I’ve voted Corbyn. Here’s Why.

(tl;dr JC is not the messiah, but he’s not a very naughty boy either)

The ballot papers are being sent out, so the election is proprly underway. And yes, when the email showed up today, I logged in and voted for Corbyn. But no, I’m not a member of the Cult of Jez, and I’m not a doe-eyed idealist either, or a raving swivel-eyed Trot (though I think some of the people bandying the term around don’t actually understand what Trotskyism is). So here’s why I’ll be voting for Corbyn this time :

  1. It’s not all about Corbyn – he’s 67. It’s possible  (maybe likely) that he won’t fight a General Election campaign in 2020, because there won’t be a snap election. We have four years to wait. By then, he’ll be 71. That’s going to be an issue, even for a man in decent health. So who wins this election is going to be turning around the oil tanker, to use a metaphor that Barack Obama dropped into a conversation with the podcaster, Mark Marron. Political parties are big things, and riddled and beset by inertia. If you want to reposition the party then you have to start somewhere and Corbyn may have to be that place. UK politics over the last three decades has shifted the terms of debate firmly rightwards, and has narrowed those terms. Noam Chomsky has nailed this point repeatedly. The Blair “Project” was all about moving the Labour Party rightwards into so-called Overton Window, making them more acceptable to an electorate who had been moved to the right.
  2. “Corbyn is unelectable”. Ah, yes. After all, Labour has been oh-so-electable since 2005. Even Blair’s final win was anything but triumphant in the analysis. The “centrist” politicians of the Blair era may need need to adjust to a more complex multi-party environment (even if UKIP’s vote collapses, but that remains to be seen). For example, consider the Labour share of vote in General Election from 1997 to 2015.
    Year Turnout Votes cast Percentage share Source
    1997 71.3% 13,518,167 43.2 1
    2001 59.4 10,724,953 40.2 2
    2005 61.4 9,552,436 35.2 3
    2010 65.1 8,606,517 29.0 4
    2015 66.4 9,347,304 30.4 5

    The result in 2005 was especially bad, mostly due to the fallout from Iraq, and the damage to Blair’s reputation and legacy that continues to this day. Nearly two thirds of Labour’s Parliamentary majority was wiped out, and the party lost FOUR MILLION voters. For those who trumpet Blair as the great winner, these numbers are uncomfortable; its easy to see why he walked when he did. The party have never really recovered from this period, and those who are keen to push the party back that way might spend a couple of seconds thinking just how poisonous that legacy has become. we dont have to guess much; all we need to do is look at the post-thatcher Conservative party to see excactly what effects refusing to let go of your past can have

  3. Also, the aftermath of 2008 has changed things politically. We’re not in Kansas any more, so trying to pretend like it’s 1997 is possibly not the most sensible of strategies. The things that made Labour successful then are not likely to be as successful now, especially as we’ve seen how the trick was performd once already.
  4. This brings us to Owen Smith. Is he a long term option, and how long would he actually last? This is not meant to be a personal demolition of Smith himself, but he does represent a part of the party that has gaps outlived its time. Also, his associations with the lobbying industry lay him open to the suspicions of voters who are already mistrustful of the business of national politics. Even if he were to win, which is not looking likely at this point, it would only be a matter of time before he was elbowed aside to let a more “electable” candidate through. The campaign so far has been amusing to say the least, with Smith effectively trying the age-old tactic of trying to neutralise his opponent by wearing his clothes. the only problem is that he did it so transparently badly.
  5. And there are the polls. Ah yes, the polls. The polls are frankly up and down right now. May is a new Prime Minister, who is enjoying a brief honeymoon. the infighting is not playing well in the wider public, and Corbyn is facing a fairly unfriendly media, even if only from the usual and predictable quarters.

    Psephology is a like reading tea leaves. And about as accurate. using historical poll data right now is not unlike Amazon’s oh-so-brilliant AI technology that notices you’ve just bought a rubber chicken, and thinks you want to to purchase lots more, so it keeps suggesting you want to buy some. One problem is that the rule book is being rewritten, so using polling history as a guide is more than a little chancy. The cureent fragmenation of the political parties makes it extremely difficult to use historical poll data as any kind of reliable basis for analysis. The vectors by which engagement are taking place are also changing. Anyone pondering on that should consider how effectively Momentum are using social media channels (whatever you think of them politically). In contrast, the Smith campaign looks flat-footed, which given his background is something of a disappointment.

Corbyn definitely has his faults. You cant fail to notice them, given how they are being laid bare in public. But are they worse than those of the people opposing him? I don’t even agree with all of the policies. On Trident, for example, I am somewhat conflicted, and on balance probably pro. Same goes for nuclear power.

So what is Corbyn for in this context? Well, his job is to begin he job of trying to move the Overton Window, and to start turning the tanker. I thnk there might be a signiificant body of people in the country who might be receptive to such a break with the politics of the modern era. But its likely that someone else (and there are no clues there yet) is going to have to continue the steering. If youre going to hang on the the somewhat messianic message, Jezza isn’t the Messiah. you might be better off describing him as John the Baptist, though hopefully his head wont end up the same way.

The Lancashire Hotpots

(Georgian Theatre, Stockton)


Some bands make you think. Some bands make you cry. Some bands want to change the world.

The Hotpots are not that type of band.

But if you want a laugh, and to sing loud, and possibly to do a conga, then this lot are probably your boys.

The Georgian is a small venue, and while it’s busy, it’s not full to bursting. Things are not helped by the incessant going off of the fire alarm before the band make their entrance. It makes it feel like the worst episode of QI ever.

The band arrive at around 9 and frankly, they storm it. While the audience is not huge, it is loud, boisterous, and having a ball. All through the night the crowd sing and dance; most of us know most of the words. And sing along with gusto.

They do around 90 minutes, which includes some new stuff, some of their old favourites, as well as a few gig favourites (including the aforementioned conga). Many of their best songs are full of lusty call-and-response moments, and either deploy killer tunes of their own, or steal good ones (like Egg Sausage Chips & Beans, for example). But it wouldn’t be the same without songs like Keys, Wallet, Phone and Chippy Tea. And so we get them, and a bunch of other familiar bits of Hotpots fun. After an encore, off they go. The job of entertaining an audience of gobby Teessiders was done more than adequately. 

They don’t get this way that often (though they’ve played The Cluny in Newcastle a couple of times), but here’s hoping they find their way here again quite soon because they’re a top turn.

bluedot

I’ll be honest, at just after 7pm on Friday evening, I was not in the best of humours. After the (actually quite nice) drive down from Teesside, I’d managed to to spend just under 2 hours in a queue getting into Jodrell Bank, then through the main gate into the venue. But by the time I got in and pitched tent I’d already missed the recording of the Infinite Monkey Cage (which had happened at around 5.30), and as I walked to the main arena, I could tell that Public Service Broadcasting had already started their set.

However, after that point, things improved markedly. Public Service Broadcasting were really rather fabulous. They’re a lovely, playful, intelligent experience, and songs like Go! and The Other Side have a real drive and emotional pull. They have a silly side too, as the dancing astronaut and the brass in Gagarin show.  The set finishes with two other top-notch songs from their the first album: Spitfire, and finally Everest, before they are gone. Since first hearing them, I’ve wanted to see what that experience was like live. They really didn’t disappoint.

After that, I had time for a quick wander around the rest of the site, and a few moments to take in the sheer size of the Lovell telescope. Truly impressive, and made to look even more amazing by the Brian Eno  installation that lit it up after the end of the main stage acts on Friday and Saturday.

The other big draw for Friday was Underworld. If you were at Glastonbury, or saw the gig on TV, you don’t need me to fill in any more blanks. Great band, good performance. Audience (me included) more than happy.

Daytime on Saturday begins at a more relaxed pace, first with a breakfast of Argentine street food (nice hot beef and vegetable sandwich), then continuing with a stroll around the Discovery Park, chock full of great exhibits and proper good geekery all around.  During the day, it really feels like being at a conference in a field, with wellies. I watch Channel 4 News’s Geoff White, the man behind the channel’s The Secret Life of your Mobile Phone as he does a great session in the Contact tent.  To anyone in the industry, stuff like Wireshark network sniffing, and snarfing wifi passwords and network metadata over the air is not a surprise, but it is great to see this explained really well to a mainstream audience. And any man who explains packet-switched networking with a Mr Potato Head really can’t be all bad in my book.

So by early afternoon, it’s time to relax a little, and listen to some Lanterns on the Lake on the main stage, with the Royal Northern Sinfonia. They do make a very lovely noise indeed, and it puts me into just the right mood for a bit more science. I go and listen to Professor Danielle George talk about building some of the latest generation of high performance astronomical telescopes (SKA and ALMA), and the huge amounts of data that they are going to collect (9GB per SECOND). The first question she is asked is about how all of this wonderful work is going to be affected by the Brexit vote. She looks rather downcast for the first time. She says she is very, very nervous indeed. She has at least three major projects in which she is involved that may be affected. Sad times.

But I don’t want to dwell on that. So off I go to see Marc Abrahams (founder of the IgNobel Foundation) for a nice session about levitating frogs, foreign bodies inserted into the anus (yes, there have been studies),  and a fastidious recording of the pain caused by stinging insects, as read by QI elf, James Harkin.  After a paella break, its time to wait for the evening music. Tom Middleton‘s DJ set is decent stuff, but it’s the two big acts I’m up for. Firstly, it’s Air. Their hour-long set is, as you might expect, a thing of beauty indeed. The musicians wander on, all dressed in white, and proceed to wow a field in Cheshire with a lovely mix of the wistful, the ethereal, and the frankly batshit wig-out. Marvellous.

But of course, these are only the hors d’oeuvres before the main course, Jean-Michel Jarre. This show is the eighth time I’ve seen him live, and it’s the first in just under six years (the previous one was at the 10.10.10 show in London), so the question was whether this new show was going to cut the mustard.

In two words: “Hell, yeah!”

The set design is fabulous, with huge panels being used to project images. The sound is AMAZING. During the set I can feel my shins literally throb with the bass. The video fragments I uploaded to youtube don’t quite do the spectacle justice, though you do get some idea.

It’s a set of mostly new material, though older stuff that does get played, like Oxygene 8, and Equinoxe 7 are given major retools to fit the dynamics of this crowd-pleasing festival set. Songs from the latest albums like The Heart of Noise and Automatic are just stunning. Even a Pet Shop Boys-free version of Brick England is a wow, with rotoscope-style images of the group projected as a vocoder version of the lyrics are played.

The set is pulsating, and finishes off with The Time Machine (complete with a Laser Harp solo) and a bouncing version of his collaboration with Armin van Buuren, Stardust.

The wonderful thing about it is that there were still, for an artist in his late 60s, some surprises, some risks. And the fun he was having was obvious. I can’t wait for the full arena show in October, when we’ll get another half hour of this stuff.

Last order of business for Saturday is to go to the comedy tent. Before that, I nip for a beer, only to see a guy who used to work in Scarborough at the University. Ciaran was looking well. The new job suits him. Oh yes, and the beer was pretty decent too. After a leisurely pint, I wander across to see Adam Kane do a great set. He was a doctor, so he has some medical horror stories mixed with songs, which are medically-inflected parodies of familiar tunes.  His song about drug names to the tune of The Elements is a beaut.  And then, finally, at around midnight, comes Robin Ince.  I have a lot of time for Mr I.  My twitter bio contains a description of me coined by him: “enlightenment nincompoop” (which was a compliment, and which I wear as a badge of honour). He really is a force of nature tonight, by turns musing on the aftermath of the last month or so, a cracking Brian Blessed impersonation and top-level Brian Cox piss-takery, before making an impassioned plea to the younger generation in the room to remain curious, because that’s what humans should be. It’s the perfect end to a perfect night.

On Sunday, it’s time for me to pack up and go home (even though there’s a full day of stuff left). Apart from the inevitable queue to get in, this has been a blast, and  generally really very well organised and put together. The atmosphere was warm, friendly, relaxed and overall, it was just great.  And it looks like they’re going to do it again. Could be a possibility next year if the bill is good…

“Hello, Goodbye”

As one door closes, another one opens…

In a little less than 24 hours, the dear old Queen will have performed the necessary formal niceties, and Theresa May will walk through the doors of Downing Street to become the United Kingdom’s 76th Prime Minister, and the 15th of the second Elizabethan era. But, more pertinently, perhaps, she might actually be the last.

David Cameron’s swan song will be at the Despatch Box for PMQs tomorrow; doubtless the tributes will be every bit as fulsome (in its original, perjorative, sense) and insincere as we might expect at such a time, but it should not let us be blinded to the fact that his time in office has been disastrous. History will not be kind to David William Donald Cameron MP. In years to come he will be spoken of in tones similar to those now used about Chamberlain or Eden.  Neville at least had the defence (if you listen to some revisionists now) that he was stalling Hitler so we could re-arm. But, like Eden, Cameron has no real defence at all. His only achievement of note was the acceptance of marriage equality, but for the six years he has occupied Downing Street that is extremely thin gruel.

He has presided over a period of economic austerity, and a prolonged and vicious attack on some of the most poor, vulnerable and needy in society, while he and his ally at Number 11, have cemented the privileged position of the very wealthiest in our society. He has neglected your position on the world stage, and alienated many of our allies (including some of our soon to be erstwhile ones in the EU). There are still questions to be asked about the conduct of his party during the 2015 election (which one hopes the police will continue to ask), and still questions to be asked about his connections to those working for Rupert Murdoch.

To protect his position, he has played some very risky hands. His style has very much been in the vein of securing short-term tactical wins, but building up a bank of longer term strategic problems that came back to bite hm. You’d have thought that after coming so close to disaster in September 2014 in Scotland, saved only by a frenzied splurge of promises at the point where there was a real possibility that the Scots might actually have chosen secession, that lessons might have been learned. But no. He gambled the country’s future to keep his own fractious backbenchers, and UKIP, quiet. He fatally underestimated the scale of the dissatisfaction of dissent against a political class of which he was a potent symbol. The sounds of the boos ringing in his ears on Sunday afternoon in, of all places, Wimbledon, was stark evidence of that.

In the end, his luck ran out.

Cameron’s style was very much in the image of Blair: bland, media-friendly, slick and essentially superficial. A man of few discernible principles, he seemed to tack whichever way he thought the public wind was blowing. What was more worrying was that this continuation just cemented in a section of the British public (who had already had the scales fall from their eyes in the fallout after Iraq) a sense of cynicism and mistrust about the political system, and the people within it. June 23 was the chance that an increasingly angry and alienated electorate took to kick the system firmly and squarely where it hurt.

And like everyone else within a mile of the campaigns, Cameron abandoned ship when the moment came. The rather cloying speech he gave on the morning of June 24 was an attempt to present a statesmanlike aura to the end, filled with nautical allusions that might trigger in some the swelling of Britain as an island nation. He conveniently forgot to mention that whichever captain the ship had next would find life difficult, having had their predecessor run it aground in the most public of fashions.

If May does as she is indicating, the Brexit negotiations will start soon. Article 50 will be invoked, It is almost inconceivable to see how Scotland’s people would vote to remain in such a Union.  Cameron’s legacy will be complete: the man who led the Conservative Party will have been responsible for the dissolution of the United Kingdom, at his second attempt. Not even in Eden’s darkest hour, the final Suez-shaped coffin nail in  Britain’s Imperial era, were things ever as bleak as that; not even he managed to destroy the Union.

David Cameron: possibly the worst, and perhaps the penultimate Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Good riddance, and may history treat you with the contempt you so richly deserve.

 

The (Not So) Grand National

It’s all go for the band of merry scunners, battling for the prize that seemingly no one really wants at all. Today, after hardly any time at all, two of them have already bitten the dust:

  • Liam Fox : A man with all the easy charm and warm bonhomie of a chilled speculum. If you’re a man and you don’t understand that, I suggest you go and ask any woman you might know, then watch her facial expression and involuntary shudder.Still, at least we didn’t have to worry about him for too long. And if you’re a woman: I’m sorry to remind you.
  • Stephen Crabb – somewhere, a really mediocre lookalike agency is missing its Ricky Gervais. But don’t worry, everyone, Stephen can personally cure “the gay”, or something. Others have said that reports of his utterances are “misquotes”. Well,  he certainly voted against the 2013 Marriage Equality Act, which doesn’t suggest he’ll be lining up at any Pride events soon. Anyway, now he can go back and spend more time with his beard. And probably get more David Brent gigs, seeing as the film’s out soon.

So that leaves quite possibly the most stomach-churning threesome in the history of space and time to fight it out. Read it and heave.

  • Theresa May aka Cruella de Vil. It used to be that when she turned up for Tory Party conferences, most of the stupid end of the press talked about her footwwear. They were a bit quieter on the fact that she looked like she was more than happy to skin the small animals from which they were made herself. Just don’t mention the Border Agency, and all that stuff about passports a couple of years ago, eh?. And most certainly don’t mention those hugely successful vans with things like “Go Home!” written on them. She’s the favourite now, of course. Oh joy.
  • Andrea Leadsom putting aside the fact that she barely has a public presence outside her own front door, she has the unmistakeable air of that woman who, when you were a kid, would never let you have your ball back if it went in her garden. There’s an expression in French: “Peter plus haut que son cul“, which basically means to fart higher than one’s arse. I think that pretty much nails her.
  • Gove. Ah, yes. Gove. What can be said about this charmless, chinless little fart that hasn’t been said already? Well, plenty as it happens, but not now. Though when members of your won party talk about you with barely concealed disdain and revulsion, things are not looking good (ask Jeremy Corbyn). Everyone’s least favourite charisma vacuum is now discovering that it’s simply not enough to be a duplicitous little shit to win the leadership of the Conservative Party; it is unfortunately a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for success. He’s also trying to claim experience as a virtue, but given the wonderful way he handled education, that might be a touch optimistic. Weirdly though, he’s not been entirely disastrous as Justice Secretary.  But, unfortunately  for him (but hilariously for us), he seems to be roughly as popular with his own  party as a bucket of lukewarm vomit, so his chances of making it through to the last two look bad. This is likely to annoy his egregious wife, Lady Macbeth Sarah Vine, no end. So, another bonus!

I’ve had an off/on relationship with Kenneth Clarke over the years, but it’s hard not to look at his assessment of what’s in front of us and not wince. His front-line career is over, so he’s free to say what he actually thinks, and not feel the need to be “on-message”, though God alone knows what that even means right now. Unfortunately, he’s not exactly effusive in his praise.

Also, in the pictures I saw today today, why did May look like she was wearing powder blue Sontaran battle armour, just without the helmet?

A Paper Tiger

(Or: don’t offer him a cigar, or he’ll go up like a Chinese Lantern)

So, when the chips were down, and the moment of destiny arrived, Boris Johnson scuttled away like the kid in the schoolyard who whips up a fight, and then runs off when the punches fly. As acts of cowardice go, it’s pretty much as big as it gets. It also probably means the end of any pretensions at any kind of top level political career now. He’s damaged goods. There are some who will claim he’s hanging on for next time, when the winner of the competition for the poison chalice realises the job is basically undoable. But they’re wrong. If Johnson has any fleeting idea of trying a run in the future he will have this moment pulled down over his shoulders like a burning car tyre. It’s over. And the knife was finally plunged in by the Macbeths: Gove and his egregious “journalist” wife, Sarah Vine. The trusted lieutenant turns.  The only real similarity is the Duncan that Macbeth finished off was not the heroic figure of Shakespeare, but a widely despised, useless King.

So what do we get instead? Liam Fox, a man with all the easy charm of a proctosigmoidoscopy*, Crabb and Leadsom, who sound like two low-rent Bond villains, or perhaps a couple of minor characters from Slytherin house. They have about as much chance of winning as I do. But it all looks like a straight fight between Pob and Cruella de Ville.

Gove is the man who published a pamphlet about how best he might go about privatising the NHS, so obviously it’s safe in his hands. And, during the referendum “campaign” (by which I mean hissing bitch-fight), he famously said that “people in this country have had enough of experts”. I’m not sure how he’d know that, given how much of his time in the Deoartment for Education he spent  putting his hands over his ears and singing “la la la” at anyone who knew more  about education than he did, which was awkward, because that meant just about everyone. And a number of potted plants.

Meanwhile, much is made of the fact that May has been in her current job for a long while. It’s hard to know how sometimes  when you consider what a top-notch job she made in managing the problems experienced by the UK border Agency.  And of course there’s the ongoing clusterfuck that goes by the name of the Investigatory Powers Bill.

For anyone still clinging to the illusion of “getting control of your country back”, consider the choice between these two, and then further consider that you have no say who this new leader will be. You will have no control over how they will approach the exit negotiations you craved. And if you don’t like it, it still entirely possible that they will not call an election for four more years (the law is reasonably clear on that), long after the terms of EU withdrawal are done and dusted. Suck it up, and enjoy your sovreignty. But don’t get too relaxed,  peak stupid is still a way off yet, I fear

It’s going to be a long, unpleasant summer.

* getting a camera shoved up your bum to look at your coln