This Is Not A
A Stroll Around The Ruins
Well, it's time for that end-of-year piece that no-one wants to read and I don't particularly want to write. But I'm not sufficiently free-spirited, blasé and counter-cultural to finish the year without it, so here it is.
2010 then. The Last Year of the First Decade. What about it?
Well, I might as well start it with me. After all this is my website, and the natural-born cliché that personal websites are merely there for a combination of pathetic exhibitionism and surreptitious (and not-so surreptitious) promotion must be adhered to as the 'done thing'.
So. In terms of personal achievement, it has been as blank a year as the one before it. I have not yet been discovered as the natural successor to Alan Coren or Paul Jennings, and am beginning to wonder whether my strategies anent such an uncovering may have been somewhat misplaced. One article (yet another obituary) at Transdiffusion is a poor return on the year.
Even in terms of the minutiae of my life, there are 'projects' (to give them a term far more significant than they warrant) which I wanted to push on with which I either haven't been able to progress or have simply dropped through flagging interest.
I have lost one good friend during the year, and lost another with whom I had not been in touch for a long time, but who was nevertheless a large (literally) figure in my late teens. This latter loss, however, was compensated for by it being the mechanism which brought me back in contact with an old friend from even further back.
My health has been its usual variable self, culminating in spending the whole of the Christmas weekend in bed, and going through a spell in late-August where I experienced - for the first time as far as I can recall - a gut-gripping fear that I would die at any moment.
The blame for that can, I'm certain, be laid at the door of what has been happening in work this year. I adverted to this here, but I'm still not in a position to go into any detail over it. I'm hopeful that this may not be the case for very much longer, however, and early 2011 may bring some suitable revelations.
Right, on to the matters of this happy land.
Whilst it was perfectly clear that Labour was never going to hold on to office, it was far from obvious what the outcome of the voting was going to be. In the same way, while it was clear that a majority did not want Labour to become the largest party, it was obvious that there was no mandate for the Tories to govern outright. Consider that: even with an economy supposedly in meltdown; even with an unpopular Labour leader; even with a Labour Party still notorious for arrogant authoritarianism; and even with the slants of the corporate media almost entirely with the opposition; even, as I say, with all that, Cameron still couldn't get near even a bus-ticket-thin majority. That this was a serious failure on the Tories' part was curiously underplayed in the media coverage of the days which followed the election. Instead, the Bullingdon Boys were considered the obvious Government-In-Waiting.
That there was going to have to be a pact of some sort was numerically inevitable, but what we ended up with was not. As I maintained at the time, a Lab/Lib Dem coalition, with each party bringing their Northern Ireland appendages along, and with enough given to enable support from Plaid, SNP and Green MPs on confidence and supply motions, the Tories could have been kept out of office. Cameron would then have been seen justifiably as the fourth successive failed leader, the Tories would have lurched even more unambiguously to the Right, and a genuinely progressive mood in government might have prevailed.
That is not, of course, what occured. The reason being that the leading figures in the Liberal Democrats - Clegg, Cable, Laws, Alexander - were all part of the Orange Book clique which had brought down Charles Kennedy and who were, without exception, disciples of the same sort of neo-liberal economics which typified the Reagan-Thatcher Axis of the eighties. They had too much in common with their prospective partners to be able to resist the marriage. And thus we ended up with a government with enough of a majority to get it through to 2015 and where - irrespective of the occasional restiveness of Lib Dem MPs - it would take a mutiny of party-splitting proportions for it to lose office.
So we had our "All In This Together" coalition government - just our luck, the first genuine Coalition since the nineteen-thirties, and it has to be a coalition of Millionaires Row and Hayekian ideologues. And yet the régime was still permitted to get away with presenting itself as 'progressive'.
We have seen in all too short a space of time just how 'progressive'. It took Thatcher's swivel-eyed madness over two years to produce something of the reaction in the streets which the Coalition has managed in scarcely six months, but the method is much the same. Although the industries are no longer there to shut down on a massive scale (due mostly to the policies followed by all their predecessors back thirty years), you can achieve the same effect (and get the IMF and their fellow economic terrorists cheering you on in similar style) if instead you start closing down large chunks of the public sector, promising that by-now poisoned-beyond-usefulness word 'reform' of public services. 'Reform' means in the mouths of these ideologues exactly what it has meant in the mouths of their precursors - top-down ideological posturing, sell off what you can get away with selling off, and close down the rest claiming that it isn't (in some never-too-precisely defined way) economically viable. The marketisation of public goods which had slowed somewhat under Labour was now to be accelerated again, and carried through with the same callous, careless zeal as it had been twenty-five to thirty years before. The fake-Libertarians of neo-liberal economics rubbed their hands and prepared to party like it was 1979.
And if you can't attack those who are not One Of Us directly by destroying their jobs, you can do it indirectly by screwing up their prospects for the future. And so the Education Maintenance Allowance, which had enabled large numbers of sixteen-to-eighteen-year-olds to remain in full-time education, wasn't just cut; it was removed altogether within a very short timescale; so-called 'free schools' ('free' in the sense that groups of middle-class pushies, religious nutters and corrupt businessmen were to be free to do much what they liked with the education of children, but given large sums of public money to do it) were rushed in to a combination of yawns and derision; and, most significant of all (at least in terms of its consequences so far), university tuition fees were to be as much as tripled.
The reason why this last act has been so inflammatory is because it stands diametrically opposed to everything that the leadership (if one may use the term) of the Lib Dems claimed to stand for during the election campaign. Doubts which had already emerged about the rôle of the party in government - but which were dismissed as being part of the inevitable compromise which is required when forming a coalition - were thrown into sharp relief by such a volte-face. It came to be the considered opinion that Clegg's people had gone into government largely to get into government, and that no turnaround on even the most clearly-stated principles could be ruled out if it meant staying in office. It was impossible to see what 'moderating' influence they were possibly having on a set of policies which had clearly been determined on cold, ideological grounds as an attempt to finish the destruction of the public sector as it had been understood since 1945 and before which had been the primary derailed programme of high-water-mark Thatcherism. Indeed, the Lib Dems could be seen - if one wished to be kindly to them - as being naïve Saint Sebastians, wheeled out to take the arrows while the theoretical extremists hid safely behind them. And all they could get in return for this was a proposed referendum on a change in the voting system not to one which the Damn Lobs had been pushing for years, but merely to one which would be at least as bad in terms of its lack of legitimacy.
The true incendiary element regarding tuition fees was, of course, that the Liberal Democrats had succeeded in attracting the votes of tens of thousands of students in the election because they were the only one of the main three parties in England categorically to commit themselves to not raising fees. It is this betrayal which has given the subsequent protests much of their bite.
This is what will make the coming year interesting. Because we are in the early stages of an attempt to complete the Thatcher project. Indeed, with the news that even the forgotten figure of Michael Heseltine is being brought back, we seem to be entering the recreation of our land as a sort of nineteen-eighties theme park, complete with rides on the Ghost Train, where the skeletons of Keith Joseph and Norman Tebbitt (the latter isn't dead, of course: merely, un-) dance and moan, the spirit of Nicholas Ridley emits foul, obfuscating smoke over everything, and the train falls off the tracks just before the end of the ride due to corner-cutting on the maintenance.
The protests have already started, and the response to them has been predictable. We have seen once again that a large proportion of the major police forces of the UK are beyond all control other than the overtly political, and the tactics which were roundly condemned earlier in the year have now become cemented firmly into place as Standard Operating Procedure. People have been injured physically, psychologically and legally by what amount to little more than a corps of militias; the widespread abuse of power and process which we were told would fade into history along with the Labour governments which produced them have instead been augmented and intensified, with those who had claimed the high ground for themselves as champions of Liberty under the previous régime being found strangely silent (yes, Henry Porter and David Davis MP, I'm looking at you).
And the media, who were in similar high-screech mode about the oppressive nature of the "ZANuLieBore Police State!!!!" have - having been willing spreaders of the poisonous meme that There Is No Alternative to huge cuts in public spending - reverted to type in seeking to shore up any and every point of the establishment view of the world by scorning, deriding, insulting and just outright lying about those who had had the effrontery to take to the streets or to begin campaigns of targeted protest and occupation against the rulers to show that another way of proceeding was possible. So students are dismissed as 'middle class' (an interesting and potentially suicidal gambit from, say, the Daily Heil) and 'pampered', largely because an ageing rock-star's whelp was seen draped over a flagpole and trying unsuccessfully to set fire to something (a piece of advice; if you're ever at Glasto with Charlie Gilmour, don't rely on him to keep you warm). The sneers and smears were - shamelessly and shamefully - also carried out by a supposedly impartial broadcast news outfit calling itself the BBC, where a disabled protestor who had been dragged out of his wheelchair and halfway down the street by a band of publicly-funded thugs was subjected to what amounted more to an interrogation or set of allegations than a proper journalistic interview by someone who - one would have once hoped - would have been trained in certain basic standards (like good manners).
It mattered not. The protestors were - the media agreed - all ungrateful trust-fund brats who hadn't realised that we lived in a democracy where everyone is free to express their views peacefully so long as they agree with the official version, and if they got maced, tasered, crushed and beaten - yea, even unto emergency surgery, which the same police will then try to deny him - then "they were asking for it". And, if they weren't, then they were just unfortunate, naïve patsies being led astray by shadowy leftists, anarchists or even the dreaded Muzzies.
The New Brutality is stalking our streets, and the trouble is that many of us remember what happened the last time, and will know that we have never properly recovered from its poisonous effects. The sprouting of officially-sanctioned (if sometimes just by a nod and a wink) demonisation of those who dare to challenge the given story, the setting of people against people, the debasing of our public communication into little more than a series of "plug-ugly, sub-animal yells" (© John Cooper Clarke); we've been here before - under occupation by a tribe of froth-lipped jackals.
Although I have been greatly heartened by the fact that people have been taking action, and that they have done so by organising almost completely independently of the established processes, I can't claim that I'm over-optimistic that they will continue or that they will have any long-term effect if they do. For one thing, the public - having been softened up by being told by every main political party and via every conceivable orifice of the corporate media that "There isn't any money!" - will not need much manipulation into reverting to their time-honoured standard behaviour comprising in equal measures bovine passivity, ovine flock-think and the sort of snarling at strangers associated with a medium-sized mongrel with sore balls. All that will be needed for that to happen will be for a sudden announcement of a 'major terrorist threat' to enable that favoured tool of the ruler, the 'crackdown', to be put in place without too many people kicking up a fuss. And the media can be relied upon to do their part in those circumstances, of course. For another thing, strong attempts are already being made by those on what calls itself with ever-decreasing justification 'The Left' who feel that organising 'progress' is their job and theirs alone to seize control of the movement. Whether it be middle-class apparatchiks such as Aaron Porter (who must surely be a future Labour minister in waiting, such has been his combination of cowardice and opportunism), existing political hacks inside and outside Parliament (such as the darlings of the think-tanks and blogs such as Osler, Akehurst and Denham), or the shuffling dinosaurs at the head of the major (Labour-affiliated) trade unions, I can't think of anything more likely to neuter the possibilities of progressive change in this country at a critical juncture than the protests and their organisers being co-opted or absorbed by such examples of persistent, consistent failures of nerve and principle exhibited in those structures. Those who have organised and taken part in the protests up to now must be the ones to take them forward, and we must not allow the patronising and belittling sneer-merchants of The Lost Years to dissuade us from giving them our full support.
Turning (at last, you might be thinking) to elsewhere, and the failure of the Great Experiment™ continues to become apparent. So much has American democracy now become suborned not only to the military-industrial complex but of that complex's nexus with small-brained regressive fundamentalism, that one is forced to abandon all hope for it. If ever there were a living, breathing, snarling embodiment of what Yeats meant when he wrote:
"The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
then early-21st-Century America is irrefutably it. All radically progressive political inclination has long since been squeezed from it by the desperation of those who still (without any objective evidence) call themselves 'Liberal' to gain power in whatever way possible, even if this means that - once they have gained (however nominally) that power - they can't (or daren't) do anything with it. So we see how Obama, just two years ago the Great Hope, muddled through the first half of his term seeking something called 'bi-partisanship' with a Congressional Republican Party which has had no interest in anything other than the sabotage of anything which smacks of anything other than 'business as before', with the inevitable consequence that - come the mid-terms - the far-right (which now means the whole of the GOP, any remaining liberal tendencies there having long been expelled in favour of millenarial pottiness or hard-line Libertarianism) made substantial gains. Although it was very slightly encouraging to see that the worst of the ass-hats didn't get in, and that their presence may have actually been counter-productive, the successful astroturfing of the Tea Party is still likely to be a major factor in the political debate there for many years to come, especially as it is being promoted by some of the nastiest presences in the media seen in a major country since the collapse of the Third Reich. If not prior to this, Obama is the lamest of Lame Duck Presidents.
Thus we have the besetting contradiction of the US becoming increasingly apparent; that a people whose governmental and military organs stamp around the world proclaiming their gospel of 'freedom' will nonetheless and without substantial complaint line up at airports to be groped by minor functionaries in intimidatory uniforms because it's the 'patriotic' thing to do; and that a country which has long declared itself a country of laws not of men doing everything it can - up to and including actively promoting murder - to bring down a man and an organisation which has dared to reveal that those laws have been broken by those men time and time again.
One might hope for a Second Revolution, but the only likelihood of that comes from either the aforementioned Libertarians who are so in thrall to the cult of Ayn Rand that they cannot - or will not - see that their theories fall into uselessness once brought into contact with any situation involving real, live human beings; or from the Bible-bashing extremists and their Nativist allies who wish to create a monocultural theocracy from sea to shining sea.
Speaking of a society obsessed with militarism, religious extremism and racial ideology brings me, of course, to Palestine. That no meaningful peace is possible in that land should now be obvious enough. Abbas is a fake president of an illegitimate government ruling by decree, whereas the winners of the last legitimate election there - as troubling as some of their policies are - cannot make themselves heard above the screaming of the Self-Righteous State and those paid by it to spread disinformation and encourage blackmailing guilt abroad. The current Israeli régime is led by the slimiest political operative this side of Peter Mandelson, with a foreign minister who - indicative of the lack of talent amongst the Sabra - is a cheap little import from Bessarabia with an unfortunate tendency to say what his government really thinks. Alongside this, the Arab states around Palestine comprise a series of puppets or buffoons, none of whom gives a wet fart for the atrocities going on on their doorstep. For as long as Erets Yisra'el is confident of retaining its $3b a year subsidy from the American taxpayer, and as long as it has the owners of the loudest media in the West on its side, there can no be no going forward, especially as that State adopts an increasingly violent turn of rhetoric, as well as passing laws - supported by many of their so-called wise men - which bear troubling resemblances to those passed in another land not so many years ago, whereby property cannot be sold or even rented to anyone of the 'wrong' race, and oaths of loyalty are required specifically to the racially exclusive nature of that State.
As for the rest of the world, the sinister gerontocratic murderers in Beijing continue slowly to accrue power and influence both in the developing world (with an ever-expanding mission to bring Africa firmly under its influence) and in the West (where it controls large chunks of the economy). India and Pakistan continue to lob rocks at each other without them seeming to care what happens next so long as their side ends up on top. Afghanistan remains ungovernable even by Afghans. Attempts at progressive politics in South America are under constant threats from the old élites backed with good ole American know-how (as developed in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala).
And all around the developed world, populations whose main level of blame for the current economic situation lies in their gullibility for the sweet-talking of fraudsters are being told that it is they, rather than the out-of-control financial sector or the manoeuvering property speculators, who have to take the shit. Iceland, Greece, Ireland, the UK, with others undoubtedly to follow.
It could be a hot year ahead, folks, but cold steel could be at the heart of it.
Happy new year...