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.

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Will I miss it?

Inspired by Twitter’s top philosopher (or top Twitter philosopher) @guylongworth, this post is.

MarmiteA few years ago, I used to think about retiring to France and worried about missing a few things from the UK. Over time, that list of things-I’d-miss has grown shorter and shorter. Packing for our summer visits would often involve compensating for those items in various ways, but things have changed.

Let’s arbitrarily say, fifteen years ago my list of missable concerns (when based in France) would be as follows:

  • The BBC
  • British television in general
  • Decent tea
  • Fish and chips
  • Cosmopolitan cuisine
  • The internet
  • Not having to kiss people to say hello and goodbye

I used to consider the BBC a great jewel in the UK’s crown. French television was and remains more or less terrible, and I’d compensate for our absence by programming my PVR to record a shit-load of stuff every time we were away. Our visits, 15 years ago, were usually about two weeks, and our PVR allowed programming up to 14 days in advance.

How have things changed? I barely watch anything on the BBC now – not only that, but I’ve been sickened by its toadying to the current and previous governments, its infiltration by Agents of Murdoch, and its chronic bias towards a right-wing news agenda. As to my TV watching: it’s all on-demand, streaming, virtually none of it live. I barely use my Freeview PVR when I’m in the country and never bother to programme it when I go away. I’ve grown used to the idea that, should I move here permanently, I’d be able to find various ways of compensating (pointing a satellite dish at the right place in the sky; subscribing to Netflix/Amazon Prime; or just hitting the Fnac and buying a boxed set). So the first two items have been crossed off my list.

A decent cup of tea is still an issue. For our now 6-week summer and other visits, we pack a lot of Yorkshire Tea. French supermarkets serve us poorly (fucking Liptons), so future me would still need the odd tea-based care package or dash across the channel to Kent Sainsbury’s. It’s no wonder tea isn’t popular when you can’t buy the proper stuff and the supermarket shelves are groaning with yucky fruit teas and insipid Liptons.

Fish and chips is also still an issue, but it’s just as big an issue in the UK, where the corporate interests have been allowed to dictate fishing policy over decades, meaning that most fish stocks are unsustainable. Of all the things the EU might have achieved on our behalf, controlling over-fishing was crucial. And of course, every attempt was met with a UK media narrative about interference and rights and freedoms, all based on the short-term economic interests of the profit takers and not the people who pay the tax. Still, it remains the case that if you want decent fish and chips in France, you have to roll your own. I’m unlikely to bother much, and I’ve resigned myself to giving it up like the bad habit it is, or eating friture de (farmed) carpe and liking it.

Cosmopolitan cuisine. An odd thing to say about France, but their strong gastronomic tradition means that, beyond (usually poor) Italian food, you can’t really get international foods here – certainly not a good curry or other Asian food. Maybe in Paris, but we’re a long way from there. Considering the French history in Vietnam, I’m especially surprised that there aren’t Vietnamese restaurants on every hight street. You can, in the bigger cities, find North African and sometimes Spanish food, but France is quite unlike Germany, the Netherlands, and other European centres. I don’t particularly like the French style of food (summed up as: fatty meat with a fancy sauce), so I do miss the options. I’m so often disappointed in the French take on pizza that I’m better off making my own. I think jars of curry paste and other oriental ingredients would have to go on the care package list, along with tea.

The next item on my old list, the internet, has been less of an issue since the Three network introduced their Feel at Home scheme, which gives you your UK contract even while roaming, in selected countries – including France. The speeds are throttled, but it’s okay for Twitter and (usually) Instagram. This summer, I’ve gone even further and (expensively) hired a home wifi dongle that allows you to share a 3G+ (or 4G) connection amongst up to 10 devices. This gives us the level of 3G we’d get if we had bought French sims, as we did for a couple of years. It’s only 3GB a day (so-called “unlimited”) before it gets throttled, but the speed is okay. And when I move here, I guess we’ll get an actual hard-wired internet connection.

Over the years, the list of food items I find it hard to do without has grown. English cheddar cheese is hard to find in France (so much for the single fucking market) and irreplaceable for certain things. The French make a lot of cheese, but they do nothing to match the sharp tangy taste and meltability of cheddar. French sausages tend to be too salty and nowhere near as tasty as the best British sausages. And good bacon is similarly hard to find. All of these things get added to the care package/cross channel Saino’s list. Actually, there’s a small business there: the potential to disrupt the high prices charged by supermarkets for the likes of Marmite and baked beans.

Mainly, these days, when we spend 6 weeks in France, I miss having a useable oven in my kitchen. I do most things on the barbecue and the stove top, but if/when I retire here, I’ll have to get a proper, modern oven to replace this propane-fuelled piece of shit that tends to leave things raw on top and burnt on the bottom.

Culturally, the biggest problem I have over here is that you can’t just say hello to people: you have to kiss-kiss or shake hands both to say hello and goodbye, even when on a short visit. It’s lucky I’m not a germophobe, but it’s enough to turn you into one. At the wedding last week, I was forced to kiss-kiss and shake hands with an astonishing number of people I’d never met (and will never meet again), and leaving a social occasion can take half an hour, depending on the number involved. Just once, I’d like to be able to enter a room, wave my hand, and be done.

As to the rest of British culture: the small (island)-mindedness; the celebration of ignorance; the dominance of the right wing press; the monarchy; the dominance of media and arts by public school educated Oxford/Cambridge graduates; the arrogance; the sense of entitlement; the delusions of grandeur; I’ll miss none of it.