Ed Miliband is to blame for just about everything

Miliband on a bus

Ed Miliband (right) is an evil man. Photograph: Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The last few days have seen an escalation of tensions in Ukraine. Journalists and commentators have rushed to make sense of the volatile political situation. Why is Russia behaving so aggressively? Why is Putin risking so much? Events have unfolded so terrifyingly quickly, we’ve hardly had time to stop and ask how things have been able to reach this stage.

But, at last, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Treasury Minister and close aide to George Osborne, Sajid Javid has pinned down the root cause of the geopolitical crisis: Ed Miliband. Of course.

On Saturday he tweeted:

Sajid Javid MP: Direct link between Miliband's cynical vote against Syria motion & Russia's actions on Ukraine

I once was blind but now I see. Ed Miliband’s attempts to stop the UK from intervening in Syria effectively gave Vladimir Putin a big thumbs up to invade continental Europe. Well, I’m glad you cleared that one up – thanks Sajid.

But this has got me thinking … What other seemingly unrelated problems actually implicate the Labour leader? Here are a few possibilities …

Unemployment

Although he is not in power, Ed Miliband has significant opportunities to boost employment, but fails to take them. He could employ a family photographer. Or a footman. And yet he doesn’t.

Damage from the floods

The Labour leader isn’t famous for investing in sandbag companies. Few people are, but he’s certainly not one of them. There’s a direct link between Ed Miliband’s reluctance to take ownership of a sandbag company and damage caused by the recent flooding.

Frustrating self-service checkouts

Red Ed could have pursued a career in engineering, rather than politics. Had he done so, he may well have have dramatically improved the functionality of self-service checkout machines. Guess what? He didn’t. Every time you hear, ‘Please place the item in the bagging area’, you should think of this man. Grinning.

Is Ed Miliband the devil? Maybe he is. Maybe he isn’t. But by refusing to become an exorcist, he is at least facilitating the devil. Creating a direct link between himself and the Prince of Darkness …

In any case, he is almost certainly to blame for just about everything. Is a man responsible for all the world’s ills fit to lead the country? If Vladimir Putin has his way, we will surely find out.

A lot of buzz …

Image: sherlockholmsy.tumblr.com

Image: sherlockholmsy.tumblr.com

I’ve recently come up with a couple rather silly posts for BuzzFeed.

The site is garnering plaudits left, right and centre for the way it has captured the imagination of the public. Naturally, I thought I’d try and get in on that.

Enjoy!

Student protest goes viral

Photo: Flickr / DanielJPHadley

Occupy Sussex protests. Photo: Flickr / DanielJPHadley

I realise I haven’t properly updated this blog in a while. I can only apologise. When I’m not exchanging my labour for currency (or as some call it, doing a job) I seem to find myself either asleep or on a train. Sometimes both. Oh – the glitz and glamour of my existence!

That said, I haven’t stopped writing. You can’t get rid of me that easily.

Earlier this month I was commissioned to write a piece for the New Statesman on a significant (but underreported) wave of student protest that recently swept the nation. Do check it out.

The piece was published two days before my birthday and ‘went viral’ pretty quickly. Lots of people read it and shared it. For a while it was the ‘most read’ thing on the site, which was a very nice birthday present. Thanks internet.

I don’t have much left to say today, other than that I hope anyone that stumbles across this has had a fantastic Christmas and enjoys a happy new year.

See you on the other side!

James Evans – Future of the Left

The title of this post is ‘James Evans – Future of the Left’. Part of me really wants to leave it at that. But bereft of a crystal ball and a towering arrogance (… OK, maybe just the crystal ball), I don’t feel that’s a prediction I can confidently make.

Alas, that is not what this post is about. Instead, it’s simply a redirect to a collection of interviews I conducted over the last year, which have recently been republished.

I was lucky enough to interview various leading lights of the left for The Student Journals. I spoke to Polly Toynbee, Owen Jones, Sunny Hundal, Natalie Bennett, Helen Lewis, Paul Flynn MP and John McDonnell MP.

You can enjoy them all here. And I’m sure you will.

NB. I should like to take this opportunity to thank Siraj Datoo and Amy Ashenden from TSJ for helping me with this series of interviews. Without them, there would be no ‘Future of the Left’. And who’d want to live in a world like that?

David Cameron should attack binge drinking from a Wetherspoons

Cameron-beer-1

The Prime Minister enjoys a beer.

Earlier this week, David Cameron announced that his government’s cuts to public services would be permanent. In a rousing speech, the Prime Minister made the case for a smaller state. Cameron decided to call time on a government that spends taxpayers’ money so frivolously.

Where did he announce his vision for a “leaner, more efficient state”? At a white-tie state banquet of course! Funded by taxpayers. Surrounded by gold. Next to a throne.

It’s an approach that some have criticised. Snitty, sarcastic bloggers have complained that a man who tells the general public to make do with a thrifty NHS, whilst enjoying a lavish banquet at their expense is ‘beyond satire’.

But not this one. This one admires the fucking cheek of it.

Over the course of a single evening, David Cameron has taken the maxim, “do as I say, not as I do”, to dizzying new heights. By refusing to concern himself with entirely justified charges of hypocrisy and general twattery, he has given himself licence to do just about anything he pleases.

The Prime Minister could now give a speech on the evils of gambling from a Las Vegas casino or espouse the merits of public transport from a private helicopter. But what he really needs to do is take on binge drinking from a Wetherspoons.

When I say take on binge drinking, I don’t mean actually do anything to help those addled by alcoholism – because that would cost money. I am simply suggesting that the Prime Minister lecture those that he represents. From a pub.

Just imagine, a slightly shitfaced David Cameron looking into the camera, and exclaiming without the slightest sense of irony, “Britons need to drink less”, before nearly falling off his chair. The event would go down as a (literally) staggering triumph of hypocrisy.

The media would be out in force. In an interview with Sky News, the Prime Minister would extensively list the beers, wines and spirits he wanted to see the country drinking less of. With a microphone in one hand and a bottle of Lambrini in the other, the message would be crystal clear.

Some will no doubt balk at my suggestion. And perhaps they are right to. It is true that I am unlikely to become a Tory spin doctor any time soon. But Christmas is coming and throughout the festive period many Britons will consume their own bodyweight in booze. So what better time to launch this campaign for a “leaner” consumption of alcohol?

If the PM is quick, he may even make it in time for happy hour.

 

 

Review: Stephen Fry – Out There

Stephen Fry. Photo: Marco Raaphorst.

Stephen Fry. Photo: Marco Raaphorst.

Originally written for PinkNews.

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Stephen Fry is undoubtedly one of the nation’s favourite storytellers. He beguiled a generation as the voice of the best-selling Harry Potter audiobooks and as the host of QI, he regularly flaunts his anecdotal prowess. But can he tell one of the most important stories of the 21st century? Can he grapple with the global struggle for gay rights? In Out There, the celebrity polymath rises to the challenge.

Out There is a two part BBC documentary series in which Fry explores attitudes towards homosexuality around then world. Over a period of two and a half years, he travels to Uganda, Russia, Brazil, India and the US. In some countries, like India, things seem to be moving in the right direction. Others – most notably Russia and Uganda – are heading backwards.

The programmes are primarily comprised of interviews. Fry talks to both the victims of homophobia and political figures pushing anti-gay prejudice.

The director, Fergus O’Brien, has said that he wanted to put love (and the prohibition of it) at the centre of the story. By broadcasting the personal struggles of those robbed of loved ones and those separated from their partners, he is successful in doing so. The programme is not laden with statistics, but with devastating accounts of how homophobia has affected individuals and families around the world. This approach strikes a chord where a more impersonal one may have struggled.

Fry himself is at his best when interviewing the victims, rather than the perpetrators, of homophobia. He responds to their recollections with sincerity and warmth. His understated, yet sympathetic approach permits viewers to reflect on what they are hearing. This is important, as the stories themselves certainly leave a lasting impression.

It is heartening to hear from a range of voices and to hear Fry acknowledge the importance of seeking these out. In the second episode, Fry visits an ostracised transgender community in India and is then filmed asking a wealthier gay audience to use their privilege to empower those living outside the liberal metropolis. The programme makers could have simply showcased the struggles each nation’s English-speaking middle-class. Instead viewers benefit from brave editorial decisions – they are asked to identify with those in very different circumstances to their own.

Fry meets with homophobic politicians in Uganda, Russia and Brazil. Needless to say, these exchanges are somewhat more fiery. Some might claim that Fry is too heated and passionate in these meetings. They may argue that by goading and laughing at these influential figures, he somewhat lets them off the hook. However, in interview after interview, these individuals demonstrate that they are unwilling to consider any opinion but their own and so the room for debate is severely limited. It should be said that Fry still gives this his best shot – going into each encounter hopeful that the man opposite him will listen to reason. But he soon finds his comments are falling on deaf ears.

The best Fry can hope to achieve with these interviewees is to expose their ignorance and the dangerous absurdity of their views. At one point the Ugandan Minister for ‘Ethics and Integrity’ is filmed claiming that heterosexual rape is more justifiable than homosexuality because it is “natural”. These encounters are both bizarre and upsetting. Laughable and yet chilling. One often is often uncertain of how to react, but not once bored.

The phrase ‘emotional roller coaster’ is undoubtedly an overused cliché which no self-respecting critic would employ. However (perhaps unfortunately for me) it does describe Out There rather well. Alongside Fry, I was reduced to tears on multiple occasions. I shed tears of joy at triumphs of equality and of sadness at the harrowing tales of abuse. Out There is a well-constructed, profoundly moving and important documentary series. For anyone interested in gay rights or simply the human cost of prejudice around the world, it is well worth a watch.

Both parts of the documentary are available on BBC iPlayer.

The world according to Michael Gove

Michael Gove

Michael Gove. Photo: Flickr / Policy Exchange

Yesterday,  Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, was asked about food banks distributing school uniforms to parents who could not afford to clothe their children.

His response?

A lot of people are only at food banks because, “[they are] not best able to manage their own finances”.

Oh! That’s why they are there! Thanks Michael, I was getting worried it was something to do with a prolonged fall in household incomes and/or your government’s reckless policy of austerity. But I was wrong after all. They are simply there because of their own poor judgement. Well, thank God for that!

If everyone was as good with their money as Michael Gove is with his, we wouldn’t need these food banks in the first place. This is a man who knew exactly the right moment to pay back the £7,000 expenses he claimed to lavishly furnish his second home. It was when he got caught, of course.

The whole episode only further enhances the Education Secretary’s reputation as a rigorous academic thinker. In less than a minute, Gove was able to explain an economic phenomena that many have spent their whole lives studying. He was able to pinpoint the root cause of poverty in a matter of seconds. People are poor because they are crap with money. It really is that simple.

We should encourage Michael Gove to share his not inconsiderable wisdom. He is after all, in the perfect position to do so. As the Education Secretary he should at least make sure his wise words find their way on to the curriculum. But he should go further than that and include other Goveisms.

Before they start whining about a social and economic system that is rigged against them, the so-called ‘poor and vulnerable’ of tomorrow need to know that:

  • People freeze to death in Winter because they don’t know how to use their heaters. It has nothing to do with energy prices or inadequate insulation.
  • Young people can’t find jobs because they (quite literally) do not know what work is. This conceptual gap completely explains unemployment. The economy does not come into this.
  • Polar bears are dying because they don’t know how to manage their own properties and fisheries. Not because their homes are melting.

Perhaps we are being a little harsh on Gove. To be fair, poverty is not his area of expertise. He is the Education Secretary. The people best placed to judge him are the teachers, headteachers and support staff  that work tirelessly in schools up and down the country. And I hear that they absolutely adore him.

Will the ‘personal nanofactory’ change the world?

Planet Earth

Planet earth. Image: flickr / Kevin M Gill

Originally written for The New Statesman.

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Forty years ago the historian & broadcaster James Burke predicted the widespread use of personal computers, collection and storage of sensitive information and a political struggle against the introduction of identity cards. With astounding accuracy, Burke forecasted the omniscience of technology in homes, schools and businesses.

On Friday’s Radio 4 PM programme, he was asked once again to speculate as to what the future might hold.

Burke talked with confidence about the increasing importance of nanotechnology – the science of manipulating matter at an atomic and molecular scale. The most significant development of the next forty years will be the invention of the “personal nanofactory”; a 3D printer for atoms which will allow anyone to manufacture almost anything, for virtually nothing.

The late Richard Feynmann first envisaged these factories in the 1950s and they have continued to  elude scientists ever since. However, researchers now have more tools at their disposal than ever before. In the past, building structures on a nanoscale has been precarious; any background noise at all can drown out experimental readings. New labs in Sweden have just been built that are protected from external noises, vibrations, temperature fluctuations and electromagnetic fields. These could provide the ideal conditions for experiments that contribute towards the construction of personal nanofactories.

Burke firmly believes personal nanofactories will become a reality. This development will represent a significant shift in the existing global political and economic order. Put simply, it will collapse. Using air, water, dirt and acetylene gas to manufacture anything from “a bottle of Chardonnay” to “a house”, Burke thinks these machines will allow us to become “entirely autonomous”. The institutions that we have built are, in one way or another, concerned with solving the problem of scarcity. Governments have been installed to protect citizens and redistribute wealth. Once the personal nanofactory, “does it’s thing”, Burke says, there will be “no point” to any of these.

So what will become of us – freed from the shackles of work and authority? Burke believes that we will significantly change the way we interact with others. He thinks we will give up living in overpopulated cities as the economies of scale that make these important, will simply disappear. Those who want to live isolated lives ‘atop mountains’ will be able to do so with ease. Many will live in small communities reminiscent of the medieval period. Contact at a distance will be covered by “3D holography”, also made possible through nanotechnology.

Although he recognises we will have to face up to the “problem of abundance”, his vision is ultimately an optimistic one. In Burke’s utopian anarchy, people use their nanofactories to lead happy, healthy lives. The relative ease with which people could manufacture weaponry – and use it without fear of reproach – is overlooked. But perhaps they would have less reason to. Resource wars and economically motivated homicide would surely become a thing of the past.

Moreover, Burke does not consider that elites who stand to lose out might wish to repress such technology, or use it to their own, less harmonious ends. Perhaps, as has been the case for the internet, a settlement will be reached with governments who will maintain varying levels of control. You can use your nanofactory to build the most wonderful things – but only the things we say you can build.

Burke’s vision is still a long way off and some are sceptical it well ever come to fruition. However, there are indeed developments being made that are moving the personal nanofactory, otherwise known as a ‘molecular assembler’ in the scientific community, out of the realm of science fiction and into the real world. In January this year, a working assembler was unveiled at the University of Manchester by Professor David Leigh. He now has plans to modify the machine to make it capable of producing penicillin. It’s not yet building homes and is yet to render any government obsolete, but it is perhaps a step in the right direction.

So I’m unemployed … Now what?

Someone like me also looking for a job. Photo: Flickr / Kate Hiscock

Someone like me also looking for a job. Photo: Flickr / Kate Hiscock

So this is it – the life of a graduate. I am officially unemployed. I have to say, as an avid reader of the Daily Mail, I have been somewhat disappointed. I thought the council would have got in touch about my free mansion by now, but alas, no such luck. Perhaps an asylum seeker took it or the EU gave it cancer. C’est la vie.

I’ve been drudging through job sites, of course, but am finding plenty ways to procrastinate along the way. One of them is Tinder. Tinder is a dating app and it’s awful. I downloaded it partly out of boredom, partly out of crushing loneliness. The app syncs to your Facebook profile and supposedly finds potential partners with similar interests. Sounds like a good idea right? It is just that. A good idea. Yesterday it asked me if I’d like to travel 47 miles to meet with someone with whom I shared just one interest: Marmite.

When not dreaming of a marriage built on yeast extract, I seem to be going through something resembling a belated adolescence. Everything and everyone makes me exceptionally angry. Bad TV. People playing music loudly on buses. George Osborne. In the most pretentious way imaginable, I feel like I am very much in the process of ‘defining myself’ and care far too much about what others think. I’ve become vegetarian and bought some new shoes. I’m even thinking about getting a haircut. In short, I have far too much time on my hands.

But in spite of my gripes, I go to bed each night hugely excited about what the next day has in store. Perhaps I’ll get a bank statement in the post. Or maybe I’ll spot an oddly shaped cloud. Whatever happens, I’m ready to embrace the moment and ride the rollercoaster of life.

Tomorrow, the job hunt continues …

Interview with new CEO of Bebo, Shaan Puri

Photo: Mike Lewis

Photo: Mike Lewis

The once-popular social networking site Bebo is relaunching to much fanfare.

I interviewed the new CEO, Shaan Puri for The New Statesman’s business blog.

You can read the post here.

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