Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Layer 532 . . . The Guardian, Banks of Ideas and a Progressive Counterculture

For years I've put up with people going on about my apparent obsession with the Guardian. This has nothing to do with the political stance of the paper. It's more the fact that I have piles of old copies lying around, some of them half or a quarter read, some with articles highlighted in various shades of green, yellow, blue and magenta. (And no - I'm not organised enough to use any thought-out colour-coding  scheme as such - the shades are random depending on which highlighter is closest to hand.)

The point I'm getting to is this. I don't have an obsession with the Guardian - I get enormous enjoyment and stimulation from reading the paper. Every day is like the Saturday and Sunday of the Guardian's "Open Weekend" - there's an amazing feast of brilliant brain food on offer. What's not to like, and to want to keep in a collection? [OK - you can go online and 'clip' favourite articles to a virtual file - and I do that as well - but it's not the same thing at all as having real bits of hard copy. Don't ask why - it just isn't.]

As for throwing away brilliant articles - I've never understood why people would throw away or give away brilliant books, or brilliant DVDs for that matter. Life of Brian? Oh yes - I watched that last week. Threw it away yesterday. Shakespeare? Read it already. Thrown it away. What's not to like about having a fantastic library, or libraries, at home?

And you don't have to be 'an intellectual' to enjoy the Guardian, any more than you needed to be an intellectual to enjoy the Guardian Open Weekend. All you need is to allow good stuff to enter your brain. Take yesterday's paper, for example.

* A front-page story about the latest Tory party funding scandal and cash-for-access to Cameron and Osborne - "Two hundred grand to 250 is premier league - the first thing we want to do is get you at the Cameron/Osborne dinners."
* Four pages on the Open Weekend at Guardian HQ.
* An article on Obama's healthcare reforms being challenged by more than half of the states in the Supreme Court.
* An article on the latest moves to privatise education and to make it 'for profit'.

Plus a wealth of 'Comment' articles by the usual array of brilliant and not so brilliant columnists, plus the editorials, plus the letters page. So what is not to bloody like?

And then there's the sports section, and of course there's G2, which yesterday featured

* A four page Decca Aitkenhead interview with Grayson Perry
* A two page feature on Julian Baggini's 'Heathen Manifesto'
* A column by Ian Martin, who's a writer for 'The Thick of It:

Life under the Tories: don't say you weren't warned
Some of us saw it coming – but it doesn't have to be this way
by Ian Martin
The anxiety of living under a Tory government is that you're only ever a few days from the next national bad luck lottery draw. You know something spectacularly horrible will be announced next week. You just don't know whose unlucky balls they'll be holding.
Don't say you weren't warned. We told you what the Tories were like, we of the wilted generation, two years ago. We'd seen it all before. We were struggling young parents ourselves in the 80s when Thatcher's deregulation of the market led to class war, video nasties and Bananarama. We told you. You wouldn't listen.
Come on, you simpered, the Tories can't be any worse than that other crate of soft fruit, with the Britpop on their iPods and their impenetrable jargon. And, OK, I too froze in horror when I heard Labour's schools minister Jim Knight announce through his trimmed facial ladygarden that the challenge was "not simply how to divide the cake, but how to grow the cake". They've made him a Lord now, by the way. Presumably for services to advanced metaphor.
This is why we warned you about the Tories. We knew it would be easier for them to deconstruct the welfare state this time round as they spent much of their last time in office loosening the bolts. The print unions and the miners were defeated early on. The rest of the Tory era was spent dismantling a working class power base it had taken a century and a half to build. They had plenty of time. My son was born in 1979, the year Thatcher became prime minister. He was 18 before the Tories were turfed out again.
Local authorities were humiliated, their stock of affordable housing sold in a right-to-buy fire sale, their powers gradually whittled down to bins and dog waste. The Public Finance Initiative, greatly expanded under the auspices of Blair, was originally introduced as a buccaneering Tory programme, an innovative way of "synergising" public and private sectors. In much the same way that partnerships are forged between a desperately broke family and a loan shark.
Look, the reason this government's moving so quickly to divide the NHS into privatised contractual fiefdoms for its mates, and to divert education budgets into "free" schools for its mates' children, is because it can. Resistance has been atomised. Working-class rage, once articulated by powerful unions representing people doing proper jobs, has dissipated. 
There's no hope of reunionising the country is there? You might as well try to unionise comedy writing, and … oh, wait.
I'm a member of two writers unions. One here, and one in the US I had to join for an American gig last year.
If you can unionise joke-writing you can unionise anything. People who do "silly" jobs of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains.
It would be interesting to see how long Westminster could function if the Amalgamated Union of Baristas and Sandwich Fillers called a strike. And the civil servants came out in sympathy. And the drivers and the cleaners and the couriers and the receptionists and the child-minders and, now I come to think of it, the grandparents.
All this guff the government's spinning about choice and the individual: that's what they want. The last thing they want is collective action. They're always sneering about "Guardian readers". Well, we pay our daily sub of £1.20, let's call ourselves a union. Comrades, to the barricades! Or if you're a Times reader, the paywall!



Coincidentally I'd spent time at the Open Weekend thinking about the cumulative benefits of all those people at the event taking part in all those discussions on such a wide range of subjects - political, social, cultural, educational, psychological, scientific, economic, etc.

In the early part of the last century - pre-television - people used to go in large numbers to meetings of political parties, trade unions and other interest groups. There was true citizenship in action - direct participation in discussion, debate and policy-making. People listened to speakers giving out information and opinions, and had a chance to ask questions for clarification, as well as give direct feedback with their own opinions.

Our politics and our party system is busted, and everyone knows it. There's very little difference between three dinosaur parties full of young and middle aged prats who represent the political spectrum from the centre right to the hard right. There is NO coherent progressive or alternative opinion. And of course there's little or no actual participation by regular citizens. No wonder those of us who wanted to see the back of New Labour had no-one credible or coherent to vote for. No wonder we're stuck with a government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich.

The Guardian HAS to become even more of a focal point for the positive energy of all those who took part in the weekend gathering of the tribes, plus all those who couldn't get there or didn't know it was happening. Back in the 60's - fully 50 years ago - we built a counterculture and a movement. This has to happen again. Glastonbury's fine, but it's not enough. Music isn't enough. We need ideas to shift a moribund culture and kick it into new life. We now have the Internet, email, Skype, Facebook and Twitter to help build links. We are the many - and the one percent are the few. We need a government that's genuinely of the people, by the people, for the people. We've had enough of rule by Westminster and the City.

We need regular gatherings and debates all over the country. We need young people and old people to be involved in them. We need to make connections and we need to form affiliations. The Open Weekend had no particular agenda and no identifiable leaders. It had organisers. It was led by ideas and opinions. Thank goodness.

Television and radio are more or less closed shops - run by professionals for professionals. We need organised gatherings and spontaneous gatherings where people actually talk to one another, learn from one another and enlighten one another. We need to learn the arts of participation and discussion. The Bank of Ideas needs to have branches in all our towns and cities, and the Guardian can surely help with this.

Love Me Do was released on 5 October 1962. This was the first record released by The Beatles, and was more or less the beginning of the Sixties. By the 5th October 2012 at the latest we need to make sure we've organised a 50th anniversary party, which will recognise the beginning of a whole new era and a whole new way of running a vibrant and progressive culture, one in which progressive ideas are as important as they were back in the Sixties. Get on the bus, tune in and turn on.

Knowledge is power. Watch this video





*  "Love Me Do" with its stark "blunt working class northerness" rang "the first faint chime of a revolutionary bell" compared to the standard tin pan alley productions occupying the charts at the time. - Wikipedia

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