One of the most frustrating aspects of Owen Smith’s media presentation is that it’s a painfully transparent attempt to position him as representative of a particular cultural demographic – working-class regional male – which is perceived as outsider in a politics dominated by public-schoolboys and metropolitan liberal elites. And, you know, that perception isn’t incorrect – we’re highly unlikely to ever get another Aneurin Bevan. But this attempt comes across as excruciating because it’s a demographic that Smith a) doesn’t quite occupy and consequently b) ends up insulting by presenting it as characterised by unreconstructed testosterone-addled pre-60s machismo. I see this happen again and again in attempts to appeal to some… not even romanticised, but some condescending lowest-common-denominator idea of those apparently exotic unknown creatures, working-class men, and it’s both unhelpful and embarrassing.
This is old news by now of course, but one thing I found striking about Andrea Leadsom’s inane “Let’s banish pessimism!” line was how worryingly neatly it tied into the amount of magical thinking there was around the referendum. I am now seeing a notable amount of responses from Leave voters – exclusively on the right, NB – along the barely paraphrased lines of “accept you lost, stop sulking, start talking up this great country of ours unless you want to drive us into recession”.
This is how (one aspect of all) this is going to play out, isn’t it? Rather than accept that there were justified economic and social anxieties around leaving, when things go down the pan post-Brexit it’s going to be rationalised as the fault of opponents of Leave for not throwing themselves into national promotion wholeheartedly enough. This will be spun as an opportunity that could have been amazing if only ~self-loathing elitist refuseniks~ had had a bit more gumption and been a bit more forward-thinking.
So, we reach one logical conclusion of the 90s focus on individual drive, rather than anything political or economic, as the root cause of one’s personal circumstances. As well as a response to a thirty-year slide into the abyss that now seems unfixable other than by, you know, really wishing really hard.
Obviously I’m pleased for the residents of New Era estate that this has happened, but it’s unsettling to see yet another instance of socio-economic injustice resolved by the intervention of what is essentially paternalist philanthropy. As if politicians are wholly powerless to impose a rent cap on landlords or to commission the building of affordable housing, rather than just being disinclined to do so. See also food banks run by charities and churches as a response to impoverishment, rather than eg a living wage.
Still, Merry Christmas, eh.
This is a recording of the big meeting I took part in this month in Manchester on how current media and politics are warping ideas around welfare, how shit that is, and how we get around it. More of the debate is here. Gratifyingly, it was not exclusively academic, and was urgent, volatile, non-abstract and, I thought, useful. Feat. Imogen Tyler who is the Dylan to my Donovan, the Elvis to my Shakin’ Stevens, and in this case was calm and precise and knowledgeable where I was all WHAAARGHLGHLGH CLASS and you should all read her book Revolting Subjects. At some point we all blame Thatcher for the death of love. Also lol @ the picture that’s captured me about to swig my whiskey.
You never were an Isolationist;
Injustice you had always hatred for,
And we can hardly blame you, if you missed
Injustice just outside your lordship’s door:
Nearer than Greece were cotton and the poor.
Today you might have seen them, might indeed
Have walked in the United Front with Gide,
Against the ogre, dragon, what you will;
His many shapes and names all turn us pale,
For he’s immortal, and today he still
Swinges the horror of his scaly tail.
Sometimes he seems to sleep, but will not fail
In every age to rear up to defend
Each dying force of history to the end.
Milton beheld him on the English throne,
And Bunyan sitting in the Papal chair;
The hermits fought him in their caves alone,
At the first Empire he was also there,
Dangling his Pax Romana in the air:
He comes in dreams at puberty to man,
To scare him back to childhood if he can.
Banker or landlord, booking-clerk or Pope,
Whenever he’s lost faith in choice and thought,
When a man sees the future without hope,
Whenever he endorses Hobbes’ report
‘The life of man is nasty, brutish, short,’
The dragon rises from his garden border
And promises to set up law and order.
Yeah. Here’s what I thought, a while back, about Russell Brand. The thing about this meme – not that it’s not funny – but if you’d asked me, twenty years ago, on the verge of Britpop Going Wrong, for my vision of the future… well, it might have involved anyone’s attempt to intervene in a destructive national political discourse being drowned out by repeated chants of PARKLIFE, forever. Ah well.
– Recently I wrote a short review of the film Pride.
– I also wrote a long review of Agata Pyzik’s book Poor But Sexy. NB As a child of the nineteen-eighties, way before online discussions on how to be a fan of problematic things, I remember being starry-eyed about the Soviet Union = how I do confessional journalism.
– And on Thursday 6th November I’m speaking in Manchester on “Poverty Porn and the Welfare State”, on the impact of media portrayals of poverty on government policy and public attitudes towards welfare. More info and event programme here.