Occupation is easy. Rebuilding is the hard part

The Occupy movement is attacking the right in vague terms, rather than focusing on specific policies

"Occupy London. Go on. Do it... I dare you... People might watch. People in coats, with ties. Bankers. David Cameron might watch, and we hate him. Bloody Cameron." This might as well have been our Gettysburg address.

Because as far as rallying cries go, the social left of the world needs writers. In the last month, as protests have rippled across the world, it's been the haphazard rag-bag flavour of the left -- not the political brutalism of the right -- that has been burned into the shop fronts of Rome and the consciousness of a generation.

The whole thing -- the hastily stenciled placards, the faint aroma of organics and the rush on tarpaulin -- just smacks of teenage angst, as though the socialist worker has thrown up on an ethics class. Not least because the public have yet to be presented with anything approaching a cogent political aim.

I attended a debate earlier this year that could be couched in similar terms. It was anti-imperialist circle-jerk for the recently philosophical and generationally left. Nato in Libya, they argued, was the continuation of British Empire, the expansion of the American "world police" (a term that should send shivers down the spine of any thinking mammal) and tantamount to colonial invasion. And it's the Tories, they continued with risible stridence, the Tories -- with their cuts and their austerity and their Margaret Thatchers and their racism -- that are to blame.

Now I don't like the Tories. Their social and economic policies are reprehensible, and their political strategy has the mood of a 1950s smoking lounge. But they aren't colonists and if they were, their domestic economic plans would probably have little to do it with it. The argument is, prima facie, a non sequitur.

But that's the problem with a left in the limelight. Without decent, non-centrist organisation -- without the '68ers or the '89ers -- the influence of die-hard socialists in flat-caps and second-hand barbers is unfettered. The message, as a result, tends to lack coherence and consistency.

Now, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Habermasians amongst us may even suggest it's actively good; it keeps political dialogues fresh. The left has always been a bastion of academic rigour, and competing visions inform the cause. All true, or it would be, if the left of today wasn't regularly sodomised by a generation of "socialist workers" who swallowed their political philosophy in Engels' 56-pages.

Today, rather than engage with political discourse by meeting each point head on, there is an overwhelming tendency to hurl as much shit at any wall that will stay up long enough to take it. (In this analogy, the media is a wall). That's why Wall Street wailing won't work.

Hawkish foreign policy is conflated with religious conservatism. Capitalist free markets are dismissed in the same breath as constrained immigration. Cuts to social services are unfairly labelled as Etonian ignorance. Law and order is ignored because heaven forbid we concede a point. The centre-right and far-right are unfairly homogenised, and the racist tendencies of one diluted by the social backwardness of the other. Taxation is divorced from employment, welfare is deified and defence spending is the "actual antichrist".

Why? Why do we distill generations of intellectual superiority into trite sound bites? Because, without a leftist political party that refuses to accept the rights agenda and stick to its guns, we panic. We see a 24-hour news machine obsessed with breaking the next big thing, a clap-happy police force itching for a scuffle, and a public who absorbs Paxman-politics between Strictly and Buzzcocks. And we panic.

The answer? Sophistry, apparently. The result? Insignificance.

The Occupy movement looks a lot like engagement, like it is taking the fight to Cameron's Britain, but there's a reason dogs don't just bark. A right that is scared is very different to a right that is beaten.

But if we continue to attack blue, instead of blue policies, if we go on badgering Conservatives while conservatism quaffs whiskey in the corner, if we burn Phillip Green in effigy while global capitalism spreads like a wildfire, we will be a life subsumed by sentiment, waiting to be swept from the streets.

Occupation is easy; rebuilding is the hard part.

Oliver Duggan is a political blogger and freelance journalist. He has previously reported from Washington DC, British Parliament and the Horn of Africa, and is now living and writing in Leeds. He tweets @OliDuggan

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Appearing in a book is strange – being an actual character must be stranger

Much as it jolts me to come across a reference to my music in something I'm reading, at least it's not me.

I was happily immersed in the world of a novel the other day, Rachel Elliott’s Whispers Through a Megaphone, when suddenly I was jolted back into reality by my own appearance in the book. One of the characters hears someone singing and is told, “‘It’s Leonora. She sings with her window open.’ ‘She’s good – sounds like Tracey Thorn.’ ‘She does, doesn’t she.’”

It was as if I’d walked on stage while still being in the audience. It’s happened to me before, and is always startling, a kind of breaking of the fourth wall. From being the reader, addressed equally and anonymously, you become, even momentarily, a minor character or a representative of something. In this instance it was flattering, but the thing is, you have no control over what the writer uses you to mean.

In David Nicholls’s Starter for Ten, set in the mid-Eighties, the lead character, Brian – a hapless student, failing in both love and University Challenge – hopes that he is about to have sex with a girl. “We stay up for an hour or so, drinking whisky, sitting on the bed next to each other and talking and listening to Tapestry and the new Everything But the Girl album.” Ah, I realised, here I represent the kind of singer people listen to when they’re trying, though possibly failing, to get laid.

Fast-forward a few years, to the mid-Nineties of Bret Easton Ellis’s Glamorama, a book constructed from lists of people and things, clothes and music, which apparently indicate the vacuousness of modern life. “I dash into the Paul Smith store on Bond Street, where I purchase a smart-looking navy-gray raincoat. Everything But the Girl’s ‘Missing’ plays over everything” and later, “In the limo heading toward Charing Cross Road Everything But the Girl’s ‘Wrong’ plays while I’m studying the small white envelope . . .” Here I’m being used to represent the way bands become briefly ubiquitous: our songs are a soundtrack to the sleazy glamour of the novel.

These mentions are all fine; it’s only the music that features, not me. Spotting yourself as an actual character in someone’s novel must be more shocking: one of the perils of, for instance, being married to a novelist. I think of Claire Bloom and Philip Roth. First she wrote a memoir about how ghastly it was being married to him, then he wrote a novel about how ghastly it was to be married to someone very like her. Books as revenge: that’s very different indeed.

Few people who had ever met Morrissey emerged from his memoir unscathed (me included), but particularly Geoff Travis of Rough Trade. He was hung, drawn and quartered in the book, yet seems to have maintained a dignified silence. But it’s hard knowing how to deal with real people in memoirs. In mine, I chose not to name one character, a boy who broke my 18-year-old heart. Feverish speculation among old friends, all of whom guessed wrong, proved how much attention they’d been paying to me at the time. I also wrote about my teenage band, the Marine Girls, and then sent the chapter to the other members for approval. Which led to a fresh outbreak of hostilities and not-speaking, 25 years after we’d broken up. Don’t you just love bands?

Worrying about any of this would stop anyone ever writing anything. Luckily it didn’t deter John Niven, whose scabrous music-biz novel, Kill Your Friends, mixes larger-than-life monsters such as the fictional A&R man Steven Stelfox with real people: and not just celebs (Goldie, the Spice Girls), but record company executives (Ferdy Unger-Hamilton, Rob Stringer) known best to those of us in the biz, and presumably thrilled to have made it into a book. John confirmed to me recently: “In the end I got more grief from people I left out of the book than those I put in. Such is the ego of the music industry. I heard of one executive who bought about 30 copies and would sign them for bands, saying, ‘This was based on me.’ You create the Devil and people are lining up to say, ‘Yep. I’m that guy.’”

In other words, as I suspected, there’s only one thing worse than being written about. 

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred