Saturday, August 13, 2016

Labour's Love Lost

Politics and Doctor Who should not mix.

And yet today I can’t help thinking about the latest developments in the Labour Party in light of the 1970s Jon Pertwee story Day Of The Daleks.

In that story, you see, a bunch of time guerrillas travel back to assassinate a diplomat they believe started a war and landed them in their present mess, but ultimately their destructive efforts end up causing the catastrophe they hoped to avert. And elements of the Labour party, without the benefit of having come from the future, are achieving something very similar.

Armed with no foreknowledge whatsoever, they have convinced themselves that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable and so they are attempting to blow up the party in order to avert disaster, and in so doing have brought about the exact result they were so desperate to prevent.

Well done. Give those men an ice cream.

They are more delusional than the time guerrillas, however, in that they point to Labour’s woeful slippage in the polls as evidence to support their actions. Look, they say, at how disastrously Labour is doing against the Tories, expecting us to overlook the correlation between the party’s death throes and the point at which they hit the detonator.

They are not ignorant of their own responsibility. This is intentional, utterly deliberate. Their delusion lies in perhaps forgetting that they shed some 5 million Labour supporters during the course of their previous time in government, because so few of us could tell the difference any more between them and the Tories. Their delusion further lies in their apparent conviction that we are stupid.

We aren’t. Far from it.

Neither are we Trots. Or thugs.

Don’t know about you, but I’ve not personally been dubbed a Trot yet, but surely it must only be a matter of time. I have, though, been accused of having my fingers in my ears; I’ve seen more intelligent and articulate people than me being accused of being blinkered; I’ve seen other intelligent people declare all Corbyn supporters to be stupid, to be somehow fooling themselves. And there have been even more ridiculous labels thrown this way.

It’s very sad. What’s especially sad about it is that, you end up arguing with people who, in theory, ought to share some of the same socialist values as yourself. As I said to someone the other week, I miss the days when I just used to argue with Tories.
It’s much harder work and much more draining arguing around in circles with fellow Labour supporters. And most of the time it’s not even that we support different Labour parties. And the accusations sting all the greater because they are coming from people I generally respect and admire.

Hence this blog post, really. Because I’m unwilling to engage in that debate online any further. It’s a pointless spiral that does nobody any good. And since I’ve been unfairly accused of sticking my fingers in my ears, well, that is what I am doing as of now. Unreasonable? Perhaps. But this is the fruit of persistent assumptions and accusations etc.

Besides which, my mind is made up and I may as well don those blinkers. What’s to be gained from further discussion? What’s to be gained from reading further smears of a man’s character? It’s not as if the opposing side has anything to say much beyond ‘We don’t like Jeremy Corbyn.’

See, it’s not even about Jeremy Corbyn versus Owen Smith.

It’s about Corbyn or Not-Corbyn. That’s what this Labour Party leadership election boils down to in the end.

Because I’ve not seen any of my most ardent anti-Corbyn friends actually champion Smith. And why would they? What is there to actually champion? Surely if Jeremy Corbyn is all the things his opponents claim, then the alternative put forward should be a candidate possessed of all the qualities they maintain that Corbyn lacks.

Jeremy is unelectable. Sorry, I’m not detecting some superior electability in Smith. Maybe you see it, I don’t. Jeremy’s leadership is characterised by incompetence. All I’ve seen from the opposing campaign camp are staggering levels of incompetence and farce. Jeremy doesn’t wear a suit and tie. At the outset, Smith was seen tieless, in his shirtsleeves, trying to look cool. Rallies of ten thousand people don’t win elections, he says, while addressing crowds of a hundred. Then asking to speak at Corbyn’s rallies of thousands.

Practically the first words out of Owen Smith’s mouth as he launched his campaign were, “I’m normal.” What kind of statement is that? Is that intended to persuade me to sit up and take notice? That this, perhaps, is a man who is so much more electable than Jeremy Corbyn. Owen is normal. Okay. Not sure what I’m meant to do with that. You should be declaring yourself to be exceptional, mate. Or, better yet, demonstrating it rather than telling us.

Owen Smith has also stated, “I’m as radical as Jeremy Corbyn.” But it’s no use just adopting policy promises and paying lip service to socialism if nobody believes you’ll actually deliver on them. Sorry, but we live in an age where much of what you said is on record and freely distributed around the internet, along with your actual voting record. We can compare and contrast your statements with your intentions. In the past, politicians enjoyed far greater freedom, I imagine, to tell us one thing and do another. Now, not so much. Even if memories are short, Google has a long reach.

Jeremy Corbyn is a personality cult. Well, we can’t accuse Owen Smith of that. But the impression I get is that the anti-Corbyn crowd is in essence an anti-personality cult. They simply do not want Corbyn. Which is fair enough, but I’m not seeing a dislike of the man as any better than or in some way a superior stance to take than liking the man.

And I’m told that other potential leaders might be waiting in the wings, but they dare not put themselves forward for fear of the flak and abuse they might have to endure. Well, come on in, the water’s toxic. Jeremy Corbyn has been swimming those waters for nigh-on a year. And he’s withstood more abuse and smears than anyone. Honestly, if you’re a better leader than him, if you’re more prime-ministerial than Owen Smith, why aren’t you out on the battlefield standing up for what you believe and enduring whatever gets thrown at you like an actual leader would be? Where are you? Because it’s beginning to look like Owen Smith isn’t intended to be leader at all. It’s beginning to look like he’s just some stand-in, some decoy to take the flak before the intended successor takes over. Which kind of paints the mysterious intended successor as a bit of a coward and not much of a leader in the scheme of things.

This, unfortunately for all the chicken-coup crowd, makes Corbyn look even better in comparison.

But for my part, it’s not even just about being pro-Corbyn. This is about so much more. It is, for one, about what he stands for.

These, for example, are the ten pledges Jeremy has set out in his leadership bid:

Ten Pledges

An economy that works for all

Secure homes for all

Security at work

Secure our NHS and social care

Free national education service

Democracy in our economy

Cut income and wealth inequality

Act to end prejudice and injustice

Peace and justice abroad.

He’s also talked about parity for mental health alongside physical health, and that’s an issue close to my heart. As well as – at the rally – issues specific to our region. All of which will be part of the message we will need to convey across the country once this leadership election is resolved.

Anyway, that’s the kind of politics he stands for. There’s not much I can see in there to which reasonable people could object. And I happen to believe Corbyn can deliver them. I trust him. I happen to believe he is eminently electable. I want a PM who believes in a fairer, more equal society, where we actually care about the poor and socially disadvantaged, those less fortunate than ourselves, whatever position we’re in. Those are the values I stand for and those are the values I would like to see represented in government.

Of course, I’ve been told that 29% of Labour supporters would rather see Theresa May than Jeremy Corbyn as PM. Nobody has said how Owen Smith stacks up against our anti Human Rights, Snoopers Charter PM. But in any case that statistic speaks far greater volumes about the kind of Labour supporters they must be than anything it purports to say about Jeremy Corbyn. They appear not to take into account what May stands for – which is everything the Labour Party should oppose, heart and soul and tooth and nail.

Beyond that, it has come to be about more even than Corbyn and his values. It has also come to be about the values apparently held by his opponents within the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) and the NEC (National Executive Committee). The tactics that have been employed have been a disgrace, offensive to members and damaging to both the public perceptions of the party and to the core democratic principles on which the party was founded.

While I respect the right of the NEC to set the rules for its own internal elections, you cannot take membership monies on the written understanding – as advertised on the website – of their right to take part in leadership elections and then withdraw that right. That is false advertising, taking money under false pretences.

If the move was to guard against entryism, well, nobody between Jan 12th and June 24th knew there was a leadership election pending – nobody except the coup plotters anyway, who may have been planning the move for some time. A fair cut-off would have been the date at which the leadership election was announced, but for starters the website should have been amended promptly to reflect that.

As for the £25 registered supporter fee, that remains an outrage, utterly at odds with the principles of fairness the party is supposed to uphold. That’s a third to a half of a week’s income for those on benefits and a sizeable chunk of change to those on low incomes, now set as the price of a vote in a leadership election in the party for working people. My blood still boils at that one.

But apparently, the party wasn’t satisfied with driving my blood to boiling point. No. Because a group of intrepid Labour members went to court to fight the NEC ruling on that cut-off date and they won... briefly. The NEC was awarded the right to appeal and they took the opportunity to place themselves in the absolutely ridiculous and offensive situation of using members’ money to fight to exclude members from the democratic process.

In the same week, deputy leader insulted all those youngsters so recently engaged with politics by launching into wild conspiracy theories about Trots (Trotskyites) intimidating young voters into supporting Corbyn.

And I’ll not say what I want to say at that point. Because a) we are looking to pursue a gentler, kinder politics and b) I purposefully postponed writing this blog post so that I might stand some chance of getting all the way through without using swear words.
So just imagine a few paragraphs here peppered with choice profanities. That should give some impression of my anger without causing undue offence to sensitive eyes and ears.

As heartening as attending that rally was last Saturday, this week’s events have been proportionately disheartening.

So whatever I think of Corbyn and his values is, while by no means immaterial, just a partner to what I think of those in the party who have set out to destroy him. You could replace Owen Smith with St Frances of Assisi or Marilyn Monroe right now and I still wouldn’t vote for them.

If this is the approach chosen to demonstrate electability, competence and a party in touch with the electorate then it is a woeful failure. At a time when the membership is at a high and when we should be focused on attacking the Tories, the party has effectively made enemies of its own members. Showing levels of contempt and incompetence only rivalled by their supportive movement’s command of irony in calling itself ‘Saving Labour’.

They come not to save Labour, but to bury it.

Whatever emerges, if allowed to emerge in their hands, may bear the name, but it will not be Labour. That alone is enough to commit me to the Corbyn campaign.

Declaring someone unelectable does not make it so. What it does is make me want to work towards getting that someone elected. So much more so when people call me stupid, so much more so when the opposition employs low tactics. Because I hate to break it to you there in the PLP, but if you’re questioning someone’s electability then you really need to prove your ability to win elections fair and square. Because, as a rule, you don’t get to win General Elections by excluding groups of voters.

When this is all over and when Corbyn has been elected a second time to the party leadership it is my hope that we can get on with the business of opposing a Tory government.

Whatever others decide to do in that eventuality is up to them, but I hope we can discuss our options, our approach, strategy and tactics together with a united aim. Because in terms of policy and values at least I believe we can find plenty of common ground.

It’s a long and difficult road back from here and already there’s a great deal of damage to be repaired – and this pointless and unnecessary fight isn’t over for another month or more.

Until then, I’ll be saving my breath because I’ve said all I want to say and I’ll need my energies for when we return to fighting Tories. I've no energy or desire to argue any more with friends. And if there are any arguments to be had, given their tendency to be circular anyway, I’ll just send you back here. Like a time loop.

But hopefully one of a more constructive nature.

SAF 2016

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Black Dog Dead - July

Snakes and ladders.

You roll the dice, you move. If you’re lucky you climb, if not you fall.

In life, your moves are not left purely to random chance. As much as it may feel that way some days, it’s not true. You have a great deal of control and choice over how you approach your day. It’s just that you have to accept that your control doesn’t extend to some of the random shit that can cross your path.

The month of June for me was something of a lesson in realising the limits of what I can and cannot control, the extent to which I can change the world, for instance (hint: it’s a very small amount), and a reminder to scale things back and focus primarily on my own smaller world. To make differences where they could be seen and measured and felt.

Charity begins at home is the commonly trotted-out phrase. I don’t particularly subscribe to that view, but the fight versus the Black Dog definitely does. Hence, after June’s political warfare and the EU referendum fallout, it was good to adjust the focus to me and my immediate world.

As depressing (small d) as it is to be a socialist right now, July is a month which comes with an annual feature known as a birthday and while I know age can be as depressing (small d) as politics for some, I’m not generally one to feel the negative effects. Far from it, I go all out to celebrate and award myself a good few days – maybe as much as a week – with only as much work as I feel like doing. And this year I even gave myself a week off any discussion of politics on social media.

I’m not saying it was easy exactly. A writer’s holidays never are, in my experience. Not-writing is the toughest of all the writerly disciplines by far. The brain keeps working even if the fingers are denied their keyboard and I usually end up making notes, jotting down ideas and plotting out plots. Word doodling. But such work-related non-work activities are liberally seasoned with plenty of R&R, a few treats and an evening or two out. So it all still qualifies as a break.

Staying away from politics had its own share of challenges. Shit happened. Quite a lot of farcical shit that begged for comment. I resisted, dear reader. I did at times feel like Chandler in Friends that time when he declared he was no longer going to use humour as a defence mechanism. By the end of the ordeal, the poor guy was bursting with jokes. But I survived the whole seven days.

All in all, they were the best of times, they were the healthiest of times. Friends, presents, alcohol, a trip to the cinema, more friends. General birthday sorts of things. From my perspective that counts as a lot of ladders.

And while we can’t afford to be reliant on boosts from external sources, much of what we gain from these kinds of assists are down to us. In the first place, it’s a question of being open to social opportunities and the like. In the second, a great deal is down to how much of ourselves we invest in them and the value we attach to them. Which is to say, it’s not just a case of whether or not you count your blessings, but how much you count them. So rest assured I welcomed every smile, every joke, every hug, conversation and birthday wish and banked the lot.

Heck, I even got quite a bit out of a solo trip to the cinema to see the latest Star Trek movie and I don’t even like Star Trek.

All this atmosphere of positivity was a great foundation for resuming my usual work schedule the following week and I made a good start on the following Monday. Awesome.

And if all  that sounds too good to be true and you know what’s coming, then you’d sort of be right. But only sort of.

Because there were no specific snakes lurking in my path.

Rather, it was just plain old (chronic) tiredness that tripped me up in the end.

Insomnia is another big enemy of mine, has been for years. Possibly some relation to the Black Dog, but one connection I know there is lies in the dangers of an exhausted mind. Four nights straight of some of the worst sleep (or lack) I’ve known and my defences were seriously down. The usual guards against NATs (Negative Automatic Thoughts) were dozing on duty and by the fourth day it took very little to creep in and weaken the structural integrity. So little, I couldn’t even tell you now the thought or incident that triggered it. Whatever it was, I crumbled, majorly.

Now, I give myself credit: I responded pretty well – eventually. Indulgent as it sounds, after a week off for my birthday, I awarded myself some days off – to rest, remove any sense of pressure to do anything and basically take a step back and take a breather. Mostly resorted to some TV and listening to music (a chance to enjoy some of those birthday presents), very small chores at home to provide microscopic senses of achievement with minimal cost in effort. Afternoon naps were permitted. When I was feeling a bit more like myself, I made myself go out and spend a little time with one of my favourite people. Stepped it up gradually to a half-day of writing and the slightly more major chore of laundry.

These steps will all sound like stupid things to many, but they are what winning looks like when the Black Dog strikes so viciously as it did on this occasion. And they’re not a natural cause for great pride, but I have to allow myself to feel a degree of pride in achieving such small victories. Again, the value of such things comes down to whatever value you attach to them.

You got up and had breakfast on Tuesday? That’s either ‘no big deal’ or ‘bloody well done you’. You ran the hoover around the living room on Wednesday? ‘So what’ or ‘high five!’. You washed the dishes on Thursday? ‘Slow hand clap’ or ‘round of applause’. The difference is in your power to decide. Never mind what others think, others who might manage these things without a second’s thought. To you, if they’re a struggle and you do them, then they’re huge.

And if you don’t? If they seem too big a mountain to climb? Fine-tune your scale. Your own huge victories may have to be a bit smaller for a while. But they’re yours and you set the scale. You’re the only one who has any say in how they are measured.

That much, I have learned. And I’m not the fastest of learners, it must be fessed up.

There were other lessons I learned from those four days of rebuilding me. One, that while I share my experiences online because I believe wholeheartedly that there should be no stigma attached to issues of mental health, I recognise that part of me is seeking to shame myself into action. I do feel some shame as a Depressive (big D) and feel like I should be stronger than I clearly am. Rationally, I recognise that as part of the disease. Same as, even now as I write this, part of me is thinking not of how I used those four days to good effect in putting myself back on my feet – but how I’ve lost four days in what ought to have been my working schedule.

But these are the traps that our that our thoughts are prone to fall into. More pesky NATs that hover around in the wake of the Black Dog like flies around shit.

The fact is, we are back on the board. And even if we’re a little scared of rolling the dice, we can move forward one space at a time.

There will be snakes and there will be ladders. No matter how far you progress, Square One is only one slide away. And that’s frightening.

But we know the steps involved in getting back up.

SAF 2016

Friday, July 01, 2016

Black Dog Dead - June

Come on, Black Dog, make up your mind. Are you IN or OUT?

Now, I’m sure I’ve talked before about how ideally I’d love to better manage my emotional reactions to the news, the world of politics and so on, and if ever there was a month to test my progress in that quarter, June 2016 was it.

So how’d I do?

In some respects, hopelessly badly. In others, pretty damned well.

For the most part, my personal focus this month was on one goal: completing edits on my Lethbridge-Stewart novel and submitting the MS on time to the editor at Candy Jar Books. That was the be all and end all on the work front and I must confess other things did slide – household chores neglected, social life (what’s that?) and general R&R.

If at times the editing marathon looked too packed and too daunting, I broke it down into short sprints. Even as little as half an hour, short break, half an hour, short break, through the afternoons and some evenings. It enabled me to largely ignore the big hill I had to climb and focus on the details, making the task easier to approach and, I hope, benefiting the writing.

And I did it.  Goal achieved. Hats off, hurrah, well done me and I remembered to award myself some R&R after it was done. Actually, I had more days off than I’d intended. I meant to move fairly quickly on to resuming writing on Evil UnLtd Vol 5 and did get to work on some notes and plotting, scribbling ideas here and there, but my creative brain demanded more rest and for once I gave into its demands.

I’m learning!

As with May, the busy daily timetable didn’t leave a great deal of room for contemplating my mental state. I continued my habit of the weekly morning swim and that remains beneficial, although I still have an occasional struggle just getting myself to that pool and there are feelings of anxiety and isolation that surface now and again during the swim. But I know the benefits and keep going. And I think it’s generally fair to say that if you’re not stopping to think about it, if you’re doing, then at the very least you have generated a revolving door which really confuses the crap out of the Black Dog and keeps the bastard out for a while.

Still, without adopting a completely hermitic lifestyle it’s impossible to shut out the world altogether. And in any case, if we care at all, we shouldn’t when there is an opportunity to have our say in a national democratic decision.

So I followed the EU referendum campaign as best I could in between the workathon.

What a horror show.

Worse because quite apart from the main feature it put me in touch with other world news. And in the midst of some of the basest level debate I’ve had the displeasure to witness, there came reports of shootings. Mass murder in Orlando and the murder of Jo Cox MP. And because I’ve yet to become inured to such things, it’s fair to say there was some sense of despair and hopelessness colouring my world view as the debate marched on towards June 23rd.

Obviously, discussion of the politics belongs mostly elsewhere and believe me I did my share. Suffice to say, I was deeply disappointed by certain aspects of the campaign going on before my eyes – lies, misinformation, ignorance, racism – and further dismayed by the result. Oops, just gave away which side of the fence I was on. Oh well. But in this context, it’s irrelevant. Because the country today is full of Remainers and Brexiters who live in a world of uncertainty and anxiety and some of us, whichever way we voted, were already suffering with mental health issues.

I don’t mind telling you, on Friday 24th June I was depressed.

Yeah, I was gutted, like any person would be, waking up to bad news. And I got angry and I vented on social media and all the rest.

But, and here’s the thing, this wasn’t Depression with a capital, clinical D.

We know the difference when the Black Dog strikes. I especially knew the difference because it did strike a few days later, on the following Tuesday. Yeah, that’s the day we went from ordinary old-fashioned blues to when the Black Dog voted itself IN.

Now, I know there were several contributing factors that just converged and became too much. Thinking back I can even recall the stages throughout that day combining to tip me over and sink me into a deep dark pit.

And I think that’s quite significant, because so many times before I have been totally unable to tell anyone why I’m feeling Depressed, to identify a triggering incident or chain of incidents. Often when you are dragged along in an undertow of emotion, it’s easy to lose sight of the source.

I’m hoping that I can retain some measure of that awareness and be alert for warning signs in future.

Anyway, what’s even more important is that I came through and emerged on the other side. Not exactly a ray of sunshine today as I write this – partly cloudy, might best describe my state of mind. But once again we have kicked the Black Dog out and if there is any depression lingering then it has shed its capital, clinical D for now.

How did I battle my way through?

Well, I didn’t put up a fight, I can tell you that much.

Gave in to it. Gave up, even. Allowed myself to crash, then slowly hauled myself out of the wreckage the following day, when I was ready. You have to be real careful when moving an accident victim.

In practical terms, what it amounted to was extending a break I was already supposed to be on after completing my novel. A planned couple of days off became three or four, carrying me right up to the end of June. Indulgent, but necessary. Carrying on with a few scribbled notes, just to let the imagination play and help me feel like I wasn’t quite out of the game altogether, combined with being kind to myself – a dash of comfort telly, a spot of video gaming, watching some tennis highlights, general vegging, curling up under a blanket and/or a cat, much like you would if you were ill. Which I was, of course.

And thanks to a bit of good timing on the part of the calendar this convalescent spell was nicely tailed off with an evening out for a mate’s birthday, right at the end of the month. Can’t say I was in the best spirits for partying at the outset, but I recognised the need for it and went out and took my medicine. And it did the trick.

After a brief and untidy and highly disorganised campaign, I voted the Black Dog OUT again. Hurray!

And here we are, next day, beginning of July. Another fresh start in a sense, where I’m reminded of my limitations and know how to proceed for the next thirty-one days.

Yes, we can change the world, but it’s a question of scale. You do what you can and that is all you can do. And sometimes if it looks hopeless or pointless, well, the only thing you can do is focus on yourself and your small world, where you can see and measure the differences you make.


SAF 2016