A few days ago I tweeted “Labour bans Jeremy Corbyn from voting for himself”. It seemed only logical they would do so, because after all they’d just banned Mark Steel, the veteran left-wing comedian, for supporting Corbyn (whilst also relentlessly taking the piss out of the Labour establishment’s absurd and totalitarian approach to the contest).
But hey, I’m not bitter. It’s all to the good. Like all the best satire, this is truer than real life. By which I mean that by barring people like Mark Steel and Ken Loach for supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s values, Labour have created a paradox by even allowing Corbyn to run in the first place.
How can Labour ban ANYONE from voting – implicitly for Corbyn – and still allow him to be a candidate? Then again, they banned the Conservative-supporting Toby Young too, and somehow allowed crypto-Tory Liz Kendall to run, so what do I know. It’s a mess.
We should remember, of course, that Corbyn was only nominated to begin with by self-confessed morons not because they wanted him to be leader but because they were “advised we should have a broad debate”.
Now that voting for the Labour leadership is finally underway I hope Jeremy thunders to victory in the first round and Labour can finally rebuild itself in its own true, original image – that of actually giving a shit about poor and vulnerable people – while we forget how utterly ridiculous this entire contest has otherwise been.
I will only add that as someone with a disabled partner and mixed-race children living in an area with a high population of immigrants, I am now more scared and concerned and sad for them and for other people like them than I have been at any time over the past five years. I did my best, guys – I voted Green, a party I believe in, and although I didn’t think they would get into power as such I honestly thought common decency and a leftwards coalition would prevail.
I suppose you could say that the people who voted Tory voted for a party they believe in too. But they can all go fuck themselves.
I lost a whole load of bookmarks just now after deleting someone called “person 1” in my settings. I had no idea who this “person” was, so deleting him seemed reasonable. It seems I was not signed in to Chrome (why would I be?), so was using it as some sort of temporary user, which is presumably why the associated bookmarks were deleted along with him. There was no warning of this at the time of removing the “person”. I have now lost hours of work and scores of pages useful to me for reference for both work and pleasure. I then tried using bookmarks manager to sort things out only to find this page was “not available”. How can your own bookmarks manager page return a 404? I’ve now signed in using two Google accounts and am switching between them. I have manually imported an old bookmark set into one, while in the other another old bookmark set has appeared from nowhere. In both cases I will have to get all my bookmarks back manually to how they were at the start of all this. To add to the confusion I am getting a different view of “bookmarks manager” in each of the two Chrome “users” I am switching between – one of them shows a pretty selection of colourful tiles, the other one a dull list of standard yellow folders. You can’t even be consistent with your own features. You basically don’t have a clue how stressful it is using your browser, do you? You’re probably sitting there laughing at these remarks, if indeed they’re being read by anyone at all. I doubt they’ll get to anyone higher up than the bloke who sweeps the floor. In fact I doubt this “feedback” will even be seen by a human at Google. It’ll probably be fed into a database and scanned for key words. Hell, even that probably won’t happen. I can say what I like, can’t I? You don’t give a damn! How dearly I would love to sit down with the person or team who actually came up with all this nonsense and tell them about my actual HUMAN experience and what it really means as a normal “person” to use your browser. Go on, I dare you to rise to the challenge! Sit down with me over a cup of coffee, human to human, and I’ll tell you what a pain it is to use Chrome and you tell me what your thinking was when you developed all these useless features. Will you be human enough to do it? Or is Google the faceless bunch of automatons we’re led to believe? I’m saving this feedback text and will publish it on my blog at http://blog.thoughtcat.com, together with your response, if any. If anyone at Google actually cares about any of this, email me and we’ll see what you’re made of.
Yesterday I took my children to see The Boxtrolls. It was my youngest’s birthday the other day and he chose a cinema treat. I was pleasantly amazed to find out that Cineworld do an offer for children on Saturday mornings called Movies for Juniors with tickets costing only £1.50 each. It was also nice to discover that cinemas still show films on a Saturday morning, as I’d formed the impression this had gone out of fashion in about 1965.
Cineworld had one other film to choose from in Movies for Juniors but it looked a bit babyish, and as my juniors are now 8 and 9, a PG movie seemed more suitable. Otherwise, I hadn’t heard of The Boxtrolls, which turns out to have been released in the UK last September. It was one of the few films I’ve ever gone to watch at the cinema purely because it was “on”, rather than because I’d heard anything good about it beforehand, or anything about it at all in this case, so I had no preconceptions. So the last thing I expected to be doing afterwards was blogging about it, but the film had such a superb message that I couldn’t not. (Spoiler warning for the below.)
The Boxtrolls threatened to put me off almost immediately with its grotesque styling and the apparent abduction of a child. Don’t let me put you off, though, as it gets better. The style didn’t improve, as such; everything in this film is ugly, from the characters brutally caricatured to the Tim Burtonesque twisted Dickensian backdrops. I couldn’t tell whether it was live animation or Toy Story-strength CGI run through a steampunk filter, although an easter egg after the main end credits appears to show it was the former. The Boxtroll creatures eat handfuls of chunky insects; an allergic reaction causes an already-ugly character’s face to swell to Elephant Man proportions; someone spits out a gigantic mouthful of cheese… and let’s not get into the leeches. It’s basically gross, and arouses more disgust than hilarity. But the way most of the characters feel, think and behave is worse.
At the start of the film the Boxtrolls are monsters. We know this because there’s a team of “exterminators” out trying to catch them, and the creatures are also blamed for the abduction of the baby – albeit the town’s aristocratic mayor-figure isn’t interested in the child’s fate, still less who took him. The funny green creatures dressed in cardboard boxes are then shown popping up from the sewers around the town in the dead of night, hunting for things: specifically, metal and mechanical objects. Some of these are stolen, such as metal house-numbers off front doors, but the Boxtrolls mostly seem to rummage in dustbins and alleyways for discarded trinkets. One demonstrates skill and intelligence by fixing a broken alarm-clock, another goes around oiling anything that squeaks. The exterminators are three men, two of whom chat to each other and ponder their role as “the good guys”; they decide that’s what they must be because their job is to rid the town of monsters. The third exterminator never engages in conversation, and in fact is clearly insane, trigger-happily shooting anything that moves.
Their leader Snatcher is a vile and unscrupulous caricature, somewhere between the Child-Catcher, Fagin and one of Gerald Scarfe’s teachers from The Wall. Voiced unrecognisably by Ben Kingsley in full East End gangster mode, he and his team operate out of a giant factory-like building accessorised with a furnace. They wear crumbly red top-hats, but the “mayor” (his name is Lord Portley-Rind – his official role isn’t actually very clear) and his cheese-gorging cronies all wear perfect white hats. Snatcher desperately wants a white hat as compensation for “saving the town” from the “menace” of the Boxtrolls, but Portley-Rind is having none of it; the White Hat has to be earnt (or you can simply get one by “being rich”, as one of the White Hat-wearers explains, without irony). When we see how grotesque Snatcher is, and get a glimpse into the Boxtrolls’ industrious subterranean community, and see how little the white-hatted elite care about anything but their cheese parties, and hear how terrified the townsfolk are of the Boxtrolls despite never having seen one, it becomes clear who the actual monsters are in this particular social equation.
The film is an allegory about any government-terrorised modern society, but rings especially true with Britain under the current coalition. To say Snatcher is Iain Duncan-Smith would probably be libellous if only because the comparison makes the Work & Pensions Secretary out to be more pleasant than he actually is. The Boxtrolls could be people on benefits, disabled people, poor people, unemployed people, “scroungers”, immigrants, ethnic minorities, anybody “different” or not playing by the “rules”, or all of these; they may dress in cardboard boxes but are shown by their orderliness, teamwork and desire to quietly get on with their lives to be valuable members of society. Snatcher’s desperation to become part of the elite by sucking up to it through any means possible, and its snobbish refusal to give him the recognition – and white-hatted “good guy” validation – he craves, is telling of both the psychological motivation of a sociopath and of the aristocracy’s hypocrisy (those two words go together so well in fact that there should exist a mashup neologism like “arihystopracy”). The elite will employ the real dregs of society to do their dirty work to weed out what they, the elite, decide are the actual dregs, but the relationship only goes one way. Snatcher even covets the cheese the White Hats spend their days feasting on, despite suffering monstrous anaphylactic shock if he so much as touches the stuff. (My only criticism of the film in fact is its unfair portrayal of cheese as either a luxury of rich wasters or a trigger for monsterdom.)
In a superb twist, the Boxtrolls’ “child abduction” – the semi-mythical “Trubshaw Baby” event on which the town’s fear of the creatures is based – turns out to have been a humanitarian adoption after Snatcher’s team dispensed with the baby’s father for consorting with the Boxtrolls. By contrast with the exclusionary elite and its henchmen, the father, a gifted inventor, embraced the creatures for their ingenuity and treated them as equals, in a symbiotic learning/teaching relationship. The boy grows up thinking he is a Boxtroll, knowing nothing of his real father. The Boxtrolls’ names come from the labels on the packaging boxes they wear, so the boy is called Eggs, while his adoptive father is Fish; later Eggs witnesses Fish being abducted, in turn, by the exterminators, and this prompts him to visit the town disguised as a “real boy” to try and find his “father”. Here he finds the “real people” being spun lie after lie about the Boxtrolls, who, unbeknown to both the people and the creatures, are keeping their lives in check: as long as there is an ongoing war between the two, the people feel protected and the exterminators and their employers, paid for out of their taxes, self-justify by being seen to be doing that protection. It’s a wheeze we’ve all seen so often.
Luckily meanwhile, Eggs runs into Portley-Rind’s daughter Winnie, who with her pink cheeks and gold hair is stylised as the only non-ugly thing in the film. (One other disappointment is that there aren’t many female characters to identify with.) Winnie follows Eggs into the Boxtrolls’ subterranea and is livid at not seeing the “piles of baby bones” and “rivers of blood” propagated by the townsfolk myths. This use of the term commonly associated with Enoch Powell may seem crude, but it cleverly takes a phrase of threat (i.e. “mass immigration will create rivers of blood”, in other words your blood, so it mustn’t happen) and turns it into one of promise (“believe me, these monsters are so wonderfully despicable that they positively bathe in rivers of blood”, i.e. this is already happening and has to go on happening for you to continue to find them monstrous). Neglected by her father, whose idea of parenting is to give her a castle to live in yet not actually listen to anything she says, Winnie and Eggs try to work out how to set the record straight and tell the town the truth about the Boxtrolls. “We need a father!” says Eggs, naively believing that Lord Portley-Rind will help them. Indeed, when they manage to infiltrate a party thrown by Portley-Rind for top society folk, Eggs has a scene revealing himself to the crowd as the Trubshaw Baby, but nobody wants to believe it. Instead the mayor announces that “We were going to build a children’s hospital, but we decided to spend the money on the world’s biggest wheel of cheese.” When this enormous Emmenthal becomes as unhinged as the exterminators and ends up in the sea, white-hatted “good guy” Portley-Rind sighs “We may as well have built a children’s hospital now…”
The final scene sees Snatcher controlling a gigantic steampunk power-loader, having apparently exterminated all the Boxtrolls and now symbolically finishing off Eggs in front of a baying crowd, albeit only on the condition that Portley-Rind gives him his White Hat once he can say Mission Accomplished. Portley-Rind is still reluctant but, like all terrible leaders, gives in to the demands of the crowd, and it’s only when Snatcher’s two chattering henchmen finally realise the only way to become the good guys is to turn tail on their paymaster that the day is saved. Asked to press the button on Snatcher’s monstrous machine that will drop Eggs into a bonfire, one exterminator reflects that “This certainly stretches the definition of ‘hero’,” one of the best and truest lines of the film. The Boxtrolls have not, in fact, been exterminated at all: earlier, Eggs railed at the creatures for not doing more to stand up and defend themselves – an accusation that our society’s most vulnerable may very well be levelling against each other under the coalition’s divide-and-rule ideology – but finally they do. It may be depressing that they only set themselves free at the behest of Eggs, who bears more resemblance to the ruling society than to the Boxtrolls and whom they look up to perhaps like a charismatic political leader, but their self-liberation is nonetheless a positive characteristic, compared to what may instead have been a social uprising with all its attendant blood-spillage.
Having said how superb the film is, I doubt I would go and see it again because it is pretty revolting, as I say. But it is worth seeing, with or without your kids in tow (preferably with), and I am heartened that a children’s film was wise enough to tackle inequality and fascism in such a bold way.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage today criticised proposed new plain cigarette packaging laws as “unworkable”.
“This legislation will make life very hard for our policy team, who work on the backs of fag packets all the time,” said Farage.
“These aren’t plain packs at all, they will be plastered with pictures of blackened lungs, tumours and God knows what else. It’s an unacceptable intrusion into the manufacture and promotion of political propaganda.”
Nigel Farage has a postgraduate degree in smoking, and claims to have studied Advanced Tobacco Consumption at the University of Middle England, Britainshire.
Public Health Minister Jane Ellison told MPs that the government’s move to prohibit branded cigarette packaging was likely to have a positive impact on public health, particularly for children.
“My children are proud passive smokers,” railed Farage. “Giving yourself and others around you lung cancer is a fundamental British right.
“Since Sir Walter Raleigh introduced the weed to Britain we have had a great tradition in this country of many disgusting chest conditions and making the environment horrible for other people.
“I’ve nothing against our non-smoking neighbours, they’re very welcome to come to Britain just as long as they leave after 24 hours, don’t take benefits and don’t use our beloved NHS, which I want to privatise as soon as possible.”
The Conservatives scored a victory over the Conservatives last night at the closely-fought Rochester and Strood by-election.
Conservative candidate Mark Reckless, whose defection from the Conservatives triggered the by-election, said: “I am delighted to have been re-elected as the Conservative member of Parliament and promise to continue to represent this area’s Conservative interests, such as being horrible to poor and disabled people and immigrants, and privatising the NHS.”
Conservative party leader Nigel Farage said, “Mark Reckless’s win for the Conservatives in Rochester shows that the Conservatives now have serious support in the United Kingdom, and voters can clearly see that as a public-school educated ex-hedge-fund manager, I represent a true alternative to the Conservative government, which is woefully out of touch with the man on the street.”
The man on the street said, “I was proud to have voted for the Conservative Mark Reckless because the Conservative Mark Reckless had been my MP for quite a while, and it’s time to give someone else a chance. We need real change.”
Conservative party leader and Prime Minister David Cameron commented, “Our loss to the Conservative candidate Mark Reckless, who until very recently don’t forget was a Conservative, is a sign of the total stupidity of the voting public.”
Conservative party leader Ed Miliband, whose candidate Naushabah Khan came third in the poll, said: “We the Conservatives are not deterred by the result. Don’t forget that this constituency was a Conservative stronghold until we lost it to the Conservatives just a few years ago. We will continue to campaign for those hit hardest by Conservative policies, such as the Bedroom Tax, which don’t forget we introduced in the first place, and will repeal at the earliest opportunity because it isn’t very popular with our core voters, who are the affluent middle-classes in Islington. Or possibly it’s those quaint people with white vans and England flags draped outside their windows… I honestly can’t remember. I need to see today’s Sun before I can tell you.”
Conservative candidate Kelly Tolhurst, who came in second behind Reckless, said: “Vote BNP.”
Recently my children went on holiday for a few weeks with their mum, and one of the things I did with them before they went was play football with them in a field nearby. As we played, two boys we didn’t know came over and asked if they could join in. So here was dad wheezing around being beaten at football by four boys aged between 7 and 11. At the end of the afternoon when the other boys had to go home one of them said to me “Thanks for playing with us.” I was profoundly touched by his politeness, and it came back to me the other day when I saw on the news that four Palestinian boys, also aged from 7 to 11, had been killed in deliberate targeting by the Israeli army while they were playing football on a beach in Gaza. Children are fair game in Israel’s vile war, so until the perpetrators are brought to justice and all this shit stops, please donate to a cause such as Save the Children’s emergency campaign because by any stretch of the imagination, however you define a terrorist, it isn’t a kid playing football. Thank you.
Yesterday I replied to a tweet by the excellent campaigning organisation 38 Degrees asking for experiences of “so-called digital democracy”. In the past few days I’ve been emailing my MP to ask that he not support the outrageous, and outrageously rushed-through, DRIP bill (for a useful summary of what this is and “how it will help MPs ruin our lives”, see today’s superb article by Charlie Brooker). I’ve still received no reply from my MP (and have only ever had standard letter replies to similar approaches in the past) and said as much to 38 Degrees. Ironically MPs must have been paying attention to that because today I got a reply to that tweet from the Twitter account for the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy, “engaging” with me, or at least asking me to take their survey on what I really feel about the subject. Later I attempted to watch today’s live stream of the commission hearing, although despite their website saying the link to this would be posted on their website the day before the hearing, it wasn’t even posted on there today. An inauspicious start, you might say. Anyway, copied below are my answers to their survey questions.
Question: Members of Parliament are elected to represent local people’s interests in the House of Commons. How can the internet and social media help with this?
TC: I think this is a red herring. Politicians like to think they can use the latest technology to connect with the people, but all they want to do is use it for propaganda and to curtail our privacy. There are very few politicians who use either the internet or social media to any effect. Caroline Lucas and the Green Party do it very well. The lunatic fringe of UKIP and the Tories just use it to spread hate and fear. Labour constantly use it to make announcements but don’t care what even their own voters have to say by way of comment. Politicians don’t have to use these channels to be effective, for instance Glenda Jackson is a true conviction politician I admire but I never hear about her Twitter account, whereas I do see her Commons performances circulated on social media by others. It’s the content that’s important, not the medium.
Does social media enhance the local link for MPs, or undermine it by involving them in more national and international discussions?
It probably gives them more to do, and a greater opportunity to connect with the people they represent, which could be exploited to better effect. “National and international discussions” is irrelevant, unless the MP in question is a cabinet minister or foreign secretary etc. My local MP does tweet about things he’s doing in the area although it often comes across more as a self-justification/party political broadcast exercise.
Use of interactive technology is increasing. Is this likely to increase pressure for more direct democracy, such as crowd-sourcing, referendums and citizens’ initiatives?
“Direct democracy” is a joke. It’s gesture politics. Barely any politicians are interested in democracy and certainly don’t want to use the internet or social media to give people *more* power.
What will democracy look like in 15 – 20 years?
I hold out very little hope for the future of “democracy”. Politicians are only interested in serving themselves and their peers. They will continue to curtail people’s freedoms as long as people let this happen.
Most people still get most of their news from television, although this seems to be changing in favour of online information. Traditional news organisations are also changing. What impact will this have on elections and democracy in general?
Traditional news organisations are changing for the worse. The BBC is no longer independent and doesn’t represent what people need to see or hear. The BBC censors news that isn’t in the interests of the government and gives disproportionate amounts of airtime to unelected extremists. None of this bodes well for “democracy”.
How can online provision of information about elections be improved, including details of where to vote, how to vote and the results?
Central website independently managed (not political) with details of all polling stations (with maps and transport links), details of all candidates and their policies, and results. [Note: I nearly offered my services in building such a site, but thought better of it.]
Can we expect continuous election campaigning through digital channels – what would citizens feel about that and would it undermine or strengthen representative democracy?
This happens already through the existing channels and I pay little attention to it. The extremists just use it for inflammatory speech, which gets all the attention anyway. Campaigning is mostly depressing, meaningless nonsense and has little to do with really connecting with the public. You don’t engage with me by standing on a soap box in an M&S jumper, or “digital equivalent”, you do it by not making the police kettle me when I exercise my democratic right to protest against your policies.
Do you have any other comments?
I’d like to think there is a point in this exercise but I really have no confidence in most MPs or in the “democratic process”. I doubt that anyone reading this [at the Commission] will care about that. It seems to be the sole aim of the political system to make voters feel impotent to change anything or find a political party that actually represents their interests. The internet, social media and digital privacy/civil liberties are being largely abused by politicians, as they do with everything else. These comments come not from some radical 15-year-old but from a white, middle-class, middle-aged, reasonably well-educated, self-employed ethnically British voter. I hope you’re all feeling suitably ashamed of what you’ve done to the democratic process.
I have received a reply from the BBC to my complaint, as follows (with my comments inline):
Thanks for contacting us about coverage of the People’s Assembly anti-austerity demonstration on 21 June.
We understand you feel there was insufficient coverage of this demonstration by BBC News.
We have received a wide range of feedback about our coverage of this story. In order to use our TV licence fee resources efficiently, this general response aims to answer the key concerns raised, but we apologise in advance if it doesn’t address your specific points in the manner you would prefer.
Your concerns were raised with senior editorial staff at BBC News who responded as follows:
“We covered this demonstration on the BBC News Channel with five reports throughout Saturday evening, on the BBC News website on Sunday, as well as on social media.”
I kept looking for a report on the BBC News website and their iPhone app throughout the weekend and never saw anything. The BBC did tweet just before 11am on the Sunday, at exactly the same time I was writing my complaint and blog post (having waited, I feel, a very reasonable length of time before doing so). The news report consisted of three short paragraphs, with a link to a video of 24 seconds of footage of random marchers with no commentary and no mention of any speakers, despite these being the usually high-profile Russell Brand as well as an elected member of parliament, Caroline Lucas.
The BBC reply continues:
“We choose which stories we cover based on how newsworthy they are and what else is happening and we didn’t provide extensive coverage because of a number of bigger national and international news stories that day, including the escalating crisis in Iraq, British citizens fighting in Syria and the death of Gerry Conlon.”
The point here is that nobody is expecting the BBC to prioritise a peaceful march (even one by 50,000 people) over the stories about Iraq and Syria they cite above, but to include it as part of their normal news coverage on the website and the app. In the old days (i.e. before the Internet), TV and radio programmes were the BBC’s only news outlets, and those bulletins obviously had a time-limit (and still do, 24-hour rolling news channels notwithstanding). A website and app however can contain and feature as much content as they want it to, and can be updated whenever they like as news changes. The story about the march was plainly buried on both platforms.
“We frequently report on the UK economy and what it means for the British public. We also reflect the concerns of people such as those demonstrating, and others who hold opposing views, across our daily news output on TV, radio as well as online, and we also explore them in more depth including in our political programming and current affairs investigations, debates on ‘Question Time’ and during interviews and analysis on programmes such as ‘PM’ and ‘Newsnight’.
Ooh, sounding a tad defensive there. I wonder why?
“Inevitably, there may be disagreements over the level of prominence we give to stories, but we believe our coverage of this subject has been fair and impartial.”
Dear BBC. Please don’t patronise me. During the European elections all Nigel Farage had to do was fart and the BBC News app was updated to inform us within seconds. We all know you have an agenda. Or are you trying to tell me that it’s purely a coincidence that your new head of press and media relations, who starts in post next month, used to work for the Department for Work & Pensions?
I have just submitted the following complaint to the BBC:
I was shocked and disappointed not to see any coverage on your news website or iPhone news app either yesterday or so far today about the “No More Austerity” march in central London yesterday. An estimated 50,000 people attended the march which was addressed by people including Caroline Lucas MP and TV personality Russell Brand. The crowd were protesting peacefully against the government’s relentless austerity measures and its dire effects on public services and the poor and vulnerable in society. In the afternoon yesterday, Russia Today reported on the march. Later in the evening the Guardian reported on it. Members of your news staff on Twitter such as @jameshardy61, @tobycastle and @charlierose1 had not tweeted about it despite (re)tweeting other news items in the previous few hours, and did not reply to my tweetsasking whythis was. This lack of coverage of a large protest is craven to the government and as such a complete betrayal of your values as a public service broadcaster. BBC current affairs has become the shame of a once-great broadcasting service. I await your explanation of the reasons for the lack of coverage with great interest.