Things I can’t say on Facebook

This hasn’t been a good week for the world.  Mother Nature batters Oklahoma and takes 9 children with her.  There have probably been countless tragedies and murders in the third world that we are not exposed to.  And yesterday a member of the British armed forces was shot, stabbed, and supposedly beheaded in a horrific attack in south east London.  I sighed heavily when I read the news.  I sighed not just because of the revulsion at this despicable act, but because I know a can of worms has been opened.  Vengeance will take precedence, racist attitudes will emerge from those you least expect, and ignorance will spread like wildfire.

Social media is a wonderful thing.  We discover news now as it is happening, rather than wait a few hours to know the full details of any given situation.  But it also enables misinformation to spread like a virus.  It is toxic in that sense and it was toxic yesterday.  Within an hour of it happening, rumours were flying around and hate speech had already started to be spouted all over Twitter and Facebook.  I reserved my judgements until the full facts were known.  We have now been told by the authorities that yes, this was a terrorist attack motivated by fundamentalism and a hatred of the military.  But the ignorance does not end even when the basic facts are known.  Facebook opened my eyes to this.

I despair of Facebook in a way I don’t with Twitter.  Twitter is full of strangers and it’s hard to remain angry at someone who you don’t know or have any direct contact with.  You can hate what they say, but you have no personal relationship.  Facebook is a very different beast.  It is defined by the relationships and friendships you conduct there.  You have control over who sees what and who you add or delete.  That’s why I despaired all the more, because suddenly people in my life – people I love and respect – were saying things I never expected from them.

But it’s understandable, if not excusable.  This attack has a unique horror to it by its very nature.  All the details we now know have evolved into a narrative that fires your emotions.  The facts go from “men kill man” to “two black men claiming to be Muslims shoot and behead a British soldier wearing a Help for Heroes t-shirt”.  You hear about these kinds of barbaric acts – beheadings, stonings – happening in other countries, but you are insulated by your surroundings.  You feel, as a British citizen living in a so-called liberal democracy, that you need never worry this thing will happen on your streets.  But now it has.  And how do you react to something so awful when you have no experience of knowing how to react?  I understood the hatred.  People were saying “kick them all out”, “kill them all”, “fuck off home” and many other variations of this sentiment.  Emotions are raw.  This isn’t any old murder.  It was, to many people’s minds, a brutal murder of a serving member of our armed forces – tasked with defending British citizens – by crazed extremists.  And you picture your own son, your own brother, or your father, being that victim.  Who wouldn’t be angry?

But that doesn’t excuse the ignorance.  In the hours after something like this, people don’t search for facts.  They want to vent and rant.  So it doesn’t matter that this act was committed by two black men – people will still have a go at “P***s”.  One of the saddest things on my Facebook feed last night came from a young woman I know back home.  She is half Turkish and has suffered her own experiences of racial abuse and ignorance.  She left a fairly eloquent status about the attacks, and I thought, “Wow, how lovely”.  If you knew the crowd she hung around with, you would not expect such rationality.  But then this morning I checked again, only to see her now ranting about “throwing all P**** out” of Britain.  What a difference 8 hours makes.

I also saw multiple statuses referring to “our way of live” and telling the perpetrators to “go home”.  Whilst the facts relating to their nationality are not known – indeed fundamentalists usually attach themselves to their cause, rather than their flag – I suspect they are British-born.  Just as the 7/7 Tube bombers were.  This is something we must not lose sight of.  These are our compatriots.  It’s comforting to imagine they are alien to us, and in their views they certainly are, but they aren’t all that different in a few basic aspects.  These are men who live, breathe, work, love, and hate.  They have families and friends.  They had a car.  I suspect they have or have had jobs in London.  It reassures us to think they are not normal, that they are “mentally unhinged”, and indeed some wiring in their heads must be loose to have been brainwashed into such a callous act.  But many of them aren’t the “nutters” we paint them to be.  They often come from unremarkable backgrounds, as the Tube bombers did.  Indeed, the ringleader of the 7/7 attacks was recognised as a community man, known for running youth clubs for local teenagers.  The minute we lose sight of the fact that these extremists are living and working in our communities, we put ourselves on a path that leads us away from defeating terrorism.  If we are only ever looking for machete-wielding “psychos”, then we ignore the silent enemy in the background who spreads the poison without attention.

There were also the suggestions that we should have killed the suspects and that the death penalty should be brought back.  I understand these arguments, but they can be deconstructed quite easily.  On the first point, to kill the suspects, whilst giving us a sense of temporary justice, is not productive in the slightest.  If we are to attack extremism with the full weight of the law and intelligence services then we can’t miss an opportunity to retrieve said intelligence.  If you kill the suspects, what do we learn about their motives?  We need to know if they are acting alone or as part of a wider plot.  These things can’t be gained from a corpse.  On the death penalty suggestion, I see this as no deterrent to this specific brand of criminal.  Terrorists do not fear death – they merely view it as a route to their own martyrdom.  For them, it is a victory.  If they were scared of dying, why did they stay around to boast of their killing and spout their views into phone cameras?  If they were scared of dying, why did they attempt to attack the armed police, who then proceeded to shoot them?  The death penalty may deter some crimes, but not terrorism.  If you can happily fly a plane into a building, the lethal injection isn’t going to scare you.

So where does this lead us to?  What is the solution?  The political consequences of this attack will unfold in the coming days.  I suspect there will be calls for a raft of measures aimed at squeezing people’s rights, as we saw in the aftermath of 7/7.  There has already been a suggestion this morning that the data communications bill absolutely must go through, despite several concerns about what it means to the average citizen in terms of their privacy.  Suggestions of this nature will continue to pour in, I’m sure.  In terms of the social consequences, I fear revenge attacks will become more widespread as further details emerge.  The EDL kicked off last night, surprise surprise.  How typical of them to use this for point scoring.  They spent most of last night fighting the police – how revolutionary.  The EDL solution will only ever lead us to more hate and more fear on our streets and we must fight fascism and racism with the same fervour we intend to fight terrorism.

In my view, we need a root-and-branch re-examination of what it means to live and govern in Britain in the 21st century.  We are faced with a new type of terrorism, that of the so-called “lone wolf”, and it needs new solutions and ideas.  We can’t bury our heads in the sand and say this is an exceptional situation, because it isn’t.  This sort of attack is, unfortunately, going to become more prevalent.  Whilst governments and intelligence services go after the big terror rings, smaller agents are preparing and organising all the time.  The acts of these terrorists are never justified, but it would be foolish of us to ignore their motives and reasons.  Knowledge is power.  Ignorance breeds hate.  We must educate ourselves and those around us.

I’ll end this post with a quote from a friend of mine on Facebook.  She is a former colleague and someone who has a personal connection to the armed forces.  I admired and respected her restrained attitude when so many other people around us were going for the jugular.  She said, “my sons say they won’t have kids, because why would they want to bring them into this world?”.  It’s a simple statement and one that is often trotted out at times like this, but it really struck a chord with me.  I want children, in fact I want quite a few of them.  But if a mother’s greatest responsibility is to protect and nurture her child, then why would anyone bring a child into this world?  I now think, perhaps, the best thing I could do for the protection of my future children is to not bring them into this world at all.  I hope I am proved wrong.


Margaret Thatcher, 1925-2013

I was sat having lunch with 2 of my work colleagues when I heard the news about Margaret Thatcher.  One of our other colleagues had bombarded us with missed calls and we, naturally, thought something at work had gone tits up.  But no.  When I checked my phone I noticed texts from 2 friends and my Mum.  I saw in the subject the words, “Thatcher’s dead!”.  It was a surreal moment.  For years she has been ill and in and out of hospital, but you always think people like Maggie will live forever.  It’s the same way I feel about the Queen.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she outlived me. 

My personal reaction to her death is mixed.  I spent years at college and university criticising every single word and policy that came out of her and her government, and my anger then was spurred on by the many left-wingers I was surrounded by.  My politics teacher at sixth-form was a left-wing Catholic Scouser with an Irish father, so you can just imagine what she thought of Mags.  I hung on my teacher’s every word.  That anger was young and naive.  I have no love for Thatcher or her policies, but my anger and my critique is, I hope, more mature now.

It was interesting to see the reactions of my friends on Facebook and Twitter.  So many were sad, and an equal number were either indifferent, angry or happy at her passing.  For me, I felt odd.  There will be no tears shed for Maggie in my family.  We are staunchly anti-Conservative and my own father became a victim of Thatcher’s destruction of Britain’s manufacturing industry in the 1980s when he lost his job and briefly went on the dole.  Having said that, it’s not in my nature to be happy to see someone die.  I never wished ill or death on Maggie, and I won’t be attending any parties to celebrate her demise.    This is not to say that I think those who are happy are despicable humans or unfeeling robots; merely that for me personally, I can’t live with that kind of hate inside of me and I don’t see how dancing on her grave will change so much of what has already been done by Thatcherism.

However, the media reaction has infuriated me and I’m not sure why I am so surprised.  Thatcher is held up as the hero of the right by most of our major papers, including the Telegraph and the Daily Mail.  But to watch the BBC yesterday and this morning, I was left feeling that so much of her history as a politician and leader of our country is being glossed over.  Perhaps this is a premature assessment; the reactions to her death are still new and raw, and perhaps many media outlets are biding their time before they unleash their critiques of her time in power so as not to seem tasteless.  I will wait and see.  Yet Bill Turnbull still wound me up this morning on BBC Breakfast during an interview with left-wing Mirror journalist Kevin Maguire and some other right-leaning hack.  He repeatedly lambasted Maguire and those who have expressed relief and/or gladness at Thatcher’s death, without really addressing the root causes of why some people in this country will not be sad she’s gone.  The complexities of Thatcherism and the effects of those policies are too nuanced to paint this situation as black and white.  If Turnbull can’t understand why not everyone is shedding tears and leaving flowers at Downing Street, then I wonder where he has been for the last 35 years.

Reactions on social media outlets were equally curious.  Most of my friends had a similar reaction to me, one that expressed a respect for an old, sick woman who had died, but also a hope that her policies would die with her.  Others launched into tirades against her and her government.  Some praised her.  It was the usual mix you would expect upon the death of such a divisive figure, an image that Maggie herself revelled in.  But the constant posturing over her position as the “first female Prime Minister” left a bad taste in my mouth.  It is truly remarkable that we elected our first woman Prime Minister in 1979 and I won’t take away from that fact.  It is interesting that we have never elected another since.  But to hold Thatcher up as a feminist icon is to insult her, her principles, and true feminism.  Thatcher described feminism as a “poison” and she attributed none of her success as a politician and leader to her gender.  It is telling that over the course of her 11 years in power, she only had one female member of Cabinet, Baroness Young.  In 2011 I wrote of Maggie’s approach to politics and concluded that her appeal was due in large part to the traditionally male/masculine attitudes she displayed (that blog post can be found here:  It is great that this country elected a woman to the highest office, and we should be proud of that.  But let’s not pretend that she cared for this fact beyond any superficial meaning.

I am a huge Meryl Streep fan and I found her statement was one of the most honest of the day, perhaps because she is an American, perhaps because she played her and tried to understand her from all angles, perhaps because I am biased.  Alas it is important to remember how such biases colour our perceptions.  Would I care so much for Maggie’s death if I hadn’t seen her played by my favourite actress in an Oscar-winning performance less than 2 years ago?  Would my reaction have been different if ‘The Iron Lady’ had not been made?  These questions are difficult to answer.  Ultimately this film was made, I did enjoy it, and I have been affected by it.  She was portrayed as strong and ambitious and a woman who faced multiple struggles to be elected as an MP, leader and Prime Minister.  She was also seen in her later years as suffering from possible dementia.  She looked frail and old and a shadow of her former self.  And even though I knew it was Meryl underneath all those layers of makeup, it still struck a chord.  How much truth is in those movie interpretations, only few will know. 

I also witnessed a few of my Meryl and non-Meryl friends engaged in heated debates on Facebook over what should be the appropriate response to Thatcher’s death.  A comment that popped up a few times was “you weren’t there, so you don’t know”, a condescending statement put forth by some people who had lived the Thatcher years and were obviously dismayed to see young people expressing any notion of sympathy for Maggie.  It’s a comment that throws up a lot of thoughts and I see it from both sides.  If you study a particular part of history for any length of time, you have an evidence-based advantage over those who have not.  History lessons at school, college, university etc, taking the time to research and learn about Thatcher – you have the right to an opinion whether you were there or not.  Whether this opinion is informed or not is open to further debate, but you have the right to feel something, to react to an event, to hold a view. 

Having said that, can we ever truly understand what the Thatcher years were like if we weren’t alive back then?  Can we ever understand what it felt like to live through those strikes, the Falklands, the IRA bombings, the poll tax, the demise of hundreds of northern communities as a direct consequence of her decisions?  I don’t think we can.  We can have an idea.  We can read about it, learn about it, and form a view.  But I wasn’t there.  I don’t hold a definitive opinion.  I was born in 1987 and by definition I am a child of the Thatcher years, but I will never know what it was like to live in those times.  Furthermore, whilst I sit here and lavish praise on the honest assessment provided by Meryl, she too couldn’t ever fully appreciate the Thatcher years for Britain.  Of course, she was alive then but she lived in the States.  She did not live here, in our streets, whilst miners went on strike, as the wealth gap widened, as poor families struggled and felt punished.  Our views can’t be separated from our emotions and our personal and political biases.  And the storm of opinion and thought will rage on for months, perhaps years. 

Thatcher is a hero and icon on the right.  She is held up on a pedestal for what she did.  Few politicians exist in this day and age – in fact I’m not sure I can think of one – with the kind of conviction Maggie had.  Her impact on Britain and the wider world is something few achieve.  She knew her mind and she stuck to it.  To us on the left, she is a villain.  She destroyed lives and snatched away jobs.  She cared not for the poor or the working class.  She encouraged greed and the ‘I’m-alright-Jack’ attitude that we still see in society today (the society that doesn’t exist).  But if I put aside my biases for just one moment, I can see she was also just a human.  Hero, villain, pariah, devil-incarnate… but human all the same.  A daughter, a mother, a wife, a Prime Minister.  She lived, she worked, she suffered illness, and she died on April 8th 2013.  The criticisms and tributes will continue to roll in, but she is gone.  Whatever happens in the future, we cannot change what she did.  To celebrate her death as some kind of victory is, in the long-term, futile.  Look around you – even now, Thatcherism lives on. 

Budget thoughts

This is all word vomit, so forgive me.  

I really don’t give a shit about paying taxes. I don’t.  If I get decent, efficient services back from my taxes, I couldn’t care less about them taking the money off me.  My problem is that I don’t feel confident that this Government takes my tax money and uses it efficiently.  So when George Osborne stands in the Commons and says people don’t want the state to spend more, I don’t believe him.  Of course, this is only based on my views but I truly don’t mind state-spending (typical lefty) my money if I think it’s channelled in the right direction, which is open to definition depending on your political persuasion.

Problems I have:

  • Rent.  Private landlords in London are making a mint from people like me.  I support a rent cap but fuck all will be done about it whilst everyone’s favourite clown, Boris Johnson, stays in power.
  • Affordable housing.  I’d love to own my own flat or house eventually, though I doubt in my lifetime this will happen for me.  Not in London anyway.  Unless I come into a big lottery win, also unlikely.  The construction industry is on its arse in Britain, yet whenever I see housing estates and flats being built, they are simply not affordable for first-time buyers like me.  Something needs to be done.
  • Prices and incomes.  I work in the public sector and Osborne has just announced my pay increase will again be capped to 1% until at least 2016.  I understand in these tough times that we all have to take a hit.  I wouldn’t care so much if the combined hit of rent + prices/inflation didn’t have such a profound effect on my income and expenditure. 
  • Democracy.  It’s a joke in this country.  You wouldn’t think Prime Minister’s Questions is a serious tool of government accountability with this bunch of jeering schoolkids.  Actually that’s an insult to schoolkids who would probably behave better than this lot (on all sides of the Chamber).  How are we expected to take politics and our own political system seriously when the best they can do is yell and beat their chests?  The Deputy Speaker had to stop the Budget reading TWICE to calm down MPs.  It doesn’t help encourage people to participate in this system, especially at a time when many citizens already feel disengaged from the processes and decisions that affect them.
  • Transport costs.  I have had a YP railcard since I was 18 and have saved a shitload of money on travel with it.  But when I turn 26, my eligibility will be gone.  Fair enough.  At 26, there is an expectation that you don’t need a subsidy for your travel if, as expected, you are in full-time employment.  My fare will go from £51 return to £77 without my railcard (approximately).  Again, I wouldn’t care so much if I felt I got a decent service.  I have perhaps not suffered as much as people on the East Coast do.  The problems there are well noted.  But on Monday afternoon, I caught the 14:10 Glasgow to Euston service from Wigan, which should’ve arrived in London at 16:12.  Thanks to overhead line problems and a deluge of fuck ups at Euston, we arrived into Euston at 17:12.  This is the tip of travel-chaos iceberg.  This single experience is nothing compared to the stories I’ve heard.

This is all I can think of for now, but that’s probably enough. I’m angry and cynical.

George Galloway

Far be it from me to wade into a debate that I have no wish to, considering debates over Israel and Palestine generally spiral into all manner of racist, anti-Semitic and bad-mannered discussions.  But George Galloway has wound me up so much this morning that I feel it necessary to go on a rant.

Galloway has never been a favourite politician of mine.  Too long has he been held up as the poster boy of the left – oh yes, so inclusive, Mr White Old Hetero Male.  I cannot deny his legitimate views; he was elected to Parliament and that is something I have to accept.  But his petulant refusal to debate with an Israeli citizen at Oxford University exemplifies everything I find abhorrent about this man and the way he puts forth his views.

Debates over Israel and Palestine are fraught, emotionally-charged affairs.  I saw enough of them during my time at the University of Manchester.  Any discussion over centuries-old land rights and religious/cultural points will stir hearts and minds.  But to flat-out refuse to participate in a simple discussion over the question itself – from a man who has no direct link to the Middle East beyond his token courting of the Muslim vote and that infamous meeting with Saddam Hussein – is puerile.

He has a right to his view; he has a right to not engage in debate.  But why attend the debate at all if his only aim was to spout his views and not accept legitimate criticism?  The clue is in the name.  A debate – “a method of interactive and representational argument”.  So I guess George just expected to rock up, say his piece, and have everyone clap him on the back for a jolly good show?  Don’t make me laugh.

As ever with Galloway, this was a pure publicity stunt designed to enrage Oxford University’s Israeli students and grab a few headlines for the man himself, not the Palestinians.  This poisonous voice for the Palestinian cause must be removed before he taints anymore of these well-intentioned debates with his spurious support. 

In or out

After 6 months of preparation, the Prime Minister has finally made his long awaited Europe speech.  I will admit now that I caught a mere 20 minutes of the speech this morning, but enough to grasp the main point of what David Cameron was saying: he wants us to remain in the EU but will put forth a referendum anyway.  In 2017.

There is no love lost between me and DC.  I say that like we have some kind of personal relationship, which we don’t.  But despite my feelings of general hatred towards most things Conservative, I feel a bit sorry for him.  Regardless of how much money he earns or how posh his background is, imagine being faced with that many people sharpening their knives.  He’s got knives out in front of him from the Opposition, there’s knives to the side from his own coalition partners, and his own Eurosceptic backbenchers have got a few knives of their own.  Yet what he did this morning was a shrewd, albeit cynical, political manoeuvre.

The PM committed us to a referendum, but only in 2017, which basically means that we will have to reelect this man in 2015 to have any hope of participating in said referendum.  He believes in the public “having their say” – but not for another 4 years.  Because of course it’ll take 4 years to organise this referendum.  Of course.  Let’s disregard the fact we were able to get the referendum on the electoral system up and running in 12 months.  No no!  The EU referendum – a simple choice between in or out – will take 4 whole months.

The AV referendum is perhaps a bad comparison.  It was a shambles.  Not because of its organisation as a whole, but because of a lack of awareness and education among the electorate on what they were even voting for.  That was not their fault – the powers that be did not make it clear what we were voting for.  But four years?  Four years to educate, to inform, to give both sides?  Four years to send out some ballot slips?  In my view, a cynical ploy to buy the government 5 more years.

I understand it will take time for the Prime Minister to “renegotiate” our powers, but he can’t even tell us what powers he plans to reform.  In a club of 27 member states, many of whom share in one currency, and the rest who don’t – this is going to be a long, complex process.  But in giving us a choice between his vague notion of a proposed reformed relationship and withdrawing altogether, he has left another open goal for the likes of UKIP and the tabloids.  All too often the media has been left to set the terms of this debate.  It is easy to drum up some rage when you splash a few sensationalist headlines across your front pages about how the EU is demanding we rename Bombay Mix (they aren’t, it’s a myth) or that we get rid of “Made in Britain” labels (also a myth).

I hope today’s speech will set in motion a real, honest debate about the EU that is devoid of lies, propaganda and paranoia.  My personal feelings about the EU remain the same as always – I believe it to be a mixed bag of fatcats, fascists and good men and women who desperately want to help the people of Europe without the need for more centralisation.  Like the membership of the EU itself, the PM is trying a balancing act between national interest, party interest, and the benefits the UK receives from being a major player in the Union.  For large parts, he has failed, but despite my feelings towards him and his party, I do not wish my country to be thrown into the economic gutter, either through complete withdrawal or more federalism and centralisation.  Therefore, I hope he is able to get some bottle, wrestle this debate away from the naysayers and doom mongering media, and use this opportunity to set us on a path to a reformed, and better, relationship with the EU.


New child benefit changes have come into effect today.

Am I the only one utterly stunned that a family with a single income of over £50,000 will lose part of their benefit, but a family of TWO incomes of £35,000 and £20,000 respectively will keep ALL of theirs?

At what point did this country lose all of its marbles?  Can we no longer do simple maths?


PCC elections reinforce need for proper discourse on British democracy

I listened with intent this morning as Damian Green MP did the rounds on television.  He had the unenviable job of trying to paper over the cracks that have emerged since yesterday’s Police Crime Commissioner elections.  These elections have proved, once again, that we need a real conversation in this country about our democracy.

Police & Crime Commissioners (PCCs) are another bright idea of this Coalition government, first confirmed as Conservative policy way back in 2010.  On paper, it sounds wonderful – making democracy more local, having an assigned person in control of policing priorities for specific areas.  Well and good.  But the success of such policies hinges on a naive belief that local electorates are interested and educated enough about PCCs to want to vote in such elections.

PCC elections took place yesterday across a swathe of localities.  Turnout was expected to be 18.5 per cent according to the Electoral Reform Society – but the first few results have proved this to have been an optimistic estimate at best.  In Wiltshire, turnout was just 15.2 per cent – 78,794 people voted out of a possible 520,000 registered voters.  In Greater Manchester, turnout was 13.5 per cent.  In the West Midlands, this figure dropped lower, with some election turnouts at a meagre 12 per cent.

So I was highly amused this morning to hear Mr Green come out with this hilarious quote:

“The measure of this policy is not the turnout, it’s what the police and crime commissioners achieve over the next few years.” (

Amazing.  Yes, Mr Green, we’re all looking forward to seeing how this experimental policy plays out over the next few years.  But what you fail to understand that, actually, the success of a policy must begin with its own legitimacy.  How can we seriously say that PCCs have a right to decide force budgets, appoint chief constables, and set local policing priorities when barely 15 per cent of the electorate gave them a vote?  How can an MP imply on live TV that a core tenet of our democracy can be dismissed as long as a policy is successful?  If you’re willing to admit on national television that turnout – whatever number – can be overlooked, what other democratic processes are similarly being overlooked?

These elections again prove the need for a proper discussion on where democracy is heading in this country.  I have read from a range of sources about the reasons people did not turn out for these elections.  Many voters did not know what they were being asked to vote for.  Candidates were unknown to potential voters.  Information was not given out on candidates and their manifestos.  How can we ever expect people to get out and vote when they don’t know what they’re voting for?

We had a similar situation with the electoral system elections and I fear that we will see a continuation of decreasing turnout in parliamentary and European elections.  We need to seize this opportunity in the wake of the PCC election results to ensure that your average Joe on the street is informed about why they’re voting, what exactly – in the most explicit terms – they are voting for, and who their choices are as candidates.  This is especially important in the case of PCCs, some of whom will be earning a £100,000 pay packet in these roles.

Apathy and disenfranchisement are crippling our democracy.  Confidence in our elected officials is at a low.  It is absolutely crucial to the future of the British political system that action is taken now to prevent these turnout figures being repeated elsewhere.  Tackling apathy starts in the classroom.  We must arm future generations with the basic facts about the country they live in and the democracy within which they will eventually participate.  If we cannot do this, then we are betraying the democracy and the freedoms which we have fought hard to keep over successive centuries.  It’s time to act now.