What to say when people say….what a politician said

Yes, this time I think we finally got the honest one

Here are some suggested answers to someone who mentions something a politician said, including, say, an explanation of what is happening in the economy and what the politicians are doing about it. This also covers the ‘news’ (i.e. repetitions of government press statements) as put out by organisations such as the BBC:

1. Take out your phone, on which you will have earlier recorded the buzzing of an injured wasp. Play this sound to the person and say ‘I find this to have more significance than what you just said.’

2. Did you learn to trust politicians’ explanations of their actions from Tony Blair? If someone in a position of power would lie to start a war that killed several hundred thousand people and made millions homeless, do you think another might lie about, say, their reasons for cutting government budgets?

3. What is it that makes you trust that your ‘leaders’ have your best interests at heart then? Who taught you this, have they lost their job and/or home yet, and have they ever studied any, y’know, history? If you don’t believe they have your best interests at heart, why do you repeat what they say in public as though it has meaning?

4. Really, I’m interested to know why you think you ‘need’ people in these ‘leadership’ positions and why you choose to respect them against a vast weight of evidence that suggests they steal from you, line their own pockets and habitually lie to you – not about minor things but about really major things – like whether they help torture people (the British government do, it turns out).

5. Look, it is not politicians’ faults that they lie about everything they are doing. They are the mouthpieces for a fundamentally dishonest and abusive economic system that is making you poorer right now and they don’t have any choice but to lie. You do have a choice whether you believe it. I find your choice…odd.

6. Say one of your own thoughts. It will be better.

On The March for the Alternative that wasn’t and Ed Miliband’s inability to fuck Tina

The logic of Tina has its way with a puppy and a child

There were lots of alternatives on offer on last Saturday’s March for the Alternative. Alternatives to marching. Alternatives to peaceful protest. Alternatives to non-political policing. Alternatives takes on what the other protesters were up to. Alternative tales of how your day went. And ‘alternative’ versions of the the truth in the media the next day. Protesters have had a go at each other and there have been some honourable attempts to bring them back together again (Solidarity Forever).

Unfortunately the one thing the March for the Alternative didn’t deliver was the one thing it claimed to deliver: an alternative future for those marching. The reason for that can be summed up in the fact that it had Ed Miliband at the end of it. Anything that finishes at Ed Miliband has got to be flawed. Not because Ed Miliband is any better or worse than any other leader of recent years, but because Ed Miliband is no better or worse than leaders of recent years.

And the only argument the TUC and anyone else ever has is: They’re better than the Tories.  And so we get Ed Miliband at the end of a ‘March for the Alternative’.

Now it’s true that people protested and marched for lots of different reasons on Saturday, but I’m pretty that they all agreed on one thing: when David Cameron said there was no alternative to the cuts, they wanted to scream at their television that he was lying. The first, most basic, most necessary response to There Is No Alternative (TINA) has always got to be:  Fuck Tina. Just because your imagination has failed, doesn’t mean mine has. Fuck Tina. We can and we will find alternatives, because we have to, and because we’re pretty sure you’re lying about them not being out there. Fuck Tina.

(As an aside, I once had the passing thought to set up a website called fucktina.com on this very subject, but upon investigating found – unsurprisingly really – that the name is being squatted by someone waiting to make a quick buck from porn providers. Another cunning plan bites the dust.)

So if that’ s why people marched – with the conviction there are alternatives – what was a man deeply complicit in the Blair/Brown regime doing at the end of the march? Not fucking Tina, that’s for sure. Ed Miliband has never fucked Tina. Ed Miliband will never fuck Tina. Ed Miliband is incapable of fucking Tina. But the problem is much worse than that. No one in the Labour party, destroyed by the right wing economic coup that brought Blair to power, will ever fuck Tina. But it’s worse than that even. No party, in our current political system, will ever fuck Tina. It is set up so that those who succeed must fully commit themselves to an undemocratic institution – Parliament. This institution is not made democratic by a vote every few years, whatever we’ve been told. Parliament is a place for powerful people to gather and decide our future.  Most of those powerful people are not elected, and the ones who are got there by lying. That sounds extreme but if you think about it for a moment you’ll realise it is a simple statement of fact.

It is my opinion that the only way we can fight for a real alternative in this country is to fight for radical institutional change within the governmental and economic structures that currently manage our lives. This is a very definite and specific thing to ask for: neither revolution, nor policy changes, but changes to the structures themselves. Changes that would let us inside the walls, that would recognise that we can trust ourselves to make the decisions that our leaders currently make. Changes that would recognise the unsustainability of closed institutions like Parliament in a world where information flows more freely, and people are better networked than ever before. Changes that would keep politicians on a much, much shorter leash.

But the first step is to lose the idea that we must choose one party or the other. We must stop acting as though this way of doing things was created by God at the beginning of the Universe. It wasn’t. It’s very recent. It’s not working.  We need to stop believing that choosing a party slightly less bad than the other party is an okay way to run a country, that this system is worthy of our hopes and aspirations and skills and knowledge. The Labour party is not the problem in the system, the problem is that we allow professional power-mongers to make our decisions for us in the belief that they know better. They really don’t. On that topic, and just in case you’ve forgotten what Labour is all about. Here’s a reminder of what they’ve done recently:

– Undermined the welfare state

– Prepared the NHS for privatisations

– Started a war of aggression in a country not threatening us

– Been bought by the bankers, had lots of nice dinners with them, and so helped precipitate the financial crisis

– Introduced university tuition fees

– Increased the gap between rich and poor

– Reduced social mobility

– Infected the public sector with a plague of targets and other business-worshipping methods

– Passed a veritable barrage of authoritarian measures

– Sold schools to rich people

– Contributed to anti-immigrant and anti-muslim feeling

– Expressed no doubts about their former leader becoming a millionaire off contacts made during his ‘public service’

– Allowed James Purnell to continue existing

People marched last Saturday for good and honourable reasons and they marched in large numbers. They marched against an essentially undemocratic government that does not care about them and has a deeply-held belief that Money Is Right. Ed Miliband is not offering an alternative, and is certainly not offering institutional reform. He couldn’t if he wanted to. People are often convinced that you can change institutions from the inside. But if the change you want is to give away power, you simply can’t. No institution does that willingly. It doesn’t allow people who would give away power anywhere near the reigns in the first place. That means if we want it, we have to unite and take it.  If I’m right, and institutional reform is the way forward, then we all have to fuck Tina together.

I’ve never had group sex before, but they say you should try everything once.

Dropping in on David Roland, Tory Party funder, March 26th

There is an old radical slogan with many variants, along the lines of: ‘The people screwing you over have names and addresses’. It is, I assume, meant to be an implied threat as much as a statement of fact, but I’ve never been sure about its worth. Yes, there are particular people who play a key role in the system that is screwing us over. But I suspect they are infinitely replaceable, and it is the structure of the institutions that I see as the problem.

But despite all that, sometimes you can’t help looking at particular people and thinking: ‘The world really would be better off if you personally had less power and influence’.

David Roland is the top funder of the Conservative party. He set up a hedge fund called Blackfish Capital, which has offices at 5 Saville Row. Apart from being a Tory, and a thief, and probably corrupt, as well as being among the people who lobbied for financial deregulation, he’s an all-round good egg:  Guardian profile of David Rowland

So some of us thought we should drop in on him and Blackfish yesterday, since we were in the vicinity anyway. Sadly the offices were closed, even to David Rowland himself:

David Rowland of Blackfish Capital

But there was still a bit of a party, with David Rowland bringing along lots of friends:

Blackfish Capital rudely refused us entry

I bet David Rowland lobbies for hedge funds even on his days off.

David Rowland: partying at his offices

Does it help to focus on individuals within the system who have personal bastard-like qualities? I don’t know, but it can be fun. It can also help underline what kind of world we are fighting against: David Rowland’s world.

My libraries

I was driving to work the other day thinking about the library closures in Lewisham and around the country and began to feel angry about it. For a moment I checked myself: surely there were other cuts that should bother me more – why get worked up about this in particular? Then it struck me that I was being silly. I spend a lot of time being pissed off about things being done to other people. For once I was feeling pissed off about something being done to me. It felt good and right to be pissed off on my own behalf. I let it happen.

I spent many hours in the library of the village where I grew up, and took hundreds of books out. For a long time I went there nearly every weekend – and would always have finished books to change. I read a lot. My mother would sometimes drop us off at the library when she went to do shopping. It was safe space to her, except in one sense she never understood: it was the anti-dote to the limited, controlled intellectual environment in which I was raised.

I read mostly fiction, and mostly to escape, but in doing so I read many things my parents would have hated. I loved it. Over time my reading increased until the village library was no longer enough and I began consuming the contents of the library in the town where I went to school. I frequently withdrew and read ten books in a week. Think about that: ten books a week. Even if my parents had been earning full salaries they could never have afforded a £70-£100 a week book habit. Anyway they would never have approved of half the books I read (some of them hidden behind other ‘approved’ books as I sat in the sitting room reading). I also bought books at charity shops of course, but that was when they cost between 10p and 50p. Now the pricing in charity shops has been professionalised and that avenue is shut down for most children. There are only libraries left.

I am an adult now and earn enough money to buy books. But I still cannot afford all the books I want. I still look for new things in the library. I still order rare books through the national network of libraries. Libraries were my great comfort when I felt at home nowhere else. They are still my place of first resort when I want to try something new, and the last resort when I need books I cannot obtain elsewhere. I still love to wander round them. They are free spaces where simply reaching out and taking a book can open a whole new world. If I have not always felt at home in my own town, or my own country, I have always felt at home in libraries. You might say that I am a product and member of the great republic of public libraries.

So when politicians and bureaucrats attack libraries, they are attacking where I come from. The closure of libraries feels personal. It is personal. And of course when I go to the local libraries I see that other kids use them now, perhaps kids like me, whose other connections to the world are strangled. Kids and teenagers need libraries particularly. In an authoritarian-by-default world, libraries and the internet are the only places they can gain some control over their own development, and many kids’ internet connections are tightly controlled, or at least their histories are viewable by the parents. Children and teenagers still use libraries. So do pensioners, the unemployed, mothers looking after kids alone. As well as working people like me who are always looking for something new. Libraries are free space for everyone, but they are most of all free space to the people who really need it: the lonely, the harassed, those without money, those who need to escape, those who want more from life than what they have been offered.

And all over the country they want to close libraries down. ‘They’? Who are ‘they’? That is the question they want to vex us. As with all the Local Authority cuts, the councillors hold up their hands and say ‘It isn’t us – blame the government for forcing us to make these cuts’. And the government holds up its hands and says ‘We never ordered libraries to close – it’s a Local Authority decision’.

This is the question they want to vex us. Avoidance of blame is a key political skill. But the question does not trouble me in the slightest, I have an answer that satisfies me. I blame the government for making cuts and lying that they are necessary. I blame the Local Authorities for implementing them with barely a murmur. I blame the civil servants who did the cost-benefit analysis on libraries. I blame the Councillors who voted for it. I even blame the administrators who are implementing it. I blame anyone who is involved who didn’t stand up and walk out the room when they realised what their actions meant.

They want to claim too that they aren’t shutting libraries, they are just putting them in community hands. Without money. This is the government’s whole ‘localism’ strategy encapsulated. Give ‘control’ to local communities, take away the money. It will destroy the libraries – except perhaps in affluent areas that can support them from disposable cash – and they know it will destroy them. They don’t care, or not enough to stop it, which is the only caring that matters.

When you close down libraries, you shut off the oxygen to developing minds. You close down the only space where people have freedom of thought not just in theory but in fact. It is a crime against the right to free thinking and a crime against those people who need them. There’s plenty of blame to go around, and we should attach it to everyone involved. The closure of libraries at this point in time is not a ‘natural’ process that we have to accept, but rather than the result of a certain type of politics and economics in which we should refuse to take part.

I want to stop libraries being closed. I think we should stop libraries being closed. If it cannot be stopped, then as far as I’m concerned, it cannot and should not be forgiven.