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…)

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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.

Home isn’t where the Inkheart is…

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Back in June, anyone following this blog might have spotted that this particular marmoset wasn’t overly enthusiastic about Walter Meierjohann’s inaugural production – The Funfair – at Manchester’s newly opened flagship gallery, cinema, theatre complex, Home.

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Not that it looks like a Swedish interiors store or anything…

Six months on, how goes it at the Home that is in fact no one’s home?

Come on own up? What wazzock focus group came up with ‘Home’ as a name for a theatre? The one thing I don’t want a theatre to be! Come out, come out, wherever you are! I will find you and when I do I will subject you to slow and painful torture. Where was I? Oh yes… how is Home getting along?

Well. I attend the five screen cinema on a regular basis. The programming is superb and the projection and sound are flawless. The screenings are always well attended. Clearly a huge success and a major improvement on the old Cornerhouse screens. Tick.

The gallery isn’t my thing…

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Even an arthound like me found this exhibition uninviting. Can’t think why.

…but seems to be doing ok from what I can tell; there are usually people wandering around it. Query tick..?

As a Home member, I get £1.50 off cinema tickets and ten per cent off food in the restaurant which has a more than decent menu (yummy beef ragu if you like your shredded brisket). Tick and tick.

So what about the theatre itself?

Watching (the first half) of Inkheart, the building’s first Christmas show for children and young people, barely two thirds full (Christmas week) with an entirely unresponsive audience, was a truly depressing experience. From the bottom of my heart I do not want this still-new theatre to fail – it needs to succeed – I want it to be a place of theatrical excellence, adventure and entertainment. Not a Home – but a Palace of Delights!

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The Funfair had enigmatic clowns in it which I confess I am predisposed to dislike

My old boss at the BBC used to say that you should always be able to find five positive things to say about any production you see, no matter how much you dislike it.

I’m sorry, Chris, I just can’t – but I promise you, Dear Reader, that I did not go there to hate it. I always go to the theatre hoping to be thrilled and transported. ALWAYS. Otherwise what’s the point?

Children’s Drama is to Theatre what veterinary science is to human medicine. A vet can treat a human being, but a GP shouldn’t be let loose on a pet. The imperatives of children’s theatre will expose any director’s shortcomings – or illustrate that they have a vibrant, empathetic theatrical heart beating away under the pretensions that might stifle their adult work. Harness those skills for the most uncompromising of all audiences – kids – and that director will shine at everything they do. It is the ultimate theatrical litmus test.

So I’m scrabbling round for those five things, but like a marmoset picking tics off his mate after they’ve been de-flead, I’m not getting anything tasty.

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Entertainment marmoset style

As a preface to everything I say, I want to emphasise that I’m not blaming the cast. I don’t know any of them personally, and I have no reason to suppose that they aren’t all perfectly good actors in any other situation. But here, they looked entirely lost, and, at times, as if they had given up hope, delivering lines as if they were a random assembly of words… language devoid of all meaning. It was quite surreal at times. After twenty minutes I leaned across to my companion and whispered: ‘Have you any idea what’s going on?’

Like a low energy bulb, my friend James was unable to throw light onto the situation.

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Eco friendly but lacking powers of illumination

Only Rachel Atkins as ‘eccentric-woman-in-France-with-a-gun’ (I had absolutely no idea who the character was) seemed to be up for the fight, throwing her heart and soul behind every meaningless sentence.

First up, the script, from Cornelia Funke’s children’s novel, adapted by director Meierjohann and Stephen Sharkey, showed not the faintest inkling of the responsibilities and specialist skills a writer needs when producing work for young people.

Broadly speaking, it’s about a girl – Meggie – whose Dad can make books come alive just by reading them. (Seriously, books coming alive? Toys coming alive? Fairy tales coming alive? The lack of originality of the idea makes me feel physically tired.) He demonstrates this by reading a passage from Treasure Island after which gold doubloons fall from the sky. He then picks up The Arabian Nights… which concerned me as quite a lot of that is about men growing supersized genitalia.

So it’s about Meggie… Or is it about a Dad who can make books come alive who has a daughter who follows him around asking questions and standing watching for pages on end?

There’s a bald Richard O’Brian stylie villain called Capricorn who wants something or other which involves destroying books, or something… Then there are two ‘broker’s men‘ with cod Italian accents. Why? No idea. Perhaps it was in the spirit of internationalism. Anyway the idea seemed to be that the accents alone would be hysterically funny.

They weren’t. No one laughed.

Add into the mix a post apocalyptic punk called Dustfinger…  There’s always at least one post apocalyptic punk in Mr Meierjohann’s productions. And a Narrator who was mic’d for some reason and described things we could see for ourselves… oh yes and a comedy Arab/Indian (?) Aladdin type with another funny accent.

Note to Arts Council, Manchester Council and the Association of Greater Manchester Arts Authorities: Is it really acceptable in 2015 to have an all white cast (one actor looked like he might possibly be of dual heritage) and have the one character of colour played by a white actor doing a racial stereotype?

So back to Meggie and her Dad. Whose story is it? The script has no idea. Usually in children’s drama you put the child – or the child equivalent – in the driving seat, pushing the action. You don’t leave them as not much more than a passenger on a journey, the objective of which I defy anyone to describe coherently. As I say, it was something to do with books…?

Oh and while we’re at it, the whole ‘book’ schtick…

Ok, let’s assume we’re all agreed that books are a GOOD THING… but wait a sec. This is 2015. What do we mean by books? Do we mean the tangible physical things with pages? Or is it the words and the content and the ideas – after all, more and more people read from Kindles and computers these days. Are we saying that absorbing literature through other delivery systems is somehow lesser? And what about other ways of absorbing literature? Is drama ‘lesser’? Films? Television?

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It’s 2015, you can’t assume that the ‘book’ as an iconic object means the same thing it did fifteen years ago

There was an assumption in this show that the physical book was the significant thing rather than the content… or at least these ideas were completely confused in the script. The reality of modern technology, and the means of delivery wasn’t addressed (by the way, the characters had smart phones, so it wasn’t as if it was set in a pre-Kindle age). It would have been really interesting to find a way to dramatise this; to look at why the book itself has an inherent value. Without addressing this, the play was throwing around a wishy washy pick ‘n’ mix of ‘worthy’ ideas, and actually came across as a form of alienating cultural snobbery.

If this seems pernickety – and perhaps it is – it’s because the story was so weak, and spent so much time signposting its ‘values’ that this audience member was forced to examine whether those ideas actually hung together.

No single character seemed to be driving the action. It was impossible to understand clearly what was at stake, or for whom, nor what the quest was. There is a missing mother to find, but Meggie’s loss of her mother is never dramatised (certainly not in the first half). Meggie is an entirely static character. She loves books at the beginning. She still loves books at the interval (which was as far as I got).  I suspect she was affirmed of her love of books at the end too. Nothing at stake. No arc. An entirely flat, aimless narrative.

This lack of focus persisted in every scene. Stuff sort of ‘happened’ but you had no idea where to look on stage, nor what anybody’s objective was at any point. It was as if it had been written and directed by someone who had been told about a mysterious art form called ‘theatre’ but had never quite got the hang of what ‘theatre’ actually is. So there is a stage, actors and a set, and some lines to say, but they have been assembled like a Billy bookcase without the instructions.

These narrative techniques can be learnt. What I would like to see from Walter Meierjohann is that he has an awareness that he has some way to go with this.

I wonder if he sees theatre as a plastic art rather than a temporal one. It would certainly explain why his shows lack pace, shape or tension, and have the air of ‘presentations’ rather than stories.

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Drama is expressed in relation to the progression of time, not simply the presentation of images on a stage.

He’s been (anecdotally) reported in public forums stating that (new) writing isn’t a primary concern for him at Home, that he sees his brief as being more of a theatre maker (although how you do the latter without a passion for the former escapes me).

Nowhere does the failure to respect the power of the word (monumentally ironic in a story about the value of books) open its Nietzschean abyss more than in this production’s failure to demonstrate anything resembling a sense of humour. As with The Funfair, there were occasional ‘gag’ lines… (if you count a passing reference to Shaddap-You-Face by Joe Dolce as a gag) but every single one in that first hour failed to land. And the more the gags tanked, the more you felt the actors’ confidence draining before your eyes.

Each time another ‘gag’ approached, the actors’ delivery accelerated as if they wanted to skip over the oncoming tumbleweed as quickly as possible… not helped by the cod Italian broker’s men. Apart from the fact that I couldn’t really work out who they were supposed to be, the accents meant that what lines they had were hard to understand and the gags such as they were got lost amidst the garbled vowels.

Why? WHY????? Why were they comedy Italians?

Breathe.

Let’s talk about the set.

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The opening image is a striking one. A huge rotating pile of books – maybe fifteen feet high in the centre of the stage. Great, I thought, that’s exciting…
…until it isn’t, because it stays there for the whole show (or at least the whole first half – I’m only reviewing that hour of the show – I’ll keep saying it, perhaps the second half was brilliant).

The problem with having a mountain of books in the centre of your stage is that it actually makes the playing space unusable. It takes ages to climb up and down the thing (the actors looking visibly nervous at times as they searched for footholds) and once you’re up there you can’t move. The book mountain is so big that when the actors are down on the stage itself they are either forced into ugly lines at the side or at the front, or they have to play upstage to whatever poor bugger is perched on the top of the books. The situation is made worse when a bloody great trap is opened downstage centre, leaving the actors literally nowhere to go but to hang around on the periphery like unwanted interlopers on a stage full of stuff and holes. As a piece of design it’s completely inept, demonstrating a woeful lack of basic stage craft by either the director, the designer or both.

And don’t get me started on the use of projection in place of painted cloths or physical structures – we saw a bit of it in Funfair as well – a visual trope that dominates the stage but simultaneously renders it flat, sterile and artless. Oh this isn’t some luddite prejudice on my behalf – it’s about the basics of stage craft. If you’re projecting an image onto a massive cloth, it necessitates a large amount of evenly distributed light. This flattens out the stage picture and makes it impossible to establish a spatial focus on the stage, nor any tactile sense of atmosphere. There’s no way the performers can interact with it. It’s no more emotionally engaging than the wallpaper you have on your computer home screen.

Finally, what’s the deal with Walter M’s productions that two out of the three I’ve seen have featured young women in tight shorts? There may have even been some tight shorted women in Romeo and Juliet, I don’t remember. I certainly disliked it in Funfair but in this children’s show it seems completely inappropriate.

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What’s with the young women in shorts?

Ok. Enough already. I think you get that I didn’t enjoy my evening, but I can’t sign off from this review without reference to the ‘fight’. If anyone reading this has seen the show, can they explain that to me, please?

So about three quarters of the way through the first half, the characters have a fight (absolutely no idea why) but for some reason they do it like the kind of mark-through that a fight director asks for in rehearsal before acting the combat for real. They just stand there doing these half hearted fist movements, with badly timed reactions. It seems to go on for ages and I actually had to cover my eyes at that point.

Sorry, sorry, one more thing….  Did I mention the completely random fire dance? No? Again if anyone’s seen the show and can tell me what that was about please feel free to contribute.

Okay, I hold my hands up, a blog dedicated to a demolition job on one show is not a dignified use of social media. But the reason I feel so strongly is because it does speak to something bigger.

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The last time I saw professional theatre in Manchester of this low standard, was when Ben Twist was running Contact Theatre back in the late 1990s. It has the same pretentious, dead hearted negation of the joys of stagecraft… which ultimately sounded the death nell for that fantastic venue as a major producing house in the city (although it has since been reborn with a different brief). That cannot be allowed to happen here.

Mr Meierjohann clearly has high aspirations to push the theatrical jiffy bag and challenge our expectations. When the regime at Home is discussed in theatrical circles it is sometimes said that those who express criticism are being too British, too conservative, too resistant to the ‘European’ style of stage direction that Meierjohann is bringing to Manchester. Well, for the record I’m about as pro-European as it gets and I’ve enjoyed all sorts of amazing international work over my three decades in the entertainment industries. I contend that if Walter were from Swindon he would simply be written off as not quite up to the job. If anything, the ‘European’ tag is used as an excuse, and confuses a presentational style that has the patina of ‘other’ and ‘sophistication’, with the misplaced belief that this ‘otherness’ somehow negates the need for coherent narrative, structure, focus, content, passion, humour, elation and beauty.

Having made a sad comparison to the fate of the old Contact Theatre, a few years earlier, at that same venue, Bryan Elsley adapted and directed a gripping and visceral production of Alan Garner’s Elidor as their 1992 Christmas show. This was theatrical storytelling for a young adult audience at its very finest. It is possible to do amazing things when offering an alternative to the normal fare on offer for family audiences in the season of Panto and Jacqueline Wilson and spinoffs from TV and CBBC/CBeebies favourites.

What Bryan (more famous for Skins and the TV adaptation of The Crow Road) has, is a highly attuned sense of narrative – of the temporal nature of storytelling – of how to connect to an audience and take us into a world that we just don’t want to leave. Elidor was magical, frightening (in the best Christmas ghost story sense of the word), contemporary, and entirely involving. I watched a cynical crowd of reluctant year nines and tens from Rusholme and Moss Side turn into a thrilled buzzing throng as they left the theatre on that cold night in December 92. I’ve never forgotten it. I think this is what Walter Meierjohann is aspiring to, but sadly he is never going to realise it until he starts to respect the skills required to achieve it. He may sincerely believe that he already does, but on the evidence of three productions I see no sign that he respects the imperatives of narrative story telling, nor the nature of scene structure, nor design, nor how to use a stage, nor how to guide the audience’s eyes and their emotions by shaping his staging to bring focus and intention to every moment of the action.

So do I have some personal gripe with Mr M? I’ve never met the man. I hold no personal beef. I don’t need a job from him; he’s never turned me down for a job… but he is holding the reins to what should be the most important producing venue in Manchester – equal to or surpassing The Royal Exchange. Theatres are resource hungry, expensive, valuable places, and if they are paid for by a community, if they belong to the community, then I believe with all my municipal heart that it’s fair and right to hold them to account.

On the Home website the venue describes itself in the following terms:

‘...our mission is to make a new HOME for curiosity seekers, for lovers of the dramatic, the digital and the deeply engaging; for radicals and reciprocators.

I have a degree, a post graduate diploma and thirty-two years professional experience and I have absolutely no idea what that means. Except that it alliterates. What I do know is that Home’s current artistic director programmes like a man who has never had to worry about the cost of babysitting, or parking, or think about how attractive a show has to be for a normal person making leisure choices when resources are limited and day to day life is stressful and exhausting. And if he doesn’t understand that, then he doesn’t understand people – and it’s unlikely that he’s going to produce theatre that will strike a chord in the heart of the community he is there to serve.

If I seem harsh it’s because this is our money he’s spending, our resources he’s using, and our artistic landscape he’s shaping… but so far, it’s not a landscape I could in any way call Home.

But, hey, at least there weren’t any enigmatic clowns.

Sad Clown

 

The Corbyn Delusion (and how to un-delude it)

Make no mistake about it, Thursday night’s by-election result in Oldham West and Royton is a good result, and more than that, a fantastic relief. The thought that UKIP could seriously dent – or even destroy – Michael Meacher’s 14,700 majority was a chilling one, and, in retrospect, a huge insult to the people of Oldham who are, thank God, far more sensible than that.

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Jim McMahon – at the count in Oldham on Thursday Night

The relatively high by-election turnout on a damp December night was also a testament to the dedication and hard work of an energised grass roots – and no small credit should go to the activist heart of the Jeremy Corbyn project for giving Jim McMahon’s campaign added electoral jizz.

As a paid up Labour member based in the UK’s North West, I’d heard that there was genuine concern on the ground that the result might be close (although actually losing the seat never seemed particularly likely to me) and I would have been there campaigning had I not been on simultaneous 24/7 writing deadlines. Whatever my feelings about the internal schisms in the Party, only someone maniacally clinging to the idea of apocalypse as a necessary catalyst for change would think that a UKIP victory (or near victory) would be any kind of desirable outcome.

But I – along with most other commentators, both local and national – expected a reduced majority for Labour, and that this would plunge an eviscerating knife into bowels of a party already convulsed in a kind of political anaphylactic shock.

It didn’t happen. So I can’t grope my way through the entrails. I’ll have to do this laparoscopically. Sorry… I’ve been writing Holby City, my imagination is cluttered with the verbal detritus of surgical drama.

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Rooting through the entrails, Holby style

On Friday morning, Jeremy Corbyn dropped into Oldham for a few minutes (literally a few minutes) to declare that the victory showed how ‘strong, deep-rooted and broad’ the support was for Labour ‘not just in Oldham but across the country’. Ok, after the week he’d had the guy’s absolutely allowed to big things up for the party faithful who busted their arses getting that result despite the very public domestic that has been playing out throughout the campaign, clicking away on the political geiger counter like an increasingly demented Dolphin.

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If only the Labour Party could be like this

But ‘strong, deep-rooted and broad’? ‘Not just in Oldham but across the country’? Really?

Turnout was down from 60% at the General Election in May to 40% on Thursday. That’s actually pretty good for a by-election in a safe seat – and when I say safe, it was Labour’s 53rd safest seat back in May – so losing it was never really on the cards, but equally holding it isn’t in itself a sea-change.

Labour’s majority was down from 14,700 to 10,700 but with the reduced turnout, and a collapse in the Tory vote, Labour’s share rose from 55% under Meacher to 62% for Jim McMahon. UKIP’s vote also fell but their share went up 3%. The Tory vote was nowhere, falling from over 8000 to just over 2500, their share dropping by half.

Numbers, numbers, numbers. Lies, damned lies and statistics. With so many counter variables, do they tell us anything?

The most significant shift is in the Tory vote. This is the key. If those voters were swapping sides and moving over to vote Labour then this might give credence to Corbyn’s claim. But if the Tory vote just stayed at home (why bother schlep out to a polling booth when you know it won’t really count?) with a few of them opting for a tactical UKIP shift then in reality the result is pretty much the status quo for a safe labour seat. The contest was always described as a two horse race between Labour and UKIP, and the fact that both parties deployed significant resources is reflected in the increased share for both parties and relatively concomitant lift in turnout.

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McMahon is no Corbynista

So the core labour – working class – vote didn’t collapse – which is a good thing – but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think that the movement in voter share was down to an absence of Tory vote rather than a significant realignment from right to left. This is crucial because it takes us back to the core argument at the heart of the leadership campaign over the summer.

When Facebook and Twitter are peppered with ‘Huh! Not so unelectable now!’ comments my heart sinks because it feels as if we’ve got absolutely nowhere. Although it’s reasonable (and reassuring) to conclude that the Jezzmeister didn’t have a negative effect on the core Labour vote, neither is it possible to say that he had a positive effect, especially in a seat where so many local factors were at play. Attempting to extrapolate the result across the country is morale boosting wishful thinking at best; dangerously naive at worst.

The papers are keen to say that Corbyn’s critics have been silenced, but it seems to me that it would be disastrous if holding on to a safe Labour seat was seen by the party as case closed. Winning a by-election is not the same as electability as the graveyard of British by-election history has shown us again and again. Yes, it tells us we can win when we work together. McMahon’s victory shows us that. He’s no Corbynista but he benefited from the enthusiasm of the new entry to the party. Perhaps in the spirit of working together we can re-examine the crucial obstacles ahead of us.

During the leadership campaign much discussion revolved around the electoral imperative of winning the centre ground. This mathematical necessity has never ceased to be true, despite the oft repeated mantra that anyone who suggested such a thing – including li’l ol’ me –  was a ‘red Tory’, a ‘closet Tory’ ‘pandering to the neoliberal austerity hegemony’ and in one case with regard to myself ‘a cartoon monkey’. No, I didn’t understand that one either.

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Apparently my views on UK opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, mean I am like this chap

Apparently to voice dissent also means I am expressing venom, glee, stuttering anger, braying delight, and in more than one instance that I am incapable of expressing myself coherently.

Do you notice something about these responses? None of them – none of them – are arguments. They are all character assassinations designed to undermine the integrity of the person who dares to dissent.

Ah, but doesn’t entitling a blog ‘The Corbyn Delusion’ imply that all those who support The Big C are ‘delusional’? Isn’t that character assassination in itself? Pot, kettle, teenager’s bedroom.

Well it would be if I left it there, but great though holding on to Oldham definitely is, I’m concerned that it runs the risk of embedding a false hope, faith, and, I’m sad to say, delusion, even deeper. The notion of delusion lies in the mismatch of faith against reality. It’s not an attack on the integrity of those who hold those opinions. The distinction is crucial.

This is a forensic analysis of how Corbyn still doesn’t meet the job spec – of how he doesn’t, and can’t satisfy the objectives, the trust, the hope placed in him by his devoted and utterly sincere supporters. Now, with this by-election under our belt, it’s time to look at the reality of this without resorting to personal slurs for simply expressing the opinion.

(Although having said that, in the wake of Corbyn’s leadership victory in September I read numerous posts on Facebook and Twitter claiming that Corbyn didn’t even need the Labour Party. He could win a general election single handed. The People’s Prime Minister!! Seriously, these politically illiterate posts were popping up all over the place, and I reserve the right to call their authors entirely delusional. If Oldham shows us anything, it’s the power of a highly organised, experienced party machinery.)

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The People’s Prime Minister – so popular he can win without the Labour Party?

But back to the forensic analysis.

The only material response I’ve heard that addresses the electoral maths is to say that there is a hidden electorate of disenfranchised voters, who aren’t as yet registered, or who were too apathetic to get to the polling booth in 2015. Get these people marking their crosses and the 2020 election is all but in the bag for our Jezzer. For the reasons already outlined, I don’t think the Oldham result addresses this either. With the exception of one or two pieces by Owen Jones, I have rarely heard or read any argument that talks about persuading people to vote Labour, or winning over those who have deserted us. Effectively those people are lost, traitors, immoral, selfish, greedy, sell-outs, frightened, stupid. They are at fault. Their votes are not needed or wanted.

On the assumption that Mr Corbyn has a normal emotional intelligence,  and that he is actually learning something new, his few weeks in office will have started to tickle his nostrils. This isn’t about opposition – it’s about government. To fulfil his much vaunted, record breaking mandate he will have to look the centre ground (Middle England or whatever one might like to call it) in the eye, and say something they want to hear.

Much has been made of the disconnect between the Parliamentary Labour Party and the membership who voted for Corbyn so resoundingly to be their leader. But this result tells us that there is a much, much, much more important disconnect – the one between that membership and the national electorate. Oldham doesn’t change this. Whilst he might not deter core Labour voters from supporting the party, nationally his YouGov approval rating was at minus 41 as of 30th November taking samples across the population.

So why is this happening? Well… the loyalists’ voice on social media can be a tad shrill (and threatening) at times. Corbyn’s woes are down to right wing media bias; it’s the disloyalty of his parliamentary colleagues… and apparently it’s people like ME posting my personal analysis and opinions on my Facebook page. I love the last one because it implies that I’m not just some git mouthing off in the procrastinations between Holby City rewrites but I can ACTUALLY CHANGE THE WORLD!!!

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Mwah, ha, haaaaaaa!

It’s undoubtedly true that JC has had a hammering from the media, but then so did Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard to name but two from recent political history. It’s certainly true that many centre and right wing papers don’t like Corbyn’s left agenda, but actually the press’s biggest failing/tendency is not its right wing bias, but its pack mentality when it smells a loser. IDS was slaughtered in the press from all sides – because he was useless. With Corbyn, the press can sniff blood in the air, and they won’t stop until he’s torn limb from limb. They do it to celebrities, dodgy politicos of all colours. It’s about their power – and that’s objectionable – the left/right thing, though real, is oddly incidental. My guess is we’ll see more favourable press in the next few days simply because he’s been seen to win something. The press often follows more than it leads.

It’s not nice – but who said politics was nice. It shouldn’t be nice! Putting yourself forward to be Prime Minister is about asking the the country to trust you with the greatest responsibility there is. Life, death, war, peace, health, terorrism, the economy. You’ll be in the bear pit of world politics with Merkel, Putin, the next president of the United States, the morass of volatile middle eastern politics, not to mention domestic issues.

Back in July, as the Leadership race started to gather pace, Corbyn had a minor run-in with Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 news who questioned him about his relationship with Hamas and Hezbollah. Corbyn lost his temper and snapped at KGM accusing him of tabloid journalism.  There followed my first social media spat about the soon-to-be leader. It seemed blindingly obvious to me that if he was losing his temper with cuddly Krishnan on the UK’s most left leaning TV news outlet he perhaps wasn’t suited to the job of opposition leader.

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Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy exerting his right wing media brain-washing in order to stop Jeremy Corbyn becoming UK Prime Minister

He’s still struggling with the whole interview thing today, as evidenced by his confused response on shoot-to-kill and ‘Jihadi John/Mohammed Emwazi’ with Laura Kuensberg. If one tries to raise this, one is slapped down by the loyalists: ‘There are far more important things than handling political interviews with the BBC!’

Quite right. There are. That’s the point. If you can’t handle a page-one interview from the press, then, seriously, how on earth do you expect the voters to trust you when things get really serious.

The fact – the historical fact – is that great leaders take the deft handling of the press as a given. It might be challenging, and require deft manoeuvring and work and intelligence, and oh yes, finely tuned social skills – but none of them pretend that somehow it doesn’t matter, or allow themselves to be (easily) derailed by it. Look at Obama, Clinton, and even the Satan that should not be named… Tony Blair. Or, dare I say it, Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher was parodied, mocked, vilified, turned into a mass media public hate figure, and yet, oddly remained popular and powerful for the best part of ten years.

Good or bad press in itself is not the deciding factor of anything. It was widely reported by the left, centre and right wing press that David Cameron (allegedly) put his knob in the mouth of a dead pig. I have no idea as to the truth of this accusation, but you may have noticed that Cameron barely bothered to deny it. Why? Not because it’s true, but because he knows that it doesn’t do him any harm at all. He’s still far more popular than Corbyn (back to that YouGov poll), trusted with the nation’s security and economy. He did a completely dumb ass thing when he was a student – and people like him for it! It makes him human. Anyone who’s ever worked in an A&E department knows for a fact that men do all sorts of strange things with their penises, and knowing that the PM is down there with the best/worst of us is ultimately reassuring – and it makes (most of) us feel ever slightly superior because we wouldn’t be quite that stupid. Turn the incident on its head. Would Jeremy Corbyn ever stick his knob in a pig? God no! And it makes people wary of him. He’s not human. The Corbyn knob’s too good for a pig. He’s Robespierre to Cameron’s Danton (I’m talking in terms of knobs and pigs, not politics, as I hope you appreciate. Sorry Danton).

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‘I’m doing you a favour, Dave. Oink!’

That’s what being Prime Minister of a large western democracy entails. You can’t cry foul and write off your problems to a few bad headlines – or even a lot of bad headlines.

Well. I know from experience that there are some who aren’t convinced by that line of reasoning. So let’s strip away the media and look at Corbyn uncut, Corbyn unplugged, Corbyn in the raw.

There are the interviews which I’ve already cited – neither KGM nor Kuensberg asked anything particularly difficult, but the fudged response on shoot-to-kill was undeniably all Jeremy’s own work. And that’s before we get to his declaration in a Today Programme interview that he would under no circumstance be prepared to push the nuclear button.

The rights and wrongs of nuclear deterrence isn’t the issue here. It’s about the man understanding his role as leader of the opposition, a political party, a team. As Len McCluskey says, he has to stop saying the first thing that comes into his head. Yes, we know he’s a unilateralist, but his party doesn’t endorse unilateralism at the moment, nor do his shadow defence or foreign affairs spokespersons. All he had to say was that the policy was under review. When people talk about the disloyalty in the PLP, they forget that loyalty runs both ways. Not only has Corbyn rebelled against his party five hundred and thirty three times in the past, but making off-the-cuff statements about party policy without consulting the key members of his shadow team is disloyal in the extreme. As is allowing Maria Eagle to discover that Ken Livingstone is to co-chair the Labour Defence Review over social media.

It’s most definitely true, that when people are asked about the man almost everyone praises him for his authenticity, and the fact that he always says what he believes. Tory Toff-in-chief Jacob Rees-Mogg was saying so only the other night on Have I Got News For You…

But let’s look at these attributes. Precisely what sort of ‘authentic’ are we talking about? He’s clearly an authentic Islington socialist.

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Authentic Islington Socialist

No offence to anyone reading this from Islington, but as I’ve already suggested, it’s impossible to say if this had an effect either way in Oldham, although anecdotally, I’ve heard from some who campaigned there that it wasn’t something they majored on.

And ‘saying what you believe’… on the surface this is a fantastic thing, but party politics is a team sport. It’s underpinned by the principle of collective responsibility, which means that, no, in the name of unity, message coherence, credibility, basic party cohesion and loyalty, actually no, you can’t always say what you believe.

This is Politics for Beginners.

But then Jeremy dropped out of college after his first year, so maybe he missed that lecture. Oh, that sounds snide, does it? No. I’m absolutely serious. This stuff is the nuts and bolts of parliamentary politics. I remember my daughter being taught about it when she did her politics A-level. Without it everything starts to fall apart, as we’ve witnessed in recent days. The next few weeks, as the party licks its wounds, we’ll get a sense of whether he’s learning this essential lesson.

Which leads us to a more fundamental question: Is Jeremy arrogantly disloyal to his own team, or still hurriedly thumbing through the instruction manual as I’ve suggested above?  Is the reality that he simply doesn’t understand what parliamentary party democracy involves?

He’s never played by those rules, and now, when he needs them, he’s struggling to read and absorb the small print.

Oh, what’s that I hear?  It’s the ‘new’ politics.

New. Politics.

Savour those two words in all their meaningless juxtaposition.

‘New’ is to ‘Politics’ what ‘Alternative’ is to ‘Medicine’.

Illusory. Meaningless. Empty.

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Homeopathic politics..?

If it were possible to recast the whole nature of political discourse that easily then neither Machiavelli nor Shakespeare – both of whom deal with the eternal truths of power and politics – would still be relevant today. I doubt there are many reading this who think that Jeremy Corbyn will be remembered in a hundred years time as the man who redefined politics and rendered two of the greatest thinkers of all time redundant. The whole idea of the ‘new’ politics is just a teensy bit vainglorious. Especially when it is being presented by a leadership dominated by white, middle aged silverbacks.

So – arrogant or not quite up to it? Perhaps it’s both, but my personal sense – given that I don’t doubt the man’s integrity – is that it’s more of the latter.

Remember JC’s Labour conference speech, flitting artlessly from platitude to platitude? Sure, there wasn’t much a life long Labour voter would disagree with exactly… but it was a speech without form or purpose. Just a rambling list of leftish ‘stuff’. I mean, it wasn’t utterly terrible… but oh my days, a soupçon of oratory would have been nice. But hey… it’s September, he’s only been in post a few days, give the guy a chance…

But then, less than twenty-four hours later, just as he’s getting bit of decent press, Corbo decides to re-write Labour’s nuclear policy on the hoof without consulting anyone – and whatever good ground has been gained is instantly thrown away. Who remembers his speech now? No one made him do that. That was Jezzer uncut, unplugged – ‘Essence de Jez’.

‘Now hang on,’ say the loyalists, ‘he’s really shaken up Prime Minister’s Questions, you surely can’t deny that!’

Hmmm… well, has he? Yes, the idea of listener’s questions is refreshing: ‘Terry from Withington emails to ask why the Tories are all bastards’.

It’s refreshing… until it’s boring, which might be why he seems to have more or less given up on it. The Jezster doesn’t seem to understand the point of PMQs. It’s not about the question. It’s about controlling the answer, and then how you home in on that answer and forensically take it apart.

Corbyn’s most successful PMQs today was where he asked the same question on cuts to tax credit six times. This was very effective. I cheered.

But wind back. What’s he actually done? He’s asked the same question six times. He doesn’t develop the idea. He doesn’t broaden the point. He just repeats himself. There’s no narrative. There’s no intellectual or forensic foundation to an argument. It’s a PMQ one-trick pony.

He’s the same in debate. He presents a reasonably coherent proposition, but when challenged, certainly on TV, I’ve never seen him follow through with an effective secondary argument. There have been accounts of him both in front of the PLP and even in shadow cabinet where he simply presents a written statement – on one occasion, after the first Syria debate, he actually read it to his colleagues from a sheet of paper – and then is unable or unwilling to expand on his ideas any further. Even his supporters in the PLP have been described as having their heads in their hands at his inability to argue his own corner.

And, finally, look at last Wednesday’s crucial debate on Syria air strikes. He can’t impose the whip – even though doing so might well have made Cameron blink and back off from holding a vote at all. He can’t, because Corbyn’s disregard of party loyalty over the years renders such a demand untenable – plus he knows that his front bench are likely to resign en masse. So, he grants a free vote in the name of ‘New Politics’. It’s probably the right call, by the way, but ‘New Politics’ it most definitely is not. It was the only option he had left.

So faced with a free vote, does he inspire wavering Labour MPs with stirring and persuasive rhetoric? No. He stands there, stumbling  through the same-old-same-old in a monotonous drone, unable to look up from his bits of paper, or even be sure what sentence comes next. Everyone appreciates that these are his sincerely held beliefs, but can he explore a narrative with it? No. Is it designed to engage with someone who might be wrestling with their own doubts and lead them to a reasoned resolution?  No. Is it a forensically constructed argument that dissects the counter argument and throws down the gauntlet to those who might challenge him? No.

Is it all a bit dull? Oh god, yes.  A speech which should be rallying his own MPs to vote against bombing is dull. Dull. Dull.

Then Hillary Benn gets up and suddenly the arguments – whether you agree with them or not – are rendered in fiery 4K 3D High Definition oratory. MPs are persuaded. The blood is stirred. They change their mind at the last minute. THIS is what political leadership is about. THESE are the skills Corbyn so desperately lacks.

You can learn them. I’d like to send Corbyn for lessons with the redoubtable Ms Gill Newman who taught both of my daughters to debate to national award winning standards from their South Manchester state comprehensive school. It isn’t just about opinionated posh boys; debating is an art, a learnable skill that Corbyn desperately needs to improve.

So Corbyn fails to persuade anybody – the number of Labour MPs approving action ends up at 66 far greater than anyone anticipated (Tory rebels are fewer than expected) – but instead of facing up to his technical shortcomings, Corbyn’s acolytes are all over social media hurling personal abuse at Benn, and any MP who voted freely as the gesture of New Politics had encouraged them to do.

Ehm…  Hello?  You can’t rebel against a free vote. You can’t betray a free vote. The onus is on the leadership to win hearts and minds. You can’t blame the hearts and minds for not being won. And if you object to Cameron impugning the integrity of those against bombing by accusing them of being terrorist sympathisers, then perhaps take a moment to consider that accusing Hillary Benn of personal opportunism for expressing an idea you dislike is no better. Neither accusation is worthy of respect.

And that’s before we get to the death threats. As Alan Johnson said the other night: ‘If that’s the New Politics then let’s have the Old Politics back thank you very much.’

I think I know the reason for Corbyn’s political ineptitude. As an activist he’s spent most of his political career in the company of fellow activists. He was great on the hustings and rallies for the leadership because he was addressing crowds of people who adored and already agreed with him. He wasn’t required to persuade people wary or resistant to his ideas. He’s never had to do that. He just ignores opposition and does his own thing. But that’s a problem when you become a party leader, because winning elections is ALL about persuading people. It’s about taking people with you who don’t automatically see themselves as your fellow travellers.

Please, somebody, tell me he’s learning this. If he doesn’t, Oldham, will seem like a very hollow victory indeed, where yet again Mr Corbyn mistakes getting the nod from a lot of people who already agree with you winning an argument. It isn’t.

Then we come to his lamentable display in the Defence Review Questions on 23rd November. It was toe curling. Check it out by clicking this link – you have to scroll to 15.43 for Corbyn’s statement and Cameron’s response. If you can stop your toes going into spasm as Jeremy waffles his way platitudinously through a sociology text book check-list of causes of global conflict. Oh yes, and some stuff about domestic policing. Ok. Fine. All of these things are important in their own way, but this is the Defence Review at a time when people actually do give a humungous shit about how this stuff is handled – now! – today! – when the world is immediately threatening  on many varied fronts. This response was entirely inappropriate and vague. Check out Maria Eagle and Tom Watson on either side of him – they both look as if they’re wondering whether Blofeld might drop their seats into a pit of piranhas as a swift means of escape.

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I can save you Tom and Maria!

Cameron gets up and says: ‘The more the Right Honourable gentleman speaks, the less he has to say’. He’s right. Cameron is bloody right. I don’t want him to be right, but he is. And then he answers all of El Corbynara’s questions with ease. There’s nothing on Corbyn’s list he can’t deal with. I actually feel sorry for Jezzer. He’s stumbling through a written speech that he struggles to read fluently, with the opposition laughing and chatting and ignoring him… but behind him it’s worse. Silence. A woman Labour MP is typing on her iPad. His team walking out one by one.

Years ago I gave a not very good best man’s speech at a friend’s wedding.  It was by no means a disaster, but I knew I didn’t have the room with me. I wanted the ground to open up. So unless Corbyn is a sociopath (and I’m not accusing him of that!) then he can’t help but feel the cavernous lack of love from his own benches.

So is the PLP at fault for not at least putting up a show of support for a man with such a resounding mandate from the party membership?

If your PLP are against you then, as leader, it’s your job to win them round – it’s not simply their duty to follow you without question (as Corbyn has himself illustrated five hundred times) – especially when it is suggested that they might be whipped to abstain or even vote against an issue that is current party policy… we’ve still got the Trident vote to come, Oldham victory or no Oldham victory. How he handles this will be a real test of what he’s learning.

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The Push-Me-Pull-You approach to party democracy

Elected Labour MPs have a mandate to represent the millions who voted for them – and indeed a responsibility to all their constituents. The party mandate doesn’t trounce that. Parliamentary democracy is about far, far more than the wishes of paid-up party members.

If the swing voters of Middle England feel safer with Tory austerity, it’s your job to persuade, cajole, love-bomb them into changing their minds.

Years later when I got married myself, I had a lot more fun with my Groom’s speech. I learned from my mistakes and took the room with me. I certainly didn’t blame my first audience for not laughing enough.

If ordinary voters across the country don’t trust you to keep them safe on the streets, or to accept their genuine fears about how they perceive migration to be changing their communities, then it’s your job to engage with that, to take it very seriously, and to persuade them that their fears will be addressed because there are a 106 marginals you have to persuade who aren’t going to be as kind to you as the safe seat of Oldham West was last week.

The end result may not be what they think they want now – yes, most definitely, it must be a part of a strong left agenda – but they will only come with you if you are able to persuade people who don’t agree with you already.

OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE JAMESON! YOU’RE JUST WHINGING ON ABOUT CORBYN WHEN YOU SHOULD BE GETTING YOUR HEAD DOWN AND FIGHTING THE COMMON ENEMY!

King-louie

SHUT THE FUCK UP YOU TORY APOLOGIST CARTOON MONKEY!!!

This and many variations on this theme have been said to me many times. Well the monkey bit only once, but I’ve grown rather fond of that one.

Sorry, I don’t buy it.

Nor am I intimidated by it. My proposition is that, currently, Corbyn has neither the intellectual ability, the personal skills, nor the political acuity to win a general election.

There is something he can do about this. He can develop his debating skills (I think Ms Newman is retired now so she’s probably got time on her hands). His intellectual and political shortcomings can be addressed by assembling a well chosen team of critically minded advisers to keep him properly briefed and remind him of the strategies essential to succeed in the arena of parliamentary politics. He needs to have people around him who he trusts to tell him when he’s getting it wrong.

I want to feel hopeful about this. But I’m clearly finding it hard.

I’ve heard it said that I, and those who share these specific misgivings should shut up because what Corbyn needs is TIME. He needs to be given the space to bed-in, for the different wings of the party to find an accommodation and learn to work together.

He doesn’t have time.

Politics doesn’t stop to give you time. Not even the ‘new’ politics. Even if it did, Corbyn is so far behind the curve he’d need Doc Brown’s DeLorean to give him any chance of catching up.

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Doc Jez in search of ‘time’ to go back to the future

In order to ‘fight the common enemy’ we have to have a leader who possesses all three of these qualities – preferably in spades. It’s not even a left/right thing. I don’t find Corbyn’s socialist politics-seminar-all-you-can-eat buffet particularly nourishing, but if I truly believed he was a winner, a leader, an effective political force, a smart strategic operator, I would be behind him all the way. Absolutely. One hundred per cent. Maybe even a hundred AND TEN per cent like they do on X-Factor.

Oldham has certainly bought him a tiny bit of breathing space. If things had gone badly, then it would have been hard to avoid a major crisis – a coup or a putsch – before Christmas. It would have triggered an existential crisis for the Labour Party. Just as Corbyn doesn’t have a capable alternative front bench waiting in the wings, neither is there an alternative unifying candidate anywhere near ready to replace him. All sides must use this time well. Jeremy has to show that he is learning how to work in a team. Those who want to find a different way forward for the party must look how to achieve this through persuasion, inclusion and constructive democratic change, and not by destroying the mother ship in the hope that something they like crawls out of the wreckage.

Oldham has to give us time to move forward, not just be a moment of respite that put off the inevitable melt down.

I have no idea how next May will go, but sooner or later there will be a by election in one of those 106 marginals, and then let’s all hope that lessons can be learned, problems faced and addressed, and a parliamentary seat won from the Tories which genuinely does suggest that there is a strong, deep-rooted and broad change in a persuaded electorate which could foreshadow a Labour government in 2020…

…which is an objective shared by Corbyn loyalists and cartoon monkeys alike.

King-louie

I want to be like you-hoo-hoooo in fighting the common enemy!