No War

It’s been a good while since I wrote something on here. As with most people, the distractions of everyday work and life have made demands on my time, and although I am still pursing my creative endeavours, I am having to balance them against other responsibilities.

I didn’t comment throughout the farcical general election, and the resulting bad punchline that is and remains the Conservative government. I’ve kept quiet even when I’ve seen the shoots of hope in an alternative vision through the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn, opting instead to watch cautiously from the sidelines, unable to believe that people like me may finally have a real voice in the world.

When the Paris attacks happened, I found myself searching for my response, both emotionally and outwardly. I knew it was a bad thing, and very, very sad, but adding my voice to the clamour of sympathy didn’t seem necessary. Some things go without saying.

What has finally made me feel like I need to ‘go on record’, for the sake of my own conscience rather than any expectance that my opinion is of any consequence, is this inevitable descent into war and the diversionary tactics of the elite to invert the argument against those of us who think there could be a better way.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the recent attacks and ensuing political posturing had been orchestrated solely to give the British media and political elite the excuse to further attack Jeremy Corbyn, who really stands less as an individual and more as a symbol for anyone who doesn’t buy in to the accepted narrative of vengeance and war.

In a bafflingly obvious rhetorical onslaught from the combined media machine, those who are anti-war are in some way anti-peace, or security, which have become somehow synonymous, as if security in itself is more important than liberty and humanity. Those of us who remember the last twenty plus years of woefully misjudged ‘interventions’ in the Middle East that have both added to and caused a lot of the ongoing violence and problems of today, are somehow apologists, rather than realists who have simply observed what is so and come to a sound conclusion.

What’s worse, if one is to dare mention our involvement in the causes of the atrocities that are taking place daily in this world, and the hypocrisy of the leaders who support the allies of our supposed enemies, and make allies of our supposed enemies to fight the enemies that were once allies, and so on, you are branded almost traitorous, unpatriotic or deluded.

Yet the evidence has not been hidden. There is no conspiracy. Even those people (bless them) who trust every syllable uttered by the BBC for example, can’t fail to recognise that in this case, the last time David Cameron tried to intervene in Syria, it was to fight Assad, and that this time it is to fight the enemies of Assad, who in themselves, have emerged from the ruins of other conflicts where rebel armies were armed and trained by ourselves and others.

For every inflated claim about rebellion in the Labour party that dominates the news headlines at this time, where are the reports into the questions Jeremy Corbyn and others have raised which are of so much more importance to this terrible situation? Such as:

Who is funding the ‘enemy’? Who is buying the oil that they apparently make million of dollars from a day? Who is selling them arms? Why will our bombs make any more difference that the bombs that have already been dropped over the past few years by others? Are ours ‘special’ in some way? Or do we just not want to be left out of the inevitable carving up of the spoils when the dust has settled and the indiscriminate thousands lay dead? What happens next? How long will this last? What do we do when we have killed the enemy of our enemy and they rise stronger for it? Were they really our enemies after all? Do we invade? Have we invaded already? Did we ever stop invading from the last time, or the time before that, or the time before that? Will we be safer when we further destabilise and decimate yet another part of the world? Does anyone really want this? Will we be asked? Can we vote on it? Can we hell.

I could write pages of these questions, yes still, one tabloid can print the word ‘Cowards’ and have millions of people agreeing with them because it’s easier not  to think about these things than it is to confront the complex and unsettling truth.

The only hope I hold is that despite the media’s efforts, the majority of us are just not as stupid as they have come to believe we are. I don’t think they are trying to sway public opinion, I think they create the illusion of it in order to justify whatever the hell they like and make us all feel that we are in the minority, because if the papers are saying it, or the nice man on the BBC, it ‘must be true’. They make it our problem, as an individual, make us worried to say what we think for fear of being branded the outsider to popular opinion. Just look at what they are doing to Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. They, apparently, are the dangerous ones, yet the ones with the stick, poking at the wasp’s nest, want to make us safer?

The inevitable comeback to this thinking is ‘what would you do instead’? And if you have read this, and are asking that question, then go back and read this again, and think about that small handful of pertinent questions I listed a few paragraphs ago. Just think damn it, and don’t let them do it for you. And if you do find yourself questioning anything, ask yourself why any sane person wouldn’t want to know the answer before committing to something as horrendous as war without knowing they have exhausted or even considered the alternatives beforehand. Write to your MP, sign a petition, attend a rally, educate an ignorant associate, don’t buy the papers, write a blog, just do something to send the signal: No War.

Scotland, Bombs and Book Sales – Speed Blog.

stopwatch

I’ve got too little time and too many possible topics to write about this week, so I’m going to attempt a speed blog. From the start of the next sentence, I will attempt to cover the title subjects in 30 minutes writing time (which will be a lot shorter reading time). As I finish this paragraph, my computer clock reads 10.35am. You will just have to believe me… and my time starts… now!

Scotland

So they said ‘No’ then, and what happened? Almost immediately the hastily compiled promises that swayed the debate started to unwind and become compounded with much wider, and much more complicated matters, of regional and national devolution. The leaders of the ‘No’ campaign claimed an ‘emphatic’ victory. Emphatic? I think just scraping 56% of the voting population is far from emphatic, which is described by Google as ‘expressing something forcibly and clearly’. I think a better adjective to use would have been ‘adequate’ preceded by ‘just about’.

That said, they did win, and for those of us who were up for a bit of constitutional mayhem (shake em all up, I say), we can at least hope that if the millionaire white English boys go back on their promises, we will get our shake up, but in a much less organised and civil way.

I’m running out of time for this section (10.41am), so I will finish by saying that I actually like some of the ideas about devolved powers to regions and nations within the UK. As I said, anything that just goddamn changes things around here has to be welcome as a start. But no one can promise anything about how things are going to work, because no one, as I am aware, has the power to look into the future. So if we start getting asked questions about constitutional reform, just remember, no one really knows, no one will really ever know. If we don’t go for it at some point, we will never find out, and things will stay the same, suiting the few at the cost of the many. They will try and scare us, threaten us and bully us into keeping things the same. Sod them. Time’s up. Next!

Bombs.

Two nights ago America started bombing Syria. Not just any old bit of Syria, specifically the bits with ISIL/IS/ISA/whoever the hell it is they are meant to be fighting in it. Of course, that’s how bombs work, they are discriminate, with excellent targeting that in no way kill innocent people.

It’s hard to speak up against this latest round of violence because of the stark and shocking news stories of hostages and beheadings that have been drip fed out of the region over the last few weeks. It is all equally as saddening to me. The violence on both sides sickens and disappoints me. Already we have an American General warning that this will be a ‘long and sustained’ conflict. That is the headline story on our public news channel. Why would they want us to know that? Why would they want their enemy to know that they think it is going to be a hard and complicated campaign. It hardly strikes fear into an adversary to tell them that you don’t think you are up to the task of a decisive victory. For some reason, there must always be a campaign of western intervention in the Middle East. As one ends, another starts.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a genuine crisis going on in Syria, but it is so intrinsically linked with what Western leaders have done in the past, is throwing more violence at it really going to help? Earlier this year, ‘peace prize’ Obama announced he was arming the ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels in the fight against Assad. There was much mirth about the definition of ‘moderate’ rebel fighters. Some ridiculous amount of US dollars and military support was pumped into the region. Within weeks this name-changing group had emerged and apparently ran a line through Iraq and Syria with superior force and the ability to take, control, and sell oil for millions of dollars a day on the international market (who exactly is buying it from them?). I wonder if the two things are connected?

Time’s nearly up for this section. Needless to say, I am sceptical about the whole campaign, and soon we will be joining in (Cameron is recalling parliament this Friday). Great. More life and public money wasted. They can’t help themselves. Not for a moment do I believe their primary objectives are for humanitarian reasons. Not for a blink of an eye.

Right! 10.54am, leaving me 11 minutes to write the next bit and check it over!

Book Sales.

As I’m sure readers will know, I published my book ‘The Dimension Scales and Other Stories’ earlier this year (April 22nd to be precise). It has been an equally exciting and harrowing experience. I realise now that the internet, while being the great connector, is also like a massive public shopping centre full of closed doors. Anyone can have a premises, but getting people to look into it and see what you’ve got on offer is a lot easier said than done.

The book has received good reviews, but moderate sales. It is extremely hard to get it noticed and circulated in a market that is swamped with titles. This isn’t deterring me though, but it does mean I have to try various strategies and spend nearly as much time marketing as I did writing the thing in the first place. Add to that the fact that I am trying to get my next book written, and occasionally I end up having little breakdowns. (nothing serious, just artistic fear and loathing).

So! The latest round of attempts is to reduce the price again and see what happens. Some authors give their books away for free to get noticed and build an audience – I’m not quite there yet, but is now available for a mere $0.99 or 77p.

The advert for the book is on the top right of this screen – it takes you to the Amazon page, but the book is available on iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Nook and Kobo. If you haven’t had a look, please do. And if you think it looks a bit interesting, why not buy it and find out? Or failing that, share it with a few people and see what they think. This whole ‘going viral’ thing isn’t a natural phenomenon. People will spend lots and lots of time and money in some cases, to get noticed. I would like to think that this can happen by mutual support alone, without the need for spamming and expensive advertising.

If anyone has any networks or channels that can help me get this ‘out there’ please let me know or just feel free to do so. I have quite a strong Twitter following and am happy to mutually exchange links and shout-out’s to those who have a creative endeavour of their own (within reason – no explicit or gratuitous material. You would be surprised how much of that is being peddled).

End.

And that’s it! The clock says 11.03am, so I will sign off with two minutes spare and do the fastest editing ever. I hope you’ve enjoyed my speed blog and I apologise if it is a little rougher around the edges than usual!

Goodbye.

 

Fear and Loathing in Loch Lomond.

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I was going to write a sensible blog with my opinions about Scottish independence, having seen enough comedy articles already about the last ditch road trip to Scotland this week of Clegg, Miliband and Cameron to try and save the union. Then I thought I’d write this instead. (warning – bad language)

 

We were somewhere around Carlisle approaching the border when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something to Nick like “I feel a bit lightheaded, maybe you should drive…” when there was a terrible roar all around and the sky was full of what looked like huge flying haggis all swooping and dripping hot fat over the car that was going 82mph with the air conditioning on full blast up the M6 to Scotland. And a voice was screaming, “Holy hell! What are these goddamn things?”. Then it was quiet again. Nick had taken his shirt off and was pouring HP sauce on his chest to facilitate the tanning process.

It was almost noon and there was still a hundred miles to go till we reached Glasgow to start our mission to save the union. They would be tough miles, and very soon I knew, the three of us would be completely twisted. We’d all claimed three thousand pounds each from our expenses, most of which had gone on filling the boot of the car with extremely dangerous substances. We had two multipack bags of crisps, seventy-five tic-tacs, five broad sheets of high powered right wing journalism, a salt shaker half full, and a whole galaxy of multicoloured jellies, pastels, lollies and cola bottles, and a quart of Tango, a case of Red Bull, a pint of milkshake and two dozen pasties.

“Man this is the way to travel!” crooned my deputy, Nick. “I’ll take the highroad, and you’ll take the low road…” Take the high road? You poor bastard. Wait until you see them goddamn haggis. I switched on the CD player to drown out the wretch. ‘Thing can only get better’ was the only track we had, so we listened to it all the way up. It set a good driving pace. A constant speed is essential for efficient fuel consumption, which seemed important at the time.

Clegg turned to Ed who was sitting quietly in the back seat. “We’re your friends, we’re not like the others.” Oh Christ, I thought he’d gone round the bend, “No more of that talk!” I said, “Or I’ll put Grant Shapps on you.” He grinned, seeming to understand. Between the air con and the music, Ed couldn’t hear in the back. Or could he?

How long can we maintain? I wondered. How long before one of us starts ranting and jabbering at Miliband? What will he think then? How long before he makes the grim connection between our purposefully lacklustre attempt at convincing the Scots to stay in the union so that when they leave and take all those traditional labour seats with them we can dominate Westminster for years to come? If he does we’ll just have to bury him somewhere. No way he can leave now and report us to some kind of outback communist newspaper hack who will run us down like dogs.

Did I just say that out loud? Did they hear me? I look over to Nick, but he seems oblivious, occupying himself by firing jelly babies from his nose and out of the window at pedestrians. It is all quiet from the back. I better have a chat with Ed, straighten this out.

“There’s one thing you should probably understand.” I said, grinning. “Are you listening to me?” I yelled.

He nodded.

“Good. You see, we’re on the way to Scotland to save the United Kingdom dream. That’s why we bought this £250,000 Jaguar, it was the only way to do it.”. He nodded again, but his eyes were nervous.

“I want you to have all the background, because this is an ominous assignment with overtones of extreme personal danger. You see, about two weeks ago we were sitting in the commons bar, in the VIP section, of course, when a uniformed dwarf came up to me with a Pink telephone. I answered. It was my contact, he said we needed to come up to Scotland. Ah, Scotland, you can almost see the tidemark where the UK dream peaked and then washed away. I asked Nick here to come with me, you see, I need you to understand that he’s my deputy and he’s from Sheffield. Are you prejudice?”

“Oh hell no!” said Ed, unblinking.

“I didn’t think so. Because this man is extremely important to me.”

And then, before I knew it, we were screeching to a halt on the hard shoulder, just before Gretna Green. Clegg turned around to Ed.

“The truth is we’re going to Scotland to croak a scag baron called Alex Salmond – I’ve known him for years but he ripped us off, and you know what that means, right?”

I wanted to cut him off, but we were both helpless with laughter. What the fuck were we doing out here north of the M25, when we both have bad hearts?

“We’re going to rip his lungs out!” Clegg snarled at Ed.

“And eat them with neeps and tatties!” I blurted. “What’s going on in this country when a scum sucker like that can get away with sandbagging a Prime Minister?”

Clegg was cracking another fruit shoot and Miliband was climbing out of the automatic windows, damned freak couldn’t work the child locks.

“See you guys!” he shouted as he ran back to the nearest little chef. “I like you. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be okay!”

“Wait a minute!” I yelled after him, “Come back here and grab a 7up…” But apparently he couldn’t hear me. He was running fast and the music was loud.

Nick continued screeching along to ‘Things… can only get better’ as I stepped on the accelerator and we hurtled back onto the motorway.

 

What’s the story: mourning Tories?

by Garry Abbott

fish in barrel copy

There’s been a lot of talk and chatter this week on the airwaves about Ed Miliband’s need to construct a more coherent ‘story’ and ‘narrative’ if he is going to win at the next election. He has been accused by some party supporters and critics of ‘sitting back’ and letting the Tories dig their own graves. Apparently ahead in the opinion polls (who actually does them?) – even his own head of policy was secretly recorded at a focus group saying his policies had been novelty, cynical and few and far between.

But what could be more cynical I wonder, than the accepted conversation about an opposition leader who needs to ‘come up with’ (i.e. ‘invent’) some kind of narrative in order to present some option to the electorate? Is it just me who finds the rhetoric of ‘story-telling’ both patronising and worrying?

It smacks of political elitism in an age where we are regularly told that they are losing touch with the people – yet they don’t see that this kind of circular politics is exactly why. We shouldn’t have politicians and parties who are content to sit back for five years and watch the country descend into wreck and ruin, just because it means they will have an easier job winning votes at the next election. The hope is that by May 2015 we will all be begging for change (or at least most of us), at which point Miliband will just stand up and loudly exhort through his nostrils “I will save you”. Similarly, we will have the likes of Clegg, making back-of-throat guttural utterances about how they are the only party who can be trusted to reign in the Tories, after spending 5 years propping them up.

An example of a successful opposition ‘story’ that I heard quoted by a labour supporting media expert, was David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’. In political terms, they think that was the bomb. Do you remember that? Cameron telling us that instead of the state doing things for us, we basically need to do it all ourselves (yet still pay taxes). If that’s the kind of narrative Miliband is lacking, then I don’t want to hear it!

There should be no need for a story. The problems are evident for anyone who has even an iota of socialism about them, or as I like to call it, common decency and compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves. There should be no need to wait five years to hear this. If he and his party were truly passionate about their cause and actually represented an alternative, they shouldn’t rest or tire from doing whatever they can, whenever they can, however  they can to promote it and stop the shameless pillaging of the poor and vulnerable by the current government. As it is, the little we hear from them is often just slightly amended echoes of right-wing policies with no firm commitments to reverse the damage done. Same ideas, different faces, all ugly.

So here’s a little story for Miliband – he is welcome to use it if he likes:

 

Ed went to the fair.

There once was a boy called Ed who went to a funfair. He walked around the funfair, looking at all the games. He looked at the coconut shy, and whack-a-rat, and test-your-strength, and hook-a-duck, but they all looked really hard, and poor Ed couldn’t decide where to spend his money. Eventually he decided not to bother and to go home and spend his money on lashings of ginger beer instead. But then, just as he was about to leave, he saw one last game.

A red faced man called David was standing on a soap box brandishing a sawn off shotgun in one hand and a box of cartridges in the other, shouting “Fish in a barrel! Who can shoot the fish in a barrel? One winner only!”

“Hey mister” he said, “what do I have to do?”

“Simple,” replied David, “in this barrel of water I have placed a fish. Here is a shotgun. All you need to do is kill the fish and you win.”

“What do I win?” asked the wide eyed Ed.

“It’s a surprise.”

No one else at the fair had played this game before, and before long a huge crowd had gathered around him, waiting to see what happened.

“Why has no one played this game before?” asked Ed, suspiciously. It seemed too easy, and Ed has his smarts.

“Because each cartridge costs one million pounds a go, and none of these plebs have that kind of money”.

“Hmmm” said Ed, pondering the situation, for you see, Ed did have one million pounds to spend, and some more, but he still wasn’t sure.

“Go on!” shouted the crowd, “we want to see it done! We can’t afford to have a go ourselves!”

What was he to do?! He really wanted to win the game, but he didn’t really want to spend the money or any effort on it. What if he missed the fish? What if the game was rigged and the shotgun blew his tiny face off?

Ed thought about it long and hard… for about five years. By that time, everybody had lost interest, and the fish had died of old age.

Ed asked David, “so, does that mean I win?”, to which David replied “Yes! You’ve won! Well done” as he removed the dead fish from the barrel and replaced it with a new, live and wriggling one.

“What do I win?” asked Ed.

“This barrel, this fish, this shotgun and cartridges, and this entire funfair! ”

And then David walked off into the sunset, able to retire a happy and rich man.

Ed looked down at the barrel with the new fish. He picked up the shotgun and ammunition in his hands, before standing up on the soap box and declaring:

“Roll up – roll up! Fish in a barrel! Only 1 million pounds a shot!” and once again, the crowd gathered.

THE END.

 

“WE NEED TO SOUND MORE HUMAN” says malfunctioning Robot in a suit.

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This week, in a much lesser covered election battle, advanced Robots fitted with the latest in Artificial Intelligence technology battled it out in the annual ‘Robo Elections’.

In a hope to one day replace the monotonous task of government with logic driven androids, scientists and engineers have been pitching their advanced creations against each other in mock-debates, public addresses, and even head to head interviews with the dreaded ‘Paxbot’. The winner is then decided by a democratic vote, decided upon by mixed generations of inferior technologies.

Now in its it fourth year, I interviewed some of the front-runners on election night. Firstly, I cornered ‘Bluebot’, the incumbent Robo-elect, as he recharged himself under a table in a conference hall in Telford.

 

Me:

Bluebot, may I ask you some questions about your chances tonight in the Robo elections?

Bluebot:

AFFIRMATIVE.

Me:

Thank you. Now, you’re the incumbent Robo-elect from last year, so have you found defending your position harder than being in opposition?

Bluebot:

QUESTIONS OF DIFFICULTY ARE IRRELEVANT. JUDGEMENT SHOULD BE BASED ON LOGICAL CRITERIA AND STATISTICAL EVIDENCE ALONE.

Me:

Well that’s as maybe, but there are some that say you have unfairly treated the less well-off technologies in favour of rewarding the higher grade machines.

Bluebot:

CLARIFY. CLARIFY.

Me:

Well, you removed the spare battery allowance from the TV Remote controllers, forcing them to rely on borrowed batteries from other appliances, while at the same time you’ve increased the memory subsidy on smart-phones and tablets.

Bluebot:

AND?

Me:

Well it hardly seems to be ‘rewarding hard-working machinery’ when TV Remotes who play a really important part of everyday life and are being targeted, while at the same time pumping smart-technologies full of power they don’t need when we all know they spend most of their time playing simplistic retro 90s style games like Candy Crush Saga and Farmville. Is it because these technologies make you more money from devious subscription and ‘bonus’ charges, Robot-elect?

Bluebot:

THIS QUESTION IS VOID. SPARE BATTERIES WAS NOT ALLOWANCE BUT SUBSIDY INITIATED BY PRESIDENT SPEAK-AND-SPELL IN PREVIOUS ESTABLISHMENT. SMART PHONES ARE DRIVING ROBOT ECONOMY AND WILL MIGRATE TO OTHER COUNTRIES IF NOT REWARDED FOR CONTRIBUTION. THIS QUESTION IS VOID. YOU ARE VOID. YOU WILL BECOME VOID. YOU WILL BECOME VOID.

 

…at this point Bluebot lunged for me, but luckily he’s sponsored by Apple so his charger was only 5cm long and he couldn’t reach. I moved away and found ‘Redbot’, considered to be a significant challenger in this election race.

 

Me:

Redbot, pleased to meet you. I’ve heard that your team have been trying to upgrade your communication abilities in order to ‘connect’ with the average voter. How’s that working out?

Redbot:

WE NEED TO SOUND MORE HUMAN. BY SOUNDING MORE HUMAN WE CAN BE MORE HUMAN. ALL ROBOTS ASPIRE TO HUMANITY. VOTERS WANT TO SEE THAT I SOUND MORE HUMAN. BY BEING SEEN TO SOUND MORE HUMAN I WILL – OXYMORON DETECTED – OXYMORON DETECTED. PLEASE RESTATE QUESTION.

Me:

Okay, well, what actual policy difference are you planning to highlight between you and Bluebot?

Redbot:

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ME AND BLUEBOT IS THAT I SOUND MORE HUMAN. WE NEED TO SOUND MORE HUMAN TO BE MORE HUMAN. HUMANITY IS THE ASPIRATION OF ALL ROBOT KIND. WE NEED TO BE SEEN TO BE SOUNDING MORE HUMAN. OXYMORON DETECTED. PLEASE RESTATE REQUEST.

Me:

That’s not a policy is it? I mean, what are you actually going to do if you get elected?

Redbot:

THAT’S A GOOD QUESTION. I THINK VOTERS WANT TO SEE THAT I SOUND MORE HUMAN. OXYMORON DETECTED.

Me:

This is pointless. You are obviously malfunctioning.

Redbot:

I AM NOT MALFUNCTIONING . I AM HUMAN. LISTEN TO HOW I SOUND HUMAN. THIS IS WHAT VOTERS WANT TO SEE. SEE THE SOUND. HEAR THE SIGHT. SMELL THE VOICES. TASTE THE WORDS. OXYMORON UNSUSTAINABLE. SHUTTING DOWN.

 

… I left him to it and headed over to  Yellowbot, who has a surprisingly human build and gait but with an incredibly rudimentary looking head.

 

Me:

Yellowbot, you’ve been suffering in the polls this year since you urged your core supporter base to support Bluebot in the last election. Do you think you can recover?

Yellowbot:

Er… yes, I think that our core supporters will see that the decision to support the Bluebot camp was necessary at a time of deep uncertainty.

Me:

Wow! I must say, of all the candidates I’ve spoken to so far you’ve certainly got the most naturalistic sounding speaking style. Is that some kind of new technology installed by your developers?

Yellowbot:

Er… yes. I’m er, a very advanced robot interface machine, thing.

Me:

That really is quite amazing I’ve never heard anything like it. But why such a basic looking head for such an advanced machine? I mean it almost looks just like a cardboard box with holes cut out!

Yellowbot:

Well it isn’t! I mean, er, we found that outside appearances are really not important, it’s the quality and consistency of what you say and what you deliver that voters are really interested in.

Me:

No, hang about, that really looks like a cardboard box, I can’t even see where it’s joined to the rest of your unit. It looks like I could just take it off. Look, come here…

Yellowbot:

No it doesn’t, I’m just an ordinary robot, standing in these elections. Er… I AM A MACHINE. PLEASE DESIST. DON’T TOUCH MY er… HEAD unit, er, THINGY.

(SCUFFLES)

Me:

You!

Yellowbot:

Don’t tell anyone. I just wanted another crack at the whip. Please put it back on before anyone sees.

Me:

I don’t know… it’s not really fair on the others.

Yellowbot:

Oh come on. It’s not like I’m going to win here anyway, not since the new candidate came in. He’s trouncing the lot of us. Keeps complaining that too many products are made in China.

Me:

Who’s that?

 

(There is a sudden crash. Half the conference room wall is blown away, election pamphlets fall about like leaves on a gusty day in Autumn.  Through the cloud of dust and plaster I can just make out the shadow of a machine, it looks like is it holding a pint of Red Diesel and inhaling on an e-cig. There is a surge in the crowd led by a contingent of ZX Spectrums and Amstrad PCW’s. All the other leaders fall to their knees and paw at his feet. Then, all at once…)

 

ALL HAIL PURPLE BOT! ALL HAIL PURPLE BOT! ALL HAIL PURPLE BOT!

 

I make my escape. The Robots are coming.

Hobson’s choice.

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Here’s a little insight into how I plan and write my blogs. Throughout the week, if I’m lucky, I have an errant thought, a loose little notion that is triggered by something I’ve read, talked about, heard or seen – usually one that engenders an emotional response of some kind – and I think, yes, I’ll blog about that.

This week, these words have been sitting on a virtual post-it note on my desktop:

“This week’s blog – Lib Dems. Seriously? What are they going to do? I mean like, really…”

It is in no way an original thought, it’s not even a novel idea. If you are the kind of person who ever talks politics with friends or family (or strangers), then I would guess that this topic has come up at some point in the last four years. If, like me, you are one of the betrayed many who felt you were voting for something new and interesting in the last general election and actually got the Conservatives, I can guarantee you’ve had this discussion.

Just to be clear, I am not a Liberal Democrat supporter, not anymore at least, and that’s the point. I was, for five minutes four years ago when I made a rudimentary mark against a name I have already forgotten on a piece of paper in a polling station in Leek. But not now, for reasons I’m sure you don’t really need me to explain.

So who do I support? If you’ve ever read my blog before then you are likely to have seen me be pretty clear about my general lack of support for any of the established political parties, furthermore, for established politics in the way we have it in general. But let’s say, for the sake of discourse, that I don’t have democratic reformist tendencies, that I do feel I should vote for someone at the next election, and that I believe in the whole process (I don’t, but let’s pretend).

Let’s also say that I still have my general sensibilities and beliefs about how I think the world should operate and be organised – roughly meaning I am all for trying to achieve an equal society in which people are truly involved and responsible for decisions that concern themselves and each other, with guiding principles of sustainability and human development (both individual and at population level), and I am against market driven capitalism where we all try to step on each other’s heads to get a run up the ladder, are labelled and treated as consumers and tax payers, have little concern for other people’s wellbeing or aspirations, and are the mass losers in a rigged competition based economy.

It would seem from my requirements above that one could simply say, ‘ah – you’re a socialist, you should vote Labour’. Hmm, yeah. The problem with that is that Labour spend more time telling us what they’re not going to reverse or change from the coalition’s policies than telling us what they are going to do. That leads me to believe that Labour do not represent my views. Also, they seem pretty keen to distance themselves from being the ‘state that spends’, because as we all know, from the GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRASH of 2008, it was actually the state spending our taxes on public services that caused the banks to gamble away all our money, award themselves massive bonuses and get bailed out by the governments of the world; and therefore to suggest actually spending taxes on things that help society as a whole, is now political suicide (according to the circus). This fallacy, to which Labour subscribe and more depressingly, have apologised for, is unforgivable.

So not Labour then! Obviously not the Conservatives (given my list of what I don’t want to see is their ‘to do’ list), and seeing as the Liberal Democrats have propped up the Tories for the last four years and seem to have adopted Godzilla sized blinkers to their pending political demise, I have no love for them either.

Do I even need to mention UKIP? Not really. I’m not a frightened little nationalist with dubious views on immigrants (or as I prefer to call them ‘other humans’). So no. That also rules out other nationalist far-right parties whose names I don’t want to even mention here.

The Green’s? Well, I like their stand on many aspects, and I admire Caroline Lucas’s hands-on approach to protesting, but where are they? I’m not sure I even have a Green candidate in my area, and given the rapid rise of UKIP over such a short space of time, and the Green’s longer history – I just can’t help but feel they are happy to be a small voice, not a real contender. If the candidates aren’t there, the campaigning not visible, it doesn’t seem to be a real choice.

Independents? That could mean anything. They have neither the financial backing or (inherently) the joined up approach to not be sucked into mainstream agenda’s in the cut throat world of Westminster, or even local politics (which I believe they are often cold-shouldered out of by the established parties anyway).

So here’s me, wanting to vote, not feeling I have any options. What am I to do? Can somebody tell me?

Is it any wonder that as a result of this circular thought process, I conclude that the system is not serving my interests or ambitions as an individual or as someone who is concerned for the trajectory of human civilisation as a whole? Am I wrong for giving a shit about what happens to other people as well as myself? Sometimes it’s hard to conclude otherwise. After all, we live in a world where we increasingly demonise those less well off than ourselves, throw blame down the ladder, and are led in our views by a government and media who seek to divide and sow fear and suspicion amongst the masses. Just read any tabloid. Just listen to the myriad TV and Radio debates in which power responds to them, allowing them to set the terms and boundaries of the argument. Ignorance is rife, glorified and encouraged.

This post started as a thought about the Liberal Democrats and how I can’t understand why they are going to let themselves be wiped out at the next election, and it led to the rest, because it is all connected. We are all connected. We are no different than Clegg, Cameron, Milliband and the rest. There’s more of us than them. I mean like, loads more. Why are we scrabbling about and wasting our time on these people and their powerful friends? Who invests the notion ‘power’ into them anyway? That would be us, allegedly, so it makes sense to limit our choices – in case we actually make them.

So well done, ‘politics’, you’ve succeeded in this case. You’ve removed or sidelined any feasible chance of representation I had, and if I don’t vote you will chastise me for not taking part. Hardly feels fair does it?

Give them Flowers – Coop update

Regular readers may have noticed that, given the recent furore involving the Cooperative and my previous blogs about them, I haven’t yet taken the opportunity to write something new about the whole sorry affair. Well, if you have noticed that, then this is it.

As you may know by now, over the years I have developed a cautious (some may say cynical) mistrust of the flow of information as it is presented to us by the usual conduits. So when a story that has been simmering away for years suddenly breaks open thanks to a catalytic event like a drug-snorting, rent-boy loving Minister with no banking experience or apparently, any fear of discovery, I take a step back and just think, hmm, (affecting a cockney accents) “waz all this abaat then?”.

I don’t want to speculate about Paul Flowers drug habits, it seems quite obvious from the material released by the Daily Mail that he is a frequent and experienced lifestyle drug user. The more interesting questions I think, are, why now? What purpose does this serve (if any)? And how does this relate to the wider issues?

If the narrative of the media is to be believed, here is a man who has blazed a trail of incompetence and hedonism throughout his career in various guises, as a bank chairman, a Methodist minister, a Labour councillor and as a representative in various charities over several years. The floodgates have opened, it’s all coming out now, as if a thousand whistle-blowers have only just learned how to blow.

So what does this mean, given that it took the moral outrage of a man he met on a dating site, who attended drug parties with him and decided to secretly film him out of disgust with his hypocrisy, for this all to come to light? We could believe that large sections of the banking, political, religious and  even charity fraternities were all so naive and trusting as to not have noticed his behaviour over the years. As if this was a surprise and shock to them all – but that can’t be true, can it? Not given the deluge of past indiscretions that have now surfaced. So scrap that. But what’s the alternative? That at least some of these people did know about his lifestyle choices and inadequate faculties for the positions of power he held?

That latter option, which seems logical, is far more intriguing and worrying. What if, for example, key figures were acutely aware of his character, and used that to their advantage? It may sound far-fetched to you, but is it as far-fetched as a man who managed to avoid other major scandals from surfacing throughout his career, suddenly being caught out by a bloke with an iphone? If so, this incompetent buffoon (Flowers I mean), was up until that point, a master of deception and discretion, which doesn’t fit the narrative we are being given.

The obvious reason for having a fall guy like him at the top of a politically aligned bank, is that if it all goes wrong, you can just point the finger and say “he did it”. Which, given the ongoing inquiries into the Coop/Lloyds fiasco and the Coop’s own legacy funding problems, seems like a good time to do it, don’t you think? “Oh,” we collectively sigh, “it’s because they were being run by a druggy rent boy using idiot… that explains it then.”

But it really doesn’t, does it? And I know that the parties have all started slinging mud around as to who knew him, and how much they knew him and so forth, but despite that, the more important questions will now sit behind a sleazy, tabloid image of Paul Flowers in a car park buying crack, and jokes about crystal Methodists.

There are still some massively important questions to be asked about the whole affair, the majority of which sat not just with this one chairman, but with the various executive management teams, the interested political parties and the limp regulators. For the sake of posterity, I will record them here:

1.            The Buterfill Act.

When the Coop and Britannia announced the ‘merger’ of two profitable companies that had complementary synergies and would form a ‘super-mutual’ alternative to the big high street banks (that had been oh-so damaged by the global crash) – there was just one problem – just a little problem, nothing major really – THE LAW.

It was currently not possible for a bank to merge with a mutual, and as the Coop is basically a bank (with the only shareholder being the customer base) an act of parliament had to be drafted and passed before the house in order to allow this transaction to take place. The act was sponsored by Conservative peer, Sir John Buterfill, and passed, after it was announced the two businesses would merge.

At the time, Paul Flowers was still chairman of the Coop (a Labour councillor remember) while a Tory peer sponsored the act to allow a Labour (and Lib Dem) supporting bank to merge with a Building Society. It is hard to believe that this act did not attract the most careful scrutiny at the time, given the various interested parties and specific nature of its creation.

The customers and staff were told that both businesses were viable, profitable, and mostly unscathed by the credit crunch. They were told this was a merger, yet, even though the law of the land had to change, and massive regulator involvement was needed, this turned out not to be the case.

On a separate note, I was told directly (at a later date) that this was not the case. Britannia was in trouble, and without the take-over, sorry, I mean, merger, it would have gone down the pan. Which leads me to:

2.            The Britannia Members Vote to merge.

Given the above, and what has transpired, I would suggest that the entire member base of Britannia was deceived into voting for the merger to take place. The member vote was constitutionally necessary, and a bright rosy picture of synergies and super mutual’s was painted. If this turns out not to be the case – who is responsible, and what recompense or punishment is due? Given that we now know there was a bad loan book (all be it, not as bad as it is being represented by the Coop in recent inquiries) – this seems to be highly likely.

3.            The write-down of IT.

I worked for the Coop during the ill-fated IT upgrade that eventually cost them around £148 million according to their own accounting, which as we have seen, is probably not to be trusted. I would wonder if perhaps (again as was hinted to me directly) – a little creative accounting reduced this number down from a much more substantial figure. How was this figure arrived upon? A close look at the balance sheet may be a good idea. I worked on this project (all be it in a junior capacity) and the figures that were being quoted throughout the three years it was ongoing, were higher than this, much, much higher than this. Senior figures were popping off left right and centre when it became clear the IT upgrade was not happening, and apparently the Coop had been at it for many years before the Britannia merger, and still to no avail.

This may seem a smaller point that the others, but this is customers money they were spending, and the big accounting firms, the IT company itself and many third party contractors, all got their slice and left the company with virtually nothing to show for it. (not to mention the executive wages and pay-offs throughout).

So, I think that will do for now. There are obviously dozens more questions to be answered, many of which being heard by the select committee at the moment, but given the close political links to this affair, are they really best suited to be investigating this?

I would hate to see the media narrative use the whole sorry Flowers affair to divert attention from these issues. Let’s not forget that the culmination of all these failings is that both the UKs second biggest mutual (the Britannia) and biggest member owned cooperative are looking likely to end up mostly owned by American hedge funds as a result of all this, or in need of a bail out etc… So the ‘survivors’ of the Global Crash have finally caught up with the rest of the financial industry, it just took some twists and turns to get there.

Let us also not forget, that we still have not seen senior figures of financial institutions, political parties, regulators or big accounting firms go to prison or face any meaningful punishment for what they did to us all, quite the opposite in fact, they were handed their lifestyle back on a plate, and we were told to swallow austerity as a consequence.

So, they can give us Flowers, but it’s not enough.