Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Maggie and the Memory Hole

Posted: April 14, 2013 in Politics

How Margaret Thatcher’s memory is getting the laundering of the century.


Since her death last week, Margaret Thatcher’s premiership and legacy has undergone the kind of intensive laundering by the establishment which you would expect to see in the former USSR. The media has blessed her with biased tributes and the government is sanctifying her with a hugely expensive funeral. It is as if all the controversy of her career has been dropped down George Orwell’s memory hole – the pneumatic tube in the Ministry of Truth which erases history and replaces it with the party line.

Most of the media has adopted an uncritical response to the cross-party admiration of Thatcher and, even more controversially, to the elaborate plans for her funeral. Remembrance shows have focused on her personality, praising her for being a “conviction politician”, for her impressive work ethic, and her sharp humour. They have also highlighted her political victories over her divisive policies – her trumped up war for the Falklands and her ‘successful’ economic reforms, for example. Most media commentators have failed to challenge her supporters as they cast increasingly hyperbolic praise on the dead leader’s accomplishments.

Dissenters of the media’s gush have been criticised harshly. Whether on the established media or on social media, people who have used her death as an opportunity to protest her legacy have been accused of being insensitive and rude. Public figures across the political spectrum continue to appeal to people’s sense of decorum as they characterise protesters as naysayers. There has been a fervent movement among Thatcherites to wipe out any opposition to her canonisation. Unfortunately they appear to be successful. The BBC’s act of semi-censorship regarding the playing of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” today proves how wary the established media is to incite the wrath of Thatcher’s supporters.

Those who admire Thatcher for her conviction are often the ones who lack conviction themselves and so seek to experience it vicariously. They are the idol worshipers who value strength above justice, whose admiration of power stems from their own powerlessness. With one breath they accuse the youth of being nihilistic and apathetic, and with another they brush aside their protests of Thatcher’s beatification as disrespectful, or worse, immoral. The most ludicrous argument I’ve heard against young people’s protests is that because they weren’t alive during Thatcher’s premiership they can’t have any idea what she actually did and so they should shut their mouths. It boggles my mind how a rational human being can say such a thing. So we shouldn’t comment on the past because we weren’t alive to experience it? Wouldn’t that make the study of history entirely redundant?

Thatcher’s death and the storm it has created show how the future is often fought on the battlegrounds of the past. Debates in Parliament currently take place on a playing field which Thatcher helped create, regarding taxation levels, economic policies etc. Her death has provided dissenting voices with an opportunity to challenge that playing field, to attack the common sense ideas of politics today. It is, in my opinion, an important thing to do. What happens to this country depends on which narrative can claim dominance. At the moment, Thatcher’s neo-liberal story still firmly grips the political class. That is why it’s imperative to contest her canonisation and to debate her achievements.

The row over reaction to Thatcher’s death is also a battle for the truth. We are witnessing desperate attempts to stamp out alternative stories to Margaret Thatcher’s life, stories which cast her in a bad light. Her support for Augusto Pinochet, her determined destruction of working class communities and her enormous transfer of wealth from the public to the elite – all of these facts are being dropped down the memory hole. It is a calculated and passionate charge against the truth and the grain of sand which they hope will tip the nation into collective amnesia is the ever popular imperial pomp. Thatcher’s ceremonial funeral, with its full military procession and royal consent, has been drafted specifically to conjure nostalgia for the days of Empire. Like the Diamond Jubilee, its aim is to foster a sense of British Exceptionalism rooted in an egotistical belief of superiority.

It’s no surprise the funeral plans were drafted during the premiership of the equally narcissistic Tony Blair. He hopes to receive the same kind of ascent to saintliness which Thatcher is undergoing when he dies, and he probably will. All the disgust for the war in Iraq will be eroded through hours and hours of shallow television tributes and a military send off to match Winston Churchill’s. Protesters will be labelled disrespectful while Blair’s historical blemishes are airbrushed out overnight. Division will be called unity, destruction will be called progress and, just as today, will we be edging that little bit closer to Orwell’s 1984.


The World Cup

Posted: June 17, 2010 in Politics, Sport

Originally in my Wiltshire Blog

World Cup influenza is here and it’s contagious!

It’s impossible not to write about the World Cup this week.

I know because I tried, and failed. I tried not to write about the World Cup because that’s what everyone is writing about. I have to be more original, I thought to myself.

After mulling over a few different ideas, and getting nowhere with them, I gave up.

Why try to fight it? The World Cup is here, and it’s brilliant!

World Cup fever has hit Devizes, Wiltshire like no tournament can. When England played last Friday this ‘sleepy market town’ – as it is often described in the media – came to life with flags, fancy dress and football.

In the hours preceding the game the pub-goers spilled out onto the pavement and drank their beers in the sunshine – in defiance of the town’s ‘no alcohol’ policy.

Everyone was enjoying the World Cup fever and the electric atmosphere that comes before an England game.

The scene reminded me of Cologne in 2006. During the last World Cup I visited Cologne for a short time and was amazed by the energy which ran throughout the city.

When I arrived at Cologne train station I saw thousands of football fans from around the world. Everyone was wearing their home team’s strip; it as a sea of primary colours and face paint.

I love the World Cup because football is a sport real people play all over the world, every day. It’s not an esoteric sport like shot put, nor a boring sport like marathon running. And, in England at least, it’s not an elite sport.

George Orwell famously said that sport is ‘war without guns’. When you see the vigour that some teams play with, and the exaggerated patriotism that comes with every World Cup, it’s hard to disagree. But what a great alternative to war football is!

In All Quiet on the Western Front, one of the German soldiers darkly jokes that the First World War should be settled in a game of chess. In the 21st Century however, chess is boring and not easily televised, so let’s settle our problems on the pitch instead!

If you saw the North Korea v. Brazil game the other day you were probably surprised to find yourself backing North Korea. One pundit said that North Korea has done more for international relations in 90 minutes of football than they could ever achieve through politics.

If you happen to be a student of conflict resolution, or Secretary General of the UN, you can learn something from this.

Scrap the secretive meetings between men in suits and hold a football tournament instead!

Market Misery

Posted: May 11, 2010 in Politics

Originally in my Wiltshire Magazine Blog

In the past month we’ve had volcano misery, election misery and now market misery. We certainly are a miserable lot!

Five days into a hung parliament and the media has been quick to assess the situation. “Election misery” has afflicted our undecided nation like a blight.

So acute has this ‘misery’ been that a hundred school children spontaneously burst into tears during an assembly in Cornwall yesterday. “If only they’d think of the economy,” one five year old said, before blowing his nose on Miss Morgan’s skirt.

The volcano in Iceland, jealous of all the attention which the hung parliament is getting, decided to cause another round of “travel misery” by spewing even more ash into the air. “You don’t know the meaning of the word,” the volcano said, when asked why it delighted in creating misery.

An alien observing from space would conclude that we are a miserable lot, us humans. We complain about everything, and our worries are without end.

The most vocal worrier of late however, is a section of society known as ‘the markets’. They are at their wits end over this election business! Most of us don’t take news like this so seriously. We’re even grateful for events like this, as it provides much needed conversation when a dinner party goes quiet.

The markets however, are well and truly upset. If the markets were to become human, I’m certain they would have Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Johnnie Market – let us call him – would spend half his time in the loo, he worries so much.

Johnnie Market’s the sort of person who loves predictable endings. His favourite sitcom is Friends, and he only ever watched a tennis final if Tim Henman was playing.

Until recently he was a massive Manchester United supporter, before suddenly switching to Chelsea. He prefers the term pragmatist to ‘glory hunter’.

He hates spontaneity. He gets grumpy if his friends give him a surprise birthday party and starts shedding value all over the place.

Despite his IBS, he abhors weakness. He despises men who cry – even out of joy – and rarely visits Italy because of this.

Above all, he hates indecision. All of this hung parliament nonsense is really making him mad. But why do we care what he thinks?

We already know that Johnnie Market is a bore, and the last person we’d consider a friend. Sure he’ll throw a strop, like most immature people when they fail to get their way. But it will be good for him in the long run.

Let us teach him a lesson in patience. As Jeremy Hardy said on The News Quiz, “The markets are entirely discredited anyway, if we can’t make our minds up, we can’t make our minds up and you’ll have to WAIT.”

Election Loving

Posted: May 4, 2010 in Politics

Originally in my Wiltshire Magazine Blog

The upside of a living in a Tory safe seat and why the General Election is a lot like internet dating.

The only good thing about living in a Tory safe seat is that there’s almost no chance of bumping into a politician during the run up to an election – or at any other time for that matter.

In more contested seats, hopeful MPs walk for miles around towns and villages in an effort to win votes. I’m told they do more walking in one day than the average parking attendant does in a week!

As if that wasn’t hard enough, they have to shake hands with people too. Imagine that, shaking hands with strangers all day. You can bet David Cameron washes his hands with bleach after a hard day campaigning.

And then all the smiling and general enthusiasm. If you met anybody else who was that happy to meet you and that interested in what you had to say, you’d think they were trying to steal your wallet.

Or worse still, trying to ask you out on a date!

Now I think about it, trying to woo voters is very much like dating. What happened to Gordon Brown in Rochdale for example, could have happened to anyone on a first date.

At first he and Gillian Duffy were getting on well. They chatted about things they both enjoy, like walks in the park or movies about superheroes. Brown was feeling confident; perhaps he wouldn’t need the car ride home after all.

But then they started talking about politics! Before she knew it Brown was out the door. “I might be desperate, but not that bloody desperate,” he probably thought. Of course we’ll never know because the spin kids wisely chose not to shove a microphone into his brain.

What we did hear was his analysis of how the date went, and he was less than flattering.

I’m sure we’ve all done it though. “God, that went badly,” we think, and then call a friend to describe in detail why we definitely won’t be seeing that person again. Most of us probably don’t wait until the end of the date, but send a sneaky text midway through.

In case anyone gets the wrong idea, I’m not defending Brown’s actions. It was a very stupid thing to do, and I’m sure if they did succeed in planting a microphone in his brain – to show how honest and open he is – we would only be able to hear static.

But then I imagine that would be the case for the other party leaders too. The only exception would be David Cameron, whose brain waves would sound a lot like this.