Parenthetically Speaking 2: Brackets Removal.

This comment was left on https://www.free-ebooks.net/ebook/An-Individual-Will:
BJ Wagner (referring, of course, to my novel):

If one took out all the asides and explanations given in parenthesis it would have been better. I got lost and finally gave up reading it.

Okay. This is (has been) a recurring theme, an oft-repeated criticism – that is, that I had overused parenthesis. It’s incredibly dispiriting to think this would get in the way of someone’s reading enjoyment and stop them finishing the book, particularly once they’d gone to the trouble of downloading it in the first place.

In short, and not to put too fine (or blunt) a point on it, I have not had a single piece of reader feedback that has not mentioned the use of parenthesis. Clearly, the reader – “average” or otherwise – finds parenthesis (brackets) distracting – sufficiently so, in BJ’s case, to abandon the endeavour altogether. No author wants this, obviously.

What, then, to do? Respond, also obviously.

So – I have gone into my novel and reworked, removed, redrafted, re-edited, rewritten, to minimise the use of parenthesis. Only the following examples remain:

Martha (Bottomley) had, indeed, been there, and had been able and willing to shed a good deal of light on the personal darkness of others. This use should be fairly obvious – inasmuch as her surname had not previously been mentioned, but must surely be known by the first-person narrator writing in the past tense.

And the following paragraph, which explains my decision to go with parenthesis in the first place:

I remember thinking something like: Oh, so she’s part of it. The it in question having to do with the idea of a group of articulate young people, tenuously, or virtually, connected, with some species of anti-life philosophy that had something to do with the death of Adrian Mansfield (probably), his sister (possibly), and Jeremy Collins (certainly).

Their role here should be obvious, too – so, too (not to be too grandiose about it), their contribution to the music of the sentence. Lets look at the last part:

… that had something to do with the death of Adrian Mansfield (probably), his sister (possibly), and Jeremy Collins (certainly).

The above is not (in my opinion) better expressed thus:

… that probably had something to do with the death of Adrian Mansfield, possibly his sister, and certainly Jeremy Collins.

Or perhaps you think it is. It’s certainly simpler and less (over)wrought, but it has less precision of meaning and the tempo, the beat, is entirely lost. So (yes) I left that in, but (also yes) I responded to reader feedback by reworking, redrafting, and removing, so that only these examples remain. It is my earnest hope that this makes the novel easier to read for the “average” reader.

Mostly people only notice what’s there, of course, unless they’re expecting to see something – and, as one of my critics has pointed out, no-one outside a legal department looks at a sentence and thinks: Oh, I know how that could be improved – with parenthesis.

Well, quite.

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Parenthetically speaking.

Consider this.

Would it really be quite decent (or prudent) to tell her he was dead?

The above sentence is from my novel. What we’re interested in here is the use of parenthesis or brackets, which I’m told I over-use, and which (I’m told) adds difficulty for the reader.

So – consider the following:

Would it really be quite decent (or prudent) to tell her he was dead?
Would it really be quite decent – or prudent – to tell her he was dead?
Would it really be quite decent, or prudent, to tell her he was dead?
Would it really be quite decent or prudent to tell her he was dead?

The question is: can and does the “average” reader mark the difference, appreciate the distinction? Or does the appearance of an “unfamiliar” punctuation mark (the brackets) simply act as a distraction, a stumbling block, a jagged impediment?

Consider, too, the following:

My hair is shoulder-length and mousy and (outside the private domain) invariably worn tied or clipped back. I had been a (the) DCI in Amberton for two and half years, having briefly been a DI in the Met. Amberton has a population of eighty thousand or so souls and a slower pace of life than the capital. Friends and colleagues had assumed (quite correctly) that I had craved a quiet (or quieter) life. I had, indeed, begun to find London brittle and dispiriting.

Here it is again with the parenthesis replaced with dashes:

My hair is shoulder-length and mousy and – outside the private domain – invariably worn tied or clipped back. I had been a – the – DCI in Amberton for two and half years, having briefly been a DI in the Met. Amberton has a population of eighty thousand or so souls and a slower pace of life than the capital. Friends and colleagues had assumed – quite correctly – that I had craved a quiet – or quieter – life. I had, indeed, begun to find London brittle and dispiriting.

To me, there is something of the theatrical aside to the parenthetic content, a change of tone, an extra thought – some of which might survive with the use of dashes, though it is distinctly weakened. With merely commas or no punctuation at all, this (the tone change, the extra thought) is entirely lost, and the meaning (not so subtly) changed.

Here it is again with the dashes stripped out and not replaced:

My hair is shoulder-length and mousy and outside the private domain invariably worn tied or clipped back. I had been a, the, DCI in Amberton for two and half years, having briefly been a DI in the Met. Amberton has a population of eighty thousand or so souls and a slower pace of life than the capital. Friends and colleagues had assumed quite correctly that I had craved a quiet or quieter life. I had, indeed, begun to find London brittle and dispiriting.

It seems to me a lot of tone and voice is lost in the above if one compares it with its parenthetic counterpart.

But… perhaps all this sounds rather too precious, and one should simply go with reader feedback. In this word-processing, digital age, these things are easily changed. It would take very little in the way of effort to swap out the parenthesis for dashes and/or commas, and I could later argue that brackets – as a punctuation – are just too visible for the “average” reader, too much of a surprise. They’re not used to seeing it, I would say regretfully, and don’t quite understand why it’s there, nor how they should read it. Nuance, I would add snarkily, must be sacrificed on the altar of marketability.

I worry about this, of course. I fear the ability to read generally has been (is being) degraded, that poetry and its cousin, style, are now regarded with suspicion and mistrust. Will I, then, be searching and replacing my brackets? No (actually), I think not. There are so many other reasons for the novel to fail (in terms of the market), its subject matter for a start. The “average” reader is not going to be clamouring for my book anyway, parenthesis or not. And there’s surely something to be said for authorial integrity, for an artistic rather than a mercantile decision.

You can be sure, though, I’ll have it in mind for my next novel (partially built and in abeyance), which will be written third-person (the “average” reader is more used to this) and unburdened with “eccentric” punctuation.

I’ll end on this:

While I was sleeping in Italy, I heard news from overseas – England to be precise – that affected me emotionally and made me want to write a poem in protest.

Or:

As I lay asleep in Italy
There came a voice from over the Sea,
And with great power it forth led me
To walk in the visions of Poesy.

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Amazon and the Cult of the Corporation.

“Why isn’t your book on Amazon?” ask THEY. “You DO know it’s easy to publish with Amazon, right, and it’s, like, the BIGGEST market?” Once you acknowledge that you do, indeed, know this, THEY can, and do, comfortably categorize you as cranky, as one of those people who have a problem with the whole basis of our civilisation – i.e., capitalism. Usually, this is pejoratively expressed as your having a problem with SUCCESS – success, of course, being pretty much its own justification. Which is why prime ministers and presidents are happy to hob-knob with arms dealers. Arms dealers are generally very wealthy and dubiously well-connected – which means successful.

I bought a book, a novel, from a bookshop (I do so frequently). You know, a bricks and mortar, go in and browse, real-world, independent bookshop with someone sitting behind a counter. I took said book back to the office (my particular temple of toil) and left it on my desk. My smart-phone equipped boss came up to me and asked how much I’d paid for it. Whilst asking, he used aforementioned smart-phone to scan the bar code on my purchase. I told him the price, and he told me how much cheaper I could have purchased it for on Amazon. He then went on to outline the benefits of his Amazon Plus account. I joined the league of the cranky by telling him that circumventing Amazon was the point. Huh? Amazon is great! Everything’s so cheap, and they deliver so quickly! Huh! Why would you have a problem with Amazon? Oh, my god, you’re one of those people!

Writers, readers, bookshops, booksellers, agents, publishers, inter alia, would all be better served in a world in which Amazon didn’t exist. Amazon benefits only Amazon. Anything else is simply marketing spin and PR. Amazon wants to make a big profit, and does so, and it wants you to love it while so doing. Don’t inquire into its dubious employment practices, its bullying of publishers and writers, its tax-dodging, and its creeping monopoly position. Amazon used books as a stepping stone to becoming the global department store it is now, and has countries building roads with its name on it in a grovelling attempt to get it to invest – to put one of its high-tech, high-intensity, control-freak, low-paying warehouses in your neighbourhood. Queue up for your zero-hour contract. Welcome to Amazon.

Try telling any of this to anyone who shops at Amazon. The consumers. They REALLY don’t want to hear it. Amazon’s their favourite shop, a branded portal to the goody grotto. Nothing worse you can do to the unthinking consumer than force them to think. Aw, gee, you’re making me feel bad and defensive about my shopping choices. You’re one of those people. Why don’t you just want to make lots of money and spend it on things like everyone else? Exploitation is how the world works. THAT’S JUST THE WAY IT IS. All companies behave this way. And more of that I-don’t-care, self-justifying blah blah that means: Don’t make me question my smug, unthinking, self-entitlement.

That’s the long answer for why my book’s not on Amazon. It’s also why I don’t shop there. Yes, I DO know that if my book were picked up by a publisher I’d have no choice about it being on Amazon, and I do know that Amazon probably don’t care what cranky people like me think so long as the money keeps rolling in, which it will until more people think like me and stop shopping there. And, yes, I do know that that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

As they settle down to their Dan Brown on their Kindle, it seems to be a consolation to the unthinking that the thinking – the cranky people – are so hugely outnumbered. Hopefully, one fine day, we won’t be…

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Futerman Rose Associates.

An example of a monetizing rejection letter I received nearly three years ago now. I wonder if they’re still sending them out. They’ve had a bit of re-branding since, though Guy’s still there.

Dear John

Many thanks for this.

The writing is strong and the storyline intriguing. I have to tell you however, that agents are finding novels, even intelligently written commercial work like this, harder to place nowadays. Publishers are so subjective and only concerned with the bottom line.

What I can do is to suggest an organisation who, for a reasonably low fee will make the full arrangements to ensure a full Kindle publication of your work.

What is more, they will edit as well – obviously not a radically comprehensive edit – to a thoroughly presentable standard . Many Kindle books are going on at a later stage to traditional publication or Print on Demand.

Their fee is just £950 and you get a free Kindle as well. Let me know if you would like me to put you in touch with them.

OR

There is a publisher we deal with now, (not vanity) who have taken some of my more worthwhile mss and I believe they will promote and publicise properly. They do charge a fee (£4,500 – refundable to you after sales of just 2,000) but I believe it is an acceptable deal as the writer enjoys a far better rate of royalties. One of my authors who has taken advantage of this, is Provost of one of the oldest Oxford colleges and is a knight of the realm. His work has just been nominated for an award for Political Fiction. My most recent was a High Court Judge.

Let me know if you would like me to submit [novel title] to them.

Very best wishes

Guy

Guy Rose

Futerman, Rose & Associates

http://www.futermanrose.co.uk

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Punctuation – what a pisser!

It’s another one of those tiresome, technical things that get in the way of the great story you want to write. Punctuation – yawn or what? Boring boring boring! And, anyway, haven’t you read books which have hardly any punctuation and no speech marks. Yes, you have. Problem is, they’re written by writers who REALLY know how to do punctuation – so much so that they can SUBVERT it for effect. I know, it’s not fair. A bit like those people who get praise for unmade beds and piles of bricks.

Consider this: “hi sharon how’s it going”

What’s wrong with the above? It’s clear that someone is addressing another someone, presumably (but not certainly) a female, and asking her how she is. You’re doubtless more used to seeing something like the following:

“Hi, Sharon. How’s it going?”

I would write it as follows:

“Hi, Sharon – how’s it going?” Just a personal preference. I think the full stop a bit much, but a comma not enough.

Once upon a time, this would have been okay: “Hi, Sharon; how’s it going?” And, of course, it’s perfectly acceptable now, and does the job, but it might alarm the modern reader.

So, let’s take “Hi, Sharon. How’s it going?” and say something about it.

Do we really need the comma between Hi and the name?

“Hi Sharon. How’s it going?”

I hope that looks odd to you. It should. People’s names, when they’re being addressed, are usually enclosed in commas. That’s the convention, and it’s a convention that makes sense.

“Morning, Mike. Did you have a good evening?” Mike as opposed to Morning Mike, the popular AM radio entertainer.

If you doubt me on this, and you REALLY shouldn’t, go and check any book on your bookshelf (or ereader). “Good evening, Mr Bond. Your reputation precedes you.”

You’re not going to find it without the comma. If you don’t know this – or GET this – then just do it.

“Morning, Mary.” “Hi, Jon.” Hello, Tom.” “Greetings, Sue.”

Argue the merits if you wish, but that is how it’s done.

“Hi Mary.” People will point out the MISSING comma to you, especially if you do it more than once. I usually let the first instance pass – happily assuming it’s a typo – until I hit the next one… and the next. Then I point it out, not because I want to spoil your day, or sneakily suggest that your work isn’t compelling enough to distract me from dull stuff like punctuation, but because I want to help, and you ASKED for my advice.

Yes, I DO understand – it IS disheartening giving ten pages of white-heat creativity to someone, only to have them go on about commas and quotation marks and proof-reading. That’s what editors are for, right? That’s what THEY do.

Okay, then. Next time, ask me what I think of the STORY. Read it to me. Better still, make a recording. If you give me the text, I’ll assume you want to know about missing commas and misplaced apostrophes. Because, really, I think you do. I think you just get angry with yourself because you wish you could do all this boring punctuation stuff.

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Writing Services.

Have you written a novel? Well done! Pat yourself on the back. That’s a BIG achievement. You’ve every reason to be proud. But maybe, just MAYBE, you need a little help! I’m Doctor John, your manuscript doctor.

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It’s tedious, isn’t it? Worrying about boring things like punctuation and grammar and (don’t be silly) style when YOU just want to tell your story. I’m here to help with that. Send me your three less-good pages – and, hey, why not consult your friends to help you decide – and I’ll send them back to you EDITED. Not PROOF READ (that comes as a happy incidental), but EDITED. For FREE. Yes, your three worst (sorry, least-good) pages edited to the high standard agents and publishers demand. And, you know what, where I can detect a style, I’ll bake it right into the EDIT for you.

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Simply Balls.

[I wrote this short story ten years ago – eek! – following a software upgrade]

“All foreign balls are checked by default,” my supervisor told me, “so will go through Checker.”

“Right,” I said. “So we’re not using Editor anymore – ever – at all?” Editor was the old software.

“We can still look at orders on Editor, but we can’t do anything with them. We’re still checking the addresses on white box deliveries, but you won’t have to worry about them because they’ll be going through Tweaker.” Tweaker, another piece of software – not a person.

“Unless,” I said helpfully, “they need their balls checked?”

“If they need their balls checked, they’ll go through Checker, and you’ll tidy up their addresses in Checker.”

“So how will we know if they need their addresses tidied?”

“We’ll get the CLOs” – customer liaison officers – “to put something in the notes in Admin.” Admin, another piece of software.

“We don’t check the foreign balls,” I said; “or we never have done. So do we just ignore them when they show up in Checker?”

“Yes, we do. The overseas department check the foreign balls. You just carry on checking the balls you used to check in Editor.”

This conversation took place after the roll-out of an essential software upgrade. No-one had considered the impact on us, there being bigger fish to frazzle. Fortunately for me, I had a few days holiday coming up. No doubt everything would be sorted out by the time I returned.

A week later, I had the following conversation with my Balls Checking colleague.

“We’ve now got a list of clients who want their balls checking,” my colleague said, “and we’ve also got a list of clients who just need their addresses tweaked. Unfortunately, we’re seeing clients who should just be going through Tweaker coming into Checker. There are also some other clients in Checker we can’t account for.”

I said, “Does it matter if stuff that should only be going through Tweaker comes through to Checker, so long as they have their addresses tidied, and are subsequently sent out? It’s surely far worse the other way around. If they go through Tweaker when they should be coming through Checker, that means we’re not checking their balls. Would I be right in thinking that something that appears on one list shouldn’t appear on the other? That is, if something appears on the Tweaker list, it shouldn’t appear on the Checker list.”

“Well, no,” my colleague pointed out. “If it has to be checked and tweaked, it’s going to be on both lists.”

“I don’t see the point of that,” I said. “If it’s on the Checker list, it means it’s ours, whether or not it needs to be tweaked. The Tweaker list is for the tweakers, so that they know what to tweak and send out. If an order is on the Tweaker list and needs to be checked, the tweaker’s just going to assume it’s on their list because it needs its address tidied prior to being sent out. Why would they think or assume that it needed to be checked?”

“I don’t know anything about that,” said my colleague. “There’s a list of orders that need to be checked, and a list of orders that need to be tweaked. What we’ve been trying to do is establish what should and shouldn’t be coming through Checker.”

“So what about the list that’s produced for the tweakers?”

“That’s a different list. It’s got nothing to do with these lists.”

I discussed the matter further with my supervisor that afternoon.

“Do the CLOs actually know what they’re doing?” I asked.

“In what way?”

“I thought we’d established that orders they wanted to go through Checker got a full tick in Admin, and white box orders got a half tick to send them through Tweaker.”

“We had. Or we thought we had. Unfortunately, we’ve also got some other stuff coming through, which we can’t account for,” he said. “It may just be a rumour, but I think the fluffy pink balls automatically go through Checker.”

I said, “Please tell me you’re just being idly funsome with me.”

“No, I’m absolutely serious. We’ve had trouble with the fluffy pinks, so any order with a fluffy pink will show up in Checker. We think.”

“Are you telling me that I can’t believe what I’m being told in Admin?” I asked. “I can’t assume that an order that isn’t ticked shouldn’t be coming through to Checker.”

“I’m afraid not,” my supervisor said sympathetically. “Not if there’s a fluffy pink in the box.”

The following took place the following day.

“Do you recognise any of these clients?” My colleague had approached, holding a list and a pen.

I looked at the list attentively. “Yes,” I said at length, which was true. “Those have to be tweaked and checked, and the Palmer order, which is extremely fussy, is done by Ian. Not only do they want the right colour combination of balls; they also want them in the right order. They claim it makes them easier to check their end.”

“Right,” said my colleague. “So these orders have always been checked.”

“Well, not always, but probably as long as they’ve been tweaked. They’ve been checked for a while anyway.”

“I didn’t know that,” my colleague said.

“No? Well, historically, there’s always been a line of demarcation between tweakers and checkers, so that if a brown box order went on check – that is, one that wasn’t tweaked – then it was done by us; but, if it had to be tweaked in some way, then it was done by tweakers. But there are far too many tweak orders now for specialist tweakers, so basically they have to be done dumb. If they need anything more than tweaking – i.e., checking – then we have to do them.”

“Right,” he said. “Well, I’ll add them to the list.”

“Excellent,” I said. “Hopefully, we’ll soon have something definitive to work from.”

An hour later.

“I’ve just found another order coming through Checker I’ve never seen before,” my colleague informed me. “I checked it in Admin, and it’s got a full tick.”

“Who’s the CLO?” I asked.

“Jemima someone-or-other,” he said.

“I think she’s new,” I said. “Might be struggling with the software.”

“So she might not know what she’s doing?” he asked. “Wouldn’t she have got some help from someone?”

“She sits next to Penny, so not much, no. The purblind leading the blind. Is there anything about the order that suggests it needs checking as well as tweaking?”

“Well, no. All the balls are the same colour, and they take the same amount every time.”

“So it probably just needs tweaking.” I smiled. “Unless we’ve employed a colour-blind packer.”

“I’ve emailed her,” he said. “I cc-ed you in.”

I checked my email. He had, indeed. “Have you had a reply?” There was no guarantee I’d be included in on the reply.

“No, she’s off until tomorrow,” said he.

“Oh, well,” said I.

Tomorrow came… all too quickly.

“I’ve just received a reply from Jemima,” my colleague said just before lunch. “Apparently, this order’s an exception. The balls are bigger than standard for their type, and all the same colour: therefore, they go through Checker.”

“How’s that an exception?” I asked. “There must be quite a few orders with balls of the same type.”

And the same colour,” he said.

“Right,” I said. “So you’re telling me that we don’t have any other orders of the same type and colour?”

“I don’t mean to be rude,” – my colleague sounded pained – “but you don’t seem to be taking any of this in. The order constitutes a consignment of balls bigger than standard for their type, and all of the same colour. So, yes, it’s an exception.”

“Right,” I said. “So we don’t have any other orders of bigger than standard balls of their type, and all of the same colour? Or did you mean they had to be of that particular type and/or colour?”

My colleague regarded me balefully. He said, “Okay. These are orange balls of type B – though bigger than standard for type – and the consignment has no other balls of either type or colour. This order comes through Checker. If we have a consignment of green balls of type G – though bigger than standard for type – then they too would go through Checker.”

“Hmm. Such consignments probably are quite rare,” I agreed. “Do we know why they come through Checker.”

“No,” my colleague said; “and I don’t really care. There’s not going to be enough of them to worry about. Probably just this one. Anyway, I’ve added it to the list.”

Three hours later, and Checker hardly seemed to be working at all. I approached my supervisor.

“Would I be right in thinking that something has gone slightly askew?” I asked.

My supervisor considered his reply. “I’m not going to be all Soviet and Kremlin with you, John,” he said at length: “the rocket exploded on the launch-pad.”

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Porky Pies, Shy Tories, and the Rise of the Corbynistas.

At the last UK General Election, there was a lot of talk about sly or shy Tories, those who cast their vote for the Conservative Party while being too embarrassed to admit to it. This helped explain why the Conservatives/Tories were unexpectedly re-elected. 34% of the electorate didn’t vote, though the 66% turnout was apparently the highest since 1997. Prior to the election, another hung parliament was widely predicted.

So why are people coy about how they vote? It has to do with voting for selfish, parochial reasons, and having enough self-awareness to feel that one should be ashamed of voting on so thin a basis. In most democracies, of course, the politically engaged are disenfranchised by the ignorant, “None of your business”, part of the electorate. That’s just a fact of life. The amount of people willing to hold forth on issues on the news without any historical understanding astounds me, or used to. Now, I fully understand that holding forth on Iran and Iraq with no understanding beyond the evening news or the Murdoch press is rather alarmingly the norm. Mention historical context and people either become defensive or roll their eyes.

I have never voted Conservative, and sincerely doubt a politically literate population would have tolerated Thatcher or Thatcherism, or a Rupert Murdoch-dominated press, or waved their little plastic Union Jacks as the task force sailed for the Falklands Islands. But then, in thirty years of voting, I’ve been on the right side of a general election only once. That was Blair in ’97, who I hoped was a façade (for Middle England) on a still leftish Labour party. It turned out, of course, that the New Labour rot had eaten away at the foundations. New Labour had transformed themselves into what’s now being described as Tory Lite – in the interests of power at any price.

Since then, it’s simply been a choice between two parties offering broadly the same platform. Nothing much to choose between them – both serving the corporatocracy – like the Republicans and Democrats in the US. Essentially, you’re picking your pimp. You’re going to be whored, and the clients’ interests – that’s the people buying your time and labour – will always trump yours. It’s been said that one of the biggest successes of Thatcherism was Tony Blair and New Labour. That the Tories have managed to convince working people that they, the Tories, represent their interests is a stunning tribute to brainwashing and media control. The same brainwashing turned working people against the unions.

There is a consensus, establishment politics, and you challenge it at your peril. You’re allowed to argue passionately within certain parameters, as Chomsky has pointed out, but you’re not allowed to step outside these parameters. Tony Blair courted Murdoch and the City. One of Gordon Brown’s first acts in government was to pass the right to set interest rates to the Bank of England – again to gain the confidence of the City, who don’t like anything getting in the way of their pursuit of profits, especially political decisions designed to help the poor or the less well off. Under New Labour, deregulation of the financial sector continued to be politically a la mode. In short, New Labour had been elected because it was now safely in accordance with the political consensus and had the backing of the Murdoch press. All of which manoeuvring and shenanigans leads us back to the notion that if elections changed anything they’d be outlawed. They take place at all because they take place within the acceptable consensus bandwidth.

So 2015 was never going to be a rousing election. Labour were always going to be hammered in Scotland given the disgraceful role they had played in the Independence Referendum. The Liberal Democrats had already failed in their attempts to get some form of proportional representation, and would ultimately gain nothing (save for a few individuals CVs) for going into coalition with the Tories. Indeed, they were reduced to a single-figure rump following the election with Paddy Ashdown making arrangements to eat his hat. When the exit polls were released – predicting a Tory majority – there was a slight sense of embarrassment. The British, or English at any rate, had sneaked into the polling booths, done their dirty little deed, and slunk away afterwards, hopefully (from their point of view) unnoticed.

Ed Milliband, the Labour leader, resigned, and the long campaign for the next Labour leader began shortly thereafter. Following drop-outs and non-runners, it looked like a run-off between Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper with Liz Kendall there as a right-wing also-ran. The plan was simple: vote in another Blair clone as leader, hope the electorate tire of the Tories in the intervening five years, and then get elected – probably with media backing before and after – to do roughly the same thing the Tories were doing. But there was a worry, a niggle, a concern about impressions. Given the similarity of the candidates and the paper-thin differences between them, there wouldn’t be much of anything that could be called a debate – so how about throwing in a left-winger to give the impression of a broad debate prior to electing your favourite Blairite (it had been done before). With minutes to spare, they scratched together just enough votes (some charitably donated in the interests of debate) to get the token left-winger, Jeremy Corbyn in this case, onto the ballot.

It was a good plan. Grass roots party members would get to hear “traditional”, “left-wing” Labour views given an airing before the party elected Andy or Yvette to “unite” the party and appeal to Middle England and disenchanted Tory voters. The Labour establishment would smile benignly and offer their blessings. The best laid plans of mice and party apparatchiks…

Jeremy Corbyn did the unthinkable. He garnered support. He filled halls. He offered hope. Hope. The right-wing press chortled and mocked, and then attacked viciously when they realised he actually stood a chance of winning. The Guardian and BBC sneered and sniped. Then it was all about who could catch him, as Yvette shrieked, and Andy flip-flopped, and Liz repeated herself about wanting to be trusted on the economy. And that pesky question about the Tory Welfare Bill kept coming up, which haunted the non-Corbyns, Corbyn being the only one who had voted against it. Burnham and Cooper, their careers in mind, had abstained; as had Liz, who – to be fair – probably believed it was the right thing to do.

Then came the purge. As part of the new election rules, anyone eligible to vote could become an affiliate member of the party for £3 and take part in the leadership election – so long as they shared the parties values. There was much talk of the wrong sort of people – mischievous Tories, Socialist Workers, etc – taking advantage of this. A lot of votes, were purged, and it’s a safe bet that nearly all – if not all – would have counted for Corbyn. Celebrities Mark Steele and Jeremy Hardy were two unlikely purgees.

None of it mattered in the end, though. Corbyn won on the first ballot. Tony “two interventions” Blair went as quiet as Chilcot, and Andy took a job in the shadow cabinet. A lot has been achieved already. We’ve seen what happens when the status quo feels itself threatened. We know the press – including the Liberal press – favour the rich and powerful, and are becoming less and less subtle about doing so. We’re all supposed to get terribly upset because he, Corbyn, didn’t sing the National Anthem – neither is he too keen on kissing the queen’s hand, which one is obliged to do on becoming a member of the Privy Council. Like the non-singing of the anthem (and why would a republican atheist want to sing God Save the Queen?), an insult to Her Royal Maj, doncher know. Doff your caps and tug your forelocks, people.

Then it was reported that David Cameron had put his Prince William in a dead pig’s mouth, though this has now been officially denied.

The next general election’s in 2020, a long time for a party (for whom people are ashamed to admit they voted) to govern.

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Finding the Grexit in the Dark.

I wonder. Is it reasonable to expect another to be brave enough to do the right thing, the decent thing, the honourable thing, in a situation you’re not faced with yourself? Greece caved in. Despite the referendum (which now seems like a ripple of rebellion in a pool of desperation and shame), they caved in.

What happened? I was tempted to see the referendum as a nod and a wink between the Syriza government (brought to power on an anti-austerity ticket) and the electorate, the latter signalling to the former that they now had permission to default (the gun under the table finally placed on it). We want you to lead, and we hope you do the right, the decent, the honourable, thing. It was, I thought, a mandate of sorts to tell Europe and the Troika where to go. Democracy would trump money. A yes vote for what was on offer would have been shameful, and yet, despite voting no to it, it appears to be what was ultimately agreed to anyway. Why isn’t the parliament now under siege? A heroine addict surely has less addiction to their drug than Greece, the country, has to the Euro. Perhaps, outside it, they imagine themselves in a dark, quivering, economic wilderness with a priapic Turk looming over them. I don’t know. I can’t – of course I can’t – fully apprehend the way their history has shaped them.

If someone points a gun at you and demands your wallet, what’s the reasonable (rational?) response? I’m fairly sure the consensus would be to hand over your wallet and hope for the best; and, if best so transpires, suffer the inconvenience of cancelling your cards. What, though, about a house invasion? Robbery and the rape of your partner, and, if you have them, your children? Surely that’s an over-my-dead-body situation. You might be able to do this to me, but I will fight to the death to stop you. I am not prepared to tolerate this and live because the shame would poison my soul forever. What if they knew – the Greek people, I mean – that they could appear to do the right thing – vote no, that is – in the sure and certain knowledge that their government would sell them out? What if they wanted to be sold out? What if the political dance was about nothing more or less than the mitigation of shame? We want the Troika money, will beg and grovel for it, but want to pretend that we still have the stomach for a fight. This would be a country and culture poisoned by shame, who no longer care about dignity and notions of national sovereignty. A nation reduced to nothing more or less than pleading for its next drug fix.

The music hasn’t stopped, of course. The dance isn’t over. Europe has watched and seen how Greece has been treated. Bullied, browbeaten, humiliated. A country in an abusive relationship with its European partners. Other countries – Italy, Spain, et al – have taken note. So what did the people protesting in Syntagma Square really want or expect (apart from the naive – if entirely reasonable – desire to be treated with the dignity due to an equal partner in the EU project)? What did the no vote mean? Were the Greeks prepared to default, to Grexit, to return to the drachma? And why, if Syriza were too cowardly to put it on the table themselves, was it not explicitly put to the Greek people in a referendum?

The banksters have had their way for the time being, but at a price. The mask has slipped. We have seen that democracy doesn’t matter, neither does national sovereignty. No amount of elections count in the face of the arrogance of the financial institutions. Debt is a tool of enslavement. Greece has, temporarily at least, been brought to heal. They have paid an obscenely high price for joining the Euro, and are stumbling around in the dark looking for a dignified way out. What used to be done militarily is now being done monetarily, and the humiliation is worse and longer-lasting. People agreeing to their own submission with nary a gun or tank in sight. Shame.

So to my unreasonable expectation (and hope). I wanted Greece to default, to tell Europe and the world they weren’t going to pay the debt, and they weren’t going to collateralize their country either. But, of course, I’m not Greece, or Greek; the gun wasn’t pointing at me.

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