Grassroots Soccer and the Root of All Evil

This year saw the Americans excel at sport yet again – in soccer, with their women’s national team absolutely shining north of the border in Canada, my former home. The entire tournament was the most high profile yet of all the women’s World Cup Finals, and I was even able to go back to my childhood by purchasing a Panini sticker album. Having co-founded and managed my own women’s team, it was seen as an opportunity to raise awareness further when it came to women’s football, in that push for equality.

But what do we mean when we talk about equality? If we’re talking about equality culturally, then I’ll be the first to advocate for that. But I don’t think it’s healthy for women in the sport to aspire to reach the level of the men financially; it’s time to bring the men down a peg or two. Money, after all, is the root of all evil. And here, I’ll elaborate on why this is.

I grew up watching men’s football. My dad started taking me to Doncaster Rovers games when I was aged 9. He played football since a young age, a small but nippy winger in local factory teams featuring former professional footballers, before turning to refereeing, instilling a sense of footballing fairness in me from the very start.

When my dad first started attending football matches in the latter part of the 1940s, aggregate league attendances were over 41 million. By the time I began going, in 1986, they were around 16 million, damaged by several years of increasing wages for workers and the corresponding diversity of leisure activities available to them – not to mention hooliganism putting people off. I was watching a very different version of football to the one my father had.

In my dad’s day, the players retired from the game and joined the factories blokes like him worked, still playing football for fun, because they never earned much from the sport. But after that, they very understandably got together and complained that, despite being entertainers, many of the fans were earning more money than they were. The Professional Footballers’ Association, led by Jimmy Hill, fought to have the maximum wage scrapped, and eventually, as we know, player salaries skyrocketed to astronomical proportions, to the point where today, unlike over in the American NFL, top teams make sure they get more of the TV revenue than smaller clubs, in order to help sustain their multi-million pound superstar wage bills.

And given the players are such celebrities now – like Hollywood movie stars – they’re also treated as role models. This is why convicted rapist Ched Evans provoked such an angry response even without a judge’s sentencing, by handling the whole case so badly – parents now spend a small fortune taking their children to games to watch stars like him play, and understandably, they expect better. No team has touched him since. Why would they? Whether he ever successfully appeals or not, he’s left himself the picture of a misogynistic scumbag.

But the sport is full of scoundrels; players who dodge taxes, endorse sweatshop brands, and look out for number one (and I don’t mean the goalkeeper); they reek of individualism in what is supposed to be a team sport. They’re working class folk who kicked a ball around a field to make a million, marry a model, and live a tacky nouveau riche lifestyle in a gaudy millionaire’s slum somewhere in Cheshire.

In 2012, the average Premiership club spent a shocking 70% of its turnover on player salaries – insanely, Manchester City was spending more than 100%! No wonder they’re jumping on the bandwagon with Manchester City Women and starting up New York City FC in the States! They desperately require different revenue streams to try and plug the hole.

Since I was a kid, I’ve witnessed what to my dad was an unknown phenomena of numerous clubs entering financial jeopardy and even administration. I’ve written before about Ken Richardson running our beloved Doncaster Rovers into the ground (and mentioned it in my documentary Escape from Doncatraz), before being convicted as many fans got together to form the Viking Supporters Cooperative (VSC). These kinds of trusts are nothing new, and often a threat to powerful vested interests – shortly after it was founded in 2008, Liverpool FC bigwigs referred to the newly-formed Spirit of Shankly (SOS) group as ‘a very small, yet highly-motivated group of agitators’ and yet a few years later it was named Cooperative of the Year at the Social Enterprise North West Awards.

The democratically-elected directors of the not-for-profit VSC helped support Doncaster Rovers and steer them from dangerous waters into calmer seas, where it was taken over by businessman John Ryan, who had a passion for Donny as big as his ego, and despite rescuing the club financially, eventually butted heads with the VSC itself when it started asking questions about shadowy consortia he was interested in selling significant control of the club over to. He blasted the VSC as ‘keyboard warriors’ (due in part to their rabble-rousing online forum called Viking Chat, the most prominent Doncaster Rovers space on the internet). Those starry-eyed fans still feeling indebted to “JR,” believing this God-like figure was somehow beyond reproach, stood by him no matter what, and joined in on the VSC-bashing, citing a former trust director years ago who was almost as dodgy as John Ryan – as ammunition to tar current directors with the same brush. I’d had enough. I wanted to see my club influenced by democratically-elected representatives of the supporters, so there was only one thing left to do.

On November 15th, 2014 – my birthday, no less – I was gifted a place on the board of directors for the VSC by its voting members! I’d come into the picture just as some rather right-wing, thuggish fans on other unelected groups were venting their resentment of the VSC’s influence as a legally constituted trust represented by a democratic steering group, and were even bigger ‘keyboard warriors’ wasting their energy by depicting the directors in caricature online, far more than supporting their own team, unless they got chance to have their picture taken with management. This kind of blind, biased, tribal and hooliganesque idiocy is doomed, because without a supporters’ trust to have a say in the club, its future is always wide open to the corrupt control we know all too well. Only then would they ask themselves why they never did anything like, say, Portsmouth’s fans did. Or the VSC chaps themselves, the poor bastards.

In my year’s tenure on the VSC board, I felt sorry for my fellow directors – all really sharp, switched-on blokes with rhinoceros skin who, regardless of what the thugs shout, genuinely cared passionately about Doncaster Rovers and felt fan influence in football clubs was the way forward. From what I understand, the current owners agree – as does one Jamie Coppinger, Donny’s longest-serving player who himself recently signed up as a card-carrying member of the VSC. The ‘critical friends’ at the VSC are welcomed by the current powers that be, and their Club Doncaster initiative fits in well with the long-term vision for financial sustainability through collaboration with Donny’s other local sports teams.

One exception is Doncaster Rovers Belles, the world-famous women’s team formed back when the club was still playing at its old dilapidated Belle Vue stadium, at the time calling themselves the Belle Vue Belles. They, too, have been burnt – being ousted from the Women’s Super League to make way for Manchester City Women and their millions of pounds of investment from the men’s club. The Belles, despite moving to the Keepmoat Stadium with their male counterparts, have made it clear to me in the past that they are pretty adamant about remaining independent. And who can blame them? They’ve now made it to the WSL on their own merits. But if they go even further in the WSL, what then? The money is becoming even more important there, too. How can they compete all on their own?

Lovers of the game all over are increasingly suspicious and disenchanted with the money-dominated nature of the big leagues. Manchester United’s fans, of course, simply went off and created their very own alternative, FC United of Manchester. They’ve been another success story, climbing up the non-league divisions to the point where they now just got themselves a brand-new stadium, paid a visit by the Tory politician who backed it – provoking outrage from a hard core of their followers, who stand true to the founding principles of the club.

But what do you expect? The more money you make, the more professional you become – and then the more you find yourself no longer part of the solution…but part of the problem. Hey, even the fan-owned FC Barcelona are in debt. After all, it’s still in the same system as all the rest.

So what are the Belles striving for now, exactly? Are they wanting the bigger salaries, the greater turnover, the corporate sponsorships, and the disconnection from the community that unavoidably goes along with it all? Is that what they want up there?

There is no trickle-down here, either. The women’s World Cup was better than those before it, got an albeit half-assed coverage on the BBC, and had people mentioning it around the water cooler at work. Great. But at grassroots, women’s engagement in the game is, incredibly, still falling. That’s another reason Jane Watkinson and I set up AFC Unity – to engage and empower women, and keep a connection to the local community, with things like the Football for Food campaign.


Once you’re involved in running such a club, once you’ve got the bug and experienced that buzz of real grassroots, community-driven football, nothing is ever quite the same again. It’s like coming off drugs and switching to orange juice with a drop of liquid alfalfa in it. It’s not even close to the thrill you had.

As with the Belles, I still go to see Doncaster Rovers play, but my attendance will inevitably decline. There’s only so many times I can sit and watch wealthy men serve as the sole justification for a ticket price twice as much as it’d cost for me to sit in a warm cinema enjoying two solid hours of entertainment…even while still watching millionaire celebrity superstars like George Clooney – the movie theatre still costs less. How many times can I endure “my local team”? Hey, what does that even mean in an era when they’re shifting clubs from Wimbledon to Milton Keynes? And I can count on one hand the Doncaster Rovers players who actually have any connection to Doncaster itself. So what are we being loyal to, exactly? As Seinfeld joked, you’re basically just, well, cheering for a shirt.

Despite being promoted from Division 3 in their first ever season and currently hanging in there in Division 2 of the Sheffield & Hallamshire Women’s County Football League, AFC Unity recently experienced a record defeat, losing an hysterical 14-0 to Barnsley in the Women’s Challenge Cup, and we still loved every minute of it. There actually wasn’t that much between most of our players and theirs, in terms of skill level and raw talent – but we train for an hour a week, about a quarter of what they do, and that’s why they’re a well-oiled machine, striving for the WSL, storming up the pyramid. Rather them than us, to be honest, as they head up into the darkest echelons of women’s football.

I’m recommending inserting into AFC Unity’s Memorandum and Articles of Association a clause that prevents players ever receiving a fee for their participation. If we can subsidise their activities so they pay next to nothing, great. But never would I advocate training much more, and treating it like a job, or even becoming a job. When a manager starts shouting at his or her players, ‘What am I paying you for?’ it’s the beginning of the end for the spirit of the sport. When football is driven by money, it loses its connection to grassroots. After all, money is the root of all evil.

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Jeremy Corbyn Vs the British Army

This past spring’s British general election was pretty depressing stuff. After the Liberal Democrats sold out their principles to go into coalition with the Conservatives, aiding and abetting the Tories in their quest to exploit the bank bailout’s depletion of the Treasury in order to sell off the state, few of us believed there was anything left for Britain to vote for but a Labour Party that, under Ed Miliband, moved away from Blairism and offered the promise of a better, fairer society for the working class mass majority.

But the fact is, opinion polls were wrong – ‘shy’ Tories, so ashamed of their own failures to resist the smash-and-grab, everyone-for-themselves, rampant individualism of the Tories realising Thatcherite fantasies, had gone and done their dirty deed in the voting booth on election day. The aftermath was conveyed across social media as a revelation of ‘selfish Britain’ – a population so suckered in by the lie that there was no money left, that they grabbed what they could for themselves, even at the expense of the sick, the poor, the disabled, or anyone else.

Of course, as the infamous Question Time episode showed, some of those same people also realised that they themselves were not even safe – the Tories continued their assault on the population at large on behalf of the elite 1%, determined to kill off the concept of collectivism so wounded by Margaret Thatcher, dismantling the state in as many of its forms as possible to sell off to their rich friends, and that meant looking at tax credits, housing benefit, you name it, whether you were self-employed, hard-working, or not. Even the Big Lottery Fund itself was salivated over by Gideon Osborne as a way to raid funds to cover services he’d wiped out from state provision. The Tories did, however, back down from several of these. And they did it because of a Labour Party suddenly dedicated to standing up for people. How did this happen?


After the election result, before the dust had settled or the smoke had cleared, I was already determined to offer hope of a brighter future, but my look towards the horizon was clearly stifled by my glasses prescription being out of date, because I anticipated – and accepted – the prospect of Labour’s knee-jerk reaction to Ed Miliband’s defeat to take the party a little to the right, with someone more media-friendly than down-to-earth, lovable Ed, who – despite very cleverly attempting to reconcile the narratives of the psychotic tabloid media hysteria over welfare recipients and immigrants, with his commitment to social democracy (a tightrope act if there ever was one) – was of course constantly bombarded by filthy rich media interests concerned they’d have to be millionaires instead of billionaires.

I wrote about Chuka Umunna, expecting him to be the sort of suave, smooth-talking politico Labour needed to actually get into power and do some good. Tristram Hunt, again to the right of the party, at least appeared public relations-friendly and therefore capable of winning the election for Labour. There were others too, like tabloid-friendly ‘war hero’ Dan Jarvis, and human rights lawyer Keir Starmer (named after Keir Hardie!) How short-sighted was I? All of these bottled it, preferring to wait for a more opportune moment even if it was after another Labour defeat, and even undermined the party’s socialist values in several interviews. Bastards!

So the Labour leadership pool was reduced to Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham – predictable if unelectable candidates following their time as key figures behind Ed Miliband – and Liz Kendall and Jeremy Corbyn.


I’d honestly never even heard of either of them. My heart sank. While Yvette Cooper was doomed to the sexism of politics as “Wife of Ed Balls” and Andy Burnham was a Thunderbird-like wooden stand-in for Ed Miliband, this mousy, Blairite Kendall lass was too right-wing, while old man Jeremy was too left-wing, surely?

Apparently not. After the MPs gave him a proverbial pity lay, Corbyn got enough jeremy-corbynnominations to get on the ballot – and the left-wing party members (myself included) elected him as leader by a landslide, receiving one of the biggest mandates of any Labour leader ever, a gift for party members who still bothered to read the statement on their membership cards.

Given all candidates were unelectable, I’d already resigned myself to believing that – whatever the result – Labour were doomed to fail again in 2020, but I’d always rather lose with my integrity intact than compromise and add insult to injury by losing anyway. Nonetheless, I knew what the corporate mainstream media – owned and operated by the elite and their own interests – were about to do: terrified by the prospect of a left-wing Labour narrative or, worse yet, victory, they set out to attack.

“Red” Ed Miliband threatened the nation’s greedy landlords sucking overpriced rents paid for through housing benefit subsidies, he took on the energy monopolies, and he even dared to challenge Rupert Murdoch, the tax-avoiding immigrant war-monger in full control of The Sun, The Times, and all of Sky. Naturally, they threw as much shit at him as possible, and although not much stuck, they successfully convinced the British public he wasn’t “statesmanlike” enough, at a time when people were saying they were sick of seeing the same posh arseholes in suits within the world of party politics.

So for Jeremy Corbyn – a man who endorsed an undiluted, less sugarcoated version of Ed’s “responsible capitalism” known as, you guessed it, socialismthe mass media had to mobilise and prepare their propaganda troops with all the ammunition they could gather. Socialism, where the state reflects our collective responsibility to look after each other through taxation, investment, job creation, and even a real living wage, absolutely sickens the elites who want to continue their transfer of public powers into private interests, with next to no state provision – everything owned by profit-making companies, and people left to slowly die if they happen to be poor. They want seven cars, not five; they want three houses, not one. And they’ll stop at nothing to make sure things stay as they are.

After the transfer of £1.5 trillion of public funds into the hands of private banks, they had the media seize the story that there was no money left (a lie), and that your libraries and hospitals had to be closed down and sold off, so if you want something – anything at all – you had to pay for it. Poor? Tough, just die. That’s their message.

So yes, Jeremy Corbyn sent shockwaves through the corridors of power.

The right-wing career politicians who slapped a red rosette on and grabbed themselves a nice safe seat in a Labour stronghold were suddenly genuinely concerned. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Lowly peasant scum like us weren’t supposed to choose our party leader, they were. They only got him on the ballot to offer an illusion of democracy, with a token lefty candidate.Jeremy-Corbyn__3406649b

Even the British army elites were so shaken by the prospect of a true democratic socialist in Downing Street – the first since Harold Wilson or possibly Clement Attlee – that they openly entertained the idea of a military coup to topple a democratically-elected socialist Prime Minister.

But the greatest army was that of the media stormtroopers – soldiers who can be counted on in times like these, like Andrew Marr, who’d happily nod in agreement while interviewing a Tory, but repeatedly try to get Jeremy Corbyn to admit he wanted to re-nationalise not only the railways but – gasp! – utilities too! Commie! (He failed, by the way, Jeremy never said anything of the sort, so the conversation switched to Karl Marx, as it does). But Corbyn’s such a diplomat, he just remained civil and stuck to the policies…which is what scared them even more, because if the public catch wind of his policies, then they’re truly in trouble. It’s absolutely crucial that the dialogue remains on, for example, his choice of tie, maybe his commie buddy in college, or whatever they can think of after rummaging through rubbish bins like scavengers and bottom-feeders; hacks for the Oxbridge elites.

Even Labour and left-wing types get drawn into defending him from all-out attack on trivialities and superficialities, sometimes even going so far as criticising him themselves – which is fine if it’s a “straight talking, honest politics” discussion on policy, but it isn’t. And that’s what the media are banking on (pun intended).

The media attempt to shift focus away from policy and on to subjects like, say, sex with Diane Abbott, ooh! Better yet, they can slam customs and traditions on him, like checking whether he sings the anthem or bows forward enough; rituals rather than actual integrity of action like honouring the fallen – which he does. All the while, avoiding another war to fan the flames of terror.

While discussing Syrian air strikes as part of the latest exhausting episode of British military overseas adventures, Laura Kuenssberg made sure to keep the Labour leader away from policy and attempt to shift hypothetical scenarios, repeatedly shouting at him to state whether he’d reject military action under any circumstances without him knowing what circumstances might be presented. If she could have got him to cite a scenario where, say, a foreign army was invading the British Isles, and he’d have our brave troops kick ’em off, then – yes! – she’s got him to admit that, far from being a peacenik, he’s for military action too, just like David Cameron, and the producer yelling in her earpiece can give her a pat on the back later on in the studio, and everything’s returned to its natural order of the powerful ruling over the vulnerable. Status quo. Despair. Terror. Accepting your lot in life (hey, it could be worse).


Of course, Corbyn’s such a diplomat who likes to sit down and discuss things, he’s welcomed his fellow Labour MPs having a free vote on bombing Syria, despite his opposition to Cameron’s proposals. Corbyn has been repeatedly referred to in the press as “left-wing Labour leader” while Cameron is never, ever called “right-wing Tory leader” (maybe because that sounds worse…and if so, why is that, I wonder?) In the final bad joke, the right-wing media, since they couldn’t fully portray him as a pacifist hippie as they’d hoped, even tried to blame military intervention on Corbyn himself for allowing such discussion, rather than on Cameron, who’d been sabre-rattling for weeks wanting bombs in the first place!

So, if this genuinely good guy actually gets to the general election, consider it a blow against the vested interests that control the information channels. And if he actually wins, it will be the end of them. Just remember that the next time you find yourself defending his style of suit to your mate in the pub over a pint. Policy is everything.

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Facebook isn’t a Tool Any More. We’re the Tools for Using It.

ap071106062657-2Carrier pigeon. Snail mail. Telephone. Email. Facebook.

One of those things is not like the others. That’s because one of them is less a form of a communication, more a private corporation by definition. Call me? Sure! Email me? Why not! You actually have a choice about which service you’ll use to do so. But Facebook is just Facebook. Facebook me? No, thanks. Let’s not, and say we did.

I already wrote about Facebook’s uses here before, and there’s no doubt that it’s a tool. But if it’s just another tool, what’s so special about it? We don’t treat it like a hammer we lost from our toolbox. Heck, we hold more importance to our Facebook accounts than we do a book on our shelves, the favourite shirt on our clothes rail, or even our wallet. Think about it. Which would most of us be more traumatised about losing these days?

On principle, we have to make sure we stop rushing to one corporate social networking website to engage in discourse, because it’s dangerous, as I’ll explain in a moment. I refuse to believe we’ve become so inept at communication and mobilisation that we’re dependent on our Facebook accounts to do this.

No, Facebook isn’t just another web tool, it’s an albatross. And we’ve become tools for using it. In fact, we’re not just tools, or cogs in the machine – we’re the product, since Facebook finds out our friendships, relationships, anniversaries, workplaces, favourite foods and restaurants, and even tracks where we go, how many times, and for how long, then gathers all that information, and sells it to companies, commodifying us as the dreaded target market we often try to avoid being reduced to. They’re even watching us and using us to conduct social experiments.

It’s a McCarthyist dream, and this data-mining is how Facebook use you to make money off you, and are now worth around $200 billion because of it. No, you didn’t get a cut of that, did you? Sorry.

Sure, they all do it to some extent, since money makes the world go around. But nobody does it like Facebook, where Mark Zuckerberg rules with an iron fist and around 60% of his board’s voting power, which even has the most laissez-faire free marketeers uncomfortable – and that’s saying something.

640px-Mark_Zuckerberg_1984_Berlin_GraffitiBut that’s not the only way Zuckerberg turns a healthy profit. Facebook has a reputation for bargaining some of the lowest third world labour rates in the industry. Those people who pick up your complaints and reports when you’ve caught someone being abusive on Facebook? They’ve been getting paid $1 an hour for the trouble. When you compare that to Google – who are no saints themselves yet have frequently paid ten times what Facebook have – it’s no surprise that Google’s reporting services generally act within hours to tackle child pornography and other abusive material, which over on Facebook goes left for days to go viral. No surprise either, then, that kids have killed themselves.

Facebook, in particular, has become a haven for passive-aggressive attacks for cowardly perpetrators to deny any intention of targeting their victims, while it has also become everything anti-capitalist cultural critics have slammed for years as it grows into a cynical popularity contest, buoyed by the introduction of the “Like” button and Facebook’s habit of promoting the most popular posts into your feed, tantamount to rewarding the filthy rich with more wealth while the poor and the persecuted are left behind.

Every revolutionary is a romantic, and this imbues them with a vision of what might be, a belief in a better way of doing things, and a determination to fight for it. With that in mind, we have to be more optimistic, more ambitious, even if it seems a struggle. To leave Facebook behind means leaving behind many more people, but – much like my old documentary screenings before I got wise and made Return to Doncatraz – too often we find ourselves either preaching to the converted, or defending ourselves to those who are closed-minded, and hey, that’s no way to spend our time as citizens.

Share a gif of a cat flushing a toilet, and you get dozens of “Likes.” Post an article about how we need to live more ethically, get none. In turn, share a relationship update, and people scramble onto your page like gawkers slowing down their cars by a crash site. Sure, there are those whose every word is met with cheers when posting an overtly political status – and that’s because they’re the ones singing to the choir. See how it works?

06oU8nGFacebook has brought out the worst in people. While the open-minded have a tendency to seek out different, challenging information, Facebook leaves us customising our feeds to include those who agree with us, and we only address those we disagree with to vent our spleen at. It’s a culture of popularity, hypocrisy, and fake care and concern, giving birthday wishes to those whose birthdays weren’t even meaningful enough to us to note in our diaries in the first place. People deactivate their accounts for attention, or delete people in a passive-aggressive, gutless, virtual sucker-punch…often attempting to re-add them later on, once the knee-jerk feeling has subsided and the guilt taken over.

So much gossip has been said about me – I have enemies at home and abroad, and have learned of really frightening accounts that have included painful lies about me, but no worse breeding ground for that has existed than Facebook, where some people add you not because they care, but quite the opposite: seeking gossip, they’ve heard the rumours and lies, and are just keeping tabs on you to see if you’ll slip up. As someone with a strong sense of ideals, I’ve inevitably pissed off more people than I can possibly keep track of, but I’ve never once set out to intentionally hurt someone, yet I’ve been subjected to terrible claims about me both personally and professionally, even in my work at SilenceBreaker Media, or with AFC Unity, where individuals with claims later proven to be found false can’t wait to hit “Like” on someone’s jab at you on the page. It’s sad.

facebook-addictionSince announcing my intention, people have said it’s a “mistake,” argued the case for good ol’, and even suggested I’m overreacting. This is the behaviour of addicts. And the first part of dealing with an addiction is accepting you have one. Few in a drug den congratulate the person planning to kick the habit and quit their little ritual, do they? No, they persuade them to stay, because it makes them all feel better, then. Those who aren’t, say, alcoholics, but like a drink now and then, are often the first to applaud their friends going teetotal. Because they respect it without feeling threatened by it.

I’m not quitting Facebook for attention, or to return sometime soon. I’m quitting Facebook because I have found I don’t have room for unnecessary negativity in my life, and that’s mostly what the site offers, at the cost of selling myself to them for free so they can make Mark more money. I also resent its increasing invasion of privacy, its forum for bullying, its rewarding of those already ahead of the pack, and its platform for passive-aggressive behaviour. Too many assumptions are made about you on Facebook; I’ve had people claim I’m a “radical,” and the next day others call me “conservative” because, in both cases, I see myself as a citizen, I see it as my duty to vote in elections, and I’m at the same time pragmatic about working within the system, as well as outside it. What a weirdo! “Sooo political, man!” “No, not political enough! If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal!” And so forth. Sigh.

facebook-open-graph-partnersI don’t know about you, but I miss – and relish – the opportunity to make things happen in my community by hitting the streets, meeting more people in person, and being a lovable asshole. I miss mixing up my time online between eBooks, forums, newsletters, podcasts, videos and websites in general, rather than getting bogged down with checking numerous notifications and seeing some little-known “friend” pipe up for the first time ever to attempt to bring me down a peg or two, or see someone else cheering on my antagonists, simply by hitting “Like,” then shrugging innocently.

No, it’s time for us to move on, a fact that the next generation are already increasingly aware of. It’s time to be brave, be bold, be different; have a change in how we spend our time. And it’s time for us to send a message to Mark Zuckerberg and his pals that we’re not reliant on his collegiate website for our information or interaction, and we’re sure as heck not going to put a price tag on all our photos, relationships, and feelings. We can have a better world, and that better world is one not with but without Facebook. Much like a government, if a social networking website isn’t working for us any more, we should build ourselves another one – and there are already alternatives out there, like Ello.

Surely Kalle Lasn had a point when he suggested mainstream media is to our brains what fast food is to our bodies. Everything needs to be consumed in moderation, and everything needs to be as healthy as possible. Facebook has become the equivalent of a Big Mac. Even the breadbun is bad for you, so there’s little point any more.

So, let’s leave it behind and get busy living. There’s a whole wide world out there to win.

And the next time you want to know the truth about what I’ve said, or done, or thought, you won’t be adding me on Facebook – you’ll be asking me to my face.

Some may not “Like” it, but I happen to like it.

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Reasons to be Cheerful

Basic CMYK

For those of you aware of the facts and the appalling track record of the Conservatives carrying out their Social Darwinist ideology of “survival of the fittest,” I know things might seem grim. It looks like the right-wing mainstream media of this country – which Obama/Miliband advisor David Axelrod admitted was unlike anything he’d ever experienced – used lies, fear, and hate to get the Tories back into power, with a majority, no less.

But this is a blip.

Over the last century, we’ve moved more and more towards better rights for children, for women, for ethnic minorities, for gay people, for the disabled, and the poor. Yet we had Thatcherism, when despite so much hope going into not one but several successive elections, millions were in tears when the results came through. Margaret Thatcher damaged Britain, as David Cameron is damaging Britain, too.

But despite the dignified and left-leaning campaign run by “Red Ed” after Blairism, the hope of a progressive presence in parliament has now been decimated. The chances of a coalition forming from anti-Tory parties were dashed long before the results came in, and once the Liberal Democrats were very rightly routed for their compliance in Cameron’s schemes, the only hope was that the Tories would fail to get a majority and then be left with no one to lean on. But they did get a majority. And this is where it gets interesting.

While, thanks to the media, you can forget any hope in hell of Labour becoming any more left-wing than they’ve been under Ed, this does leave the Tories alone in the responsibility of government. Of course, inequality and suffering will increase, particularly for the disadvantaged. But no more can the Tories use the lying line that “Labour maxed out the credit card” (when in fact, as my film Return to Doncatraz showed, the banks caused the economic crisis). Now, every single thing the Tories do – from selling off public services into private hands, privatising the health service, and increasing reliance on food banks – will be their fault, and theirs only. If we can’t go on about the miners’ strike, they sure as heck can’t go on about a “Credit Crunch.”

Even the media focus will shift. As things get worse in the short-term, the narrative will change long-term, to one where even those duped into voting Tory will see increasing inequality for themselves, and the shaking of our society to its foundations. The only anti-establishment dialogue can be against the Tories. The press will even have to buy into a lot of that. Some of us are making our own media, while campaigning for reform.

A Chuka Umunna becoming Labour leader was always inevitable if “Red Ed” lost, but on the bright side – while some things will be irreversible – a media-bulletproof personality like this would send a Labour surge towards a landslide victory in 2020, and the alleviation of some pain for the most vulnerable in our society. Labour will have healed, and recovered, both in England and in Scotland, and everywhere else. With minorities and coalitions in the past, their status as the only solid opposition to the terrible things the Tories are about to do, will be galvanised, and supported.

But in the meantime, in cities like mine, the “People’s Republic of South Yorkshire” – where socialist Paul Blomfield was just re-elected with a massive majority – people will pull together and work together and work hard on a grassroots level to ensure our communities survive, even thrive, locally. Because party politics in our poor excuse for a democracy is all well and good, but political action starts at home, in our homes, on our streets, in our towns.

So let’s stick together, and look after each other. We can get through this. People felt suicidal when Thatcher was in power, and although nationally we may never recover from the damage Tories do for a long time, we know we can fight back, and we know we can win. History is on our side. Learn from it but look ahead, with your head up, and keep your chin up. Keep fighting. It’s the only way things have ever changed for the better. This, too, shall pass.

So dust yourself off, pick yourself up, stay positive, and no matter what, don’t you dare stop doing good things.

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Silent Night on the Eve of Destruction

There’s a very real silence in our society about matters of injustice, and when there are voices, they’re stifled by a corporate mainstream media with its own agenda in accordance with the interests of those who own and control the networks.

Today, in Britain, we have the most right-wing government since the Second World War, immediately after which, our government set about listening to the country’s communities and – despite the enormous debts from the conflict – still invested money into giving us the gift of universal health care, education, and a strong social security safety net. They got the nation back on its feet.

In today’s Britain, though, TV and newspapers have made a form of fascism fashionable; palatable; acceptable.

There are politicians talking about immigrants as though they’re sub-human, and government departments sparing no expense to run publicity campaigns about welfare benefit fraud despite the fact this accounts for only 0.7% of all benefits claimed.

The dialogue about Muslims is dominated by Islamophobia._39667411_queen_broadcast203pa

We’re linking the Christian church and the state when it suits us, with our supposedly blue-blooded head of state delivering Christmas speeches before a row of tanks at a time our government is initiating an illegal invasion of a country that posed no threat to us whatsoever, and two of our three houses remain completely unelected, the third – the House of Commons – desperate for an electoral reform cleverly quashed by a ConDem coalition.

It’s an all-out assault on the weak and vulnerable, and we’re getting used to it.

The voices of reason have been subjected to a PR campaign with a slogan of “political correctness,” which means people can spout vile racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic abuse and if you dare to challenge it, you’re part of the “political correctness brigade.” Clever.

After Margaret Thatcher claimed “there is no such thing as society,” and influenced a culture where citizens were replaced by consumers, we have been at risk of becoming a country of “survival of the fittest,” every one for themselves, swallowing the misinformation of the media to the point where two of the biggest concerns for the population are immigration and welfare spending – two utter non-issues that barely affect any of us at all, while a nationalist flag-waving culture of militarisation is being nurtured in front of dodgy deals, corporate lobbying, oil wars, environmental destruction, the sell-off of the state, mass privatisation, and an increase in wealth for the richest elites benefiting from it all.

The attack on the disadvantaged – on the poor, on ethnic minorities, on those of a certain faith group – all took place in Germany after their economic struggles exacerbated by the humiliating Treaty of Versailles. Berlin, once a thriving, diverse city full of cultural richness and social tolerance, instead became a place where to speak up for those minorities became dangerous; the new narrative was one of prejudice and demonisation.

We stand at a point in our history where we are approaching a sort of social destruction – of all the things we were supposed to have fought for against fascist Germany, before promising to never again put our troops into harm’s way unless it was absolutely necessary.

Instead, we have begun to accept the rhetoric of the right-wing sociopaths fed to us through the same newspapers that supported the fascists in the run-up to the war.6a00d8341d417153ef011571076f57970c-800wi

We embrace the false concern for our brave soldiers through charity to appease our guilt while our government uses and abuses them, and refuses to care for them after chewing them up and spitting them out.

We witness racism, sexism, homophobia and Islamophobia on our screens, and on the radio, and the networks present us with panels dominated by this vile vitriol while claiming to be “unbiased.”

It’s more important now than ever to refuse to be silenced; to keep challenging prejudice even in a room full of it, even in a minority of one – “the truth is still the truth,” Gandhi said.

What else is there to fight for?

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

– Martin Luther King, Jr

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I Visited Mainland Europe and All I Came Back to Was This Lousy Fascism

8081186045_3f875589f2_zWhenever I lived in North America and people asked me about Europe, I’d tell them that – as a Doncaster-born bloke living most of my adult life in Sheffield – I didn’t know all that much about the place. Then they’d remind me that my own beloved Britain was, after all, in Europe, and with raised eyebrows and a tone of admission I’d say, “Oh, yeah…”

The reality is, very few of us British really think of ourselves as European. We still queue without instruction, remain patient at traffic lights, huff and puff in a rush, complain about being charged to use public toilets, and avoid being direct unless we’re openly slagging off foreigners, at which point diplomacy goes out of the window.

I’ve just returned from a week’s jaunt around mainland Europe, and I’ve been reminded of the differences but also the similarities we have with those at the other end of that tunnel under the English Channel.

20140906_205535When you’re from the “People’s Republic of South Yorkshire,” you kind of get an intuitive vibe for similar places, and when I walked around Liège, in Belgium, with Jane Watkinson, we both took an instant liking to the place – and sure enough, the hip, cosmopolitan but down-to-earth and diverse population enjoying the late night bars represented the traditionally socialist post-industrial regenerative spirit of a city moving beyond coal and steel.

We went by Dachau, in Germany, which from Nazi headquarters in nearby Munich, troops following Second World War orders were directed to develop from a prison for crooks, to a detention centre for political prisoners, to a concentration camp for homosexuals, socialists, vegetarians, the disabled, Jews, and the “work-shy” to be put into forced labour under the infamous gates bearing the message “Arbeit macht frei” – or “work will make you free.” Of course, this “forced labour” was torture, with the concept of freedom a dangling carrot guiding the inmates into gas chambers and ovens that exterminated tens of thousands of people.Dachau_-_Corpses_lie_in_a_pile_on_the_ground_in_the_newly_liberated_Dachau

When allied forces finally approached the area, Dachau’s SS soldiers started betraying signs of guilt by attempting to destroy evidence of the atrocities there, and even began sending prisoners towards coasts (to be drowned) or on to trucks and trains headed for Tyrol, Italy. There, before going to Venice, we visited a military cemetery in Bolzano, where Jews and Nazi soldiers have been buried side-by-side – demonstrating the desperate desire of the former fascists to treat all of those who died in the war as victims of the same oppression and propaganda that we all shudder at the thought of ever becoming.

And it’s fair to say that all the people of then-fascist Germany and Italy were victims – of division, fear and propaganda. After the humiliating and devastating after-effects of the First World War, this was understandable – as angry peoples wanted to strike back, needing to feel good about themselves again, and susceptible to nationalist and racist language and laws.

On the way back towards the Channel Tunnel at the trip’s conclusion, we sat on a bus driving into Calais as the coach staff took to the microphone to draw the passengers’ attention towards immigrants sat in nearby bushes, hoping to find a route to a better life. As one pathetic man slumped there in one ditch, looking cold, hungry and tired, predominantly white, middle-class tourists looked through the glass at his miserable frame; some pointed and laughed.

For once, my big Doncastrian mouth was shut. I was speechless. I wasn’t angry; I was gutted. I refused to look at the man in the bushes for more than a moment, instead looking around at our fellow passengers and feeling ashamed. Some of these desperate immigrants – wanting a better life just like those British who move abroad – cling onto trucks and are severely injured; entire families have been found dead in truck containers they hid in, hoping to arrive to a place that less closely resembled hell. Well, my own country’s on the road to a fascist hell itself.

Is this what we’re reduced to? Ridiculing the poor, the persecuted, the desperate? Is this what we’ve become?

Nazism was able to slowly grow like a cancer because of propaganda that convinced people to see other people as slightly less human: the “lazy” or the disabled, ethnic minorities or people of different faiths. Through a democratic process, citizens actively voted for tougher laws against immigrants and Jewish people.

In Britain today, our anti-European sentiment isn’t the biggest story. No, the biggie is the fact that – while banks who got £1.5 trillion of taxpayers’ money and have yet to repay it – the main concerns of the British people are based on the utter lie that our way of life is somehow threatened by people less fortunate than ourselves wanting to escape conditions that our government, in most cases, historically caused while using our brave soldiers as pawns in their plans. Of course, given that Rothermere’s Daily Mail supported the Nazis in the build-up to the Second World War yet is still one of the most-read “news” papers in Britain, this should be no surprise. The old tricks are the best.ah_rothermere

Today, the most right-wing British government after the Second World War thrives on this divide-and-rule fascistic propaganda to implement totally unnecessary social security cuts, introduce forced labour for the “work-shy,” throw disabled people off welfare, and demonise immigrants to the point where we’re actually pointing and laughing at them.

This is not the Britain I was born in back in 1976, and it isn’t the Britain I care to die in. And I have no plans on leaving.

I am so glad to be back here in Britain, with all its double yellow lines, and red postboxes, phone boxes and buses, and black cabs; its numerous towns and cities within near spitting distance of each other; its easily-accessible vegan grub. And let’s not forget about the modern model of democracy it exported to all four corners of the globe, its far-reaching empire that sees its subjects now wanting a little something in return.

What we have left now is too important not to fight for. And you have to fight for it – before it continues down this road that leads to a very dark place that history has already shown us.

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Tomlinson-Ryan Trust? An Open Letter to Louis Tomlinson and John Ryan

Dear John/Direction of the “Tomlinson Ryan Trust,”

As a lifelong Doncaster Rovers supporter, it’s an unspoken, unwritten rule that when you are about to express any opinion about the club’s ownership, you must add the caveat that you are forever grateful for the way John Ryan bought and revolutionised Doncaster Rovers back in 1998 and saved it from all its troubles I briefly touched upon in my documentary Escape from Doncatraz.

428204_277417518997041_100001863851835_655193_690828094_nPhew. Now that’s over with, let’s talk about real things that are happening these days.

Obviously, looking back at those dark days again – and remembering a crook who tried to profit from our club to the extent of hiring a mob to burn down what was left of our old stadium – it’s easy to understand why the supporters themselves formed the Viking Supporters Cooperative from the ashes of the whole miserable episode.

Last season, you, John, decided to resign as Chairman of Doncaster Rovers right before the kick-off of our local derby over at Barnsley – which might have been good for maximum impact of publicity, if not at all helpful for team morale, but resign you did, frustrated over the refusal of co-owners Dick Watson and philanthropist Terry Bramall to agree with your accepted takeover over from the mysterious consortium known as Sequentia Capital, known only through Kevin Phelan, who, in 2000, happened to have been banned for eight years from ever being a company director.

What followed were bitter statements from you, often via your daughter’s Facebook page, taking shots at the Viking Supporters Cooperative itself for daring to question the judgement of the great John Ryan himself when he wanted to sell to Sequentia Capital. The fair-weather fans who infrequently attended games and had less knowledge of goings-on, much less critical thought, meanwhile, protested, and – as Bramall and Watson kept the club ticking over albeit below mid-table – carried banners with the words “Bramall Watson the Table” (get it?) then phoned BBC Radio Sheffield to claim the banner was snatched from them by security who also threw out the rebels including one man in a wheelchair. Listeners were shocked and appalled, and the anti-owners sentiment was boosted. There was just one problem:

None of that actually happened.1403262428604

At a Meet the Owners event I attended, chief executive Gavin Baldwin explained that the banner – which was paraded along the front of the stand – had to be removed, like all others that are held there, because it was obstructive and violated long-standing policy, while the fans – including the one in a wheelchair – who were supposedly kicked out had in fact already exited of the stadium before trying to get back in when the doors were closed. That’s like saying I’ve been kicked out of North America even though I haven’t even renewed my passport and can’t travel anywhere.

The owners told us that all of this was propaganda from someone designed to increase opposition to their remaining in control of the club. And I’m sure, John, you had nothing to do with that, just like you had nothing to do with the stories appearing in the press claiming the club was so very close to going into administration, with the small print adding that this could happen if you were to demand immediate full repayment of loans you’d given to the club over the years. Of course, because you care about the club, you were never actually going to make such a request and plunge the club into administration, right?

A divisive atmosphere polluted some games I attended with my dad, who’s been a supporter since 1947. At one game, the giant oversized Doncaster Rovers shirt that youngsters pull across the field before kick-off prompted one fan to wittily ask, “Who’s going to wear that one?!” to which my dad quipped, “Not John Ryan – it wouldn’t fit over his f***ing head!” Sorry, John. But if it makes you feel any better, our refusal to worship you kept us in the minority there.

At least for a little while.

Sequentia Capital faded away, as did the calls for you to return at the expense of Bramall and Watson, who reiterated that they would happily sell but only to parties who had the best interests of the club and the town at heart. Bless ’em. Manager Paul Dickov stood right by them, and Gavin Baldwin.2962414739

I’ll be the first to admit the inexperienced manager Paul Dickov wasn’t my first choice as successor to Brian Flynn after Dean Saunders stupidly and greedily jumped to Wolverhampton Wanderers while he was worth more, only to then relegate them as well rather than seeing through the successful return to the Championship for Doncaster Rovers – making Deano, instead, now a manager with nothing more than two successive relegations on his record.

But Paul Dickov was appointed, and I got behind him, and I wanted him to succeed and prove wrong any doubts I had. He did, I think. But last summer the questions about Sequentia Capital made for a tumultuous pre-season preparation for him, and no doubt that didn’t help our chances in a Championship where we were, yet again, bookmakers’ odds-on favourites for certain relegation (we were actually relegated on nothing more than goal difference, as you know).

direction23n-4-webSo this summer, John, you came back on the scene – with all the media-courting public relations savvy we’ve come to know you for, and instead of the anonymous Sequentia Capital, this time you came with someone millions of people knew: Doncaster’s own Louis Tomlinson, from the pop group One Direction. At a posh location in London, you declared your intentions to buy out Bramall and Watson and take back control of the club along with the 1D star, and just happened to also announce the newly-formed Tomlinson-Ryan Trust, which would utilise a crowdfunding project to raise the profile of Doncaster Rovers, while raising extra bonus money, too. When asked, you clarified that the takeover was not dependent on the crowdfunding reaching its target of £2,000,000.

This week, days before the Football League were to examine your takeover bid for approval, the crowdfunding campaign’s all-or-nothing target failed to be met, so not a penny was successfully raised despite pledges to the tune of three-quarters of a million pounds. Today, I learnt that the Football League rejected your takeover bid, and the Tomlinson-Ryan Trust issued a statement that this was due to the failed crowdfunding campaign meaning there were fewer funds to complete the takeover.BswuVlfCEAE7Qbs

You then went on BBC Radio Sheffield and said that a rogue element inside the Tomlinson-Ryan Trust had actually issued that statement, which was, you told us, unauthorised and incorrect. Instead, you claimed the Football League wanted evidence you had £5,000,000 to spare on Doncaster Rovers, you showed them evidence of assets worth £5,000,000, and they rejected you because of a vendetta, a conspiracy, and a fondness for convicted criminals and oligarchs rather than the old guard of local businessmen who cared about their town’s team.

So, John, I guess we’re wrong to wonder why the crowdfunding campaign was set up in the first place if you already had all the funds needed, and certainly wrong to suggest that you wooed Louis because it would cost him little more than his image in order to raise funds through his One Direction fan base of millions of enthusiastic youngsters. It’s just all a conspiracy against the great saviour of Doncaster Rovers himself.

You even made a point of using your radio airtime to attack the “keyboard warriors” – you know, the ones who go on the forum of the Viking Supporters Cooperative you so resent for ushering in your era, printing huge banners referring to you as the man who revolutionised our club, and yet daring to insist on asking questions about groups like Sequentia Capital because they never, ever want their beloved club to be owned by another scoundrel like the one who tried to burn their club to the ground.

Well now you say you’re done with it all, because you’ve been mistreated and maligned, and it’s the second summer in a row that Paul Dickov has been in limbo. Would it really be his fault if we ended up in another relegation battle? You’d reassured him that he could get verbal agreements with top players this summer because they’d, after all, be signed with “the second-biggest budget in League One” come July 18th. Now what does he tell these players? And what about the more affordable ones? They’ve surely already been snapped up while our manager was waiting. So this whole mess has ruined yet another pre-season preparation for him – and for us – and you’re gone again. “Done,” apparently.

But I don’t want this to be one of those “Dear John” letters. I still have something to say to Louis.

_72485468_018835988-1Louis, if you ever intended to put any of your millions into a “pub team” from your hometown, by all means, do it anyway. Terry Bramall and Dick Watson – as even John Ryan has been forced to concede – are good guys, and would welcome the investment. And if you don’t want to part with any money, and you do another crowdfunding campaign ever again, let it keep whatever little it makes, and for goodness sake, please let it go to the Viking Supporters Cooperative – because the more membership subscriptions and funds that it has, the greater its shares in Doncaster Rovers. And at this rate, surely true fan ownership is the best hope we have, because if I’m truly “Rovers Till I Die” and we all agree that “In Rovers We Trust,” we’re prepared to trust ourselves with the thing we care so much about. And I have a feeling we’re not about to let each other down now.


Jay Baker, “keyboard warrior.”

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How He-Man Got Me Into Feminism

When I was in kindergarten, I was very rarely found playing cops and robbers or war games. Instead – my mother today confirms – I was with my female friend at the time putting baby dolls into prams. Other mothers asked her if she was at all concerned about my behaviour. “Why would I be?” she replied. “If anything, he’s learning about the responsibilities of parenthood!”

I credit my mother with giving me a good start in life, despite the fact my arrival into our family marked the first time she’d quit working – she had held down multiple jobs while raising my brother and sister and my father was kept busy adhering to his expected role as manual labourer, working shifts as long as twelve hours. Of course, my mother’s ‘shift’ was always twice as long.

d31563dadd516dc224ee86135d724f1bDespite the impact of popular culture taking over our family living room – He-Man being one of my favourite mindless cartoons as a child – the difficulties didn’t end with kindergarten. When He-Man’s twin sister She-Ra was given her own spin-off television series, perhaps oblivious to the fact He-Man was ‘for boys’ and She-Ra was ‘for girls,’ I simply followed She-Ra over on to her own show that, at least for the mid-1980’s, was a refreshing departure from the plethora of programmes featuring muscle men rescuing damsels in distress, a theme even my nine year-old brain found tedious.

But that wasn’t the real problem. No, the trouble began when I not only watched He-Man as well as She-Ra too, but also bought all the toys. And I mean all of them.

mOMoar70CkrXjcNKxkSwJjwSo there I was, walking into school one day carrying what I thought was my fabulous She-Ra action figure, complete with weapons and, admittedly, a hair comb. “Ha, he’s brought a girl’s doll in to class!” shouted the other boys, mockingly. In my oblivious naïvety, I simply showed them the action figure more closely in order to demonstrate how much fun it was, especially when the other figurine – She-Ra’s ‘special friend,’ Bow, a moustachioed man whom she rescued on more than one occasion – was brought out to enact scenes from the series. Suffice to say, I was informed that I should take my ‘doll’ and go comb its long golden locks (although admittedly a little less politely than I paraphrase here).

This may or may not have contributed to my mother’s decision to pull me from school entirely and teach me at home herself. Some people may think that’s when matters got worse for me, but I happen to think it’s when things got much better. My working class heroine – far better than She-Ra ever was, and the polar opposite to our female Prime Minister at the time who was actually attacking women’s rights – my mother fought with local authorities to win her right to teach me herself, in her own way, and suffice to say it spared me the influence of high school macho culture that I have been fortunate enough to only ever experience via anecdotes from those I speak to who experienced it themselves first-hand. It sounds horrific.

My awareness and corresponding activism only grew stronger with my mother’s influence – my first-ever political demonstration was as a teenager marching through Sheffield in opposition to its university’s animal testing activities. My mother and I were already vegetarians then. Today, we are both vegans.

So many issues intertwine and overlap, and while Malcolm X in his younger, angrier years reportedly responded to a young white woman asking how she could help him by simply telling her she couldn’t possibly, he later realised that plenty of enlightened Caucasians stood beside him and those like him in marching for civil rights. And as someone who was born in Northern England with no great expectations of being anything other than a ‘White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant Male,’ instead I have fought for many causes, one of them being for women to be afforded the same opportunities – rights and responsibilities – as men.

Yes, despite the allegations of my poor ignorant school classmates, I am a man, and yet I happen to think that doesn’t make me any better – at anything in particular, or at all – than a woman. And in the spirit of that young woman who unsuccessfully offered her hand of help to Malcolm X and his cause, I’ll be there offering mine to the cause of feminism any time. As I’ve explained to many male friends over the years, it’s better for all of us in the long run. If I ever have a son, may he take his own ‘doll’ into class, along with all the others.

Originally written for The Scavenger.

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Some Warm Comfort in Rip-Off Britain

POLITICS-Energy-104808_355-6252114I’ve talked about the Conservative-induced culture of self-loathing in Great Britain today. And part of that is the widespread view across the British population that ordinary people are being “ripped off” by large corporations – specifically the energy companies.

As part of my role managing non-profit company SilenceBreaker Media, I’ve worked a lot in my birthplace of Doncaster, and lately, specifically Edlington, an area once home to coal mining, which was of course wiped out in Margaret Thatcher’s attack on unionised industry. Edlington’s since declined, ranking high on the indices of deprivation and hitting national news headlines only for criminal incidents. What SilenceBreaker Media have tried to do is tackle digital exclusion, as a lack of internet access is more prominent in disadvantaged areas, who thus have less access to information and no voice of their own to counter the negative perceptions that in turn breed negative activity.

Beyond the interest in internet activity, there’s also the whole wider issue of telecommunications companies monopolising the market as part of “Rip-Off Britain” – one of the great tragic ironies of Thatcher’s privatisation agenda that was supposed to offer “freedom of choice.” If the internet is supposed to be a human right, why is it costing a bloody bomb?

But the energy companies really take the cake. Edlington’s own Labour MP, Caroline Flint, has long crusaded against the rising energy prices hurting ordinary, decent people like her constituents, already struggling as it is. Of course, the Tories conveniently ignored Thatcher’s work and instead blamed even this on Labour, like they do everything else (the global economic crisis, unemployment, bad weather, venereal disease…)

Having been a customer of Utility Warehouse – the new kid on the block that offers the provision of phone, internet, gas and electricity all on one monthly bill – I was impressed by their price promise that Utility Warehouse would cost less than other providers – and if they were proved wrong, they’d pay me double the difference.

As Utility Warehouse save money by relying on individual, entrepreneurial “distributors” rather than mass advertising, a lot of people were unaware of this provider, and I decided to sign up as a distributor myself just to be backed up with all the facts, stats, and information to convince them how good a deal it is (and I’m still a customer myself).

Meanwhile, after leading on the challenge to Rupert Murdoch’s News International, Labour leader Ed Miliband struck a chord with the British population when he vowed that a Labour government would forcibly freeze energy prices for around a couple of years when they came to power. With Labour’s popularity increasing, the Tories had to do something, and do something fast; drastic, even.

“When an offer sounds too good to be true it usually is,” they scoffed, as they entered Damage Control mode and quickly announced a cutback on the green levies on the massive profit-making energy companies so that these “savings” could apparently be passed on to the consumer…even though the consumers in the most deprived areas would lose out on the energy-efficiency measures, thus pay more. “Too good to be true”? They’d know about that, I guess.

You can sign up or find out more about the Utility Warehouse through my own personal distributor page – or ask me about it.

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I Hate Myself, & I Hate You Too

Great Britain, eh? What a country.

They used to say the sun never set on the British Empire, so vast and wide did our violent oppressive imperialist power influence reach around the world.

In fairness – though we didn’t invent it (the Greeks take credit for that) – we did export modern democracy to the four corners of the globe, and after the Second World War that saw communities pull together, we dealt with the rebuilding process through setting people to work – with a welfare safety net for those who weren’t able to find work, and even universal health care for the sick. Incredible.

Yet when, a few years ago, I first came back to the UK after living overseas, a man on Sheffield’s Supertram saw my suitcase, asked me about my circumstances, and then posed the question: “Why would you want to come back to Britain? It’s shit.”

So what happened?

Today, under the most right-wing government we’ve had since the above-mentioned war, we have an economically frail country with a culture full of self-loathing and cynicism. Britain really doesn’t feel so “Great” any more. It seems we’re a sad little island with nothing going for us, only appealing to people desperate and devious enough to come here for what they can get out of it. What Ed Miliband called “A miserable, pessimistic view.”

You only have to skim the daily newspapers to see it: welfare claimants are lazy scroungers, immigrants come here to exploit and drain our services, there’s no money left in the country’s coffers, and things are only going to get worse, so bloody get used to it…

Job Centres – originally set up so that those unfortunate enough to not have a job can have enough cash to get by – are now almost entirely staffed by bouncers at the entrances, stopping just short of frisking us for weapons because, insanely, over a quarter of us are only there to rob and scam the state for a whopping fifty or sixty quid a week while the nation’s treasury is skint.

Muslims – apparently once part of our nation’s rich diversity and ethos of religious freedom – are now one of the epic threats of our time, with the Islamification of our culture, to the point where mosques are being built in every town, on nearly every street, white women are being veiled, and you can’t even give someone a good old-fashioned colonialist insult like “Paki” anymore; it’s going the way of “Chinky” down in the history books.

Immigrants – once the backbone of our country during wartime – are such a big deal that they dominate the news, both in print and on television, the media’s own polls reflecting the concerns of their audience, because these immigrants pick on us, to walk in and easily access our strained welfare state and healthcare services, driving our country to the brink of economic collapse.

The Conservative government even recently decided to actually push propaganda in lands as far away as Romania and Bulgaria showing what a shit-hole Britain now is, so as to discourage their citizens from ever wanting to come here. To add insult to injury, many of these foreigners suggested we were flattering ourselves even by doing that, because not many of them actually had any desire to visit in the first place. Ouch.

What a crappy little island, eh? No money left! No jobs going! People getting money for nothing, and a better life for those foreigners when we’ve worked so hard here for so long! Poor us!

But don’t kill yourself just yet. Wait a moment! Please! Just give me a minute here.

Let’s try and imagine a different kind of Britain…

Imagine a Britain where literally billions of pounds have gone unclaimed in welfare benefits, just sat there in the state bank account.

Let’s fantasise about a Britain where even though there are millions of people without a job, the mass majority of these desperately want their lives to be fulfilled and valued in work where they can have a good home and enjoy travelling to other countries to see how piss-poor those places are when compared to the UK.

Maybe we can dream of a Britain where, while Christianity remains the dominant faith, our multicultural society promotes religious freedom, and other religions such as Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism all account for around 8% of the population…combined.

Or how about thinking of Britain as a country of rich history, democracy, diplomacy, decency – a good, wealthy western country full of good people where hardly any of us would even contemplate anything other than handing a quid each to a hundred hungry people if we had to get rid of £100.

Just imagine a truly Great Britain.

The strange thing is, this alternate reality is the reality.

Britain is signed up to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, so stands for religious freedom; the welfare system is very rarely ever abused; billions of pounds of benefits go unclaimed due to ignorance or fear of stigma. Yes, what we think is the myth is real, and what we think is real is the myth, because Margaret Thatcher’s Britain has successfully become a country where doormen stand at the entrances of job centres, the Hitler-loving BNP, mosque-burning EDL, and the xenophobic UKIP have us believing in the threat of “outsiders,” and we’re told to swallow our pride as we’re forced-fed the Credit Crunch™ breakfast cereal to start our day of daily lies in our daily lives.

All this while all that private debt the bankers racked up to the tune of a trillion is now made our public burden, and – with that excuse – the richness of public services can be cut off and sold off to private interests for profits, as the state is shrunken so that we can be a country run by brokers and suits, rather than an industrial nation – a nation supposed to be the envy of the world, a nation proud to be a beacon of human rights and democracy, and a nation full of good intentions, seeing the best in others, and welcoming diversity, having fought a war to end fascism.

But this is now David Cameron’s Britain.

I don’t hate myself. And I don’t hate you, either. Of course I don’t. But David Cameron does.

David Cameron hates you, the same way he hates this country, and everything that made it great. And in order for him to keep doing what he’s doing, he needs you to hate yourself, too. Feel bad, save yourself, watch your back, and hate yourself, hate your neighbours, hate welfare claimants, hate immigrants, hate Muslims. Just don’t hate him or his cabinet, whatever you do. At all costs, you must hate yourself and absolutely everyone and everything else.

Just don’t hate them, because they’ve got a job to finish – rolling back human rights, eroding workers’ rights; dividing and conquering, while selling off the state to their privileged pals. Keep living the dream, and it’ll become instead a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A miserable, pessimistic view indeed.


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