Election Day

The Polling Station Beckons, The Political Underbelly Rumbles, Westminster Is Hungry

7th May fast approaches. Five years of arduous austerity measures from a coalition government dominated by a cold-hearted and hard-headed Conservative-driven policy for economic recovery might soon come to an end. ‘Austerity drags on!’ have been the cries from the margins as the wants and needs of the marginalised have been overlooked in favour of an unbending defence of the financial status quo and the protection of the privileged few. The sixth wealthiest country in the world reduced to food banks, pay-day money lenders, the Bedroom Tax and deep fissures running through the loosening stitches in the multicultural fabric of this great Britain. Not to mention that the current government has created more national debt than all other Labour governments in the past century combined.

The polling station awaits and, while many have already voted, there are many who will still be pacing frantically between pillar and post, scratching their head and ruminating over the myriad choices that confront them. Like these people, I pontificate politically as I lose hair and my nerve, developing a galloping political neurosis. I find myself weighing up my decision as I make my morning coffee, as I flick casually through the Guardian at lunchtime, as I walk to and from work, or as I stand in the shower, warm jets of indecision on my shoulders and back reminding me that the time will soon come when uncertainty must give way to clarity; or so I hope.

The choice which confronts voters sympathetic to the suffering of those hit worst by growing inequality and injustice and antagonised by the looming reality of domination by corporate monopolies boils down to two issues: principles and expediency. In a fractured post-recession society, a desire for the overhaul of a system both endemically broken and institutionally entrenched might well qualify as a pipe dream. Russell Brand typifies, for many, the disaffection with Westminster politics. He is a figurehead whose rhetorical onslaught puts principles ahead of politics and people before the profit motive. Even Brand has had a delayed revelation that expediency for the moment is a better alternative than principled inaction and, in doing nothing, creating hope for an alternative political future that does not bear thinking about.

What is this alternative? Five more years of discriminate austerity which polarises the haves and the have-nots in society, coupled with a noxious right-wing anti-European, anti-immigration political ideology which would be the straw the broke the back of a camel which is already hunchbacked and rheumatic. The pressing choice that millions of voters will make on Thursday is whether to carry on with a business-as-usual approach to an austerity plan which views social grievances as an impediment to economic recovery or to indict this current policy and decide that the suffering caused by the banking crisis should be shared out equally and not heaped mercilessly onto the amorphous masses with no voice.

So what is the sensible choice at the polls on Thursday? The Labour Party under the leadership of Ed Miliband has pledged to reverse the coalition’s failed policy of austerity and work for the working people, revitalising the NHS, reducing tuition fees, taxing the richest 1% of the country, giving a voice to the regions, abolishing non-dom tax status and ending the UK’s status as a tax haven for international oligarchs and private capitalists. Under Labour and Miliband, there will be hope of ‘a future fair for all’. The eternal idealists, the Green Party, have pledged in their manifesto to create a waste-free economy by 2020, to raise the minimum wage to £10-an-hour, to institute a Robin Hood tax which will deliver poetic justice to the wealthiest in this country who have benefitted the most from economic recession and to rescue the NHS from Private Finance Initiatives. And there’s always the apologetic Liberal Democrats and their own brand of progressive politics. Although there is no clear sensible choice, so to speak, at least there is a choice to the current climate of political decay.

On a personal note, I often wonder: Are my opinions and views reflected in any of these manifestos? Will my voice be heard in Westminster if I vote for the party which gets into power? Then I remind myself that democracy is, above all else, an ideal. Democracy does not mean that each voice will be heard, only that each individual has a chance to speak and an opportunity to affect indirect change. So, when I stand in the booth on Thursday morning, still searching for clarity and ruing the possibility that my decision might contribute to a worse future for this country in the next five years as much as it might contribute to a brighter future, I will ask myself again: principles or expediency?

Am I voting for the world I would like to see or am I voting to create space for change in a world I see around me each day? Can my single vote create waves or will it only create temporary ripples? Alone, it does little. But my vote alongside many might just create a current strong enough to rock the flotilla of Westminster politics, to shake the kleptocrats from their ivory towers and the plutocrats from their towering pedestals, and beckon in a new dawn for politics which could, just maybe, cure the ills of an ailing nation in desperate need of change.your vote matters

Sixto Rodriguez: Hammersmith Apollo, London, UK, 13 March 2014.

I live below my means. I think that’s a good discipline because you can never tell. I’m not an ascetic. I just think that’s wiser.



The warm up act has finished as we make our way to our seats. A comfortable seat with a good vantage point is paramount for such a spectacle. The circle is at capacity, barely an empty seat in the entire auditorium. You can sense that people are expecting something special from the enigmatic Mexican-American songwriter thrust to meteoric international acclaim after the Academy Award winning 2012 documentary about his humble life in Detroit and his far from distinguished musical career; until now, that is. Now in his seventies, Rodriguez has previously played Coachella and Glastonbury and is currently part way through a European tour, which will next take him on to Italy, Poland, and Belgium. This is one of only three nights that he will perform in the UK.


As we sit, there is a piercing hum all around. The collective sense of anticipation is palpable. It reminds me of the excited chattering of hyenas on the Savannah. This noise does not fall below this level of intense chatter. Bathed in a red, yellow, and orange soft glow, Rodriguez’s backing band enters the stage and begins to soothe the ever expectant crowd, which soon begins to shout and whistle sporadically. Soon, people begin to clap their hands and stamp their feet expectantly.

Cries of “Rodriguez!” erupt as at the side of the stage a figure dressed in black appears, silhouetted against the light, with his guitar held high against his chest. A young woman, his daughter perhaps, holds his arm tenderly and helps Rodriguez as he gingerly makes his way towards the mic stand. Now in his early seventies, Rodriguez suffers from glaucoma and has limited vision. The auditorium erupts into a deafening roar. Peals of applause, whooping, and whistling greet Rodriguez as he assumes position at centre-stage. He removes his hat in recognition of the crowd and places it back upon his head, then turning to his band behind him and checking the tuning of his guitar. He dips his head to the mic and speaks: We don’t want any of that feedback, please. His first words, in his deep, distinctive cadence are humble, polite, and reserved.



Around Rodriguez’s shoulders hangs the shroud of his own mythology. His legend precedes him at every turn. He strikes an iconic figure behind the mic stand, dressed in black leather, a top hat and sunglasses, his long hair reaching to beneath his shoulders. The crowd settles. He starts to sing and the band kicks in. Have you ever had a fever, from a bittersweet refrain? Have you ever kissed the sunshine, walked between the rain? Well, climb upon my music… He strums with inimitable ease and sings with an effortless poetry in his voice. After his opening number, he plays several new songs and then Crucify Your Mind from his first album, Cold Fact. He speaks to the crowd for the second time: Power to the people, he announces to rapturous applause. He then speaks these words slowly and seriously – never, never, never, never surrender – before easing into Can’t Get Away From It.

Rodriguez plays many of his better-known tracks from Cold Fact and Coming To Reality. His renditions of I Wonder, Sugarman (after which he jokes this is a description, not a prescription), and The Establishment Blues have the crowd singing along, injecting into the auditorium a cascading energy and excitement. He also plays some of his newer discography and covers of Elvis Presley’s Blue Suede Shoes, Peggy Lee’s Fever, and B. B. King’s Lucille. He regularly combines his talents as a masterful songwriter from a lost generation with his retrograde humour and wisdom. To conquer, you must first conquer yourself, he tells the crowd. Be gentle with your anger, he relates, hate is too strong an emotion to be wasted on someone you don’t like. And, several times, Power to the People. The crowd responds with applause and assent, in recognition of the rare and rhapsodic wisdom of this folk enigma.



Throughout the show, crowd members cry out “Rodriguez! We love you man!” in Pentecostal bouts of reverent enthusiasm. A girl behind me shouts several times “Rodriguez, man, we’re from Mexico too!” As the show ends, Rodriguez leaves the stage to wild applause. Shortly afterwards, he returns again to the stage for a short encore to the delight of the eight-thousand strong crowd, this time wearing a black vest without his leather jacket. He plays the iconic track, Cold Fact, and a new song in which he sings prophetically I’m going to live until I die. It is on this note that the show ends.

Before he leaves the stage, Rodriguez thanks the crowd, proclaiming that it has been an honour, a pleasure, and a privilege. As he slowly disappears from view, I can’t help but think that it has been a privilege indeed to bear witness to an event that may easily so never have happened and to have heard the sage melancholy and eclectic folk creations of Sixto Rodriguez, a truly deserving recipient of a rare turn of good fortune.

Ralph Waldo Emerson —

“These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint stock company in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It [That is, conformity.] loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world […] A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition as if everything were titular and ephemeral but he. I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions. Every decent an well-spoken individual affects and sways me more than is right. I ought to go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways.”

John Pilger —

The major western democracies are moving towards corporatism. Democracy has become a business plan, with a bottom line for every human activity, every dream, every decency, every hope. The main parliamentary parties are now devoted to the same economic policies — socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor — and the same foreign policy of servility to endless war. This is not democracy. It is to politics what McDonalds is to food.

The Winds of Change


The relationship of the individual and government in the West is as we speak suspended in a quagmire of conflicting opinions: the staunch defence of tradition by those in power and whispers of revolution by some of those who have over long, arduous years and decades grown to feel divorced from and disaffected by the current political system. The free citizens in the United States of America and – it pains me to say this – to a lesser extent in the UK, are gradually coming to the realisation of the patent flaws in so many strata of modern government: the infinite profit paradigm of the international banking system which has crippled economies and livelihoods, the continuing iniquity of the hard-line foreign policies of many western nations, the unimaginable wealth divide which now exists between the world’s richest and poorest citizens, the baseness of the ever-expansive capitalist consumer culture that pervades our lives, the darker side of the technological revolution which has revealed itself in recent years, the incessant gluttony of industry leaders and politicians alike for the earth’s dwindling natural resources, and the manifest criminality of the very governments elected to perpetuate the ideals of democracy. I’m far from the first to say it, but if Russell Brand and Matt Damon can have their say, I thought I might add my own vaguely historical, pseudo-intellectual perspective to the fray.

Between 1917 and 1991, the world bore witness to the first real social experiment with the socialist ideas of Marx and Engels. Under this model of Soviet communism, Russian citizens were indiscriminately relegated to the status of ‘worker’, consigning them to decades as little more than ideologues of the proletariat. Witness the existential crises, political abuses and social upheaval in Russia then and now and it is precisely evident that this approach had fatally serious shortfalls. This is not to say, however, that socialism is futile; rather, it only proves that the Russian model of socialism failed.

Capitalist models of government too are flush with their own potentially fatal shortcomings. Aside from the evident flaws in the economic theories underlying capitalism, there are several foundational flaws in its ideology. Capitalist governments presume to define freedom, categorising each person under its administration as a consumer, measuring their utility in terms of their fiscal contribution to the sustenance of the present system. Its concerns are entirely economic, as is its perspective. Citizens under a capitalist system are simply workers with things; some with more things than others, but all essentially nicely adorned slaves to a brute economic system.

The Cold War was an ideological stand-off between two superpowers who were both reliant on extremely efficient propaganda systems. The failure of the communist experiment ensured that American economic ideas, politics and propaganda remained on their global pedestal. Whilst the Soviet Union had marshalled their domains with military force, the United States of America much preferred control of their domestic population through ideas. Aside from occasional blips on the democratic radar, such as the Kent State shootings or the inexorable brutality dealt out in the riots coinciding with the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, and the dubious role of the FBI throughout the postwar era, the US government tended to avoid brute force as a means of ensuring the correct democratic behaviour of the civilian population.

Abroad, the story was different. Beginning in Korea in the 1950s, escalating to the unbridled carnage and human misery of the Vietnam war in the following decade, followed by a series of proxy wars in north Africa and central America in the 1970s and 1980s and an unprecedented network of clandestine overseas operations by the CIA, then again exploding into high-scale military intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American government were and continue to be very active on the international stage in ensuring foreign commitment to their eschewed global ideals of liberty and freedom.  

Indeed, the conflict in Syria is the first time which the USA has not been able to intervene in order to influence the course of events more directly. The inertia over the Syria question may have more to do the resurgence of Russia – the Great Bear – in global politics rather than an American volte-face in an interventionist foreign policy. Negotiations at the UN Security Council since the beginning of the conflict have been plagued by the hard-line, stubborn diplomatic stance of premier Vladimir Putin and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. No doubt the exploration of Syrian waters in the Levant basin by Russian energy companies fell somewhere between the carrot and the stick in motivating this policy decision. This bullish Russian attitude, more reminiscent of Nikita Khrushchev and the incident with the shoe at the UN, extends beyond the confines of the Middle East. Vladimir Putin has highlighted the resource-rich Arctic as an area of strategic importance to the Russian Federation and has apparently given the green light for an intensification of the Russian military’s presence in the region. With the Russian Defence department making clear its concern of potential threats from the USA, it appears that the Cold War has recommenced, only this time slightly colder.

The international media rarely present things as they are. The USA is more often cast in the role of civiliser or liberator than the neo-imperialist empire-building – now faltering – which a close examination of their foreign policy reveals them to be. In the West, people are blissfully ignorant of the illegal and illicit activities of the world’s great superpower. Whilst the countries affected rally against American imperialism, an unacceptable number of those living in western nations continue to overlook the fact that US billionaires’ clubs, banking systems and oil conglomerates have contributed to the endemic poverty and disparity of wealth, the wholesale slaughter of innocent civilian populations, and the rape and plunder of natural resources and indigenous culture which define the world in which we live.  All in all, until recently,  a succession of United States governments have managed, by having at their disposal one of the most prolific propaganda machines in human history to affect a complete coup de grace in winning silent support across the globe for their ideas. The problem in the West is that people do not seem to care, nor really to think of the world’s problems as part of their individual responsibility, so wrapped up are they in their pursuit of the unattainable, unfulfilling consumer ideal. The role of Apple, or Hollywood, or Jay-Z, in this overwhelming attitude of apathy toward the world’s problems is manifest.  

It is of little significance that there are significant fulminations from the periphery and from within against the system currently in place. Any significant civic opposition to the latent problems of capitalist government is prevented by the media. The propagandistic mechanisms of international media outlets ensure that events are refracted through a tacitly unrepresentative media lens which doctors the transmission of accurate information. Moreover, the digital revolution and the complicity of trusted media outlets ensures that the majority are continually spoon-fed this limited form of democracy.

Whilst democracy permits certain freedoms, it can be an enemy to liberty. Like an ecosystem in the natural world, once a system of government is created, its central thrust is for self-preservation, not for constant or endemic change. Whilst evolution is possible and, at times, a necessity, change is gradual and piecemeal. Entropy is perceived to be the enemy of stable democracy for those steering the ship of state away from the dangers of perceived rocky shores. Freedoms can and have been sacrificed in view of stability and national security. The true exercise of freedom is not, however, contingent upon the credos of statutory reform. The true exercise of freedom lies with the attitudes, and, ultimately, the actions of individuals.

We today find ourselves living in a finely crafted doll’s house filled with vacant ideals and a surfeit of false information, where we are brainwashed into thinking that the price of non-conformity is the loss of our comforts and our security and that the accumulation of wealth and the latest products churned out by a colossal and unjust corporate machinery equates to a real sense of happiness and fulfilment. During the course of the half century or so since the resolution of the Second World War and the victory of the allied powers – many seem to have forgotten how contingent this outcome was on American financial and military intervention – this military- industrial complex has laid deep ideological foundations at all levels of daily life in the West. As consumers, we live economically, though many of us without economy. Our abode is a progressive society which confers little value on the progress of the human spirit. To borrow Oscar Wilde’s reduction of capitalism, still as relevant today as when it was written over a century ago: “It has led Individualism entirely astray. It has made gain, not growth, its aim. So that man thought that the important thing was to have, and did not know that the important thing is to be”. 

Increasingly, we are seeing that the ideals of freedom and liberty are not the cornerstone of democratic governance in the West, but that financial realities are more often than not the driving factors behind legislation and limited reform. Our governments are motivated primarily by self-interest. Though the membership of the House of Commons or the Senate Floor is changed on a regular basis by process of free election, the actual impact of electoral change upon national policy reform is minimal, particularly when one takes a long view of proceedings. Behind the politicians exists an atavistic system of more powerful decision-makers. Behind the Whitehouse lurks Wall Street. Those who make the real decisions behind the theatrical displays of politics are the main players in the military-industrial complex, which Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of in 1961.  

Though we are cajoled into not thinking too deeply about such issues by our shallow consumption-driven lifestyles, we each have the potential to be decisive forces in our contribution to society at large, both as economic and political agents. The power of the military-industrial complex, of the far-reaching system of corporate consumerism dreamt up in military complexes and sterile boardrooms, is contingent upon profit which, in turn, is contingent upon our contribution to the system as consumers. The complexity of our current financial, legal and political systems is deliberate: it ensures that there may never be a paucity of loopholes to excuse the actions of those who seek to profiteer and deal in injustice. If that fails, there’s always judicial reform.

Successive governments in the USA and the UK have adopted a conservative approach to political reform which prioritises big business and the stock exchange, despite the prevalence of corruption and illegality, and have made clear their intention to safeguard the interests of multinational corporations above the daily struggles of individuals. Instead, thanks to the valiant revelation of whistleblower Edward Snowden, citizens of western nations now know that they are the objects of an unprecedented surveillance campaign, coordinated by the NSA and GCHQ. This surveillance campaign against the spectral threat of terrorism which has diminished national sovereignty and redefined the meaning of privacy and security in our century. As we are increasingly seeing, in the terrorist-as-enemy paradigm everyone is a potential enemy to the nations of the most powerful western governments; it has converted ordinary citizens into everyday enemies of the state.

Nowadays, what does this anachronistic notion of “the West” even mean? It refers to western nations, who have for centuries elucidated their role as fastidious talismen of democracy, the magnanimous defenders of freedom and justice: the United Kingdom, whose moral expediency cast the dye for centuries of institutionalised imperialism; European nations, such as France, Germany, Spain and Italy, who in mad scrambles for empire attempted to follow suit and introduced a new type barbarism and savagery which had never before been encountered by the “savages”; and the United States of America, the inheritor of the imperial mantle, the new Rome, who embarked on a civilizing mission which it consistently rebranded as a struggle for “the free world”.

Now we see the ascent of the People’s Republic of China, whose imperial character has not yet fully revealed itself, but which seems to have assumed the role of financier to a struggling global economy. It signifies a clear recalibration of global political influence to the East and, it seems, the withdrawal of the USA from the key spheres of influence such as the Middle East. It does not portend a change in the purely profit-driven mindset which is largely responsible for the poverty, however, nor in the injustice and environmental damage which afflicts societies indiscriminately across the globe.

We are living through a time of unprecedented change, an age of awakening and enlightenment, with huge potential for transition. The world as it was ten years ago will be very different from the world of tomorrow. There is, as we speak, an unprecedented opportunity to change people’s attitudes globally towards a system which is in dire need of reform. But what will the message be which is carried henceforth on the winds of change? The current system does not rest on the shoulders of giants, but on feeble foundations. If the people decide en masse to assert a right to self-determination through non-participation in a system whose course is managed by an unreachable international cabal of businessmen, industrialists, politicians and property owners, they may yet eliminate the commonplace notion of political decisions being taken in view of ‘special interests’ and in its place create a political system which values people as much as it does profit.

advice for some young man in the year 2064 A.D.

let me speak as a friend
although the centuries hang
between us and neither you nor I
can see the moon.

be careful less the onion blind the eye
or the snake sting
or the beetle possess the house
or the lover your wife
or the government your child
or the wine your will
or the doctor your heart
or the butcher your belly
or the cat your chair
or the lawyer your ignorance of the law
or the law dressed as a uniformed man and killing you.

dismiss perfection as an ache of the
but do not give in to the mass modesty of
easy imperfection.

and remember
the belly of the whale is laden with
great men.Image

— Charles Bukowski