What Just Happened (Or Didn’t) OR The Irresistible Rise of Jeremy Corbyn Mark II

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On the figurative morning after the figurative night before, heads spinning from too much late night Wine and Dimbleby – phrases like ‘political earthquake’ spewing from the commentariat cliché machine like little sausages filled with pungently seasoned paté de cliché – with the heady whiff of a seemingly inevitable Tory defeat in our nostrils, wafting tantalisingly from the horizon ahead of us and the absolutely understandable desire for the many not the few to whoop with joy…

….and despite an opening sentence far too long for its own good…

…it’s easy to be simplistic, it’s easy to generalise, it’s easy to be binary, it’s easy to be revisionist. So let’s try not to do any of that.

daviddimbleby

(sings in the style of Cliff Richard) ‘Election time, Dimbleby and wine….’

Someone asked me recently: ‘Why NinjaMarmoset?’ Well aside from it being an anagram of my name, once my old university mucker George Dillon suggested it, I knew that the implicit cocktail of tufted monkey cuddliness and Japanese ninjutsu stealth, espionage and assassination was the dialectical blog moniker for me. In light of that, I was quite amused when three different people suggested – or demanded – on Friday June 9th, the day after the general election – that I might like to ‘apologise’ for having been so vocal in my criticism of one J Corbyn esquire over the last two years. Aside from the somewhat creepy and controlling tenor of this suggestion – ‘May the apostates be lined up and made to recant!‘ – I think the time would be better spent having an analytical and ambivalent simian nibble at five things that actually did or didn’t happen on June 8th 2017. It’s taken me a few days, but that’s because I was running low on goat vellum.

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The Marmoset takes a sideways look

1) It was a stunning victory for Jeremy Corbyn / Labour Lost

The stats have been much ruminated upon in more authoritative organs than this, but whilst it was undoubtedly an extraordinary and surprising poll turnaround, the Labour Party – plus all the oppositional left of centre parties combined – lost the election. That’s in terms of parliamentary seats, of course, but even if you dig into vote share – and the popular vote itself – Theresa May still pulled in over 13.5 million votes, increased the Tory vote share by five and a half per cent, and at 42.4% is up there with Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and John Major, all of whom enjoyed huge popular mandates with similar or lesser percentages.

So when Shami Chakrabarti went onto the BBC the night after the election and claimed that ‘[Jeremy Corbyn] effectively won’, in reality that was the one thing that hadn’t happened. Achievement or no achievement, ‘effectively’ Labour lost.

This isn’t about pouring cold water on the phenomenon of a Conservative poll lead of twenty points on 18th April falling to just three per cent on June 8th, it’s about looking the numbers in the eye and asking what they mean. US President Lyndon B Johnson famously said that the first rule of politics is that ‘its practitioners need to be able to count’. No matter how you spin this, a minority isn’t a majority, so Labour and its supporters mustn’t fall into the trap of believing that it is, and now, more than ever, must ask serious questions as to why it isn’t, and how the next hurdle can be o’erleapt.

Theresa May ran the worst Conservative election campaign in living memory (certainly in my adult life and that’s going back a fair way!) – was the least inspiring and most robotic candidate – launched a disastrous manifesto, which she promptly dumped etc etc etc and yet she still had those extremely impressive voting stats. Yes! Impressive! You think Jeremy Corbyn wouldn’t hail numbers like that as a mandate?

And yet many in print and online media have hailed Labour’s result as a nation waking up to Jeremy Corbyn’s message of hope. It isn’t. It’s less than half of a nation, and one that remains more emphatically divided than ever. Whilst it’s understandable that most of the commentary since last Thursday has been about Jeremy Corbyn’s success, by far the more important question is why Labour still lost.

Of course, if there were an election tomorrow – with May still in charge (once the screams of horror at the very thought had died down) – Labour would romp home without a doubt. Right now – in the cold light of morning – it feels very much as if the period of Tory hegemony that began in 2010 is well and truly over (apart from the next five years of course…). But the election won’t be happening tomorrow. And it won’t be happening with Theresa May as Tory leader either.

Several commentators – including Owen Jones – have made comparison to the poll turnaround of 1945 which saw a 12% swing to Labour bring in Attlee’s epoch defining government. Hmm. As returnees to this page will know, comparisons to Attlee turn me into a werewolf (scroll down to the final section of this blog from last year…). Yes it was a 12% swing from the election result at the previous election, ten years and a world war away in 1935, but opinion polling such as it was had Labour creeping into the lead as early as 1942 despite patriotic support for Churchill as war leader. Of course this can be interpreted at least two ways. The Corbyn disciple can say: ‘Well there you go! Jeremy achieved in three weeks what Clement Attlee did in three years!’ A more circumspect observer might counsel caution. Like a dodgy share portfolio, values can go down as well as up, and such rapid change often indicates a high degree of unpredictable volatility, and a fragility to the numbers as an insecure electorate grasp at whatever straws of hope are wafted their way; or in dangerous times, at whatever least-worst solutions appear to offer themselves. Attlee built his victory on years at the helm as deputy prime minister alongside Churchill during a world war, and in that respect had become something of a trusted – or trustable – brand for whom waverers could chance their vote. Corbyn does not yet have that brand reliability in the centre ground, and will need to replace it with something of equal solidity if current polling isn’t to be proved transitory in the face of a new Tory foe showing the basics of competence.

And if anyone reading this is asking: ‘Why does this scuzzy little tree rat only bang on about Labour’s problems? Why’s he being so negative?’ It’s because these questions cannot be ducked. The Tories ‘won’ in real terms – ! – but they’re sure as hell asking themselves why they didn’t win big enough. Both sides have questions to answer, and Labour’s are just as tough, and any serious politician knows that the next election belongs to the party with the best and most hard-faced answers.

2) It Was The Youth Wot Won It!

Well… yes, and no.

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That’s the whole point of this blog, so you’d better get used to it!

At the time of writing, the exact voting demographics aren’t out yet, but it seems reasonable to assert just by looking at where the big swings took place (university towns such as Canterbury…) that young voters, many registering for the first time, got stuck in and helped to tip the balance in certain places. So far, so youthful (and middle class and aspirational…).

But before we get too carried away, just go back to the beginning here.

Labour didn’t win. Labour lost. The Youth didn’t win it.

I’ve rattled on pretty tediously over the last couple of years how campaigning to the disenfranchised and those who habitually don’t vote is, by definition, a fairly fruitless enterprise. Whilst I stand partially corrected that insofar as clearly there has been an impact this time, my point still stands. According to some psephologists there are only seventy-five constituencies in which the youth vote alone can effectively outnumber an older, more conservative demographic, and before last Thursday, fifty-seven of those were already in Labour hands. Perhaps this explains at least in part why Labour didn’t make even greater gains than they did. But it also tells us that some of these impressive and unexpected swings and/or gains were to do with marginal voting patterns… most probably (no evidence as yet) older voters alienated by Tory manifesto proposals on Social Care, the Triple Lock, and universal Winter Fuel allowances. If this proves to be the case then you can argue that it’s those marginal voters who really hold the keys to 10 Downing Street.

If/when Labour get in next time – it’ll be the crumblies wot win it.

It’s still the case, as it always is and always will be, that in order to win a general election – especially an absolute majority not dependent on a progressive alliance with the SNP or the LibDems – a crucial body of people, who already vote, who are not tribal, and are open to changing their minds, are there to be persuaded by whoever seriously aspires to power.

4) This Was The Brexit Election / This Wasn’t The Brexit Election

Well… it was… and it wasn’t.

Or to put it another, and equally contradictory way: it was supposed to be; but then it wasn’t; but all along everything about it actually was; everything can be traced back to it; and will continue to be Brexit flavoured for the foreseeable future.

In some ways this is the most depressing aspect of this whole awful election – and it seems to me that pretty much everyone is culpable. The only reason we ended up with Theresa May in the first place was because of Brexit. The reason she wanted a bigger mandate was to give herself a free hand on Brexit. Labour was (is) hopelessly split and confused and wilfully, teeth-grindingly vague on Brexit – as of course the Tories are and have been for forty years. The public trusted May on Brexit. And then they found out she didn’t have a bloody clue either. Both teams decided that Brexit was the policy that dare not speak it’s name and stopped talking about it altogether. The electorate were sick of Brexit and didn’t understand the horrific complexity of it either, so we were happy to move on to other things. Tim Farron stuck his hand up and said; ‘Let’s talk about Brexit’… and the whole country told him to shut up.

And no one gave a flying f*ck what Paul Nuttall had to say about it.

Then terrorists started murdering people on our streets and in our concert arenas and suddenly it didn’t seem so important.

Despite a lame effort in the closing stages, we never got back on track. This may yet prove to the defining national disaster of the twenty first century and Theresa May’s negotiating stance ended up being the one thing we didn’t really discuss beyond the vaguest of details. Labour barely challenged it, because they knew that their multi billion pound spending pledges are absolutely meaningless without a successful outcome, and they can’t promise that either.

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And as for us, the electorate? Basically we’ve been sticking out fingers in our ears and hoping for the best. Every second that we didn’t discuss Brexit and demand clarity and forensic detail about how the next ten years was going to work – was in itself an example of how Brexit was shaping everything that happened. We should all be thoroughly ashamed of ourselves.

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Overly cynical perhaps, but this is how discussion of Brexit felt for much of the election…

Negotiations start next week.

4) Main Stream Media Was Finally Shown The Door

Weeeellll….. (wheedle, wheedle, wheedle) …it depends how you look at it…

…and frankly I’m not sure I can be arsed to go into great detail here, having explored the issue many times on these pages, but let me have one more go.

According to Kerry-Anne Mendoza, The Canary’s editor-in-chief interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme (click here and scroll to 25.25 to hear the relevent extract), in the run-up to the election her website had 25 million hits – outperforming Reuters, The Economist, New Statesman, The Spectator and The Times.

This poses two crucial questions. The first is one concerns the most fundamental of life’s questions:

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This is actually my favourite joke… ever

Given the partisan nature of The Canary surely its job isn’t to persuade the politically neutral, but to give voice to the new activism on the Corbyn/Momentum left. People choose to go there because they already believe in those ideas. There’s nothing wrong with that – apart from the appalling quality of the journalism. Similarly, the Mail is read by people who go to that paper because it reinforces their world view. There’s nothing wrong with that either – apart from the appalling quality of the journalism.

The one major exception in print journalism is the London Evening Standard which is free and browsed at some point by everyone on public transport in the capital. That one paper does have an ability to shape opinion, rather than simply to follow it in order to sell units.

The second question – and perhaps far more important – is that with those kinds of numbers, who exactly is the Main Stream Media now? And if it’s not broadcast or print media, then do organs such as The Canary see themselves as exempt from the kind of criticisms hitherto aimed at minnows such as those owned by the Murdoch empire?

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An important thing to remember for anyone spinning a line…

5) It’s Time For Corbyn’s Critics To Eat Large Portions Of Humble Pie 

I completely get why formerly critical members of the Parliamentary Labour Party are queuing up to eat humble pie all over the tellybox over Corbyn’s relative success last week. They can sniff victory – should the May government collapse any time soon – and so a public realignment behind a now successful figurehead is most definitely the new realpolitik.

I use the word ‘figurehead’ advisedly. My guess is (and it can only be a guess) that many of them still harbour deep reservations about Corbyn’s core skills – that much has been evident from several TV interviews not least Hillary Benn’s politely evasive exchange with Evan Davis (Newsnight 13th June 2017) – but see a Labour victory by any means as superseding those concerns. Go for it!! Why not?

I’m not a member of the Labour Party any more – something I find incredibly liberating – so luckily for me I don’t have to suspend my judgement, turn a blind eye, or get behind anyone.

So what just happened (or didn’t) to bring about this transformation?

Let’s not get revisionist about this. Three weeks into the campaign and it was all still extremely grim. Jeremy was stumbling and carping through TV interviews; the polls were terrible; his campaign was rooted in declarations of class war, threats to come after Mike Ashleigh and Philip Green, and a desperate vision of Britain that was like something out of Hieronymus Bosch. Labour candidates were apologetically pleading on the doorsteps for votes on the basis that Jeremy couldn’t possibly get into Number Ten…

And then manifesto week came along – and Jeremy Corbyn Mark II was born!!! Cue heavenly choirs!!

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If you’ve got it, flaunt it!!

He didn’t do well because his critics were wrong. He did well because at the eleventh hour he – or someone in his campaign team – woke up to the reality that many of the criticisms were correct and needed addressing pronto. He did well because Theresa May decided to self destruct in a manner never before witnessed in a UK election campaign – and take what was left of the Tory brand down with her. And he did well because he concentrated on what he is good at. If you’ve got it, flaunt it!!

Disingenuous? That’s not my intention. Seriously. Let’s look at the evidence, take a ride through the checklist of design faults on the old Jeremy Corbyn Mark I. I think there was one in an edition of What Party Leader. Let me dig it out….

Image: For the last two years those of us not so enamoured of the old model have despaired of the ill fitting suits, the scruffy beard, the the wince inducing Lenin cap. Fans of the original leapt to his defence. ‘It’s authentic!’ they opined. ‘Jeremy the Saviour is above such superficialities!’ David Cameron mocked The Chosen One in parliament, passing on Mama Cam’s advice that he should ‘put on a proper suit and do up his tie’. Jeremy has done just that – got a decent haircut and trimmed his beard – and now at least he vaguely looks the part.
Corbyn Mk I rating 3/10     Corbyn Mk II rating 8/10

Manner: Up until the launch of the manifesto on May 16th, Corbyn’s encounters with the media were uniformly tetchy and defensive. He would regularly struggle to hold his temper, and bark spiky rebukes to any journalist daring to ask a difficult question. Again the disciples cried unto the heavens: ‘Go, Jeremy, go! For they are all unbelievers massed against you!! Tetch away, Lord! The World will know of their bias and You will show them!!’
Unfortunately for the disciples, some wise head in Labour HQ said: ‘You know what Jezza, you don’t half come across as a grumpy old twat. Why don’t you loosen up? Smile! Your smiles become thee well! Appear cross-gartered and in yellow stockings!’
Ehm, no, they didn’t say that last bit, although a nip of Twelfth Night never did anybody any harm. Yer man has had some solid media training. He hasn’t lost his temper on air for nearly a month now! Whahoooo! And he doesn’t worry about the questions – choosing to answer whatever is thrown at him in his own way. It’s pretty basic stuff but at last – AT LAST!! – he seems to have got the hang of it.
Having said that, since the election, he has come over as a bit smug. As a lot smug, if Sunday’s Andrew Marr show is anything to go by. He’ll need to watch that. The British public love an underdog, but they hate a smug bastard.
Corbyn Mk I rating 2/10     Corbyn Mk II rating 8/10 (or 7/10 factoring in smugness)

Corbyn is a Campaigner, not a Politician: The apostates spake unto the acolytes: ‘I know you love him an’ everything, but he’s spent 35 years on the back benches, voting against his party more than 500 times and organising demos. He hasn’t got a clue about parliamentary politics, or actually getting things done, which is a team sport, dependent on cunning strategems, machiavellian deals etc etc.’
‘Ah,’ they sang in shimmering harmony, ‘but He speaks of a New Politics – Straight Talking and Honest – like one of those loan consolidation packages advertised by Carol Vorderman on daytime TV!’
Well… the jury’s out on this one. The very nature of What Just Happened is about him doing what he does best – i.e. campaigning. Huge rallies of adoring crowds who have come to be filled with the Jezzy spirit. He’s clearly had some debate training but dealing forensically with counter argument is still not his strong point. We’re yet to see whether He-That-Is-Jez can persuade the hard core doubters, or operate within the febrile atmosphere of a hung parliament for what could be a lot longer than people anticipate. Whilst I’m dubious of comparisons to 1974, let no one forget that the Wilson/Callaghan government lasted for the full five years.

And that’s before we even get to considering the realities of what it means to actually govern, should that come to pass at some point.
Campaign rating (Both models) 9/10     Politics rating (Both models) – tbc

The next category is a double header:

Jeremy Corbyn is too extreme: Personally speaking, this has never been the issue for me, as I’ve said many times on these pages. My beef has been far more about competence and the superficial politics-subsidiary-Santa-list nature of his policies, but rooting around the track record of JC, McDonnell and other the apostles, there are certainly traces of alarming fundamentalism knocking about. I won’t evidence that here, simply because there’s no point. With a dazzling starburst of realpolitik, the team have moved on – to a far tastier, easy to chew left of centre populism. Which leads us to…

He needs to woo the Centre Ground: Anyone who dared suggest this on social media during the two leadership campaigns was roundly abused as Blairite Scum, Tory Lite, NeoLib Bastard etc etc etc. Jeremy was True Labour, the Authentic Voice of the Working Class, the Disenfranchised etc etc but of course the centre is where UK elections are won. There is no getting away from it. Corbyn’s team know it. And so, Alice-like, we have gone through the looking glass and, as explored in a previous blog, the glittering utopia of the Labour manifesto and subsequent pledges is full of fabulous retail offers to an anxious middle class wanting to hang on to their cash – not to mention promises of legions of armed police and increased surveillance. Hey! I’m not knocking it. It’s a good thing – apart from the small matter of a tax and spend model that is probably unsustainable in the long term.

But, hey… we can deal with that later…

…can’t we???
Corbyn Mk I rating 5/10     Corbyn Mk II rating 7½/10

Corbyn is divisive and anti-aspirational: One of Corbyn’s more dreary character traits has been the constant portrayal of the country in a state of collapse. This may yet come to pass if Brexit proves as problematic as it threatens to be – for which Mr J should be held as responsible as any other Brexit politician – see below – but at the moment, despite huge inequalities, eye-watering stresses on public services etc etc we still live in one of the most prosperous and privileged countries on the planet. To get people on board with working together to create a fairer society, the focus has to be on aspiration, not the constant reiteration of everything that’s wrong. Defining the country purely in terms of the Have-Nots versus the Haves may reflect a certain truth but it ends up smearing and dividing everyone.

Right up to the campaign launch in Manchester on May 8th, JC Mk I was still in the ascendent, a wide eyed sooth sayer, stirring the masses to an angry war against Mike Ashleigh and Sir Philip Green who ‘would have reason to be afraid’! Whether or not these guys deserve a kicking, anyone with entrepreneurial aspirations would have good cause to feel nervous.

I think someone had a word.

He may well have gone on saying that at rallies – I have no idea – but he kept such pitchfork-and-torches talk to himself when in front of a TV camera. The media advisers know exactly how it looks.

Eight days later, when the Labour manifesto hit the table, it was utopia all the way. Lots of free money, and an industrial paradise where five per cent of the population would see us all right by paying ‘a little bit more’.

Whether or not this can work in practice is for another blog, but it’s certainly the way to go if you want to win an election – and the other lot aren’t saying anything apart from: ‘It’s going to be shit, and I’m the best person to deal with quite how shit it’s going to be… oh and by the way, I want your house.’

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A Labour family watch a nuclear strike in the sure and certain knowledge that we won’t be retaliating … What??? That’s a good thing, isn’t it?

Corbyn Mk I rating 1/10     Corbyn Mk II rating 8/10

Anti Semitism / Terrorist Sympathies: Shortly before the election I wrote on these pages about my reasons for not voting Labour in the light of the Manchester bomb attack so I won’t reiterate that here. Keyboard apologists are keen to poo-poo such concerns, but in some darkened room, Labour strategists know full well quite how vulnerable they are on these flanks. Whether Diane Abbott is truly unwell is not for me to say, but rest assured they slept a little easier once both she and Ken Livingstone were safely consigned to the annexe… you know, the one with the sound proof walls and double padlocks.

Meanwhile on social media the narrative is that if it’s ok for Theresa May to snuggle up to the DUP then it’s okay for Jezza to get cosy with Sinn Fein/IRA. Aside from the ahistorical mismatch, the logic doesn’t work at all. As far as I’m concerned it’s a good reason not to vote for either of them, and you can bet your bottom Euro that Labour brains are praying that Sinn Fein don’t suddenly decide to take their seats at Westminster. That could kill Corbyn’s chances stone dead at the next election.

Meanwhile Corbyn has to tread very carefully in his dealings with the DUP.  He might need their help if he wants to defeat May on key policies, and if he lays into them with the hand wringing self assurance of many on social media he will end up being just as destabilising to the NI peace process as his Tory counterpart. This is his opportunity to rise above prejudice and act like a statesman.

Corbyn Mk I rating 1/10     Corbyn Mk II rating 5/10

Defence: This is still a mess. Labour Party policy is still multilateralist. Jeremy is – and forever will be – unilateralist. He got away with it this time because the two terrorist attacks shifted the focus from ICBM to IED… and so the irreconcilable confusion over nuclear policy was forgotten, but it might not be next time and a newly united Labour party will have to get its shit together. Always worth remembering that the electorate aren’t unilateralist, and I doubt they ever will be, as Neil Kinnock learned to his cost. Where Corbyn goes on this might be his ultimate realpolitikal hurdle.

Corbyn Mk I rating 2/10     Corbyn Mk II rating 4/10

Jeremy Corbyn is an intellectual lightweight: Sorry peeps, nothing I’ve seen, no matter how adoring his crowds, no matter how confident he has become in a TV one-to-one has changed this. Polling success or not, no one can sprout IQ overnight. Although, having said that, when the incumbent Tory administration is as utterly shite as it is at the moment perhaps brains cease to matter.

Until of course he actually gets into power.

This is what really worries me when I consider the prospect of a Corbyn premiership. I still don’t think he has the intellectual chops, or political fleetfootedness to handle the job. That’s me being polite. And that’s before we get to some of the utter dimwits taking up space on the front bench after the so-called coup of 2016. He has one or two strong political players – Emily Thornberry, Sturdy Starmer, and the effete bruiser that is Barry ‘Creepy’ Gardiner… but Diane Abbott? Richard Burgon? Seriously?

And yet… who knows? The change in fortunes over the last month seems to have woken the spirit of realpolitik in the Corbyn team, and once that happens quite a few smarts fall into place as a matter of course. My personal jury will take a lot of convincing, and he’ll need to bring in some the more experienced players back onto the field if he wants to be taken seriously by floating voters remaining to be convinced. Yvette Cooper for Shadow Home Secretary anyone?
Corbyn Mk I rating 2/10     Corbyn Mk II rating 2/10

Corbyn failed the country over the EU Referendum: Don’t give me that ‘he-was-campaigning-really, the-media-didn’t-report-it’ bollox. Seriously, just don’t. I might not be responsible for my actions. He didn’t, ok? Get used to it. Own it. No one but the most revisionist Corbotee seriously believes he did. As I’ve said elsewhere, THIS is what campaigning looks like: the smart suit, the smiling ‘vote-for-me’ face, the rallies, the passion – not going on Channel 4 and giving the EU 7½ out of 10; not calling for Article 50 to be invoked on live TV the morning after the referendum before he’s consulted a single cabinet colleague (and people wonder why they all resigned????).

On one hand, what’s done is done. But on the other I still can’t forgive him. If Jeremy Corbyn (with the help of a Tory meltdown) can knock seventeen points of a twenty point Conservative poll lead – swinging millions of votes – then don’t try to tell me he couldn’t have swung the 600,000 votes we needed to overcome the 1.2 million majority enjoyed by the Leave campaign. If he’d got his shit together last year none of this would be happening right now. None of it.

None of it.

For me, it remains one of the greatest acts of political sabotage – (Neglect? Carelessness? Stupidity? There’s no good way to spin it) – of my lifetime. And now he has the gall to knock at Number Ten’s door on the back of the votes of the very generation whose future he has betrayed.
Corbyn Mk I rating 0/10   Corbyn Mk II rating 0/10

A quick tot-up gives a total score of 25/100 for Corbo one-point-zero, up to 51.5/100 for the election reboot. So, if The Inquisition will allow me, I’ll settle for saying that the New Model Corbyn is a hundred per cent better than the prototype sent to What Party Leader last year. And yes it absolutely did confound expectations. I stand amazed, and even corrected. But that’s starting from a low base, and frankly who knows what would have happened had Theresa May not decided to do a big greasy shit over her core demographic. Let’s hope that Jeremy Corbyn Mark III will take a little less than 35 years to hit the market.

If all of this seems a little lemon lipped, rest assured…

Lemon Marmoset

…I love lemons, and on Friday morning I woke up thinking that, messy, chaotic, and frightening though the next few years may be, democracy had triumphed and we had got a result that precisely reflected the wishes of the country. Jeremy Corbyn hadn’t yet earned the nation’s trust, but Theresa May had lost it; a majority preferred the Tory brand despite her shortcomings and chose that, with May stripped of her power and the worst excesses of the manifesto neutralised by the lack of parliamentary numbers. With regard to Brexit, it’s not completely out of the ball park to suggest that this result is the country’s way of telling the politicians to work together to sort this out. A wise Mrs May would convene a cross party negotiating team to deal with the most crucial realignment of the UK’s position in the world since World War 2. And as for Mr C himself… well, as far as I can see he got the perfect result. No one loves a heroic defeat more than a British lefty (such noble defeatism doesn’t exist in the Tory canon) – and this way he gets all the plaudits, he gets his PLP on side, and he doesn’t have to deliver on a single manifesto pledge or disappoint anyone.

And if he really is finding some smarts down the back of the Labour sofa, he will ask himself the very tough questions about why he lost this time, and what he needs to do to win the next. If he does he will be unstoppable.

And if you think that all of this is being wise after the event, please may I indulge myself (when did I do anything else?) by sharing a Facebook post I wrote on 18th April, the day Theresa May announced her ill fated election and the polls were fifteen to twenty per cent in her favour…

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I was wrong about the LibDems and I didn’t factor in the NI parties, but otherwise…

 

Why I Can’t Vote Labour

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Despite all the satirical pokery-jiggery that has graced these pages with regard to… well…. you know who, I had resolved to vote Labour on June 8th. As I outlined in my last blog things were looking up for our Jezza. Theresa May had crashed and burned over Social Care – although which did more damage, the ill thought through policy or the screeching U-turn we may never know for sure.

Mr C and his team had woken up to the realpolitik of winning elections: Don’t get tetchy; woo the middle classes; don’t get tetchy; offer lots of free money to people; don’t get tetchy; do up your tie and put on a proper suit like that nice Mr Cameron’s mum suggested; don’t get tetchy; keep offering free money, lots and lots of free money; don’t get tetchy; listen to the very expensive media advisor when he says that carping at the media looks weak and defensive; don’t get tetchy.

All of this is great – it’s genuinely positive stuff. Although I can’t help wondering, if Corbyn Mk I had campaigned for Remain with anything like the vigour and professionalism that the shiny new Corbyn Mk II has finally managed to sum up now he’s campaigning for himself, then without a shadow of a doubt we would still be in the EU and not having this election at all. For all the apologists who bleated: ‘He was campaigning for Remain, honest!’… This, what he’s doing now, this is what turning up for a campaign looks like.

But despite that awful sense of a betrayal confirmed, and despite still being profoundly unconvinced by the competence of the Labour front bench team – and suspicious of some of the movers and shakers lurking in the shadows, such as Seamus Milne, it seemed like a clear choice between a broadly well-intentioned Labour prospectus that would probably go off the rails fairly quickly, and an equally uncertain, but more frightening voyage into Tory darkness.

But then a mass murderer blew himself up in my city taking twenty-two innocent lives with him, and injuring dozens more. Life changing injuries. Young girls murdered for going out and enjoying themselves.

As the father of two daughters, for whom those first trips to the MEN Arena were as much of a Manchester rite of passage as they are for hundreds of thousands of their contemporaries, this felt like a particularly personal attack, a personal violation.

I’m decidedly uninterested in moral relativism. I’m decidedly uninterested blaming anyone other that the perpetrator (who I will not honour by naming on this page).

I find causal links to UK foreign policy largely simplistic and specious. ‘He was of Libyan descent. We intervened in Libya. It’s our fault for bringing down Gaddafi.’ I over simplify for effect, but I’m sure you know the kind of thing I’m talking about. The corollary that if we hadn’t intervened then this wouldn’t have happened doesn’t convince me… although I suppose the proposition that if we had left Gaddafi in place then he could have murdered all the terrorists at source, is quite seductive, albeit not particularly ethical in the Robin Cook model of foreign policy.

Again, I am being simplistically satirical for effect.

But that’s not to say that an event like this shouldn’t be seen in a wider context. Of course foreign policy has ramifications. It’s the binary analysis that’s offensive bollox.

But just as our foreign policy is part of a complex and often unpredictable narrative – so is the history of people aspiring to the highest of office in the UK government who have supported terrorism against the United Kingdom in the past.

On BBC1’s Andrew Marr programme on Sunday morning, prospective Home Secretary, Diane Abbott was challenged about a statement she had made in 1984 – when she was 31 – concerning the IRA: ‘Every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us’ and that ‘a defeat for the British state would be a great liberation’.

Her response was: ‘I had a rather splendid Afro at the time. I don’t have the same hair style, I don’t have the same views – it is 34 years on.

When she said this, I felt physically sick.

One can only imagine that the 22 year old who murdered the young concert goers in our city had a notion somewhere in his head that his act was also an act of liberation.

Now, of course many completely decent people (myself most definitely included) have signed up to some pretty dodgy ideas in our time. That’s not the issue. What is very much the issue is how we use those mistakes, as we get older, to make ourselves into better people. Personally, I have never understood the British left’s love affair with the IRA, but if I had been of that inclination, just like Diane, and I was challenged thirty-seven years later by Andrew Marr, I hope I would have said something like this:

‘Yes, I did say that Andrew. And when I hear it back, or I read it… I am shocked and frankly ashamed of myself. Yes, I supported the idea of united Ireland, but I was immature – a political loudmouth I suppose, as many people are at that age – and the reality of even thinking that the murder of innocent people was in any way an acceptable price to pay for this objective was misguided and horribly wrong. But I have changed – the Diane Abbott of 1984 is a stranger to me now. And in the light of what happened in Manchester I can see that ever more clearly, and my own experience illustrates how easy it is for young minds to be seduced into support for what is little more than simplistic warmongering that results in nothing less than mass murder. But I changed. And my objective as Home Secretary would be to use every sinew in my body to work with families and young people to make sure that these poisonous patterns of thinking have nowhere to take root in the future.’

She could have said something like that.

But she didn’t.

She compared her ideas to an old haircut.

At this point, the character of the core Labour team became a deal breaker to me.

Abbott is the worst, because she is the clumsiest speaker, and the shallowest, most egotistical thinker. McDonnell to his credit apologised publicly for suggesting in 2003 that the IRA should be honoured for the bombings which brought the British government ‘to the negotiating table’ during the Northern Ireland peace process. Corbyn, however, is repeatedly quizzed as to his relationship with Hamas and Hezbollah – and where once he would get tetchy with a bright eyed Krishnan Guru-Murphy, he now has a nicely packaged answer that when he called them ‘friends’ it was simply the use of inclusive vocabulary in the noble cause of encouraging a dialogue. Really? Here’s a much fuller quote from a Stop The War speech in 2009:

Screen Shot 2017-05-30 at 10.42.55Well… I’m sure people reading this will have their own view on the particulars, but to my eye this is at best gobsmackingly naive, and at worst… well… I don’t really want to go into that here.

The point with regard to my vote next Thursday is that I just can’t bring myself to put my cross in their box. Not because of media bias, or the patronising idea that somehow I’ve been brainwashed. Hopefully anyone who reads these pages knows that I fact check everything as best as I am able. I’m really not interested in being told what to think by anybody.

In light of that, I hear and understand the argument that I should think further than the past pronouncements of the core shadow team. ‘There are more immediate things at stake!’ I can see that – but for me – walking around the astonishingly moving floral tributes, balloons, candles, signed guitars in St Ann’s Square – this is something I simply can’t get past.

Some polling suggests that Labour could be in with a chance here and that the choice is very stark – especially with regard to the future of public services, health care, education and elderly care. Yes, I get that, and I would be willing to put my very strong doubts about their ability to fulfil their promises to one side…

…but on this issue, the one of trust, the one of values in terms of human life itself…

…after last week of all weeks…

…I cannot give these people my vote. I’m not seeking to persuade anybody else to do the same as me. I completely respect the other choice – I wish my Labour friends and candidates all the luck in the world – but democracy is, in the end, something intensely personal.

I just can’t do it.

And it hurts.

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Your House Is Worth Half A Million; Your Kids Are At University; Your Pension Is Invested In Government Bonds… Vote Labour! Vote Labour! Vote Labour!

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A couple of weeks ago, the Marmoset, while pondering the more wearisome of election clichés, contemplated the likely electoral catastrophe awaiting the Labour Party on June 8th, unless: ‘…Theresa May [is] caught doing something unspeakable to a kitten – or to National Treasure Alan Bennet with a slice of Battenberg…].

Be careful what you satirically wish for.

Within seven days of publishing that blog, Theresa May has promised to lift the hunting ban (foxes, not kittens, but you get my point), and launched a major assault on the universal winter fuel allowance for OAPs along with a full frontal attack on anyone facing age related infirmity (i.e. pretty much everybody) in the form of a posthumous asset grab to pay for elderly care, lovingly dubbed The Dementia Tax by a Corbyn campaign, lagging twenty points in the polls and unable to believe their luck. Not Bennet and Battenberg per se – but collectively as good as.

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Beware the weaponised form of this colourful comestible

Is this enough to turn the election? I have absolutely no idea.

But if it does it will be for the very realpolitikal reasons that Corbyn’s Labour Party spent so long trying to pretend didn’t apply to them.

Remember the ‘new kind of politics’ that was promised – attacking Tory greed, a system rigged in favour of the privileged, and galvanising the disenfranchised?

Tim Minchin has a gag that runs:

‘Question: What do you call alternative medicine that really works?  
Answer: Medicine.’

You could just as easily ask: What do you call ‘A New Kind Of Politics’ that really works? To which I would answer: ‘Politics’.

If June 8th sees Theresa May failing to make major electoral gains – or even losing her majority – it won’t be because the nation has been swept up in an idealistic fervour to rescue the disenfranchised. Labour will succeed – as it usually succeeds – because its policies resolutely favour the middle classes.

Of course free university tuition and the reinstatement of maintenance grants is enabling for lower income families, but statistically it’s the middle classes who are sending their kids to university and are most hit by the gargantuan cost of it all. In absolute big money terms, this is a policy that benefits the middle classes the most.

When governments borrow – as John McDonnell intends to do to the tune of hundreds of billions of squids – they do it by issuing government bonds and gilts, which have guaranteed long term returns courtesy of the ordinary taxpayer. And who buys those I wonder? The disenfranchised? Hmmmm…. let me think about that for a nanosecond.

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Calamari economics

And I wonder who it is that’s going to get hammered by a posthumous raid on Margaret Thatcher’s beloved property owning democracy? That’ll be the property owning democracy that that the left has been championing all these years, will it? That good old left wing policy of locking up your assets in bricks and mortar, inflating the housing market, undermining the public rented sector, and handing the money on to your kids – because we all know how much the idea of inherited privilege is at the core of Labour values.

So there you have it folks. If you’re a house owner with half a million quid in property, kids at Oxbridge, and a major share portfolio… Vote Labour! Vote Labour! Vote Labour!  It’s a no-brainer.

I know I will be.

The delicious, taste-tingling irony of all this, is that those of us none-too-keen on the more swivel eyed aspects of Corbyn worship, have been serenely intimating for a couple of years that the only way to win an election in this country is to appeal to the centre ground; to give people who aren’t idealistically wedded to the Labour cause a reason to vote for the party. Such utterings have been greeted with derision, insult, shouts of Red Tory, Tory-lite, neo liberal Blairite scum fuck off to the Tories where are your real Labour values working people Ken Loach I Daniel Blake moral high ground jizz jizzety jizz…

But now a great big dollop of steaming realpolitik just landed right in Labour’s lap giving the asset rich middle classes – flinching like a whipped puppy at the prospect of losing their wealth, privilege and ability to inherit stuff – a stonking great flashing neon steer to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

Jeremy Corbyn – the saviour who will put the eight trillion pounds locked into UK home ownership beyond the reach of the cash-strapped care system!!

Satirical hyperbole aside, as the population gets ever older, spending a greater and greater proportion of our lives economically non-productive at best – and requiring incredibly expensive care at worst – new sources of money will have to be found to pay for this, and there will be a limit to how many things corporation tax can fund… especially when it’s already been spent a couple of times over already.

Me? Personally I absolutely favour taxing the assets people leave behind them after their deaths… but to fund a universal elderly care system, not as a financial punishment for individual infirmity.

So has Theresa May hit her Poll Tax moment before she’s even won an election? If the public develop a herd immunity to a political idea it can bring you down, as it did Margaret Thatcher.

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I look forward to thousands of radicalised OAPs trashing the West End

But will May’s proposition focus the electorate’s mind on the need for a big ticket collective way of funding long term elderly care?

Hmmm. The uncomfortable reality is that popularly the electorate don’t really make much of a distinction between the two fundamentally different approaches. Attempts to increase death duties and such like, usually proposed by left of centre parties, tend to go down like the proverbial turd in a water strike (is there a proverb about a turd in a water strike?).

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The left have had our eye on inherited wealth for as long as I can remember, and it has never been popular

So if, by some further twist of electoral fate, Jeremy Corbyn should find himself in Number Ten in a few weeks time, he and John McDonnell will soon realise exactly why Theresa May made her perhaps ill-fated attempt to shed herself of electorally motivated and extremely expensive economic obligations to the beleaguered middle classes on whom electoral victory in the UK continues to depend. Our Jezzer might have to think again about precisely who he is calling greedy, and what exactly he means by a rigged system….

It’s politics, Jez, exactly as we’ve always known it.

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Or to put it another way… don’t fuck with the Battenberg.

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(Marmoset’s Addendum: Within twelve short hours of posting this blog, Theresa May has performed a screeeeeching, eardrum-ripping, handbrake turn, promising a cap on care costs in an echo of David Cameron’s promise of of a few years ago. Whether this will help shore up the Conservative poll lead it is far too early to tell, but, with regard to this particular blog, the really interesting thing to watch out for will be whether Corbyn’s team have got the taste for wooing the privileged middle classes, or whether they go back to playing the ideological greatest hits to keep the fanbase happy.
Sorry?
What’s that you say?
They’ve brought forward their promise to scrap tuition fees? Mmmmmm… cash for votes – more addictive than Spice – once you start…)

The Marmoset’s Bottom Ten 2017 Desperate Election Clichés

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Last summer, in the heat of Owen Smith’s challenge to Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership of the UK Labour Party, this particular Marmoset pissed off a lot of people, blogging about the Bottom Ten Lazy Political Generalisations propagated by the moon-eyed/swivel-eyed (delete where not applicable) acolytes of Mr Jez-We-Can, who wander the echoing labyrinth of Social Media, their faces periodically melting like Indiana Jones Nazis whenever said Echo dares to mutter: ‘Actually, perhaps he can’t’.

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BTW When I say ‘heat’ I’m referring more to the foetid steam that rises from microwaved three-week-old leftover rice pudding.  It has the capacity to scald but it smells like sour baby poop.

Oh, by the way, if you’re hoping for a measured commentary on the lefty social media chaterati response to General Election 2017, then you’ve come to the wrong place. I warn you now, there will be swearing.

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The Marmoset is NOT IN  A GOOD MOOD.

The more emollient voices chided me: ‘But surely, Jeremy’s tenure as leader is precipitating a debate we should have had years ago.’ Ehm, hello?? I think we did actually have this debate, certainly in the 1980s and quite possibly a good few decades before that as well. The answer was as clear then – as it is horribly clear now. Remember this guy?

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Well he was wrong about that as well. History repeats itself first as tragedy and then as an even worse fucking tragedy – except this time the Marmoset is 57 years old and doesn’t know if he’ll live to see the left of British politics recover.

But… I hold my hands up. I was wrong. Just like Karl.
Yes.
I’ve said it.
The Marmoset was 100% wrong.
I repeatedly intimated in my August 2016 blog that certain political tropes on social media were intellectually lazy. What a load of utter bollox. No! Here we are, two years after the train wreck of the 2015 General Election; two awful Labour Leadership elections; not to mention the EU Referendum, and the same people are churning out the same clichéd, simplistic, reductive, un-evidenced nonsense they spouted throughout all those sickeningly ill-fated campaigns.

This amount of wilful self delusion isn’t lazy – it’s bloody hard work.

Recently, for the sake of my blood pressure (and everybody else’s patience), I disconnected myself from FB because, far from learning a single thing from recent debacles, the quality of popular dialogue on the left of Social Media appears to be sinking to new lows. But if Tweeters and FBers insist on inventing new tiresome political clichés/excuses/expressions of moral and political outrage, then I reserve the right to fashion another ‘Bottom Ten’.

I won’t bother with the whole Alan Freeman ‘pop-pickers’ thing.

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‘Not ‘alf!’

Well… ok, just to get us going: ‘Coming in at number ten!’

10) ‘The real reason Theresa May called this election is…’

I’ve seen a few bizarre reasons touted, but the main one is that it supposedly puts to bed accusations of Tory electoral fraud at the 2015 General Election – a story championed by Michael Crick at C4 News. Ehmmm… How does that work exactly? Any electoral fraud charges won’t just go away because an election is called. Even if every suspected MP stands down at this election – and I don’t believe that they are, certainly not at the time of writing – then issue remains very much live and will re-emerge if the CPS decided to press charges. (NB. Since writing this blog, events have moved on and the CPS have decided not to press charges in all but one constituency, South Thanet, where a decision remains to be made – but my point very much still stands.)

I’ve also seen posts suggesting that Theresa May’s real reason for going to the country is something vaguely to do with Philip May making loads of cash (no, I don’t understand that either) – or, that other golden oldie, to cover up accusations of a paedophile ring at the heart of the establishment. Wha…? Regular visitors to the Marmoset may remember what this dubious little monkey had to say about conspiracy theories.

This election is about her control of Brexit and maximising the Tory majority at a time when the opposition is at its weakest thanks to the poor and unpopular stewardship of Jeremy Corbyn. No more, no less.

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9) ‘You can’t trust the Polls!  Look what happened in 2015, Brexit, Trump etc….’

Polling gets a lot of stuff wrong, because while it’s a science from which we demand exactitude, the parameters are constantly shifting, and it’s a challenge for the methodology to keep up. But statisticians are generally smart cookies and able to learn from their mistakes, so before we start bleating about how we can ignore the polls, it’s worth a click or two (if you can be arsed before proclaiming) to check the facts. Let’s look at the oft cited straws at which poll-deniers are wont to grasp:

The 2015 General Election: There were 92 polls during the campaign, 17 of which were dead heats. In 42 of the remainder Labour had a small lead, and in the other 33 the Conservatives led, sometimes by as much as 6%. The Tories won with a 7% lead. So the clues were there for anyone who wanted to find them, and the inaccuracy, such as it was, concealed a far greater advantage for the Conservative Party. Something very similar happened in 1992 when, despite only garnering a small parliamentary majority, John Major defied Labour-favouring polls by scoring the highest popular vote of any Prime Minister in UK electoral history.

The EU Referendum:  These polls were a bit more accurate as a whole, with quite a few anticipating the result closely… and where they were wrong, favouring the Remain side –  yes, you guessed it – they hid an actual bias towards the less liberally inclined Leave voter.

The 2016 US Election: The polls were derided for not predicting Trump’s historic (!) victory, but Clinton won the popular vote by nearly three million votes, so they were hardly out of the ball park.

And what do all these have in common? The polling critically over estimates the level of Labour/Left support. There are some voices suggesting that polling companies are trying to factor in this left leaning bias from previous surveys, and have overcooked their compensatory mechanisms. The local elections with an 11% Tory lead as opposed to the 18% predicted in national polls might give this weight, but then again, voting patterns in local contests are different from those in general elections, so frankly, who knows. What we do know is that a polling error that would wipe out a consistent 18% lead has no historical precedent.

‘Ah yes!’ Exclaim the Moon-Swivellers, ‘but Jeremy defied 200/1 odds to become Labour Leader in the first place!!!’ Hmmm… that’ll be with a self nominating electorate, many of whom paid three quid for the privilege. It doesn’t count. It really, really doesn’t count.

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The Only Poll That Counts… …and it’s usually more conservative than the pretend ones.

8) ‘The Main Stream Media is biased against Him!!! ‘
(That’ll be ‘Him’ with a capital ‘H’ – I mean, He deserves one, surely)

Oh god, I am SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO bored of this one… and anyone who’s dabbled with the Marmoset will know I’ve jabbered on about it at some length before.

But sadly – tediously! – it seems that the point can’t be made too often. Aside from whether there’s anything like the bias that the Facebook-erati claim (there is and there isn’t, that’s for another day) – or whether bias either way is ’cause’ or ‘effect’ – the tiresome bit is the endless tinnitus whine of the complaint itself.

If you, Dear Reader, are inclined to media-blaming, convinced that potential Labour voters are swayed from their true course by the establishment, Oxbridge cabal at the BBC; or the mere existence of Murdoch sponsored front pages in newsagents; or Krishnan Guru-Murthy with his devastating page one questions for Jeremy Corbyn on Channel 4 News; or The Daily Mail which, for some reason, these potential Labour voters are already reading (yeah… go figure that one…); or… or…. or…. (cough, splutter, aneurysm) …LAURA KUENSSBERG (Burn the witch!! Burn the witch!!!!!)…

…if you are one of these people whinging and moaning and mewling and puking about media bias, what you are actually saying is: ‘I’m really smart!! I’m intellectual, me. I know THE TRUTH. But out there are lots of STUPID people who will sway with the wind like moronic sheep – unlike ME, far cleverer than the dimwit lumpen masses who are incapable of independent thought, but, annoyingly, on whom Labour victory depends!!

Sorry… was I ranting. Breathe.

A common trope on FB and Twitter is to berate the BBC for giving too much air time to Nigel Farage and UKIP. Let’s ignore the four million license fee payers who voted UKIP at the last election and concede that perhaps there is some weight to this criticism. What just happened at the recent May local elections? Wipeout for UKIP. And it looks very much as if June will see them swept from the arena once and for all, despite all that media coverage.

Why? Because people aren’t stupid. They are capable of independent thought, and the former UKIP voter has made the quite rational judgement that their time is gone, and that Paul Nuttall is even more ridiculous than Nigel Farage.

It’s a shame really, because right now anyone seriously wanting Labour victory could do with an electorate divided along UKIP lines… perhaps if you still have media-blaming proclivities you could write to the BBC and ask for a bit more UKIP propaganda to help shore up some Labour marginals!

Why oh why

Oh yeah, and while we’re at it… The Main Stream Media? What are you actually talking about? Newspapers with their ever declining circulations? Or would that be Social Media, Facebook, Twitter – used by billions of people – where people talk bollocks to their mates who already agree with them or read lengthy blogs written by self-opinionated gits tapping away in their attics…

Oh… hang on…

7) ‘If only people would get out and vote, we could swing this election!!’

When His Corbyness first caressed the wipe-clean leatherette arm-rests of his Labour throne, he countered those who dared suggest that he needed to woo the centre ground – or that polling indicated a somewhat oceanic lack of popular support – by boldly asserting there was an army of non-voters – The Disenfranchised, The Young Pee-Pul – who he would galavanise into registering, and who would propel him into 10 Downing Street at the head of a revolutionary tsunami.

Two years later, the tsunami is looking a tad like the wash from a drifting pedalo, and while no one, not even the Marmoset at his most curmudgeonly, would refute the importance of getting people to exercise their hard-won democratic rights…

…swinging from this particular twig, licking on my favourite rainforest exudate (look it up), I notice the bark is starting to splinter, and I offer this word of warning to anyone blaming Labour’s woes on low turnout – and seeking salvation by rousing the apathetic masses into the polling booth.

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Yum! I love a tasty exudate!

The inconvenient truth is that there’s no particular evidence to suppose that those who don’t vote are necessarily Labour supporters. Indeed, post war history implies the opposite. The turnout for the EU referendum – 72% – was unusually high compared to recent General Elections – between 7% and 12% higher than the last four elections. 2001 (59%) and 2005 (61%) had low turnouts – both Labour victories… 2010 (65%) and 2015 (66%), the turnout went up, and it favoured the conservatives. 1992 when John Major  was helped by a near record turnout of 77%.

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When Blair defeated Major five years later it was on a turnout down by 6%. 
Other record turnouts include 1950 when Clement Attlee’s legendary, landmark government was ousted by Winston Churchill on an 84% turnout. Attlee’s victory was on a turnout twelve points lower.
 And my understanding from everything I’ve read about it, is that the higher turnout at the EU referendum favoured Vote Leave. So when we shout to the Social Media heavens for a greater turnout on June 8th, the phrase ‘be careful what you wish for’ comes to mind.

But given that people who don’t vote, er… don’t vote, then of course, this is, by definition, unknowable. If we accept that as true, I tentatively suggest that making the disenfranchised a core part of one’s campaign might be just a little fruitless. Even assuming we want to improve things for the disenfranchised (I know I do!) it’s still a better use of energy and resources to target one’s efforts at the people who actually go to polling booths, and who might be persuaded to chisel their cross in your particular box. Duh.

What we do with power when we get it is one thing – but an election is about winning votes. To flip Mario Cuomo on his head, if Labour want to win, we need to campaign in prose in order to have the slightest hope of governing in poetry.

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See what I did here?

So let’s sum up a bit. The cumulative effect of turnout blaming and media blaming  is that Labour’s path to victory is now reliant on a lumpen mass of weak-minded, easily brainwashed Murdoch/Mail reading dimwits incapable of independent thought who are additionally incapable of getting themselves to a polling booth.
Patronising and insulting to the electorate?
Most definitely.
True?
Thankfully not.
But until we change our attitude about this and concentrate on the non-tribal voting demographic whose allegiances we need to win, then victory will continue to elude us.

6) (Wrings hands) ‘But it’s all bloody personality politics – it should be about the policies!’

Oh FFS.  Of course it’s about personality! And character. Representative party democracy or not – a general election is about electing a Prime Minister. It’s a job interview, and the public will make their own choice about who they think is up to the task. They will use their gut and their life experience to decide this.

They will put competency very high on their list, and vote for someone they may not even like that much if they think they’ll get the job done. Of course policy is important – double duh! – but they’re trusting their lives, their children’s lives, their money, their jobs, their future to the stewardship of the nation’s ultimate line manager. And when was the last time you thought ‘the personal qualities of my line manager is of no consequence to me whatsoever’?

Who do you want driving the car, your lovely but dozy uncle who’s always scraping the verge, turning round to tell you stories of victories past, or your charmless tight-fisted aunt whose eyes never leave the road? You wouldn’t invite her to a party, but you want her wheel. Getting there alive is better than never getting there at all. In the case of May versus Corbyn, Theresa looks like she knows what she’s doing. Jeremy doesn’t.

Uh-uh! Don’t go off on one. I’m not saying that Theresa does know what she’s doing, but I am saying that if you sit, empathetically, in the swing-voter’s back seat then it is easy to see why she would be perceived that way.  Which brings me neatly to….

5) ‘But Theresa May… she’s a bloody robot!’

Oh yes, in electioneering terms, absolutely. This GE is being sung from the Lynton Crosby playbook turned up to eleven – and it’s certainly an eyeball peeling, eardrum shattering sensory assault. This may be hard for some guests of the Marmoset to stomach but David Cameron used to croon the Crosby tunes with a good deal of charm.

No, not him…

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This guy.

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Sorry, you’re going to have to stick with the idea of David Cameron having charm. Remember, winning this election (if that were possible) is about persuading people who found Cameron to be charming – or Nigel Farage to be credible – that they’d rather vote for Jeremy Corbyn this time round. Try to stay focused on that idea.

Now excuse me while I jump back a metaphor. Think of the Lynton Crosby election-winning mechanism as a relentless, piston-thumping engine… In Cameron’s charming kid-driving-glove mitts, it is encased in a shiny chassis, shimmering in the sun as it flashes through a grove of poplars, shock absorbers and silencers rendering its pumping cylinders quiet as a whisper.

Sadly this time round, the charmless aunt has been handed the brutalist stripped down model. Lynton only has a few weeks, so there’s no chassis, no shock absorbers, no silencers… this is a V8 Crosby machine in the grinding raw.

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Theresa May’s oily election machine

Yup. We can see all the working parts. But the point is – the parts are working – the engine driving the May Robot is just as powerful, no matter how much we can smell the oil steaming off the cylinder block.

May’s team know what the selling point is – they’ve done the focus groups… (oooh… did I hear you sneer just then? Behave.) …and consequently they know what their target demographic thinks. Recent polling shows that concern about the outcome of Brexit exceeds concern for the future of the NHS in some surveys. It’s startling, but not surprising. It’s completely rational to be absolutely bloody terrified. I am! If Brexit goes tits up then everything else is fucked. Not only that, but huge swathes of the population – left, right, leave, remain – quite rationally understand that many in the EU are determined to prove that there can be no happy ending for anyone else with ideas about making a run for it.

So there’s one message: May’s a ‘bloody difficult woman’ who’ll fight the UK corner. Strong and stable and all that – and mock though we relentlessly do – May held down the scalp-strewn post of Home Secretary for six years, one of the longest tenures in recent history.

But she just keeps on saying it… because she and Lynton understand that if you’re a non-tribal voter and you care about the economy, you’ll vote for the person who you think can handle Brexit; if you care about immigration, you’ll vote for the person you think can handle Brexit; and if you care about the NHS you’ll vote for the person who you think can handle Brexit.

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Feast your eyes on this Survation Poll from Saturday May 6th 2017

Suddenly, because of Brexit, the Tories have the upper hand on healthcare. Yeah, I know, it turns the stomach and it’s sacrilege to write such words on a left-of-centre website, it’s barely possible to accept, but accept it we must, for it is true.

No… I can feel you REFUSING to believe me.  Look at that poll again – go on, do it!! – and rest assured it won’t be the last to send the same message.

But, you cry, Andrew Marr asked her a dozen questions and she didn’t answer a single one – it was just ‘strong and stable’, ‘strong and stable’ all the way. Duh again! Her refusal to engage with anything else just goes to prove the point. She’s so strong and stable she won’t be drawn on anything and just sticks to her core message. It’s a win-win, almost post-modern, strategy.

Now for a personal window into the domestic life of this Ninja monkey. Mrs Marmoset is worried about me because I keep saying admiring things about Theresa May, but my admiration is the same as one might have for the Alien. Being able to bleed acid blood through five decks of the Nostromo is pretty damned impressive….

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…and you need more than guns if you’re going to bring one of those mothers down.

Which segues nicely into…

4) ‘Well I’m voting for Jeremy because he is the only politician who has integrity, is truly genuine, is a proper socialist, represents true Labour values etc etc etc etc etc etc….’

If you must, but is that seriously the best reason you have?

Ah, I hear you say, with a smug flare of the nostrils, a keen narrowing of the eyes, a minute ago you said that personality was important. Yeah, smartarse, I did. But values on their own, ideals on their own, integrity (aka a bull-headed adherence to one point of view for the whole of your life) and a Santa list of sub-polytechnic-politics-subsidiary slogans does not a personality make. As for ‘genuine’ – what the Johnny-Cash does ‘genuine’ mean anyway? People thought Johnny Cash was genuine when he sang about prison life, but Cash never spent more than a night in the slammer for petty misdemeanours.

The very intelligent exlectorate rightly evaluate personality as Life Experience, Work Experience, The Ability To Get Things Done, and crucially for a Prime Minister, Leadership Skills (that’ll be leadership as in not having everyone in sight resign around you). Any idiot can have ideals – most of us have fabulous values and principles – but it takes real character to make them happen. Thirty-three years on the back benches, voting against your own side, and organising protest rallies hardly counts.

This is why people posting admiringly about Corbyn soldiering on after his front bench resigned and the near unanimous vote of no confidence are wrong – and this is why any other party leader would have resigned at that point. You can’t go into an election once your colleagues have told the rest of the country that you’re crap. You can’t go into an election with a front bench team made up of a talentless rump whose only qualification for office isn’t skill or experience, but that they were the only ones who didn’t vote you down. It’s not even a matter of whether the others were right to resign in the first place. It’s just a cold reality that there’s no way back from that. You’re stuffed – like a pig at a Bullingdon initiation party – and it’s a great oinking signal that you need to exit stage left and let someone lead the party who can command the confidence of a strong team.

That’s my idea of integrity.
And humility.
And personal strength.
And genuinely caring about the values of the Labour Party.

Ploughing on regardless is arrogant, stupid and selfish.

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Jeremy Corbyn – about as genuine as Johnny Cash

3) ‘If you don’t vote for Jeremy then it’s a vote to close the NHS, kill people on benefits, blah blah blah…’

After the local and mayoral elections on May 4th this sort of post was all over social media like Donald Trump’s hands in a cattery…. (….think about it).

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Or this…

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Although this kind of nonsense has already been brilliantly satirised in a painfully true spoof for The Independent – click here – there is more to be said.

The long term consequence of a landslide Tory victory may well be some, if not all, of these terrible things listed in those posts. Of that I have little doubt. However the short term consequence of so characterising any who might disagree with those who like to call themselves the progressive left is not one extra vote for the Labour cause.

Why? Because it’s lazy, reductive, patronising, arrogant, smug and wilfully obstructive to the reality of how elections are won… the last of which I reckon is pretty important if you really want to see a Labour government any time soon.

It starts from a nauseating moral high handedness, the assumption that only a Labour voter truly inhabits the moral high ground. So when wonderfully skilled ex-Coronation Street actors proclaim, sonorous and heartfelt, about Labour being the party that ‘gives a toss’, they have no idea how alienating that is to millions of people. What are they saying? That because someone votes Tory they don’t care about people?

If Labour are ever to win power again we need the votes of millions of folk who have voted Conservative in the past – and you’ve just told them they are moral scum.

This stuff is underpinned by the assumption that any right thinking person will automatically see the notion of Conservatism as toxic. Well, hold the front page. They don’t. They don’t automatically see being conservative as this…

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…and even if they do, they don’t necessarily experience a spasm of involuntary revulsion.  For millions of people around the country being a conservative voter looks just like this:

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It could just as easily be a still from a Ken Loach movie

If we are to win people over – to persuade, to cajole – then we have to banish this morally superior stereotyping to the self righteous trash can of losing strategies where it belongs.

Jeremy Corbyn has even managed to fuck up that sure-fire winner of a slogan: ‘For The Many Not The Few’. Over in Toryland, Theresa May speaks daily (and don’t we know it?) about negotiating a Brexit that works for everybody. She uses the word advisedly.  Everybody.
Everybody.
Now, while you or I may well doubt her sincerity, like it or not, the word ‘everybody’ means just that, and crucially excludes nobody.

Back in Corbynopolis, Our Jezzer has taken a phrase – For The Many, Not The Few – and made it sound hostile and exclusive. In his campaign launch on 9th May, he talked about:

‘…a reckoning for those who thought they could get away with asset stripping our industry, crashing our economy through their greed and ripping off workers and consumers’

It sounds like a declaration of war. It’s an expression of hate. I know many people who would look at me and say: ‘And your problem with that is…?’

While most people want to see a reduction in inequality, they are also aspirational. This kind of oratory is all about ‘us’ and ‘them’ – it reads as aggressive and divisive, and there are plenty of ordinary people wondering whether they might become a bit too ‘them’ to prosper in a Corbyn led society. Of course a Labour government will be founded on redistributive economics, but it needs to be framed in language as inclusive as that used by Theresa May.
Theresa May??? Inclusive????
I can feel the reader balking at everything I write – sputtering in disbelief – but listen, really listen to the difference in the language used. At a recent election appearance in Tynemouth, deep in traditional Labour territory, Theresa May addressed the gathering thus:

‘We respect that parents and grandparents taught their children and grandchildren that Labour was a party that shared their values and stood up for their community. But across the country today, traditional Labour supporters are increasingly looking at what Jeremy Corbyn believes in and are appalled.’

The Tories attack Corbyn personally – hammering away at his personal politics, competence and leadership skills – but you’ll never hear them deriding Labour voters themselves for their values. You’ll never hear them proclaiming that if you’ve voted Labour in the past you’re morally bankrupt and killing disabled people.
Why not?
Because they want our votes.

The language is carefully constructed to LOVE the Labour voter, while driving a wedge between them and their vulnerable leader.  Is it really beyond the wit of the Labour Party and its supporters to something similar and talk respectfully to people who are potential Tory voters but whom they want to persuade? Do we really have to talk like bullies?

And if you still think I’m wrong, scroll up to that opinion poll again. 47% of people think May will create a fairer society than Corbyn’s paltry 37%. Look at it – and learn.

2) ‘Ok, so Corbyn let us down over Brexit – but what else could he have done?’

Well… turning up for the referendum campaign would have been a start. Revisionist Corbynista acolytes blindly refuse to acknowledge any responsibility on their saviour’s behalf but Jeremy’s near sabotage of the Labour Remain campaign is well documented. Remain lost by just over 1.3m votes so all we needed was another 650,000 little pencil crosses and we wouldn’t be in the truly terrifying mess we’re in right now. Whilst the reasons for the Leave victory are many and complex (as grippingly recounted in Tim Shipman’s fantastic book, All Out War) it’s hard to believe that an enthusiastic pro-EU Labour leader, seizing the opportunity and the agenda couldn’t have secured that. For all their own shortcomings, I have absolutely no doubt that either Andy Burnham or Yvette Copper could have got those votes… easily.

What else could Corbyn have done? Well, he could have consulted with his shadow cabinet colleagues on the small matter of Labour Party Policy before coming out at 7.28 am on the morning of 24th June 2016 and calling for Article 50 to be invoked as soon as possible. And people are surprised that most of the shadow cabinet resigned? They are often blamed for their ‘disloyalty’, but hey – pot-calling-the-skillet-le-creuset! – they hardly had a choice in the circumstances.

Oh yeah, and then we get to the bloody ‘will of the people’ and invoking a three line whip for Labour MPs to wave Article 50 through the Commons. Labour policy is something to do with ‘holding the government to account’ but exactly how this is to be achieved now the party has completely rolled over on the issue is quite beyond this tufty little simian.

From up in my tree, savouring my exudates, it is nothing less than the betrayal of a generation.

Corbyn apologists argue that he had no choice. The People Had Decided – ‘The Issue of Brexit Is Settled’ yadda yadda – and crucially Labour is haemorraghing votes in Labour heartlands to UKIP. Well, let’s look under the bonnet of that particular premise.

Offering a convincing counter narrative might have been something worth considering. Just maybe? As the reality of Brexit bears down upon us, the zeitgeist of 2017 is that of a nation – Remain and Leave voters alike – looking down the barrel of a gun.

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Corbyn derides May for taking a confrontational stance with Brussels, but with the barrel right in our faces, which strategy is going to play best with a nervous/terrified electorate?

‘Please can we stay in the single market, and we’re happy to fulfil any conditions to achieve that even if we have no power in the union any more, pretty please…’
or
…whipping out our own weaponry and snarling: ‘Go ahead, Juncker, make my day’. The electorate are feeling that, given the choice, they’d rather die on their feet than live on their knees, which is why Labour-UKIP defectors are now turning to the Conservatives in their extremely crucial hundreds of thousands.

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Bizarrely, Theresa May is capturing the Clint Eastwood vote

Emily Thornberry – Labour’s patroniser-in-chief – pops up on the telly, almost daily, to tell us that Labour has no choice but to look both ways, as they try to satisfy both urban Labour Remainers and Labour heartland Brexiteers but you can see in her eyes – and the doleful look in Keir Starmer’s sad little peepers – that she knows it’s a confusing, untenable and impotent fudge.

So what was the alternative?

The clue’s in that last word – Labour could only seize the agenda by offering an actual alternative. Corbyn’s strategy is to try not to mention the ‘B’ word at all, but there is no way round the cold hard fact that this is the Brexit election. There is absolutely no way Labour can kick Brexit off the top of the agenda. A savvy Labour leader would  have stopped trying to dodge that particular bullet, and rather made a grab for the gun itself.

Yes. It would have been a very high risk strategy, but the opportunity was there for anyone bold enough to take it. If the Tories want a Brexit election then let them have it, but pitch Labour as the party that will withdraw from Article 50 and hold the EU together.

Be bold. Use the election to re-run the referendum.

Labour are barely scraping 30% in the polls.  Why not make a pitch for the 48% who were desperate to Remain in the EU… and rather than accusing Tory or Leave voters of being knuckle-dragging moral scum offer frightened Leave voters a way out of this mess.

Look. I’m not saying I know this would have worked – I have no hard evidence to say that the numbers stack up in the required marginals – and the time when this might have been a realistic option has most definitely passed – many former remainers just want to get on with Brexit – but even now it seems a far stronger, and more responsible pitch than the chicken broth Labour are offering the electorate at the moment. I choose ‘chicken’ as my flavour advisedly.

Yes, the Labour manifesto has a few salty promises, but it still runs scared of the single issue that will decide the outcome.

To go into an election, supporting an ill-defined, half baked Brexit (surely the ultimate ‘Tory-lite’ and I don’t even approve of that phrase), promising to borrow half a trillion plus god knows how much at a time of huge economic uncertainty, dissing anyone with entrepreneurial aspirations, declaring war on a vaguely defined ‘other’… and telling people daily how awful everything is… well, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that Theresa May’s poll lead remains stubbornly beyond any previously recorded polling error.

1) ‘We must unite to defeat the Tories at all costs!!’  

Oh yes, this is definitely at number one.

This mantra of the left… the same people who told anyone who doubted the Corbyn project to ‘Fuck off and join the Tories!’.

Well, whaddya know? They did.

But wait… there’s a real election happening and Labour are about to get absolutely hammered so suddenly the devout are realising that far from winning a majority being some sort of bourgeois Blairite peccadillo, without it the country will be well and truly stuffed.

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The founder of Momentum proving the utter stupidity of the hard left

Meanwhile, the ex-journalistic tragedy that is Paul Mason, who, a few months ago could be seen on our TV screens, jabbing his finger, muttering darkly about mass deselections is now twitching on the Newnight panel calling for a progressive alliance.

‘Seriously Paul, go fuck yourself.’ Sorry to swear in such a personally abusive way, but that was what I shouted at my telly the other night. The rank hypocrisy of calling for us all to unite to stop the Tories at all costs. If he and his kind really believed in ‘stopping the Tories at all costs’ then they wouldn’t have voted for a complete numpty to run the party… TWICE!

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These days Paul works hard to keep his jabbing finger under control

Other voices from Planet Corbo simply say ‘hold your nose’, vote for Jeremy. Let’s have a period of purdah where you keep your eviscerating anti-Corbyn blogs to yourself.

Give me a break. It really doesn’t matter what I think, or what I say. I’m just a rare and rather cute little marmoset. It’s neither here nor there whether the lefty chaterati on Facebook or Twitter are critical of the J-Corb – mostly we’re just talking to our own gang anyway. Whether or not different factions of the left think he’s incompetent and a liability – as I do – is irrelevant. That’s not going to affect the result. I’m voting Labour anyway, even if I do think he’s a waste of skin.

The only pertinent issue is whether non partisan, floating voters can be persuaded to trust the guy. They’re not listening to any squabbles we have – nor would the pretence that I, for example, thought for a second Corbyn could make a competent PM convince one floating voter to cast their vote his his way in a marginal. No. They’ll make that decision for themselves. Shutting up about it won’t improve things. We can’t pretend he’s doing a good job when he isn’t, as if somehow if we all close our eyes the very obvious shortfalls of him and his so-called team will go away. They won’t. The real problem isn’t me being rude on Facebook or this blog – that’s of no importance whatsoever – but the indifference of the voting public to someone they recognise as neither worth their vote, nor a passing thought.

As my wonderful Sheffield mother-in-law is wont to say: ‘Jeremy Corbyn? He’s got nothing about him.’

If we want the result to be not quite as bad as the polls suggest then we really need to tackle the strategy – not for getting pissed-off Labour centrists on board – but all the other people who are needed to make this thing slightly less of the car crash it’s promising to be.

***

If I sound angry and contemptuous – it’s because I am. I’m frightened as well. Really frightened – more so than any time in my life.

And I do lay what’s happening – from Brexit to the upcoming electoral catastrophe – firmly at the door of the persistent Corbyn believer. Je most definitely accuse.

The point blank refusal to acknowledge an overwhelming accumulation of evidence – which has far exceeded the Marmoset’s worst expectations – puts them in the same category as flat-earthers, homeopaths and creationists – and if I have no respect for those people, then I certainly can’t be respectful of evidence-denying Corbyn believers.

Faith over empiricism. No thanks.

As Michael Heseltine famously said: ‘Labour will win again, when it wants to win’. And that will be when we remember that being in power is the primary objective of Labour as a political party, and that electioneering IS an exact science.

Empiricism over faith. Always.

As for the Marmoset’s bottom ten desperate political clichés… to be fair, most of them stem from people’s desperation, but that makes them no less frustrating.

We need to stop thinking so simplistically. We need to get smart. We need to win again.

***

Of course, at the time of writing there are four whole weeks until polling day, during which time Theresa May could be caught doing something unspeakable to a kitten – or to National Treasure Alan Bennet with a slice of Battenberg – or both, at the same time, and on live TV..!

In which case, all bets are off, and you can scratch all of the above.

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The Marmoset scratching all of the above.

If You Don’t Like This Film You Are Officially a Bastard

I have something to tell you.

(Shuffles nervously… looks at the floor)

The thing is…

How can I put this?

Oh for God’s sake, I’m just going to come out and say it!!!

“I am the NinjaMarmoset and I don’t like I, Daniel Blake.”

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I love Dave Johns. He did a gig at the Heatons Comedy Club and was bloody hilarious.

I actually declared this out loud in a social setting the other night and was greeted with looks of utter horror – jaws dropped, visibly, in front of me – as if I’d publicly stoved in the head of kitten with a paperweight fashioned into the shape of ex work and pensions minister Iain Duncan Smith.

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It’s not hard to imagine IDS as a paperweight, or even a snow globe. I’m sure I don’t need to post a picture of a kitten.

‘But these people have never been given a voice before!!’ one complainant wailed, eyes wide, starting to well with anger and distress. ‘And… I know lots of social workers – I’ve got social workers in my family!! – and it’s TRUE!’

As I started to explain where I was coming from, choosing to bypass the largely irrelevant detail that I’m actually married to a social worker, they stormed off in disgust. And the following day, they had wielded that most vicious of modern punishments… they blocked me from their Facebook page!!!! Not just unfriended me, mind, but blocked me altogether. Wow. They were REALLY angry. It’s a dagger through my heart, I tell you!!!

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Everything has added weight when translated into French

Yes, yes, I know, the film has won the Palme D’Or at the world’s most prestigious film festival; yes, I know it has received unanimous four and five star reviews, hailed as a ‘battle cry for the dispossessed’ by The Guardian; and yes, I know the only people to publicly criticise it are bile filled right wing poverty deniers such as the objectionable Toby Young – or government ministers who haven’t actually seen the movie.

Sorry. I still really dislike it, and, uncharacteristically, I was intending to keep this to myself. After we came out of the movie, I quipped to my companion: ‘There’s no way I’m posting anything about it on Facebook – I’ll be lynched!’ 

But the mere fact I was even saying this – and that my flip comment came true (if you count being blocked from Facebook as the modern equivalent of lynching) – suggests that there are some bloody innards here that are worth a poke around amongst.

There’s a reason you don’t see anybody on social media left of, say, Ken Clarke, voicing criticism of this film because, basically, if you don’t like I, Daniel Blake then you are officially a bastard.

Or I’m the only (left of centre) person in the world who doesn’t like it. That’s possible, I suppose.

What the-Daniel-Blake is going on here?

Let’s start with the film itself:

SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT

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I’m not messing around!! Here be spoilers.

Daniel Blake’s a Geordie joiner who’s had a major heart attack. His doctors say he is too ill to work, but he is turned down for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and declared fit by the privately run Work Capability Assessment ‘decision maker’. The movie recounts Daniel’s attempts to get the ruling overturned, and his descent into abject poverty. Along the way he meets single mum Katie and her two children Dylan and Daisy. She’s had all sorts of terrible shit happen to her, and starves herself to feed her kids. She dreams of going to college, but ends up working as a prostitute. Daniel becomes a surrogate father and grandfather to her family, and she helps him when he finally gets his appeal for ESA. On the day of the hearing which intends to prove that he really does have a terrible heart condition…

…well if you can’t guess what happens in the toilets just before he’s about to speak then clearly you have never been to the cinema before.

I am fully aware that everything depicted in this film happens on a regular basis to people all round the country. The degrading Kafkaesque insanities of living in poverty and the benefits system are rehearsed many times every day, as they have been for decades.

They are part of my DNA.

One of my earliest memories is the bailiff coming to call when I was four years old. Apparently he told my stepmother (an out-of-work social worker, as it happens) that we didn’t have anything worth taking apart from the radiogram (here’s a link for younger readers)…

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Basically the iPod of the 1960s

…but as we didn’t have any electricity at the time, the loss of it wasn’t the greatest of tragedies. Trying to feed the family on a single bag of potatoes for a week was far more distressing for her. Later we had the gas disconnected, and our phone too. In those days there were no pay-as-you-go inclusive-minutes mobiles, such as are used by the characters in I, Daniel Blake. After narrowly avoiding eviction a few years after that, things did get a lot better, and apart from a year or two (on and off) on the dole in my early twenties (even in the rosy 1980s signing on could be a pretty grim experience) I have led a comfortable life.

But the visceral reality of having nothing – the fear of it – the shame of it – never leaves you.

So I should love I, Daniel Blake, right?

Well, no. I don’t go to the cinema to see things because they are ‘real’. Or because they are a statement of something that is ‘factually true’. That’s not drama. If I want facts, or an exposé, I can watch an episode of Dispatches or Panorama or read an article in The Guardian or The Canary (NB One of the outlets listed in that sentence is not actually somewhere that deals in factual journalism and was included for purely humorous purposes). I already know what’s going on, as did – I would posit – every liberally minded middle class film enthusiast in Screen 1 of Manchester’s Home, the independent cinema where I watched the film. Toby Young may not believe the plot of Daniel Blake, but I would be amazed if a single person came out of that screening saying; ‘We blow me down with a feather, I had no idea!’

A lot of the audience were in tears, so the visceral power of the film couldn’t be denied (except to me, for whom the visceral power of actually having nothing is still more potent). So what was my problem? Hard hearted bastard? Or is it a ‘writer’ thing? It’s my job and I’m applying professional standards to a work of political cinema whose qualities go beyond the normal tenets of dramatic film making…?

If I were doing a blind assessment of this script (as my work often demands of me), I would doubtless admire its intent but I would be pretty forthright about its technical failings.

The story is clunkingly linear and schematic – reliant on acres of spoon fed, off-screen, uncontested back story (clearly no one is interested in the concept of the unreliable narrator in this movie). Lovely, lovable people are brutalised by nasty jobsworths working for the state machine. The characters – good and bad – are two dimensional. They have no inner contradictions, no complexity. Both Daniel and Katie are flawless salt-of-the-earth types. Daniel is a martyr in the great Christian tradition – a saint in fact – more than a saint! He’s a carpenter (a bit like… hmmm… let me think); he can conjure useful things from nothing – bookcases, food, heat from flowerpots and bubblewrap…  (…but sadly not wine, as he’s teetotal); at one point he actually cures a small boy of ADHD (it’s like… its like… it’s like… a miracle!); he befriends a prostitute (see where I’m going with this?); and then dies for all our sins at the end (‘Tonight Matthew I shall be Jesus Christ Himself!’).

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I, Jesus Christ

A two dimensional cipher – and in Blake’s case, entirely passive. His only transgression throughout the movie is a little bit of illegal graffiti. When I was on the dole I found ‘ways’ to subsidise my income. Everybody did – and they still do. The fact that we had to is no less politically significant than what happens to the eponymous victim of Laverty’s screenplay.

Presumably this is the point – these are ‘blameless’ good people beaten to a pulp by the system. Even if you play by the rules you will be destroyed, because the rules are designed to destroy you. We are left feeling outraged, a little bit guilty… but ultimately virtuous, because we have shared Daniel’s pain.

But passivity is not dramatic. Watching a puppy being strangled for two hours might be grimly distressing, but without even a moment where the puppy turns to snap at its attacker, what we are witnessing is a ritual sacrifice… not a story, not a drama.

I’ve always been allergic to didacticism and polemicism – and I say that having contributed to quite a bit of it as a young actor, deviser, director etc in the 1980s. My hackles rise the second I sense I’m being ‘told’ what to think – and boy oh boy does IDB tell us what to think. It pins us back in our seats, puts its moralistic hand around our collective throats and leaves us no option whatsoever to think for ourselves… right to the final speech – the eulogy at Blake’s funeral – Loach and Laverty hammering us over the head with their message. There is only one conclusion to be drawn from this film, resistance is futile.

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How the Marmoset felt at the end of I, Daniel Blake

I find it manipulative – patronising – tedious – suffocating – a form of political dumbing down. And when voicing any kind of dissent becomes a pariah-inducing social gaffe, then it becomes a form of bullying.

Drama isn’t there to ‘tell us’ stuff. Drama exists to enlighten, to enrich our lives by using the contradictions and conflicts of character and story to illuminate the world around us. Not to show us facts – but to throw light from surprising angles on what reality actually means, in all its messy ambivalent glory. It’s the difference between something being ‘truthful’ and simply ‘true’. It’s about asking questions, not answering them.

Shakespeare wrote: ‘To be or not to be, that is the question’, and Hamlet remains a great play because it leaves the audience to wrestle with the answer – with the million imponderables it poses.

Of course, I’m comparing Apples and PCs here. Hamlet isn’t a polemic, and I, Daniel Blake unashamedly is. It’s in the great tradition of political, campaigning cinema (NB to my horrified Facebook blocker, should you ever read this, there have been hundreds of films giving voice to the lives of the dispossessed, you just haven’t seen them). And, fair enough, just because this particular marmoset goes all ninja about it, it doesn’t render the movie somehow invalid. That’s just a matter of taste, isn’t it?

Well, let’s explore the polemic – Daniel as martyr to the wilful destruction of the welfare state – as a ‘battle cry for the dispossessed’ – who can argue with it? And if it ‘converts’ a single callous heart to the cause of compassionate welfare provision then surely that trumps all artistic criticism – just as Cathy Come Home was integral to the foundation of the charity, Shelter in the 1960s and Jimmy McGovern’s Hillsborough TV drama brought the crimes and injustice surrounding that disaster into the public consciousness in the 1990s.

Actually yes, probably, that is true, but I’m still fascinated as to exactly how IDB achieves its goal.

So… there I am, I’m watching the movie… but something is knocking at the back door of my political consciousness, and it’s really pissing me off. I ignore it, content that whilst the movie may not be to my taste, clearly it is an important event for a lot of people.

Then, hours later, in the middle of the night, I slip into my dressing gown, climb down the stairs of my inner contrarian and open the back door, and who should be on my back step, shivering in the rain, firmly dumped there by Ken Loach and Paul Laverty, but… Tiny Tim.

Yes! Seriously. It was him…

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Tiny Tim – 1960s activist, ukulele player and falsetto singer.

No!! Not him!! This guy!!

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Tiny Tim – blameless Dickensian poverty icon!

Sorry.

Yes! That’s what I don’t like about the polemicism of I, Daniel Blake – it’s dependant on a quasi Victorian – and arguably reactionary – notion of ‘the deserving poor’.

Who, reading this, doesn’t find their teeth set on edge when politicians start intoning about ‘doing their best for hard working families’? Why? Because of course everyone wants to help ‘hard working families’. It’s a meaningless thing to say. The test of a truly compassionate society is how we deal with ‘slightly indolent families’ – or ‘downright lazy families’ or ‘dangerous anti-social families’ who have gone completely off the rails.

What audience member could ever begrudge Daniel Blake his ESA benefit? He’s worked all his life. He’s paid his dues. He’s cared for his dying wife. He cures the sick. He deserves every penny. He’s the epitome of the deserving poor. But getting angry at Daniel’s injustice isn’t really what this country has to wrestle with right now. What if Daniel didn’t ‘deserve’ it?

Let’s imagine The Marmoset had written I, Daniel Blake (indulge me!).

Daniel’s a joiner – a competent, if mediocre joiner – who regularly knocks stuff off from his building site – and does cash-in-hand jobs on the side to avoid – no, evade – a bit of tax. He’s got an invalid wife and caring for her doesn’t come cheap. Like 49.3% of his fellow Newcastle citizens he votes for Brexit on June 23rd largely because he sees his mates priced out of jobs by cheap EU labour, and he’s particularly incensed when he learns that the Slovakian family in the flat next door are claiming benefits. Sitting in our lovely indy cinema drinking craft beer from plastic cups, he makes us uncomfortable, but we forgive him, because his wife is dying.

And then, bloody hell, she actually turns up her toes. Daniel’s grief-stricken – and he loses whatever meagre allowances were coming his way as his wife’s carer. He is hit by the bedroom tax. He has a heart attack. He can’t work, but is ruled capable and has to go through a lengthy and Kafkaesque process to appeal it. He is so angry and humiliated that he takes out his frustration on the Slovakian family who he knows are collecting benefits seemingly without hindrance.

Wow… now we’re feeling REALLY uncomfortable. This appeals process sure is cruel and dehumanising, but perhaps Daniel deserves it!

So my goal as a writer – wanting to interrogate the subject thoroughly and challenge my very intelligent audience – is to take Daniel on the most difficult journey I can throw at him. Everyone is angry when the ‘saintly’ Daniel Blake of Loach’s film is humiliated and dehumanised but I want to make the audience equally angry at the humiliation and dehumanisation of tax-dodging, Brexit voting, marginally racist Daniel Blake…

…because the core of a civilised welfare state is that benefits are provided according to need, not because we deem a fictional character morally worthy.

But if we are going to use fiction to throw light on a difficult subject, and if we are truly compassionate, then the humiliation of ‘bad’ Daniel must be no less wrong that that of ‘good’ Daniel… and to make the story narratively satisfying, Daniel can learn this too. He realises – just in time – that his anger at his neighbours is nothing to do with them, per se. They have been set at each other’s throats by the failings in the system, and by the inequalities in the macro-economics that drove them here in the first place. Daniel and his neighbours have more in common than they ever realised. If they understand this in time, the film is uplifting and feel-good. If Daniel realises this too late, then it’s grim social realism and we have to have another very expensive craft beer in the bar before we go home and watch something on Netflix.

The alternative – the one we see on screen now – is lazy. It’s lazy and simplistic, and it allows – encourages – the audience to be lazy and simplistic too.

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I’m about to make a highly ironic comment

Perhaps that’s why the film, as it stands, is more commercially successful than the marmoset’s version would ever be.

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The last sentence was layered with multiple ironies, just in case you didn’t notice

Well… perhaps that’s unfair.  As I said earlier, perhaps that’s the point.

Perhaps there’s a reason that Loach (who has directed a few nuanced masterpieces in his time – Kes being one of them) has opted for the melodrama of Victorian philanthropic guilt as his chosen dramatic form this time. Perhaps he and Laverty believe that the times are so Victorian, the audience must be spoken to as Victorians.

On the one hand, I hope that’s true, because at least it makes some kind of sense, and I can happily shut up moaning about it; on the other, I sense it isn’t, and a great film maker has fallen into a depressing and reductive trope which paralyses the debate by reducing the issue of welfare to simplistic, immutable and ultimately sentimental moral absolutes.

I, Tiny Tim and all that.

And on the subject of Tiny Tim, if you’ve never heard the guy – or if you remember him fondly… have a click on this.

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The Marmoset’s Bottom Ten Lazy Political Generalisations (or Jeremy Corbyn and the New Reductiveness)

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The other week, the Marmoset – who is prone to a little bit of political rough and tumble on social media – was rightly chastised for labelling someone he was debating with as ‘lazy’. But in the spirit of ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’ I retract all such personal or smug admonitions….

(Shrugs innocently) ‘What…?’

…however I stand by my contention that the current political debate in the UK, especially on the left, and with particular regard to a certain J Corbyn esquire, is being stifled and infantilised by simplistic, reductive generalisations, which are, at worst, wilfully disingenuous, and at best a manifestation of a knee-jerk lack of intellectual rigour.

So, pop pickers, here are my ten most Marmoset-mangling mindnumbers, presented in all their glory – and hopefully subjected to a little illuminating scrutiny.

Ok, so you’ll need to click on this to get you in the mood. No really, click on it! Leave it running while you read on…

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If you’re too young to know who this guy is… then you’re too young!!

‘Hanging in there at number ten…’

10) ‘Jeremy Corbyn has an overwhelming mandate from the Labour membership!’

No he doesn’t.

Well… not yet.

Every time I question this on Twitter or Facebook I am greeted with howls of outrage. ‘But he won the 2015 leadership contest with an outright majority – 59.5% of the vote!!’ Yes. That’s true, but it’s not the same thing. Take a minute to remind yourself of the facts. Sorry! I know! It means actually checking something

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You can see that El Corbo secured 49.6% of the vote from fully paid up Labour Party members. That’s less than half – but if we call it half for the sake of argument, it’s still not an ‘overwhelming mandate from party members’. His actual majority came from 84% of registered supporters and 58% of affiliated supoorters. By the rules of the contest this was indeed an entirely legitimate and overwhelming victory – but NOT an overwhelming mandate from the membership.

Personally I think the idea of selling votes for three pounds a pop – the three pound poms – was insane. Why should someone who lays out less than the price of a pint have an equal say in the election of party leader than someone like myself who has been a full party member on and off for 38 years. This isn’t Corbyn’s fault… It was a well meaning but entirely misguided attempt at increased democratisation by a previous Labour leadership.

Let’s dig a little deeper – and yes, that actually means getting out of your rocking chair, and thinking about what the statistics actually mean. In saying ‘he has an overwhelming mandate’ on the basis of last September’s numbers it begs a much bigger question as to who the Labour Party actually is.

Are we the actual membership, the people who go to meetings, knock on doors, become councillors, work politically to actually do stuff etc (roughly 60% as of last September)?
Are we people who pay a few quid for a vote (25%)?
Are we supporters attached to affiliated Trade Unions or other organisations (15%)?

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Standing up for Real Labour?

Of course, things have changed since September and the numbers have shifted. There are now 515,000 fully paid up members – although only 350,000 will be able to vote in the upcoming leadership election; 129,000 registered supporters (twenty-five pound poms!); and 160,000 affiliated supporters, but, regardless, the proportion of supporters to actual members is significant. Whichever way that pushes the outcome, it makes me uncomfortable. How on earth did a grown up political party in the modern age – having accepted the general principle of ‘one member one vote’ – end up with three different electorates – with three different qualifying criteria – and three different timelines and date cut-offs for voting eligibility?

That alone could cause a non-tribal voter to wonder whether we deserve any kind of power at all.

Spit out your chewing tobacco, old timer, we can go deeper again. Assuming that Corbyn achieves an equal or even greater majority this autumn – what will that mandate mean? The superficial reading of the ‘overwhelming mandate’ is that it’s a vote for everything-that-Jeremy-says-so-just-get-in-line-and-do-that, losers!

Well… sorry peeps, there’s more to it – certainly when you remind yourself that the Labour Party isn’t just here to serve its members. Our objective is – and must be – to serve the whole country – not just the millions of non-tribal voters who we need to persuade to our cause in order to win an election – but beyond that to how we offer a programme of practical government that works for the nation as a whole. That requires a more grown up style of thinking than ‘I agree with everything Jeremy says and if you don’t then you’re little better than something I’d scrape off my shoe.’

As it happens the underlying principles of the leadership mandate are laid down in Party scripture. The Labour Party rule book demands this of a leader:

The Leader shall […] ensure the maintenance and development of an effective political Labour Party in parliament and in the country.

‘In Parliament’ – that’s the mandate according to the Party’s own rules. If a leader fails in that primary duty, then they have failed in that mandate, and therefore leadership challenges, votes of no confidence etc are entirely legitimate.

It’s not just about saying ‘the Parliamentary Labour Party must respect the mandate from the membership’ (and or supporters etc) – it’s also a nod to anyone voting for a new leader, that they have a duty to understand the broader and deeper significance of that mandate. It requires a little work, a little thought. It’s about the member/supporter/affiliate casting their vote – and granting that mandate – remembering their own responsibility to the aims of the party as it was founded.

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With the emphasis on the ‘all’

But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised if many of Corbyn’s supporters have something of a woolly notion of what democracy is all about. The day before the local, Scottish and mayoral elections in May, Jeremy Corbyn wrote to party members. He said: ‘Elections are about taking sides.’ The trouble is, they aren’t – no, really, they aren’t – and reducing democracy to such a bald binary is simplistic… and lazy.

‘And another long runner at number nine…’

9) ‘Winning elections isn’t the most important thing…’

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If you believe the words of Momentum founder, Jon Lansman earlier this year, then you don’t support Clause 1 of the Labour Party rule book. That’s Clause 1, folks… don’t be lazy, look it up. Oh… ok, I’ll do it for you, as I’m nice.

Its purpose is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party […] and promote the election of Labour Party representatives at all levels of the democratic process.

Getting elected is right up there, right at the core of Labour’s raison d’être, and it’s for precisely the opposite reason than Mr Lansman posits. For centuries, working people had no power whatsoever. Then as working people began to organise, they could effect some change through protest and withdrawal of labour and the lobbying of those in power. But the Party itself was formed so that the interests of Labour could take the reins of power themselves. The Labour Party isn’t about knocking on the door, or waving placards outside the window – it’s about being in the room and actually running things.

To subject Mr Lansman to a little script editing: ‘Winning is the BIG bit that matters to ordinary people who want to change society.’

If we want to save the NHS, adult social care, state education, etc etc etc then we have to win, we have to be in power.

My wife who works in local authority social services needs a Labour Government in power to make sure she can go on doing her job. My friend who has a son with Downs Syndrome needs a Labour Government in power to ensure that there are support structures in place for his future. Lansman’s tweet underlines how out of touch Momentum is with the objectives of the Labour Party and the real lives of ordinary people.

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And if you still aren’t convinced that winning isn’t some marginal perk for people with no principles, take a look at the Conservatives. They got themselves sorted in a week. The losers withdrew from the race, because they understood that the only thing that mattered was being in control, which they are, and from which position they are going to shape our society for a generation. That’s democracy, Mr Lansman; that’s the primary purpose of the Labour Party.

‘And at number eight, one that’s been up and down the chart for a while…’:

8) ‘Jeremy could win if it weren’t for the right wing media…’ 

…or ‘The country was manipulated into voting for Brexit by the right wing press’ which than extrapolates into: ‘Anyone who disagrees with me but I can’t write off as a right wing loon, pig-bonking public schoolboy or cigar wielding capitalist must have been brainwashed by Rupert Murdoch, MSM (main stream media) and – worst of all – assorted right wing toadies at the BBC.’ 

Ok, let’s start by saying, that, yes, of course, much of the media has a right of centre ideological bias and vested interests – but characterising the wide variety of outlets as one homogenous right wing lump, and blaming it for Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to engage the public outside of his activist base isn’t just intellectual bat-guano, it’s paranoid M&S indolently fact-ignoring bat-guano – which is particularly exposed when the media-blamer starts on a nostril-flaring anti BBC rant.

A few months back, the marmoset ruminated on the noisy and misogynist hate campaign mounted against the Beeb’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg, and more recently acquaintances have bemoaned the corporation’s role in the Brexit vote. Charges range from ‘misguided objectivity’, to ‘a failure to expose Leave campaign lies’, to outright accusations of collusion with a ‘neoliberal elite’ in exchange for fat-cat salaries and charter renewal… before the accusers pop off to read the latest edition of The Canary.

Having spent most of my professional life working in various roles for the Beeb, I can say with some authority that if the BBC has a bias problem at all, it’s in tempering the liberal left leaning political correctness of many of its employees – me included!!

Facts aside, media blaming is not only artery-cloggingly lazy, it’s deeply patronising.

It’s all the right wing media‘ also translates as: ‘I’m a smart left-winger, me, and I know the facts! Not just that, I have the inside on Absolute Truth and I’m completely impervious to factual distortion, propaganda or media bias of any kind. The trouble with Everyone Else is that they’re gullible and stupid and will believe anything they’re told.’ 

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Or alternatively Noam, the ‘general population’ is made up of people just as individual as you who are perfectly well aware of ‘what is happening’ because it’s about the life as they live it and they don’t need you patronising them.

I’ve spent the best part of thirty years working in different media, and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that people are smart. They’re media savvy and two steps ahead of pretty much anything you throw at them. As a species, we interpret the world through our environment, and what actually happens to us. We’re naturally impervious and resistant to being told what to think. Margaret Thatcher didn’t put swirling spirals on our TVs and brainwash the nation into becoming economically self interested. She sold everyone their council houses. Policy not propaganda. The NHS has near universal support not because there is a deep ideological understanding of the ideological virtues of collectivised social care, but because the reality of having to pay out when you get ill is bloody terrifying.

Of course propaganda has a considerable and ignominiously successful history, but that same history also tells us that propaganda in its purest form requires all counter narratives to be ruthlessly suppressed as well. Much as John Humphreys interrupting interviewees on The Today Programme is annoying, it’s hardly the Stalinist airbrush at work. When I hear the confused cry of the BBC-Blamer, what I’m actually hearing is a charge that the BBC weren’t propagandist enough. It’s not enough for Auntie to present a range of arguments – as they were at pains to do throughout the EU referendum – THEY NEED TO TELL PEOPLE WHICH ARGUMENTS ARE WRONG!! BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE TOO STUPID TO WORK THAT OUT FOR THEMSELVES.

Let’s flip this. Next time millions of people say something you don’t like, reject the urge to write it off to Rupert Murdoch or Laura Kuenssberg – try it! – you’ll be taking your fingers out of your ears and actually listening. What do you hear? Perhaps, in the case of the EU, it’s something like this: ‘We’ve got a problem here and we can’t be reasoned out of it with abstractions. We need government to engage with how we feel and DO something. We certainly don’t need anyone telling us that either a) we’re imagining it or b) we’ve been tricked into having thoughts that aren’t really our own or c) we’re morally out to lunch for even talking about it.

And as for the right wing media conspiracy against He That Is Corbyn, it’s not enough that we have wall-to-wall John McDonnell, Diane Abbott, Paul Mason, Emily Thornberry, Len McLuskey, Owen Jones, Richard Bourgon, Rachel Shabi and assorted Momentum wonks we’ve never heard of – apparently the BBC NEEDS TO TELL PEOPLE THAT OUR GUYS ARE RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING AND STOP ASKING THEM DIFFICULT QUESTIONS!

Media-blaming is predicated on conspiracy paranoia coupled with an archaic and belittling assumption that there’s a lumpen proletariat waiting to be woken from its ignorant slumber. And as with all conspiracy thinking, it’s impossible to disprove – the perfect mindset for the lazy thinker; the Goblin Teasmade of political analysis.

Goblin Teasmade

The perfect way to deliver lukewarm political opinion without ever having to get out of bed (PS If you’re too young to know what this is… well… I feel sorry for you!)

(NB the reader should be aware that I have been accused on the 38Degrees Facebook page of being in receipt of ‘brown envelopes’ full of cash, courtesy of the BBC, in return for my eloquent posts on social media defending BBC journalistic objectivity.
I cannot disprove this
.)

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Just some of the kickbacks I receive for my efforts on social media

‘And at number seven…’

7) ‘All those MPs who oppose Jeremy Corbyn – they’re just Red Tories / Pink Tories / Tory-lite /self serving careerist Blairites…’

This one extends beyond MPs to anyone – such as myself – who might express anything other than rapturous adoration for His Jeremyness.

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Whatever you say, mate

As someone who first joined the Labour Party back in 1978 – yes that’s 38 years ago folks! – and left it for several years precisely because of Tony Blair’s foreign policy – I’m not going to waste time on the well rehearsed factual exposition as to why neither I nor any of those MPs can be accurately described as Tory – pink, red, ‘lite’ or otherwise. Some may have been allies of the former Prime Minister – but frankly I’m not sure that ‘Blairite’ really means anything any more. I mean, he’s been out of the picture for 8 years, and it’s not as if he’s waiting in the wings for his glorious return to power. And as for being careerist… yeah, I’m sure that all those who cast their vote of no confidence against were expecting immediate preferment to… to… what exactly?

Oh hang on a minute, they all know that they risk deselection and unemployment. No career benefit whatsoever. Presumably they feel that the chances of deselection are marginally less than the political oblivion they fear from a continued Corbyn leadership. Hardly self serving.

So, let’s get off our arses and fix that door that’s been squeaking for the last year and talk about why this oft repeated mantra is so synapse-paralysingly lazy.

What this particularly tedious generalisation does is close down the argument. It’s a way of not having to actually deal with any of the analysis – no matter how forensic – that might criticise Corbyn’s leadership. Once someone is labeled a Pink Tory or whatever, all intelligent discourse ceases at that point. ‘They’re closet Tories – therefore they’re bastards – corrupt – they have suspect motives. End of. No discussion required.’

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That’s that sorted, then

It has the same mentality behind it as racism. Yes, you heard right – it’s the same mentality as racism: ‘They’re black, they’re eastern european, they’re catholic, protestant, Jewish… they’re Tory (even though they’re not). They have a set of characteristics that I DON’T LIKE and therefore don’t warrant any intelligent engagement. And because they’re ‘other’ – they’re bad other – I am better in every way, my views are automatically credible where theirs are beneath contempt, and what’s more, because they are scum, I don’t even need to explain myself.

It’s not the same as racism – that’s not what I’m saying – but the thought process that underlies it follows the same principles. Lazy – just like racism.

‘Guess what, Pop-pickers – number seven is a double A-side with number six!’

6) ‘All Tories are bastards’

This also manifests as: ‘All Tories are public schoolboys, driven by greed, selfish c*nts’ and other increasingly bile-infused epithets.

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All Tories look like this. All of them. Every single one.

More recently the same style of unthinking generalisation has been applied to Brexit voters who are regularly described as ‘knuckle dragging little Englanders‘ or the less nuanced ‘ignorant racist twats‘.

Oh God, I feel tired.

Whether or not a proportion of Tories are some, or indeed, all of these isn’t the issue. Ditto Brexit voters.

On the plus side, at least here we are talking about people who actually are Tories or voted for the Conservatives – so far, so accurate – ring the bells!! – but that’s as good as it gets. Over eleven million people voted for the Conservatives in 2015. Seventeen million voted for Brexit. If we’re going to write them all off as political pond life then not only do we wave goodbye to any hope of electoral success in the future, but, as with the flip side of this chart topper (Number Five above) we stop thinking; we stop listening; we close down the argument. We label the opposition as ‘non-people’ and a proto-racist mindset rears its head again.

If we, on the left, want to win an election in the future, we can’t do that without persuading non tribal voters – i.e. those who have voted Conservative but aren’t committed Conservative party supporters – and we are absolutely not going to achieve that by telling them that they are all selfish, ignorant cunts.

We have to listen and accept that people have good reasons for preferring a Tory manifesto to a Labour one. And yes – there are plenty of good reasons. I know many kind and generous people who do fantastic work for the community, who voted Conservative in 2015 because, for example, they were self employed or run small businesses and simply felt that their livelihoods were at risk under a Labour administration. Others simply didn’t trust Labour with the economy – not because they ‘fell’ for Tory propaganda, but because Labour didn’t make a good enough case. There were many who really wanted that EU referendum – which only the Tories were offering – and as we have learned, if we’ve been paying attention, wanting out of the EU is most definitely not ‘all about racism’.

The EU – or rather our administration of the EU – has failed millions of people – especially on the margins of our society. If the EU means, in reality – I mean in practical every day reality – that hundreds of thousands of people are priced out of jobs in their own communities – then it’s the EU’s fault for not addressing that, and frankly we shouldn’t have been so surprised when those voters chose the Leave option. It’s not knuckle dragging, it’s not racist, it’s not ignorant – it’s startlingly rational, and it’s our fault for not listening, for not seeing that truck thundering down the road to knock us flat.

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Shame we didn’t see this heading our way…

Of course some people consider themselves more nuanced. They eschew direct abuse and come out with things like: ‘Voting Tory is immoral’.

Ugh. In some ways this is worse. It’s patronising. It’s arrogant. It assumes a moral righteousness that suggests that a vote for the conservatives is offending a higher power, offending an absolute sense of right and wrong. It says we have the universal forces of righteousness on our side. Frankly you might as well throw God into the argument – indeed some MEMEs like to claim Jesus for the cause as I’m sure anyone reading this will have seen.

Well, sure, some Conservative policies are arguably immoral, but the voter isn’t immoral for choosing that option. It’s a democracy folks, and it’s about winning arguments, persuasion, context, and the nuts and bolts of choosing who the voter thinks will do the best job of actually running the place. If our side loses it’s not because the other voters were stupid or immoral – people don’t vote for abstract reasons – it’s because we didn’t win the argument, we didn’t make that fundamental connection with the electorate’s day-to-day concerns.

And if we want to win next time, we’re not going to do that by suggesting that the millions of voters we need to change their minds should do so to avoid a further moral transgression.

On a final note about the self defeating nature of lazy, knee jerk name calling – take a look over the fence. Conservative politicians may well express a fair degree of scorn for Labour or socialist policies, but you will rarely, if ever, hear them deriding the electorate for their choices.

Why not? Because they want their votes.

‘And a new entry at number five!’

5) ‘Frankie Boyle nails it…’ 

No he doesn’t. Nor does The Canary. Nor does any blog or website or documentary with ‘Truth’ in the title, even if it’s by Paul Mason, and especially if Adam Curtis is involved.

I can’t be arsed to explain why…. (See what I did there?)

Actually I can – that’s what this whole blog is about.

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Curtis’s films are predicated on rubbishing all pre-existing counter narratives so his own contorted version of reality can have free reign. It’s a form of propaganda in itself.

But specifically, on this point, in my experience, people who claim to be telling you The Truth – with a capital T and a capital T – are usually telling you what to think.

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Paul Mason – the avuncular Leader’s finger-pointing-footsoldier-in-chief. Mason especially favours jabbing his finger when he’s telling us The Truth.

It’s called propaganda.

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What is it with the Corbyn lobby and finger jabbing?

‘And a non-mover at number four’:

4) ‘New Labour failed because it was just Tory policy in disguise.’

A rudimentary look at policies enacted under a succession of governments of different colours will show any reader within minutes if not seconds that this is plain daft and counter factual. I’m not going to list the wide spectrum of policy outcomes that prove this. No, really, I’m not going to – get off your arse and wiki it, or maybe just, like… ‘remember’.

If the generaliser isn’t being wilfully revisionist then their only excuse is laziness.

Again, it’s about closing down discussion. Rather than assess the pros and cons, successes and failures of policy over many years – (yup, some things work, some don’t, some things work in part… and guess what, you have to take time and thought and effort and compromises and negotiation to work out how to improve and build on successes) – it’s effectively saying ‘anything that comes from Blair, Brown or Miliband is all crap‘ – and taking a short cut to the bogus conclusion that if all other Labour policy is, in effect, Tory policy, therefore Corbyn’s Policies must be the only proper Labour ones – which in turn leads to the other annoyingly unsustainable assertion that Jeremy Corbyn has Real Labour Values/is a True Socialist/embodies the soul of the Labour Movement etc etc and erroneous etc).

Not only does this make very little sense but it rubbishes the hard work of hundreds of people who have, themselves, made real and positive changes to society in successive Labour administrations. It’s insulting to the collective nature of the Labour Movement and smacks of idolatry. And when I say that the distinguishing policies of recent Labour administrations are ‘real’ I’m talking about REAL insofar as they actually HAPPENED. That kind of real – not the kind of real that isn’t actually real at all.

The high end version of ‘New Labour’s the same as the Tories’ is to dismiss all non-Corbynite Labour policy as ‘slavishly adhering to the Neoliberal consensus‘.

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Ironic propaganda is still propaganda

There’s nothing that makes my heart sink in a political discussion like the brandishing of the bloody ‘Neoliberal Consensus’.

Ok, so yes, neoliberalism is a thing, but again and again I hear it brought into conversations with the same swivel eyed certainty that Jennifer Lawrence uses in American Hustle when she talks about her microwave as The Science Oven. It’s an impressive economic term – and economics is a science, right? – so it’s, like, using science to prove a point!

Perhaps it’s the addition of the word ‘consensus’ that really grates – as if ‘everyone we disagree with’ has an identical understanding of/belief in free market economics. They don’t. They really don’t. Favoured levels of economic intervention fluctuate hugely – not just between Labour and Conservative, but within the parties themselves.

So…. consensus? What consensus?

Deciding there is a consensus makes the rubbishing counter arguments fabulously easy. If anyone who acknowledges that the UK has to operate within the context of global markets and capital can be dismissed as a disciple of neoliberalism – and thus little better than a nostril flaring, lip curling Thatcherite – then yet again any kind of proper engagement with real world complexity is closed down.

If you follow the blanket fingers-in-the-ears eschewing of all things neoliberal through to its logical conclusion, it posits a Corbyn run UK trying to function outside of global market economics altogether. You don’t have to be a disciple of Reagenomics to think that this might be a tad challenging… although I suppose North Korea is something of a role model.

Using the Neoliberal tag as an intellectual fire blanket is lazy. Working out how to interact with market forces in the interests of social justice is hard work… and unavoidable.

‘And another new arrival at number three!’

3) ‘Look at the size of Jeremy’s crowd!’

Do I have to? Really? Another picture on Social Media of JC addressing the multitudes…

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‘He’s not the Messiah – he’s a very naughty boy!’

…as if it proves anything except that all the people who agree with him have assembled in one place, and that the 72% of voters who aren’t so keen didn’t turn up. Much has been written about this – Owen Jones’s contribution being perhaps the most eloquent.

I don’t have much to add, except that a few years back the Marmoset spent two years researching a project about Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s. In a divided Britain, torn apart by the poverty of the depression, Mosley’s brand of Socialism – National Socialism – was seductive, energising, and attracted enthusiastic disciples in their tens of thousands. Mosley packed out the Albert Hall several times, and in 1934 he packed out Olympia with 11,000 adoring supporters. This was quite an achievement in the days before social media or inter-city pendolinos.

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A still from Oswald Mosley’s Instagram account

Luckily the rest of the country weren’t so keen.

Calm down!! Don’t have an aneurysm. I’m not making some ridiculous parallel between Mosley’s politics and Jeremy Corbyn. I am, however, making a point about the folly of obsessing about the size of your crowd. Mosley and his supporters were convinced he was far more popular than he was, but the BUF never got an MP into parliament, nor a single representative onto the London County Council.

So what were those rallies supposed to do?

They were a demonstration of strength; of unity; of a new movement coming together resolved to transform society; and, most of all, they were a demonstration of adulation for their inspirational Leader.

And then ask yourself: How does the picture of that crowd make you feel?

Scared.

From a post holocaust perspective we carelessly assume that was its intention – to spread fear – but I’ve spent many long hours in the Mosley Archive at Birmingham University and that’s not entirely the case. Mosley wanted to inspire people, and prove that his was a movement rooted in – and working for – the people.

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Look familiar?

But the BUF leader learned – as does every person who aspires to political leadership – that it’s how you engage with those who DON’T agree with you that determines your success or failure. It’s a lot harder than addressing a crowd of cheering supporters. That’s the lazy option.

I fully appreciate that making reference to Mosley in this context will be considered wilfully provocative by some, but the reason I very specifically choose to do so, is to make the point, as vividly as I can, that gathering a crowd of people who agree with you – no matter how large – does not, in itself, signify oncoming political success, and neither does it in any way mean that you have ‘Right’ on your side.

Eighty years later, that Olympia picture still has the power to creep us out. Maybe bear that in mind the next time you post a picture of Jeremy’s Massive Throng.

‘Knocking on the door at Number Two’:

2) ‘They haven’t given him a chance!’

It’s absolutely fair to say that some of us were never too keen from the word go, but while I’ve been writing this, Alex Andreou has posted the definitive blog from the point of view of someone who started out a devoted follower and whose faith in The Big C has been severely dented over the last year.

There’s not a lot I can add to Andreou’s deft analysis and his clear assertion that Jeremy is the leader – he has to earn his place – earn our respect – win over the doubters – and that the continual buck-passing doesn’t hold water. This is front line politics. No one owes you any favours. You don’t get let off the hook until you prove yourself. Take a look at Theresa May… whether or not you agree with her, and despite the mistakes and mis-steps, she has made a point of hitting the ground snarling and letting the whole country know who is most definitely in charge.

But the buck passing by the Corboscenti is fascinating. How many times do we bay for someone’s blood – be they a government minister, a director of social services, the head of a bank, or the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, or the DG of the BBC…? The failings may be occurring in the lower ranks, but the head honcho has to take the rap. Obvs!

But not our Jerrybubs. My favourite recently came from a friend who said: ‘But it’s not fair to criticise Corbyn, he’s just been left with Labour at a bad time.’ That’s a charitable variation. More commonly Corbyn’s woes are laid fairly and squarely at the door of mysterious and often unnamed Blairite plotters; the Parliamentary Labour Party for not supporting him; in fact literally anyone but Jeremy himself – and if Labour are languishing in the polls it’s because they were determined to undermine him from the off.

Even if a small number in the PLP were so inclined (see above), if the party tears itself apart under his leadership then it’s HIS responsibility. He’s the leader, it’s his job to fix it. That’s what leadership is.

Meanwhile any achievements by the opposition are triumphs for Team Corbo, as if somehow it’s possible to be responsible for all the good bits and the failures are automatically someone else’s fault…

…that’s if you even buy into the boasts of success the Corbyn camp like to repeat so often, as Alex Andreou so deftly enunciates:

…those by-elections were in safe Labour seats. The London mayoral election had to actively distance itself from Corbyn. Outperforming the government in your first year as opposition leader, by losing marginally fewer councils than they did, is a terrible sign by any metric. And what about Labour finishing third in the Scottish election?
Reversals to tax credits were primarily down to Tory backbench unrest and disability cuts down to a superb defence by the Labour Lords team – most of them Blairites – both on a shadow brief led by none other that the much-reviled Owen Smith. The fiscal target u-turn was abandoned by Osborne the day after Theresa May, the then frontrunner for PM, said she didn’t support it.
Labour’s dreadful performance in the polls is put exclusively down to the PLP “coup”. Even though Labour was declining long before it, hitting its peak (and never actually ahead on average) in April. Corbyn himself encourages this myth. “We were ahead in the polls in May”, he said in yesterday’s hustings – an outright lie.

This is by far the worst period in Labour’s history in my thirty-eight years of political life, and it’s happened on Corbyn’s watch.

To be fair, this chart topper doesn’t quite fit in my bottom ten lazies – it actually takes quite a lot of effort to keep coming up with all these excuses.

‘And the one you’ve all been waiting for… this week’s surprise Number One…!’

1) ‘But Clement Attlee didn’t have charisma…’

You might not have seen this too often, but it does crop up in various versions from time to time – a suggested correlation between Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Prime Minister 1945-51, who introduced the National Health Service, nationalised a raft of industries, and set a socially conscious state centred political agenda (the Keynesian post war consensus if you want a real consensus to chew on) for a generation until Margaret Thatcher started to disassemble it in 1979.

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A visionary Labour Leader who changed British Society… and Jeremy Corbyn

Yes, it’s true, Clement Attlee was perceived by many as having something of a charisma vacuum. Winston Churchill was famously alleged to have quipped: ‘An empty taxi arrived at 10 Downing Street, and when the door was opened, Attlee got out.’

But there the similarity ends. Attlee, for those who don’t know, led the Labour Party for twenty years. He held ministerial office under Ramsay MacDonald and crucially was Deputy Prime Minister under Winston Churchill – a Tory – from 1942 to 1945, running much of the domestic agenda while Churchill got on with winning the war.

Attlee was an administrator, a negotiator, a fixer, a highly practical political operator with a keen sense of which allegiances and compromises needed to be made in order to operate effectively – an experienced politician who won the trust of the nation after years of public service. He was most definitely not a pacifist and certainly not a unilateralist.

Churchill later vehemently denied saying any such thing about Attlee with whom he’d worked successfully and respected hugely – demonstrating that truly talented leaders look beyond their own tribe when honouring the democratic mandate at the highest level.

Jeremy Corbyn refused to share a platform with David Cameron in order to help keep the country in the EU.

If you want to find a twentieth century parallel for Jeremy Corbyn take a look at this guy.

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George Lansbury – Labour Leader 1932-35 – whose main legacy to society is… Murder She Wrote

Never heard of him…?

Exactly.

When I read people comparing Jeremy Corbyn to Clement Attlee it’s like watching history being spray canned by the world’s least literate graffiti artist. It’s the ultimate laziness. The laziness of people who can’t even be bothered to read a book.

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If you’ve got this far – and there should be prizes for anyone who has – you are anything but indolent! – the reader might be feeling a bit irked by the confrontational and downright narky tone of some of the Marmoset’s chart rundown. Even if I’m not actually calling people with whom I disagree ‘lazy’, admonishing their political reasoning as such is equally high handed.

Maybe. But there’s one oft repeated generalised mantra that probably deserved the lifetime achievement award for vague and unthought through general verbiage:

‘Say what you like about Jeremy Corbyn, the guy has stimulated a vital debate on the left…’

At the heart of this blog is the proposition that he has done exactly the opposite.

Yes, he has shunted the Labour Party to the left, but that’s not the same as a debate.

While the centre and centre-left tries (and fails) to get back to a serious programme for wresting power from the Conservatives, the Corbyn left is mired in a choking smog of self adulation and mind numbing political reductiveness. He hasn’t stimulated the debate – he’s paralysed it.

So, pop pickers, calling this kind of thinking ‘lazy’ is actually about as forgiving as I can manage right now.

Life’s complicated. You can’t always get what you want. Getting stuff done is hard. Really, really hard. We have to keep asking questions and not be afraid of difficult answers… or not getting an answer at all. We have to keep listening – to everyone – especially those we disagree with most – and more than that, address the difficult decisions we have to make if we actually want to get anything done.

As a writer I start every day, every line of dialogue, every declaration of my convictions by wondering whether everything I believe in could be wrong.

It’s bloody knackering.

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‘Not ‘arf, pop pickers!’

Green Room – Intelligent, Stomach Churning, and Alarmingly Not Post-Modern At All

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Oh my giddy Tia Maria, if you can handle the stomach churning, super realist violence, then Green Room is a fascinating film…

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In Green Room a struggling punk/thrash metal band are booked to play the gig from hell

…especially if you’re of the generation that grew up with the early movies of Walter Hill (Southern Comfort, Streets of Fire). Hill was in his turn a son of Peckinpah – notably with movies like Straw Dogs – and to a lesser extent John Boorman (with arguably his one really decent outing, Deliverance).

These films are usually considered cultural responses – metaphors perhaps – for the Vietnam conflict, where seemingly inexplicable violence is played out in a frontier or backwoods setting – and follow a hunter vs the hunted scenario. 

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In 1981, the sub text was all too clear…

In the 60s, 70s and 80s, they were very much seen as manifestations of the uncertainty and anxiety, guilt, despair and anger concerning the war. Writers and directors were constantly demanding that audiences imagine that the war was HERE – taking place in domestic America – not ‘far, far away’ in some foreign, forgettable land. So far, so cinematically allegorical.

So wind forward forty years to Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. On the surface, this is a smart, gritty 95 minutes of exploitation horror… and it is full of nods to its cinematic antecedents – not just those Vietnam era pursuit movies, but teen horror, Children of the Corn, zombie films, even Scooby Doo in a very very dark way.

But then something truly fascinating happens.

Normally such ‘nods’ are post modern, ironic, reassuring. But here, the movie makes the nod, but then defiantly, stubbornly refuses to be funny or post modern at all. It uses irony to be un-ironic, post-modernism to be un-postmodern. It uses the form of the Vietnam allegory, to be completely unallegorical. The domestic war depicted in Green Room, is just that. This is a Trump era movie about America tearing itself to bits. It’s not an allegory for anything.

The antagonists aren’t psychopaths, or inbred, deformed, undead, ‘hillbillies’, Southern (!) or ‘foreign’. 

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They are very ordinary looking (hard) right wing Americans from the Pacific North West – no more no less.

Arghhh!  It is all the more original and alarming because of it.  

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Well… I’m a Brit looking across the pond so perhaps US friends will happily say I don’t know shit. But that’s how it looked to me…

…and I really liked it, if ‘like’ is the right word.

 

Aimless or Neo-Totalitarian? The Empty Persecution of Laura Kuenssberg

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So… 38 Degrees have dropped their petition to have BBC Political Editor, Laura Kuenssberg, sacked for alleged bias against Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

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The petition kept popping up on my Facebook feed – often posted by people I consider to be friends, and, just as often, accompanied by offensive and indirectly sexist comments. I didn’t just disagree – as a writer, and occasional journalist myself – I was viscerally alarmed.

I complained three times to 38 Degress about the petition, but despite the pledges on their feedback pages, never received any kind of acknowledgement or reply.

I argued that it brought the campaigning organisation into disrepute. The sexism and misogyny was indeed a primary issue, but sadly neither David Babbs – nor the short sighted and/or neo-totalitarian types who signed this thing – understand the fundamental problem with targeting a specific journalist – regardless of gender. Personally – speaking as someone who follows unhealthy amounts of political journalism – she doesn’t appear to be in any way biased. She’s a journalist equally likely to report on splits in the Tory party (as she has done many, MANY times; there is far more coverage of right wing splits in relation to the EU referendum at the moment in the UK), the Lib-Dems, UKIP etc as she would with the very real splits in the Labour party. She’s a political editor – it’s her job to report this stuff, the problem won’t go away if Laura Kuenssberg doesn’t mention it. Not when senior party members are battling it out on Twitter.

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The Labour Party hardly needs Laura Kuenssberg to advertise their splits…

But this isn’t the point.

If someone watching a BBC News item is unhappy with with the way something is reported, then the thing to do is to take it up with BBC News, and question editorial policy overall (by the way, they will reply to you). That’s perfectly fine, and the right of the UK license fee payer. Indeed that kind of public accountability is fundamental to the way the BBC works. You certainly don’t have that kind of direct accountability in most other areas of journalism.

BUT – and it’s a massive swollen arse of a ‘but(t)’ – targeting individual journalists is a completely different matter.

Think about it – especially anyone reading this blog who signed this thing – what is the BBC supposed to do? Let’s just imagine that 38 Degrees had submitted this petition. How would you expect the BBC to react?

Treat it with the contempt it deserves, hopefully. They would have to.

Because obviously if the BBC did start sacking journalists because of public pressure exerted by specific interest groups, what message would that send?

The reason totalitarian regimes censor, sack, blacklist, imprison – or even execute – individual journalists who report or say things they don’t like, is to send a message to every other journalist that the reporting they do must fit a pre-determined political agenda – otherwise they’ll be out of a job. It’s a form of intimidation and bullying from which anyone who believes in free speech – and indeed, a fair and just society – should absolutely disassociate themselves.

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Are these the values of the new activist left? I sincerely hope not.

But there’s something else going on here. For most of my lifetime the most vociferous braying – accusing the BBC of bias – has come from the right of British politics, insistent that the BBC is staffed by an army of vegetarian, politically correct pinkos (amongst which I count myself – although I’m not a vegetarian).

Ironically, as someone who has spent much of his professional career working in a range of capacities for the organisation, there is actually some truth in this – ! – although BBC journalists and other creatives take a lot of pride in their ability to stick rigorously to the corporation’s much vaunted principles of impartiality. Perhaps too much sometimes. When I first worked for the BBC, I spent a day observing at the World Service and was moved to tears by the dedication of the journalists there to report fairly on regimes who had certainly not treated them fairly before they had come to the UK. The BBC doesn’t always get it right, but there’s something infectious and almost obsessional about those values within the organisation, certainly, as I have experienced it.

But these days, the main chorus of disapproval comes from certain elements within the Corbyn left – not Corbyn himself, I hasten to add.

So what’s this about?  Is there something just plain nasty lurking here? Well… there may be in places – there’s definitely a few old Trots and Militant types who have hitched themselves to the Corbyn bandwagon – but I genuinely don’t think that’s the issue.

I think this is about a lack of purpose at the heart of the Corbyn project. It’s a movement that has lost its way to such a degree that it feels it can be shaken off course by a BBC journalist reporting on internal party splits. Surely if Corbyn had anything about him, he would be leading the agenda, and a few negative stories would be neither here, nor indeed, there. Cameron is repeatedly ridiculed by factions on the left and right, and I would argue that one reason he is such a canny survivor – and indeed successful – as a politician is because he refuses to be rattled by such stuff. Love him, hate him – he’s ‘the guy’ and he’s getting on with it. Plus he’s very good at laughing at himself.

Jeremy Corbyn has an oft stated objective of motivating an unseen army of people who currently don’t vote. So far, so noble. But check out what happened yesterday (Wednesday 11th May 2016) at Prime Minister’s Questions. He led on two questions about the ‘Workers Posted Directive’.

No, I had no idea what that meant either.

Neither did Andrew Neil nor Jo Coburn, on the BBC’s Daily Politics, who had to Google it live on air.

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Jo Coburn & Andrew Neil as bemused as ‘Martin from Stockport’

Kuenssberg to her credit did actually know something about it – and thought it was a decent – if obscure – issue to raise. Jo Coburn then said they were getting lots of texts and tweets expressing similar confusion, and read out an email from ‘Martin in Stockport’ declaring that he ‘was a political junkie but still had no idea what the Labour Leader was talking about’. Yup folks, that was me.

That detail aside, it’s a visceral demonstration of how lost Corbyn is.

When people say we have to stop carping and get behind the Labour Leadership – I ask: ‘Get behind what?’  Corbyn’s stinging campaign to support the Workers Posted Directive – which may well be important, but apparently affects 0.7% of EU workers?  Seriously?  Even after Andrew Neil explained it I still didn’t understand it. Are we supposed to believe that the serried ranks of the disenfranchised will be stirred to the barricades by Jezza’s uncompromising stance on the issue?

‘What do we want???’
‘The Workers Posted Directive!!’
‘When do we want it???’
‘Back-dated to April 1st!!!’

But worse was to come. In the same PMQs, after wishing David Attenborough a happy birthday, Corbyn omitted to congratulate Sadiq Khan for his amazing (centrist?) victory in London last week – leaving a back bencher (whose name I can’t remember), Tim Fallon (leader of the Liberal Democrats) and indeed David Cameron himself to hand out the plaudits to Khan.

Here was a golden opportunity to big-up the broad Labour tent and absolutely slam Cameron for backing Zac Goldsmith’s dog whistle racism last week. But for some reason, Corbyn opted to go big on the Workers Posted Directive… and snub his new, extremely popular Labour mayor on the week’s most high profile platform for any leader of the opposition.

This wasn’t just missing an open goal…. this was missing an open goal when the other team had pissed off to the pub and left the field completely undefended.

If you are reading this – and you are someone who believes passionately in a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn – then perhaps concentrate on developing that message into something coherent around which we can all coalesce. The electorate don’t owe him their support. And I, as a (more or less) lifelong Labour member don’t owe Jezza my support. Wasting your energy trying to get a female journalist sacked is not only reactionary in the extreme – but it demonstrates that there isn’t enough going on at the heart of the project. If Corbyn was truly inspirational, then you wouldn’t care what Laura Kuenssberg said. You’d be selling his message… whatever that is. I mean, I really don’t know any more.

Winners  don’t complain about the opposition, or the crowd, or, indeed, the commentators. They win because they are good at what they do, and they rise above any obstacles put in their way.

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The Marmoset Picks The Nits Out Of Taxation

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WARNING!  SOME OF THE FOLLOWING IS ABOUT TAX LAW!!!
PS THERE AREN’T MANY JOKES

Some years ago, when I was pulling in a more than decent six figure whack from my travails in the TV writing industry, my lovely accountant (you know who you are!) lobbied me pretty intensively with regard to ‘incorporating’ myself. For those unfamiliar with this concept – essentially it meant turning myself into a company – Martin Jameson Ltd – subject to beneficial rates of corporation tax – and then paying myself from the dividends, thereby reducing my tax liability by thousands of pounds every year.

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All this from just a few episodes of Emmerdale Farm!!

This was a completely legal form of tax avoidance – although I think the tax benefits have shifted a bit these days – and a commonplace amongst many media professionals. It went on all the time and no one thought much about it.

Well I thought about it – very seriously – but on balance I decided that a) it sounded like an awful lot of hassle (which would have been one reason my lovely accountant was keen as he would ‘take care of it’… for a very competitive fee of course) and b) as a democratic socialist earning a decent fist, I actually wanted to pay my fair share of tax from which my health care, kids’ education, state infrastructure etc was paid. So far, so virtuous.

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This is what I looked like when I decided not to incorporate

Many of my contemporaries – including several who would regularly tout their working class lefty credentials – chose to exploit this completely legal method of reducing their personal tax liability.

Of course all self employed media hobbits exploit a well established system of tax avoidance.  We run our own businesses, work from home, provide all our own working materials, pay for all our own research, buy our own heel balm and hairy foot coiffure etc etc… and so quite reasonably the costs of these items are not subject to tax at whatever is our highest rate. The list of things we can legitimately claim for is decided upon and constantly reviewed by the bods at HMRC.

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Hobbits can legitimately claim for foot care products

But tax avoidance it most definitely is – as opposed to tax evasion, which is illegal – and until a couple of years ago no one batted an eyelid. But now multi-nationals are keeping their patents off shore and their UK franchises pay royalties to those ‘parent’ companies equal to any taxable profits here where they make their cash – and hospitals are starved of it. And Prime Ministers’ fathers set up – completely legal – offshore funds, and offer their kids a chunk, who profit from the tax free status, and everyone goes MEME crazy on Facebook.

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So is one form of tax avoidance ‘better’ than another – more, or less, morally acceptable?

Going back to the arcane tediosity of being a self employed scribbler, did I, having made my goody-two-shoes decision to pay self employed income tax as per normal, stand sanctimoniously in judgement of my colleagues who chose a less taxing route?

No. Absolutely not. It was completely legal and a matter of personal choice. Pay unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and if Caesar says incorporating is ok, then clearly Caesar has factored that in. Caesar can make that illegal if he wants to. However, interestingly, in recent years, anyone openly declaring their left wing credentials is a lot more wary about going down the incorporation path. It’s starting to be seen as a bit iffy.

So what about the other more aggressive forms of tax avoidance? Are they ‘worse’?

Well, the argument runs that the problem with the ‘Starbucks’ strategy, or the offshore tax haven strategy is that, although they are legal, they are essentially inequitable. You can only do these things if you have shed loads of dosh in the first place – so therefore the law is structured so that the very wealthy have opportunities to reduce their tax liability that aren’t available to the rest of us on more meagre incomes – even the hobbits.

So is it right to lambast those wealthy types for their moral vacuity, hypocrisy, greed etc for exploiting these tax loopholes? Should David Cameron be drummed out of office for some shares in his Dad’s company he owned ten years ago?

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‘Thanks for the money, Dad’ – ‘Keep it under your Panama hat, son’

Of course, everyone’s entitled to an opinion, and it’s certainly emblematic of the way that inequality is written into the statutes of our society at a very deep level, but I can’t help thinking that the individuals aren’t really the issue.

This is about law in a democratic society.

I’ve attempted, here, to find some kind of dividing line to delineate where I think tax avoidance moves from the sensible to the poisonously inequitable – but I’ve certainly met people who are astonished, even outraged that I can set a percentage of my telephone costs off against tax, or travel for work purposes, or paper, or books and DVDs I use in my research, theatre and cinema trips, many other things…  Depending on your starting point, everybody’s bottom line in the tax-sand is different.

Which is why we have a democracy, and we vote in a government, and we accept that the majority wins, whether we agree with them or not, and they get to make the laws for the time they are in office. Democracy isn’t about taking EVERYONE’s opinions into account. That’s chaos. We do the voting thing precisely to avoid that chaos.

So if we don’t like the way Starbucks behaves, or the Ian Camerons of this world, then, sure, have a pop, but the only practical, useful, meaningful thing is to lobby – in order actually DO something about what happens next – to change the law itself.

The problem with throwing mud at someone for exploiting the law as it stands, or stood in the past, is that then we are asking individuals, or companies, to make a subjective decision about what tax they should pay, as if there’s a sort of instinctive right and wrong about this stuff. It’s predicated on the idea that there is some kind of natural ‘common sense’, a moral law, that everyone’s agreed upon.

There isn’t, and they aren’t. We aren’t!

And then it all gets mixed up with the background radiation that is social media’s distaste for anyone who has any cash at all – ! – unless, of course, it’s someone they like, such as a footballer or an artistic creative. But that’s a whole other blog…

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The German cartoonist George Grosz would have flourished in the age of social media!

It’s so very easy to be morally self-righteous, but moral self-righteousness is fundamentally subjective, so in the end we just have to decide as a country what we want to do and legislate for it – and not be surprised when individuals or companies work within the laws our democracy provides for them.

Although, of course some of us do make that subjective choice…

Excuse me while I go and polish my halo.

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The Marmoset reacts to Super Tuesday

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The morning after Super Tuesday, this very British Marmoset doesn’t know whether to laugh…

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Or cry.

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Whatever your politics, there’s something almost sad – even worrying – about seeing a major political party with a great historical tradition reduced to a laughing stock, as it is hi-jacked by a naive grass roots movement – albeit driven by angry disenfranchisement – drooling at their idol, fiercely oblivious to any criticism – demanding that they enter the next election led by a divisive figure, mocked by the public at large, and despised by almost all of his elected colleagues currently exercising their democratically elected mandate in the national government.

And then, of course, there’s the Republican Party in the US…

It’s a rum old world.