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Telanon

You don’t just not need the mainstream media – you need to liberate yourself from it. I focus here on one newspaper and one TV channel because they tend to be the last ones people give up – the ‘best of a bad bunch’, as it were.

Like many people (including you, probably, if you’re reading this) I worked this out gradually, over the course of a decade. I was ‘not watching TV much’ 20 years ago. I went from not buying mainstream papers much to not buying them at all around 15 years ago, when the Guardian went completely insane, obsessing first over how much the editor and all its obedient little reporters hated Julian Assange, and then they all went completely hysterical over how much they hated Russell Brand – just when he was providing a very efficient media-deconstruction service to young people, strangely enough.

Up till then, I was one of those who said “oh but they have some good writers, I don’t read the silly ones” – but during the Assange and Brand assaults, I noticed that the ‘good’ writers were, consistently, whilst being sensible and interesting, including some kind of bitchy side-swipe at the current scapegoats along the way, to keep in with the boss, I suppose. Drip, drip, drip, and we all subliminally half-believe Assange, Brand – Corbyn more recently – are dodgy. Once you’ve seen it, you can’t un-see it. It’s pathetic.

Most people think most people watch telly so that they know what most people know … but what if most people *aren’t* watching telly?

The mainstream media have a hysterical edge quite often now. They know their power is slipping. For example, when a confident, well connected writer gets into hot water with the Guardian and decides to walk, it’ll take her about 5 minutes to find her own online platform and gather in her loyal readership. She’s not lefty enough for me (and she’s not quite given up the Guardianista talk – see Russell Brand link above) but if she was one of your favourites, be assured, you don’t need to follow her to some other mainstream newspaper. Go find her own words, online. She’s worth more, her readers know, than any dying rag.

So, having become better informed, and with more time to do my own thing, since ‘hardly ever’ became never, I spent a few years being frustrated by people who kept doing ‘common sense’ at me, telling me the things they’d gleaned from the mainstream media, things they’d sensibly worked out by ‘reading between the lines’ of their papers, or watching BBC coverage ‘critically’. Yeah, some good stuff occasionally – and you may spot when it’s laced with misleading crap, but how do you spot what it’s missed out altogether?

I’m a socialist a feminist, and an environmentalist and an anti-racist so when the very obvious mass reaction to a well-cared for 99-year-old man dying in his bed was “why the f*ck can’t I watch my favourite telly program!” my first thought was well, I’m glad the fascist, sexist, tiger-shooting racist old so-and-so wasn’t the nation’s favourite after all – but my second thought was more sobering.

Are people really so stuck in their ritual BBC/ITV ogling? Are they only angry at the royalist propaganda because it interfered with their weekend viewing list? Jonathan Cook tells the tale, of the BBC being so inundated with indignation they put up (then hastily took down) a special, dedicated complaints page. It didn’t help.

Listen to the language of people who ‘don’t watch TV much’ – it’s remarkably similar to that of people who ‘don’t drink much’ or ‘don’t do drugs much’. So this is for people who are beginning to feel uncomfortable with their mainstream media habit, who are vacillating between a desire to give it up, and a clinging fear that people like Assange, Brand and Corbyn may really be a bit evil, and that they couldn’t have worked it out on their own.

Shouldn’t you rather be worrying what embarrassing daft ideas you are repeating because they were seeded into your news by the Beeb?

So many people are dithering on the boundaries now, feeling that they just can’t quite ‘give up’ this particular paper, or that particular program. Thing is, there is absolutely nothing to ‘give up’.  I may not know who won Bake Off, but I know far, far more fascinating things than I ever found out on the telly – including stuff about how to cook and what famous actors are up to – I am also more up-to-date with politics and current events than I used to be when I wasted the best part of an hour a day on BBC news.

You’re reading this blog online, are you not? That last program, or that long-loved writer who you flag up as your reason for occasionally dipping into TV or papers are also online. There’s hardly a journalist alive who doesn’t have a blog nowadays, and on their blogs, they are more themselves than they ever dare to be in the corporate papers. And any program aired on TV that’s worth its salt will also be available online somewhere. Even BBC news clips get passed around social media on the odd time they manage to say something interesting and important but, once you get used to looking wider, you’ll find there’s more and better coverage of most things being produced and published by better people on YouTube, on blogs on things like Patreon or Medium or – I don’t know what’s which, there’s so much to choose from and all you have to do is join a few social media pages that flag up indies, and take your pick.

Do yourself a favour – hang onto the best of what we learned in lockdown – let’s carry on finding our own stuff to read/watch/talk about in the pub. Until the pubs open, our mates are on zoom, but even after that, so are universities, political groups and specialists in anything we could possibly wish to learn about and discuss – and most of your favourite musicians and comedians, not to mention the world’s favourite classic movies – are all over YouTube. (If it’s your favourite alternative comedian you’re stuck on, think again – ask yourself why the telly’s hung onto Ian Hislop, but dropped Nish Kumar). Let’s keep, and build on, the new freedom. It’s telly-out-the-window time.

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media Politics

8 days mourning

Very well, you are right. No more cheeky comments from me. Yes, we should observe eight days of mourning.

DAY 1 Mourn for the ones who, in Mr Johnson’s words, have lost loved ones ‘sooner than we might have wished’ to COVID-19.

DAY 2 Mourn for the ones who have died – old and young, many key workers, many more forced to continue unessential work due to lack of funds, the NHS workers, predominantly racialised ones, who died of COVID-19.

DAY 3 Mourn for those who died the horrible death of being homeless and sick.

DAY 4 Mourn for those who died the horrible death of being poor and lacking social care.

DAY 5 Mourn for those who died on The Journey, seeking asylum. Explain to those who say it’s mostly young men who wash up here, so they must be economic migrants, tell them that that’s because the women and the children, the old and the sick don’t make it.

DAY 6 So mourn for the old and the sick who died on The Journey, and those who stayed home and died amidst destruction.

DAY 7 Mourn for the women and the children stolen away from camps like Calais by traffickers.

DAY 8 Mourn for those who die of bombs and pollution and climate change in all the places that will continue to be destroyed until we learn how to control our aristocrats and our billionaires, and *especially* the billionaire aristocrats, who bomb and starve and squeeze the whole world.

And yes, okay, give a thought to rich and well-cared for old men who die in their beds, in their castles, aged 99.

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activism Book reviews Corbyn Election Labour media Politics Privatisation Uncategorized

The Truth, eh?

Socialism A, socialism B, and why everyone who was paralysed by despair on 13th December 2019 should be back in action by now...

The Ministry of Truth

We’ve always been very keen on throwing the term ‘Orwellian’ at anything we consider less than honest but in recent years, the term seems to apply more and more often. Last week (April 2021) a story broke which qualifies 100% – a firm of UK lawyers get the job of doctoring textbooks to suit the Israeli market

And reading that, I remembered that during the compilation of the recent report on racism (that found there wasn’t any) there had been talk of providing ‘the real truth’ to schools. Just trying to imagine what such a scheme would look like under our current government made my toes curl.

The impossibility of agreeing ‘the truth’ with the average citizen you meet in the street was a constant burning problem for Labour activists during the 2017 and 2019 election campaigns, not to mention during the nightmare of the Brexit referendum. The enormity, the impossibility, of that task in the face of a government and a mainstream media drifting ever further from reality is beginning to be discussed by relatively mainstream reporters and academics now, two years after That Terrible Day…

… if the idea that the media don’t tell the truth is new to you, or (as so many of us found) difficult to convey to others, try reading The Assault on Truth by Peter Oborne.

But, having had two years to get over the reeling horror of what happened to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, most socialist activists are probably beginning to see, as my comrades do, that we already knew we’d been beaten by 2019. We’d run the campaign in a state of denial, based on the fact that the media had spent the last two years telling us we’d lost when in fact we hadn’t, and so we completely failed to acknowledge reality when we really had lost.

So what happened to real socialism? Why could we not see the wood for the trees? There’s hardly anyone in the Labour Party who doesn’t claim to be a socialist: from the very best paid and most privileged members of the plap (as we took to calling the Parliamentary Labour Party after some of our more bruising experiences), right on down to the lowliest of activists out on the street between DWP maulings, ‘the grassroots’ helping out with Unite Community campaigns against Sports Direct and other exploiters — all insist that they are socialists. How can so many, so very different people, people absolutely at each other’s throats, think they’re socialists?

Socialism A

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of socialism – or at least, there’s socialism, and a very convincing faux socialism that often takes its place. I found a good, clear definition of the distinction in Snakes and Ladders by Selina Todd. The subtitle of the book is ‘The Great British Social Mobility Myth’. Todd makes extensive use of the personal accounts collected in endeavours such as the Mass Observation Project

She demonstrates a change, over the generations, in the publicly perceived aims of socialism. She looks at early socialist projects, pre-Second World War, which tended to be local subscription schemes, co-ops where communities banded together to solve problems and help each other, thus reducing their reliance on the ‘power people’, the oppressors. Then she looks at later ones which tended to be more individualistic efforts to lift ‘high achievers’ into the middle classes. She follows the developing clash of these two ideas via conflicts in the Workers’ Education Association, over whether their work should centre community education projects for everyone, or whether they should focus on creating scholarships for ‘achievers’.

The problem gradually comes into focus. Clearly, lifting individuals out of the oppressed, working classes into the middle classes isn’t really socialism – you can’t lift everyone into the middle class. If that is your aim, what does ‘the middle’ rest on? Who is going to scrub the floors and wipe the arses? Do we discuss this thorny issue, or do we close our eyes and trumpet ever louder the catch-phrases of socialism B….?

Socialism B

Tony Blair was one of the more notorious proponents of ‘meritocracy’, enthusiastically espousing ‘equality of opportunity’, and mixing meritocracy with the wide-ranging benefits which generally come with a Labour government in a very enticing agenda which, for one-and-a-half terms of office, successfully covered a creeping privatisation that left us with our hospitals deeply in debt, school grounds being sold off and a range of other troubling developments including the over-riding horror of the Iraq War. A loss of socialist vision that more than justified Margaret Thatcher’s statement that New Labour was her greatest achievement.

But Blair was a socialist – and initially a very popular one. What happened?

A good source of detail on how ‘meritocracy’ works is Miseducation, by Diane Reay, which surveys stats and experiences of UK education from the very start of mass education, and discovers an unchanging strategy of using the majority of children as a buffer (collateral damage is the term she uses), the contrast that allows those bright achievers to be ‘top of the pile’. There were only ever so many grammar school places back in the 11-plus days, and middle class parents were always good at making sure their children got them. The few working class people who clawed their way into grammar schools often felt lost and defeated when they got there, cut off from their working class roots, not quite good enough for the alternatives… Comprehensives looked, for a while, like a solution to that but there was, eternally, the private school system sitting on top, limiting their efficacy; and even within those comprehensives, streaming systems recreated that hierarchical ladder for the ‘achievers’ to climb… and the corresponding snakes for others to slide down.

The now-proliferating academy businesses appear to be even more focused on this idea, with their competitive, motivational, aspirational straplines, and their quiet assurances to teachers that no-one will have to handle more than one of those problematic set 3 classes, where the kids all seem to have SEND or mental health issues: the latter translates, in some opinions, to kids who are angry, depressed and/or distressed – the ‘collateral damage’ – the necessary foil of the class system.

Those kids need rescuing – or they need to learn to rescue themselves. Is that a skill they’re going to learn in those schools?

Corbyn – a return to socialism A?

It was extremely hard to sell Corbyn’s version of socialism to everyone – it sold itself to pretty much everyone who actually met him but, strangely enough, it didn’t get an honest airing in the mainstream media, and the high-salaried, high-achievers in the Labour Party didn’t take to it too well. Nevertheless, team Corbyn kept him out on the road, meeting people in their tens of thousands, and good instincts led many, many people to recognise that the socialism of Jeremy Corbyn was something different, something that provided redress – as some analysts noted, Corbyn’s acknowledgement of ‘the left behind’ was key.

Corbyn wasn’t cheering people on to ‘rise above’ the herd, he was constantly calling for them to ‘stick together’, to ‘build the community’ and make socialism happen.

The one big Momentum call-out

Initially, the organisation Momentum became the instrument of the mass movement. When the plap made their first major attempt to nip Socialism A in the bud (an exercise now known as ‘the chicken coup’) they found the House of Commons surrounded by tens of thousands of – well, people – just people – responding to Momentum’s call to hold the line for Corbyn, chanting ‘for the many, not the few’ and ‘no-one left behind’.

It worked.

But

It was instinctive, it was right (I think) but, as many lefty commentators said after the Terrible Day (13th December 2019) the majority of the movement lacked background knowledge, it lacked political nous, and was completely un-leadable. It scared the heck out of Jon Lansman who, at that time, considered himself to be in charge of Momentum. It gets very personal here but it seems to me that from that day on, Lansman back-tracked furiously, aiming for his own natural home which was most definitely Socialism B. His methods came from the secret weapon of the right at the time – Identity Politics.

The Politics of Divide and Rule

Where Socialism A always centres the class struggle, aiming to unravel the ‘meritocracy’ view in favour of community and class action, Socialism B will reply with divide and rule – sometimes centring the ‘high achievers’ to create an elite, other times centring a minority competing in ‘the oppression Olympics’ – for example, look at who was getting kicked out of the Labour Party during the struggle to get Corbyn into number ten – top of the list was Jewish Socialists – especially black and female Jewish socialists – accused of anti-semitism.

Were there really hordes of anti-semites in the Labour Party, or was this an attempt to use one section of the Jewish community against another? And then came the leaks, and the signs of racism and sexism running through backroom party bureaucracy.

It was Momentum that scuppered the CLGA left slate system that the new, mass membership relied on to compensate for our lack of political experience and literacy, and it was Momentum in general, Jon Lansman in particular – who did the damage, first by throwing the anti-semitism bomb at Pete Wilsman in the middle of an NEC election, and more recently by making sectarian demands of CLGA candidates that exacerbate the divide between gender-critical feminism and the trans rights movement.

Lots of lobbying or lots of people?

How do you heal those divides? The two styles of socialism can be seen in the choice all political movements make between foregrounding community- and movement-building or foregrounding lobbying. The lack of experience of many of us newcomers to party politics led to an expectation that if only we could get our particular case in front of Corbyn or MacDonnell, all the problems would fall away. Many sections of the movement attempted to build and lobby, but there was always too much belief in the ‘Corbyn will sort it out’ feeling. I suspect that it is, even now, slowing the development of the current Corbyn Project, as too many sign-ups sit at home waiting for Jeremy to work his magic.

It was the failure of that misplaced faith that led us all to slump into despair as the election results came in on 13th December 2019, and Corbyn resigned as party leader. It was the same failure of faith that led so many campaigns to wander off down their separate, and often antagonistic, paths since then. Failure of faith in ourselves as a collective. It’s time to pull those paths back together – we need to recognise truth speakers such as Corbyn, to listen to them and honour them, but not expect them to work the magic. We need to know that we can campaign side-by-side with people of different opinions, but we need to be politically literate enough to know whether they are real socialists. I don’t know if the Labour Party itself is any use to us now, but nor do I expect Mr Magic Corbyn to start a new party.

What we need to do is a lot more homework, then we need to get out there and make sure more people really understand what happened, and what is happening. Keep the conversations going until enough people understand… and as so often happens, I was just trying to work out how to say all that, when I realised someone just had.

I’m not sure how long the share token for ‘The Truth’ will stay live but, if it’s stopped working when you get to this point, try searching for Caitlin Johnstone and the-problem-isnt-human-nature…

The Truth

And if you’re a reader, please try these….

Snakes and Ladders

The Assault on Truth

Miseducation

… and then get to work, discussing all this stuff with anyone and everyone, until enough people know how to spot what is, and is not, socialism, and how to do it.

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media Politics prejudice

Difference of opinion and hate are not the same thing

I dedicate this blog post to the person who casually slandered me in a Facebook group last week and probably didn’t even notice they’d done it.

It would be so nice if I could call this blog “the bleedin’ obvious” but I keep finding myself in this conversation, so the only thing that’s obvious is that it’s something we all desperately need to remind ourselves, not least because our government is now engaged in what I think is probably a wrong-headed idea in the first place – that is, making laws about ‘hate’.

Getting along

If you and I disagree, it may be that we are looking at something from different angles, or informed by different experiences. If that’s the case, then we’d really benefit by questioning and listening. When we come to understand each other, we’ll both know more, won’t we? And probably, we’ll both come to a slightly altered, better informed position.

Or it may be that one or both of us are wrong, because we’re going on beliefs, rather than sound knowledge. That’s horribly likely these days, when so many groups and individuals are making a career out of being very influencial con-merchants. Again, if we sit down and compare what we each think we know, we’ll probably unravel some errors and come out both knowing more.

Sometimes, that’s not so easy. Maybe one or both of us is deeply emotionally invested in what we think we know. Where that’s the case, if we’re not important to each other, we’ll probably stop talking, because it becomes hard work. If we are important to each other, we need to be more careful – we’ll probably ‘agree to disagree’ and approach the contended issue another time, maybe a bit at a time, or wait till one of us learns more.

Social media

But then, now I think about it, most of the situations where I’ve seen disagreement presented as ‘hate’ are actually conversations between complete strangers.

Imagine two people are chatting in the street, and a third comes along, rubbishes what one or both of them are saying and throws in an opposing idea, then waltzes off into the sunset.

Or then again, imagine someone who’s generally quite polite to you, or doesn’t talk to you at all, suddenly saying you’re a complete idiot and everything you’ve just said is evil.

It’s the sort of thing that happens on social media all the time – but we actually think it happens more often than it really does – either because we step clumsily into conversations we haven’t read all of, or because we type something that sounds okay to us, but actually reads quite differently to how we intended.

I bet you, like me, regularly tell yourself you’re going to start being more careful on soc media. I even think there’s a good chance that you have, at least once, done what I just did – which was see a conversation started by someone I vaguely know, in which someone had said something I think is wrong and damaging, so I just went in and corrected them and sailed off again to carry on with what I was doing. I probably just started a row, or really offended someone, or added to the general feeling that the world is full of hate.

Lack of moderation

There was a flare up in a Facebook group I’m an admin of. I was in the thick of it. Someone complained about the ‘lack of moderation’ so I diligently went through all the flamey threads. I found one example of out-and-out slander, two blatently abusive statements, one case of completely arbitrary, unilateral censorship by a moderator (not me) and vast swathes of condescending, patronising, ill-informed infuriating twaddle. How the heck do you moderate *that*, I thought. Then I realised that ‘lack of moderation’ has more than one meaning. I think that conversation was held between grown ups, many of whom displayed a shameful lack of moderation. But then, if I asked them where the abusive bits were, they would no doubt judge it differently.

But what if someone’s intentionally trying to hurt or confuse someone, or scare them into silence? – Well, perhaps even then, we should moderate our response – just explain to them that that kind of thing does not generally work, in the long run. All it does is upset people and make you unpopular.

Where are our standard-bearers, where are our role models? We’re going to have to be grown up all on our own….

Resolutions

Er… let’s try harder (to get along I mean, please don’t try harder to annoy people on soc media). We could do with a bit less hate in the world.

Even if we disagree about COVID and vaccines

Even if we disagree about Brexit

Even if we disagree about sex-based rights

Even if we disagree about the police

Even if we disagree about what happened to the Corbyn movement.

Good grief, it used to be just football teams, didn’t it?

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My Christmas Homework, 2016 (or, why we still look back in anger )

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.

First Impressions

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:

“Clockwise from above right: some of the inner team. Peter Mandelson could tell you what people would be thinking tomorrow; Anji Hunter, possessed of a naturally intuitive political instinct: Jonathan Powell, a key operative in government; Sally Morgan, superbly attuned to the party; Philip Gould, chief pollster, and central to our strategy”

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.

Back cover text: “On 2 May 1997, I walked into Downing Street as prime minister for the first time. I had never held office, not even as the most junior of junior ministers. It was my first and only job in government.”
The back cover sports an early example of the fashion for the hubristic scorning of experience and expertise that has been a feature of every government since Blair’s: “On 7 May 1997 I walked into Downing Street as prime minster for the first time. I had never held office, not even as the most junior of junior ministers. It was my first and only job in government.”

The Message

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?

Asked at a dinner what was her greatest achievement. Thatcher replied: “Tony Blair and New Labour”.

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.

The Truth

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’s Truth

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.

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activism Corbyn Labour media Politics prejudice women

Listen, question, test

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.

Unacceptable truth?

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

Israel- Palestine

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

Women’s rights

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?

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In the Absence of Hard Evidence

In the absence of hard evidence of a divine engineer in the sky, I’d say the patterns in your mind are who you are.

This is my thought for the day because it became necessary to clean and decorate the back room, and to do that, it was necessary to move two wallfuls of books, including the poetry and the political sections.

It isn’t a chore. If you’re one of nature’s librarians (ie, your childhood created bookworm patterns in your mind) – if that’s your story then you’ll know that moving and sorting books is the third best thing in the world, coming after reading them and helping to make new books happen (for me, that’s publishing – for others, it’s writing, or buying, or borrowing, or reviewing, or forming clubs around discussing…) books.

Are books better?

Funny thing is, most people don’t read books. In a recent survey among some schools, kids were asked who reads books. “Old people and people with no friends” was a common answer. How much they are missing! To all those who say ebooks are as good as books, or browsing the internet is as good as any kind of book, I say – look to the patterns in your mind. Does bouncing around on the internet, slipping from link to link and forgetting where you started, really lay down a strong, comprehensible and retrievable pattern in your mind? How much do you remember of the stuff you clicked through yesterday, last week, last month? Can you flip to-and-fro, contemplate and come to know an ebook the same way you can a book on your shelf (not just when you’re reading it – all the time).

How gullible are you, how confusable are you, how well do you know your history, your environment, yourself? I suggest to you, along with David Didau, that people who read books have better lives – and the reason for that is the quality and retrievability of the patterns in their minds.

From Ely to South America and Back

While I was moving the political section (remember, we’re clearing out the back room so we can decorate) a hundred and one worlds opened their doors in my head, and reminded me of the richness of the forest in the mind. Here’s one: When I picked up The Open Veins of Latin America, I remembered a beautiful bookshop in Ely. It was a day of beautiful things – the cathedral, the river, the teashop with the samovar and the gunpowder tea – and this bookshop. And this book which, I confess, I picked up because the colours on the cover caught my eye long enough for me to notice what a startling title they presented.

And then, as I look at the book, more and more doors open in my head as I remember reading this tragic history, and how it led me to watch a film about Hugo Chavez, and how I learned that socialism must, and can only ever be, international socialism (act local, think global) because socialism is about people, not flags.

Socialism relies on ‘class analysis’ and you just can’t do that by the kinds of hats people are wearing, these days. Who is the ‘them’ in ‘them and us’ these days? Isn’t it the international corporations? Is it not the case that the ‘them’ we are up against are the world champion border-jumpers? If they can put the cause and the effect of their actions in different countries. And hoover the profits into their (global) banks while you’re watching the misery and chaos on the national news and wondering what it all means, they have already won. You’ll probably end up losing everything, and all the while looking around the neighbourhood for someone who looks a bit different to you to blame it on.

Narrativium – the drug of the post-truth generation?

And then another set of doors opened, and I remembered the more recent discovery that the author of The Open Veins of Latin America had expressed some regrets in later life, that he’d got caught up in what Terry Pratchett called narrativium, that if he’d  had time to write it again, he would have written it differently.

That doesn’t mean the book is wrong, or bad, it means that a story can have the same start and a thousand different endings, depending what lines the author gets a-running along. But sometimes, like the author of that book, you need to retrace your steps, and take a look at some of the things that got lost along the way.

And that opened another, more recent set of doors, about all the things from recent years that are beginning to be forgotten in the daily click-fest – I remembered writing an essay for my CLP, explaining the theory of the ‘Overton Window’, of how the movement that gathered around Corbyn was steadily leading us back to socialism, to caring about others and our environment, caring about the truth – but they really didn’t need my essay – a tide was flowing our way. It isn’t now – and that brings me right back round to today, and reminds me how I need to talk to our local socialist group about the importance of getting that report properly investigated, so the truth will be known properly, and the size of the victory of the anti-austerity movement will be seen, despite the loss of that election, and so that we remember who the enemies were, which brings me to the importance of getting down to some serious political education so that our local socialists don’t forget that socialism is, and always must be, internationalist, analytical, and founded on strong, joined-up ideas – which requires an enormous bookshelf and/or regular, good-quality political education.

And that’s just one book, on one shelf. Going to go move the poetry books now. I wonder what’ll happen to the patterns in the mind then.

Think global, act local

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Many of our Circaidy Gregory and Earlyworks Press books are now available to buy online at bookshop.org

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activism Hastings media Politics prejudice

What’s with all the whitewash?

Hastings and Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart says we mustn’t whitewash our history.

In a recent interview conducted by Hastings in Focus, Hart repeatedly used the term ‘whitewash’, apparently to criticise the taking down of offensive statues. This felt really bizarre to me, because listening to political conversations around the place, the term ‘whitewash’ appears to have two almost opposite meanings. One is to cover up the wrong-doings and the shady bits where we’re half-aware of corruption and injustice, the other is to deliberately or unconsciously remove the contributions and experiences of black and ethnic minority people.

Which does she mean? Statues are official markers of how a country, city or organisation sees itself. They mark up the kinds of people citizens are expected to know about and honour. That is why the ritual of pulling down statues is a global, traditional custom to mark a sea-change in a population’s awareness and attitudes.

Perhaps that important piece of information has been ‘whitewashed’ out of our history curriculum. Let’s consider it now.

Colston

The people of Bristol have long been campaigning to remove that statue they recently, famously, threw in the river. As per usual, the establishment was slow responding – it’s always easier for those in office to leave something where it is than to make a potentially controversial change, so the people did what people do – they picked up the mood of the moment, and removed the statue themselves. Problem solved.

That wasn’t whitewash as in hiding our history. It led to a week in which vast numbers of people across the country were talking about our history of slave trading.

That wasn’t whitewash as in ‘airbrushing out’ black history. It helped black people start talking about how deeply British glorifying of slave traders has affected their own families, and led to more white people trying to understand those feelings and their still-manifest consequences. It was a fantastic, nationwide history lesson.

Churchill

In my lifetime, I’ve seen at least three big demos where the Churchill statue in Parliament Square has received the attention of ‘political artists’. Sitting where it does, right opposite the seat of our parliament, it’s the perfect subject for a protesting movement to use to display their message about an unchanging, unresponsive establishment.

That’s not whitewashing as in airbrushing out corruption – it’s done on demos that are highlighting that corruption. And it’s not whitewashing as in ignoring black history – quite the opposite, in most cases.

What Hart was trying to say

 “We’ve all got history. We don’t whitewash it,” she reckons if we know our mistakes, “we make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Right, let’s learn something

Ms Hart says she was grateful the “march in Hastings was peaceful” she says there was “horrendous violence all over the country” she says the agenda is to combat racism but “all the violence is undermining that message” that the “conversation is not about racial equality, but violence and statues.”

She says “We have a history in this country, we can’t brush it under the carpet, she says “we’ve got to learn from the past.” She says “It’s up to local communities to decide what they want to do with a statue.”

What can we conclude from Hart’s words?

Firstly, that I don’t think Hart has paid any attention to what BLM did in Hastings. Yes, it was very peaceful and very well organised. The main event was not a march – was there a march?

Secondly, that I don’t think Hart has paid any attention to what happened anywhere in the country. Where was this horrendous violence? There were a few unfortunate incidents in the London demo, the worst of which happened in, and many think were caused by, a reckless police charge. Other than that, the only violence I’m aware of came from a crowd of completely not BLM white blokes who ran rampage in London the next week, for no very clear reason and among other things, tried to goad police into a fight. I conclude Hart is part of a tradition that takes any rumour of violence and seems to vaguely suggest black people were to blame.

Thirdly, when she says “the conversation is not about racial equality, it is about violence and statues”, I realise that she is only talking to the people who have not yet grasped what BLM is about – because it is only those people who insist on talking about violence and statues, rather than about what is happening to black people in our country. so be warned –  our MP and her following have not even begun to get the message about BLM. We need to keep that conversation going, and really, deeply learn what people who want to teach anti-racism should be doing in Hastings and Rye.

She is right about one thing. We must not brush our history under the carpet. It is a very racist, sexist and classist history, and we urgently need to sort out the consequences of that.

What Sally-Ann Hart said about refugees

What Sally-Ann Hart said about child poverty

Hastings in Focus interview with Sally-Ann Hart MP

Hastings Black Lives Matter event…

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economics Hastings media Politics

All Hart and no Information?

Hastings and Rye MP does not understand Cities of Sanctuary

In a recent interview, MP Sally-Ann Hart said she could ‘count on one hand’ the number of her constituents who wrote to her in support of accepting refugees in Hastings.

Cornered and anxious?

This comes after Hart wrote an inflammatory letter to Priti Patel, claiming Hastings people felt ‘cornered’ and ‘anxious’ about desperate asylum seekers washing up on the beaches in Pett and Camber. She said she was afraid they were bringing the virus to Hastings.

On her publishing her letter, many Hastings people wrote angrily, directly to her and also on social media, saying that she doesn’t understand what it means to be a City of Sanctuary. I don’t know how many fingers Hart has, but I have just counted the number of people I know personally who wrote to her about the many mistakes in her letter.

Virus risk

Asylum seekers washing up on the beaches do not ‘bring the virus’ to Hastings because they do not come to Hastings. They are picked up – usually immediately, on the beach, by police or immigration officers, and taken to processing centres outside our constituency. They do not have the time or the opportunity to mix with local people so cannot possibly spread the virus. Anyway, Hart also said in that same interview that we should stop being scaredy cats and get out there and ‘live with the virus’.

Asylum seekers seek asylum

It is true that Hastings is, and according to many constituents is proud to be, a City of Sanctuary. That does not mean we take in and house anyone who washes up on the beach. It means our council decides, along with government authorities, how many refugees we can take and when. And those refugees have been through the processing system, they have not just arrived so the virus situation is as irrelevant to what happens in Hastings as is everything else she said about new arrivals.

France is a safe place?

Hart also said no-one should be washing up in the UK because asylum seekers should seek asylum in the first safe country they come to. But a very cursory study of what happens to the victims of war and aggressive governments will tell you what is wrong with that idea.

The people who have sought sanctuary all the way across Europe and ended up in camps full of traffickers and pimps, or who have experienced French police setting fire to camps, will tell you what is wrong with that idea.

Sally-Ann, please have a heart, and do some research before you speak.

Hastings in Focus interview with Sally-Ann Hart MP

What Sally-Ann Hart MP said about hungry children:

So Sally can wait

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Hastings media Politics Uncategorized

So, Sally Can Wait…

Hastings and Rye MP Sally-Ann Hart says….

Get a job, feed your children

Hart says it’s sad if children are not fed by parents because of choices they’ve made. She says the amount of Universal Credit granted to Hastings is very high and that HBC is very slow getting everyone jobs. She says…

We need to reopen our economy

Hart’s message on coronavirus is that we need to be confident. to get ourselves back out there, live with the virus, be brave and move on. She acknowledges that a large proportion of Hastings’ income is tourism related, that we’ve lost Easter and we’ve lost May Day and we need to get out and earn some money now.

There are two glaring problems with this

  1. On going child poverty

Even before coronavirus, there were many, many parents in Hastings who, whether working or not, were not getting a decent, reliable income that allowed them to look after their families properly. The fact that they then missed out on the usual ‘big earning’ weekends in the spring has made that worse, and brought more people into the danger zone.

The school summer holidays are almost upon us and there is no way, not with even a Tory-sized ego, a family can make up for three months losses on top of ten years of Tory austerity and be sure to feed their kids properly.

There is no way that Hastings Borough Council, struggling with swingeing losses to government grants over ten years of austerity, can magic up thousands of well-paid jobs overnight to solve these acute and immediate and devastating problems.

Sally-Ann Hart, please understand those families need help NOW.

2. We need to protect our depleted health and social care services

Both services have been run down during the ten years of austerity and, when Hastings people set up those admirable volunteer services to help people not properly compensated by the government to stay home safely, they weren’t doing it because they lacked confidence, they were doing it because they had an eye on the small number of available hospital beds and other services. They wanted to make sure that we didn’t all fall ill at once, and keep within the limits of the Tory-depleted services we have, and to avoid overwhelming our hard-working, under-paid NHS and social care staff.

Sally-Ann Hart, please understand our health and social care services need re-funding NOW.

Sally can wait – we can’t

The landlord won’t wait for the rent. A hungry child can’t wait for economic measures to filter through. Sally-Ann Hart, please understand – Hastings does not lack confidence, but Hastings can’t wait.

Hastings in Focus interview with Sally-Ann Hart MP

What Sally-Ann Hart MP said about refugees

All Hart and no Information