Hitting myself with a rat

From infectious hotels to her favourite power tools - Scottish writer and comedian AL Kennedy's bril

Since winning the Costa Prize for my last novel, Day (which I’m assuming was a nice thing) my life has turned into shrapnel and I spend most of my days replying to emails from strangers who want something, slinging huge amounts of snailmail into the recycling bin and running up and down my nearest high street in flight from more of the same.

The only thing working efficiently is my paper shredder. Faced with a choice of researching a novel, adding to a collection of short stories, or hitting wheezy scripts with a stick until they squeak, I have only managed to buy a box set of James Mason DVD’s and make a few quarts of cullen skink.

All my activities are of the displacement variety. Having adjusted to being in my own flat for more than seven days in a row, I have cleaned the house to within an inch of its mortar and it now looks enough like a hotel for me to feel at home. (The room service is, of course, terrible but this is balanced by the presence of many ornaments and items of clothing that I seem to recognise from long ago and far away.) I have also been able to catch up with friends. Two of them have developed a whole extra child of considerable size since I saw them last – a healthy, square-headed chap - my current schedule means he’ll be going through his second divorce before I see him again.

But I am in work – quite possibly more work than I can do. And numbers of the courteous public continue to attend readings. So I can have that kind of fun.

My plan for this week was actually to get all caffeined-up and fly at a new story, having recovered from a) the coldest and smallest hotel room in London – I was, very literally, huddled up and yet this provided no warmth at all - followed swiftly by b) a tangibly infectious hotel in Wolverhampton with a bathroom like a mad fishmonger’s storage area and c) another London hotel erected between two bypasses and equipped with clog-dancing and mysteriously rapping neighbours and a number of electrical devices which proved to be entirely beyond me, tired and tearful as I was.

Technology and I have compatibility issues – my computers toy with me, mangle files, crash whenever they can and force me to wander the globe laden with memory sticks and paper copies of anything that might conceivably become important. Meanwhile, I travel in constant fear that Something Vital will arrive for me on my mobile phone (which loses messages) or by email (almost entirely inaccessible while on the road) and I will miss that key opportunity to discuss my favourite power tools on Radio Five, or hit myself with a rat for six weeks while a Swedish man films it for an art installation. These things being rumoured to aid sales. Sadly, six nights with no sleep at all and a number of train journeys spent typing furiously to avoid contemplating how little time I have to type furiously left me with no more than a deep desire to lapse into unconsciousness for – say – a year and a half.

Next week involves three comedy gigs in Scotland (cue much pacing up and down my living room carpet while talking to people who aren’t there) followed by another dash South of the Border to present an hour of comedy about writing to an assembly of students at Warwick. Then it’s back to Glasgow for more of the same. Dear Godhelpus.

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.