Open Letters to Liz Kendall

An open, if rather personal, letter to Liz Kendall:

Dear Liz

You don’t know me, but I see you alone in your beige and featureless office, and listen to you struggling to form sentences without having the courage to actually say anything, and I know you’re not a happy person. And I think you need somebody. And if you want to call it a friend, you can call it a friend. You and I may be very different politically, for I am supporting your rival Mr Corbyn, but I strongly believe that what unites us as human beings is much stronger than what divides us. When I saw that shot pull out to reveal no personal effects whatsoever to leaven the drabness, only a similarly beige map of the UK, I knew this was a cry for help. And if I can help, I will.

Yours kindly

Richard​

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My second open letter to Liz Kendall:

Dear Liz

I’m sorry to write to you again so soon, but I watched your video another time, and it struck me that we may share something. That at a deep level those words you are tapping into your product-placement computer all mean nothing to you, as they do to me, and to so many of the unkind commenters on the film. I seriously advise you to get away from your keyboard in that depressing room. I know it’s hard to face up to the fact that you won less than one in twenty CLPs, and I’d like to share that I also know how hard it is to be ignored. Often I write on facebook expecting likes and shares, but am only met with silence. Maybe we should both just stop doing it. There’s a big world out there, Liz, where you wouldn’t have to try so hard not to talk about policies. If I see you in another of these desultory promos, without even a radio for company, I’ll know you haven’t taken my advice, but please give it some thought.

Very best wishes

Richard

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My third open letter to Liz Kendall:

Dear Liz

I hope you’ll forgive me for yet another letter, but I wanted to temper the negativity of some of my earlier comments. Although we are poles apart politically, as I support the front-runner for Labour Party leader Mr Corbyn, I wanted to say that I find you a lot more honourable than your rival Mr Burnham, for instance over the Tories’ Welfare bill. He said he opposed it, but nevertheless abstained, which seems to me dishonest, whereas I know that you do not oppose welfare cuts for the poorest at all, and would vote with the Tories if you were allowed. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to guess that you see yourself as doing for the Labour Party what Margaret Thatcher did for the Tories. But I think we all know that’s not going to happen, and I think you should therefore leave that computer alone and get out a bit more. You could try going to one of Mr Corbyn’s rallies, and get energised by the young people clambering up the windows to catch him speak. But that may be a bit close to the bone. How about a salsa class (a lot more lively than that sub-Philip Glass music on your video), or a friend of mine swears by tantric yoga? Another lonely friend joined a skiffle band, and has never looked back. You wouldn’t need to know how to play anything exotic like the washtub bass or the cigar-box fiddle – a normal guitar would be fine.

Yours ever

Richard

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Open Letter No. 4 to Liz Kendall

Dear Liz

I’m writing to you again because a couple of things have been troubling me, and as ever I have some suggestions I hope you may find helpful. Firstly, I do wish the dinosaurs from Old New Labour such as Messrs Blair, Straw and Campbell would actively distance themselves from your campaign. It can’t help for you to be associated with these yesterday’s men, especially as many people think they are war criminals who should be arraigned at the Hague. I feel that if they want to campaign for the leadership, they should run themselves, rather than tarnishing your campaign.
Secondly, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I have a friend who is a big fan of the great stage and screen actress Felicity Kendall, and we wondered if you two were in any way related. Who can forget the delightful comedy “The Good Life”? In any case, I’m upset to hear that the opinion polls don’t look very good for you, so I wondered if you’d considered leaving politics like Mr David Miliband did when he lost to his brother Ed. If so, with your origins in the great town of Watford, a career in suburban situation comedy might be ideal.

Best wishes in these difficult times

Richard

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Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 5:

Dear Liz

Let’s forget about this terrible video for a moment, with its complete absence of policy. I prefer to blame your communications team rather than you personally. For I know you do have quite specific policies, even extending as far as foreign affairs. I have to say, though, that your desire to remove Parliament’s ratification of statehood for the Palestinian people I found really shocking. Again, Mr Corbyn has a distinct, even unfair, advantage here, as he has many Israeli and Palestinian friends. I can only think that you’ve never been to Gaza. I have, and I can tell you it is an unforgettably tragic experience, which I’m sure would cause you to revise your current policy if you witnessed it. I know you’re very right-wing, Liz, but surely that’s not the same as being cruel to these suffering people. Or is it? Please please reassure me on this matter.

Yours anxiously

Richard

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Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 6:

Dear Liz

I can no longer forbear to comment in detail on the video attached, which completely fails to promote you as potential Labour leader. I am a film maker myself, so offer my skills to suggest improvements. In the strangely inert dialogue scene between you and your computer (strange, that is, after the film “Her”), a great opportunity was missed. Why oh why did we not see some moving images on the screen for you to relate to? Maybe a jolly montage of white working class people NOT on benefits, such as plumbers or taxi drivers, but definitely not electricians, who tend to be committed trade unionists. Or you could have gone the full “Tessa Jowell”, with her vision of “One London”, everyone from mansion dwellers in Kensington to flat dwellers in Newham (as long as none of them claim benefits). Technically you would have to exclude bankers from this sequence, as they are the largest recipients of state aid, but I leave that as your call. I’m sorry that now we need a bit of film theory. If this is too high-falutin, please pass it directly to your comms team. The crucial concept is Lacanian suture, whereby viewers are “stitched” into your story and ideas by editing, by the juxtaposition of images. Here there was a golden opportunity to achieve suture in a single image, such as Professor Slavoj Zizek finds in the work of Polish master Kieslowski. You could have been reflected in the screen, as a ghostly presence in the lives of all your subjects. Thus as viewers we would have been stitched into your fantasy of power at any cost, and you could have won by a landslide. As it is, all we remember from the sequence is that infernal Apple logo, which makes you appear to be merely a servant of big Capital. Please tell me that isn’t so. And Liz, change your comms team!

Best wishes as ever

Richard

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Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 7:

Dear Liz

I wanted to clarify something in my last letter, as I fear you haven’t replied yet to any of my letters because I’ve inadvertently offended you. When I referred to your “fantasy of power at any cost”, I did not mean this in the popular sense of that word. I did not mean that in your wish to be Labour leader you were what people call a “fantasist”, rather I meant it in the Freudian sense where fantasies are positive. As Dr Freud himself said, we “cannot subsist on the scanty satisfaction which (we) can extort from reality.” He added that the energetic person is “one who succeeds by their efforts in turning their wishful phantasies into reality.” Whether that will prove to be the case for you in the coming election is, I regret to say, rather doubtful. I only wish that you had appeared more “energetic” in that awful video, instead of looking like a late-night internet surfer, which always has a rather depressive air. I’m sure I too would be a more productive person if I didn’t find myself writing to you in the early hours of the morning. I’m sure we can stop doing this if we try a bit harder, Liz. We could make a pact.

All the very best

Richard​

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Open Letter No. 8

Dear Liz

I apologize for returning to the subject of that misguided video, and I promise I won’t mention it again. One of the most disturbing aspects of it, though, is how the producers have no idea how to make you shine when moving. Instead you lurk in the shadows, behind the door, facing away from us. It reminds me of the grainy photos of the murder in Antonioni’s 60s masterpiece “Blow-Up”, but unfortunately I’m not sure whether you’re the killer or the corpse. Killer, I hope, because although, as you know, I want Mr Corbyn to win, rather like the 35 MPs who originally nominated him, I’d like there to be a contest. Do you have the instinct, Liz? Aspiration may not be enough, as suggested by this scurrilous satirical site.

If I were directing you in a video, Liz, I would try a much more dynamic scenario. You can’t beat the cinematic masters of the 70s, so maybe we could get you out of that computer chair and give you a (female?) friend, walking down the street, with you talking fervently, like in early Woody Allen. Something like this:

LIZ: (gesticulating madly) I mean, he’s antIE-nooclear, he’s so 80s my mother gets her shoulder pads out of the trunk when he’s on TV. ETC
(Can you do a decent Brooklyn accent?).

These ideas are just early drafts, Liz, and we’re only brain-storming here. But I’m sure I can do better for you than your current comms team. I would even offer my services for free.

Yours hopefully

Richard​

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Open Letter No. 9:

Dear Liz

In my last letter I suggested a video campaign where you walk down the street dynamically like Woody Allen, putting the world to rights, with a girlfriend at your side. I just found out that you and Ms Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, are drinking pals, even “bezzies”. I read this in a newspaper, so it must be true. I was thinking she might be ideal to be your foil in these scenes. She could be your “Annie Hall”, if you like. I am a bit concerned, though, that her tilt-headed, slacker hipster style might put you in the shade. We may have to dress her down a bit, though probably not as far as Mr Corbyn. On the other hand, to quote my friend Barry Watt, “Has anyone ever mastered the art of the empty platitude better than Stella?” Come on, Liz, you’re not going to take that lying down, are you?

As ever, working to lift your campaign

Richard

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Open Letter No. 10:

Dear Liz

I have to confess I’m having second thoughts about the “street-talking” scenario, with or without your charming hipster friend Ms Creasey. It’s time we admitted it. We have a major image problem. I don’t mean you, perish the thought, any more than the rest of your New Labour comrades. I just mean that Mr Corbyn is quite brilliant at images which resonate with the public. How can any of you compete with that speech he made atop a fire engine in Camden. It said “open air”, “spontaneous”, “unguarded”, “on the level”, and “too popular for a mere hall”. It also associated him with one of the strongest trade unions, the FBU. Perfect! So let’s forget trying to make you into a motor-mouthed nebbish. That was silly. What resonant image could you have, which would work for your voters? How about Queen Boudica, repelling the migrant hordes? I like the idea of you as Labour’s warrior queen. The problem which is always at our backs, however, is that Mr Corbyn does all of this without spin doctors or image consultants like me. So we need to do something “authentic”. You’ll need to cast off everything you’ve learnt of the dark arts of Mr Campbell, who has schooled young MPs such as you and Stella in the art of caution, vapidity and the infamous “triangulation”. And I need to learn how to write “authentic” without inverted commas. Stella and her infernal “irony” can’t help us now. Over to you, Liz. Give us the real you. I mean, nothing too scarey for either middle England or for the core voters. Something we could “focus-group”. Omg, I’M doing it now. I’ll just shut up for a while.

Your retiring helper

Richard

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Open Letter No. 11:

Dear Liz

I’m not just shocked, I’m angry. First of all, they spread a rumour about you, that you were having a relationship with a recently divorced fellow MP Mr John Woodcock. My reaction was incendiary:
1. Who cares?
2. Why is it appropriate for a female candidate such as yourself to suffer this tittle-tattle?
Was this coming from the campaign team of Ms Yvette “I’m a Mum, so I understand your problems” Cooper (barf), trying to take you out of the running because you are single? They deny it, but it must have come from somewhere. We know it didn’t come from Mr Corbyn’s campaign, because he famously “doesn’t do personal”. It reeks of the rancid legacy of New Labour, where Blair’s people would brief against other ministers, and Brown and Blair would brief against each other. Liz, I only ask, is this what happens when politics is replaced by politicking? I’m so sorry that you should have been similarly traduced.

But even worse was the reaction of Mr. Woodcock himself. He replied that such claims were “not true, have never been true and WOULD NEVER BE TRUE”. Never say never, John. What can you mean? I’m sorry, Liz, I know I’m rather old-fashioned, but I think he’s a cad, and in a bygone century I would have challenged him to a duel.

In your defence

Richard

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Open Letter No. 12:

Dear Liz

OK, we’ve got a problem. I wouldn’t be a friend if I didn’t tell you that your BBC interview today was a car-crash. I’m sorry, but saying that “we must support the disabled, but we must support ordinary people as well” has wound up a lot of folk. People with disabilities have responded “How dare she say I’m not ordinary!” and the able-bodied have responded “How dare she call me ordinary!”. Oh dear. If you’ll allow me, I think I’ve got a solution. It’s no good sitting on it, hoping it’ll go away. We need to respond now, so I’ve written you a small, concise retraction (sometimes we just have to do that).
“I realize I could have been misunderstood when I spoke about the disabled today on BBC News. I did not mean to imply that there was any conflict between the interests of people with disabilities and those of the rest of the population. I do not for a moment accept this false argument used to divide people by the Tories. I have always supported disabled rights both in my constituency and in the wider society.”
How about it. Liz? Press release it now, and we will have achieved the desired “damage limitation”. I know you will say that arguing that to give equal opportunities to the disabled requires state aid makes you sound a fulminating Marxist extremist like Mr Corbyn. But I think we need to recognize that the whole discourse has moved left because of his campaign, and there just aren’t enough die-hard Blairites remaining for you to win like that. Disabled people and the unemployed can’t easily be blamed for the deficit any more. Get the statement out, Liz, or the kind of picture you see here will continue to shoot around social media:

Yours urgently

Richard

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Open Letter No. 13:

Dear Liz

I’m obviously upset that you didn’t take my advice to clear up the matter of you seeming to discriminate against people with disabilities and thinking that everyone else is “ordinary”. You actually did the next best thing by appearing on the World At One, which under the stewardship of the redoutably reactionary Martha Kearney, is one of the safest media ports for right-wing views to go unchallenged. So let’s move on.

We need to think of other ways of bolstering your flagging image. In fact, I’m sorry to say, we need to talk about clothes. This may sound a bit rich coming from a guy who has dressed for years like a slightly sinister 1940s detective. But the point is that here again Mr Corbyn is trouncing his opponents with his now famous “Oxfam-chic”, which plays very well with the growing constituency of artists in my part of East London. And, you know, by his not giving a f***. There was a time when a workerist cap indicated a Trotskyite “Dave Spart” you wouldn’t want to get caught in a lift with, but now it’s just so hip. And his beard will attract all the hipsters in my area, because for them, you know, that is SO political. Anyway, the fact is that the New Labour merchant banker suit just won’t cut it any more. It provokes reactions of distrust, disgust, and “What the f*** did you do with my pension?” Your rival Ms Cooper has bagged the “mumsy” look, which is rumoured to be a kind of kid-scoring competition with you (Cooper 3 Kendall 0). Outrageous! Mr Burnham is always well turned-out, but when he opens his mouth you realize he’s that Liverpudlian estate agent you met, a bit out of his depth, and battling to keep his job. How would you break away from the Blairite sharp-practice suit, Liz?

Sartorially yours

Richard

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Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 14:

Dear Liz

I hope you don’t think I’m being presumptuous, but I do wish you’d take my advice occasionally. I warned you about that dreadful sequence in your Open Letter to the Labour Party, the one where you smile at the computer screen, and the screen doesn’t smile back. Well, now you’ve only become a twitter meme! #WhatisLizLookingAt

And I told you to apologize about the disabled vs ordinary people cock-up when you had the chance, and now you’ve provoked an e-petition. So it’s no longer just me asking you to retract, at the last count it’s 1,828 people.

I have to confess, Liz, I got sucked into signing it myself.

Yours apologetically

Richard​

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Open Letter to Liz Kendall No. 15:

Dear Liz

I’m glad to hear that you’re proud to join “The Resistance”, led by those fearless guerrilla fighters Mr Chuka Umunna and Mr Tristram Hunt. I know you will lead a courageous rearguard action if Mr Corbyn wins, as bookmaker Paddy Power is certain he will. You know I liked the idea of you as Labour’s warrior queen, but if my man Mr Corbyn wins, it will no longer be possible for you to wield your battle-axe in public on the fields of middle England. You will have to go underground, with only the mewlings of the conservative and liberal press, and old-fashioned, non-social-media broadcasters such as the BBC and Sky, to support you. By the way, I don’t think Mr Umunna’s earlier withdrawal from the leadership contest, which some people saw as cowardly, should count against him. Then he was facing only the British press, whereas now he fights for the soul of the Blue Labour Party itself. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

But once again, I offer some advice. Is “The Resistance” really the ideal name for your group? OK, it’s better than the earlier attempt, “Labour for the Common Good”, which sounds like a particularly uninteresting meeting of the Cooperative Society. But the problem with “The Resistance” is that it evokes the fight of the French resistance in World War Two, and however much Mr Corbyn is attacked across the media, no one has yet suggested he’s a Nazi (I am treating Cathy Newman’s attempt for C4 to frame him as a supporter of holocaust deniers as, erm, exceptional journalism. Yes, that’s the word – exceptional).

So, given that Mr Corbyn is closer to being a communist than a fascist, shouldn’t you be called “Samizdat” or “The Dissidents” or something? The “Alexander Solzhenitsyn Appreciation Society” is too long, but you know what I mean.

Ever yours

Richard

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Open Letter No.16:

Dear Liz

I’m in a bit of a panic, actually, and I wonder if you could help me. I know that normally I’m trying to assist you, but this is an emergency.
Many many friends have been excluded from voting in the leadership ballot, and they all seem to have one thing in common. They all wanted to vote for Mr Corbyn. People included in the ‪#‎Labourpurge‬ include longterm full party members and ex-local councillors, in other words people with much better qualifications than me. So let me make my case to you. Labour is the only political party I have ever belonged to. I left in 1994 when Mr Blair became leader, but I found his government a mixture of the good (the minimum wage, tax credits) and the awful (PFI and the invasion of Iraq). I never rejoined until now, but that was partly because I couldn’t afford the suit. I’ve always voted Labour. And I’ve never been a stand-up comedian, because they seem to be the most suspect. But there seems be a kind of Blairite Stasi, sorry “rigorous checking regime”, excluding people for dissident facebook posts and tweets. It all sounds a bit like China in the 50s, when Mao Zedong announced “Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom” to encourage critical thought, then purged and arrested anyone who came forward. My fevered brain is now imagining that Mr Corbyn may in fact be a stalking horse to root out all the remaining socialists in the party.

So I’m announcing a change of heart. I’ve decided that I’ve so enjoyed our conversations, albeit they’ve been rather one-sided, I’m going to vote for YOU. I’ve decided the party needs modernising to attract aspirers who live in your home town of Watford, people who like their local Indian restaurant, but for whom that’s quite enough, thankyou very much. Furthermore, I really hate the films of notorious Trotskyite Ken Loach, and would much rather watch Downton Abbey. Liz, if I have any trouble with my vote, could you possibly put in a good word for me?

By the way, just checking, this ballot is SECRET, right?

Yours paranoically

Richard

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Open Letter No. 17

Dear Liz

I hope you’re holding up as we reach the fag-end of this tiring campaign. I know it must be hard. In the Sky debate, Mr Corbyn gained over 80% in their viewers’ poll, so that must seem like a nadir. But I want to bolster your spirits a bit. You came second! Let’s ignore the fact that you only got 9.1%. You were twice as popular as Mr Burnham, and now the attention of all three of you must be focussed on what happens after the leadership election. It’s a shaky launching pad, Liz, but like other viewers, I thought you came over as more honest and straight-talking than either of your Blairite rivals. Let’s move on, as Mr Blair himself said about the Iraq war.

I think you should continue to emphasise the gulf between you and Mr Corbyn, as Mr Burnham’s attempt to face both ways seems to be so much spin he must be dizzy. One of the most crucial fora for political debate these days is that focus for middle-class anxiety and prudent shopping, Mumsnet. They asked you all for your favourite book, and Mr Corbyn gave a most un-focus-grouped answer, James Joyce’s “Ulysses”. This will be because, once again, he doesn’t give a f*** what people think, and just answers honestly. For the rest of us, though, “Ulysses” is one of the those books that most of us pretend we’ve read, like Woody Allen’s Zelig. (If you remember, Zelig’s clinical need to conform starts with him pretending to have read “Moby Dick”.) Your rivals’ choices were incredibly dull: Ms Cooper’s “Middlemarch” is middle-brow for middle England, and Mr Burnham completely copped out with the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Nothing can be made out of nothing, Andy. But Liz, I have to say I found your choice of Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” a bit disappointing. I hope you don’t mind me asking, but was this an O-level set text for you at school, as it was for me? Anyway, it’s just a bit too literary to contrast enough with Mr Corbyn’s Joycean modernism. I’d suggest something much more popular. “50 Shades of Grey” is probably a bit risqué, and for the uninitiated might sound like a book about the Parliamentary Labour Party. Jeffrey Archer is possibly too Tory even for you, and frankly is just too awful. Bridget Jones I always found a bit wet, but what about something of that ilk? Sophie Kinsella’s “Confessions of a Shopaholic” would have a positive underlying economic message. Or how about going further down that line with some proper “shopping and f**king”. Julie Burchill’s “Ambition” would show that you were a lot more than merely damp New Labour aspirational. And Liz, I’ve got a lot more sub-literary suggestions. Just let me know if you need any more help.

With my Booker Prize specs on.

Richard

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Open Letter No. 18

Dear Liz

I enjoyed your final speech today, where you did the superb “triangulation” of arguing for party unity while at the same time trying to kick Mr Corbyn in the teeth. He seems to be quite a stoical type, so I don’t think you should stress about any real harm done. There was a nice hint of self-criticism too, where you wondered if you’d been too harsh on Labour Party members who think the party is here to represent the poor. As you know, I’m rarely shy to offer my advice, so I do question if your emphasis on foreign policy was really necessary. You have views for instance on the Middle East which would make a number of Tories blanch, but above all, you know, I don’t think the voters care very much.

When we sum up the campaign, it’s probably best if we put the politics and those dull debates to one side. Instead, let’s look at the positive. We can see that both you and Mr Corbyn have been much hipper and more street-wise than the rather strait-laced Ms Cooper and Mr Burnham.
What do I mean? Well, Mr Corbyn has his own Latin following here in London, and here he is playing the congas, seemingly not as a photo-opportunity, but just because he enjoys it:

And the latest version of your letter-writing video is so much better than the first, now you’ve re-worked it with one of your favourite rappers:
 

Liz, we can finally put that ill-fated letter to bed with the words of the great Eminem: “It was probably a problem in the Post Office or something.”

Signing off, I can only adapt his words a bit: “I got a room full of Jez’s posters and his pictures, man, but I’m your greatest fan. Anyways, I hope you get this, ma’am. Hit me back, just to chat, only yours, your biggest fan. But the problem is, Liz, #JezWeCan.”

Richard

 

Vote now for most fatuous Guardian anti-Corbyn journo

THAT “CONFUSED” GUARDIAN JOURNO LIST IN FULL:

(This is getting ridiculous. When I started compiling these, I thought I’d max out at half a dozen – now there are 15, and some are repeat offenders. Thanks to all eagle-eyed contributors.)

Who would you vote for for most fatuous Guardian anti-Corbyn journalist?

1. Polly Toynbee for hand-wringingly revealing a secret dyed-in-the-wool radicalism which presumably also caused her to support the SDP back in the 80s.
2. Patrick Wintour for uncritically recycling anti-Corbyn propaganda from “a Labour source”.
3. Jonathan Freedland, leading member of the white liberal smuggerati, for dismissing young peoples’ enthusiasm for Corbyn as narcissism.
4. Jonathan Jones, for linking Corbyn to the crimes of Josef Stalin.
5. Daniel Boffey for arguing that Corbyn has distracted Labour from being an effective opposition, in other words, for not being able to see beyond the end of his nose. If only they could be liberated from this pointless contest so they could abstain!
6. Michael White for the penetrating observation that Corbyn possibly used to, if memory serves, wear sandals with socks.
7. Nick Cohen for being the mad dog, visceral left-hater in the pack, veering from the surreal (Corbyn threatens workers’ rights) to the shouty, accusing him of planting “kisses on the backsides of half the tyrannies on the planet.”
8. Martin Kettle for going beyond Jones’ fantasy of Corbynite communist atrocities, all the way back to the millennial Fifth Monarchy Men of the English Revolution.
9. Andrew Rawnsley for winning the alliteration consolation prize for “Labour downs a deadly cocktail of fatalism, fury and fantasy.”
10. Suzanne Moore for seeing Blairite splittism as inevitable via cod psychology, and for making it clear, a la Toynbee, that she would support Corbyn if she wasn’t so much smarter than all the rest of us.
11. Hadley Freeman, on day release from the “Lifestyle” section, for describing Donald Trump as “America’s answer to Jeremy Corbyn”.
12. Matthew d’Ancona for his version of the Freedland attack on the young (apparently they’re all living in the moment or something) via pseuds corner semiotics.
13. Nicholas Watt for his attempt to make Corbyn seem an idiot by attributing an interviewer’s question about “naughty people” to Corbyn himself. Good effort!
14. Sonia Sodha for her wise advice for the Blairites: “they need to explain why a Labour government – without spending more – offers better answers than the Conservatives.” You’ve cracked it, Sonia – join the Burnham/Cooper/Kendall team.
15. Jessica Elgott for the best headline: “Corbyn caught looking gloomy on night bus”.

Thanks for all the suggestions, and I know it’s really difficult to choose.

Boulez at 90

To celebrate the genius of Pierre Boulez in his 90th year, I created a video channel of all the works I could find. There are some rarities, and some short docs from key performers of his work, plus a few words from the master himself. The playlist is in more or less chronological order, as much as Boulez’ constant revising of earlier works allows!

 

The Beauty of Complexity

Here is a channel I put together of master of “neo-complexity” Brian Ferneyhough’s challenging work, a mixture of video live performances, audio recordings, and those so lovingly created versions with synchronised scores that make you realize that the internet is a better place than you even thought. If you don’t know Ferneyhough’s work, be prepared for extraordinary insrumental virtuosity and moments of unforgettable melodic beauty. Don’t believe the haters, who fill their empty spare time with barbed commenting about this being the music of a 1970s dead end. (I mean, I don’t care at all for the music of Arvo Part, but I don’t go around YouTube attacking it and its uploaders). This is music which shows there is still that old thing, an avant-garde, a cutting edge of music-making which searches out and finds sounds which are radically new. Modernism lives into the twenty-first century!

 

Film Club Review 2014

Every fortnight for the past five years, I have hosted a film club in our flat in Dalston, East London (projector / white wall / decent throw / blackout curtain). The criterion for film selection is simple: those movies that we might be too lazy to watch otherwise, and would really benefit from a quasi-cinematic sacralized space. Hollywood is banned, though not by me personally. When we started, I was worried that we might exhaust the list of quality art movies quite quickly, and soon be stuck in a second-grade world cinema back catalogue. This has emphatically not proved to be the case, and we feel we’ve only skimmed the surface of the history of this amazing, short-lived art form.

In 2014 we had a very strong year, from rarely seen classics to outstanding recent movies. If you’d like to come along one Sunday, let me know at richard (AT) visionon.tv

I will add commentary as and when….

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Omar (2013) – Hany Abu-Assad

Superbly made political thriller about young men on the wrong (Palestinian) side of the Apartheid wall. The climbing over the wall itself by the protagonist is an excellent metaphor for the drama. It becomes physically harder for him as the hope for his relationship with the young woman on the other side becomes more hopeless. As Cedric pointed out, the film is nevertheless curiously unmoving. Perhaps the main characters are a littel under-characterised.

5 Broken Cameras (2012) – Emad Burnat

Talking of visual metaphors, there are none better than Burnat’s decision to make a film around the occasions each of his cameras is broken by the IDF as he tries to record the abuses in his Palestinian village. Sometimes it shows a slight artificiality, with shooting to fill in the narrative, with the domestic scenes in articualr a little stagey. but this is carping. This is a first-rate, deservedly award-winning, doc.

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Rust and Bone (2012) – Jacques Audiard

*CONTAINS SPOILER* The magnificent Marion Cotillard again (we saw the superb Two Days, One Night in 2013) in a moving romance between the “disabled by shark” Stephanie and desperado kick boxer Ali. Is there a problem in Act 3, with the rather forced turnaround, where his son’s near-death makes Ali realize he should commit? Does it matter?

Read My Lips (2001) – Jacques Audiard

A nice “oddball romance” / crime thriller with excellent performances.

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The Secret In Their Eyes (2009) – Juan Jose Campanella

Uses gripping murder investigation to examine love. commitment, justice, and the legacy of the US-backed fascist coups in Latin America. And there’s THAT shot, the long tracking take into and around the football stadium as the police find and chase their man.

The Official Story (1985) – Luis Puenzo

Argentina’s only country to win the Best Foreign Movie Oscar twice. This first one powerfully presents the intersection of the personal and the political, showing how the “Dirty War” could even destroy middle-class families that saw themselves as immune.

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Something Else Brazilian….

Foreign Land (1996)

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A Separation (2011) – Asghar Farhadi

Divorce: Iranian Style (1998) – Kim Longinotto

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Audition (1999) – Takashi Miike

Dark Water (2002) – Hideo Nakata

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Andrei Rublev (1966) – Andrei Tarkovsky

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Nymphomaniac (2013) – Lars von Trier

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Rome, Open City (1945) – Roberto Rossellini

Germany, Year Zero (1948) – Roberto Rossellini

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Games of Love and Chance (2003) – Abdelatif Kechiche

Closely Observed Trains (1966) – Jiri Menzel

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A Touch of Sin (2013) – Jia Zhangke

The Flowers of War (2011) – Zhang Yimou

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The Conformist (1970) – Bernardo Bertolucci

Red Desert (1964) – Michelangelo Antonioni

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Contempt (1963) – Jean-Luc Godard

Hiroshima, Mon Amour (1959) – Alain Resnais

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Hospital (1970) – Fred Wiseman

In the Year of the Pig (1968) – Emile de Antonio

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Cries and Whispers (1972) – Ingmar Bergman

Summer Interlude (1951) – Ingmar Bergman

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Dead Ringers (1988) – David Cronenberg

Videodrome (1983) – David Cronenberg

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Memories of Underdevelopment (1968) – Tomas Gutierrez Alea

Medium Cool (1969) – Haskell Wexler

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Summer Palace (2006) – Lou Ye

Crisis – Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963) – Robert Drew

A Pervert’s Guide to the Cinema Part 3 (2006) – Sophie Fiennes / Slavoj Zizek

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greece: a glossary for understanding the corporate media

Are you finding it difficult to navigate the complexities of the sensational events in Greek politics? This may be because you’re following the traditional, corporate media, which is using normally easy-to-understand language in new and mysterious ways.

To make life easier, here is a quick glossary for these media key-words, telling you what they really mean:

Media says Describing Should say Gloss
Moderates New Democracy / PASOK Right-wing OR extremists

The defeated coalition represents a group of hard-right ideologues with a commitment to the impossible, the repayment of the Greek debt, resulting in a brutal austerity policy which has only increased that debt. They are blindly wedded to a now outdated neo-liberal project from the 1990s.

Centrists To Potami (The River)

Centre-right OR right-wing wolves in liberal sheeps’ clothing

A number of liberal journos over here see this new, media-confected party as better allies of Syriza than the racist Independent Greeks. This is an extraordinarily confused position, given that the arrogant demands of The River would have destroyed the anti-austerity policies voted for by the majority of Greeks. It’s better to see To Potami as a way for conservatives to vote New Democracy without the accompanying embarassment.
Far OR Radical Left Syriza WE DON’T KNOW YET – could be left or centre-left/ in economic terms, moderates The far left position is to leave the Eurozone, which most Greeks don’t want, and Syriza is not espousing. How Syriza turns out depends a lot on what happens in the next few months. The Communist KKE is far left, refusing to enter coalition with Syriza, and wanting to ditch the Euro. Syriza by contrast takes the moderate position that the Greek debt is clearly both inhumane and unpayable, so at least part needs to be written off, as was very successfully done for West Germany back in 1953.
Dangerous brinkmanship / utter bankruptcy Syriza’s economic policy Re-negotiating of the Troika memorandum

 

Hope this is useful!

Why the Paddington movie does nothing for migrant rights

The new Paddington movie is witty, exquisitely acted and beautiful to look at. And in a welcome change from the usual more-saccharine-than-a-plum-pudding Christmas fare, it has delighted liberal viewers with its perceived pro-migrant message. “Bear baits UKIP with fluffy immigrant tale” headlines Xan Brooks in the Guardian. Author Michael Bond has long been on the right side on this issue, allowing Paddington’s image to be used in campaigns for migrant rights. An immigration lawyer’s commentary on the real difficulties which an anthropomorphic bear might face has been popular on social media.

In the film however, this radical potential is tightly circumscribed, as London is represented by a small area from Notting Hill to South Kensington. Ukippers might well scoff that the Browns, with their huge W10 home, can easily afford to take in a migrant. The film very deliberately positions itself as a tale of London rather than the UK as a whole. This allows Londoners to feel smug about their racial integration, while allowing Ukippers from outside the capital to harp on their constant whinge that a London elite doesn’t understand them or their issues. Even worse, Peter Capaldi’s nosey neighbour Mr Curry, the representative of UKIP ideas in the film, has second thoughts when Nicole Kidman’s evil museum director plans to stuff Paddington rather than report him to the authorities. Deportation of migrants is fine, we are left thinking, but killing them is not. Nigel Farage would agree. And all of this is tinsel-wrapped in a Mary Poppins London where non-ursine immigrants are represented by the best-groomed Caribbean street band you have ever seen. At the end of the film, the message is that in London everyone is different and can make a contribution. Note: London, not England or Britain. The UKIP mantra is effectively reinforced.

Sadly, it’s a sweet film that is utterly unchallenging to watch for the many low-level racists who will vote UKIP in May, and even endorses them.

Pirate Bay Down! Panic, Paranoia and Plain Speaking

It is now two days since a raid by Swedish police on the mountain lair of its server took down the world’s most attitudinal torrent tracker Pirate Bay. The internet is awash with rumours and claims about what has happened, and what will happen to peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing in the future. Owing to my addiction to the obscurer corners of art cinema, I am an inveterate file-sharer myself, and therefore have a strong vested interest. Here’s my take on the responses to tpb’s outage so far.
The commentary up to this point has mainly reflected the two poles on views of the future of the net:

1. The Pirate Bay will always come back, and if not, something else will replace it, because of the nature of the internet. Copyright holders are pursuing an inevitably losing war against file-sharing, and only changes in their business model will reduce it.

This could be true. I’d like it to be. Today I have been downloading from another bittorrent tracker, which actually I find I prefer to tpb.

2. This is the beginning of the end for torrents. After blocking torrent trackers in many countries, the copyright holders have a coordinated take-down campaign to deal file-sharing a death-blow, to destroy the remaining trackers and to block torrent files from even appearing on google.

Although it veers towards conspiracy theory, and perhaps overstates the power of a few companies, it could also be true that torrents’ days are numbered. From my own experience as a downloader however, the torrent universe has never been brighter, populated with movies I could only dream of a few years ago. For instance, my partner and I have Rwandan friends, so wanted to discover more about the genocide on its 20th anniversary. I downloaded half a dozen feature films apart from the obvious Hotel Rwanda, including two excellent movies where white people were almost completely absent, made in local language Kinyarwanda.

3. A number of positions between these two extremes.

4. A generalised and impotent panic about the loss of a favourite website and the pleasure it provides.

This shows that even in the non-corporate web, people are remarkably passive, relying on a brand just as they rely on facebook for their social interactions. Sad.

5. If this is the end for Pirate Bay specifically this is a good thing, because it has sold its soul to the Mammon of porn ads etc. The major espouser of this position is one of the original founders of Pirate Bay, Peter Sunde.

Firefox’s ad-blocker means I miss out on the chance of a Russian wife unencumbered by bridal gown. People bothered by ads in their browser need educating. Sunde’s point about the demise of tpb as campaigning organisation is taken, however.

6. Further to this, Sunde argues, while the corrupted Pirate Bay persists, no innovation is happening in digital file-sharing, to move us on from the 13-year-old technology of the bittorrent protocol.

As someone concerned for the future of the open web, and the democratising of culture in general, I sympathise strongly with Sunde’s line. As a movie downloader, however, bittorrents supply everything I need, so I want them to carry on (see above).

As with almost every discussion about the internet (and almost nothing else!), I find I sit on both sides of the fence. If the next web needs different tech, I selfishly hope it’s a smooth transition.

Reports of the Death of the Latin American Left Were Exaggerated

On 27 September 2014, the Economist’s anonymised Latin American op-ed “Bello” heralded “a turning of the political tide in South America after a dozen or more years of leftist hegemony.” The writer was encouraged by the possiblity of defeat for Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, and considered likely the victory of right-wing candidate Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou in Uruguay. Two months on, and Bello’s crystal ball clearly needed some serious polishing. Rousseff won for the Brazilian Workers’ Party a fourth consecutive term in office, and yesterday in Uruguay Tabare Vasquez won an unprecedented third term for the leftist Broad Front by a massive 13%.

“Bello” had already conceded that Evo Morales of the Movement Towards Socialism in Bolivia was going to win (he did by a landslide 61%), but in the usual knee-jerk way of rightist commentators the writer describes Morales as an “autocratic socialist of Amerindian descent”. Dodgy, these indigenous people who come up through the social movements! They just don’t respect democracy in the way that the white-skinned oligarchy who ruled previously do, that same oligarchy that has consistently supported the fascist coup d’etats which stain Latin American history. In this manner, yet another Anglophone commentator echoes the endemic racism of the Latin American elite. A feature of nearly all reports on Latin American elections in the right-wing press, and much of the liberal press, is just how much they are bad losers. “Bello” of course recycles this, ascribing Morales’ victory partly to his “grip on the media”. In fact, in Brazil and Uruguay a very dominant conservative media campaigned virulently for the right-wing candidates. To their credit, the voters ignored them.

I must say that I am rather tired of friends repeating opinions to me which they have gleaned from the pages of the Economist in particular, so let me attempt to characterise this periodical. It is far from being serious advice about business risks and prospects around the world. For details of the magazine’s absurd errors in reporting Venezuela, see here, here, and here. If I were investing in South America, I would buy a subscription to the estimable Latin American Weekly Report, which has given accurate data for the last 47 years. Instead, we might describe the Economist as a readable mass-circulation magazine pitched at lower and middle managers, who wish to impress their bosses with their knowledge of world affairs. It represents not serious investment advice for the elite, but rather the ideology of that elite, enabling ambitious businesspeople a way of talking about the world  which will not challenge the dominant ideology of the boardroom. On Latin America it is frequently wrong, jettisoning facts and reasoned argument for dreams as wish-fulfilment. It is, to quote the outstanding venezuelanalysis, “the neoliberal ideologue’s favourite rag.”

 

Brazil: how does the left continue to be re-elected?

As expected, the Presidential election result was the closest since the end of the dicatorship (Dilma Rousseff 51.64%, Aécio Neves 48.36%). What does it mean for the leftist governments in the rest of Latin America, and for democratic progressive projects in general?

First of all, we need to understand a little of the history of the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT), so Ill sketch it very briefly. As a new party formed under the US-backed dictatorship, the PT was always committed to parliamentary or liberal democracy. These very limited democratic credentials were however enriched by direct, devolved democracy where the Workers Party had local power, principally in the form of the Participatory Budget, a parallel democratic system for the distribution and spending of local government money on capital projects. In a country rife with corruption, where half of state budgets never reached their intended destination, this was vital grassroots control, and made inroads into Brazil’s clientelist system (“vote for me, I tarmac your road” – not roads in general in the municipality, but the one outside your door!). After losing three elections to neo-liberal, right-wing opposition, the PT conducted a semi-secret internal coup in the late 1990s, where the people around presidential candidate Luis Inacio Lula da Silva jettisoned the more radical policies, arriving in government in 2003 with a policy to pay off the external debt rather than cancel it. The PT now had no commitment to extending participatory democracy, its unique radical feature, on a national scale. The results of playing the neo-liberal economic game were impressive, with strong economic growth able to weather the storms of the global recession of 2008. Socialist, grassroots empowerment was replaced by welfarism – the Bolsa Familia (Family Benefit) for the poorest seemingly making the Workers Party impregnable in the north and north-east.

It also enabled the party to reach out beyond its traditional base of the organised working class, which only gave them a chance of 25-30% of the electorate, to the poorest sectors – those who traditionally often “sold” their vote for $10, a T-shirt or a pair of glasses. Through this reaching down to, and providing for, the poorer and less organised, the PT could win a landslide majority. Partly because of welfare, the poorest now vote repeatedly for a Workers Party President. This is presented starkly in the extraordinary geographical split in the 2014 election results: red in the poor north and north-east, and blue in the richer south. Actually, a first glance at the map does not reflect how extreme the division was: Dilma won no less than 79% of the votes in impoverished Maranhão, and 70% in somewhat richer Bahia, while Aécio won landslides of 65% in Santa Catarina and 64% in São Paulo state. There was also a huge division between richer urban and poorer rural areas within states. There were only three states (out of 27) where Dilma gained a higher percentage in the state capital than in the state as a whole (Espirito Santo, Rondônia, and São Paulo). In other words, people in the countryside voted more left, and people in the cities more right (the stats are here). So much for the Workers Party’s roots in the industrial proletariat! (Lula was a metal-worker trade union leader). A barometer of Aécio Neves’ defeat was his loss in his home state of Minas Gerais, where he was previously a two-term governor, but while he only took 47.6% in the state as a whole, he took 64% in state capital Belo Horizonte. 

So here we have two expressions of the “two Brazils”: rural/urban, and north/south. There is a further split down the nation as campaigned on by Dilma with the support of the hugely popular Lula. Impressively, the PT constantly emphasised that there were two models of society in contention. Compare the dismal campaign to be run by the British Labour Party under Ed Miliband next year – exactly the same model, perhaps a little bit nicer, a conflict between managers of the same system. In some ways, during their campaign, Dilma and Lula sounded more radical than they were in government.

The 50/50 voting split between poor and middle-class should concern those of us who support the successes of the Latin American left in the last 15 years. Evo Morales in Bolivia won a landslide 60% two weeks previously, but Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela only won by a measly 1.5% in April 2013.  As Michael Albert writes so thoughtfully about the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela, before the recent high inflation and shortages, why were the electoral victories not more like 80%, capturing the votes of many middle-class as well as inhabitants of the favela? In the UK as well as Brazil, there is much disaffection among the reasonably waged that the poor are receiving “something-for-nothing” via social security. Among the Brazilian middle-class, the Bolsa Familia is known derisively as the bolsa-esmola, the beggars’ benefit. This is where the lack of socially-transformative direct democracy in the PT’s adminstrations may be damaging, the absence of a community empowerment which is not purely economic, and is not merely passive, something which could potentially involve the lower-middle and middle class. Looking at Venezuela, Chavez’ governments made central the development of parallel, devolved democracy, without which, with the economic problems that Venezuela now faces, the government of Nicolas Maduro would be heading for certain defeat. But coming back to Michael Albert’s critique, how is that playing out? In the favelas, communal councils are still growing and in many places thriving, but the real test of them is whether they draw people in in wealthier, opposition-backing areas, and whether the cadres of the Bolivarian revolution have any real enthusiasm for trying to roll that out.

Having fought with an anti-neo-liberal banner, and won, Dilma Rousseff has started to make conciliatory noises towards the middle class. Exactly how this develops is crucial for the future of progressive government in Latin America.