We must stand with the people of Greece…

Late last night I was thinking about Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis. It was triggered by watching them on TV working the rooms they were in, separately.

I thought, what strength of character it must require to repeatedly go into a room alone and to know you will be faced by a bunch of people, not one of whom is on your side. Imagine that, day after day, the pressure from antagonistic opponents, and outside the room the pressure from antagonistic media.

I thought, how extraordinary it is that both were able to present a good-humoured face inside and outside the room.

I thought, there is something going on with them, between them. They aren’t going in there to surrender. There is a game-plan, and none of the antagonists are capable of guessing what it is.

I thought of their election, and the promises made, and I thought of the pressure that must bring – to know there are millions of your own people back home that you have to try to represent, and that you have to try not to sell down the river, and all of that in the face of insults, of patronising behaviour, of being treated as inferiors..

With the news tonight that a referendum is planned within days on the terms being offered… no, not offered, but demanded under duress… that game-plan is revealed.

Democracy. Created in Greece in the first place, now to be practiced as a rebuff to the most anti-democratic imperialist entity in the world today, and to allow the Greek people deliver their judgement.
I hope wise council prevails, and that the people send a message to those bullies in those rooms.

I envy the Greeks having ethical people of character to represent them.

In that respect Greece stands alone in Europe.

We must stand with them.

Benefits Britain

BenefitsBritain

By Carter

For reasons I won’t bore you with I found myself sat in front of the sickening bilge that is Benefits Britain. Rather than concern myself with the obviously hideous designs of the show I thought I would relay a few thoughts on why it produces such a visceral reaction in many, when I myself found it merely tragic.

Since the 1960s absolute wealth in the west has increased greatly whereas relative wealth has done the opposite and seen a massive concentration into fewer and fewer hands. The only thing that you can do with large accumulations of capital is use them to accumulate more and more. This has meant that more and more of us have had to leave mechanised production sectors to move into the new but hugely unsatisfying service sectors.

The service sector is the main but by no means only, driving force behind the McJob’s phenomenon. That is to say basic wage jobs that are both wholly mentally unsatisfying and also relatively poorly paid. The long term effect of this is that more and more of us than ever hate our jobs and when this dissatisfaction with our own lot is combined with the knowledge that there is not a huge difference in standards of living between those of us who have to suffer at work and those who don’t, anger and bitterness are quite natural human reactions.

The other driving force behind all this is the high level of unemployment that drives people into that sector or onto benefits. Contrast today’s society with the ‘60s.  Back then the idea of ‘Benefits Britain’ could hardly have existed. In times of full employment wages rise and this means that the small societal group that are claiming benefits get left behind as much clearer differentials between the two groups develop. Those on benefits are worse off but those not on disability have the choice to look for work or not. It is the lack of such a choice today that clouds the issue to the point that we no longer know who is genuinely looking for work and who isn’t.

This leads me to the point of this. Why is full employment no longer on the agenda in the west?

You never hear about any government anywhere wanting or believing they can tackle it. If we could achieve it in the 1960s why 50 years on do we settle for ‘natural rates of unemployment’ that are 7-9% higher than they were back then?

The answer seems clear. It suits the economic system and its order. High rates of unemployment are deliberate in order to keep wages low, which in turn makes the multi-nationals/banks etc. more profitable and keeps the gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ larger.

In the meantime, shows like Benefits Britain feed into that system of divide and rule. They turn working class aspirers against any and all of the working class caught up in the benefits system. ‘Look at that c*nt with his car and plasma screen tele, being paid for by my f*cking taxes.’  It’s not so much their tele and car we really despise but the fact we had to work in such a shit job to get ours.

At the other end of the spectrum TV shows about the lifestyles of the rich and famous sell the false illusion that, ‘Hey, we can all be millionaires’ when we can’t.  As basic economics will tell you, it’s impossible.

Being poor makes you miserable, but once your income goes above 40K there is no proven correlation with being any happier. Therefore, we should be trying to raise as many people up out of poverty as we can, instead of this incessant sneering whilst clamouring to be ‘rich’.  Narrowing the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ helps everyone, not just the ‘have nots’.

There is a way of starting the process, but we all know it’s never going to happen, as it doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s political agenda…

Meanwhile, back in the Land of Gideon…

Unemployment in Britain disappears in brilliant Osborne move

 

Chancellor George Osborne today announced plans to finally return Britain to full employment. Speaking at Mansion House to a packed audience of Daily Mail journalists he received several standing ovations as he informed the nation that: ‘From next Tuesday Job-seekers allowance will be cancelled. As the number of claimants is these days the headline figure for unemployment it makes perfect sense if we cancel it then nobody will be unemployed.’

When asked if he thought that this might lead to the sort of rioting not seen since the last sort of rioting, he replied, ‘The army is on standby with orders to shoot, if anyone in a hoodie tries nipping into Curries for a cheap plasma TV.’

Meanwhile Osborne was keen to assure people that having their Job Seekers Allowance cancelled would not necessarily lead to hardship. “For all those who want to eat I am pleased to announce I will be setting up program of Victorian type workhouses all over the country with the slogan ‘A fair day’s meal for a fair day’s work’. These workhouses have come about as a result of private sector initiatives with world class partners such as MacDonald’s, Costa Coffee, Burger King, Sports Direct and Amazon automated people Inc.”

However, not everyone was in support of Mr Osborne’s plans. Benito Himmler, spokesman for UKIP claimed ‘These plans do not go far enough and immigrants will still be a able to hi jack lorries at gunpoint in Calais and flood the country with foreign tasting food.’

A Labour spokesman when asked to comment went on to say ‘The whole thing is a complete and utter shambles from start to finish’ and was then asked to comment on George Osborn’s plans as well.

 

The Great Illusion: Elections, Mandates, Democracy

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By Phil Thornton

‘Mandate’ is one of those words that sounds grand but is utterly subjective, however, it’s one that politicians like to use in speeches and interviews.

The dictionary definition states : “ the authority to carry out a policy, regarded as given by the electorate to a party or candidate that wins an election.”

Synonyms: authority, approval, acceptance, ratification, endorsement;

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 12:  British Prime Minister David Cameron hosts the first cabinet meeting with his new cabinet in Downing Street on May 12, 2015 in London, England. Conservative party Prime Minister David Cameron has unveiled his new cabinet after claiming an election victory last week that gave his party an outright majority in parliament, the first time in nearly 20 years.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood - WPA Pool / Getty Images)

The Tories are now embarking on what is likely to be the most extreme right wing policies for a hundred years because they claim they have been given a mandate to do so by the electorate. Yet, only 66% of those eligible to vote did so and of that 66% only 37% voted Tory. Or to put in raw numbers, from an electorate of 46.5 million voters, only 11.3 million voted Tory which was 2 million more than voted Labour, but that’s hardly a mandate by any definition of the word.

There are still Labour MPs, Labour Peers, Labour Councillors, Labour supporters and Labour funders who believe that the party lost the election because the party was ‘too left wing.’  They will try to re-position the party back to the Blairite New Labour days when policy was often to the right of the Tories because this proved successful with three successive victories for the party between 1997 and 2010.

However, the most alarming aspect of the election result for democracy fans is that so many voters felt so disillusioned with all parties that almost half of them didn’t bother voting at all and a large percentage of those who did ended up with an MP and a government they didn’t vote for.

Let’s get it clear, there is no link between the first past the post system and electoral representation. The Proportional Representation pragmatists have always been poo poo’d by the main parties as offering endless coalition governments and unaccountable MPs, yet these same politicians soon jumped into bed with each other when coalition suited their interests in the nauseating Con-Dem pact. That kept Cameron in power for five, long and terrible years.

Mocked-up-Lib-Dem-election-posterThe Lib-Dems paid the price for this treachery and abandonment of their PR ideals at the election and may destroy the party completely, which is fine by me, for there is no centre ground in politics. The centreground is a myth, a lie, a liberal sop to the capitalist elites that demand some kind of allegiance to their political and economic con trick.

Some parties win elections because others lose them. Blair triumphed in 1997 not because he was some kind of messianic father of the Third Way but because people were pissed off with 18 years of Tory rule. He won again in 2001 because after their defeat the Tories imploded much as Labour had done after their defeat in 83. By the time Gordon Brown became leader, it was clear that the New Labour Paradise was just another mirage.

The Tories won in 2010 because many people were utterly disillusioned with thirteen years of Labour rule as they been in 97 after 18 years of the Tories. Yet these margins are still pretty narrow. A few million votes here and there can make a huge difference in the number of seats a party wins. Take 1997, Labour’s landslide for example. They ended up with 418 seats based on 43% of votes whereas the Tories ended up with 165 seats based on 31% of the votes. 12% difference but 253 more seats. Many people vote out of party loyalty whoever their MP is, whoever the leader of the party is and many vote tactically simply to avoid the least worst party in their opinion winning the seat.

When parties are neck and neck a few hundred votes or less can make the difference between victory and defeat. There is no mistaking the connection between the drop off in people voting throughout the past thirty years (down by an average of 20%) and the way in which the political system has become a demographic battle to win over a tiny percentage of swing voters in marginal seats. In this system, it doesn’t really matter about the party’s core supporters who are treated with contempt by the front row and certainly by the spinmasters and PR spivs who mould the leaders to appeal to these marginal king makers.

That’s where Miliband went wrong. He was never slick enough, never had the bottle to take on the right wing media and indeed his own ‘advisors’ who tried and failed to transform him into some kind of Middle English Every Dad. Just as they made Gordon Brown smile awkwardly so they made Ed lean and point. It was cringeworthy and phoney and faced with a press onslaught that had relentlessly ridiculed and demonized him since he became leader, there was no way that Labour would ever win with him at the helm.

So, now here we are, facing another five years of Neo-Con public school boy destruction and Labour is back to the old game of selecting a leader who can ‘connect’ with the voters. Connect with which voters though? The ones who voted Tory or UKIP, the ones who live in safe Labour seats but don’t vote at all, the ones who went over to the SNP, the ones who like their leaders to speak like them, look like them, walk, talk and whine like them?

Hillsborough Disaster 20th Anniversary Memorial at Anfield. Minister Andy Burnham is barracked during his overtly political speech during the Hillsborough memorial inside Anfield
Hillsborough Disaster 20th Anniversary Memorial at Anfield. Minister Andy Burnham is barracked during his overtly political speech during the Hillsborough memorial…

Andy ‘Man Of The People’ Burnham may like to present himself as a down to earth commoner but if you look at his voting record, he is just another careerist from a safe seat who has played a canny game to get to the top, even exploiting his association with the Hillsborough families when it suited his agenda, despite doing nothing for them during 12 years of his party’s time in power.

The whole point of modern politics is to secure power by any means necessary but for what purpose? Labour want to tinker at the edges of the extremes of Tory policy because that’s what keeps the important voters in the marginal happy and fuck everyone else. They played the anti-immigration card during the election, they played the crack down on benefit claimants card during the election, they played the ‘Hard Working Families’ card during the election because they felt this would get them votes. It didn’t.  And yet the puppeteers would have us believe that voters didn’t ‘connect’ with Labour because ‘they were too left wing.’

The media frames every argument in a prism of its own design. Thus, everything from ISIS to UKIP is discussed and analysed with a pre-ordained agenda. There can be no challenge to these orthodoxies that are not treated as the conspiratorial ramblings of cranks and ‘extremists.’

Thus ‘Labour lost because it’s too left wing’ becomes a truth because it is repeated as a mantra in the media and indeed the party, as they too are complicit in the system of evasion and self-denial.

Meanwhile, as they try to figure out a way of ‘re-connecting’,  the Tories are relishing the next five years of destroying the very notion of human rights for non-millionaires and city leeches, who they depend on for their post-political careers.

But that’s OK, they’ve got a MANDATE to do so…

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Bosnia fans show support for Palestine…

Chants of “Palestina” before and during Bosnia & Herzegovina v Israel

The Ambassador of Palestine to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) thanked the nation’s fans for their support of Palestine.

The Ambassador of the State of Palestine to BiH, Rezeq Namo, was commenting on the events before and during the qualifying match between BiH and Israel, which was played in Zenica last Friday.
He thanked the fans for their support.

On the streets of Zenica on that day and night could be heard chanting of support for Palestine and the Palestinian people.

The Palestinian Ambassador, in his letter, expressed his sincere thanks and respect for the fans and the people in BiH, he said, for the moral support they provided before and during the games against Israel, and congratulated them on their victory.

“The entire Palestinian people and leadership through the media witnessed that Bosnia and Herzegovina, in a completely apolitical, decent and moral way, recognizes the injustice that has been for decades inflicted on the Palestinian people.”

It adds that the position of the BiH fans showed solidarity with the Palestinian players, which are exposed to danger, namely the discrimination and persecution by the Israeli occupying forces.

“Like lots of times before BiH in all its components recognizes injustice and promotes peace and co-existence between two countries which should naturally co-exist alongside each other. This kind of support from BiH Fans has intensified the existing good relations between Palestine and Bosnia and Herzegovina in a natural and human way, ” the letter said.

The Embassy of Palestine added that they do not want to encourage any kind of offensive behavior of others, but believes that in this case the fans sent a genuine message of solidarity to Palestine, which others think is wrong.

Also, that night, fans at the Bilino Field booed the anthem of Israel, and previously in the streets of Zenica trampled the flag of the country. That ultimately might cost the Football Association of Bosnia and Herzegovina dearly, because UEFA has launched disciplinary proceedings against NS BiH.

The session of the Disciplinary Committee, which will consider the complaint against NS BiH will be held on 16 July.

Bosnia-Israel
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BHfansStampOnIsraelFlag

Here is an eye-witness report of the events around the match from one of our Bosnian anti-fascist friends…

“Myself and a few others wore Palestinian scarves at the match.

“It was really difficult to bring anything on the stands. I had luck with the lady that was responsible for my entry. I acted dumb and like a first time attendee at a football.match.  She believed me and I got mild treatment.

“On my stand nothing racist or fascist was sung or chanted.
I don’t know in the city what happened. I only know about the Israel flag being stepped on.

“It’s a big deal here. Basically, the media is the lynch mob asking for Uefa to fine Bosnia.  Especially, the Croatian media is on a roll for that incident. But that is because they want to minimize the swastika incident there; that isn’t comparable to our game.

“Even the police report said not one incident took place before, during or after the game. Only one guy was arrested because of “careless pyro action”.  That was on the north stand after Bosnia scored the 3rd goal.

“During the first half, the special police force (Federal Police) were in the stadium.  Outside also.  On the stands criminal police units and lots of security.

“I did show the Palestine flag during Israel’s anthem, but the security told me to put it away before the police sees it and to wait until the end of the game. They said I could get in real trouble. He was being honest about it, and really frustrated for all the fuss about Israel…. I saw on other stands a few Palestinian flags during the same time, but I didn’t see them after. They were probably also warned the same way I was.

“During the anthem, the whole stadium chanted “PALESTINA.”

“Most of the statements of Israel’s players before the match were concentrated on how they will play surrounded by ‘enemy’ fans.

“Some Israel fans were on the stands, but in the VIP section…  They had one Israel flag but had to put it away in the second half. I heard that lots of them stayed at the hotel under police and military protection because they were afraid to go to the match. Idiots. No one would touch them. The whole part of the city where the Israel national team was in the hotel was blocked. After the game we couldn’t even walk on the sidewalks near that street. Police corridor all the way from the center to the hotel.

“I saw the two snipers that were on the roof after the game. They were from the Bosnian Police… All summarised; repression on every corner.  Some guys that were in Tel Aviv for the first game told us that not even (security) there was like here. They got more security than the Pope visiting Sarajevo. Well, they got a warm welcome.

“We showed support for Palestine.  On the stands was delirium when we cheered for Palestine. That happened more than 5 times during the match. I didn’t hear any anti-semitic/racist songs during the match. In my stand there weren’t any.  Not before, during or after the match. “

Karaoke Decade Pt.2: Robbie Williams – The Bluecoat Kid

The Karaoke Decade is a series of essays by author and journalist, Phil Thornton. It attempts to analyse the way in which not only popular culture but politics and society in general became simply a second hand regurgitation of previous themes. The word ‘post-modern’ is of course an oxymoron because modernity is always with us, we live in the moment and yet we often feel as if we live in the past and not even a ‘real’ past but a past that has been moulded by myths and the twistings of events. There can never be anything that is post-modern, only a concept of modernity as something rooted in the past. These essays cover music, politics, sport , technology and recipes (OK, maybe not recipes but there again..) and I hope you will find them provocative and funny, if not then funny and provocative.

by Phil Thornton


When I was a kid the ultimate glamour job seemed to be a Pontins ‘Bluecoat.’  These were Fred Pontin’s azure rivals to Billy Butlin’s militaristic ‘Redcoats.’  Essentially both sets of coats were salaried camp entertainers, a collection of piss poor singers, dancers, comics and flannel merchants whose Hollywood dreams had faded to such a degree that a summer season at Brean Sands became their Holy Grail.
Every school class had its extrovert, the lad or girl who wanted to be the next Little Jimmy Osmond or Lena Zavaroni, who went to drama or dance classes after school, the weirdos. In the 70’s many of these kids went on to become Bluecoats. For those destined to become Bluecoats, the rise of the Holiday rep in the 80’s offered them a new, exotic outlet for their ‘skills’ and by the 90’s, the new era of ‘Boy Band/Girl Group’ acts now became the ultimate ambition.
BBs and GGs have been with us for as long as pop music itself, whether that was the Monkees or The Ronettes, the Bay City Rollers or the Bananarama. You could argue that The Sex Pistols were a Boy Band of sorts, cynically orchestrated by a subversive version of Larry Parnes.

Almost all Boy Band impresarios are gay for obvious reasons.  How else can middle-aged flab arses get their mitts on so many taut, teenage bodies other than by offering them fame and fortune? As Larry Parnes, so Nigel Martin-Smith. The boy band explosion in the States during the late 80’s had witnessed a host of poppy hip hop and R&B acts from Blackstreet to New Kids On The Block find chart success and Martin-Smith wanted to find a ‘Hi NRG’ version of these bands that would appeal to a British gay crowd.

The process was the same, the process is always the same. Find me young, ambitious, handsome, working class boys and I will transform them into hunky, knicker/undy wetting icons for young flesh adorers across the world. Thus; take one portly working men’s club crooner, two athletic breakdancers, a cute rent boy type and complete the outfit with a ten bob gurner from Stoke. In any other world, Robbie Williams would have been happy to fuck as many pissed up blondes from Pontefract or Plymouth as he could during an 18-30 bar crawl in Kavos. But Robbie had something deep inside him that needed an outlet, a thing he called ‘talent.’ His arl fellar had been a working men’s club comic and he had inherited his dad’s love of a Norman Wisdom impression.

Take_That_1374058cAs a group, Take That were more than a sum of their parts. Dyed blond singer, Gary Barlow was pure MOR, a boy brought up on Elton John, not Johnny Rotten. He was the most talented as a lyricist and singer, but he was stiff. Barlow moved as if the choreography lessons were a chore but he could keep up…just!

The cute kid, Mark Owen smiled a lot and pulled up his cut off Baby Oil t-shirt to reveal baby abs for the boys/girls. He also sang a bit but was essentially just a bit of paedo-bait for the boys and pre-teen girls who couldn’t make the connections.

Jason Orange and Howard Donald were both fine athletic specimens and superb dancers. That was their primary function, to look rugged and manly in contrast to the pretty boys and create a diversion from the singer. Later, Jason took to playing a guitar in order to give him a bit of gravitas and Howard even got to sing a decent song. But first and foremost they were circus acrobats.

Then there was the other kid, the one who seemed to be taking the RobbieWilliamsTitpiss out of this tawdry charade. It wasn’t exactly clear what Robbie’s role was. He didn’t have Barlow’s vocal range but he could hold a tune well enough. And as a dancer, Robbie was no Fred Astaire or even a Jason Orange, but he was good.  He could do the fancy footwork and even perform a windmill.

If the others just seemed happy to be escaping from the RNA cabaret circuit and The Hit Man And Her, Robbie seemed to be the one who wanted more than what Fuller and his team were offering; single – LP – tour-interview – single –LP – tour –interview – TV special – single – LP- tour- interview – TV Special – Film. It all adds up to dollar dollar bills y’all and there’s your signature on the contract sonny.

That’s the Boy Band/Girl Group way and if you don’t like it, there are plenty more desperate young mouths out there willing to suck dick to get a break. Take That formed in 1990 but their success really began in 93.  And it wasn’t long before a female version, The Spice Girls were created by yet another BB/GG impresario, Simon Fuller.

spice-girlsThey too were globally successful thanks in no small part to the personalities of the northern contingent; Mels B and C aka ‘Scary’ and ‘Sporty’. ‘Baby’ fulfilled the same paedo fantasy role as Little Mark in TT. Both ‘Ginger’ and ‘Posh’ came across as talentless, grasping Home Counties opportunists. Meanwhile Mel B from Leeds and Mel C from Widnes (not Liverpool) were cut from a different cultural cloth. The same cloth in fact as the TT lads, self-deprecating, down-to-earth, funny!

Beatles&EpsteinIt had been the same with The Beatles. Those Cockney groups were always a bit too up themselves, po-faced, aloof. Northerners were chips and gravy people. You could relate to them and they came across well in interviews. Whereas the ‘Indie’ sneerers dismissed them as throwaway and shallow, both Take That and The Spice Girls continued the working class tradition of music hall entertainment, working hard for their money, perfecting their routines day and night, sweating and aching through rehearsal after rehearsal, night after night to put on a ‘show.’

Old fashioned showmanship is where Take That excelled. In many ways they were ahead of the game. Record sales via CDs, especially for singles were on the wane and touring became a more lucrative money spinner both in terms of ticket sales and merchandising. As such TT’s shows became ever more extravagant and required more and more from them as ‘performers.’ This is where, it seems, Robbie lost faith in his deal with the devil.

Unlike Robert Johnson at the crossroads, Robbie’s Faustian pact was not eternal and his soul was not for sale. And so he wandered off into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights where the devil tempted him but Robbie was strong and turned his back on the wages of sin to re-emerge as ‘The Robster.’

Whereas Robbie Williams had been the cheeky, subversive element in Take That’s cartoon show, as a solo performer he wanted to get as far away from the TT model as possible. In the 90s, this could’ve meant producing drill and bass tech-squank with The Aphex Twin but in Robbie’s case, it resulted in teaming up with writer, arranger and producer, Guy Chambers. The problem with Robbie now was that he believed he was that most dreaded of pop creatures, ‘the serious artist’ who had ‘things to say.’

All boy band refuseniks, from John Lennon to George Michael, george-michaelbecome obsessed with their own histories as if we too are as fascinated with their tedious careers as they are. They will belittle their former ‘pop’ selves, have a pop at their former pals, managers and labels, present themselves as freedom fighters, original thinkers, even as philosophers and poets. Williams wasn’t quite that up his own arse, but he truly did believe that he was now free ‘to be himself’ whoever that was. This self-assertion manifested itself a spikey blond hairstyle, an expanded waist band and a voyage into the already parodic musical stylings that became known as ‘Britpop.’

The Robster palled about with New Lad Knuckle Draggers, Oasis andCockyChrisEvans+Camilla sucked up to former Tarzanogram turned TV Pop Kingmaker, Chris Evans. Evans’s own rise was itself a cautionary tale of how far banal ambition could take someone in the 90’s. Like Williams, Evans was from a nondescript industrial town, in his case Warrington and rose to fame via a modicum of talent and whole lot of spiel and chutzpah. They were made for each other, two ‘pussy hounds’ who were ‘Living The Dream’, the dream of frustrated teenage boys the world over; loose women, fast cars, drugs, booze and good times all the time with yer pals, the same pals who will desert you once you check into rehab or the dough dries up.

By the end of the 90s, Robbie had established himself as a ‘serious’ artist, the kind whose LPs were reviewed in the NME and even featured on the covers of underground dance music magazines, the type of artist who played Glastonfuckingbury and wasn’t pelted off stage but cheered by the karaoke sing-along-to-every-word new pop fans.

RobbieWilliamsIsraelGig
Robbie Williams prerforming in Tel Aviv, Israel in 2015. After representing Unicef for many years, Williams shows his true colours by breaking the boycott of the Apartheid state.

Here are some sobering facts :

* Robbie’s first 7 LP’s went to No. 1

* He had 7 No. 1 singles.

* He sold 77 million LP’s and singles

* He sold 1.6 million tickets for his Close Encounters tour in a single day.

* He was awarded 17 Brit Awards and was inducted into the Musical Hall of Fame after being voted ‘Greatest Artist of the 90s.’

* He is worth around £130 million.

Not bad for a Bluecoat eh? If this tells us anything, it’s that the Great British Public ™ were very easily pleased in the 1990’s. Who could blame Robbie for amassing a fortune whilst pulling that smug smirk registering his own amusement at this turn of fate. If Williams was playing a role, one that say Tom Jones and Rod Stewart played in the 60s and 70s, that of the working class lad made good, shagging his way through the world’s beauties whilst slightly taking the piss out of themselves, then maybe I’d go easier on him.

robbiewilliamssingBut no, The Robster began to believe his own publicity. He saw the mass worship of his ersatz showbiz clichés as confirmation of his God given talent. So he did the ‘swing’ thing and he did the ‘hip hop’ thing and he did the repentant sinner bit. He began lecturing people on the ‘disease’ of drug addiction and his own tedious ‘recovery’ from its effects, he moved to LA and tried to convince us he was Big News over in Lala Land. He even settled down and had a kid and shit. The kid from Stoke got Spiritual on our ass.

Gary Barlow could only watch in horror as his own solo career careered from one chart disaster to another. It was he who was supposed to triumph after the inevitable TT split, after all he actually wrote most of the songs, however schmaltzy and pedestrian they were. It was he who had to best voice, however conformist and cabaret it was. It was he who had played the game by the rules, stuck to the no drugs/no girls/no smoking in the lockers laws handed down by the Gods of Pop. And here was Williams rubbing his nose in it, literally. Mocking his squeaky clean image as he snorted away with his new groovy rock n roll pals.

We all know the rest of the story. The Take That re-union, without TakeThatReunionRobbie, with Robbie, without Robbie, without Robbie and Jason. Barlow and Williams made up and Barlow re-launched himself as a born again pop star who got to pal about with the Tory prime minister and even pen songs for The Queen of goddam Englandshire. Then came the tax loophole business and, well, them’s the breaks.

video-undefined-22B2542700000578-222_637x364As for Robbie, well he’s still there somewhere, still knocking out LP’s and turning up to pull faces in charidee TV events. Some people still think he’s talented, an all-rounder, a Sammy Davis Junior for the Britpop Generation and no doubt there will be nostalgia tours lined up and maybe even a TT reunion with all the fellas when times get really tough.

The kid did good. No doubt about it.  He’s still a Bluecoat though.

The mercenary Robbie Williams demonstrates that greed takes precedence over morality as he arrives in Israel.
The mercenary Robbie Williams demonstrates that greed takes precedence over morality as he arrives in Israel.

James Connolly Remembered in Edinburgh

Pól O'Scanaill of the 1916 Societes (Ireland) address the 29th Annual James Connolly Commemoration in Edinburgh's Cowgate.
Pól O’Scanaill of the 1916 Societes (Ireland) address the 29th Annual James Connolly Commemoration in Edinburgh’s Cowgate.

250 people attended this year’s James Connolly Commemoration in Edinburgh on Saturday, 6th June at the birthplace of the Irish revolutionary leader in the Cowgate. This year marked the 29th consecutive commemoration of Connolly’s life in the city of his birth, organised by the James Connolly Society (Scotland). It also marked the 99th Anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, which ended with the execution of Connolly and the other leaders of the insurrection by British firing squads. The Centenary anniversary next year was very much in the minds of the organisers with the announcement that next year’s commemorations of Connolly and the legacy of 1916 will take the form of a weekend of events organised by the JCS in Edinburgh. This will form part of a rolling series of commemorative events over the year in co-operation with similar 1916 Centenary Projects in Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales.

Cowgate5The crowd was entertained on a cold, wet and blustery day in the capital by musicians Stephen Dodds and Alan Hunter. They were welcomed by Jim Slaven, speaking on behalf of the James Connolly Society (Scotland). Pól O’Scanaill of Meath spoke on behalf of the 1916 Societies (Ireland).Cowgate1

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Mr O’Scanaill opened his comments with thanks to the JCS for their work over the last 29 years, in remaining faithful to the spirit of the working class politics of James Connolly, and he also observed their engagement in the debates over Scottish independence. “We in the 1916 societies watched with great interest… the Scottish independence referendum. We learned many lessons from your campaign. Unfortunately the scare tactics, the lies and the false promises won the day, but I believe the dark forces that defeated Scottish independence have only postponed the inevitable. SCOTLAND will be free, there is no doubt about that…

“The prophetic words of James Connolly come to mind:

ConnollyStarryPlough1“If you remove the English Army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle., unless you set about the organization of the Socialist Republic your efforts will be in vain. England will still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs.”

“Written by James Connolly over 100 years ago, I believe these words are just as relevant today.

“For Scotland to be truly independent… you must do more than change the colour of the flag and the accent of your rulers. There is no point in exchanging Westminster rule for Frankfurt rule. You must look at the way we in Ireland have been treated by the EU and the IMF…

“The green flag may well fly over Dublin Castle but who really rules Ireland?

“Is it still the commercial institutions that Connolly spoke about?”

O’Scanaill explained that for 8 years Ireland has suffered the effects of a recession caused by the financial crash…

CowgatePol2“The people of Ireland were forced to bail out the European banking system. Ireland consists of 0.5% of the population of Europe yet we were bullied into paying 42% of the total cost of the crash. To bail out the failed banks, an odious debt was foisted onto the shoulders of future generations, a debt that is not ours.

“Each Irishman, woman and child has almost €9000 of debt on their shoulders, as opposed to the European average of €192 to pay for the banking crisis. This has caused devastation to living standards, the most vulnerable in society have suffered the most with cuts to vital services…

“Ireland is under attack. Our natural resources; our oil, our gas, our forests, our fisheries, our water, are being sold off to corporate entities… signed away by corrupt politicians with no benefit for our people….”

He went on to say that despite being bailed out by the Irish people, these very same banks are starting to evict families who have defaulted on their mortgages from their homes… To aid families in crisis, the National Land League of Ireland has been reformed. O’Scanaill stated, “The 1916 Societies are committed to helping ordinary families stay in their homes and to this end we work with the National Land League. In the 1880’s the Fenian movement provided the backbone for the Land league and Irish Republicans will once again stand against the tyranny of the banks and their agents.”

But there was also good news to report to the gathering at 107 Cowgate, “The Irish people have started to fight back… All over Ireland they rose up to stop the installation of water meters in their communities… Even the jailing of water protestors did not stop the resistance. The battle against water taxes is almost won, a campaign of mass non-compliance and non-payment when the bills arrive will kill off Irish Water and hopefully the government.

“The appetite for an alternative to the neo-liberal austerity agenda is growing, north and south. The alternative is the sovereign Republic; a Republic whose socio-economic vision is that of the revolutionary First Dail Eireann, a Republic in which the ownership of Ireland is vested in the people, a Republic which puts its people before the interests of international vulture funds and financiers.“

In a rebuttal of the position of Sinn Fein and the British and Irish governments’ preference for a Border Poll, he was clear. “The Good Friday agreement will not lead to a united Ireland and Irish republicans have not benefited from it. We still have internment by remand, we still have miscarriages of justice like The Craigavon Two…

“We believe that genuine self-determination can only be realised in the form of an all-Ireland referendum, the ‘One Ireland One Vote‘ campaign. Through such a democratic process we intend to empower the Irish people to secure their sovereign destiny, a 32 county Irish Republic founded on the principles of the 1916 proclamation. A Republic worthy of the name and worthy of the sacrifices made by generations of Irishmen and women. We respectfully request from you ‘our exiled children in Scotland’ your endorsement and support for the ‘One Ireland One Vote‘ campaign.“

CowgateJimSlavenThe theme of Connolly’s humble beginnings to his leading role in the Rising was returned to in Jim Slaven’s summing up of the occasion. He stressed the need to redouble efforts to make the 100th Anniversary ( and the 30th Connolly Commemoration organised by the JCS) a commemoration worthy of the man from Edinburgh. He went on to criticise the large police presence as an unnecessary infringement on a peaceful commemoration. “It is time,” he said, “to return to the politics of Connolly and apply them to our situation today.” The 1916 Centenary Projects would, he said, be a fitting republican tribute to the heroes of the Easter Rising, not restrained in its work by the bloodstained hands of a 26 County state that is guilty of the imprisonment and state murder of republicans after 1916. “The 1916 Centenary Projects will be self-financing and will not accept state funding from any government; local or national, British or Irish.”

In a strong closing statement, Jim Slaven reiterated that the James Connolly Society rejects the idea that we should return to the old ways of marching bands and confrontational parades. He went on to advance the position that the political aims of republicans would only be achieved by engaging with the arguments for a Scottish republic and a United Ireland in our communities, not by returning to the sectarian cul-de-sac being prepared for us by the British state.

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The Karaoke Decade – Britain in the 90’s

COOL BRITANNIABy Phil Thornton

The Karaoke Decade is a series of essays by author and journalist, Phil Thornton. It attempts to analyse the way in which not only popular culture but politics and society in general became simply a second hand regurgitation of previous themes. The word ‘post-modern’ is of course an oxymoron because modernity is always with us, we live in the moment and yet we often feel as if we live in the past and not even a ‘real’ past but a past that has been moulded by myths and the twistings of events. There can never be anything that is post-modern, only a concept of modernity as something rooted in the past. These essays cover music, politics, sport , technology and recipes (OK, maybe not recipes but there again..) and I hope you will find them provocative and funny, if not then funny and provocative.

Phil Thornton – June 2015

Thatcher and Major 19911 – IN XANADU

The 90’s began on a wave of optimism and energy. The Tories were still in power and Thatcher was still the PM but the acid house revolution had detonated a new era of youthful disobedience. It wouldn’t be long before Thatcher’s Poll Tax concept sealed her fate and soon civil disobedience and even John Major’s underpants would make a mockery of Tory ‘traditional values.’

It was in 1990 that I began writing for The Face, that icon of everything 1980’s. One of my first pieces for the magazine predicted the decade as being what the 70’s were to the 60’s, a mass collective come-down. Events in the old communist bloc, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet era in Russia had provided the capitalist west with a fresh wind. They had defeated the ‘evil empire of the east’ –  if not ideologically, then at least financially, and would now reap the rewards of repressed Commie consumerism. But, at home there was yet another recession after the so-called ‘boom years’ of the late 80’s.

Interest rates soared to record levels and many of Thatcher’s beloved home-owning for-sale-signs1working classes were evicted from their dream houses. This wasn’t in the brochure. Surely Thatcher had liberated us from council estate serfdom? However, with property comes responsibility. You can’t dodge the bank or the building society like you could the rent man. You can’t run up huge arrears when the going gets tough and pay it back a fiver a week. You paid up or you were out on your arse pal. The 90s became the decade when the vested interests of the city began to rule every part of our lives. No longer could you receive your wages, if you had any, in cash. No longer could you hand over this cash to the rent collector or the gas and lecky man. No, the money went into a bank account and banks offered you overdrafts and credit cards and loans and insurance policies to protect these things if it all went tits up. What they did with all this money wasn’t exactly clear. They ‘invested’ it. In what? Shares. Bonds. Hedge Funds. Pensions. If they performed well, then the shareholders got a dividend and the top guys got a chunk o’change and you? You got to be part of the Glorious Revolution and could afford to go on holiday twice a year and a buy a new Beamer. And what if they don’t perform well mister? Don’t you worry your little head about it kid, this is Big Boy’s stuff. We’ve got our insurance policy for such an eventuality, don’t stress about that.

I was married in September of 1989 and moved into a home that once belonged to my mate who had had it repossessed. We had to put down a 1k deposit and the total cost was around 32k. We took out a mortgage over 25 years but soon the interest rates reached 17% and we struggled to meet our re-payments. So, like many others we re-mortgaged with a reputable High Street bank but this new mortgage was a con, and we ended up owing thousands more than we’d originally borrowed. We were paying interest on the interest and had to move home just to pay it off before it got any higher. With property comes responsibility. We began to live in fear; fear of redundancy, of not being able to pay for our homes, our utilities, our poll tax, our vehicles, our loans, our credit cards, our overdrafts. We weren’t the Beat but the Debt Generation and so, many of us (although not me) rejected industrial action and many more rejected trade unionism. We had been conned. We had been trapped. They had us exactly where they wanted us now. Cowed. Fearful. Defeated. The bankers and the hedge fund managers and the brokers, the spivs and the ponces and the gangsters were now unleashed from their City palaces to wreak havoc across the globe. After all they had defeated those pesky Commies with their naïve wealth distribution ideals hadn’t they? It was pay back time.

Oil well fires rage outside Kuwait City in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm.  The wells were set on fire by Iraqi forces before they were ousted from the region by coalition force.
Oil well fires rage outside Kuwait City in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm.

‘Greed Is Good.’

It wasn’t that stark of a statement from the fictional Gordon Gecko, the Republican Party Reptile warming his cold blood on the rocks of other people’s misfortunes. Gecko was a winner and nice guys come last. The world aint fair kid, get over it and grab a Coke and a burger. The ‘Greed Is Good’ Brigade made their first move in 1991, when George Bush and his neo-imperialist pals from the Pentagon and Wall St went after that pesky ‘Ay-rab’ Saddam Hussein and his vast stockpile of black gold. If anything underlines the sheer cynicism and double standards of the US Hawks, it is their attitude towards those whose wealth or assistance they covet; The Saudis – Good, the Iraqis – Bad. The Chinese – Good, the Cubans – Bad, the Bahrainis – Good, the Iranians – Bad, The Israelis – Good, the Palestinians – Bad, the Turks – Good, the Syrians – Bad.

Where there was a deal to be cut, the Yanky Dollar Men cut one, regardless of any ethical, moral or philosophical considerations. Where there wasn’t a deal to be made, why, with those pesky Ruskies in free fall, they could do what they Goddam wanted and the United Nations could authorize it or get the fuck out of Dodge. And so it passed that the Saddamites entered into the land of Kuwait and the Lord was displeased and sent his angels of destruction to the desert lands and wreaked great vengeance upon the army of the idolater. The so-called ‘First Gulf War’ was never a ‘war’ but merely an excuse for the triumphant ‘West’ to flex their muscles and send a warning shot out to anyone who dared to stand in the way of the New World Order. That Bush never finished the job he felt entitled to do, was left to his son to complete in the next decade. By which time, American imperialism had de-stabilised most of Eastern Europe and the Middle East but that’s another story. Operation Desert Storm allowed the oil men of Texas and the corporate eco rapists who run American foreign policy to re-group and re-mobilise. The world was theirs for the taking. Who would stand in their way? Radicals? Writers? Artists? Warriors? Guerillas? Thinkers? Theorists? Actors? Poets? Workers? Unions? Socialists? Anarchists? Nah, comics!

billhicks1Texan, Bill Hicks has been lionized after his premature death but at the time of the Gulf War he was perhaps the most important and articulate, not to say funny voices that dared to oppose the American right wing death worshippers. Channeling Lenny Bruce and Richard Prior, Hicks said it like it was, whether that got him punched, arrested or vilified. He picked up early on the fetishisation of ‘the military’ as if these generals and squaddies are somehow separate from the rest of society and cannot under any circumstances be challenged, never mind ridiculed. “Aint y’all just a bunch of hired killers, when we want you to go and blow up a village of little brown people, we’ll let you know.”

The mass protest against Vietnam and the mobilization of the ‘liberal left’ seemed an awful long time ago. Greed was good, war was purifying and those who opposed this New Era, why they were naïve fools, gullible idealists and tree hugging cranks. Whichever way it went, there was always a spokesman on call to ‘explain’, if not an actual politician. The term ‘spin doctor’ became one of the 90’s buzzwords because there wasn’t any such thing as truth any longer, just versions of it. Maybe it had always been the way; all history is selective and open to the revisionists yet ‘spin’ itself became a noble art form, as cynical and calculating as the Greek sophists, paid to write and deliver speeches in order to win votes for their political masters.

The Americans had their hired sophists and over here we had a master in the guise ofcampbell_mandelson Peter Mandelson, a man generally admired for his cleverness yet seemingly hollow inside. ‘Mandy’ was New Labour’s ‘spin master’ and together with Alistair Campbell they controlled the policy and communication agenda with a ferocious zeal. It was easy to see why. Back in the pre-Kinnock era, the right wing press both tabloid under The Sun, mid-market with the Mail and Express and broadsheet with the Times and The Telegraph (with their Sunday editions) waged all out war on the Labour Party. Kinnock was savvy enough to realise that he had to counteract this unjust imbalance in the news agenda but rather than act against the political interests of the media moguls, he and his successors began to court them. Of course they still despised Labour and all it stood for, but by the time Tony Blair had secured the leadership, the party had swung so far to the right that they convinced even Murdoch to back them. Murdoch and the rest of the press of course were only prepared to go along with Blair as long as he worked in their interests and so New Labour backtracked on anything that resembled the dreaded word ‘socialism’ and spoke of a vague type of centre ground politics they called ‘The Third Way.’

The Third Way (TTW) was as meaningless and preposterous as John Major’s ‘Back To Basics’ (BTB) sloganeering of the previous government. Where does the third way lead to? It lead us back to where we started with Thatcher; a prime minister so self-obsessed and fanatical that their egotism outweighed any reason. A prime minister who would sacrifice any number of innocent lives in their vain pursuit of fame and wealth. Their so-called ‘Legacy.’ That they were allowed to do so only shames the other elected MPs and ministers who were supposed to act as a collective decision making executive. In the end they were just another bunch of cowards and careerists afraid of upsetting the apple cart or Alistair Campbell. Campbell and Mandelson now virtually ran No 10’s policy making triumvirate but no-one had elected them to office and no-one, it seemed, was brave enough to take them on. They were ‘winners.’ That dreadful word adopted from American sports. If you weren’t a ‘winner’ you were a ‘loser’ and nice guys come last. Successive election triumphs for New Labour created a culture of cynical media manipulation that managed to inflate Tony Blair into some kind of demi-God, a Nero who now saw himself as a messianic prophet of Third Way theology, whatever that was. In this he was protected by his Praetorian Guard of spin doctors and sycophants, whispering praise into his ear and sneering at grumpy old Gordon Brown, the Stoic senator left out in the rain.

Domeo2If anything symbolized the emptiness and folly of the 90s, it was the construction of the ‘Millenium Dome.’ It was Thatcher’s successor, John Major who first mooted the building of such a structure as a way of marking the 21st century. This was New Britain, the Britain of vision, of energy, of creative style and all those virtues would be channeled into constructing…..a big fuck off Circus Tent, so massive it was visible from space or at least visible from the EastEnders credits. Tony Blair, seizing upon these qualities as reflective of his own dynamism, jumped on board after being elected in 97 and shit millions into the project, ensuring it was actually built in time for the new millennium. What would be INSIDE the Great Dome? Palaces made of ice? Strange and mysterious groves and mercury rivers flowing through tropical gardens where Centaurs frolicked with mermaids or just a load of dead space? Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall. Ah but such scepticism was verboten in the New Labour Reich. To criticize was to ‘Talk Down Britain’ and so Blair declared that the Dome was ‘a triumph of confidence over cynicism, boldness over blandness, excellence over mediocrity.”

What was truly cynical, bland and mediocre was the way in which a coterie of cynical, bland and mediocre politicians and spin doctors attempted to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes, as if simply repeating their trite mantras and soundbites made these statements true. And so, as the clock ticked from one artificial century and millennium to another, the people of Britain rejoiced at the sight of a Labour Prime Minister holding hands with Her Majesty, The Queen beneath a giant aircraft hangar singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’ to a faithful audience of obedient drones. In New Labour’s ‘Third Way’ Utopia, we all knew our place and normal service had been restored.

We Are Family, I Got All My Sisters With Me!

In time the Unholy Trinity of Blair, Campbell and Mandelson would have the same attitude towards war as they did for the Dome. There was no plan for what happened after the Big Show. After several failed attempts to fill the place with something culturally or aesthetically valid, they flogged it off to private industry. It had all been spectacle, a flash of lights, a crack of the whip, the ring master and his trusty clowns distracting you from the painful reality of the world outside. Once the circus went away, there was nothing left but a black outline of where it had once stood.Blair-Cool-Britannia