Ed, energy and empty sentiment.

I had to laugh, and lament a little. Ed Miliband (a true socialist at heart according to Ken Livingstone) has rocked and shocked the political and corporate world with his pledge to freeze energy prices for two years if he is voted to office at the next election. This could save each household £120 each over the two years (or £60 a year if you speak like normal people).

Brushing aside the unfortunate combination of the word ‘freeze’ and ‘energy’ for a moment, let’s look at just how damn brave this man is.

If you’re not familiar with my blogs, you should know at this point, I don’t come down on any side of the fence. I don’t like the fence at all. And here is yet another reason for why.

I learned about the story from the flapping news coverage that (quite rightly) was covering the reaction of the energy companies to this decree, even if they were perhaps emphasising the companies point of view a little too strongly.

“Britain to face black-out’s if Ed Miliband’s plan is put into action – says energy firms” blared out at me from the telly. Rather unusually I was watching ITV news. Don’t quite know how that happened, but I was.

I laughed at the open corporate threats upon the people of this country. They couldn’t even be bothered to dress it up. They jerked their knee’s with childish obstinacy. Basically saying, “well if you want to freeze our prices, we’re going to leave you all to die, how do you like them eggs Grandma?”

It amazed me how swift and brutal this rhetoric appeared, bolstered by the threat of higher prices before and after the freeze, and a lack of investment in infrastructure etc… It didn’t help that the particular news channel I was watching basically covered the argument from the energy firms as:

“Although the energy companies enjoy high profits, they operate on low margins.”

Well that’s ok then! Isn’t it? I’m sure the billionaires in the industry are constantly worried about the low margins of their chosen trade.

They also tried to gazump us with “not being able to offer lower prices due to the freeze” – because we all know how often energy prices come down don’t we? Happens all the time. And on top of that, the good old “these are multinational companies who may just decide to take their business elsewhere”… where have I heard that before…

But asides from this posturing, it dawned on me that what Ed Miliband was actually proposing, as brave as it sounds (especially when you consider this backlash), isn’t really that revolutionary. If this is all it takes to get companies to drop the ‘caring for the customer’ facade and bare their teeth, what hope is there of anyone ever actually offering us an alternative or opposition to corporate capitalism in the political sphere?

It’s not exactly like Ed Miliband went out there and said he wants to renationalise the energy companies. Imagine the hell that would have caused!

“Energy companies say they will round us all up to use as fuel in their private mansions if Ed Miliband’s plans are put into action”

This ‘brave’ move by Red-Ed, is nothing more than a exercise in hot air (keeping with the theme). I’m all for control of energy to be returned to the people. It is not a commodity that should be profiteered, just like health-care and water. I’m very much of the opinion that those essentials we need to live should not be playthings for businesses to grow fat on and barter with (just look at the threat of blackout’s issued this week, if ever proof was needed why this is a bad thing), but it seems, yet again that our ‘left’ of house representatives, don’t share this sentiment. They’re not talking about nationalising, they’re talking about slightly tinkering.

I heard another view on this matter that I found hard to digest at first. That view was, “well, he shouldn’t interfere with them, they are a private company.” Immediately my blood pressure rises and I start to concoct reasons why private companies should not be allowed to run fast and loose when in charge of live-giving resources, but actually, that’s right, in a fashion. Like I said before, if we don’t want private companies profiting exorbitantly from keeping us alive over winter, we shouldn’t have private companies running those services. It’s the same argument. The only alternative to that argument (one I suspect the Tories would condone), would be to let them do whatever they want, with no fear of reprisal. Which would be fine, if you trusted them, but do we? Do we really?

Once again I find myself looking at both side of this story, both sides of the fence as it were, and feeling unrepresented by either. I also have a feeling that if Labour were to get back in, this pledge would be dropped as they continue to move their funding model away from Unions and court big business interest instead. Once again I find myself thinking, these people have no control, they just want to be ‘seen’ to have control and are being paid off, blackmailed and threatened by the unseen with money, resources. This may sound mad and paranoid to some people, but just think on what happened this week. And what are we talking about? £120 saved each, over two years. Let’s not pretend that will make a ‘real difference to families’ etc…, that’s bugger all in the grand scheme of things, and that’s how little it takes to piss these people off. They need to have their fingers taken off the buttons, but these politic pushers, on all sides, they aren’t the ones to do it. They don’t want to do it.

So, in conclusion. Don’t be taken in by empty promises, don’t be threatened by bullies. I wish I knew what the alternative was, but I don’t. I stick to my mantra however:

‘It is valid to acknowledge that a problem exists even if one doesn’t have the answers. Until we understand the problem, how can we ever get to the answers anyway? Anyone who says your criticism is not valid because you don’t have the answer, is protecting self interest. A good idea will rise from the ashes of a bad one.’

This mantra changes somewhat every time I write it down, but you get the idea, hopefully a good one.

Thanks for reading.

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Not good enough for the BBC Returns!

Well it’s that time again. The BBC radio 4 Extra series ‘Newsjack’ has returned, and with it, equal amounts of excitement, rejection and frustration.

For those of you who don’t know, ‘Newsjack’ is a weekly topical comedy that has an open-door submission policy, so basically, it is written my members of the public rather than an established and closed writing team.

I was lucky enough to get two ‘one-liners’ broadcast during the last series and I’m hoping for at least one ‘hit’ again this time around. However, as with all writing, it is tip of the iceberg stuff. I must have submitted nearly 50 jokes last time and a handful of sketches, just to get two very quick puns into the script. I don’t mind this, and if I fail to get anymore on, that’s fine, there are literally hundreds of people doing the same each week, so it’s not easy or statistically very likely.

However, the whole process is enjoyable (if frustrating) and examining your misses can be fun. I’m yet to have a sketch broadcast, and I don’t write very many anyway (favouring puns), but I do have a go now and again. Last week I was struck by the idea of the news that Voyager 1 had left our solar system as being a bit of a ‘sounds-exciting-but-is-actually-quite-dull’ story, and tried to write something. I ended up with two versions of the sketch, both of which I have reproduced below for you lovely people.

Firstly, I wanted to do a Star Trek parody based on Voyager 1 – so I did:

***

 

Voyager 1 Sketch – Garry Abbott

Cast:

Host –              Newsjack host.

V/O –               Star Trek style voice over

Robot –           Monotone robotic voice of Voyager 1 probe.

Host:              People often say fact is stranger than fiction, but is this really true? As the   unmanned space probe Voyager 1 officially left our solar system last week and heads off to the nearest star, is science fact really stranger than science fiction?

ATMOSPHERIC MUSIC

V/O:                Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of er, Voyager. Its 40,000        year mission to explore strange new worlds, well one strange new world, maybe, if it ever gets there, and if it has any power left to tell us what it’s like, which it won’t, and we’ll all be dead by then, and even if it did, it would take years for any signals to reach us, but anyway…To seek out new life and new civilizations, scratch that, to seek out                       fluctuations in radiation from our sun and measure the density of charged protons amongst other low level spectral analysis by instruments designed in the early Seventies. To boldly go, no that’s not technically right is it, split infinitive, to go boldly? Whatever. Just to go out into interstellar space where no unmanned space probe has gone before,                             possibly because, well, there’s nothing there is there?

DRAMATIC MUSIC INTRO

FX – BEEPS / SPACE SOUNDS

Robot:             Voyager Log. Star-date 19th September 2013. Thursday. Reading an                    increased density of charged particles in my vicinity, thus indicating I have reached             interstellar space. All instruments normal. Power levels holding within acceptable parameters. Nothing additional to report.

PAUSE

DRAMATIC MUSIC

V/O:                Join us next week for another exciting adventure when the unmanned             space probe voyager encounters what appears to be a slight reduction in solar wind activity and runs its regularly scheduled self diagnostic.

THE END.

***

The idea behind that was that it is short and sweet and the joke comes from the under-whelming notion of a battered old 70s space probe being placed in the dramatic ‘Star Trek’ setting.

Next up, I wanted to write a sketch of a reporter being sent to live cover the exciting event and being similarly underwhelmed. I have to admit I had a very strong Alan Partridge style reporter in mind when writing this, so to play this down, I changed the gender of the news reporter.

***

Live from Houston Sketch by Garry Abbott

Cast

Justin – Newsjack Host.

Mazy – Exasperated science correspondent.

Prof –    Boring pedantic NASA scientist.

Justin:             Marking a giant step in space travel, scientists confirmed this week that           the Voyager 1 probe has officially entered interstellar space. To bring you all the exciting, up-to-the-minute developments, we’ve sent our correspondent Mazy Upton to the NASA control centre in Houston for this special live report.

Mazy:              Yes thank you Justin. I’m here with Professor Derek Hedger who has all             the latest information live from the voyager probe.

Prof:                It’s not live actually.  Because of the vast distances involved it takes at               least seventeen hours before the signals reach us here in control.

Reporter:       Seventeen hours? What network are you with? You know what, it doesn’t           matter. What we really want to know is, have you found any aliens yet?

Prof:                No, no aliens I’m afraid.

Reporter:       Well what about strange new worlds then?

Prof:                No new worlds yet, strange or otherwise.

Reporter:       Really? No new planets? But I thought you’d got like, really far away?

Prof:                Yes, but basically we’re now in the space between solar systems, having           just left ours. That’s what interstellar means.

Reporter:       You’ve only just left our solar system? When did it set off?

Prof:               Voyager 1 was launched in 1977.

Reporter:       That’s rubbish.

Prof:                Excuse me?

Reporter:       That’s like, 36 years and you’ve not found any aliens or new planets yet?

Prof:                We’ve found out lots of very important things during the mission.

Reporter:       Like what? Go on. Amaze me.

Prof:                Well, for example, recently we’ve seen a hundred fold jump in protons per       cubic square of space, that’s actually how we knew that-

Reporter:       Protons? We have those on Earth don’t we?

Prof:                Yes of course, but –

Reporter:       No. Not good enough. This isn’t working. When will it reach the next interesting thing? Anytime in the next 30 seconds by any chance? Just a little something to make my two day journey from Surrey to Texas worth the effort, and the licence fee?

Prof:                Well, it will reach the nearest star in around 40,000 years.

Reporter:       40,000 years? Are you kidding?

Prof:                But by then the power will have ran out so the probe won’t be sending              any signals.

Reporter:       Hang on. So it’s taken it over 30 years to get out of the bit of space we               already know about, and now it takes seventeen hours to tell you that it’s in a bit of new space that’s empty anyway, and it will take forty thousand years to reach anything interesting, by which time we’ll all be dead and even our descendants won’t be able to contact it?

Prof:                Well, when you put it like that, I suppose but –

Reporter:       Actually, come to think of it, since Voyager was launched, Pluto’s been               declassified as a planet hasn’t it? So the net gain of interesting things found by Voyager is minus one planet. Is that what you’re telling me?

Prof:                It picked up some interesting fluctuations in radiation levels from the sun       once-

Reporter:       Stop. It’s just not enough Professor. Too little, too late. We’re out of time.

Prof:                Sorry.

Reporter:       Well there you go, Space. Big, boring and void of life, just like the                       Professor here. Back to the studio Justin.  I’ll see you in two days you Bast-

Justin:             Yes thank you Mazy.

THE END.

***

Reading this back it’s a lot of waffle to get to the joke that actually we are minus one planet since voyager launched, and we’re not going to be able to contact it anyway once it gets anywhere exciting!

As I said, sketches seem a lot harder, and even though I could ‘hear’ the delivery of the lines in my head, it’s hard to know if anyone reading it could get the same idea from the plain words on the page. That’s always a problem though, someone like Steve Coogan could make the words ‘Ford Cortina’ sound funny by his delivery, but on the page it wouldn’t ‘seem’ like a joke.

So there you have it, the only two sketches I’ve written for the current series, neither of which got in, and probably rightly so, they just aren’t yet good enough. Turning an idea into a reality that properly represent it seems to be the key to this, and I guess, most other things!

I will keep you updated over the next few weeks with any successes and failures that I think are worthy of a bit of re-examination.

Rick Nobbinson @ The Liberal Democrat Conference. Guest Blog interview.

As I’m sure you all know, it’s Liberal Democrat conference week so I’ve asked a guest to come along and help me pick at the seams of rhetoric, posturing and policy-making. Rick Nobbinson is a political analyst and has been answering my questions on all things party conference.

Image

Me:                        So Rick, what do you think so far?

Rick:                       Well Garry, imagine if you will, a room full of people, affiliated with a particular political party, taking turns to talk about the kind of things they might want to do in that political party, and occasionally voting on the proposals put before them… and you’ll be somewhere close to the mood, the atmosphere, and indeed the actual objective of what they have set out to do over these last few days at the Liberal Democrat conference.

Me:                        Yes, thanks for that. But specifically, has anything stood out for you yet?

Rick:                       There are many ministers and party members who don’t want to be seen to be standing on the shoulders of giants, and there is a palpable sense of that, here, in this conference. Not that they don’t actually want to stand on the shoulders of giants. Who wouldn’t want to, at least once, if relative safety could be assured, perhaps by a small body harness rigged around the giants shoulder, or some kind of Velcro overalls, stand on the shoulder of a giant? But to be seen to be doing this is something no one wants to see, or be seen, doing. Do you see?

Me:                        Not really Rick, but let’s move on. Vince Cable hinted at a fringe event last night that the coalition might not last until the next general election. What do you think he meant by that?

Rick:                       Oh yes. Vince Cable has got himself in a word knot. He’s said some words, and let’s be honest about this, we all do, and those words have appeared like floating letters from his lips, encircled him and tangled him up in a ball on the floor. He’s thrashing, he’s shouting and screaming for help, but the more he shouts, the more words come out and add to the mess, indeed the mesh, that was this speech.

Me:                        I think I see what you’re saying. You’re saying that he may have let slip something that will tangle him up in speculation and perhaps embroil the wider party and actually cause the very thing he has predicted?

Rick:                       Let me put it like this. There are people, in this country, who stand for elections and become what we call members of parliament.

Me:                         Yes I know.

Rick:                       Because they rely on people voting for them in what are called ‘elections’, they have to make speeches about what they are going to do if they were elected.

Me:                        Again, I’m well aware of that fact but what does this have to do with…?

Rick:                       Hang on – here it is. Think of a bucket, an empty bucket, and into that bucket, pour your hopes and dreams. Add a dash of social mobility, life skills, education and ambition, and you’ve got the electorate soup. These MPs are standing around the edges of this bucket, with shiny ladles, sipping at the soup and trying to identify all the little tastes so that they can replicate this in the kitchen later on when a French man comes to visit and they can hopefully progress to the next round.

Me:                        What? I’m sorry Rick but you’ve gone metaphor mad. And I’m sure there was a little bit of Masterchef in that last one.

Rick:                       Sorry.

Me:                        It’s ok, but can we just, keep on track? I know you feel you need to dumb it down, but I can assure you my readers are more than capable of understanding what you have to say in plain English. So, Nick Clegg, what is he making of all this?

Rick:                       I think the question is probably what isn’t he making of all this Garry. He isn’t making a scrapbook or a photo album with funny little captions to hand out to his friends, decorated with pictures of luxury furniture cut out of an Argos catalogue from 1988 I found under my bed last week and stuck on with a really old pritt-stick that I had to lick vigorously to restore its viscosity and adhesive properties, that’s for sure.

Me:                        But what is he making of it all Rick? Come on, you can do this. Think about it. I’m rooting for you here man, I want you to get this down. I know you really want to work for the BBC news, but you’re trying too hard. Just say it how it is, don’t dumb it down or hide behind metaphors and simile or just plain crazy talk. You can do this Rick, come on Rick, COME ON MAN! DO IT! ANALYSE THOSE POLITICS!

Rick:                       Ok, ok! Erm… I predict that Vince Cable will turn on Nick Clegg in a bid for the Liberal Democrat leadership by dividing the party and making the case for a Labour coalition in a popular move that will see long-worried party members, uneasy with propping up the Conservatives, flock to him in droves. This will force an early general election in which Cable will portray himself as the saviour of the Liberal democrat party and reject the policies and politics of the Tories and more importantly, Nick Clegg. This may salvage the reputation of the Liberals, allowing them to join with Labour and defeat the Conservatives. The Liberals have to do something or they will be as good as vanquished from the 2015 election, and they know that. The biggest problem Vince Cable is going to have is convincing people that he is the man for the job, considering he has supported so many of the unpopular Tory policies that he is now rallying against in his conference speeches. Presumably he will link this to the need for stability in the economy and having done his best to soften the harsh edges of Tory ideology. If he pulls that off, who knows, he might just do it.

Me:                        You see? You can do it can’t you?

Rick:                       Yes, I suppose.

Me:                        So what was all that stuff with the buckets and giants?

Rick:                       I get bored.

Me:                        We all get bored Rick. It doesn’t mean we have to dick about does it?

Rick:                       No, I suppose not.

Me:                        Right, well, you get yourself back to that conference and get reporting eh?

Rick:                       Ok. (sniffs)

Me:                        Don’t cry. Come on. You’ve done a good job today haven’t you? Yes you have. And just think of all the free food and drink there will be back at the conference.

Rick:                       Buffet?

Me:                        You bet! You like buffet’s don’t you?

Rick:                       Chicken balls.

Me:                        Yeah. Chicken balls. Go on then. Thanks again Rick. Bye.

– Well there we have it ladies and gentlemen. It took some teasing out like an octopus from a dark recess in a Cypriot rock-pool, but we got there in the end.

More about Rick Nobbinson:

Rick is a disturbed man. Really disturbed. You can’t buy his book, he doesn’t have one. He wants to work for the BBC and to that ends he spends a lot of his time trying to blag his way into the news room, usually by carrying a brown box with the word ‘news’ written on it and trying to convince them that he is a courier who is bringing a box of urgent ‘news’. Once he was allowed access and when the box was opened, it wasn’t news, not unless news is organic matter from questionable origins. If you would like to hear more from Rick, he can usually be found crying over the Andrew Marr show in the window of Comet on Bridlington high street most Sundays, at least for a little while, until he is once again discovered and ejected. You may be wondering why I asked him along given such dubious credentials. Compassion? Mockery? No. None of these. Cold, hard cash. I don’t know why it was so cold, and it would have been nice to have been paid in notes rather than coins, but that’s why. If anyone else would like to guest blog, please throw at least £50 worth of frozen coinage through the third window from the left of the old shoe factory in Taunton Meadow Industrial Park (south-side). Please include a business card. I will be in touch. Thanks. 

Boredom, evasion and flagrant self-righteousness, or, everything that is wrong with senior MPs.

Yes, it’s that time again, time for a rant.

Since becoming self-employed, I spend more time at home, not surprisingly. I sit in my upstairs office, writing, composing or whatever, broken up by the occasional trip downstairs for a brew and a cigarette. It’s a habit to switch on the radio as I do so, and catch a few minutes of Radio 4. Over dinner, like today when I was tucking into a couple of Staffordshire’s finest oatcakes (with the holy trinity of bacon, cheese and tomato), I listen for a little longer.

There are only a few things that rile me on Radio 4 enough to make me switch it off. If I hear ‘The Archers’ music, I will dart across the room, jump like an action hero expecting an explosion, and hit the off switch. I will also only listen for a few minutes to Radio plays that are too concerned with being high-brow than having any drama or plot, before switching over to ‘Radio 4 Extra’ and hoping to stumble on some old ‘Hancock’ or ‘Goon show.’ And finally, ill conceived comedies that parody ‘youth’ culture with such insightful dialogue as ‘innit blood’ and ‘that’s wicked man’, also have me reaching for the buttons, before I cringe myself to death.

Other than that, I will enjoy or at least put up with most of its programming. I can sit and listen to biographies on people I never knew existed, I will listen to Gardener’s question time (even though most answers involve sowing a few centimetres apart, plenty of sunshine, a good peat-free compost and careful pruning) – I like a lot of the panel/sketch/sit-coms, and I usually enjoy a good phone in or studio debate. Well, enjoy maybe isn’t the word, which is why I am writing this.

Today’s ‘World at One’ (45 minutes of news and commentary with Martha Carney etc..) had a good old, completely pointless interview with conservative MP for transport Steven Hammond, and the shadow deputy cabinet leader, Harriet Harman. I had to make myself listen, because as soon as I heard the voice of Hammond, I realised if he was in the same room, I would be clenching my fists. Harman, though not as vacuous, would have me shaking my head and telling her to go away and think about her life. This is not an uncommon feeling, I get it almost every time I hear senior MPs from most parties talking about pretty much anything.

It is my theory that despite their talk of engagement and transparency, the last thing they want us to do is like, engage, or see behind the world of politics. And to this ends, they employ several tactics, here are some of the worst culprits:

#1 – Boredom

What’s more fun than listening to two people contradict each other with statistics eh? When was the last time you went down to the pub and had this heated conversation:

Steve:   You heard that according to KPMG in a study commissioned by the HS2 Company that the benefits to the economy will be over 15 Billion a year Dave?

Dave:    No. I heard from the office for national statistics that the expected overspend is going to push the budget for the project to nearly eighty billion, and that the institute of Directors has downplayed the economic benefits, saying they could be as low as 20% of predictions… on average.

Steve:   Yeah? Well, fuck you Dave.

… Apart from that last line (excuse the profanity), it’s just not a human way of speaking is it? None of us can engage with this tosh, because it is exactly that, complete crap. What’s more, as on today’s radio show, the presenter’s just sit there, growing fat on our licence money, letting these idiots talk made-up numbers as if it is cutting edge news and commentary! Remember Mitchell & Webb’s ‘Numberwang’ sketch? They should use that as the manifesto for a challenger party.

#2 – Evasion.

This is one I’m sure we are all familiar with. The kind of tactic that has driven Paxman to being the hate-filled ticking time-bomb he is today. Evading the answer. Let’s go back to the pub.

Steve:   Anyway, did you hear what Michael Gove said today about food banks? He said that in many cases it is due to choices made by the people who use them that they are in that situation. Don’t you think that comment could be seen as insensitive at a time of high-unemployment, an increasing divide between rich and poor, north and south, and the ruthless slashing of people’s benefits, often for no fault of their own? At best it might be accurate in only a few cases, statistically not worth mentioning, at worst it shows a complete disconnect between the people who run the country, and the people who actually live here.

Dave:    I would like to go back to what we were talking about earlier, about HS2…

Steve:   Okay. Let’s do that then, and forget I ever asked.

That is pretty much what happened on the show today, and in countless other exchanges on our daily feed of party politics PR. A presenter asks a question, the interviewee evades it by referring back to an earlier point, or simply just reframing the question into something completely different! As per:

Steve:   Actually Dave, I would like you to answer the question about Gove’s comments on those poor people who are in the terrible and presumably humiliating position of having to use food-banks in one of the richest countries on Earth please.

Dave:    Well I think the question is really, is Gove doing a good job on education? To which the answer is, yes, I think he is.

Steve:   Dur. Thanks.

Why the hell do we let them get away with it? Why does the BBC let them do this? They should cut them off, mid-sentence and announce “as the minister is unwilling to answer our questions, we are no longer going to continue with the interview”.

#3 – Flagrant Self-Righteousness

Now this one is almost exclusively a Tory tactic. I noticed this quite soon after they came to power. It goes something like this:

Steve:   I’ve heard that since the welfare reforms, suicide rates have rapidly increased as people who are disabled, or just suffering hard times in their lives, are under increasing pressure to return to work before they are ready or able, and often without a decent job to go to, and are basically being bullied by private companies to attend intrusive and biased medicals.

Dave:    Well I think you’re wrong and we’re right! We are going to stick to our ways because we think it comes across as bullish self-determination, when in fact, nothing you can say will make us change our minds because we know we weren’t really elected and this is the best shot we’ve got for five years of awarding private contracts to businesses we have interests in, and to inflict our vision of a divided and serving class system to this country! Basically, you’re wrong, we’re right and na na na na na to you, you stupid filthy peasant slave.

Steve:   Alright! Hold on! I thought we were having a debate here?

Dave:    You think I would want to debate with you? Are you insane? Did you go to Oxbridge? Does your family or your private investments fund my time and lifestyle? Do you think you are allowed access to me or other influential people without paying a hefty price like the big lobbies? Why in the name of the devils jockstrap would I want to debate with you? Fetch me a badger slave! I’m hungry.

That might be an over exaggeration, but then again, how often do you see Tory MPs who are ‘outraged’ by accusations that their policies are ill-conceived or failing? They aren’t exactly the nice, balanced kind of people who would say, “you’ve got some interesting points, let’s sit down and talk about this in a constructive and adult way” are they? They are blatantly self-righteous. Ian Duncan Smith once actually responded to an anomaly in his use of statistics by saying, “They are right, because I believe they are right”, or something similar. Is that really good enough? Simply believing you are right despite all evidence to the contrary? No, it isn’t is it. To further illustrate this point, today Tory chairman Grant Shapps has been ‘outraged’ by an independent report from a UN representative that criticises the ‘bedroom tax’ (sorry, subsidy…), so he spat his dummy out and is logging an official complaint! You don’t think that maybe she had a point? That criticism is a good thing? That debate means just that?

The problem is we are dealing with a capitalist ideology, and unfortunately this ideology transcends parties as its major proponents are massively more influential and financed than our own ‘elected’ leaders. None of them will ever make any real decisions, because it is out of their hands and they have no real control. So instead, they bore us, evade questions and ‘stick to their guns’ to distract us from the truth that they (at least the most senior ones) are self-interested, career driven sociopaths who are bought and sold by the highest bidders.

So that’s today’s rant. Why not switch on the news and see how many of these, and other tactics, you can spot? It’s a fun game for all the family!

Syria. A good day for democracy?

A funny thing happened when I came to write this blog last week. I had just written my (now previous) blog on out TV viewing habits (available here: https://garryabbott.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/the-rise-and-demise-of-the-boxed-set/), but felt unable to post it due to certain more serious stuff going on in the world. The blog was all ready to go but it just felt exceptionally unnecessary at the time when we were poised on the edge of another conflict. So, I decided to shelve the fluff blog and look at Syria, see if I couldn’t get some thoughts together.

It was the day of the commons vote, and I was trying to pick my way through the bafflement of it all. I was (and still am) acutely aware of the myriad voices speaking on the matter, most of which carry more authority and knowledge on the issue. So, I didn’t want to add another opinion piece, pulled out of thin air, to the strata of loose opinion that is already out there, and instead decided to look specifically at the question itself, the question being:

What do I think about Syria? (specifically, what can I think?)

Bearing in mind that this was before the surprise vote last Thursday that ruled us out of conflict in the UK, I will paraphrase here some of the notes I made from the never-released blog (and when I say notes, I am literally trying to read my own hand-writing). Following this, I shall just offer a little update, now I know what happened last week.

***

(original blog, Thursday 29th August, afternoon)

The question isn’t what do other people think about Syria, the question is what do I think about it?

At this point I am totally flooded by a sense of ignorance, resorting to snippets and tit-bits gleamed from the news and other people’s social feeds.

A vocabulary emerges for people who like me, have not specifically researched the issue but who have rather ‘allowed’ the research to find them semi-distracted and sub-consciously absorbent.

The words that spring to mind immediately are:

Assad, regime, rebels, Damascus, terrorists, Islam, oil, Turkey … And now (with this latest development), chemical weapons, UN, resolutions, weapons inspectors, arms, Russia, China, allies, USA, Obama, Hans Blix, intelligence and so on.

But what do I think about Syria?! To be honest, I know next to nothing about it, and what I do know, I only think I know. I’m not getting all philosophical, metaphysical about it or denying reality here, it’s just true.

So, I could say that the Western interests are forcing its hand to intervene in the ‘civil war’, and that the stability of oil supplies and wider business interests in the region is actually closer to the true motive for intervention than any humanitarian concern. But I have this niggling feeling that Syria (like Libya) are not huge sources of oil production, or tactically as important as say Iraq or Afghanistan. But I don’t know any of this, I can’t even cite my sources.

Another possibility is that our leaders really do ‘draw the line’ on the use of chemical weapons, as hypocritical as that seems to me. I could justify this idea though, because I can imagine how the rich and powerful could foster a twisted morality whereby the reasons and the scale by which you kill people become less important that the means by which you do so. A kind of honour-amongst-thieves scenario. Yes, we happily go around killing civilians, but with drones and missiles, not with gas. Etc..

But I can’t be sure, who can other than the handful of people making these decisions? And even then, if they are ‘convincing themselves’ in order to make the organised killing of humans more palatable to their conscience, how can we trust that there thinking is clear and reasonable?

Another problem is that I can find a counter claim to every accusation made by our leaders, simply be reading the retorts of the involved parties. When a spokesman from the Assad regime says this whole thing is a set-up by the West to draw them into conflict, why shouldn’t I believe them? I’m not saying I do, but it’s not like the CIA haven’t created or encouraged ‘trigger’ events before, so why shouldn’t we entertain the idea that they are doing it again? After all, if the regime don’t want to be bombed into tiny pieces by the West (and I’m guessing they don’t), why would they do the one thing that looks certain to guarantee it? It would almost make sense for the none-specific ‘rebels’ to stage this, in order to bring about this set of circumstances. But who knows? I don’t.

Given the thought process I’ve just briefly set out, are our MPs really able to make such informed choices? If they deny evidence produced by those who rule them and want war, would they not be branded unreasonable and risk losing the little power they have been allowed to keep?

If an answer is incompatible with any logical puzzle, it cannot be a solution to anything. A bit like ‘Jeopardy’, the American game show where the answer is stated and then the question must be guessed. But in this version, the question and answer must constitute a positive truth. So the answer could never be ‘a unicorn’, because the only question could be ‘name a mythical flying horse’, which would constitute a myth, a negative reality as such. For me, ‘war’ as we know it (not self-defence), will never be the answer to a positive reality question. It will never justify any possible question that can be asked. This is why no amount of thinking or debate, or evidence, should ever lead us logically to military intervention. Which leaves us only with other factors, less honourable intentions.

***

So that was my blog, but I decided to wait for the vote before posting it, and as I guess you know, our house of commons voted against any military action in Syria. Big hooray yeah? I think so, but then…

It was hard to fathom at first, as I sat listening to the live house of commons session. An amendment was made to the bill by Labour, specifically Ed Miliband, that called for a second vote at a later time once the weapons inspectors had actually finished their task of you know, inspecting weapons. I must admit at this point I was confused, having been out all day and only just sat down to hear the process, I wasn’t aware of the structure of debate. As far as I could tell, whatever happened, there would be a second vote after the UN had published its findings, which I thought was at least better for our elected representatives to make an informed choice.

So, as I listened, Nick (what-is-the-point-of-me) Clegg was defending/explaining (badly) how it would work if a second vote was needed, and quite rightly being questioned by a stream of confused MPs as to why a need for the first vote, if a second vote was going to happen anyway. As usual, the pointless voice of Clegg evaded and danced around the question, while constantly assuring them that the result of the first vote wouldn’t be taken as licence to act. So why the vote at all? I wondered, as did most of the house, it seems.

Then, the house withdrew to vote on the amended version, and the amendment was defeated. Immediately the house withdrew to vote on the original bill, and it was only at this point I started to grasp that this meant no second vote, if this was passed, we were as good as signing up for the conflict. I tried to reconcile why it was then that I had just heard Clegg defending Miliband’s own amendment to his own party members, but before I could unpick this, the vote came back and the original bill was also defeated! Cameron said one of the most clear things I have heard him say, that it was obvious the house didn’t want to take action and that he would therefore respect that, and that was that. No war!

But wait! Was this a victory for Miliband? Well, no. If his amended bill had of gone through, the vote for war would have happened again the next week, which by then, no doubt, plenty of ‘compelling’ evidence would have been compiled. So Miliband, Clegg and Cameron all had a position that led us to war/intervention, whatever you want to call it (killing people, basically). It was only the surprise overturning of both bills, by rebels in both parties I expect, that prevented all our leaders (opposition and all) from getting what they wanted. Conflict.

So now, am I meant to be happy with this? I get a suspicious shudder when I think that actual ‘democracy’ happened last week, because I have learned not to trust the power people, and now don’t know if I should just be happy, or wary. I’m certainly weary.

I can’t shake the feeling that something good happened, but that there will be repercussions. And I don’t mean, more chemical attacks etc… Conflict is conflict, solving it with conflict, that doesn’t add up. I mean, in our processes that allowed us to actually say ‘no’ this time. And then (the even more suspicious side of me) worries that this was engineered in order to show a glimmer of democratic control at a time when so much vile and damaging domestic policy is being shoe-horned in against the will of so many people, and no real opposition exists. But hey, at least we aren’t going to lob some missiles at another country right?

What has happened to me that makes me think everything our governments do is so suspicious? Even when it is something I want? Is it me? Is it paranoia?

No. I don’t think so. I am perfectly able to conceive of a world where the kind of inequalities I see, the kind that lead to conflict, disease and death, are not present. And in this world, the only factor that is different, is the lack of the ‘kind’ of people that are running things currently, and the systems that support them and that they utilise, i.e. massive financial backing. Sorry, MASSIVE FINANCIAL BACKING and access to machines of war, that just isn’t made available to the rest of us, because if it were, we just wouldn’t accept the lots we have been granted, across the world.

That’s what I think of Syria, I think. I hope that the suffering is alleviated by greater wisdom than we seem to posses at the moment. I hope that ‘Nobel peace prize’ Obama is defeated in his congress vote to happen soon, but I guess he won’t be. I hope we do not get consistent with the shame and pressure we should be pouring on all the leaderships of our democracy who tried so sneakily to dupe us into conflict, and that we stand up more often to be counted against the multitude of sins that are taking place both at home and abroad by people who would convince us they are helping us, while they are really feeding off us.

But then, I hope a lot of things.