I wrote in a previous post that I have a gut feeling about the EU referendum. In fact I have a gut feeling about most things, which is all the more reason I like to subject myself to criticism. Come and knock spots off me, show me how I’m wrong. In fact I’ll go out to seek the counter argument. I’m opinionated, but I’m not entrenched. It’s entirely likely I may rebut everything I find – or everything you say – but at least give me the opportunity to do so and to have the debate. The debate is just as important as the outcome.
Which is why the media coverage of the referendum has been so frustrating to date. It hasn’t been a debate about the issues, rather one about the rhetoric of the debate. The debate is about the debate.
Anyway I’m not complaining about media representation here, I’m angry about something completely different.
You may have heard in the news that Microsoft wrote an email to their employees and business network urging them to vote to stay in the EU.
Well, it wasn’t really an “urge”, because it had nothing compelling in it whatsoever.
I suppose if you’re a huge organisation, for PR purposes you can’t possibly go too far down the road of siding with one political movement over another. Unless it’s taking a stand against outright evil, it’s best to be safe.
Here are my notes on the Microsoft Email. Michel Van der Bel, you have let me down, you have let your team down, but most of all you have let yourself down:
In the interests of balance, here’s a letter from a small online bookshop based in Lincoln that I received with a shipment last week. Forget the different political positions that Microsoft and Anybook.biz have for a second; this letter is refreshingly different from Microsoft’s letter in the following ways
a) It’s very specific about the industry they are in, rather than the business itself
b) It is laden with statements of fact. While these need fact-checking, at least there is something to pin an argument on
c) it is direct, and it says how it will affect consumers as well as the business
“He had to go”; a very British leadership response that shows humility in the face of defeat. Where, in other countries, leaders of defeated parties cannot help themselves but try to hold arrogantly to power, the expectation of a party leader in this situation is to fall on the sword. Swiftly. Graciously. With a good speech.
Any other action sends a message that the public cannot stomach. Belligerence. Power hungry. Out of touch.
Nick, throughout government, and even in the coalition agreement meetings five years ago, you did the right thing. Two days ago you did the right thing. As leader you have dilligently represented members of our party like me, and like much of the electorate, who felt that unbridled Labour was causing huge problems for our country, but that the solution was not an unrestrained Tory government.
The current rhetoric – “the voters have punished us but we did the right thing” – is absolutely the right line to take. Not only is it true, but people are increasingly hearing it, agreeing, and engaging. Facebook has been a vicious place to be over the last few days if you are not Labour. Even the national press has noted this prevelance in social media of intolerance against socialism. Yet there is a new message emerging on social media which, if you listen to the small quiet voices, is one of moderation. Members have joined our party over the last 48 hours in record numbers.
Nick, I am as anti-populist as any true Liberal and I spurn media manipulation. Amusingly, however, I agreed with that silly social media line five years ago: “I agree with Nick”. Finally we had found our voice.
I am writing to you today to argue that this wasn’t just because we found your voice appealing, but rather that you perfectly communicatied the voice which we as members were beginning to find.
I suspect I am unlike the majority of the electorate in that I have found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with everything our party has done since taking office.
One thing I am sure about, though, is this: if the Liberal Democrats go back on our line of reasoning this will be a terrible thing for us. Here is why.
If the Liberal Democrats were to move to the left, it would be seen by the general electorate as a cynical move.
The prevailing view that “Liberal Democrats” have always been a party of “left” values is foreign to me. What is “left”? Socialism? Does this sum us up?
Globally, “austerity” has become a dirty word, and not without reason; fascist governments across the globe use equivalent words that are designed to conjure-up a sense of diligence and national pride. Putting the significance of that word aside, what other course could a country that was in our position take? What course do we take now? Can we credibly support the anti-capitalist movements? Can we find other ways to make the country a fairer place? These are questions for ongoing discussion.
I am in favour of a party that shifts left or right according to our country’s greatest need. It’s our ‘up’ness towards liberal values that persist throughout the shifting political landscape.
The media always seek to push our party to the left or right in their representation. Over the last five years there’s been a feeling our party made an error in its shift: a desertion of the left. The real truth is that the Liberal Democrats is a family that encompasses different opinions on this debate. A true pluralist party. Let us be clear: the view we made an error in moving to the left is primarily rooted in a media wishing to pigeonhole us as part of the only political system they know and understand: a polarised system. The media does not understand us. We aren’t right or left. We are Liberal.
The road most travelled in today’s democracy is to show party members and the wider electorate that “heads have been taken”, that a new leadership will take a party in a fresh direction.
The Labour Party made this mistake after the 2010 election. Their strategy was driven by the need to show voters who they were different to New Labour. Their leader, a man with a huge brain and a big heart for Labour values, was so tightly bound by this narrative that even his communication style became sanitised. His every word checked by public relations officer executives. This was not a problem of ‘sticking to a media brief’ but rather a problem of ‘being choked by a popular political narrative’.
With hindsight we can see this narrative was “Tory-lite”.
We can do better. We are no “Labour-lite” or “Tory-lite”.
No, we must learn from the SNP whose message was positive, and whose candidates were women.
Any soul searching we do now must be an extension of the last five years of soul searching. We are a party of ongoing soul searchers.
But the new message coming from numbers of people joining our membership is that the electorate also have some soul searching to do.
Rather than “entering a period of soul searching” (please let me never hear that on the radio!) we must instead lift our heads in pride.
Nick Clegg, will you please – for members like me who joined the party shortly before the 2010 election and have remained supportive ever since – please stand for re-election for party leadership?
I will personally campaign to ensure that our party sends a strong message to voters that, by deserting us at this election, they have given themselves an even stronger Tory government. That Liberal values matter more now than they ever did.
And I will campaign within the party to ensure that you, Nick, receive the strongest vote of confidence when it comes to the leadership election for our party.
As an “extreme owl” I often stay awake working in the night time.
Mornings are therefore not enjoyable for me. Even when I have a lie-in I can feel grumpy until the coffee flows.
I’m not sure if this is because my senses are heightened or if they are asleep. Either way, I reckon I am more sensitive than most to changes in light, sound, smell, and definitely taste.
Aside from the obvious side effects of morning hatred such as inability to open eyes and short-lived rage at the world (which incidentally can be extended into a general ratty mood for the rest of the day if some negative external thing happens during this window of opportunity) – aside from this I have another strange symptom.
I can’t put anything in my mouth. No water, no food, not even coffee. I have to be awake for at least 45 minutes before attempting to do this. Is this normal?
Today I discovered an exception: 3g of Dark Chocolate.
Not the sweet caramel substances you find in the newsagent. I mean the kind that you put in your mouth which, if stored in a larder, tastes like a cold, hard lump of nothing for the first few seconds.
This is perfect. The initial shock to the tastebuds (texture, sour, salty, watery) I experience with most other foods makes we want to run for cover.
But chocolate is neutral at first. It is already the right temperature for the mouth before it goes in. Then as it warms the flavour gently develops into something that is neither too sweet nor too bitter. It turns into a warm goo, much like being handed a soft blanket.
It gently wakes up the tastebuds.
Then as it disintegrates it slowly releases more and more interesting natural flavours. In doing so it activates the bitter and the sweet receptors just the right amount if it’s the correct balance of cocoa, cocoa butter, and sugars. It activates the sour receptors shortly after this, and gives them something to think about if the chocolate has a red fruit (cherry, raspberry, or strawberry) note.
The chocolates I like are more naturally fruit-like than nut-like, but even my favourite chocolates have a small amount of nut-like flavour, which also stimulates the salt glands – and we know what that does for saliva.
And all it takes is half a square of good chocolate.
Chocolate, I love you.
Facebook, it seems, has become a front-end for cheap, baiting, advert-laden websites like Buzzfeed and apparently my Facebook friends are falling for it by the droves by posting links to “Top ten tatoo fails”, “8 reasons you are single”, “10 things you can do to be nice to a single person”, etc.
I thought Facebook and its evil advertising ways was the devil – not my friends themselves!
Get out there and create your own engaging content, write your own blogs, talk about your own life experience, create your own world – an authentic one, one that does’t pander to the brain-numbed masses, one that requires some kind of attention span to read – instead of posting links to pointless articles that only draw your friends into the frivolous world you inhabit online!
It doesn’t matter if you aren’t a great writer, photographer, baker, political mind, whatever. Your friends will read it and like it because it’s you, because they are your friends, and because you expressed a piece of yourself.
I have no problem with posting links to newspapers, news stories, or even the odd mild distraction to your friends.
But spare us the copious amounts of crap that line the pockets of sites like Buzzfeed who only exist to bait link clickers, and to profit from the lemming-like nature of unthinking humans.
Such websites have utterly no intention of making a positive contribution to humanity, to an online community, no intention to inform or educate. They are not built around a particular subject or theme. They are the internet’s cess pit and you are pulling your own friends into it when you post such links. Stop it!
The last seven days have been a blur. I have eaten and slept, but only because of the efforts of my nearest and dearest.
One week ago today, a kind man – a man I may never meet – was walking with his dog through an open green space in South London.
At first this man must have wondered why his dog, which had disappeared into the middle of a copse a few hundred yards ahead, was barking incessantly.
After a few minutes of calling and whistling, the man must have realised he could not bring his dog to heel and so went to see what the fuss was about.
Nothing could have prepared the man mentally or emotionally for what he was about to see.
For there, through a small opening into the copse in which the dog was barking, he saw a human body, hanging from a tree.
I never had the chance to tell my dear brother Steve how much I loved him.
I did not visit him daily in hospital.
I did not lock myself in a padded cell with him until his terrors were over.
I did not rugby tackle him to the ground.
I did not think up a master plan for his survival even more intricate and watertight than the far-fetched conspiracies he had built-up in his poor tortured mind over the years.
Why not? I was capable of doing these things. Because he didn’t let me close enough to see the signs? Was I simply not good enough to figure them out myself?
I have seen signs before in others. Like the dog with its killer sense of smell, you could not put me off that scent. I have called parents in the middle of the night to tell them to come to the hospital soon because their daughter may not make it – and please take a taxi.
I knew he was very ill; at Christmas time I tried to rally the troops around him to show a unified front of love and support. I failed.
I did not know he was that ill; since last week I have learned his family, my family, knew of his intentions. Since then I have heard his friends were party to the intimate details of his plans. Since then I have read diaries, letters, emails, text messages. Since then I have hacked his computer to find his final goodbye note.
Since then I have felt his darkness, hugged his children, reasoned with their mummy, cried uncontrollably.
Since then I have tried to reconcile this new Steve I did not know with the old Steve I grew up with.
My tears have turned to frustration at my parents’ inability to discern his truths from his lies. I have listened to every part in the play justify, defend, blame themselves, blame others, disagree, blame doctors, sob.
Since then I have identified the five stages of bereavement, related them to my own loss, tried to break free from them, in order to support my family, and failed. Like a rat stuck on a treadmill.
I considered myself enlightened and strong. I am neither enlightened nor strong.
Since then I have learned of his mantra over the last few months: better an end with terror than terror without end.
I have of course taken my mind to that dark place. Researched his hanging technique. Found out just how much planning was necessary. Walked through the procedure in my mind. Read medical accounts, reviewed statistics, and cried at the sheer terror of the fact that hanging was, for Steve, less painful than the mental torture he was suffering.
I understand mental illness this much: it is an entire mystery. I have not felt such terrifying depths of depression myself, but I have spent sleepless nights before Steve’s death trying to feel it. Trying to understand what it must mean to be unable to pull myself together.
I have heard hints in the past from Steve’s friends about how dark his thoughts had become. Nothing shocked me. I am not shocked by things which 99% of the rest of humanity would be shocked by. Why didn’t he talk to me? I am unshockable.
I imagine that Steve lost his battle with mental illness approximately twelve hours before the point he was found. Unbeknownst to me, this had a been a long battle lasting more than several years. How had I not known this?
Dear readers and friends, if you take just one thing from this, please contact a loved one, or even a distant friend, whom you know – or even suspect – struggles with depression or mental illness.
Go gently, but go. Ask questions until you are weary. Ask the difficult questions. Ask how bad it has been for them at its worst. Ask how they thought they might end it all. Go into the detail even if it does not seem appropriate. Just ask questions.
You may think they have people closer to them who are better placed to support them.
Forget that. Forget other people. Ask the questions yourself. Meet them in their darkest place, if you have the strength to do this. Of course, this can cause more harm than good if you are not prepared. But at least consider it. Consider opening up a dialogue.
Or if you have yourself battled, I would like to hear from you. Have the courage to share your mental state with someone you know can be trusted.
We live in a culture which has, in the most part, banished shame from mental illness, and so there are no excuses.
To my personal friends: I’m not taking calls right now. I need you to be there for me when I do, though.
Please donate to the charity below:
I know, I know; the Kony 2012 subject has been done to death. I don’t plan to weigh-in too heavily on the debate, except to make a small comment on what the media has termed “clicktivism”. Or indeed what sceptics have termed “slacktivism”.
Before I go on: my viewpoint on the campaign. Naturally it goes without saying that a Brit such as myself sees the “Stop Kony” campaign – or rather the more bizarrely named “Kony 2012” (more akin to a Presidential election campaign title, right?) – with a healthy dose of scepticism. I wouldn’t go as far as Charlie Brooker did in likening it to a cult, after all Kony is not a myth and his well-known LRA has been in operation for almost 2 decades, throughout which time numerous atrocities have been reported by the international media.
No, Charlie Brooker’s attack on the campaign was in itself egotistical, and attempting to make comedic capital out of the systematic rape and murder of kidnapped children by a man whose arrest warrant was issued by the ICC a decade ago is unfathomably stupid and shallow.
Satire should be relevant; as such Brooker might have focussed on the core debate which includes the organisation’s transparency, immediate fame, and efficacy. A little side-poke at the ‘cultish’ nature of the campaign might have been more palatable in this case.
Back to the matter in hand: “clicktivism” or “slacktivism”.
Although, in themselves, these terms are cringeworthy, they point towards a social phenomenon unique to the new Twitter/Facebook generation. That is, the belief that fame in itself can solve problems.
Over the last few days on social media, I’ve seen examples of this;
- a young black English rap artist (early on in his career) tweeted about wanting to make friends with the rich in Chiswick, because he believes that by association this will bring more fame to his music career
- a young New Yorker friend of mine posted a video on Tumblr of herself saying “our job is to stop Kony, we have the power to do something. As internet users, teenagers have the power to control how famous Kony becomes”.
Whilst the first is obviously a clear case of today’s obsession with celebrity over that of talent, the second is worthy of a little more debate.
I’m in two minds about the effect of fame on politics and international law. On the one hand I lament the fact that charities like Oxfam and Amnesty have been chipping away at this campaign for decades, and one single-issue movement gathers pace, produces a glitzy video, and blows their attempts on the given issue out of the water by engaging young people.
On the other hand, is this not just the new form of political campaign? Throughout the history of representative democracy, politics has been about issues and people gathering fame, whether this involved those on the campaign trail knocking on doors and delivering leaflets, or more recently making glamorous videos. Was not the Obama ’08 campaign the blueprint for the latter?
Head of Research at Oxfam UK, Duncan Green, blogs with scepticism about the issues of fame and charity. Whilst he makes some valid points about the absorption rate of human rights issues into the minds of young people, I can’t help feeling that his response focusses mainly on the style of the campaign rather than the effect it might have. He is “appalled” by the tone, the depiction of Africa, and the “feelgood schmaltz”. Whilst I don’t personally like these aspects of the Kony 2012 campaign, these are the very things that made it successful, and brought 60 million viewers to the cause. They are mere stylistic objections.
In summary, whilst I want to dislike the whole focus on glamour, the Invisible Children published a thorough response to current criticism of their campaign, detailing their breakdown of expenditure.
If the pie chart tells a truthful story, then I’m all in favour of how they are spending their money and running their ads.
Those who want charities to remain chipping away quietly at issues of human injustice rather than making grand statements that engage young people may have to start rethinking their position, because global, single-issue movements will play an increasing part in the future of charitable giving.
Deep down inside of me, there is a swing voter waiting to get out.
A true British I-don’t-really-know-what-I-think voter, someone who could go both ways. Hell, I could go three or four ways.
I know, dear imaginary reader, you are thinking, “but how can someone so … so – political – how can you not be true and loyal to a single party?”
Don’t get me wrong. The swinger inside of me is not the typical British non-thinker. Not the common man on the street who waits until there is a critical mass of others to think on their behalf so they can chime in at the last minute and back the winning party. Not the fickle man on the street who just loves to complain about whichever party is in power and backs the opposition because, “there’s no possible way we could have four more years of the same old [insert current governing party here]”.
No, my swinging tendencies come from much, much deeper within me. My struggle is thus:
On the one hand, surely our socio-economic outlook looks far prettiest when people are allowed to do what they want whilst not harming others; a liberal, pluralist society? What is wrong for you might not be wrong for me, and therefore we should agree not to legislate for what you consider to be wrong, because it would be unfair for me. Instead we should just hang out / do business with people who have similar views to our own.
Of course we should have high taxes and good quality public services. This isn’t a matter of politics, it’s a matter of economies of scale: pooling resources allows us to reduce overheads. (I’m talking theoretically, of course.)
But on the other hand – and please excuse my Newtonian worldview (blame my Christian parents) – given that humanity, if left unchecked, tends towards selfish and greedy behaviour, perhaps after all it doesn’t look that fabulous when people are allowed to do what they want.
Here I cite the global financial crisis as being caused by unfettered or poorly-regulated capitalism.
Or what about society and the family? It is horribly non-liberal to interfere with matters of the family: married couple tax breaks between man and woman, making it legally difficult and expensive to get a divorce, reducing benefits to single mothers and punishing walk-away fathers who don’t take responsibility.
Whilst the above may offend our sense of social liberalism, let us hypothesise what their long-term effect on society might be, and therefore the effect on our economy and, eventually, our wealth as a nation of individuals. In economic terms, those societies defined by people pulling together (be this around the traditional unit of the family, or otherwise) are the ones that generate wealth for their futures. Those societies that are fragmented and socially disorganised are the ones that get poorer.
Given humanity tends towards greed and ultimately destruction (we agree on this, do we not?), and given in my example of the family above this would mean men will love women then walk away from them unless there is a compelling financial reason not to, perhaps a liberal society with fewer rules is a less successful, inferior one?
I used the construct of family to make my point, but this could equally apply to other constructs.
And this is the crux of my indecision. Conservative rule is too socially prescriptive. Labour rule causes too much fragmentation of society to allow for growth or progress. Liberal Democrat rule… well, our party just gets laughed-out or shouted-at most of the time.
What is my problem with political loyalty? Why do I mistrust staunch Labour party members, staunch Conservative party members, or staunch Any party members?
Is it that my world view espoused above is essentially flawed? Is it that I’m merely a liberal mind trying to get out of a conservative body? Or is it because my politics derive too directly from the existential questions in my head? Or is this a common Paradox of Pluralism?