Musings on UKIP

Febrile and depressing are two of the words I would use to describe the political climate in the UK today, south of Scotland at any rate. Whilst our cousins to the north of Hadrian’s Wall have ditched their political apathy and are continuing to have a well-rounded discussion on the type of nation they want to be, if they want to be a nation at all, England especially seems to be sliding backwards into the arms of regressive, isolationist UKIP. Having distracted myself from work for several hours today and yesterday, discussing on various social media forums just why I think everything about UKIP is a very bad idea, I thought I’d distil my distaste into one handy blogpost that I can re-post ad infinitum and actually manage to do some work instead of arguing with misguided souls on the interweb.

So one thing I learned today is that UKIP supporters really don’t like being told the party they support is racist. Wanting to restrict immigration isn’t racist, they cry. Give us an example, you lefty bigot, they tweet. They also seem to think that my objections to their political party spring from reading biased MSM articles. Actually, I try not to read too many articles about UKIP as I find it too depressing and worrying. I’ll restrict myself to discussing UKIP’s stated policies and words that came out of the mouths of their members.

So where was I? Ah, racism. Well, exhibit A is Nigel Farage. Recently he spoke about what his reaction would be if Romanians moved in next door to him. I don’t know about you, but my reactions would, in no particular order, consist of the following; I wonder what the new neighbours are like? Great, they can give me some advice on interesting places to visit when I go on holiday there next year! I should really make the effort to be extra nice as there has been some pretty nasty, racist political discourse around about Romanians, and I want them to feel welcome in my country. And maybe most importantly, do they have decks and vinyl? Because Romanian DJs are the best in the world at the moment! Predictably, our Nige didn’t go for any of the above but said ” … if a group of Romanian men moved in next to you, would you be concerned? And if you lived in London, I think you would be.” Pretty offensive, right? Now replace the word “Romanian” with “Jewish” or “black” or “Muslim” or “Indian”. I think you can see where I’m going with this. It’s just recycling hate speech for the latest target, which is currently Eastern Europeans, and more specifically Romanians*. Of course, I have no doubt there are some awful Romanians, but to tar a whole nationality with the actions of a few is pretty … well, racist. It’s a good job the Spanish don’t do the same, considering all the British criminals that have been living in the Costa Del Sol since the 1960s …

Then, of course, we can take a look at UKIP’s bedfellows in the European Parliament. I was recently reading an interesting article in the Telegraph, that hotbed of leftist, anarchist thought, that reported that because of UKIP’s desire to win an extra £1 million funding from the European gravy train they claim to despise, they have formed an allliance with the KNP, an extremist Polish political party, who are so far to the right that even everyone’s favourite French fascist, Marine Le Pen, ruled out any kind of political relationship with them. The KNP are really lovely. As well as being holocaust deniers who claim that Hitler didn’t know that he was gassing millions of Jews, in July this year, they called for the abolition of the minimum wage in the UK, claiming that “4 million n****rs lost their jobs after President Kennedy introduced the same policy in the US. Yes, Nigel really is the people’s party. If you like being mates with people who don’t believe in the Nazi genocide, use the “N” word and think that you should get paid loads less than you already do.

But as the kippers would tell you, just because someone says something racist, it doesn’t actually mean they ARE racist. D’you get me?! So I got acquainted with their latest political manifesto. Nope, not the one that Nigel Farage disowned as being complete nonsense, which included such political hot potatoes as making it policy that trains were repainted in British colours, presumably to make up for the fact that since privatisation the majority of train companies are owned by foreign companies? Who knows. Anyway, you can peruse their latest manifesto here. It won’t take long, there are more pictures than policies. If you make it through to page 7, under the heading “Local Housing”, UKIP pledge the following “UKIP will prioritise social housing for those with parents and grandparents born locally”. This is devoid of racist terminology, you may think at first glance, but what this actually translates as in real life is that anyone whose parents and grandparents were not born in the UK gets bumped down the list for social housing, so white, proper Brits get first dibs. It doesn’t matter if you were born here, pay taxes here, or have a British passport, you are, in UKIP’s eyes, a second class citizen. Not only would this disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of immigrants, it would also disproportionately affect those of Afro-Caribbean backgrounds, a large proportion of whom moved here in the 1950s and 1960s to fill vital jobs in the UK. Sorry guys, you’re not British (read white) enough to be a full citizen. Is this really what we want our country to look like? Whether UKIP likes it or not, the UK is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial nation. Women and disabled people form a large part of our population as well. The words of its leader and its party members are full of disdain for the majority of the population. If UKIP doesn’t like being called racist, sexist and bigoted, then some of its members and supporters should stop saying racist, sexist and bigoted comments. It’s quite simple. Also, if you can judge a political party by the company it keeps, the fact that Nick Griffin, BNP racist, is supporting UKIP now should concern UKIP, if it really cares about not being seen as a racist party.

I’ll return to immigration and UKIP’s obsession with it a little later. Actually, for me, more than racist rhetoric, the bigger worry is UKIP’s dismissal of climate change and our need to combat it. Although UKIP would have you believe that immigration is the biggest issue facing the UK today, it isn’t. It’s the trashing of our planet due to over-consumption. If we continue as we are, then our children and our grandchildren won’t have much of a planet left. There is an over-whelming consensus of climatologists, around 97.5 %, who are sure that climate change is man made. The consequences of global warming are terrifying; mass extinction, flooding, agricultural collapse, widespread animal and plant extinction and freak extreme weather all have the capacity to cause international food markets to collapse and global political instablity. Geopolitically, it also benefits the UK to reduce its reliance on Russian gas and Gulf oil as our foreign policy is currently hamstrung because we are so dependant on human rights abusing regimes to provide our energy needs. Finding alternatives should be a priority. So what are UKIP’s policies about probably the most important political problem we face? According to their manifesto, they want to reduce the price of petrol, abolish British taxpayers’ contributions into solar power and wind turbines and opt out of the Climate Change Act which commits the UK to cutting its carbon emissions by 80 % by 2050. UKIP, they laugh in the face of science. If the consequences weren’t so catastrophic, I’d chuckle at their ridiculousness.

Of course, the main thrust of UKIP’s manifesto is about leaving the EU, although that’s spearheaded by its desire to stop immigration. Speaking personally, I have no great love for the EU in its present incarnation. It needs vast reform. But I also think there are many good parts to it as well; free movement of people with EU borders, £400 billion trade for our economy and being a signatory to the Human Court of Human Rights (which is especially important to me as the UK is a country without a constitution to guarantee my basic human rights). But I prefer to take my inspiration from parties like Podemos, Syriza and to some extent, the Five Star Movement, all of whose skepticism about the EU doesn’t translate itself into a dislike of the EU through the lens of hating immigrants, but a discussion about the broader effects of austerity, even though all of the aforementioned political parties are based in countries which are far poorer and have far more less capability of dealing with immigration than the UK. So what would happen if we did leave the EU? Well, there would probably be a huge stock market crash, a constitutional crisis as Scotland are very pro-EU, destablisation of Northern Ireland due to their border with the EU member, Ireland, huge loss of trade (as our European partners would be highly unlikely just to shake us by the hand, say bye, and re-sign all of our old trade treaties on the same favourable terms). It would also cost tens of billions of pounds to manage, money that should be spent on housing, schools, the NHS and the environment. Which apparently are all UKIP priorities. Well, apart from the planet, they don’t care about that so long as business is good. There is no word in UKIP’s manifesto about what would happen to the estimated 2.34 million EU migrants already living in the UK. Presumably they would just be expected to uproot their lives and leave their friends and families and go back to where they came from? Unless they are married to Nigel Farage. And what of the millions of British people living and working in other EU countries? If the UK were to leave the EU, would they be able to carry on living and working and loving in the country of their choice? Or would they have to pack up and return home to the motherland to the dreary prospect of living in UKIP Britain.

The UK had net immigration of 243,000 people last year. Some of these are EU immigrants, some are from elsewhere. The majority will not stay, if my immigrant friends are anything to go by. They come to the UK to learn English, to study, to improve their job prospects, to enjoy the culture, for love. After several years, once the realise the quality of life isn’t all that great, a lot move elsewhere. Even if they do stay, EU migrants make an estimated £20 billion net contribution to the UK’s tax coffers. To be frank, we need their money, skills and labour for our economic system to survive. And for the under 40s to get any kind of pension.

UKIP peddles the lie that immigration is the root of all the UK’s ills, conveniently not discussing the fact according to official government statistics, based on passport data, the number of EU migrants to the UK is almost exactly balanced by the amount of British migrants to other EU countries. Read that link again, Kippers. Sorry if the facts don’t fit with your ideology. But UKIP merely hides its dislike of all things foreign under the mantra of protecting British rights for British people. Apparently, it’s Johnny Foreigner’s fault that we don’t have enough social housing, have ridiculously high property prices, failing infrastructure, lack of jobs – especially for the working class. These problems exist, but it’s utterly disingenuous to blame this on immigration.

Immigration is a convenient figleaf for the right to hid behind. But their business model of hypercapitalism depends on cheap immigration to survive. And Nigel Farage knows this. If all those Latvian fruit-pickers and Polish builders leave, we would face economic collapse. All this chat about immigration is just a handy distraction from actually getting people to talk about the more complex failures of a whole economic system. We have no houses because successive governments didn’t build any and our politicians refuse to force the owners of over 1 million empty and/or derelict properties to make them habitable to ease our housing shortage. They just sit on the land and watch their bank accounts grow fatter. We sold off our industry and our oil and the working class are denied a living wage via legislation because that’s too ‘communist’. Instead of apprenticeships and careers, they have the scrapheap of the non-unionised service industry awaiting them. Our NHS is gradually being sold off to nefarious companies for profit, the MPs and Lords who voted for this monstrosity are overwhelmingly on the boards of private healthcare companies. The best way to cut the benefits bill would be to introduce a regional sensitive living wage, to halt the need for people to have their wages topped up by publicly funded tax credits. When housing benefit forms the second biggest cost of the benefits bill after pensions, and 90 % of housing benefit claimants are working, doesn’t the system need to change? What about rent caps, land value tax, progressive council tax rates? How about passing a law that ensured that all new builds included a hefty percentage of actually affordable and social housing? What about reform of the banking industry that caused the global recession in the first place? Highly unlikely when some of UKIP’s backers are the very people that got us into this mess in the first place. If UKIP really did care about the working class and the UK in general, then these are the sorts of issues it would be addressing in its manifesto. Instead it peddles the myth that if we stopped all immigration tomorrow, everything would be fine and dandy, just like in the 1950s (fine and dandy if you were white, male and middle/upper class, that is). No, it wouldn’t. We would still have exactly the same problems, because it’s the structure of our political system that needs to change, not the nationalities of those who make up our society. I understand people’s frustration with the political situation in the UK. I will not vote for Conservatives, Labour or the Liberal Democrats, but I think our problems are far more complex than just blaming the EU and immigration. The UK deserves better than UKIP. It deserves a complete political overhaul, but that isn’t going to begin by voting for Nigel Farage.

I’m an immigrant. I recently took advantage of the EU freedom of movement that the UK signs up to. I moved to a poor region of a southern European country. Unemployment is rife. Since I came here I have felt humbled by the welcome I’ve received. People are patient when I attempt to speak their language. No one accuses me of stealing their jobs. I’ve been offered houses to stay in, drinks, nights out, work, friendship. There are no articles in the newspapers here condemning immigrants, aka me. I couldn’t have felt more accepted. Like many other migrants, I’m not sure how long I’ll stay here and when I’ll move back to the UK. I want to learn another language, embrace another culture and escape the British weather. Contrast my experience with the Romanian guy I spoke to at a party in London this July. He lied about his nationality to me. When he eventually told me the country he came from, he did so with the words “I know the English hate us, so I pretend I’m from somewhere else”. He had been beaten up the weekend before by a load of English anti-immigration thugs, who told him to “Fuck off back to gypsy land” whilst punching him in the face. This is the atmosphere that UKIP and it’s anti-immigration rhetoric is fuelling, blame the immigrant rather than the political and economic structures that most of us helped to create and continue to vote for. Even Nick Griffin, BNP racist, is supporting UKIP now. Is this my country now? I couldn’t be more ashamed. And that, my friends, is why I don’t like UKIP.

*For some reason, the right seem to have it in for Romania, but don’t have much to say about Bulgaria. This puzzles me. Although in my opinion, both countries and cultures are equally fascinating

 

This is rape culture

“A rape culture is a complex of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm. In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable as death or taxes. This violence, however, is neither biologically nor divinely ordained. Much of what we accept as inevitable is in fact the expression of values and attitudes that can change.”

From “Transforming a Rape Culture” by Emilie Buchwald, Martha Roth and Pamela R. Fletcher.

It was a with a heavy heart and a sickening sense of deja vu that I read through the sordid, sad details of the report written by Professor Alexis Jay into the grooming and horrific torture and sexual abuse of young working class girls in Rotherham, England. In this small town, with a mere 50,000 inhabitants, the author of the report estimates that at least 1,400 girls (and this figure is considered to be on the conservative side, the true number of victims could be far, far greater) were groomed, raped, tortured, trafficked and beaten by groups of Pakistani British men. Even though social workers and small community groups such as Risky Business repeatedly reported their concerns to the police, the council and managers of various agencies, nothing was done. The girls were seen as unreliable, promiscuous liars, drug addicts and/or troubled petty criminals who were asking for it. Some girls were charged by the police with minor criminal offences, whilst the men who were terrorising these children were allowed to continue to abuse with impunity. And they are probably still doing so as you read this.

This is rape culture.

The media commentary and public uproar has been predictable. Whilst the report itself identifies the fact that organisations were wary of mentioning the ethnicity of the offenders for fear of being perceived as racist as adding to the failure to protect these vulnerable young women, it also exposes the fact that, yet again, the voices of young girls when accusing powerful, well-connected men were disbelieved, discounted and ignored. In the wake of similar grooming and abuse cases involving British Pakistani men and young white working class girls in Derby, Rochdale and Oxford, it’s clear that there are big issues to address about the misognystic attitudes of a significant minority of young men within the British Pakistani community. And yet … I read comment after comment demonising all Muslims, all Asians, all Pakistanis in the wake of these horrors. It’s very easy for us to demonise communities we see as foreign, as other. Have we already forgotten these names … Jimmy Saville, Max Clifford, Rolf Harris, Ian Watkins and Stuart Hall? Why are we not asking the same questions of what we perceive as our own culture, and asking whether British societal values have had a part to play in these dreadful events? Rapists and child abusers are white, black, brown and yellow. They are Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jewish and atheist. They are poor, rich, working, middle and upper class. There are few common denominators. But they do exist; the vast majority of those who commit sexual offences are male, and these crimes are committed mainly, although by no means exclusively, against women and girls. Our collective refusal to admit that there is a huge problem with sexual violence against women and girls in this country allows this abuse to continue unhindered.

This is rape culture.

How many more police investigations will it take for us to admit that we are failing women and girls? How many more resignations and reports and children raped and women beaten and murdered do we need to prove to the general public that we live in a deeply misoygnistic society that sees the stories of vulnerable women as lesser testimony than the words of powerful men? Despite the recent onslaught of cases of sickening abuse, we still read columns in the newspapers saying urging us to let sleeping dogs lie, it’s all a witchhunt, that women and children who were assaulted and abused all these years ago don’t deserve justice, and that perverted old men should be left in peace.

This is rape culture.

Take a look at these Government statistics for England and Wales. Between the years of 2009/10 and 2011/12 an average of 78,000 people were raped; 69,000 were women, 9,000 men. As rape is a hugely under-reported crime, the true figures are likely to be much higher. 4.6 % of all women aged between 16 and 59 have been the victims of rape or attempted rape. In 2011/12, one in five females between the ages of 16 and 59 have been the victim of a sexual offence or attempted sexual offence since the age of 16. Again, the true figure is likely to be much higher. Despite these astronomical figures (which are conservative estimates), on average there are only 1,097 rape convictions (across both genders) every year.

This is rape culture.

We live in a country where our government and police formulate policies whereby undercover police officers are encouraged to have sex with female environmental and animal rights activists, even having children with them, before vanishing from these women’s lives. Some call this state sanctioned rape due to the deception involved. No one cares about the ruined lives of these women and children. Indeed, some government ministers think it’s a good thing.

This is rape culture.

Women and young girls’ experience of the police when trying to bring the perpetrators of sexual offences against them to account is at best a very mixed bag. As in the Rotherham case, some police forces seem reluctant to investigate cases properly. New figures released by the Inspectorate of Constabulary show vast variations between different regions of how many recorded rapes ended up being classified as “no crime”. In Cumbria it’s only 3 %, but in Lincolnshire it’s a staggering 33 %. This has to beg the question as to whether certain police forces are bothering to deal properly with these type of offences. The Metropolitan police opened Project Sapphire specifically to deal with rape and serious sexual violence to great fanfare. By 2013, after several failed investigations, the project faced a massive overhaul after the Southwark unit was found to have encouraged women to drop allegations to boost detection rates, with the result that the husband of one woman who had dropped charges against him went on to murder their two children. The IPCC report condemned officers, saying their approach of “failing to believe victims” was “wholly inappropriate”. One Detective Constable was jailed for his failure to investigate claims of sexual offences and for falsifying police records. In London as a whole, 19 officers were disciplined, including three who were sacked. From March 2012 to March 2013, the Metropolitan police found 165 sexual offences and incredibly five rapes so trivial that they let the perpetrators walk away with nothing more than a caution.

This is rape culture.

For the rape and sexual abuse/assault cases that do end up in court, the victim often ends up traumatised, facing hostile questioning and sometimes being torn apart on the witness stand. Some women I know personally who have had to go through this process, cited their difficulty in coping with our adversarial legal system as affecting their ability to give evidence to the best of their ability, and acknowledging the fact that their middle class backgrounds, good mental health and family support helped them in their efforts to give convincing testimony. For many women and girls from troubled, working class backgrounds, just like those children in the Rotherham case, their backgrounds and issues were used against them, just as they are in many cases that reach court. Drug addiction, criminal records, perceived promiscuity, lack of education; all of these factors bias police and juries against victims of abuse and rape. And sometimes giving evidence can result in tragedy; in 2012 Frances Andrade gave evidence against her abuser, Michael Brewer (who was eventually found guilty of five counts of indecent assault), and likened the ordeal to “being raped all over again”. She killed herself days after stepping down from the witness stand. Tabloid newspapers continue to peddle the old lie that women delight in making false allegations of rape, even though they know full well that in the whole of England and Wales in a 17 month period from 2011-2012 only 35 false allegations of rape were made. And sometimes the ordeal doesn’t end after you testify and your rapist is found guilty. After Ched Evans, a footballer for Sheffield United, was convicted of rape, his victim’s name was outed on social media, she was threatened, and eventually had to change her name and be relocated to another area of the country. She received around £5,000 compensation. Ched Evans, on the other hand, is shortly to leave prison, after serving 2.5 years of a 5 year sentence, and is being welcomed back at Sheffield United (despite 60,000 people signing a petition to oppose this move), no doubt with a healthy salary, and before long we will see the unedifying spectacle of thousands of football fans shouting their support for him from the stands.

This is rape culture.

Our politicians pay lip service to womens’ rights, but their actions belie their words. Cuts in legal aid mean that vulnerable abused and trafficked women may no longer have access to justice. In the family courts, many women are having to represent themselves (if they can afford to bring the case in the first place) in the effort to try and extricate themselves and their children from domestic violence and forced marriages. resulting in unequal access to justice and unfair and dangerous outcomes. Domestic violence charities have had 100 % funding cuts. Even if we look at the laws in the UK we see a codified lack of protection for women and girls. A crime is currently classed as a hate crime if they are committed against someone because of their “disability, gender-identity, race, religion or belief, or sexual orientation”. Gender isn’t even mentioned.

This is rape culture.

I was born in 1980. My mother told me stories of the discrimination she faced as a young women and promised it would be different for me. But for just under the first third of my life it was perfectly legal for a man to rape his wife in the country and culture that I grew up in. Marital rape has only been considered to be a crime since 1991. When I was a teenager, the bare breasts of 16 and 17 year old girls were commonplace on page 3 of the Sun for the delectation of the straight male gaze. That newspaper even thought it proper to print a countdown to Charlotte Church’s 16th birthday, when she would finally be of legal age to have sex with. Before the age of 18 I had been groped and flashed at on more than one occasion. Since becoming an adult I have been had my arse grabbed, tits squeezed, experienced upskirt shots on public transport, unwanted fingers of random strangers shoved between my legs, and on one occasion inside my vagina, been threatened with rape, orally, anally and vaginally, by random men so many times I can’t even remember the final tally. And my experiences are not uncommon. They are normal. Ask any woman in the UK and you would be hard pushed to find someone who at the very least hasn’t suffered from a single event of your average everyday sexual assault.

This is rape culture.

We live in a society where a woman’s worth is based on her looks and perceived sexual attractiveness is considered the most important asset we possess. The internet has opened up a Pandora’s Box of misogyny. Revenge porn, where women’s lives are ruined by their exes posting sexual videos and photos of them on the internet, is not even considered a crime in the UK. We are only a click away from seeing images of violent, hardcore pornography, where women are degraded, spat on, insulted, hit, their every orifice stuffed with cocks. If consenting adults want to watch this, that’s fine by me, as they hopefully have the ability to make a distinction between fantasy and real life, but there are a generation of children and young people growing up with these sorts of images of sex and women as their main form of sex education. And we should all find that deeply worrying. If you don’t think that images can affect our perceptions of life, then why is advertising a billion pound global industry? Women in the public eye, especially feminists, are faced with a daily torrent of abuse online, including rape and murder threats. Feminists are slated by the media and online commentators for championing so-called trivial causes, like having a woman’s face on a £10 note, or objecting to bare breasts in newspapers. What these critics fail to appreciate is that the UK is still a deeply sexist society, as a UN human rights expert concluded earlier this year, and we live in a culture where women are still considered lesser than men in a myriad of subtle and not so subtle ways. We have a mountain to climb until women achieve equality, and every battle, however small, is worth fighting, so we can dismantle this discrimination, piece by piece. Because a culture of sexual objectification of women and girls, where one gender is perceived as lesser, a society where it’s normalised to see people who have vaginas as sluts and slags and bitches and hoes, all adds fuel to the fire of the perception of a woman’s body as something to be groped and penetrated whether she consents or not. This a culture that allows dreadful situations like Rotherham to occur. And unless we fight against it, and admit our failings as a society and how far we have to go, these travesties against women and young girls will continue.

This is my culture. This is your culture. This is British culture. And this is rape culture.

 

 

Why I’m supporting Uruguay tonight (if I watch the game at all)

When I was a kid, football bored me to tears. I used to sit on the sofa next to my dad while he watched the results come up on the BBC. The bleeping of the data entry and the soporific voice of the man reading out the scores, with the disappointed tone emphasising the losing team sent me to sleep within about 30 seconds flat. On 23 April 1995, when I was 15 years old, everything changed. I was watching the news with my Manchester United supporting Granddad, and saw Eric Cantona kung fu kick a racist Crystal Palace fan. From that moment on, I didn’t’ care what the media said; this man was my hero and I would follow his team slavishly, as well as that of my own country, through hell and high water; the successes of Manchester United over the coming years being a neat counterpoint to the England team’s inability to put a penalty where it should go, namely the back of the net when it actually counted.

But in the last five or six years, my affection for the beautiful game has dwindled. I no longer run home to catch match of the day, or watch every single Champions League game in the pub with a load of randoms because none of my friends care that much about whether Benfica might be a great outside pick for this year’s tournament. I still love football, but I have begun to harbour a deep disgust for the some of the people who organise and play the games. There have been corruption scandals, slave labour and death in Qatar, and the bulldozing of homes of poor residents and police brutality to prepare for the World Cup, and that’s just been this year. I abhor the racism that still exists (even in England) that Sepp Blatter seems to think can be solved by a handshake after the game. I think the rampant homophobia that runs through the game is the dirty little secret no one really is willing to discuss – why has no English player felt able to come out, even in this day and age? And misogyny, well, that’s rampant, and no one even complains about that. Whether it’s blaming footballer wives for their partners’ under par performances, or spit roasting young drunk girls in hotel rooms, or players beating their wives but still managing to hold their place in the nation’s hearts (and don’t even mention the fact that domestic violence rates go through the roof during big football competitions). And rapists? Well, they are fine too, according to the English league. Just serve out your pitiful sentence, and then we’ll pick you up from the prison doors and take you straight to the training ground. Ched Evans, good lad.

I really started questioning my support for the England team two years ago at Euro 2012, when I realised that yes, my support for my country’s name would mean me cheering on John Terry, a man who called Anton Ferdinand “a fucking black cunt”. This is someone who I would cross the street to avoid in real life, but now he’s supposed to be my hero? And my team’s captain? And of course, Wayne Rooney, who cheated on his girlfriend, now wife, for years with sex workers and doubtless many other women. He’ll be in the starting 11 tonight, so I guess I’ll be expected to forgive and forget and get behind a man who I’d think was a total dickhead if I came across him at a party. A dishonourable mention also goes out to one of England’s other current heroes, who has rumours swirling around about possible domestic violence charges. Not to mention all the stories that surround the England team about their “exploits” with young women. These are the types of people I’ll be supporting? I don’t think so.

There is also the fact that I don’t really want to shout out my country’s name right now, as it’s a little embarrassing. All the things I am proud of about England are being slowly flushed down the toilet. Multiculturalism and tolerance is under threat by our country’s championing of the odious UKIP. The BBC has become a toothless and biased news broadcaster, toeing the government line for fear of repercussions. And the NHS is slowly being sold off to the highest bidder. Let’s not even talk about “austerity”. We are going backwards as a nation, sleepwalking into a corporatocracy. And no one seems to care. This is nothing to be nationalistic about. It’s a tragedy.

Which brings me to Uruguay and my hero, their current president, the former political prisoner and guerilla, Mr Jose Mujica. As well as ensuring Uruguay is the first country in the world to legalise the cultivation, sale and consumption of marijuana, he’s led his country down a liberal path, and during his tenure he has legalised abortion and gay marriage, is aiming to have 90 % of his country’s energy resources come from renewable resources by 2015. Mujica drives a VW Beetle, donates most of his salary to charity, and has previously offered up the Presidential Palace to shelter homeless people during the winter, and has taken in Guantanomo Bay detainees and offered shelter to Syrian refugee children. There is so much to cheer for here, I don’t even know where to start.

But I’m not just rejecting my country on ethical grounds; the culture I grew up in has had a profound effect on me, as in I love an underdog. Uruguay has lost two of its biggest footballing superstars to injury on the eve of the World Cup; Maxi Pereira and Diego Lugano are not playing in tonight’s match. They are hobbled! My heart is already starting to bleed a little. The poor little blighters also had their whole team’s supply of Dulce de Leche confiscated by Brazilian customs. Anyone who has tasted this South American nectar of the gods, knows how hard that must have hit morale. And then, last night, the team’s hotel was attacked by an infestation of termites! Some more cynical commentators are crying foul play. Either way, the odds are stacked against this tiny country of only 3.5 million people, and I think they need my love and support. So that’s why, if I cheer for anyone tonight, it’s going to be Uruguay. Unless Luis Suarez is deemed fit enough to play, the horrible, bitey racist. Then I think I’ll just give up, have a big glass of wine and get an early night and maybe give up on football until it cleans its act up.

 

In sympathy for the single ladies …

There is something I’ve noticed over the last few years since I have hit my thirties. More and more of my female friends have been airing this problem over a glass of wine or three. These wonderful, clever, hilarious, successful ladies have been worrying about the fact that they’re not coupled up. Now hold it. Don’t stop reading. This isn’t going to turn into a dull, navel-gazing exploration of the problems that 30 something women have in landing themselves a man, and by extension a pair of little ankle biters to boot. These women are pissed off and resentful and questioning themselves when they previously didn’t give a shit about the fact that they are flying solo. Why? Because they’re surrounded by smug, irritating examples of domestic, marital bliss who won’t stop making them feel like their lack of a plus one for weddings and christenings is something to be very, very concerned about indeed.

When you’re in your 20s, as a woman, it’s fine to be going through boyfriends like I munch my way through a cheeseboard. Being single is a perfectly acceptable state of being, apart from your thrice yearly visit to distant elderly relatives who are always disappointed by a lack of ring on your finger once you get past 25. But then something happens. This is especially true if you live outside of a big metropolitan area in the UK. Basically, maybe because it’s what they’ve always wanted, maybe because of a lack of things to do, or maybe because sometimes life just turns out that way, everyone gets hitched and starts having kids. Great! It’s brilliant that funny old Julia has fallen in love with boring old Dave the accountant and they can now wax lyrical about mortgages and nappies and nursery spaces and the re-furb of the local pub. I hope they are really happy. But why do these people think that everyone shares their idea of what the ideal life is like? Why do they feel the need to make their single female friends feel somehow lacking because they haven’t landed a man?

If you’ve spent your 20s travelling the world, having lovers in five continents, trying to preserve the lesser spotted cave rat from extinction in southern Madagascar, worked your arse off to start own business selling incredible couture, got heavily involved in political movements trying to make the world a better place, spent time living in a commune experiencing sustainable living, or dancing your socks of to superlative techno all over Europe, or all the above, chances are you’ve just been too busy doing other stuff to concentrate on putting a ring on it. What you will have gained is more adventures and life experience that most people in their two up, two downs would give their eye teeth for. So then why when you go around to catch up with old friends back home, and you’re the only single person there, does the conversation turn always turn to your love life or lack thereof? No one seems interested in the fact that your little start up has finally turned a profit, or you’re off to volunteer in Papua New Guinea next month. Gemma and Susie keep sharing concerned looks about the fact that well, you’re 33, and shouldn’t you be online dating and aren’t you worried about your fertility and why don’t you lower your sights a bit and oh, look, surprise guest! This is Brian, and he works in media sales and likes going fishing on the weekends! I mean we know you like going on naked weaving retreats and smoking DMT in your spare time, but you guys will have loads of things in common, I’m sure. Namely, you’re both S-I-N-G-L-E! Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

And you sit there, wanting to stab them through the heart with their perfectly matching dinner cutlery. And you want to say, no, stop right there. I would never shag Brian if he was the last man alive. He is dull and thinks Jeremy Clarkson is funny and he works for Fox News and I hate them and think they stand for everything that is wrong in the world. He also has a really weird facial twitch that he probably does during sex and I’m not sure I could deal with that. You are my friends, you are supposed to know me, and you think that I would be a good match with this weirdo? And actually, I don’t want a fucking boyfriend, because I have this really great lover who is a photojournalist in Albania, and I only see him twice a month, but that’s totally cool because I’m focusing on myself right now and I like my freedom and the fact that if I want to get on a train tomorrow to Paris, I can. And you know what, Gemma, Susie, you lives bore the shit out of me. I’m glad you’re happy, but if I had boyfriends like yours, and all I did was hang out in John Lewis and local pubs with boil in a bag food on the weekends, listening only to the Best of Michael Ball, I think I’d get into my sparkling Ford Mondeo and drive it at 80 miles an hour into the nearest, perfectly strimmed privet hedge. So please, stop making patronising judgments on my life and just butt the fuck out.

But, of course, because you have good manners you just bite your tongue until it bleeds and smile sweetly. And talk to Brian about Jeremy Clarkson for at least 15 minutes. And how there is a marvellous sale on saucers in Debenhams this weekend. And then go home, dodging Brian’s twitchy, awkward kiss, to your cool little flat, crack open a bottle of pinot and breathe a sigh of relief. But … the niggling seed of doubt is planted. And after a few more dinners, and well-meaning set-ups with random blokes you’d cross the street to avoid, even the most steadfast of singletons can start to question themselves. And it’s horrible. You’re perfectly happy with your life, on the whole, but if all these people who are supposed to your friends keep telling you that you’re missing something, that you’re doing something wrong, or worst of all, that there is something wrong with you. And then it becomes a thing. A thing that can end up making you feel really, really shit.

But here’s the rub, there is nothing wrong with you. There is something wrong with these people who are constantly hassling you about your lack of “other half”. Which by the way is the most sick-making expression in the universe, ever. And if you have any friends that use, ditch them instantly. We are round, whole people, not neat, fitting halves of some sort of sickly easter egg. These people make the classic mistake of thinking that happiness is a one-size fits all onesie. No! Personally, I live in a warehouse with four other people, like watching documentaries about places where everyone dies, travelling in warzones and listening to heavy tech-house sets for hours on end. Do I try and persuade people like Susie and Gemma that they should come and join me because it’s so much better than their current set up? Of course not, because they would fucking hate it, because we are different people and different things make us happy.

Relationships can be great, they can also be really rubbish. Sometimes they can be both at the same time. But they are bloody hard work. They can bring you love, affection, support, laughs in dark times, all of these wonderful things. But when they go wrong, they can also be the loneliest place to be in the world, a far more desolate state of affairs than being single. So let’s stop pretending that they are a panacea for life. Especially if a person’s life doesn’t need any “fixing” in the first place.

If you are single, enjoy it! Even if you do feel a bit blue sometimes because you have no one to share your crazy adventures with, or work just generally sucks, remember there is no better opportunity to focus all of your energy on yourself. Because if and when you do get coupled up, a lot of that focus inevitably ends up focused somewhere else, and you just can’t achieve half the things that could toute seule. And if your friends are still being a pain in the arse about the fact you don’t have a boyfriend, remember, time and statistics are on your side. In ten years around 50 % of them will be divorced, in bits, totally unable to cope, crying on your shoulder asking for advice to navigate the “minefield” of the single life, and then eventually, painfully, growing new wings and exploring a whole world of unique, startling and exciting possibilities they never thought possible. Look who’s smug now.

Looking into a heart of darkness: some reflections on the Ian Watkins case.

A few days ago I woke up not only wanting to have a long, boiling hot shower, but also feeling the need to scour my soul, scrub clean the insides of my mind and un-see and un-read some of the things I had learned about the Ian Watkins case the previous evening. For those of you who have somehow missed the story, Ian Watkins was the singer of a moderately sucessful (and musically dire) emo band called Lostprophets. A few days ago, on the first day of his trial, he pleaded guilty to a range of child abuse charges, including the attemped rape of an 11 month old baby. Two women, who cannot be named to protect the identities of their children, had offered up their children to Watkins to be abused and abused their own kids themselves at the singer’s behest. Further charges may be filed against Watkins as a tranche of videos of him having violent and degrading sex with underage fans has been unearthed. Many of the details of the abuse have not been printed in the newspapers or magazines as they were felt to be simply too awful for consumption of the general public. Indeed, if the case had proceeded to trial, the jurors were to be offered counselling to help them deal with the extreme nature of the video footage they would have to watch to consider all of the evidence put forward by the CPS. If you really want to know more about the case, this article gives a clear outline of some of what actually happened. Be warned, it’s unremittingly grim.

It would probably be safe to say that Watkins is currently the most hated man in Britain right now. Whenever I think of him and the things that he has done, tabloid journalism adjectives fly around my mind; sick, depraved, evil. And the same goes for the two mothers who abused their children and allowed them to be abused by him. But I think it’s important to try and understand where this wickedness came from. It’s so easy to write off people as just evil, when in fact the truth is much scarier than that. Evil people look and behave just like the rest of us, most of the time anyway. And I wonder if Ian Watkins had not become famous if he still would have abused children? Certainly the man seems to have had a healthy sexual appetite for adults. He had sex with both men and women, and had long term relationships as well. But what seems to have happened is that he became addicted to the power rush that sex with young female fans gave him. He quite literally had 14, 15 and 16 year old girls begging to have sex with him. And they were so obsessed with their idol that they would quite literally do anything to get into bed with him. It seems that Watkins found this total power and control intoxicating, and seemed to get a rush out of degrading and abusing girls (because they were girls, most definitely not women), pushing the boundaries more and more, because he could. Because he was a famous rock singer. Of course, this behaviour isn’t exclusive to Watkins. Everyone has heard the horrendous stories of what various rock bands did to groupies to sexually humiliate them, because they could get away with it. But Watkins seems to have taken things a step further by persuading fans to offer up their children for sexual abuse. It seems the man was addicted to power and transgression. He had such complete power over these women that he could make them break the strongest of cultural and familial taboos, and then of course transgress these taboos himself. And he could get away with it. And he did get away with it for a very long time.

And then we have the women. Again, I wonder if they would have gone on to abuse children if they had never met Watkins? I doubt it. I know very little of the older woman, but I have read quite extensively about the younger woman. She was obsessed with Watkins and had been for a very long time. She was 20 years old when she was charged with these offences, and from information gleaned from fan sites it seems she had been sexually involved with Watkins since she was 15 or 16 years old. He would have been in his early 30s at this time. She was utterly obsessed with him; her twitter feed was all about him, she went through his bins and many of the people who knew her were concerned about her mental well-being due to her fixation on Watkins. It seems fairly clear cut to me that the singer probably groomed her from a young age, engaged in fairly hardcore and extreme sex with her from her mid-teens onwards, and probably only gave her the attention and “love” that she craved when she fulfilled his increasingly twisted sexual desires**. It seems she never had any normalcy in her life, and although what she has done is just beyond my comprehension, it seems she was a victim of Watkins as well, but sadly went on to commit abuse, rather than escape from it.

But one of the most appalling features of this case is the fact that so many people knew about Ian Watkins’ appalling behaviour, but when they reported him to the police, they did absolutely nothing about it. His on/off girlfriend, Jo Majic, reported him to police in 2008 after he admitted to her that he wanted to have sex with children. She also went to the police several times after this after he showed her disturbing images on his laptop. Four different police forces contacted South Wales Police to give them information pertaining to Watkins’ suspected abuse.  Several years ago online fan sites and chatrooms were full of young women talking about the fact that Watkins like to abuse children, have rough sex with underage girls and was interested in giving drugs to kids. Several young women are said to have reported him to the police for showing them pictures of child pornography. And South Wales Police did absolutely nothing. Ian Watkins was eventually arrested because police officers searched his house on a drugs tip off.

Have we learned nothing at all? After Jimmy Saville and the grooming cases, weren’t the police and other agencies supposed to be taking women more seriously? Why didn’t they listen to Jo Majic? I’m guessing it’s because she looks a bit alternative and is an escort. Why didn’t they investigate the claims of several young women, ex-fans of Lostprophets? Probably because they assumed these girls were making things up because they were obsessed with him. Watkins was hardly careful with his horrible hobby; he stored images on iCloud, showed fans pictures of abused 5 year olds and seems to have told more than one person that he fantasised about child abuse. And still the police did nothing. If they had been doing their jobs properly he would have been arrested years ago. Instead, because the word of a famous man is more important than those of many marginalised women, at least two babies and countless young women have suffered hideous abuse at the hands of this man. And I am fully expecting more victims to come forward in the coming months. I fear we are only at the beginning of a very awful story.  But really I only have two questions; when will this stop? And when will those in power listen to the voices of women when they cry out?

*These are my asterisks. I don’t want my blog picked up by paedophiles doing awful searches.

**I’ve got all of this information from various fan sites on the internet. However, I don’t want to link to them as they name the women, and their names should not be in the public domain to protect their children; victims of sexual offences have lifelong anonymity.

Words on travel …

Well, having said I’d update this blog more regularly, I’ve well and truly buggered that one up. What can I say but that life really has got in the way in these last few weeks. Spewing rants/polemics/ramblings/whimsies into the ether hasn’t been top of my list of priorities. However, I haven’t totally abandoned the wonders of the written word, you’ll all be pleased to know. I’ve been involved in a super exciting project that a friend of mine has recently launched called “The Wild Times”. It’s a kind of hybrid online social networking/lifestyle magazine, which keeps you up to date with all the latest happenings in London town, from superlative electronic music happenings whose sounds will make love to your eardrums, to the best place in town to eat fermented turnip soup(!). And everything in between. They also have a little escape section. Friends have been moaning that for someone who is such a travel slut as I am, I don’t actually write anything about my adventures. This is partly due to the fact that the stuff I get up to whilst in gallivanting around places with strange sounding postcodes (well, mainly no postcodes at all – I’m looking at you Democratic Republic of Congo) is ridiculous, often illegal and could get my passport red flagged in 22 countries. At least. So I guess I should write about it then? Whilst I work up the nerve to write something really scandalous (and update my blog with something proper, serious and political) in the meantime you can read my little essays on Whitby in north east England and Leh in northern India, to get a taste of what I got up to this summer. Enjoy!

Some superlative journalism for a rainy, lazy Sunday afternoon.

I’ve been working like a slave of late, in a bid to fund new adventures and pay that yearly menacing tax bill. Life has become a monotonous timetable of chaining myself to my desk for 10 hours, coming home late, eating, sleeping (badly) and waking up horrendously early to rinse and repeat. Seven days a week, for the last two weeks. This morning I woke up and decided to step off the treadmill and rest my mind and body, mainly via the medium of going to the pub with a beautiful boy, demolishing a roast and several glasses of wine. Returning to my shabby, messy room, I rolled around on the bed for a while; after a mere two weeks of uninterrupted wage slavery, I had already become unused to the luxury of free time, those seconds, minutes and hours that were wholly and selfishly mine, to do with what I pleased. Alas, financial constraints do not allow me to jump on a plane somewhere warm, sexy and, well, just not bloody here, drink mezcal in seedy bars, shimmy like a disco serpent at some grimy underground club, or even wile away a few hours picking up obscure out of print novels at the second-hand bookshop underneath my house.

So I began to read the papers online. And I read a thought-provoking article on the Guardian website about the rising prevalence of men and women in Japan, who as well as not wanting to marry or have kids, have limited interest in any sort of relationship or physical intimacy at all. And I wondered if, like with gadgets and technology, will the rest of the world follow where Japan treads first into the future. And then I felt slightly startled that I had never considered that this version of the future. And then I started thinking about what the essence of good journalism is. Good journalism can make you look at the world from another perspective. Good journalism tells the truth, or at least the correspondent’s version of it. Good journalism shines a light on dark places. Good journalism investigates issues that are too often ignored and marginalised. Good journalism gives voice to the voiceless. Good journalism provides checks and balances on our centres of power, holding them to account for the things that they do. Good journalism means that you didn’t have to be there, you can feel like you were just from absorbing the shape, sound and sentiments of the words on a screen or printed page.

And then I realised how awful most journalism has become. News outlets print lies and broadcast distortions. Giving a balanced picture is less important than being entertainment. People’s lives are ruined. We are fed a diet of meaningless non-stories, where the sex life of minor celebrities is deemed more important than the death of thousands. And increasingly, our ‘news’ just reflects the agendas of the corporate monsters that produce it. But all is not lost. There are many journalists out there who write and risk their lives to get their truth to us. Who fight back against the constant onslaught of lies and misinformation that are flung at us. Who don’t cave in to government or corporate pressure. And who tell the truth. So I thought about all of these things, and re-read some of my favourite pieces of writing of the last couple of years, and thought I would share them here, so if anyone wants to spend a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon reading real news written by real journalists, they can do so.

So first up is this wonderful piece in Vice. Previously dismissed as a pretentious hipster’s bible, Vice has really upped its game in the last year, and published this incredible essay about the Mennonite community in Bolivia. Similar to the Amish, but speaking only Low German, this isolated religious community were plagued by ‘ghost rapes’. Hundreds of their women and girls were waking up in the morning with signs of rape and sexual assault. This article shines a light on what happened, who was to blame, and the effects of the aftermath on this unique and little known society.

If you like to read something that makes you laugh until you wet yourself/snort coffee out your nose/give yourself a stitch from chuckling so much, then I can thoroughly recommend anything by Clive Martin in Vice. I particularly enjoy his Big Night Out … series, where he goes on a night out taking in different youth subcultures, from psy-trance to university laddism. My personal favourite is this article about his foray into provincial club nights with the dreaded ‘celebrity’ PA. What starts out as a hilarious dissection of everything that is wrong with this sort of night out, segues into something much more profound; a damning indictment on the type of culture that produces this drek as something to be enjoyed. Just brilliant.

Next up are a couple of pieces from the LA Times. These folks produce investigative journalism that the craven NYT can only dream of. Both pieces I’m going to link to are six or seven years old now, but they are so bloody good and still so relevant, that everyone should read them. First up is Steve Lopez’ five article series on the infamous Skid Row in Los Angeles. A sympathetic depiction of the lives of people who are condemned to live in squalor by disability, drug addiction and mental illness in one of the richest countries in the world. It’s still relevant because the sickening scenes Lopez describes can still be found in any medium sized American city in 2013. Shameful. Secondly, this piece is a scathing expose on Joe Francis, the man behind the “Girls Gone Wild” empire, that basically persuades drunk (and sometimes underage) girls to get naked and filmed whilst performing sex acts in exchange for a few bits of merchandize and the chance to become “famous”. Just vile; the man, and the culture that promotes this bullshit.

Personally, I have never seen the appeal of going to somewhere like SeaWorld, to watch Killer Whales with floppy fins perform tricks for screaming children. If you’re someone who feels strongly about animals being kept in captivity to entertain human beings, you should read this investigation into SeaWorld, its Killer Whales and the death of one of their trainers. If you don’t see anything wrong with the idea of animals suffering to make us giggle or be amazed, then you should also read this. As it will change your mind.

Saudi Arabia has always been a place that I’ve been equally fascinated and repelled by in equal measure. I was offered a very well paid job there several years ago. I thought long and hard before eventually turning it down, my curiosity about such a closed society was outweighed by the rampant sexism and dearth of culture that I would have to endure. But then a piece like this comes along and I think maybe I should have given it a go, at least for a few months. This fine piece of journalism shines a light on never mentioned gay scene in Saudi; how it works, who does it and the difference between notions of homosexuality between the Kingdom and the West.

Robert Fisk is one of my favourite journalists. If you ever want to know anything about the Middle East, then go straight to the Independent’s website and read everything he has ever written about the region. He is often smeared by those on the right who claim he knows nothing. The fact that he speaks Arabic, has lived in Beirut for over 25 years and has covered every conflict in the region for decades seems to escape these armchair analysts. One of his most hard-hitting articles is this one about the massive increase in cancer and birth defects in Iraqi children since the US dropped white phosophorus on Fallujah. Heartbreaking. And something to bear in mind the next time the President talks about other regimes using chemical weapons and committing war crimes.

Lastly, this article might be my favourite piece of 2013 so far. It’s written by Francesca Borri, an Italian freelance journalist who has been risking her life in Syria to report on the madness of the civil war there. It’s a truly brilliant piece of writing, reflecting the dangers and difficulties of being a freelance war reporter, the frustrations of dealing with an ignorant press and the most life-affirming, truth filled last paragraph I’ve ever read. Utterly stunning.