AM I BOVVERED?

‘Meh’ was once the term particularly prevalent on social media five or six years back (could be more – who cares?) that was intended to verbalise a shrug of the shoulders and condense ‘I couldn’t give a f**k’ into one short, sharp shock of a statement. I never thought I’d miss a word so characteristic of this rotten century’s habit of shortening the English language into an endless sequence of edited sound-bites; but ‘meh’ seems so apt when it comes to the last 48 hours. Prince Harry getting engaged – meh; Donald Trump tweeting Britain First videos – meh. There are people I know who are having to deal with serious issues considerably more significant than ‘the spare’ getting hitched to the whitest mixed-race divorcee on the market or the President of the USA presenting virtue-signalling MPs with another opportunity to denounce him as the reincarnation of Hitler.

Prince Harry, the Hooray Henry of disputable parentage and the Margaret to William’s Elizabeth, spent his youth cutting a ginger swathe through the tabloids either in the altogether or wearing a Swastika, and then redeemed his reputation in the eyes of those who give a shit by playing the soldier for Granny & Country before embarking upon the tried-and-tested route of doing something charitable for ‘Our Boys’ to show he wasn’t just another upgrade of self-indulgent Hanoverian excess in the absence of something to do. By announcing his engagement to a glorified Kardashian, Harry has gifted Fleet Street with one more reason to recycle the same tired old clichés anew in its never-ending Windsor propaganda programme for a nation that wouldn’t be remotely interested were it not for BBC1 and ITV plugging this nauseating shit on a loop as some form of superficial panacea for the people while they struggle to make ends meet.

With Meghan Markle being American, it was only a matter of excruciating seconds before the spectre of Wallis Simpson infiltrated the coverage, though it should be noted that Mrs Simpson was having it off with a man poised to become King and Emperor in an age in which both Catholics and divorcees were barred from ascending to consort status. Harry is currently fifth in line to the throne and will drop another place come the birth of the third sprog to emerge from the marriage of William and Kate, scheduled to be born on the front page of the Daily Express next spring. It’s not exactly a constitutional crisis, is it?

As for Meghan Markle’s countryman ensconced in the White House, this has been a week in which Mr President has given the left in this country one more open goal they’ve made the most of. His ill-advised re-tweets of gruesome videos posted by Britain First have led to renewed calls to withdraw the invite for a state visit that Theresa May made with uncomfortable haste in the wake of his victory in the US Presidential Election last year. The Donald’s Twitter adventures were a source of both entertainment and outrage even before he ascended to the pinnacle of power, but the hounds unleashed by his latest social media faux-pas have certainly sparked some delicious holier-than-thou hypocrisy in the Commons this week.

A few Tories such as Sajid Javid have broadcast their reactions, whereas Labour MP Naz Shah – a woman so thick and quick to virtue-signal that she re-tweeted a mischievous comment by the fake Owen Jones without pausing to notice his surname was spelt differently – has added her voice to the Trump condemnation by agreeing with a veteran backbencher from her own party that the President should be charged with ‘Hate Crime’. The usual Labour suspects such as ‘Celebrity Mastermind’ dummy David Lammy and Emily ‘Lady Nugee’ Thornberry have lined-up to wear their mortification as T-shirts, and Chris Bryant reminded the electorate he’s still alive by accusing Trump of ‘inciting religious hatred’ – sorry, but are we living in Cromwell’s Commonwealth? Blasphemy laws should have been blown to smithereens with the Gunpowder Plot. They have no place in the twenty-first century, regardless of how Islam has been ring-fenced as a special case above and beyond any criticism, thus sending those unable to express reservations into the arms of illiterate rabble-rousers like Britain First.

Theresa May has added her voice to the condemnation and provoked a defensive response from Trump himself; the PM’s scripted stance has earned her support amongst Trump’s opponents in the US, including a rather worrying Tweet from Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah (no, me neither), who declared the PM was ‘one of the great world leaders’ and proclaimed he has ‘incredible love and respect for her and the way she leads the United Kingdom, especially in the face of turbulence’. Is that the turbulence of Brexit, the turbulence caused by her own unruly Cabinet, or ‘the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom’ that the President spoke of following Mrs May’s criticism of him, I wonder?

Donald Trump is too dim and full of himself to avoid walking into these PR disasters, yet those who are on a permanent vigil to rip him to shreds whenever he puts his foot in it again, and are anticipating being showered in plaudits for doing so, are no better – the same self-serving, egotistical wankers whose desperate cries for attention mean no more to me than Prince Harry’s nuptials. F**k the lot of ‘em.

© The Editor

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THE F**K-IT LIST

You may recall a post on here last year titled ‘Tumbleweed Injunction’, all about a story involving a certain Grande Dame of British pop music who couldn’t be named by the mainstream media on account of a super-injunction and accompanying threat of legal proceedings should a TV programme or newspaper dare to say his moniker out loud when reporting his alleged threesome. This particular case was as good an example as any of how the senior mediums have been rendered redundant by cyberspace when it comes to free speech. Although my piece didn’t once say the stage name said musician adopted almost fifty years ago, one would have to be a bit dim not to guess to whom I was referring. Besides, everybody bloody knew who it was, with or without the trademark platform boot I illustrated the article with.

We now have one more example of how the info is out there and the MSM is powerless to use it whilst the rest of us can choose to access it if we want, finally liberated from having that choice dictated to us by the press or TV. Westminster’s uncut ‘dodgy dossier’ is available via Twitter and the version I’ve seen is a straightforward photocopy sourced from God-knows-where, with the contents laid bare and not needing a running commentary. My job today is not to repeat that list verbatim; for one thing, there’s no point, what with it already having been seen by a potential audience of thousands; for another, it’s not my role to be a ‘rogue journalist’. A bit of rogue I might be, but I’d never presume to label myself a journalist. Besides, if I were, I’d be even more restricted in what I can or can’t say re the names on the list.

It’s an odd combination of personal kinkiness, innocuous (and hardly illegal) activities between consenting adults, and genuinely unpleasant lechery. Whoever compiled it clearly collected every snippet of gossip from the frivolous to the serious that had been overheard in the corridors of power and cobbled the lot together in one unsavoury package – not unlike the way in which such behaviour outside of Parliament has been cobbled together in law by a poisonous moral crusade that politicians have endorsed in the belief it would never pierce their sanctimonious bubble. Now it has belatedly encroached upon their own sexual misadventures they’re suddenly screaming ‘Witch Hunt’! Tough Titty – or should that be Sugar Titty?

Like most, I should imagine, there are a great deal of names on the list I’ve never heard of, but that’s no surprise when one considers the sheer volume of parasites sucking on the breast of our democracy. It’s a bit like whenever I casually switch on BBC Parliament and catch some moribund late afternoon debate as opposed to the all-star parade that is PMQs. I struggle to recognise the majority of MPs lounging around on the half-empty benches as some anonymous nonentity drones on, and many of them could well be included on this list for all I know. It goes without saying that my eyes took note of names I did recognise when perusing it, and there are around a dozen of them. Some have already been safely ‘outed’, whilst others raised the odd eyebrow. Good Lord, there are even some women on there! And here’s me thinking this sexual predator thing was a purely male pastime.

One of the women on the list has a very high-profile post indeed, though her crime was having had ‘a workplace relationship’; that hardly makes her Rose West. Another female member of the Government with an important day-job is accused of fornicating with a male researcher while a backbench MP – and, yes, fornicating is the somewhat quaint word the compiler of the list uses. One of the mostly male MPs listed is described as being ‘handy at parties’; another is ‘handy in taxis’. One ‘asked a female researcher to do odd things’, but we’re not told what they were (or what constitutes ‘odd’ in this context); another ‘likes to have intercourse with men who are wearing women’s perfume’. One has ‘odd sexual penchants’ (again – how odd?) and is also ‘sexual with a fellow MP’, who happens to be described as ‘a drunk’; another takes the starring role in a video that features him being urinated on by not one, not two, but ‘three males’! Whatever turns you on, eh?

However, also included are the likes of one male MP who allegedly impregnated a former researcher and made her have an abortion; another ‘paid a female to be quiet’ – a right pair of charmers by the sounds of it. At the same time, one MP is damned for taking his personal trainer to the cinema and then to ‘private rooms at the Carlton’! I’m sure the personal trainer appreciated the gesture more than the researcher who was cajoled into having an abortion, which makes one wonder why the two actions share the same list. I suppose both are demonstrations of how politicians exercise power over those that work for them – benignly and malignantly; and isn’t that what this hoo-hah is really about?

As we have seen, some of the descriptions of behaviour read like stage directions from a sketch on ‘The Benny Hill Show’, which again underlines the error in throwing the trivial in with the far more worrying allegations; it elevates one to a level it doesn’t warrant and diminishes the seriousness of the other. But, as the minor incidents outnumber the major ones on the list, maybe jumbling them all up was the idea; maybe this is a means of enabling those under threat from the list to dismiss it and survive the scandal because the entire dodgy dossier could be discredited as having blown everything out of all proportion. In fact, the leaking of the list could even be viewed as a pre-emptive red herring to derail a proper investigation into the few allegations present that are a bit extreme for your average ‘Carry On’ movie. But it might just be too late now.

© The Editor

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FRIENDS AND COMRADES

Anyone who happens to be a member of that facsimile family known as Facebook will be aware it has a multitude of purposes depending who’s using it; for me, its use is almost exclusively as a method of communication in the form of messaging friends and acquaintances who not only live in different parts of the country, but (in some cases) different parts of the world. It’s quicker than a letter and cheaper than a phone-call, so I can’t complain. Some people I know use it as a virtual speakerphone, asking a question out loud and provoking replies from others who are also seemingly on permanent standby to receive incoming messages at any hour of the day. Then there are others I know who – bereft of a shit-filter – employ it as a platform for their nauseating narcissism, announcing to anyone in the area that their period has begun or that their children are the greatest gift ever to be bestowed upon the planet. Then again, being a little more generous, one might conclude some users are simply lonely and need someone to talk to or require an endorsement that they’re important – something they maybe don’t get in the real world.

There’s a certain mindset where FB posts are concerned too; anything that challenges the narrow consensus the medium has established will be met with stony silence and an absent of ‘likes’. There’s very much a typical FB post guaranteed a predictably euphoric response, usually one that taps into whatever is trending and picks the ‘right’ (i.e. communally agreed) side in an argument. The newsfeed section, which contains the posts of those listed as one’s FB friends, is chock-full of crap most of the time and informs you – in case you weren’t paying attention – that one of your FB sisters has made ‘100 friends’ in 2017 so far! Friend, like love, is a word I myself use sparingly; its overuse on Facebook tends to devalue it somewhat, but it’s all part of the community conspiracy to make users believe we’re all in it together.

The newsfeed section also contains endless sponsored posts, which are either ads cynically capitalising on a ‘like’ from some point in the past (dressed-up to look deceptively chummy) or petitions similarly geared towards previous tastes. Most of these I personally scroll past in the same way I don’t pay attention to billboards on the street; you can’t avoid them, so you ignore them. It would appear the Facebook overlords do too.

Before, during and after last year’s US Presidential Election campaign, it has been claimed 80,000 of these sponsored posts infiltrated the newsfeed of FB users who were eligible to vote; some posed as genuine accounts and were supposedly designed to influence floating voters. 126 million American FB users were exposed to them, and it’s alleged they emanated from a company linked to the Kremlin. Did they seriously influence voting, though? Only if the trolls aimed their sneaky missives at the same kind of uneducated people who voted Leave in the EU Referendum, as helpfully pointed out by Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman, perhaps.

This information has been released by the Dark Lord Zuckerberg’s corporation ahead of a Senate hearing into possible Russian interference in the 2016 campaign as Facebook, along with Google and Twitter, sends its lawyers to Washington. As for the two other online big-guns, Google says Russian trolls uploaded over a thousand ‘political videos’ to YouTube via 18 different channels; meanwhile, Twitter suspended 2,752 accounts it claims were traced to the Internet Research Agency in Russia, responsible for over 130,000 tweets between September and November last year. However, I think a little scepticism is required where the claims of both are concerned.

In many cases, Twitter accounts can be suspended for the most innocuous of reasons – usually if they don’t tow a certain premeditated line, particularly on specific issues of a political, religious or ‘social justice’ bent – and there are glaring inconsistencies as to what one can and can’t get away with saying that support this truism. Similarly, recent clampdowns on YT videos that don’t adhere to unwritten rules on the same sort of subjects suggest dubious, unnecessary censorship if the poster expresses opinions that don’t chime with the online consensus. When it comes to Facebook, the guilty accounts named and shamed undoubtedly had an agenda, but if that agenda was pro-Trump, how was it any different from traditional Republican media mouthpieces that have been broadcasting such an agenda for years?

The occasionally…er…unrestrained nature of social media in comparison to television or the press distinguishes it from both and means opinions are more raw and less polished than the established outlets of an older vintage. Therefore, Fox News aside, any FB account leaning towards the right will inevitably play upon the beliefs that fuel the right and will do so in a visceral manner that TV, mindful of its sponsors and advertisers, will shy away from. As when MPs over here momentarily exit their cocoons during a campaign and are shocked to find the hustings contain angry members of the public that Westminster keeps them away from, some of the voices that speak on social media are loud, uncompromising and often ugly; but as politicians now avoid public meetings that haven’t been choreographed and crammed with the party faithful, where else can the electorate make themselves heard?

Some of the FB accounts alleged to have stemmed from Russian trolls were in the guise of beloved left causes like Black Lives Matter, whereas another that purported to promote Women’s History Month was widely retweeted before its platform was large enough to begin spinning yarns that the Clinton campaign had received KKK money. This was the point when it began to look a little suspect; and while I’ve no doubt that many of the accused accounts were probably the work of mischievous trolls, we need to be careful lumping the authentic in with the fake just because the authentic might come from a political perspective that contradicts the given one online.

© The Editor

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THE TWITS

Twitter does have something of a reputation as an online asylum for the angry, unhinged and immature, and on occasions this reputation is undoubtedly deserved; whilst some may derive enjoyment from petty playground name-calling, I had enough of that at school. The ‘evils’ of Cyberspace discourse are never far from tabloid headlines, and the kind of moral panic once reserved for musical movements such as Punk Rock or Acid House is today more likely to be aimed at social media; the powers-that-be rarely miss a chance to sweep their own failings under the carpet by attributing society’s ills to the internet. Google is already policing YouTube now, having bowed to pressure from government under the dubious pretext that the video forum is a refuge for Jihadi vloggers; and every teary-eyed second-division celebrity to share a daytime TV sofa with a simpering host doesn’t take long before she wails about being a target of trolls during her fifteen minutes in the spotlight.

As with every medium, however, it often takes a patient sift through the surface slurry to discover the gems that make it worth investing in. Spoof Twitter accounts of household names, if done well, are one of the narrow channels in which satire staggers on in the face of increased censorship and a rush to take offence with more traditional media (which has responded by waving the white flag at pressure groups). They serve a purpose in puncturing the pomposity and self-righteous proclamations of annoyingly ubiquitous talking heads whose omnipotence on TV discussion shows and in the pages of broadsheets sometimes make one wonder what their job descriptions actually are.

It’s tempting to wonder if Twitter had existed in the twentieth century what form spoof accounts of the equivalent irritants would have taken; imagine a Malcolm Muggeridge spoof account, or a Sir Gerald Nabarro one. This thought occurred to me a couple of days ago when I was directed to a 1971 edition of Radio 4’s evergreen debating society, ‘Any Questions?’; the subject under discussion was commercial radio and whether or not the BBC’s monopoly of the airwaves should end. One of the guests who was vehemently opposed to the idea was described as a journalist, and though the programme was transmitted at the height of the ‘Permissive’ era, this snooty unknown sounded as if she’d been transplanted from the 1920s – pure Nancy Mitford. What a wonderful spoof Twitter account she could have inspired.

But it’s not as though we’re short of condescending, self-appointed experts when it comes to making up the numbers on the ‘Any Questions?’ panel in 2017, and these are sitting ducks for the spoof Twitter account. One such account goes by the name of ‘Owen Joans’, which accurately parodies the Gerry Anderson puppet socialist and Grauniad columnist who pops up with tiresome regularity on the telly. Owen Joans describes himself as ‘Working class hero, intellectual lightweight, Oxbridge, Faux Northern accent and #religionofpeace advocate. Retweets all sycophants.’ There’s one final – and fairly crucial – word at the end of Owen Joans’ brief biog, and that’s ‘Parody’. A pity Bradford West MP Naz Shah didn’t notice that earlier this week.

You may recall Ms Shah was briefly suspended from the Labour Party last year for making anti-Semitic comments online and had to make a grovelling apology in the Commons that was reminiscent in its absence of sincerity of a child being forced by its mother to say sorry for kicking a football at a neighbour’s window. Having already criticised her ‘disgraced’ Labour sister Sarah Champion for saying out loud what many felt on the subject of the Rotherham grooming scandal, Shah’s scramble to be seen as the biggest box-ticker on the backbenches saw her retweet and ‘like’ a comment from the Owen Joans account that placed her hot on the heels of Jess Phillips in the race to decide who is the thickest Labour MP.

The comment in question was ‘Those abused girls in Rotherham and elsewhere just need to shut their mouths. For the good of #diversity!’ One hardly needs to be a regular reader of the middle section of Private Eye to recognise a piss-take when one sees it, but a far-from bright button like Naz Shah can’t be expected to distinguish between pastiche and the genuine article. And she didn’t. Only when her embarrassing error was pointed out did Shah delete the retweet and unlike the post, but by then it was too late. The whole thing had been endlessly retweeted and Shah’s spokeswoman was furiously attempting to emphasise the retweet had been a genuine mistake that was rectified in a matter of minutes.

The head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Rebecca Hilsenrath stated the bleedin’ obvious by saying Naz Shah ‘should know better’ and added ‘We need to keep the victims of these horrific crimes at the heart of the debate and always remember that diversity is not served by silence.’ To be honest, though, I wouldn’t have expected anything else from such a vacuum of intelligence as Naz Shah; and Owen Joans, whoever he – or she – may be, has been thrust onto the front pages as a result of one dim MP’s desperate desire to cling onto the diversity bandwagon as her ticket to the frontbench.

The actual Owen Jones, along with his fellow humourless online narcissists JK Rowling, Lily Allen, Gary Lineker and dozens of others, set themselves up for a Twitter fall with every tweet; they provide endless open goals for those that are quite tired of being lectured at by people who regard their fame and fortune as some form of degree in human rights that gives them the authority to tell the rest of us why they’re right and we’re wrong. They need a good satirical kicking, and if every other medium is too scared to put the boot in, at least Twitter when in the hands of the wittily mischievous can provide that function. For now, anyway.

© The Editor

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GROWING-UP IN PUBLIC

One of the many dreaded factors in introducing one’s boy/girlfriend to one’s mother has always been ‘the potty picture’. The best tea-set being dusted down and mum bizarrely transforming into an air hostess when serving it is an uncomfortable enough experience; but if the new other half passes muster, chances are the childhood photo album will then be excavated. And, naturally, every childhood photo album opens with a baby sat on a potty. Why do mothers feel the need to a) capture a crap on camera and b) show it to one’s partner decades later? It remains a perplexing aspect of parenting that non-parents like me will always be mystified by. Perhaps it’s a symbolic surrender of emotional ownership and an acknowledgement that the other half will at some point in the relationship see said partner on the loo too. As a portrait of man and woman’s mutual vulnerability, sitting on the loo is probably a greater leveller than death.

As horrific as this handover ceremony has been for generations, the one saving grace of it has been that the ritual takes place behind closed doors, only endured by those present in the room. Not for the first time, be thankful the visual documentation of your formative years was restricted to the Kodak Brownie or (at a push) the Super-8 cine-camera. Imagine you’d been born on the cusp of the millennium or immediately thereafter. The potty picture would be the opening image in your online gallery of embarrassment, shared with, if not necessarily the world, then your mother’s circle of family and friends and – as a consequence – their offspring and their family and friends.

Eight out of ten mothers (probably) think their little angel is inherently superior to any other child on the planet, so are instinctively compelled to broadcast this information to anyone within earshot; backstage at the Miss World contest must seem like a veritable picture of communal harmony compared to the level of competitiveness at the school-gates. The Yummy Mummy movement, bolstered by the celebrity mother industry, daytime TV, dozens of websites, and a plethora of ‘How To…’ guidebooks, has turned this traditional rivalry between mums into a deadly game of one-upmanship that now has an additional dimension that takes it above and beyond the parochial battlefield – social media.

Twenty-first century boys and girls are the first generation to have their entire lives so far uploaded to a worldwide database, using the lead character in ‘The Truman Show’ as a blueprint for growing-up. It’s not a pleasant thought, especially when one considers they’ve had no say in the matter. From the initial ‘aaah’ shot to appear on Facebook barely days (or in some cases, hours) after the sprog’s arrival all the way to the ‘first day at school’ shot, the internet has been utilised as cyber apron-strings by mothers too blinded by their perfect child to appreciate the future ramifications of their actions.

Another element of crass Americanisation to pollute British culture, the aforementioned ‘first day at school’ shot takes its place alongside even greater demands on the parental coffers such as the insidious establishing of ‘the prom’ as an end-of-term beauty contest; not only does the latter introduce a new financial burden previously reserved for Catholic parents and their communion dresses, it also places pressure upon the children themselves. It was bad enough when this alien tradition infiltrated high schools; the fact it has now seeped into the primary school social calendar means mothers now have yet more opportunities to earn online bragging points whilst bankrupting themselves in the process.

The generation who welcomed the internet into their lives from adolescence onwards have already become accustomed to documenting every aspect of their existence online, but the generation coming up behind them, who will have never known a time without it, have had it thrust upon them as a normal state of affairs. It’s too early to say how this will shape their self-perception in years to come, but the threat of these images remaining accessible for eternity was something as worrying as Facebook’s refusal to allow the accounts of the deceased to be deleted – until, it would appear, now.

Yesterday it was announced by Matt Hancock, Digital Minister (yes, that’s a real job title), that the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation laws are to be transferred onto the UK statute book in an overhaul of Britain’s own data protection laws. The most encouraging upshot of the proposals is that it should not only be easier for people to withdraw their consent for personal data to be shared online, but it should enable people to request the removal of childhood photographs uploaded by parents years before. In theory, this could spell the end of the potty photo’s online life.

Anyone well-versed enough in cyber practices will of course be aware that it’s hardly rocket-science to copy and paste an image from the internet, so the chances are some images can be uploaded over and over again in perpetuity; but at least the proposals in this new bill might provide the unfortunate cyber star with some legal clout to get his or her own back on Mommie Dearest. The right of the individual in question to upload childhood photos of their own choice is something those of us who grew up in private already have – as the image illustrating this post demonstrates. And I will always defend that seven-year-old’s right to have worn those trousers.

© The Editor

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KORAN ABOUT THE HOUSE

I’ve never been in a mosque, but I’ve never been in a synagogue either. Although I was raised in a secular household, I am familiar with one branch of the House of God on account of having to attend endless childhood weddings and christenings; these were churches of the austere Protestant variety, however, rather than the camp Catholic model. I’ve no idea if the ambience is as chilly and, frankly, boring in the showrooms of other denominations, but with all my C-of-E education coming via the dullest lessons at school, I think my agnostic outlook was sealed from an early age. Drawing a picture of Pinky and Perky at the Crucifixion in the infants was probably a telling indication that I recognised a fairy tale when I heard one.

On last night’s edition of ‘Question Time’, a member of the audience brandished a leaflet he swore blind he’d been handed at an open day at Didsbury Mosque, at which the father of Salman Ramadan Abedi, the Manchester bomber, was once a regular. What he read from the leaflet sounded like classic Radical Islamic propaganda, denouncing western immorality in a language that implied such immorality was deserving of severe punishment. A veteran of the same mosque sitting a few rows down denied he could have received such literature at Didsbury, but the man was adamant.

The general impression given is that there does seem to be something of an ‘It weren’t me, guv; I weren’t even there’ culture prevailing through many of the mosques that have harboured the hate preachers and fundamentalist shit-stirrers in the UK over recent years. Either nobody saw or heard anything or their eyes turned blind through choice; however, not knowing the interior structure of mosques, I’ve no idea if the guilty parties retreat into special recruitment rooms. But the climate of fear when it comes to informing in many Muslim communities seems almost reminiscent of Sicily or even Belfast during the Troubles; events in Rotherham and Rochdale appear to back up this Mafia-like control the worst offenders have over the populace and why the police steer clear.

Then again, it has emerged that Salman Ramadan Abedi’s extremist views and support for ISIS had aroused enough suspicion within his own community that he had been reported to an anti-terrorism hotline, something I imagine would put those who reported him at considerable risk should they be identified. As a result of these calls, Abedi was known to the security services; but police manpower being deployed to keep an eye on potential Jihadists would severely stretch the police manpower required for historic fishing parties into the sex lives of dead celebrities and politicians, so it’s no wonder the likes of Salman Ramadan Abedi could further his ambitions free from surveillance. Many police officers may have been laid off in the wake of Government cuts to the country’s forces, but deciding the priorities for those that remain is something the police themselves have to answer for.

The internet has also resurfaced in the blame game this week. Online outlets such as Facebook and Twitter certainly operate on curious moral grounds. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine had her FB account suspended after posting a photo of herself holding a Supertramp LP over her chest; the sleeve of said album featured nothing but a pair of tits on it. Similarly, the entertaining Twitter ‘Whores of Yore’ account initially had a profile pic which was a portrait of Nell Gwyn showing a nipple; the painting hangs in the National Gallery for all age-groups to see, but was evidently too outrageous for cyberspace, and the offending nipple had to be removed for the account to continue. On the other hand, Facebook and Twitter don’t appear to have similar problems with inflammatory language or violent videos promoting opinions that somewhat contradict the Utopian New Age worldview shared by Mark Zuckerberg and his fellow visionaries.

So, yes, mosques and websites have been under the spotlight yet again this week, though few have mentioned HM prisons, which seem to be the real recruitment centres when it comes to home-grown terrorists. The escalating convictions for those planning terrorist attacks since 7/7 means many prisons have a far higher Muslim population today than has been the case in the past, and the brutally alienating regime behind bars means birds of a feather naturally flock together.

A young Muslim prisoner who may be serving a sentence that has no Radical Islamic element to it is befriended by another Muslim prisoner who recommends one way to stay safe from the psychos, the druggies and those who take a shine to a pretty face is to spend his time exclusively with other Muslim prisoners. Segregation and indoctrination ensue, and said prisoner is released with a head pumped full of Paradise and those oh-so alluring virgins.

Armed police and even bloody soldiers – both of whom have had their numbers severely depleted by the same Government that now requires their services to enhance ‘Project Fear’ for the public – are currently highly visible on the streets of Britain; but they’re guarding the stable door when the proverbial horse has already bolted. No wannabe Jihadist would contemplate an ‘incident’ when there’s such a show of force; better to strike when nobody is looking. No matter how heavy an armed presence Bobby and Tommy present this weekend, the only strike I expect to see at Wembley tomorrow will emanate from the foot of Diego Costa.

© The Editor

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DEATH BY FACEBOOK

Anyone reading this who happens to have a Facebook account will be familiar with the fact that some members of one’s ‘friends’ list are prone to issuing an endless stream of posts on a daily basis that clog-up the newsfeed section of the medium; indeed, some are so relentless that it often requires several minutes of scrolling down before other posts can be sighted. In many cases, I’ve been forced to ‘un-follow’ a few FB friends in order that I can see what those who don’t post dozens of items a day are up to. For a small minority, it seems Facebook is an addiction they can’t refrain from. At one time, in my early FB days, I used to comment a lot because I wasn’t on any other social media forum; today, I tend to reserve it for posting links to my own work, whether from here or YouTube, though there is something of an unspoken conservatism on Facebook that confronts any challenge to the preconceived norm with silence and an absence of ‘likes’, so I am consciously selective.

A lot of my FB friends are what I suppose the Sun would refer to as ‘old-school lefties’, which is perfectly fine; there’s room for all of us online. I’m therefore exposed to an abundance of shots from the constant post-Brexit marches protesting against this or that, certain PC pieces characteristic of the worst humourless aspects of the left, links to Billy Bragg tweets or ‘I’m backing Jezza’-type declarations and so forth. It’s everyone’s right to post whatever the hell they like on their own Facebook wall, so even if I don’t agree wholeheartedly with every post of this nature, there are nevertheless valid critiques of Government policies re the homeless or welfare reform that I access and do indeed find myself agreeing with.

Depending how varied one’s FB friends list is, however, there can be an echo-chamber aspect to it that occasionally provokes the mischief-maker in me; the temptation to post something along the lines of ‘I think Theresa May is doing a really good job’ merely to shit-stir can be irresistible, though I tend not to bother. Life’s too short for a shower of vitriol and a mass ‘un-friending’ assault. However, the glut of celebratory posts when Margaret Thatcher died, for example – whilst demonstrating that socialist elephants never forget – invited anyone daring not to enter into the party spirit to risk becoming a social media pariah.

Not that, say, Twitter is any different; express an opinion that contradicts the consensus of the right (which appears to dominate Twitter) and the reaction is equally hostile. Anyone looking for a balanced middle-ground along the lines of the Independent at its print version best should generally avoid cyberspace.

The ‘anything goes’ partisan elements of social media have received a severe test today, though. Mark Sands, a 51-year-old anxiety-sufferer and prescribed anti-depressant user from Eastbourne, has been gaoled for four months for the crime of making alleged death threats against his local MP, Tory backbencher Caroline Ansell. Responding to Government cuts on disability benefits – a relevant complaint considering Mr Sands himself stood to lose out as a result – he posted the following on Facebook: ‘If you vote to take £30 off my money, I will personally come round to your house…and stab you to death.’

Mr Sands added to this outburst with such catchy slogans as ‘End poverty, kill a Tory now’ and ‘Kill your local MP.’ It’s not exactly a seditionist manifesto guaranteed to provoke a revolution, and to be honest it’s not really that different from some of the things I’ve seen on social media, particularly Facebook; but did it really warrant a prison sentence, let alone a trial in a court of law? Way back at the peak of his early 80s pop star status, Gary Numan once received a live bullet through the post. That’s what I’d regard as a pretty serious death-threat; but anti-Tory sentiments – even if admittedly crude ones – on Facebook?

Not everyone is gifted with an eloquent means of articulating their anger at a particular Government policy that either personally affects them or their social demographic, and many resort to basic insults to get their point across. Was Mark Sands’ outburst worse than your average ‘Evil Tory f**kers’ rant familiar to many on FB? Brighton Magistrates’ Court obviously believed so, as did the target of his ire, Caroline Ansell.

Not that Mr Sands was especially subtle in his anger; posting a photo of Jo Cox alongside the words ‘sawn-off 2.2’ won’t win you many recruits to your cause in the current climate. The police charged him with a crime they said was a ‘credible threat’, though whenever a policeman uses the word ‘credible’, I find it hard not to cynically add the suffix ‘…and true’ to it.

When Tony Blair was at the peak of his powers, social media was still effectively in its infancy, with the first visible backlash from those who had supported him in 1997 coming via the NME’s famous front cover recycling Johnny Rotten’s ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ quote around a year after the first New Labour Election victory. Had Facebook or Twitter existed back then, one imagines the level of fury on social media would have been comparable to what the current administration receives today.

Caroline Ansell may have been unnerved by what she perceived as a genuine threat to her life, but if she was well-versed enough in social media she would have known those who reserve their incandescence for Facebook tend to exhaust it on Facebook.

© The Editor

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THE SOCIAL CONTRACT

Liverpool bans The Sun. Victory! Milo whatisname’s book is withdrawn before publication. Victory! Katie Hopkins’ wings are clipped by legal action. Victory! Of course, there’s an easier way to express one’s distaste with all of these ‘offensive’ individuals and institutions that thrive on attention without trying to ban them – ignore ‘em. Loathe as I am to reference Sir Alex Ferguson in the positive, one nugget of wisdom nevertheless emerged from the former Don of Old Trafford when he looked back on the rough ride he was receiving from the media during his difficult early tenure at the helm; his most illustrious predecessor Sir Matt Busby rang to see how things were going; when Ferguson replied the press were on his back, Busby responded with simple logic – ‘Why read ‘em?’ Pity so few today can react the same way.

Following in the footsteps of Lily Allen, Owen Jones is the latest name to flounce off social media in a huff; granted, receiving online abuse is especially unpleasant, but it’s worth remembering that one is not legally obliged to maintain a permanent presence in cyberspace. Back in the day when household names could be inundated with traditional Hate Mail, i.e. coming in the form of a letter delivered by the postman, there was little one could do; having a fixed abode means anyone can reach you via these methods. Unless one decides to seal up the letterbox, that toxic message is going to get to you, however vile. The same doesn’t apply online.

Of course, a man with a media profile, both mainstream and social, cannot just switch off his mobile or avoid the internet when on his laptop; nor can he spurn the invites to ‘Newsnight’ or ‘Question Time’; the publicity drug is too embedded by then. There has to be a grand announcement akin to the one DLT made when he jumped the Radio 1 ship before being pushed; it’s virtually written into the contract that slipping away from social media can’t be undertaken without a press statement. Lest we forget, however, being on Twitter or Facebook isn’t a job; it’s supposed to be a pastime. Somebody whose weekends might consist of going fishing doesn’t need to contact the Daily Mail or the BBC should they decide not to bother anymore.

Social media has a habit of making people feel important in a way that previous pastimes didn’t; in theory, it provides a platform giving a voice to those whose voices had an extremely limited range in the past. It also enables those who already have a prominent voice in more established arenas to extend their reach whilst simultaneously bringing them into contact with audiences whose only point of contact before would have been the radio phone-in or the humble letter; in the latter case, the likelihood of a reply was a rarity, as anyone who has written to a famous name they admire will know only too well.

When said famous names take to Twitter in particular, the guaranteed millions of followers or thousands of ‘likes’ and re-tweets in a matter of days of joining can bolster the ego immeasurably, increasing the recipient’s sense of self-importance and becoming a useful cyber CV when seeking evidence of their significance. Remedying the age-old insecurities of those desperate to be loved is something that can be enhanced by the ‘virtual friends’ they collect online, and it is an undoubtedly effective illusion.

As an example, an absence of comments on one of these here blogs can easily lead one to feel it ain’t worth bothering with anymore; utterly ridiculous, I know, but if one has received a glut of comments on the previous post, it’s unavoidable wondering what one has done wrong this time round. Why is nobody responding to this post when they responded so enthusiastically to the last one? Why don’t they love me anymore?! Such thoughts say more about the author than the reader, but the satisfaction of a dozen positive responses can be cancelled by a solitary negative; like the actor who can only remember his bad reviews, social media in its numerous forms is a dangerous addiction for anyone who masks their fragile ego in the thick skin of the online identity. The level of one’s dependence on it (not to mention the size of the audience) is reflected in how one reacts when it turns sour.

Therefore, I can to an extent understand how those whose followers and re-tweeters far outnumber my own little cult coterie react with such theatrical histrionics when they find a sweet-scented bouquet of relentless praise sometimes contains the odd viper. The shock of someone not only disagreeing with them, but spewing limitless vitriol whilst doing so, can shatter the false premise of the ‘all girls together’ echo chamber that social media generates when everyone tells you how great you are. But, again, it’s not compulsory; you can actually not go online if you want.

I only took a few days off from here because I’d posted for five straight days and I do also have other things to attend to that are not dependent on cyberspace. Unlike the more well-known users of the medium, I am not wired to a mobile, programmed to respond to every tweet every few seconds, incapable of making a move without first checking what’s happening on that little screen. It can be quite liberating not bothering for a few days, and what one can be doing in the meantime – if involving real people – reminds the user that there’s more to life than this. Don’t get me wrong – I do like this or I simply wouldn’t bother; but it helps to have something else as well.

© The Editor

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TROLLING STONES

hells-granniesJust over a decade ago, when I was still paying attention, a pair of albums appeared from nowhere that seemed to suggest two new exciting, individual and idiosyncratic voices had arrived to give a much-needed kick up the arse to an increasingly stale music scene. Eleven years later, one of those voices has been silenced and the other appears to spend most of her time digging an online hole that grows deeper with each passing day. I’m talking, of course, about Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen.

Whereas ‘Back To Black’ was an unexpectedly dark diversion into classic soul that brilliantly scuppered Winehouse’s potential membership of the Radio 2 Easy Listening Jazz Club alongside the likes of Jamie Cullum, ‘Alright, Still’ was a cut-and-paste mosaic of vintage Ska and Reggae shot through with the kind of original lyrical wit sorely lacking from the vapid nursery rhymes of most female pop stars. Indeed, Allen was compared more to The Streets’ Mike Skinner than she was to the male-controlled marionettes or winsome singer-songwriters sharing the charts with her; image-wise, she also offered a refreshing alternative to the lap-dancer look that had become obligatory for so many of her contemporaries.

Allen quickly developed a reputation for a sharp tongue, and it was perhaps inevitable that music alone wouldn’t be enough of an outlet when it came to her evident talent for opening her mouth and not merely singing. After the initial praise and success that her debut album and its accompanying singles (particularly her chart-topping debut, ‘Smile’) brought, Allen then took a disappointing albeit prophetic turn by temporarily becoming a chat-show host on the frankly crap BBC3 series, ‘Lily Allen and Friends’; it looked as if she was in danger of turning into the middle-aged Cilla Black thirty years too early.

However, in 2008 she returned to the studio and produced her second album, ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’, a far slicker musical outing than her first. Although her lyrics retained their ability to challenge conservative pop conventions, there were moments, such as the anti-Dubya ‘Fuck You’, when she seemed to be settling for complacent name-calling. The album’s lead single, ‘The Fear’, was a prescient, barbed comment on celebrity culture, though she simultaneously appeared to be part of what she was attacking.

Music has regularly taken a periodical backseat in her career, often due to unhappy personal experiences such as a miscarriage, a stillbirth and being pursued by a stalker for seven years, something that eventually climaxed with a conviction, despite the inaction of the Met. Having led the way by utilising nascent social media (particularly MySpace) to build a fan-base before she launched her professional recording career, Allen was a natural Twitter user from the off, and it currently seems the Twittersphere is the location into which Lily Allen appears to divert the majority of her energy.

At one time, the music press would serve as the mouthpiece for rent-a-quote musicians, with everyone from John Lennon and John Lydon to Morrissey and Noel Gallagher using it to issue statements about their fellow performers and the world in general, sparking debate and division amongst music fans. Now that the music press no longer exists, social media fulfils the same function for their outspoken successors, and Lily Allen has continued to use it while her career seems to be undergoing yet another Sabbatical.

Like many famous faces in the heated post-Brexit climate, Lily Allen’s opinions on Twitter have dragged her into endless online arguments of the kind even unlikely agitators such as chairperson of the ‘Harry Potter’ industry, JK Rowling, and ex-footballer and crisp salesman Gary Lineker have set themselves up for over the past few months. She was notably vocal with regards to the migrant crisis when it occupied the headlines last year and now she is under-fire again following her lazy demonisation of Britain’s elderly population, adopting the same petulant attitude as another hereditary celebrity, Giles Coren. According to Lily Allen – and I quote – ‘Can’t you see this country is being taken over by hate extremist pensioners?’ I can’t say I’d noticed myself, but the images evoked by the prospect seem oddly reminiscent of Python’s ‘Hell’s Grannies’ sketch.

Apparently, Allen posted a poll asking which social demographic posed the greater threat to the UK – Muslims or the aforementioned senile delinquents – a blatantly obvious own-goal gift to serial trolls and Twitter mischief-makers; when the results of said poll didn’t go the way she anticipated, Allen momentarily stormed off Twitter in a huff. She hired a friend to take over in her absence and attend to ‘a hate blocking spree’, which basically means deleting anyone who disagrees with or questions our Lily’s pronouncements. The sensible option would surely have been to simply give Twitter a rest for a bit, but it would appear an online presence is today required 24/7 or everyone assumes you’re dead.

Twitter to me is the same as YouTube or Facebook; I use it as a PR platform for my work. I’ve never once used it to air an opinion on anything that can’t be expressed in a blog or a video. Lily Allen is more than capable of making her feelings felt via the medium of music; that she is choosing to spurn what she does best in favour of locking horns with others who also can’t live outside of cyberspace is surrendering to an argument you can never win. These people do it for a living, Lily; you don’t. They’ve got nothing else going on in their lives; you have. Why not capitalise on that and rise above the pit instead of languishing in it? Otherwise, there’s little to distinguish them from you.

© The Editor

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THE DESCENT OF WOMAN

taraAlthough the common theory tends to go that the kind of vapid, all-surface-no substance role model directly uploaded to the DNA of the western world’s young women didn’t exist until the age of Instagram and other online mediums, it’s worth recognising each development has its roots somewhere further back in time. In the case of the female evolutionary scale that has led us all the way down to a ghastly Bride of Frankenstein such as Kim Kardashian, we need to rewind a couple of decades and remember that this is a phenomenon that existed before widespread digital democracy created the lemon-sucking Facebook profile picture.

The death of one-time international socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson at the age of 45 from an apparent brain tumour, whilst sad in someone so young, served to remind most (I would imagine) of her existence. If one is old enough, her death could provoke the memory of how it was once impossible to open a paper or switch on the TV without seeing her face. Twenty years ago, she was one of the so-called ‘It Girls’ that kept the paparazzi occupied when their sojourns in Paris tunnels had backfired somewhat. Nocturnal creatures who only came to life at midnight – like Cinderella in reverse – the It Girls were party animals whose sole role seemed to be to live out their lives across tabloid pages, their coked-up hedonism occasionally interrupted via their season-tickets at the Priory before resuming the high life and then eventually being snapped-up by flabby-faced old rockers old enough to be their fathers and turned into breeding machines. And that was the 90s.

Cometh the new century, cometh the new breed; whilst the 90s It Girls largely emanated from wealthy dynasties, their post-millennium successors were of humbler stock, working-class girls made good. Their influence filtered down to the masses in a way Tara Palmer-Tomkinson’s posh blueprint never could. Once the 90s party was over, Tara and her contemporaries Tamara Beckwith and the Hervey sisters (Lady Victoria and Lady Isabella) found the only way to maintain a high-profile was to join TV’s burgeoning celebrity circuit, making up the numbers on renowned turd-polishing exercises such as ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’, ‘Come Dine with Me’, ‘Celebrity Masterchef’, ‘The Farm’, ‘The Jump’, ‘Love Island’, ‘Dancing on Ice’ et al. Trading on their past notoriety and their chronic lack of evident talent, it seemed an obvious progression.

Their celebrated equivalents in the 60s already had careers before receiving a similar level of attention and labelled as exotic appendages to male movers and shakers – Jean Shrimpton and Twiggy were models, Marianne Faithful was a singer, Jane Asher was an actress – but the 90s It Girls had more in common with their immediate predecessors, the late 80s Wild Children such as Mandy Smith and Amanda de Cadenet. Looks and attitude that chimed with the mores of the moment sealed their success rather than an ability to do anything more challenging than could be achieved by your average shop-girl in Newcastle city centre on a Saturday night. Daddy’s credit card simply opened doors that were then out-of-bounds to those whose moment would come with the advent of reality television.

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson’s shambolic appearance on comedian Frank Skinner’s chat show in 1999, in which she seemed to be on another planet to the host, is one of those TV car-crashes that routinely feature alongside Sam Fox at the Brit Awards or endless Oliver Reed piss-ups on cheap and shoddy ‘100 Greatest/Worst’ compilation shows; but it acted as a reminder of how even rich 24-hour party people have a breaking point. I recall seeing it when it aired and feeling unexpectedly sorry for a young woman whose willingness to play the performing seal for the media would have unpleasant consequences both for her and for the young women to come.

By the first decade of the twenty-first century, appallingly exploitative programmes such as ‘Geordie Shore’ were already highlighting the pernicious effect the likes of Katie Price and Jodie Marsh were having on the mindset of young women who would never enjoy the material benefits of Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. Encouraged by manipulative middle-class television producers to out-gross each other in terms of profanity and promiscuity (puppet-masters who viewed them as a separate species in a manner that echoes the way David Attenborough analyses the animal kingdom), the gullible pawns in the freak show game that reality TV morphed into were the 90s It Girls reborn as council estate slappers.

Once the internet superseded television as the prime medium for youth interaction, the resurrected ethos of everything a young woman has to offer revolving around how she looks had become so entrenched that it gave birth to the synthetic images that continue to clog-up online discourse. Trading on the traditional insecurities teenage girls under a permanent spotlight that judges their merits solely on appearance are afflicted by, the rise of Facebook in particular requires a standard look in which a heavy dose of cosmetics and easily-available photographic trickery manufacture a strange, alien-like impression of the opposite sex that bears little relation to the reality. The emaciated bodies and what a girlfriend of mine refers to as ‘oversized lollipop heads’ have transformed the desired female frame into a unrealisable ideal that even Barbie would regard as impossible to achieve.

WAGs, Paris Hilton, Sheryl Cole, and the hideous Kardashian clan have taken what was once the province of a frivolous elite to which Tara Palmer-Tomkinson belonged and have remodelled it as a regressive role model that elevates appearance over intellect, reversing half-a-century of feminist advancement and returning the aspirations of our sisters, daughters and nieces to that of ensnaring a male partner by exaggerating physical feminine traits to a cartoonish level that any man with a semblance of taste would ironically run a mile from.

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and her ilk were having a good time when they were young because they could afford it and they knew they had nothing else in their armoury; that this good time happened to coincide with a post-Diana craving for Bright Young Things with nothing to say was pure serendipity. They weren’t to know that their excesses receiving out-of-proportion national coverage would lead to the next generation taking their lead as a dispiriting design for life.

© The Editor

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