Friday, 24 April 2015

What Election Campaigns Fail To Communicate

A Party Manifesto is a curious beast. It offers policies on almost every issue that effects a nation, or if not policies, a stated ideal. But no Party ever wins an election and then delivers every item. Also do supporters agree with every single policy outlined in a manifesto, especially given how broad a spectrum of political values and views the major parties represent within their membership.

This election more than others I can recall, has also seen that rather than the detail of a manifesto, the thrust of the campaigning is to associate your party with just one or two key values, or to associate the other lot with one or two key values; 'Tax and Spend' the Tories accuse Labour of. 'The Nasty Party of welfare cuts' Labour try and dub the Tories. It was curious how we had a phoney war beginning of the campaign, when we were drip-fed one policy a day by each party, because the manifestos weren't out. We had a 7-leader televised debate again before any had launched their manifestos. Manifestos seem to have become less and less significant. I wonder what the percentage of the voting population is that have read at least one manifesto? Tiny I would imagine.

In the past I have spoiled my ballot paper by writing 'None Of The Above' on my ballot paper. Mainly because there was no protest party I could vote for, since only the three main parties stood in my constituency and I simply couldn't support any of them with my vote. However recently other parties have started standing here (representing how these parties are standing right across the country). I voted Green in the last couple of ballots. I was intending to do so again this time round, when I noticed a twitter debate about one of their policies. They were proposing to limit artists' copyright to just 14 years after publication/performance. That is after just 14 years, the author ceases to own and control their work, but is free to view/perform for anybody. Currently copyright only ceases 70 years after the death of the artist. As a writer theoretically I'm affected by this. But since I only earn pin money from my work, losing control over my back catalogue wouldn't really affect me financially. But for artists whose income rests on their creations it would seriously affect their livelihoods. Plus copyright for 70 years after death allows the provision of a financial legacy as well as the artistic one for a couple of generations.

However, this policy as outlined here is completely ripped from its context. Whether you agree with them or not, the Greens are offering a genuinely radical vision of society. Labour may mouth platitudes about equality, but the Greens lay out a theory of change to enshrine this. They seek to remunerate all citizens equally, (a citizen salary if you will), which means getting away from the aspirational culture of job status, materialism, consumerism, all underpinned with conserving the rapidly depleting resources of the planet. If this has echoes of Communism to your ears, you're not far wrong; one of the things that ultimately brought down Soviet Russia was absenteeism and poor productivity in the workplace, because the workers were completely unmotivated. If a Doctor has to train for seven years to qualify, what is his incentive if he earns little more than a waiter?

The policy limiting copyright falls under this template for society. Private ownership is not community minded. Art should be accessible and available to all, for the enrichment of society as a whole. And this to my mind embodies the whole problem of the Green manifesto. They have to get across the whole vision and the rationale for it, so that releasing sound bite policies such as copyright just makes no sense. And it is so radical a vision, it is a huge undertaking to convey it to the populace at large. I have seen no evidence of this being undertaken. Possibly this is because the main conduits of press and media are not giving them much exposure as a minority party. But the message isn't getting out there, so they come across as looking like killjoys armed with a quiverful of policies attacking random social groups.

I mentioned that to some their vision for society may smack of Communism, but it also shares certain ideas from Anarchist theory. In my youth I read a lot of Anarchist texts and developed my own ideal for society. And in many ways it shared much of the Green vision, only I imagined it could only operate in a society in which work was minimised through automation, so that we dwelled in a leisure economy; free to spend our time socialising, making art, playing sport or just thinking and enacting ideas. In such a model, private production and ownership of art would make less sense if we were all at it. Therefore copyright might have had no real place. But the Green model still quite rightly assumes a working life for citizens (technology seems to have created longer working hours for us all through the drive of the market and fear of losing our jobs, rather than shorter ones), therefore the context for art does not change significantly from what it is now in a free market economy. The Greens pledge in the manifesto to invest heavily in the Arts, perhaps as a fillip to us artists cheesed off by losing ownership of our work in under a decade and a half. Therefore in a way they are not pursuing all that radical a version since they are still operating a capitalist system, just one with many limits and constraints.

So the bald statement of a limit on copyright turned off those in the artistic community who thought of voting Green this time round. The counter to that of it being a piece in a large jigsaw to radically transform society completely got lost because that larger vision has not been rolled out to the population in any significant way. But even when one takes the time to consider the whole picture proposed by the greens, I'm afraid they fall short and the copyright issue perfectly illustrates as to why. To my mind, their whole approach smacks of the influence of the Occupy movement. It's all very well holding discussion groups under canvas and batting around ideas, but unless on leaving those encampments you go and spread the word, they will not magically percolate into the mainstream. There is an exclusion and elitism about such an approach, that somehow if you don't join you don't get access to the key ideas to the magic kingdom. And while the Greens have knitted together many ideas into a coherent (if challengable) theory, not many of these ideas are actually new. that's what Occupy failed to see, as they imagined they were the first people to have such ideas and to be working on them in a uniquely creative way. I did my own work on this in my teens, since these ideas have been around for many decades. And still few in that camp have gone out to spread the word and preach the vision.

Sorry Greens, you've lost my vote even though temperamentally your vision is closest to my own. It took a bit of reading around the policy on copyright for me to reach this conclusion, rather than the threat to copyright itself. I've seen it argued that parties with no chance of getting into government don't really need a manifesto representing a raft of ideas they won't ever be called on to enact into law. This is debatable as through the exigencies of coalition government that we are likely to be faced with, smaller parties will actually have a shot at forming a government. But one thing is for sure, the Greens so want to transform society, the odd policy from their manifesto adopted here and there is not really what they are about. They of all parties DID need to produce a manifesto to lay out their wholesale vision. And it is the complete manifesto that ultimately sinks them in a way it doesn't for other parties who will blithely ignore or rescind great tranches of what they promise in their pages.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Some Thoughts on the UK Election Campaign

Everybody accepts this election is unlikely to deliver an outright winner. That warring parties will have to somehow unite to form a government. So with an emphasis on the need to find what can be joined together, it's highly depressing and yet predictable that it seems to be going the other way; a drive to divide, isolate and scapegoat.

We all knew UKIP would target immigrants and blame them for all our economic woes, but that's extended into a call to refuse access to treatment to those from abroad with HIV.

The SNP are being simultaneously wooed and castigated, with the line skirting quite close to racism in that the Scots are not to be trusted with the fate of the English. We may not like it, but our democracy has thrown up this situation where the SNP are likely to be the power brokers, so to castigate them anti-democratic because they find themselves in this position even though they would rather be independent from Westminster is churlish. They have grown exponentially in the last few years because the Westminster government of whatever stripe has failed to represent their views and requirements.

And all this has further dragged us into disrepute in the week where the tragedies of migration from Africa and the loss of life in the Mediterranean has been front and central in the news, so that the politicians are forced to take time out from their carefully choreographed schedule to address the issue.

For me it highlights the two streams of political thinking, neither which addresses the other in the same terms. On the one hand you can have the kind of country you would envision, one that cares for those less well off, with provision of free health care, a welfare system that allows a dignified quality of life, a country that looks abroad to help and save lives and is welcoming to those who wish to join it by settling within its borders. Against this is ranged the simple counter, that the UK cannot afford to provide this level of rights and benefits. Everything is costed and commodified, not least human life.

Yet despite the cleft between the two, all sides pay lip service to both. Hence we have microscopic focus on each other's budgetary figures and we have accusations of selling the country short on its fundamental values. UKIP make it very clear what sort of values they aspire for the country, a very narrow and exclusive one. The Greens make it clear the values of a society they envision, but for many it is a leap too far and they are attacked for the economics of it all. Labour, Tory and Lib-Dem do have differing policies from each other, but they are all couched in exactly the same narrow terms of the debate.

Like I say, depressing and predictable. And we ain't seen nothing yet, for when the results come in and it's a stalemate, then the really vicious horse trading will start. My prediction? we'll need a second election within a year.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Disbanded - Flash

The splendiferous regimental band were bedecked in their wonderful tall bearskin hats, their sword-blade creased trousers and with their gleaming brass buttons reflecting the polished cymbals or trumpets that in turn mirrored them in their burnished metal planes. They ceremonially piped and beat the farewell advance of each of their fellow regiments as they set off for battle. The regiments’ marching boots seamlessly fell into step with the band’s rhythms. 

Their instruments were taken from them and sent to the forges to melt down for bullets and shells. Their hands were filled with rifles instead. Their fine regalia was stripped from them and swapped for fatigues. They themselves now marched to the front, without even a lone drum to keep them in step. Not being regular soldiers they were wiped out in double quick time, by the wind of screaming shells and the percussion of high explosive. There was no band to give them a send off at their mass funeral in the military cemetery. 

They were accompanied by no sound save for the wind among the woods. Not even birds raised their song and the women mourners sobbed silently at the gravesides rather than letting out full-throated lamentations. The dead bandsmen grew restless in the soil with no music to pulse their eternal sleep.

One by one they rose from their graves and these bags of bones ordered themselves into their band formation. They brought phalanges up to the maxilla and mandibles but on blowing found there were no reeds to receive their breath, no pipes to shape and vent the air. Their heads sagged crestfallen, when one of them who still had the ceremonial knife he had been buried with, took it and cut off a phalange. He gouged a hole in it’s sealed end and proceeded to notch holes in tits length. He brought it to up his mandible, pursed the bone with difficulty and started blowing. Notes were emitted, a sweet pitch and his comrades all gathered around him to imbibe the balm it provided. 

At the end of his recital, each scurried off to other graves and began disinterring their unfortunate residents. The snapped off all manner of bones, snaffled ragged vestiges of cartilage, scooped out membranous lattices and bored and gouged holes and apertures of precise dimension. Then they reformed their phalanx and brought their newly forged fifes and bagpipes and euphoniums up to their mandibles, or poised bonesticks over membranes stretched across craniums. One drummer had lashed several skulls together in a line which he wore as a belt, twin tibia poised to palpate the osseous matter. The band struck up a tune and gave themselves a fitting send off as they marched down towards the eternal parade in Hell. 

Monday, 30 March 2015

Overpass - Flash Fiction

As the barge puttered towards the bridge, those pedestrians stood upon it waved inanely at the pilot, who steadfastly refused to acknowledge their existence in any way. 

The men found the capes and cloaks of their fancy dress inhibitive as they tried to unfurl their protest banner and attach it to the railings of the bridge over the motorway. They had neither rights, nor a sufficiently sound grasp of physics, since none had calculated that the velocity of any travelling vehicles would prohibit the drivers from being able to read the words of their message.  

Stationed in the air within the glass observation deck, he espied the luggage cart plumb bisecting beneath him on its course towards the aircraft that was destined to carry away his daughter to the other side of the world. He fell forward and braced his arm against the glass to halt his stumble. A final perpendicularity, as his body buckled into his future unbuttressed loneliness.

The three boys had been bent double as they hauled the concrete slab up the metal stairs of the overhead footbridge. They resembled Macbeth’s three witches huddled over their cauldron as they cast for their augury. But now that the slab was balanced up on the guardrail, they straightened their backs and peered over the railway tracks. The slab would foretoken an exact future for the fate of the next train to come down the line. 

The Guards watched the prisoners expressionlessly from the ramparts as they filed underneath their steel gangways towards the gas chambers. The Jewish prisoners wondered how their god could just watch impassively from heaven’s cloud gantry; how instead of passing over their marked houses and sparing them as in ancient Egypt, now he seemed to be zeroing in on those barrack huts marked with the yellow star. 


Saturday, 28 March 2015

Money Money, Cash Cash - songs about currency

So we here in the UK have just had the annual budget and I can't really remember much about it. But I do know quite a lot of songs about money, so here you go.

1) Pink Floyd - "Money"
That most rare of beasts, a 7" single by pink floyd who are the quintessential 'albums' band, doing concept albums like "The Wall", "Animals" and of course "Dark Side Of The moon" where this song ended up on.

2) The Jam - "Pretty Green"
For such an accomplished lyricist as Paul Weller, this is pretty dire. Probably signalled the beginning of the end for The Jam creatively, a band that don't forget, had lots of Number 1 and Top 10 singles.

3) Nas - "Money Over Bullshit"
You might not be surprised to know that any chart with a money theme will be overwhelmed by Rap and Hip-Hop song titles. This is one of the better ones, from what I take to be Nas' best album "Hip Hop is Dead" though most will tell you it was his debut "Ilmatic"

4) Mickey Dread - "Money Dread"
From the brilliant album "World War 3", Mickey Dread collaborated a lot with The Clash, but his own work is cruelly overlooked.

5) Swans - "Time Is Money (Bastard)"
Well they released an album called "Greed/Holy Money" where the songs explore the naked power relations of work/bosses, money, power, exploitation and religion. This one is about how the human body can be purchased.

6) The O'Jays - "For The Love Of Money"

7) Hope Of The States - "Black Dollar Bills"
Had high hopes of this band to do what Radiohead did and do it way better, but a band member's suicide put the kybosh on that hope.

8) The Skids - "Working For The Yankee Dollar"
I liked the Skids, or at least I thought I did. But their stuff hasn't aged well and is pretty unlistenable now. Lead singer Richard Jobson left to become a male model, says it all really.

9) World Domination Enterprises - "Blue Money"
Drugs, dub heavy bass and an unholy mess of a band, but boy were they loud!

11) Flying Lizards - "Money (That's What I Want)"
Better than the Beatles' original. No more needs to be said. Other than they used to employ all sorts of found objects for their music.

12) Mos Def - " Sex, Love & Money"
Did you know Mos Def had a cameo in "Talladega Nights"?

13) Cop Shoot Cop - "10 Dollar Bill"
One of the more disturbing videos and a riff ripped off from The Stranglers but what's not to like huh?

14) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - "Easy Money"
As Nick says/ I agree with Nick... remember how that dominated the televised political leaders debates last time round? Wonder how that will go for Nick Clegg this time?

Monday, 23 March 2015

NSA Circle Of Friends

The NSA spook espied the housewife prying into her son's internet browsing history as she uncovered that he had been viewing a live sex cam of a woman who used to date the NSA agent and had lots of secret footage on his sexual proclivities which she had uploaded to YouPorn... 

Saturday, 21 March 2015


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