Archive for Politics

My response to Matt Haig on identity politics.

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This evening I came home from a discussion about race and identity in Europe to see that the above post by the author Matt Haig was being discussed vigorously on Twitter. Since I was in a reflective mood, and because I was struck by how many people were grateful that he had expressed these views, I thought that I would write a response. There’s a lot to unpack here, so it may be longer than I intended.

“1. Identity politics. It’s everywhere right now, isn’t it? Judging people on what they signify rather than their character.”

Like Mr. Haig, I don’t think that anyone who is the object of discrimination is particularly comfortable in being judged on what they signify rather than their character. In an ideal world, we would all just be people, celebrating our differences and ultimately cherishing our common humanity. In that world, Trayvon Martin would still be alive. Of course, and sadly, we don’t live in that world. Mr. Haig – and this may just be the imprecision of his language – refers to identity politics, such as he defines them, as if they are something that certain groups created from thin air. Instead, they arose from very distinct and sustained forms of oppression, and I think that it is important to acknowledge that.

The examples which Mr. Haig names are interesting, and I think that a main flaw in his argument here is that he deals in absolutes. It’s possible both to acknowledge Caitlin Jenner’s bravery in relation to her gender and to critique her politics – and many people do. It’s possible both to acknowledge Sadiq Khan’s qualities as a politician and the symbolic importance of his victory in this current climate – and many people do. The same was true of President Barack Obama when he first took office. If anything, in my view, it made President Obama’s triumph doubly compelling, and doubly remarkable. He was both the outstanding presidential candidate and he was the first black president in a country which only a hundred years before saw black men being lynched and fed their own genitals. In this context, to acknowledge his identity did not diminish his achievement: instead, it amplified it.

2. “Twitter is full of identity politics. Statements about how you will never understand what it is to be Mexican/black/a woman/depressed unless you have lived experience.”

I think those statements are fine in themselves – I mean, I think they are basically just true. You can’t truly understand how depression feels if you haven’t felt it. In Mr. Haig’s own words, “it’s hard to explain depression to people who haven’t suffered from it…[it’s] like experiencing life on earth to an alien.” I can’t truly understand what it feels like to be Mexican because, well, I’m not. I sense that this is Mr. Haig’s main frustration – that we are rigidly ascribing characteristics to ourselves of a particular minority group, that we should break free of these straitjackets. To some extent he’s right – not all Muslims have exactly the same experience of being Muslim, or Christians exactly the same experience of being Christian. But what he fails to acknowledge is that there are, broadly speaking, similar issues that people from particular groups will face in certain situations. That’s not so much identity politics as day-to-day life. What Mr. Haig also fails to acknowledge – or seems to – is the extent to which that lived experience is being ignored, and the terrible effects that this has in our society. If more politicians paid attention to the lived experience of women, then we wouldn’t have such oppressive abortion laws; if people were more attentive to the lived experience of those with depression, then there wouldn’t be such stigma about mental health. When Mr. Haig writes “I hate all this stuff”, he can also usefully consider how much people who suffer due to our society’s prejudice hate the fact that their suffering goes unacknowledged.

3. “The use of ‘old white man’ as an insult that automatically disqualifies someone from a debate.”

Looking at it from Mr. Haig’s point of view, I see his frustration – if you’re having a discussion about an issue, it can be disconcerting to be told that you’re wrong simply because of who you are. In intellectual terms, it’s also not much of an argument. Yet this is where Twitter can be pretty much the worst possible format for such debates, which can descend into slanging matches. In a debate, you get several minutes of speaking time to make your arguments. On Twitter, you get a split second; what’s more, you’re publishing your thoughts on a platform where many people who have never had the chance to speak their own minds with such freedom are fed up from hearing from and presumably being talked down to by the archetypal ‘old white man’. Therefore, whenever an ‘old white man’ tweets a supposedly patronising opinion, he may have a sensation similar to that of a lamb opening its front door to a wolf. The ‘old white man’ is unlikely to feel enriched by such an experience, but he can usefully reflect, in time, upon where the anger comes from.

4. “We are all the same, when you place us next to sea-horses, but identity politics wants to chip away at our sameness and reduce us to differences that don’t actually reflect who we are.”

I don’t think that identity politics, as Mr. Haig defines them, sow the seeds of division in our society: I think that they are the fruit of that division. I happen to agree with him that there is a real danger in assuming that everyone from a particular marginalised group thinks the same. They don’t: that’s the kind of intellectual laziness that allows “community leaders” to go on television and position themselves as the exclusive voice of Muslims and the white working class, skewing the public discourse in ways that can be dangerous. That being said, it is useful – no, necessary – to reflect on the similar ways in which people from a particular group may be oppressed by a certain set of laws or traditional practices.

5. “We are becoming a world where we are all judging the shell, and not the soul.”

If true, I would argue that this isn’t the fault of marginalised groups, but the fault of public figures and policymakers who should and do know better. There are countless people fighting daily to be seen as just as human as their fellow citizens – just look at refugees, or the Black Lives Matter movement. If those drowning refugees were judged by their souls and not their shells, they’d still be alive.

The most striking thing about this post is that it discusses the apparent defensiveness of marginalised groups – their retreat into “identity politics” – without providing any context for why those groups might have become defensive. It therefore gives the impression that these marginalised groups merely tumbled into despair and even self pity and victim-hood without so much as a nudge from racism, misogyny, homophobia, and/or transphobia. Mr. Haig criticises identity politics as the cause of society’s ills as opposed to its symptom: and, to that extent, I think that his analysis is intellectually incomplete.

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ADDITION:

After I had subsequently tweeted that an excessive focus upon identity politics could be used to further repressive agendas, I was sent the following private message on Twitter by someone whose views I respect very much. I think it is a useful addition to the conversation, so I have asked permission to reproduce it below.

“I think my essential problem is alluded to in your piece, about how it broadens out and flattens individualism and the worst end of it responds by a misuse of intersectionality, forming a hierarchy of suffering and indulging in the narcissism of petty differences. I tend to broadly agree with your piece but do worry about this aspect as well as the tendency to see every identity only through the lens of suffering rather than experience or culture. If that makes sense.”

 


Jérôme Boateng does not belong? How Germany’s football reveals AfD’s racism

This feels very significant. Alexander Gauland, the deputy leader of German political party AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), has just remarked that Jérôme Boateng, a member of the national football team, is not the kind of person most Germans would like living next to them. His precise words, as quoted by the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, were that “people like him as a football player. But they don’t want to have a Boateng as their neighbour.”

As the Guardian notes,

Bayern Munich defender Boateng, who is teetotal and a practising Christian, has a German mother and Ghanaian father. He has been mooted as a stand-in for the national captaincy at the upcoming European Championships in France.”

Gauland, though he probably thought he was too smart to avoid saying so directly, is implying that “a Boateng” is a black person, and that most white Germans wouldn’t like to live next to one. His obvious dog-whistle gives rise to an obvious question. If even Boateng, one of the most respected footballers in Germany both on and off the pitch, is not a good enough black neighbour for the average white German, then which black person is? Presumably, in Gauland’s private and unguarded moments, the answer is:

“Absolutely none of them”.

Gauland has since apologised for his comments, stating that “I don’t know him [Boateng] and would never come up with the idea of denigrating his personality.” Here, at least, he was being honest: he doesn’t know Boateng, and he wasn’t interested in Boateng’s personality at all. Instead, he was interested in using Boateng as a prop to peddle the AfD’s latest brand of racial and social division, and the most intriguing thing about his comments is how bold his party is becoming. Just a few weeks ago, its members met in Stuttgart to discuss the party’s new direction, deciding that a rejection of Islam would be the AfD’s main focus. Yet Gauland’s remarks about Boateng seem to make clear that even Christians are incompatible with German culture, disqualified by virtue of being black.

The response to Gauland’s comments, both from within his party and without, was swiftThe leader of the AfD, Frauke Petry, tweeted that:

“Jérôme Boateng is a great footballer and rightly part of the German national team. I am looking forward to the Euros. #Neighbours.”

Yet, for all Petry’s concilatory words, there appears to be no disciplinary action against Gauland. He remains deputy leader of the AfD, and one might wonder just how much Petry truly disapproves of his views: for everyone else, there has never been a better time to pay them close attention.

The AfD has been making notable gains due to its critiques of Angela Merkel’s refugee policy, and has successfully positioned itself as an anti-immigration voice. Yet it is one thing to be wary of the economic disadvantages of immigration, and quite another to saying that white Germans shouldn’t be at ease with a dark-skinned man next door. In the space of just a few months, the AfD has taken aim at refugees, then at Islam, and now at black people: this is a position that has swiftly moved from apparently political, to supposedly cultural, to openly racist. For as long as Gauland remains as the deputy leader of his party, and possibly for long beyond that, the AfD are declaring precisely who and what they are. Time will tell how many new recruits they draw to their cause, and how many voters genuinely feel that Germany is not a place where a Boateng can belong.

On #UgandaDecides, and why Museveni didn’t want the Acholi vote.

President Yoweri Museveni has returned to power in Uganda, the country that he has ruled since 1987. In amongst the statements that he made upon his disputed victory in the election – an election which saw the imprisonment of Kizza Besigye, his leading opponent, and allegations of electoral fraud – there was one comment which risks going mostly unnoticed. He observed that the Acholi people had voted against his party, stating that “I’m happy with Ugandans who came out in big numbers and voted politically. In Acholi they voted against NRM [the National Resistance Movement]”.

Of course the Acholi, a tribe from the North of Uganda, voted against NRM. Of course they did. During Museveni’s three decades in charge, they have seen the life expectancy of their children plummet to some of the world’s lowest levels. In 2006 Olara Otunnu, the former UN Under-Secretary General, referred to their region as “the worst place on earth to be a child today.” Otunnu noted that:

The human rights and humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in northern Uganda is a methodical and comprehensive genocide, conceived and being carried out by the government. An entire society is being systematically destroyed — physically, culturally, emotionally, socially, and economically — in full view of the international community…In the sobering words of Father Carlos Rodriguez, a Catholic missionary priest in the region, Everything Acholi is dying. (My emphasis.)”

Of course the Acholi voted against Museveni. As Peter Otika reported in 2009,

“In 1996, Museveni ordered the internment of three million Acholi people in ‘concentration’ camps that he preferred to call internally displaced people’s camps (IDPs). In these camps, a United Nations official reported in 2004 that 1,000 people died every week, women were raped by Ugandan troops and the security of the people was not guaranteed because the LRA rebels would invade the camps, killing people and abducting children.”

Back to Olara Otunnu, who stated that:

“I know of no recent or present situation where all the elements that constitute genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948) have been brought together in such a chillingly comprehensive manner, as in northern Uganda today…a whole infrastructure — the concentration camps — has been put in place, as the most efficient locale to prosecute the genocidal project.

Let’s have some more numbers from his article, which if you have time is worth reading in full. At one point, it took four to six hours for people simply to fetch water. Over one in four children – 276 out of 1000 – were dying before they reached the age of five. HIV infection in those camps was six times the national average.

In fact, please do read Otunni’s article in full, where he refers to what has happened in Northern Uganda as “a slow extinction”, and even share it. Because people either don’t know what has happened to the Acholi, or they have turned a blind eye.  So of course the Acholi, the tribe of my heritage, voted against Museveni. You’d sooner expect turkeys to vote for Christmas. Museveni knows this, of course he does; and, who knows, he may actually regard his unpopularity amongst the Acholi as a form of success. After all, he’s been campaigning for their contempt for the last thirty years.

On the Paris Attacks.

In a few hours I’ll meet up with my local football team, SFC Friedrichshain Internazionale, to play football. I’m not sure if I’ll get a game, as my first touch seems to have regressed as quickly as my hairline in recent years, but I am so proud just to be part of the squad. I think that there is something very special about my club’s ethos: to quote, “SFC Friedrichshain Internazionale is an international ‘freizeit’ football team based in Berlin which stands against sexism, racism, fascism and homophobia.

What a beautiful, noble aim. Just last night, when news of the Paris attacks first broke, I and some fellow team-mates had been watching a friend – one of our first-choice centre-backs – launching his new single. (He’s a singer-songwriter in that late-Sixties style, really good actually. He is definitely a case of “you should probably give up the day job”.

This weekend I am indulging in two of my favourite things: watching football, and playing live music. Of course, these are two of the things that Parisians were so enjoying just before the horror. And there was something so overwhelming, so jarring, so futile about watching the news develop on our smartphones, knowing that the innocence of a night out just like ours was being torn away forever.

So, at a time like this, how can we respond? Well, I can only speak for myself, but I will try to respond in two ways. First of all, with bravery. And by bravery I don’t mean lust for retribution – for any response obviously needs to be considered calmly and carefully. By bravery I mean trying to be more kind and compassionate than ever; by critiquing and rejecting extremism wherever I can. And secondly, wherever possible, I will try to respond with gratefulness. My world was not broken apart last night, nor has it been touched by the desperation faced by so many refugees. And so, in that spirit of gratefulness, I will try to be that little bit better a son, brother, and human being; and, maybe, even that little bit better a footballer. Because this brief, gentle, fragile life is all that we have, and I will set forward to live it with as open a heart and with as much optimism as I can. And so, now all that’s said: Go Inter.

Jeremy Corbyn and The Times: Saudi Arabia and agenda-setting.

An intriguing thing happened this morning. The Times, in its editorial section, published a scathing critique of Saudi Arabia. In an extract tweeted by one of its most influential writers, Tim Montgomerie, it commented that:

“Britain must use every opportunity to press for reform in the kingdom. It must speak out on behalf of political prisoners, and openly rather than behind closed doors. For too long the fear of losing arms deals or other business has constrained criticism. Saudi Arabia considers itself an ally of the West. Yet there can be no ambiguity in this relationship. Not when it comes to the funding of jihadists by Saudi businessmen. Nor when its courts flog, behead and crucify those who question the wisdom of the princes in power.” (My italics.)

This is, I think, a hugely significant development. The Times boasts some of the commentators most respected by the Conservative Party; not only Mr. Montgomerie, but, to name a couple, Daniel Finkelstein and Matthew Parris. This is an editorial of which its most senior members will probably take careful note, and we do not have to look too far to see what might have prompted its publication. Just a day before, Mr. Montgomerie had tweeted that “Corbyn 100% right to criticise Cameron and UK’s suck up relationship with odious Saudi regime”.

He was referring to Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at the Labour Party’s annual conference, in which Corbyn stated that “nor does it help our national security to give such fawning and uncritical support to regimes like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain who abuse their own citizens and repress democratic movements.”

It is remarkable to see The Times so strongly criticise a key British ally. Perhaps there are several of those in the British Government itself who have long since secretly tired of their relationship with Saudi Arabia. But it looks like it is Corbyn who has been the catalyst for the expression of louder discontent.

Just a few hours before he shared that extract to the Times editorial, Mr. Montgomerie had tweeted another extract, this time from an article of his own, in which he wrote that:

“In its last period of office Labour did things – like introduce the minimum wage, advance gay equality and devolve power – that a Tory government probably wouldn’t have done but now accepts. Politics needs the main party of opposition to be healthy generator of ideas and to possess the capacity to hold power to account. That cannot be said of Labour at the moment. The Corbyn experiment needs to be terminated quickly but we’ve learned quickly that it might be half-competent enough to survive for a couple of years or more.” (Again, my italics.)

With respect to Mr. Montgomerie, it does seem like Corbyn and Labour are in fact generating ideas, and do indeed possess some capacity to hold power to account – because, if it were not for the Labour leader’s speech, it is unlikely that this Times editorial would have been so forceful, or even appeared at all. There are many critiques of Corbyn’s alliances and views, one of the most forceful of which came from Steve Moore just a few days ago, and they will continue to come. The concerns about his foreign policy outlook will continue to be raised, and rightly so – especially for someone in his position. We should note another trend, though – which is that issues that we rarely see discussed, such as that of Bahrain, are now on the table. Corbyn and his party have been mocked for being more interested in talking than doing, but the truth is that policy changes often only come about after vigorous debate.  Given that Corbyn has only been on the job a few days, and has seemingly prompted a step this major, we can only wonder what conversations he will prompt if he remains in his position for a couple of years or more.

 

“Danger: The Role of the Poet” – my talk at Mikrofestiwal, Wroclaw, 26 June 2015.

Recently, I was very kindly invited to speak in Wroclaw, Poland, at the town’s Mikrofestiwal; below is a copy of the short talk that I gave on Friday 26 June.

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I have been asked to say some words today about the political potential of contemporary poetry and spoken word in the UK. And so I thought I would give my short talk the title “Danger: The Role of the Poet”.

Why am I saying that it should be the role of the poet to create a sense of danger? Well, I’m probably being a little dramatic. After all, poetry can just be about describing nice countrysides, and flowers swaying in the breeze. But it can also do so much more. Poetry is dangerous because, in a world where we are so often encouraged not to feel, poetry makes us connect with the people and the society around us. It makes us pause through its perception, through its beauty: and, most frighteningly of all, it makes us think.

Authorities are well aware of the threat posed by poets. Just a year and a half ago, in Qatar, a court upheld the prison sentence of the poet Mohamed Rashid al-Ajami, who was jailed for insulting the emir and spreading incendiary material. Al-Ajami had been arrested late in 2011 for his poem, “Jasmine”, in which he appeared to look forward to the prospect of political revolution in Qatar. “I hope”, he wrote, “that change will come in countries whose ignorant leaders believe that glory lies in US forces”. By Western standards, this might have seemed relatively tame – after all, it was alleged that Al-Ajami did not even perform the poem – but the authorities had seen enough danger in his words, and consigned him to fifteen years in prison.

Fifteen years. Qatar clearly understand the danger of the poet. Al-Ajami was speaking at a time when the “Arab Spring” looked as though it would sweep away a succession of governments. “We are all Tunisia”, wrote Al-Ajami, referring to the first country where an authoritarian leader had fallen. Shortly after the publication of these words, in what was perhaps the ultimate sign of his potential influence, he was deprived of his freedom.

British poets have a far easier time of things. For the most part, we are able to speak as we please. If I would have to name the UK poets who, in recent months, have been particularly effective on the political stage, I would have to identify five people: Hollie McNish, Michael Rosen, Kate Tempest, Inua Ellams and Raymond Antrobus. I will discuss those poets each briefly in turn, but first I must explain what I mean by “effective”. By that, I simply mean that they have, through their skill with words, enabled many people to reflect upon what it means to be human, and to celebrate our common humanity.

That may not sound like much, but we are currently in a political climate where we are being encouraged daily by our media and our elected leaders to think less of “The Other”. Just last Friday, in Berlin, I attended the funeral of an unnamed Syrian man who had died whilst crossing the Mediterranean. His burial, with the consent of his family, was carried out in a cemetery in the German capital by a group called the Center for Political Beauty. The Center’s aim, in their words, is to “tear down the walls surrounding Europe’s sense of compassion”. They seek to do this by reminding us that these dead migrants are people, by making us grieve for them.

This is why the work of the five poets that I have mentioned is political, and therefore dangerous. Each of them examine the lives of those whom we would regard as marginalised, and they do so with a sympathy that is not helpful to the powerful. The first of those poets, Hollie McNish, published a poem on YouTube in February 2013 called “Mathematics”. In this poem McNish, who studied development and economics at university, challenged the assumption that immigrants merely came to the UK to take the country’s jobs. This poem has now been viewed almost two million times, and has seen McNish tour the nation with its message. “Your maths is stuck in primary”, she recites, “and most times immigrants bring more than minuses”.

Alongside McNish is Michael Rosen, whom you can follow on Twitter as @MichaelRosenYes: he uses this platform to write poems and open letters critical of institutional excess and corruption. Kate Tempest, a poet, playwright and musician, is fearless in her examination of the struggles faced by everyday people. Inua Ellams, like Kate a poet and playwright, writes and performs work with nuanced portrayals of black life. Raymond Antrobus, meanwhile, is one of the country’s first graduates of a programme where poets are trained as educators. He now teaches poetry at a school in East London, and performs his best-selling poetry collection to audiences at various festivals.

What do these poets have in common? Well, they recognise the tremendous power of the spoken and the written word. We arguably now live in an age that is better for poets than any other. The poet, after all, is gifted at one thing above all, which is to distil an image or an emotion into just a few lines, just a few words. In a world where attention spans are shortening all the time, where many of us – including me – are constantly staring at our smartphones, poets still have the ability to capture us, to captivate us. There is a reason why, when advertising agencies are looking to launch their campaigns, they come looking for the expertise of poets. It is because they know that we have an eye for a slogan, for a quick catchphrase.

This skill – to condense a complex situation into just a few lines – also lends itself well, I have found, to a career in journalism. I would encourage any poet who thinks keenly about the world around them to blog more, to report more, to comment more. When leading UK poets are called upon to provide their view to the media, they are frequently very impressive. Benjamin Zephaniah, for example, has been an outstanding advocate for social change for many years. Many other poets are actively involved in fundraising for political causes, and can be found joining marches for progressive causes.

I have spoken of the danger of poets, but I should also speak of the danger for poets. Speaking frankly, most poets will never make that much money or gain that much visibility, which can make many of us susceptible to flattery by the powerful. In that desire for publicity, celebrity or attention, we must be wary of lessening the severity of what we wish to say in order to be acceptable to a wider audience. This is, I think, a temptation. At such times, we poets need to remember that we can amplify the voices of the marginalised partly because, as a genre of artists, we are often marginalised ourselves. We poets must remember that we can promote the cause of the Other because, in so many ways, we are Other.

I don’t mean to congratulate myself and my peers too much, but I am proud of one thing. I am proud that, though the poetry world is by no means perfect, it at has at least managed to provide spaces for self-expression that many other art-forms have not. Some of the most compelling voices in the genre right now are women, or women of colour: Sabrina Mahfouz, Jessica Horn, Warsan Shire, Rosie Knight, Chimene Suleyman, Vanessa Kisuule. Poetry has also been something of a refuge for black people, for queer people. And that, I think, is because – despite the conservatism of the institutions that sometimes surround it – poetry represents freedom. It represents, at its best, the ability to speak from the heart with a carefully-honed craft.

That is poetry’s danger, and its power within the political context. Whether using YouTube or Vine, using microphones or speaking in front of a classroom, we have the ability to humanise, to inspire. That is a skill that those on our society’s fringes – the disabled, the poor, the carers, the unemployed – need us to use more than ever; and, at the risk of preaching, we must not fail them.

For McKinney, and Eric Casebolt: “They handcuffed the black baby the second it left the womb”.

They handcuffed the black baby the second it left the womb,

Replaced its umbilical cord

With a chain attached to the wall.

“Well”, they reasoned, “it can’t get used to freedom;

Once it’s set free, it will attack.

What it needs is a knee in its back,

A SWAT team watching its cot,

And a drone sneering overhead

As its mother combs the hair of this sighing, gurgling threat.”

All in all, they say, “that police officer, Casebolt,

Did one thing wrong; he got there too late.

He should have pulled that gun on that girl

When her mother was eight months pregnant with her,

Should have pinned her down in the ward

And warned her of the angry cargo she was carrying,

Who might, fifteen years later,

Slip on a bikini and wander lethal as anthrax

Across a white suburban lawn.

Eric Casebolt did nothing but obey one whispered law:

That the birth of each black baby

Is a fresh declaration of war.”

On Shy Tories and the diversity of Conservatives.

It has been really striking, in the last few days, to see how many people don’t know any Conservative voters (or, at least, don’t think that they do). I disagree with very many of the Conservatives’ policies but the fact that I have friends who vote for them means that I am able to separate the politics from the person and I am very thankful for that. It means that there is mutual respect underlying every discussion or disagreement that we have about politics. I can’t see myself ever voting for them for a range of reasons, primarily because – even though the party has several very good MPs (Dominic Grieve on civil liberties, Jane Ellison on FGM) – I don’t think that they will ever be influential enough against people with, say, the mindsets of Chris Grayling and Owen Paterson (who, in my view, both did very damaging jobs). As for the next five years, I am just drawing up a list of areas where I would like to see more fairness and progress that we have seen so far, and then working out how best to bring about that fairness and progress, regardless of who is in office. There are plenty of smart, compassionate people working in politics, and in the next five years we are going to need every single one of them.

How To Get Respect, Should You Die In The Public Eye.

Don’t be Syrian,

Don’t be a working-class black teen;

Be a middle-class kid, preferably white, from a two-parent home.

Don’t live within reach of a drone.

Don’t be pictured with a joint while alive,

Don’t let your fingers be seen anywhere near a gang sign.

Don’t date a man who hates you with all the breath in his breast

Since, when he eventually kills you, they’ll just say

“You should have left”.

(On which note,

Don’t die at the hands of a male celebrity –

that never ends well.)

Don’t be Syrian –

you heard us the first time.

If you’re Syrian,

Your problem is that you may die in a conflict too complex for people to understand,

Or so monotonous in its gore

That they’ll merely throw up their hands.

Don’t die a dull Third World death,

Failed by healthcare,

In a land where diarrhoea is lethal as Ebola.

Don’t die a death that fascinates people,

Or your existence will be chopped up and podcasted,

Fed back to us as pop culture.

Don’t die a death where we risk getting distracted

By the fact your suspected killers

Are particularly attractive.

When you die,

Make sure we can relate to you.

Do some charity or some public service.

We’re busy. We need to know quickly

That you weren’t worthless.

If you don’t die how we like

Then you’ll be killed twice:

The first time, when you lose your life

And the second time, when the world destroys your memory as well –

You see, our affections abandon nothing more swiftly

Than a story that’s not easy to tell.

Nigel Farage, the cost of living, and immigration as political time-wasting.

Nigel Farage remarked this morning that there was no longer any need for most racial discrimination laws in the workplace. Given that such laws have recently been vital to protecting the rights of good friends faced by racist employers, I am not going to give that ill-informed view the outrage it seeks. Instead, because we are all busy people, I thought I would set out below a series of tweets that I posted this morning, setting his remarks in a wider political context. (That saves you, should you be interested, from having to read them off my timeline.)

– What is most interesting about Farage is not what he says, but how politicians from bigger parties respond to him.

– Farage refers to racial discrimination laws as past their sell-by-date, inviting other parties to agree or disagree. Watch their responses.

– Cost of living, cost of living, cost of living. It is not working-class immigrants who have put the rental market out of control.

– Cost of living. It is not working-class immigrants who have sent housing prices and petrol prices through the roof.

– Working-class migrants scrap for the same crumbs they always have; that’s only a problem as now you’re down there too. Ask who put you there.

– Huge companies enter the UK, pay almost no tax, force up the cost of living, yet it’s working-class migrants who are “straining resources”.

– This isn’t even an attack on huge companies. It’s merely a request that we be honest about the roots of inequality.

– Breaking news: even if you stop every immigrant entering the UK from now to eternity, it will not bring your rent down.

– The focus on immigration is time-wasting, running down the clock to election time, keeping the cost of living off the political agenda.

– Here’s the dirty truth about immigrant bashing. It’s all about making *just* enough people wake up feeling racist on election day.

– Many people are tired, busy, emotional. They are shattered. They are living hand to mouth. Many of them are in the perfect mood to lash out.

– The working-class immigrant is the perfect political target. Visible everywhere, yet systematically muted, denied a voice. Bullseye.