Saturday, 22 April 2017
“Now, class, remember...” The learning facilitator turns to indicate two display boards at the nominal front of the young people’s learning collective. The various sub-committees of pupils, of mixed age, ability and gender identity, disengaged from their collaborations to gaze at the images. Bordered by a brave, caring, red glow, the party display showed moving images of happy, diverse communities engaged in thrilling cooperative ventures, assisting the halt and lame, collecting for charity and building a better world to the stirring music approved by the school board. They all bore the same fixed smiles that now played on the shining faces of the Junior Learners as they watched, wide-eyed and alert.
“And now...” The warm glow faded as the facilitator switched on the second display. A harsh, cold, deathly light illuminated static, monochrome scenes of an ancient and unlovely world. A world where miserable, old white people trudged through mud, pushing carts laden with broken human bodies. A world of torture and pain, of poverty and cruel injustice. A world of child labour, lives of drudge and early demise from back-breaking work and lack of medicines. The watching learners began to sob and hug each other, feeling the pain of their forebears in that lost world, filling with overwhelming empathy for the wronged and the dead.
St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, supposedly said “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.” Whether he did or not, the principle is sound enough. What children experience in their early years can become a cross they bear forever. Catholic guilt, islamic submission... white self-loathing. A more enlightened view is that children should not be exposed to simplistic indoctrination and especially not by those charged with their education. Which brings us to that Labour party political broadcast.
Nobody is suggesting that primary school teachers bring their red, red politics into the classroom but then, how could they not? Few of us are capable of completely concealing our political allegiances – only career politicians can manage to do that – but teachers are in a unique position to influence future generations. This ridiculous broadcast suggests that Labour sees nothing wrong in doing exactly that. They also want the voting age to be lowered to sixteen or seventeen; can you see the connection, children?
Meanwhile, the real leader of the Labour Party, Len McCluskey, has been celebrating his re-election to master of the party purse strings by partying at a popular venue where champagne at £50 a bottle flowed pretty freely. George Orwell believed in democratic socialism and was profoundly concerned about social justice, but he was not uncritical of left-wing movements and his two best-known works challenged the very direction of travel of the current-day Labour Party. Animal Farm concludes: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” Some things never change.
Friday, 21 April 2017
The snap general election is a thing of true political beauty and a joy, if not forever at least until June the eighth. Tim Farron is going to lose his seat to Mr Fish Finger, for sure. Dawn Butler had the most car-crashiest of interviews about Labour’s policy-free manifesto. And from his hiding-place behind Diane Abbott’s voluminous skirts, Chuka Ummuna (who?) has clearly been at the strong stuff, declaring that calling an election is a perversion of democracy. (In Newspeak democracy is the new anti-democracy in much the same way anti-fascism is the new fascism. I’m expecting them to announce a promise to increase the chocolate ration any day now.) You couldn’t make it up.
But the prize in the competition to see who has become most unhinged since the announcement has to go to the Supreme Leader and Hypocrite-in-Chief, JC himself who seems to have succumbed to a bout of the Milibands. His ranting, ‘firebrand’ speech to launch the Labour bid for annihilation was a rambling, rabble rousing rant against common sense. In his very own version of the matrix ordinary people are bonded in slavery by the evil empire of wealth creation and only Labour can red-pill them to fight against the rigged system. His rhetoric oozed conspiracy nutjob in every fevered sentence. Hell, yes, he’s ‘tuss enough’!
He also clearly inhabits an irony-free zone as he simultaneously raged against privilege – even invoking the holy Labour name of Keir Hardie - yet his son, the authentically working-class-monickered Sebastian, Queen Elizabeth’s School & Cambridge-educated and currently John McDonnell’s chief of staff, is widely tipped to be parachuted into a Labour safe seat. I can’t work out which of Labour’s shadow cabinet are the most deluded but I’m not sure they can claim to have any safe seats by now.
But Jeremy needs to act fast, he’s no spring chicken and at 67-years old senility beckons. To which end he held a closed-door meeting yesterday with two grizzled class warriors and men of the people, Lords Kinnock and Prescott, both fast approaching their own dotage. It was a good old beer and sandwiches session, although Prezzer favours sun-dried tomatoes on focaccia, drizzled in the finest extra-virgin olive oil and washed down with a 2012 Saint-Péray these days and Lord Windbag sent out for pizza and Pinot. Inevitably the focus of the meeting blurred as age intervened.
Policies? ... Anybody?
Two jags sighed and admitted “Sometimes I catch myself with a jar of mayonnaise in my hand, while standing in front of the refrigerator, and I can't remember whether I need to put it away, or start making a sandwich.” This brought a wry chuckle from multi-millionaire Baron Kinnock who contributed the private insight that “Yes, sometimes I find myself on the landing of the stairs and I honestly can't remember whether I was going up or going down.” Jeremy briskly brought the meeting back to order and declared “Well, I'm glad I don't have that problem. Touch wood.” He rapped his knuckles smartly on the desk, fixed them with a beady eye, stood up, walked toward the door and said. “That’ll be the pizza.”
Wednesday, 19 April 2017
There’s an old joke which goes: I do a lot of work for charity – pause for effect – on a rollover week I buy two tickets. (Ba-doom tish!) Like many people I buy a weekly lottery ticket by direct debit and forget about it, but I labour under no illusion that one day I will wake up wealthy... and yet. There is no harm in dreaming, but you can’t put all your hopes into the remote possibility of a chance event; on a roll of the dice coming up in your favour.
However, despite the obvious drawbacks of living life in the expectant hope that the impossible will happen, millions of people the word over do exactly that. Take Liberal Democrat leader, Tiny Tim ‘minor fart’ Farron; he believes that his cherished dream of a second EU membership referendum has come true and that, on the 8th of June his party’s phoenix will rise from the ashes to influence events on the world stage and brave, brave Timothy Mitty will be lauded as the nation’s saviour.
Nicola Sturgeon inhabits a realm where she is allowed to perform hypocrisy at such an expert level that she can, having used the Scottish National Party as a vehicle to promote one single cause already rejected by the Scottish voters, accuse Theresa May of acting in narrow party interests instead of in the interests of the country. In Ms Spudgun’s fevered brain the agonised echoes of cognitive dissonance must be muffled by the sheer amount of cotton wool stuffing that keeps her cranium from collapsing.
Or, imagine living in Jeremy Corbyn’s head where the mighty Labour sleeping dragon rises up to sear the flesh of rapacious Tories, hell-bent on devouring every scrap of public money, stolen from the pockets of upturned poor people. A world in which all you have to do is promise £10 a week extra for carers and lo, it shall be so and thou shalt be raised on the shoulders of the grateful populace and carried to a place of oratory where the masses wait, eagerly, to hear how they will become, on average, £43 richer per year when kind Sir Jeremy makes the rich people pay more tax.
But wait, rich people DO pay more tax. In fact they pay ALL the tax and poor people not only pay zero tax, they get given extra ‘free’ money, taken from the rich, to pay the rent on their hovels and to breed their filthy brats and cover the cost of locally provided services. But poor people are often poorly informed people and they, too, live in a dream world where Conservative politicians dine on baby’s brains scooped from their opened skulls and use the poor as furniture while robbing the NHS to send their children to private schools in offshore tax havens. (Diane Abbott told them this.)
You didn't see that coming, did you?!
Believe what you like, but on observation the vast majority of people are no better or worse off than they were a year ago, ten years ago. The vast majority of people don’t much care for deep political analysis of events, preferring to believe the headlines of their partisan press ahead of the evidence of their own experiences. And that same majority will vote the way they generally vote, give or take a few swings. For what it’s worth, I think Theresa May has been an exemplary PM in the few months she’s been in the job and I believe she will be given a mandate to crack on with it. But what do I know?
Tuesday, 18 April 2017
A Guardian article by Hashi Mohamed was thrust into my timeline over the weekend along with a negative mini-review suggesting it was some form of paean to a mediocre socialist education. The headline ‘Telling children 'hard work gets you to the top' is simply a lie’ does, indeed, suggest a diatribe against the evil capitalist adjuration that all must try harder, all must work longer but, actually, it was so much more optimistic than that. Expecting to hate it I did what I suspect the original tweeter had not and actually read the article.
Hashi is Somalian by birth and came to England as a child refugee at the age of nine, speaking virtually no English. Since then he has, as the expression goes, dragged himself up by his boot straps to become both a barrister and a broadcaster. I listened to his documentary ‘Adventures in Social Mobility’ on Easter Sunday and found him engaging, remarkably well spoken and almost persuasive. I say almost because despite his barrister’s training in argument I thought there was a fundamental flaw to his thesis.
His point is that no matter how hard you work your social class is a major barrier to advancement. At first glance this seems to be another bulwark in the resistance of certain parts of the establishment to the reintroduction of grammar schools; rich kids succeed, poor kids fail, this is unfair, so don’t give better-advised kids the opportunity to gain an advantage. But Hashi himself is proof that this isn’t an immutable fact. His circumstance almost couldn’t have been worse and his early British schooling didn’t promise much, but his own epiphany came on a visit to his extended family in Africa as a young man and drove him to work harder and get to what many would regard as the very top he seems to deny.
You should read and listen to Hashi’s story – he tells it better than I could – but if you do I think you will see that actually he gives the lie to his assertion. Of course, working hard won’t get everybody to ‘the top’; after all there is only so much space on the apex of that pyramid. But not working hard is unlikely to yield any result at all. What is likely, however, is that if you do put in the effort to improve your lot you can pass your gains on to your children. The history of immigrant success in particular is of working harder so you can send your kids to that better life by passing on that work ethic and its fruits..
One thing is for certain and that is that giving up, not striving at all and languishing on benefits is likely to do the opposite. So you have a choice: make no effort in life, set a bad example to your kids and end your days in torpor and bitterness and rage against the system. Or get off your backside, give it all you’ve got and keep on giving it. You may not get as far as you dreamed, but your children might just pick up your baton and run with it. In the race to the top, either a sprint or a marathon, hard work is still the best chance you’ve got.
Friday, 14 April 2017
While Trump’s troops drop the mother of all bombs on ISIS caves in Afghanistan another bombshell lands closer to home. Yes, McVities have come out and declared that their chocolate biscuits, notably Hobnobs, are coated on... the bottom. You heard it right, Like a bizarre cold war spy code-phrase ‘the chocolate is not on top of the biscuit’. Cue readers’ letters, tea-light vigils and wildcat strikes in sympathy.
If that weren’t enough, in an audacious display of post-Brexit effrontery, foodie Jay Rayner dared to criticise Paris restaurant LeCinq in a scathing review. As somebody who is alarmed at the principle of paying an entire week’s shopping bill to eat faffy food, over-prepared by zealots and served by condescending mouth breathers in an atmosphere overwhelmed by a misplaced sense of occasion. I entirely agree that forking over €600 for a lunch you didn’t enjoy is truly ridiculous.
I haven’t enjoyed eating out ever since my last foray to the Ivy where I was astonished to see one fellow diner attempting to eat peas from his knife. So astonished was I that I almost dropped my handful of artisan mash. But for Jay it was a job and he is made of sterner stuff than I. But to judge from the reaction of the French it was as if opening shots has been fired in a new Napoleonic war: “Ze British only ondairstand feesh and cheeps and rice pooding! Zut, ‘ow do zey expect to appreciate our superior gastronomie?” they whined.
Jay, of course, shrugged off the reaction. After all he is the son of the formidable Claire Rayner and was raised in a household where issues were aired and problems discussed and solutions found by forthright discourse. A little know fact is that when they were quite young the Rayner children’s favourite story was Goldilocks and the Three Bear and much hilarity was had around the family’s kitchen table...
One sunny morning at Chez Rayner baby bear Jay came down, sat at the table and stared glumly into the empty bowl in front of his usual chair. “Who's been eating my porridge?” he demanded in a high pitched voice. His father Desmond – Daddy Bear – appeared, took his place and found his own bowl utterly unsullied by food. “Who's been eating my porridge?" he roared and struck his fist on the table. Mummy Bear, Claire, left the stove where she had been labouring, rolled her eyes, crossed her arms and stood between them at the head of the table.
Now listen up, bears...
“Now you listen here,” she said. Daddy Bear and Baby Bear shared a look; they were going to get one of Mummy Bear’s little talks. “It was Mummy Bear who woke everybody else in the house up. It was Mummy Bear who unloaded the dishwasher from last night and put everything away. It was Mummy Bear who went out into the cold early morning air to fetch the newspaper. It was Mummy Bear who set the table. It was Mummy Bear who fed the cat, filled the cat's water bowl and then let him out.” They waited for the inevitable conclusion to this little lecture. “And every day, I get this same farce from you two. Now listen up because I'm only going to say this one more time: I haven't made the fucking porridge yet!”