Wednesday 14 November 2018

Cloaks, coats and other things that REALLY matter ...

In February 2017 I wrote a short story: The Minister’s New Clothes | A completely unbelievable short story. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition both feature in the tale. The uproar on Sunday (11th November 2018) over Jeremy Corbyn’s choice of outerwear, the colour of his tie and his chosen poppy for Remembrance 2018 led me to reread it. Last year when I posted the story to various pro-Corbyn Facebook pages some responses focused solely on the Prime Minister’s clothes and appearance. For me the story was about a government that values the few at the detriment to the many; the ‘pantomime’ that parliament often descends into; and the demonisation of those who are defined as ‘other’, as less deserving, and of a man who is working to challenge this injustice and inequality. Given the title of my piece I guess it’s clear that my aim was to adapt the original The Emperor’s New Clothes to highlight these issues and Theresa May’s love of clothes and accessories helped me in building the ‘story’. So, in my tale clothes, and specifically the ‘cloak of lies’ the PM is given to wear by those who will do anything to retain their control, their privilege, at the expense of the many, was for me a metaphor for political power in Britain. I appreciate that stories can be read at many levels but regret that my story led to (further) critique of the PM’s appearance and I received some criticism for this. To clarify my position I am not, and I don’t think any of us should be, overly concerned with what our politicians wear. Although, and I appreciate the contradiction here, I do find obvious displays of wealth and privilege distasteful to say the least. But, what distresses me more, so much more is the explicit #ConsciousCruelty and #HostileEnvironment embedded within Conservative policy and practice AND the ways in which they are still able to convince so many people that this is not the case.

Before going any further here is the story I wrote last year. I hope you’ll be as struck as I am by its significance to what happened on the 11th of September 2018.

The Minister’s New Clothes | A completely unbelievable short story
There is a woman, a minister, the head of a government, well known to all of us who is extremely fond of new and expensive clothes. So much so that a considerable amount of the money she earns is spent on dresses, trouser suits, shirts and jumpers, not to mention very large necklaces and fancy shoes. Now, any woman, every woman, should be allowed to wear whatever she likes, without censure or comment, and as the men the woman works with are also well-dressed it is something of a sexist double-standard to single her out. But, given the woman’s powerful role, and the fact that many of those she supposedly represents are doing less than just about managing, that she is rarely seen in the same over-priced outfit twice seems more than a little tasteless. And yet, the woman seems oblivious to the impression she is giving, even agreeing to be featured in various publications to showcase her style and fashion sense.

Although everyone, including the woman and the ministers who work with her, pretend that the members of the government are the ones running the country in reality they and their actions are manipulated by a small number of rich and powerful others; the big business owners, the media barons and others generally referred to as the 1%. These people, many of them white, able-bodied men, have greater access to and control of, both the capitalist means of production and the ring wing ideological apparatus that is the mainstream media. They are therefore, responsible not only for the continued exploitation of the many, but also the ongoing skewed political socialisation of the masses. Such is their hunger for power and money this small, unrepresentative group will do anything they can to maintain their position and influence. The women's love of garments and accessories is valuable to them, in their plan to retain their status as the privileged few, willing as she is to wear their gift of a cloak woven together with threads made up of whopping great rancid lies.   

Her responsibility for the policies of the land means that the woman has to justify her decisions to her government, the ministers that challenge and oppose her, and more generally to us, the everyday folk in society. In a time honoured tradition, one afternoon each week the woman is posed a series of questions by the opposition ministers. Serious issues are raised and flaws in her plans and practices often highlighted and as such the event should, one would think, be conducted with solemnity and judged in terms of the substance of the points that are aired and the answers that are given (or not). Sadly though over the years this encounter has become more like a pantomime than a parliamentary debate with the jeerers and smearers, jesters and charlatans attempting to drown out the sincere interrogation. 'Oh Yes It Is', and 'Oh No It Isn't', are common taunts and given that some on the opposite benches seem unclear to whom their loyalty should lie, 'S/He's Behind You', is increasingly shouted in warning to the man who asks the lion's share of the questions. The woman herself, has little respect for the questions or for those that ask them and leads her ministers in insulting and abusing the opposition. The harshest and most vitriolic comments are reserved for the key questioner, a man who cares little about his own presentation of self, little about the clothes he wears, except that is for his collection of ties in deepest red. So warped has the system become that the nastier, more aggressive, more personal, more insulting the attack, and the thicker the woman's cloak of lies becomes, the more support she is given from those that control her, reflected in the representation of her by the 1% funded media. Thus, despite the woman's obvious lack of compassion for the many, coupled with much evidence of her bad judgements in terms of present national crises and future local and global concerns, her own particular toxic charisma becomes stronger and more positive in mainstream narratives.

The cloak, unlike the woman's other clothes, is not made of luxurious cloth in vibrant colours. Rather it is a dark despicable thing, dripping in filthy falsehood, greasy from backroom bargaining and grimy deals. Yet, the cloak remains invisible to many people who are unable to see it and the woman who wears it in all their true horror. Terrifyingly this means that the woman is trusted with what she ought not to be and believed even when it should be obvious that her words are nothing but hollow spin. On the few occasions when the cloak slips and the woman and her ministers are exposed for what they truly are the woman, aided again by the forces that protect her, creates a diversion, a moral panic, in order to deflect attention away from both her words and her actions. Once again the focus is often the man who leads the opposition; his arguments for peace claimed as both unsafe and unpatriotic, his efforts for those most vulnerable and alienated defined as old fashioned and unworkable. Additionally, (and yet more evidence that the woman's claim that she is working for a shared society for all is just another meaningless sound bite) attention is also diverted towards those whose identities, experiences, life-chances and choices do not fit that of the so-called, narrowly defined ideal type. Through the use of simplistic stereotypes just about everyone is labelled as other, stigmatised as abnormal and or dangerous, defined as undeserving. Those affected include (not least): the employed who fight for their rights, the unemployed for their drain on the system, the homeless for littering the streets; the old for their outdated views and lack of sympathy for the young, the young for their weakness and lack of resilience, those at midlife for their lack of care and attention for both the old and the young; the experts for their pomposity; anyone from man or woman in the street (or online) to celebrity who dares to offer a critique. But perhaps the greatest identification and demonisation of otherhood is directed at those defined as unworthy stranger; the immigrant and the refugee. We are told again and again that these people are simultaneously taking all our jobs and using up all our resources when in actuality considerations of a day without them clearly shows their invaluable input into the healthy, safe, effective daily lives of all.  So neighbour is pitted against neighbour and the tension and fear that this encourages successfully shifts the responsibility away from those who most deserve it. It is not the woman, the government, or the 1%, who take the blame for the inequalities and injustices in society but rather similar others who are equally, if not more, oppressed, powerless and vulnerable.

There are some, thankfully, who are able to see the cloak, the woman, and her supporters, for what they are. There are some, to whom we should all be grateful, who are working hard to ensure that more of us can see this too. There are some, despite continued misrepresentation and abuse, who continue to challenge fear and hate and insist on the need for hope and love.

There are some . . . 

Back to Remembrance 2018. Of course Sunday was not by any means the first time that the Leader of the Opposition has been criticised either for his appearance or his supposed lack of patriotism. I’m sure there is no need to go into detail although it is interesting to reflect on how, and possibly why, these issues collided (yet again) last weekend. It is well known, by those who look at little further than the mainstream media outlets that Jeremy Corbyn practices ‘Lest we forget’ differently to many other politicians. Just a little research uncovers pictures and stories of him meeting with veterans after the main event (rather than attending lunch with dignitaries) and attending and speaking at a Remembrance events in his own Islington constituency as he has done for many years. And yet year after year the focus is on his appearance – from his ‘poorly knotted tie’ to his ‘scruffy coat’ – and his so-called lack of respect – ‘he did a jig on the way to the Cenotaph’ (no he did not and the papers that reported this had to retract) to ‘he’s wearing such a tiny poppy’.

On Sunday, the Labour Party, and Mr Corbyn himself, made it clear that remembering is not enough:

Our veterans deserve security when their time in service ends:

Here’s our pledge to veterans:
Proper mental health services to treat PTSD
And end to rough sleeping
Free education, retraining, and more apprenticeships


As we remember the fallen, let's truly honour the words 'never again'.

On Remembrance Sunday, we commemorate all those killed in war as we strive for a world of peace. We must honour our commitments to those who served in our armed forces.

There is an estimated 13,000 homeless veterans (see @TheProleStar for an article and twitter thread focusing on ‘The Known Soldier’ (i.e. just some of veterans that have died whilst sleeping rough)). There are also obvious deficiencies in the health, work, educational and financial support (for this group and many others). Given this it is clear that the ‘cloak woven together with threads made up of whopping great rancid lies’ is still protecting the Prime Minister and her government if the focus on the day (from much of the MSM, from some politicians, and others active on social media) is not #LaboursVisionForBritain but Jeremy Corbyn’s clothes and his poppy. I must admit there are times when I wish that Mr Corbyn had a different, a slightly sharper, awareness of what the sociologist Erving Goffman (1959) called ‘presentation of self’ for it might make things easier for him. But, would I trade this imperfect (for aren’t we all), occasionally socially gauche, but brave and incredibly resourceful and resilient man, who is full to the brim of empathy for others and whose job is clearly a vocation with the at best plastic careerist, at worst disconnected, self-serving and cruel alternatives on both sides of the House? Absolutely, definitely not. 

Mr Corbyn righly yawning at yet another inaccurate attack

As I have written previously:

…. I don't consider myself to be part of a cult. Neither do I think that I am deluded or stupid or any of the other things I and similar others have been called in recent months. What I do passionately believe, with reference to my own life experience to date -  as a sometime carer and as someone who has needed professional (as patient) and personal (as daughter, wife, friend) care from others, as a student, a teacher, a researcher, a volunteer, a women and a citizen  - is that Jeremy Corbyn's Labour is our best hope, our only hope of a decent future for all.

There was, happily, much support for Mr Corbyn, and for Labour this last Sunday. Some folk challenged and corrected the fabrications and/or commented on the irrelevance of the LOTO's clothes:  

@silverrich39 (Richard O’Neill):
I’m a 79 year old ex army ‘war pensioner’. And I don’t give a flying toss what he wore. He’s the only politician I know who would actually protect ex-service personnel, unlike the Torries who create their problems.

Others focussed attention on @UKLabour’s pledge for veterans and many pointed out yet another irony within the outrage. Harry Lesley Smith, an activist and 95 year old World War II veteran tweeted:

Make no mistake the greatest disrespect to our veterans doesn’t come from the size of the poppy warn (sic) on the lapel but by those who enable arms to be sold into war zones not for our protection but for the greed of the 1% #JeremyCorbyn #RemembranceDay2018

Michael Rosen (@MichaelRosenYes) wrote a poem which included the following:

It’s not the coat they hate.
That’s not really their cause
What gets up all their noses?
He opposes all the wars.

See here for the rest: 

(I’d recommend everyone also read Jon Wight’s piece on some of the contradictions (to say the least) of Remembrance Day:

Sunday’s response (from all sides) to Mr Corbyn’s appearance at the Cenotaph and his, and his Party’s, ‘Lest we forget’ focus encapsulates, I think, the relevance of The Minister’s New Clothes to political understanding in Britain (and elsewhere) in 2018. We are told again and again and again that the Conservative government is dedicated to correct the ‘burning injustices’ of society and that a Corbyn-led government would be a threat to us all both in terms of domestic policy and international affairs. And sadly, just like those that lined the streets that the Emperor in the original ‘New Clothes’ tale paraded along, there are many who, despite what they see before them, believe this twisted, manufactured ‘truth’. But, there are others – politicians, activists (both on the streets and online), some journalists – who like the boy in the tale who spoke up about the nakedness of the Emperor, call this lie out for what it is. 

A few weekends ago there was another media outrage. This time about an anonymous Conservative MP who drew on violent language to describe Theresa May’s precarious hold on her position as PM and leader of the Conservative Party. The Labour MP Angela Rayner tweeted:

Tories told to report 'vile' MPs to POLICE after they boast of knifing&hanging Theresa May. I am genuinely shocked MPs would say such things given the toxic atmosphere on social media, how can we as MPs ask for acceptable behaviour&standards from others?

I agreed with Ms Rayner and with many others who made similar points. Indeed, I tweeted @brandonlewis (chairman of the Conservative Party responsible for the Party’s ‘Respect Pledge’) three times to ask for his response. Unsurprisingly I received no reply. (There are many more examples to show that this pledge is less than worthless. Maybe I’ll write of those another day.)

And yet:  

Double Standards:
• One MP who threatened to "knife" Corbyn has condemned the use of that language against Theresa May.
• One Journalist who instructed us to "kill Jezza" has condemned the use of that language against Theresa May.

Yes indeed which perhaps explains why one twitter user felt it acceptable to write of Mr Corbyn; ‘he should be in a concrete overcoat’ on Sunday 11th November.  

Once final example to demonstrate the ways in which the MSM acts as a cloak to manipulate our perception of what is and what is not (as reported by @skwarkbox). Following the recent Pittsburgh synagogue attack various news stations and papers made ‘connections’ between the atrocity and concerns of antisemitism in the Labour Party. See this from Harriet Sherwood in The Guardian:    

Theresa May, the UK prime minister, tweeted her deep shock at “this sickening and cowardly act”.

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Leader, who has been accused of allowing antisemitism to take root in the party, tweeted: “My thoughts are with those killed or injured in this horrific act of antisemitic violence, and with their loved ones. We must stand together against hate and terror,”

As Skwarkbox noted there was: ‘[n]o mention of the Tories’ proven and recorded mass support in the European Parliament for racist, antisemitic Hungarian premier . . . but, as ever Corbyn is fair game for criticism and attack 
One of the first pieces I wrote when my writing turned more (Party) political in the summer of 2016 was another short story entitled Sticks and Stones It ends:

The end of this story is yet to be told. The man and the people who accept and help to promote what he stands for remain under attack. The often confused and confusing negative stories continue to fester. But the resistance of many continues also. Although the kingdom is in many ways rotten, and there is a real danger that things could get even worse, there is also much hope for a better world. Many more people believe in fighting for a more positive future. Many more people believe in the power of community and the value of people powered politics. What is clear is that whatever happens next things will never be the same again. 


Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life Anchor books

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