Is the News Really Faker Than Wrestling?

Donald Trump might be President of the United States, but he’s a really bad businessman. That’s a well known fact. He inherited a fortune of between $40 million and $200 million – and then blew most of that. Of course he got ahead with financial assistance from his father, but he also got by with a little help from his friends. While his Trump Plaza Hotel, Casino & Convention Center was another white elephant, things might have been much worse without event promoters like Don King taking a gamble of their own and hosting shows there.

Another promoter who took such a chance was Vincent K. McMahon, Jr, the professional wrestling guru who had successfully taken his own father’s north-eastern promotion and gone national, running roughshod over regional promoters who had for years held gentlemen’s agreements to host the “World Champion” against their respective area’s top stars, but never cross over or encroach on each other’s patch. This ruthless ambition, coupled with a desire to take pro wrestling from smoky bars and into arenas of smoke-and-mirrors, led McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation to become a global phenomenon, in 1987 culminating in “WrestleMania” at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit, Michigan, where Hulk Hogan faced Andre the Giant, billed at 7’4″ tall, before what McMahon’s WWF announced to be a “world indoor attendance record” of 93,173.

Upon learning that it appeared Hulk Hogan, who left the show as “World Champion,” earned more money than every other wrestler on the event combined, Jesse Ventura attempted to set up a wrestlers’ union, an idea promptly extinguished by McMahon himself after none other than Hogan ratted them all out to protect his own position. Making it in Hollywood alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in movies such as Predator and The Running Man, Jesse joined Arnie in the political arena, but not before first using his Screen Actors Guild membership to claim royalties from his WWF commentating duties.

Despite the success of WrestleMania to the point where it was able to fill stadia, McMahon agreed to stage not one but both of his follow-up WrestleMania shows – in 1988 and 1989 – at the Trump Plaza, which held less than 20,000 spectators. Donald Trump was so pleased by this that he sat in the front row, right at ringside, at each of the events. Trump and McMahon remained trusted allies as a result.

What’s more, breaking the age-old Magic Circle-style code known as “kayfabe,” Vince McMahon went against wrestling tradition and admitted to the State of New Jersey Senate that, of course, all matches were predetermined and that shows were not sporting contests but simply entertainment (a word that you’ll notice became more prominent in Vince’s publicity as the years progressed). These admissions removed the scrutiny and taxation faced by other athletic promoters, something Vince’s wife Linda had been battling with for years while running the business behind the scenes.

Yes, if you hadn’t guessed, pro wrestling was officially “fake.” And the grudge matches and publicity stunts weren’t the only fictitious part of the whole presentation: Andre the Giant’s height and even WrestleMania’s success itself had been embellished – it turned out that there were not, in fact, 93,173 in attendance at all, as explained by Dave Meltzer, who has for years largely been the only serious and widely-respected documentarian and critic of pro wrestling:


So from that front row seat where he’d sat through hours upon hours of heroics and histrionics, staged fights and scripted challenges, Donald Trump learned from pro wrestling how to perform, how to gain notoriety, and how to throw away any factual basis to his threats, promises, or claims while garnering attention – hence running The Apprentice and using Vince’s line ‘You’re fired!’ on mainstream media. To truly test this knowledge and showmanship, he joined McMahon in his own storylines in 2007 and Trump took to the stage of WrestleMania where the two wagered their own infamous hairstyles on their respective chosen charges, with wrestler-turned-Celebrity Deathmatch star Steve Austin playing the role of the Mills Lane-style special guest referee.

Vince McMahon lost, getting his head shaved. But he didn’t mind public humiliation as part of the show; after all, he had nothing else left to prove.

Fellow billionaire Ted Turner, owner of CNN, TNT and TBS, so begrudged Vince’s refusal to sell the WWF to him that he threw everything from his other successful ventures into the wrestling organisation he did acquire, WCW – even if it meant losing Pay-Per-View revenue by putting top main event marquee matches on Monday nights, up against the WWF’s flagship show. By the time AOL Time Warner bigwigs came in to take over Turner’s businesses, they realised WCW was leeching off the other initiatives, so sold it off from Turner’s empire – ironically, to none other than McMahon himself, meaning he’d bought Turner’s wrestling company, rather than the other way around.

Vince immediately portrayed the turn of events as the victory of an up-and-coming underdog against a mighty multinational conglomerate – mostly driven by his own jealousy of Turner – and given the somewhat petty, classless way Turner had gone about trying to crush the WWF, it was easy at the time to applaud McMahon for the upset. But there were other forces, too, that contributed to sympathy for Vince and Linda McMahon around this time.

WWF star Mick Foley, who hit the news for his death-defying stunts to a backdrop of fan-made signs reading “Foley is God,” wrote New York Times bestseller Foley Is Good: And The Real World is Faker Than Wrestling. In that book, he highlighted how the right-wing Parents Television Council clashed with the WWF for their increasingly mature programming content that included racy storylines and Foley’s own violent performances. The PTC was set up by L. Brent Bozell, III, son of infamous communist witch-hunt leader Joseph McCarthy’s ally L. Brent Bozell, Jr, and according to Foley’s book utilised similar scare tactics against the wrestling company, even blaming four playground deaths on WWF performances. Wrote Foley: ‘It was a strategy that has produced marvelous results in the storied history of smear campaigns. No one could possibly prove that they were not a witch during the Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts. The Jewish people could not prove that they were not a cause of economic problems in Germany in the 1930s. Alleged Communists could not possibly prove that they were not communists during the McCarthy era of the 1950s. And Bozell probably believes that the World Wrestling Federation cannot possibly prove that wrestling did not play any part in those four deaths.’

The rags-to-riches WWF later humorously co-opted the campaign against them by creating an on-screen parody of the PTC called the RTC (Right to Censor), while company directors like Lowell P. Weicker, Jr – a liberal politician – continued to defend the WWF publicly in opposition to the ultra-conservative “religious right.” The McMahons eventually weathered the storm, just as they had in the 1990s when the feds targeted their company specifically for rampant steroid use, nearly putting the WWF out of business, just as Vince had been pursuing his labour of love, the World Bodybuilding Federation (or WBF).

The McMahons after their successful steroid trial defence.

But after Ted Turner’s WCW had been bought – and promptly crushed; shut down – by Vince McMahon, his rebellious streak began to arrive at its end. There was no more competition. He’d become more rich and powerful than he’d ever imagined, and the family business was suddenly becoming the monopolising ultra-corporate interest he’d criticised Turner for pursuing: stock traded as WWFE (World Wrestling Federation Entertainment), with its initial public offering in 1999, partly to raise finance for his latest pet project, the XFL, after the collapse of the WBF.

Vince was obsessed with being more than just a “carny” pro wrestling promoter; he banned from his shows words like “wrestling” to be replaced with terms such as “sports-entertainment”, “wrestlers” instead called “superstars” even if they were unknown, and screamed into commentators’ headsets to have them refrain from saying “belts” or “bouts” or “feuds.”

As an alternative to the NFL, the XFL, of course, was another failure, and admittedly the mainstream media were not without fault, with their instant ridicule of the product challenging the American football establishment, despite the fact the XFL actually inspired change in the NFL as well.

After the XFL was gone, along with directors like Lowell Weicker, Jr, the all-powerful, all-knowing yet unknown WWFE shareholders remained, and Vince’s campaign to “Get the F out” – changing the WWFE to simply WWE after the World Wildlife Fund had taken legal action on use of the acronym “WWF” – was one of his last attempts of edgy rebellion, by definition a surrender to long-established forces. Far from being diehard fans of his product, the shareholders were of course only interested in the bottom line, which meant no more experimental creativity, and no more risks. The product, to this day, has remained ultra-corporate, formulaic, and stale, full of hyper-scripted content and product placement.

It also meant no more scandals.

When mild-mannered Canadian wrestler Chris Benoit – secretly suffering from severe concussions and brain damage – shockingly killed himself and his family, while pro wrestling roving reporters like Dave Meltzer and Wade Keller were trying to draw attention to the industry’s need for better wrestler rights (something Jesse Ventura had wanted while fighting to form a union), the mainstream media instead threw investigative journalism completely out of the window and claimed steroid abuse and ‘roid rage had caused the killings, despite the fact they had occurred not, in fact, in a fit of rage but over the course of a weekend.

It didn’t matter. The feds returned, and the McMahons were back in front of them again having to explain themselves, only briefly touching on wrestlers’ rights enough to force Vince to introduce a WWE “Wellness Policy,” but stopping short of preventing them tying wrestlers into unfairly binding contracts while calling them “independent contractors” and making them pay for their own travel, injury bills and pension plans.

Vince (far right) famously rolls his eyes during Linda’s speech conceding to Chris Murphy in a race for the U.S. Senate.

Linda, meanwhile, had by this time unsuccessfully run for office more as a personal ambition, and as seemingly an annoyance to Vince. Until Vince realised he could get the government off his back for good if he had influence there.

When they found out their old oddball ally Donald Trump was now running for office himself, they pumped around $7 million into his campaign to help get him into the White House. Trump’s approach, ‘unparalleled in modern presidential history,’ was to guarantee influential positions for those willing to pay for it by putting him in power.

Almost all of these cabinet picks have massive conflicts of interest from the public’s perspective, but from their own perspective they now occupy the corridors of power for the express purpose of deregulating the business sectors in which they operate. Trump’s simply giving them dividends on their investment. When he campaigned suggesting he meant business, you’d better believe at least that much is true.

It might treat pro wrestlers shamefully, but WWE is safe and sound even though it may have no soul left. No longer innovative, ground-breaking, or risk-taking with liberals on its board taking on the McCarthyists, today it’s part of the establishment it used to rail against. In their pursuit of more money and power, they’ve been swallowed whole by a shareholder profit motive and their political allegiances, and they’re a bigger part of the problems they used to cite and complain about. Even Ted Turner opposes Donald Trump, who in turn attacks CNN. Now, Turner is the favourable anti-hero, and Vince the establishment stooge who didn’t make it on his own in the end but was bailed out and bought and controlled by investors and politicos.

Linda McMahon has been appointed Administrator of the Small Business Administration and the McMahons – and therefore WWE – have reach right into the White House. There resides a President who, true to pro wrestling live-action pulp fiction, claims his predecessors are “McCarthyists” while he himself was mentored by Joe McCarthy’s sidekick, Roy Cohn. But again, truth doesn’t matter, and if you argue with him, state your case, or even present cold hard facts, you’re labeled “fake news” – what the Nazis used to call lugenpresse to discredit evidence against them.

Trump, like the McMahons, know too well the dishonesty of the corporate mainstream media and it various agendas, but is now exploiting that in order to attack any and all evidence against him. In many ways, the press brought it on itself, but the lies of this President are on such a scale that they threaten to provide a smokescreen over the truths we do get from mass media and journalists. It’s frightening to dismiss all of it as “fake news.”

No, the only truly “fake news” these days is that coming out of the Trump administration, you can be sure of that. In a regime targeting environmentalists, Native Americans, African-Americans, Mexicans, refugees, Muslims, women and the LGBT community to name a few, they’re relying on the white nationalist Steve Bannon to handle the propaganda strategy while sending Sean Spicer to berate the press that are being kicked out if they don’t report on Trump favourably. When confronted with facts, they present “alternative facts” (also known as lies). In true Orwellian fashion, to Trump lies are truth and truth is lies – or “lugenpresse.”

Again, this is far more fake than pro wrestling, where chair shots to the head gave life-shattering concussions and supposed “superstars” pay for their own trips and healthcare costs and often end up making more money on the independent circuit. The dangers of pro wrestling are very real, but now the carny promoters are part of Trump’s administration, they don’t have to worry about that. They’ll just keep promoting Trump instead – a superstar more dangerous than Hulk Hogan, more scripted than John Cena. A superstar they helped to create to gain influence, in exchange for millions of dollars and the spirit of entrepreneurial rebellion.

They taught him how to create a show and tell a story, even if it wasn’t true or real. And now Mick Foley is finally right: the real world is faker than wrestling.


The Lie of the Broad Church

It seems like every major political party in Britain has its own identity.

The Conservatives take care of the elites. The Greens are modern-day hippies and idealists. The Liberal Democrats are whatever they feel like being at the time. And UKIP are bigots. Simple! Easy to remember off the top of your head.

But you’d be forgiven for assuming the Labour party are all about democratic socialism, I’m afraid. Because apparently, in recent history, they’re actually All Of The Above.

How is this possible, you ask? Welcome to The Broad Church™!

Yes, the term “broad church” has been utilised ever since the “New Labour” project came about, when the electoral machine that grabbed onto power three general elections in a row – hemorrhaging three million votes in the process, mind you – believed it could be all things to all people, be they small-C conservative types, aspirational folk, “looney lefties,” starry-eyed Blairites in awe of war criminals, or red dyed-in-the-wool Labour voters.

This meant Peter Mandelson was accepted with open arms. So was Alastair Campbell. And John McTernan. Even someone called Jamie Reed. All were welcome, whether they were right-wing ruthless capitalists, warmongers, pro-privatisation campaigners selling off schools and hospitals, big brother surveillance state advocates, or those who, in fact, wanted to change the party membership itself, like Luke Akehurst!

Like some of these ideas? Come on in, sunshine! Labour has suddenly become a “broad church,” don’t you know? Did you not get the memo about “unity”? You can be of any opinion and any political background you like, even if you aren’t a socialist after all!

Ah, as long as you aren’t actually a socialist. They forgot to mention that.

Groups like Progress and the Fabians are treasured and respected, while Frank Field fawned at JK Rowling and called the Momentum movement an ‘execution squad.’ While left wingers are purged, the right-wingers are invited to pull up a pew in the house where Blairism is the dying religion spreading superstition about the Labour party leader.

So, no, the “broad church” was a creation to allow money to pollute Labour like it did every other party before its formation.

That’s why they now suddenly want to even elect their own cabinet, to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, to stop him from effectively leading – even if this meant Labour kept losing to the Tories. They want anti-socialism, or nothing at all. And they’re seemingly untouchable.

The pomp and ceremony of the Commons, the Lords, once gifted land as far as the eye can see, and all of these elite systems, are all to be protected – to keep us as peasants. A cabinet elected by MPs – today instead gifted not land but safe seats in Labour “heartlands” used and abused for years – means they would wrest power away from party members; away from the working class mass majority. It’s always been done. It’s always been an oppression.

We marched against Blair’s war crimes paid for by our taxes. The government is the only product where if you don’t cough up your hard earned dough to buy it, they can come and put you in jail. They say voting is your defence, but only one of the three “houses” are elected, and even that’s done by first-past-the-post. This is all forced on us by elites.

Jeremy Corbyn is terrifying to these privileged Westminster elites. His policies are progressive, yes, but they’re hardly radical socialism in the grand scheme. The fact one of our guys became leader – and not one of theirs – is the real reason they’re rattled. It’s why they want to choose the leader’s cabinet, while having a nasty little man as Deputy Leader who is protected from another members’ vote.

We even get lectured by Ed Balls on the importance of reaching out beyond the membership to Tories – and he lost his seat to the Tories anyway and ended up making a fart of himself on TV to stay relevant so, clearly, not caring about the backing of his own members should have been more of a concern!

No, don’t ever let anyone talk to you about Labour’s “broad church” again. Don’t accept the term. Instead, see it as a major warning when someone throws that around in conversation. It’s code for “corporate-friendly” used by the hypocrites of the party, wanting to embrace elements of Tory capitalism but stopping just short of it, using the popular Labour brand to keep gaining some power. It’s why they talked a good talk during Corbyn’s leadership hassles but shat themselves at the thought of having to create another party – while others actually believed they could buy the Labour name as well!

But many, in a way, have bought it, haven’t they? They bought themselves a ticket to the promised land by wearing a red rosette in a nice safe seat somewhere, using the working class mass majority for personal gain, not for the collective interests of those people being forgotten. This is why Jeremy Corbyn is important. It’s why we can never let them demonise Momentum while there are anti-socialism types like Progress in the party, who might as well tear up their membership cards that, on them, declare a dedication to socialism.

The “broad church” is the war cry of the hijackers. Never accept it. Never fall for it. Always stand up for socialism. After all, it’s what Labour is supposed to be for.


Owen Smith: You Had One Job

Interviewed on the day of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election from Jay Baker on Vimeo.

Well that was a tiring and pointless campaign, wasn’t it? As if 2016 wasn’t rough enough with the assassination of a Labour MP and the spectre of right-wing politics looming at home and abroad, Jeremy Corbyn had to direct many of his energies throughout the year instead inward, against those in his own party, despite the membership backing him in historic, overwhelming fashion.

Just as Labour looked like a genuine threat to the Tories, the Westminster elites decided they knew better than the thousands of members in the Labour party when it came to leadership; they wanted it to be one of their favoured folks, not someone who actually reflected the views of the party’s base, one that enjoys the status of being the largest socialist party in Europe.

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Angela Eagle launched her own perfume leadership challenge in opposition to the sentiments from within her own constituency, only to in turn be challenged by misogynist Owen Smith.

Yes, Owen Smith may have looked like D-Fens from the movie Falling Down, but he knew what he was doing. A former corporate lobbyist, he was the perfect representation of New Labour’s vacuous, soulless ideology. Given that Jeremy Corbyn’s incredible success was in part due to the fact he wasn’t a public relations-savvy businessman, this seemed an odd choice.

Whether the abusive, bullying onslaught the Labour leader had endured was intended to scare him and make him quit before a formal leadership challenge ever commenced, or they simply massively underestimated him in thinking this nonperson, Owen Smith, actually had a chance of beating him, is a fascinating question that remains unclear to this day. Either way, it certainly was, as people on Twitter called it, a “chicken coup.” It was calamitous, and disastrous. More importantly, it was disastrous for Labour, at a time when they needed to be challenging the brand-new unelected Tory leadership of Theresa May.

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So, given this awful, corporate, bland presentation, you can be forgiven for simply assuming Owen Smith is a career politician.

Aside from bullying Corbyn and his supporters in order to provoke a response that they could use to tar all Corbynistas with the same brush – Andrew Marr reading out selective vile tweets from purported Corbyn supporters – it was also important for the Smith campaigners to deflect attention from his Big Pharma background by co-opting this “careerist” tag and attempting, rather cleverly, to apply it to Corbyn, who’s spent decades getting re-elected by his constituents of Islington North, where he actually lives, while Smith was busy putting the “PFI” in Pfizer.

By this rationale, I imagine they thought – since he did not much besides spend years in a cell and then serve office as President of South Africa – Nelson Mandela was a bit of a “careerist” as well, dedicating as he did his entire life to change.

Labour leadership contender Owen Smith takes to the stage as he launches his campaign at the Coleg y Cymoedd in Nantgarw in Wales.

No, Orwellian perspectives aside, Owen Smith was the careerist. Not least because he was representing those colleagues of his in Westminster who felt the Labour party still needed to be utilised in order to open doors to corporate boardrooms – that is why they wanted to sabotage Jeremy Corbyn; he was representing not their interests but the interests of the party members who elected him, with policies that therefore would be favourable to people rather than profits. That’s why nearly a million pounds was pumped into his leadership challenge (about four times as much as Jeremy Corbyn managed to raise in campaign funds).

A friend of mine in the Labour party – not a Corbynista by any stretch of the imagination – recently made a comparison that became popular amongst Smith’s supporters: a boss can’t run a company to just keep the paying customers happy; he has to keep his workers happy too (this analogy was used by May to cast Corbyn as the unpopular boss in her infamous Thatcherite ‘Remind him of anybody?’ Commons remarks). However, my friend also admitted, ‘If someone is a career politician, their career is to be a politician…so what does that say about them when they can’t even get that job done? They had one job!

Of course, the truth is, politicians aren’t in a career. An MP answers not to a corporate boss, but to us. They are not mere workers like you or I, but representatives honoured enough to be sent by their locality to parliament to fight for those interests. Given the time it takes, they are compensated rather well for the tasks they carry out, but despite this responsibility still earn less than most bankers or professional footballers. It ought to be the highest honour one can receive, with no greater responsibility than being the one citizen from their area to represent those collective interests. But instead, it’s treated by too many like a birthright, or a nice little addition to a CV on the way to greater power and wealth.

Owen Smith was chewed up and spat out by the very system he stepped forward to represent and protect. But, until that system is democratised for the many and not the few, I suspect he’ll do just fine. After all, his job goes on, and since he did stand up for the cause, it’s one that will lead to a long illustrious career in the boardrooms of those interests.


Broken Panes and Gravy Trains

The broken window pane is the most valuable argument in modern politics

– Emmeline Pankhurst

My birthplace of Doncaster – home of the Mallard itself – missed out on the chance to host the National Railway Museum, which is now instead based in York. While a Canadian friend I took to visit the place thought it was the most boring thing she’d ever seen, I found it fascinating. How terribly British of me!

But while there, by far the most interesting discovery for me was the revelation that the Duke of Wellington was immensely concerned about the development of the rail network across the country because ‘it will allow the lower orders to go uselessly wandering about.’ He actually said that.

Of course, it’s important for elites to enjoy their avarice by ring-fencing themselves off from those who are, as a result, left with very little – it’s how they get away with a situation where around 1% of the global population control half of all the world’s wealth. The filthy rich riding the gravy train enjoy their spoils as the poor are kept behind borders – be that in the southern hemisphere, the East, Eastern Europe, or in Northern England; every part of the world has its traditionally poorer areas, the localised conclusion to this approach being the “ghetto.” Former Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra called ghettos ‘modern day concentration camps.’

Today, those of us who reside in Northern England – traditionally industrial, working class, and socialist – find ourselves having to find about a hundred quid to be able to get to our nation’s capital of London by train on a network sold off and bought up by corporations like Richard Branson’s Virgin. Yes, it effectively still stops us “lower orders” from moving about and bothering those in the areas of wealth. Enjoying a drink in a nice Soho bar one evening, a friend of mine and I got told to keep our voices down because regular customers could hear our northern accents, which they clearly found most unsavoury. At least they could rely on the expensive, privately-owned rail network to at least attempt to stop us “lower orders” showing up very often.

With the British public clamoring for a reversal to rail privatisation, former Labour leader Ed Miliband took a step in the right direction by suggesting the state ought to be able to bid for ownership of the networks – albeit with the government £1.5 trillion worse off after its little gift to the banks. But current leader Jeremy Corbyn has been bold enough to represent the public interest and call for control of the railways to be wrested away from corporate ownership, even personally demonstrating the packed carriages of the sold out trains – and sold out in more ways than one.

Of course, an establishment media that conveniently eventually fell asleep during David Cameron’s tax affairs scandal and Tory election fraud suddenly pounced into action to aid and abet their corporate friends as Richard Branson’s Virgin attempted to deny their train carriages were ever crowded and that Jeremy Corbyn was lying – offering their own CCTV images to the press in a break from normal protocol.

This clip exemplifies everything a statesman is, and all that a journalist is not; it’s public relations work for vested interests in direct opposition to our own interests:

The right-wing media barrage was evident from day one, and I’ve already written about that and the importance for them to stop Corbyn talking about policy – to prevent these popular ideas gaining support from the people, and sweeping him into greater power. The more they talked about his love life, his clothes, his diplomatic history, the more Corbyn talked about policy. And this was dangerous; a threat to the status quo right from the start. They were so used to riding the gravy train that they were now more than a little worried.

Some Labour figures, like Will Simpson of Soft Left Politics, claimed they totally accepted the democratic decision of the party and its members with enthusiasm, only to then attack Jeremy Corbyn later. Owen Smith himself did exactly the same. Others, like then-unknown Jamie Reed, made a name for themselves by immediately issuing statements suggesting that, in this case, democracy was wrong, and they were right, damn it.

Meanwhile, several Labour politicians plotted against him to the point where they leaked his plans to give the Tories a heads-up against him, and briefed Nick Robinson’s replacement Laura Kuenssberg, the media establishment’s “Journalist of the Year.” It became apparent that his leadership was a glitch in the Matrix; it was an unplanned anomaly that all of the metropolitan elites needed to undo. The newspapers, radio stations, and television channels were key tools to do this.

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American documentary filmmaker Michael Moore welcomed the rise of Bernie Sanders in the States, and Jeremy Corbyn over here: in a Western culture sick and tired of career politicians, democratic socialists like these were an effective counter to the thick right-wing thuggery of the Tea Party and UKIP. You may remember Michael Moore’s film Bowling for Columbine (still one of his best), where he got into “gun nut” Charlton Heston’s house by flashing his membership card for the National Rifle Association, reiterating to him that ‘I’m a member of your organisation’ so he could then go on to demand answers, eventually exposing him.

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This media technique was applied by Britain’s Ben Ferguson while shooting the documentary The Outsider. He introduced himself as a Labour party member, building up enough trust with Jeremy Corbyn over two months to then arrive at the inevitable conclusion that the newly-elected Labour leader was unfit to take the party into a general election.

Owned by Disney, Vice Media enjoyed an additional $70 million investment from Rupert Murdoch in 2013, and one year later launched Vice News, which produced The Outsider. Similarly to Panorama and Dispatches in their own ill-fated quests to dig up dirt on Corbyn and the Momentum movement, Vice News failed in its attempt to assassinate Corbyn’s character, the greatest success of The Outsider being its feeding of headlines to national newspapers quoting Corbyn saying Labour ‘held on’ to many council seats in amongst his string of successes in defiance of adversity – the papers spinning it as an admission that, instead, Labour barely “HELD ON” changing the entire context and subsequent narrative in talking about these council elections.

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So, with The Outsider’s hatchet-job not executed as well as they’d hoped, the political and media establishment then got together to portray Corbyn’s train experience as a “publicity stunt” in the same way Michael Moore pulled off “publicity stunts” to raise awareness of the scandalous bank bailout. By this rationale, we would have completely rejected any credibility of the message of the Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk who set himself on fire in protest because, hey, it was a “publicity stunt.” Perhaps Tony Blair’s disciples shouldn’t be talking about “publicity stunts” given their own track record of using them so cynically themselves.

But apparently, Corbyn’s “media strategy” is awful. Even if this were true, would it be a shock? Media gurus with ruthless ambition tend not to be attracted to campaigns of politicans who won’t open doors to big corporations for them. Of course, if Corbyn did somehow get himself a top-of-the-line public relations team, the media establishment would use it as evidence that “traingate” was a publicity stunt orchestrated by the very best in the business. He can’t win.

So what the Labour leader does instead is just highlight issues straight from the heart. What matters is the purpose. Jeremy Corbyn has been on the right side of history, at little or no personal gain (in fact, even sometimes to the detriment of himself).

But John Mann is a very different kind of MP. Like most career politicians who just want power and fame, Mann’s value system, like the late New Labour project itself, remains a machine with no fuel but plenty of hot air, and he quite happily revealed that Owen Smith had been willing to challenge Jeremy Corbyn since the beginning of 2016. By the spring, Margaret Hodge was maneuvering to commence machinations against the leader. And in the EU referendum campaign chaos, while Jeremy Corbyn was doing more than almost anyone else in his party to campaign for the country to choose to remain in Europe, Hilary Benn was instead busy gathering signatures to mount a vote of no confidence in his leader.

Another attempt at pushing Jeremy Corbyn’s buttons was in exploiting the strong link between the Labour leader and former London mayor Ken Livingstone, who was an opponent of the fascist Daily Mail and Evening Standard and a champion of human rights at home and abroad who had long supported the Palestinian cause and opposed the Israeli state’s atrocities carried out in the name of Zionism – which, you know, exists separately from Judaism the same way ISIS operates in contrast to the billion peaceful, pacifist followers of Islam around the world.

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Livingstone regularly gave interviews on the subject, and so no doubt footage was trawled through with a fine tooth comb and any newer media appearances scrutinised for slip-ups or discrepancies or anything that could be used to damage Corbyn. Inevitably, the moment soon came, and Livingstone was caught pointing out the allegations that Nazis supported Zionism – which somehow, in our neo-McCarthyist era, of course automatically meant he was suddenly a racist anti-Jew; an anti-Semite – and our friend John Mann was there, quick as a shot, to shout at him and point the finger, complete with the press corps in tow, as their news room colleagues concocted a narrative about, get this: ANTI-SEMITISM IN LABOUR, a party founded on the principles of standing up for oppressed peoples!

Even Momentum, arguably the most exciting mass movement to happen in party politics since the birth of Labour itself, with a membership of 12,000, was accused of “anti-Semitism” even with its high-ranking Jewish figures. It was important that your usual white Anglo-Saxon Protestants told us who the anti-Semites were, even if the accused were Jewish – the same way they claim Christmas is at risk of being banned because ‘it offends Muslims,’ when Muslims almost always say no such thing. The establishment were calling the shots – the same rich, white old men as ever, telling us who were the anti-Semites and who were the commies and who were the ones wanting to ban Santa.

The media, then, had successfully backed Corbyn into a corner: to do nothing would have been political suicide and the opening the plotters had needed as the media kept beating the drum and singing from the hymn sheet of the McCarthy witch-hunt. Corbyn spoke out on anti-Semitism and suspended Livingstone from his party. And yet his popularity still sustained in the face of the press corps as 75% of their coverage was said to misrepresent him, a staggering statistic.

Despite losing a key socialist ally in the former Mayor of London, Corbyn went on to lead a Labour party that forced Tory reversals, won by-elections and mayoral elections, Sadiq Khan cleverly riding the wave of Corbynism to get into office and yet at the same time keep himself away from – then even turn against – Corbyn himself, as Labour elites mobilised more to find ways to oust their leader, their media contacts offering a blackout on these additional little-known yet massive victories, to protect the public from any awareness of Corbyn’s ability to win.

It was important that every single day, people were put forward in the press to talk about Corbyn being a ‘weak leader.’ Even my own friends and family, some formerly staunch self-professed “Corbynistas,” started to concede ‘Ah, actually, maybe he’s not strong enough to lead Labour to victory.’

If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes accepted as an axiom, even in direct opposition to the facts of reality. And that’s how you stop someone successful: you create a narrative that they’re miserable failures, so people fall out of love with them. We love winners; hate losers – just ask the Americans who championed such a culture. Meanwhile, the American media itself took a businessman who inherited a fortune and completely squandered it, and portrayed him as a success: Donald Trump is now president-elect of the United States.
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Despite the Westminster elites undermining him, attacking him almost every day – even writing for The Sun to do so – Corbyn has succeeded time and again. That under Corbyn’s leadership Labour have enjoyed any successes at all is testament to Corbyn’s popularity due to his social democratic principles, popularity that sees thousands of people lining up to hear his speeches and rallying in support of his views, though again, with next to no media coverage – but if these incredible rallies were on the evening news every time they took place, he’d look more like a winner, and we can’t have that, can we? It can’t be allowed to look like a movement; in fact, it mustn’t be seen at all. And it rarely is.

The media fall silent on Corbyn’s successes and scream headlines on even the tiniest failures. For example, Labour lost a single councillor in my humble city of Sheffield that rarely otherwise gets any attention at all, and it made the national news. The truth is, the councillor that lost the seat was anti-Corbyn. But they never bothered mentioning that little detail much, instead portraying it not as a symptom of the party’s disunity but as DISASTER FOR CORBYN! Meanwhile, a massive parish win from UKIP was no big deal. And let’s not forget Corbyn’s historic mandate, with nasty little Labour plotter Luke Akehurst saying ‘we must change the membership.’ He actually said that! (I’d cite this one, but his tweet since seems to have become “unavailable”). Fortunately, I took a screenshot:

Yes, the attitude was one of, ‘Keep having leadership elections over and over until we get the one we want…by any means necessary.’ They hated the momentum behind Corbyn – namely, Momentum itself.

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Momentum crowds – as incredibly diverse as any you’ve ever seen in this country, as you’ll know if you’ve attended one – were portrayed by politicians and their pals in the press as dangerous. Of course, this is dangerous to the establishment, but these depictions were of abusive, violent protesters, “Fleet Street Fox” Susie Boniface calling the peaceful members a minority, ripping into Momentum and Corbyn with such hatred and vitriol, and with zero irony. An entire group demonised; democracy itself deemed the enemy.

So what of the spirit of the Labour party we were told needed to be “healed” by preachers Angela Eagle and Owen Smith after they challenged their democratically elected leader to wound it so badly in the first place?

We must remember Jo Cox, assassinated by a right-wing extremist, and her legacy of believing we have “more in common.”

Clearly this is not a view shared by those in parliament, where the likes of Jamie Reed belittle and ridicule and mock our own party leader to contribute to the official opposition’s impotence as he, in particular, instead praises David Cameron’s successor, Theresa May. Apparently, as expressed by his aggressive opposition to Corbyn’s leadership since day one, he and his ilk do not feel we have “more in common,” but instead must refuse to support the party’s democratically elected leader. All the while, carefully orchestrated publicity stunts were still set up to hammer home messages to the mainstream media-consuming public in direct opposition to reality. Still, Corbyn expressed his desire for a “kinder, gentler politics.”

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Although the country seems to have already forgotten the horror of such an incident, the Labour party suspended campaigning on the EU referendum for a few days after the murder of Jo Cox. But a brick through the window of the same building that also acts as a constituency office for Angela Eagle was apparently enough for party head honchos to ban constituency party meetings as they, one after another, were passing votes of confidence in Corbyn, which we must assume was just a coincidence. And let’s not forget that once again the press were right there at the scene to capture Eagle’s reaction to the broken window actually implying it was Corbyn’s own personal responsibility, even though the police, at the time of writing, have yet to capture the perpetrator (and you can be forgiven for suspecting David Cameron).

While Owen Smith was revealing his misogyny, Labour women instead attacked longtime feminist Jeremy Corbyn by blaming him for abuse they’d received. Quite incredible, as reality was turned entirely on its head like never before by a media that had blamed Scousers for the Hillsborough Disaster, portrayed picketing miners as aggressors against police, and reported to us that Saddam Hussein could launch a nuclear attack upon us inside 45 minutes. This was beyond anything they’d ever done. John McTernan was given airtime screaming about Jeremy Corbyn’s pacifism being dangerous. Yes, you read that right. It all became downright Orwellian. Even The Guardian made wild claims, only to offer corrections down at the bottom of their articles.

The Owen Smith campaign cleverly adopted a strategy where his supporters constantly read out from scripts saying people were dying because of Tory policies so we had to act fast and get into power – while Corbyn, not Smith, was the one with a track record of completely juxtaposing himself against Tory policy. Still, who needs facts when you can just prey on people’s emotions. After all, there’s a gravy train to ride.

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Nonetheless, let’s face it, Jeremy Corbyn truly has ‘held on.’ It’s a miracle he’s even managed to last this long. As I write, his deputy leader Tom Watson – not, by the way, subject to re-election to prove his worth – is busy talking to those plotting the next wave of attacks on their leader, on those around him, on the party membership, on those at rallies, and on Momentum. In truth, these people would rather see Labour lose to the Tories under Jeremy Corbyn than help those dying under the Tories, but to admit that would be too honest. And honesty, as you can see, has never really been their thing.


Why Labour Aren’t Rallying the Troops

In 1992, it was The End of History and we were “rockin’ in the free world.” But how did it happen?

As Oliver Stone repeatedly demonstrates in his brilliant series The Untold History of the United States, key figures are important to diplomatic relations.

By the late 1970s, the days of a trade union talisman like Jack Jones were few and far between, and a breakdown in negotiations between unions and the party of Labour they often relied on led to such disastrous events as the Winter of Discontent, and – as a result – Labour in-fighting. With the Winter of Discontent came darker days, blackouts, and the fading of the Post-War Consensus.

The socialism of Michael Foot, who had slowly worked his way up to the leadership of Labour, was routed by the flag-waving nationalism led by the Falklands-fighting Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. With the Winter of Discontent still fresh in the collective psyche of the British population, Labour’s Neil Kinnock turned his back on striking coal miners who were having their pits closed by Thatcher simply because theirs was the strongest union around.

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Thatcher went on to dominate the 1980s Social Darwinist culture of “survival of the fittest.” It was indeed, a different time. Council houses were being bought up and sold off, and almost everyone believed they too could make it big. State services were subjected to a big sell-out. Entire sectors were being deregulated, giving financiers free rein. The money was flowing into London via the stock exchange, bankers were wheeling and dealing, and casino capitalism thrived, and as a result, a devastating £1.5 trillion bank bail-out looming in the not-too-distant future.

As Labour figures like Tony Benn had warned, neoliberalism turned out to be disastrous for our society. Thatcherism and, to a lesser extent, Blairism, exacerbated inequalities and overseas adventures damaged our standing in the world, with Iraq making the Falklands look like a playground fight by comparison. The ramifications would be felt to this very day, given the instability caused to the Middle East as a result of the illegal intervention.

While Tony Benn was with his ‘favourite politician’ Jeremy Corbyn and hundreds of thousands more of us protesting the horrific attack on Iraq, his son Hilary Benn was voting for it. And just this year, he called for air strikes on Syria in what the media claimed was an oratory masterpiece worthy of any historic figure able to rouse his population towards war. And this has been key: form over content; style over substance.

While Hilary Benn was being cheered on by Conservatives in the House of Commons, the same Tories were still intoxicated by the celebration of the harm they’d caused through blaming the debt left by a £1.5 trillion bank bail-out on Labour “overspending” on public services, using the lie as a way to stop said services, or even sell them off to their rich mates. Thatcherism was alive and well: it was “survival of the fittest” again.

Working class people had had enough of being left mere scraps. Some were so angry they’d even fight over the scraps with anyone else disadvantaged, be it neighbour or immigrant. Communities were being devastated. The Eighties were over. Greed was no longer seen as good. “Occupy” protests unfathomable in the Eighties were suddenly commonplace. If Labour’s Eighties brand of weak ineffectual socialism was resented, Eighties Thatcherism was downright hated. When she died, people were burning effigies of her in the street.

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In high contrast to Hilary Benn, when Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader in September of 2015 he was criticised for reading out statements from citizens he was representing, and I recall someone on Twitter pointing out, ‘Surely what matters more are the words on the paper?’

Corbyn’s entire approach has realigned our perception of politicians and made us believe that it can be policy, not pizazz, that matters – that going to court because you refuse to pay the poll tax means more than throwing your jacket over your shoulder, flashing a grin, snapping a selfie, and then going and killing thousands of people. What we do matters more than what we say. Corbyn had a long history of doing the right thing, even when his own party weren’t.

No surprise, then, that Blair’s old buddies were immediately setting out to stop Corbyn as soon as he became leader. They’d plotted to take him down since before the EU referendum. At this point doing better in the polls than other party leaders, Corbyn – who has never been slow to point out the flaws of the EU – still campaigned harder than anyone else in Labour to resist knee-jerk xenophobia and call for us to “remain,” as meanwhile Hilary gathered signatures to call for his resignation.

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Hilary and his plotters against Corbyn had already been given a gift by David Cameron: if Britain chose to “remain,” then Corbyn was a hypocrite and only succeeded because of the party’s position on the matter; if the UK decided to “leave,” he was a failed campaigner. Of course, as I had predicted for months, it was the latter: people who wish for the status quo will never mobilise the way those who want change do. It was always going to be “leave.” The only thing that surprised me was that it was as close as it was.

So the plotters upped the ante. They coordinated resignations with the BBC for maximum media effect. They briefed Laura Kuenssberg and, thus, David Cameron, on Corbyn’s planned remarks in parliament.

We can only assume – given the absolutely awful “candidates” they ultimately ended up proposing as alternatives to Corbyn – that their plan was to pile on so much pressure on him that he’d buckle, resign, and they’d have a replacement.

Hilary’s buddies who backed Blair bombing Iraq were no doubt anxious to see a Labour leadership act as an apologist for Blair upon the release of the findings of the Chilcot Inquiry. The nearer it approached, the more heat they put on Corbyn. But still, he didn’t go. Instead, he saw the Chilcot findings as a vindication of his – and our – opposition to the attack on Iraq, and issued a long-needed apology on behalf of the Labour party.

Corbyn standing his ground was more important than that, though. Any resignation from Corbyn would have turned away an entire generation from politics; far from being time-travelers from the 1970s, this is a generation interested again – a generation which values multiculturalism, European diplomacy, and social democracy and who will deliver us the future of our country, and this means we must keep them engaged as citizens or finally reduce them to bitter and twisted consumers as Thatcherism sought. Tens of thousands joined Labour to make it the largest socialist party in all of Europe. Thousands marched in British cities in support of the Labour leader. I’ve been on them myself.

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Even those few who had returned to the party were being targeted; Labour head honchos were spending more time, effort and energy chasing out socialists than chasing Tories in the race to power, and when asked who they thought would make a better Prime Minister out of Prime Minister Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn being undermined by his own MPs, the British public were thinking the former, in an <sarcasm>absolute shocker</sarcasm>.

When Angela Eagle stepped aside for the sad figure of Owen Smith in the last resort of a formal leadership challenge, the plotters tried to ensure the incumbent couldn’t again stand for election, such was their fear of Jeremy Corbyn remaining leader. The National Executive Committee then declared he could indeed stand, but set about deducting over a hundred thousand votes from him by declaring newer members ineligible to vote, and blocking members of the Unite union, who in turn suggested regional constituents de-select the plotting MP’s…which of course resulted in the suspension of regional constituency meetings. Which was just a coincidence.

But this isn’t a leadership challenge. It’s a membership challenge. It’s a challenge to all of us, as evidenced by the plotters’ asinine suggestion that they’ll have these challenges over and over and over again until they get the one they – not us – want…one of the most insulting sentiments ever directed at Labour party members who knock on doors and post fliers.

This is a struggle for democracy itself. It’s a struggle between the people and the elites in Westminster, and on Fleet Street – whatever’s left of it, as old media slowly and painfully goes into decline while Corbynistas utilise social media to seek out alternative, more reliable and authentic sources of information rather than the opinions of one rich Australian, or one of his fellow media barons, or the BBC establishment.

This is also an opportunity to start the dismantling of a system of power and control and influence that, if continued, would accelerate, rather than stave off, the destruction of the environment, of workers’ rights, and of democracy itself.

London’s outdated relics house a Westminster bubble of leather and gold representing oppressive established entitlement, where echoes bounce around corridors of power to present us with pantomime as an illusion of democracy. The media outlets highlight the delivery and posture of “Maggie” May as she avoids Corbyn’s question on workers’ wages and instead fires at him a personal attack implying he’s at loggerheads with his own “workers” – leaving the social media-savvy citizens to search for the full clip where Corbyn replies with one of the most poignant and pertinent points of our time: that neither she nor any of her colleagues, nor indeed anyone in Westminster, can relate to those of us relying on food banks to eat.

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But this particular attack by May – chosen as Prime Minister of Britain by a hundred or so toffs – is telling: it exposes the real delusion of party politics – that a party leader is akin to a chief executive, with key staffers, and shareholders on the outside. Despite the fact shareholders are generally treated with far more reverence than political party members, this comparison is grotesque, and shows how low our expectations of the political system have sunk since the formation of the Labour party itself just over a hundred years ago. We are not shareholders, but stakeholders. We are driven by values, rather than the value of things.

The accidental representative rather than ambitious leader, Corbyn has embraced the simple idea that being in Westminster isn’t a career, but merely a role designated by communities who select their MP. Angela Eagle nodded in agreement with her own constituents, then walked off, drove away in her car, and days later defied their wishes, challenging Corbyn – such is the arrogance and sense of entitlement of these politicos.

Ed Miliband represents my birthplace of Doncaster with no connection to the town whatsoever, merely gifted a “safe” Labour seat to suit what was an up-and-coming politician rewarded for being part of the political establishment with this role to keep him in Westminster; they don’t want some Trot, rabble or Doncastrian dog such as, say, myself who understands Donny villages like Bentley or Askern. I’m not cut from the right cloth, after all. I’m not a careerist who wants power to push apart the doors to boardrooms and corporate-sponsored trust funds for my kids.

You only have to look at the most successful politician in recent history – Tory blue-blood David Cameron – to see the best example of modern politics: if you’re from the right background, you get gifted a safe seat, you rise up the party, do the bidding of elites, and then quit politics to enjoy your yachts while being a token director of a board of some corporation that gets to spread word on the prawn cocktail circuit that they have a former Prime Minister don’t-you-know, and all the contacts that go with that, right there in their company. They all win. The only losers are us. By this point, it’s all so far removed from democracy that we’re utterly irrelevant.

The rise of Jeremy Corbyn is a threat to all of this. ‘This is the way it’s always been,’ they cry over their canapés.

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So it’s not even just about Jeremy Corbyn though, is it? It’s about what he represents. It’s about his desire for politics to embrace the grassroots, rather than coming from these corporate penthouses. And it’s also about his brand of socialism, for which there is an appetite not seen since 1945.

Corbyn has battered the Tories into several reversals in policy, on tax credits, on housing benefits cuts, on disability cuts, on police cuts, on the trade union bill, on academies, and on, and on. All this despite those Westminster elites undermining him, attacking him daily in the press.

Can you imagine what genuine social good could be achieved if the whole party was behind him? If they actually gave a shit about people like you and me, rather than what Board of Directors they get to sit on after parliament, or how big the trust fund for their kids might be.

But though the money never seems to truly trickle down, the sense of entitlement sure does. You can feel it in Labour party events and meetings. The old guard, who stood by war criminal Tony Blair, and scoffed at the hundreds of thousands of us who marched against him. I attended my Constituency Labour Party meeting recently and sat there in utter shock as one woman supporting Owen Smith angrily shouted, ‘We don’t want rallies!’ This sounds like a joke but I’m not making this up. It actually happened! I have witnesses! The punchline would have to be when dozens more “delegates” erupted into applause as us mere members sat stunned at the back of the room (the naughty area, I assume).

Consider this for a moment. Imagine possessing so much passion in opposition of mass mobilisation around your leader and, as a result, your party. What could be the rationale? What could be seen as threatening about this? What is it about this idea that Labour needs to be Blairite? That Tony Blair had got it right? Because that is an idea removed from reality. New Labour was supposed to be an “election-winning machine” yet it bloody hemorrhaged three million votes! So I ask Blairites: do you want to win elections? Do you really actually want that? And if so, is it on the condition that younger people come into your party, go to the back of the room, sit down, shut up, and just deliver fliers for you when you tell them to?

But, I tell them, if you truly wanted to win a general election, you’d get behind the leader the party members, overwhelmingly, chose. You’d join the momentum. You’d get behind the campaign. You’d fight for the true socialist Labour values that he represents, and that have been written on your membership card, if you’d taken the time to actually read it rather than take absolutely everything for granted for years.

So now, if Jeremy Corbyn again becomes Labour leader, and they again undermine him…they clearly want the Tories to win in 2020. It’s as simple as that.

I thought Gordon Brown was an improvement on Tony Blair, but who is he going to brag to about that? I still got chased by police for peacefully protesting the G20 when he was Prime Minister. But you know what? When the smoke had cleared and the dust had settled, I remained a Labour supporter. Just like I did when Ed Miliband was leader.

Abby Tomlinson, the leader of #Milifandom, like Ed, backed Owen Smith, suggesting rallies don’t win elections because, hey, newsflash: the Tories get into power without them!

Despite wisdom beyond her years, this view is an astonishingly naive one, shared by too many in Labour.

While it’s true the Tories don’t win with rallies, it is a fact they win on apathy. They rely on working class citizens staying at home. Corbyn’s rallies have mobilised people, made them excited again, and inspired people to once more believe in democracy and engage in the issues with family and friends – what Michael Moore, when referring to Bernie Sanders over in the States, refers to as the “dragging people to the polls” effect. It’s all so exciting that even Smith himself wants to attend the rallies to talk to Corbyn’s supporters, while Smith’s followers claim rallies are worthless. Confused? Understandably!

If the Labour party now chooses to disconnect itself even further from the communities it was set up to represent, if it feels justified in rigging a democratic process, again and again and again, until it can effectively serve a select few vested interests, and if it decides that it should not fight for democratic socialist values but instead be a “broad church” that is all things to all people – a ship never anchored in principles, left adrift in right-wing waters of murky vested interests – then it won’t have a soul left to be fought for; it will have already lost it. It will have accepted the media and its narrative as it is, when – as Francesca Martinez said – there’s no time left for that; it’s do or die. It’s the end of “The End of History.” It’s an opportunity to truly change things and, hey, as Gordon Brown might say, change the world.

There is one certainty: after this latest ill-intended and anti-democratic process, whatever the result, it will have repercussions on the political landscape felt for many years to come. Either the party elites will save Labour from themselves by ceding more power to democracy, or the politics of cynicism will win the day, casting adrift hundreds of thousands of social democrats who want change – and will seek other means to get it, leaving Labour without the biggest socialist membership in Europe it currently enjoys, but instead a base, and a position, almost every bit as pessimistic, miserable and introspective as the Tories.

Hundreds of thousands of us are involved in this struggle because it matters. I for one will remain active, be it in party politics or simply in politics generally.

Because, after all, politics is too important to be left to politicians.


Labour Loyalties and Where They Lie

The 1980s in which I grew up were dark days. The Conservative Party, having won the 1979 general election, dominated British politics, winning again in 1983, and beating Neil Kinnock’s Labour in both 1987 and 1992 before his party decided he was “unelectable.” Get used to that word. It gets thrown around with greater frequency nowadays.

1997 was the first British general election in which I could vote. With the Conservatives holding on to power for so long, this was the year where they finally lost their grip and the appetite for democratic socialism was so strong that Tony Blair became Prime Minister. Despite growing up in Doncaster, in a Labour heartland and a Labour household, this wasn’t a tradition I felt I could follow in order to keep our family loyal to the party.

With a strong majority and increasing indications that a reversal of Thatcherism were not a priority, “New” Labour failed to appeal to me. In 1997, because I smelled a rat, I actually voted Liberal Democrat.

I continued voting for the Lib Dems – as they also joined a million of us in the February 15th, 2003 march I took part in, against the attack on Iraq, and I was quite inspired by the late Charles Kennedy’s anti-war speech in Hyde Park. Of course, there were other Labour Party figures, like Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn, who remained vocally opposed to such immoral actions. I felt like they remained loyal to their principles rather than to a party going in the wrong direction; they remained loyal to their principles rather than lying to themselves.
blair_liedI even made a documentary venting my frustrations at Blair’s obsession with overseas invasions, immigration, and the surveillance state, and got a standing ovation for it at its worldwide premiere in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. I despised Tony Blair, and enjoyed some relief when Gordon Brown came in and at least demonstrated the decency to have his podium symbolically moved further away from that of George W. Bush, Jr.

Nonetheless, the political culture became one where neoliberalism had remained largely unchallenged rather than reversed, and where party leaders were required to be slick public relations experts and slippery, smarmy smooth-talkers who wanted foot soldiers as door-to-door salesmen to make sure people bought into illegal wars. After years in the wilderness, the Tories realised Labour were actually beating them at their own cynical game, and went back to the drawing board to get their own “Heir to Blair.”

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In 2010, given the poor excuse for democracy in this country, there came the revelation that the Tories could actually return to power, and that was a scenario much more frightening than a Gordon Brown-led Labour government that still gave us the Minimum Wage, Human Rights Act, Sure Start children’s centres, and progressive taxation. So, for the first time, I supported Labour, but during the Blair/Brown years their New Labour project had let three million voters slip through their fingers, a hemorrhage they couldn’t stop, and they lost. This was depressing to me, and I resented New Labour for allowing Tories into power.

I was rooting for Doncaster North MP Ed Miliband to become the next Labour leader, and became a party member when he actually did, through a combination of support from fellow MPs, members, and unions – or, “union barons” as the right-wing media preferred to refer to them, ignoring the millions of workers who cast their votes. In addition, the leadership election took so long that the Tories established a new narrative ignoring the £1.5 trillion bank bailout and instead reasserting the lie of Labour “overspending” that became part of press presupposition. As Ed tried to oppose the resulting austerity agenda of small-state sell-offs to private interests, pro-privatisation “Blairites,” behind the argument that it was too late to do so, stopped him at every opportunity.

We tried anyway. I attended most meetings. I became an active campaigner. I flyposted leaflets until my hands literally bled. I regularly engaged with Labour councillors losing sleep over cuts from central government that left them with agonizing budget choices at Town Hall. Because of this, I also agreed to do some work for Labour in getting the Fair Deal for Sheffield campaign rolling out online to raise awareness about the disproportionate cuts to our city from Westminster. And while at times, bizarrely, finding myself sat laughing with people like Lord Glasman in Labour workshops, and groups like Progress and even the Fabians having an air of unreality about them, I kept going – as many of us did – to get Labour back into power.sky

In my column “What Ed Said,” I wrote at length about the media’s caricature of “Red” Ed and how he somewhat understandably softened his stance on austerity after attending the March 26th March for an Alternative and being bashed by protesters for not being radical enough, and lambasted by the press for attending the demonstration in the first place, juxtaposed with shots of a minority of violent protesters – all the while being subject to undermining by Blairites who felt he wasn’t cosying up to the corporate world enough. Despite this, he called out the bankers, the media monopolies, and even landlords, and promised to push the break pedal on austerity and shift course for the country. My fear was, if even this failed, Blairites would claim it was time to return towards the right.

Making an ill-advised quest to actively oppose Scottish independence while failing to reach out to working class communities that were instead courted by a UK Independence Party appealing to their darker nature, a Labour leader impossibly trying to be all things to all people was finished off by two forms of nationalism. In addition, Ed, who had worked with Benn and Brown, tried the tactic of trying to appeal to everyone else that remained – and, as is usually the case with such an approach – ended up pleasing few of them. The Blairites despised him; the socialist membership complained he wasn’t going far enough. Thus, there was no great movement to get him into power, and the Tories this time took a majority win.

Despite my own fellow Sheffield Central constituents increasing the majority enjoyed by our MP, Paul Blomfield, from 165 to 17,309, my partner Jane Watkinson having been used on pamphlets to urge voters to switch to reds from the Greens as she had, we remained “The People’s Republic of South Yorkshire” – what we felt was not what the country voted for.dsc_0174

And so another Labour leadership election began, this time to find a replacement for Ed. With no more Liberal Democrats to hide behind in Westminster, the Tories found themselves exposed for the con men they were, and a Prime Minister who had actually packed his bags ready to leave 10 Downing Street was so tired in his role as mouthpiece of the elites that his mask slipped with increasing regularity.

Of all the Labour leadership candidates, I was so uninspired by the prospect of an even bigger PR disaster than Ed that as a party member I no longer felt we had anything left to lose: I instead voted with my heart, and chose Jeremy Corbyn, a man who had done such things as oppose apartheid, support LGBT rights, refuse to pay the poll tax, and sport a beard long before any of these were considered cool.cnknamrxeaao877-jpglarge

Lo and behold, he won with the most historic, massive mandate in Labour history – a sign that members were sick and tired of polished PR men and instead wanted progressive policies and “straight-talking, honest” politics. It was a revelation; a realisation that politics could be different; that maybe, now that the “token” few socialists had a voice, it could resonate with working class communities disenchanted with career politicians fueling an electoral machine, and prepared to be all things to all people as long as they got power. Now we had integrity.

From the very moment he became leader, Jeremy Corbyn faced an onslaught from the mainstream media and even those in his own party who had expected him to act as a paper candidate in the leadership race; a token “loony lefty” like Diane Abbott supposedly was before him in the previous leadership election. This was clearly never a part of the plan. This was a glitch in the Matrix. And heck, did the system ever remind us of the fact – over and over again, with headline after headline, newsflash after newsflash, and resignation after resignation from those who, truth be told, enjoyed Labour’s “broad church” branding as (in reality) a years-old excuse to control socialism and let the rampant capitalists in. “Broad church”? ‘My goodness, it was never meant literally!’ they surely exclaimed. ‘Blair? Yes! Corbyn? No!’ That’s how it works.

main-david-cameron-eating-a-hotdog-and-ed-miliband-eating-a-bacon-sandwichSo I wrote to my MP, Paul Blomfield, and urged him to stick to the principles he expressed so strongly as Ed Miliband was mocked for not being “statesmanlike” and awkwardly eating a bacon sandwich while the media downplayed David Cameron eating a hot dog with a knife and fork. Like most party members and Corbyn, Blomfield is against the renewal of Trident, but engaged in an email exchange with me claiming Labour needed different leadership. I’ll at least give him the respect of not publishing the email exchange here on my blog, but suffice to say I was disappointed. I told him I felt I was being told by those in Westminster that, as a party member, my vote was meaningless, and that I was a peasant who didn’t know what was good for me; as though they were a party happy to take in nearly a thousand pounds of my money up to that point, and then tell me to shut the hell up.

Paul Blomfield then announced that he was backing former Pfizer lobbyist Owen Smith to replace Jeremy Corbyn, a man who not only inspired hundreds, even thousands, but accumulated more Twitter followers than Ed Miliband did in nearly five years as Labour leader.

I got up after three hours’ sleep to go to my Constituency Labour Party meeting to indicate, as others across the country had (overwhelmingly for Corbyn over Smith), who we collectively backed. Aside from the fact “delegates” had been selected as the chosen ones to vote while members like me were put at the back of the room, we heard speeches from Corbyn and Smith supporters for an hour, only to then decide not to even have a vote after all. Corbyn speeches were all about being engaged in politics; Smith speeches suggested Corbynistas are stuck on social media but never come to meetings. After wasting over an hour of our time, this might be why!

Nonetheless, I was offended by so many suggestions that – despite bleeding Labour red – as a Corbyn advocate, I wasn’t a campaigner, even though Smith supporters were reiterating that the general population, not party members, were important. It was such a miserable, pessimistic sentiment. After this exercise in futility, I went straight home for a coffee. My MP and several councillors didn’t seem keen to talk to me anyway. Sheffield’s ever-increasing city-centre conservative middle classes had nixed the whole idea of their CLP even choosing in the leadership election. But their MP still went ahead and endorsed Owen Smith anyway, regardless of this impasse of his constituents. He unilaterally decided he was still backing Owen Smith, regardless of what we wanted.

In a sign they’d left citizenship behind and become far too cosy with people in positions of power, many councillors I knew were suddenly opposing our leader, perhaps explaining that odd feeling I had experienced when first entering the party – almost as though I had got the handshake wrong, missed a secret meeting, or failed to get a memo. I began to question everything I’d taken for granted in the Labour party; everything I knew, or thought I knew.

Despite the countless times I’d defended them, some councillors began blanking me in the street. One MP’s former campaign manager even stopped following the Fair Deal for Sheffield campaign (that he’d spearheaded) on Twitter because it had included tweets favourable to Corbyn’s campaign. A top women’s football club owner did the same to me because he saw I was pro-Corbyn. For goodness sake, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, who had enjoyed my support and had followed me for years on Twitter, suddenly stopped doing so, then blocked be – the only thing I’d done differently was support his own leader. It was perverse. Many of us actually hadn’t voted for him to be Deputy Leader, but respected the democratic process. Unlike him.screenshot_20160812-233611

Numerous high-end authors and academics, too, spoke out against Corbyn. Owen Jones, a supposed “left-wing” Oxbridge product now writing for the Guardian, was one of the more high-profile ones.

I just wasn’t in the club.

But I wasn’t the only one, as evidenced by the thousands in the social democratic Momentum campaign, the most exciting mass movement to happen in party politics since the birth of Labour itself, with a membership of 12,000. This too has been targeted. I approached a Momentum stall in, funnily enough, the Peace Gardens here in Sheffield as a man walked over, shouting at the stallholders, ‘You’re a party within a party! You’re abusive!’ with no irony whatsoever, as those staffing the stall calmly asked, ‘Why don’t you come here so we can discuss it?’ I have moved closer to Momentum as a result, as have many others, because of this kind of treatment. The card-carrying paid-up members have been treated like an inconvenience, and we want grassroots, democratic change – from the bottom up, not the top down. Loyalty was only valued one-way; it was never a symbiotic relationship. Any loyalty to members like myself was a lie.

Something has happened in the Labour party. Perhaps this is now the revealing of the ugliness that was always there, and I was a sucker for believing it wasn’t. When you’ve given a leader one of the biggest mandates ever, and politicos undermine, and then even try to reverse that, you know John Lennon was right when he sang, ‘You think you’re so clever and classless and free, but you’re still ****ing peasants as far as I can see.’


Jeremy Corbyn Vs the British Army

This past spring’s British general election was pretty depressing stuff. After the Liberal Democrats sold out their principles to go into coalition with the Conservatives, aiding and abetting the Tories in their quest to exploit the bank bailout’s depletion of the Treasury in order to sell off the state, few of us believed there was anything left for Britain to vote for but a Labour Party that, under Ed Miliband, moved away from Blairism and offered the promise of a better, fairer society for the working class mass majority.

But the fact is, opinion polls were wrong – ‘shy’ Tories, so ashamed of their own failures to resist the smash-and-grab, everyone-for-themselves, rampant individualism of the Tories realising Thatcherite fantasies, had gone and done their dirty deed in the voting booth on election day. The aftermath was conveyed across social media as a revelation of ‘selfish Britain’ – a population so suckered in by the lie that there was no money left, that they grabbed what they could for themselves, even at the expense of the sick, the poor, the disabled, or anyone else.

Of course, as the infamous Question Time episode showed, some of those same people also realised that they themselves were not even safe – the Tories continued their assault on the population at large on behalf of the elite 1%, determined to kill off the concept of collectivism so wounded by Margaret Thatcher, dismantling the state in as many of its forms as possible to sell off to their rich friends, and that meant looking at tax credits, housing benefit, you name it, whether you were self-employed, hard-working, or not. Even the Big Lottery Fund itself was salivated over by Gideon Osborne as a way to raid funds to cover services he’d wiped out from state provision. The Tories did, however, back down from several of these. And they did it because of a Labour Party suddenly dedicated to standing up for people. How did this happen?

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After the election result, before the dust had settled or the smoke had cleared, I was already determined to offer hope of a brighter future, but my look towards the horizon was clearly stifled by my glasses prescription being out of date, because I anticipated – and accepted – the prospect of Labour’s knee-jerk reaction to Ed Miliband’s defeat to take the party a little to the right, with someone more media-friendly than down-to-earth, lovable Ed, who – despite very cleverly attempting to reconcile the narratives of the psychotic tabloid media hysteria over welfare recipients and immigrants, with his commitment to social democracy (a tightrope act if there ever was one) – was of course constantly bombarded by filthy rich media interests concerned they’d have to be millionaires instead of billionaires.

I wrote about Chuka Umunna, expecting him to be the sort of suave, smooth-talking politico Labour needed to actually get into power and do some good. Tristram Hunt, again to the right of the party, at least appeared public relations-friendly and therefore capable of winning the election for Labour. There were others too, like tabloid-friendly ‘war hero’ Dan Jarvis, and human rights lawyer Keir Starmer (named after Keir Hardie!) How short-sighted was I? All of these bottled it, preferring to wait for a more opportune moment even if it was after another Labour defeat, and even undermined the party’s socialist values in several interviews. Bastards!

So the Labour leadership pool was reduced to Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham – predictable if unelectable candidates following their time as key figures behind Ed Miliband – and Liz Kendall and Jeremy Corbyn.

Who?

I’d honestly never even heard of either of them. My heart sank. While Yvette Cooper was doomed to the sexism of politics as “Wife of Ed Balls” and Andy Burnham was a Thunderbird-like wooden stand-in for Ed Miliband, this mousy, Blairite Kendall lass was too right-wing, while old man Jeremy was too left-wing, surely?

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Apparently not. After the MPs gave him a proverbial pity lay, Corbyn got enough nominations to get on the ballot – and the left-wing party members (myself included) elected him as leader by a landslide, receiving one of the biggest mandates of any Labour leader ever, a gift for party members who still bothered to read the statement on their membership cards.

Given all candidates were unelectable, I’d already resigned myself to believing that – whatever the result – Labour were doomed to fail again in 2020, but I’d always rather lose with my integrity intact than compromise and add insult to injury by losing anyway. Nonetheless, I knew what the corporate mainstream media – owned and operated by the elite and their own interests – were about to do: terrified by the prospect of a left-wing Labour narrative or, worse yet, victory, they set out to attack.

“Red” Ed Miliband threatened the nation’s greedy landlords sucking overpriced rents paid for through housing benefit subsidies, he took on the energy monopolies, and he even dared to challenge Rupert Murdoch, the tax-avoiding immigrant war-monger in full control of The Sun, The Times, and all of Sky. Naturally, they threw as much shit at him as possible, and although not much stuck, they successfully convinced the British public he wasn’t “statesmanlike” enough, at a time when people were saying they were sick of seeing the same posh arseholes in suits within the world of party politics.

So for Jeremy Corbyn – a man who endorsed an undiluted, less sugarcoated version of Ed’s “responsible capitalism” known as, you guessed it, socialismthe mass media had to mobilise and prepare their propaganda troops with all the ammunition they could gather. Socialism, where the state reflects our collective responsibility to look after each other through taxation, investment, job creation, and even a real living wage, absolutely sickens the elites who want to continue their transfer of public powers into private interests, with next to no state provision – everything owned by profit-making companies, and people left to slowly die if they happen to be poor. They want seven cars, not five; they want three houses, not one. And they’ll stop at nothing to make sure things stay as they are.

After the transfer of £1.5 trillion of public funds into the hands of private banks, they had the media seize the story that there was no money left (a lie), and that your libraries and hospitals had to be closed down and sold off, so if you want something – anything at all – you had to pay for it. Poor? Tough, just die. That’s their message.

So yes, Jeremy Corbyn sent shockwaves through the corridors of power.

The right-wing career politicians who slapped a red rosette on and grabbed themselves a nice safe seat in a Labour stronghold were suddenly genuinely concerned. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Lowly peasant scum like us weren’t supposed to choose our party leader, they were. They only got him on the ballot to offer an illusion of democracy, with a token lefty candidate.Jeremy-Corbyn__3406649b

Even the British army elites were so shaken by the prospect of a true democratic socialist in Downing Street – the first since Harold Wilson or possibly Clement Attlee – that they openly entertained the idea of a military coup to topple a democratically-elected socialist Prime Minister.

But the greatest army was that of the media stormtroopers – soldiers who can be counted on in times like these, like Andrew Marr, who’d happily nod in agreement while interviewing a Tory, but repeatedly try to get Jeremy Corbyn to admit he wanted to re-nationalise not only the railways but – gasp! – utilities too! Commie! (He failed, by the way, Jeremy never said anything of the sort, so the conversation switched to Karl Marx, as it does). But Corbyn’s such a diplomat, he just remained civil and stuck to the policies…which is what scared them even more, because if the public catch wind of his policies, then they’re truly in trouble. It’s absolutely crucial that the dialogue remains on, for example, his choice of tie, maybe his commie buddy in college, or whatever they can think of after rummaging through rubbish bins like scavengers and bottom-feeders; hacks for the Oxbridge elites.

Even Labour and left-wing types get drawn into defending him from all-out attack on trivialities and superficialities, sometimes even going so far as criticising him themselves – which is fine if it’s a “straight talking, honest politics” discussion on policy, but it isn’t. And that’s what the media are banking on (pun intended).

The media attempt to shift focus away from policy and on to subjects like, say, sex with Diane Abbott, ooh! Better yet, they can slam customs and traditions on him, like checking whether he sings the anthem or bows forward enough; rituals rather than actual integrity of action like honouring the fallen – which he does. All the while, avoiding another war to fan the flames of terror.

While discussing Syrian air strikes as part of the latest exhausting episode of British military overseas adventures, Laura Kuenssberg made sure to keep the Labour leader away from policy and attempt to shift hypothetical scenarios, repeatedly shouting at him to state whether he’d reject military action under any circumstances without him knowing what circumstances might be presented. If she could have got him to cite a scenario where, say, a foreign army was invading the British Isles, and he’d have our brave troops kick ’em off, then – yes! – she’s got him to admit that, far from being a peacenik, he’s for military action too, just like David Cameron, and the producer yelling in her earpiece can give her a pat on the back later on in the studio, and everything’s returned to its natural order of the powerful ruling over the vulnerable. Status quo. Despair. Terror. Accepting your lot in life (hey, it could be worse).

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Of course, Corbyn’s such a diplomat who likes to sit down and discuss things, he’s welcomed his fellow Labour MPs having a free vote on bombing Syria, despite his opposition to Cameron’s proposals. Corbyn has been repeatedly referred to in the press as “left-wing Labour leader” while Cameron is never, ever called “right-wing Tory leader” (maybe because that sounds worse…and if so, why is that, I wonder?) In the final bad joke, the right-wing media, since they couldn’t fully portray him as a pacifist hippie as they’d hoped, even tried to blame military intervention on Corbyn himself for allowing such discussion, rather than on Cameron, who’d been sabre-rattling for weeks wanting bombs in the first place!

So, if this genuinely good guy actually gets to the general election, consider it a blow against the vested interests that control the information channels. And if he actually wins, it will be the end of them. Just remember that the next time you find yourself defending his style of suit to your mate in the pub over a pint. Policy is everything.

 


Facebook isn’t a Tool Any More. We’re the Tools for Using It.

ap071106062657-2Carrier pigeon. Snail mail. Telephone. Email. Facebook.

One of those things is not like the others. That’s because one of them is less a form of a communication, more a private corporation by definition. Call me? Sure! Email me? Why not! You actually have a choice about which service you’ll use to do so. But Facebook is just Facebook. Facebook me? No, thanks. Let’s not, and say we did.

I already wrote about Facebook’s uses here before, and there’s no doubt that it’s a tool. But if it’s just another tool, what’s so special about it? We don’t treat it like a hammer we lost from our toolbox. Heck, we hold more importance to our Facebook accounts than we do a book on our shelves, the favourite shirt on our clothes rail, or even our wallet. Think about it. Which would most of us be more traumatised about losing these days?

On principle, we have to make sure we stop rushing to one corporate social networking website to engage in discourse, because it’s dangerous, as I’ll explain in a moment. I refuse to believe we’ve become so inept at communication and mobilisation that we’re dependent on our Facebook accounts to do this.

No, Facebook isn’t just another web tool, it’s an albatross. And we’ve become tools for using it. In fact, we’re not just tools, or cogs in the machine – we’re the product, since Facebook finds out our friendships, relationships, anniversaries, workplaces, favourite foods and restaurants, and even tracks where we go, how many times, and for how long, then gathers all that information, and sells it to companies, commodifying us as the dreaded target market we often try to avoid being reduced to. They’re even watching us and using us to conduct social experiments.

It’s a McCarthyist dream, and this data-mining is how Facebook use you to make money off you, and are now worth around $200 billion because of it. No, you didn’t get a cut of that, did you? Sorry.

Sure, they all do it to some extent, since money makes the world go around. But nobody does it like Facebook, where Mark Zuckerberg rules with an iron fist and around 60% of his board’s voting power, which even has the most laissez-faire free marketeers uncomfortable – and that’s saying something.

640px-Mark_Zuckerberg_1984_Berlin_GraffitiBut that’s not the only way Zuckerberg turns a healthy profit. Facebook has a reputation for bargaining some of the lowest third world labour rates in the industry. Those people who pick up your complaints and reports when you’ve caught someone being abusive on Facebook? They’ve been getting paid $1 an hour for the trouble. When you compare that to Google – who are no saints themselves yet have frequently paid ten times what Facebook have – it’s no surprise that Google’s reporting services generally act within hours to tackle child pornography and other abusive material, which over on Facebook goes left for days to go viral. No surprise either, then, that kids have killed themselves.

Facebook, in particular, has become a haven for passive-aggressive attacks for cowardly perpetrators to deny any intention of targeting their victims, while it has also become everything anti-capitalist cultural critics have slammed for years as it grows into a cynical popularity contest, buoyed by the introduction of the “Like” button and Facebook’s habit of promoting the most popular posts into your feed, tantamount to rewarding the filthy rich with more wealth while the poor and the persecuted are left behind.

Every revolutionary is a romantic, and this imbues them with a vision of what might be, a belief in a better way of doing things, and a determination to fight for it. With that in mind, we have to be more optimistic, more ambitious, even if it seems a struggle. To leave Facebook behind means leaving behind many more people, but – much like my old documentary screenings before I got wise and made Return to Doncatraz – too often we find ourselves either preaching to the converted, or defending ourselves to those who are closed-minded, and hey, that’s no way to spend our time as citizens.

Share a gif of a cat flushing a toilet, and you get dozens of “Likes.” Post an article about how we need to live more ethically, get none. In turn, share a relationship update, and people scramble onto your page like gawkers slowing down their cars by a crash site. Sure, there are those whose every word is met with cheers when posting an overtly political status – and that’s because they’re the ones singing to the choir. See how it works?

06oU8nGFacebook has brought out the worst in people. While the open-minded have a tendency to seek out different, challenging information, Facebook leaves us customising our feeds to include those who agree with us, and we only address those we disagree with to vent our spleen at. It’s a culture of popularity, hypocrisy, and fake care and concern, giving birthday wishes to those whose birthdays weren’t even meaningful enough to us to note in our diaries in the first place. People deactivate their accounts for attention, or delete people in a passive-aggressive, gutless, virtual sucker-punch…often attempting to re-add them later on, once the knee-jerk feeling has subsided and the guilt taken over.

So much gossip has been said about me – I have enemies at home and abroad, and have learned of really frightening accounts that have included painful lies about me, but no worse breeding ground for that has existed than Facebook, where some people add you not because they care, but quite the opposite: seeking gossip, they’ve heard the rumours and lies, and are just keeping tabs on you to see if you’ll slip up. As someone with a strong sense of ideals, I’ve inevitably pissed off more people than I can possibly keep track of, but I’ve never once set out to intentionally hurt someone, yet I’ve been subjected to terrible claims about me both personally and professionally, even in my work at SilenceBreaker Media, or with AFC Unity, where individuals with claims later proven to be found false can’t wait to hit “Like” on someone’s jab at you on the page. It’s sad.

facebook-addictionSince announcing my intention, people have said it’s a “mistake,” argued the case for good ol’ Facebook.com, and even suggested I’m overreacting. This is the behaviour of addicts. And the first part of dealing with an addiction is accepting you have one. Few in a drug den congratulate the person planning to kick the habit and quit their little ritual, do they? No, they persuade them to stay, because it makes them all feel better, then. Those who aren’t, say, alcoholics, but like a drink now and then, are often the first to applaud their friends going teetotal. Because they respect it without feeling threatened by it.

I’m not quitting Facebook for attention, or to return sometime soon. I’m quitting Facebook because I have found I don’t have room for unnecessary negativity in my life, and that’s mostly what the site offers, at the cost of selling myself to them for free so they can make Mark more money. I also resent its increasing invasion of privacy, its forum for bullying, its rewarding of those already ahead of the pack, and its platform for passive-aggressive behaviour. Too many assumptions are made about you on Facebook; I’ve had people claim I’m a “radical,” and the next day others call me “conservative” because, in both cases, I see myself as a citizen, I see it as my duty to vote in elections, and I’m at the same time pragmatic about working within the system, as well as outside it. What a weirdo! “Sooo political, man!” “No, not political enough! If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal!” And so forth. Sigh.

facebook-open-graph-partnersI don’t know about you, but I miss – and relish – the opportunity to make things happen in my community by hitting the streets, meeting more people in person, and being a lovable asshole. I miss mixing up my time online between eBooks, forums, newsletters, podcasts, videos and websites in general, rather than getting bogged down with checking numerous notifications and seeing some little-known “friend” pipe up for the first time ever to attempt to bring me down a peg or two, or see someone else cheering on my antagonists, simply by hitting “Like,” then shrugging innocently.

No, it’s time for us to move on, a fact that the next generation are already increasingly aware of. It’s time to be brave, be bold, be different; have a change in how we spend our time. And it’s time for us to send a message to Mark Zuckerberg and his pals that we’re not reliant on his collegiate website for our information or interaction, and we’re sure as heck not going to put a price tag on all our photos, relationships, and feelings. We can have a better world, and that better world is one not with but without Facebook. Much like a government, if a social networking website isn’t working for us any more, we should build ourselves another one – and there are already alternatives out there, like Ello.

Surely Kalle Lasn had a point when he suggested mainstream media is to our brains what fast food is to our bodies. Everything needs to be consumed in moderation, and everything needs to be as healthy as possible. Facebook has become the equivalent of a Big Mac. Even the breadbun is bad for you, so there’s little point any more.

So, let’s leave it behind and get busy living. There’s a whole wide world out there to win.

And the next time you want to know the truth about what I’ve said, or done, or thought, you won’t be adding me on Facebook – you’ll be asking me to my face.

Some may not “Like” it, but I happen to like it.


I Visited Mainland Europe and All I Came Back to Was This Lousy Fascism

8081186045_3f875589f2_zWhenever I lived in North America and people asked me about Europe, I’d tell them that – as a Doncaster-born bloke living most of my adult life in Sheffield – I didn’t know all that much about the place. Then they’d remind me that my own beloved Britain was, after all, in Europe, and with raised eyebrows and a tone of admission I’d say, “Oh, yeah…”

The reality is, very few of us British really think of ourselves as European. We still queue without instruction, remain patient at traffic lights, huff and puff in a rush, complain about being charged to use public toilets, and avoid being direct unless we’re openly slagging off foreigners, at which point diplomacy goes out of the window.

I’ve just returned from a week’s jaunt around mainland Europe, and I’ve been reminded of the differences but also the similarities we have with those at the other end of that tunnel under the English Channel.

20140906_205535When you’re from the “People’s Republic of South Yorkshire,” you kind of get an intuitive vibe for similar places, and when I walked around Liège, in Belgium, with Jane Watkinson, we both took an instant liking to the place – and sure enough, the hip, cosmopolitan but down-to-earth and diverse population enjoying the late night bars represented the traditionally socialist post-industrial regenerative spirit of a city moving beyond coal and steel.

We went by Dachau, in Germany, which from Nazi headquarters in nearby Munich, troops following Second World War orders were directed to develop from a prison for crooks, to a detention centre for political prisoners, to a concentration camp for homosexuals, socialists, vegetarians, the disabled, Jews, and the “work-shy” to be put into forced labour under the infamous gates bearing the message “Arbeit macht frei” – or “work will make you free.” Of course, this “forced labour” was torture, with the concept of freedom a dangling carrot guiding the inmates into gas chambers and ovens that exterminated tens of thousands of people.Dachau_-_Corpses_lie_in_a_pile_on_the_ground_in_the_newly_liberated_Dachau

When allied forces finally approached the area, Dachau’s SS soldiers started betraying signs of guilt by attempting to destroy evidence of the atrocities there, and even began sending prisoners towards coasts (to be drowned) or on to trucks and trains headed for Tyrol, Italy. There, before going to Venice, we visited a military cemetery in Bolzano, where Jews and Nazi soldiers have been buried side-by-side – demonstrating the desperate desire of the former fascists to treat all of those who died in the war as victims of the same oppression and propaganda that we all shudder at the thought of ever becoming.

And it’s fair to say that all the people of then-fascist Germany and Italy were victims – of division, fear and propaganda. After the humiliating and devastating after-effects of the First World War, this was understandable – as angry peoples wanted to strike back, needing to feel good about themselves again, and susceptible to nationalist and racist language and laws.

On the way back towards the Channel Tunnel at the trip’s conclusion, we sat on a bus driving into Calais as the coach staff took to the microphone to draw the passengers’ attention towards immigrants sat in nearby bushes, hoping to find a route to a better life. As one pathetic man slumped there in one ditch, looking cold, hungry and tired, predominantly white, middle-class tourists looked through the glass at his miserable frame; some pointed and laughed.

For once, my big Doncastrian mouth was shut. I was speechless. I wasn’t angry; I was gutted. I refused to look at the man in the bushes for more than a moment, instead looking around at our fellow passengers and feeling ashamed. Some of these desperate immigrants – wanting a better life just like those British who move abroad – cling onto trucks and are severely injured; entire families have been found dead in truck containers they hid in, hoping to arrive to a place that less closely resembled hell. Well, my own country’s on the road to a fascist hell itself.

Is this what we’re reduced to? Ridiculing the poor, the persecuted, the desperate? Is this what we’ve become?

Nazism was able to slowly grow like a cancer because of propaganda that convinced people to see other people as slightly less human: the “lazy” or the disabled, ethnic minorities or people of different faiths. Through a democratic process, citizens actively voted for tougher laws against immigrants and Jewish people.

In Britain today, our anti-European sentiment isn’t the biggest story. No, the biggie is the fact that – while banks who got £1.5 trillion of taxpayers’ money and have yet to repay it – the main concerns of the British people are based on the utter lie that our way of life is somehow threatened by people less fortunate than ourselves wanting to escape conditions that our government, in most cases, historically caused while using our brave soldiers as pawns in their plans. Of course, given that Rothermere’s Daily Mail supported the Nazis in the build-up to the Second World War yet is still one of the most-read “news” papers in Britain, this should be no surprise. The old tricks are the best.ah_rothermere

Today, the most right-wing British government after the Second World War thrives on this divide-and-rule fascistic propaganda to implement totally unnecessary social security cuts, introduce forced labour for the “work-shy,” throw disabled people off welfare, and demonise immigrants to the point where we’re actually pointing and laughing at them.

This is not the Britain I was born in back in 1976, and it isn’t the Britain I care to die in. And I have no plans on leaving.

I am so glad to be back here in Britain, with all its double yellow lines, and red postboxes, phone boxes and buses, and black cabs; its numerous towns and cities within near spitting distance of each other; its easily-accessible vegan grub. And let’s not forget about the modern model of democracy it exported to all four corners of the globe, its far-reaching empire that sees its subjects now wanting a little something in return.

What we have left now is too important not to fight for. And you have to fight for it – before it continues down this road that leads to a very dark place that history has already shown us.


How He-Man Got Me Into Feminism

When I was in kindergarten, I was very rarely found playing cops and robbers or war games. Instead – my mother today confirms – I was with my female friend at the time putting baby dolls into prams. Other mothers asked her if she was at all concerned about my behaviour. “Why would I be?” she replied. “If anything, he’s learning about the responsibilities of parenthood!”

I credit my mother with giving me a good start in life, despite the fact my arrival into our family marked the first time she’d quit working – she had held down multiple jobs while raising my brother and sister and my father was kept busy adhering to his expected role as manual labourer, working shifts as long as twelve hours. Of course, my mother’s ‘shift’ was always twice as long.

Despite the impact of popular culture taking over our family living room – He-Man being one of my favourite mindless cartoons as a child – the difficulties didn’t end with kindergarten. When He-Man’s twin sister She-Ra was given her own spin-off television series, perhaps oblivious to the fact He-Man was ‘for boys’ and She-Ra was ‘for girls,’ I simply followed She-Ra over on to her own show that, at least for the mid-1980’s, was a refreshing departure from the plethora of programmes featuring muscle men rescuing damsels in distress, a theme even my nine year-old brain found tedious.

But that wasn’t the real problem. No, the trouble began when I not only watched He-Man as well as She-Ra too, but also bought all the toys. And I mean all of them.

So there I was, walking into school one day carrying what I thought was my fabulous She-Ra action figure, complete with weapons and, admittedly, a hair comb. “Ha, he’s brought a girl’s doll in to class!” shouted the other boys, mockingly. In my oblivious naïvety, I simply showed them the action figure more closely in order to demonstrate how much fun it was, especially when the other figurine – She-Ra’s ‘special friend,’ Bow, a moustachioed man whom she rescued on more than one occasion – was brought out to enact scenes from the series. Suffice to say, I was informed that I should take my ‘doll’ and go comb its long golden locks (although admittedly a little less politely than I paraphrase here).

This may or may not have contributed to my mother’s decision to pull me from school entirely and teach me at home herself. Some people may think that’s when matters got worse for me, but I happen to think it’s when things got much better. My working class heroine – far better than She-Ra ever was, and the polar opposite to our female Prime Minister at the time who was actually attacking women’s rights – my mother fought with local authorities to win her right to teach me herself, in her own way, and suffice to say it spared me the influence of high school macho culture that I have been fortunate enough to only ever experience via anecdotes from those I speak to who experienced it themselves first-hand. It sounds horrific.

My awareness and corresponding activism only grew stronger with my mother’s influence – my first-ever political demonstration was as a teenager marching through Sheffield in opposition to its university’s animal testing activities. My mother and I were already vegetarians then. Today, we are both vegans.

So many issues intertwine and overlap, and while Malcolm X in his younger, angrier years reportedly responded to a young white woman asking how she could help him by simply telling her she couldn’t possibly, he later realised that plenty of enlightened Caucasians stood beside him and those like him in marching for civil rights. And as someone who was born in Northern England with no great expectations of being anything other than a ‘White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant Male,’ instead I have fought for many causes, one of them being for women to be afforded the same opportunities – rights and responsibilities – as men.

Yes, despite the allegations of my poor ignorant school classmates, I am a man, and yet I happen to think that doesn’t make me any better – at anything in particular, or at all – than a woman. And in the spirit of that young woman who unsuccessfully offered her hand of help to Malcolm X and his cause, I’ll be there offering mine to the cause of feminism any time. As I’ve explained to many male friends over the years, it’s better for all of us in the long run. If I ever have a son, may he take his own ‘doll’ into class, along with all the others.

Originally written for The Scavenger.


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