Monday, 21 September 2015

Piggy wiggy woo-who cares...

I can't lie. Like most of Britain this morning, I gasped and laughed when I first heard the astounding claim that David Cameron inserted his penis into the mouth of a dead pig in some initiation ritual during his days at Oxford. I can never resist a pun and I found myself in a piggy pun vortex with friends on Facebook. The shots were cheap but we all needed a good laugh, joking as I was with friends who regularly roll their eyes at the sorry state of British politics. I freely admit my own hypocrisy here.

But now the time has come to analyse this situation a little more soberly, even as "Get Piggy With It" remains my earworm. I usually reserve the conspiracy theories for the likes of Pamela Geller and David Icke, but the timing of the Daily Mail breaking this story in the form of extracts from Call Me Dave, a book by the sour-grape-laden Lord Ashcroft and ex-Murdoch journalist Isabel Oakeshott is curious to say the least.

Just last week, the Daily Mail, along with the usual media suspects, was busy writing reports on Jeremy Corbyn that had very little to do with policy. Corbyn should be as open to policy scrutiny as any other party leader, but some of the crap in the media last week was ridiculous. Most absurd of all was the Daily Express exposing Corbyn's great-great grandfather as a workhouse boss. What next? Corbyn's caveman ancestors beat their wives with clubs?

By splashing the "bizarre initiation ritual" story across the front page, the Daily Mail was effectively flying the false balance flag. "Hey, look! We can slag out the left and the right! We are equal opportunity sex scandal peddlers!", they may as well be yelling from the rooftop at Northcliffe House.

It's funny how this story breaks just as some real news was starting to seep through the cracks of mediocrity. People were actually talking about cuts to free school meals and cuts to junior doctors' salaries. Some were even embracing a less circus-like approach to parliamentary debate.

But not today.

Never mind that the free school meal cuts break yet another Tory manifesto promise and cutting junior doctors' salaries will see even more medical graduates seek careers abroad. The Daily Mail doesn't want you worrying your pretty little heads about those sorts of things.

It suits the Mail's agenda to have Britain laughing at #piggate and we've all pretty much fallen for it, hook, line and sinker.

Don't get me wrong - the notion of initiation via dead pig fellatio is gross and anyone who compares head-fucking a dead pig to the more commonplace university hijinks, such as stealing traffic cones, is an idiot. Hell, most of us manage to have sex with living people when we're students. But the whole awful story - which is still a pile of allegations - is a distraction from real issues that will have long-term implications on the country.

And it's not just the fact that the story broke after a week of Corbyn-bashing that is pertinent. This story has broken during the week Parliament goes into recess because it's party conference time again. The Twitters got all excited about the prospect of MPs oinking at this week's Prime Minister's question time (wow, that's the kind of mature debate we need...) or subtle porcine references being slipped in to the questions.

So then people were deflated when they realised PMQs is not on again until October 12. That is more than enough time for this to blow over, for us to be distracted by something new and stupid, for the party conference season to throw up more stories, many of which will invariably be personal attacks rather than policy criticism. Woe betide the MP who attempts to crack a joke or tests out a daft new haircut.

And it is plenty of time for important issues to be swept aside because the likes of the Daily Mail don't actually want us to talk about them. I'm not sure if I am enough of a conspiracy theorist to believe David Cameron knew about this in advance but it has probably done him a perverse favour. And Toby Young will no doubt benefit one way or another by taking one for the team as the only Tory to stick his head above the parapet today to defend Cameron.

Anyone thinking of wearing a pig mask and oinking outside outside the Conservative party conference in Manchester the week after next is part of the problem.

Photo by Lilla Frerichs


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

It's about time Britain grew up...

It has been one of those weeks where I just want to yell: "GROW UP! GROW UP, THE LOT OF YOU!" at the internet. Seriously, too many people have been really pathetic.

In particular, those outraged at Jeremy Corbyn not singing the national anthem at the Battle of Britain commemoration need to pipe down and let the grown-ups talk at the big table. If you want to live in a place that forces people to sing national anthems, I hear North Korea is lovely at this time of year.

But, honestly, the outcry over Corbyn and "God Save The Queen", a ludicrous anthem if ever there was one, was manufactured by the media, with the notable exception of the Guardian choosing not to plaster the fauxrage on its front page today.

If the editors were genuinely offended by Corbyn's respectful silence and wanted to show they are all about honouring those who have died in war, why weren't the front pages focused on the actual service of remembrance at St Paul's cathedral? It wouldn't have caused the easily offended little petals on Twitter to lose their shit, it wouldn't have been great clickbait, but it would have been the mature way to cover that story.

Another mature story to put on today's front pages would have been a report about how £4.4 billion worth of cuts to tax credits will affect people who are in work, but that wouldn't play into the whole "all people on benefits are feckless, lazy scroungers who spend all day watching Sky TV in tracksuits while texting their drug dealer on their iPhone" narrative.

And then it was Prime Minister's Question Time, Corbyn's first as leader of the opposition. Has anyone noticed that all of a sudden, journalists are referring to "Her Majesty's Opposition" when they have never done so before? It is accurate, but it is naive to think this is not being done on purpose. Again, grow up and quit editorialising when you are meant to be doing balanced, fair journalism.

Corbyn set the tone with an appeal for a less theatrical PMQs. He asked questions that real voters want asked in parliament. This is what parliament is for - it is meant to represent the people. This is Democracy 101. It would have been good to see Corbyn add more facts and stats to the questions and the responses, but the idea is sound and it will be interesting to see how this continues to play out in the coming weeks and months.

And it's not as if David Cameron's fans can complain about Corbyn's calm, measured approach. The law of unintended consequences means that Cameron comes across better in a less melodramatic forum. His answers were no more substantial than they were in the last parliament. He trotted out the tired £8-billion-for-the-NHS line out once more, without any detail or context again, for example, but he did not come across as a braying schoolboy.

Even when another Tory MP added a jibe about the national anthem to the end of his question, Cameron was classy enough to not take the bait in his response.

It was a far cry from the ding-dong battles of the last parliament but then things got a bit silly again. Andrew Turner, the Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight, popped up from the government back bench to ask a question about the isle's struggle to import a tiger for its zoo. Apparently, the hapless kitty has been kept in isolation in Belgium for two years because of red tape about a rabies certificate. Leaving aside the ethics of keeping a tiger in a zoo on a tiny island rather than letting her live in the wild, this was the moment that PMQs jumped the shark. The whole scenario smacked of a set-up, of a way to draw attention away from questions on issues such as housing and mental health.

And again, PMQs looked like a schoolyard.

Afterwards, there was a pleasing tweet from Labour MP, Chuka Umunna. He may have thrown his toys out of the pram by refusing to be part of Corbyn's shadow cabinet but he was very gracious when he tweeted: "#PMQs is a circus. I've long argued to abolish it and put a better alternative in its place, but it was rather refreshing today - good."

And some people lamented the lack of theatrics. They too can grow the hell up. I am really sorry if a civilised exchange of views is boring for you. I am really sorry that you have the attention span of a kitten and can only concentrate on politics when members on both sides of the house are carrying on like a Grange Hill brawl. And I am really sorry if you truly think that sort of mindless, unproductive crap is the way forward for British political debate.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

An open letter to Peter Bucklitsch

Dear Mr Bucklitsch,

Your disgraceful tweet today made me incredibly relieved that you failed to become my MP in the constituency of Wimbledon at the May election. Only 2,476 people in my neighbourhood voted for you and the rest of us should be glad.

I have no idea if you plan to stand for public office again, but if you ever do, you will be reminded on a daily basis that you felt the need to tweet: "The little Syrian boy was well clothed & well fed. He died because his parents were greedy for the good life in Europe. Queue jumping costs."

Then you felt the need to tweet a bonus load of hateful tripe: "Turkey is not a place where the family was in danger. Leaving that safe place put the family in peril."

As Kurds, the family were not have been warmly welcomed in Turkey. Thus they left Turkey. And then they washed up dead in Turkey. They were not on a beach in Bodrum for a suntan.

You have since deleted the tweets and your Twitter profile but, thanks to the magic of screen grabs, your vile words will still be accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Firstly, there is no queue to enter a safe country. When you are escaping a war zone, good manners don't apply. It is not like politely waiting your turn to get on the 163 from Wimbledon to Morden.

But what I really want to know, Mr Bucklitsch, is what you actually know about refugees, about the people who are seeking to do whatever it takes to get themselves and their families away from war zones and oppressive, undemocratic regimes?

I am really sorry that Aylan Kurdi, the dead child to which you referred in your sickening tweet, does not fit your stereotype of what a refugee should look like. I am sure his family were not concerned with ensuring their children looked sufficiently like scrawny, scruffy extras from Oliver! before they fled Syria so that people like you would not sneer from the comfort of safe and stable nations.

Aylan, his brother Galip, and his mother, Rehan, are now all dead. Only his father, Abdullah, survived. We know that they wanted to ultimately reach Canada, where they have relatives, not "the good life in Europe". We know they had been trying to enter Canada legally as asylum-seekers but had already had an application rejected. We know that they came from Kobani, a town which has suffered terribly because of appalling violence between IS and Kurdish fighters.

Abdullah was working as a barber in Syria. Presumably, until recently, he was able to earn a living to support his family, to buy them clothes and food. This was not so that people like you, Mr Bucklitsch, would question their refugee status because Aylan was apparently too well-dressed and not under-nourished enough for your liking.

Throughout history, refugees have not necessarily been starving, rag-clad waifs. In the lead up to WWII and from the time war was declared on Germany in 1939, thousands of affluent Jews fled for their lives. Educated people also have a long history of fleeing oppression. Hadi Khorsandi, the poet, satirist and father of stand-up comedian, Shappi Khorsandi, fled Iran, coming to Britain with his family after he criticised the regime that took power after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Countries such as Australia took many refugees from Cambodia during the awful years of Pol Pot's dictatorship - a particular target of his genocide was the educated and skilled. He did not want educated, skilled people. He wanted compliant automatons to work in a purely agrarian society.

But sadly, people like you, Mr Bucklitsch, have little interest in learning from history.

Thank you for adding nothing constructive to the debate. Thank you for reducing a global problem to a single, shameful, ignorant tweet that shows you did not bother to learn anything about the Kurdi family. Thank you for proving that as long as the people fleeing countries like Syria are seen as a "swarm" rather than real people with skills and life stories, we will not come any closer to resolving this horrific situation.

Yours sincerely,

Georgia Lewis

Photo by Gerhard Lipold