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Corbyn, Conference, Commentariat

I haven’t said or written too much lately.

1) I’ve been thinking
2) I’ve been listening (to borrow from the new Labour leader’s speech)
3) I’ve been reading
4) And perhaps… I’ve been holding my breath

Conference is a beast. It’s long, it’s tiring – that’s democracy for you. Motions are debated and defeated or carried. People huddle furiously in corners, rewriting wording, writing words, lobbying, networking, finding the fringe. By the end, everyone is exhausted – which is more or less the point at which Jeremy Corbyn had to give his so-called make-or-break speech.

I am not uncritical of Corbyn. His attachment to mismatched jackets reminds me of English teachers from my 1970s childhood – but it’s not a deal-breaker and it’s shallow enough of me to even mention it. More substantially, the autocued performance in his speech today was a bit distracting. And the repetition about his mandate is starting to wear thin. Still, that’s nit-picking and I am glad I voted for him. Let Corbyn get on with his big tent, bottom up approach to policy and see where it gets us. It’s an experiment, there are no guarantees, but at least there is hope for a robust opposition and an alternative message for many of us – something that has been lacking for a long time.

I woke on the morning after the last general election fearful that the country I live in had gone mad. That my neighbours and colleagues were all closet Tories. That society was gone to the dogs and it was every woman, man jack for themselves. When I hear Corbyn speak, I see it is not so. When I watched people at conference today, getting to their feet, applauding, I feel it is not so. When strangers on Twitter confess to a tear in their eye when Corbyn speaks about mental health for all of us, I know it is not so. For now, that’s enough for me.

As conference wends its weary way home tomorrow, the commentariat will be left clucking for the next story. As autumn turns into winter Corbyn is not probably not knowingly going to give them one – they’ve had their initial feeding frenzy after his election, after all.

The fact is that true democracy is a cumbersome creature. It is based on consensus, collaboration, debate and negotiation. It can take hours to navigate and achieve – in action, its daily operation is boring, punctuated by the odd high (and low). Democracy in action is not the headline-grabbing duel that parliamentary ritual makes it out to be. It is not the abusive, name-calling, character-attacking charade that the print press constantly twist it into. Corbyn’s respectful approach will make the jobs of those attached to that modus operandus harder going forward. At the risk of using a double negative: I can’t say I’m not sorry.

For the first time in my life, I can actually see, hear and read what the Labour Party have to say for themselves, unmediated by the media. That’s a privilege; I intend to use it wisely. I hope I will not be alone.

JC: The Crucifixion

I often wake with ideas, most of which I forget, but the one this morning seems to have stuck. This morning’s metaphor was slightly muddled, but bear with…

I woke with a strong association between Jesus Christ, who I like to think of as a radical humanist activist and teacher (that’s courtesy of the philosopher Don Cupitt at Philosophy Bites) and the new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn. The similarities are obvious and go slightly deeper than their initials and a beard. The religious thing is trickier, as Corbyn is an atheist. In terms of the minor particulars, no-one knows if Jesus wore a vest, or if he refused to sing the Roman national anthem.

Jesus was popular with the people. He decried the money lenders and he defied the establishment. The powers that were back then in Jerusalem weren’t having any of it, so they arrested the trouble-maker at night but nailed him to a cross in broad daylight.

Jeremy Corbyn is popular with some of the people. And the majority of the media are keen to crucify his reputation and principles by butchering his interviews for decontextualised soundbytes, whilst incessantly ridiculing his values and beliefs. (I am aware the Garden of Gethsemene comparison would work better if the newspapers were less a digital creation and the news still broke at dawn with the paper hitting the mat).

The country could be divided down one line this evening: on one side those of us who couldn’t give a toss whether he moved his lips to music in a church with others, to those who feel that failure to fully partake of a musical ritual, whilst not wearing a suit, is an abomination on the face of this earth.

Is it the same line that divides those of us who think that refugees are first and foremost people and should be treated in a humanitarian way, or those of us who think it’s all a crafty ploy to get an easy life, and potentially smuggle in a member of ISIS whilst one is at it? Probably not, people are more complex than that… aren’t they?

If nothing else, Jeremy Corbyn’s election is serving to show me how this country sees things. Oh, and I never knew anyone could be crucified over a song.

Clearly I have taken a somewhat reductive approach to a burning issue, but I am boggled by how worked up people get about honouring war, the monarchy, and the singing of a rather rubbish song. I asked my children what they thought – they said they don’t even know the words to the national anthem. I think I’ll leave them in their ignorance, until they move into politics or the armed forces, or the guides.

‘Fear Travels Fast. Love Travels a Bit More Slowly.’

The word according to Russell Brand.

He ain’t wrong though. How in the hell else do you think all that bad news gets consumed so goddam avidly?

Hurt

The following is finding its voice as a blog post because it can’t stay in my head a moment longer.

Once, I wanted to be journalist. Today, I am glad that never happened. Today, I have been sickened and hurt by the media in this country.

A terrible thing happened on a street in Woolwich, London yesterday afternoon. I am not going to repeat what happened because, thanks to the media deluge, you probably know. What concerns me first and foremost is that whilst the professional media sharks (apparently driven in an unthinking, animal way desperate to compete with social media) go into a frenzy of feeding the public with graphic images, speculation and eye-witness reports: a young man was murdered. That’s the first thing, the last thing and really, the everything about this story.

What in the world has happened to us. How have we allowed ourselves to be so drawn in by horror? A young man has been killed, as yet without a name, but somewhere his family and loved ones are not being spared a thing. No detail is too awful or horrific to share and pick over. A young man, who happened to be a soldier has been appropriated as symbol, first by his attackers and then perpetuated in the media. When he pulled on his Help for Heroes t-shirt yesterday he was just a young man, living his life. He was not living as a symbol of the state and to force that onto his memory within an hour of his death only feeds into the very ideology that seems to cause so much hate and suffering in the world.

It is said that the political message of the perpetrators makes the act one of terrorism. Terror. That is, to create terror in a community, in society. The most effective way to create the terror is if you can get the print media, following hard-on-the-heels of the knee-jerk reactions posted all over the social media networks, to scare and sicken people with their words and their pictures the following day. Blood on their hands is a graphic enough image in words; I will never understand the need for it on the front page. According to this piece by Roy Greenslade, only the Daily Express refrained. Be warned if you click through to the Greenslade post, you will see the blood. I am sure you have done so already. I was trying to avoid it, but it has been unavoidable and I had the image planted in my head overnight. It disturbed my sleep. I do not pray, but I hope that the young victim’s family have been protected. Roy Greenslade says something like, newspaper editors would have looked stupid if they had not published images that were already in the public domain. Is that their main concern? Whether they look stupid? Or is the truth of it, that no matter what the potential hurt, harm and damage, the market always rules; that if one editor is printing, the others follow suit because of sales. In the internet world, the image was old news by this morning anyway, but it was none the less shocking. The image is everywhere. I cannot even get into an email account without it being on the landing page. Newspaper editors did not reveal a truth to us in their papers today; neither have they informed us. All they have done is given a physical manifestation to the most graphic image of hate I have ever seen in my whole life.

Roy Greenslade had these papers with their front pages on his breakfast table this morning. It is no surprise his eldest grandson commented on it. The thought of a newspaper man eating breakfast over such an image… consuming the news product along with toast… words fail me. Perhaps they turned the page… folded it shut… Yesterday’s news. My children will not be taken near a news stand until the papers come, if not to their senses, to some common denominator of decent humanity, which, for all its positive traits, social media never can.

The men that murdered that young man yesterday, were filled with hatred, that much is self-evident. They are not my concern. The young man and his family are. The frightened people in the same street yesterday are. All I can say about the two men, is that with their actions they only represented themselves, their own beliefs. Even if they followed an ideology external to themselves, they took it upon themselves and acted upon it. They do not ‘belong’ to any thing, or any one, other than themselves. They defy categorisation, speculation and they should never have been given the front pages to strike fear and discord into the hearts of the wider community. What purpose those images may serve for unknown others with hate in their hearts does not bear thinking about.

At this point, it is worth mentioning another forgotten victim of hate crime. Earlier this month in Birminghan a seventy-five year old man, originally from Pakistan, who walked with a stick, was stabbed to death. That crime too was horrific. That crime also involved a knife and blood. I never read a thing about it at the time, let alone on the front page of a national newspaper. Yesterday’s victim came out of the barracks, the Birmingham victim came out of a mosque. Yesterday’s perpetrators were black, the one in Birmingham was white. Victims and their assailants come in all colours and creeds. That is not the issue. Hate is the issue. Everything else is just an excuse. We can only counter hate with love. What love did the newspaper editors show the world this morning in their own private race not to look ‘stupid’? When I pass a road accident, I look away. Today the newspapers were the drivers of the tour bus and they did a slow drive by on an unedifying, unilluminating but visceral story about a human tragedy.

‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’

The thing about death is that it is impossible to imagine. Although I didn’t like Damien Hirst’s actual stuffed shark in formaldehyde, the unsnappy title had a touch of the circus philosopher genius about it, now I come to think about it. Back in the real world, the unimaginable keeps happening, keeps being on the news. The radio has to be kept off, the internet avoided, so one will not stumble on some crass media image. Apparently, we must be force-fed first-hand reports and pictures, it is what the media monster craves. I don’t believe an eye-witness needs to speak to the media in the aftermath of any horror or disaster, they need healing and love.

And I need to keep the gaps in my imagination intact to let in the light, that that is left.

Cy Twombly: The First Part of the Return from Parnassus, 1961

Cy Twombly: The First Part of the Return from Parnassus, 1961

Digital switchover turns me right off

For reasons beyond my control, this week I spent 4 and a half hours of my life with some people charged with making sure that televisual viewers living in the latest television area to be switched entirely to digital (London area, including Essex, Crystal Palace transmitter in April in case you care) are aware of what they need to do to get digital into their lives. This is because, I discovered, the very worst thing that could befall us in the 21st century is that we could wake up to a Blank Screen. The ‘catastrophe’ of the Blank Screen was emotively told through individual examples of society’s disconnect from other people, family, and community. What was terrifying was that the television was being sold as an answer to this symptom of a dysfunctional society, a panacea for the masses, and not acknowledged as a potential contributory factor in social exclusion.

Turns out that the other key message is that ‘no-one should be left behind’ in the digital switchover and suffer the armageddon of a blank screen in their lives. To this end, money, and I dread to think how much given that no less than four people were employed to deliver the workshop (although they were pretty tight with the post-it notes), is being spent on a three-pronged outreach strategy so that no-one is ‘left behind’ come the day, come the hour.

All this was delivered with unfaltering confidence and belief in the healing power of telly. No-one seemed to get that those who might be left behind with a blank screen, their target audience, have perhaps already been left behind in today’s strange society. For example we were given an example of some poor guy who lay dead in his flat in Brent, undiscovered for three years. I was left to wonder what it was they were trying to illustrate to us: it would have been less likely to happen if his tv was digital, or at least he had a wider choice of free channels to entertain him before he sadly died and laid undiscovered?

The whole thing was madly topsy-turvy. They are switching analogue off ostensibly because we can get more free channels and better quality picture. But scratch the surface and you will see that they can pack the digital signals more tightly which means they (the government) can sell more broadcast licenses and then the switched off analogue will be re-allocated and those licenses sold on again… These guys are selling fresh air folks, what a wheeze.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t like to think of my grandmother, in her late eighties, without access to tv, but neither would I like to think of her (one of the scenarios we were run through more than once) timing her whole life through the programming schedule of digital tv: breakfast tv – eat, take pills, Loose Women – repeat, and so on. This was taken as far as the following statements: tv is part of a care package, tv has been ‘proven’ to speed the recovery of people in hospital – ‘fact’.

I have tried, but I can’t find this scientific fact about the healing powers of tv and even if I did I would ask what the healing powers of tv were compared to, lying in your own faeces and staring at a wall when you can’t afford the fiver a day it costs to watch Andrew Landsley’s political party broadcast?

I need to stop now because I can feel a rant coming on…

If I didn’t suspect it before, I now know: television is the new state religion.

P.S. If you don’t know what I am talking about please leave a comment and I can deluge you with a tsunami (what I hitherto thought of as an actual catastrophe before I was told it was a blank screen) of beer mats, book marks, leaflets, posters, pens, pharmacy bags, stickers and a story book of information overload. Then if you are over 75, blind, or in receipt of certain benefits (that class you as an economic benefit unit – nice) I can point you in the direction of the service where for anywhere between £40 – £233 you can get all set. If you are not eligible – tough – sort it out yourself and make sure you open the letter they are sending us all.

A 'catastrophe'