Political Homelessness

Everything it’s possible to say about it has already been said, and the thundering of laptop keyboards can be heard tappety tap tapping throughout the land. This coming half-term, I’ll be driving out of a country that is within the European Union and perhaps returning to one that is without. Our cat will be travelling with us, his paperwork adequate on the outward journey, possibly inadequate on the return. A cat that is neither one thing nor the other, hmmm? Feels like a metaphor for something.

But to call what comes next uncertain feels inadequate. The UK has been like the cat in the box for three years and counting, and we’ll not really experience the full effect of this insanity for years to come. What vexes me more than anything is the feeling of political homelessness I feel. The fragmentation of our political parties is so complete that you can’t even find a speck to cling to.

Of course political parties have always been made up of factions, but to call yourself a member of the same party when you’re so uncompromisingly opposed on such a central idea is taking the piss. The Conservatives are a mere illusion of a political party, not just two completely different and opposed factions, but a agglomeration of shavings. They were, after all, the party that took us into the EU, but they’re also the party of racists and xenophobes; they’re the party of business, but also the party of fuck business; they’re the party of older Britons in Conservative clubs and the party of city psychopaths; the party of hedgerows and the party of hedge funds. No matter how old I get, no matter how grey, I will never vote for these bastards.

Then we get to the shitshow of the Labour party. The party that took us into Iraq with a quasi-religious fervour; the party of Stop the War; the party of Corbyn and the party of Blair; the party of sitting on the fence until the spikes are so far up your arse you’re technically impaled. I can’t vote for these people. No matter how much I agree with their policies on education and the NHS, this is still the party that introduced the academy programme and PPI, indebting hospitals to the private sector for generations and allowing complete nutters to run schools independently of democratic oversight.

The Lib Dems, of course, marked their cards permanently by going into government with Cameron, and are still split between the liberal sock-with-sandals corduroy crowd and the Yellow Book economic nasty neolibs, who are really just a stray fragment of the Conservative party.

Ignoring the far right parties and the independents you’d cross the road to avoid, that leaves the Greens, who were always set up to be separate local organisations without much central control and can’t even bring themselves to have one leader. I mean, I might vote for the Greens, but it’s just a waste of a vote in most circumstances, in most parts of the country.

Which brings us to tactical voting, the fantasy that people can leave their tribalism and prejudices aside and hold their noses for long enough to vote for somebody, anybody, to keep the Tories out. But can we? Could I, theoretically, bring myself to vote for the bastard Lib Dems just to keep the bastard Tories out? I really won’t know the answer to that until I’m hovering over the ballot form. And I suspect I’m not alone.

Advertisements

Night traveler

I’m not keen on catching sight of my fellow travelers on the channel tunnel. I don’t like to see people in their road clothes, their scuffs, their baggies, their trackies, their onesies. Their pyjamas. I think you should have standards when it comes to presenting yourself in public. And that bombed out roadtrip look upsets me: it reminds me that many other road users are as tired as I am, that we’re all reacting 30% more slowly. You see people parked beneath the signs saying “double-decker” and “single-decker”, trying to work out what it all means. Coming out of a service station that serves both directions on the autoroute and slamming on the brakes: wait, which way?

At the beginning of my continental driving career, back when I could do the whole twelve hour drive and not get out of the car with seized knees and swollen ankles, I tried to arrange crossings so that we could maximise daylight. Like many, I’m not keen on driving at night. My night vision is poor, and I am very afraid of falling asleep at the wheel. We’d cross around six, then make the 6½ hour drive (8 hours with breaks) across France with the sun mostly in the sky. Now the kids are older, or now the kids don’t even come with us sometimes, we sometimes do the drive with just a single, short, stop. It’s brutal, cruel, inhuman. Even worse, we now tend to do it overnight. This came about mainly because we bought Frequent Traveler tickets, and if you want to avoid the surcharge, you end up getting on a train at two o’clock in the morning.

My anxiety before these trips is now almost overwhelming. A hollow feeling in my chest before setting out; a feeling that I don’t even want to go; continual flashbacks to those moments when things have gone wrong. I was especially worried this time that it would rain and I would experience those moments of blind terror when trying to overtake trucks throwing up tsunamis of spray.

The other reason for these night crossings, the channel tunnel shuttle gradually got more and more popular. If you travel at peak times, you encounter long waits, gridlocked access roads, jammed up car parks, interminable waits for passport control.

We were early adopters of the tunnel. It was more expensive than the ferry, but much quicker, and (dealmaker) there was no seasickness on my part. But in those early days, before the rolling stock looked shagged out and before the toilets were totally borked, it was relatively quiet, feeling almost exclusive (except we were there). Then two or three things happened to change that.

The first is pure guesswork, but I suspect the price of the train and the price of the ferry converged. There were a few shaky years for the Tunnel, when the company was being bailed out by banks, when they got aggressive with the fare prices. These days? Not so much, I think, but a lot of people, once they’ve tried it, don’t want to go back.

The second thing that happened was an enormous increase in the number of Eastern Europeans using the service. When you are driving all the way back to Poland to visit relatives at Christmas, then the time-saving presented by the Eurotunnel is significant. I suppose there are equal numbers of people who choose the ferry precisely because you get a couple of hours to shut your eyes? Anyway, there were noticeably more Eastern Europeans on the service once those countries joined the EU, especially if you happened to be in the single-decker train with the vans and the coaches.

The third thing was that, after the initial honeymoon period, traveling with the budget airlines became intolerable for many. We took Easyjet to Basel or the South a couple of times ourselves, to save on the driving. But it’s so horrible, and got worse, which is before you get to the horrorshow of Ryanair, and I think a lot of people opted to drive rather than face the ritual humiliation of those buses in the sky. That accounts for the mix of people you started to see at the increasingly crowded terminal.

There was hardly anybody there. No Eastern Europeans, especially. No skiers.

All of which is a longwinded way of saying that, for the past several years, the channel tunnel terminal has been busy almost round-the-clock. You walk into the building at midnight and it’s crowded, and there are cars snaking around the nightmare of a car park, queueing, often too early and out of turn, for passport control.

Until this time, that is. In what I can only assume is a Brexit-related development, we crossed today from a very quiet terminal, passing straight onto a train with no delays, no waiting, no frustration. There was hardly anybody there. No Eastern Europeans, especially. No skiers.

And the first hundred kilometres on the autoroute were similarly quiet. We passed through the night on cruise control, only rarely overtaking a truck. I sometimes saw a car’s headlights carving through the darkness off in the countryside. It wasn’t until we passed the junction with the A2 from Belgium that we started to see other cars in significant numbers: Belgian cars. Very few Brits. We saw a couple of coachloads of school trippers at the one service station we stopped at, but that was it. So, this time, there I saw nobody in a onesie, no kids in pyjamas. It was a ghost terminal.

Anecdotally, a lot of people seem to have been told it would be unwise to travel at this time. The perfect storm of strikes and gilets jaunes and Brexit, it seems. Perhaps some thought that if they left the UK this weekend, they’d be refused entry after April 12. Who knows? Fear, uncertainty, and doubt stalk the land.

Fantasy Brexit What If…?

I dared to suggest to a friend the other day that this whole Brexit fiasco might be part of some Cunning Plan.

What if, I said, what if you wanted to give the appearance of trying to fulfil the outcome of the referendum whilst at the same time undermining it at every turn? So that in the end, the clock would run down, the options would disappear one by one, and all that would remain would be, um, remain?

What would that look like?

If you were so cunning and so machiavellian that you could drive nails into the coffin of Brexit one by one by appearing to be so incompetent and hapless that everybody thought you were just useless: what would that look like?

Please, Br’er Fox, don’t fling me into that briar patch!

So this is my happy place: it really would have to look like this, wouldn’t it? You couldn’t just cancel Brexit and say the referendum was corrupted by lies and dirty money and bad actors, and anyway people didn’t even know what they were voting for. You couldn’t do that. You’d have to pretend to be going along with it until, whoops, we appear to have totally fucked this up. Let’s revoke, let’s remain, let’s have another vote without Cambridge Analytica, without Russian troll farms, without lies on buses, without dirty billionaire money, without Tony Blair putting people off.

Tappety-tap-tap: Corbyn

Brexit, yesterday

I haven’t really written much about Corbyn. I dared to dream back in 2015, but he’s really been a bit of a let down. At this stage of my life I’m X times bitten X2 times shy. I’m not prepared to invest hopes and dreams in a political party or its leader. A party, especially, that is made up of so many competing and non-compatible interests. Now, that’s true of the Conservative party and others too, of course it is. And it was never more starkly revealed than in the surprise pulled by the “yellow book” liberals when they got into coalition power and revealed themselves to be, um, neoliberals. By which I mean, not perceptively different from Tories.

I actually briefly joined the Labour Party but became almost immediately disillusioned when I was excluded from the leadership vote as an arriviste. Oh, well. I would never really want to belong to a party that would have me as a member, would I?

The Labour party under Blair took us into Iraq and lied to us about why. And we’re still dealing with the fallout and the radicalised generation from that. Under Brown, they bailed out the banks who then gratefully altered the narrative so that the financial crisis became the fault of the Labour government that had rescued them. And lo, the last 10 years of hell came to pass. Schools, hospitals, the sick and the disabled: all paying for the mistakes of the bankers, who can afford private schools for their kids, private health care for their families, and ferry themselves around in great big cars tearing up the streets that we all paid for.

And in a way, of course, it was the Labour party’s fault. Because they didn’t do enough to change the fundamental underpinnings of our society, which may have been showing restraint—but no such restraint has been shown by the last three governments, who have dismantled our social support structures and are now blithely escorting us into the unknown Brexit black hole. The 2008 crisis happened because, over ten years of government with a huge majority, the Labour party did nothing to increase oversight or regulation. And we still have private schools. People’s private school fees are still being funded by offshore accounts. Nobody who has any money is paying any fucking tax. Nobody is doing a thing to reduce CO2 emissions. Blair’s government “banned fox hunting”, but people are still chasing animals through the woods and across the fields with dogs, so it doesn’t seem to have worked.

And as if they hadn’t massively let us all down, Blair and Campbell and Mandelson are still hanging around, being given column inches by the Guardian, and acting like they know best.

I tried joining the Green Party for a while, but the Green Party is not really a national political party, it’s a series of loosely related local groups. And I honestly couldn’t be bothered to go to meetings.

Why? Fundamentally, I have a problem with activists. I just don’t like being around those kind of people. It’s not that they are wild-eyed and unhinged. It’s more that they’re both bureaucratic and dogmatic. They run things the way they run things. They have fixed opinions. And in this way, all political parties are the same. And therein lies the reason why nothing ever changes: because all political parties, underneath the surface, are running the same old clockwork.

And so to Corbyn whose response to everything is the same low-key muttering. Who treats Brexit like some giant multi-dimensional game of Ludo. You can tell they want a complete clusterfuck so they stand a chance of winning an election. Because notwithstanding the shit show currently playing in Westminster, they’re only level with the Tories in the polls. Level. With Theresa May’s Tories. Corbyn is supported by a cohort of activists who have a certain reputation. They try to shut down dissent. They reportedly get abusive: I mean, we’ve all called someone a fascist, but there’s something exceptional about our socially networked world, where people get to pile in with their pitchforks and everything, that crosses a line. And, there’s this problem with anti-semitism. Now, it probably is a media hatchet job: when Corbyn won, such things were inevitable. But it’s also like a crack in the facade, a vulnerability: the media have chipped away at it, because there does seem to be something going on, when particular MPs are targeted for abuse, and people spread dog-whistle conspiracy theories Zionism. It seems perfectly legitimate to be supportive of the Palestinian people and their plight, but you don’t have to bandy the Z word about.

In the end, I don’t think Corbyn is a saviour. And I don’t believe, even after the last election, that he can bring Labour back into power. And if he did, I’m not sure he’d effectively run this country. He seems a bit wet to me. Like Michael Foot back in the 80s, he’s too vulnerable to the satirists and the newspapers and the Today presenters and the tappety-tap-tap of people like me. And I don’t trust the movement. And I know he’s happy for Brexit to happen, as previously discussed. In the end, he’ll face the same interference from MI5 that any left-wing government would face, and he’d be blocked at every turn by the City and the CBI, or whatever.

Everything feels hopeless at the moment. I was forced, this week, to go to the Post Office and pay £5.50 for an international driving permit that looks like a wartime ration book. I actually asked, at the counter, for a “1950s driving permit, please.” Which is about right, because we’re being launched back in time to the era of blue passports and cardboard and rubber stamps. And I was also forced to check the expiration date on my current passport, because in date will no longer enough. You will/may need at least 6 months of validity. Britain is like Sideshow Bob stepping on the rakes, endlessly. We are self-harming, throwing our toys onto the bonfire, lusting after turnips. And Corbyn is looking at his Ludo board from all the different angles and pondering his next roll of the dice.

This is the way the world ends

Every day, someone reaches the front of the line to have an opinion about Brexit. And every day, it creeps a little closer. Time moves strangely: on the one hand, tick-tocking to the tappety tap tap tap of people paid to have opinions; on the other, coming straight down the tracks with the clackety clack clack of a runaway train.

At this stage, I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting it to be over and done with, in one way or another, and yet you can’t shake the realisation that this is how we live now. Whatever happens, the bickering will continue and the tappety tap tap will go on forever.

I still remain (fnar) torn between my intellectual awareness that we can’t have socialism within the neoliberal culture of the EU and my intellectual awareness that we can’t have socialism because my neighbours (and yours, and yours) are fuckwits. And so I wish we could stay in the EU, because then at least I could get out of this fucking country and away from my fuckwit neighbours as soon as I retire.

If capital has freedom of movement, then people should too. Why should money have more rights than people?


Another sign of the forthcoming End of All Things is the BBC’s decision to make its popular Fortunately podcast exclusively available on the BBC Sounds app.

Now, the great thing about podcasting, up to now, has been that, as a new medium, it was open and free, and anybody could make one. The cost of entry being low has enabled a burgeoning of independent producers who have carved out their niches and their audiences on an equal footing with the big players (traditional broadcasters).

There have been signs of late that this situation was coming to an end. Large corporations introducing exclusive content on proprietary apps. For example, Jon Ronson has produced exclusive content for Stitcher and Audible.

But this Fortunately fiasco is the first time that something I care about has been taken off the open internet (RSS feed/on iTunes) and put into a “walled garden” that required you to have a specific app to listen. And I hate it, of course. Not just because of the inconvenience, but because it’s so unnecessary. The BBC has a massive platform and has no need to muscle in on the world of podcasting with its heavyweight app: especially as it already had the iPlayer Radio app.

Now, I fully understand that the under-35s aren’t bothering with BBC radio or iPlayer. And I fully understand that the BBC wants to ensure it has a future: hence, the trendy “Sounds” app with its wall-to-wall recommendations clearly aimed at people much younger than me.

I looked at it, as I was encouraged to, and hated it. It makes you log in with a BBC ID, and claims that it will tailor content for you, but then proceeded to show me almost nothing but music and sport recommendations, when I literally never listen to either of them on the BBC. The last time I tuned into a radio station to hear some music was the day Radio Caroline sank in the North Sea. So I genuinely hated it, and even though I gave it a couple more tries, I returned to iPlayer for my BBC listening, and will stick to Overcast for podcasts. Until the bitter end.

The BBC did almost immediately back down and put Fortunately on iPlayer, and claim that the exclusivity will end after a while, but still. Stop messing with podcasts. Free and open and independent podcasting is clinging on, and when it’s gone we will miss it, just like we’ll miss all the high street shops when they’re gone.

Instant Pharma

Winter_road_treatment_using_salt_brine
Yep, it can be done

The schools were closed, so I had a look online last night at the Kafkaesque appointment booking system and changed my doctor’s appointment from the 18th to this morning at 8:30. Latest symptom of my gradual falling apart: constantly watering eyes.

Which was ironic because walking down to the doctors in the snow this morning was even more treacherous than it might have been because, with my eyes filled with tears, I couldn’t see where I was placing my feet. You might be asking yourself, why was your original appointment (made two weeks ago) so far ahead in time? And the answer is, because the Kafkaesque system seems to release random tranches of appointments, so there’s a kind of lottery system: depending on when you log in, you might get lucky.

Which, I’m sure we all agree, is exactly how a local care health system should work.

I also tried this morning to phone and make a nurse’s appointment, as required, for my hypertension review. You can’t make those online, so you have to go through the hellish telephone tree instead. Now, I dialled on the E of Eight o’clock, when the system opens, and after pushing the virtual buttons on the telephone tree, found myself at position number THIRTY FOUR in the queue.

By the time I was walking carefully down the hill into town at around 8:15, I was at number 21, so I hung up – chancing that they would let me make an actual appointment at the actual reception.

I managed to do this – for January, wahey – and then sat waiting for my name to appear on the Screen of Shame in the waiting room. I’d arrived ten minutes early, and the delay (20 minutes after the surgery had opened) was given at 20 minutes. In the event, it was more like half an hour, which is pretty good work, if you think about it, to be half an hour behind after 20 minutes.

The waiting room was like a scene from the toddler version of Mad Max, with snot-covered, ear-infected kids squirming around and spreading their germs while their mothers conversed with unnaturally loud voices. Prescription obtained, the next step was to slide and slip to the pharmacy, which was closed because the pharmacist hadn’t arrived at work. Which meant slip-sliding away to the next pharmacy (Boots, as ever, being a last resort). I say slip-sliding because, of course, the pavements were treacherous with compacted, slushy snow and ice.

Should this be the case? Is this normal? The main road through town was actually relatively clear of snow. The gritter lorry only just came up our road a minute ago (and didn’t come as far as our house), but they appear to have cleared the main road yesterday. So cars were fine. Most of the cars I saw were huge 4x4s, naturally, so it’s nice for them that the road was cleared, isn’t it?

AllTractors-web
Yep, pavements snowploughs (and blowers) are a thing – just not where I live

Meanwhile, pedestrians, of which there were many, were left to fend for themselves. And you might shrug your shoulders and accept this as just the way of things, but it is most emphatically not. There are many reasons why the UK (England in particular) has never really felt like a European country. As a stark expression of our national values, the fact that pavements aren’t cleared while roads are is a clear indication that we don’t belong in Europe.

There are such things as pavement snowploughs and gritters. There are probably even some in this country – somewhere. But in a Tory-run area that has cut public services to the bone? In 4×4 country? I’ve even seen salt being applied by hand at pedestrian crossings in France.

Meanwhile, I’ll be off to the physiotherapist this afternoon, hoping I don’t slip and fall on my bruised tailbone – again.

 

 

Brexit: the city in the sky

5714752389d87f272940af056d2894b6
City in the Sky by JoshDykgraaf.deviantart.com

My attitude to what the kids are calling Brexit is a fairly selfish one at the moment. It simply throws my retirement plans into a shredder, and I’m not sure what emerges on the other side of that shredder in terms of:

  • My right to live in France when I retire
  • My right to health care and prescriptions in France
  • The value of my pension
  • My tax situation

And so on. Multiply my own personal issues with those of thousands of retirees in Spain and France and points beyond, and you have a bureaucratic tangle that makes my head hurt. It doesn’t matter which country you live in: you want as little to do with the authorities and their bureaucracy as possible. Even having to ask the question puts you at a position of disadvantage, in much the same way as concerned EU citizens and their offspring in the UK, who are encountering callous indifference and bewildering misinformation at every turn.

I believe I would have to be resident in France for two years before I could even apply for French citizenship. But how does one gain residency when no longer a citizen of a member state? It’s Catch 22, innit, and there are probably a hundred other Catches awaiting us. Then again, what are my chances of health care and prescriptions and a decent retirement if I stay in the UK? Slim to none, probably.

Leaving aside my selfish concerns, I’ve always had an ambivalent attitude to the EU. I’ve never liked the way that it bypasses democratic processes. Sure, we get to vote for MEPs, but (a) nobody cares about that, and (b) a huge amount of what the EU does has nothing to do with the Parliament in Strasbourg, and is undertaken by appointees. The power of patronage is the main power at work within the EU, and it’s no more a good thing than it is at home. Faceless bureaucrats and jobs for the boys ate our democracy.

On the other hand, European rules (on working hours, for example) provide, in theory, a level of protection from rapacious capitalism that our own government would be reluctant to supply. The shitty human beings who have been running this country for the past 40 years have always erred on the side of corporate concerns, with little regard for what is good for the public and society. So taking away what little protection the EU umbrella gives is a worry.

But maybe it shouldn’t be. Because it really is hard, looking around me, to see how things could get worse. The punishment meted out to the poor and vulnerable over the past 10 years happened while we were in the EU. The rise of zero hours contracts; the slow destruction of our infrastructure; the erosion of living standards; the GBH committed against the NHS; the public money being siphoned off through a giant hosepipe into the hungry maw of private capital — all of that is happening without any protection from an EU, which is hard-coded with neoliberal economic policies.

So bring on your wrecking ball, maybe?

Of course, the whole Brexit project was probably underwritten by secret billionaires who want to turn the UK into an offshore tax haven. But it was given a racist veneer of concerns about immigration. I don’t believe that the billionaires who run our media give a shit about immigration, for example. They don’t care about the burden on schools and the NHS or the welfare bill. Their kids/grandkids are privately educated and they have private health insurance. But they persuaded a lot of voters that the country was being overrun. And to their tame politicians, the whole thing was just a game: a few false promises and lies, nothing really matters, because we’re insulated by our money from the consequences.

Which leaves us where? Outside looking in, I should think. Outside the EU looking in, but also outside the Citadel of the Rich, their city in the sky, which is what they’re hoping to hide in as things fall apart.