Election ’17: A Rowner Remainer Under Brexit Siege

Writer, adventurer and planetary modeller David Angus feels under siege. He lives in a part of Gosport that was vulnerable to the propaganda of the Leave campaign during the EU referendum. So how will the General Election pan out for Gosport, Britain and Europe?

This morning I got the Conservative party manifesto through my letterbox.

Yesterday I put a poster in my window which should have left no doubt about my passionate loathing of the Conservative Party! I left a message on their answerphone to drive the point home.

I folded the lower part of my poster back to hide the declaration about being a Remainer. About not wanting the perfect shitstorm over Europe organised for us by the Conservatives, along with many hard working individuals, many in education, others belonging to the younger generations.

I wonder whether I’m going to get a brick through my window anyway for having the chutzpah to show the poster between now and the election? A friend back from America thought Brexit might happen and she predicted Trump would win over there. Well, I’ll act according to the principles of freedom of speech which often involve some risk.

And the June election? Brexit has to be the main reason to fight. Brexit. This breakfast cereal-sounding name belies that its advent and continuation could be as toxic for this country as cancer. By the way, to all those fond of using another bad word in my opinion – ‘Remoaner’ – how about ‘Quitling’ to describe a leave voter? A friend came up with this one saying it was a play on ‘Quisling’. That’s one in the eye for people who accuse those who voted to remain in Europe as being traitors too. And by the way those who wanted us to leave Europe have been moaning for decades. Now that they’ve got their way the word Remoaner and ‘we won so stop whining and grow up’ is tantamount to denying the same right to oppose. Denying the democratic process, I think that’s called. I’ve caught and verbally shot down three on Facebook expressing this despicable sentiment – one of whom went to school with me – but have yet to do the same to a particularly aggressive fourth.

Don’t get me started on Brexit,’ I told my University of Portsmouth contact when he asked me to write this… Where does one start on Brexit? Why, anywhere. Start with any thought: one grievance and foul situation flows into another and another. It can go on and on inconveniently until there’s little left to explain or argue about. Like diarrhoea.

Not that I dislike all Leave voters or believe they’re without merit. Like America, a large part of the UK population felt ignored and disenfranchised, including many in the south. I believe too that the excesses of political correctness helped stoke up the resentment factor. Also some of what’s happened inside the EU – and especially the big businesses associated with it – is questionable. It became clear during a pub conversation with a Leave voter that what had happened was a massive protest vote, but thanks to the Conservatives this whole issue is being handled in the worst way. They’re not helping the national interest and they’re not helping most of those who voted in favour of leaving.

So anyway, if I’m under seige let’s discuss the tactical situation.

I’m living alone and my immediate contact with the outside world is no longer BBC news – which seems partially compromised – but Facebook, where there are plenty of allies, some friends I meet every few years at conventions, or once in an age in other countries. There is surprisingly little flack given some of my comments. Not that there isn’t misrepresentation of some news on Facebook and intolerance of opposing views in any sort of group online or off.

My immediate neighbourhood, Rowner, was a tough area used as a dumping ground by the council. But it has improved a lot. Although there’s more open space and greenery here than in much of elsewhere urban, the lack of understanding of the benefits of being in the EU is strong, I feel. One sign was a leaflet I came across recently that was used as lavatory paper but perhaps I shouldn’t worry: it was a Conservative leaflet.

I know Leave voters in Rowner who are friends. Some of them are even Tories! One of the nastiest surprises of Brexit is to find that friends voted the other way, particularly when I was browbeaten by one of them in London. My excuse for not fighting back was him being the host of a dinner party and me being paralytic at the time on his booze. Seemed ungrateful.

Anyway, I’m going off on a Brexit tangent again. A Leave couple I know in Rowner are tolerant but concerned over fishing rights. As for the Tory, let’s say that although the debates are lively, if I’d been leader of the Liberal Democrats and he’d been the PM the coalition might have been more of a success. Individual Tories need not be the problem, it’s what, as a whole, the Conservative Party has become that’s the problem. My fellow Remain voter here in Rowner is the woman who predicted Trump getting in. We’re old friends.

Further afield, Gosport seems worse than Rowner. ‘Fuckwitville, Little England’ was how I described it to a friend in Faringdon who didn’t know any Leave voters. Neither did a friend in Fareham. My comment’s unfair in some ways for Gosport has nice parts, people I like are here and it’s now my home town but much of it consists of narrow car-choked streets, Brickwoods Brilliant Ales pubs and terraced homes ruled by outsized flatscreen TVs that became a fertile breeding ground for an aggressive Rottweiller/Jack Russell terrier style of patriotism: small-minded with real attitude, judging by the Union Jacks, St George flags and ‘vote Leave’ signs going up before the referendum. Enough for 64% which represented ‘the will of the people,’ gloated my compulsory Tory MP in an email reply. Gosport is a safe seat despite being in the frame over the political expenses scandal, involving a duck island. ‘You couldn’t make it up’.

‘The will of the people’ is the most contemptible PR marketing whitewash. The true voting proportion nationally including those who didn’t vote was 37% leave. Less if one includes those who are having second thoughts over the kind of Brexit we’re being pushed into and especially those too young to vote who really will be affected!

There I go again. Then there’s Portsmouth. On the face of it, a bigger version of Gosport with its architecture and town planning making it one of the most densely populated places anywhere. But two of my allies there live in those terraced houses, one being concerned with the rise in xenophobic attacks since the referendum. Both are in the local science fiction group I belong to, which is split but mostly in favour of remain. Then there’s the university. At last, a remain stronghold!

I feel I may have developed a siege mentality because the bunch lording it over us – insisting on more and more extremism – seem to be going from strength to strength having just done very well in the local elections. What is wrong with people’s brains? Are they frightened to chance an alternative through losing their jobs or homes or are they taken in by the ‘Strong and Stable’ mantra these parasites in power are repeating now?

To me, this repetition and actual events suggest the opposite is true: the post-referendum resignations and the turning of coats from Remain to Leave among the remaining Tories, the massive election fraud and police investigation involving 29 constituencies, the dependence – having abandoned Britain’s good negotiating position within the EU – on that orange mopped monstrosity of a human being from across the pond, the increasing of the national debt to £700 billion, the free market property mentality just continuing to build places that are too expensive, doubling the homeless, condemning more and more to being ruled by slum landlords, pricing out public sector workers and the young, the continued cutting of public services with the worn out hard luck story about not enough money while those responsible are coining obscene amounts by contrast.

Speaking of the public sector, a perfect illustration of the complete and utter bollocks that is the immigration scare story is the state of the NHS. Immigrants are less likely to be a drain on it than the indigenous British in fact because immigrants largely staff it! Not just Europeans but black, Asian, polka dot, Martian maybe – or the odd extraterrestrial observer. Who knows? You name it. (Just thought I’d add the bit about Martians etc to bring a bit of tension into the lives of immigration bigots, some of whom probably still think there are canals on Mars). Seriously though, that particular middle aged to old aged group are much more likely to be a drain on the NHS through becoming indulgent pissheads and neglecting their health.

OK so I’m going off the deep end. Maybe because of the gutter press led campaign against immigrants overloading public services when the real cause is Conservative cuts. That immigration scare campaign helped lead to the EU shambles, the rise in xenophobic attacks and people of foreign descent now being worried about their future here. I know at least one of them: the German wife of a friend. I like a multicultural society and the old British values I value of tolerance, open mindedness and fair play are being replaced by insular narrow minded bigoted cowardice.

Of course we had to be strong and stable to leave Europe. Leaving a key role in the stability of 60 years of peace in Europe, a dream at the end of WW2 that Churchill hoped for, together with the comparatively minor matter of 44% of Britain’s exports and a market of 500 million consumers.

Strong and stable. Causing deep division in the UK and the renewed possibility of its breakup what with Scotland leaving and the destabilisation of the Irish border. Strong and stable. The destabilisation and getting rid of consumer, workers and environmental safeguards, regional funding, investment in science, arts and culture. Strong and stable. Well and truly crapping in our nest for the future by not only abandoning unimpeded travel across Europe but getting rid of opportunities for younger generations to study and work there. Oh and also ensuring less or no EU co-operation regarding counter-terrorism. Strong and stable. My liking of a multicultural society does not extend to those who would impose their religious laws upon Britain or kill us.

Had the government gone for a Brexit more along the lines of Norway which would mean not losing the single market while actually increasing immigration controls, I might well have been won over and settled for that. But Brexit is accelerating in the worst way and its the omnipotent, arrogant extremism that gets me. The presumption that we must all conform not only to the referendum – which was supposed to be advisory and therefore not legally binding! – but to the worst form of Brexit.

Wake up and think about it. The whole thing was started by internal Conservative Party politics and a gentleman with experience in marketing declaring a referendum, believing that his background in bullshit could carry the day against the extremists. Instead of ending their moaning it was only the beginning of much worse to come, the beginning of a whole new stratum of shit to cope with, as if life wasn’t complicated enough already.

Then the wanker who’d let us in for this just resigned and walked away from all responsibility. Judges who didn’t shirk their responsibility and held the government to parliamentary law became another tabloid target: according to Facebook ‘Enemies of the People’ is the same headline as one appearing in the press in 1930s Germany. And now we have a vicar’s daughter representing the most tedious town in Britain – I was at art college there – trying to impress EU leaders with the narrowness of her vision, plus a foreign minister resembling that blithering clown who invites himself to a party and ruins a conversation one’s trying to have with a prospective girlfriend, while – becoming free of EU laws – other notables pursue with Himmler like dedication some sort of final solution for the unemployed and especially the disabled; who are now beginning to die off through this kind of attention.

Sorry but I can’t help drawing some parallels with a dark period in Germany’s history. Let’s hope I’m overreacting and wrong. That the next Conservative government doesn’t become a police state and my state of siege ends with me being arrested. Let’s hope we’ll just muddle through in true British style.

Film and TV Remakes – Good For Your Health?

Following the return of TV’s Gilmore Girls returning after nearly a decade, Mia Mctigue-Rodriguez explores what attracts us to TV and film revivals.

Revivals and remakes have been part of popular culture for decades, and in recent years there have been more than ever. Films such as Jurassic World (2015) and Ghostbusters (2016) were both produced over a decade after the original movies that inspired them. Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, released in episodic form thirteen years after Brad Silberling’s film, is another example of a revival. We’ve seen Andy outgrow his childhood toys and leave home for college in Toy Story 3; Bridget Jones struggled to balance a successful career and an unexpected pregnancy in Bridget Jones’ Baby; a new season of X-Files aired after a fourteen year hiatus.

Those who didn’t watch Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (AYITL) might have at least seen the excitable comments from fans or the Twitter mayhem caused by the finale. The extreme reaction was not only towards the cliffhanger ending, but the shock that main character, Rory, returns to her mother’s home following a career slump. Younger viewers admired Rory in those first 7 seasons as she juggled life at an Ivy League University with internships, relationship problems and more. Now 32 years old, the character’s current life wasn’t what many fans expected from the driven young woman we’d grown up with.

I, too, experienced this initial shock, but found myself comforted by the idea that a fictional character that I look up to undergoes the same struggles as we real modern people. We all talk about influence on young people from films, TV shows and video games, but the comforting advice we receive as adults is equally important.

Southampton University has conducted studies showing that experimentally induced nostalgia ‘increases perceptions of meaning in life and gives a sense of existential comfort’. A revival can reassure us that, even if someone is hard-working and successful, their life is by no means perfect.

A Year in the Life didn’t only feature Rory. Lorelai Gilmore, now 46, is coming to terms with the loss of her father, and considering raising another child with Luke. There is the grieving process of Emily Gilmore. These are struggles we can all relate to.

In December, according to Symphony Advance Media, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life secured nearly 5 million viewers between the ages of 18-49. The three generations of women in the series appeal to a broad age range, and offer viewers not only a nostalgic glimpse of the past but a reflection of where they may be now.

As Executive Chair for East Kent Mencap, Claire Holding supervises the care of young people with learning difficulties. She told me that revivals inform the level of trust we place on companies to provide appropriate content for younger and more sensitive viewers. Parents are more likely to allow children to watch The Snowdog or Disney’s Finding Dory when they can use the original film as a benchmark.

‘I know if I leave the room nothing inappropriate – sexual or violent, etc – will be exposed to the person watching,’ says Claire. ‘It’s the same as sticking to a reliable brand and receiving the same type of service or product.’ Claire and her teenage daughter, Faye, could both imagine themselves being in the same situations as the characters. Claire says the Gilmore Girls revival explored the complexities of having an intelligent daughter, and the close mother-daughter relationship portrayed in the original series reflected her lived experience as a single parent.

As seen here, revivals have the potential to connect generations. My own mother might not understand Snapchat or the ever evolving world of memes, but an evening spent together watching Gilmore Girls allows us to both enjoy the same themes and ideas.

Harry Goldfinch is a commercial music student and member of the Star Wars Society at Canterbury Christchurch University. He says he owes much of his Star Wars obsession to the music. He feels ‘nostalgic’ on hearing the theme from the original movies, reproduced recently in The Force Awakens and Rogue One.

In 2007, Janata, Tomic and Rakowski studied the effect music has on us using both laboratory experiments and questionnaires. The results showed the areas of the brain that process memory responded strongly to familiar melodies. For many people, their emotional response to music is nostalgia. Revivals don’t just stimulate us visually; classic theme songs evoke warmth and reminiscence.

Harry also says that fans rejected the Star Wars sequels because they didn’t like the changes made to the originals. Star Wars has a growing audience, especially with younger viewers – in fact, Disney have begun building Star Wars -themed lands in their parks that are due to open in 2019. There is a lot of pressure on creative producers to strike a balance between new and old.

The 2016 Ghostbusters reboot took a revisionist stance by exchanging the all-male cast of the 1984 classic with female actors. In 2018, Ocean’s 11 will be remade as Ocean’s 8 with an all-women line-up. According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, women led 29% of 2016’s top 100 grossing films, a 7% increase from 2015. Clearly the film industry is becoming more diverse, inclusive and equal, and revivals are becoming a vehicle for delivering that progress.

Revivals can also inject a text from a previous historical moment and inject it with a current socio-political resonance. Van Norris, senior lecturer in film at the University of Portsmouth, said to me that the Battlestar Galactica revival made allegorical nods towards the political climate of the early 21st century. Through the character of President Roslin, whose actions mirrored the actual US response to 9/11, viewers could reflect on decisions made by leaders during real-life wars.

Dr Norris told me that, in a world of ‘hyper-fragmentation and endless consumer choices, the revival can be a doorway into something new that producers are hoping to perpetuate.’ He praised JJ Abram’s Star Trek reboot and its ability to be fresh while explicitly linking back to the 1960s series. ‘Many people watch shows as a kind of snapshot that takes them back to specific feelings and times.’ Van himself related to this through his affection for the James Bond series and the ongoing Star Wars saga. Battlestar Galactica and AYITL are solid demonstrations of how a revival offers something recognisable while introducing newer elements.

Alan R Hirsch, in his report ‘Nostalgia: A Neuropsychiatric Understanding’, says that nostalgia is ‘a yearning for an idealized past’. In psychoanalysis, this is called ‘screen memory’: combining different memories and filtering out negative emotions to recreate and capture a ‘sanitised impression of the past’. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life constructs new obstacles concerning grief and loss alongside reassuring similarities to the original series: late night gossiping between mother and daughter, town meetings, and visual cues such as Luke’s signature blue cap.

A recent article in the Guardian, ‘Look Back in Joy: The Power of Nostalgia’, explores how nostalgia has become a popular academic study. Dr Tim Wildshut, associate professor in psychology at the University of Southampton, says that nostalgia is a positive thing for most people; it can provide optimism for the future, and help people evaluate situations and respond accordingly. In short, looking back can be a healthy act.

Wildshut also mentions nostalgia-based therapies being developed for illnesses including depression and even Alzheimer’s disease. Regarding nostalgia as a positive mental tool certainly gives us another excuse to cosy up in our local cinema with an excessive amount of popcorn and catch up with old friends.

There is great comfort in returning to your favourite characters, whether they are a Gilmore or a Princess on Alderaan. We can learn from their shift to the current time, see life through a different lens, and draw strength from their battles so we can better face our own.

Picture by jeffmason used here under a Creative Commons Licence for Flickr.

Election ’17: UK to Crumble After June 8th?

Author and S&C Contributing Editor Gareth Rees asks whether, given the current political climate, the United Kingdom can survive as a united kingdom. And if not, might we finally start to deal with a few nostalgic national myths?

When you leave your village and go abroad, you not only learn about another part of the world, you find, when you get home again, that you see the old country in a different light. I returned to Britain after a year away and felt dismayed that the country was half asleep in an egocentric version of history and repressed by a caste system which held back the flowering of so many of the people.

Despite this, new shoots of life cannot help but burst through the gaps in the paving stones, the Beatles for example, lifting spirits here and abroad. And isn’t this a great thing to do, to bring to foot-tapping life rather than to feel great by deploying the means to intimidate on a vast scale with nuclear weapons or to ride with the hounds on a mission to dismember foxes?

As for this General Election, the old narrative appears to be heading for victory but it could turn out to be a Pyrrhic one. You know that dubious feeling when you’re saying to yourself, ‘I’m worth more than this. I want out‘? And yet, after the severance, you wake up and find your life strangely lessened rather than enhanced. Instead of promotion, you find yourself relegated and grateful for an affair with anybody.

I wonder if Britain is going this way. It could be that Scotland will become increasingly disconnected and maybe in ten years or so the nuclear submarines will have to look elsewhere to park themselves. Pembrokeshire? That might produce votes for Plaid Cymru. Cornwall. Well, they’ve got issues with central government, haven’t they?

And then there’s Northern Ireland where I’ve heard word that economic considerations might trump ancient identity issues and a united Ireland will come about sooner rather than later.

And what about Great Britain? Will we be left with just England and a one party state? And does it feel safer and stronger for that?

Maybe it will be like waking up and suddenly feeling naked and vulnerable, last night’s dream of grandeur just that, a dream. And then, as in the Battle of Britain, you realise you won’t survive without the Polish pilots and the sergeant pilots, the machine operators, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, cultivators and artists to revive the memory of humanity instead of the locations of money chests buried under the sands of the Cayman Islands.

Photography by Moshe Tasky

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: The Common Disease You’ve Never Heard Of

Almost 1 in 10 women in the UK are diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome – why don’t we know more about it? Portsmouth-based blogger and broadcaster Laura Mitchell finds out why.

In August 2016, I sought advice from my GP for a painful case of acne that had been breaking out on my face for the best part of a year. Around the same time, my periods became irregular; they lost sync for six months, and for the next five stopped altogether.

My GP gave me antibiotics for the acne, but also questioned me on other points. Did I find it difficult to lose weight? Yes – don’t we all? Was my hair thinning and falling out? No. I had always had a thick mane of hair.

He rubbed his chin and told me he would like to send me for blood tests. He thought I might have a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome.

Nothing more was said until my blood results came back. My hormone levels were in check, so it was unlikely I had PCOS. However, I was sent for an ultrasound to be sure. The scan showed my ovaries had eggs that were swollen and dotted around like a pearl necklace. After five months of ‘you might, you might not’ discussions with my GP, I was sent to a specialist gynaecologist and finally diagnosed with PCOS in January 2017.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (or ‘PCOS’) is a condition that affects the normal functioning of women’s ovaries. According to the NHS, the condition presents in three primary features: irregular periods, imbalanced or high-level hormones, and cysts in the ovaries. These features exhibit various symptoms: weight gain or an inability to lose weight, excessive hair growth on the face or chest, irregular periods, thinning hair, acne, depression, and an inability to conceive and carry a pregnancy.

According to PCOS UK, the condition affects 5-10% of women. How had I never heard of it?

Initially, I struggled with the diagnosis. I felt like less of a woman. To be told that your body cannot carry a child is a horrible thing to hear. I felt empty and without purpose. I had always known I wanted children, but I wanted a life first, a career, adventures. PCOS complicated things. Knowing it could take years to conceive, would I need to start trying earlier than I’d planned? How long would the process take? Should I save for fertility treatment now?

I was upset and confused. I wanted to know more and so, obviously, I turned to the fountain of all knowledge: the internet. This was of little comfort. There were stories of women with PCOS who had taken ten years, and several miscarriages, to get pregnant.; women whose hair had thinned dramatically; women who had developed full beards; women who suffered extreme depression and anxiety as a direct symptom of PCOS. It was difficult to find reliable information to put my mind at ease.

I wondered if my experience was common. Was my GP particularly unsympathetic? Had I just slipped under the radar?

Siobhan Ring, 24, first went to her GP when she was 17. She didn’t receive a full diagnosis of PCOS until she was 22. ‘They sent me to the hospital for an ultrasound when I was 17, which came back clear. Then I went back at 22 for an internal scan and was finally diagnosed. I went back again at 23 because my periods were still irregular. I was only having about two a year. All they really did was put me back on the pill. I haven’t had any more advice from the doctors. Not other than to come off the pill when I would like to have children.’ Siobhan also struggled to find reliable information on her condition, and felt she was left unsupported following her diagnosis. ‘I was never even referred to a specialist. I haven’t really had medical support.’ PCOS is a common condition, so why is information and support so scarce for women in the wake of their diagnosis?

Joe Aquilina, a consultant of sixteen years who specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of menstrual disorders and polycystic ovaries, explains why it is so difficult for PCOS sufferers to find the right kind of support and information. ‘It’s poorly understood by GPs,’ says Joe. ‘For people who are not specialised in it, the understanding is so poor. I teach GPs regularly: they see it’s quite common but in some ways they find it difficult to treat.

‘The criteria includes some women who are completely normal in every sense. Maybe hair isn’t a problem for them. They may find that getting pregnant isn’t a problem, and the excess hair will never be an issue. But you could have someone who’s got very irregular periods, can’t get pregnant, is overweight, and has got all the hair and acne problems. So that variation is quite large. I always tell my GPs that if I see five or six patients a week, none of them have got exactly the same issues. You never see the same two criteria.’

If the understanding of PCOS by GPs is particularly poor, where does Joe suggest women with PCOS turn? ‘I would say the website ‘PCOS UK’ is a good starting point because it’s a local, UK-based site.’ Alongside PCOS UK, the charity Verity runs an in-depth support network for women managing the condition. Verity also hosts events and a conference each autumn, as well as giving talks in schools and hospitals. Local support groups throughout England and Wales are run in their name.

But what about educating people on PCOS before diagnosis? The symptoms of PCOS become most noticeable in young women in their teens and early twenties. Shouldn’t we consider teaching people in this group about the possibility of fertility issues? I contacted Portsmouth School Nursing Service about the information made available in secondary schools on PCOS and received a reply from a school nurse, Nicola Kinahan. Nicola told me that while school nurses no longer run sex education programs, the team contains a qualified sexual health nurse to help students requiring advice.

Though it is comforting to know that girls struggling with PCOS have access to support in their schools, isn’t it time we educated health care professionals and the general public on polycystic ovary syndrome? And is information upon request really satisfactory for a condition so common and so damaging?

Election ’17: War is a Politician’s Vanity Project

Graham Horne of the anti-war campaign group Veterans for Peace (VfP) talks to S&C editor Tom Sykes about what the coming election could mean for Britain’s arms industry, foreign policy and international relations.

Tom Sykes: Will the election have any impact on VfP’s campaign work? Is VfP getting behind any of the candidates?

Graham Horne: As far as I’m concerned, it’s a case of steady as you go and keep taking the tablets. Whatever comes out of the election is unlikely to affect VfP. We are strictly politically neutral. We do not endorse candidates of any description whatsoever. At the same time, we will talk to anybody who wants to make common cause towards peace and against interventionist wars wherever they may be in the world.

TS: In the past you have interacted with a politician that will figure heavily in this election: Jeremy Corbyn.

GH: We have had one or two dealings with Corbyn, that’s true. It appears that he’s been pressured by his party to adopt a multilateralist approach to nuclear disarmament, whereas he personally has always been a unilateralist, as I understand it. Yet again, we’ve got what appears to be a duplicitous and perfidious politician who will go against his heartfelt conscience in order to gain votes. This makes me cynical, I’m afraid. I just don’t trust any of them. We at VfP have known for a long time that lobbying the Labour Party to, say, return to a unilateralist policy is a busted flush. It’s a waste of effort.

TS: If the Tories win the next election, as predicted, will British foreign policy change? What about the prospects of further conflicts abroad?

GH: Theresa May has been talking about raising defence spending. It’s what the militarist establishment and the military-industrial complex like to hear. It wouldn’t surprise me if the politicians were planning for a war in the near future, given their track record in recent years. They may dress it up as they usually do with the doublespeak of ‘humanitarian intervention’. ‘We’re bringing food or liberation to an oppressed part of the world,’ something like that. Remember the same rhetoric about Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan? And look how worse off those countries were after we’d finished with them.

We know May’s going to walk through the door with a thumping majority because of our corrupt first past the post system. She’ll want a war because prime ministers in the past, Labour and Tory, have had one. Attlee had Malaya and the Greek Civil War, Eden had Suez, Heath and Wilson had Northern Ireland, Thatcher had the Falklands, Blair had Iraq and a load of others. War is a vanity project for a politician. May might come to be affected by ‘the Falklands factor.’ Now I don’t know if you remember 1982?

TS: Just about.

GH: In the opinion polls in 1981, Thatcher’s government was looking like it’d get a beating in the 1983 election. She’d come in on an anti-working-class ticket and she’d hit the ground running, attacking everything in sight. It was a bit like what the Tories are doing at the moment. Thatcher was thrown a lifeline in the form of General Galtieri of Argentina, who himself was dealing with a lot of internal political pressures. His invasion of the Falkland Islands was an answer to her prayer because, when you bang the nationalist drum and declare a war for a ‘righteous cause’, next thing you know your party’s in power for the next 15 years.

TS: So if things get rocky for May in the next few years she might call on the ‘Falklands factor’?

Graham Horne, Veterans for Peace

GH: No doubt about it. Where she will get into trouble is on these relentless assaults on welfare and the NHS. There will be anger as more and more people get sick and become destitute and drop dead, as they have been doing since austerity kicked off.

TS: If Corbyn did somehow win in June might his Labour Party offer something different to that scenario you’ve just outlined?

GH: I don’t see a lot of difference between the parties. Neither wants to radically change our society. The only difference between them is the degree to which they are prepared to intervene in the economy. You go to the left of our narrow political spectrum and you get the type of social engineering that preserves or increases welfare. You go to the right and you get a different kind of social engineering that reduces welfare. Neither side is addressing the key issue, which is that the welfare system would be rendered obsolete if we didn’t have the inequality and alienation that is essential to our economic system.

Corbyn comes across as a nice guy. But he’s just one person and behind him are a lot of Blairites who are effectively ‘Tory lite.’ They’re every bit as war-happy, every bit as bomb-happy as anyone riding the Theresa May gravy train. The whole Trident issue proves that hands-down. From my perspective as a peace activist, whoever wins this election – Tory, Labour, LibDem, Screaming Lord Sutch if he were still alive – the war system and the military-industrial complex ain’t going anywhere.

TS: So when it comes to shaping our foreign policy it’s those unelected, unaccountable power interests that really hold sway?

GH: I think so. When the left talks about internationalism, it means achieving solidarity between working people across the world. But there’s also a form of internationalism when it comes to funding and financing the military-industrial complex. Whether we talk about Trump in the US, May in the UK or Putin in Russia, these national politicians are in hock to the war system both in their respective countries and globally. Politicians that toe the war system’s line will get rewarded in all kinds of ways – just look at the ‘revolving door’ between parliament and arms companies in Britain or the fact that the Obama administration oversaw more arms deals than any other in US history.

TS: If our elected representatives won’t dissent with the war system how can the public resist or oppose it?

GH: We have just added a clause to VfP’s mission statement which says that we’re aiming to liberate the people of the world from militarism. That’s a big ask, of course! But what we try to do is raise consciousness through our campaigns. We try to take opportunities to change minds where possible. For example, a lot of trade unions support multilateral nuclear disarmament but won’t support unilateralism because of the risks to British jobs. We try to make the moral argument. We ask whether you really want to go to work producing stuff that could cause the total destruction of the planet. It’s difficult because the trade unions representing the arms industry workers are, in a sense, part of the problem – they fuel the war system with human resources.

This matter is particularly relevant to Portsmouth. When BAE Systems announced the end of its shipbuilding in the city in 2013, the unions were jumping up and down, but they didn’t mention that the new aircraft carriers that needed to be built were likely to carry F-35 fighter bombers to some conflict and kill loads and loads of innocent women and children.

TS: You served in the British Army during the height of the Cold War and I wonder what you now make of this ‘new Cold War’ mentality that’s developing in the West? There’s almost daily hysteria in the mainstream media about Russia being the world’s worst imperialist power, yet these same commentators are strangely quiet about the depredations of Western imperialism. If we try to be a little more objective about it, how does Putin compare to someone like George W Bush, Tony Blair or even Barack Obama – who was hardly a peacemaker on the international stage – in terms of how damaging his foreign policy has been to the rest of the world?

GH: Any national leader is going to put the interests of his nation first. For that reason, Putin is as much a part of the global problems of war and imperialism as anyone else. I don’t think Russia is the demon it’s been painted as, though. First of all, what do these commentators on the BBC mean when they say ‘the Russians’? Are they talking about the whole of the Russian people or the tiny bunch of dodgy gangsters who run the place?

TS: The danger is that sometimes the Western media sounds like it is generalising about the whole of Russian society which results in a form of cultural or ethnic supremacism. Take writer and former Tory MP Louise Mensch’s moronic Tweet last November: ‘Russia has nothing. Russia is joyless.’ Really? Isn’t that a blanket statement? This kind of reductionism is common in many kinds of Western writing and reporting on non-Western societies, as we know from scholars like Edward Said, Walter Mignolo and Debbie Lisle.

GH: It’s sometimes portrayed as though every single Russian is right behind Putin and wants to reduce the West to rubble. Have they forgotten about the vigorous pro-democracy movement in that country?

TS: And we too easily forget that the corrupt infrastructure that put Putin and his cronies into power was constructed by the United States through the World Bank and the IMF after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Boris Yeltsin – whose protege was Putin – won his elections with US-funded dirty tricks. Now the US is alleging Russian meddling in Trump’s victory. The hypocrisy is staggering.

GH: The other important point is that historically Russia has had a lot of problems on its western borders. It’s had trouble on its eastern border with China too, but the worst death and destruction happened because enemies invaded from the west in both the world wars.

TS: Napoleon tried to invade in 1812 too.

GH: Yes and then, in 1949, there’s another bunch of buggers massing to the west demonising Russians as the enemies of Western democracy, even though Russia had been our key ally against Hitler in World War II. Logic tells me that if your border is vulnerable you’re going to work hard to protect it. I suspect Russian militarism is ruled more by fear of what might be thrown at it next rather than any huge love of imperial aggrandisement.

TS: You only have to compare Russian aggression, which is largely limited to those border regions you mentioned, with the US empire which is currently involved in over 100 wars in several continents and has 800 or so military bases all over the globe.

GH: It’s ironic. The Latvian woman of Russian descent I’m about to marry said that, during the Cold War, she was told by the state that Britain and America were demons trying to control the world. She and I are the same age, and at exactly the same period in history, I was being told that it was Russia who were the demons trying to take over the world. Civilians on either side of the Iron Curtain came to believe this because they’d been indoctrinated to. But it’s all turned out to be nonsense.

To go back to the ‘Falklands effect’, I do think that all this Russia-hating and the positioning of NATO troops in Eastern Europe are means of distracting the public from the problems at home, if you like, whether we’re talking about poverty or healthcare or whatever. As Thatcher found, the cheapest and quickest way to bring together a divided society is to play the nationalist card. You can demonise an enemy and then claim that all British people are in it together against the Russians or whichever bogeyman you choose.

TS: Do you think this Russophobia is also a means of distracting public attention away from Western interventionism in the Middle East? The British media has made a lot of noise about Russian involvement in Syria but is almost silent about the Yemen conflict because the worst atrocities have been committed by our ally Saudi Arabia.

GH: Very much so. The simple fact is Saudi Arabia has vast amounts of oil money which it wants to spend on weapons produced by our firms. We’ve heard this talk in the past about an ‘ethical foreign policy’, but all the time you’re selling arms to anybody, it isn’t ethical! Arms kill people and killing people is not in any way ethical.

TS: The last time we spoke you mentioned a number of campaigns that VfP were running, such as Don’t Join the Army. How are those projects progressing?

GH: What’s interesting is that, from our monitoring of the figures, the army and the navy are having problems fulfilling their recruitment targets at the moment. Fair play to the millennial generation! After all, they’ll be the ones who will have to do the fighting and the killing and the dying. What impact our campaign has had on that, we don’t know. But of course we’d like to believe that we’ve made some small difference and we know from experience that these grassroots efforts can change things incrementally. That’s preferable to waiting around forever for a politician to stand up to these powerful interests.

Photography by Moshe Tasky.

The Southsea Food Tour: Umami Street Food

Continuing her quest to eat out at every Southsea eatery worth eating in, Emily Priest drops in to a delightful global fusion restaurant to sample ‘the fifth taste’. 

What is the fifth taste you may wonder? It’s meaty or brothy and in Umami Street Food’s case, it’s also spicy and moreish.

Its Elm Grove address blends world cultures to create a colourful and rustic décor. As well as their broad menu, featuring wraps, burgers and platters, you can go for traditional Lebanese meals including meat majboos and chicken kabsa.

The walls are lined with corrugated iron and decorated with painted spoons and plastic cacti; it’s like a makeshift Moroccan bazaar in the centre of Southsea. The tables are wooden and lanterns hang from the ceiling.

I took a seat in one of the front booths and read the menu. I was welcomed by flavours from all over the world. It isn’t the best menu if you’re on a diet or have a delicate belly – don’t forget your Gaviscon.

One of my friends, who works there, approached me and we had a good natter. I ordered a Coke.

‘You order at the till over there,’ she corrected me.

‘So what do you do then?’ I laughed. She jokingly shrugged, gave me a wink and left. I settled back down to decide what I was going to gorge on this lunchtime.

I settled on three jumbo wings to start then the Pittsburger meal deal with a side of rice and a bottomless soft drink. I paid the bill that was reasonably priced at just over a tenner and took my empty glass to the drinks station. Hearing the ice clunk at the bottom and the cola splash the sides, I was taken back to my childhood, exploiting the drink fountains at Pizza Hut. If only they had the same bottomless ice cream stations here at Umami.

The (not so) jumbo wings came minutes after I sat down, presented neatly on a plate with a side salad. They come in five different flavours and I decided on garlic and herb which, in Umami’s technical terms, is ‘a bit hot’. They were delicious! Succulent wings of chicken with the right level of flavour and spice. Much better than Nando’s.

The burger, which arrived soon after I had finished licking my fingers, was just as tasty. It was a 6oz patty with the house secret sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, cheese and turkey bacon. Once I took the pickles out, it was one of the best burgers I have eaten in a long time. I was really experiencing that ‘fifth taste.’ It was refreshing to have a burger with so many fillings but that wasn’t overpriced. The sauce was just as delectable but there was far too much of it and, eventually, rather than staying in the burger, it was dripping down my forearm and making a great big stain on my t-shirt.

The rice as a side was a stab in the dark but it paid off. It was something different but complimented the burger well. The onions and peppers mixed in with the rice swept my palate off to some exotic market where people yell at one another and sell fresh fruit and vibrant cloth.

You would think that there would be no room for dessert but think again. Taking advantage of my 10% student discount for the second time, I ordered the cheesecake and an Oreo cookie shake.

As I waited for them to arrive, I grabbed myself a delivery menu after spying free delivery to residents in the PO1, PO4 or PO5 areas. For PO2 and PO3, don’t worry, their delivery cost is only £1.50 rather than your soul or first born son, which is closer to the price charged by other outfits.

The second thing to catch my eye was a free gourmet burger or half a chicken with every phone order over £17.99. Look at me, sounding like a salesman. I’ll stop. I shoved the menu into my bag as I spotted my cheesecake and shake approaching.

The cheesecake was presented on a slate tray with ice cream and sprinkle-covered whipped cream. I would have preferred a plate. What is this modern trend of serving food on pieces of wood or stone? Anyway, I was not impressed. The cheesecake was hard and tough. One bite was all it took to know that it was out of a packet.

I pushed it to one side and pulled my milkshake closer. It was topped with loads of cream, chocolate sauce and chocolate shavings yet once again served in an unconventional way – in a mason jar. I took one sip and all I could say was ‘Yes, yes, oh God yes!’

I left very content that day. When I say I will be back, I speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Umami Street Food is a great blend of flavour, culture and spice and all for a reasonable price. They cater to families and students and deliver for almost nothing. But I’m not a PR for them so I don’t have only good things to say.

The dessert was disappointing, to say the least, and the menu only offers two vegetarian options. The meat is also halal which I personally don’t mind. I respect Umami’s inclusion of the Muslim community in Portsmouth. But I know that some would object.

At the end of the day, I left a happy customer with a belly full of food and a bag holding their menu which now sits by my telephone.

A version of this article was originally posted on Enily’s blog here.

Photography by Emily Priest.

Mindful Dolt Guru

Hi there, I’m the Level 9 Eminently Mindful Dolt Guru Sadhu Juju-Master Sandwich-Artist Masai-Harmer, but you can call me Kevin. Welcome to the Temple of the Shadow of the Dyslexic Monkey and to this ancient, proto-pagan, pre-Zoroastrian healing sacrament that I made up in February 2006.

I’m real new to Portsmouth and I’m hoping you guys will sniff the Gatorade and grok on to my thing just like my 11 million other disciples – mostly young, beautiful and emotionally disturbed young women. The majority live in the dumber parts of the United States… and in Southampton, of course.

Sorry I’m a little late arriving, but I just had a high-profile disagreement with the manager of a Christian rock band. I was telling him how our foundation was funding a Hollywood movie that rewrites the Old Testament to give Sodom a happy ending. Some people just don’t have a sense of humour, right?

Before we proceedify, I’ll say this: we are a sincere operation and we do not tolerate time-wasters, peace-fakers, corked Priscillas or people who puke on their own self-portraits.

This is no mung bean college for ascetics, it’s a convex cult-fit gone all trance-silly in a mystical wafer lounge stained with the turmeric tears of the post-animistic Godhead Herself. In the spirit world she has a thousand names, though here in the temple we may call her Ethel.

Now, people, if you’d like to take all your clothes off and step into the mandala. That’s great, thanks. In order for me to reach Level 10 by lunchtime, The Book says I have to give myself aerosol enablement in a ham-fisted lucky zip parade.

My apologies if any of you suffer from collateral homage, so to speak.

We’ve had a lot of big-deal celebrities come and join us for zenthogenic innerspatial voyaging. Terence McKenna dropped by once. Two minutes later he told us what we were doing in the Temple was total horse shit. Can’t understand why.

Terence wasn’t prepared to leave his brain in the bucket full of soul-wax over there and really believe. He, sadly, will always be trapped in the Tetraphysical Domain of the Impotent Cranberry.

John Leslie came to us after that thingamy-jig where he did or didn’t do horror to what’s-her-name and his life had turned into a slalom of android crap and self-hating puff adders. We helped him through all that, we really did.

OK, are you humming through your spines yet?

Can you feel Buddha’s bitch tits?

Have you shrunk down to scale-model shamen yet?

Have some more of this barely legal jasmine tea. That’ll smooth the quest for self-regarding de-pollutification.

I should tell you, people, that once you walk backward out of this building you’re going to cop a lot of prejudicial energy from the non-enlightened multitude.

How you gonna handle these anti-vibes? Take my own experience as a lesson: I started out as an entry-level crystal meth chai-mentor and got hounded out of Tibet on poorly-fitting rollerskates. Why? I was only trying to help people.

Then I got de-bagged for cram-slapping at a Javanese plumbing festival. I had to go straight back to California where people, ha ha, take me seriously.

Right, that’s it for today. We’ll loop the loop of our meat and two vegetable consciousness once again tomorrow. Be sure to leave your credit card details with Shimong on the way out. Don’t worry about encryption; together we’ll crack it.

Fare thee well Cap’n Crunch’s own immortal soulmonauts and repeat this little benediction after me 38 times:

Anseylatta poooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooh!


© TS Evinrude and Gorgeous Cretin

Photo by Moshe Tasky.

Election ’17: Smears, Cuts and Real Alternatives with Jon Woods Part II

In the second part of Katie Roberts’ interview, Jon Woods of Portsmouth Against the Cuts Together and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), discusses the ‘obscenity’ of Trident, the risks of tactical voting and the perils of Islamophobia.

Katie Roberts: There’s a view that when people feel threatened by issues such as immigration and national security they vote for a government which will protect rather than ‘nurture’. Do you think Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to the nuclear deterrent could affect the way people vote?

Jon Woods: I think that’s interesting. I heard an interview with Jeremy Corbyn earlier this week and he was asked would he press the nuclear button and he gave a very good response, a very honest response. Because everyone knows that he has been campaigning against the war and campaigning against nuclear weapons. He said very clearly if you press that button you will wipe out huge areas of the earth, kill millions and millions of innocent people, make large sections of the world uninhabitable for years and years to come. If you ever get to that stage it’s a complete abject failure of normal politics and you have to think very carefully why would you go and do that? The game’s already lost by the time you get to that stage. And I agree with him, I think the use of nuclear weapons as a threat is a disaster.

When Corbyn put that out in an interview, that was very convincing. For too long, everybody and that includes the mainstream and the Labour Party, has always said we need nuclear weapons to defend our country, I don’t believe it. The other thing he said is that he’s not a pacifist and I agree with him, I’m not a pacifist. Sometimes there are situations where you have to defend yourself. A good example is World War II. The war was justified. I disagree with the way it was conducted; I don’t agree with blanket bombing civilian areas of Germany, but there was absolutely a need for the war and I think Jeremy agrees with that. I just don’t think nuclear weapons is part of it.

I also personally think the huge amounts of money being spent on Trident are absolutely obscene. We should be using that money for schools, hospitals, decent affordable housing and those sorts of things. I know Jeremy Corbyn can’t say that because the Labour Party has taken a conference decision over that so he has stuck with that. I think actually these issues will come out in the next few weeks in the election and people will be swung over to that. People will think actually, why would we threaten people with obliterating the whole of the earth? Why would we do it? Why is that a good thing to do? And spend billions and billions of pounds doing it.

KR: It seems people are under a misconception that Trident is going to protect us when really it could help destroy us.

JW: And the other thing is the risks we face. I do think a lot of them come back to British foreign policy and particularly American foreign policy which Britain for too long has gone along with. If you look at the appalling situation with ISIS, well how did ISIS come to power? The illegal war in Iraq. They created the situation where they got rid of a nasty dictator but left the country in a complete and utter mess, propped up a sectarian government, which then created a situation where ISIS could grow. So, he’s right, his foreign policy would actually, over time, make the world safer. We need to stop imperialist wars and have less of this intervening in other people’s countries where it’s actually got nothing to do with us, where we will only make the situation worse, such as in Libya, another good example. The less we do of that will have a big impact, I think.

KR: What would you say to people who are unsure who to vote for in June?

JW: Lots of people agree they want to keep the Tories out. In Portsmouth South there’s an argument for tactical voting, and I know Gerald Vernon-Jackson is going around saying ‘I like your badge Jon, but if you want the Tories out that means you’ve got to vote for me.’ I say, ‘No Gerald’, because actually last time (and this is the argument against tactical voting, there are a few arguments really) the Lib Dems did go into coalition with a Tory government which cut, cut, cut. Although he says it won’t happen again, I don’t trust them. Secondly, I think the policies of Jeremy Corbyn have to be voted for and we have to endorse that radical alternative and voting for the Lib Dems would make me feel queasy really because they’re not genuine socialists at all. I refer to the Lib Dems as the Bosses’ B team. The Tories are the Bosses’ A team, of course, in the sense that they serve the rich and powerful in our society. Locally, the LibDems waved in cuts when they were in the council. So I’d say tactical voting – shouldn’t go there.

I think the other argument is some people say vote Green. I know a lot of good people in the Green Party, good socialists. But again, I see the General Election as a referendum on the policies of Jeremy Corbyn. Even if Labour don’t win in the constituency, the more votes that Labour get, the stronger that is. Also, it links to the point I made earlier about we need a movement. We need all those people who voted Corbyn to coalesce and continue to campaign and fight whether the Tories get in or Corbyn gets in. Either way, we’re going to need resistance, or support. Either way it’s going to need people organising protests, meetings, demonstrations and those sorts of things.

KR: Are there any protests going on at the moment?

JW: Nigel Farage came to Eastleigh the other day and we were protesting against that. The other good thing about the election is that UKIP seem to be dead in the water. That’s a really positive thing. I’m sure there will be protests coming up, the stuff around the NHS, the anniversary in July. That’s the NHS’ birthday. I think there will be a lot of stuff around that. There’s going to be protests over housing in London. The housing campaign. So yes, there will be all those sorts of things. I suspect as well, all sorts of things will flare up. I know the cuts to schools budgets have triggered huge meetings in Bristol and London with hundreds of people, parents particularly, getting together. Portsmouth was also affected by that. We’ve seen already lots of people taking to the streets this year; protesting against Trump, protesting around racism. When there’s been attacks we’ve had responses to those so I think that’s likely to continue.

KR: What do you think we could expect under a Labour government?

JW: First of all, we would see an end to those sorts of cuts. I think there really would be more money for social care, more money for the health service, more money for benefits. I think it would be an amazing victory. If you think about the context, it’s not just what goes on in government, it’s what goes on in the communities and ordinary people’s lives, their heads would come up a bit, they would feel more confident. I think that would actually generate all sorts of positive things about the society we live in.

The other wonderful thing which I think would happen is there would be opposition from government to all the racism that’s going on. I think we will also see a major battle. I think the media will fight Corbyn every single step of the way. I think the wealthy will also do that. It was interesting looking at the Sunday Times rich list last week, a huge amount of wealth. Those people will do what they can to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, for example move their investments abroad, try and actually sabotage the economy. They’ll do whatever they can to do that. So I think that the election of Jeremy Corbyn would open up a period where the fight for a socialist society, for a fairer, more humane society is opened up. I think Jeremy Corbyn would be the inspiration behind that.

But again, I think that it’s about what we do as well. I don’t think we’re in a situation where we can just leave it to the politicians. Mind you, that’s never been the case. I’ve always thought ordinary people change things, people power. I think if you want to see a society where we put people before profit, the only way we can do that is to mobilise ourselves. So I think this opens up a real potential around a radical transformation of society. But the rich won’t like it!

It’s certainly not a case where we get Jeremy Corbyn in and we can all relax and let him get on with it, far from it. In a sense we’ll have to fight like we’ve never fought before to ensure that Corbyn isn’t undermined, booted out. Our ruling class, even in the 1970s they considered a coup. If they really think they have to, they’ll probably try and smear him, make up stories about him, the secret service could plant stuff about him, economically they can weaken the country, they can put pressure on in all sorts of things but if all that fails, and that’s a huge amount of power they have, ultimately they’ve got the army. So yeah, exciting times and I think we will see a major struggle developing in society for which way we go. If we go back to the rule of the rich or with Jeremy Corbyn a rule for the many.

KR: You mentioned racism a few times. Could you expand on that a little?

JW: There are three major aspects of racism at the moment. Since 9/11 and the War on Terror began there’s been a big rise in Islamophobia. Every time there’s an atrocity by somebody who claims to be a Muslim, somehow all Muslim communities have to apologise and it’s not their responsibility. When Anders Breivik goes and kills people in Norway, they didn’t ask all the Christians to go and say do you distance yourself from him? Nobody expects that. So there’s a huge amount of racism affecting Muslims. I think you see that in Prevent. I think it’s a very distorted policy which targets Muslims. Muslim communities have been under attack and pressure and I think that’s a major area of racism.

I think the other area is refugees. We’re always seeing refugees as a problem, but it’s our duty to let people in and we’re seeing migrants as a problem. Whereas I think most of us recognise that the NHS and all sorts of public services would not function without migrant workers. And far from being a burden, migrant workers predominantly come to the country and pay tax and do important jobs. They’re not a burden, they’re actually a benefit. Therefore, I always think trying to clamp down on migration is always code for ‘blame them for all the problems’.

There has been a rise in anti-Semitism as well. Again, if you look at some of the far right; very nasty, they hate Muslims, they also hate Jews as well. There’s those sorts of areas where we see racism on the increase. And the media, which perpetrates all this. If you look at The Express and The Mail, their headlines are nearly always about refugees, migrants, scroungers. Stuff going on in the NHS where you have to show your passport to receive treatment or you have to pay for treatment. All those sorts of things have a very detrimental impact on people and pave the way for racist attacks. And not only racist attacks, you get all the other nasties that come out. You know, that horrible attack on those women up in North End by a gang of people. Those sorts of nasty, racist, homophobic, and sexist ideas get put around by the media so we have to fight those things as well.

KR: I just wrote an article for Star & Crescent on fake news and how it’s old news. This has been going on for generations. It’s just propaganda under a new name.

JW: It has a real effect on people. Trump had a big impact on that. It gave the bigoted people confidence. You see a rise in that.

KR: He’s masquerading as grass roots as well isn’t he? Tapping into that ‘I’m one of you’ thing. So ordinary people think they can identify with a billionaire.

JW: He knows his base. I do think the important thing is that the demonstrations have continued. There was a huge wave of demonstrations after Trump’s election. That’s why I’m quite confident about the election.

It shows you that, despite all this torrent of filth that comes from the media, still there are large numbers of people who don’t take that line and who not only don’t take that line, they actively oppose it.

Photography by Moshe Tasky

Election ’17: Smears, Cuts and Real Alternatives with Jon Woods Part I

Katie Roberts talks to Jon Woods of Portsmouth Against the Cuts Together and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) about Jeremy Corbyn’s election chances, the shifting loyalties in Portsmouth politics and a Conservative councillor’s audacious attempt last year to smear Jon and other local activists.

Katie Roberts: Could you start by telling us a little bit about how you got involved in politics?

Jon Woods: Right, that goes back a long time. I got involved, I suppose, around about 1985 in the campaign against the social policies of the Tory government of that time. Shock horror, they were cutting benefits!

KR: And what about the work you’re doing now?

JW: I do a lot of trade union work, I’m very active in my own union, Unison, on the trades council. I’m also involved in the Socialist Workers Party, Stand Up To Racism; a whole range of different things.

KR: And you were the local Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate in the last election?

JW: That’s right. For Portsmouth North.

KR: I understand that TUSC is supporting Labour for this election. Is that your personal stance on things?

JW: Absolutely. Yes. TUSC are not standing candidates against the Labour candidates. In 2015, bearing in mind Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t the leader of the Labour party, it was Ed Miliband in charge and they had quite soft policies on austerity. The candidate in Portsmouth North was John Ferrett, who has since left the Labour party. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he’s out now campaigning for the Tories. He spoke very favourably about Donna Jones on the council and was very, very critical of Jeremy Corbyn. So, it’s a very different election in 2017. So that’s why I think every socialist should be getting behind Jeremy Corbyn for Labour.

KR: To what extent do you think Labour has lost touch with its grass roots?

JW: There are a couple of things here. I think the polls are not to be relied on. We’ve seen time and time again over Brexit and over a range of elections, that the polls get it wrong. The polls particularly underestimate or don’t take account of young people. Older people tend to be polled more than younger people and I think that skews it towards the Tories and against Labour. I also think what doesn’t seem to be being reported much in the mainstream media is that the gap is narrowing. There’s still a big gap but Corbyn is catching up and I think because he’s putting forward bold policies, he is inspiring people and I think he could make up that gap.

KR: Do you think it’s a realistic hope that we could have a socialist government in the near future?

JW: I do. I think the problem we’ve had for too long is in elections we’ve had not much choice. We’ve had the Tories and a slightly more watered-down version of the Tories under New Labour, under Blair. People were sick of the wars that were caused, all the racism, all the scapegoating about migrants and all those sorts of things. Jeremy Corbyn represents a very clear alternative.

I think the key thing, though, is that he goes out on the streets. He is calling some big meetings. The more we have the movement out on the streets, campaigning, protesting at what the Tories are doing, for example the cuts to school budgets, the better chances we have. If we can get a movement behind him, in the way he had a movement behind him over the past two summers with the Labour leadership elections, a real grassroots movement, I think he could win the election.

If we have a socialist government like that, he’s going to need the backing of the people. The powers that be won’t take kindly to a Jeremy Corbyn government and will do their utmost to undermine him. So, if he is successful, which I hope he is, he will need that movement to continue after the election because it will be on the streets, protests, and I think ultimately we will be looking at strikes. Jeremy Corbyn on his own can’t bring those socialist policies in I don’t think, he could try, but the state, the media will be up against him and therefore we need to keep that movement going.

KR: He has a lot of support among the members doesn’t he?

JW: He does. A huge amount of support among the Labour party members. And people, like myself who are not Labour party members, but who desperately want to see the policies and what Jeremy Corbyn stands for coming into play. Even beyond the Labour party, he will appeal to lots of people.

KR: Can you describe how you feel about the cuts being made to public services, particularly in Portsmouth?

JW: I feel very, very strongly. I helped found the Portsmouth Against the Cuts Together, which was a campaign in 2011 because we were so concerned about it. I am a public service worker myself. I can see day in, day out the effects of cuts and you look around, you look at this situation with the cuts to hospitals, I think it’s absolutely criminal.

What really gets to me is the fact that people seem to forget – and again Jeremy does put this out there but it needs to be more widely spread – what happened [when] Thatcher and then Reagan deregulated the banking industry back in the 70s and 80s. As a result, we had the banking crash. So the banking crash, for a start, is a direct result of Tory policy. So they always try to blame Labour but actually, who deregulated the banks and let them do these dodgy deals and gamble on the stock markets? The Tories. And then, they were bailed out by the public purse. So, they gambled, lost, we all paid for it in terms of cuts to public services, and the bankers are turning around saying ‘there’s a deficit, now you’ve got to cut even further’. So the very criminals, in my opinion, who caused the mess are then inflicting the punishment on ordinary people through the cuts to their services.

So, I feel extremely strongly about that and that’s why I think it’s so good that Jeremy Corbyn is talking about the anti-austerity policies because austerity is a political choice, it’s not a necessity. The Tories always talk about it ‘we have to balance the books, we have to do this, that and the other’ but you look at the level of debt after World War II, much, much greater than it is now, and yet at that time we built the National Health Service, Social Security and all those sorts of things. We’ve had so many years of cuts, after cut, after cut and ordinary people and also the people who provide those services have suffered immensely.

KR: And we can expect more of those cuts if we continue to have a Tory government?

JW: Absolutely. They will always make us pay because the Tories always look after the rich. They want to cut the taxes for the rich even further. Jeremy Corbyn is talking about increasing the taxes on the rich. Personally, I think he could go further. It’s interesting that Mélenchon, the left-wing candidate in the French presidential elections – who got 19%, quite a big amount although he didn’t get into the final round – wanted to bring in a top-rated tax of 100% for people earning over 100,000 Euros. So, very radical. If you look at the levels of income tax going back to the Thatcher government, the top level of tax under Margaret Thatcher was 60%. We’ve got down to 45% now, so there’s plenty of room to move.

KR: Last year, Tory councillor Scott Harris named you alongside campaign group Sisters Uncut in emails detailing a smear plot. Can you tell us a bit about how you felt to be on the receiving end of such tactics?

JW: I’ve been around in politics long enough to not be overly concerned about the Tories’ lies. Part of me felt it was laughable, in one sense, although I know that for some of the other people who were smeared it had a big impact on them. But what it really exposed to me, it just made very clear what I already knew, that most of the Tories are nasty pieces of work and that’s the way they operate. The dirty politics, low politics, snideness, secrecy…

I did have the ‘pleasure’ of doing a deputation with Scott Harris over the cuts. I pointed out to him what a despicable act it was and he sort of slumped down in his chair in the council chamber and looked a bit worried. If you contrast that with Jeremy Corbyn’s way of dealing with things; very honourable, huge amount of integrity, and he doesn’t stoop down to the levels of other people. So, yeah, I think it was nasty, and very, very unfair particularly on Shonagh from Aurora New Dawn and [freedom of information campaigner] Sameen Farouk. People don’t deserve those sorts of things. When I go out campaigning in town, for example today, I’ll probably get a few insults thrown my way but that’s the way it goes.

KR: In a way, it exposed them for what they are.

JW: It did. It not only exposed them as being nasty it exposed them as being incompetent. Because if you’re going to smear somebody you don’t send your email to everybody that you’re going to do that.

KR: There’s no denying that Portsmouth is an area with fairly large pockets of deprivation, yet the people of Portsmouth voted for austerity under a Tory government in the last election. Do you think this could change with the mobilisation of more working-class and young votes in the area? If so, how can we best do this in your opinion?

JW: Yes, I do think you’re right. The problem I think we’ve always had is that unless the left can inspire people, they don’t come out and vote. If you look what’s happened over many, many years the Labour vote has dropped and dropped and dropped and it started dropping way before Corbyn. It dropped after 2001, 2005, under Tony Blair, and it demoralised people. It demoralised people because we had cuts, we had illegal wars, it was looking after the rich and I think that demoralises people. And that’s the way we have to inspire people, we give people hope, we actually show them there’s a real alternative, a radical alternative.

My feeling is, we’ve still got just under four weeks left, I do think that things are going in the right direction and I do think it’s quite possible we can mobilise people. The more we go out and do campaigning, the more we liven things up a bit, the more every time the Tories raise their heads we point out their terrible record. This joke that Theresa May is trying to put out that she’s a friend of working people. What? How can you possibly believe these lies that they’re coming out with? We need to nail them on those sorts of things and inspire people and then I do think we could mobilise the vote.

KR: Theresa May is almost becoming a brand. The campaign bus with ‘Theresa May’ in huge letters and ‘Vote Conservative’ in small print is an example.

JW: They’re trying to make people forget that they’re Tories. And people know, I think, that deep down the Tories always look after the rich, they will always cut services, they will always try and privatise stuff, they will always then try and blame refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants for the cuts. ‘Oh there’s not enough council housing, that’s the refugees and the migrants’ no, it’s because you cut the council housing big time and you sold off the council housing for years and years and years. So it’s disgraceful racism that they perpetrate. I think actually people do know. The key thing that’s been missing from many of the other elections is a radical, clear alternative. People need a clear choice, for too long we haven’t had a choice and I think that’s why this election could, fingers crossed, be different.

(To be continued).

Photography by Moshe Tasky

Election ’17: Penny Mordaunt’s Turkish Tall Story

Poet and photographer Richard Williams is not a member of any political party and has no axe to grind. However, he would like our politicians to act with integrity and to know what they are talking about. Penny Mordaunt, incumbent MP for Portsmouth North, slipped below such standards during the EU referendum’s Leave campaign.

It took me less than a minute. A quick search on Google to find the European Commission website on EU Enlargement.

Despite the EU’s (often justified) reputation for obtuseness and over-complexity, the language used is clear. Every current EU member state has a veto on the accession of any new EU member. Not only this, but they have a veto on the negotiation of every one of the 35 policy areas that the country looking to join has to progress through before the final accession treaty can be put to each member state.

The following is lifted directly from the EU website:

Concluding the negotiations

1. Closing the chapters (‘chapters’ are policy areas , of which there are 35 in total)

No negotiations on any individual chapter are closed until every EU government is satisfied with the candidate’s progress in that policy field, as analysed by the Commission.

And the whole negotiation process is only concluded definitively once every chapter has been closed.

2. Accession treaty

This is the document that cements the country’s membership of the EU. It contains the detailed terms and conditions of membership, all transitional arrangements and deadlines, as well as details of financial arrangements and any safeguard clauses.

It is not final and binding until it:

– wins the support of the EU Council, the Commission, and the European Parliament
– is signed by the candidate country and representatives of all existing EU countries
– is ratified by the candidate country and every individual EU country, according to their constitutional rules (parliamentary vote, referendum, etc.).

So, if I could find this information so easily, why couldn’t my MP, Penny Mordaunt, do the same before making her claim last year that Turkey was about to join the EU, and there was nothing Britain could do about it?

Her claim was picked up by the mainstream press. On the same day the Daily Express (who perhaps unsurprisingly also failed to check for the truth) led with ‘”Turkish Migrants to CRIPPLE the NHS” Brexit minister’s stark WARNING.’

The Daily Mail ran with the following: ‘Penny Mordaunt said it is “very likely” Turkey will join the EU within the next eight years and claimed Britain doesn’t have a veto to stop it joining. This would make the UK vulnerable to millions of terrorists, gangsters and 12 million more guns if we stay in the EU, pointing to higher murder and kidnapping rates and gun ownership in Turkey and the other four countries currently applying to join the Brussels club.’

Mordaunt was condemned by Remain politicians such as David Cameron, who implied she was lying. Others took her comments as part of a ‘borderline racist’ Leave campaign, and many were quick to highlight, as I have above, the facts. Highlighting the inaccuracy of Mordaunt’s claim even spawned its own irreverent Twitter campaign, #MordauntFacts.

Somehow Mordaunt kept her job and the row around it soon became yesterday’s news, whilst the Leave campaign continued to push the line that Turkey were joining with an inflammatory poster (see featured image, above).

However, if you read the status reports on Turkey’s application (even before Erdogan’s actions after the attempted coup), you will see that, of the 35 policy areas, only one (for scientific research) had been closed – all of the others are either in negotiation, or at a stage where negotiation has not even started. 8 of these areas were being held up by Turkey’s refusal to accept the Ankara Protocol over Cyprus.

There are huge objections from other EU members aside from Cyprus and Greece, such as the increasingly right-wing governments of Eastern Europe, all of whom, remember, have a veto on each policy area, and any final accession. Turkey applied to join the EU (or rather the EEC at the time) in 1987, but even the most cursory glance at the documents clearly show that there is no way that Turkey is going to join the EU any time soon.

How influential was this claim by Mordaunt, in terms of Brexit?

I have no idea, but I suspect it was not hugely significant. However, for me this isn’t really about Brexit.

Whatever your views on the referendum result, Mordaunt made a highly contentious claim on mainstream TV, one which a couple of minutes of basic research proves to be utterly false. She has not corrected herself or apologised in any way.

As to the reasons for her original comments and subsequent lack of retraction, I guess we’ll have to draw our own conclusions.

Graphic: Vote Leave.