Beloved British sitcom The Good Life is a snapshot of a better, kinder, Britain, the pre-Thatcher Britain of the 70s, with high tax rates for the rich and working infrastructure. House price inflation and property speculation hadn’t quite taken hold. A three bedroom detached house in Surbiton would have cost twenty times less when Tom and Barbara were buying. They’re supposed to have been there since 1967 at least, when they borrowed a nutcracker off the neighbours, which they failed to return. A similar property today would cost around £1 million.
So the lifestyle portrayed in the show is possible because it was possible, then, to have savings, to pay off a mortgage, to see a doctor, dentist etc., to cover local taxes out of the little money you brought in from selling your soft fruits, at a time when soft fruits were only sold when they were in season.
Politically, most of them are straightforward. Margot’s snobbishness and ignorance, her obliviousness about her privilege, her wilful blindness about how damn lucky she is to live in a socialist country all combine to make her a natural Tory. She expresses disdain for socialists and radicals and hates change. Would she vote for Johnson’s radicalised right wing party? Of course: ignorant, oblivious, stubborn; of course she would.
Jerry, with his constant complaints about traffic on London Bridge, of which he is part of the problem, is another natural Conservative. His kneejerk prejudices would also turn him, in the fulness of time into someone who would flirt with UKIP and then the Brexit Party. Farage’s fakery would appeal to him, his pints down the pub, rounds of golf, smutty magazines. But he’d be returning to the fold about now and voting for Johnson.
Tom is a Clarkson-style libertarian, a scofflaw and a sexist, at home with the aristocrats and tradesmen alike. He hates decimalisation, metric measurements, and changes to the Counties and local authorities. Of course he’d vote UKIP, then Brexit. The twat.
Barbara’s the only slight puzzle. She seems lovely, compassionate, kind, thoughtful. But then she stays married to her Brexit-voting husband, and somehow manages not to kill her Tory neighbours. So I’m afraid that Barbara, too, is a natural Tory. But would she vote for Johnson, a philanderer and liar? I actually think she’d probably bite the bullet and vote tactically.
Less than a week now, and while one hates* to judge people on mere appearances, all hope is lost. I was in the tyre place this morning, and couldn’t help but remark that you don’t ever see Eloi in the tyre place, only Morlocks† or those too hideous to qualify even as Morlocks. My stunning insight was that a lot of people have their brand new cars on company car or PCP leases so short that they never get around to needing a new set of tyres. All of the tyre-place-avoiding Eloi are Tories, of course, too insulated by money to care about the effects of leaving the EU or 700 more years of austerity. And the broken down Morlocks with their blistered budget tyres and unaligned wheels aren’t going to vote. Unaligned, geddit? Metaphor, innit.
I listened to Adrian Chiles on the radio talking to people who don’t vote. People who don’t register to vote because they don’t want debt collectors to find them. People who don’t understand the issues. People turned off by the tenor of the debate. People who live in safe seats. People who don’t see anything in it for them. 18 million non-voters at the last election. 18 million. Which is more, Chiles wryly notes, than actually voted for the Conservatives.
I tried to engage some students in a discussion the other day, centred around the Vote for Policies web site. Theoretically, this is a fine idea. Looking at the actual policies divorced from tribalism ought to be a way of dispassionately arriving at a voting decision. But of course, it might as well be a web site that ranks sausages and potato varieties. First of all, what sane person with an iota of feeling for their fellow humans would even need to think for half a second about the best way to vote? The idea that you could have been alive for the past 10 years and still consider voting Tory without being an absolute monster is a fucking joke. And the other problem is, unless you’ve got a PhD, you might struggle to distinguish between the policies, because the cunning bastards use similar words in a similar configuration. For example, most of the parties talk about planting trees. Or they talk about reducing greenhouse emissions. Or they talk about renewable energy. But while some parties (Green) mean what they say. Others (Conservatives) don’t. And I was going to say “clearly mean” and “clearly don’t” except that my point is that clarity is what’s missing. Showing a class of 15-16 year olds these policies I realised quickly that they had no idea that the adverb “substantially” used by the Conservatives (or “Party 1”), as in “substantially reduce” has no legal standing. Nor that “by 2045” was so very different from “by 2030” if you happen to be a 70-year-old Conservative voter or an SUV-leasing Eloi.
So how much chance do I really have, in the time available, to not only overcome their reluctance to discuss politics and educate them about lying liars and weaselly weasels, when its the fact that you can’t trust the words spewed out by the lying bastard politicians that puts so many people off voting in the first place?
It reminds me of what Adam Curtis once said about “Oh Dearism”, which is most peoples’ reaction, most of the time, to the news. The media, unfortunately, is institutionally constructed to make us all horribly confused and upset about the state of the world. Wall to wall coverage of all the horrible things happening and all the horrible people making it happen is almost guaranteed to make most people believe that the situation is hopeless. And as I was typing those very words, McCartney in the background is singing, And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me. Which might give me hope except that he then goes on to say, Let it be, which is not what we want. Of course, Greta was touted as a shining example of how one person could make a difference, but now even she is being quoted as saying the school strikes “achieved nothing“. It’s almost as if someone has been whispering in her ear.
For the election that’s mostly about Brexit, I feel like Brexit doesn’t feature much. This is probably because I’ve avoided the television coverage and refuse to click on video links and so on. I mean, the news is just designed to make me go, Oh dear. So I haven’t heard the on-message messaging or anything like that. But the daily headlines have all been about other issues, which in an ideal world would be the most important ones. Poverty, housing, NHS, education, and so on. What I mean to say is, every press conference or photo opportunity or policy launch has been about everything other than Brexit, whereas the only issue driving my personal vote this election is Brexit. Which is why I’m having to hold my nose and vote for a fucking Tory defector in Buckingham. I mean, all these people singing the praises of Heseltine and Major. We hated them, too, once.
† The Morlocks are, according to H G Wells, the “descendants of the British working class”.
I’m not here to tell you that the polls have got it wrong this time, like they did the time before and the time before that (and the time before that). But I am interested to explore the twilight world of polling and the weird people who answer them.
The Guardian’s poll tracker has the Tories holding steady on 39%, with Labour creeping upwards to 28%, at the expense, not of the Tories, but of the Liberal Democrats (16%) and the Greens (3%). Of course, if you add the anti-Tory vote together (44%) and people do actually, this time, for once, vote tactically, then that 11 point lead is meaningless.
I’m old enough to remember the 80s, and talk, in ’83 and ’87 of voting tactically to defeat the Cons, but it never materialised. Nor did it in ’92, when Major unexpectedly won the last clear Tory majority. Yes, 27 years ago was when there was last clear blue water behind a Tory “win”.
Of course, in those elections, we didn’t have social networks and we didn’t have tactical voting web sites to show people the way. I’m afraid, however, that I’m sceptical. If I step out of my front door I could spit in any direction and hit a Tory. I just don’t believe enough people are willing to hold their nose WITH A GIANT FUCKING PEG and vote in the interest of keeping Johnson out of power. And I’m afraid, very afraid, that the children of non-voting age I teach are far more impressed by Johnson than they are by Corbyn. Which means that their older sibs are also likely to be swayed by his TV personality swagger, thanks to his years of exposure on the BBC. Furthermore, I’m very much afraid that the opinions that the young people I teach express about people on benefits (and their rights) and refugees (and their rights) do not give me hope.
Sure, I’m an old leftie who fought in the Spanish Civil War or something so I’m always going to be disappointed in the young, but when you hear people express thoughts straight from the editorial pages of the Mail, then you do lose hope. A bit.
Thinking about polling, I wondered, why doesn’t anybody ask me what I think? And so I reactivated my YouGov account and went in. Of course, nobody is going to ask me. Statistically, they’re already overwhelmed with 56-year-old white males, and so my opinion is irrelevant. But that’s a weird place, that YouGov web site. They constantly ask you to build your profile by asking you a series of dumb questions, and that you express opinions about such things as sporting activities, TV shows, and books. But what makes it weird is that the TV shows they ask you about are mostly from years ago. It’s as if the Platinum Age of TV never happened. They’re asking you about BBC and ITV shows of the 70s and 80s and 90s, asking you about Poldark (’75) and The Thorn Birds and whatnot. And then they ask if you, say, prefer fiction or non-fiction, and if you say, fiction, they ask you to rate a truckload of non-fiction books, or ‘authors’ such as actor Rob Lowe or actor Joanna Lumley or some DJ or whatever. And you do a search for actual writers you actually like, and they’re not there.
And you realise, this whole web site is set up so people like the Tories-I-could-spit-on-outside-my-front-door can express opinions about the things they remember from 20-30 years ago, about the time they retired. And people like me, who do have strong opinions and tastes but are somewhat (or very far) outside the mainstream, are so much the outlier that we really are statistically irrelevant.
And so we beat on, boats against the current, surrounded by cunts, borne back ceaselessly into the Arse in Downing Street.
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.
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.
Every day, someonereaches 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.
I was watching that Lennon/Yoko film at the weekend, and there were some scenes in which he participated in a protest march and they played “Power to the People” on the soundtrack. More on that subject below. More immediately, this weekend, there were also many news reports about the so-called Gilets Jaunes protests in France against increases in fuel tax.
I ought to be cheered that it is still possible, in these times, to mobilise people to a cause. Reports from our relatives in France confirm that even in the backwaters of the rural East, people have been out on the streets, blocking roads and causing disruption. Even my mother-in-law, who has to use a petrol station that will allow her to pay by cheque, had to adjust her ingrained habits.
But, of course, it’s the wrong fucking cause. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of Macron’s fiscal policies, fuel taxes should be higher, and people should be confronted with the reality of the need to change our patterns of consumption and get out of their cars. Just today at work, we were discussing attitudes to environmental causes, and I pointed out that the young people we teach are all too willing to make short and pointless car journeys in preference to walking. Faced with that kind of recalcitrance, the fact that people are politically moved by increased fuel prices and almost nothing else is just depressing.
I want to take those people by the scruffs of their gilets and give them a good shake. Maybe stick to the fucking 80kph speed limit occasionally and you’ll save fuel. Maybe stop driving home for lunch and back to work again. Maybe get a bank/credit card so you don’t have to drive 20km so you can pay by cheque, mentioning no names.
And as for Lennon: one gets the strong impression that, like everything else he ever did, his protest march served (at least) a dual purpose: he had a single to promote.