The Grenfell Tower disaster

In a story that would be dismissed as ridiculously melodramatic if it appeared in a work of agitational fiction, it turns out that hundreds of working-class tenants in London’s richest borough have been burned to death in horrific circumstances because someone chose to skimp on fire-resistant cladding for their homes, to save the grand total of £5000. That the block was converted into a death trap in order to improve the view of the wealthy residents of neighbouring mansions adds insult to the considerable injury, as does the response of the council and the government, who have largely left the bereaved and homeless to fend for themselves.

Coming on the back of the recent electoral resurgence of the left, some are predicting that a tragedy like this, which so starkly illustrates the descent of our once proud nation into an uncaring kleptocracy, might be the trigger for real social change. I’m hoping for that too, but I have enough experience to know that the system has weathered many such storms before, and will probably get through this one too.

Whether our Prime Minister will be in office for long is another question, though, paradoxically, she may be more secure now than she was a week ago, as no one else in the Conservative party seems particularly keen to take charge in the current state of chaos, particularly as another election is the last thing that they want. I expect the administration will limp on ineffectually, though what this will mean for domestic and foreign policy is unclear to say the least. Will they try to win back the centre with relaxed austerity and a softer Brexit? Or double down on the hard-right ideology? I suspect the former, though really the only prediction one can make with any certainty these days is that things will remain unpredictable.

Jez he could

Well, evidently political surprises can come from the left as well as the right. To the shock and consternation of just about all mainstream commentators, Jeremy Corbyn managed to not only forestall the widely-predicted Conservative landslide, but to increase the Labour vote to a level not seen in a generation, and come tantalisingly close to overall victory.

Close, but not quite there. As I write, Theresa May is still clinging to power, scrabbling around for support in the wilder fringes of UK politics, though it does seem likely that she will become the second Tory premier in less than a year to depart after an ill-judged consultation of the population.

In theory May’s downfall should trigger another election, which one would imagine that Labour would win, but making any sort of political prediction is a mugs’ game these days, so I guess that I, along with the rest of the nation, will just have to wait to see what develops over the next week or so. Things are looking more promising than they have done for some time though.

State of dismay

So here we are on the eve of the election, and I have yet to come up with a prediction of the outcome. This is partly due to my recent woeful record in such endeavour – I couldn’t have been much more wrong on TrumpBrexit or the last general election – but I’ve also been wary of getting too caught up in the enthusiasm around the Corbyn campaign, because at my age I can’t really stand any more disappointment.

That said, I do think it’s safe to conclude that left-wing politics have been given a bit of a boost, whether or not that is reflected in the final numbers. What the campaign has clarified is the ideological divide between the main parties, and even if the Tories do get their landslide (as the latest polls suggest), Corbyn has done well enough to consolidate his hold on the Labour party leadership, which will provide a base to build on in the years ahead.

I do need a forecast though, so I’ll go with my heart; Labour minority government. I have to be right one of these times…

Ten Years After

Rather remarkably, today is the 10th anniversary of the very first post on this blog, and, while I started out full of enthusiasm, I don’t think I would have predicted that I’d still be churning them out a decade later.

It’s not been a steady stream of course – when I did a retrospective on the occasion of our 5th birthday back in 2012 I had a lot of material to work with; the pickings this time around are somewhat slimmer. There have been a few highlights though; here are my favourites:

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

So there you have it, 16 worthwhile pieces in 5 years. Is that a good enough return to justify keeping this blog going? On balance, I think so, though I guess we can revisit the question in 2022. In the meantime I’ll revive one of our traditions, which had sadly fallen into abeyance, the contrived musical link.

Trouble in paradise

I was thinking about Second Life for the first time in ages today, prompted by reports in several publications about the SL Bunny apocalypse. The ever-dependable New World Notes has the full story (and updates); the abbreviated version is that ersatz pet dealers Ozimals have shut up shop due to various legal entanglements, cutting off the sole supply of virtual rabbit food, and thus dooming countless beloved furry companions to an untimely demise.

This unhappy tale reminded me of a couple of columns I wrote in the early days of this blog, wherein I noted that one of the few ways of making money in SL was to induce residents into becoming dependent on some substance you controlled. Of course I never acted on this insight, partly due to my high ethical standards, but mostly due to laziness, and so missed out on my share of the millions of dollars that Ozimals were reportedly taking in.

I guess that with that sort of money washing around it was inevitable that things would come to a sticky end, but it’s still sad that there should be so much collateral damage. The whole sorry episode can be read as a parable of what happens when ugly commerce encroaches upon an innocent Eden. Bunnies – even virtual bunnies – should be free.

À droit

What with the local election results confirming that the country is swinging further to the right (even round here), no doubt presaging a Tory landslide next month, I’ve been thinking that I should just give up on Anglo-Saxon/Celtic politics, and turn to our enlightened neighbours on the continent for some relief.

Let’s see, what’s happening in France?

Fuck…

Well, how did I get here?

Back in 1985 I moved right across the country to go to college in a new city. For various reasons I arrived a couple of months before the start of term, and consequently was pretty much on my own until the other students started showing up a few weeks later.

One evening, to ease my isolation, I ventured out to the cinema, which seemed quite adventurous at the time, as the movie I wanted to see was showing at a place on the other side of town, and I hadn’t really figured out even the basic geography of the city, let alone complicated things like the bus schedules. I eventually made it to the cinema though, and was rewarded with an enviable double bill; Talking Heads concert documentary Stop Making Sense, with the Coen brothers’ debut feature Blood Simple in support.

I came out of the movie theatre around midnight, facing a long walk back to my lonely flat, but buzzing with the excitement of living a new, free, life where such cultural delights were mine to enjoy on a whim.

That feeling lasted a good few years, probably until my late 20s, but, without me really noticing it happening, my life eventually became complicated by responsibility, and these days even something simple like taking in a new movie requires so much planning that I seldom manage it.

So it’s kind of bittersweet to recall that night; as it recedes further into the past the memory becomes increasingly infused with a sense of loss. I’d hate to forget it altogether though, since I don’t want to believe that it’s impossible that I’ll someday feel that way again.

Anyway, I was thinking of this tonight after hearing that Jonathan Demme had passed away. I have Stop Making Sense on DVD somewhere; I’ll have to dig it out for old times’ sake…

Unexpected excitement

Regular readers will have noticed that we’ve settled into a fairly regular one-post-per-month rhythm here at SLS, as I try to cling to the illusion that I am still an active blogger, despite all the evidence to the contrary. I was all set to make April’s post on our traditional 4/20 theme – probably something about the good news from Canada – but I’ve been jolted into action a couple of days early by the somewhat surprising news that we are to have a General Election in June, three years ahead of schedule.

Theresa May’s reasoning – go to the country now, before the full disastrous reality of Brexit becomes apparent, and while the opposition are a shambles – may be transparently cynical, but it is undeniably smart, since it is very difficult to imagine any outcome other than a solid Tory majority, which would give her the personal mandate she needs to take the country even further to the right.

So I’m not exactly optimistic right now, but I’m not hopeless either. Labour may be well behind in the national polls, but the support they have is geographically concentrated, and their recent turn to the left has brought in a new and energised layer of supporters, so there is a chance that they might manage to hang on to more of their seats than expected. The SNP are likely to sweep the board again in Scotland, which will deliver another block of anti-conservative MPs, not to mention unstoppable momentum for another Independence referendum.

Interesting times ahead for sure…

Indefinite article

So the government has finally triggered Article 50, setting the nation on the road out of the European Union. While there is no doubt that this is a deeply regrettable development, a major victory for the anti-progressive forces which have grown stronger in this country over the last few years, I’m actually feeling less anxious about the practical effects of Brexit than I was in the immediate aftermath of the vote.

Political opinion within the Conservative Party does seem to be shifting towards a realisation that granting the wishes of the more deluded members of the Leave camp for an uncompromisingly brutal departure will be economically disastrous, so I suspect that, despite her hardline rhetoric, Theresa May will end up negotiating a deal that leaves us with EU-lite; a single market and more or less free movement. She will be able to point to some reduction in regulation as supposed fruits of victory from the process, though whether this will be enough for the xenophobes who thought that Brexit meant an end to all immigration will remain to be seen.

What is certain is that the whole thing is very complicated; the two-year limit for reaching a deal seems extremely optimistic. There is time for a lot to change in domestic politics; it’s not unimaginable that the demand for a second referendum to approve any proposed agreement will become irresistible, giving the country a chance to come to its senses. Failing that there is always the potential escape capsule of Scottish independence, for those of us north of the border at least. I’m not ready to give up my European identity just yet…

International Women’s Day 2017

One hundred years ago today, a march in Petrograd to mark International Women’s Day set in train a series of events that culminated in the October Revolution, the best thing that has ever happened in the history of the world.

It’s heartening to see that today’s women still have the fighting spirit shown by their sisters all those years ago; they might yet save the world from the mess we men have made of it.