This is hysterical

When my dad reached 65, the whole family, plus dog, went on holiday as his retirement gift.

We were a working class family from Manchester, and even though dad was a highly skilled engineer who had worked on missile systems and the world’s first supercomputer, he never received the kind of salary that bought international travel. That’s how much we valued the manufacturing sector in my dad’s day. Plus ça change.

So as a treat, we flew him to Edinburgh, carefully coordinated our journeys so one of us could meet him there in a rented people carrier, and then we spent the week touring The Highlands, as he’d always dreamed of.

We had rented a quiet cottage near Ft. William, settled in, had a few drinks, and went to bed.

That was 30th August 1997. I can be sure of that date because, in the small hours of the next morning, Princess Diana died in Paris.

I remember my mum waking me with the news. I got dressed, and stood in the cottage’s small lounge with my family, watching the rolling news for half an hour. It was sad.

And then we made sandwiches and set off on our holiday.

When the week was over, the cottage owners arrived to collect their keys, and were in tears, which stunned me. “What a terrible time to have a holiday”, they said, while we shuffled our feet and looked around awkwardly. “It must have been awful for you”, they said, and we looked at each other, puzzled, because we’d sort of… well, we hadn’t forgotten about it, exactly, but…

Diana and all her attendant dramas were, for me and my family, like a soap opera we didn’t watch. To be honest, we didn’t watch any soaps – we were a bookish, nerdy kinda family – but we definitely didn’t watch royal soaps.

Obviously we knew who the main cast-members were, but we didn’t care very much about them. We didn’t follow the details of who was shagging whom; didn’t care what Major or Butler or Celebrity Gal-Pal had sold what story to what tabloid; didn’t notice how tragic the eye makeup had become during any specific skiing holiday.

I felt no emotional connection to Diana. I wished her no harm whatsoever, but she didn’t enter my consciousness very much. I don’t buy tabloids, I tend to skip celebrity gossip, and I’m vaguely republican in a shrugging “does it really affect me” kinda way. To this day, I genuinely have to concentrate to remember which one of “the boys” is heir to the throne and which is only tangentially related to Charles. I know they’re called Harry and Wills, and I recognise their faces, but their names are interchangeable in my mind.

Diana was as important to me as, say, John Lithgow is to you. You are aware what he does, he seems quite nice, and you’d be surprised and saddened if he was killed by a roaming gang of photographers in a Parisian underpass one Saturday night. But that’s as far as it goes.

So the blubbering reaction of the holiday cottage landlords a week after her death perplexed me. I assumed they must be particularly ardent royalists, or have, to a crippling degree, some sort of congenital emotional diarrhoea. But this was just a taste of the ocean of histrionic slurry awaiting me as I drove back to Manchester again, on the day of her funeral.

The world had gone fucking mad.

Perhaps you still admit to being one of the lunatics, in which case you’re rare, and this blog will infuriate you. Sorry about that.

But I maintain you’d lost your collective minds. Literally millions of people were stood on the streets wailing and rending their clothes. I saw them actually tearing at themselves in grief, on streets in Eccles, for Christ’s sake. Lairy Mancunians called Gaz, Gaz and Gaz, with faces like a knuckle and knuckles like a ball-pein hammer, sobbing en-masse outside the Pig and Fetlock.

On arrival home, my neighbour, a man I scarcely knew, ran from his house in his underpants to throw his arms around me and cry, while I stood patiently holding my suitcase and wanting a wee. It was as if every single person in Britain had been given a puppy for a month, and then had to watch it being fed backwards, alive, through a bacon-slicer one morning, and I’d turned up just as the procedure was ending.

It bore no relationship whatsoever to the actual event, which in essence was: the pretty star of a popular reality show died in a car accident, and then show was unceremoniously cancelled while you were asleep.

Great for the press, though. Sold a lot of newspapers. The BBC’s Jennie Bond must’ve had a field day.

Could the insane coverage perhaps explain the insane public response? Hmmm, I wonder.

It’s possible I was always going to be immune from the cataclysm of weeping that descended over the nation, due to being a bit of a geeky cynic; or perhaps my family was like the guy in Day Of The Triffids, and our isolation from events during that critical week left us the only ones unaffected by the blinding meteor shower of Dead-Diana-Mania.

But today, I meet almost nobody who admits to being swept up by it all. Sad, sure. But hysterical? Nobody I meet was hysterical. Yet at the time, millions were.

Globally, 2.5 billion watched the funeral. Literally half of the people in Britain watched it, and almost a quarter of us had to take time off work due to the grief.

So surely at least one person in 10 would today admit to being part of the festival of sobbing. But no: practically everybody seems to remember their husband, wife or friends being overwhelmed, but they themselves were models of British dignity, detachment and reserve.

I report this because in my life I remember two instances of mass hysteria, and two instances of mass political protest. And, like a Venn Diagram, mass hysteria and mass political protest overlap in Brexit, right now.

The hysteria is Diana. The protest is Iraq. The cause, with Brexit, Iraq and Diana, is wildly inaccurate and demented press coverage.

54% of us supported the invasion of Iraq a month or so before it started. Today, 38% remember doing so. The war was built on lies, had no plan for what happened after victory, was widely predicted to be a disaster, stoked by loathsome right wing press, secretly promoted by even more loathsome American right-wing pressure groups, opposed by almost every expert, brought millions of protestors onto the streets, nearly broke the governing party, and revolted most of Europe… but scraped together a tiny public majority at one key moment, which then fell apart during implementation.

Good job we’ve learned our lesson, eh? Won’t make that mistake again.

Brexit feels like a cross between the manufactured consent of Iraq and the manufactured hysteria of Diana. And just like them both, Britain is already feeling embarrassed that it got so carried away and has been taken for such a fool. Our cynicism for Britain’s press knows no bounds 99% of the time, but come a war, come a celebrity death, or come a chance to feed our 1000-year-old suspicions about the bloody French, and we’ll lap up any bullshit The Daily Mail spoonfeeds us.

It’s time to slap ourselves in the face, realise the bollocks we’ve just fallen for, and stop this demented moment of collective hysteria. Cos tomorrow, you’ll deny you were ever taken in: but like Diana’s untimely death, Brexit is permanent.

The end is nigh

I cordially dislike political acronyms: they tend to be so broad as to be meaningless. All those Yuppies and Nimbies and Dinkies are usually nothing of the sort. 

So it’s with some trepidation that I propose a new – or rather increasingly extinct – group. Wealthy, Old, White and Southern: the WOWS.

My main worry about this acronym, other than the strong likelihood it already exists, is that it only hazily defines the group its intended to describe, namely the core Tory voter for most of my 47 years.

I should state right now that to be amongst the WOWS, you need only meet – at most – any one of the criteria. You simply need to have been made more secure by the neoliberal policy of flogging off the publicly purchased assets of the state to enrich a small, cosseted, voting group.

And that doesn’t even mean financial enrichment. Whiteness alone is enriching, if your environment is made increasingly hostile to non-whites; and this government has – charitably speaking – hurled the doors wide open to underhanded (as well as overt) racism.

But the key things that define the WOWS are, unfortunately, hard to cram into an acronym: firstly, they happen to be on the winning side of a deliberate division engendered by Conservative policy; and secondly, they tend to be unaware their victory is a result of policy, and assume they’re morally, intellectually or racially better than the losers. 

Not so. 

Until the 1979 election, the purpose of government was, within certain margins, to look after most of the population. But Thatcherism put paid to that, with the cynical recognition that fattening up a core demographic like foie gras geese allowed a government to rule with impunity, whilst impoverishing the majority. Yes, the actual majority, just not the majority of those visiting a ballot box.

The reason this could work was because that key group, the WOWS, did one thing the anti-Tory majority didn’t: they voted.

The WOWS have been made so, so much richer than previous generations, and told they earned it. If you’ve owned a home for 40 years, as most WOWS have, you’ve lived through eight property booms, and your average-sized 1977 £17,000 mortgage has given you a £420,000 nest-egg.

And this policy has proven very successful, electorally if not morally. It’s brought not only power, but the impossibility of seeing any other route to power. That’s why I can’t blame those who saw no way for Corbyn to win – myself included! The strategy of post-Thatcher Conservatism has been so successful it’s made any alternative seem mad. Labour, for years, openly aped the Tory strategy whilst quietly raising taxation on the City to fund various sticking plasters in the areas sacrificed to neoliberalism.

At the election, scales fell from my eyes, as they did from most of the (significantly more professional and well-informed) commentariat.

But now, at last, we see the flaw that has crippled the last couple of governments, and will ultimately destroy the current incarnation of the Conservative party: the WOWS have grandkids.

Those youngsters may be, externally, as white as their forebears: but they’re well travelled, internationalist in outlook, and massively less prejudiced than their grandparents. 

They are richer than some, but 2 generations away from inheriting the property wealth of their grandparents; and because each generation spreads inheritance wider, they’re likely to be left too little to push them into a new iteration of property wealth.

Those grandchildren are socially liberal, with a wide range of gay, black, Muslim, immigrant, trans or – to core WOWS – “transgressive” friends. The essentially insular, monocultural outlook of older Conservatives is alien to their younger family.

And those grandkids are not dying. That’s a key. 

64% of Tory voters in 2017 are 65 or older. By 2022, the date (don’t laugh) of the next election, half of those people will be either incapacitated by serious illness, infirmity or mental degradation; or they’ll be dead.

That’s half of the Tory vote unable to get to a polling booth in the next 5 years.

Their kids and grandkids have not been raised in a world where being Tory was just another way to improve the country for everyone. They, like me, were raised at a time when Tory meant Nasty. Greedy. Cruel. Destructive. Prejudiced, small-minded, discriminatory and insular.

Tories, to the young, have always been the people who persecute their disabled friends; the people who cut them off from the continent; the people who bring fear into the hearts of their Muslim colleague, and poverty to the nurses who delivered their babies.

It’s simply not possible for Tories to persuade enough of those people that their lifelong experience of Conservatism is wrong: not enough of them to replace their dying grandparents, anyway. No amount of tax bribery or enhanced local council grants can alter those bone-deep convictions.

The end is nigh. And the fear in the eyes of returning Conservative MPs, faced with 71% of 18-24s voting, proves they’re starting to realise it.

The end is nigh. And thats something to say WOW about.

Jo Cox

It’s a sad day, and I’m trying to focus on that, and not be angry.

Her poor kids.

Of course, it’s too soon to judge Jo Cox’s killer. He may be mentally ill. So I’m not judging him.

I’m perfectly happy to judge others though: the politicians who sacrifice peace and honour and public good for their ambition.

Are you happy now, Nigel? Sleeping well tonight, Boris?

img_3752Those things that used to define Britain… calmness, rationality, openness, kindness, thoughtfulness, intelligence, safety and peace… those things are being snuffed out.

But not by immigrants; by anti-immigrants.

By the angry, by the ill-informed; by the noisy, tiresome mob; the furious nostalgic pensioner who’s political curiosity is as deep as the front page of the Daily Mail.

By the raging middle-class who vote for cuts at home, then blame Belgium when little Cassandra can’t get into their favourite school.

By the Sun-reading, X-Factor-addled, mindlessly irate, who don’t recognise their own Home Secretary, yet regurgitate low-grade xenophobia about Bulgarians each day.

By the closed-minded, furious fools without even the courage to admit that skin-colour is behind their rhetoric.

Those thing that define Britain? They’re important.

And they’re being stamped out by the British: not by foreigners.

If you “want your country back”, start behaving how you want that country to behave.

You want it fair? Be fair to refugees.

You want it honest? Don’t tell lies about migrants.

You want it to be rational? Believe evidence, don’t dismiss it as the lies of the elite.

You want it peaceful? Don’t pour gasoline on the flames or racism.

RIP Jo Cox.