Archive for May, 2010
My post-election cultural week
I have a huge backlog of fun stuff, and it’s been very nice to re-engage! My choice of reading was dictated by what Halifax WHSmith had in, but I lucked out with The Post-Birthday World by Lionel ‘Kevin’ Shriver. I’ve got 50 pages left to read (it’s a big book, so I’ve done ok) and I’ve been engrossed almost depite myself. There are some serious clunks and what seem to be actual mistakes – what was the editor doing? – but the story, and her self-revelatory style, are enough to keep me in there. Can’t wait to discuss it with other people!
My first movie for aeons was State of Play, for which I had to overcome my twin dislike of messrs Affleck and Crowe. I’m coming round to a realisation that Ben Affleck may not be a total wally, and he’s really quite good in the David Morrissey part. In fact I was pleasantly surprised by the whole film – I liked the BBC original but with reservations. The film may actually be, well, better. I still don’t care for Russell Crowe though.
I put my mp3 player on random setting, to help me to re-engage with my music. Here’s the honest truth – the second track it chose (out of approx 6,000 on the mipod) was Eton Rifles by The Jam. The Jam haven’t aged well, to my ears, so it was ages since I’d heard that particular piece of 80s class rage. By God, it’s taken on new significance a week after we acquired an old Etonian PM! It makes a fine companion piece to that scary version of Common People that’s doing the rounds.
Standing between us and the excesses of the Bullingdon boys is…Nick Clegg. Oh deary me.
Back I went, with a soulful bounding leap, to the West Yorkshire Playhouse and their new production of Death of a Salesman. And a very fine production it is, with disturbing new relevance. As the lights came up at the end I said “See what happens when you vote Tory” and earned myself a dirty look from a guy in front.
For the benefit of that gentleman, and anyone else who thinks that Dave and the ‘Big Society’ are the answer, let’s examine this further. Of course our new government don’t want the deaths of salesmen or anyone else, but their vision is of a society where hard work and ability are richly rewarded and there’s a teensy safety net for any poor schmuck who can’t cut it. In their spare time these upstanding citizens will start their own schools, run their local charity and deliver meals on wheels. Then our welfare state can be cut back till it resembles the one they have (?) in the US and our tax bills will miraculously shrink. It all sounds so lovely, doesn’t it?
What Arthur Miller shows, far more effectively than a dozen Guardian articles or green blogs, is how the flipside of this American/Etonian Dream plays out. Willy Loman doesn’t do much wrong, but he ends up totally screwed by the rules that he believes in. This reaches its apogee near the end of the play, when his need for money has become critical and his neighbour offers him a job, paying enough to get by on. For complex reasons, which Miller shows us perfectly, Willy can’t bring himself to accept the offer. Everyone – the neighbour, the audience, and Willy himself – knows that it was his last chance and that he’s now had it. This is how unfettered capitalism destroys its “losers”. Willy has the means of material salvation, but he chooses to destroy himself (literally) in preference to loserdom.
Life under New Labour was already pretty tough for ‘losers’ (the disabled, the chronically ill, students without rich parents, manual workers whose industries have crumbled under them – those losers). If Dave and co get a good run at it, lots of Willy Loman types will find themselves at the wrong end of the big society. Just you wait. And in the meantime pop along to the Playhouse and take plenty of tissues!
Exactly 23 years ago I was living in Fiji (VSO, since you ask) when the democratically elected government was deposed by a military coup. This was bad, you’ll agree, but worse was to come. We woke up the following day to hear that the ministers from the former government, who had lost the election a few weeks before, had now lined up to join the sparkling new military junta! I recall the howls of pure rage emitted by my Fijian flatmate, all before breakfast too.
This memory came back sharply yesterday as I watched Cameron and Clegg’s love-in outside number 10. Okay, it’s not an actual military coup, but it’s a real betrayal of democratic ideals. A few weeks ago I asked, rhetorically, whether the boy Nick was a closet Tory. We now know that the answer is a resounding “Yes”.
What of all those Lib Dem activists, genuinely opposed to Cameron’s rightwing agenda, who now find themselves shoring up the shirtsleeved one? And what of those millions of us who want PR? Up to three days ago Nick and his acolytes claimed to be with us, but it turns out they were being economical with the actualité. It wasn’t really about PR or social justice or getting rid of the nukes. No, for Nick it was all about getting his hands on a shiny gas-guzzling ministerial car.
Let’s never forget, eh?
“A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
All eyes are on the post-election negotiations between the Tories and Lib Dems, with the not-quite-vanquished Labour party lurking in the wings. Like most sensible folk, I’m fervently hoping that the boy Nick holds out for PR and less decimation of our public services.
Apparently it’s terribly urgent, because the markets don’t like uncertainty.
Whenever I hear a transitive verb being attached to the word ‘market’ (“If the markets smell instability”) I want to slap the author round the ears with a copy of Das Kapital. Some sheep-like journos have bought the line that markets can think and act independently. I don’t claim huge expertise in this area, but these ‘markets’ seem to be a few traders and investors, and it’s they who actually cause these mysterious markety convulsions. Our future well-being is at the mercy of a few international capitalists who decide the movements of huge sums on the basis of how they feel that day!
Don’t get me wrong – I understand that these market jitters matter in the real world. But they only matter because we all share this construct that money is a commodity instead of a convenient(ish) means of exchange. If the construct is threatened then the whole ridiculous house of cards could collapse, taking our welfare state (but not the bankers’ bonuses) with it!
My question is this: who created a system where all our future depends on the whims of hedge fund millionaires? It sure as Hell wasn’t me, and it sure as Hell isn’t democratic! I can’t bear the thought that Clegg could sell us all out, including his own party, to maintain this shared illusion. Don’t do it Nick – Just Say No.
OK, we got scuppered by a combo of tactical voting and the inability of national media to see the big picture. My 858 total was actually about average for Greens in Yorkshire, and we only saved 6 deposits in the whole country! Hard to deny that those are terrible results, but there are three huge compensatory factors:
- No smirking Tories on my TV
- The prospect of PR – come on you yellows! (Or is it orange? How very symbolic that no-one knows)
- Caroline Lucas MP
I’ll post at more length on the election, not least the historic Green breakthrough in Brighton. I’m kind of exhausted after the long night’s journey into day, so will confine myself to these top tips while it’s all fresh:
- Accept whatever work the team can do, and don’t pressurise ’em to do any more.
- Be philosophical – there are some things that are simply beyond your control.
- Wear comfortable shoes to the count!