Wednesday 29 April 2009

Tips for activists

Last night, I came home from one of the most frustrating activist meetings I've ever been to and, yknow, that's really saying something. We couldn't do the hand-gestures because we were in a public place, but it was definitely at that stage of ludicrously unhelpful: voices were lowered threateningly, faces were reddened, and I began to fret that one or more of us would be taken in for posession of anti-capitalist theory with intent to wound. When I got home, my head was full of what holds us back. Since then, I've been drawing up a list of ideas for how the left can move forwards from this position of constant kvetching, infighting and failing to get anything fucking done because of factionism. This will probably added to, so feel free to contribute.

Nine tips for twenty-first century activists

1. This is not a souped-up 60s battle reenactment. Your enemy is never, not ever, the group along from you who happen to disagree with you on one small point of policy, however important you believe that policy is. And if we can't put disagreements aside and focus on larger issues, if we can't play nicely with all the other little activists and anarchists, then we'll all be going to bed without our revolution.

2. On the other hand, this is not Woodstock. We do not all have to get along, hold hands in a circle and think about rainbows in order to work together. That's not what successful politics is about - just take a look at the right wing factions dominating governments all over the world. They hate each other's guts, but it works, because they can all agree on common goals like submerging abortion rights and keeping themselves in power. Internal debate and personal disagreements are part of life, and we need to be mature enough not to get bogged down in flame wars if we're going to take these bastards on. Just because someone across the table from you doesn't agree with your economic analysis/position on sex work/ does not make them your enemy. Not when you have a common enemy to contend with.

3.It ain't about you. No, really. The chances are that if you have the time, energy and personal empowerment to join a political or activist group, that's great, but it means that it isn't about you any more. The people on whose behalf you are planning action and getting organised, those people come first, and their needs and wants come before your personal political qualia. Your politics, your individual, most deeply held political and spiritual beliefs, are supremely important - to you - and you can discuss and debate them in groups or in private as much as you want. But as soon as you let personal ideological quibbles counteract the progress of positive action, you're doing it wrong.

4. If anyone at all starts advocating physical violence, intimidation or bullying, it's time for them to leave your group. If anyone starts advocating racism, sexism, homophobia or intolerance as constructive strategies, it's time for them to leave your group, and it's time for you to warn the next group along from you of their motives.

5. If your strategy for achieving social justice won't work until every single mechanism of capitalist society is dismantled from the ground up, then it's time to start work on a back-up plan. Plan A (world socialist revolution) is absolutely fantastic, as long as there's also a Plan B in play for the meantime.

6. Listen. Please, listen. Listen to everything everyone has to say, not just people in your approximate camp, but everyone with something to say on your issue, even if they're a frothing fascist throwback. Don't just wait for your turn to shout. Listen, and then when it's your turn to be listened to, start talking *to* people, not at them. This is the only way we're going to be able to build the bridges that we desperately need to build to keep radical left politics alive.

7. Stop mistrusting and start recruiting! Don't write off 90% of people you meet as inherently unreceptive to your politics - get out there and start talking about what you do and why you do it (point 6 will prove very useful to you here). In our separate factions, we are very small and very powerless - but by building bridges between activism and everyday life, by reaching out to anyone and everyone we touch, by forming the debate rather than just guarding our own small corner of it, the possibilities are limitless.

8. London isn't everywhere - it just feels like it. Even past the end of the central line, social injustice happens. (As you may have guessed, this is the one I personally have most trouble with).

9. Watch this, and when you think you've understood it, watch it again, and remember that it was made in the 1970s, and ask yourself how long it's going to be until we pull our bloody socks up.

Saturday 25 April 2009

The 'Evil Poor'.

Over the past few days, I've been watching in horror as prejudice against benefits recipients and the unemployed stacks up in the press and on the internet; as people decry even a small hike in taxation of the super-rich whilst advocating leaving the poor to stew in their own juices; as a slew of right-wing commentators have articulated their hatred of the welfare system on this blog. Like Dave Osler, I find it logically inconsistent that so many people seem 'to demand cuts in invalidity benefit and public sector pensions as a response to the financial crisis, yet explode in splenetic rage at the idea that the richest of the rich should pay tax at a rate slightly more in line with the bulk of the population.'
Dave has addressed the question of the class-war-that-isn't; what we need to talk about urgently is why, precisely, it is not okay to make even the slightest hint of a suggestion of putting the merest policyette into place that might slightly disadvantage the rich - sorry, 'wealth creators' - but it's fine to pour scorn, mistrust and hatred onto benefits recipients and the underpaid? When did it become alright to treat people on low incomes as if they were an entirely different, morally deficient species of person? When did it become alright to call the poor 'evil'?

No, really. Let's not forget that this week the Orwell prize for blogs was awarded to NightJack, a blogger who claims to be a white, middle-aged police officer posting about his experiences in the force, passing over, amongst others, the esteemed Alix Mortimer whose hyper-boots I am unfit to lick. One of his winning entries is entitled 'The Evil Poor'. Initially I assumed that the title was ironic. It isn't.

'This phenomenon of the evil poor has spread so that not a town in England does not have it’s unfair share of Kappa clad, drugged up, workshy, wasters swaggering through the town centre streets with a can of lager in the one hand and a bull mastiff on a string in the other. They aren’t out looking for a job or a chance in life let alone a wash.....They just want to get high, shag your 14 year old daughter until she is pregnant and nick your stuff. Sorry if that’s a bit bleak but it’s a lot true.'

I understand why we need to at least entertain the barely-literate frothings of the paranoid authorities, but must we give them a special prize too? Or shall we just all form a line to do a massive poo on Orwell's grave?

As John Scalzi eloquently explains, being poor is not a moral judgement. Poverty is something that the rich can choose to ignore, relying instead on lazy stereotypes churned out by a press that hates the disadvantaged. Poverty is not an identity. Poverty destroys identity, stripping you down to a struggle for life's essentials, consuming you with anxiety. Poverty is not an exclusive, alien community: poverty divides communities and fosters social alienation, aided by a government propaganda machine which encourages people of all classes to mistrust and spy on their fellow citizens. Have you seen those DWP 'we're closing in' adverts? Those ones with the voiceover by the actual Mysterons? You'd have to laugh if they weren't so deadly serious about stamping down on the 1% of benefits claimants estimated to be genuinely fraudulent - despite the fact that legal tax evasion by the top 1% of earners costs the country seventeen times as much as benefit fraud.

And poverty is the ultimate hallmark of inequality, the signpost which the struggles of all other minority groups use to rightly attest to their own marginalisation. Poverty is not restricted to minority groups; poverty can happen to anyone, without warning, especially during a recession.

I'm it all seems so very, very obvious, so fundamental to any notion of decency or political justice, that I'm forced to wind myself back to a point where I can see how some people might ever even think that leaving people who can't work, are out of work or are low-paid to be destitute and to starve is something that we can justify to ourselves, as citizens of one of the richest nations in the world in the 21st century. I can't understand how decent people could countenance such a notion. I'm trying to understand.

Poverty in this country exists. To claim otherwise is crassly ignorant and stinks of privilege. Absolute poverty exists. Nearly four million British children are growing up below the breadline, and some of them go hungry, or their parents go hungry so that they don't have to, on a very regular basis indeed. In winter, grandparents surviving on the state pension have to decide between food and heating. There are also 400,000 homeless households in this country. Four. Hundred. Thousand. That includes plenty of kids. These homeless people are either sleeping rough, leaving themselves at real daily risk of death by exposure or violence, or precariously housed in hostels and shelters, usually with little or no money for food, clothing and basic necessities. But relative poverty exists, too, and relative poverty has been shown to be equally damaging in terms of destroying social cohesion, damaging mental health and holding back progress. The real hurt of being poor goes beyond mere cold and hunger, although both are never far away in modern Britain. Stein Ringen says, in What Democracy is For (2007): 'It is about dignity, the ability to make choices and live one's own life, the risk to children, the feeling of exclusion.'

If you're wondering what a spoilt little rich kid like me is doing sounding off about what poverty is and isn't, you're right to do so. It's not done to talk about money in this country, for some reason, especially if we have it. There's an obscene fashion for whinging about how skint we are whilst conspicuously consuming. Well, I think that's crap. I think that until we can admit our own privilege, we have no business even *talking* about social justice. So I'll start with myself.

At the moment, I regularly find that I have a good deal of month left over at the end of the money, and I do not yet earn enough to pay tax. I am a twenty-something trying to make it in the big, bad world of journalism, I'm supporting a disabled partner and housemates on benefits; things I can't afford include meat to stop me getting anaemic, bedsheets without holes, a place to keep my clothes that isn't the floor, and any sort of holiday. In the years when I was really messed up, I was briefly homeless, and living on £10 a week after bus fares. I've slept in warehouses and on coaches. I've lived on porridge for weeks. However, I come from money. My parents became wealthy towards the end of my teenage years, and although I'm on a tight budget, if I ever got in real trouble I wouldn't, for example, have to sign right kidney away to a loan shark. I could call my dad, and, yknow, he would stop it all. That's privilege. I live in a nice warm houseshare with only a few mice. That's privilege.

Being rich isn't all about disposable income, either. As you will know if you follow this blog regularly, I am currently in recovery from a serious and life-threatening illness, anorexia nervosa. Because I was lucky enough to have parents who could pay for private healthcare insurance, when my illness led to physical collapse in 2004 I was able to be treated in a really decent mental institution, and that probably saved my life. If you're dying of anorexia and you have to go to the NHS, it's a very different story. All of the famous lady writers who did their time in loony bins - from Susanna Kaysen to Elizabeth Wurtzel to Sylvia Plath - they all went to private institutions, too. You don't hear back from the state-mental-healthcare graduates quite so often. In my recovery, too, money means a lot. In times when I really have been poor, not being able to afford proper food really took my mental health back down to zero. I couldn't afford to eat anything 'safe', so I just didn't eat. Now, although it might mean that I can't afford a drink in a bar or that new pair of shoes, I am able to ensure that I have enough food that I'm comfortable eating in the house. I firmly believe that if I was from a less wealthy family, and if I had been less fortunate in my choices after university, I would be much iller than I am now, presuming that I'd survived to my twenties at all. That's significant privilege. Having the chance at a second chance is privilege. My capacity to be shocked by how much privilege I enjoy is also a privilege.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not sitting here every day beating myself daintily up over how terribly privileged I am. That sort of thing is self-indulgent, doesn't solve anything and is a very bad habit to get into. An even worse habit, though, is ignoring the fact altogether, and that's something that quite a lot of my middle-class friends, even the bleeding-heart liberals, have occasionally been guilty of. Refusing to believe in poverty, inequality and social injustice doesn't make it go away. Inventing some plausible reason why everyone poorer than you deserves to be poorer than you will not make it go away. Persuading yourself and anyone who cares to listen that even some poor people are 'evil' is disgusting, disingenuous and frankly cowardly, and it sickens me.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Something to sing about?

Tradition holds that the budget speech is the only time alcohol is allowed in the House of Commons, the theory being that the Chancellor deserves a stiff drink. Disraeli liked a brandy, whilst Gladstone preferred sherry with beaten egg. Well, frankly, I'll have some of whatever Darling was having.

Billions pouring into job-creation. Overseas development commitments secure for the next two years. And a new 50% tax bracket for top earners. Cautiously, I'm impressed. It's not much, but it's a start. Thanks, Darling, although you don't need mine: Ian Dale already thinks you're a big, red, class-war dribbling knob. That should be endorsement enough.

Look, I know that you're expecting bile and vitriol from me, and we both know that there's a long way to go. An article is DEFINITELY on its way about how increasing tobacco and alcohol duty is a stealth tax on the poor. But look, it's a lovely day, we've been promised a tiny giggling bit of redistribution, and for the extra win, Cameron really did make an arse of his pink-faced self in the rebuttal speech. Go on, let's enjoy ourselves for five minutes. Numfar, do the dance of joy!

Fighting the good fight.

I'm currently jacked up on a great deal of Holland and Barrett's finest ginseng and coffee, frantically and gleefully editing Red Pepper's special section on police violence and popular protest, which is due out in May. Myself and many others have put in a great deal of hard work at the last minute to get this section ready, and it's shaping up really nicely. Coverage of recent events in the mainstream media has been woefully lacking - Red Pepper's attempts to reverse that trend have not come without effort, so I hope some of you will read the issue when it's done.

So far, we've some fine contributions from reporters and witnesses who were in the Bishopsgate kettle, along with an academic digest laying out the precedent of police violence against protestors dating back to the Miners' Strike. Contributions from football supporters and mental health service users demonstrate that it isn't just protestors who are being targeted by inappropriate use of police powers, and we've got independent journalists investigating the effects of Section 44 and Section 27 on popular consciousness. All this, and more - possibly too much to actually fit into the print issue, but any content that doesn't make it into print will be syndicated here and online.

Commissioning this edition has been a lot of fun - it's great to excercise my editorial control freakery somewhere that really matters. If you follow this blog regularly - well, firstly, thank you, and secondly, I'd seriously urge you to consider subscribing to Red Pepper if you can, or to donate online if you're a web reader. The lovely powers that be let me do pretty much what I want with this blog, but I do write additional stuff for the print edition, and it's an all-round awesome publication which deserves a lot more attention than it's getting. In case you're wondering, like most of the Red Pepper team I don't currently get paid for any of the work I do for the magazine.

Right, I can't have any more caffeine or I will damage myself, so I'm off to spend whatever remains of wakefulness cross-referencing and deleting extraneous adverbs. If you've time and volition, please share with me your news, links and amusing pictures of cats in unlikely places, because goodness knows I need the distraction. :)

ETA: John Q Publican has also been fighting the good one, with an excellent and thought-provoking initial analysis of the Climate Camp Legal Team's report. Well worth a read.

Sunday 19 April 2009

Wallace, Gromit and popular misogyny

So. I'm dragging myself out of bed after a night on the razzle, work to do, a headache to get rid of, hoping like hell I didn't say anything stupid to the gorgeous American ladies in the smoking area, one of whom has my number, oh god. I put the kettle on and look for something soothing to watch to clear my head and distract me from the massive pile of grown up stuff I have to get through today. Ooh look, new Wallace and Gromit!

I bloody love Wallace and Gromit. They were some of my favourite films as a young child, and the care that goes into making all those silly little plasticine dollies move and mutter innuendos and operate implausible machinery is still enchanting to watch. They're perfect, twee little fripperies. The heroes are a bumbling, weird-looking eccentric Yorkshireman of indeterminate age and his long-suffering sentient canine companion. They are inventors. They fight crime. They are obsessed with cheese, and drink tea all the time whilst making charming visual puns. It's delightful.

So imagine my surprise when I got halfway through the dynamic duo's new adventure, A Matter of Loaf and Death, and found that on top of all of the above it was forty-five minutes of worn misogynist fairytale about female toxicity and fat-hatred.

The premise, right, is that Wallace gets a new girlfriend. The girlfriend, Piella Bakewell (pictured, being squeezed by the giant modelling claws of the patriarchy), used to be a famous pin-up on adverts for bakery produce. But the famous model got fat, as a consequence of which, right, she could never ever get another job. She becomes so embittered that she goes completely barmy and turns into a homicidal maniac nursing a terminal grudge against all bakers. She seduces Wallace in order to mince him up horribly, before which she fills his house with flowers, pink things and other patently ridiculous symbols of what quite a lot of older men (Nick Parks, perhaps, amongst them) and young children think of as femininity. Overcome by a fit of manic rage, Piella tries to push Wallace into his baking machine, beginning a long sequence of comic tomfoolery involving Piella being really, like, fat, at the end of which she is eaten by crocodiles.

No, really.

A Matter of Loaf and Death
is targeted at children. So what will half of the film's intended audience, the hundreds of thousands of little girls all over the world who have seen the thing by now, be thinking? What message does this send to young girls?

Well, firstly, don't ever ever ever get fat, because you'll lose your job and then your mind. Your future success depends entirely on your ability to look great and hook a man. Avoid bipedal dogs who drive delivery vans. And don't worry, it's all a joke, really.

The thing is that it is all a joke. It's a joke that works, partly because it plays into very familiar received stereotypes. And I laughed too. But because I'm a dour, humourless feminist who will eventually be eaten alive by her own cats, after I had my little giggle I realised that I still wasn't okay with this. Yes, I do get the joke. But getting the joke doesn't mean not thinking about the wider implications of the media we squeeze into our children. A lot of popular misogyny comes in under the radar, which is why we dour, humourless feminists need to carry on doing the work of attention, the work of analysis. And stay away from the crocodile pits.

ETA: Parks' studios have just released the title of the next film, A Strip Off The Old Block, in which we get to watch Wallace inventing a machine for beheading whores. Gromit has to turn the winches. He can't scream, you see, because he hasn't got a mouth.

Friday 17 April 2009

Beauty and the bitch: radio appearance.

Attention train-wreck observers: I will be on BBC Radio Wales at 1.30 today, talking about beauty, body image, Britain's got talent, and why it's so disgusting that we're all congratulating ourselves so much over letting a less-than-attractive woman acheive something meaningful.

In the blue corner will be Sarah Burge, AKA Real Life Barbie, former playboy bunny and the woman with the world record for spending the most on cosmetic surgery. Other yet-to-be-confirmed guests include a former editor of FHM.

They're going to trouce me and I don't even care. This is going to be fun.

You can listen live here at 1.30; alternatively, it'll be at the same link on listen again.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Men, feminism and the patriarchal con.

A version of this article will appear in next month's Chartist magazine.


As feminists, the liberation of the y-chromosomed half of the human race has never been high on our list of priorities - historically speaking, we've had enough to worry about. However, it’s high time that we started a serious recruitment drive. Although the feminist movement has faced many obstacles and lost many battles, women have now won themselves enough social and economic capital that we can finally start to address the other half of the equation: the emancipation of men from capitalist patriarchy.

There are many urgent reasons why socialist feminists of all genders need to concern themselves with popular misandry and the subjugation of men, especially when we’re facing down the worst economic crisis since the 1930s. A recession is never a good time for women’s rights. Economic crisis moves economic equality from the agenda, and a great deal of women’s struggle in and out of the workplace revolves around the battle for equal economic status. Cuts to welfare benefits and part-time employment hit women with children hardest. But most importantly of all, any recession creates a large body of justly angry, disenfranchised working men, men who are encouraged implicitly and sometimes explicitly to take that anger out where it will do least damage to capitalist hegemony: to whit, on women. It is a well-known and oft-repeated fact that domestic violence against women increases in times of economic crisis, usually, as is the case now, contiguously with a cut in state spending on women’s refuges. But another backlash against feminism itself is also to be expected – and as feminists, the fallacy that the problems that men face in a recession are the fault of feminism is something that we need to turn and face.

There is a very real crisis in masculinity occurring under late industrial capitalism, and the current economic downturn is exacerbating its symptoms: a residual lack of socialised identity for men outside the workplace is conspiring with rising unemployment and a lack of meaningful work in the middle tiers of the service and information economies to create a timebomb of mental ill health amongst working-age men, whose suicide rate is quadruple that of women and rising. Before women’s liberation, the status of head of the household and breadwinner was one of the few arenas in which disenfranchised men could wield influence. However, the necessary erosion of men’s domination of the family and the movement of many women into the workplace has not been balanced by a commensurate sharing of the responsibilities of childcare and a liberation of men from mandatory drudgery, drudgery which is still too often phrased as payment for the disappearing right to patriarchal power within the confines of the home. As traditional masculinity continues to collapse, the once-valued ‘masculine’ attributes of craft, loyalty, strength, emotional resilience and capacity to physically defend people and property are no longer honoured and rarely rewarded. Feminism has worked hard to challenge the capitalist narrative of mandatory female domesticity – it must now work to challenge the capitalist cultural narrative in which the ideal male is an emotionless, efficient worker drone. The ‘working stiff’ is as damaging a stereotype as the angel, in the house and feminists must be the first to challenge it.

Men, too, are victims of a patriarchal con, a con which is intimately entangled with the machinations of capitalism. Working class men, young men, disabled men and men from racial and ethnic minorities are cheated most cruelly by this con. Raised, like all boys, to believe that they will inherit the earth if they behave in specific power-seeking, violent and rigidly heteronormative ways, as these men grow up they realise that they have been tricked into a set of behaviours that serve ends other than their own. Those whose ends are served are the same patriarchs - literally, those who exercise the rule of the father, elder and wealthier cohorts of the bourgeoisie, business and political classes - whose ends are served by women behaving in gender-codified ways under capitalism. A great deal of men of all classes become justly angry at this treatment, and this anger escalates in times of recession, where the inbuilt inequalities in this economic equation are emphasised by inflation and rising unemployment.

This has been the problem with no name, for generations of men. Unfortunately, as prices and tempers rise, the anger of men is already being misdirected at women, and specifically at feminists, rather than at the more numinous industrial-capitalist socialisation model. In her seminal work Stiffed: the Betrayal of the Modern Man, Pulitzer-prize winning feminist journalist Susan Faludi explains that:

‘What women are challenging is something everyone can see. Men's grievances, by contrast seem hyperbolic, almost hysterical; so many men seem to be doing battle with phantoms and witches that exist only in their own overheated imaginations. Women see men as guarding the fort, so they don't see how the culture shapes men. Men don't see how they are influenced by the culture either; in fact, they prefer not to. If they did, they would have to let go of the illusion of control.'

The misdirection of the valid anger of working-class men against the women who should be their allies has been one of the greatest coups of late-20th century capitalism. And unfortunately, the evidence of a new backlash against feminism, founded on the idea that women are depriving men of jobs, opportunities, dignity and status, is mounting both online (where the feminist resurgence of the 21st century began) and in the meatspace. The irony, of course, is that for a great many disenfranchised men feminism could be the solution, not the problem. This is because rather than pining for exploitative and emotionally degrading models of personal power, feminism aims to build empowerment beyond the confines of gender binaries, all of which limit the capacity of the individual to be fully human.

The great joke of the industrial capitalist model of masculinity is that in any given society millions of men fall automatically outside its boundaries: effeminate men, homosexual, bisexual and transsexual men, men with mental, physical and learning disabilities, men whose skill is in academia and learning, sensitive men, short men, very elderly men, young boys. However, all men, like all women, are worked over by outdated models of masculinity and femininity – and we must not allow men’s anger at the erosion of traditional masculinity to prevent them becoming allies in the struggle for personal fulfilment for all.

In a world they supposedly own and run, men are at the mercy of cultural forces that disfigure their lives and destroy their chance at happiness. Cultural movements of previous recessions – the New Romanticism of the 1970s, for example, or the revival of dandyism in the 1930s – have unsubtly challenged the limitations of traditional masculinity, and it is this sense of betrayal that feminists of all genders must seize upon. If we are to face down the coming crisis as a society, we will need to stand together against the adversarial gender models handed down to us – and realise that the real cause of social disenfranchisement is bigger than gender. Under industrial capitalism, men and women share a common enemy: we must not let that enemy divide and conquer us any longer.

Tuesday 14 April 2009

A request, plea or supplication

Dear anonymous commenters: I value your contributions. Actually, I really do, even when I don't agree with you, which today has been often (and sorry for my lack of engagement, I've got three bastard article deadlines).

However: when you comment, can you please differentiate yourselves? Ie put 'anonymous 28' or 'anonymousROFLMAO' - or differentiate yourself in the body of the comment - so that we can all tell you apart? The threads are getting really hard to follow! Thank you kindly.

I promise that the wordpress move will happen just as soon as I get my tiny arse in gear. Mwah. x

Monday 13 April 2009

Please may Penny be excused from the blogosphere today?

...I've got a terrible case of pissiness, and just looking at all the flak that's gone down over the McBride/Draper scandal makes me want to vomit up my own pancreas in disgust. In case you've spent the whole day in a chocolate coma, it being the day on which we commemorate the baby jesus detonating into confectionary godhood, here's a useful rundown of the bitching, sniping and apologism. Together with yesterday's thoroughly rubbish performance by the black-mask protest gang, I have been taking a day solidly out from leftist writing, determinedly not getting involved in the squabbles, and instead reading comics and eating croissants in my grottiest underwear.

For the record, yes, I do write for Labour List, and I've had a lot of fun doing so: the stuff I do is quite far left for the site's audience and it's been gleeful and instructive to have an audience of crusty old recalcitrant quasi-libertarian dad-a-likes to smack down. The site has been a worthwhile project in that it brings together some real radicals in conversation with government policymakers, but it's been woefully on-message so far. This, in fact, was most of my reason for getting involved, and it'll be my reason for staying involved if the site manages to struggle through this fiasco.

I am appalled at the smear campaign plans, mainly because, as Sunder Katwala so rightly pointed out, the 'Red Rag' site was designed to be a *cough* leftist alternative to Guido Fawkes. Guido Fawkes (Paul Staines), in case you hadn't noticed, is a frothing right-wing anti-political arserag, a misogynist, a suspicious white stain on the face of the blogosphere. The last thing the left needs is to emulate him. Despite this, to most of us wanting to get involved in real ideas, Guido is irrelevant. So it's thoroughly shameful that Draper and co. have developed such a schoolboy obsession with his thoroughly mediocre work.

The political blogosphere is, in fact, more than a sleazy sideshow of arrogant white middle-aged men wanking angrily at each other. We are better than this.

Sunny has the best commentary I've seen on the whole shambles, over at Liberal Conspiracy:

If you’re pissed off by this whole episode - and everyone involved - then it’s obvious what the task ahead is. There’s no point complaining about it. If we want the left to succeed and not be killed off by the libertarians, conservatives or New Labour, then we have to do it ourselves. Otherwise the likes of Derek Draper and Guido Fawkes will end up dominating the conversations.

I'm sick and tired of having to listen to these guys, the shouty white male bullies on the internet and the shouty white male bullies at the back of the protest, just because they happen to shout the loudest. They're as bad as each other. Sniping and in-fighting is the worst quality of British politics, and when we allow ourselves to succumb to it we reduce ourselves to the lowest possible level of debate. We become bitter.

Today, I am ashamed of the British left, on and off the web. But I believe we can do better than this. I believe that - as long as certain almost universally male comrades learn to share the platform, drop their pointless schoolboy obsessions, understand that smears and violence acheive nothing, and grow the hell up sharpish - we can be better than this. Who's with me?

Saturday 11 April 2009

No justice, no peace.

This morning, I walked from Bethnal Green to Bank in the rain, and laid flowers at the spot where Ian Tomlinson was attacked. So did hundreds of others. It was a solemn and subdued march, apart from the obnoxious ratty-haired man with a pink radio sellotaped to his head blasting out swing band music (there's always one). I found myself profoundly moved and had to go and have a smoke and a small pathetic sniffle round the side of the bank, out of sight of all the news cameras in the world.

And then something extremely depressing happened.

After the two minutes' silence broken only by the sound of snapping fucking clicking sodding cameras, two brave, calm women from the family of Sean Rigg , who died in police custody and mysterious circumstances seven months ago, stepped forward to make an emotional speech about the importance of proper inquests and how hard it is to get to the truth, expressing her sympathy with the family of the Met's latest victim. Unfortunately, some guys at the back started shouting and swearing about police killers, drowning out Rigg's sister whilst she was making her appeal for justice, and she faltered, and her relative had to take over.

More and more, I'm starting to understand what my female comrades from ethnic minorities mean when they talk about being silenced.

'Bollocks!' yelled one young white guy. 'The police murdered him, and you know it!'

Who the fuck does that? To the sister of a dead man?

The protest leaders, who were dignified throughout as befitted the occasion, tried to rally the mood, but something had broken. That one shouty white guy at the back who had to make his anger more important than everyone else's, he had broken it. I was there. I was in the street. I saw it happen. And it filled my stomach with ice. I am ashamed that a small dickish corner of the British left can still act like this.

It was a strange, tarted up and dampened-down saturday morning's vigil-march. I was there, in the street, whilst they laid the flowers and lit the candles. When the tealights blew out in what seemed to be the icy gust of a hundred closing shutters, I lit them again. And people started taking pictures of the cute girl in black lighting candles, because of course the image, not anything we actually think, is the important thing. But I'm glad I was there, and I'm glad I stayed to the end.

For a few seconds, at the end of the rally, the sister of Sean Rigg got up the courage to speak again, and asked for the megaphone back. 'Who are the murderers?' she asked.

'The police!' we yelled.

'Who are the murderers?'

'The police!'

And there was the emotion again. There was the rage, the bewilderment, the sense of shock at the cruelties of the infrastructure. And not just from us crusties. Because as we set out on the long walk home, having laid our flowers and taken our time for quiet reflection, at the back of the rally one police officer, in a quiet, snuffly sort of way, was weeping.

ETA: I've gacked that image from the Times. That's because it's my damn hand.


In other news, here is an article I wrote for LC and for LabourList, yes, that LabourList, don't ask me, guv, I just write for them. The editors originally stuck on the title 'Labour is a broad church of diverse ideas - let it stay that way!'. I politely emailed to remind them that no, that actually wasn't the point at all. Enjoy.

Tuesday 7 April 2009


Oh jesus, they killed him.

The bastard police killed Tomlinson. They killed him in cold blood, without provocation, and then they lied about it.

Here's the footage of them beating him, whilst he has his hands in his pockets, minutes before he collapses and dies.

Oh god. With their horrible dogs. Watch the video. Watch the slowed-down version. Do you see any evidence of police medics trying to help him, and being beaten back by protesters, yknow, the official story, the 'natural causes' story? Do you hell. Fucking liars. Fucking liars.

Ian Tomlinson wasn't protesting. He was walking home from work, wearing civvies like he'd been told to so that the protesters wouldn't target him. I don't want to imagine what his family must be feeling right now.

Men die in London every day. But this death was different. This was unprovoked murder, at police hands, and I didn't know this man in life but I am sitting here in tears, because, you know what?

I genuinely trusted them.

That's what bites: I trusted them. I didn't trust them to behave altogether decently, because I'm a frothing little paranoid Red, but I did actually trust the police not to assault unarmed old men with heart conditions, at least until I had concrete evidence to the contrary. I read the reports and I thought: that's dubious, but it's probably an accident. I mean, we should investigate it and everything, but I'm sure it's going to turn out to have been an accident. A man with a weak heart gets caught in the crowd. Tragic, but not police murder. The police don't target innocents without provocation, they don't beat people to death with sticks, not in my city. Not in this country. We don't do that here, I mean, especially not since that cock-up with De Menezes. The police wouldn't do that, would they? Not in this country.

So help me, I actually believed them. No longer. And, do you know what? Never again.

I am bloody angry. I am mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more. I am also frightened. I am frightened of what the response of the civil authorities will be when they realise, as they must do now, that they can't get away with this anymore. That covert violence is not an option anymore. Not now we have the technology. Not when we had a thousand wired-up reporters in that police kettle, reporting from the frontlines.

There's going to be a vigil for Tomlinson. Details will be posted here as soon as I get my grubby little hands on them, and I hope you'll join me. Right now I'm going to go into the garden and scream.

ETA: A demo has been called, at 11.30am this Saturday, the 11th of April 2009, outside Bethnal Green police station in London (just next to Bethnal Green tube) Protestors will demand a public inquiry into the death of Ian Tomlinson and express their anger over the police brutality involved.

Monday 6 April 2009

You look lovely when you smile...

I am so, so crashingly bored and depressed by the endless, endless fucking G20 coverage of the Many Dresses of Michelle Obama and Carla Bruni. Not just because it doesn't matter, but because, in a perverted way, it does: it's a way of saying to the entire world, this is what women are for. They're here to stand behind their men and be well dressed, and quiet, and smile, and look beautiful. It doesn't matter how accomplished Cherie Blair happened to be - she's less stylish than Sarah Brown (or, according to the odious Rowan Pelling, less ladylike), so she is worth less. Compare the coverage of Michelle Obama's fantastic speech to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Language College to the coverage of the choice of coat she happened to wear that day. Seriously, just google 'Michelle Obama G20' and have a look at the first 10 hits. For weeks, we've had it rubbed in until it bleeds that even the most politically aware women in the world are there to be scrutinised, first and foremost, on their looks.

For days, I’ve wanted to talk about women, and anger, and the way we present. But I haven’t. I’ve written furtively, in notebooks and when I’m too tired to see the screen, because a great deal of me is frightened that, given everything that’s going on, feminism isn’t important anymore. Women aren’t important anymore – men, and the decisions they make, and the violence they may or may not commit, are important. The death of Ian Tomlinson, possibly at police hands, is important. What Barack Obama thinks today is important.

But every time I try to write about these things in a detatched way, I keep coming back to women’s anger. The proactive rage of the feminist groups who organised the weekend vigil for Tomlinson. The bloodied young women on the frontline of the demos, throwing themselves at the cops in a world which still tells women to sit down and shut up. The middle-aged women marching for the first time in their lives because they don’t want their child benefits cut. The young paramedic who bravely posted about being targeted by police on Wednesday. These are our politics too, and this is our anger too, and we need to be able to own it and express it fully if we are to reshape the world the way we know it needs to be.

There's a problem there, though, isn't there? Women aren't supposed to be angry.

There are lots of things we are supposed to be. We're supposed to be beautiful, and good, and helpful, and selfless, and loving. We're allowed to express devotion, and fear, and exhaustion, and hurt, and love, and even desire, as long as it's desire for cock and lipstick and shiny things, and not contraception, equal pay or social justice.

The world can cope with angry young men, but angry young women are anachronism to a stable society. In film and literature, angry, passionate men are heroes, soldiers, maverick detectives, rebels, leaders, artists; angry, passionate young women are, invariably the villains, and almost always end up destroying themselves or being destroyed, like O-Ren Ishii, like Joss Whedon's Faith, like Catherine Tramell, like every evil queen and wicked witch in every storybook ever written. Angry, accomplished women are frightening, especially if they are powerful. The only way society knows how to cope with angry women is to stereotype them as deranged, ridiculous and, worst of all, ugly - just as it did last month when feminist comrades across London gathered to protest against the Miss Uni 2009 beauty pageant.

David Crepaz-Keay of the Mental Health Foundation told me last week that 'women expressing anger are seen as displaying deviant behaviour - both within and outside the psychiatric arena.' Exploring this theme, Seaneen Molloy of Mentally Interesting, incidentally one of the most inspiring young writers out there, has a fantastic piece this week about the pathology of expressiong emotion - 'It's Alright To Be Angry'.

You need to read that post, and when you've read it, remember that it really wasn't so very long ago that women expressing too much anger, desire or other strength of feeling were imprisoned as lunatics, beaten and tortured in the name of healing and subjected to forcible electroconvulsive treatment. Remember that even now, women are far more likely to be given diagnoses of stigmatised conditions such as Borderline Personality Disorder, conditions in which the sufferer is deemed 'excessively quarrelsome' (DSMV criteria).

I'm often told of my writing, as I have been told my whole life, you're too angry. Why are you so angry? Chill out! Put on some make up on and give us a smile. You look lovely when you smile.

I have now been working in politics and in journalism for just over a year, and it cuts very deep to know that for every editor who's noticed that I can string a sentence together, for every person higher up the chain who has encouraged me, there have been two who have hired me because...because I look lovely when I smile. Because I've got a cute, petite little figure, because I'm curvy but not too curvy, because I'm small and shy, because I've got sparkly eyes and a pretty face. My appearance was the most important thing about me when I was an acne-plastered, train-track-toothed teenager, and it's still the most important thing about me now that I'm easier on the eye, whatever I wear, wherever I go. And don't think for a second that that's me being coy. Given the choice, I'm glad that, whatever I think of my looks, other people find me reasonably pretty, but I'd frankly rather it didn't matter at all. I'm sick of it mattering so fucking much that I'm pretty. This is the reason I periodically do a Britney and shave my head: hey presto! Underneath all these curves, behind this made-up face, I'm actually a person, and I'll still be one when I'm fifty! Who'da thunk?

Another still small voice of rage and reason inspiring me this week is Julia Indelicate, one-half of The Indelicates – a band introduced to me by a squealing fanboy with the words ‘you’ll like her. She’s angry’. Julia wrote ‘Our Daughters Will Never be Free’, a version of which you can hear playing on the link – it’s the best feminist pop song I’ve ever heard, and it drips with sarcasm and bile. This week, Julia writes for Indieoma about how for female musicians, as for so many of us, what we look like is more important than what we do - and how women, too, betray their creative, emotional and intellectual selfhood for a squashed-down image of acceptable femininity:

Talent in women is still for the most part a reference to harmonic and aesthetically appealing vocals and/ or rough edged vocals conjoined in brand with a sexy demeanour, and this is, for the most part, what most successful women in music do: Have a lovely pair of Talents......Men have always fucked women over. But to play the same game: to betray feminism by admitting defeat and retreating into vain variations on the ubiquitous sex and beauty aesthetic is traitorous and despicable. For this reason I find myself wishing I was male. To be able to have as standard a history of writing, to not have to be outside of it, and to not have to be aware of the femaleness of my performance would be an incredible relief.

I think we are often afraid, as women, of our own anger, our own intellect, our own personal and political potential. We are afraid that if we express any of it, we won't be liked and accepted and, unfortunately, we learn to internalise that fear just at the age when being liked and accepted is what we want most in the world.

That fear is founded on fact. What we have learned is both true and self-perpetuating, exemplified by the G20 coverage: the world's most high profile women are portrayed as beautiful and good, rather than intellectual and impassioned; they are judged on their style, not their substance. Young girls grow up knowing that passion, emotion, intellect and politics are not what they are for. They're there to look good and be helpful, to sit down and shut up. And
even if we try to fight it, we know that wherever we're likely to end up we can expect to be judged on our looks, our clothes and how well we play the game long before we open our mouths.

Except when we write.

I write because I'm not ashamed of my anger, because I want to own my anger; I write because I want people to be looking at my words, not at my tits. I write because it's the only thing that I'm good at that involves giving of myself, rather than selling myself. I want the right to be judged on what I say, and on what I feel, and on how decently I behave, rather than how I cute I look and how sweet I am. That might not seem like much for a lot of people reading this, but for women right down the centuries, that power - the power to be yourself in text - has meant the whole world.

I write because when I'm behind a keyboard, it doesn't matter if I'm smiling, or if I've done my hair, or if I'm sitting here wearing a dustbin, covered in shit and eating fistfuls of pilchards from a jar. I write because it's a way of taking power back. So I'm going to echo Julia: maybe I do look lovely when I smile. Maybe Carla Bruni and Michelle Obama are absolutely fabulous in couture coats. But that's not, that's never been the issue. Up and down the country, across the G20 nations, women are angry - and when we own our anger, when we can finally stand up and unashamedly live with and from our rage, when we finally realise that whatever they say, what we do is always more important than what we look like, then the whole world's gonna tremble.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Hobby horses of the apocalypse!

Good grief, but the G20 protests are kicking up some action. According to Red Pepper's tweeter-on-the-ground, all you can hear is barking dogs and police helicopters, and it's getting ugly. Like an idiot, I promised myself that I'd stay home and ohyes, get a lot of work done all day like a good girl. What's actually happened is that I've been sat in front of the laptop getting wriggly, checking the news every thirty seconds, letting a succession of cups of tea go cold and wishing I was down on the streets.

Because I believe in the power of protest, and because this one in particular bloody fascinates me. I freely admit that I thought the 'four hoursemen of the apocalypse' four-pronged march stunt might be a little complicated to pull off, but the jammy bastards seem to have made it work, and my god the symbolism smells great.

Because although the terms are narrower than those of Saturday's march, it still isn't a protest demanding any one specific, actual thing. It's the people of Britain, on the streets of London, angry about the apocalypse their lords and masters have brought down on their heads. It's insurrection in its purest form, and in its most archaic form: it's the pageantry of the old May-Day celebrations, the traditional time of public anarchy, complete with hobby-horses.

The hobby horse is a traditional British carnival figure from folklore, - you might recognise it as the same type of freaky-looking stick-and-blanket horse that led the procession in The Wicker Man . The hobby-horse represents anarchy, foreboding, the changing of the seasons, and really bad seventies haircuts, amongst many other things. Look, here's a video of the 'Old 'Oss at Padstow.

Now, here's a video of the four horsemen of the apocalypse this week in London. Click through to 1:05. Now, imagine Christopher Lee dancing in front of that ominous samba band with a great big grin on his terrible scary face.

See what I mean?

I can't imagine an apter piece of semiotic street theatre. Something deep in the blood and the bone is infesting these protests. Something in our cultural memory calls to us, and no, I don't have a drop of English blood in my veins, but I can feel it too. This country is angry. The land is angry. The people have brought their carnival of apocalypse to the streets of London, as they have done for thousands of years.

This is a festival of fury, a carnival of chaos. This is the British people calling down the doom of the seasons and reminding the Men of Property that they rule only at our behest, and they'd better not forget it. Are the G20 frightened? Are the city workers frightened, with the howling, laughing mob under their windows screaming for them to jump?

They should be.

Oh, the hell with it. I'm not getting any work done at all any more. Girls and boys, come out to play. See you at the riot.