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.

 

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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.

 

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.

 

Unearthed Episode 3 – Miners March Choir

I am very proud to present the performance of a choral piece I wrote for the Unearthed project, remembering the tragedy at Lidice and the donations by the Miners of Stoke on Trent who vowed that ‘Lidice shall live!’ and pledged a days pay until the end of WWII to rebuild the village destroyed by the Nazis.

The piece consists of 6 parts, three harmonies constitute the ‘Follow’ line (though the harmonies don’t come in until the end), and then 3 melody lines run over each other after a staggered introduction.

I wrote this piece not knowing if we would have a full choir or just a handful of volunteers. As it happened, we ended up with the excellent Stoke 6th Form performing arts group and additional volunteers.

It is my first composed and performed piece for harmony voices, and I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out, especially considering how little time the guys had to learn, practice and choreograph the various entrances and routes of the melody groups that entered from three different angles to eventually join the backing group on stage.

I wrote this to be simple for each individual part, but when everyone is singing together, it is hard work to keep your ear on the beat, not waiver from your melody, and project. But they all did a fantastic job and I was so impressed when I heard it on the day.

I had the added honour of joining them for the performance, and that really helped me appreciate how well they had all put this together when I was fretting about my key, stage position, movements, projection!

The song is based on the poem I wrote ‘Barnett’s few’ – each verse is a melody. In the end due to time constraints, we didn’t include the final couplet outro, and opted for a unison ‘Follow, Follow!’ after a section of hummed melodies. This was worked out by the group themselves and I thought it was really effective in the end.

Anyway, please do take the time to have a watch and listen and if you enjoy it, visit http://www.unearthed2013.co.uk and make your pledge to remember the story of Lidice and have your initials included on a new sculpture to be unveiled later this year in Hanley, Stoke on Trent, by the Victoria Hall where MP Barnett Stross first vowed that ‘Lidice shall live!’.

For more on the story that inspired this, visit the Unearthed website. The lyrics (poem) that I wrote for this (before composing the music) can be found here:

https://garryabbott.wordpress.com/2013/06/18/barnetts-few/

 

Lobby versus Lobby. My guide to Lobby.

Firstly, some definitions:

Lobby (n, Food):

A hearty stew often made from the leftovers of previous meals and any vegetables that are in danger of going out of date if not used. A low cost and efficient use of ingredients, popular in the North of England for those on a budget, or those who just want to make the most of what they have.

Lobby (v):

An apparently legitimate practice of accepting payments or other benefits in kind in order to influence parliament and introduce or affect legislation beneficial to the sponsoring party.

I much prefer the first definition of ‘Lobby’, it doesn’t leave such a bitter taste in the mouth. Coincidentally, these definitions shared by a common word do go some way towards highlighting the division that is becoming ever present in our riot-ridden societies.

For me, a bowl of Lobby conjures images of bubbling pressure cookers, soft white bread, and big chunks of meat amongst the limp yet tasty vegetables all suspended in a rich, thick gravy. The frugal use of perishables and left-over’s to create such a rustic delight characterises a very British rendering of the working-classes ability to make the most out of the little they have: Chin up, on with the overall’s, back to work, and on way ‘ome, pick up a loaf an we’ll av some lobby with what’s left of Chicken from roast eh?

I can imagine the BBC article, “Lobby: Austerity Food Special! How this hearty Northern dish can help you out through hard times. Our reporter Brian Beluga writes about the week he ate nothing but Lobby to see if this could be the answer for a hungry Britain.”

                In true BBC lifestyle, er, style, at some point in the week, the intrepid reporter would mention that “combined with some left-over Caviar I had in the back of my fridge, and washed down with some, nearly flat, Chardonnay, by Wednesday I was getting quite used to Lobby twice a day, but was craving a little variation”. The Lobby itself would probably be “A mix of what I had in the fridge that day, nothing else, all boiled up in a big pot. Luckily, I had rather a large joint of Venison and some rare-bread Pork left over, that was my meat, and what’s this? Courgettes? Artichokes? Aubergine? Okra? Asparagus? And some good old potatoes. At this point, I wasn’t just ready to spend a week on Lobby, I was looking forward to it!”

By the end of the article, after a small bump in the middle of the week where the reporter allowed himself a “comfit duck leg or two from the conference buffet, so as not to be rude, you understand”, the reporter would proudly proclaim that he had managed a week of living like a poor person, calculate the cost of the lobby (by carefully weighing each ingredient, allowing for lack of freshness and discounting accordingly) as being less than 2p a day, and a respected dietician (because the article tells us so) would give some vague appraisal of his health, saying that it perhaps lacked fruit, but was in general quite nutritious. And we can all be happy that, if we have not started eating it already, Lobby was the food we should use to console ourselves for being poorer than the journalist who wrote the piece.

But of course, in the interest of fairness, and possibly the recent revelations about Lords and MPs accepting money on behalf of fake lobby groups to influence our countries laws and policies, we are now treated to another ‘idiot’s guide’ to lobby, but this time, don’t try to dip your spoon in it, unless it is silver and you were born with it in your mouth.

Yes, the pre-predicted ‘lobbying’ crisis is now in full swing. David Cameron, being the astute fellow he is, warned a few years back that this would be the next scandal to hit parliament. I don’t know what tipped him off, maybe it was the fact that he and other senior members of the parties were constantly being asked to stand around on balconies at champagne receptions and talk to representatives of specific interest groups who had somehow managed to appear in front of them, guided by a fat Lord or MP who had insisted they spare at least five minutes to ‘hear what they have to say, I hear that these pay-day lenders are having a rough time in the US, and it would be a shame for the UK not to be the kind of country that allows such a necessary credit to flow for those who need it most.’… or something similar.

So what is Lobbying? I ask myself, and turn to my not-at-all state endorsed/influenced news vendor the BBC to explain, as it does so here:

“Lobbying in order to influence political decisions is widely regarded(?) as a legitimate part of the democratic process. Lobbyists are firms or individuals that are paid to influence such decisions.”

Oh good! That’s clear then. They are a legitimate group of people with money able to influence the democratic process. That’s good. I suppose that means if I ever find myself with a bit of cash and a cause, I have the same access to my elected representatives to push my agenda and that of other like-minded people. I knew there was something missing from this democracy that was making me feel alienated from it and totally unrepresented: Money! So, how much will I need, BBC?

“£4,000 to lobby for business interests in Fiji.”

                Well, that’s not really that helpful. I don’t know much about Fiji and I certainly don’t feel like spending that kind of money on it. What else? How about say, pushing the solar energy industry interests?

“Make that… £12,000 a month. I think we could do a deal on that.” – Lord Cunningham.

But actually, as much as renewable energies are probably needed, I don’t run an energy company so that’s not much good to me. What the problem is here, obviously, is that the prices and issues vary so widely we need some kind of I don’t know, regulation, in order to make the process a whole lot easier to understand and a little less morally bankrupt sounding. So lucky us! Now it has been exposed, that’s what we can look forward to:

“A register of lobbyists … would assist MPs in making sensible decisions about who they should be talking to (and ensure) greater transparency about the workings of Parliament”. – MP Robert Buckland.

Brilliant news. So if the likes of Mr Buckland get their way, we will still have private individuals and groups with access to wealth paying for undue, unethical, morally repugnant influence over the democratic systems, but at least we will know who they are, because as you and I know, we are forever perusing the published lists of members interest registers and so forth, as is our inalienable right as citizens. If something pops up on a register somewhere, online or accessible through nothing but a simple freedom-of-information request (which I know we are all forever submitting), and we think it is a bit dodgy, then we will be able to wait a couple of years and then vote the individual out of his seat… if we live in that constituency… or vote out the party he represents…if you believe it is a problem systemic to that party…or we can…?

So who do we turn to in order to solve this crisis of confidence and vested interests rife within our democracy? None other than Nick Clegg! (what a guy). He and the Prime Minister are “determined” no less, to stamp out this practice and reform lobbying, just as they were three years ago, just as Clegg was determined not to introduce tuition fees, just as Cameron was determined not to privatise the NHS (which is happening right now), just as the both of them were going to introduce the ‘right of recall’ for the electorate to banish corrupt or incompetent MPs (still waiting). So we can rest assured that this problem will get resolved just as all those other issues did.

It is unthinkable that the likes of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband have not at some point found themselves chin-wagging to a complete stranger at some fund-raiser about some business-specific tax or legislative issue that it would be really handy to get rid of or amend, and ‘oh look! I seem to have decided I want to donate to your party also… I know you haven’t seen me before, but your right-honourable(!) ‘friend’ over there says that we would really get along if we spent just a little more time chatting together…’. Cameron knew it would be the next scandal because he, like all the others, knew that it was, and is, rife in the halls of Westminster and beyond, and worse of all, they aren’t even really pretending that it isn’t. I get nervous when politicians stop pretending that there isn’t a shit-load of corruption and bribery going on and just admit it – because nothing ever happens. So what, a few MPs and lords that no-one really knows about are going to retire happily from duty with all the money they have made by unduly influencing parliament for the last few decades? I’m sure they will be mortified. A new ‘register’ will be created to show who is paying who what and for why, and we are meant to be happy that this practice still happens and that they have taken ‘decisive action’? All the while, this is just the stuff we know about – let us presume that this is the visible tip of the iceberg, and people still want to chant the old mantra – ‘It (UK democracy) might not be perfect, but it’s the best we’ve got…’ when you dare to venture that the whole system is working against the majority and is unfit for purpose… what else is going on that we don’t, and possibly may never know about? Or do you really believe this to be the antithesis of the problem? That corruption in this country only reaches ‘Fiji’ on the scale? (the scale by the way, goes something like this):

(From Most Corrupt to Least Corrupt)

  1. Lying about wars
  2. Recapitalising failed and corrupt private industries with taxes and then pretending this never happened and blaming it on the welfare state and public services.
  3. Causing the deaths and despair of hundreds of thousands of disabled and economically/socially destitute people as a result of the above and the reformation of the welfare state.
  4. Allowing major businesses to exploit tax loop-holes introduced by the same accountancy firms contracted by the government to write the tax rules who are simultaneously advising the corporations as to how to break them.
  5. Lying about expenses
  6. Fiji

And again, these are just the ones we know about.

My favourite quote in today’s coverage of this not-so-new-but-all-of-a-sudden-current scandal was this:

                “What would really solve the problem would be to make it a criminal offence for any lobby group to offer cash,” – Jonathan Tonge, Professor of Politics at Liverpool University.

This really is my favourite quote, because I agree with it,  but it will never happen and I doubt you find many MPs asking for the same. For me, no MP, Lord, or senior civil servant should have any other interests outside of the little task of running the country. None, whatsoever. But this would be absurd! How can MPs survive on as little as £65,000 a year? I mean the Lords don’t get paid, except for expenses, which include up to £45,000 purely in housing costs, let alone the £150 or so each day, just for turning up (expenses of course, not a salary, that would be WRONG!).

The media circus will dance around this for a little while, some legislation will be promised and maybe even introduced (all be it in a watered-down, unworkable and largely symbolic way) and we will all just carry on usual. We forget that we are just animals on an island who at some point decided that it was easier to work together if we voted to resolve disagreements and set our priorities, but instead, over time, rather than voting on decisions, sociopaths convinced us that it would be easier to vote on a person who could just make those decisions in your stead. From that point on we were doomed to suffer the whims of the powerful who keep many of us just happy enough to forget that we can remove them in whatever way we want, not just within the framework that they control and contort to their own ends. If we decided the whole rotten bunch of them need to go – go they will. There are 62 MILLION of us, and only around 1500 mp/lords. I think we would win. Wouldn’t it be nice if they remembered that now and again and stopped being such corrupt bastards?

As always, I’m sure there are the honest few who would never dream of allowing themselves to be corrupted, bribed or influenced, but they must know that it is going on all around them. How can you operate in such an environment? How can you not make corruption the top of your personal and professional agenda if you ‘believe’ in democracy? How can you prop up the likes of such people? Where are the whistle blowers? Where are the great reformers? Hello? Are you out there? Because if you are, a lot of people would probably vote for you if you stood up to these landed, privileged, career politicians and spoke some truth to power on our behalf. I look forward to your candidacy and your manifesto that promises to shut down the party donor systems, shut down the lobbying systems, prevent elected representatives having any other interests other than that of the electorate, introduce a true recall system, embrace technology and the power of the referendum to return responsibility to the citizens and just represent us, don’t rip us off or repress us, just represent us.

It’s not much to ask for, is it? So in the meantime, let’s just tuck into a bowl of lobby instead, it’s much better for you and it doesn’t cost £12,000 a month.

Any unaccredited quotes can be found in these articles:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22749803

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22742327

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22739943