The end is nigh

I cordially dislike political acronyms: they tend to be so broad as to be meaningless. All those Yuppies and Nimbies and Dinkies are usually nothing of the sort. 

So it’s with some trepidation that I propose a new – or rather increasingly extinct – group. Wealthy, Old, White and Southern: the WOWS.

My main worry about this acronym, other than the strong likelihood it already exists, is that it only hazily defines the group its intended to describe, namely the core Tory voter for most of my 47 years.

I should state right now that to be amongst the WOWS, you need only meet – at most – any one of the criteria. You simply need to have been made more secure by the neoliberal policy of flogging off the publicly purchased assets of the state to enrich a small, cosseted, voting group.

And that doesn’t even mean financial enrichment. Whiteness alone is enriching, if your environment is made increasingly hostile to non-whites; and this government has – charitably speaking – hurled the doors wide open to underhanded (as well as overt) racism.

But the key things that define the WOWS are, unfortunately, hard to cram into an acronym: firstly, they happen to be on the winning side of a deliberate division engendered by Conservative policy; and secondly, they tend to be unaware their victory is a result of policy, and assume they’re morally, intellectually or racially better than the losers. 

Not so. 

Until the 1979 election, the purpose of government was, within certain margins, to look after most of the population. But Thatcherism put paid to that, with the cynical recognition that fattening up a core demographic like foie gras geese allowed a government to rule with impunity, whilst impoverishing the majority. Yes, the actual majority, just not the majority of those visiting a ballot box.

The reason this could work was because that key group, the WOWS, did one thing the anti-Tory majority didn’t: they voted.

The WOWS have been made so, so much richer than previous generations, and told they earned it. If you’ve owned a home for 40 years, as most WOWS have, you’ve lived through eight property booms, and your average-sized 1977 £17,000 mortgage has given you a £420,000 nest-egg.

And this policy has proven very successful, electorally if not morally. It’s brought not only power, but the impossibility of seeing any other route to power. That’s why I can’t blame those who saw no way for Corbyn to win – myself included! The strategy of post-Thatcher Conservatism has been so successful it’s made any alternative seem mad. Labour, for years, openly aped the Tory strategy whilst quietly raising taxation on the City to fund various sticking plasters in the areas sacrificed to neoliberalism.

At the election, scales fell from my eyes, as they did from most of the (significantly more professional and well-informed) commentariat.

But now, at last, we see the flaw that has crippled the last couple of governments, and will ultimately destroy the current incarnation of the Conservative party: the WOWS have grandkids.

Those youngsters may be, externally, as white as their forebears: but they’re well travelled, internationalist in outlook, and massively less prejudiced than their grandparents. 

They are richer than some, but 2 generations away from inheriting the property wealth of their grandparents; and because each generation spreads inheritance wider, they’re likely to be left too little to push them into a new iteration of property wealth.

Those grandchildren are socially liberal, with a wide range of gay, black, Muslim, immigrant, trans or – to core WOWS – “transgressive” friends. The essentially insular, monocultural outlook of older Conservatives is alien to their younger family.

And those grandkids are not dying. That’s a key. 

64% of Tory voters in 2017 are 65 or older. By 2022, the date (don’t laugh) of the next election, half of those people will be either incapacitated by serious illness, infirmity or mental degradation; or they’ll be dead.

That’s half of the Tory vote unable to get to a polling booth in the next 5 years.

Their kids and grandkids have not been raised in a world where being Tory was just another way to improve the country for everyone. They, like me, were raised at a time when Tory meant Nasty. Greedy. Cruel. Destructive. Prejudiced, small-minded, discriminatory and insular.

Tories, to the young, have always been the people who persecute their disabled friends; the people who cut them off from the continent; the people who bring fear into the hearts of their Muslim colleague, and poverty to the nurses who delivered their babies.

It’s simply not possible for Tories to persuade enough of those people that their lifelong experience of Conservatism is wrong: not enough of them to replace their dying grandparents, anyway. No amount of tax bribery or enhanced local council grants can alter those bone-deep convictions.

The end is nigh. And the fear in the eyes of returning Conservative MPs, faced with 71% of 18-24s voting, proves they’re starting to realise it.

The end is nigh. And thats something to say WOW about.

Jo Cox

It’s a sad day, and I’m trying to focus on that, and not be angry.

Her poor kids.

Of course, it’s too soon to judge Jo Cox’s killer. He may be mentally ill. So I’m not judging him.

I’m perfectly happy to judge others though: the politicians who sacrifice peace and honour and public good for their ambition.

Are you happy now, Nigel? Sleeping well tonight, Boris?

img_3752Those things that used to define Britain… calmness, rationality, openness, kindness, thoughtfulness, intelligence, safety and peace… those things are being snuffed out.

But not by immigrants; by anti-immigrants.

By the angry, by the ill-informed; by the noisy, tiresome mob; the furious nostalgic pensioner who’s political curiosity is as deep as the front page of the Daily Mail.

By the raging middle-class who vote for cuts at home, then blame Belgium when little Cassandra can’t get into their favourite school.

By the Sun-reading, X-Factor-addled, mindlessly irate, who don’t recognise their own Home Secretary, yet regurgitate low-grade xenophobia about Bulgarians each day.

By the closed-minded, furious fools without even the courage to admit that skin-colour is behind their rhetoric.

Those thing that define Britain? They’re important.

And they’re being stamped out by the British: not by foreigners.

If you “want your country back”, start behaving how you want that country to behave.

You want it fair? Be fair to refugees.

You want it honest? Don’t tell lies about migrants.

You want it to be rational? Believe evidence, don’t dismiss it as the lies of the elite.

You want it peaceful? Don’t pour gasoline on the flames or racism.

RIP Jo Cox.

The war on tax

img_3676

Tax avoidance is an arms race. If we spend more on collection, corporations will spend more on avoidance, and we’ll waste money on an unwinnable war against better accountants. 

That’s the argument.

But if it was a real arms race, even against a mighty foe, Mr Cameron would be touring the world with arms manufacturers. He’d be imploring us to compete, battle, never give up. He’d be railing against the enemy.

Instead, we get collusion and surrender, obfuscation and downright lies.

If this is an arms race, our government is, at best, sympathetic to the enemy. And at worst, actively fighting on their behalf.

Vote UKIP, get UKIP

People vote (or don’t vote) for a variety of reasons, and pure logic is rarely the main one.

If rational self-interest made decisions for us, most people would vote for a party far to the left of Labour, because the personal interests of the majority of people are better served by redistributive social democracy than they are by the neo-capitalism that currently has primacy. Don’t believe me? Read Thomas Piketty (or don’t, and just take other peoples’ word for it, like most of us will).

But people don’t vote for rational self-interest, they think with their gut. The problem with thinking with your gut is: your gut has shit for brains.

But I’m the same as you: I’m just as liable to instinctive feelings as you are, and just as likely to make wrong choices.

In the coming Euro and General Elections, wrong choices will dominate. I’m talking about UKIP.

There are, of course, sound reasons for liking UKIP. You may have perfectly legitimate qualms about the EU, or rational self-interest may come in to play if your personal job is personally threatened by a person who is from Bulgaria, in person. I doubt it, but it’s possible.

And that’s fine: I’m not one to diss democracy, and I’m not going to tell you not to vote in any way you see fit. If it’s good for you, fine: do it. But please find out if it’s actually good for you first.

Because if you vote for one UKIP policy, you vote for them all.

And, with the exception of “They’re better than Labour/Tory/LibDem” (and I don’t blame you for anger) and an ill-defined “let’s get out of Europe” stance, I doubt many of you actually know what they stand for.

Well, first of all, they stand for nothing. Officially nothing. By the time you read this, that may have changed; but it should be noted that Nigel Farage denounced his own manifesto as “Junk” and dropped it in January. Right now, as I write, there’s nothing at all to replace it. They have absolutely no policies.

So what is it you’re voting for? You don’t know. They don’t know. Nobody knows!

But we can guess, based on what UKIP have said in the last month or so. Their policies appear to be as follows… and remember, if you vote for one of these policies, you’re voting for them all. So think carefully.

1: Leave Europe.

It’s unclear what’s actually meant by this, because UKIP themselves seem a little vague. But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, and accept that they’ll find a way to simply withdraw from all agreements with the EU. They want to do this because, UKIP claim, the EU costs jobs and is undemocratic.

They’re all elected, but it’s undemocratic. That’s UKIP logic. So let’s skip past that, and get to jobs. UKIP’s own estimates are that the EU costs 500,000 British jobs.

But studies show being in the EU creates or safeguards 3,400,000 jobs in the UK – 7 times as many. According to a 2 year study by economists at the University of Southampton “2.5 million people owed their jobs directly to exports of goods and services to EU countries and a further 900,000 jobs had been created indirectly by trade with the continent.

It’s easy to argue such speculative figures, and shout “bullshit”, but the research has to be out by 80% before it turns good for UKIP. And this research is from the same people who predicted previous loss/gain of jobs from overseas workers to within 2%, and haven’t been out by more than 5% since 1980.

Why would they be so wrong this time?

1 (b): Stay in Europe but renegotiate, in the same way Switzerland has.

UKIP occasionally say they’d do this, rather than the policy described above. It’s not something I personally support, but renegotiation to become more like Switzerland is a reasonable policy. In fact, it’s the policy of the Tory party. Of course, Switzerland only survives because of it’s banking, and we can’t have banks like that because we have international (not just EU) agreements that forbid it. But let’s skip past that.

If UKIP go down the “become like Switzerland” route, why vote for UKIP? The best they can do is exactly what the Conservatives offer. You might really hate Europe, but if you vote UKIP you get all the rest of the policies listed below. Do you want to vote for these? Really?

Flat tax

UKIP promise to introduce a single, flat tax rate of 31%, which would mean a tax increase for the poorest 88% of working Britons, and a tax cut for the richest 12%.

In fact, from the richest 0.5% it would mean we’d get £18 billion less in taxation each year (based on 2012 figures). But almost 90% of ordinary people would pay more.

The OBR has calculated that a flat 31% tax would see national tax revenue fall by 16% per year, which is the equivalent to three times the loss suffered in the 2007-2014 recession. A tax revenue fall this great is the equivalent to the entire national budget for the departments of education, skills, business, environment and agriculture, plus 30% of the cost of the NHS. We would have to stop funding all schools, business investment, environmental work (including flood defenses) and around 1/3 of the NHS. All of this, just to give a tax cut to the richest 0.5% of people.

Cutting payments to Europe

We currently pay £55 million per day to Europe. That’s a huge amount, but breaks down to 81p per person per day, assuming only individuals pay it. If businesses pay it as well (and they do) the personal cost to each individual is estimated at only 12p per day.

Of course, that huge UKIP figure is disputed – many say it’s much, much lower – but let’s assume UKIP’s figures are correct, and we’re all being squeezed for 12p per day.

The average UK income is £73.85 per day. The cost of Europe is 12p per person per day. For that, you get access to the world’s largest market, human rights protection, union rights, health and welfare regulations, safety at work regulations, maternity regulations, shared access to pipelines and ports and airports and resources, protection for our fishing fleets, and the ability to have a say in all of those matters.

If you want to save that 12p per day, you lose all those things. You can, of course, choose to set up your own welfare, maternity, working-rights and human-rights regulations. But those things would still cost you money, so you might only save 5p per day.

And you’d still lose direct access to the world’s largest market. Honestly: why?

Cutting fuel poverty

UKIP say they’ll do this by scrapping the “green subsidy” on bills, and cutting all investment in renewables. Let’s look at some financial facts.

  • The EU takes £8.7 billion from the UK each year.
  • Russia, right now, takes £26.9bn per year from the UK – 3 times as much. That’s what we spent on Russian oil in 2013. Without renewable energy, we’ll need more oil, so the money we pay to Russia would increase. Rather than spending £24 per year per bill (the average green subsidy) on investing in British fuel production, we’ll end up spending more than that to subsidise Russian fuel production.

If the EU is (as UKIP state) a drain on Britain’s balance of payments, how much more of a drain will Russia be? If we place our national output in the hands of Putin, do you really think he’ll be decent about it? Was he decent to Chechnya, or Ukraine?

Develop shale gas

Shale production in the UK so far has been literally zero. Not one cubic cm of viable, commercial gas has been extracted. It’s thought possible that there will be gas seams in Lancashire and the Home Counties – I don’t deny they may be plenty – but it’s not proven.

And even if we did extract it, the environmental costs would be catastrophic. Nigel Farage might love to spend his time in a smokey environment, but most of us would prefer to live on a planet with a functioning atmosphere. Ignoring climate change won’t make it go away. 99% of climate scientists can’t all be wrong! And the IPCC report states we have at most 5 years to stop increasing C02 emissions and start reducing them, or the entire planet is screwed.

Abolish inheritance tax

Conservative policy, since Thatcher, has said that the way to get rich is to work hard. It’s said “no hand-outs”, and has insisted we invest, build our own futures, manufacture, create, and buy your own home. It was a meritocratic, and the hardest-working, most talented, most dedicated amongst us would succeed and get rich.

We’ve spent 30 years complying, and working harder and harder (we now work longer hours than any country in Europe) and have seen our income drop in real terms by 6%, whilst the richest 0.1% of people have increase – increased – their wealth since 2010 by £450 billion.

That’s 1000 people sharing £450 billion extra since the 2007 crash.

If hard work is the way to riches, how come all the people who work hard aren’t rich, and all the people who are rich don’t work hard?

Owning stuff is how to be rich. And to own things, you have to inherit them. If person A inherits a thing, there’s no way person B can own it, because person B can never earn enough to buy it. Inheritance tax frees up assets for the next generation to earn. Locking inheritance into the system locks up assets so they never change hands, and ensures no matter how hard you work, you can never win.

Nigel Farage knows this, because Nigel Farage is a stockbroker. If he tells you cutting inheritance tax is good for you, he’s lying. Read best-selling, superstar economist Thomas Piketty, and you’ll see that there is massive evidence that I’m right. Even the Wall St Journal agrees that inheritance tax (they call it “wealth tax”, but it’s the same thing) should ideally be set at around 80%, not zero.

Abolishing inheritance tax will not help 88% of Britons. It will help the richest 0.5% quite a lot. But for most people, this policy simply helps to keep you in your place.

Cut regulations.

Politicians have been “cutting regulations” for 30 years, I’m amazed there are any left. But there still seem plenty to cut, if you believe UKIP. Cutting regulations is sold to us as the panacea for everything, because we can all imagine a grey, nasal little man called Brian, sitting in an office, slowly filling in forms and holding everyone up. But the truth is, “regulation” is just another word for law. And we all like to be protected by laws.

Brian, in his grey suit, is probably administering the law that stops people slipping horse meat into your lasagne. Would you really like that regulation to be cut?

Or a regulation that ensures drugs are tested properly before going to market (think Thalidomide)?

Or a regulation that stops banks from betting money they don’t have on sub-prime mortgages (think 2007 financial crash)?

Regulations are there to stop people ripping you off, making you sick, treating you like shit, and damaging your interests. They’re imperfect, but simply scrapping them all isn’t a plan: it’s anarchy.

Safeguard the NHS

Not easy if you’re also cutting 30% of its budget, as their flat-tax policy would do.

And research has indicated (I accept, not demonstrated, but certainly indicated) that UKIP policies to prevent immigration would cut NHS staff by 22%, because of all the nurses and ancillary staff who come from overseas: under UKIP policies they wouldn’t be able to come any more. If this had been happening for the last 25 years, the NHS couldn’t function.

Local homes for local people

If your parents and grandparents live locally, you get a priority council home. Fine… but which grandparents. I don’t know about you, but it’s normal to have four grandparents, and they aren’t necessarily from the same place. One of mine was from Manchester, two from Wales, one from Surrey. And I live in Cheshire.

Where do I collect my council house from?

And, in case you hadn’t noticed: what council houses? Another UKIP policy is to sell off all social housing, and cut spending on building more to “protect the countryside”.

So, in the UKIP universe, there won’t be any council houses, but you’ll still be able to claim one if you live in four places at once, like your grandparents did.

Cheaper petrol

Well fine, but from where? Russia, again? And what will it cost to buy? I’m sorry, but in a global world with global prices, how can UKIP simply state that the cost of petrol won’t rise? Labour did that, and it bought them a political dividend, but it’s not really enforceable for any length of time.

The only way to reduce petrol costs is to find alternatives where possible, and to drive less. If we use oil for power stations, we have less to power cars, so cost goes up. But if we invest in renewables, we don’t need to use oil for power stations, and cost for petrol in your car has a chance of coming down.

And that’s it!

There are literally no other policies. None that are consistent enough to call a policy anyway. No policy on banks, or roads, or medical research, or education, or pensions, or fisheries and farming, or regional investment. Nothing.

They make odd announcements about how it’ll just “be better” in some way, but almost none of them are the same as the announcement they made the week before. I may be doing them an injustice, but we can’t be sure until there’s a manifesto. And right now, there isn’t one.

I accept that lots of parties do this. Labour have had a “policy review” since 2010, and in lots of places there’s no official policy. But UKIP have existed since 1993 – that’s 22 years – and in that time I can find no evidence of them every having a published policy on any of this stuff. Whereas with Labour, Tory or LibDem, there are, at least, large amounts of speeches on subjects, official front-bench spokesmen, previous policies etc.

UKIP have nothing.

Except for this bit

OK, it’s not a good idea to mix personality and policy. I don’t, personally, like political attacks based on comments like “Ed Miliband is so weird”. It means nothing. Ed Miliband’s teeth will not make any difference to your life, but Ed Miliband’s policies might. So ignore the teeth!

But UKIP, or rather Nigel Farage, have made great political capital out of their claims to be unlike politicians, to be above all that sleaze and political chicanery.

So, whilst I don’t like personal attacks, I feel that if a politician campaigns on moral issues (like John Major’s “back to basics” campaign) it’s fair to inspect that politicians morals and see if he’s a hypocrite.

Nigel Farage is not a man of the people. He’s a millionaire, privately-educated former-stockbroker. He’s claimed £2 million in parliamentary expenses, and refuses to let his expenses be investigated amid claims that he took £3,000 a month for running an office which was actually donated for free, and came with no running costs. He hates Europe for stealing British jobs, but employs his German wife as his assistant. He is almost hilariously hypocritical.

And he leads a party which feels it needs to say “we’re not racist”, which is (as any fule no) the prime signature of a racist. UKIP oppose gay marriage, when research shows 8% of all people are gay or bisexual.

So he’s essentially against 8% of Britons immediately.

He opposes what he insists on calling “women’s lib”, like it’s still 1970, and he would reduce maternity rights, abortion rights. And in one interview I saw recently he said he was fully in favour of women being sex workers (he loves a lap-dance) but against women being able to prosecute their husbands for rape or assault.

So he’s essentially against another 51% of all Britons immediately.

He wants to cut spending on support for disabled people, and members of his party (at the time of writing they’re still candidates) support mandatory abortion for disabled children. 12% of us will suffer a disability at some point in our life.

So he’s essentially against another 12% of Britons immediately.

We’re adding up, aren’t we: the people UKIP wants to ban.

In the EU voting block, he’s aligned to far-right parties who have claimed that mass-murdering neo-Nazi Anders Breivik was doing the right thing. And Farage leads a party which seems to attract more than it’s fair share of homophobes, disablists, sexists, racists and bigots. UKIP are frantically sacking them each time one is exposed, and at the time of writing they’re sacking more than one per day. Many are also being arrested for hate-crimes. This is a fact.

Of course, Farage himself comes across as a nice, ordinary, possibly badly-dressed guy in the pub. But then, what did you expect? Hitler? Not even Hitler was like Hitler to start with. Godwin’s law applies here, so I must be careful to remain resolutely satirical.

So instead, I will draw your attention to any number of world-famous Fascists: do you really think any of them started out jack-booting around, screaming speeches and committing war-crimes? Of course not: they started out seeming reasonable and talking to you in ways other politicians don’t. They hid their extremism behind moderate talk of how things would be better if it wasn’t for those people who are different.

And, just as with UKIP, those people were foreign, have different coloured skins, different habits, are disabled, are gay, are women, or (God forbid) a one-legged Bulgarian Lesbian Feminist Muslim. Just as with UKIP, they promise national pride and a return to greatness if only we turn back the clock on all this permissiveness, lock the door against people who look different, or have different sexuality, or are disabled.

So before you vote for UKIP, please don’t just think about Europe. Everyone knows Britain hates Johnny Foreigner – we’re an international joke for it. The Daily Mail has made it’s entire stand-up (throw-up) act about it.

So don’t just think about what you’re voting for: also think about what else you’re voting for.

And remember that the top of a slippery slope always looks like fun. But it leads down, down, down to some pretty dark places.

Thank you for reading. Please share it if you find it interesting.

For once, I’m not opening comments: if you have different opinions, start a blog. I don’t want to invite a hateful comments section.

I’m in a right Huff

I got invited to write for the Huffington Post today.

I really did. A nice man from Huff had seen my tweets, read some of my blog, and wrote a very kind email to me suggesting that I’d make a good contributor.

Of course it appealed to my ego, which is as susceptible to flattery as yours is. About 2 years ago somebody in the USA read my early blogs about cancer, found them funny, and asked me if I’d be willing to give up my job and move to the USA to write for the little show she was involved in: the Daily Show. I almost did it, except I then researched how long people typically last writing for the Daily Show (about 6 weeks), and decided it was better for me if I locked my ego back in its box, and stayed here doing boring website work and earning a pittance.

But this would be different: I’d be able to work from my home, writing articles and expressing opinions. What a way to make a living.

And then I asked about the remuneration. None. Absolutely none. And so, instead of contributing an article, I decided to contribute a letter explaining why this business model is an utter disgrace. I suggested Huff could publish the letter. I doubt they will, but I’ll be delighted if they do: not because it appeals to my ego, but because it would give me hope that the class of people who own the world and control all the assets may finally begin to see the error of their ways.

Here’s the letter I wrote:

Hi Seamus,

Thanks for the offer.

I own a business, and although many people listening to my political opinions might describe me as a socialist, just as many who watch me chasing new work would describe me as a capitalist.

I suspect, like many realists, I’m a mixture of both; the key failing of current economic systems across the globe is the failure to recognise the benefits and failings of both systems. The purity of market capitalism is what has brought us to the current state, and only a re-balancing via a more social-democratic approach can ultimately resolve the crisis in capitalism. Everything else is a race to the bottom that, following the logic of neo-liberal capitalism, results in one person owning everything, and the rest of us fighting for scraps from the table. And losing.

The problems of capitalism are exacerbated by the current trend to run a rentier economy: the capture and control of assets, and imposition of rents to access those assets. The controllers of assets don’t need to develop them or invest in them: they simply need to possess them, and the money will come pouring in.

A prime example of this is the ownership of land. The wealthiest families in the UK are those of the Earl of Cadogan and the Duke of Westminster, both of which inherited ownership of prime London real estate. They have done nothing to develop that real estate, nothing to earn it, and their ownership benefits absolutely nobody except for themselves. In fact, their total control pushes housing costs so high that the entire nation has become indebted to pay excessive mortgage costs, simply to protect their ownership of land that is, in national and global terms, economically dormant.

They are a parasite, and their deep pockets and lavish support for political parties has ensured our socio-economic system has become warped to support their parasitic greed. No party will suggest the rational solutions: if hard work makes us rich, let’s tax inheritance at 85%, so the children of rich men have to work hard too. But no: that would never do. What we must do instead is ensure rich men hand down ever-more riches to their ever-lazier children, in a total inversion of the key argument of capitalism. In this regard, pure socialism produces better capitalism than Milton Friedman ever could.

The rentier outlook is reaching every corner of the economy. “Buy-to-let” is a prime example: the utterly destructive policy of attempting to make anybody with a retirement plan into a landowner. It inevitably robs banks of their assets, and renders them incapable of lending for innovation or growth. Instead, the wealth of pension plans turns into small-minded, economically null property ownership and rack-rents. It bleeds the economy, making those with few assets unable to make any investments in their (or the country’s) future: instead they pour their money into rents, purely to prop up those who control the assets. Many – perhaps even the majority – of the population now work for no personal benefit: they simply support those who own the assets.

In 2007 the sky darkened with the wings of chickens coming home to roost. The global economy had become an inverted pyramid, those with few assets working harder and harder to prop up those with huge assets. It was inevitable it would fall over, and only massive social lending – yes, more money being taken from the poor to prop up the rich – prevented total collapse… for a while.

Little has changed since then, and when – inevitably – the next crash happens, it will be even larger, even more destructive. And societies will not be able to afford to bail out banks and corporations for a second time. It will be the crash to end all crashes, and change will be forced upon us all in a uncontrollable, furious way. Leaders who argue for a bail-out will be defenestrated (certainly metaphorically, and probably literally) by a raging mass of people who finally recognise that they’ve been feeding a monster since the neo-con revolution of Thatcher and Reagan.

I’m sorry to say that the “unpaid contributor” model of the Huffington Post is part of the problem. While I admire Arianna Huffington, and recognise that old business models cannot last forever, I simply can’t allow myself to participate in actions which are identical to the dangerous rentier economy I criticise above. Arianna Huffington is reported to be worth over $50 million, yet refuses to pay for the content which makes her rich. She controls the asset. I work for no reason except to support her. And in doing so, I undermine legitimate newspapers who are foolish enough to pay their staff, therefore being uncompetitive, simply because they want to ensure people can eat.

Arianna Huffington may profess her liberal credentials, but the business she operates is undermining the social fabric by expecting people to work for nothing at all. You stroked my ego by inviting me to write for the Huff. Then you asked me to pitch a story, give my time, my effort, my skills and knowhow for free, simply so you can sell more ad revenue and enrich your owners. It’s the very apogee of rentier economics. I can’t be involved.

You stroked my ego. I won’t deny I briefly glowed. But although I was initially flattered to be asked to write a contribution, I refuse to do so. Unless, of course, you take the courageous step of publishing this email. It will be posted on my personal blog, but, as with your kind offer, I shall also offer you the right to reuse the post elsewhere. Bonne chance!

And now I will return to my job, where I pay my employees for the contribution they make, in the hope that they have enough money to participate in society. I may never be as rich as Arianna Huffington, but I sleep very soundly.

Best wishes

Russ

Now that’s what I call propaganda

It’s been a while since I wrote, but recently the Daily Mail has made one of its regular forays into being an absolute shit, and I’m moved to write a blog again. It’s quicker, easier and less painful than the alternative, which is furiously grinding my teeth into a fine powder and making extended roaring noises until the neighbours complain.

It’s pretty easy to be angry with the Mail, and it’s ugly-sister paper the Mail on Sunday: in fact one of the most depressing things about the paper is that it’s likely its writers and contributors (I hesitate to call them journalists) probably aren’t angry at all – they’re the Typhoid Mary of angry, passing it on to everyone around them, but not suffering at all. In fact, I’m relatively convinced that most people only read it to hate it more. It’s as though Paul Dacre has shares in “diffuse fury”, and is trying to generate as much as it as possible.

He’s been quite successful this week, hasn’t he?

I do get angered by the Mail, but largely just by its existence. For some time I’ve refused to even follow links to its pages, and most of what I know about its content comes from reading enraged tweets about it from similarly-minded lefty (and, to be fair, a good number of righty) folks. Sadly, I occasionally get to see it when I visit my mum, who, for reasons best known to herself, still buys it daily so she can do the crossword. I’ve bought her an iPad and got her a crossword app, but she still gets the Daily Mail delivered.

Maybe it’s softer, stronger and very very longer than I’d imagined, and she uses it cos it’s cheaper than loo-roll. It’s a fine use for it, possibly the best.

(Actually, it’s not especially absorbent, and so, if used for that purpose, it literally performs the function that it’s metaphorically designed to do – spreads shit. Avoid wiping your arse on the Daily Mail. It may seem like a good idea, but you’re playing right in to their hands, as well as pooing right into your own).

But the thing that angers me isn’t having poo smeared around the place like an involuntary dirty-protest. It isn’t even the obvious stuff that almost certainly angers you: the implicit homophobia, NHS-bashing, racism, sexism, manipulation, BBC-hatred, and small-minded, petite bourgeoise, little-Englander, sub-Jeremy-Clarkson bile that appears in the Mail every day. I can even, mostly, overlook the hypocrisy of its endless horror-story campaign to make everybody who smiles at a kid feel like a paedophile, whilst referring to 14 year old girls as “hot” and “leggy beauties” (not a word of a lie). It’s there constantly, but is extraordinarily easy to spot and ignore.

The thing that angers me is one small, common, utterly innocuous word: It’s the Daily Mail’s use of the word “now”.

The Daily Mail employs “now” like a biological weapon. You can’t smell it. You can’t see it. You don’t know what’s happening to you, but suddenly everything has gone wrong, you’re nauseated, and your skin and teeth itch with a impossible to define sense that the world is off it’s axis.

You see, the Daily Mail is expert at weaving a narrative. Most news media is. Of course, the world isn’t actually a narrative – that’s soap operas, and you’re welcome to them. In reality, the world is incredibly complicated, and requires actual brains, rationality and attention to understand. If you read quality newspapers and do a little of your own research, it’s possible to get to the bottom of some things. But a lot of it will probably always be confusing to most of us, especially to me. The more you know, the more you realise how much there is left to know, and how few years you have to learn it all.

So newspapers don’t even bother to tell you the truth. They don’t even try. They prefer to focus on things that are outside of the norm, rather than pointing out that the norm is, in fact, fucking awful.

The Guardian sells the narrative that lower bank bonuses would help, but that we’re broadly fucked until all money is abolished.

The Telegraph likes to sell you the idea that not much matters now you’re 83 and can’t shoot the natives any more, so you should just sit back and enjoy the cricket.

The Sun believes shorter, louder words and more tits make us feel better, and what the hell, it’s just a bit of fun, and your daughter probably won’t be the one to get raped as a result.

And the Express thinks higher house-prices for people living in Esher are the single most important thing in the universe. (Well, that, plus the immediate prosecution of the Duke of Edinburgh for the murder of saintly, Sloaney shagger Diana Spencer).

But the Daily Mail is more fundamentally dangerous. It wants to use an ur-narrative, the primal narrative, the one we’re all somehow aware of even though we’ve never seen it written down. In this narrative, like Eden, the world was perfect when you were younger, and then… well… something happened. That “something” is usually socialism; or the BBC; or a sexual revolution you weren’t invited to, dagnabbit; or somebody swarthy-looking with an unusual name owning your local shop. Before all of those things, life was just peachy (they seem to say). If only you’d vote against Miliband, and privatise the BBC, and sell your grandmother’s medical records to a private health company, everything in this complicated world would once again seem simple: beer would be colder, chips wouldn’t make you fat, music would have proper tunes and lyrics you understood, and you wouldn’t have to worry any more.

Of course, they can’t just come out and say that. They’d be a laughing stock, and grandmothers across the nation would suddenly be redundant. So instead, they imply it with the subtle use of the word “now”. Headlines begin thusly:

  • Now the BBC allows lesbians to …
  • Now the NHS wants to kill you with …
  • Now Labour let French people shag your…
  • Now the EU wants to stop you from hitting your children with a…

Each use of “now” subliminally sells us the concept that the world is on a downward spiral, that one thing leads to another and the whole charabanc is out of control and heading for a cliff.

There are only two rational responses to going over a cliff. The first – the one I believe the Daily Mail truly wants to engender in you – is to give up, stop asking questions, and accept your lot. There’s no point in panicking or questioning Driver Cameron about what he’s doing to change course. You may as well just let the people up-front carry on doing what they’re doing, and blame the people at the back for landing on you when the crash happens.

The other response is to start thinking the only way to avert disaster fix it is to vote for the Daily Mail’s own brand of Toryism (which is rarely the Heseltine brand, it’s always the IDS brand, with a bit of Farage thrown in).

And that’s why, as a result of reading this blog, you should immediately start an online campaign to ban the use of the word “now” from newspapers. Of course not. Frankly, there’s nothing we can do, except be aware, stop reading or linking to the Daily Mail, and start doing more original thinking. Opting out of the whole process isn’t an option: it’s a sure way to be a passenger on the bus, and even if it’s not going over a cliff you really need to have a say over where it does go. Ignore the driver, and it will inevitably keep on drifting to the right.

Russell Brand

How can you tell the entire system is fucked?

It’s when Russell Brand – the egomaniacal sex-addict, former drug-addict, prankster, reality-TV host, actor and stand up – reveals more political wisdom and moral authority than the government, opposition, House of Lords, royal family, mass media, financial sector, academia, police, bankers and churches combined.

Watch Russell Brand vs Jeremy Paxman