Thursday, 26 October 2017

Garbled History: George and the Dragon at the National

As has been discussed elsewhere, Rory Mullarkey's George And The Dragon is a play which forces you to think about the playwright's intention and meaning.

Act One and Two are set in medieval and industrial England. In both, the English are an essentially good people, but a malevolent "Dragon" rules them, ruining their lives - until St. George kills it and frees the people to be happy. Act Three is set in contemporary Britain, where the "Dragon" is now, for some reason, "within" all people, and cannot be slain, so the people decide to live as they are, and reject St. George. The reason for this difference is vaguely explained as being because "people have changed" by Act Three.

How can this narrative, overall, be interpreted? The only message I am able to untangle is this: it was possible in the past to remove problems, but in contemporary Britain it is not. We just have to live with them. 

Mullarkey is not saying that the problems were never removed in Act One and Two - because they were removed, by both slayings of the dragon: these led to temporary utopias. Also, it is not the case that all of Act One and Two were illusory: their events are remembered and referred to by several characters in Act Three. So the people of England really were freed from their external problems in previous eras, but no longer can be - because of something about how those problems are now internalised.  

This means Mullarkey, like Marx before him, is attempting to develop an overarching narrative of history's progress, and pinpoint landmarks within it. Good idea, Mullarkey! That never goes wrong. 

Image result for marx

No-one who has ever come up with a plan for history's progression has ever ended up getting it wrong - not Marx, not Hegel, not the Whigs, definitely not Fukuyama! 

And, whereas Marx has communist utopia at the end of his historical progression, Mullarkey has - for some reason - a society in which, uniquely within human history, evil can no longer be expunged - evil is more insidious. And that society, that Fukuyaman end-of-history, just so happens to be the present day. His evidence for evil's ascendancy in recent years is, I think, mainly the increase in binge drinking and video games - and I'm not even joking.

So Mullarkey genuinely believes there's something unique about 21st century society which makes it harder to get rid of evil. Wow. A historical understanding that is Fukuyamanally shit. 

Is This Actual Nationalist Propaganda? George and the Dragon at the National

Is it an interrogation of nationalism? Or is it just actual, racist, antisemitic, nationalist myth making? I think all the clumsy, thoughtless metaphors add up to something closer to the latter. 

George and the Dragon is a three-act play in which Mullarkey is trying to comment on the overall sweep of history, on contemporary British culture and on "our relationship with evil".

Oher online reviews describes this play as 'examining' national myth making. I don't think it does: I think it indulges national myth-making and leaves the myth-makers unexamined. The structure of the play vindicates the national myth-makers, the patriotic believers in England's essential goodness, and those who would like to believe England is/was unique and special.

Image result for andrea leadsom british flag
What would this idiot make of George and the Dragon? I imagine he'd quite enjoy it, and that's the issue.

Act One and Two are set in medieval and industrial England. In both, the English are an essentially good people, but a malevolent "Dragon" (representing first feudalism, then capitalism) rules them, ruining their lives - until St. George kills it and intrinsically good English people to be happy again.

Let that sink in. 

That is the genuine plot.

It is not followed by any subsequent contradiction. 

Imagine being sat in a theatre for 90 minutes watching this. Feudalism, and then 'Victorian capitalism', have been killed by St. George - and the English, who had always been intrinsically good, are set free.

Does that not sound a bit North Korea? Or a bit Enoch Powell? This is definitely the kind of patriotic bullshit Winston Churchill and Boris Johnson could share some racist jokes over. 

Image result for green and pleasant land
If this picture makes you feel something twingeing in your chest, and you're about to burst into a rendition of Elgar, then this is the play for you. 
Mullarkey's point seems to be that the native English are perfect, and their problems arise solely from corruption by external forces which need to be slain. Congratulations, dickhead, you've just invented xenophobic nationalism and antisemitism in one go!

Seriously, Rory, surely it occurred to you? This plotline is the kind of thing Leni Riefenstahl would be commissioned to make. It's the national myth dozens of despots have relied on, and millions of people in human history have actually believed, and used to justify prejudices. And the one prejudice it rings most clearly of is antisemitism.  So if you're going to give voice to Mosleyian ideas at the National Theatre, you'd better be doing this, Rory, just so you can mock those ideas?

But no, Rory, you don't take the piss of these ideas, do you? You actually write a story that confirms them. Because, Rory, in your story, after "the dragon" is killed, life does get better for the English, doesn't it?

And, instead of being aware of these connotations, you soldier right into antisemitic tropes, not wanting anything to get in the way of your pantomimic national myth-making. Your human embodiment of "capitalism", played by Julian Bleach - all Faginesque leering and top-and-tails opulence - reeks of tropes about Jews and money and power which we don't need to see repeated. And your play remains wedded to this narrative framework in which Bleach's external corrupter, who continues to look a lot like an antisemitic drawing of a Jew, is scary to the audience. He descends from a ceiling, lit up in a solo spotlight, and roars at the audience. I mean, how else am I meant to interpret that? You cannot claim to be mocking our fear of the outside corrupter of the English; you are encouraging it.

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An antisemitic caricature, very much like the one currently on display at the National

I imagine you would answer that the dragon is not a literal being, but is in the minds of the English all along? But this is really a matter of semantics: you write as though the English are innately and originally pure, and then corrupted by an externality: whether that externality is a concrete bad person or a bad idea doesn't matter. This is pure McCarthyism: root out the poison, which has come from outside, into our people's heads. You still chose to embody the evil 'idea' as a possibly Jewish magnate pantomime baddie.

I don't believe Mullarkey perceives these connotations. But only because I'm not convinced he's thought very much at all about these metaphors, or is using them very effectively to drive home any kind of point.

Read any online review of the play, and you'll find a critic keen to tell you that Mullarkey "was inspired by" (read: copied) Evgeny Schwartz' 1943 play The Dragon. In that play, the "Dragon" of Russian Tsarism is slain, and then replaced by the "Dragon" of Stalinism. Fair enough, Schwartz. You've used a metaphor there to communicate a clear and precise analysis: that the Russian revolution led to a state as despotic as the one it overthrew. Great. Point made. Same analysis as in Animal Farm, but at least you've found an original way to say it.

Mullarkey's analysis is, on the other hand, nonexistent. What is he trying to say here? That the people of England threw off the shackles of feudalism and lived happily for a few years, but then were yoked again under the shackles of capitalism? Because if that's your analysis, it sounds like a drunk first-year student who hasn't read Marx trying to impress girls. What the hell kind of economic system do you imagine people lived in in between "the evils of feudalism" and "the evils of capitalism"? And what kind of system do you imagine you are living in now? When do you imagine we threw off the yoke of capitalism? What is this nonsense about the evils of "the system" being suddenly cured by an external, white, upper class hero? How are you putting that white-saviour nonsense on the stage and then not mocking it? Or are you trying to say capitalism erodes individuality even more than the feudalism that preceded it? Because it's a bit fucking ambitious to attempt to make such a heavyweight economic-historical point in a play which is 90% about fighting dragons. 

All of this might sound like I'm trying to read too much into it, but you didn't give your audience the choice. You made a "dragon" tell us "he was the system" and then get killed when George destoys the statutes that uphold "the system". In Act Three, I've no idea what Mullarkey wanted the Dragon to represent, but reviewers are falling over each other to claim it's "Brexit", because they too, saw that you wanted it to mean something. Time and again, I tried to just settle into my seat, buy into a character - any character - and enjoy the storytelling. But you wouldn't let me do this, Rory. You are adamant that we must listen to your points, wherever they are. The allusive language always returned, in lines like "the dragon is in us all". You can't not search for meaning in this play.

And let's be honest, Rory, if you take away all the meaning - if it really was just a play about dragon-killing - it would be a pretty weak story wouldn't it? "Man kills dragon twice then can't do it a third time." Not a very satisfying Shrek movie, that. You need it all to allude to something, Rory, otherwise you've just got a fairytale that ran out of puff. You would have just subverted the whole fairytale genre purely in order to remove the enjoyment.

I think what's happened, Rory mate, you wrote in the metaphorical significance of the Dragons, didn't you, and then you kind of forgot to follow the metaphor stuff through? I think you've got carried away with the actual Dragon-slaying storyline and you're enjoying the sub-Carry On fun that you think you can have on a series of historical adventures. 

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There is more than a dash of Carry On's brand of silly, thoughtless historical adventure in Mullarkey's play. The problem is Mullarkey doesn't settle for that, and keeps trying to make it say something serious too.
The reason I think this is that you poured so much energy and love and care into the actual swashbuckling. This was not ironic swashbuckling. This was not even sincere swashbuckling which is then cleverly upended by a self-contradictory ending. This was genuine swashbuckling, with both the 2 first acts providing the audience with a self-contained, traditionally-structured heroic story, for which we are never offered any alternative frame of reference other than the obvious one: a happily-ending underdog story.  

A typical 'joke' in the play runs like this: George returns from killing a dragon, covered in blood. When he removes his armour, the red blood has created a cross on his white clothes, in between the armour, forming a St. George cross. The villagers then fly this fabric as a flag. And there you have it. The St. George flag. 

Image result for st. george cross

What are you doing here, with this joke, Mullarkey? What is the substance behind this joke? Why are we positing hypothetical creation-myths for the St. George cross? There are only two possible reasons a playwright would do this joke. Either:

a) They genuinely would like a play to contain a half-joking, knowingly-fabricated creation-myth for the St.George flag. This is the Andrew Leadsom/American tourist option. The option whereby the playwright wants us to say "ooh yeah, isn't it fun to think about where these bits of our national culture could have come from. I know they didn't but imagine if the St. George cross came from that, that would be awesome!". This is the option that would appeal to a jibbering flag-waving simpleton.

Or ...

b) Because you want to mock the Andrea Leadsoms who would prefer option A. And that, if that were your reason for the joke, I would enjoy. Is that what is going on here, Rory? Are we mocking patriotism for its flimsy foundations? Is it like the joke in Life of Brian where they all start worshipping a gourd by accident? Maybe you are actually assuming that all your audience find flag-waving a bit silly (which, in Britain in 2017, I think is a bit optimistic, but I admire your optimism) But if your intention really is to mock the baseless myth-creation of patriots, then I think you could have gone in a bit harder than just suggesting "your St. George flag was probably designed by accident!" You haven't mocked the flag-wavers very well there? You've told them something that they might actually quite like - that the flag was born out of bloody struggle. If you wanted to use your incredible platform to mock national myth-creation, then where was the follow-through, Rory!? How was that reflected in other jokes and in the moral and narrative framework of the play!? What you needed to have was some ironic moment where a pompous idiot stares up at the St. George cross with pride and comments on how carefully it's been designed or something? (Geddit? Even though it was designed by accident) Do you get me? Or you could  had hordes of people worshipping George's blood-splattered cloak as a relic or something? I don't know, I'm not a comedian, but you only really did half the joke there, man. It's like if you said to me in person, "do you want to hear a joke? Why is the st. George cross flag red and white" And I said "why"? And you said "because St. George killed the dragon". I'd just be like "what? Is he alright? Is he actually into all this St. George, flag-waving patriotism stuff?"

Image result for monty python gourd
A joke that actually successfully takes the piss of hysterical worshippers.

Maybe it's one of those 'jokes' where really, it's not a joke - just a reference to something. You know those ones? Like Peter Kay built a whole career out of. You just show us something we recognise on stage and we're supposed to clap like seals because we recognise it. "Oh look, that's clever", we're meant to say. Well apologies Rory, if that was the spirit it was intended in, because I just sat there waiting for the punch line about it.

I could see it's a St.George's cross on the white linen, Rory. Just like I could see you were playing with the fairytale genre. Just like I could see that the dragon represented something....

But I was waiting to see if you had anything to say about that...

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Grumbly Grandad's View of the World: George and The Dragon at the National

I can't believe it.

I stare, open-mouthed, at my phone screen in the lobby of the National Theatre.

Rory Mullarkey - writer of the play I've just watched - is just THIRTY years old. No. That's impossible. 

I don't mean because he's so good - although some of his dialogue is very good. 

But I thought he had to be much older than 30 because of how he thinks. I feel like I've watched a play by the country's most curmudgeonly grandad. You don't get the impression that Mullarkey very much likes British society "these days".

George and the Dragon is a three-act play in which Mullarkey is clearly trying to say something about the overall sweep of history, and about contemporary British culture. Despite striking set design, just feels like a pantomimic, sub-Blackadder re-run of the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, if it had all been directed by the Daily Mail.

Act One and Two are set in medieval and industrial England. In both, the English are an essentially good people, but a malevolent "Dragon" rules them, ruining their lives - until St. George kills it and frees the people to be happy. Act Three is set in contemporary Britain, where the "Dragon" is now, for some reason, "within" all people, and cannot be slain, so the people decide to live as they are, and reject St. George.

It is made clear on several occasions that THE DRAGON IS A METAPHOR FOR SOMETHING, so heavy-handedly that they might as well have written it on a fist and punched us. But I persistently tried - perhaps unwisely - to understand what the play wanted to say.

Image result for george and dragon national

It's in Act Three, where Mullarkey turns his hand to something resembling "state of the nation" playwriting, that his views is most manifest. 

And this is why I can't believe he's 30: his take on "contemporary Britain" feels like the kind of thing your grumbliest grandad would come out with after boshing too much Daily Mail. It's dominated by concerns with "ladette" drinking culture (drunk women from a hen do make several appearances, for no reason), pre-teens playing violent computer games and football fans fighting in pubs. 

And it all feels like a bit of a throwback. His idea of "British society" seems to be entirely based on fly-on-the-wall documentaries from the mid-2000s about "working class culture". 

It's as if Mullarkey doesn't actually live in the UK in 2017, but has instead learned about it exclusively through watching Channel 5 programmes with names like "My Life On 30 Pints A Day" or "The Boy Who Died Because He Had Such A Fat Arse" or "Living With My Cunt Husband".

He's obsessed with the kinds of things Major Misunderstanding would moan about. The whole string of media-fabricated "national epidemics" which was fodder for the blame-the-poor paternalism David Cameron rose to failure on the back of. All the things Matt Lucas and David Williams once read about in the Times and used in their campaign for the extermination of working class life entitled "Little Britain".* 

Basically, all the things that your racist grandad sees in contemporary Britain (and believes are evidence "we're going to hell in a handcart") are the things which fascinate Mullarkey. I'm surprised he didn't include a brief section about "happy slapping", having just found out about it from a 2003 article your Uncle Keith emailed him, with the all-caps subject line reading "YOU WONT BELEVE THIS!!!"

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Rory Mullarkey off to complain to the BBC, for some reason, having just found out that youths in "hoodies" ride mopeds these days. And by "these days" he means 2003, which is the year he still reads articles from.

The weird thing is that, in a normal play, it even wouldn't matter much if the playwright felt antipathy towards her society. Because a normal play would focus on about half a dozen characters, right? All of which the playwright would have some empathy with? That's what literature does, right? Make you feel a bit better by bringing you into communion with some characters you like a bit?

Not so with Mullarkey. He refuses to give us even one believable, fully-formed character to focus on, and instead drags us back again and again to his sweeping "sketch" of general society, thereby preventing us from ignoring his sneering, tabloidy generalisations. He wants to sketch the 'character' of English society, as if there is such a thing. And our society is not something he appears to have the facility to understand, let alone write about.

As Mullarkey stretches his canvas as broad as it will go, the characterisations become more thin, laughable and tabloid. At one point, a younger man in the pub challenges an older man's jingoism, yelling "WHAT ABOUT THE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE BRITAIN ENSLAVED!". This is the first time in the play any English person has questioned England's essential goodness. Therefore, I think in Mullarkey's head, it was supposed to be a significant line. Maybe Mullarkey wants to say something about how England contains an element of post-imperial self-doubt, is generationally divided, and is both racist and obsessed with criticising racism. But again, it is as if Mullarkey has never met real people. It is as if he has just read about "leftie student types" in the Daily Mail, and wanted to include them in his play because they fascinate him anthropologically. It is as if Mullarkey has no interest in such people as human beings. The younger man screams this crude Russell Brandism in a pub, during a football match, in a way that literally has never happened IRL in the history of the world. There is no investigation into why he felt like shouting this. The man is a tabloid caricature, complete with Che Guevara T-Shirt and desert scarf. He looks like someone's fancy dress costume for a party with the theme "uni bellends".

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It is a little known theatre-industry fact that the peak of Rory Mullarkey's research for his George and the Dragon play was googling "left wing bellend" and finding this picture.

And all of it - the ladettes, the pub-goers, the computer gamers, the football fans, even the politicised student, are all treated by Mullarkey with a condescending contempt. A misanthropy runs through it, especially in his decision to paint contemporary Britiain as a binge-drinking multitude - and his lack of interest in creating, among this huddled mass, even one plausible, rounded, sympathetic character, even for a moment. No one has clear motivations or an authentic voice. Everyone is just an idiot. And they're all at war with every other idiot. A child is even given a long, whingeing monologue which -ironically - complains about how everyone's always complaining. Way to ruin the "wise child" trope, Mullarkey. Apparently everyone in 2017 is always complaining about other people "walking too slow or walking too fast".

And this is what makes it jar horribly when at the very end Mullarkey executes a sharp U-Turn and asks us to buy into his "happy ending resolution". Mullarkey's conclusion, heavy-handedly hammered home, is this: contemporary humans are imperfect. We must let go of any hope of perfectibility and be content to live as we are. Cue music by Pharrell Williams, everyone smiles and goes back to their lives happy, the National Theatre bring out an inspirational calendar with this message printed on every month over the top of a picture of a different waterfall - at least I think was the idea.

And this message at the end makes perfect sense; it is something any thinking person realised around the age of seven. It is of course unhealthy for an individual, or society, to maintain impossibly high expectations - this is why both Buddha and Stoics taught that managing expectations is the only way to ensure happiness; why every existentialist tract is 99% about persuading you to let go of any hope.

However, this message rings a bit hollow from a playwright who has just spent 60 minutes sneering at Britain's moral turpitude. And you can't really preach "embracing our imperfections" when the Britain you've shown us is not just "imperfect", but unrelentingly bleak! Not one redeeming act of tenderness was in your version of 21st Century Britain. Where was your "colour purple in a field"? Where was your moment where Sartre hears the singer?

And, more importantly, it makes no sense to preach "love-your-imperfections" in the context of the play's overall narrative, which as we've seen, suggests that Englanders were not always beyond salvation. They have been saved twice, in fact! 

But Mullarkey just thinks that "these days", as everyone's most tedious male relative loves to say, "it's all got worse". 

If, Mullarkey, you wanted to write a play with a "love-your-imperfections" ending, why did you give us Act One and Two, in which the imperfections are, in the manner of all good racist myths, vanquished?!  "Killing the dragon" did help the English people in Act One and Act Two, didn't it? After getting rid of the dragon, everything got better for a while? So the entire moral and narrative framework of your story suggests that it was possible, and helpful, to rid a nation of evil - but is not any more.

If you'd staged Act Three on its own, you'd (maybe) have staged a reassuring play about how we have to embrace our imperfection. But when you stage it with Acts One and Two, you're now saying that ideally, you would remove imperfection and things would be better, but for some reason in the 21st century only you can no longer kill off imperfection so we're just gonna have to settle for a shit life. A more shit life than they used to have in the good old days, after the two dragon-slayings. A life shitter than, according your story, the majority of world-history.

Why have you singled out the humans of the 21st century for a telling-off, grandad? Can we chill out?

* This was back in the bad old days, though, before Matt Lucas followed in the footsteps of the uncompromising antiracists Katy Perry and Eminem and Became Woke. Lucas has now had the messianic realisation that blackface is not appropriate, for which the media has rightly given him the appropriate amount of credit: i.e. all the credit in the universe.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Support the Coalition

Supporting the Coalition is fine. If you're planning to vote Tory, Lib-Dem, UKIP or not vote on Thursday, you're supporting the Coalition. That's fine - as long as you do it because you really hate the welfare state. If you support the coalition because you really hate the idea of helping the poor and vulnerable then, fair enough, I can't argue with you. If it's because you really hate all state intervention and welfare, the NHS and benefits - every victory of post-war democratic socialism -  then fine - you've chosen your party quite prudently.

But please don't support the Coalition because you think they are better with the economy. That is just a lie. They have borrowed more in 5 years than Labour borrowed in 13. They are leaving us with 0.3% quarterly growth when they inherited 1% quarterly growth - yet claim to have caused recovery. Their cuts actually cut off recovery and caused negative growth in quarters of 2012. They are terrible with the economy, because it's not their primary concern. Their aim is to roll back the state - to cut back everything until the world is just a market.

I don't mind if we all all democratically decide that the NHS is a bad idea. I don't mind if I get outvoted, and the collective will of the British people declares that we no longer want things like hospitals, schools, welfare, councils, a police force, an army, a fire service, and roads. If we declare, en masse, that we reject the very principles of taxation, society and politics.

But I'm worried that's not really what people think. I'm worried people actually don't support the Coalition because of who the Coalition are; they support what they think the Coalition is. They support the coalition because of misinformation. They do it because they are lied to. They support the Coalition because they want to support the best managers of the economy - when these are not in reality the saviours people think they are.

So support the coalition - but only if it's because that's what really want. Please don't support the coalition because you've been misled. Don't support them for a made-up reason. To support them because of one of the lies is supporting them because Murdoch and Harmsworth and Lebedev told you to.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Cameron Is A Really Horrible Boyfriend. He Ruins Your Self-Esteem So You Never Leave Him

David Cameron is like the world's most horrible boyfriend. He never does anything for you, and he doesn't even pretend to be a nice boyfriend. He just tells you "you'll never get anyone better". That's why Cameron has so savagely attacked everyone, and done little else.

We talk about "apathy","disengagement", and how disillusioned voters now think "they're all the same", as though it were a politically neutral sociological phenomenon, that has spontaneously arisen. In reality, mass disillusionment was a clever electoral tactic, which has been disseminated by the right-wing press. They they knew this was an uninspiring Tory party, with no positive message and an uninspiring austerity agenda. Therefore, all alternatives had to be savagely discredited from 2005, so they looked even worse.

Depressing our expectations and optimism was helped by the widespread disillusion that followed from Iraq, Blair, the crash, the bailout, the MPs' expenses scandal and the character assassination of Gordon Brown. Even after all this, Cameron only just scraped in, failing to win a majority which, says one insider, made many Tories "furious". It's easy to see why they didn't win. The electorate didn't actively vote for the Tories; Cameron's uninspiring war of attrition against Gordon Brown did not excite voters. It just begrudgingly convinced them change had to happen.

Lowering our expectations has been very effective. It has put people off Labour just as much as the Tories, so that Cameron could then - so he thought - win in 2015 by just claiming to be the more adept economic steward. For example, just woeful 23% of people think the current government have the best policies on the NHS - the most important issue to us today. You'd think this would be cause for an instant overthrow. But it isn't, because only 36% of us think Labour - the party which founded the NHS - has the best NHS agenda.

National negativity is what has kept Cameron supported. The message is clear: we might not be that great, but all politicians are terrible. Your safest bet is us. There Is No Alternative. That is the core of the Conservative message since 2005. 
Because of this despondency, the Conservatives still retain substantial support, despite the fact people are unhappy. 47% think the country has got more unfair under the coalition - and only 12% think it has got fairer. Substantial majorities of us support measures to reduce inequality: 65% of us support the idea of a wage cap to prevent bosses earning more than 65 times what their lowest paid employees do. Labour and the Green Party offer a number of policies to address inequality - the mansion tax, non-doms, wage cap, the bankers' bonus tax. And yet neither of these parties has 65% of the vote.

We want more equality but we don't vote for the parties that promise to tackle it? Why? Probably because of our woeful, carefully engineered cynicism about politics: 63% of us think Labour will "say anything" to get elected. Therefore, we don't even vote for the parties that promise to address the issues we feel need changing!

This is the real coup of Cameron's era. He doesn't have to inspire us, he doesn't have to be lovable, and he doesn't even have to address the issues that we think should be addressed. He doesn't have to worry about not being popular - because his rivals have all been made just as unpopular too. We've been convinced that there are no alternatives, and we don't have a hope in hell.

Cameron is that horrible boyfriend who ruins your self-esteem so you never leave him. You know he doesn't make you happy any more, but you don't think you could do any better.

We don't think we ever could have an honest politician, good public services, economic equality and security. We've got uniquely downcast national expectations. We don't really believe that it's possible to be well-governed; though of course it is. 

The current national cynicism is stifling, and makes it hard to believe in better alternatives. Or, we imagine that the only alternative would be something stupidly reactionary, such as UKIP.

But, by driving voters hopes downwards, Cameron accidentally pushed them towards a Pandora's box of alternatives. Voters' expectations in politics were depressed - and it helped Cameron get one term in office - but then thousands decided to do something about it, and voted elsewhere. UKIP they have bled the Tories of votes, so that they end up no more popular than the rivals they have sought so hard to malign. Hence the current stalemate. Hopefully, that is a sign of people reasserting the fact that they do deserve a government that they actually like.


Leaders Shouldn't Follow Us. We're Idiots.

Leaders Shouldn't Follow Public Opinion. The Public Are Stupid. They Should Challenge Public Opinion And Change It.

But Simon Jenkins has a strange opinion:

"Only fools criticise (or praise) politicians for what they say. It is what they do that counts."

Polly Toynbee has a similar opinion on Ed Miliband. He might say he’s going to continue austerity, but he isn’t really. He wants to save public services, so he's only going to balance the budget by 2020 - so he doesn't have to cut at all. This Toynbee sees as a disguised blessing. Miliband just can’t come out and say that spending cuts are unnecessary, because everyone thinks they areHe has to play by the rules.

Closet fairness. Secretly, he cares about the poor and vulnerable, and wants us to have a fair country. But he won't say it too loud because it isn't popular enough to say that. It's more popular to shriek hysterically about the deficit. 

But what kind of a leadership is this? Should leaders dishonestly kowtow to popular opinion? Should they follow the direction in which popular opinion is already moving, until they gain enough power to – in some degree – enact their actual beliefs? Leaders shouldn’t be play by the rules; they should make the rules.

Certainly, courting public opinion is what Blair did. And he's a paragon of virtue and integrity. Thatcher had won the cultural battle over public discourse in the 1980s, demonising Trade Unions and the working classes, and turning greed into a good. Tony Blair didn’t try to challenge this – he just went with the flow. He turned Labour into the country’s second Thatcherite party, so that he could win votes from the neoliberalised electorate. This is why Thatcher said her greatest achievement was creating New Labour. And why many think they no longer have a choice. 

Firstly, we need leaders to challenge public opinion because public opinions is so often wrong. The shrieking media keep us in such a state of blind, confused hysteria that we very often work on the basis of what we’re told; not what’s trueWe think that 15% of girls under 16 become pregnant every year, for god's sake. Come on.

Secondly, if we don’t challenge discourse and opinion, you are not a leader – just a technocrat. And you will never have as much impact as those who do. The society we live in is made up of more than just the laws that constrain us; it is the beliefs that animate us.

It highly important politicians lead and address public opinion. This is why we have leaders, rather than anonymous technocrats. In fact, it is arguably more important to change discourse than to change laws. Laws can be repealed a year later. It is only by changing discourse that really deep, broad and long-term changes in society happen.

Millions currently feel no qualms about avoiding tax. This can’t be changed merely by punishing it and making laws. You’ll never catch them all. A far more effective – and cost-efficient – way to change behaviour is to make people want to behave differently. Let’s make tax avoidance despicable.

Stanley Fink: "I did what any Average Joe would do - I put some of the £180million I made in hedge funds into a Swiss Bank account. so I don't have to pay for plebs like you to be kept alive by the NHS".

Former Tory chair Stanley Fink is a politician who decidedly does not shrink from entering the culture war. He pronounced in the Evening Standard this year, that “everyone avoids tax”. This kind of sermon sets a paradigm. It normalises and justifies a certain way of thinking. If we hear enough that we are entitled to avoid tax, we are sure to. How many millions will be lost to the treasury in tax avoidance by the words of people preaching tax avoidance? It’s impossible to quantify, but important to ask.

Thankfully, Miliband’s rhetoric on tax avoidance is strong – he evidently wants to challenge this idea. But to do it well, he needs to challenge a lot more misconceptions.

Tax is seen as a burden. Let’s make paying tax a noble privilege. Let’s argue that tax is the price you pay for living in a civilisation which cares about you. 

Similarly, the NHS is already a beloved institution; let’s make Jobseekers’ Allowance just as adored – it is the safety net that we are lucky to have. Let’s stop assuming GDP growth is how you measure improvement, and make equality the test of a healthy economy. Let's challenge the negativity towards immigration, because in reality it brings in 34% more to the Treasury than it takes out. Let's not let the Daily Mail win that argument, just because they shout louder. They have no facts on their side. Let's "stand up for migrants" as the Green party do. Also, if possible, let’s challenge the hatred of Westminster and make the word ‘politician’ conjure up images of passion and dedication. 

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

6 Things The Papers Don't Tell You

1. Immigration brings money into the UK

Nigel says benefit tourists are coming over here, using our "international health service". The Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration have tested this idea, through research of the facts (an interesting way of working which Nigel thinks is 'bloody foreign nonsense').

Between 2001 and 2011, EU immigrants to the UK contributed 34% more to the budget than they took out.

In the case of non-EU migrants, they paid in 2% more (through taxes) than they took out. Overall, immigrants brought in an extra £20bn to the Treasury's budget. We have more to spend on the NHS, thanks to immigration. Thank you, migrants!

2. Immigrants are not all benefit tourists

Immigrants are actually 45% less likely than UK citizens to claim benefits

3. Public spending is not all going to lazy alcoholics on Jobseekers allowance

55% of the welfare budget goes to pensioners, who haven't suffered from any cuts. Of the money that does go to Jobseekers allowance, they are not all Benefits Street delinquents. Just 0.3% of people on benefits have been on them for over 5 years. There is not a "culture of dependency”.

4. You are not alone in thinking that it doesn’t feel like a recovery

47% of us think the country has got less fair under the Coalition. Just 12% think it has got more fair. Pay has gone down by between 5.9 - 9%, depending on how you measure it. These are not the “good times”.

5. It is not entirely Labour's fault that the 2008 crash happened

Mervyn King, former governor of the Bank of England, was asked if it was Labour's fault that the banks were unregulated, allowing the crash to happen. He said:

"I am not going to talk about individual parties’ culpability because I think the real problem was a shared intellectual view right across the entire political spectrum and shared across the financial markets that things were going pretty well”.

All mainstream politicians were fairly blind to the risks in the banking sector. The Tories blame Labour, calling it “Labour’s Great Recession”. But most the deregulation had been done by Thatcher and Major, and in 2008 the Tories were not exactly screaming for more controls on the banks.

In fact…

6. The Tories wanted there to be less regulation of the banks in 2008.

In 2007, Cameron endorsed a report which called for “the regulatory burden” on banks to be "reduced year on year”.