Friday, May 29, 2015

So Long It's Been Good To Known You (5)

IX: "Values"

In an interview on Newsnight, Keir Starmer (who has sensibly decided that he doesn't want to be the one resigning on May 8th 2020) said the following: 

[People are saying] "we want an authentic debate about what Labour stands for". Really simple values, and we want to boil them down. Most people want a job that pays them properly, where they can be skilled up and get on. Most people want a house or a home where they can live with their immediate family.

Well, hang on a moment. 

Stop: think.

That's actually really sensible!

What does Labour stand for?

1: Everyone who wants a job should be able to get a job 

2: Everyone who has a job should be able to afford a house 

I'd vote for you on those two policies alone. 

And I guess, given five years, a favourable wind and no wars, a government could have a jolly good go at delivering on those two promises. Massive programme of house building, to make more houses available and to make the price of existing ones fall. (The Daily Mail would hate that, which would be another advantage.) Massive job creation scheme, especially in the house building industry, to move us towards full employment. Financial jiggery-pokery to reduce mortgage interest rates. Living wage defined as "the minimum you need to afford a mortgage on a basic house". Legal minimum wage increased to "living wage" level. Laws against landlords sitting on empty properties. New council estates with low, subsidized rents for people who can't get mortgages. Right-to-buy council houses, with a proviso that for every council house sold to a tenant, a new one is put up somewhere else. 

Dammit, Jim, it's a long shot but it just might work...

Sadly, I don't think hat this was what he meant.

I don't think he meant that a future Labour leader should pledge that if he becomes Prime Minister, everyone who wants a job can have a job and everyone who has a job can afford a house. I think he meant that Labour values should be that having a job and owning a house were good things.

Values is a slippery word. You can disbelieve in God and disagree with Jesus Christ's moral teaching, but still believe in Christian values. Her Majesty the Queen thinks that the English and the Saudi Arabians have common values: where "values" presumably means whatever is left over when trivial differences of opinion over letting ladies drive cars and stoning rape victims are disregarded. 

I don't think he meant "If I were Prime Minister, everyone would be able to afford a house of their own." I think he meant "If I were Prime Minister, I would encourage poor people to think 'Maybe one day if I'm very good I'll be be able to afford to have a house of my own, like the rich folks over there.' "

Thursday, May 28, 2015

So Long It's Been Good To Know You (4)

VIII: On Pizzas and Penguins

Tony Blair has a special relationship with the English language. He wrote a short essay in the Guardian on the morning after the election explaining what he thought had gone wrong. Most of us were left none the wiser.

"Second, the centre is not where you split the difference between progressive and conservative politics. It is where progressive politics gets the breadth of territory to allow it to own the future. The Labour project must always be one oriented to the future. We win when we understand the way the world is changing and make sense of how those changes can be shaped for the good of the people. We have to be the policy innovators, those seeking new and creative solutions to the problems our values impel us to overcome."

I take it that "progressive" politics means old fashioned Red Party stuff: "progressing" towards equality, at the expense of freedom, if necessary. I  get that the Very Red Party used to demand total equality, and was prepared to have a totalitarian state in order to bring that about; and the Very Blue Party wants total freedom even if that means orphans asking for more gruel and stealing handkerchiefs on behalf of sinister Jewish people. I get what "The Red Party should move to the Centre" means. It means "We've been asking for too much Equality. If we asked for a bit less Equality with a bit more Freedom, more people might vote for us, and that way at least we'd get a bit more Equality than we've got at the moment."

Maybe it's not that pragmatic. Maybe it's "In the olden days, we were wrong about how much Equality we wanted. We've changed our mind. We still want some Equality, but not quite so much as we thought we did."

But what does "the centre is where progressive politics gets the breadth of territory to own the future" mean?

I've tried to translate it into English:

"The centre doesn't mean that we should ask for less Equality and more Freedom; the centre means we should get exactly amount of Equality and Freedom that we were going to get anyway, which must be definition be the right amount".

I give up.

And what does it mean to "own" the future? Is he saying that everyone will one day believe in Sharing and Equality regardless of what the Labour Party does,  so we should just have to sit back and wait for it to happen? Or is he using "own" in an archaic, Shakespearean sense of "accept" or "concede".("I own that thou art an honest man"). Does he mean that the harsh reality is that Blue Party values — freedom at the expense of equality — are going to win the day, and the Red Party needs to accept that?

"We should all fight hard for the victory of the Party, because it is historically inevitable that the Party will be victorious whether we fight for it or not" - that kind of thing?

This fetishisation of "the Future" seems to be about the only thing that Blairites really believe in. Chuka Umunna (who, younger readers will remember, was at one time hotly tipped to be the next Prime Minister but three) said he wanted to reform the House of Lords, not because it was undemocratic, but because it was old-fashioned. He wanted to build some nice new modern Houses of Parliament like they have in Scotland not because the present buildings had a leaky roof and there was no internet access, but because they were "a relic". Old things bad. New things good. Bleat. Bleat.  

So "we need to seek new and creative solutions to the problems our values impel us to over come". "We need to solve problems" is so uncontroversial it's not worth saying. But what is a "new" solution or a "creative" solution? If my problem is a leaky tap, my solution is to fit a new washer, or, if I'm honest, to pay a man to fit a new washer. That's an old, uncreative solution, but it tends to work. Why look for a new one?

If my problem is that too many people are too poor, then the old, uncreative solutions are

1: Find them jobs;
2: Pay them higher wages if they have jobs
3: Pay them benefits is they don't have jobs
4: Provide them with public services so that being poor doesn't hurt so much.

Old or new, these are the only solutions which exist. Blair doesn't believe in them, because they smack of old-fashioned Red Party equality. But any new-creative solution will be the old solutions under a new name. Or, more likely, the new-creative solution will be to do nothing at all and pretend that the problem is going to go away.

But I think, as ever, it will be better to assume that Blair doesn't actually mean anything; that trying to tease meaning out of this kind of thing is a category mistake.

Fortunately, we have some of the people who have volunteered to lose to Boris Johnson in 2020 on hand to tell us what the Labour Party now believes in.

One word: aspirations.

Labour lost because Labour moved too far to the Left. Labour needs to appeal to the kinds of people who want to move out of their flat and get a nice house with a garden. Labour needs to appeal to the John Lewis couple. Labour needs to appeal to people who would like to do their shopping in Waitrose. Labour needs to be the party of aspiration.   

There is nothing wrong with aspiration. The secular saints of the Labour Party were paid six shillings a week and aspired so hard to be paid ten shillings a weak that they were exiled to Australia. Trade Unionism is full of people who aspired to be paid an extra pound a week. In the olden days Labour raised the school leaving age and introduced student grants and invented the Open University precisely for the benefit of stone masons from Wessex who aspired to learn Latin.

And there is nothing wrong with wanting to shop at Waitrose. They give you a free cup of coffee. Mind you, the idea that Waitrose is posh and Sainsbury's is common is largely a matter of branding. You can shop as cheaply as one as at the other. They do price-matching. But having a Waitrose in your village is something that people regard as moving up in the world. The deranged Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones thought that it was particularly tragic that a lady from Bristol should have been horribly murdered after buying a frozen pizza from Waitrose. Buying a frozen pizza from Waitrose shows that she was hoping for a better life.

I, on the other hand, have just bought a frozen pizza from the Co-op. So I'm presumably better off dead.

(My Mum would be sad if I didn't point out that the people who invented the Co-op are heroes of the Labour Party as well: lower middle class workers who aspired to eat flour that wasn't adulterated with chalk and indeed to be buy tea and sugar and other luxuries they simply couldn't afford at the company stores.)

NOTE: The John Lewis couple are the ones who bought their little boy a toy Penguin costing £69 for Christmas, even though the whole logic of the advert showed that a knitted one costing 50p at the Women's Institute sale of work would have done the job just as well. £69 is an interesting figure: it happens to be the exact amount of money that the government says that a person who has chosen to do the wrong thing and be poor needs to live on (food, gas and electric, TV license, bus fairs, the lot) for a whole week.

The Nasty Party regard well-off socialists as class traitors. If a doctor or an academic or a businessman, or, god forbid, a popular entertainer, says that he thinks that everyone, including him, should pay slightly more tax so there can be nicer schools, nicer hospitals, nicer libraries and nicer money for people who fall on hard times then the Nasty Party accuses her of being a champagne socialist. 

All this chatter about aspiration seems to accept this false dichotomy. Aspiration as opposed to equality. If you have nice things, you can't be in favour of sharing. If you are in favour of sharing, then you shouldn't be allowed nice things. You say that the unemployed should get a more generous allowance, and yet I notice that you yourself are wearing shoes on your feet? Hypocrite! 

You can buy a nice bottle of champagne from Sainsbury's for the price of a movie ticket.

Ed Miliband wanted to introduce a 50% rate of tax, kicking in at £150,000. Some people think that this means that he wanted to take £75,000 out of the pockets of higher earners. (People whose knowledge of British Economic history comes primarily from Beatles lyrics honestly believe that in the 1960s a person earning the average wages of £16 per week gave £15.20 to the government.) But of course the "additional" tax rate is only paid on money you earn above £150K. A person earning £170,000 under the Tories pays a total of £60505 income tax; whereas under Labour he would have paid £61505. (Rounding to the nearest pecentage point, that's 36% under the Tories, but 36% under Labour.) I don't say that he couldn't have had a nice night out on that extra thousand quid. But "I couldn't afford to live on those tax rates I would have to leave the country and become a tax exile."  

Do me a favour.

Similarly, the so called Mansion Tax proposed charging people £3,000 per year if their house was worth more than £2,000,000. Property prices are still increasing at around 6% per year so we are talking about a person hearing that he'll have to put £3,000 of the £120,000 he earns by sitting around doing nothing into the common pot and screaming  "The commies are going to make me destitute." 

Dah-ling, you can't by a SHED for two million pounds in London.

The suggestion that these very modest tax increases represented a lurch to the left; that they amounted to Marxism; that "the minute someone starts to do well, Labour comes along, takes all their money  and gives it to a welfare layabout" is obvious nonsense.

The notion that three weeks ago Labour was against "aspiration" is simply silly. (Ed Miliband carved "Higher living standards for working families" and "A country where the next generation can do better than the last" into a great big stone tablet, for goodness sake.) The idea that anyone might have said "Well, I might have gone for that promotion, but because I'll have to pay £250 more on each £1,000 over £150,000 I shan't bother" is unhinged.

The sacrificial victims are saying that Miliband veered to far to the left simply because that is what the right wing press said. The Sun and The Mail christened him Red Ed and said his daddy was a commie. But get this: they would have said that anyway. They can drop the mansion tax and the 50p tax rate and support all the means test and be horrible to prisoners and foreigners and the press will continue to denounce them as a bunch of Marxist traitors. They can demand the pillory and the ducking stool tomorrow and the press will still say they are soft on crime. The press hates the Labour Party because the press is owned by the kinds of people who are rich enough to own newspapers. The press hates the BBC because television is much more interesting and fun unbiased than print media, and because billionaire newspaper owners are also billionaire satellite TV channel owners. Yet the the sacrificial victims cling to their faith that if only they could appease the right wing press, they might get to play at being Prime Minister. Every time one of them speaks the a-word, they are dancing to Rupert Murdoch's tune.

Friday, May 22, 2015

One Hundred Years Ago....

Some time in the last millennium, just after t.c Blair had become Prime Minister, I wrote the following. It is worth re-reading, because absolutely nothing in it still applies today. 

If I wrote it now, I might say that the Red Party supported "sharing" or "fairness" rather than "equality". I might also push the idea that the Red and the Blue are rather like Moorcock's Lords of Order and Chaos: both sides can look like "goodies" and both sides can look like "baddies" but the really important thing is that neither side ever be allowed to gain the upper hand. I suppose that means Vince Cable is the Cosmic Balance and Nick Clegg is Elric.

I thank Mike Taylor for reminding me of this piece. Go read his blog . His stuff on the election is better than mine. It contains facts and evidence and everything. (He also wrote a good thing about Doctor Who.)

British Politics Explained

Once upon a time, there were three political parties; a big party, a medium party, and a little baby party, which, due to the vagaries of the first past the post system, stood no chance of getting elected and can be ignored for the purposes of this discussion.

The other two parties, let's call them The Red Party and The Blue Party, had different points of view from each other. (That was why they were different parties.)
The Red Party said, 'We believe in Equality, in particular Economic Equality. We think that the Poor should be a bit Richer, and the Rich should be a bit Poorer. We are prepared to sacrifice a bit of Freedom in order to bring that about.'
The Blue Party said, 'We believe in Freedom. We think that people should be as far as possible be left alone and allowed to do whatever they like, and we are prepared to sacrifice a great deal of Equality in order to bring that about.'
They often had quite sensible discussions around this point.
The Blue Party would say 'But if I have sufficient wealth to live on, why am I necessarily harmed by someone else being richer than me? And since the very rich often pay wages to the very poor, won't taking money off the rich have a long term effect of making they poor even poorer?'
But The Red Party replied 'But since your capacity to do what you want is very largely defined by how much money your have, the very poor are, in fact, not Free: Freedom at the expense of Equality is self defeating.'
There were a small number of people in The Red Party who said, 'What we want is total Equality! Everyone should have the same amount of money as everyone else! Nationalise the banks! Eat the rich!' and a small number of people in The Blue Party who said, 'What we want is total Freedom! The state should not interfere with people at all! Everyone is Free to own guns! No taxation at all! Society does not exist!' But everyone ignored them.
One day, there was an election. For some reason…I don't know, let's make something up…say, because the leader of The Red Party had red hair, or was bald, or wore a shabby coat in church, something like that…but anyway, The Blue Party won the election, and set about trying to make the country more Free but less Equal.
All the bad, wicked institutions which The Red Party had set up in order to make people more Equal, like trades unions, nationalized industries, comprehensive schools, railways, laws, the health service, etc, were abolished or run down, and clever new words like 'competition' and 'entrepreneur' were invented to make it all right to be very greedy. Sure enough, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.
After about a hundred years, the leader of the Red Party got a haircut and bought a smart new suit, and the leader of the Blue Party got old, went mad and turned grey. So The Red Party was allowed to win an election.
But, once he was safely sworn in as President, the leader of The Red Party admitted that he now agreed with the Blue Party about absolutely everything. No one was quite sure how that had happened. Perhaps the leader of The Blue Party put a spell on him, or perhaps he made a pact with the devil. Or perhaps The Blue Party won him over because it had much cleverer arguments; or perhaps it was just that so many people in The Red Party had done well under The Blue Party, and acquired lattes and television sets and didn't want to give them up.
This left the leader of The Red Party in a bit of a quandary. He could no longer have arguments with the leader of The Blue Party about Freedom versus Equality, because they both now agreed with each other that Freedom was more important. They disagreed about European Integration and Fox Hunting, but when they talked about that, everyone fell asleep.
But from time to time, wicked people asked the leader of The Red Party what he believed in. First, he just said 'Look' and 'You know', but they asked him again.
Next he tried listing lots of numbers. Some of them were almost true, like 'Our school children are the best in the world', (provided you didn't ask what 'best' meant, and who decided). But some of them were a load of old codswallop, like 'The rate at which crime is increasing is speeding up more slowly.' But it didn't make much difference, because when he used numbers, everyone fell asleep.
So instead, when people asked him what he believed in, he said that he believed in Goodness; or, when pressed, in Fairness and Social Justice. (When he was asked if he believed in God, he squirmed, and looked embarrassed, and said 'Look' and 'You know' so much that people took pity on him and didn't ask him any more.) He said that these had always been the Values of the Red Party, and very good Values they were too; but that all that talk about Equality was horribly out of date and not Modern. And in any case, by Equality, they had never meant Economic Equality, which meant everyone having the same amount of money as everyone else. They had always meant Equality of Opportunity, which meant everyone being Free to make as much money as they wanted to all by themselves. 
Most people listening drew the conclusion that, since the Red Party was the party which believed in Goodness and Fairness and Social Justice, the Blue Party must be the party which believed in Wickedness and Unfairness and Injustice: because otherwise, why would there be two parties at all?
So all the Good people voted for the Red Party, and the Red Party changed its name to the Good Party, and the Blue Party changed its name to the Bad Party and, after having some drinks and insulting a few black people, they disbanded. So the Good Party was allowed to do anything it liked, and everyone and everyone lived happily ever, after apart from the poor, who never voted anyway.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

So long, it's been good to know you... (3)

III: Is Nick Clegg a shit?


Scenario 1:

Five years ago, Nick Clegg decided that the Liberal party should go out in a blaze of glory, his only regret being that he had but one party to lay down for his country. He could either join a Liberal / Conservative coalition, or else he could force a second General Election which the Conservatives would certainly have won outright. He chose the Coalition, reasoning that this was the least worst option for the country. He gambled everything on the idea that the Liberals would make a Conservative government less bad than it would otherwise have been.

He would have probably preferred a Labour/Liberal coalition, but that was never really on the table. Labour hates the Liberals far more than they hate the Conservatives, and they hate coalitions far more than they hate Liberals. 

Never been sure that supporting a Very Bad Thing to stop an Even Worse Thing happening is morally defensible myself. "Oh, personally speaking I'm dead set again beheading old ladies, but if they are going to behead old ladies anyway surely it's better that they do it with nice sharp cleavers from my nice sharp cleaver shop..." 

On this view, Clegg was literally a hypocrite. When he was defending coalition policy, he was taking the party line. Pretending to agree with stuff that he didn't agree with, because he'd promised to. But all politicians do that. Cabinet responsibility, it's called. Tell the Prime Minister that something is suicidally insane behind closed doors, and then go out and say it's a brilliant idea on live TV. (This is why so many of them cheat on their wives and expenses, incidentally. Lying convincingly is part of the job.) 

Lawyers also have to put forward arguments that they know are bullshit. But they don't have to pretend that they think that Mr J.T Ripper is innocent: merely to explain to the court why he thinks he is. This doesn’t make them bad people. It’s their job.

Scenario 2

Clegg formed an alliance with the Conservative Party because he honestly believed all the bollocks that Cameron was talking. He honestly believed that "austerity" was a necessary response to the economic crash, and not a pretext to do all the stuff that the Tories have wanted to do for years. He honestly believed that the economic crash was the fault of "the-mess-we-inherited-from-Labour" and nothing to do with the banks. He honestly believed that unemployment is caused by poor people being too lazy to go to work, and that reducing unemployment benefit will therefore cure unemployment. He honestly believed that people only go to food banks because they're greedy and love a freebie. 

See, if Scenario 2 is true, things aren’t too bad right now. The Conservative/Liberal coalition was doing pretty much the exact same things that the Conservatives would have done on their own. So we've got another ten years of that to look forward to. 

But if Clegg is what he appears to have been — a sincere and principled politician playing the best game he could with a rotten hand...

Well, what we've had for the last five years has been what the Conservative Party looked like with the Liberals holding them back. And now, there is nobody to restrain them. The brakes are off. They get to do what they actually want. 

In other words: Armageddon. 

IV: Armageddon

The BBC is over, of course; and the Health Service is over. The Welfare State is over as well. Oh, ten years from now there will still be something with the BBC logo on it, in the same way there is a still a Woolworths website and someone owns British Movietone News. But once the licence fee goes the idea of public service broadcasting comes to an end and Rupert Murdoch moves into the space it used to occupy. All those little things that we used to take for granted that meant that even if the very worst happened, it wouldn't be too bad — the dole; giro; the social; family allowance; housing benefit — are now lumped under the vile American term "welfare". So "welfare" is pretty much finished as well. How can we have a "welfare state" if all the parties are agreed that Welfare is a Bad Thing? 

And that's before we've got to the genuinely scary stuff. Europe is over; at any rate, Europe is going to have to manage without Britain because Britain is going to go it alone. Oh, there will be an In/Out referendum, but that will come after 18 months of foreigner-baiting; 18 months of Murdoch and Dacre printing made up stories about straight bananas and pensioners being hauled in front of Sharia courts for weighing their jam in feet and inches. Something like 1 in 10 people voted for a party with no policy apart from withdrawing from Europe.

I am sure that there is a sensible discussion to be had about the economics and politics of federations as opposed to confederacies as compared with treaties and contrasted with free-trade zones. I am equally sure that no-one is remotely interested in having it. It's not Britain Withdrawing From Europe that I fear so much as the two years of xenophobic rhetoric that precedes it and the month long xenophobic victory parade that follows it. 

V: Point of Need

Did you see that thing on the Interwebs about how much it cost to have a baby in America as compared with how much it cost to have a baby in the UK? (The medical costs of having a baby safely delivered and cared for, I mean. Actually producing the child is still relatively cheap in both countries.) They said that it could easily run to $100,000 in America, but that in England it is free.

This is not true. This has never been true. 

In England, it very expensive to have a baby, or get treated for cancer, or even have to have a chat with your doctor because you've got a bit of a hurty leg. Doctors and surgeons are highly paid professionals. Nurses and midwifes don't get paid nearly enough, but they don't work gratis. We have developed an ingenious scheme whereby everyone pays up front regardless of how many times they get ill, and then get to go to the doctor as often as they want regardless of what they've paid. Someone has done some sums and worked out what everyone can afford, and we pay it annually. The rich pay more and the poor pay less. No-one sits around saying "It's not fair. I don't have cancer, so I'm not getting to use the cancer ward I contributed it." We say "It's brilliant. Even if the very worst happens and I get cancer, I know there's a cancer ward waiting for me to go to. And in the meantime, if I get a hurty leg, I just go and get it seen to."

You could call this "pooling risk" or  "national insurance" or even "socialized medicine". A better word would be "sharing". 

Oh, yes, the rich sometimes say that they are paying more than their fair share and the poor sometimes say that the rich aren't paying enough. And there are sometimes stories (made up by people who hate the whole idea of "sharing") about someone who got something paid for out of the common pot that someone else thinks was frivolous or unnecessary or a waste of time – homeopathy or penis enlargement or gender realignment. And there are always tragic stories about some kid who had cancer and there were some magic pills that could definitely cure him but "you couldn't get them on the health service" because they were too expensive. If you are working on the sharing system, then someone does sometimes have to decide whether or not everyone can afford to pay ten million pounds for a treatment that might keep someone alive for an extra fortnight, horrible and painful though those kinds of decisions are. I think that's what made the crazy lady think that socialized medicine involved Death Panels. God knows, the National Health Service isn't perfect. But if you have appendicitis or a heart attack or a bit of a hurty leg it patches you up and sends you home without a bill.

Honestly, it does. You have to pay for pills and glasses.

Do you remember that big pageant they held before the 2012 Olympic Games? Deaf kids singing the National Anthem in their pajamas, James Bond shoving the Queen out of a helicopter, Paul McCartney making a spectacle of himself? Then you may also remember that Mr Rupert Murdoch said that he quite enjoyed the ceremony, but felt that it was "a bit too politically correct".

"A bit too politically correct." I wonder what he could possibly have meant? Did he wish that some of the hymn singing kids had shouted "Pooftahs! N*ggers! Cripples!" at the Queen? Did he find out that there were paramedics on hand in case anyone got ill, as opposed to, as he would presumably prefer "ambulance blokes"?

In the lexicon of the extreme right Political Correctness does not mean avoiding using nasty words if a nice ones are available. Political Correctness is a conspiracy by Marxists to destroy civilization. (Jewish Marxists. Weird looking Jewish Marxists who can't eat bacon sandwiches, I shouldn't wonder.) What Mr Rupert Murdoch objected to about the Olympic Games was J.K Rowling reading to sick children; thousands of dancing nurses and the letters N.H.S suspended above the arena: the tribute to the National Health Service as one of the unequivocally Good Things about Britain that we can boast about to the rest of the world. The Common Sense Brigade hates the Health Service because it is, genuinely, a Marxist idea. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need: it really doesn't get more Marxist than that. As noted, in England Marxist isn't an insult, but a description. Most of think that Marxism is quite a good way to run public health but quite a bad way to run, say, the steel industry. The Common Sense Brigade hate that the N.H.S exists; hate that it's successful; hate that it's popular. 

“The new National Health Service will provide you with all medical, dental and nursing care. Everyone, rich or poor, man, woman or child, can use it... But it is not a charity. You are all paying for it, mainly as taxpayers, and it will relieve your money worries in time of sickness.”

For 60 years, there has mostly been a consensus that sharing is quite a good idea; that people in work should help people who are out of work; that well paid people should lend a hand to the poor. Not necessarily by handing the poor huge clumps of five pound notes. Mostly by having things called "libraries" so that people who can't afford to buy books can still read and educate themselves; and by having things called "parks" so that even if your dad doesn't have his own tennis court, you can still play sport; and by having — call me old fashioned — things called Council Houses so people who can't get a mortgage can have somewhere to live; and by making the state schools so good that no-one really needs to send their kid to a private school and...

But that consensus is gone. Poor people are no longer unfortunates to be helped with a spoonful of "there but for the grace of god go I". Benefit claimants are no longer people like us, going through a bad patch and needing some help. (Most people claim benefits at some time in their lives.) Poor people have become, through some bizarre heresy of Calvinism, the enemy -- wicked folk who have done the wrong thing by choosing to be poor and require punishment. Not in their own interests, but in the interests of folk who virtuously chose to be rich.

We have Cameron in his manifesto:

"Under Labour, those who worked hard found more and more of their earnings taken away in tax to support a welfare system that allowed, and even encouraged, people to choose benefits when they could be earning a living. This sent out terrible signals: if you did the right thing, you were penalised – and if you did the wrong thing, you were rewarded, with the unfairness of it all infuriating hardworking people." 

We have Labour politicians, agreeing with him: 

"We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work. Labour are a party of working people, formed for and by working people.” 

And we have a right wing pundit in the Guardian. 

“This issue is self-interest. You have permission in this country to defend your own interests, and to vote accordingly, only if you’re poor, or otherwise disadvantaged....If the issue is tax, and it isn’t always, why should it be shameful to vote to keep more of the money you’ve earned but noble to vote to appropriate other people’s money...and award it to yourself or to the groups with which you personally sympathize.”

Granted, the Guardian, being a left wing paper, presumably picked a right wing pundit who could be relied on to say something stupid and unpleasant, but still, this kind of thing wouldn't have been said or even thought a decade ago. Over the next ten years, that rhetoric will increasingly be applied to the health service, libraries, public parks, museums, arts subsidies, child-benefit, education. Why should someone steal money from me just so that some child who has chosen to be poor can read books, play in the park, have an education, go to the doctor...

VI: How bad could things get?

The Tories are going to legalize fox-hunting, or at any rate, have a free vote in the house of commons to see if fox-hunting can be legalized.

Some things are more important than other things; and fox-hunting would be somewhere near the bottom of any sensible list of important things.

So why are the Tories pressing forward with their plans to legalize it?  Mainly, I suppose, because they know it will annoy the Left. In fairness, the Left banned fox hunting mainly because it would annoy the Tories. We are often told that fox hunting is a really popular day out for all different kinds of people, that families from estates in Birmingham regularly saddle up their horses and go and slaughter a few woodland mammals. For all I know this might be true. But people in red jackets shouting "tally ho!" is one of the first things which comes to mind when you think of the English upper classes.

Fox-hunting is a symbol. Legalizing fox-hunting sends a message. "When we say that we are going to govern for the whole country, we mean we are going to stick up for the Toffs and two fingers up to the oiks, the commies, and anyone who wears sandals." 

I mention this because David Cameron’s other top priority is to abolish the Human Rights Act, and I am very much hoping that he wants to abolish the Human Rights Act mainly in order to annoy the Left. And I am very much hoping that when he says he wants to abolish the Human Rights Act he means that he wants to abolish the Human Rights Act and not, for example, that he wants to abolish Human Rights.

The Human Rights Act is much hated by right-wing pundits, but the Human Rights Act that the pundits hate is largely a fictitious Human Rights act, a Human Rights act that tells policemen that burglars are allowed to order take-away meals during sieges and school children have to wear goggles to play conkers. (Human Rights, like Health and Safety, is a branch of the Jewish Marxist conspiracy to destroy civilization.) Tearing up the Human Rights Act (or “Labour’s Human Rights Act” as Cameron likes to call it) is mainly a way of identifying with Daily Mail and Sun Readers and kicking Guardian readers in the teeth. There isn't actually any plan to say that Human Rights don't apply in the United Kingdom.  

Is there?

A lot of Tories think that if you scratch Tony Blair and Ed Miliband, what you would find underneath would be a Clause 4 (*) believing cloth cap wearing brass band listening union belonging Old Labour Man. A lot of us Lefties fear that you would have to peel a lot less layers off David Cameron and Micahel Gove to find an old fashioned hang'em flog'em Tory underneath. (In British English, Hang’em-Flog’em-Tory is all one word, like Bleeding-Heart-Liberal in American English.)

The question we can't answer at this stage is: do Hang'em-flog'em-Tories actually still believe in hanging and flogging? 

VII: Earth Abides

The Church of England, the BBC, the National Health Service. Three things which made Britian Britain. One of them self-destructed, the other two are going to be broken by a gang of posh boys because they can. A fiercely patriotic little island, regarding the countries around it not as partners or allies but as competitors or opponents. Scotland a scary little left-wing foreign place that we're taught to dislike almost as much as we dislike the French. No health service anyone who grew up in Britain would recognise as a health service. No public service broadcaster with a remit to give us what we need as well as what we want; Murdoch stepping into the breach with topless ladies and far-right propaganda. The unemployed reliant on charity; or living on the street as hobos; or maybe working for food coupons or gathered into workhouses. (What do you do with poor people if there aren't jobs for them and you aren't prepared to give them any money?) An England tentatively hanging it's first paedophile and wondering whether free schools might be permitted to start gently and sensibly beating children again. No libraries; if you can't buy books on Amazon, what right have you to read? No parks, because why should poor people play on lawns that working people paid to have cut?  

Well, it may not come to that. But the Tory Party are steering us in that direction. And any suggestion that we might not want to go in this direction; or even that we might not want to go in this direction quite so fast; is denounced as crazily "left wing" and "communist" even by the Labour party itself. 

So what is there to stop this happening – except the innate good sense and decency of the British people.

So Long, It's Been Good To Know You (2)

II: Note, for the edification of people in the United States and other non-cricket playing nations.

In England, the liberal party is called the Labour Party and the conservative party is called the Conservative Party. However the Conservative Party is much more liberal than any American liberal party.

The Liberal Party used to be more liberal than the Conservative party but more conservative than the Labour Party, but in recent times the Labour Party and the Conservative Party have both become much more conservative. This process is known as “moving to the centre”.

When we say "liberal" we don't mean what you mean by "liberal". When British Liberals say they are liberal they mean that they believe very strongly in personal liberty and civil rights. When other people say that someone is liberal they mean that they are moderate, middle of the road or "sitting on the fence".

What Americans mean when they say "liberal" is closer to what the British mean when they say "socialist". What the Americans mean when they say "socialist" is closer to what the British mean when they say "communist". However, in British English "communist" is a description of a political point of view, as opposed to an insult.

Our Liberal Party is actually called the Liberal Democrat Party, because it merged in 1988 with the Social Democrats, who were a group of socialists who left the Labour party in 1981 because it was too socialist. Our Liberal Democrats are nothing like your liberal Democrats. (We also have Liberal republicans; as a matter of fact most of our Liberals are republicans.)

The word "Tory" is simply a nickname for the Conservative Party, although it has connotations of an aristocratic, high-church, Royalist politics that would be regarded as old-fashioned in modern party. The word originally means "brigand" or "cattle thief", obviously.

Our Private Schools are called Public Schools and we drive on the left hand side of the road.

Lady Bracknell: What are your politics?
Jack.  Well, I am afraid I really have none.  I am a Liberal..
Lady Bracknell.  Oh, they count as Tories.  They dine with us.  Or come in the evening, at any rate.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

So long, it's been good to know you...

I: In Which Everybody Eats Their Hats

And then we smashed up everything,
and this was the funniest part
we smashed some rotten old pictures
which were priceless works of art!
                               John Betjeman

A week has passed since the election. There has been a lot of hysterical defeatist talk. A lot of people have taken it personally. 

So I am going to try to take a deep breath and talk about what has really happened in as level headed and non-partisan a way as I can possibly manage. 


I went into the campaign intending not to vote. I wasn’t going to vote Labour because they're the War party. I wasn’t going to vote Tory because they're the Evil party. I wasn’t going to vote Lib Dem because they enabled the evil Party. I wasn’t going to spoil my ballot paper because that's a pointless waste of time. I wasn’t going to vote Green because that's an even bigger pointless waste of time. 

All three parties were promising to stand up for hard working families. “I am not hard working”, I said. “I am not a family. And I am not voting”. 

I don't buy the argument that the lady jumped in front of the horse in order to blackmail future generations into voting. I support the right of women to vote. I support the right of ethnic minorities to vote. I support the right of prisoners to vote, through I draw the line at lunatics and members of the House of Lords. I support the right of me to vote, fairly vigorously. I also support the right of me to own a dog. I happen to think that dogs are stupid creatures who spend two days barking at you to get out of their house, and then proceed to put their paws on you and lick you all over when you try to leave. But my decision not to have a dog doesn't remotely mean that I don't think that you right to keep a dogs is an important, hard won civil right. [*] 

Actually, I'd be prepared to make out a case for Compulsory Voting. If instead of having a big thing called election day where you positively walk to the polling station and positively queue up and positively put a cross in a positive box (remembering that if you put a tick your vote may not be counted) but instead had something more like a census, where over a period of fortnight you got a visit from a government official to whom you had by law to express a preference as to who you would like to see running the government for the next five years... Well, that might be rather an improvement. A survey about the actual state of public opinion, as opposed to a complicated game about who could be persuaded to walk down the hill in the rain. Yes, indeedly, there would have to be a "none of the above" option; and yes, indeedly, it would probably have to be a "preferential voting" system; and yes, indeedly, there would have to be a conscience clause to exempt members of the First Church of Christ Luantic and others who don't agree with voting on moral grounds; and yes indeedly there would have to be safeguards to ensure that the ballot was secret and no-one voted on behalf of their Granny. But this kind of thing can usually be sorted out with a bit of small print. 

There is always someone who says "It is impossible to look over someone's shoulder in a voting booth, and therefore any change to the election system would fatally compromise the sacred secret ballot.” They are always wrong. 

Compulsory voting would change the dynamic of elections far more radically than Proportional Representation would have done. The main political parties have spent a century evolving into efficient machines for persuading their supporters to actually walk down the hill and vote for them. Elections aren’t about persuading people to support you; they’re all about persuading your supporters to actually cast their vote. Imagine if they had to to persuade people who had to vote for someone that you were the someone they ought to vote for. 

Until we have compulsory voting "choosing not to vote because you don't like any of the candidates on offer" seems a perfectly democratic choice. But you will be massively relieved to hear that I changed my mind at the very last minute. I voted Green. 

I am not as exercised by environmental issues as you presumably think I ought to be. I entirely agree that it's a jolly bad thing and that something should be done about it. But I really don’t know what fracking is, or what precisely it has to do with badgers. Yoko Ono is against it. 

I voted Green because they fought a positive campaign. It is possible to get a little bit inspired by "Vote big; Vote brave; Vote what you believe in; Vote while we can still fix this; Vote for the common good". It is really not possible to get inspired by "Hard working families better off" even when the lump of rock it is carved on is very big indeed. 

I voted Green because it looked as if they were actually in with a chance of winning Bristol West. In fact they came second, pushing the incumbents into third place. If a few (well, a few thousand) more abstainers like me had changed our minds, they could have taken it. And I felt that the presence of two Green MPs in Parliament, as opposed to just one, would have made a small but significant difference when Ed came to construct his coalition. 


I believed in The Polls. I believed that the only remaining question was whether Lab/SNP would outnumber Con/UKIP/Lib Dem and whether a Lib/Lab pact was still on the cards and whether the one lot would vote the government down and force a second election if the other lot tried to go it alone. 

But [SPOILER WARNING] the polls were wrong; there were no coalitions and the Tories got back in with an increased majority. Maybe voting Tory is like masturbation: everyone does it, but most people are too embarassed to say so. Maybe a lots of people just genuinely changed their minds at the last minute. Maybe Ed basically blew the election when he unveiled his big rock in the same way Kinnock did when he held his victory parade. 

Or maybe the Tories won the election precisely because the polls said they wouldn’t? Remember we don’t vote for the candidate we want to win. That would be undemocratic. We try to guess how our neighbours are going to vote (having first guessed how they think we are going to vote, based on how they think we think they are going to vote) and then place our cross, or tick, in the box that we think will produce the least worst result. The Tories spent the second half of the campaign telling us we didn’t dare vote Labour because Labour might form a coalition with the Scottish Nationalists. If the Tories had any chance of winning then the question of coalitions doesn’t arise. The main argument for voting Tory only works if the polls are telling us that the Tories aren’t going to win. 

I’m not, as the fellow said, suggesting any sort of a plot. But there could very well be Darwinian pressure on the pollsters to use methodologies that tend to produce polls which result in Tory governments (as opposed to polls which predict Tory governments.) Because otherwise, the Tory press would stop commissioning opinion polls. 

In a way, this has been the least ideological election I’ve experienced. There’s so little difference between the main party’s programmes that party loyalists have been talking in apocalyptic terms about how there has never been more difference between the two parties. 

Miliband wanted to slap a £3,000 p.a tax on properties worth more than £2,000,000. He wanted to abolish a vindictive little means test which said that poor people get slightly less welfare if they have a house which is slightly bigger than they need. He wanted to increase the minimum wage to a level that a person could actually live on, but, like St Augustine, not yet. I mean, good arguments on both sides, and everything, but things have got pretty desperate when the Mayor of London is describing these kinds of cautious, gradualist measures as “commie”. 

When I was at college in the 1980s, everyone called everyone a commie and everyone else called everyone else a fascist. It was how debate was carried out. Student politics was all about boycotting Barclays Bank and This Is A Nuclear Free Toilet and refusing to leave the canteen until the Thatcherite junta ended its colonial occupations of the Malvinas islands. The Left had crazy Utopian dreams about making Nelson Mandela president of South Africa and sitting down round a negotiating table with the Sinn Fien and letting homosexuals get married. The Right was mainly interested in antagonising the Left. I remember the poster depicting the Karl Marx Memorial with the slogan “Do you really want your student union to be run by some old corpse in Highgate Cemetery.” Some of them even thought that was amusingly satirical to wear "Hang Nelson Mandela" badges. 

Who was it would said that if you are not a liberal at the age of 20 you don't have a heart but if you are still a liberal at the age of 40 you don't have a brain? The Left have got brains. Plenty of brains. But it's those same heartless Tories who are now running the country. 

We all did silly things at college. If I became Prime Minister I’d be haunted by photographs of myself in dressed as an orc for a LARP event. (And, oh dear god, they may be one of my blacked up as a voodoo priest for a pirate themed RPG.) We’ve all seen the photos of David and Boris and their friends in their weird frock coats, poised to smash up a few restaurants and burn a few £50 notes under the noses of poor people. The point is that the Left mostly grew up. The Left mostly stopped calling people “fascists”. They decided it was more constructive to carve “controls on immigration” on slabs of rock and write essays explaining that the true essence of socialism was people who went to posh supermarkets. But the Right, so far as I can tell, has never grown up. They are still here, marching into sticky-floor and plastic-cup bars and demanding a dry-sherry, doing whatever they can think of that will annoy the left, smashing everything to pieces and assuming they can get away with it because Daddy has money. Only now, they’re going to do it to the whole country. 

[*] “I don’t want to be Muslim. If it comes to it, I don’t want you to be a Muslim. But I do want you to be allowed to be a Muslim if that’s what you want.” This used to be called liberalism, but I suspect it now makes me horribly left wing.

[**] A representative sample of Labour voters — let's call her "Mum" — says that it isn't fair to vote Green on the basis of what they said during the election because they had not the remotest chance of winning it and could therefore say whatever they liked. Miliband had to give vague, non-committal, right-wing promises because there was a serious chance that he might have to deliver on them. This is a perfect valid point but tends to support my "ignoring the election altogether" strategy. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

"And they made good laws and kept the peace and saved good trees from being unnecessarily cut down, and liberated young dwarfs and young satyrs from being sent to school, and generally stopped busybodies and interferers and encouraged ordinary people who wanted to live and let live."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

This is a piece I wrote in 2011 about a Tory MP who wanted to strangle people but was unable to construct a coherent sentence on the subject. ("The point is as I said earlier on this is about having deterrence. If you have strong deterrence like that, capital punishment will act as a deterrent. To have capital punishment would act as a deterrent. That’s the first point here....") This MP is now a minister for work and pensions.

Note: I did indeed abstain from reading all news media for about 6 months after writing this article, and have never felt the need to switch on Question Time or Any Questions or The Politics Show since.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

This is an insurmountable opportunity.


I had intended you to be
The next Prime Minister but three
The stocks were sold, the press was squared
The middle-class was quite prepared
But as it is, my language fails.
Go out and govern New South Wales!


"On its world", said Ford "The people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people."

"Odd," said Arthur, "I thought you said it was a democracy."

"I did," said Ford. "It is."

"So," said Arthur, hoping he wasn't sounding ridiculously obtuse, "why don't people get rid of the lizards?"

"It honestly doesn't occur to them," said Ford. "They've all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they've voted in more or less approximates to the government they want."

"You mean they actually vote for the lizards?"

"Oh yes," said Ford with a shrug, "of course."

"But," said Arthur, going for the big one again, "why?"

"Because if they didn't vote for a lizard," said Ford, "the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?"


"I said," said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, "have you got any gin? 

 Douglas Adams

I guess the first time I ever heard about a union, I wasn't more than eight years old. What I heard was the story of the two rabbits.

It was a he-rabbit and a she-rabbit that a pack of hounds was chasing all over the countryside, and finally these rabbits they holed up inside a hollow log. 

Outside the dogs was a-howling.

The he-rabbit turned to the she-rabbit and he said, "What do we do now?"

And the she-rabbit, she just give him a wink and said "We stay here til we outnumber them."

Woody Guthrie

It's 1988 now. Margaret Thatcher is entering her third term of office and talking confidently of an unbroken Conservative leadership well into the next century. My youngest daughter is seven and the tabloid press are circulating the idea of concentration camps for persons with AIDS. The new riot police wear wear black visors, as do their horses, and their vans have rotating video cameras mounted on top. The government has expressed a desire to eradicate homosexuality, even as an abstract concept, and one can only speculate as to which minority will be the next legislated against. I'm thinking of taking my family and getting out of this country soon, sometime over the next couple of years. It's cold and it's mean spirited and I don't like it here anymore. 

Alan Moore

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried.


Thursday, May 07, 2015

Tuesday, May 05, 2015


Lines Composed Shortly Before Reviewing The Force Awakens trailer

I quite bring myself to press "play".


Sometimes during this process I have found myself asking "Is Star Wars, in fact, something that you like? Is it not rather something you used to like?" 

And even when you used to like it, did you really like it, or did you just sign up to the "liking Star Wars club" when that was the fashionable club for deeply unfashionable people to belong to? Would it ("cosmically speaking")  matter if the seventh Star Wars film — let alone the trailer for the seventh Star Wars film — failed to fill you with the same kind of joy the first one did? It wouldn't necessarily mean that all the joy had gone out of the world. It would simply mean that joy is now to be found in different places. 

I envy people likeAdam Englebright, I really do. He says that he honestly can't see why I think that the Star Wars movies are fundamentally different beasts from the various comics, books and video-games that have sprung up around them. (And he honestly can't see why New Who is a different thing from Old Who, either.) I honestly can't see how he can't but I honestly wish I couldn't. I mean — just to take one example — Marvel Unlimited has just put 500 (500!) Star Wars comics on line. Pretty much everything from 1977 up to date. 80 hours worth of material that is more or less the same kind of thing as A New Hope. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive. And to be young was very heaven. 

Adam feels that anything with the Star Wars label on it -- certainly anything endorsed by George Lucas -- is Star Wars by definition. The Empire Strikes Back and Vader's Quest are both equally telling you about stuff that happened in the Star Wars universe. 

My friend Nick, on the other hand, regularly refers to Episodes I - III as "fan-fic" even though George Lucas actually wrote them. Which is an interesting approach. If the man who thought up the idea of Jedi Knights doesn't get to tell you what Jedi Knights were like, it isn't clear who does. One might, I suppose, say that the Aenied is Iliad fan-fic; that Frasier is Cheers fan-fic; that Star Trek Season 2 is Star Trek Season 1 fan-fic. But I am not sure how far it would get one.

This isn't one of those hair-splitty arguments about canon, although we are going to have to have one of those before too long. It's about the difference between what Adam calls Watsonianism and what he calls Doyle-ism; a very elegant distinction which I shall draw at every opportunity from now on. 

Are the Sherlock Holmes stories made up by a jobbing writer named Doyle who'd rather have been out and about snapping photographs of fairies? Or are they accounts of Sherlock Holme's life written down by his friend Dr Watson? Well, both, obviously: Watson tells the stories; but Watson is a literary device made up by Doyle to make the puzzles more puzzling. (Detective stories are easier to write if they are mediated by an unreliable narrator: the more unreliable the better. Holmes spots things that the reader misses; but Watson misses things the reader spots.) I don't know if there are people who honestly believe that Holmes was a real person. I did once meet someone who honestly thought that The Lord of the Rings was real history (it was too complicated for Tolkien to have thunk up). There are apparently lots of people who don't get that The Da Vinci Code is a story. 

But the Watson/Doyle distinction isn't about that kind of confusion. It's really about what kind of question it's appropriate to ask about books, or what kind of answer would satisfy you. Everyone knows that there is a discrepancy about Watson's war-wound: it's an arm injury in the first story, and a leg injury thereafter. It is obviously and simply true that Doyle simply forgot what he had written in the first story, and didn't bother to go back and check. And this tells us things about Doyle as a writer, if we want it to. He was slapdash, and didn't care much about details. He was a consummate story teller, and altered facts to make the world more exciting and mysterious. He was incline to suppress references to arm wounds because — I don't know — he was burned on the arm by cruel nanny when he was a baby. None of these kinds of answers are of the slightest interest to a Watsonian. The Watsonian needs answers that make sense on the assumption that Holmes and Watson were real people: Watson was never wounded: his injuries were psychosomatic; Watson was never wounded: he's lying about his injuries to make Holmes look good; Watson was was trying his shoelaces when he was shot; the bullet went through his shoulder and into his leg; Watson was, in fact, Moriarty in disguise and Moriarty never quite got his story straight. 

You might, I suppose be a sort of hyper-Watsonian. You might know perfectly well that Doyle wrote the stories, but think that he, Doyle, intended them to be read in a Watsonian way. If the inconsistency about the war wound is on the page, then it's on the page because Doyle put it there, and if he put it there, he did so for a reason — to give us the clue that Watson is delusional, or amnesiac, or an impostor. And some books certainly are presented in that way: the Lord of the Rings doesn't fully make sense without Tolkien's conceit that it's a translation of an ancient "red book" that the Hobbits themselves wrote. At one level, Watsonian criticism is hugely respectful to The Author.  No accidents; no slips of the pen -- everything the author said, the author intended to say. But at another level, they push the author out out of the picture completely. Holmes and Watson get to be real, but only if the story you read (where Watson is a lying impostor) is different from the one which Doyle actually wrote. 

The Watsonian approach finds things in the text which are not there: but it excludes things from the text which probably are. Stories do contain metaphors and subtexts and allusions and in jokes and hidden meanings; real life doesn't. After the death of Sherlock Holmes, Watson writes: "I shall ever consider him the best and the wisest man I have ever known." Everybody knows that at the end of Phaedo, Plato wrote that Socrates was "of all those whom we knew in our time the bravest and also the wisest and most just." I suppose that it is just possible that Watson read a little philosophy at medical school, but I don't think that we are supposed to think that he is consciously quoting Plato. I think that Doyle is winking at us. Watson is kind of like Holmes's Plato, the loyal disciple doggedly writing up his master's dialogues, and maybe sometimes putting his own words into his mouth. This kind of thing doesn't work if Watson is a "real" person reporting a story as best he can: it requires an awareness of a Mr Doyle, pulling at his strings. 

The Early George Lucas did intend there to be an intradiegetic level to Star Wars. There is a persistent oral tradition that he had originally wanted there to be a pre-credit sequence in which a mummy Wookie was reading a baby Wookie a bed-time story, called, presumably, Star Wars. The first couple of novels were said to be excerpts from a longer text called "The Adventures of Luke Skywalker" or "The Journal of the Whills." And, of course, the very words "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." suggest that this story is being told by someone. 

I might have gone over the top when I argued that Star Wars needs to be thought of as a sequence of abstract images and references more than as a story. 

"I think that a lot of the "plot" of Star Wars is transparent glue which is only there to glue one part of the visual and emotional collage to another part of the visual and emotional collage. ....Leia little speech 'They let us go, its the only explanation for the ease of our escape' as a bit of noise which gets us from 'the scene which is a bit like one of those old movie serials' to 'the scene which is a bit like one of those old world war II RAF films' as quickly as possible."

But so much of the film's impact does come from the way in which it quotes other films and stories and genres that a purely in-universe reading strips the flesh off the bones. We adore the Cantina scene because it is so much like a cowboy film: it's whole meaning is "wild west saloon! filled with aliens!" Luke doesn't know what a cowboy, or indeed a film, is. 

Did you see that review of Star Wars by Samuel Delaney from 1977 that came to light on the interwebs. Fascinating stuff, and Doyle-ist to a tee. He seems to agree with me about the plot:

"Star Wars, so far as I can tell, has no story at all: or rather there are so many holes in the one it's got that you could explode a planet in some of them (about a third of the way through, one does) but it all goes so quickly that the rents and tears and creaking places in it blur out." 

I don't think that anyone has ever not noticed that the name of the hero, "Luke" and the name of the director "Lucas" sound pretty similar. But I am kicking myself for having spent the last 40 years missing the fact that director's first name, George comes from the Greek word for "farmer". So "the film is a blatant and self conscious autobiographic wish-fulfillment on the part of its ingenious director."

Well, yes. But this kind of thing takes you out of the movie; and we have said that the whole point of the movie is that it sucks you in. If, when Aunt Beru shouts "Luke! Luke!" and we hear Luke's lietmotif for the first time, we are thinking  "aha, blatant and self-conscious autobiographic wish-fulfillment" then we have stopped watching Star Wars. If that's what we thought the first time we saw it, then we have never seen Star Wars. 

I have said before that in the Year of Waiting for Star Wars, I watched Flash Gordon on English TV, and that Flash Gordon stood up perfectly well, because I believed in Flash Gordon and Flash Gordon believed in Flash Gordon. We forgave the somewhat visible strings on the fairly obviously model spaceships, partly because (I still maintain) they are rather good model spaceships on which the strings are as well hidden as possible; but mostly because our heads were full of spaceships and we positively want to believe in them. No point going to see Flash Gordon not wanting to believe in it and then complaining that you don't. But equally, no point in going to see Star Wars and straining to see strings which aren't there and being impressed that you can't see them. No-one who saw Star Wars and said "great special effects" have ever seen it, either. 

I don't think that everything I don't like is fan fiction. 

I don't think that everything which has got George Lucas's paw print on it is automatically real. 

I think that the prequels, however massively flawed they were, have a special status because they came out of the mind of George Lucas. But that doesn't stop them from being massively flawed.

I was hoping that the Force Awakens was going to tell me what George Lucas imagined happening to Luke and Leia after Return of the Jedi ended; to give me access to his magical note book. It turns out that it's just going to be what some guy thinks happened. And why is some guy's ideas more true than yours. Or, in particular, mine. 

Unless of course the new film is so great that it just sucks me in and it doesn't occur to me to ask any of these questions. 

That's what we're really talking about here, isn't it? The difference between saying "The Empire Strikes Back is a different kind of movie from Star Wars" and saying "If it says Star Wars on the tin, that's what it is" is the difference between criticism and immersion; between being inside and outside of the story. And paradoxically, the big difference between Episode (if you insist) IV and All Of The Others is that I was, on the first couple of viewings totally immersed in it. And when I say I want, or wanted, to up sticks and go and live in the Star Wars universe, I probably only meant that I would like some day to be immersed in something, anything, to that extent, again. 

So the answer, I think, is yes. For at least ninety minutes I really did love Star Wars. And when I am asking for the new movie to take me back to the closing credits I am still hoping that I might love it again. And the reason that I can't yet quite bring myself to push "play" on the trailer is that there is an overwhelming probability that I won't.