IN A SAFE SPACE, NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM

vlcsnap-2022-06-28-01h10m06s215Whilst checking out Paul McCartney’s set on TV over the weekend and simultaneously ignoring predictably disparaging online commentaries (you’ll only be praising the few living legends left once they’re gone, guys), I eventually began to weary a little of the endless cutaways of Sebastian and Jocasta sitting on the shoulders of their uni sweethearts. I suspended my instinctive hostilities towards the gap-year gig-goers until remarking to a friend that the Glastonbury Festival was essentially Glyndebourne in a leather jacket; this followed on from my summary of it a decade ago as the indie scene’s equivalent of the Royal Variety Performance. The latter observation appears irrelevant now considering the said scene has failed to throw up a suitable headliner capable of drawing the punters in like the old guard, whose reliance on backing singers to ‘carry them’ is the best we can hope for when taking their advanced years into account, not to mention the inability of their lamentable heirs to deliver the goods. At the same time, all are within their rights to criticise, regardless of their ignorance.

After all, viewers of any live showbiz event in this day and age have to endure the tiresome parade of pop star and movie star f**kwits giving their ill-informed opinions on complex political situations of which their celebrity status – amazingly – does not necessarily translate as in-depth knowledge, regardless of their misplaced conviction we should sit in reverential silence and listen to their sermons. If these idiots are allowed a platform to air their half-arsed expertise, I see no reason why equally ignorant amateurs shouldn’t be able to do likewise on social media. It’s always those who know the least on the subject under discussion that want to lecture others on it, anyway, so the non-famous are just as qualified as the famous. Ironically, many of these were induced into hysteria at the prospect of bonkers billionaire Elon Musk purchasing Twitter; his stated intent to restore traditional interpretations of free speech to an outlet infamous for curtailing contradictions to the consensus in recent years provoked a memorably OTT reaction, though I do wonder if it was all simply a publicity stunt on the part of Musk to raise his profile even further – or a deliberately mischievous wind-up.

Many of the hilariously foaming-at-the-mouth responses to the Musk bid came from the same people who compared the Union Jacks draped in displays across London thoroughfares during the Jubilee to Swastikas in Nazi Germany – those who mysteriously don’t come to the same conclusions when the flying flag is the bloody rainbow one flapping in everybody’s face. There’s an argument to be made that the flag of a nation has a divine right to be displayed whereas a pretend flag has to earn its status through something other than enforced emotional blackmail; but it’s a point we’re evidently not allowed to make when each and every corporation and institution cynically latches on to the ubiquitous LGBTXYZ agenda as though they really ‘care’ and every terrified pleb is scared of being ostracised on Facebook if they don’t stress their support via profile pics.

I suppose when Boris undergoes a rare moment of truth-telling and states that women are not actually born with a penis, it gives such chickens a chance to criticise an easy target and restore their status as being on ‘the right side of history’, but this is an insecure security that is symptomatic of the age in which we live. Smugly delusional in their denial of reality, such cowards imagine the agents of social justice will somehow cease their crusade once all ‘undesirables’ are cancelled, yet they don’t seem to realise such agents won’t stop once they’ve excised ‘the enemy’, which is a shape-shifting entity with no end in sight. I won’t evoke the French Revolution simply because I make the assumption readers will be aware of how that particular historical event progressed from admirable idealism to ‘meet the new boss, same as the old boss’ in an exceedingly short space of time; yet, the recent case of comedian Joe Lycett – visited by Plod courtesy of a solitary complaint by one offended punter – shows how even the most on-song Woke troubadours are just as vulnerable to cancellation as those who don’t buy into the prevailing trend, something that perhaps underlines just how worthless signing-up to the prevailing trend really is.

Tapping into this climate, the Government’s proposed ‘Online Safety Bill’ has received a mixed response from those who stand to be affected by its proposals – whether conscious or no – and even a one-time Minister has now weighed-in with his size nines. Lord Frost, the former Brexit Minister, has urged his former Cabinet colleagues to think again when proceeding with this lamentable piece of kneejerk legislation. ‘A Conservative Government,’ he said, ‘should not be putting this view into law. The best thing the Government could do would be to slim down the Bill so they can proceed rapidly with the genuinely uncontroversial aspects and consign the rest to where it belongs – the wastepaper basket.’ He added that the proposed Bill was both ‘unsatisfactory’ and ‘un-Conservative’ and that it would be highly damaging to free speech as well as benefiting the ‘perennially offended’ seeking to be permanently protected from anything they happen to disagree with.

Frost makes the point that the Bill threatens to outlaw comments online that would be perfectly legitimate offline, and he’s not alone in his concerns. Other former prominent Tories such as Liam Fox and David Davis have been similarly frank in their assessment of the proposals. ‘The Bill could end up being one of the most significant accidental infringements on free speech in modern times,’ said Davis, though one can’t help but suspect the Woke mole in the heart of Government, Carrie Antoinette, is pushing the PM into giving his support. The Institute of Economic Affairs reckons the intended law has ‘scope, complexity and reach that are breathtaking’, for whilst it puts pressure on tech giants to curb odious online content re child pornography and ‘hate crime offences’, the interpretation of the latter is utterly subjective and down to where one stands. The Labour Party, whose leader can’t bring himself to own up to biological fact for fear of alienating potential metropolitan voters, is keeping quiet about the Bill, though that’s no great surprise.

I noticed Sir Keir was quick to virtue signal re the recent overturning of the Roe Vs Wade judgement of 50 years ago in the US, though – as some troublesome wag on Twitter pointed out – the Labour leader was curiously reluctant to voice women’s rights when it came to denouncing those named and shamed in the report into South Yorkshire grooming gangs belatedly published last week, most of which took place in towns and cities run by Labour councils. Similarly, professional virtue signaller and renowned smarmy creep Justin Trudeau was quick to register his outrage re Roe Vs Wade, yet – as was also highlighted on Twitter – the Canadian PM wasn’t so ‘your body, your choice’-friendly when it came to how those with-child were treated during the pandemic. ‘You tried to mandate I take a vaccine with unknown fetal side-effects while I was PREGNANT,’ said one tweet. ‘You sure as hell don’t care about bodily autonomy’.

Such tweets emphasis how vital online platforms can be as a method of registering dissent, and whilst Boris’s rancid administration has routinely demonstrated its skill in deflecting attention from guilty parties, attempting to sneak this inconsistent and ill-thought out legislation through Parliament is burying bad news on a grand scale. The damage such a Bill stands to do to a nation that established the notion of free speech throughout the Anglosphere is incalculable, though maybe the damage has already been done and this is simply the official seal of approval.

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NO SURPRISES

Lib DemIn their former guise as non-Democrats, the Liberals once presided over one of the most celebrated results in by-election history – and it happened exactly 60 years ago, when Eric Lubbock overturned a Tory majority of 14,760 in Orpington and transformed a safe Conservative seat into a 7,855 majority for the Liberal Party. The Tories had been in government for 11 years at that point, yet had already acquired the weary detachment from the electorate that is often a by-product of a decade in office; the familiar whiff of a sex scandal that can accompany such tired longevity was just round the corner, though in 1962 the name John Profumo had yet to become a household one; ditto Christine Keeler. Last night in Tiverton and Honiton, it would appear history was going through one of its routine habits of repeating itself as the Lib Dems inflicted one of the most comprehensive and humiliating defeats on the Conservative Party ever seen at a by-election as former Army Major Richard Foord triumphed over the Tory candidate, wiping out a majority of 24,239 in a seat that had never been free from Conservative hands since its creation. And the by-election only happened because the sitting Tory MP Neil Parish was forced to quit after he’d been outed for watching porn on his phone in the Commons.

On the same night a second Tory seat fell, this time to Labour; Wakefield, one of the ‘Red Wall’ constituencies captured by the Conservatives in 2019, returned to its traditional home. This by-election was also provoked by a resignation connected to a sex scandal; fittingly, the last time a government suffered simultaneous defeat in two by-elections was during the John Major era, which was also the last time such a sleazy collection of reprehensible individuals constituted the ruling Party. Even by past standards of sleaze, however, the case of Imran Ahmad Khan is especially unpleasant; Khan was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy, though he didn’t resign his seat until convicted. He’ll be spending the next 18 months being detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Considering Wakefield voted Leave in 2016 (as did Tiverton and Honiton in its Mid Devon guise), it was no great surprise its voters spurned Remoaner Labour in 2019; yet a Tory reverting to type is perhaps as predictable an outcome as last night’s results, and Wakefield turned red again whilst Tiverton and Honiton turned orange for the first time.

According to some sources, the Tory defeat in Tiverton and Honiton is officially the largest majority ever to be overturned at a British by-election, one that even exceeds the Lib Dems’ huge victory in North Shropshire last year. However, only the most gormlessly deluded Tory wouldn’t have seen this coming; most Conservative MPs returning to the Shires during the extended Jubilee Bank Holiday were confronted by angry constituents who’d had enough of the leadership, yet only 148 acted on their constituents’ behalf by registering their dissatisfaction with Boris in the confidence vote a couple of weeks ago. With a majority of Tories deciding to keep the PM in a job, it was left to the Lib Dem’s victorious candidate to say out loud what the 148 who voted against Boris declined to. He declared the voters of Tiverton and Honiton had spoken for the whole country by sending out a clear message. ‘It’s time for Boris Johnson to go – and go now,’ said Major Foord. ‘Every day Boris Johnson clings to office, he brings further shame, chaos and neglect. Communities like ours are on their knees. I also have a simple message for those Conservative MPs propping up this failing Prime Minister: the Liberal Democrats are coming.’

Okay, so there’s a slight element of ‘go back to your constituencies and prepare for government’ about that last statement, though in the thick of Lib Dem euphoria, it was probably understandable. This was one hell of a blow inflicted on a sitting administration, with the even-more predictable defeat in Wakefield the icing on the cake. The Liberal Democrats under the leadership of Ed Davey have been fortunate that the far-from enthusiastic response to Keir Starmer’s lacklustre Labour Party has enabled them to reinvent themselves yet again, emerging from the disastrous shadows of Jo Swinson’s Remain crusade and capitalising on widespread disillusionment with the two main Parties; it’s precisely what the Lib Dems did so well under Charles Kennedy, and when the alternatives are as uninspiring as Boris and Sir Keir – not to mention the motley crews assembled on the respective front benches of the pair – it’s no wonder the tide has turned for the Lib Dems again. Considering the likes of Dominic Raab and Michael Gove have smaller leads over the Lib Dems than that which the Tories had boasted in Tiverton and Honiton until last night, perhaps the new Lib Dem MP’s melodramatic warning should be heeded after all.

Boris had wisely kept a low profile during the by-election campaigns in the two constituencies; as with the increasingly-unpopular Ted Heath during the October 1974 General Election, the Prime Minister was noticeably absent from the promotional literature delivered by the hapless footsloggers trying in vain to court votes on behalf of their doomed candidate and attempting not to mention the Party leader on the doorstep. A not-dissimilar policy was tried by Labour canvassers in 2019, as I found out when I made my feelings on Corbyn and his cronies clear when confronted by one at the time. Anyway, Boris wasn’t at home to make excuses; at the moment, he’s in Rwanda, officially to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government shindig, but it’s possible he might be checking out the Kigali B&Bs earmarked for those pesky illegal immigrants. In his absence, the Conservative Party co-chairman Oliver Dowden became the latest Tory to walk a plank Boris refuses to countenance even exists.

Dowden’s resignation is the most high-profile response to two heavy defeats irrefutably linked to the ongoing fallout from Partygate. ‘We cannot continue with business as usual,’ wrote Dowden in his letter, though the PM is unlikely to receive that statement as advice. On the eve of an anticipated wipe-out at the two by-elections, Boris simply said ‘Governing parties generally do not win by-elections, particularly not in mid-term.’ Not the most encouraging message to the troops, but at least one rooted in realism; the Tories were seemingly prepared for defeat, if not what turned out to be the scale of defeat in Tiverton and Honiton. The Wakefield loss was no more of a surprise than the other seat, though tactical voting at Tiverton and Honiton saw Labour lose its deposit. There was also pre-by-election unrest at Wakefield’s Labour constituency branch when the entire committee resigned in protest at their preferred candidate, trade unionist Kate Dearden, being excluded in favour of a candidate parachuted in by the NEC; not that Keir Starmer will be bringing that up as he attempts to bask in the glow of his winner, Simon Lightwood.

When one considers the Labour and Lib Dem perspectives on Brexit, they’ll no doubt adopt a ‘don’t mention the war’ attitude now that two Leave constituencies are in their hands; even without the Partygate revelations, it’s possible the promise to ‘get Brexit done’ that enabled the Tories to triumph in the two seats in 2019 was regarded by voters in Wakefield and Tiverton as a done deal in 2022 and it was time to move on to other pressing issues, such as the cost of living; maybe they figured the Tories couldn’t deliver on that, considering the Tories’ policies in the pandemic provoked it. But it’s hard to escape the undeniable influence of what Boris and his cohorts got up to during the most testing period for the public in post-war British history when it comes to this pair of results. Let’s face it, though, Boris Johnson is a very lucky Prime Minister; he doesn’t have to call another General Election until 2024.

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OLD GOLD IN THEM THAR HILLS

Kate BushIt’d be easy to be unaware of the fact the UK singles chart still exists in 2022; the kind of coverage this one-time essential pop cultural institution was once afforded is long gone, with its traditional trio of promotional tools – ‘Top of the Pops’, Radio 1’s Sunday teatime Top 40, and the music press – all now part of the over-40s collective memory bank rather than a living, breathing barometer of where it’s at. It seems the sole reason the singles chart survives as a redundant relic of another era is simply its ongoing role as a yardstick for the music industry to measure its reach in terms of sales; to the general public for whom it once held as much fascination as the Premier League table, however, it means nothing. Being able to name the week’s No.1 hit isn’t even something most teenagers could probably manage today, and the chart appears to retain the ‘singles’ prefix simply to distinguish its content from the album chart – although any song is eligible for inclusion as long as it’s downloaded enough times, official ‘single’ or not.

Therefore, the sudden presence of 63-year-old Kate Bush at the top of the singles chart with a 36-year-old song in 2022 should be something that barely raises an eyebrow. Yet, the return of Kate Bush to a position she hasn’t occupied since her 1978 debut hit, ‘Wuthering Heights’, has received extensive media reportage in the last few days; ‘Woman’s Hour’ even managed the coup of a down-the-line interview with the reclusive Kate – though the fact it was conducted via Ms Bush’s landline telephone was a nice touch that seemed to emphasise a somewhat quaint analogue element adding to her mystique. The vintage slice of Kate Bush’s oeuvre that currently sits atop the singles chart is ‘Running Up That Hill’, the lead single from her 1985 album, ‘Hounds of Love’. The track originally peaked at No.3, kick-starting Bush’s commercial renaissance following a fallow period in which her increasingly adventurous vision failed to connect with the record-buying public. Its elevation two places higher in 2022 is apparently due to heavy rotation in a Netflix series called ‘Stranger Things’.

Obscure gems excavated by movies, ads and TV series have provided many unjustly-overlooked musicians with a delayed pay-check in recent times, yet neither Kate Bush nor ‘Running Up That Hill’ fall into that category. Her career has spanned the best part of 45 years and constitutes dozens of hit singles and several chart-topping albums, beginning when she was just 19. She’s been a household name to more than one generation, and her exceedingly rare return to the stage in 2014 was greeted by some fans as the Second Coming; the fact her live show consisted of 22 nights at the same theatre – the Hammersmith Apollo – seemed to once more single her out as a unique performer unwilling to embark upon the touring treadmill, despite being away from the stage for 35 years. As a survivor of an era that produced such gifted and original talent, Kate Bush remains something of a national treasure, and for her to be back at No.1 – however meaningless an achievement that might now be – is indicative of not just an enduring affection for her, but symbolises something wider in pop culture.

30 years ago, the late music writer Ian MacDonald could sense which way the wind was blowing with remarkable prescience. When referring to the contemporary rap and dance scenes at the turn-of-the-90s, he wrote ‘The effect of presenting rhythms by drum machines and later by drum samplers, slave to sequencers, has been to elevate the groove over every other musical priority; at its simplest, this means that songs are now written from the rhythm track upwards, rather from the melodic, harmonic idea as was the case in almost all 60s music.’ For all its generous electronic enhancement – and Kate Bush was always ahead of the game on that score – the technology that enabled ‘Running Up That Hill’ to sound cutting edge in 1985 doesn’t overwhelm the human element, with Kate Bush’s distinctive voice and its inherent humanity shining above and beyond the pseudo-tribal drumbeat. Even the notoriously soulless production values of the mid-80s can’t entirely erase the personality of the performer in the way the Auto-tuned, mechanised music of the 21st century has managed to squeeze it out. And to a new generation discovering the Kate Bush back catalogue via Netflix exposure, perhaps it is this quality – and the novel structure of songs not ‘written from the rhythm track upwards’ – that makes her sound so refreshing to unaccustomed ears.

When contemporary pop bows to the need for melody to give its monotonous rhythm track an earworm, more often than not the earworm chosen is either a sample from an organic, analogue track of 50-odd years ago – which adds the aforementioned human element lacking from the present day toolbox – or a ‘new’ melody that borrows so heavily from an old one that it’s just a few bars away from accusations of plagiarism and an inevitable appearance in the copyright court; the ‘Blurred Lines’ case of 2015 ruled in favour of Marvin Gaye’s estate, following claims the Robin Thicke track leaned a little too close to Gaye’s 1977 hit, ‘Got to Give it Up’. ‘Blurred Lines’ was a hit largely on the back of its infamous video, the uncensored version of which featured a topless model; considering my own YT channel was recently terminated on spurious grounds of ‘nudity’, the said video was still on there just a few months ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if it still is. Anyway, I digress…

It’s interesting that Kate Bush’s overnight rediscovery is no isolated incident. An article by Ted Gioia that recently appeared in the Atlantic magazine quoted stats stating ‘old songs’ now constitute 70% of the US music market according to the latest data – yes, 70%. It seems you can’t keep an old song down, especially when new songs are found wanting in the qualities that have made old songs evergreen; the article goes on to say that the 200 most popular new tracks on the likes of Spotify actually account for less than 5% of total streams, a rate that was twice as high a mere three years ago. ‘Never before in history have new tracks attained hit status while generating so little cultural impact,’ writes Gioia. ‘Success was always short-lived in the music business, but now even new songs that become bona-fide hits can pass by unnoticed by much of the population.’

Some of the more vintage acts remaining alive and kicking have decided to capitalise on ongoing interest in their body of work by selling-off their back catalogues, making one last mint from the family silver whilst they’re still around to enjoy it, especially when royalties from streaming sites are so pitiful. Prominent veterans such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Beach Boys, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen have all taken this path recently, and they’re fortunate they have those back catalogues; no artist of their grandchildren’s generation has that advantage.

Old and deceased musicians also satisfy cravings for the classics by transcending the physical and hitting the road as holograms – Elvis Presley and Abba have both been reborn as live acts utilising such technology, and we can probably look forward to the trend becoming the norm as more of the golden generation of musicians shuffle off this mortal coil. Paul McCartney may be physically headlining this year’s Glastonbury merely days into his tenure as an octogenarian, but he’ll probably still be headlining the festival 20 years from now as a 3D CGI facsimile. Perhaps Her Majesty could try a similar approach, if it prevents Charles from a reign few outside of Clarence House are looking forward to.

Along with the findings revealed in the Ted Gioia Atlantic article regarding the dominance of old songs on streaming sites, the best-selling physical format in music right now is the vinyl LP. And Kate Bush is No.1 in the singles chart. Perhaps, just as bookworms were still reading ‘Wuthering Heights’ in 1978 – 130 years after its publication – music lovers will still be listening to ‘Wuthering Heights’ in 2108. Nobody today would junk Beethoven or Bach from the Proms on the grounds they’re ‘old’, so maybe we shouldn’t expect 20th century music to be excised from playlists either. Perhaps this is the beginning of its elevation to permanent ‘classic’ status, where it will probably remain as long as people want to listen.

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TRAIN OF THOUGHT

ThomasA woman with two dogs allowing the delayed Euston train to depart without her because she’d booked a reserved seat (presumably canine-friendly) on the next one, whenever it might arrive; a woman whose long day had begun at the crack of dawn travelling from Manchester to Glasgow and back again – just two commuters I spoke to yesterday following the cancellation of my own direct express. Relocated to another platform, I had to journey to Manchester Piccadilly and then change, missing a train by a matter of minutes and then hanging around for half-an-hour for the long-awaited ride home. The ticket inspector on the first train informed me I should have waited for the next, as my ticket was apparently invalid on this one, what with it being a different company (God bless privatisation and deregulation, eh?); however, I was fortunate to be spared a Jobsworth; perhaps she was sympathetic to the palpable desperation of passengers to get back before the drawbridge came down and strike action got underway. An absence of a ticket inspector on the second train made life easier, considering both my experience on the first and the fact the empty seats on the second seemed to be either reserved for the Invisible Man or exclusively for those of a disabled persuasion; carefully extricating the reserved sign from the top of the seat, I breathed a sigh of relief on a sparsely-occupied carriage and hoped my presence would pass by unnoticed; mercifully, it did.

With the dates pencilled-in for the rail strike made public a week or so before they came into being, I imagined I myself would be safe from any travel disruption, though I was maybe pushing it a bit choosing to journey home from a weekend away less than 24 hours before it all kicked-in. Anyway, I made it in the end, albeit an hour later than planned. Others might not be so lucky in the days ahead. As history has shown us – whether or not the ‘within living memory’ element counts to anyone under-40 – industrial action taken by one workforce has a habit of triggering a chain reaction so that each public sector union enters into a competition with others to see who can extract a sufficient volume of blood from the management stone. Cost-of-living crises tend to spawn such situations, so perhaps it’s no surprise we find ourselves where we are following two years of exceptional circumstances, not to mention a decade of austerity and underinvestment.

Where the railways are concerned, of course, the fact British Rail is now a distant memory has left us in a different predicament to that which anyone old enough to have lived through the 1970s can recall; a caller on an LBC phone-in pointed out the differences early on Tuesday morning, going viral on Twitter and bringing her points to a far wider audience than that which ordinarily tunes-in to LBC phone-ins. She referenced the £4 million in tax payers’ money that kept Northern Rail afloat in 2014, £36 million of which found its way into shareholders’ pockets; she referenced the fact numerous rail firms paid out £1 billion in shareholders’ dividends in 2019 whilst simultaneously raising fares by 36%; and she referenced the fact that in 2021 – after the Government had stepped-in to prop-up the train companies when so few were given dispensation to travel by rail during the pandemic – the Network Rail CEO took home over three times the Prime Minister’s salary, with his company still paying £20 million of dividends to shareholders as it gratefully accepted a £11 billion rescue package. A natural consequence of privatisation we’ve now lived with for 30 years or more, yes – but always worth stating as Ministers shy away from doing likewise.

When even the likes of Peter Hitchens can find himself in an unlikely alliance with the likes of Jeremy Corbyn when it comes to the re-nationalisation of the railways, it’s not so easy to dismiss the proposal as a left-wing fantasy; but rail strikes were a routine occurrence during the era of British Rail, lest we forget – the most significant one taking place at the beginning of 1973, several months before the Three Day Week; the tactic resurfaced during the notorious Winter of Discontent at the end of that troubled decade, but every other public service seemed to be striking then, so the effects of it can easily be swallowed-up by memories of the collective inconveniences endured by the general public at that time. Thanks to Mrs Thatcher implementing a variation on the legislation Barbara Castle proposed (and the Labour Party bottled out of) a decade earlier, trade unions no longer have the kind of clout they possessed 40 or 50 years ago, yet – as happened with the fire-fighters’ unions in the early 2000s – they retain the ability to disrupt the public and shame the Government when their actions are so unusual that they receive the kind of coverage they were denied in the 70s and early 80s, when such events were so routine that few batted a weary eyelid.

The fact is that the 24-hour news services of the 21st century are largely unaccustomed to such scenarios, and therefore report this sort of story with the same hysterical fervour that they greet each and every development in current affairs. An unintentionally hilarious down-the-line interview conducted by Sky’s Kay Burley with Mick Lynch, Secretary-General of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (or RMT to the layman) was a case in point; Burley – she’s the one who led a birthday conga through London bars when the capital was in ‘Tier Three’ lockdown at the end of 2020, you might recall – furtively pressed a calm and composed Lynch what his nefarious plans would be should bussed-in agency workers attempt to cross said picket-lines; she even excitedly evoked the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike, as though every placid picket-line outside a railway station would suddenly erupt into a re-enactment of the Battle of Orgreave. Lynch received Burley’s silly attempts at egging him on with the contempt they deserved and she responded by behaving as though he had committed a hate crime against her. It was a telling exchange that said a great deal about where we are – whether or not those employed by privately-owned rail companies can be viewed as public sector workers anymore.

At the same time, the BBC News online headline declared ‘Huge rail strike will cause misery for millions’, yet I don’t remember a similar one decrying the policies of the Government a year or two ago that caused far more short-term misery for millions (and far more long-term damage) than any storm-in-a-teacup industrial dispute probably will. Yes, a rail strike coming with petrol prices at a 17-year high (courtesy of taxes, that Ukraine business and, not forgetting, the emotional blackmail of a ‘Green’ intervention in domestic oil supplies) is a major disruption to the general public, forcing commuters to turn to a public transport system decimated by a decade-long ruthless pruning of services, yet it was inevitable some unions would revert to strike action when their members are feeling the pinch as much as anyone else. And, after a year or more of working from home, the return of the workforce to a dependence on bus or rail services to get them to the workplace on time was the perfect moment to hit – from the perspective of the unions representing such services, anyway; it was as inevitable a move as the post-pandemic cost-of-living crisis itself.

Boris has issued a scaremongering, pre-emptive warning that the country ought to prepare itself for a ‘summer of strikes’, whilst various Labour MPs have entered into point-scoring by joining rail workers on picket-lines (presumably keen to show they haven’t entirely lost touch with ‘ordinary people’ in the midst of their Identity Politics obsession). The Government appears determined not to bow to the rail workers’ demands for fear that other unions will also do an Oliver Twist and ask Sir for more, and they will be acutely aware that public anger with unions can swiftly be redirected towards Ministers should the strikes spread. Either way, it’s yet another disruption to already-disrupted lives and, whether or not one’s sympathies are firmly with the strikers, for most it’s one more pain in an increasingly painful arse.

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MOONAGE DAYDREAMS

Bowie 72 DHard to believe now, but there was once a time when David Bowie was regarded as a one-hit wonder; this was when, after a testing, frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful journey as an aspiring pop star throughout the 60s, Bowie finally gatecrashed the Top 5 at the very end of the decade. ‘Space Oddity’ launched him into the charts by capitalising on the 1969 Moon Landing, even if this atmospheric and unsettling song chronicling the doomed mission of an astronaut lost in space was at odds with the global euphoria that greeted Neil Armstrong’s achievement. It marked him out as one to watch, which must have made it all the more dispiriting for Bowie himself to then follow Major Tom into a black hole and fail to come up with that all-important second hit. At the beginning of the 70s, Bowie vanished off the public radar he’d spent so long trying to be picked up on and his career progressed largely unnoticed by record-buyers; during this period, his restlessness manifested itself as intriguing flirtations with musical trends then prevalent in that uncertain post-Beatles world.

His 1970 album, ‘The Man Who Sold the World’, was an electrifying excursion into the dark heart of Hard Rock, a timely move in a year dominated by Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. But Bowie’s exceptional intellect elevated the lyrical concerns of the album above the usual Blues Rock clichés, making for a uniquely original take on a style of music not renowned for highbrow content. Despite featuring the debut of Mick Ronson, the axe-man who would become Bowie’s priceless sidekick for the next three years, Bowie seemed to sabotage any potential success for the LP when he decided to pose for the sleeve wearing a dress. Mick Jagger may have got away with briefly donning a man’s frock in Hyde Park the year before, but he was a household name with carte blanche to do whatever the hell he wanted. Bowie was still only known for the one hit and had yet to build himself a fan-base that could translate into sustained commercial success. An album cover with him resembling a stoned Veronica Lake languidly lounging on the sofa was not one guaranteed to win him the favour of the denim crowd, despite the music on it delivering the goods. It flopped.

The next album, 1971’s ‘Hunky Dory’, tapped into the vogue for the singer-songwriter, with heavy reliance on acoustic guitar and piano. Despite it containing some of his most memorably melodic gems – including ‘Changes’, ‘Oh, You Pretty Things’, and the epic ‘Life on Mars’ – this album also failed to chart upon initial release. But one song on there, the Velvet Underground-influenced adrenalin rush of ‘Queen Bitch’, pointed the way to the future. A promotional visit to the US in which he made the acquaintance of Andy Warhol and Iggy Pop fired Bowie’s imagination and he returned home brimming with ideas for a persona combining the alluring artifice of transsexual Warhol Superstars like Candy Darling with the raw power and theatrical nihilism of The Stooges. Bowie’s wife Angie was a hustler on her husband’s behalf during this crucial stage of his career and her wide circle of outré associates provoked the transformation that was the first step towards the realisation of his new persona. Scissors were taken to Bowie’s flowing locks and the jagged thatch that remained was dyed an unnatural orange. Dragging his backing band into the spotlight, Bowie then generated a group image with outfits inspired by ‘A Clockwork Orange’. The Spiders from Mars were born.

It helped that Bowie was writing new songs at a phenomenal rate. Even before the release of ‘Hunky Dory’, he and the Spiders entered the studio to record them with another album in mind. Loosely linked to form a narrative, the songs told the tale of the character Bowie envisaged as the ultimate rock icon when such figures were pop cultural Gods, Ziggy Stardust. His new image also reflected the growing resurgence of a trashy, old-school rock ‘n’ roll glamour unseen since the heyday of Billy Fury a decade before, and one that was at odds with the fashion as the 70s opened; the music scene then was all about authenticity, rejecting showbiz and looking like a hobo. However, the emergence of former hippie minstrel Marc Bolan as a major chart act in 1971 – scoring two No.1s with his band T. Rex – was another key inspiration for Bowie; Bolan’s music was deliberately primitive yet undeniably invigorating, whilst his image was of a well-groomed androgynous elf; Bolan’s breakthrough opened the floodgates for many acts who became the leading lights of Glam Rock, and for Bowie it convinced him his ingenious idea had a ready-made, hungry audience. He was right, but he also had to convince a sceptical music press.

Casually proclaiming himself bisexual in a Melody Maker interview in early 1972, Bowie sent nervous ripples throughout a music scene still wary of gender-bending despite the great leaps forward of the 60s. But it garnered the outrage, shock, horror and headlines Bowie required as he and the Spiders hit the road and began bringing their exhilarating set-list to the curious kids. The combination of this exotic alien creature quite unlike anything anyone had seen on stage before with a catalogue of riff-tastic instant rock classics was the magic recipe for success Bowie had spent a decade furtively searching for, one that the false dawn of ‘Space Oddity’ made him determined not to let slip through his fingers. None of the attention Bowie’s striking image attracted would have lasted long had he not possessed the musical mettle to back it up, however – and he did.

The release of ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ exactly 50 years ago today was the foundation stone of a commercial career that lasted all the way to Bowie’s premature passing 44 years later. It became the first LP of his to chart in the UK and eventually peaked at No.5 whilst continuing to sell for decades thereafter. Its success was also aided by the single lifted from it, ‘Starman’. Having not troubled the singles charts for three years, viewers with a vague memory of a bubble-haired folkie were left open-jawed when Bowie returned to ‘Top of the Pops’ and unveiled Ziggy before an unprepared nation. As Bowie suggestively slung his arm around Mick Ronson, the shockwaves could be felt in every school playground in Britain the following day; it told many a confused kid it was chic to be a freak and gave them the confidence to follow suit. Many of them took the Bowie template and expanded it when they became glamorous chart regulars themselves a decade later.

The ‘Ziggy’ LP didn’t necessarily break new musical ground in the way Bowie went on to do, but it was a good place to start; by contributing his own intoxicating collision of high and low art to the nascent Glam scene, he enabled the Art School crew of Roxy Music, Sparks and Cockney Rebel to storm the charts and take the sound beyond the more basic appeal of Gary Glitter. Even Lou Reed managed to score a Top 10 hit courtesy of the Bowie connection, and the leper messiah also generously gave Mott the Hoople one of his pivotal numbers of the era, ‘All the Young Dudes’. With such pearls as ‘Five Years’, ‘Hang On To Yourself’, ‘Suffragette City’, ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’ and the LP’s title track, Bowie had announced his arrival in style and by the following spring, the release of the ‘Aladdin Sane’ album was heralded with an instant No.1 and a sold-out tour that saw his star in a seemingly unstoppable ascendancy.

The clever move of killing Ziggy on stage at the Hammersmith Odeon in July 1973 didn’t necessarily mean there wasn’t an afterlife. Ziggy lingered for a good year or so in Bowie’s haircut and music until he finally buried him by embracing ‘Plastic Soul’ in 1975 with the release of ‘Young Americans’. But Ziggy had been Bowie’s Open Sesame to the masses and would never be forgotten either by the generation that fell in love with him first time round or all the generations to come for whom he would prove to be a stellar inspiration. Half-a-century on, it remains yet another landmark in a long-gone age overflowing with them.

© The Editor

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LIVES, INTERRUPTED

Grenfell 2022It’s a measure of just how long this here Winegum has been going now that when a five-year anniversary of a major news story comes around, I can point to an actual Telegram post reacting to it at the time it happened. Such is the case with the Grenfell fire half-a-decade ago today. 72 dead, hundreds of lives cruelly and brutally interrupted, a tower block reduced to a charred carcass – a grotesque blot on the London skyline that says so much about the capital’s priorities; and nobody yet behind bars following an interminable pass-the-parcel blame game that remains ongoing. Glancing at the 2017 Winegum response to the tragedy earlier today – a post grimly titled ‘Clad in Black’ – it’s interesting that the rumour which emerged early on, the one that hinted the horrific inferno was sparked by a fridge catching fire in one of the block’s apartments, was a rumour I was understandably sceptical about; in the 24-hour news age, such fevered speculation often accompanies a story when the full facts have yet to be established.

Ironically, it turned out the beginnings of the blaze were genuinely caused by this incident; however, the easy speed by which the flames swiftly engulfed the whole building – reaching the top floor in a mere 18 minutes – was entirely due to the superficial cladding that had been cheaply tacked-on to Grenfell Tower’s exterior to make this aesthetically ugly example of 1970s social housing more palatable to the panoramic views of the wealthy neighbours that had colonised Kensington since Grenfell’s distant construction. For those who lived at Grenfell and survived the tragedy, the fire has been one of those life-changing moments that have altered them forevermore; they will never again be the people they were before that day, and the fire has discoloured everything thereafter, almost coming to define the individuals they have been ever since 14 June 2017; most struggle with the kind of survivors’ guilt familiar to veterans of wars, wondering why they are still here and their comrades (or friends and neighbours) aren’t.

And these fortunate few only made it out of the building because they ignored the perceived wisdom of the fire service and didn’t stay entombed in their flats; those that did paid the price with their lives – all 72 of them. The fact Grenfell Tower is still standing serves as a potent reminder of the tragedy that is impossible to avoid whenever travelling through West London. Its gruesome wounds may now be hidden by cladding which is less flammable than the cladding that enabled the fire to spread with such lethal haste; but its continuous presence as a melancholy beacon for the neighbourhood’s less-affluent community is a damning comment on the corner-cutting contempt for them that seems to symbolise so much of modern urban living in Britain today. As was pointed out in a ‘Newsnight’ feature on the tragedy aired on the eve of its five-year anniversary, any attempts at closure by survivors are inexorably linked with justice, something that appears as remote five years on as it did in the dazed and confused days following the fire.

The inquiry into Grenfell has yet to conclude, and as a consequence there have been no charges and nobody has even been found accountable for what happened. Clearly, somebody must be responsible; unlike, say, 9/11, where the perpetrators were instantly identifiable and quickly named and shamed as deliberate instigators of a massacre, with Grenfell there has been shameless buck-passing from even before the government inquiry set up by Theresa May in 2017 began. The frenzied 999 calls from that night which were aired during the early days of the inquiry make for a heartbreaking listen as the residents are repeatedly told not to leave their homes; later calls that inform the emergency services that flames are outside the door then lead to belated advice that now is the time to go, however frightening a prospect it must have been for residents forced to fight through the fire when they could have exited long before it reached their floor.

The survivors may still be with us to recount their own personal stories of that night five years ago, but their survival comes with physical (on top of mental) scars that remain poignant obstacles to their futures. The appalling amount of toxic fumes inhaled during the inferno continue to affect their wellbeing, and long-term health issues are difficult to assess when there is still so much mystery surrounding the chemical nature of the materials used to ‘gentrify’ Grenfell for the benefit of those incapable of avoiding North Kensington when reclining on their South Kensington balconies. The radioactive traces of Hiroshima that everyone born after 1945 carries inside them via the contaminated atomic atmosphere has odious echoes in the lungs of Grenfell survivors, whose hopes of a long life are severely compromised by the poison they inadvertently ingested.

The tragedy has also emotionally separated survivors in the aftermath, with the understandable reluctance to be reminded of what happened leading to estrangements and divorces as attempts to rebuild lives often require the expulsion of anyone whose presence is a painful reminder of the old lives that can never be returned to. The more tangible fallout of Grenfell was easy to see in the months immediately following the fire; before the physical damage was gradually removed from the landscape, there was a lengthy period in which it served as a gory memorial both to the 72 who lost their lives and those who survived but have never been able to recapture the lives they led prior to the fire. The scale of the wreckage in all its myriad forms is incalculable, which makes the likelihood of simple financial slaps on the wrist for the accused come the conclusion of the inquiry intolerable for these survivors. They need someone to properly answer for the crime that they are the living victims of, and the immoral avoidance of that crime by the guilty parties has been one of the more unedifying examples of the vast chasm between the haves and have-nots seen in recent years.

Central and local government, cladding manufacturers, the outsourced contractors entrusted with ‘refurbishing’ Grenfell – all played their part in the build-up to the tragedy by turning a blind eye (or, more accurately, focusing that blind eye on profit) that in retrospect feels like it could only ever end one awful way. The prevailing 21st century trend seems to be for visually prettier materials to be glued on to the outside of unfashionable 20th century edifices in order to render them easier on the eye, though proper checks were spurned en route by inefficient regulators when confronted by cladding that manufacturers lied about the safety of, and by politicians always eager to take the cost-cutting option when it comes to social housing. And all have played the ‘It weren’t me, guv’ card when their role in the tragedy has been highlighted.

Yet, as research has subsequently revealed, Grenfell’s cladding was not some unique exception to the rule; there are dozens of residential buildings up and down the country still coated in similarly dangerous cladding that was added to exteriors with full knowledge of its potential risks, simply because it was a cheaper alternative for people too poor to give a flying f**k about. In many respects, it’s a miracle Grenfell hasn’t been repeated on numerous occasions ever since 2017, though the fatal potential is present in each and every one of them. Five years on, distance has not dimmed the anger of those on the frontline of the tragedy, as can happen with anyone whose life is derailed by an event that never really goes away, especially if justice is frustratingly elusive and may well remain unresolved by the time the legal process completes its ineffective journey.

© The Editor

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TALKIN’ ‘BOUT MY CANCELLATION

Casper‘I pms at these,’ is not perhaps a statement that will be forever enshrined in the annals of great quotes. The person who said it went by the name of shazza, whoever shazza may be. But shazza is nevertheless a notable figure to me, for his/her comment was the last to ever grace a video on my YouTube channel, the final person provoked into saying something after enjoying one of my offerings on a platform that had twelve long years of providing satirical and/or bawdy entertainment for the masses who were incapable of raising even a moderate titter at the woeful excuse for comedy that television serves-up these days. Unfortunately, the history that shazza made with this brief comment on the most recent instalment of ‘Buggernation Street’ is a history that has been erased from the books, for Sillycunt Valley’s very own Ministry of Truth has excised yours truly from the platform as of late Wednesday evening. I’m not playing the victim here, btw; I just figured you might find this story interesting.

Long-term readers of the Winegum or viewers of my channel might recall I walked away from YT in 2019 after a dispiriting couple of years in which all my videos were demonetised as several others were blocked and banned; I stopped uploading new material, but left what was still on there for those that routinely watched the same favourite videos over and over again. As far back as 2016 I was noticing pernicious changes creeping into YT as the corporate world belatedly became aware of the platform’s potential to sell ‘product’ and began issuing copyright strikes left right and centre at the independent creators who’d made YT what it was in the first place; I even wrote an early post about it, one that still attracts views, and this was penned when I used to receive an admittedly small income from YT – not much more than around £150 a year. Then, overnight, all the videos I received that income from were demonetised. The new regime was making its insidious presence felt.

Rick Beato, an American record producer with an informative and engaging YT channel, recently issued a video in which he berated Don Henley from The Eagles for whining over ‘loss of earnings’ due to fans sharing snippets of Eagles tracks on YT. Beato correctly pointed out the absolute pittance of royalties Henley could claim should anyone dare insert fifteen seconds of ‘Hotel California’ into a video would be something to put Spotify to shame – a handful of cents at the most. He went on to underline the ludicrousness of this farcical copyright circus by playing a few bars of the piano intro to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in the wrong key ala Les Dawson simply because he couldn’t even play the proper bloody melody himself without being slapped by a strike, let alone using the actual Queen recording on the video. This has been one of the moves that have reduced YT to merely another corporate tool, yet so dominant is the platform when it comes to its specific market that it continues to put other video platforms in the permanent shade. It remains the go-to medium, just as the BBC used to be whenever a major news story broke.

In a way, this is the double-edged sword of YT – as a creator, one is hampered and restricted by the rules and regulations that require expert navigation in order to avoid a copyright strike; yet, at the same time, one is guaranteed a huge audience that no other online video platform can compete with. Despite my reservations, this was the main reason I returned to YT after a two-year absence in 2021; I simply couldn’t ignore the massive upsurge of views and tsunami of new subscribers that appeared to have been a side-effect of lockdown. It would’ve been foolish to spurn this unexpected and enthusiastic fan-base eager for new videos, so I gave them what they wanted by reviving what became my signature series, ‘Buggernation Street’. No new episodes of this Derek & Clive-like take on the early 70s incarnation of a rather well-known TV soap opera had been produced for six years, but once I was back on the grubby cobbles it was as though I’d never been away.

Of course, the filth for which ‘Buggernation’ is infamous is all in the mind – it’s down to the often-horrific imagery that materialises in the viewer’s head as a consequence of the dialogue I insert into the characters’ mouths. There’s no on-screen nudity or sex of any kind in a single episode of the 42 that ended up being produced; it’s merely suggested in the most explicit manner possible – and it makes people laugh at the same time; indeed, how could they not laugh at the thought of Maggie Clegg treating Alf Roberts to a spot of water-sports or poor old Stan Ogden being forced to bend over as Hilda shoves a police truncheon where the sun don’t shine? It’s patently ridiculous and that’s what makes it work as comedy. The simple suggestion of something depraved going on behind the net curtains is enough to provoke the viewer’s imagination, and the viewer doesn’t need to see on screen what’s being described. Putting any of that on screen would lead to an instant ban and it would be rightly labelled pornography – especially as the YT of today has clambered up on top of the moral high-horse and laughably appears to regard itself as a barometer of family-friendly decency.

When YT took it upon itself to remove my entire channel without warning – rather than ban a handful of videos I could have easily uploaded to another outlet like Vimeo – their reasons for doing so suggested the images placed in their heads by ‘Buggernation Street’ were too much for their fragile sensibilities; they then, like some satanic abuse fantasist, appeared to believe they had actually seen these images in my videos. ‘This account has been terminated due to multiple or severe violations of YouTube’s policy on nudity or sexual content.’ There was no nudity, and any sexual content was of a purely verbal nature – end of. I pointed this out when I appealed, but their response was ‘YouTube is not the place for nudity, pornography or other sexually provocative content’. Yeah, that’s why I didn’t upload any. Just in case I mistook YT for CBeebies, I always ticked the box stating my videos were for adults only, YT’s equivalent of the old-fashioned X certificate. But, of course, their decision had f**k-all to do with nudity or pornography.

Ever since my channel began attracting viewing figures that elevated it above the best-kept-secret cult it had been for a decade, it was undeniably brought to the attention of the Identity Politics Gestapo that run all media today. And what probably signed my YT death warrant was a video that mocked all they hold dear, a spoof BBC1 trailer for ‘Wokeday Evening’. The glaring difference between YT and other video platforms was never better highlighted by the viral success of this particular video. It had originally been published on Vimeo a couple of years ago and attracted virtually no attention at all; remixed and expanded, I decided to temporarily shelve my ‘Buggernation’-only principles when it came to YT uploads and enabled ‘Wokeday Evening’ to be seen by the widest possible audience. Views shot through the roof as it was tweeted by numerous media personalities not exactly beloved by the Woke mafia, and I would imagine a sizeable number of complaints were registered with the YT upholders of online standards, double and otherwise.

Not only can I not start another channel on YT, but I’m also prevented from subscribing to anyone else now; I can’t even comment on or ‘like’ the efforts of others. In YT terms, I am officially a non-person, of whom all traces have been wiped. The thought of adopting a new identity and sneaking back on there is not one I relish, for nothing will have changed; I’d only be confronted by the same bullshit that provoked my two-year exodus in 2019. YT must have missed the money they made from cramming ads into my videos during my absence, but they’ve made a hell of a lot more from me over the last twelve months. Well, f**k ’em. They ain’t making any more. And, if nothing else, I now know from personal experience that cancel culture is not some right-wing fantasy; it’s for real, alright.

© The Editor

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THE 2022 COMMITTEE

Boris and BrendaWell, that was an interesting extended weekend. It began with Boris being booed by the peasants present at the Jubilee festivities and ended with him surviving by the skin of his teeth thanks to the spineless toadies within his own Party. Ah, yes, the Jubilee – part Olympics opening ceremony, part climate change propaganda broadcast, part Lord Mayor’s Parade, part Pride Parade, part 90s Brit Awards, part ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ finale, part Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, part celebration of all things military and all things eccentric, with Cliff exhumed as the Ghost of Eurovision Past whilst Sam Ryder carried the silver baton on and on and on. Leaving my largely student-dominated neighbourhood on Thursday afternoon was a relief – anticipating a noisy few days – though the on-foot exit was like navigating my way through a joint stag & hen do in downtown Ibiza (via Aintree) with a cast of thousands in wacky fancy dress. My destination was a more sedate residential location, though even there a bouncy castle drew in a dozen children whose combined vocal excitement gave the expected racket back home a run for its money. Mind you, none of this will happen again for decades, and the hyperactive kids leaping up and down on that inflatable edifice are probably the only ones around now who’ll be around then.

Brenda in her 70th year as sovereign has the luxury of infirmity as an excuse for only attending the events she can be arsed attending; the State Opening of Parliament received the Royal thumbs-down, whereas Her Majesty was more than happy to attend the horse show at Windsor a day or two later. Therefore, Brian was lumbered with once again settling into his Regency role during the majority of the weekend’s celebrations, sat beside the one son whose company he can tolerate, along with his gurning grandchildren. The BBC commentary was suitably supine as Auntie sought to reassure the viewers it hadn’t entirely abandoned its traditional adherence to Queen and Country, though it was undoubtedly a pleasure witnessing Sadiq Khan squirming in his seat at the abundance of Union Jacks and the absence of BLM banners. And then, as the last of the bunting succumbed to the elements, attention rapidly switched back to the PM. Suddenly, there were finally enough objections to Boris from his own Parliamentarians to trigger a vote of confidence in his leadership.

Jeremy cockney-rhyming-slang re-emerged from the backbench wilderness to make his opposition to Boris public, though the predictably infantile Twitter response from the Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries was characteristically dim and unhinged (never a good combination), probably helping to sway a fair few Tory MPs into siding with Theresa May’s Health Secretary; to paraphrase an archaic saying, with allies like that, who needs enemies? As the day wore on, the media was awash with Boris apologists reluctant to declare their own leadership ambitions till it was safe to do so; without fail, they constantly played the Ukraine card. ‘There’s a war on, so let’s move on’ seemed to be the mantra of the moment, even if the golden opportunity to confront the next General Election by refreshing the managerial dugout with time to spare was staring them in the face. Like a struggling Premier League club toying with sacking their coach mid-season in a bid to pull away from the bottom three, the Conservative Party only had a limited window to act before a relegation battle became terminal.

If Boris had lost the vote of confidence, he would’ve had to stand down and step back as a leadership contest took place without him as a candidate. This wouldn’t have been comparable to Churchill being booted out by an ‘ungrateful’ electorate exhausted by six years of war in 1945, however; the electorate had no say in this vote; it was down to Boris’s Parliamentary colleagues, and the notable absence of an outstanding challenger to take the PM’s place perhaps played a part in their indecision. Some might feasibly claim Boris has never really had the chance to display his Prime Ministerial credentials because Brexit took up all his time in the probationary phase of his tenure, and then the pandemic fatally derailed his premiership before it had even had the opportunity to get going, appearing as it did just a few months after his landmark landslide in December 2019. But that would be like saying Edward Heath never had a chance because of the Northern Ireland Troubles or the 1972 Miners’ Strike or the Oil Crisis that was a side-effect of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

These are the kind of crises in which Prime Ministers prove their mettle; and – speedy vaccine rollout aside – Boris blew it. Whether the dodgy cronyism in the awarding of Covid contracts, or the dispatching of infected elderly patients from hospital back to care home, or the belated revelation (and begrudging apology) of Partygate, the PM has used up all lingering vestiges of approval for his slapdash antidote to the careerist conveyor belt professional politician – at least amongst the voters. The Tory faithful beyond Westminster Village have not been as sanguine as Members of the Cabinet when it comes to Boris’s antics. MPs returning to their constituencies for the Jubilee Bank Holiday have been confronted by angry constituents who were no longer prepared to cut the PM any more slack, and it was probably this abrupt awareness of their own perilous position as much as anything else that persuaded 40 percent of dithering Honourable Members to voice the concerns of these constituents when the 1922 Committee had no option but to invoke the confidence vote.

Theresa May survived the same situation in 2018, yet that pyrrhic victory hardly strengthened her position and she fell on her sword within a matter of months; one suspects Boris, in mirroring his predecessor’s success, will not be so quick to buckle under pressure. He will no doubt have to be dragged kicking and screaming from Downing Street, regardless of what the country is telling him. Boris may have retained the favour of 211 of his fellow Tories, yet 148 declared their opposition to his continued rule, which is a fairly devastating statistic. Boris now has an uninterrupted twelve months at the helm before the next General Election, and the Conservative Party will discover if sticking with him will reap benefits at the ballot box or herald the dreaded Labour/SNP coalition that was evoked as a warning by scaremongering Tories faced with the prospect of their captain being forced to abandon ship. The pandemic can no longer be relied upon as a convenient excuse if Boris fails to deliver the goods over the coming year, so now is the time for him to show what he can do – if he can do it.

Boris has a stay of execution for the moment, then – even if his authority is utterly shot to pieces by a mess of his own making. Her Majesty, on the other hand, is seeing out her days on a crest of warm affection that her descendants cannot call upon. Making an increasingly rare appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony beside a carefully-chosen cast that didn’t include her disgraced favourite, Brenda looked her frail age as she watched what will undoubtedly be the final flyby of the Red Arrows undertaken in her honour. If one strips away the flaccid frivolity of much that constituted the official Jubilee spectacle in the capital, there was a strong feeling of an era ending amidst the token flag-waving.

This is a woman who has occupied the throne for longer than most of us have been alive, someone whose face we see every time we post a letter or slot a card into an ATM, however infrequently we do either of those things these days compared to when we were younger. She has been there throughout the premierships of 13 of Boris’s predecessors, stretching all the way back to his hero Sir Winston; and there’s a strong possibility she may even outlast her incumbent PM’s shaky reign and offer her hands to be kissed by his successor before she signs-off and permanently hands over to her unpopular heir. What Boris wouldn’t give for that kind of staying power.

© The Editor

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GOD ONLY KNOWS

DaltreyNietzsche may have infamously declared ‘God is dead’ in 1882, but the decades since his incendiary declaration seem to have proven that you can’t keep a good (or bad) God down. Like David Bowie, it would appear He can take many forms; and the kind of worship that was once reserved for stone icons of Christ or the Virgin Mary was gradually transferred to mere mortals as God resurfaced in numerous new guises to suit whatever God the prevailing climate craved. In the second half of the 20th century, God found his most unlikely outlet in the pop cultural figurehead, whose message was transmitted to the young masses via the global communication tools denied the Messiahs of previous epochs. Come the 1960s, young working-class (or lower middle-class) boys who were expected – and were expecting – to follow in their fathers’ footsteps suddenly found themselves in the eye of a fanatical storm that understandably both swelled their own sense of self-importance and left them spiritually empty once undreamed-of riches and material goods were acquired.

In the post-‘Sgt Pepper’ landscape of the late 60s, when Pop had been rebranded as Art, a definite sea-change amongst its leading (and most intelligent) practitioners took place. Yes, the pursuit of female flesh and recreational substance abuse remained high on the list of song subjects, but the revolutionary fervour that gripped the western world from around 1968 onwards reflected a growing awareness by youth of their own potential and powers. Youth turned to their messengers for guidance, and the messengers – who were no more clued-up than their disciples – nevertheless did their best to deliver answers. Rather than advocating an external revolution, however, most turned inwards and sought to make sense of a journey for which there was no roadmap; for some, this was manifested as an embrace of Eastern philosophy. After The Beatles had set the trend by kneeling at the feet of the Maharishi, The Who’s Pete Townshend found his own guru in the shape of Indian mystic Meher Baba; some of what he absorbed then fed into what remains his most popular artistic achievement, the Rock Opera, ‘Tommy’.

Having not seen it for several years, I recently caught Ken Russell’s visual white-knuckle ride that is his 1975 movie of ‘Tommy’ and was instantly aware of how the near-religious following the rock stars of the era attracted was being cleverly addressed on screen. Of course, this was no isolated wakeup call; ‘Privilege’, the 1967 film starring Paul Jones, drew parallels between traditional worship and the new religion of Pop, and faith was reborn as a legitimate vehicle for a hit record with the likes of George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’, giving it a hippie makeover that rendered it far cooler than Cliff Richard at his most evangelical. For black artists raised in the Gospel chapel, this was nothing new, though – in the case of, say, Marvin Gaye – it often had to be squared with thoughts of a more carnal nature, making for a fascinating listening experience. By the early 70s, it had spilled over onto Broadway, with the cosmetic counter-culture of ‘Hair’ superseded by ‘Godspell’ and ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, both of which took this premise to the ultimate extreme by portraying Christ himself as the original rock star.

With the so-called ‘Jesus Freaks’ of the period now tainted by the blotted copybook of the Manson Family, the dark side of this new religion not only presented the cults of the Alternative Society in a negative light, but it gave the musical manifestations of what was happening a far sharper edge. Ziggy Stardust was Bowie’s ideal of the ultimate Rock God, comprising all the elements of those who had risen and fallen in the previous decade and cranking them up to eleven; but the fact that the narrator of his 1972 album’s title track admits ‘When the kids had killed the man, I had to break-up the band’ suggests it can only ever end in tears, something that had already been chronicled in ‘Tommy’. When Ken Russell took Townshend’s musical odyssey and placed it on the big screen six years after the release of the LP, the characteristically pessimistic mid-70s setting seemed more relevant to the tragedy of the story than the idealistic 60s, a time when Pete Townshend’s spirit had yet to be blunted by the bottle. There’s a telling sequence in the film where the sick and afflicted are shepherded into a church, praying to an icon of Marilyn Monroe that recreates her famous ‘up-skirt’ pose from ‘The Seven Year Itch’, as though Ken Russell recognised the way in which the mass media had made idols of mortals that, like Christ, were capable of transcending mortality – something mirrored in Tommy’s post-fall ‘resurrection’ at the climax.

Around the time of the movie’s release, the phrase ‘Rock God’ had become common currency to refer to the superstars of the era, though whether Jimmy Page posing with his twin-necked guitar or Robert Plant preening beside him, the conscious attempts of Pete Townshend to somehow deliver a philosophical message to the faithful had been largely abandoned in favour of pure – albeit enjoyably flamboyant – entertainment. Rock had now become a straightforward career choice rather than an accidental spiritual journey. The devotional worship remained, but the search for an answer appeared to have been effectively discarded. When the deliberately primeval Punk Rock gatecrashed the party a year or two later, the more pressing issues confronted by a generation too young to have experienced the seismic shifts of the 60s were favoured over the luxury of pondering ‘Why are we here?’, something that perhaps could only really be asked by a musician once he can sit back and observe the fruits of his labours.

After Punk, the entertainment factor of the most globally successful rock stars became one of their key selling points. Social concerns would periodically surface in the lyrics of less frivolous acts, echoing a recurrent tradition stretching back to Bob Dylan’s ‘Protest’ period; but there were no real further attempts to elevate pop music to Art by seeing it as something on a higher plane than simple self-expression or showbiz. Yes, there was Michael Jackson’s notorious attempt to present himself as the Messiah at the Brit Awards in 1996, though Jarvis Cocker’s impromptu intervention was the perfect antidote to such dubious pretentiousness. And pretentiousness seems to be the usual insult aimed at the period in pop when the likes of ‘Tommy’ were greeted with reverence by broadsheet reviewers. Maybe it simply belonged to a moment impossible to recreate, for that level of intense idolatry had never happened in pop culture before – at least not in quite the same way; okay, so there’d been Valentino and Sinatra and Elvis, but not the self-contained writer, musician and performer bringing their own personal vision to the masses and being put in a position it must have been difficult not to be consumed by.

The Gods of today appear to have been grouped together from a wide range of professions under the umbrella term, ‘celebrity’. They can be actor, athlete, online influencer, model, musician, royalty or reality TV star. The level of attention and scrutiny afforded these usually uninspiring figures can often be quite baffling to those of us who can’t see why any of them – unlike Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison or David Bowie – are remotely interesting. But they supply an evident need for someone to worship in the absence of any form of conventional religion that ticks the same emotional boxes. The God that Nietzsche penned the obituary of may have vanished from the day-to-day lives of most, but He is still with us, and still commanding the adoration of millions. He just wears different trousers these days.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

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THE FINAL CUT

CutsAs with the current shameless shower at Westminster, nothing really surprises where the BBC is concerned anymore. Often, it exceeds itself and reaches a point whereby satire is superseded and rendered redundant, such as the case of the weekly Woke lecture masquerading as ‘Doctor Who’; the anticipated outrage of casting of an actual man to succeed the world’s worst actress as the lead character was eased by the fact he’s both black and gay (two boxes ticked), not to mention a Transwoman of Colour as his sidekick; job done! One can almost picture the planning meeting – ‘Have we left anyone out?’ The cynical and counterproductive ‘positive discrimination’ approach of the Corporation’s relentless Diversity & Inclusivity agenda is perhaps one small reason why viewers have had enough. Even if the divisive issue of the licence fee is put to one side, this obstinate kamikaze mission of Beeb management and programme-makers merely underlines how those entrusted with salvaging the BBC’s dwindling reputation don’t really understand the reason why it acquired that reputation in the first place.

Take BBC3 – in its early years an innovative digital channel that didn’t always get it right, but would occasionally produce a series that progressed all the way to primetime BBC1, like ‘Little Britain’. When it was dropped from the ‘linear’ schedule a few years back and became an online-only service, the BBC was actually showing a rare moment of awareness re the viewing habits of BBC3’s target audience. The decision to bring it back as a proper television channel when most youngsters watching it don’t watch it on TV was a bewildering move; even worse, however, is that the content of the channel has plummeted to the point whereby the likes of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ – a show that makes 90s Channel 4 series ‘Eurotrash’ resemble Kenneth Clark’s ‘Civilisation’, and quite possibly the most unwatchable TV programme I think I’ve ever encountered – is one of its lynchpin shows. As an angry letter to the Radio Times might proclaim, I don’t pay my licence fee for this.

Celebrating its centenary whilst under siege from a government that has made no secret of the fact it wants to scrap the traditional funding model of the Corporation, how do the mandarins at Broadcasting House respond to the dilemma? Well, having squandered millions on a new outdoor set for a soap with viewing figures a pale shadow of its 80s and 90s heyday, the Beeb’s plea of poverty is manifested as taking the scissors to areas that actually justify the BBC and show how it can still do some things better than any other broadcaster. This week, plans were announced to axe two television channels from the small screen that have both, at one time or another, made the paltry payment for the BBC (compared to the cost of subscription fees for streaming services) worth forking out for. Although I’m completely the wrong demographic for CBBC, not being a child during its existence nor having kids of my own to watch it with, I recognise the channel has continued the long tradition of the BBC for producing quality children’s entertainment, and its success amongst younger viewers swiftly vindicated the initially controversial decision to remove children’s programming from BBC1 to an entire channel of its own.

Although the announcement made by BBC DG Tim Davie declared the permanent migration of CBBC to the iPlayer wouldn’t come about for another three years, it’s not so much the fact that a television channel will become an online-only entity in an age when viewing habits have radically altered and its audience mostly watch their shows that way today anyway, but cutting financial corners invariably means a drop in quality. That has already happened with the other channel included in this ‘restructure’, BBC4. As BBC2 – the original BBC TV home for shows that rarely attract large audiences but break new ground – had become more dependent on reality-style programming, BBC4 emerged as a genuine jewel in an increasingly tatty crown when it debuted in the early 2000s. Its first decade or so was marked by superb, intelligent documentaries – especially in the fields of music, the Arts and history – as well as one-off dramas and the airing of cult Scandi Noir series such as ‘The Killing’ and ‘The Bridge’, with the latter being difficult to imagine being given a chance anywhere else at the time. For viewers long disillusioned with the line-ups of the dumbed-down mainstream channels, BBC4 was a true alternative breath of air that reminded them how the BBC could still deliver the goods and make a rather antiquated pastime such as sitting down to watch the telly of an evening something worthy of retaining.

However, in the last round of cost-cutting, the BBC4 budget was slashed and it was essentially reborn as a dispensable vintage repeat channel, like UK Gold with a media studies degree. Archive programmes afforded routine reruns on mainstream channels and reminders of its own recent glory days via regular re-screenings of old BBC4 docs added up to a sorry excuse for what the channel used to be; it was as though the BBC were deliberately winding it down in preparation for the expected removal from the linear TV landscape. BBC4 was once, along with Radio 3 and the non-Wokeday morning schedule of Radio 4, one of the few BBC outlets that maintained the gold standard the Corporation set itself decades ago; ditto the World Service, which appears to be another misguided casualty of the latest cutbacks. It was no easy task to make sense of the predictable Birt-speak jargon constituting the majority of Tim Davie’s announcement, but it was evident those BBC platforms that ooze quality yet attract a more select audience were doomed to bear the brunt of these cuts.

Certain foreign language sections of the World Service – one of the building blocks crucial to establishing the BBC’s global reputation – will disappear from the traditional airwaves and will henceforth be solely accessible in a digital format; and Radio 4 Extra will be joining CBBC and BBC4 as an online-only operation, whilst the Long Wave option, much to the chagrin of listeners to ‘Test Match Special’ and the Shipping Forecast, will effectively cease to be an opt-out of separate content to the FM schedules. In other news, the BBC’s UK and its World 24-hour news services will merge into one; ‘We are England’, the short-lived replacement for the award-winning and much-missed regional series, ‘Inside Out’, will be axed by the end of this year; local BBC news branches in Oxford and Cambridge will be absorbed into their Southampton and Norwich equivalents; and unique institutions such as the BBC’s numerous orchestras will have to find alternative funding.

The online exile of some of the BBC’s channels belies the fact that the majority of the BBC’s output is still largely consumed via ‘old-fashioned’ radio and television sets rather than mobiles, laptops or iPads – and by an audience mostly more mature than those who would actively seek out the likes of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ – yet the BBC, with its head firmly buried in the metropolitan sand, once again ploughs on regardless, in desperate search of some imaginary Yoof viewer and listenership who tune in exclusively to the iPlayer or BBC Sounds and can only enjoy the kind of lowest common denominator trash that ITV and Channel 4 have long since cornered the market in. The Corporation’s apparent aim is to be a ‘digital first’ organisation – which is one of those overused and tedious contemporary phrases like ‘hub’ that make you want to eat your own sick; perhaps blinded by past loyalties, I’ve stuck up for the BBC many times on here because I believed in the overall ideal of the BBC, clinging to what it once was and imagining what it could still be. But my patience, as with many viewers and listeners, is rapidly running out. By the time the channels mentioned have transitioned to their online incarnations, will anyone still be watching or listening?

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

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