Why I had to break up with Labour

Well, congratulations Labour, you have finally driven me out, after a lifetime of membership. I am officially politically homeless. In case anyone is interested this is why I’ve finally cracked. I know full well that Momentum disciples will be cheering and moderates raging at me for doing it. I will no longer allow myself to care.

Like many people I’d been a Labour Party member for my entire adult life but never actually done anything practical beyond voting and nagging friends and relatives. A demanding job with stupid hours, caring for various family members etc, didn’t lend itself to activism. When all that calmed down, early in 2015, I decided to get involved in my local GE campaign. My CLP was welcoming, as were the people I met from other local CLPs.  We all had the same ultimate aim, to help elect a Labour government again. I was impressed at how hard Labour people worked. We were out every single day, 7 days a week. for weeks on end, and a lot of these people had been doing this for years. I was impressed by how much so few people could do.

Along with every other Labour activist I was devastated at the loss that year. We had all, activists and supporters alike, been clinging on for dear life for the day we removed the Tories from Number 10, especially I suspect, those of us who worked for the NHS. It felt like a genuine broad church, some people clearly came from different bits of the Party, but it was never made obvious, and everyone worked together. Like most people pre 2015, I never belonged to any faction, I was interested in ideas from anyone, and never considered whether they were on the right of the Party, the left, up or down, it just wasn’t a THING. I considered myself left wing, and I still do. Nobody in the Labour Party is right wing. Little did I know that there was a faction that truly despised anyone but their own.

11During the first leadership election I happily toddled off to hustings to listen to all the candidates. I wasn’t a great fan of Corbyn, I knew some of his less than illustrious history but I was willing to give him a chance to prove me wrong if it came to it. I thought, erroneously as it turned out, that he was wrong on several issues but that he was essentially an honourable man. He soon proved me wrong. He made no attempt to unify the Party. He brought in John McDonnell, a truly odious man who doesn’t actually believe in Parliamentary democracy at all. Then he filled his office with the most toxic team you could possibly imagine. To make matters worse, they were totally incompetent. He paid lip service to unifying the Party. Although many MPs made the effort to work with him, he blatantly allowed his team to undermine them on a daily basis. McDonnell was and still is running the show, and he had no intention of unifying anyone.

Then came the Referendum. Oh dear god. Some of us worked so, so hard on that eucampaign. Every single day for weeks again. Corbyn sold us down the river. Both he and McDonnell and their cronies have always been anti EU, but you would THINK, being such alleged fans of democracy they would have stuck by the decision of Conference that we were a Remain Party. Nope, Corbyn was all but invisible. His fans still claim to this day that he gave 122 speeches during the campaign. This was NOT TRUE. Not only was it around 10 speeches, he went on holiday during the campaign and his team actively undermined the campaign. Then he made it a million times worse by calling for Article 50 to be triggered the day after the Referendum. I don’t think I will ever forgive him for that loss. Nothing he or the rest of the front bench since has changed my view, simply made it more obvious.

Foreign policy in general is not something Labour can do anymore it seems. Labour is now a party that supportsthornberry a man who barrel bombs hospitals and murders children with chemical weapons. Assad should be a pariah, expelled from the international community but no. the Labour leader and his toxic little gang give this monster succour, along with his buddy Putin, who has undermined our elections and POISONED PEOPLE ON OUR OWN STREETS. Now we have the unedifying spectacle of Emily (I will do anything, no matter how despicable, for a shot at the Labour Leadership) Thornberry deciding he shouldn’t be attacked because he’s very popular y’know. Give me strength, this once great Party of the oppressed is now in direct conflict with Amnesty International I like how these so called Palestinian supporters don’t give a flying fuck when Palestinian children in Syria are dying at the hands of Assad and Putin.  They can get right in the sea claiming to inherit Robin Cook’s ethical foreign policy stance too, he would turn in his grave to be associated with these anti West cowards and appeasers. Don’t even get me started onthese people’s open support of Stop the War and their alter ego rape apologist SWP front groups

BRITAIN-POLITICS-LABOUR

This is the Labour Party now, the leader happily protesting, which seems to be all he’s good at, surrounded by communist party flags. A man who appears with rape apologists and lies about it.

No resignation letter would be complete without a rail against the antisemitism that is now embedded in Labour. Dear god, I knew there were pockets of it, mainly populated by idiots who simply don’t have the brain power to separate the Palestinian cause from the entire Jewish population of the world. skynews-labour-jew-anti-semitism_4271735Unfortunately they have multiplied, emboldened by the fact they now have a leader in Jeremy Corbyn who basically agrees with them. The level of sickening racism now infecting the party is horrifying.  Even my own CLP, a bastion of middle class privilege and hard left hobbyism, posted Corbyn’s grudging and far too late statement on antisemitism then proceeded to dismiss the claims as a right wing plot.

At the beginning of this tsunami of shit stuff happening in the Labour Party I knew it was going to be hard to remain once Momentum was formed. There is only one reason Lansman set up that company like a political party, outside Labour, and that was to organise against it. There is absolutely NOTHING Momentum has done campaigning wise, that they couldn’t have done inside the Labour Party, not a single thing. They might have cosy little meetings where they sit around discussing the Communist Manifesto while crocheting for Corbyn but behind the scenes there’s a different, and far more toxic agenda. By the way, claims they have mobilised thousands of activists all over the country are bollocks, as I’m sure you know. They set out to undermine anyone not on the Corbyn train. They had a plan to take over the internal structures of the Party first, and now they are after the MPs and councillors. No loyalty, no Labour values, just pure hard left factionalism. They claim to speak for members, but they don’t, and democracy apparently only happens when it suits them. They plot and scheme and they get away with it because they know full well that 90% of Labour members aren’t interested in anything other than voting for the leader. So they can happily decide a CLP has made a decision on supporting the hard left slate at a meeting of 13 people out of a membership of over 800.

Those that do turn up split the executive roles between them, hey presto, control. Nowadays people seem to join the party and expect to become chair or secretary, or be given some other post 5 minutes later, or they have been in the Party for years and never actually done any work, but suddenly think they should be the Conference delegate. Then there are people who collect CLP titles like Smarties and do absolutely bugger all to justify the title. BAME, Women’s, Youth, Political Education, union, election agent, social media officer, fundraising officer, milk monitor, bin tsar, there are a gazillion of them, some legitimate posts, some made up and utterly pointless.  Call me old fashioned but I think you should pay your dues first. I watched and learned, got to know the people and the Party. I’m a quick learner and it’s not exactly rocket science but I do think you should put some graft in before piling in to take stuff over, and if you’re going to take a post you need to actually do something with it, not just collect them to make yourself look good when you want a job as a councillor or MP.

Last straw locally was letting back in a treacherous local councillor who treated activists really badly then fucked off to the Lib Dems for a few years. Now she’s fallen out with them she has inexplicably been allowed back into the fold. That just showed how little respect there is for those who worked hard to get Labour elected. I wasn’t the only one who left at that point, and it wan’t the first time people had stayed silent over unacceptable behaviour.

There’s an overriding delusion over large parts of the party at the moment. They really seem to think they are on the verge of a great victory. The fact that Labour are behind in the polls against the WORST PM IN LIVING MEMORY just doesn’t seem to occur to them. It’s not going to happen, but I can’t help feeling that while Corbynism remains, that I am relieved. I just hope that one day the Momentum councillors and MPs learn to be Labour councillors and MPs but I don’t really believe they will.

There are still good people in Labour, MPs and councillors who do speak out and do stand up for true Labour values, and I wish them luck. I stuck with it because I believed the moderates were worth it and had each others’ backs. Now I know I was wrong. I feel badly let down. Much worse though is that the people who need a Labour government are being let down, by a leadership that is far more interested in it’s dogmatic revolution, it’s tame “journalists” spewing hard left hate propaganda, and the deathly silence of the lambs.

 

 

 

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Does Jeremy Corbyn (and his team) have a problem with women?

…or is it just everyone?

bleeding-rose-anneke-schramFour times in recent days, women who have resigned from the Shadow Cabinet have come forward with explanations as to why they feel they have had to resign their posts. Well, three have and the other’s problem with Jeremy was relayed by one of her staff.

To recap:

Heidi Alexander

Former Shadow Health Secretary, and a bloody good one at that, had, it came to light, been seriously undermined by Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell. It turns out he had created an advisory group, consisting of NHS campaigners, some of whom were from other political parties opposed to Labour. He didn’t bother to inform Heidi, or invite her to the inaugural meeting, and when she insisted on attending, she was shouted at by some members of the group. Now what, you may well ask, has Health got to do with McDonnell? Bugger all, that’s what. His answer here is woefully inadequate and dishonest. Really, WHO DOES THAT? You can read the original account of the fracas over at Health Policy Insight and you can read Heidi’s speech to her CLP outlining the reasons for the resignation here

Maria Eagle

Natan Doron, now a Haringey councillor,  blogged the other day about the problems in our party. In among his very fair and thoughtful piece, he mentioned that when he was working for Maria, lately Shadow Defence Secretary in Corbyn’s first Shadow Cabinet. He describes how she was mistreated and misled by Corbyn, and by his staff, who made her job impossible and consistently undermined her, not least by bringing in Hitler obsessive Ken Livingstone to be co-chair of her defence review and then demoting her. WHO DOES THAT?

Thangam Debbonaire

The new MP for Bristol West was sadly diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after winning her seat. She was apparently appointed Shadow Culture Secretary by Corbyn without her knowledge, while she was in the middle of her cancer treatment, which is not only incompetent but quite bizarre. She found out from a journalist, I kid you not. He then sacked her, again without telling her. WHO DOES THAT? You can read about her experience on her Facebook post

Lilian Greenwood

Today we hear from Lilian Greenwood, MP for Nottingham South via her speech to her CLP. This is quite simply the most devastating critique of Corbyn yet. Searingly honest, and, as one of those daft buggers who stood outside a train station in the dark and cold, who was monumentally pissed off at Corbyn for his incompetent timing, this says it all, and anyone who thinks this man has the smarts to be PM is utterly deluded.Not an iota of loyalty to his Cabinet, nor an ounce of respect for his colleagues. WHO DOES THAT?

So does he have a problem with women? Or is he this disrespectful and incompetent with everyone?

 

 

 

Vote 

I was talking to a neighbour tonight who’d popped round for a poster. We chatted for a while about the referendum campaigns. Like most of the country I suspect, we both agreed that it’s been the ugliest, nastiest, most toxic campaign we’ve ever known. It has left a stain on the reputation of this kingdom, that I’m not sure will ever be removed. Sounds dramatic but it is exactly the same conversation I’ve had with many people. There’s been no real debate, only soundbites, abuse, lies and eventually, violence. It was all so unnecessary, a massive political gamble by a Prime Minister determined to win reelection no matter what the cost. This isn’t democracy, not when we have a system where the public can be so blatantly and thoroughly deceived by power hungry politicians and a toxic media. When we do clinical trials we have, by law, to obtain informed consent from the public. Whatever the result of the referendum there is nothing informed about the consent that will be claimed by the victors. 

I try to console myself that there are many decent, hard working, honest MPs and councillors, and there are thousands of decent honourable activists who’ve been working really bloody hard to use reason and facts during the campaign but it’s nigh on impossible to shout loud enough to be heard over the river of sewage from up above. 

Let’s never, ever let this happen again. 

You’ve never had such an important vote, that counted so much, please use it, and tell your friends and family to use it. 

Do it for Jo #moreincommon

United in Diversity: The EU and Me.

United in Diversity, the official motto of the European Union, inspired by Ernesto Moneta, Italian Nobel Peace Prize winner. Never has it seemed so pertinent than now, in this ever more divided and dangerous world.

I have many reasons for wanting everyone to vote to stay in the EU, not one of which is because David Cameron or Jeremy Clarkson want to remain. This is a few of them. There will be more, you’ve been warned.

Money

I’m sure you’ve heard the Brexit argument that if we weren’t sending gazillions of £s to the EU every day we could fund the NHS properly. Then you’ve probably heard that if we weren’t sending all that cash to the EU we could fund education properly. On the other hand you might have heard that if we weren’t sending all our moolah to the EU on a daily basis we could fund our transport system properly. Or you might have heard that because we send ALL our cash to the EU we could fund our [insert absolutely ANYTHING you think isn’t funded enough in the UK]. You might think on reading this stuff that we spend a humongous proportion of our GDP on the EU. This is of course, exactly what the Brexit campaign want you to think. GOVT SPENDING 2014-5

I made a graph of public spending in 2014-15, based on ONS figures. Now imagine the little orange bit that is our net EU spending is given entirely to the NHS. It would make precisely naff all difference. Divide it between health, education, defence, and transport, and we are talking homeopathic differences.

Let’s be clear, the underfunding of our public services is not due to our membership of the EU, it is entirely a political choice by the Tory party. Sure when you say the EU costs us £23m a day (the £55m figure used by the Brexit camp is flat out wrong) it sounds like a lot, but it’s about 38p per person per day, or the same as Christmas shoppers will spend in 3 hours just on London’s Oxford Street. The UK spends almost £2 billion on Valentine’s Day every year. Perspective, a great thing.

Of course we wouldn’t get to keep all that money anyway, because like Norway and Switzerland we’d have to pay pretty much all of that to the EU for the privilege of trading with it, and we would have to comply with EU regulations on goods and services while having zero control over what those regulations were and how they were made.

Laws

Yes but what about, I hear you cry, all our laws being made by Brussels. Well for a start, Brussels doesn’t make laws, it’s a region of Belgium where our representatives meet to cooperate in various EU institutions. It’s also where NATO HQ is situated but you rarely hear people using Brussels as a pejorative term relating to that, it usually gets replaced with teh evul Merkins. Secondly, the EU doesn’t make most of our laws, that is another lie perpetrated by the Brexit camp. The following graphic uses data from the House of Commons Library Briefing Paper  published in June 2015 which estimates how many of our Acts and Statutory Instruments were EU related .

laws

Sovereignty

One of those words that starts to look really weird when you look at it for long enough. It always seems weird to me that some people put such faith in this concept, especially when they are being completely and totally screwed by our sovereign government with a House of Commons majority based on winning the votes of just over a third of the British people and it’s entirely unelected majority in the House of Lords. Honestly though, sovereignty is a bit of a Little Englander myth. In fact pop pickers, sovereignty doesn’t even reside with Parliament, technically it resides with the Queen. Take that democracy. People will tell you that the monarchy is merely symbolic. They believe this, but until some wayward monarch tries to pull a fast one, no-one actually knows if our imagined democracy is as sound as they say.

We regularly and without hesitation hand over some of our sovereignty without so much as a by your leave. See UN, NATO, OSCE, WTO, IMF etc. Then there’s the unofficial handing over of sovereignty, to the US, China, the Oil producing states,  and anyone else who has something, be it trade or defence related. We live in a globalised world where we make alliances and become involved in shared decision making for our own good. The key is that we give some sovereignty, it isn’t taken by anyone.

Immigration

Immigration is the most talked about aspect of the EU. The right wing media has for decades turned up the heat in the debate, usually with frankly racist and dishonest articles. I do realise though, that we have a problem getting over the facts with our voters. The fear of strangers runs deep in many communities across the world, and economic downturns always have led to the demonisation of the different, probably since we first appeared on the planet. This is about my opinion though, I’m not offering solutions, just facts.

I’m a big fan of immigration, it has been almost universally good for the UK, for its businesses, its public services, and its academic institutions. Now I’m not going to pretend that everything is rosy in the immigration garden. There are some parts of the UK where planning and infrastructure has been less than adequate for an influx of extra numbers, wherever they came from. There are many other areas where you will meet intense hostility to outsiders, despite there being no outsiders actually around. We are not however, overcrowded. I’ve driven to and from Lincolnshire many times and barely seen another sentient being. Don’t even get me started on Wales, they have so much empty space in the middle they don’t even seem to bother building roads.

I’m going to focus on the NHS with some facts about immigration that are routinely misreported by the Brexit fans.
NHS Staffing

The NHS simply could not function without immigration. A significant proportion of our workforce was born overseas. According to the King’s Fund, in 2014 around 20% of NHS staff are non-British. Imagine losing 1/5th of the NHS workforce. The figure is even higher for doctors, with about 30% qualifying abroad. In addition, 31 per cent of nursing shifts covered by agency staff over the past year were worked by foreign staff on temporary visas. Doesn’t bear thinking about does it? Of course only some of them come from the EU, so leaving would seriously impact NHS staffing but wouldn’t make a huge difference to overall immigration figures.

Health Tourism

healthtourismWhat about how much health tourism costs us I hear you cry. Glad you asked. It depends what you mean by “health tourism”. It comes in many different guises. There are many people from all over the world who come here to access our world renowned medical specialties. These patients are used as an extra income source by the NHS. According to Monitor, the organisation that oversees NHS Trusts, in 2013/14 Foundation Trusts earned £389 million of their income from private patients, compared to £224 million in 2009/10. A lot of that is from overseas patients who want to access the best healthcare in the world. The increase is due to the lifting of the cap on private patient income introduced with the execrable Health and Social Care Bill, courtesy of the Coalition. Now you could, with a good deal of sympathy from me, argue that NHS hospitals shouldn’t be using our staff and facilities for private patients while we have waiting lists, even if it does generate income, but what you can’t argue is that this issue is a result of our membership of the EU.

Similarly, we treat a lot of people from the EU via our reciprocal arrangement with other EU countries. So if say, Mr Schmidt comes over on holiday, or for work, gets run over or falls ill with something we will treat him just as you would be treated if you fell off your donkey in Benidorm. Leaving the EU wouldn’t stop people getting sick in another country, it would simply make it harder to claim the money back and a whole lot more annoying for British holidaymakers and probably more expensive via increased insurance premiums.

So what people really mean, when they talk about health tourism, is those people who come here for treatment who don’t plan to pay for it right? The Department of Health estimates that the cost of this sort of healthcare use is between £110 million and £280 million. Sounds like a lot? Like our contribution to EU coffers, it’s all relative.

The figure is split into two groups:

  1. People who travel to the UK for acute expensive treatment who go straight to A&E. They cost us and estimated £60-80 million annually.
  2. Those accessing routine treatment, having been legitimately able to register with a GP and visit on a regular basis, including many British expats by the way, who often should pay but who have an active GP registration. They cost about £50-200 million.

Note that this is for the whole world, not the EU. Still sounds a lot, but a) the cost of clamping down on this exceeds, via admin costs, the amount we lose and b) Overseas visitors account for whopping 0.1% of our total health budget.

TTIP

This is also a biggie, because it’s the argument used by the left to argue against the EU, rather than the right. TTIP as you probably know, is a series of trade negotiations being carried out between the EU and US with the aim of reducing tariffs and the regulatory barriers to trade for big business, making it easier for companies on both sides of the Atlantic to access each other’s markets. The main UK argument against TTIP is that it would allow private firms to bid to run NHS services and enable them to sue the government if it chose to return the services to the public sector.

Firstly, if TTIP ever happens I’ll be gobsmacked. Once an agreement is made, which let’s be honest, is freakin’ years away, it has to be ratified by all member states, who have been known to throw other agreements in the fire after years of work. Secondly, there is no reason to believe the NHS would be at more risk from an EU agreement than it already is from a Tory government. Think about it, if we weren’t in the EU do you think the Tories would hesitate for a second about begging the US for a bilateral trade deal, quite probably on much worse terms for our precious NHS than any EU agreement? And who is it exactly who is leading from the front on a jet propelled steamroller in the NHS privatisation stakes? The Tory government, that’s who. Lastly, the scaremongering from the Brexit camp was pretty comprehensively slam dunked by the EU Trade Commissioner Cecelia Malmstrom last year and the EU produced a handy little mythbuster leaflet too here. We have to be on this from the inside, where at least our Labour MEPs can have some influence. It’s either that or Oliver Letwin will stand a much better chance of having his wish granted.

I’m not finished, you don’t get away that easily. There will be more. Unless Eddie Izzard whisks me away on his Vespa. Ciao for now.

 

 

 

 

My Red Line

frank-field-david-cameron

Sometimes Labour tries my patience, as I’m sure it does yours. That’s inevitable in this long accepted broad church we inhabit. It must be simpler to be in the Tory party where few people give a shit about what happens to anyone else and you only have two obvious factions, namely the wets, and the utterly inhumane bastards, or the LibDems, where there aren’t really enough of them to make a decent conga line, let alone have a diversity of opinions, though even they have their Orange bookers (not cockney rhyming slang) and hippies .

I have differences with some of the party, on both sides, as you probably guessed or been metaphorically beaten around the head with, but on most things I can at least understand where they are coming from politically and morally, and it’s usually not a bad place. I hasten to add most people in Labour are still pretty damn great.

Take Trident for instance. I’d rather not see it replaced, but I do understand why some people would rather go down the multilateral route, as long as it’s for properly thought out reasons and not just the knee jerk “I hate Corbyn and I see this as another chance to bitch about him” that a few people engage in.  Similarly I’m pro Europe, I’m an internationalist, always have been, always will be. I don’t think many Labour  people are hung up on this weird ethereal thing called “sovereignty”. No-one ever asked me if I agreed with the formation of this precious nation state and I find it really difficult to get my head round being proud of an accident of birth. No, that’s not the motivation of the far left who oppose Europe, it’s more either an anti capitalism/pro democracy argument, which for me doesn’t sit well in the 21st Century. I’m not in the business of trying or wanting to overthrow capitalism. I mean, I’m no great fan of it, or rather what has been done in it’s name, but it is the reality and it’s not going to go away no matter how many cooperative vegan cafes we open*. Then unfortunately there are the die hard pro Corbynites who slavishly believe whatever Corbyn, McDonald et al believe. They will cherry pick their evidence, often from dubious sources, in exactly the same way as the anti Corbyn side, and you know I can’t be doing with dodgy evidence, even if it agrees with me.

I do however, have a few red lines and, should a Labour Party member cross one of these, I am likely to seriously face melt.  Along with the obvious, racism, sexism, homophobia, liking Coldplay, one of my serious, double thickness, 3D lines is demonising the poor. It has no place is a socialist/social democratic party (delete as appropriate based on your leanings). I have had someone tell me that we should listen to people on the doorstep who tell us their neighbour gets a gazillion squid for sitting on his/her arse all day while they presumably work 26 hours a day and have to lick road clean wit tongue half an hour before they go to bed, and Labour needs to do something about those scroungers. For a start, you have no idea what the circumstances of that neighbour “sitting on his arse” might be, nor do you know the “hard worker” knows either. You are making judgements about people based on gossip, and that is appalling. Yes we should listen. We should listen to everyone. That doesn’t mean we should agree with them on any old garbage in the unlikely hope they might vote for us. Pragmatism has, or should have, limits if you claim to represent our party. Unless you agree with them because you have no experience of poverty and deprivation of course, and quietly agree from the confines of your cosy, empathy free middle class life. In which case, why are you here in the first place? No, if someone is wrong, or misled, you don’t change your entire ethos to accommodate them, you politely point out the facts, or walk away. I should say here that on the opposite side, idealism should also have limits, if you want to get anything useful done ever.

Bill Gates is quoted as saying that if you are born poor, it’s not your fault, but if you die poor, it is your fault. Now, I like Bill, apart from the whole rage inducing “moving a picture in a Word doc” thing, he has done spectacular work with his vaccine programme, but y’know when the multi billionaire son of a prominent lawyer and a banker tells me that being poor is something he knows about I get a tad cross. It’s easy to be an entrepreneur when you don’t have the fear that failure will see you on the streets because in the end your parents will be there to support you. You don’t know Bill, stick to what you’re good at chuck. However, when a Labour MP tells people it’s *their* fault they’re poor because they are wastrels I get more than cross, I get enraged. Today Frank Field, not for the first time, brought out my inner Hulk with this abominable piece in the far right rag the Daily Torygraph suggesting the school curriculum should teach children “how not to become poor parents”. Apparently women need to find a man to provide for them. HELLO! 1950 CALLED! IT WANTS IT’S POLITICIAN BACK! Marriage is apparently a civilising factor on men. Women (and men) in abusive relationships, stop laughing at the back! Being in 1950 of course, he has no concept of blended families or same sex relationships or owt new fangled like that. It’s all cucumber sandwiches, have his tea on the table, more tea vicar in Frank’s world.

If only these lazy feckers would work they wouldn’t be poor! Anyone see the obvious flaw in this argument? *cough* need for tax credits / child care / education / zero hours / minimum wage exploitation / physical and mental illness / caring for elderly / young relatives, sometimes with multiple morbidities / housing costs,  *cough*. The list is freaking endless. There are many reasons why people are in poverty, and why they can’t escape it. The main one is government economic policy, which Frank carefully avoids.

Then there’s the simple fact that most of our benefit bill is spent on state pensions, the number of fraudulent claims is miniscule, but hey, go ahead and demonise every single citizen who is or has ever needed support, because no-one you care about will fact check you, least of all the Torygraph.

*domestic in joke referring to boredom with chickpeas

Unsung Hero: CP Lee

 CP Lee, or Dr Chris Lee to his mum, musician, writer, comic, historian, lecturer, was born in 1950 and has been at the centre of Manchester’s musical mischief makers since the Sixties. In fact, you can probably assume that whenever anything of any cultural significance occurred north of Birmingham, CP Lee was probably there in the thick of it, from the infamous Bob Dylan “Judas” gig at the Free Trade Hall, to the very beginnings of Factory Records to the birth of Madchester, from Northern Soul to House, he’s been there, done it, bought the T-shirt, possibly been in a band with it, and written a book about it.

Now a lecturer at the University of Salford (the “Dr” comes from a PhD gained in 1997 entitled “Popular Music Making in Manchester 1950-1995”), as a teenager he and his best friend Martin Hannett, later of Factory fame, submerged themselves in the musical explosion of the 60’s, begging his cousin, who was in the Navy, to bring him back records from the States. They were in particular, he said, “knocked sideways by the Velvet Underground” and “stone crazy” about Arthur Lee and Love.  He also fell in love with Bob Dylan, in much the same way as I did, as a thirteen year old trying to impress a member of the opposite sex. For both of us the love affair with Dylan lasted a lot longer than the crush.

After cutting his performing teeth playing in the folk and beat clubs of Manchester, eventually Art Brut style, he formed a band, with various incarnations such as Jacko Ogg & The Head People, Greasy Bear (which included future Durutti Column member Bruce Mitchell) finally finding cult status with the Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias, a comedy rock band evolved from a sketch outfit that mercilessly parodied the rock gods of the seventies in songs such as Anadin, a reworking of Lou Reed’s Heroin. If that sounds rather twee, think again, it was more along the lines of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, punk cabaret, Pythonesque humour with a New York Dolls attitude. By the mid seventies they were topping the bill supported by the likes of the Police, Blondie, the Stranglers, Joy Division, Devo and Robyn Hitchcock, even headlining the Reading Festival in 1975. All this culminated in a record breaking West End musical play, Sleak – the Snuff Rock Musical, about a rock star talked into committing suicide on stage. The accompanying EP, released on Stiff records parodied the Pistols, the Damned and the Clash, often sounding better than the originals.

Following the break up the Berts in 1982 due to musical indifferences and the long road into academia, Lee turned to writing, penning two critically acclaimed books on his hero Bob Dylan (who he’d first written about in an English essay as a 16 year old).

In a review of Like the Night: (Revisited) Bob Dylan and the road to the Manchester Free Trade Hall “ Greil Marcus wrote “CP Lee was there, but the point is that he can put you there too.  And, he can take you all the way back down the twisty road that led to that fabled night; a night pop music broke in half.” The second Dylan book, Like a Bullet of Light: The Films of Bob Dylan was equally well received.

Shake Rattle and Rain: Popular Music in Manchester, 1955-1995, the book of his PhD thesis, combines oral history and personal observation to produce possibly the definitive guide to Manchester’s long standing love affair with pop music.

In 2007, Lee published When We Were Thin, the glorious tale of the Berts rise and, not so much fall, as lying down for a much needed rest.  The book hilariously chronicles everything from eating muffins with Warhol to his encounters with The Clash, Ray Davies, New Order, The Pogues, The Fall, Frank Zappa, The Pink Floyd, John Cale, Roger McGuinn, Ian Dury, Nick Lowe, John Cooper Clarke, Elvis Costello, Nico, Buzzcocks, Captain Beefheart and many more. If you’re not in it, you probably didn’t matter.

Lee has also published several journal articles, notably articles in the North West Labour History Journal, including one which examined the influence of Ewan McColl on the British Folk Revival and his relationship with his contemporary Bob Dylan. As a sideline, Lee also produces documentaries for Radio 4. From Manchester to the Mississippi documents the Manchester leg of the 1964 concert tour that showcased some of America’s greatest black musicians.

Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, which when broadcast on television inspired so many young British musicians.

Currently busy researching Comedy and Regional Identity, organising the International Conference on Comedy at the University of Salford, running the Manchester and District Music Archive and still performing in the Salford Sheiks, described asAcid Skiffle, Bathroom Blues and laugh out loud comedy” it seems there is no end to his talents. Long may it continue. 

Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography

I’ve never understood the obsession with meeting your idols or the premise that it’s a good thing for the barrier NY Shakeybetween artist and audience to be broken down. I suspect former Village Voice writer Jimmy McDonough would disagree. This is a book that could only be written by an obsessive fan and you’d have to be one to spend nearly 10 years writing a book. It’s a hefty tome, at almost 800 pages it’s longer than the authorised biography of Nelson Mandela. There’s no doubt that it loses the plot towards the end. McDonough starts to put himself in the story, a mistake for any biographer. For all its faults though, it’s a fascinating insight not only into the life of one of the greatest songwriters of the last 50 years but of a multitude of usually seedy, deeply flawed, but often hilarious characters and the times they lived through.

220px-Crazy_horse_w_neil_youngMost of the book concentrates on the period between the early days of success with Buffalo Springfield in the mid sixties and the release of the iconic album Rust Never Sleeps in 1979, an incredibly fertile time for Young, during which he produced some of the most influential music of the era. Quite how he achieved this with a band that couldn’t play, the brilliantly shambolic Crazy Horse, while battling epilepsy and seemingly living on a diet of mescaline and honey slides (weed sautéed with honey and eaten until catatonic) is pretty remarkable.

Some things are not news; there was always a fractious relationship between Stephen Stills and Young, based on a love/hate relationship akin to sibling rivalry. David Crosby summed it up “Stephen always wanted to be better than Neil but he never could”. Stills is the only main player that refused to be interviewed for the book. The tales of others though, are relayed to Young and he gives his version of the same events which must have been as enlightening to Young as it is to the reader.

Sometimes McDonough drifts off into full fan boy mode, like when discussing 1975’s superb Tonight’s the Night, the neil%20young-1darkest, most desolate album of Young’s career, and a record that was a huge influence on a generation of musicians, including the young Kurt Cobain. “For me, the seventies can be summed up by three things, those grotesque early malls, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Tonight’s the Night. Decay, but with a gleam in it’s eye. You know how it is when you’ve been up too long, the apartment’s trashed, everything is silent, the sun’s about to come up and you’re feeling like some germ stuck to a big cold rock, hurtling through space, and somehow you don’t mind? Here is a record that induces that state automatically.” If you’re a Neil Young fan, you forgive him these excursions, because you know exactly what he means.

Young is a complex character, one minute the ruthless, hard headed businessman, absentee father, a selfish and at times downright cruel friend, and on the other, utterly dedicated to his second family, a man that inspires unending loyalty from those who work with him, and a fragile, unpredictable musical maverick with a penchant for driving around in a hearse who wouldn’t think twice about binning a guaranteed hit album to produce a ragged, uncommercial masterpiece, or even record an album and then just never release it. A man who, whilst understanding the necessity of record companies, has never paid more than lip service to their opinions.

In some ways McDonough never actually gets to the bottom of who Young really is, he remains an enigma. As McDonough said himself “Young was an unsolved mystery, hermetically sealed” but the sheer volume of facts, the lurid tales and the hilarious anecdotes at least give you a clue, and a thoroughly entertaining read. As Neil would say “inneresting”.