…
Trouble is, many of them seem to be judging us because we haven’t given up and sometimes, we even have the audacity to be cheerful, and make like victory is in sight.
That’s the spirit…
Okay yes, there are some people who have no patience, no staying power – look at the numbers who gave up on the Corbyn thing when we lost the election – but you know, lots didn’t. They’re still looking for a way.
Okay yes, there are some people who don’t realise the gravity of the environmental situation, the austerity situation, or even the virus situation – though I should think the queues of ambulances and hearing of the deaths of actual friends and acquaintances must be catching up with most of them by now – but there are also masses of people – unimaginable numbers of people – who in their own way, know we are hanging by a thread, know the chances of the generation after next are a million to one – but who are still seeking answers, and still have an annoying habit of being cheerful sometimes.
Thank the gods! Thank the extraordinary human spirit and its ever-seeking survival skills!
A million to one chance
The point is, we knew. My generation lived through the Cold War Era. We saw the nuclear attack drills, and we saw what a hopeless, helpless fudge they were. We saw the mad, mad, impossible over-kill of the nuclear weapons build up – we thought it pretty unlikely we’d survive to our 30s, let alone old age.
We’d read the Silent Spring. We knew about leper ships. We engaged. Many of us. Millions of us. And we’re engaged still and we’re sometimes cheerful still because you see, if that million to one chance comes up, it won’t just drop a happy ending in our laps – it’ll be a chink of light. Yes, imagine, you’re 50 metres under and that chink of light is impossibly small, impossibly far-off. If you are going to make anything of it, you’ll need a horde of lively minds, able bodies and yes – cheerful people – to fight your way through.
We knew. We don’t give up. We have cheerful days. Don’t knock it.
Homework, set by members of my CLP 4 years ago: Read Tony Blair’s biography, and write us a piece for the young Corbynites who want to know just who this beast in the shadows is, and how, if he’s good and gone, he’s managed to leave this handful of people in key executive positions all over the party who are so damned good at out-playing the party’s every attempt to change.
I rejected the challenge as not worth the pain – but then happened to find a copy of the book in a junk shop, when we’d jumped on a train for a jolly day out shopping. Oh god! That psycho face gimlet-staring out of the cover pic! It was only 50p, so I caved in and said “oh alright then.”
Even the shop lady thought I was mad. “You won’t learn anything – he’ll only be bigging himself up,” she said, as I handed her the 50p.
It’s called A Journey. What with that, and the gimlet stare on the cover, I decided to discard the dust jacket on the train home. I could cope with the plain blue cover underneath – or so I thought. I nearly chickened out and left the whole book on the train when I realised it had TONY BLAIR embossed on the spine in 2-inch high letters, which fellow passengers were staring at in horror.
If ever the first line in a book was perfectly prescient, this one is. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: “When it was first suggested that I write this book, Bob Barnett, lawyer, friend and negotiator extraordinaire, expertly steered the negotiations that brought me to Random House.” There you have it – Tony Blair in a nutshell. Never mind policies, never mind principles, the one and only quality he notices in everyone and every event, is the potential for effective manipulation – for winning. I had a quick flick through. My eye was caught by the nature of the captions on the photo pages. Here’s an example:
The words of praise are extraordinary – “operative”, “superbly attuned” – remember how the phrase “on message” kept turning up in political columns when Blair was “team building”? Remember how, when the 2015 Labour leadership election was a three-horse race, the three candidates were shunting and shifting, playing chess for the “winning message”, and nobody was unusually stirred… Until a forth contender came along, one who messed up the chess-game by just saying what he thought, regardless of whether it was popular, or part of a pre-agreed “message”. The membership scented truth, and they were in the mood for it. From that moment on, despite the other candidates’ attempts to adapt, taking hasty lessons in appearing unrehearsed, Corbyn was the man: too old and too relaxed to fit the conventional model but, unbelievably, unstoppably popular – because in certain circumstances, people are ferociously loyal to truth, once they’ve spotted some.
Looking at the photos of Blair’s chosen inner circle, I am reminded of a famously machine-oriented councillor I came across at the Labour South East regional party conference. He got on fine with the group he and I were both working in that was about winning council elections – some fine, efficient advice on campaigning… but he was the only one at conference who took to the main stage and advised a (largely Corbynite – as the majority of members are) audience to “stay off social media, it’s just an echo chamber.” The advice was greeted with a stony silence. We knew where and how the membership at large got one up on the Blairite machine, and why he wanted it to stop. If he noticed that manipulative tactics stick out a mile these days, he didn’t show it but then, come to think of it, he didn’t show his own feelings once, all weekend. Educated for politics, groomed, trained and funded for his position, he is a text-book example of Blair’s machine men.
Pondering this, my eyes strayed to the page opposite the photos, where Blair is describing the role of Foreign Secretary, and explaining why it’s the job everyone wants. “…you basically spend your time with people who are polite to you…generally dispensing goodwill and opinions to those who seem relatively keen to receive them.” Sounds like the queen’s job to me – aren’t politicians supposed to be doing important, responsible things? Not the Foreign Secretary apparently – “…Not for you the horny handed sons of toil badgering you over fuel prices, or complaining about the government’s clearly ill-motivated refusal to spend money on this service or that, the minutiae of road schemes…” Is that, then, the root of the resentment Blairites hold for the Corbyn/McDonnell movement? Is it that they hold the people and their need for services in such total contempt they resent Corbyn’s expectation that all politicians lower themselves to actually running the country and providing services?
Not getting off to a very good start, this book review of mine, is it? Let’s see how Tony’s getting on: INTRODUCTION “Most such memoirs are, I have found, rather easy to put down. So what you see here is not a conventional description of who I met or what I did…” That, Tony, is pretty much what the lady in the bookshop said. “There is only one person who can write an account of what it is like to be the human being at the centre of that history, and that’s me.” Well okay, on the subject of Tony Blair’s experience of being Prime Minister, I suppose he has a point but is he going to keep the idea under control, and not write as if he is god of the real world? “I describe, of course, the major events of my time, but I do so through the eyes of the person taking the decisions in relation to them…” – The person? Doesn’t this sound a tad like the memoir of a dictator? – “…I hope it is fair.” I doubt it, old son.
I will try to be fair. But that’s my problem, not yours. You need not read the whole book with me, I’ll just tell you what was going through my mind while I laboured (sorry!) through the pages. The point is, if “truth” is the agreed, polished, message of the establishment, then it is in trouble. It has been struggling since the early days of newspapers. For most of our history since the invention of printing, the right to print and distribute was strictly controlled. From the 1700s onward, business people agitated increasingly loudly for a right to print news and politics – they scented big profits – but statesmen were initially quite open about their horror of the idea. How could they keep people “on message” if their own doings and sayings in government were passed around freely? You can see some stunning examples of this argument throughout the 1800s if you look for histories of Stamp Duty Law, which is where a lot of the attempts to control newspapers appear and get debated. One of the more recent examples comes at the end of the first world war, where a British politician is on record as congratulating the editor of the Guardian for keeping “on message” during the war. “The British people,” he said, “would never have stood for it if they’d known what was really going on.”
After the shameless drive for profit, technology was the next phenomenon that threatened “the message” of the ruling minority. Popular radio and then television, ease of travel, with roving reporters turning up everywhere, began to be a regular embarrassment to business leaders, politicians and royals. The British Royal family did their very best to keep behind their camouflage but have lost bags of face and loyalty in the last generation or two, largely thanks to the press and the media spreading the shabby reality of their being typically human, only richer.
A feature of technological progress is that new inventions quickly become available to larger numbers of people. That’s what happened to publishing and communications technology. Soon, everyone could do what a few decades back only the professional investigative journalists could. Corporate law would stop ordinary people getting rich by using it, but it could not stop them using it. Even disaffected US soldiers could communicate and publish stuff – and so, via Wikileaks, we received Bradley Manning’s truth, and then even wars started losing the support of a controlled “message”. That was the moment we saw Tony Blair’s tower really starting to crumble.
People in general have never been particularly insistent on truth. Most of the time, a good story will do but the demand for “truth” arises when people feel conned, or when they’re having a hard time and, with the rise of social media, there are now millions, rather than thousands, out there angrily looking for their truth. George Michael dies, a tabloid paper immediately prints spread after spread of “how we loved George” and an army of social media punters hit back by sharing archive posts of that same newspaper’s “Pits and Perverts” front page at the time of the miners’ strike, and memes with messages such as “Tabloid papers told us Jimmy Saville was a force for good and George Michael was a pervert. They’re still trying to tell me stuff now.”
And once people start doing that, the first response is the “post-truth era” idea – they have just discovered they’ve been conned, so they think “truth” died quite recently and shout about its tragic death. But once you start looking, you can’t find the start of it. Tony Blair may have been a pinnacle of message-over-truth but he didn’t invent it. Take the “Pits and Perverts” incident. People who aren’t currently on a truth mission, still believe the media version of the government-versus unions battles of the 1970s but people who are currently “off message” can quite easily find the archives, look at the history and discover, for example, that the vast majority of those nasty, aggressive miners who ended up in hospital had wounds to the backs of their heads – clobbered by police swinging long truncheons from horseback as they ran away.
Next, the amateur researcher will find that the famous BBC footage of the “battle” at Orgreave was doctored by the BBC (whether with or without government instruction is still being investigated). The police drove miners into a dead end, corralled and beat them, and then furious, cornered miners started throwing stones. The BBC chose to crop the film and show the stone-throwing first, then the police charge, with the obvious effect. Once your amateur researcher knows this, they know they need to adjust most of what they’ve ever been told.
The Post Post Era
Of course, there is a kick-back. The establishment minority know that one game is up, and serious moves are now in evidence to curb social media and the technology that has allowed so many to start down the path of re-adjusting what they thought they knew – but communications technology is a hydra now. It’s going to be a hard job getting every filming, recording and dissemination device back into the hands of the minority. The only alternative is to oppress the majority into silence by starving them of services, homes, health care etc
But – when do people go after truth? When they’re desperate, when they’re cornered and when the stories aren’t working any more. When people are hungry, they’re hungry for truth. Once they start feeling that, you get movements like Occupy, People’s Assemblies, the Anti-Austerity Movement, the Corbyn-McDonnell movement: fresh, new, up-to-date forces demanding truth and its partner, fair play. They aren’t the first and they won’t be the last but, win or lose, they are proof that truth isn’t over, any more than history turned out to be over when Fukuyama wrote its obituary. It’s still there, it just goes in and out of fashion according to how people are faring, and how well the stories are working.
The era of using the word “post” to dismiss inconvenient things is over. It’s time we started giving our history a serious place in our thinking.
Well, here we are in lockdown again and among the trials and tribulations, our beloved bookshops are closed once more. If you’re in Hastings, please remember Bookbuster and Printed Matter still have ordering systems in place, and other shops around the town – and everywhere! – are offering their titles through online stores.
Here’s a selection of Circaidy Gregory Press non-fiction books currently available to buy online at bookshop.org
This Damn Puppeteer
“I know everything about alcohol – except how to stop” – Brian’s book is a work of art and philosophy a story of the after-effects of child abuse and the realities of life on the street. It touches all of us.
You can read all about the book, the play and Brian’s doings in Hastings on the blog here You can buy Brian’s exraordinary biography online at bookshop.org here
Fish-heads, Fire-raising and Force-Feeding
Women’s fight for the vote in Hastings and St Leonards
There’s no shortage of passionate criticism of Starmer and Rayner’s phone bank rewards system out there – but let’s try and stop swearing and explain our frustration properly, because there is an important lesson here for these politicians and their followers to learn.
When this image of the Labour Party’s idiot scheme did the rounds, many of us thought – or maybe hoped – that Team Starmer’s offering was a spoof. As our country plummets into disaster, with the latest failing public school brat at the helm trying to look as though he can handle the gargantuan problems of COVID-19 and Brexit, with no credible opposition in sight, what is the incentive to campaign for the Labour Party…?
…but it wasn’t a spoof. They thought – really thought? – or desperately wanted to believe – not sure but anyway… They thought Corbyn was a celebrity, who’d filled the party with his fans, or cult followers. As a result, having scuppered him, they thought all they needed to do to mobilise that vast army on their behalf was get the PR right, and they could have the same success. It would appear that the majority of the MPs and staffers think the same.
The True Story
It really matters now that they, and the beleaguered people of this country, know the true story so please keep telling it. You often hear people brush off political stories with the stinging comment ‘they’re all the same’ and it’s easy to believe. Certainly, the media tend to paint them all alike. Most politicians and party staffers are careerists, PR people, seeking to be whatever will make them popular. But not all of them. This is the vital bit.
Probably, the majority are incurable but there are a fair few who went into politics out of a genuine desire to improve things. Some of them only wanted to improve things for their kind of people, or for their constituencies but among the frowned-upon back benchers, there are some who seriously strive to improve things for everyone – or, as Corbyn put it, ‘for the many’.
They aren’t necessarily very good at it, but having their hearts in the right place is enough to keep them on the back benches. A few years ago, the manipulators had a bit of an accident and one of those genuine people, Jeremy Corbyn, won a leadership contest. The confirmed careerists immediately set about a fierce sabotage campaign that eventually forced him out. Maybe it was inevitable, or maybe Corbyn didn’t have enough front-bench experience to tackle them. Some say he was too soft on those attacking him.
On behaving badly
I have criticisms of Corbyn too, but being too soft is not one of them. He was working on the assumption that where a culture is well and truly corrupt, people who could potentially be okay will be in there ‘being normal’ – ie, behaving badly.
Humans are social animals, and are happiest when conforming to the group. Think about it – how many of the things you do, say and believe are just ‘common sense’ – ie, in tune with the people around you? Just how uncomfortable is it, when you’re sitting in a group with one idea and quietly thinking ‘actually, it’s possibly more like this…’
Corbyn believed that the only way to get people to grow up and be honest is to treat them as though they are grown-ups, and give them a chance to step up. It might have worked, but it was a long shot. The point is, he didn’t have much choice. There were precious few genuine, politically adept socialist MPs to call on, so he had to build his cabinet with people who he could only hope would improve. They were not necessarily the sharpest knives in the drawer. So we are left with the Keiths and Angelas (sorry, but I’m trying not to be *too* rude – now Corbyn’s civilising influence is gone, we’re back to being rude and cynical. ‘Keith and Angela’ is one of the more polite terms for the current party leadership.)
Keith and Angela
No-one likes a story where they are the bad guys, so those pushing Corbyn out preferred to believe he was a heart-throb, a cult-leader, wrecking the party with the help of his hordes of simple-minded fans. And that is why our new leadership team, having successfully replaced him, are trying to be the celebrities they thought Corbyn and Co were.
They really, truly do not know that hundreds of thousands of people who really don’t like politics or politicians much put down what we were doing, and got behind Corbyn because we were desperate – because we were at the end of our tethers with the lying, the cheating, the fobbing off of our workers with ever-worsening wages, conditions and housing, the selling off of our services and all that playing out to the sound of the climate clock ticking, whilst our politicians prinked and preened and played at being celebrities.
There is another aspect of the true story that really needs clearing up. Keith and Angela’s phone bank reward scheme comes straight out of the Tony Blair ‘targets for success’ playbook. A way of going on that demonstrably failed as his initial results dwindled and dwindled, and ambulance drivers complained bitterly that the target set for them left them in a position where they could (in theory – I’m sure they did not) charge around, do everything wrong, arrive at the hospital with a dead patient and, as long they arrived within their twenty-minute target, be logged as a success.
But it wasn’t just the inefficiency of Tony’s targets that led to his downfall, it was the extraordinary insult to public service workers of all kinds, the demonstration that our glorious leader thought they’d be better motivated by approval and silly prizes than they would be by the satisfaction of doing their jobs properly, and helping to make our country work.
Translate that to the phone bank scheme. It’s no fun at all being a part of a local party phone banking session. You sit there phoning people you don’t know from Adam, and try to get them to listen while you explain the Labour Party’s plans for your constituency, and where and how to vote, and why it matters. You might get some good conversations, if you’re really patient. You might win a few more votes. You also get quite a lot of earfuls from people who’d rather be watching telly – but you do it because you believe a transformative Corbyn government is what we desperately need, and you give each call as long as it takes.
But if your target was to get in 4000 calls so you can get a celebrity prize, just how much patience are you going to have for each call? What kind of air-head would even be there making the calls? As we all already knew. Tony’s targets do not work. They just demonstrate that the politicians hold us in contempt. That’s why the Blair-style politics stopped winning elections.
What they need to know
We will not easily forgive the Keiths and Angelas in this story. Their phone-bank reward system, a blatant illustration of their utter contempt for us and what we tried to do, feels like the final nail in the coffin. People are saying this will be the end of the Labour Party. The thing is, they aren’t saying it in triumph, they are saying it in despair – I repeat, for those at the back – they were in the game because we were desperate – because we were at the end of our tethers with the lying, the cheating, the fobbing off of our workers with ever-worsening wages, conditions and housing, the selling off of our services and the climate clock ticking.
Well, here we are, comrades. We are still the many, and we can, and we need to, force the Labour Party to up its game, and take us seriously. Don’t worry about the unfair suspensions and the garbage they’re spouting now. Just keep doing socialism, in, out or in spite of the party. Once they realise how unpopular, how unelectable they really are, even the careerists will have to become more serious about actual issues. After all, they are there to be successful.
We need to make it absolutely clear that only good, honest socialists are going to be taken seriously. We will not be happy with better PR, or an improved ‘rewards scheme’. We can and will do our politics for the many, with or without the approval of the Labour Party. Maybe, when they lose a few seats, maybe even another election, the Keiths and Angelas of this world will begin to learn the truth, and do some growing up.
PS (yes, I got a request for a PS from some distressed activists!)…
If you’ve got some decent councillors, or a real socialist MP to defend, I suggest you do the phonebanking, but stop at 2999 calls (a scribbled note is easier to ignore than a visit from the Keiths and Angelas).
If you don’t have anyone you want to campaign for in your LP, join the Corbyn Project, or Counterfire, or one of the activist trade unions, (if you don’t have the right kind of job for an industrial membership, there’s always Unite Community ) and get on with your socialism there.
PPS Written New Year’s Day – oh look, the government had an attack of ‘Tony’s Targets’ and messed up the vaccinations plan. Link to Independent article.
This idea is so important I have given it one of those fashionable three-word slogans to help me remember it.
It’s unlikely you’ll agree with every statement I’m going to make in this article. If you’re the kind of person who needs trigger warnings to protect you from the trauma of being disagreed with, please try to keep calm and tell yourself they are just examples, not weapons. Spoken or written facts can’t hurt you – really they can’t. Nor can spoken or written lies, unless everyone lets them lie there unchallenged. Nevertheless, I’ve labelled the statements below as controversial examples one to four, in big headings, so you can take them one at a time and go and have a lie down in between if you’re easily distressed.
Listen, question, test
If you’ve ever read anything about education, you’ll know that the central aim of most lesson plans is to encourage students to listen, question and test ideas, so that their knowledge is on firm, well understood ground. On that basis, all good teachers present students with both true and false statements, so they can learn to test information and find truth.
If you’ve been in politics for more than a few years, you’ll remember a time when it was understood that debate was central – allowing a variety of people to put forward their views, then allowing everyone to listen, question and decide things.
‘Listen, question, test’ is also the best way to gently and usefully point out to someone that they’re arguing for a wrong idea.
And yet today, Angela Rayner has expressed a new view that has taken over from all that.
That may be true, but to say it is unacceptable, because it causes distress, she argues.
The most obvious problem with that is that you end up having all your organisations controlled by ‘cry bullies’ – those unscrupulous and/or neurotic people who are professional distress generators whenever disagreed with.
The deeper, and perhaps more important problem is that we none of us can develop firm, properly understood views on anything if we’re not allowed to listen to a variety of views, then question and test theories.
Controversial example one
Prejudice in political parties
It may be true that anti-semitism was exaggerated in the Labour Party but we mustn’t say so because it upsets people.
Consequence: many people believe that the Labour Party in particular is rife with anti-semitism, and the papers are so full of this opinion that we’ve all but forgotten we have a serious, systemic problem with anti-black racism, and that the Tory party is trading in every kind of prejudice imaginable and largely getting away with it.
Controversial example two
It may be true that the government of Israel is breaking human rights and international law, but it’s best not to say so because it stirs up arguments about anti-semitism.
Consequence: Jeremy Corbyn is suspended and no-one’s very clear why, leaving the Labour Party deeply bitter and split, and unable to effectively oppose the most dangerous government in our lifetime – meanwhile, there are fewer and fewer voices free to speak up for Palestinians who are losing everything in an unmentionable dispute over illegally occupied territories.
Controversial example three
It may be true that women still need their legal rights as a sex-class and our children may be at risk from pernicious lobbyists but it’s unacceptable to say so because it upsets the no-debaters in the trans rights movement.
Consequence: we are left with a Labour Party manifesto that contradicts itself, because we haven’t worked out properly how self-ID can go alongside the current, legal, sex-based rights. Many people – including a fair number of trans people – who are unhappy with the unresolved situation are afraid to ask the questions that would take us forward, so we’re all stuck.
Controversial example four
Virus response strategies
It may be true that some of the things we’re doing to halt covid are not appropriate, but don’t contradict ‘the advice’ because it encourages anti-mask conspiracy theorists.
Consequence: we are all very unclear about what we should be doing and why, now, because most of us don’t trust the government but we can’t question lockdown rules, even for the purpose of testing and improving them, without presenting ‘unacceptable’ ideas.
Don’t make yourself stupid
You can’t learn without listening, questioning and testing. The no-debaters, presumably because they’ve stopped themselves listening, questioning, testing and learning, regularly show themselves up in their resultant ignorance.
Last week, during the free-school-meal debate, Rayner called someone ‘scum’, and was unmoved when Tories cry-bullied their objections at her – and yet at the last UNISON conference she was telling women not to express their gender-critical views because it would upset people and they’d be kicked out. Why is it okay to upset people sometimes, but not others? Now, when it’s desperately important that we identify and clear out *real* prejudice, including anti-semitism, she tells us its unacceptable to express views on it.
She’s only a no-debater when it suits her.
The best way to argue is to listen, question and test
Please listen, question and test – it’s the way to dismantle bad ideas and the way to learn about and take on board good ones. Above all, please never trust people who say there are truths you cannot tell.
You may know what my position is on the ‘controversial points’ above. That doesn’t matter. Please consider the idea that we need to listen properly and please do feel free to question my views when you think they’re rubbish.
In fact, I object strongly when you don’t. If I’ve got a wrong idea, I trust my friends to question and test it until I figure out where I went wrong. Why not do all your friends the same favour?
For the sake of those struck down by austerity in times of covd; for those who have lost jobs, homes and family; for the sake of refugees still struggling to get a secure foothold in any country; for the sake of black activists being kicked around in the United States, for right-to-return activists getting shot down in Palestine; for the sake of anyone trying to live their lives in Afghanistan, Kashmir, Yemen and disputed territories everywhere; for Julian Assange, and the countless others being threatened with brutal incarceration by the terrified establishment powers; for Evo Morales and all those who tried or are trying to uphold fair governments in the face of North American paranoia; for Greta Thunberg and all the youngsters fighting for a future, each in their own way; for all those communities, organisations and businesses who came together to do the government’s job and help us through lockdown this year; for the women’s groups standing up for their rights, and the people’s movements growing all across the world, for Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders and all those the establishment dare not face in a fair contest…
Whether you be a Labour Party member or whether you’ve been suspended or kicked out or have left in disgust, whether you be a member of The Greens or The Communists or any other reasonable party (you know what I mean); whether you be a trades union activist or a member of a non-establishment group – it doesn’t matter – for the sake of truth seekers and peacemakers and all those willing to stand up for their principles…
Don’t worry what you are or are not a member of – don’t worry whether the people you stand with are or are not a member of the same organisation – those organisations love to make you think you can only act with people wearing the same colours. It’s not true. In fact, you do the cause of peace a great service by standing with those who are not under the same banner, as long as they also stand for peace and justice. Keep together, talk together, act together, keep seeking the truth, keep standing up for peace, for justice, for our environment and our children.
It’s just being talked about at the moment but we need to make sure the reasons why curfew is not a good idea are spread far and wide. We know what works. Back in March, we shut down everything we could, got into the habit of checking on the vulnerable and stayed home as long as it was possible to do so.
The R number went down. Infections went down and, most importantly, deaths went down. It wasn’t all good. Many, many people had a hard time because we have a government that does not see looking after people as its job. It didn’t work as well as it would have done if they’d kept a check on airport arrivals, but we did get control of virus spread and prevent overwhelm of our struggling NHS.
What are they expecting?
Other than limits on civil liberties that have set off a whole range of fears and fight-backs and paranoias, what have the government done in the last six months? The main thing I’ve heard is that they’ve increased the capacity of morgues. Is that enough, in their eyes? Prepare for the dead, and leave your corporate friends to make a fortune running warehouse ‘hospitals’?
If so, it would be obvious they didn’t value human life beyond their own, and that looks bad, so they’d also need to do something relatively cheap that *looked* good. Is that why curfew is on the option-cards now?
Curfew is not a good plan
Tory governments have a consistent history of choosing the option that’s cheap in the short term, and creates an illusion of order. I can see why they’d be tempted by the idea of a curfew.
Curfews are dangerous
They’re a gross infringement of civil liberties, so will create more fightback and more paranoia but they are also directly dangerous.
Curfews create empty streets.
Empty streets are dangerous for those who have to go out – remember those key workers we were going to value above all from now on? Those who’d have to go down those empty streets to get to work, and those who’d have the job of trying to police those empty streets?
People who are attacked or get into difficulty on empty streets find no help at hand.
Buildings and infrastructure on empty streets get damaged or broken into.
Cars on empty streets get vandalised or stolen.
Please don’t let them get away with presenting curfew as sensible or necessary.
Curfews are dangerous, and if you’re under curfew in the evenings but going to work and school all day in crowded conditions, curfews will not control virus spread.
I find the one-hundred-word limit a fascinating challenge both for the writers who attempt it and for the person whose task it is to evaluate the entries. This year saw a majority of pieces tackling serious societal issues, perhaps reflecting the months of lockdown when concerns regarding inequality, deprivation, fear and isolation have surfaced. I would like to commend all this years’ writers for their unflinching gaze. In one-hundred-words how can an observation, story or reflection make an impact? Well here are my choices which demonstrate that less is more.
[Editor’s note: this is the short list – the commended works – with the winner and runner up at the end. The competition was judged anonymously but author’s names have now been added…]
[Editor’s Note: The following writers received £10 per work, and a parcel of fiction and poetry books….]
The World from the Eighth Floor byFlavia Idriceanu I really like the perspective taken here. We are in an urban setting where nature has put on a show but we are deluded by an optical illusion. I love the intrigue posed, but not answered, as to why an eternity passes before the yellow cab moves off.
In Planting Potatoes by Jill Yates we are able to imagine only too well the backstory that has brought our young offender to prison. Punchy dialogue and a series of choices turn the offender round and we are treated to a tempting prospect in the final line pointing to further redemption – if only the weather will stay fine.
Under the Radar by Sally Pearson is a chilling and scary moment where the anguish of an abused child is dramatically told. The inclusion of sensual smells and tears add to the visceral impact and reinforces the perilous and frightening feelings she experiences in her hiding place, waiting to be rescued.
A Shift in Time, also by Sally Pearson, is a story of domestic abuse and futility boldly told. I was particularly moved by the silently uttered line in italics. Taut and unsparing it reads with acute authenticity. The ending gives us a momentary sense of just retribution but we imagine respite will be fleeting.
A Question of Womxnhood – Sally Pearson again! – is a playful and accomplished piece that poses a serious question and invents a new word to describe the female of the species. I love the word pilosity and the challenge to social norms. The historical markers underpin deeper questions concerning how the ‘fairer’ sex Is viewed. A quirky and memorable piece.
Evidence by Alison Lock offers a pleasant lull as we observe a picnic but the wry humour permeates the rural idyll with a question and answer that makes me smile on one level, yet emphasises the fact that so many people today (in my view) refute the evidence placed before them whether it be climate change or inflammable building materials.
Enough by Sally Stanford is a heart-breaking story of cruelty in a family setting. Graphically told we witness the blows, the guilt and shame. The ending is beautifully simple but powerfully orchestrated. A good example of an ending that remains ’open’ even though the door closes.
Boys by Denny Jace is an atmospheric piece of writing, capturing the heat of the funfair. A dialogue ensues which gives the dilemmas of an adolescent encounter, capturing the teasing moment of flirting whilst the fireflies scatter their jewelled light.
[Editor’s note: the runner up received £30 and a parcel of books.]
My runner-up is Revenge by Catherine Adams, an understated piece of writing and all the more poignant because of this. A snapshot of life as an under-valued cleaner perfectly illustrates the gap between rich and poor and the unfairness of a system that fails to recognise the contribution of one of our ‘essential’ workers. Very economical, each sentence makes a point. The ending is a clever twist.
[Editor’s note: the winner received £100 and a parcel of books]
First place goes to Memorials by Taria Karillion which deftly portrays three people. I appreciate the ruminations of the cemetery keeper, reflecting on the tasks still to be done with his old mower and aching muscles, whilst he observes the last two graves he needs to tend. We are given a potted history of privilege versus the common man. Names alone reveal the endemic class struggle. A formal coldness surrounds our double-barrelled deceased whilst touching family ‘memorials’ reveal a warmth and sense of loss for unpretentious ‘Ernie.’
I hope the groundsman did manage to finish early.
[Editor’s Note: A selection of the shortlisted works will be added when we’ve heard from everyone, and checked who wants to publish their work here – ed]
You can find out more about judge Jocelyn Simms here…