27 Oct 2015

Jeremy Corbyn: Not so Unelectable

Owing to substantial interest from my readers, I am bumping up this post—and including additional data. If you wish to comment, please do so below; and apologies for my lackadaisical blogging efforts as of late. The Ark is growing steadily...

A strange malady seems to have overtaken the Labour party. Some call it ‘Corbynmania’; others call it, more simply, ‘madness’.

But most call it ‘hope’. And it is indeed the majority who decided the fate of the Labour Party that Saturday—let us not forget that. So: what are we to do?

Certain wings of the party—notable proponents include Simon Danczuk, Chuka Umunna and Liz Kendall—are reluctant to move forward. ‘This is madness; we will be annihilated; what disaster has befallen us!’ they claim.

Absurd as it may seem, their claims require careful consideration in order to be proven, or—as I will show—disproven. And we cannot ignore them; if not for preserving ‘party unity’ then for a more simple reason: they may have a point. If Jeremy cannot keep the party together, if his policies are not workable, or if—most importantly of all—he cannot convince the wider electorate to vote for them, then the Labour party must be prepared.

A relative minority of Corbyn supporters have expressed support for the idea that, even if Corbyn doesn’t do very well, he would at least have stood fast to principle. To this I say: rubbish. Power without principle is anarchy; but principle without power is a pipe dream. If some form of compromise is indeed necessary, we owe it to the people we represent—not just the disabled and the poor, but also the millions of middle-income people fooled by the Tories—to win power.

But are such grave compromises really necessary, and is Corbyn the unelectable disaster some profess him to be? Let’s take a closer look.

Renationalisation etc.

One of the matters that Corbyn is rather popular on—despite claims made by ill-informed media commentators—is in his idea to renationalise the railways, the Royal Mail, and to a lesser degree the energy companies. I previously quoted polls conducted by YouGov in my analysis of Socialism, but it is worth re-iterating them:

Renationalisation poll

Interestingly, we see that not only are Corbyn’s policies popular among his own party and other vaguely left-leaning parties like the Lib Dems (as well as the SNP, etc.); but that they are popular in general, and significantly by UKIP voters and even quite a few Tory voters.

So: Corbyn’s not going to have any trouble pushing that through.

A similar story may be found with regards to renationalising Mail and Energy:

Renationalisation poll no.2

So, on the basis of public opinion, Corbyn is not going to have any difficulty finding supporters for his renationalisation policies. However, there is another question to be had here: is it actually a good idea to renationalise, and if so, how can this be achieved?

Let’s start with rail. The case is overwhelming: since privatisation, railway ticket prices have increased 22% (adjusted for inflation); subsidies have increased, but most of the money has gone directly into shareholder’s pockets; and the UK has rail prices that are as much as double those of nationalised European nations. (We Own It)

Furthermore, it is estimated that simply by not having to pay shareholders, the government could chop off 18% from ticket prices. (ibid.)

Nor can it be argued that the railway companies provide better service: the average age of the trains has gone up; and to add insult to injury—they are more overcrowded, too, with only a 3% increase in carriage capacity to meet a 60% rise in demand. (ibid.)

Renationalising them isn’t complicated either. The UK state still owns much of the rail infrastructure, and the companies run the trains on franchises; when they expire, the state can run them once more.

The energy companies—known collectively as the Big Six, and owning over 95% of the marketshare—have also increased their prices by between 40% and 20% (for gas and electricity respectively) since 2007, despite seeing a tenth-fold rise in profits within the same period. (We Own It) The latter is particularly damning: while the global price of gas varied significantly at that time, the substantial rise is down mainly to companies pocketing a healthy profit.

Natural Gas Prices 2007 est

Indeed, Corporate Watch even calculated that nationalising the energy companies would serve to bring savings of £150 a year to each household, on average. (CorporateWatch)

But how are we to nationalise them? This is where Corbyn gets into some difficulty. Buying the companies at market rate is out of the question: it would cost £185B (TheGuardian) He could theoretically impose price freezes, regulation on passing down the cost of falling gas prices, and so on; this would lower their stock value, allowing these companies to be bought cheaply.

That, however, is no way to run good government. More likely, Corbyn can attempt a municipal system of state ownership: municipalities can run their own power stations, and charge their customers accordingly. Alternately, the state could simply buy one company, and let the others go out of business. That’s capitalism for you.

Welfare, And Other Tricky Matters

This is perhaps where Corbyn may fall. The public’s opinion on welfare seems rather divided:

Welfare Bill Poll

However, the situation is not so simple as it looks. For one, a lot of opposition to welfare in general stems from certain assumptions—apocryphal ones:

The amount of misinformation presented to the public, and supported by the Tories—implicitly or explicitly—is remarkable. One woman believed the Tories to be the party of the poor, and Labour... not so. She also apparently believed that the rich shouldn’t pay more tax—evidently the trade-off was not clear: if you support this, you will pay more tax yourself, or you will face cuts to the NHS. (In fact, the Tories have done just that—by scrapping tax credits.)

A pair of women believed that the Labour party supported the ‘scroungers’—people who don’t want to work, and want to stay on benefits.

Liz Kendall was right to point out that the Labour party has a serious problem: the public believes Labour to be the ‘something for nothing’ party. But Kendall’s response wasn’t the correct one. The solution is not to feed into this nonsense; not to agree that the ‘scroungers’ are stealing the taxpayer’s money (fact check: fradulent benefit claims make up 0.7% of the welfare budget (ONS)) or that Britain is facing some imminent crisis on welfare.

Because Britain is facing a welfare crisis, and that’s the one created by Iain Duncan Smith: his regime is responsible for the deaths of thousands. (TheGuardian)

Still, there are turbulent times ahead. Getting Labour’s message out to the public, and killing these apocryphal rumours where they stand—well, it won’t be easy. Perhaps it would be easier to compromise. But it wouldn’t be the right thing to do; at least not if compromise requires near total capitulation, as seems to have befallen Kendall.

Trident, NATO, and Other Matters

I shan’t be discussing these matters overly much. I have already stated that I disagree with Corbyn’s foreign policy, on my Socialism essay; but I’m not so presumptuous as to think the public are wise enough to agree with me. The media commentariat evidently needs to get out more—the polls tell a story very different from their narrative...

Poll: Syria Bombing

The public are opposed to extending the bombing campaign on Syria... Source: The Independent

Jonathan Knott, over at OpenDemocracy, is also worth quoting with regards to how much voters actually care about NATO and Trident...

So 55% supported retaining nuclear weapons in some form. But given that before they were asked specifically about Trident, about a quarter (23%) didn’t know whether the UK had any nuclear weapons or plans to replace them, it’s hard to argue that this is a high priority for voters.

Nuclear weapons too expensive poll

This ComRes poll also has an interesting tale to tell... Apparently, voters mostly agreed with the statement: ‘Nuclear weapons are too expensive for governments to maintain.’

Minimum wage support...

The public also seems quite amenable on other aspects of Corbyn’s policy, including support for the minimum wage and rent controls...

Immigration

Readers have enquired as to why I omitted a section on immigration; the answer to this is: it simply did not cross my mind at the time. I am, generally speaking, not particularly concerned about immigration—nevertheless, as with many issues, I do not presume to be in the majority. The public’s views on immigration are somewhat complex; it’s worth taking a look at a lot of the data.

Firstly, the picture very generally appears to be that the public feels negatively about immigration—in economic terms particularly:

(It seems almost superfluous to mention that nearly all economists—like those from the Imperial College, or the National Institute for Economic Research—have come to the conclusion that immigration is positive for the UK economy; opinion triumphs knowledge, it seems.)

Nevertheless, the picture is more complex than this. For one, more people believe that refugees should be allowed in as opposed to not (48% versus 38%); further, more people believe that NHS staff from abroad should be allowed in as opposed to not. (YouGov).

As usual, I feel it necessary to bring some facts to bear. A lot of people are under the impression that immigration has dramatically increased in recent years, for example:

With Farage’s and Cameron’s rhetoric, it’s not hard to see why. But as is sadly all too often the case, this is not what is actually happening—at least not so simply.

Source: Migration Watch

While net migration has been unusually high this year and the year before, it was significantly lower between 2011 and 2013; lower even than the years previous. Why? Finding the exact causes would require more words than I’ve time for—but, likely, we are seeing both statistical variation (notice the variation in the early 2000s and in the 80s?) and the effect of one of the largest refugee crises in recent history. The NHS also saw significant shortages of qualified medical personnel, which perhaps explains another part of the equation.

So: how would Corbyn fare in this matter? It’s hard to say. Corbyn is pro-immigration, yes; but if he would be able to convince others of his point of view (as good politicians are meant to) then this may not prove a problem. Further, it is hard to determine exactly how this would sway an election result—a lot of people are concerned about immigration, but are they not also concerned about unemployment, financial security, and housing? And what exactly are the other parties going to be offering in that dimension?

UKIP only won one seat—so voting for them is unlikely to result in any meaningful change—and their policy on the economy ranges from the merely very stupid (like flat tax: if you earn £16K and have lost your tax credits, prepare to pay more tax—just like the banker on £150K!) to the absolutely moronic (like scrapping the NHS—or has Farage changed his mind yet again?) The Tories are trying to make millions of people £££ worse off, and their housing policy is responsible both for the enormous increase in house prices (by subsidising demand, and and not regulating banks) and for the shortage (by not allowing councils to build houses, among other things). The Liberal Democrats promised to do a lot of things in 2010, like getting rid of tuition fees. Instead they tripled them. If you can’t trust them to fulfil their most important promise, why trust them with anything else?

But I digress. On immigration, Corbyn is, for once, in the minority. Nevertheless, there are a number of other issues to contend with—not to mention the vagaries of the FPTP system.

To Conclude

This post has been rather detailed and indeed rather lengthy. But a clear picture emerges here: Corbyn is not unelectable—his policies are popular, especially on the economy (the living wage, rent controls, and renationalisation) while even his more contentious foreign policy is far from the fringe position the commentariat makes it out to be. Indeed, Corbyn is more often that not with the majority.

Is this to say the sailing will be smooth? No. As I said before, Corbyn isn’t a man full of charisma; his ‘authenticity’ may go down well, but he is less than prime-ministerly. Don’t think this matters? Look at Miliband. Many of his policies were popular too, but he failed to win; if he had possessed better personal ratings, we (probably) wouldn’t have a Tory government.

Nor will things be easy on welfare: there is a widespread misconception of what the situation is really like, and on what the Labour party stands for. And let’s not forget the parliamentary Labour party, too; there’s quite a bit of opposition there, sometimes with reason (in the case of printing money, or leaving NATO, or on Eurotoxicity) but not always—as Danczuk and his ilk show.

Still, there’s reason to hope. The country is far from the right-leaning, NATO loving, Tory-lite image that the likes of Rafael Behr and Jonathan Freedland would have you believe. The Tories are a minority, after all; and many Tory voters aren’t Osbornomicists—but people deceived by misinformation on welfare, on immigration, and on what the Tory party really is. (Hint: they lowered inheritance tax for millionaires and cut tax credits for working people. They sold off the Royal Mail at knock-off prices to their chums in the City. Who the hell do you think they are?)

So to all this, I say: Labour, get ready to fight. Blairites, shut up—or Labour won’t get elected, and it’ll be your fault. Corbyn? Get a tie.

21 Oct 2015

On the Bourgeois Novel and the Ark

Hail readers! You may have observed that I have written a great deal on politics (and political economy) as of late; these concerns are however secondary to the point of this blog, which lies with literary matters. It is also fortuitous that a matter in the Ark has come up which merits attention. In complex terms, it concerns the nature of the characters and the merits of intellectualism.

In simpler terms: the protagonists are not ordinary teenagers. They live in a world that is on the brink of collapse, and yet on the apogee of human development. Their language, mannerisms and intellect is at once both typically teenage and vastly beyond the purlieu of many adults. They are also typically bourgeois characters.

‘But Alex: shouldn’t teenagers be more like the ordinary, and less like the creations of an armchair philosopher?’ you ask.

And that would be the crux of the question, dear reader. But allow me to make a case for the armchair philosopher.

The Ordinary versus the Extraordinary

Ordinary characters appear to be in vogue, in some literary circles. There appears to be a belief that, the more ordinary the character, the better readers are able to relate to relate to them and the more they will empathise.

This is rubbish.

Empathising with a character is an act dependent upon a writer’s ability to instil emotion and portray characters vividly; believing that a more ordinary character will permit a closer connection is, to be frank, lazy writing. The whole point of a novel is not to be ordinary; not to be trapped in the same taedium vitae and mediocrity that befalls so many.

The power in a novel, the magic, lies with characters that are both extraordinary—and in whose shoes you may walk in. It is the writer that brings the reader into the characters’ mind; it is the writer that makes their struggles their own, and their emotions felt as truly as one’s own.

But nor is this to say that a character must be made into something that they are not; that they ought be exaggerated or subject to the vagaries of market calculations. A character is a character is a character, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein. Some characters are ordinary; others extraordinary. A good novel (usually) has both.

A Very Bourgeois Novel

The Ark, as I have said, also happens to be what is known as a ‘bourgeois novel’. It does not follow ordinary people. Conall, for example, is the son a of Minister; Casey’s uncle is an astrophysicist. Not only are they not-ordinary, but so too do they belong to a particular social class.

A great many an essay has been written on the matter of social class. Certainly, the 19th century Marxist account—of the workers (the proletariat), and the owners of capital (the bourgeoisie) as two distinct entities in contradiction—is one that struggles to fit today’s, or 22nd century Cork’s, ideas of class. The capitalists still exist: Casey’s mother is the owner of a major corporation.

The workers still exist. They are the people who work in supermarkets, as cleaners, or even lollipop ladies.

But many people seem to be somewhere in between. Casey’s uncle is a researcher; what of him? What of the teachers, or the programmers, or any of the other professional classes? Are they petit bourgeoisie? Evidently not—for Casey’s uncle is hired by a university, not being himself an owner of capital.

But Casey and Conall belong to what may be termed ‘the modern bourgeoisie’. These are the intellectuals, firstly and foremostly: teachers, researchers, engineers; those involved in professional and mentally complex work. They are also present in wealth, yes, but while wealth may be correlated—it is not the defining factor.

To employ a modern example: Nigel Farage is a very rich man. So is Donald Trump. But they do not make up the bourgeois, or—more accurately, I should say—the aristocratic class. Not only do the lack intelligence (both emotionally and technically, if not financially) but they also lack other features of the aristocrat: manners, charisma, eloquence—even such things as honour, or loyalty.

Perhaps I ought call the bourgeois novel the aristocrat’s novel. Yes: that would be more fitting, I believe.

Conall and Casey are aristocrats. They are not ordinary, not people you might bump into on the streets. And that’s okay. Good novels require extraordinary characters; and ordinary characters are not necessarily more relatable, or more valuable artistically.

Now, I must leave you. Chapter Six is a-written; the Ark has now over 100 pages; and I have a rather important plot point to address…

15 Oct 2015

On Democracy

As of late, my efforts in the blogosphere have been somewhat lackadaisical. I do apologise, dear readers; but the work of a writer is varied, and my upcoming novel—the Ark—is no small endeavour. Not only am I continuing with writing it (Chapter Six, as of present time) but I am also receiving feedback from a secret beta-reader.

Furthermore, I have also applied for the annual Jefferson Prize, hosted by the Missouri Review. This has involved a careful consideration of my current poetry, and certain improvements: the Necromancer, for example, has received changes in language and expression to certain strange or overly archaic sentences; other poems, such as Essence and Objet D’Art, have also been edited.

But no matter. Today I shall be writing a relatively brief (but hopefully informative) essay on democracy.

The matter is naturally very complex, and the following assumes basic familiarity both with current political events (such as Osbourne’s ‘Charter of Cuts’) and the principles of political philosophy as elucidated on by the likes of John Stuart Mill, Hobbes, etc. There will also be some matters of economics being debated; but I shall explain those with (I hope) sufficient clarity to avoid prior knowledge requirements.

Anyway: down to business.

Against Democracy—Part One: Tyranny

In any debate concerning systems of government, one must firstly consider what one wishes to achieve and the priorities thereof. Let’s take some basics—good government should be the following:

  1. Just. It must act in a manner that is fair to all members of society: tyranny is something best avoided.
  2. Effective. Not only is effective government desirable generally (no one likes a government perpetually frozen in gridlock, like the American one, or tending to compromise to the point that it pleases neither side) but it is also imperative in meeting the condition above. Bad government results in corruption, incompetence and economic meltdown. A government that wastes its citizens’ money, or reneges on its citizens’ trust, is fundamentally unjust.
  3. Pleasing. It is desirable for government to please all those who differ in opinion; for dictatorships and (to lesser extent) monarchies are often found lacking in engagement with the all opinions present. It is also to some degree necessary for condition 1, since a government run by the few tends to be… for the few, and is once more unjust.

For condition 1, democracy initially seems a good idea. After all: tyrannies usually develop in non-democratic nations—like Syria or Saudi Arabia—due to, in theory, the fact that government is run by a small and very specific minority (typically old, wealthy, religious and powerful men) and not by the people. Hence, the answer is democracy: demos (the people) and kratia (power). Right?

Well, no. Firstly, it is quite plausible for the majority to act tyrannically towards the minority. Uganda is a democratic country, but it behaves tyrannically towards its gay citizens; the US, also a democracy, behaved tyrannically towards black people. Democracy is no guarantee of justice—and the sooner we dispel this myth, the better.

But democracy doesn’t just suffer from the problem coined ‘The Tyranny of the Majority’; it also suffers from the tyranny of the minority. Yes, you heard that right. Governments are highly able to deceive their citizens using outright lies or, more commonly, sophisticated misinformation and obfuscation.

The Commons recently voted against the Assisted Dying Bill by a 2/3 majority. But 80% of the populace supported the Bill, according to the polls (which have predicted general election results quite reliably, for example). Why is there such a disparity? Well, it seems that the House is composed disproportionately of a minority, that is both more religious and has very little experience of what it means to be in hardship.

But suppose the UK was a direct democracy, and not a Republic. What then?

There are several practical problems with direct democracy: the majority of people are busy with work and family, and don’t have time to consider and debate complex issues of government.

But even if the UK was more like Switzerland, there will be other instances when the majority still manage to vote against their own interests. One such example is to do with taxation. Watch the following:

Notice, after around 2:30, the lady who believed the rich should not pay more tax; and yet was on £16K herself? The people earning enough to pay the top rate of tax in this country are on £150K: this is nearly 6 times the median wage, and only 1% of the populace earn it. If the lady were actually making decisions based on her self-interest, she would want the rich to pay more taxes. If they pay more, she pays less. Likewise would the other 99% of people earning less than £150K.

So why doesn’t this occur? The cause lies with ignorance and misinformation. Firstly, the lady may well have been ignorant enough to simply not know this simple fact. But the Tory government and its proponents are also very good at misinformation generally: they claim ‘trickle-down economics’ as a basis for their policies. The trouble is, if the rich get richer everyone else stays where they are. ‘A rising tide lifts all boats,’ may be good rhetoric, but it isn’t good economics.

The theory has already been debunked even by such conservative bastions as the IMF; but let’s briefly examine the claim a priori. How can the rich getting richer make life better for the poor? Why, by buying things from them! If there are more rich people going to the restaurant, the waiters get more tips. Right?

Wrong. The theory fundamentally misunderstands the workings of a trade economy. When the rich buy something from a poor person, they exchange money (a proxy for wealth) with a resource, e.g. being served food. But so too does the poor person exchange money with the rich when they, for example, buy a computer with Microsoft Windows. Is this to say that the poor make the rich richer, and the rich make the poor less poor?

That’s one way to think about it. More correctly, a trade economy is one in which one good is exchanged for another; the goods are equal in value (theoretically, at least) and so all that happens is that one agent exchanges a good they consider less useful with another agent in the same situation. To take an example: consider a baker. He has baked 100 pieces of bread that day; but since he cannot eat 100 pieces of bread, he exchanges 95 of them for a new coat. The taylor, for his part, gets bread for the coat he doesn’t need.

The point is: neither is materially worse off, or better off, following the transaction. All that occurs is that one good, of equal value, is exchanged for another that the persons involved find more useful to them personally.

The Tories use many more such myths to lie to the population. Jeremy Hunt would have you believe that taxing the rich makes them work less; but the empirical evidence doesn’t support him. Not only is there no connection between marginal rates of taxation and earnings in the data, but even countries like Denmark are still highly wealthy despite (it would seem) having marginal rates of taxation in excess of 50%. Indeed, the UK had higher rates under Thatcher, and higher rates still under Churchill. This and other claims I address in further detail here.

Which leads me onto…

Against Democracy—Part Two: Ignorance

The above has shown us that democracy often is tyrannical, either because it is majoritarian or because its citizens are ignorant.

But ignorance is problematic not only for the cause of justice, but also for the cause of effective governance. One prime example is Osbourne’s ‘Fiscal Charter’—or as Labour call it, the Charter of Cuts.

Osbourne’s piece of legislation effectively requires governments to run surpluses under ‘normal times’. The rationale? ‘Saving for a rainy day,’ or, perhaps more fittingly, ‘fixing the roof while the sun is shining.’

All of which is very relatable for the general public. But the general public doesn’t have a degree in macroeconomics; and this is poor economics.

Why? Because it belies an irrational aversion to debt. Debt is not all bad; a business, like for example Apple, borrows money to hire software engineers, to buy processors for their first machines, to build factories, and so on. Should they give all of that up because they have to go into debt to do it? Of course not! We’d never have economic growth otherwise.

And why is it a good idea for Apple to borrow? Because the profits they make from selling their machines far outweighs the cost of their loan.

The situation is precisely analogous in the case of the government. Should the government not borrow to build roads, and allow our manufacturing to grow, our transport to be faster, and the goods from Tescos to be shipped more cheaply? Should the government not borrow to build schools, and teach the engineers and writers and accountants of tomorrow?

But Osbourne’s charter effectively outlaws this. And that, frankly, is stupid.

Furthermore, there is also a great deal to criticise about Osbourne’s little piece of Keynesianism. The idea that governments can save money to pay their way out of future recessions is tempting for the household economists—but national economies are not households. If a government runs a surplus, it is effectively taking resources out of the economy. It is taking schools away, it is taking roads away, and it is taxing everyone to breaking point. Government savings won’t bring us out of recession; it will take us there.

The real way to prepare for recession lies neither with Osbornomics nor with Gordon Brown’s fictitious ‘light-touch’ regulation. The solution lies with preventing the causes of recessions: insane and stupid risks taken by banks.

But I digress. The problem with democracy is that voters simply have no idea of the complexity behind issues of governance. They vote in ill-qualified and dangerous politicians that run bad governments. And the irony? The voters can’t even see it. Until it’s too late.

For Democracy

I make no secret that I have a somewhat dim view of democracy. But there are important reasons to consider for why democracy may be the least inadequate of the many inadequate forms of government (to quote Winston Churchill).

For one, it is true that other forms of government are not without problems. Hereditary monarchies tend to give ill-qualified and unsuitable individuals high office; while hereditary dynasties can lead to oligopolistic and dangerous groups of people controlling the fate of the nation.

Dictatorships have a nasty tendency to lead to tyranny—few men can hold absolute power without temptation. Furthermore, dictators are still human; and individuals are more likely to make errors of judgement than groups of individuals, particularly diverse groups that can disagree.

It seems that the perfect form of government would allow the people to make their own choices, except where they are stupid; after which a benevolent, omniscient governor will intervene. Or perhaps the people may be wise enough to avoid making stupid decisions to begin with.

Since the former is implausible, and other forms of governance are yet even more inadequate, there is only one conclusion to be drawn here. We must continue with democracy. But it must be a better democracy. For the key behind good democracy—or indeed good governance in general—is in defeating ignorance.

Ignorance: The Root of Bad Democracy

Democracy is a misunderstood idea. The purpose of democracy, as we have seen, lies not in populism and majoritarianism; indeed, these are the very vices of democracy. The idea behind democracy is really quite simple: it’s not as bad as the alternatives. And to make it any good, we must free ourselves of believing that decisions made by the majority are in any way sacrosanct.

No: good democracy lies with reason, debate, and evidence. It is therefore crucial that the general populus is well educated; that our information is accurate, and if not unbiased then at least from multiple points of view; and that we consider carefully the matter of who can vote, and how.

The UK suffers from poor governance for many reasons. First among these is education—or our lack thereof. The UK does not have any formal politics or economics taught in school; and this, quite simply, is a problem. A lack of familiarity with the basic principles of economics allows dangerous ideas to foment and spread. A lack of political awareness, and of historical awareness, can lead to citizens accepting political soundbites na├»vely and unquestioningly.

Indeed, many of our citizens seem to lack even basic education. They lack critical thinking; the ability to look at statistics and counter-check claims; and some of them are just plain ignorant.

The Tory government likes to implicitly feed the myth that there is a large number of illegal and spurious benefit claimants—the ‘scroungers’ to use their terminology—happy to leech off the hardworking taxpayer to buy flat-screen TVs. If our citizenry could actually read the statistics published by the government’s own agencies—the ONS estimates that only 0.9% of claims are fraudulent—or even apply basic critical thinking (are they still talking about how they’re going to make the benefits system fairer, after being in government for 5 years?), the situation would be very different.

The UK suffers from other problems too. The FPTP voting system is not only disproportionate—read this for more—but also has a nasty tendency to ensure that political parties always retain a share of power no matter what they do. If you happen to like much of what Labour says, but don’t like Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy; or if you happen to think that Cameron might be right on some things, but perhaps the railways should be in public ownership; hard luck for you then! New political parties in Britain cannot rise easily. Why? Because if you vote this new and exciting party—say, the Green Party—you’ll split the left vote. Then the Tories will get the seat.

The final cause for concern is called the ‘media’. Much of it is owned by a right-wing billionaire called Rupert Mudorch. He and his kind are responsible for why much of the public believes in ‘scroungers and skivers’. Why? Because they repeatedly publish the most egregious and infuriating stories of benefit theft their grubby little paws will catch—like this delicious gem:

Daily Mail Benefit Scare

The Mail publishes many more tales such as this. And they may be true. But they’re not the majority—not by a longshot. (I will repeat: 0.9%.) And if our citizens read this regularly—which they do: the Mail is the second most widely read paper in the UK (Wikipedia)—will their perception of benefit theft not be distorted? Will the family on £40k benefits not be on the forefront of their mind when they put the tick next to the Tory box?

Conclusion

My essay has indeed been substantial; nevertheless, I hope I have made my point. Accepting democracy as the least inadequate form of government does not mean accepting that the majority are sacrosanct; it does not mean accepting any ignorant and illogical argument or policy on the basis that it has been voted.

What it does mean? Education, evidence, and critical thinking must become the purlieu of all.

Very well; the Ark beckons. Until then—may the stars be with you…

PS: if you thought this essay worth your time, perhaps you may consider recommending it on Google or sharing it on Social Media. The buttons below are good for this.

8 Oct 2015

On the Ark—and Sex

Hail readers!

You may have noticed my essay on Jeremy Corbyn; alas such political matters occupy me deeply, but they are nevertheless not the main scope of this blog. Instead, I shall concern myself with an issue more pertinent: my upcoming novel, the Ark, and the strange and difficult matter that inevitably troubles writers of romance. I am, of course, talking about sex.

What Did You Say?

This very attitude is deeply illustrative of the problems that many writers face, whenever the matter crops up; indeed prudishness is not only an issue that may trouble readers—but more often than not, it troubles the writers themselves.

The Anglophone world has a very paradoxical relationship with sex: we seem, at once, unable to speak of it and yet able to speak only of it. We are bombarded with sex implicitly, and less often explicitly. We see rather more brazen references in fashion advertising:

And yet sex is frequently employed in more subtle fashions. Many magazine covers feature attractive people—and not only attractive in the purest aesthetical sense, but also dressed and posed in ways that are implicitly sexual.

Here, the woman’s dress is cut at the shoulders; and this is very deliberate. Such an expression, in women if not men, is flirtatious. Equally important is the significant amount of make-up and editing that has gone into the photo.

To some degree, this is understandable: the magazine is concerned with fashion and appearance; it would only make sense to show someone who does it right, under the guidance of professionals. However, there is nevertheless a distinctly sexual element to it—the shoulders are the giveaway.

A great deal more can be and has been said on fashion advertising; however, this is beside the point. My point is that we live in a society where sex is hinted at—explicitly or subtly—in everyday life. And yet, how many images of naked men or women do you see? Nudity is exceedingly rare (the Sun’s Page 3 isn’t on the front page, and even so is subject to criticism) while sex is never shown outside of the insides of a porn magazine.

This strange relationship, one could say, is not especially conductive for the business of a writer.

But even leaving aside prudishness, sex in a book is a proposition that has distinct literary merits—and problems.

Literary Deliberations and Other Strange Musings

The latest chapter in the Ark—which you shall see when the time is right—has finally breached the subject of a serious romance, between Conall and Casey. They have kissed. But they have not had sex.

Why? On purely literary terms: sex is serious business. In one sense, there must be a crucial sense of character and relationship—or, in other words: they must be in love. Such ideas may seem arcane; a paragon from another age. And yet, it isn’t. Emotional connection is what gives literary romance its power. Sex for the sake of it means nothing; for no matter your capabilities as a writer—and some writers are indeed remarkably able at describing sex—there is, at the end of the day, a problem.

Books are not films. They have power in subtlety; in describing a character with the slightest of gestures—a flash of green eye, a voice that seems to steal into your heart. But they will never compete at trying to be more explicit than film. To put it quite bluntly: seeing fucking on camera is always going to be more visually elucidating than reading about it. Such is the nature of our medium.

But there’s more to it than simply the medium. In truth, a novel deals with matters of emotion; of fire in the heart, rather than in the groin. To give your characters true emotional connection is to breathe them life. To give them perfection, or Twilightesque beauty? That would be mere indulgence.

So: there you go. Conall and Casey are not ready for the bed just yet; but maybe they are ready for that first kiss. For that ember, that starts the blaze…