PODCAST! A critical discourse analyst assesses Corbo’s Glasto speecho

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn acknowledges the crowd at Worthy Farm in Somerset during the Glastonbury Festival

My friend Owen is much more cleverer than me, and he has a freshly-minted PhD in Critical Discourse Analysis to prove it. Here we are talking about Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at the Glastonbury Festival two days ago.

 
P.s. If, like me, you find the production values of some left-wing podcasts just too professional and slick, you will be delighted by the authentically downhome quality of the audio on this recording.

I’ve put money on it: Rees-Mogg will be the Tories’ answer to Corbynism

No one would ever have dreamt that Jeremy Corbyn could become Labour leader. For his entire career he’s been a reliable Private Eye parody of an intransigent and irrelevant backbencher, a walking pastiche of what the party as a whole was once proud to stand for: Clause 4, The Red Flag sung at party conferences, nationalisation of major industries, an end to the monarchy, Britain out of the EU, solidarity with Cuba, etc. His becoming Prime Minister would be the realisation of The Tories’ very worst fears. The notion that it could actually happen was so traumatic to them that they couldn’t even begin to take it seriously until it was far too late. Hence they are, as Paul Mason argues, panicking.

Actually, I tell a lie. There’s something that scares the Tories even more, which is that Corbyn might become PM because the electorate want him to. This is truly the worst nightmare of the Tory right: the country turning left. The very thought would destroy them. This terror is starting to combine with their evident lack of preparation for Brexit negotiations to produce paralysis, and their failure to form a government evinces an inability to function in the face of imminent humiliation. Daniel Hannan-aligned oddballs on the hard right of the party are starting to suggest they simply occupy the throne and have five years of governing without legislation, essentially leaving the UK without a government just to stop Corbyn. However, they know that if the UK electorate has seen through their lack of a strategic programme beyond the profitable chaos of Brexit, if it decides it was conned and actually prefers the benefits of EU membership, then it certainly won’t vote for Michael Gove or Boris Johnson or any of the old faces. Then there’s the fact that the very best efforts of their attack dog newspapers to put Corbyn out of action by openly calling him a terrorist failed. All this adds up to outright desperation, and for all their political and cultural arrogance over the last seven years, we and they are starting to remember that between Major and Cameron they chose all of their leaders in a blind panic.

Now, this online poll is almost certainly entirely misleading, the mere result of trolling. But if enough of the Tories’ currently very frightened membership decided that the party needs, like Labour, a representative of its core values, and if Dacre and Murdoch were to meet and be charmed by him, to be persuaded that the electorate could be made to warm to his chinless, blimpish, unashamedly elitist schtik, the notion of Jacob Rees-Mogg as party leader would begin to make a lot of sense. After all, this is the age of the troll. Rees-Mogg could be the atavistic throwback, the tribute act that May can’t carry off, the Boris Johnson who’s even more of a joke and doesn’t come with that particular clown’s baggage or the snarl that his moptop doesn’t always manage to keep under wraps.

In policy terms Tories have now swallowed up Ukip (although terrifyingly for them, Farage’s working class voters went for Corbyn). Thus it may be that the pro-Brexit wing get to select the new leader. If so, there’ll be no more pretence of ‘modernisation’, no huskies and no nonsense about inclusivity, workers’ rights or the ‘greenest government ever’. There are many influential Tories whose priority is to sabotage any attempt to get out of Brexit, who will happily hurl the country, indeed the entire continent off a cliff by staging a walk-out from the talks. They might go for Rees-Mogg. Johnson doesn’t convince them or anyone else much any more. Trump would love him, and if the US could choose Trump, and Labour could choose Corbyn (their reasoning might go) then the country as a whole might go for this comedy Etonian, an affable monster who represents their core values.

Right now, with almost the entire country aghast at the ruins of their bonfire of regulations, they’re on the ropes. Nobody thinks they have the public or even national interest at heart. In this context Rees-Mogg, with his much-shared and (in the current context) staggeringly obnoxious insistence on the opportunities an even bigger bonfire presents, has stood out. He carries the flame, standing for a doubling-down on everything that currently makes the Tories unpopular: deregulation, unashamed denial of Climate Change, a pretence that the empire is still with us, undisguised hostility to the very notion of human rights. He would (God forbid) be a 1930s PM for the final stages of a slow motion repeat of that decade, redeeming his grandparents’ generation for their failure to stand up to those who insisted on standing up to Hitler, a historic betrayal which ultimately led to the horrors of the Welfare State, the end of empire and the advent of a multicultural society.

Given that the UK is very quickly turning into the sick joke of Europe, making a living embodiment of the butt of the joke national leader will make automatic sense to a party whose core values lie in contrariness and an obstinate denial of modern realities. The polls (the real ones) don’t at present take Rees-Mogg remotely seriously, but I think it would be a mistake to join and vote for him. Such a move could, as the Turdmeister Toby Young knows very well, easily backfire :-)*.

Jacob Rees-Mogg could become the British equivalent of Donald Trump.

 

P.s. As part of this piece I fully intended to go to a betting site and put my money where my mouth is, but fortunately/unfortunately I can’t access UK gambling sites from Italy. Oh well, I’ll just spend it on some more gelati and overpriced deck chairs instead.

*Of course if the Tories were to decide for some reason that Rees-Mogg was too serious a candidate for party leader and wanted to choose someone who’s even more of a joke, then Toby Young would be an obvious contender. Mind you, it’s also possible they could also go completely fucking insane and choose Boris “Who on earth still uses fire stations in 2015?!” Johnson.

BTW: It appears that despite the intellectual credentials of their hero, fans of Rees-Mogg can’t (or at least don’t) read:

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The number of likes, that heart emoji and the fact that someone’s shared it are a bit worrying. I really hope I haven’t ‘done a John Oliver‘.

In defence of the ‘MSM’

Supporters gather to rally with Trump in Minneapolis
This t-shirt was a common sight at Trump rallies late last year.

Here are three facts which shed some light on the tragedy that took place in West London last week:

  • In 2012 David Cameron boasted that he would “kill off safety culture for good”.
  • Last year Conservative ministers openly boasted of reducing the level of protection that ordinary people have from fire.
  • The last Tory Government established a scheme to encourage civil servants to scrap two regulations for each new one they introduced.

How do I know these things? They were reported in the press, by newspapers. They are publicly-available verified and substantiated facts.

The truth about injustice in the world is not hidden, and it’s no secret who and what is responsible. In this country in this case it’s politicians subservient to the notion that the market knows best, that the private sector is always more efficient than the public, that there is (to quote Margaret Thatcher) “no such thing as society”, only private interests.

To counter this ideology, people with progressive values need to insist on the primacy of the public good, to demand proper and sufficiently regulated public services controlled by people who are democratically elected and thus accountable. If instead we spend our time and energy spreading unsubstantiated internet-derived rumours about secret measures carried out by occult forces, we miss the bigger picture and end up repeating a lot of the agenda of the far-right, one that, by making out that everything that happens is the result of a secret conspiracy, emphasises our powerlessness rather than what we can do to change things.

Luckily on our side we have some sections of a relatively free media which can investigate and highlight corruption and injustice. Clearly that doesn’t mean the Murdoch-owned press or the Daily Mail or Express. In this country the main left-leaning daily newspaper is The Guardian. It is not by any means perfect but it is what we have. It employs professional and conscientious journalists working according to a set of standards and has a number of mechanisms which make it relatively accountable to its readers. It also publishes columnists such as Owen Jones, Aditya Chakrabortty and George Monbiot, whose view of the world is basically the same as ours.

There are countless other publications (both on-and offline) working hard to establish and interpret facts about the world, all of which is a careful, riguorous and very resource-hungry affair. Comment is free, but facts are expensive, as no serious investigative journalism can be produced using only Google and social media. If we follow the advice of Twitter’s own Donald Trump and regard all the mainstream media as ‘fake news’, we leave ourselves open to massive manipulation and end up knowing not what we need to but what we want to, believing not what is true but what we would like to be the case. That’s what operations like The Canary, Skwawkbox and (for that matter) Breitbart are selling. Issues like Climate Change demonstrate what a catastrophic mistake we are making if we only choose to believe the type of media outlets that do not employ and back up professional reporters but instead simply tell us what we want to hear, that invent realities in order to appeal to our emotions and to reaffirm our sense of who we are*.

Some mainstream media organiations (and we (should) all know which ones) are biased, dishonest and corrupt. Competetive pressures mean that the practice of ‘churnalism’ is ever-more prevalent,  and some outlets are so compromised by commercial considerations as to be useless. They are all to be avoided. However, the existence of ideologically-based reporting and coverage which primarily serves business interests does not change the fact that across the world journalists risk their lives to expose injustice and hold the rich and powerful to account. I used to live in Mexico, where dozens of reporters are tortured and shot dead every year for daring to investigate corruption. To fall for the lie that the chief role of all mainstream media is to take part in a conspiracy to defraud the public is to do them and ourselves a huge disservice.

Nonetheless it’s become increasingly fashionable to cynically and lazily misapply a debased version of the work of Noam Chomsky in order to pretend that no journalist or news outlet can be trusted. In doing so, one makes oneself immensely more vulnerable to manipulation by power; it doesn’t make you smarter or better-informed, but rather much more gullible and ignorant. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this example of a well-known person who has nothing but contempt for the ‘MSM’:

Nothing more to add, your honour.

*Climate Change is also one major reason why so many people avoid the news altogether.

Q: What’s wrong with this picture? A: The placards

Here are some situations in which the phrase “I used to be in the Socialist Worker’s Party” might not stand you in good stead:

  • On your professional CV
  • On your Guardian Soulmates dating profile
  • On your personal blog*

Here goes my online street cred: I was, for a stint at university, a few years in Dublin in the mid-nineties and another short period in London about ten years ago, a member of the SWP. I embodied some of the most oft- and rightly-criticised traits:

  1. A simplistic view of the world. I used to write reviews for the party newspaper of cultural products, such as books and films, evaluating them solely in terms of their contribution to the building of the revolutionary party. I also believed that there could be a thing called a ‘revolution’, just like in 1917 (or at least in Eisenstein’s inspiring rendition of it), which would be over by teatime and would not inspire a phenomenally violent and complex period of post- and counterrevolutionary violence. As recently as 2013, when I was involved in the laudable but short-lived initiative Left Unity, I witnessed an actual non-tongue-in-cheek discussion in the pub between SWP members about what they would do “on the day after the revolution”. Luckily George Orwell was just out of hearing distance (buying some more crisps at the bar as I recall), otherwise he might have eaten them all alive.
  2. Sectarianism. I viewed members of similar political organisations as more significant enemies of the class struggle than the police and the army, regarding them as rival species to be wiped out in the struggle for survival and eventual (but inevitable) triumph. I was not so much an activist as an evangelist.
  3. My main political concern was with the growth of the organisation, evidenced by increased newspaper sales, better-attended meetings, larger and louder demonstrations called and led by us, and the visibility of our placards on media coverage of said demos**. Of course, all of these things waxed and waned, but I was encouraged to believe that there was a deeper historical trend at work, that people were angrier than ever before and that provided they would get on the bus to the demonstration we would be able, nay obliged to, recruit them so they would sell the paper to their friends and workmates and the whole pyramid would grow to the point where the working class would soon be gleefully hurling the heads of capitalists down it.
  4. Hijacking events, using demonstrations and meetings in a purely instrumental way to build the party rather than the campaign itself. Oh, how we got sick and tired of being accused of doing this. Oh, how I got sick and tired of actually doing it, until the point where I became deeply cynical and (repeatedly) left the organisation.

How is this relevant in June 2017? Because the organisation is reclaiming a certain protagonism. On demonstrations over the Grenfell tragedy its placards are ubiquitous. This is, I think, dangerous for the reasons suggested above and also because:

Firstly, the SWP tends to mislead. Its chief figures are articulate and very adept at getting themselves onto platforms, but their strategy and tactics will lead any given movement down the same garden path to where the fairies live, on smaller and smaller national demostrations until everyone just stays at home and shouts at the TV instead.

Secondly, the prominent presence of the SWP is off-putting in at least three ways. Firstly, to the public. Someone once waggishly pointed out that the largest political group on the British Left is made up of ex-SWP members. Even for people who’ve never read the paper or attended a protest, Socialist Worker placards are a sign that the usual suspects are up to their old tricks again. Then there’s the fact that it allows the media to misrepresent the protest as a rentamob, as happened on Twitter last night in relation to the protests in Central London. Thirdly, it alienates potential campaigners and activists in the longer-term, in that very many people who come into contact with the organisation become, like me, cynical towards all forms of radical political activity and deeply undemocratic in their attitudes to the organisation of political campaigns.

Now, there remains an important thing to say, which is that for all the faults of the organisation, individual members of it should not be demonized. Despite the sometimes horrendous and often shameful antics of some of its leading members over the last few years, which have left many to abandon their political home (to be replaced each September by a new cohort of fresher-faced footsoldiers), most long-standing SWP members I’ve known have been heartfelt in their belief that the party is the best thing for society. To call them all ‘rape apologists’ is counterproductive and wrong. They’re mistaken and possibly morally compromised, but they are sincere***. Nevertheless, their attempts to play a leading role, whether in the Grenfell campaign or in Momentum should (continue to) be rejected. If other activists in the movement  don’t tell them, to use a phrase that’s been doing the rounds, to ‘get stuffed’, the right-wing media will use the presence of the party to discredit all those involved. 

The SWP is a bureaucracy and as such its aim is to survive and thrive, regardless of the success or failure of whatever cause it attaches it to. My past involvement in the party tells me that as an organisation (just like one or two very similar parties) it does not have the best interests of any given campaign at heart.

*Although I hope its obvious that I’ve only mentioned it in one of those contexts, I do admire the example of a perma-unemployed friend of mine who, when forced to produce a resume in one of those “HANDS OFF ME PENS!” job club mandated by the DSS came up with a piece of paper with his name, address and the details of his erstwhile role as local SWP branch secretary.

**Basically a branding exercise.

***It was meeting some very impressive and charming individual activists in East London in around 2007 that led me to briefly become a member again.

The real West London is starting to rise up

When I first visited London I was only 13 or so, and at that impressionable age I half hoped that I’d find Neil Tennant sashaying across the concourse of St Pancras Station with a recalitrant Chris Lowe six paces behind. That video defined my image of London throughout my teenage years, and without my ever reflecting on it, the lyrics to the song firmly established the east-west class divide as the central feature of my mental map of London.

When I moved there properly (at the start of 2006, after a short-lived stint in 1993) I gravitated towards the east. It was cheaper, and in any case the west seemed sort of sloaney. It never occured to me to live there and I tended to look askance at those who did. The west was the land of chinos and jazz funk. Every country has its pijos, fighetti, betinhos or yuppies, and this was their kingdom. The West seemed, in a word, naff.

The more I lived in London the more I sensed that there was much more to the area than my lazy dismissal had acknowledged. Visiting there for any reason always felt like a trip to a slightly exotic foreign country. There was more to West London to yuppies and carnival, and that event itself revealed a working class city in amongst the refurbished portico mansions and lambroghini showrooms. I reflected on the other elements: Nick Roeg’s Powys Square, the emergence of The Clash, and the influence of reggae soundsystems, the riots of 1958 and 1976, the complex interplay of different Afro-Caribbean communities, thw downbeat parades of Bayswater and Queensway which I knew from Martin Amis’ ‘Success’, the extent of the west with all its jealously-guarded class distinctions and postcode markers, from Portobello to Knightsbridge and North Kensington to South Acton.

Last year (2016) I spent a couple of weeks in an affluent part of Shepherd’s Bush and wandering around Goldhawk Road towards Hammersmith and was constantly reminded that gentrification is never total. Even with the eye-wateringly unaffordable housing, there remains a palimpest of communities: Syrian, Lebanese, Irish, Somali, Ethiopian and Sikh. 

Another less noticed feature of West London is the huge working class estates. With possibily even more intensity than other parts of London, they’ve been the site of immense battles in the last few years as new phases of social cleansing set in. As we’ve had cause to hear several times over the last few days, the area around Notting Hill and Kensington is among the most highly-prized territory on earth. The tower blocks which house hundreds of thousands of ordinary Londoners have become outposts of affordable life in a world predicated on aspiration or annihilation, get rich or die trying.

Under what had come to seem like ‘normal’ circumstances, in which your Boris Johnsons and David Camerons were still in the ascendant, the fire could aid the process of hypergentrification, the fate of the victims might be seen as an unfortunate charred blot on a landscape undergoing permanent enhancement. But there’s something about the national mood which will not let that happen. News channels are full of working class people who had been written out of the story of London as a successful global city. As it happens those working class people come from all corners of the globe and have made London their home even as London seems to repel their efforts, their energy and cultural inventiveness welcome only insofar as they serve as enticing images to attract yet more global capital yearning for exponential returns. Those people are West London in its purest form and their resurgence will renew it as a living and breathing place with its own proud history rather than a bland pre-retirement resort for the global elite.

This guy embodies the spirit of the true West London. It’s no accident that behind his righteous invective, honed over years at Speaker’s Corner (a place I’d always dismissed as tourist fodder/a breeding ground for mad mullahs), that he’s also a social historian. He’s spot on on the subject of gentrification and social cleansing, and in this clip is ferocious and trenchant on the role of the media in normalising such deadly inequality and dismissing out of hand the notion that there could ever be an alternative.

Two months ago Iain Sinclair, who has know more Londons than most, declared that this is the final one. I was inclined to agree. The area where he lives and where our flat is is being hollowed out of all historical and cultural content, turned into a computer simulation of the suburbs of Dubai or Shanghai. In what I’d come to think of as an encroachment of the values of West London on the working class East, the role of the yuppies is played by weekend hipsters, just as keen to amass cultural capital by snapping up everything sticking out of the ground, until every rugged feature of the terrain has been smoothed over for international investors. Few places on earth are as bland as the new East London, with its ‘international standard’ apartments and Porsche showrooms. Meanwhile, back west, the furious ashes of the Grenfell Tower contain life; local identity is reasserting itself in an area which I, unfairly, was inclined to dismiss as socially and culturally moribund. If there is hope for London as a living city, it lies in the west.

Interview with Owen Jones on ‘Chavs’ and the London riots

The sea change currently taking place in British politics would be inconceivable without Owen Jones. From his sudden rise to prominence with his book ‘Chavs’, a cogent and concise overview of the changes wrought to working class life by Thatcherism, to his always-compelling Guardian column, he’s been an ever-present positive influence on the Left during one of its most difficult periods in modern history.

In November 2011, in the wake of the success of his book, I interviewed Owen on the subject of that summer’s riots and how it related to the premise of his book. The interview was published in a small monthly left-wing publication and I’d forgotten all about it until the other day. As it’s not available online I thought I’d post it here so it doesn’t entirely disappear into the ether.

RW: First of all I’d like to ask you what kind of reaction you received when you told people what kind of book you were working on.

OJ: When I was writing the book, I struggled to tell people its title – mentioning that you’re writing a book entitled ‘Chavs’ is guaranteed to raise eyebrows. But I think people were interested in the fact I was writing a book on class which – in my view – has been neglected for so long. As much as I’d like to take the credit for the way the book has been received, it has everything to do with the fact that class has crept back on the agenda. If you deny class at a time when the pay of the FTSE 100 chief executives has gone up by 55%, while the average Briton is experiencing the biggest squeeze on living standards since the 1920s – well, you’re a Flat Earther.

RW: Would you say that the demonisation and dehumanising of he working class encapsulated into the word ‘chav’ is also an international phenomenon? Do you know if there has been an increase in anti-white trash discourse in the US, for example?

OJ: Unequal societies provide fertile ground for demonising those ‘at the bottom’. You see it not just in the US, but also in – for example – Latin American countries, where dehumanising class-ist and racist rhetoric are often intertwined. It’s a way of rationalising inequalities – they become justified on the basis that those at the top and those at the bottom all ‘deserve’ their places.
But it’s also very much the case in both the US and the UK that individuals are expected to get on in life through their own individual efforts. Failing to do so is seen to be the product of personal failure. However, I do think Britain was unique in the nature of the all-out assault on the working-class as a collective political and social group – including the attacks on unions, council housing, industries that sustained entire communities, values like solidarity, and so on. After that, the consensus was that everyone should aspire to be middle-class – and being working-class was no longer something you were encouraged to be proud of, if you like.

RW: I wonder if you are familiar with the work of Owen Hatherley, in his depiction of the physical architecture of the New Labour years is there an affinity with your analysis of the socio-economic climate? And in the light of the increasing profile of Richard Seymour, Mark Fisher and Nina Power is it fair to talk about a new generation of radical and critical thinkers in the UK?

OJ: I’m a huge fan of Owen Hatherley. His work is very powerful because it stands as a damning indictment of New Labour, but with a very unique angle that allows you to understand the politics through the architecture. The likes of Owen Hatherley, Richard Seymour, Mark Fisher and Nina Power are brilliant, powerful left-wing writers, and the movement is very lucky to have them. But I think the emergence of a new generation of young left thinkers has everything to do with the changing political climate, than their undeniable talent. It’s just one manifestation of the radical ideas that are bubbling away among a section of young people. Having grown up in an age of reaction, it’s very heartening to see.

RW: How do the recent riots fit in with the thesis you develop in the book?

OJ: Obviously my book didn’t predict the riots, but I think there are two ways the book and the riots link together. Firstly, the book looks at how skilled, industrial jobs disappeared in a very short space of time and were replaced with fewer service sector jobs that were more insecure, had worse pay, and were less respected. While many young working-class men could leave school at 16 a generation ago and get a relatively well-paid apprenticeship that was a gateway to a long-term job, that’s no longer the case today. The fact that the rioters and looters were overwhelmingly men from poorer working-class communities who were both out of work and education is – I think – hardly surprisingly. Secondly, the book links in with how the post-riot backlash was manipulated. People were understandably and angry and scared in the aftermath of the riots. Right-wing politicians and commentators manipulated it to talk of a “feral underclass” – an escalation of the idea of the undeserving poor: they’re not just undeserving, they’re like animals. David Cameron used the aftermath to attack people on benefits, arguing that one of the solutions was to take on a welfare state that promotes “idleness”. He backed plans by councils to evict rioters and their families (i.e. collective punishment) and to remove benefits from rioters. Talk of taking away benefits is now being extended to all those who break the law. As well as establishing the principle that, if you break the law and you are poor you will be punished twice, it’s also trying to cement the idea of a lawless underclass. ‘Chavs’ tried to take on the idea we’re all middle-class, apart from a problematic rump of the old working-class. That’s a theory that – tragically – has been reinforced in the aftermath of the riots.

RW: Is the politics of aspiration that you refer to sustainable in a recessionary climate?

OJ: Individual aspiration is all about the idea of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, that there is room at the top for those who work hard enough. But at a time of protracted economic and social crisis – when people are experiencing the biggest squeeze of living standards since the 1920s through no fault of their own – that myth becomes far harder to sustain. It becomes almost farcical to argue that where you end up is a reflection of your abilities. With a collective attack on people’s rights, I hope that there is a collective response. The recent teachers’ and civil servants’ strike was a form of collective aspiration – people coming together to defend themselves from a tax on public sector workers that’s being used to pay off the deficit.

RW: And finally, given that you contribute to the Labour List website, what are your predictions and hopes for the future of the left in and outside the Labour Party, especially in the light of the Blue (and now Purple, it seems) Labour projects?

OJ: The left everywhere – in Britain and across the world – has been overwhelmed by a perfect storm since the late 1970s. There was the rise of the New Right (best embodied by Thatcherism and Reaganism, but also the juntas in Latin America); the defeats suffered by the labour movement, particularly in Britain; the capitalist triumphalism unleashed after the collapse of Stalinism – There Is No Alternative and The End of History and so on; and neo-liberal globalisation. It’s in this context that New Labour emerged. The reality is that the left still does not exist as a mass political force in the aftermath of this perfect storm, despite the crisis of capitalism that began four years ago. At the top of the Labour Party, Blairites are still very strong and there’s not a strong enough countervailing pressure coming from the left. If we’re going to have a Labour Party that properly represents the working-class majority, that means the unions using their powers far more effectively within the Party, but also a strong grassroots movement both inside and outside the Party that can drag the leadership (kicking and screaming if needs be) to a progressive position.

The Grenfell disaster should help us reconsider our indifference to homelessness

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The fire is the Grenfell tower block is still burning more than 24 hours later. Dozens have been killed and hundreds left destitute because the ‘market’ decided it was worth the risk.

The outpouring of solidarity and charity shows that pretty much everyone in the country has imagined themselves in such a situation. There’s also rage and revulsion at the economic forces and social structures that the fire lays bare. Those Conservative Party defenders criticising the ‘politicisation’ of the disaster resemble Isis supporters demanding that no one hold it responsible for bombings and beheadings.

Then there’s the slow apocalypse of individual homelessness. Is it wrong to imagine the frustration of people already homeless upon seeing the attention this catastrophe has generated? No wonder destitute people from other parts of London have apparently been turning up at the disaster site looking for food and shelter. Who wouldn’t? In Kensington and Chelsea itself one out of every 29 people is homeless. Those displaced by the disaster might count themselves lucky that their council has not followed the example of neighbouring Westminster in its proposal to make feeding them illegal, or various other boroughs in fining people more than the price of a hotel room for sleeping rough. Everyone in London knows how easy it is to find oneself between flats, stretching the hospitality of friends and family to the point where a night in a park starts to seem like a more comfortable option. It’s fair to say that probably most of London’s population lives in conditions of mild to extreme housing insecurity. It’s a slow-burning, invisible conflagration.

A sudden loss of home like that experienced by the Grenfell residents must be traumatic almost beyond repair. We help others in such situations partly in the hope that if something similar were to happen to us our neighbours would look out for us and give us refuge. The fact that similar things are happening on a global scale might give us pause to reflect on the irony that so many British people, in the wake of the Brexit vote, immediately started looking abroad for other options. Doing so is never a bad idea but our history should teach us that our plight doesn’t make us a priority for resettlement.

Nobody lives a more precarious existence in London than council or former council tenants in areas of high demand. Those out on the streets in West London right now are exactly the kind of people being turfed out of the ‘Golden Postcodes’. There’s an irony in the use of the hashtag #IamLondon in response to terrorist attacks, for only a dwindling minority of locals can afford to live there. Thanks to the hard work of Boris Johnson and central government, the city is becoming almost medievally exclusive. When we rented out our flat in East London the prospective tenants mentioned to the letting agent that it was a shame we didn’t have a better view over the (council) block opposite. Don’t worry, he said, it’ll be gone soon, oblivious to the fact that there are no current plans to get rid of it and the hundreds of people who live there. There’s a deeper logic at work, a bizarre but serendipitous seismic anomaly that only brings down those buildings which ordinary people can afford to live in. As it happens, the company which developed our building and those on adjacent streets did so with the enthusiastic support of one Brandon Lewis, then Housing Minister and proud advocate of Letting The Market Decide. The use of cheap (and apparently inflammable) cladding to cover the Grenfell Tower obeys a similar logic: if you can’t push the poor out through legislation, purposeful neglect or repossession, disguise their very presence. It’s worth the risk.

Just up the road from our flat there’s a Tesco Express with an ATM outside, next to which one or other homeless person is permanently stationed. Talking to them is always a deeply enraging experience. Any of those we step over on the way to work may have been left on the streets by a fire or kicked out by a landlord who refused to carry out essential repairs. As we pass such people, it’s easy (and understandable) to blame the media for cultivating our indifference to their plight. Actually there are ways in which we’re complicit, as the political philosopher Louis CK explains in this clip:

It’s noticeable that those who claim that people begging make thousands of pounds a day never do so themselves. There’s also the sandwich response, those who insist on buying people begging for money food instead, as though becoming homeless were the result of individual failure, rather than the result of a crime on an enormous scale, a crime which goes by the name of the market but is actually much more recognisable as the highly profitable operations of a mafia-style cartel. Complicity also means voting for parties that say that mass homelessness and near-universal levels of housing precarity are an acceptable price to pay for the prosperity of very few, or accepting without question an ideology that says the insatiable appetites of the global ‘market’ must be appeased at all cost. Taking it for granted that the lives and homes of others are worth the risk, little more than plastic chips in a giant, members-only casino where the owners always win. We need an immediate mass movement to join those left out on the street, to confront power and argue that decent, safe and affordable housing is a basic human right, not a prize in a game of Russian roulette.

“Austerity is over” – so what exactly did Daniel Blake die for?

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Conservative Party billboards, 2010

Theresa May has said that austerity is finished. What she didn’t mention – but knows full well – is that it was never necessary in the first place.

After the financial crisis of 2007-8, which was largely caused by deregulation of the financial system on the ideological basis that the market always knows best, the Conservative press started telling a story which wasn’t true. The narrative they came up with was that Labour overspending had caused the country to become mired in unsustainable levels of public debt. The solution was to do what they had always wanted: shrink the British state, selling off the profitable parts of the NHS and reducing the post-war Welfare State to a bare mimimum. It was a clear case of what Naomi Klein had described the previous year as the shock doctrine: the taking advantage of a crisis in order to implement an extreme ideological agenda which in normal circumstances would be roundly rejected. As the neoliberal guru Milton Friedman had said:

Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.

On the basis of the story the Conservatives won two general elections. As a direct result of the ‘savage’ cuts (to quote Nick Clegg’s ill-advised boasts) millions turned to food banks and thousands were killed by benefit sanctions and the removal of their disability benefits. The NHS is now on its last legs, both of which are due to be ripped off at any moment and sold off to speculators, as detailed in the Naylor Review.

How were they able to get away with it? Because the Labour Party never challenged the narrative. They never pointed out with sufficient conviction that it wasn’t government overspending that had caused the crisis. Whenever they tried to articulate their own version of events it was done so unconvincingly that the right-wing press shouted them down and they were cowed.

Now the Labour Party is telling its own story and it happens to be one that coincides with the truth. Austerity was a con, a scam, and a coup and the damage that’s been done to public services and to social cohesion was a result of maliciousness and greed. Now, at long last, after seven bitter and frustrating years, it is finally arguing its case with such conviction that the whole tenor of debates about society and the economy have changed more or less overnight.

The Tories think they can get away with pretending to drop austerity and moving swiftly on. They must not be allowed to do so. The cuts agenda has been the entire basis of government policy at every moment of the last seven years and they knew that it was based on lies. They knew that the economic crisis was nothing to do with government overspending. The scale of the scam that has been pulled is so great that it would take a truth and reconciliation commission to get at the truth. It was not based on a regrettable misunderstanding that has now been resolved. It was based on an immense campaign of lies so that public wealth in all its different forms, both tangible and intangible but all absolutely invaluable, could be monetised, financialised and ultimately stolen. It hasn’t been a marginal aspect of the last two governments’ political programmes but their absolute centrepiece. We have been ruled by a regime of austerity and in order to move on from it in any meaningful way HEADS MUST FUCKING ROLL starting with that of Theresa May, who just a few weeks ago thought she could crush all political opposition for good. If austerity is dead, then so are the careers of all those who, with staggering dishonesty and massive corruption, supported it in the first place. They have ruined millions of lives – and, given that without austerity, Brexit would be inconceivable, set in chain a series of consequences which may end up destroying peace between European nations – on the basis of an absolute lie.

People Theresa May is now in hock to

Things haven’t gone to plan for the PM. According to the script drawn up by her rather hapless advisors back in April, by this point any remaining dissidents were supposed to have been lying at the bottom of the Irish Sea and she herself was due to be anointed with the Royal Wax of the Imperial Beehive. Instead she’s spending 24 hours a day on the phone to crackpot Ulsterfolk with accents so densely-packed you could use them to blow up a betting shop, while any courtiers who haven’t had their heads chopped off were last heard of making up some absolute f*cking nonsense about goat’s skin. Plus Mr Murdoch’s not at all happy, and he’s not the only one. Here’s a short list of the people she has to appease if she wants to stay in power beyond Tuesday teatime.

1. Rupert Murdoch

When Murdoch summoned May immediately after the election announcement in order to hand her her instructions, he told her in a very loud, grouchy, sort-how-you’d-imagine-an-aging-pedo-to-sound voice GET MICHAEL BLOODY GOVE IN THE BLOODY CABINET. Luckily for her she then screwed up the election, so at this point she can appoint whoever she wants. She might as well make Gerry Adams Minister for Sport or dig up Jimmy Savile and make him Secretary of State for Media and Children’s Hospitals. Whatever she does, she no longer risks attracting opprobrium, simply because there is simply no more opprobrium to be had in the entire country. In fact, given the levels of opprobrium that the British Government is currently attracting from Europe and around the world, global supplies look like running out. Luckily they can be enhanced by another mineral resource, which appears to be infinite: ridicule.

2. Paul Dacre

Imagine the scene. Theresa May, with all her liberal values arraigned alongside her, visits the Labour stronghold of Kensington. She insists that the UK must remain in Single Market and that there must be some measure of free movement, especially for those EU citizens who are settled in the UK. Well, she says that to herself, silently, while nervously sipping her coffee from King Edward VIII chinztware cups. Then the Editor of the Daily Mail turns up, calls her a stupid f*cking c*nt eight times in the first two minutes and orders her to go back to Number 10 and wait for a f*cking email with her f*cking instructions in it.

3. The Saudis

She can’t afford to offend the Saudis, even if they will keep sending their suicide bombers to blow up London. That’s why she continues to (literally) sit on a report which details their plans to do basically just that. In the meantime, as Amber Rudd argues, selling death equipment into the Middle East remains the best guarantee of prosperity and stability for the post-Brexit UK*. Or, you know, not. At least on the next trade mission they’ll be able to send over the DUP as official representatives, and they’re sure to have a huge amount in common with their hosts.

4. The DUP

A lot of commentary on the DUP over the last few days has focussed on how bigoted they are, which is actually in a way unfortunate, because they’re actually more corrupt than they are bigoted. Although, to be fair, they’re also more bigoted than they are corrupt. And vice versa. The initial negotiations over the not-allowed-to-call-it-a-coalition-because-of-the-stupid-bloody-peace-process took precisely as long as it took to say we’llgiveyouwhateveryouwant. There was then a slight delay as everything Arlene Foster said had to be translated from pure hatespeak into something resembling BBC Tory English so that Laura Kuenssberg could try to sell the whole thing to the British public while besmirching, defaming and maligning the opposition, as her contract clearly specifies. They’ve now got as far as establishing that the DUP wants to ban Catholics from public and private office (and transport), hold Orange Marches on Downing Street every Thursday and burn down St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is obviously all fine and dandy. Did you know that Jeremy Corbyn once went to a pub in Belfast where members of Sinn Fein had played darts just three weeks earlier? Oh, you did.

5. The Brexit negotiating teams

“The…what?! Oh, f*ck, I’d forgotten all about that…”

*It’s even more lucrative when you factor in the, er, training that goes into these ‘defence contracts’.

How did Katie Hopkin’s editor end up in charge of the TLS?

Two publications I don’t have much time for are The Sun and the Times Literary Supplement. Although I’m not from Liverpool or Manchester, as a lifelong Guardian reader I only ever flick through Rupert Murdoch’s flagship hatesheet over the occasional greasy spoon fry-up. As for the TLS, I already have enough on my hands with the London Review of Book’s biweekly 10,000 word articles on witchcraft in 13th century Romania. Also, the notion of an intellectual publication owned by the selfsame climate-lying Mugabe-resembling Trump surrogate Bond villain fails to convince.

Another thing that The Sun and the TLS have in common is leading personnel. The latter is now edited and ‘published’ by a character called Stig Abell. Strange name, dodgy geezer. Abell has been increasingly prominent of late. He’s very active on Twitter, where he entertains and enlightens his followers with remarks about subjects from Brexit to dog biscuits, and has also written the odd article for the New York Times. He also has a show on LBC, along with (ffs) Nigel Farage and (thank god) James O’Brien.

Until recently one of his colleagues at LBC was the far-right hate preacher Katie Hopkins. It wasn’t the first time they’ve worked together. As managing editor of The Sun he (presumably proudly) published a column by her in which she described refugees as cockroaches and called for them to be murdered en masse. He also oversaw The Sun’s coverage of the Hillsborough enquiry – or rather, didn’t, as the newspaper greeted its conclusions (that it has printed outright lies about the victims and survivors) by ignoring them altogether and refusing to apologise.

This q-and-a shows him to be articulate and seemingly thoughtful, but when it comes to answering specific questions his evasiveness and his cheerful ignorance of the things he’s employed to know about occasionally borders on the Trumpian. He finds Latin American literature ‘interesting’, likes wearing t-shirts and hasn’t read any Elena Ferrante, thinks post-modern writers are ‘just showing off’, is a fan of crime fiction (but can’t spell the name of his favourite writer) and feels that The Sun has nothing to apologise for. The impression of him as well-spoken but intellectually vapid is confirmed by other interviews in which it seems that he just wants to get on with his stellar career without too many awkward questions being asked, or as he puts it ‘without being disturbed by life’.

If his job is to promote the TLS, he doesn’t do a good job of it. In any case, the riddle of his meteoric rise remains, especially in the light of his failure to address the topic of, let alone apologise for, his direct role in the publication of some of the most hateful material seen in any British newspaper in living memory. How did someone of his limited intellectual means get to helm such an illustrious and (apparently) serious publication? One highly plausible solution is that he’s simply one of Murdoch’s favourite surrogate sons. Making him editor of the TLS is a bit like installing Eric Trump as head of NASA. Or it’s as if, I don’t know, Ivana Trump were to be put in charge of US climate policy. Oh wait, she has.