Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Brand Backlash (Or How I Learned Never To Criticise The Liberal Elite)

Earlier this week, a freelance IT contractor currently working at RBS published a tongue in cheek "open letter" to Russell Brand on their blog. The recurring comedic theme was that the closure of the building precipitated by Brand and his camera crew's unscheduled visit had resulted in his lunch going cold.

Within the blog, the writer points out that Brand's grandstanding and theatrics were unlikely to achieve anything as he didn't have an appointment, and therefore was never going to get into the building uninvited. It also accuses Brand of being confrontational both with building security and those stranded outside by his antics. It examines the taxpayer investment in the banks during the financial crisis. 

At no point does it attempt to defend RBS or any other bank. It makes clear that the writer is not an employee of RBS, right from the very outset, and that what follows is not intended to be any sort of statement from the bank itself, the banking industry or bankers.

On the whole, it's a pretty well-written, lighthearted piece. You can read it here:

After it hit the internet, the blog went viral. Lots of people sharing it online, having a giggle at the concept and the content.

Well today came the backlash.

Driven on by some high-profile Guardianistas - for whom Brand seems to have acquired some sort of Messiah status of late - the writer has been attacked as variously a banker, an employee of RBS and a symptom of all that's wrong with Britain today, the rich complaining about being inconvenienced by those campaigning for social justice.

Accuracy seems to have taken a back seat to the need to protect Brand's reputation as some sort of crusader for the poor. This is a man whose appetite for equality has seemingly enjoyed some kind of Lazarusesque recovery, the kind of man who turns up to a masked protest and takes his mask off so the press can find - and of course, record for posterity - his presence.

He is, what we in sporting circles like to call, a bandwaggoner. The sort of person ripe for a bit of a satirical sideswipe. That his fans/acolytes feel so threatened at any criticism of him that they need to unleash their attack dogs on a blog is in equal part nauseating and bemusing. Whatever they expect to achieve as a result, it only leaves one set of people coming out of this looking like arrogant, petty little crybabies. Them.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Three Shades of Blue

When I was growing up and starting to become politically active, you had a choice. You could either vote Labour if you had a conscience, vote Conservative if you thought you were alright and didn't give a shit about anyone else, or vote Liberal if you wanted to waste your vote.

That was the way it was. The poor voted Labour, everyone else voted Conservative.

Then it all changed. The Conservatives imploded over just how shitty they could be to the plebs, and left the door open for one Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.

Blair was never your typical Labour politician. A middle-class kid, with a public school education and an Oxford graduate not shy of discussing his faith, Blair was parachuted into a safe seat in the former coalfield town of Sedgefield.

Under his leadership, Labour shifted away from the left of British politics towards the centre ground. He moved away from the traditional links with the unions, and targeted the middle-class with a social conscience who had become disaffected with the Tories.

Middle England became the battleground on which elections would be fought, and as a result the target audience the political parties needed to appeal to. With their own core support pretty secure in traditional areas and pretty much guaranteed to vote for them, parties could focus their policies on the middle classes.

So you get where we are today. Ed Miliband has announced the headlines of what will form Labour's 2015 election manifesto. In summary, it's pretty much the same as the Tories are doing at the moment, except slightly less of it and not as quickly.

More pay freezes. More cuts to public services. No plans to raise funds through taxing the super-rich. It's a blue budget, dressed up in a red overcoat. Her Majesty's Opposition are now so interchangeable with the government that you could swap them over and nobody would be able to tell the difference.

So there's your choice for 2015. You can have cuts, in some form or another, to public services. You can have more food banks. You can have more of the rich getting richer, and the poor getting screwed. If you're not middle-class, middle-income Middle England, neither the Tories nor Labour care about you. The LibDems are the equivalent of flushing your vote down the toilet, and don't even get me started on the bigotry that is UKIP.

You want my advice? If you're in Scotland, vote SNP. If you're in Wales, vote Plaid Cymru. The rest of you, vote Green. At least that way you'll get someone promoting a genuine alternative to the three shades of blue the major parties are offering.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Charity Begins With Whom?

Let me get this one out there from the start. I have no problem with charity. In its purest form, it's a noble, altruistic act of giving which improves the lives of others and the emotional well-being of those who provide it.

But - and let's face it, you knew there was going to be one.

It's charity season here in the UK. The annual "Children In Need" telethon has just raised £32m for worthy causes both in the UK and abroad. On top of that, another version of the Band Aid project has been wheeled out to raise funds for the Ebola relief effort in west Africa.

What do these things have in common? In short, they consist of very well off people trying to guilt the less well off into giving a percentage of their income, in many cases to fund projects and services that should be provided by governments or international non-governmental organisations anyway.

I'm sure there are celebrities and people in the public eye who donate cash and goods freely and willingly to charities anonymously, without wanting to appear to be taking credit or showing off. I'm sure they are out there, being genuinely altruistic.

However, I'm also willing to bet that a substantial number of those who get involved in exercises like Children In Need and Band Aid do so on the basis of donating absolutely nothing other than their time.

See, time is supposedly a valuable concept when it comes from celebrities. Because a minor celebrity gave up an afternoon of snorting coke off the penis of a shemale prostitute, you should feel morally and ethically obliged to buy a copy of a song you don't want. It'll make him or her feel better next time they dodge the odd million in tax with some phoney scheme or other.

Indeed, as Sir Bob of Geldof has been encouraging us to do, we should download multiple copies of the same song. Lots of them. Even though you can't stand it and would rather carve your own ears off with a spork than listen to it for the hundredth time. You should do this, because it's the "right" thing to do.

You shouldn't question that two of the driving forces behind Band Aid - Bob Geldof and Bono - are reported to have dodged millions of pounds in tax in their native Ireland with the use of aggressive avoidance schemes. Money that could either have been used to deliver much needed services domestically or as part of Ireland's overseas aid budget.

You shouldn't question that some singer takes the opportunity to boast about turning up to record a song for absolutely no fee every time they are interviewed on Sunday Brunch or Loose Women, clanging some enormous name drops into the process. They've given their "time" to charity, and you - and those Africans bleeding out of every orifice - should be bloody grateful and support them unstintingly.

In effect, these celebrities are chugging you through the medium of television and music. They're standing in front of you with a clipboard in the street and attempting to guilt trip you into signing up, while at the same time being happy to take their commission in screen time or kudos.

So the next time you see one of Little Mix, or some berk from TOWIE posing in front of a gaggle of starving orphans, pick up the phone and donate. But do it direct to the DEC Appeal, or Oxfam, or Shelter or one of the other dozens of well known charities that support needy causes across the world for the other 51 weeks a year when celebrities are off doing whatever it is their day job is.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Writer's Block

Writer's block
It's such a shock
To find that words have left you
No last bon mot
Before they go
Just off to somewhere new

Alas, alack
Must win them back
You strive all night and day
But without them here
To frame your thoughts
If you did, what would you say?

Plenty of fish
You tell yourself
Some other words will come
To fill the space
Those left behind
And be your lifelong chum

No verse
No rhyme, no dialogue
No ballad, prose or sonnet
Your mind
A shiny supercar
With nowt under the bonnet

A void
A space, an empty room
A great big yawning chasm
You look around
For answers, but
It seems nobody has 'em

So you sit
Reduced to shrugs
And plaintive facial expressions
Chalk one up
To writer's block
As it teaches you a lesson

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Black Dog

He followed me home again today
He's waiting at the gate
He knows I'll have to leave some time
He knows he holds my fate

I watch him, sitting, staring in
I hope he'll go away
I know he'll sit there waiting though
I've seen the ending to this play

We play these roles every day
We've both learned our part
We've got our lines, no need to learn
We know them off by heart

I tell him I don't need him here
He says he cannot leave
I tell him that I want him gone
He says I need him to breathe

So there he sits, faithful hound
Fangs nipping at my mind
Maybe one day my mood will change
And I'll leave him behind.

Until that time, he'll be right here
Claws stuck in my back
His shadow cast over my soul
That dog of darkest black