06 Oct

Sorry but I think I would have thrown that egg myself*

The problem with an old-fashioned egging is that it lacks political nuance. Last Sunday’s assault on Young Conservatives in Manchester has quite rightly been greeted with universal disapproval by the media and it doesn’t really matter that 60,000 people didn’t hurl eggs. One chose to vent their anger in yolk form and it was wrong, not least because this act of free-range stupidity gave the Tory party the perfect story against which to define themselves at the start of their annual conference. They can now claim to be the party that doesn’t hurl eggs, or, at least, not outside the context of a dining club hazing.

Conflict is hardly new when the Tories come north. Political debate in this part of the country is a snarling business but that emanating from the left often seems more snarl than substance. Jeremy Corbyn can ask for gentler politics and Topman himself from collar to cuff but the crowd at protests will usually attract some braid-wearing pert-nippled class warriors with a good arm, lucky aim and a misguided notion of free speech.

Yet amid the sham outrage and sham counter outrage, I noticed something very familiar about the video titled ‘A Tory just got EGGED!!’ when it popped up on Youtube. I recognised the scene of the ‘crime’. I spent years working in an office just around that corner on the edge of Chinatown. I’ve stood where the Tories stood and know how tempers run hot in a city that often feels like it has more Bez tribute acts than it has Tory voters.

Because I know the corner so well, I wonder how those Young Conservatives found themselves standing at that junction of Portland Street and Oxford Road. It’s the latter road that channels protest marches that routinely run out of the university precinct to the south. That corner is the closest point that protesters get to the security barriers protecting Tory attendees. You’d have to walk a few minutes back towards Central Library in order to reach the Midland Hotel and further still to reach the conference venue.

It makes it hard not to question the motives of those Young Conservatives when they picked that spot to openly wear their conference passes (against the advice of event organizers) and to wave copies of The Telegraph, conference brochures, and pictures of Margaret Thatcher. These are perfectly legal things to do, of course, but perhaps not wise in the middle of an anti-austerity march unless your intention is to provoke the other lot into proving what a despicable bunch they can be. And, as usual, somebody in that other lot was only too happy to oblige.

The result is online sniping between the hard left and hard right. The left justifiably feel they have statistics on their side because it was only one among 60,000 who committed the terrible deed. The right justifiably feel that they have morality on their side because they claim the right to dress how they like and walk the streets unmolested by egg yolk. Yet it’s hardly partisan to point out that the Young Conservatives seemed delighted to have provoked that response.

Manchester has many virtues but bow ties are rare and the v-necked sweater with old-school tie is not a look that wins many friends. Seen through my eyes, at least, the Young Conservatives looked just that: very young and very Conservative. I would also argue that you don’t need to be on the political left to have a visceral reaction to the smugness of youths flaunting their privilege in a context in which others are protesting genuine poverty and government policies that are leading to the deaths of vulnerable people. Given the anger, the noise, the passion of the moment, I’d have been hard pressed not to lob an egg myself. Except, sitting here coolly and rationally, I also know that I wouldn’t. Or perhaps I would. That’s the problem with passion. It makes reasonable people do things they would regret and often those things are far worse than throwing an egg. The bigger question is why people attend a political march carrying eggs in their pockets and it’s in the premeditation that my sympathy for the protesters ends.

The difference between passion and premeditation is, I suppose, at the heart of my argument. It’s the premeditation of protestors looking to hurl eggs and the premeditation of the Young Tories looking to stoke the anger of the crowds. Yet the story also expresses a deeper reality about the Tories annual pilgrimage to Manchester. That they tend to hold their annual conferences in Labour heartlands makes as much sense as Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom hosting the Last Night of the Proms. The whole thing feels like a premeditated provocation on a scale grander than either the Young Conservatives or Dim Eggthrowers could ever hope to organize. It implies a reach into cities and regions that simply doesn’t exist or is overstated. In the north, the Tories are largely successful in areas of affluence, the suburbs on the outskirts of major conurbations where gardens are large and every shadow cast by leaf or Range Rover. Elsewhere they are the second, third or even fourth choice party. For a few days, they might fortify themselves inside a heavily protected compound in central Manchester but the security only highlights how removed they are from ordinary Mancunians and how much effort they need to expend to truly understand the city, the people and its culture.

And that’s what the story highlights to me. Throwing an egg was unconscionable but what the Young Conservatives were throwing back was cheap, snide, and self defeating. It was a militant distain about the cares of average people who will never know or enjoy their privilege. It was a lack of compassion, consideration, or conscience that only encourages more people to take to the streets and make the divides in our society feel deeper and more wilful than we’ve ever known them in our lives.

Whilst the Left need to identify the anarchists and trouble makers polluting their message through violence, the Tories need to rethink their own strategy and stop countenancing the fetishism of cruelty sometimes displayed so overtly by their youth.

* The title of this article was obviously intended as ‘clickbait’ but that doesn’t actually stop some people from thinking that I would throw an egg or I’m defending the people that do throw eggs. I wouldn’t throw an egg. I’ve never thrown an egg and I can’t conceive of a context in which I would throw an egg. I’m not saying that I’m incapable of throwing an egg. If the conditions were perfect and I lost my temper and happened to have an egg in my hand, I can’t be entirely certain about my actions. But, generally, I disapprove of all egg throwing and general misbehaviour with eggs.


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02 Oct

Feeding Fires Elsewhere

Over at The What & The Why, I’m talking about Russia, Syria and the American response and you can still read my piece about American and British satire over at The Spectator. Today, I intend to write about guns, Goldsmith, and/or the Peeple app, two of which I’m not entirely convinced are real. I also have a cartoon to finish, though finite hours in the day might restrict myself to getting only two of these things done.

I also want to write about the plight of Liverpool Football Club but I think it might hurt too much. It would turn into a 2000 word rant about Brendan Rodgers who is slowly destroying the club and also destroying the faith I originally had in John W. Henry and FSG. Thankfully, I’ve largely stopped watching football to save myself the pain. Last night’s match was supposedly terrible to watch and I’m glad I saved myself the trouble by doing something else. I can handle bad results. Losing is as much a part of football life as winning. I just can’t handle the stupidity of a manager who repeatedly plays people out of position, then hangs them out to dry when he blames them for a bad result. Not only is it not how you manage a team, it’s not how you manage people. Whatever is going wrong at Liverpool feels like it’s the manifestation of a very peculiar psychology, the warped ego of a Teflon manager who constantly seems to slip around the blame and watches it stick to others. I’m not even sure about the players they’ve bought. There doesn’t appear to be a coherent structure to the team. Are we looking to play fast football or football involving crosses and a big bugger waiting between the goal posts? All I see is a horrorshow, like the end of Heart of Darkness as Kurtz’s madness infects everybody.

I’m unapologetically a fan of Benitez and it’s good to see him doing well at Real Madrid. If you haven’t got the funds to buy the best players, it’s sensible to buy the best brains. Now Madrid have both, they look unstoppable. As Benitez proved at Liverpool, sometimes the best structure can beat the best individuals.  You pretty much knew how his teams would play. Sometimes it was heartlessly rational but it was rational. Liverpool are currently a irrational team but also a team without the heart. I fear for their season.

Hmm… First 200 words of the 2000? I’ll stop there. I also need to find a cheap wireless mouse online. I’ve been bought an Android TV box for my imminent birthday but it has the world’s worst remote control. However, with a mouse, it works wonderfully and looks like it might be a adequate replacement from aging WD Live which for some unknown reason stopped working properly last week.


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01 Oct

A Tale of Two Satires

I wrote this piece about British and American satire which you can read over at The Spectator.  I expect I’ll catch all kind of merry grief from people in the comment section, which is why I never ever look at what people say in the comment sections. If you did, you’d never write another thing. I should add that I do like Have I Got News For You as light entertainment. As satire, I just wish it took off the gloves and gave the establishment the occasional bloody nose. The show is never better than when Hislop turns to the audience and gives them a spontaneous lecture about the abuses of power.

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25 Sep

Sam Smith: Writing’s on the Wall

It is an indication of how much I really wanted to like Sam Smith’s James Bond theme that I initially thought I liked it. I’d seen a link on the website of The Guardian and clicked it only to find myself being asked for my Spotify login. I don’t have a Spotify login. I don’t want a Spotify login. Even if I did, I damn well don’t want a Facebook account so I can get myself a Spotify account. So I headed over to Youtube, typed in ‘Writing’s on the Wall’, and clicked on the first picture of Sam Smith.

I started to listen. The song was at once somehow familiar. My first thought was that I didn’t dislike it but I began to suspect something was wrong when, after about thirty seconds, Mr. Smith still hadn’t start to sing. That’s when I realised it was a fake. About half an hour later, I finally found a proper link.

I started to listen. The song was at once somehow familiar. My first thought was that I didn’t dislike it. I began to suspect something was wrong when, after about thirty seconds, Mr. Smith has started to sing. That’s when I realised it was a fake.

This is another of the fake James Bond themes, written by somebody trying to write a James Bond theme and producing something that’s deep in the desert of pastiche. It’s something I’ve noticed over the course of the past few Bond films. I think the woeful Madonna effort, for the absolute worst James Bond film (Die Another Day), made the producers wary about letting artists have too much freedom when it comes to the Bond themes. Their response was Chris Cornell’s ‘You Know My Name’ for Casino Royale, full of sweeping strings and penetrating guitar riffs, which felt like a proper stab at writing a Bond theme. Yet it also felt like just that. An attempt at writing a Bond theme.

Bond films have passed off quite a few pastiches for the real thing. I often think the problem stemmed from David Arnold taking over the music direction for the Bond movies. Arnold professed himself a Bond obsessive, deeply influenced by the music of John Barry. I always liked his enthusiasm and love for the Bond movies but, at the same time, to these very cloth ears of mine, it always felt like he was directing his energy into something other than the song. The most obvious example was the Arnold song, sung by K.D. Lang over the closing credits of ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’. Some say it was better than Sheryl Crow’s ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’. As a Bond song, it might well be true. As a song, however, I can’t help but think that Crow’s is far superior.

And that, I think, is the problem. There’s a difference between writing a good song and writing a Bond theme. When the artists set out to write a great song, you usually end up with a great theme. When they set out to write a Bond theme song, you get something that’s not quite as good.

‘Another Way to Die’, the theme to Quantum of Solace, is a fine example. The Bond riff is very evident from the outset but Jack White struggles to adapt it to his style, producing a song that was at once blues and grunge and sometimes all over the place.

‘Skyfall’, by contast, was just a great song which is a great song outside the content of the film’s opening credits.

Sam Smith’s effort is far from the worst Bond theme (take that bow, Madonna). Nothing wrong with the orchestration. Nothing much wrong with Sam Smith’s voice in that years of listening to Sparks has tuned my ears to the falsetto. Lyrically it is as bland as lyrics get: a schmaltzy list of ballad clichés hastily written down (twenty minutes to write the song, Smith claims) by somebody steeped in schmaltzy ballad clichés.

Second, third, and then fourth listening, I found it growing on me but, really, not so much that I think Smith has justified the filmmakers made in giving him the honour. Smith has the wrong kind of voice for a James Bond theme or he has the right kind of voice for a James Bond who is has become the ultimate metrosexual, as obsessed with his skin cream as the Bond in the novels was obsessed with his cars and women. I don’t see this changing any time soon. Might as well try to get used to it. You can’t change the world, which might as well be the title of the next James Bond film.

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