Tuesday, May 31, 2016 

The absurdity of it all.

I take it all back. The EU referendum is brilliant.  How could it not be when it results in such delicious absurdities as have taken place over the past couple of days?  First, mere weeks after accusing him of palling around with extremists, David Cameron appears on the same platform as to Sadiq Khan to big him up as though he was the winning Tory candidate.  A proud Muslim!  A smasher of glass ceilings!  A thoroughly delightful chap!  Oh, and he thinks it'd be swell if you would now vote to stay in the EU.

Khan can of course do as he likes.  He now has a mandate of his own, to the extent where he can pretty much shut Labour out if he so wishes.  If he wants to share a platform so soon after the election with one of those chiefly responsible for a campaign he said was putting off other Muslims from going into politics, that's up to him.  Clearly he thinks the ends justify the means.  Which again, is fine.

Some of us though are far more petty.  Far as I'm concerned, all things considered, Cameron got himself into this mess, and Cameron can get himself out of it.  Sure, this means if he manages to pull it off he gets the glory, but equally if he fails then he gets the Gene Wilder/Willy Wonka treatment.  Add in how Cameron implied Khan was an extremist not to be trusted as far as he can be thrown, and my response were I in his position would be to tell Dave to GTFO.

This is also the view of John McDonnell, who equally rightly thinks sharing a platform with the Tories full stop is a bad idea.  Which it is.  If Labour must campaign to stay in the EU, leaving it to Alan Johnson in the main while McDonnell and others pootle around not getting much in the way of attention is definitely the way to go.  Anyone saying Labour has to do this or that first has to explain whether their proposed plan of action will bring any benefit to the party whatsoever, because as we saw with Scotland, the public seem more than prepared to decide for themselves as to whether or not a particular party acted in their best interests.

The horror with which the results of focus groups saying they didn't know whether Labour was in favour of leave or remain, backed up with a further poll, just demonstrates that politicians don't always think the worst of the public; often the public amply do that themselves.  What it does show is that first, the vast majority aren't the slightest bit interested in the internal machinations of political parties.  Duh.  Second, not knowing whether Labour is for leave or remain is a good thing, as at the moment the party should be graceful for small mercies.  Third, that again, the vast majority also aren't the least bit interested in the referendum, otherwise they would know that Labour is overwhelmingly in favour of remain.  Fourth, they also don't know what the Tory position is.  Because, just to rub this in, they don't freaking care.

Labour politicians attacking each other for sharing platforms with the Tories isn't the most absurd thing of the last couple of days though, oh no.  Two examples merely from today beat it.  Chris Grayling, the berk's berk, the journeyman's journeyman, the bone in the spicy wing, the tits on the bull, said this morning that voters shouldn't be making their minds up based on the EU of today, but on the EU of the future.  Again, either this is a politician having a surprisingly high opinion of the average voter, most of whom haven't the slightest clue about practically anything the EU does beyond exist and that it's bad, or it's a politician with not even the beginnings of knowing how to make a case.  Can you imagine if parties tried applying this to any other election?  Voter!  Don't make up your mind up on how the government is performing today!  Just think how it will be in 10 years' time, even though we're not providing you with even the most basic facts of how it is currently!  Manifesto?  You want a manifesto?  You're joking!

And then there was Boris, Gove and err, Gisela Stuart, making clear we have entered the handjob, or moon on a stick phase of the campaign.  Despite telling us for eons that the £350m going to the EU each week could instead be sent straight to the NHS, now here come the most unlikely threesome since REMOVED ON LEGAL ADVICE to claim that if we left the EU we could dispense with VAT on fuel as it disproportionately hits the poorest households.  Put another way, Boris, Gove and Stuart are offering happy endings if you vote leave, as it's about as likely they would put any savings genuinely left at the end of the process on lifting the burden on the poors as they would on a state body of sex workers.  It's completely transparent, and yet what else is Leave to do?  Admit that once we've left any money coming back will instead be spent on reintroducing the subsidies and funds the EU currently distributes in the UK?  Absurd doesn't really begin to cover it.

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Friday, May 27, 2016 

Drop it.

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Thursday, May 26, 2016 

The immigration monster bites back.

If there is one thing worse in the eyes significant number of the public than uncontrolled immigration, it's claiming to be controlling it while doing nothing of the sort.  Net migration running at 330,000 a year cannot possibly be presented as controlling it, and yet to an extent that is what governments have always done.  Contrary to the repeated calls from various halfwits for the introduction of a points system, there already is oneNumerous barriers have been placed in the way of immigrants from Commonwealth countries bringing over relatives or partners.  Proof that a wife or husband from outside of the EU will be earning more than £35,000 a year is needed before they will be given so much as leave to remain.  Child asylum seekers from countries like Afghanistan can be sent back once they reach 18, while interpreters who served with British forces in the country are denied asylum.

And still the numbers threaten to reach the previous net peak.  The number one reason for this is the relative strength of the UK economy compared to the rest of Europe.  The latest GDP figures out today in fact show we're once again relying on the service sector to prop the rest of the economy up, with both manufacturing and construction falling back.  Whether this will have an impact on numbers down the line, with the rest of the Eurozone finally threatening to outgrow the UK remains to be seen, but it will come far too late for the EU referendum, with the Leave campaign bound to spend the next month plastering the 330,000 figure everywhere, as they have the false claim about £350m going to the EU every week.

Yet again it will be the steadfast, cowardly refusal of our frontline politicians to confront the electorate with unpalatable truths that will be to blame should the 23rd of June result in an exit vote.  The Tories' unexpected majority gave them a once in a parliament opportunity to row back on their beyond idiotic "tens of thousands" pledge, one they knew they could never meet, and to make a positive case for immigration, meeting voters halfway by setting out how the areas with the biggest churn of arrivals and departures would receive extra resources to help them cope.  Instead, the tens of thousands pledge, which no one believes in and no one expects to be met was reaffirmed.  Knowing that it's not possible to control immigration from within the EU once the initial controls on newly joined nations' access to free movement are lifted, every other way of keeping the numbers down has been attempted.  A "hostile environment" for illegal immigrants is duly being created, regardless of the potential consequences of making it impossible for those without the right to be here to work, live anywhere other than the street, or no doubt coming shortly, take a dump.

How either side is realistically doing at this point is all but impossible to tell.  One poll suggests Remain pulling away; others have it either neck and neck or within the margin of error.  If it's the latter, then today's figures will surely give Leave a boost after a rough couple of weeks.  In truth, it's their one remaining trump, as Remain's Project Fear campaign on the economy has left Leave only able to squawk that each and every expert is either biased, has got things wrong before, or is funded by the EU itself.  Monday's Treasury report might have been either specious bollocks or specious severe bollocks in the words of one MP, but it tends to be the stand out figures or warnings of a recession that stay in the memory regardless.

Hence why Leave has every right to crow about the 330,000 figure for the next month.  For quite possibly the first time ever, Boris Johnson is bang on to say the tens of thousands target is variously, scandalous, cynical and a mistake.  David Cameron might not have expected Boris to end up profiting from the mistake, but he knew full well that whoever the Leave side ended up consisting of they would play the immigration card for all it was worth.  Nor does it matter that Leave doesn't have any real answers on how leaving the EU would help to control immigration, just as it doesn't on practically on all the other issues; unless the likes of Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings got their way and took us out of the single market entirely, any subsequent deal would almost certainly continue to involve free movement, just as it does with Norway and Switzerland.  Jacqui Smith poses 8 very good questions, including asking how Leave would bring immigration down at the same time as promising to ease restrictions on immigration from Commonwealth countries, yet the practicalities don't really matter.  As long as the impression is that leaving would bring immigration down, support will go to Leave.

Whether it will turn out to be enough is another matter.  David Davis today made a rather good speech responding to the various economic claims from Remain, in a far more temperate fashion than Leave has managed thus far.  Davis's vision of a Britain renewed by leaving is a lot more realistic than the fantasy one conjured up by the likes of John Redwood, the Vulcan insisting that unless we leave we will no longer be an "independent democratic country", just as he previously repeated the idea that leaving the EU would mean we could become a veritable land of milk and honey.  If there had though been any chance of having a good natured, knowledgeable debate, where those able to keep a lid on hyperbole had made the running, it went out the window with Boris.  Much as Cameron and friends deserve to pay for their constant feeding of the immigration monster, the alternative hardly bears thinking about.

Moreover, should Remain win handily, no longer will UKIPers or those on the Tory right be able to claim that the public haven't been consulted on the scale of immigration.  Many of them always wanted a referendum on the EU to be about immigration and little else; they've got their wish, now they'll have to accept the result.  Or not, as the case will almost certainly be.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016 

Who would notice the difference?

The former CEO of McDonald's has caused outrage after suggesting replacing the company's beef patties with formed round cakes of human excrement.

"I was at the National Restaurant Show yesterday, and checked out an impressive start-up company that is making Scotch Eggs out of dog dirt, hipster beard shavings and cat eggs," said Ron McBurgler, "and it set me thinking. They're selling these foul creations for $10 a time.  Now just imagine if we could do away with the cow altogether, recycle our own waste products, and put the prices of our new burgers up at the same time.  We'd not only be saving billions, our profits would go through the roof."

While most commentators have responded with disgust to McBurgler's idea, one public figure willing to defend his blue skies thinking was Labour MP Wes Streeting.  "The vast majority of the reaction has been old-fashioned snobbery," the street fighting representative for Ilford North told Burger Off magazine.  "I for one can't wait to tuck in to the new style Big Mac, and McDonald's will still be very much welcome at this year's Labour conference.  I've also heard they've some ideas for new condiments, and as a big fan of mayonnaise, can't wait to see what they've come up with."

Ron McBurgler is also unrepentant, telling the Cannibal Times that if still in charge his plans wouldn't stop there.  "I've heard about this thing called Soylent Green.  Apparently it's people, but I don't see why that should stand in our way of properly marketing it.  Consumers are too damn fussy these days."

The Kool-Aid man declined to comment.

In other news:
Legal highs to be banned; formerly legal highs and already illegal highs to remain available from your friendly neighbourhood drug entrepreneur
Institute for Fiscal Studies warns whoever wins EU referendum, we lose
The men who live as goatses - "we're just as normal as all the other gaping assholes you see walking down the street'

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016 


In the end, everything comes back to the Simpsons.  In Rosebud, after being wished a Happy Birthday by the Ramones, Mr Burns orders Smithers to have the Rolling Stones killed.  "But sir, that wasn-" "Do as I say!"

In the same way, it would be far too easy to have those personally responsible for da yoot #Votin campaign for the Remainers slaughtered unceremoniously in their beds.  Equally, those at the Stronger In headquarters who commissioned it, then gave the OK after seeing what venturethree came up with should also not be shot down on their way to work as recompense.  No, to really make clear just how traumatised everyone who has watched just the 25-second clip urging the youn t ge ou an vot will be, as you can't just drop the g from words ending in ing and claim that is how the childrens speak, innocent people have to die.

Hang on a minute you're probably saying, that seems a bit much.  Except it's not.  Is it really that hard to put together a campaign that might just have an impact with younger voters while not both being as dumb as a bag of rocks and therefore also treating them as having the IQ and attention span of an exceptionally dim goldfish?

Here's one idea I just pulled out of my ass, and I've been awake already today for 17 hours.  Black background.  White text.  If you're watching this, you're probably already aware of the issues around the EU referendum.  We just want to remind you of who's in favour of leaving, and who's in favour of remaining.  Black and white shots of Farage, Gove, IDS, Chris Grayling, Dr Death, Katie Hopkins, etc etc.  Colour shots of Nicola Sturgeon, Jeremy Corbyn, Caroline Lucas, Alan Johnson, Eddie Izzard, JK Rowling, any number of the other various celebs/artists who signed the luvvie letter.  That's what we think too.  Vote Remain.  End.

Now, which of you Remain dipshits pays me, and which one of you is going to cut down the requisite amount of first born?

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Monday, May 23, 2016 

Good bad film club #4: What Have You Done to Solange?

(Previously: Nightmare City, Burial Ground and SexWorld.)

(Expect potentially a fair few more of these over the next month, as if expected politics over the four weeks to come turns into one long scare-athon, I really can't be doing with pretending to be interested in or attempting to referee between one side claiming house prices will fall by 18% if we leave and the other saying the EU makes it illegal to sell bunches of bananas in twos and threes.  A plague, frankly, on both their houses.  I'm also not here the week of the referendum, just as I wasn't for the Scottish vote.  Good timing, eh?)

This will probably be taken as proof of my lack of credibility on Italian genre cinema, but I really don't care for a good number of Dario Argento's acclaimed earlier works.  Sure, I'm quite partial to his first three films, the ones that picked up effectively where Mario Bava had left off with the all but creation of the giallo, but when it comes to Deep Red, Suspiria and especially Inferno, I'm just left cold.  Deep Red fails to satisfy, and Inferno I simply find tedious.  Yes, it opens well with Rose Elliot plunging into water in the basement of her apartment complex, has the usual striking visuals and looks gorgeous, but the surrealism does nothing for me.  I'm the same with Lucio Fulci's films from the same period: everyone usually raves about The Beyond, which is by far his most Argento-like work, whereas I just see a mess of gory setpieces without anything really connecting them together.  Sit me down in front of either Zombi 2 or City of the Living Dead though, or when it comes to Argento his 80s films Tenebrae and Phenomena, and I'll lap them up.

So it is with 's 1972 giallo What Have You Done to Solange?  By the standards of the giallo, it's a fairly straightforward, relatively lacking in outright sleaze little number.  To describe it in such terms is undoubtedly to do it a grave disservice: by the standards of 1972 it's still a really quite nasty picture, while also being very much of its time.  The BBFC rejected it outright back in 1973, around the same time as they were letting through films such as the Exorcist, A Clockwork Orange, Straw Dogs and no doubt some others I've forgot uncut, if with very much in the way of controversy.  Even in 1996 it was still being cut for video release by 2m 15s, no doubt lopping off practically everything that explains why the killer is murdering his victims in the way he is.

Anyway, we're getting ahead of ourselves.  Dallamano is probably best known for his work as a cinematographer, lensing two of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns starring Clint Eastwood, A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More.  He most certainly brings a cinematographer's eye to Solange, as from the very opening of the film, as we watch the two stars Fabio Testi and Christine Galbo, playing Enrico and Elizabeth respectively through the leaves of trees on the bank, pawing at each other in a punt as they float down what we soon learn is meant to be the Thames, this is a giallo that takes great care with its composition.  Shot in 2.35.1 ratio, it never looks anything less than beautiful, the colours eye-popping.  The cinematographer responsible below Dallamano is none other than Aristide Massaccesi, aka Joe D'Amato, notorious shlock director behind the Black Emanuelle series, the video nasties Absurd and Anthropophagus, and in later years, a huge number of hardcore features.  That he was supremely talented, if not at directing, will come as a shock to some.

Enrico and Elizabeth's heavy petting session comes to a halt when Elizabeth is sure she caught a glimpse of something happening on the bank.  With the frustrated Enrico unable to find anything amiss, he drives his younger lover back into the city.  For yes, this is a giallo set in the London of the early 70s, although it's not exactly clear why, being an Italian-German co-production.  Set mainly around Kensington and Chelsea, with the obligatory shots of the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace and other landmarks, it nonetheless even in these limited circumstances infinitely cranks up the interest level, at least for this Brit.  Enrico it turns out is more than a bit of a cad: not only is he cheating on his wife Herta, played by a dressed down Karin Baal, he's also a teacher at the exclusive Catholic girls' school attended by Elizabeth.

Now, while it's never made clear precisely how old Elizabeth and her schoolfriends are meant to be, although one guesses 17/18, we are obviously in distinctly dodgy territory.  Films based around the exploits of barely legal schoolgirls were very much the rage at the time, and this is one of the tamer examples.  Nonetheless, that the entire film is based around the very sexual murder of teenage girls, whatever their age, even if in the denouement this is rationalised, the film could very easily be classed as misogynist.  It definitely has a conservative view of the world, that's for sure.

Indeed, the way things pan out, you could almost define it as a Catholic work as a whole.  Enrico starts out as this lothario, apparently determined to split from his frumpy German wife to be with the nubile Elizabeth, only for the pair's marriage to be rekindled and saved by err, Elizabeth's untimely demise, drowned by the killer in order to cover his tracks.  Enrico is predictably fingered as a potential suspect after her murder at their flat for just such liaisons, only Herta is convinced that her straying husband, while a bastard, isn't a killer.  Galbo's death comes as a shock, despite it being an obvious take from Psycho of the killing off of one of the main stars.

From this point on, the film flips on its axis into familiar giallo tropes: Enrico is the amateur sleuth working alongside the police, determined to both clear his name and find the slayer of his almost lover, as we're soon told that Elizabeth was in fact still a virgin, unlike the other classmates already murdered.  This is despite us being shown a scene that clearly shows Enrico and Elizabeth in the presumed midst of sex.  But hey, this is a giallo, we're not looking for everything to make perfect sense, are we?

Everything is in any case wrapped up neatly by the end.  Solange herself, in something only an Italian genre of this type could probably ever get away with, isn't so much as mentioned until we're three quarters of the way through the film.  Never mind What Have You Done to Solange, Who The Fuck is Solange?  Solange once she turns up is played by none other than a mute Camille Keaton in her first film role, best known for playing Jennifer, the rape victim turned avenger in I Spit on Your Grave, one of the video nasties still cut by the BBFC to this day.  Without giving any further spoilers, there's a reason why Solange is the way she is, rather than being born in the state we see her in, and it involves all the previous victims.

...Solange is by some distance the best film I've covered yet in this series, to the point where it's a bit of a cheat to even include it.  There are a whole host of things wrong with the film, most of which are amusingly pointed out by Alan Jones and Kim Newman on their superb commentary track featured as an extra on the similarly brilliant Arrow Blu-ray release, yet none which really detract from it so much that it prevents it from being one of the finest giallos I have yet seen.  Jones says it's easily in his top ten, which is praise indeed from the author of a book on Argento.  Everything about the Arrow release exudes class: the film has been given a glorious transfer, there's a visual essay on the film and its semi sequels by Michael Mackenzie, and then there's the newly commissioned artwork, which manages to top even the original exceptional poster art.  Whatever your taste in films, give this one a go.

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Friday, May 20, 2016 

Shadow Boxing VIP.

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Thursday, May 19, 2016 

The artist subsequently known as PJS.

It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at the continued failure of the tabloids, News UK in particular, to get the injunction preventing them from making public the identity of the person known only as PJS lifted.  They must have thought it was a sure thing; how could the supreme court possibly disagree that the identity of PJS had become so well known, thanks to the name being all across social media, published in the National Enquirer, the Sunday Mail, numerous blogs etc, that it would be an absurdity not to let the Sun on Sunday print all the juicy details on the threesome?

Never underestimate the potential for judges to go against accepted wisdom (judgement PDF), especially when they notice something that's passed everyone else by.  IPSO's code of practice, Lord Mance notes, states that an "exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16".  You could of course argue that consenting adults should consider the potential consequences for their children of extra-marital activities, regardless of the agreement of both partners, not least because of the obvious potential for it to cause difficulties down the line.  This is not by any means though a justification for a story that all the justices agree has no public interest defence whatsoever to be published.

Indeed, I would argue that it's possible in this case to respect the arguments of both Lord Mance for the majority in over-turning the Court of Appeal ruling that the injunction should be set aside, and Lord Toulson in his lone dissension.  It's hard not to respect a judge who risks incurring the wrath of Paul Dacre by directly referencing the paper claiming the law to be an ass due to the publication of PJS's identity elsewhere; if that is the price of applying the law, Mance writes, it is one which must be paid.  The court is well aware of the lesson which King Canute gave his courtiers, Mance goes on, in answer to the claims that injunctions in the age of the internet are defunct, with the Lord later quoting a previous ruling by Justice Eady "that wall-to-wall excoriation in national newspapers, whether tabloid or ‘broadsheet’, is likely to be significantly more intrusive and distressing for those concerned than the availability of information on the Internet or in foreign journals to those, however many, who take the trouble to look it up".  I would argue that distinction still holds up today, if barely: there is a huge difference between a story appearing on multiple newspaper front pages, available for anyone to see at petrol stations, supermarkets, newsagents etc, whereas online it is still possible to avoid such stories altogether if you so wish.

Lord Toulson disagrees, writing that the "court must live in the world as it is and not as it would like it to be", and also that "in this case I have reached a clear view that the story’s confidentiality has become so porous that the idea of it still remaining secret in a meaningful sense is illusory".  Toulson does not "underestimate the acute unpleasantness for PJS of the story being splashed, but I doubt very much in the long run whether it will be more enduring than the unpleasantness of what has been happening and will inevitably continue to
happen.  The story is not going away".

It most certainly isn't.  The only reason that the papers have been full of stories for the last couple of weeks about a certain Downton Abbey actor are due to a certain injunction still being in place from years ago.  One way or the other, the British media will get a story they want to be out in the open out in the open.  They might not make any money out of it, quite the contrary in the case of the Sun, with its legal fees likely to be astronomical, but for those who want to know they'll probably be able to find out.  If the case going to trial, with PJS and YMA likely to win, gives them satisfaction and protects their children, then great.  More likely however is that Carter-Fuck will go on getting richer while the kiddiwinks will find out one of their parents is partial to threesomes regardless.

All the same, coming in the same week as the IPSO decision that the Sun blatantly breached the editors' code of practice over the QUEEN BACK BREXIT bullshit, with the paper throwing its toys out of the pram in response, saying yes, the headline was a complete lie, but the one underneath "qualified" it, and the Queen isn't above politics anyway because she called the Chinese rude, for those of us whom enjoy schadenfreude, it's been a fine time.  Long may it continue.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016 

The cupboard is bare on purpose.

We are but a year into a whole 5 of Tory majority rule, and yet to judge by the thinness of the Queen's speech, it would seem the government is already running out of things to do.  This is admittedly somewhat down to how the Tories have succeeding in piloting some of the worst of their policies through the Commons already, with the Psychoactive Substances Act shortly to come into effect for just one.  Conversely, the list of bills is also slighter as a result of opposition from the backbenches: suitably watered down is the schools bill, from forcing all schools to become academies to merely pushing them in the general direction.

The real reasons for why the cupboard is bare are obvious.  First though, this wouldn't be a Queen's speech post on this blog if I didn't have a moan about the increasingly deranged nature of the spectacle itself.  The Queen is now 90 years old, and regardless of your views on the monarchy, the requirement that she carry on getting dolled up to read out the inane bumpf of her latest government surely can't be allowed to go on much longer.  Should the Tories ever get round to sorting out their bill of rights, making the head of state read out nonsense about improving the life chances of all will have to be designated cruel and unusual punishment.  Dennis Skinner's yearly jokes have already regressed to the point where they are statements rather than attempts at humour; why not square the circle and get the Beast of Bolsover to read the damn thing out?

No, the real reason the speech has so relatively little to raise ire is that parliamentary politics is effectively suspended until June the 24th, by which point it'll almost be time for the summer recess in any case.  Anything that might further incense either the Tory backbenchers or for that matter the opposition, never mind the public, has been postponed until after the referendum.  Sure, a few on the right will hardly be pleased by the proposed prison reforms, especially the idea of some only being locked up at weekends, but they're overwhelmingly likely to be for Leave anyway.

Far more instructive than the contents of the speech itself is the way its been spun.  The BBC News at 10 has led each night this week on prisons, part of an obvious softening up process for what was coming today.  Peter Clarke, former head of anti-terrorism at the Met, author of the main report into the hoax Trojan Horse takeover of schools in Birmingham, apparent friend of the Tories and new independent inspector of prisons was given the kind of platform never previously afforded to Nick Hardwick, in the main to comment on "legal highs" finding their way inside.  High profile reporting into the chaos prisons have been descending into is of course welcome, but is hardly telling the full story unless it makes clear the problems have been exacerbated massively by overcrowding and cuts in funding.  The bill outlined today, aimed at putting into law the proposals previously announced by Michael Gove and David Cameron won't make things worse, but nor will they begin to solve them when Cameron continues to argue against the "idea that reform always needs extra spending".

Whereas just plain laughable is the idea today's attempts at improving "life chances" could ever add up to a legacy for David Cameron.  Quite simply, there's nothing there: no one could disagree with the changes to adoption or the "help to save" plans, they're just overwhelmed by the Tories' on-going contradictions.  The party can hardly be the great friend of diversity David Cameron claims he wants it to be, forcing universities to be open about their admissions while at the same time encouraging landlords and hospitals to be suspicious of anyone with the wrong skin colour or a foreign sounding name.  The party that depicts Sadiq Khan as an extremist, refusing to say London can be safe in his hands cannot be taken seriously on either discrimination or "life chances".

But then Cameron has no intention of his legacy being such things.  The other reason why the Queen's speech has so little for the Tories to shout about is he still doesn't know if he's going to be around beyond June 24th.  If he isn't, he will go down in history for austerity and being the prime minister who through the most abject weakness took Britain out of Europe.  If he is, then he most probably has another year in which to further shape how he will be remembered.  Chancing leaving Osborne, or worse yet, Boris with his legacy legislation was never an option.  Still, should the Leave campaign manage to turn around a seemingly unassailable lead for Remain, then Boris will forever be known as the man who made all porn sites verify their users are 18.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2016 

That Lady Royall report into allegations of antisemitism at the Oxford University Labour Club in full.

  • I do not believe that there is institutional antisemitism within Oxford University Labour Club
  • However, in order to remove the possibility of any such claims being made in the future, OULC should take action to ensure there is a safe space, i.e. by disbanding immediately in case anyone's feelings get hurt again
  • All further allegations of micro-aggressions should be reported immediately to The Telegraph, The Times, or John Mann MP in order to be used against Jeremy Corbyn
  • Err...
  • That's it

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Monday, May 16, 2016 

June 24th: never the end.

By Christ, politics is dispiriting at the moment.

Not that it isn't normally.  It's just the absolute quality of the nonsense of late.  The entirely confected Labour antisemitism row, that just so happened to coincide with the local elections and has since vanished without trace, just for one.  You obviously can't legislate for the newt fancier to suddenly decide to tour TV studios talking about Hitler, but it does show the depths to which a party establishment still unable to face up to how it got itself into this mess will sink.  Just look at the anonymous quotes given to Sam Knight for his New Yorker profile of Corbyn.  "He is an allotment digger," said one ex-cabinet minister.  "Plodding".  What does that say about you then, mate?

It's also that no one it seems can learn the very simplest of lessons.  I hate to keep coming back to this, it's that it's so fucking obvious.  If the Scottish referendum campaign taught us anything, it's that it's suicide to share platforms, even if it's for the greater good.  To see Osborne, Balls and Cable all on a stage together, joined by another of those unacceptable faces of capitalism, Michael O'Leary, it's as though the whole Yes/No neverendum didn't happen.  No, Balls and Cable might not be MPs now, having both lost their seats to the Tories, making it all the stranger why they would decide it was in anyone's best interests to play the part of the shit to Osborne's latest round of bull, but that doesn't make a scrap of difference.  It still looks like the establishment ganging up together, even if the Leave campaign is just as much the establishment as Remain.  There isn't any need for conspiracy theories, as Osborne said, because something that looks very much like a conspiracy to your average passer-by is only made all the more apparent by figures that used to be at each others' throats suddenly making eyes at each other.  Talk about a trifecta of dunces, only one joined by someone who would sell you his grandmother and then charge you extra for her handbag.

Then we have the Leavers, with Boris himself deciding to dust down old Adolf and bring him into the debate.  Now, it might sound beyond stupid to everyone else, comparing the EU to a dictator who used his military in the attempt to create a united Europe, and that's because it is.  It doesn't though to some in the Leave campaign, as Matthew d'Anconservative in one of his lucid moments sets out how comparing the EU to the Nazis has long been a thing.  Those on the far-right usually prefer to describe it as the EUSSR, as clearly all EU member states are just vassals to Brussels, with Jean-Claude Juncker as Brezhnev.  Either way, it's the same thing: the EU has no democratic accountability or credibility.  You only need look at how the EU doesn't take for an answer on previous referendums to see that, obviously.

Which is precisely why as d'Ancona relates, should Leave lose this time, those who want out will just agitate at every turn for a referendum under the 2011 European Union Act, the first attempt at placate Tory backbenchers by Cameron.  The merest transfer of power to the EU will then trigger another referendum, another fight, another round of each side calling white black, while everyone else either tunes out or becomes so desperate for the end they consider opening their wrists a viable alternative.  June the 24th will never be the end.  Leave learned from the SNP.  Remain hasn't from the mistakes of the No campaign.

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Friday, May 13, 2016 

Burn down Babylon.

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Thursday, May 12, 2016 

The prime of Master Dominic Cummings.

In the pantheon of spin doctors completely losing the plot, Dominic Cummings' (for it was surely he) freak out out late last night is rather special.  It's not quite on the level of Alastair Campbell storming into the Channel 4 News studios demanding to be put on the air (but then what is), nor is it Comical Ali denying the Americans had reached Baghdad as a tank was seen rolling past in the distance, and yet it still feels not that far behind.

It really does have it all.  Allusion to Goldman Sachs funding Remain, that if made by someone on the left in the current climate would probably prompt accusations of antisemitism and conspiracy theorising?  Check.  Implication that absolutely everyone and everything is against Leave, and yet still the polls remain at 50-50?  Check.  Naming of specific journalist with claim they are biased against Leave, with spurious allegation that Robert Peston campaigned to join the Euro, the same straw man Cummings and Leave throw at everyone?  Check.  Attempt at intimidation, with threat that ITV will face the consequences once Leave wins? Check.

Quite why the initial decisions about the debates caused Cummings to lose his shit quite so fantastically is a mystery.  What on earth made Leave think that Downing Street would suddenly decide to play hardball any less than they did last year, when they successfully bullied the broadcasters into acceding to their demands on the basis there wouldn't be any debates if they didn't?  Did they really believe that cowardly custard Dave would be willing to take on Boris or Gove when both intend for this to be their springboard to the Tory party leadership?  Far better to go up against Nigel Farage, with his record of being easily riled if the audience dares not to applaud his nonsense, than a fellow Conservative with slightly more self-control.

Not that Boris does have more self-control; he'd likely descend into muttering within 10 minutes.  You can though see Vote Leave's point: Farage is part of the Grassroots Out group, rather than Vote Leave, and Vote Leave is the official out campaign as designated by the Electoral Commission.  If there's going to be anyone sort of facing Dave, as the ITV "debate" would take the same format as Channel 4's non-debate between Cameron and Miliband did last year, then it ought to be someone from Vote Leave.  It shouldn't be up to the government to dictate whom it will or won't face, especially when part of the reasoning is that the Tories don't to further their impression they're at war with each other.  Sorry Dave, ought to have come the reply, it's a little late for that now.

The fact is the debates have become a prestige event for the different networks, caring far more about holding them come what may rather than whether or not they're in the slightest bit illuminating.  Last year's non-debates were absurdities that should never be repeated, and yet it would seem as though much the same is going to happen only a year later.  The referendum has already been one of the most over-covered and somehow still least informative media debacles in recent memory, principally for the reason that the two campaigns agree on almost nothing.  Each side accuses the other of scaremongering, and we have nothing remotely approaching an independent adjudicator to separate the complete bullshit from claims slightly more grounded in reality.  The debates as proposed would do absolutely nothing to change that.  Which, once again, would seem to be the point.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016 

Good bad film club #3: SexWorld.

(Previously: Nightmare City and Burial Ground.)

To be a fan of exploitation cinema, and by fan I mean the kind of scuzz lord who finds there to be redeeming qualities to some of the most irredeemable films ever committed to celluloid, it's pretty much a requirement to be either extremely forgiving or to have a highly attuned sense of bad taste.  Even so, there are still films that even your friendly neighbourhood gorehound is likely to detest, that could never be described as even remotely approaching art, and yet chances are such a title can bought in HMV, sourced online or streamed at your leisure.

Whereas one of the features from the so-called golden age of porn, when storylines, plot, lavish sets and reasonably high production values will either have to be downloaded (illegally) or imported from overseas.  With a few notable exceptions, the BBFC denies features "whose primary purpose is sexual arousal or stimulation" a normal 18 certificate, instead classifying them at R18, meaning they can only be sold in registered sex shops.  While you can then buy In the Realm of the Senses, The Idiots, Baise-Moi, 9 Songs or even Caligula easily, as all have been passed at 18 despite either featuring penetration, hardcore scenes or in the case of 9 Songs being one long advert for actual porn, the Devil in Miss Jones or the Opening of Misty Beethoven are verboten.  In practice this distinction has been moot since the internet became the biggest sex shop in the world, but it has meant that a UK-based company has never established itself as the number one destination for smut.  With such barriers put in the way of distributors, Deep Throat is around the only film from the "porno chic" era to have had even a rudimentary release on DVD in this country.

Yep, in America during the 70s, that strangest of decades, for a short time and even only really in the cities, going to see a porno at the cinema was a thing for people other than the dirty raincoat brigade.  No one has any idea how much money Deep Throat made, but suffice to say it was a lot.  The Devil in Miss Jones took even more.  The Washington Post named its Watergate source after Gerard Damiano's mob-funded picture.  Bob Hope and Johnny Carson made jokes about it.  Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver takes his date to see a porn film.  The stage had obviously been set by the skin flicks of the 60s, the rise of exploitation, European mould breakers like Denmark legalising all pornography, mondo pictures and so forth, and yet Deep Throat, a feeble film even by porn standards, for just a moment looked like changing everything.  Helen Mirren in her commentary track on Caligula makes clear what seemed possible: the potential that name actors themselves might have to go all the way on camera.

It of course didn't happen, and nor has there really ever been an actor to make the crossover and go on to be a huge star.  Marilyn Chambers, Traci Lords, James Deen, Sasha Grey, all have tried to do it and none have properly succeeded.  Sure, some porn actors might have come close to being household names, but actually go beyond infamy or sniggering to be an A-lister?  No chance, surely.

And yet for an audience enjoying the shock of the new, helped along by the various obscenity cases brought against Deep Throat, the idea clearly wasn't absurd.  In truth, a fair number of the performers of the period, Linda Lovelace sadly excepted, were either amateur thesps or had been in theatrical productions.  Georgina Spelvin, star of TDiMJ, was a chorus girl, featured on Broadway; Robert Kerman, the guy who does Debbie in Debbie Does Dallas, was a trained actor turned one of the most unlikely fixtures of the late golden age.  Frustrated straight actors unable to pay the bills or wanting to be able to get their own theatrical projects off the ground were persuaded to make a quick buck.

By the time SexWorld debuted in 1978, the era had already almost passed.  Video, which would do for the by now often squalid grindhouses screening the new releases, was just around the corner, making it far cheaper to shoot and also providing punters with the opportunity to yank it in the comfort of their own home.  AIDS was about to cut down a number of directors and actors, the latter of whom often made both gay and straight features.  A few producers carried on shooting on film into the late 80s, and even today there are still a few studios that attempt to build a plot around the sex, but any real money remaining either goes to the niche producers or the porn networks, Brazzers, RealityKings, BangBros et al, churning out scene after scene day after day.

All the more reason then for these films from the golden era to be preserved, even if they are never going to be cherished except by a select few.  Enter Vinegar Syndrome, a US distribution company taking it upon themselves to finally do full justice to as many of these features as they can get the rights to.  After building a head of steam with their Peekarama double-bill DVD releases, they've started releasing their most popular and best titles on Blu-Ray, of which SexWorld is the most notable.  Directed by Anthony Spinelli, SexWorld does not by any means make a TDiMJ-style case for porn most definitely being art, but is nonetheless a world away from the plastic rigidity of today's gonzo pornography.

One feature it does share with some of today's output is that it's almost a parody of Westworld and Futureworld.  Almost in that it really only shares the idea of a resort where the customers can live out their desires; the sex partners conjured up by the scientists, after our motley gang have detailed their wants and needs to counsellors most certainly do not rebel.  The film is though in step with the changing times, as though it could be otherwise; a shy girl who can only get off by donning a blonde wig while phoning up sex lines (yes, really) is paired with a black man, who is the sensitive lover she always needed, while a racist bigot played by porn stalwart John Leslie is seduced and converted by the gorgeous, voluptuous Desiree West.  A couple on the brink of separation thanks to the husband's perverted obsessions are brought back together thanks to him being taught by SexWorld how to satisfy his wife, while more prosaically Annette Haven, the most classically beautiful of all the golden era stars, less feasibly tries a man after tiring of her long-term lesbian lover.

Just as important as the sex is the look of the film.  While you can't say no expense was spared, especially when the exact same shot of the SexWorld bus travelling along a highway is used twice, the sets most certainly look the part, and naturally there is some very 70s decor: the boudoir of one of our couples features a mural that shouts BEEF.  As for the performances beyond the ones in the bedroom, Kay Parker is especially persuasive as the disgusted partner, while Leslie and Haven, usually good value, are on the level here also.

More impressive than the film itself is that it has been released on Blu-Ray at all, looking absolutely stunning, probably better than it ever has other than at its première.  You will sadly have to pay through the nose for it, whether by importing, going on eBay, or sourcing it from somewhere like Strange Vice, a reality that will only change if the BBFC is forced to change its policies, but those with a taste for this sort of thing are no doubt used to that by now.  Don't expect change to come soon, mind: it wasn't until 28 years after the release of Deep Throat that hardcore was formally legalised in this country.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016 

A microcosm of wider stupidity.

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Monday, May 09, 2016 

The banter years.

Those with long memories might recall that back in the 90s, in one those ill advised attempts the guilty occasionally make to prove their innocence, the gang suspected of the murder of Stephen Lawrence gave interviews to Martin Bashir.  Asked to explain their use of racist language and play acting with knives, as secretly recorded by the police, they said it was banter.  They didn't mean anything by it.

I am not of course suggesting that the likes of Michael Fallon and George Osborne describing Zac Goldsmith's London mayoral campaign as being all part of the "rough and tumble" of politics makes them akin to racist murderers.  It does though make you wonder exactly how far the rough and tumble of politics extends.  Implying that Sadiq Khan is an extremist and refusing to say London will be safe in his hands is clearly perfectly permissible.  Certainly not permissible, as we've learned, is the use of language Hadley Freeman considers to be antisemitic.

Where then exactly to draw the line?  If you're Atul Hatwal, then the only problem with the Tories' campaign was that it was incompetent due to how Suliman Gani was more allied with the Tories than he was with Khan and Labour.  On this basis, Labour could have spent the local election campaign proclaiming on how Cameron was a pig rapist.  Sure, there's no evidence Cameron has raped a pig or any other barnyard animal, but the Ashcroft/Oakeshott book claims he did pork a severed hog's gob.  Mostly everyone thinks it's a load of old toilet, but it's on about the same level of truthfulness as the various claims made about Khan.

Why then not go the whole way?  After all, we've just gone through a period where it seemed perfectly acceptable to speculate on whether or not mostly deceased former politicians could have been not just paedophiles, but child murderers also.  Most of these claims were made against former Tory MPs.  Would it be just the rough and tumble of politics to describe the Conservatives as the party of choice for child abusers?  Sure, the Met might have discontinued Operation Midland, yet why let a detail like that get in the way of the contact sport that is politics?  It would just be natural rough and tumble, all a part of the game.  If you whine about it not being fair, you're simply not cut out for being a true leader of men.

Atul Hatwal does admittedly have a point.  Extremism should be called out.  Generally though there needs to be actual evidence, and we all have different definitions of what extremism is.   To some, Jeremy Corbyn's brand of old school socialism is extremist; to others, the Tories' naked contempt for welfare claimants and the state in general is beyond the pale.  That much of politics and the whole of social media "politics" has descended into one great big condemnathon, where the sound and fury both signifies nothing and is also absolutely everything might well have made politics even more incomprehensible and alien to outsiders.  It's just far too much trouble to try and turn back now.

Not that the Tories were ever going to admit that Goldsmith's campaign had backfired, not least as portraying Ed Miliband as so unprincipled he'd stab his country in the back for power worked last year.  It's also how they intend to go on depicting Labour in general: as a threat to national and economic security.  Bearing in mind a decent section of the parliamentary Labour party regard their own leader as an extremist, how could they not?

When it comes to today's EU clashes between Dave and Boris you see an almost mirror image of the extremist battle, only it's about power within a party, with the country coming a distant second in their concerns.  If Cameron really feared Britain leaving the EU could destabilise the continent to the point of a return to war, he would have been irresponsible in the extreme to have set in a motion a process that was fundamentally about buying off his restive backbenchers.  Likewise, if Boris Johnson truly believed that leaving the EU is the liberal cause of the day, it wouldn't matter as much that he's also using the referendum campaign as a springboard to his inevitable Tory leadership bid.   That only two years ago he wrote in direct contradiction of what he said today about the EU and peace, and has no compunction about making a "liberal, cosmopolitan" case for leaving that at its heart involves further doom-mongering about immigration just sums up how infuriating our politics has become.  We are it would seem firmly trapped in the banter years.

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Friday, May 06, 2016 


Last night's results are pretty much the worst of all worlds for Labour.  When I went to bed it looked as though the fears the party could lose the 150+ seats predicted in England might come to pass; a few hours later and the losses at the moment amount to a not quite as catastrophic 26.  Going by that yardstick you have to expect Sadiq Khan will win comfortably in London, and coupled with Labour losing only one seat total on the Welsh assembly, despite having been in power since its establishment, the results excepting Scotland don't look too bad on the surface.

Which is the problem.  Labour was never going to win the 400 seats the party's slightly more subtle anti-Corbyn MPs were bringing up, not least as the 2012 results were the party's best of the Ed Miliband years.  At the same time, as the psephologists haven't been shutting up about, it's 30 years since an opposition lost seats at a local election.  To put a temporary stop to the muttering and plotting Corbyn needed to win in the region of 100+.  While the party has lost just the one council, Dudley, and to no overall control rather than an opponent, the only real crowing that can be done about these results is they aren't as bad as the doomers and same people who predicted a UKIP victory in the Oldham West by-election said they would be.  It's not much of a boast, all told.

But nor does it come close to proving that Corbyn is a big of a liability as his enemies in the party and other detractors have claimed.  Local elections are only ever an indication as to what's happening at national level: it's why for instance Labour has managed to hold on to councils like Nuneaton when the same voters send Tories to Westminster.  This said, when you consider that ever since Corbyn became leader the party has done nothing other than fight, with the press and political figures spending the last week denouncing Labour as disgustingly racist, that the party has managed to hold on this well still strikes as success.  As Tom Clark notes, this has also happened in the main because the party either consolidated or advanced in the south of England, where Corbyn's further to the left approach was meant to turn voters off, while in the north, where it was meant to appeal more, UKIP fought Labour all the way.

Much like the results overall then, what we have is a continuing stalemate.  A truly disastrous night would have almost certainly encouraged the plotters to either launch their coup now or after the EU referendum vote, regardless of whether it has a chance of succeeding; likewise, Labour defying all the predictions and winning seats would have made such a move impossible.  Instead, MPs on both sides are continuing to circle each other, not being prepared to go for the jugular, with the likes of Jo Cox and even professional idiot John Mann not being prepared to wield the knife in at this point.  For those of us who would like it to be settled one way or the other, it could hardly be more dispiriting.

Looking beyond Labour, the Tories excepting Wales have had a great night for a governing party.  You could say we're only a year in, and that a Tory majority is a still a novelty, but you still don't expect them to be gaining councillors at this stage, not least when the party has been tearing itself apart over Europe.  The result in Scotland is extraordinary: everyone thought it was possible they could come second ahead of Labour, but not by the margin they've managed to.  Credit has to go to Ruth Davidson, whom has clearly succeeded where past Scottish Conservative leaders failed in overcoming the hostility to the party.  She's obviously been helped hugely by how said hostility has transferred to Labour following the referendum, once again proving that it's the hangers-on rather than the main contingent that get punished by voters when it comes to unlikely coalitions, and yet clearly it's something more than just that behind it.  Whether it translates to Westminster at some point remains to be seen.

Considering some thought it was possible Labour and the Lib Dems could be wiped out at the constituency level entirely, it must be a relief that both did manage to retain such a presence.  Worth noting especially is how the Lib Dems increased their majority in Orkney, in spite of the SNP campaign against Alistair Carmichael.  Indeed, it's amusing in itself to see the SNP failing to win an overall majority this time round, hinting as it does that despite the attempt to create a personality cult around Nicola cracks are beginning to appear.  With the loss of the majority making it all the more difficult to call a second referendum, even if the SNP wanted to, those pushing for independence will almost certainly start looking elsewhere.

As for the Lib Dems, there's very little comfort for them to take from the results.  Sure, they've gained a few seats, but the days when they were the obvious option for a protest vote look to disappeared for good.  UKIP are now on the whole that option, and at the moment have gained the most local council seats overall.  Again though, they did pretty much nothing back in 2012, so for them to not advance on the level they must have hoped hardly suggests an undetected groundswell for the leave side.  Far more interesting will be to see what happens when the seats fought in 2013 and 2014 are up for grabs again, and whether UKIP can hold on or increase their tally then.  As for their grabbing of seven seats in the Welsh assembly thanks wholly to the regional top-up, it merely reflects what we already know: that UKIP have reached the point where their support ought to result in substantial representation at Westminster.  It helps no one that both they and the Greens have only one MP thanks to the iniquities of first past the post.

Sadiq Khan has duly strolled to victory in London.  It's worth restating here that Zac Goldsmith's campaign was not about winning; the Tories realised pretty early on their task was fairly hopeless, as evidenced by the result in 2012, where almost anyone other than Ken in a red rosette would have beaten Boris.  The dog-whistle campaign, which as two separate Tories have commented was neither dog-whistle as it was plain to everyone what Goldsmith was doing, nor were there any dogs to be whistled at, was about poisoning the well, to mix metaphors right up.  Whether it's so much as succeeded in doing that is extremely dubious.  If anything, it might have turned voters against the Tories across London as a whole.  Overall it only reinforces what we already knew: that Britain has fractured irrevocably, with the capital, England, Wales and Scotland all going their separate ways politically.

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Thursday, May 05, 2016 

The state of journalism in 2016.

This is the front page of a non-state owned newspaper, urging a vote for a party that has been in power for 9 years. 

And we make fun of the Americans, and tut and say "it could never happen here" about the likes of Turkey.  Politics only gets stranger.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2016 

A politics we don't deserve.

We, and by that I mean all of us who contribute to the tenor of politics in this country, have a tendency to exaggerate.  Exploiting the differences between parties in favour of policies that are broadly similar requires focusing on the negatives.  Ferocious debate about issues that subsequently turn out to not amount to a hill of beans are often the order of the day; just look at our contribution to the military action against Islamic State in Syria, for instance.  What was the point of the weeks of arguments last December when the end result has been so negligible?

Bearing this in mind, I honestly cannot recall a week of politics that has been so unrelentingly stupid, self-defeating, obtuse and at the same time as instructive as the past 7 days.  Absolutely nothing of any real note has happened, and yet what has been established is we've finally, truly, entered the period where controlling the terms and structure of political discussion has become the be all and end all.  That this has been established not by the politically correct left, students or any other of the usual bogeymen of controlled thought and speech ought to be surprising, and yet it isn't, because this is the way it's been going for quite some time.

Labour as a party is antisemitic, it has been decided.  The newspapers of record in this country have decreed it to be so.  Labour, the party that only a year ago had a Jew as its leader, and who was pretty popular at grassroots level.  Said press you might recall had great fun in repeatedly printing those photos of dear old Ed failing to eat a bacon sandwich correctly.  Now, while a few people at the time muttered to themselves that this was whiffy and smelled vaguely of antisemitism, I didn't think it was and thought they were being overly sensitive.  Fast forward a year, and the same newspapers that on one page carry columns declaring that the Leave campaign should shack up with Marine Le Pen and the far-right in Europe, declare on the other in no uncertain times that Labour from top to bottom is riddled with racistsIt's a cancer.  Something has to be done.  Not an investigation by Shami Chakrabati though, that's not good enough.  Jeremy Corbyn should have announced all this yesterday, anyway.

Let's though just for a second digress from the quite believable chutzpah of the never knowingly under hypocritical British media.  Instead, let's consider the general level of prejudice in the country in 2016.  The picture, as always, could be better.  Prejudice still exists.  Racists might have to be more coded in the way they go about trying to incite hatred, but they still attempt to spread poison and take any opportunity that comes their way to do so.  For the most part though, I'd say taken as a whole the British people have probably never been as tolerant as they are now.  I don't mean that in the passive aggressive sense of tolerance, but in the general living alongside each other with a minimum of tension sense.  There are hotspots of disquiet and plenty of anxiety, sure, yet no indication that anything is about to go beyond that.

We then have a political party that in the main takes its membership from among the most liberal and open-minded sections of an already broadly tolerant society.  You would not expect that most such people would be hostile to one sub-section of that society on racial grounds, especially one that historically has been among the most mistreated and abused.  And indeed, all the evidence suggests that is the case.  The members and councillors identified so far have almost all been suspended on the basis of questionable tweets or social media posts, some of which have quickly been identified as taken out of all context jokes.  Others do seem to be more serious examples of potential prejudice, and need to be properly investigated, but most tread a fine line between being antisemitic and being critical of Israeli government policy.  Naz Shah and Livingstone we've hopefully already dealt with.

None of this is to downplay the disquiet a number of Jews have voiced as feeling.  Phoebe Ray makes an eloquent case on how Britain as a whole, not split down the middle between left and right, does antisemitism.  Both she and Jonathan Freedland voice the opinion that Jews are the only ethnic minority not allowed to define what they feel to be racist attitudes against them are.  The obvious problem here, one that requires great amounts of nuance, is that claims of antisemitism have long been used against critics of Israeli governments, a country that polls show a majority of Jews feel a connection to.  Not all Jews are Zionists, and not all anti-Zionists are antisemites, you could say.  Adding to the problem is that as Ray and others identify, there are a whole series of tropes and "modes of thinking" that creep into debate on Israel, both consciously and unconsciously.  We have for instance seen Israeli government figures criticising British cartoonists for using such tropes, whether they truly have or not.  When newspapers that are otherwise vehemently pro-Israeli are alleged to be carrying such imagery, it's hardly surprising that your amateur political tweeter, or even student leader, might slip into using the verbal equivalent.

As Ray also says though, "right wing politicians are only interested in addressing anti-Semitism when they see it as a weak point in an opponent’s armour".  You can add to that newspapers, and assorted others within Labour who are so determined to bring down the party's leadership they will sink to seemingly any depths, regardless of the wider damage it causes.  The last week has not really been about racism; it has been about power.  The power within Labour, power within the country, and the power to limit what is politically acceptable as a whole.  Jeremy Corbyn has a weak spot on antisemitism, not because he is antisemitic, but because he has made questionable if not condemnable alliances in the past.  He has had a long time political friendship with Ken Livingstone.  Ken has long been more harm than help, but he was one of the few well-known political figures who would defend Corbyn to the media.  He's also still on Labour's national executive committee, and has a role in the party's defence review.  Getting rid of him will help the party's moderates in the long term.

Then we have the power in the country.  Labour most likely wasn't going to do well in tomorrow's elections anyway: Sadiq Khan will triumph in London regardless, it's a toss-up whether or not Labour will come second or third in the elections to Holyrood, and the seats being fought locally were last up for election in 2012, when Labour did well at the expense of both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.  Things look different four years on.  Add in a whole week's worth of claims of Labour being racist, of a crisis, of Ken Livingstone making an arse of himself, and there is bound to an impact.  The Tories' main approach as made clear by PMQs today is to portray a classically left-wing as opposed to left of centre party as extremist.  This has involved focusing on Khan being an extremist purely on the grounds that he is a Muslim, to the outrage of much of the left but to very little from the right-wingers coruscating Labour for its supposed anti-semitism.  The newspapers have helped by getting comment from the likes of the Chief Rabbi, who says Zionism is inseparable from Judaism.

Finally, we have the attempt to define just what is and isn't acceptable as a whole.  David Cameron wasn't asking Corbyn to denounce Hamas and Hezbollah today.  He was asking him to denounce the idea of so much as considering they have a role to play in any eventual peace settlement.  This approach is summed up by Danny Finkelstein's piece in the Times today:

What is happening in the Labour party is not (just) the crassness of a few councillors and the odd MP saying some embarrassing things about Jews.  It is the abandonment of its identity as an Atlanticist progressive party.  And it cannot be stopped until this identity is reasserted.

In other words, this won't stop until Labour snaps out of its malaise and adopts the correct foreign policy.  The correct foreign policy according to this confidant of both Cameron and Osborne is the backing to the hilt of the Saudis in Yemen, involving the defence secretary making the feeblest of excuses for our allies to a parliamentary committee.  It involves acting as the media wing of the "moderate" Syrian rebels, as the Guardian reveals today, with the government underwriting their propaganda.  One of the groups named in the documentation, although the government denies it ever considered it moderate, is Jaish al-Islam, the group the Alloush clan control.  Its former leader, Zahran Alloush, called repeatedly for Damascus to be "cleansed" of both Christians and Alawites.  It involves putting a stop to even the most limited reaching out to groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, despite both being moderates compared to likes of the al-Nusra Front, which many of the "moderate" Syrian groups we're still encouraging to fight have no problem allying with.   It involves smearing a genuine moderate running for London mayor as an extremist while continuing to sell weapons to the biggest sponsors of Islamic extremism the world has ever known.

This was never truly about antisemitism.  Sure, it's been the excuse.  Instead it's been about reinforcing the boundaries.  You can want a foreign policy which is progressive, just not Atlanticist, but you'll pay for it.  You can want a party to be a genuine opposition to the status quo, but it'll be denounced as extremist.  You can want the MPs of a party to at least respect for a year the leader elected by the membership, but they'll do everything in their power to undermine him, regardless of the consequences in the long term.  Sure, it'll put politics itself in the gutter, alienate the public at large when the message they'll take is that the meres wrong word will result in opprobrium, discourage Muslims from entering politics if they have ever so much as sat next to someone with the vaguest of unsavoury views, and give the impressions to Jews they still aren't welcome anywhere, but it'll be worth it in the end.

I often used to agree when it was said we get the politics we deserve.  No one deserves this.

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Tuesday, May 03, 2016 

Milton Keynes doesn't just lack a soul. It also has no heart.

(This is a guest post by a life-long Milton Keynes resident who wants to remain anonymous.)

Something strange is going on.  The London media, as everyone knows, is obsessed with London.  To them, London is England, Britain; north of Watford may as well be marked on the map with "here be monsters".  The actual north is another country; Scotland is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.  And to be fair, you can understand their obsession: London is a whole series of cities contained within the M25 car park, a constantly undulating mass you can travel around quickly and easily on some of the best public transport in the world.  Almost everything you could possibly want is within reach and almost anything you could want to buy can be purchased swiftly.  Sure, you now practically have to be a millionaire to own your home, everyone must get tired at some point of living in a concrete jungle, and if you're down on your luck it must be one of the hardest places in the country to eke out an existence, but for the most part the positives outweigh the negatives.

Why then are journalists suddenly paying attention to Milton Keynes?  Recently there was a Newsnight segment dedicated to the "city" (MK is not technically designated a city, and doesn't deserve to be one) being a hidden gem, while in today's Guardian Patrick Barkham eulogises at length on the city's development, the supposed threats to this wonderland of grid roads, open spaces and apparent boundless potential.  Apart from house prices for the time at least remaining well below what they are in London, the answer is even more cynical than that.  For Milton Keynes is London, just with everything good about the capital and therefore viewed as a downside to your average London journo hacked away.

To start with, Patrick Barkham doesn't even tell the story of MK right.  Milton Keynes did not suddenly spring out of nowhere into existence via the development corporation; the "city" itself takes its name from a village that's still there, not that a hack would ever find it as it's a fair distance away from the gleaming centre.  Milton Keynes was in fact built around a number of villages and small towns that have a long history in their own right, the most notable being Wolverton, Stony Stratford, Bletchley and Newport Pagnell.  As Barkham writes, the development corporation did have some damn good ideas: the grid system does for the most part result in a town that rarely gets snarled up outside of rush hour, travel by car once you're used to the place is quick and simple, and it would be pointless to deny that the town, viewed from the car window, looks clean, pretty and welcoming, such is the way the various housing estates were all kept separate from each other.

Which is also the town's greatest downfall.  No, of course Milton Keynes doesn't have a soul, but a far better way to describe it is as atomised.  The separation of the various housing developments ensures that there is no wider sense of community in the town.  The fact that you don't need to travel through different estates to get to where you want unless you have to results in a city that is little more than a collection of villages.  People come in, they go to work, go to one of the larger supermarkets disconnected from the estates to shop, perhaps go up to what locals call the "city", meaning Central Milton Keynes on the weekend, and that's it.  Few of these estates have pubs, although some have restaurants and most takeaways; if you want a drink or to experience what little local colour is on offer, you'll have to go to one of the places mentioned above.

By the same token, these estates vary hugely in terms of socio-economic background.  Barkham mentions Shenley Church End, which is one of the better off areas of the town; Netherfield, also mentioned, is by contrast one of the most deprived.  By virtue of the planning of the town, these areas are effectively closed off to outside eyes, so you'll never see how rundown certain areas have become, nor will you see for instance the gated communities that have also sprung up, like the couple opposite the National Badminton Centre in Loughton.  This is perfect for those who have the attitude of out of sight, out of mind, which has long prevailed in MK.

If you're a walker or a cyclist, then yes, you will be exposed to these places, and as Barkham writes, the grid system was designed with pedestrians and bikes considered, with underpasses and the "redways" easily accessible.  Except hardly anyone uses them, for the reason that MK principally was made for the car.  Even on a beautiful spring Sunday afternoon you can walk along the redways for miles and rarely see another soul.  The lakes that are dotted around, like Willen and Caldecotte are much more popular, it's true, and yet still hardly ever full to bursting except in high summer.  Barkham at least admits that public transport isn't great, which is about right: it's not terrible, but is expensive and irregular away from the main routes served.

This might all be sounding great to your average Londoner so far, as long as they can drive.  Atomised, disparate, soulless, but affordable, right?  Up to a point, yes.  But what about culture?  Milton Keynes is the place culture forgot.  It wasn't until around the turn of the century that we got a theatre.  Fancy Shakespeare, a comedian, the odd serious minded play?  Well, we've got Shrek the Musical for you, or Hairspray.  Arthouse cinema?  Sorry, no.  We might have had the first ten screen multiplex in the country, with the site soon to be demolished, a brand new Odeon, and a World of Cine, but anything other than blockbuster fare?  No chance.  How about any sort of nightlife?  Sure, we're now in the era of Tinder and Netflix and chill, where gentrification is closing down more and more London clubs but at least there's still a few.  Here, in a "city" of over a quarter of a million people?  Again, you'll have to go to the one of the above mentioned towns.  Roughly two pubs in the entire town play host to bands of even the slightest note, but you like Yates's and Wetherspoons' right?  Loads of those up the city at least.  No clubs though, sorry.  We do have the Stables, Cleo Laine's place out at Wavendon, which is great if you like that sort of thing, but that's about all you're getting.  You'll need to go to Northampton to find any sort of bustle.

It does then amaze when people like Linda Inoki (I predictably had never heard of Inoki, Theo Chalmers or their campaign groups until I saw Barkham's piece.  Clearly doing good work) describe Milton Keynes as having "phenomenal character".  MK has no character.  Yes, there's something to be said for the way the city was planned out, for the shopping centre itself, if not for what is actually inside it, but to try and claim that MK has a distinctive character through having none whatsoever is pushing it.

Pete Winkleman, who everyone in MK has heard of and anyone with any sense detests, is the personification of everything wrong with the place.  Uprooting Wimbledon and implanting it in MK was simply the most crass and brazen of the attempts to give the town something to base itself around.  Never previously had there been a main MK football team for the reason, again, that everyone was far more attached to their local estate, town or village side.  They were never going to get anywhere but no one cared.  We were more than happy to support Northampton, or choose a club from elsewhere when it came to the leagues proper.  It would be churlish to deny MK Dons do have a following, as they do, but only from a minority. 

Just as the city itself has a few noisy supporters who are finally getting noticed by the London media.  Yes, Milton Keynes is great if you want a quiet family life.  If you're 18 to 40 though, like culture of even the most vaguely alternative variety, don't especially want to drive and aren't comfortably off, it's little short of hell.  Barkham and the other gawpers are more than welcome to swap places with me.  

Until then, it would be nice if hacks bothered to scratch even slightly at MK's glossy veneer.  Had Barkham so much as walked slightly further down "CMK’s broad boulevards", he would have discovered that in the underpasses now live a number of homeless men and women.  Not even during the peak of homelessness in the 90s was Milton Keynes unable to put a roof over everyone's head.  It has such a problem now.

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