It has been a turbulent time in Londres and I am pleased to be having a quiet weekend. It gives time to reflect on what I am putting time into (and not). Last night I pruned some trees, because they needed it but also as an act of faith that we will have a future.
I have been thinking about what the oracle said recently: that it is worth examining your felt position over your lifetime, and whether emotional and intellectual reactions to things get confused. I suppose in theory this could clarify what you want from others, from yourself, from life. The thought trails off in a mess of complexity…
While my bread was rising I went along to a local radical book fair. I was open to finding something new but in fact bought books I had been planning to buy anyway, and one by an author I already know. They were all about cities, in particular land. This is a theme worth focussing on now, and it seems to me that it has been neglected for a long time.
The division between those who believe in private property and those who believe in state ownership of property has often looked absolute. In fact it was never quite so clear cut. There were those who thought that use should give rights, and those who believed in collective ownership outside of the state. What is also often forgotten is that most systems, including the one we live under, give some version of mixed property rights. Yes, the property is yours, but you cannot do as you wish with it: the state claims some rights over your property. When you put in a planning application it may fail, and it may be affected by the comments of your neighbours. I think it is a shame we don’t recognise the reality of our property system. The same failure to recognise reality is evident in the division between market economics and state control. In reality every system uses some mixture of both. To begin to work out how we should change things we should recognise what we have.
Perhaps these aren’t very original thoughts. No doubt there are many obscure academic papers that discuss these matters. Yet in politics what so often matters is the public narrative. I’d like to see a public narrative that addresses the reality of our property system. Neither the Vermin nor the Opposition would see much mileage in it I suppose. As for the billionaire press, it is impossible to discuss property rights without being drowned out by cries of ‘communist!’ Thus discussion is suppressed, even when Londres is afflicted with a clearly evil property regime.
I have been on a journey to the forests of the far north, where the sun sets after midnight and the inhabitants mostly eat fish. I return to a hot Londres: hot weather and a hot political situation at the height of midsummer. The Vermin Party government is tottering but dragging itself onwards, a zombie government full of hate and fear. On the streets there is rage, not just from recent events but accumulated over years, now welling up and spilling across the city.
I have been enjoying being indoors on this sweltering day, taking stock and catching up with project work. My own research, I notice, has frequently been coming in second place to other work lately. That’s fine while there’s no hurry, but I’ll have to kick into a higher gear soon. I wonder if I should give up a few projects, perhaps even this journal.
A mosque in the north of Londres was attacked only a few days ago, by a man in a van. Today the authorities have described him as ‘self-radicalised’, as though he were an island on which he has developed his Islamophobia in isolation. As though there are not newspapers that stir up hatred every day, hatreds that move out into everyday conversation. The only island self-radicalised is this Island, where politicians and news magnates have found it politically expedient to radicalise the population. But when someone takes it too far even for them: whoops, that’s totally unrelated. There is a sickness on the Island, plain to see but denied by many. Its roots go back many centuries.
West Londres has been ablaze, and there are many victims. Another grim day in Londres at the end of the world. This time there is a long list of people to be held responsible, people with names and address and careers that can and should be destroyed. People who did not care. Those who voted against increased regulation on landlords, who lobbied to reduce building regulations, who cut funding to housing, those who cut fire services, those who set up and ran unaccountable housing organisations, those who refused to investigate fire regulations for flats – that one is on the vanquished but undead Goblin Barwell, and those who ignored warnings. Ultimately responsible are all of those who thought they could cut and cut and cut without consequence. It’s true they could do it without consequence to themselves. It was to other people that the consequences would happen, and they did not care.
I have not had a productive day. Yesterday I was at the investigation into my sister’s death. It was not exactly distressing, but it was tiring, and today I am somewhat in recovery. One of the key facts that emerged was that those caring for her professionally lacked the resources to do their jobs properly. There were many staff vacancies, and the management seemed unable to rectify whatever had created those vacancies. And of course they had no money, because the money had been cut.
I have often wondered when other people will get as angry as I have been about the cutting of support to those who need it. The other day a friend told me a neighbour with children had been thrown out of her council flat, for being an EU citizen and not in work. The Vermin changed that rule: EU citizens must now be in work to be in a council flat. If a woman’s partner leaves, and he was the one in work, she is then thrown out on the street, even if she has children. It is the return of destitution.
I have often wondered when other people will get as angry as I have been these last few years. It is a time for anger, a time to press home the recent advantage over those who have done these things, a time to move in on their weaknesses and put an end to them.
The world is turned upside down. Kensington itself has rebelled, and Londres is a sea of red. The winners are the losers and the losers are the winners. I woke yesterday tired, slightly ill, hungover, and feeling on top of the world.
Only the day before I had been feeling blue, believing the polls of The Enemy rather than my own instincts. At work I felt a dark cloud hanging over me. Only when I went out on the streets for the Opposition in the evening did I start to feel better. In the car on the way home afterwards, we heard the exit polls. The Vermin Party had lost their majority – a crushing blow to their plans, and to the right wing of all parties. I entirely failed to go to bed at the time I had planned. The pain of the Vermin was too enjoyable for me to turn away.
Today the sun is out, as though we were suddenly a different country. The Vermin look weak, vulnerable. It feels like a 35-year rightward drift on the Island has been arrested. I feel happy to have taken part in it. Many people have been proved wrong, not just on who is electable, but also on the value of social media campaigns, on the power of the Enemy press, and on whether young people would ever vote in decent numbers. Winning feels weird, but I could get used to it.
These have been dark years on the Island, but the left can never die, for it is an instinct for justice, a demand for equality, a longing for a better world. It feels good to be alive in times when it is resurgent. For years I had thought it likely this day would come, for neither party was offering what millions of people wanted. I did not expect the resurgence to come from this direction. In the end what it took was a single error by the right wing of the Opposition, and the tide changed. There is finally something to get excited about: Us.
The rain, it seems, is over for now. The birds are emerging again. I have begun to notice that Londres is being taken over by corvids: crows, rooks, jays and jackdaws seem to be the dominant flying beasts of the day. I think they smell something.
Perhaps a day of doom approaches on Thursday. Its coming fills the air with tension, and slight but painful hope. It is unusual to feel hope in the context of the ballot, for each one is rigged by processes beyond our control. But this time mistakes were made. People were allowed to speak, to put forward the candidate they wanted. It has never happened in my lifetime. When my enemies are down on their knees due to an error, I think that’s the perfect time to give them a kicking. Let’s not pretend they ever fought fair.
I’m amusing myself with the aggressive language. In fact what I’ve always wanted is a system that exhibits care for people, a way of living that doesn’t mean we destroy each other. Politics should be about supporting each other, making our lives better together. I know I can’t get all that at the ballot box, but I can get something, some small step towards it.
The danger of disappointment never goes away. The young and screwed may not bother to vote. The Vermin will probably win, or get enough support from others to continue, or if the Opposition does win their leader will be betrayed in every way it is possible to be betrayed. Some things will go right but many things will go wrong. The interpretation of it will be in the hands of other people.
If I expect all this, I suppose I dodge the risk of disappointment. The trick is to dig out the optimism within that, and that’s where it gets dangerous. The limited optimism spreads and infects other parts of you. You begin to imagine everything going right. You begin to dream of a better world.
Perhaps, then, disappointment is inevitable. So what? On then to another fight, another day. Let no-one say we didn’t try. May our failures be the stuff of legend.