Surely it’s time to return to our wholesome fascination with putrefied flesh. Photo: Marco Secchi/Getty
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What is it about fancy dress that makes us think we can behave appallingly?

Halloween is particularly bad for this – from Jimmy Savile costumes to “sexy ebola” outfits, we seem to see it as an excuse to be offensive. Much better stick to the traditional zombies and gore.

How did a sombre Christian holiday, dedicated to remembering the dead, turn into an offensiveness contest? It’s a total non sequitur, if you think about it – a bit like a celebration of the birth of Christ evolving into a competition to see who can shove the most turkey into the most orifices, while worshiping a corpulent flying pensioner.

For the most part, I love Halloween. What could be more wonderful than pausing, once a year, to revel in darkness, and fear, and slime, and gunk, and spines, and bats, and blood, and pus? It’s like Halloween was specifically designed for outsiders, which is why it’s so popular with The Gays, and, what’s more, why the horror genre in general has so many queer interpretations.  

But, this year, people have already shunned vampire costumes in favour of ones that trivialise everything from the thousands of recent ebola deaths to domestic violence. Over the past week, pictures have been emerging online of men, and even children, dressing up as US NFL star and wife-beater Ray Rice. The Ray Rice Halloween costume, usually complete with blackface and an accompanying woman (sometimes represented by a blow up doll) with a black eye, has pretty much achieved meme status. This loathsome concoction of misogyny and racism is, sadly, Halloween 2014’s hot as hell get-up.

A Halloween dress code has developed, and here are the rules: wear the Worst Possible Thing. Offensive is the new scary. We take the saddest and most horrifying current events and turn them into outfits. In 2012, Jimmy Savile costumes had a moment. And, if in doubt, you can’t go wrong with a good old-fashioned celebrity death. Steve Irwin, impaled by a stingray, has been a Halloween stalwart for nearly a decade.  

So what is it about Halloween, and fancy dress in general, that we think gives us carte blanche to be arseholes? In 2009, a young Tory activist went to a fancy dress party in a Madeleine McCann costume.  I can’t imagine a more ghoulish costume than “young Tory activist”, so I’m not sure why this guy thought he needed to dress up in the first place. But he did and, in doing so, answered the age-old question of “how gross do you have to be to get kicked out of the Conservative Party”.

Fancy dress parties trigger a kind of cultural Tourette’s Syndrome, where we’re compelled to behave in the least appropriate way, given the context. In a sense, Halloween has always been about saying the unsayable – but I have a feeling that taking the piss out of domestic violence victims might be taking things one step too far. Admittedly, there’s a fine line between breaking a taboo and being a dickhead. This has created lingering confusion in the art world, where we’re constantly wondering whether, say, projecting a grainy video of yourself taking a shit onto a gallery wall, is post-post-post-modern or just blindingly grim.

Nuance aside, I liked Halloween better when it was about dressing up as a zombie and playing drinking games to the Evil Dead films. Having to explain to someone why their abused woman costume is a cauldron of wrong surely isn’t conducive to a Fun Time. So please, for the love of gore, can we declare those Ray Rice guys the overall winners of the offensiveness contest and return to our wholesome fascination with putrefied flesh?

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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After a year of chaos, MPs from all parties are trying to stop an extreme Brexit

The Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit.

One year ago today, I stood on Westminster Bridge as the sun rose over a changed country. By a narrow margin, on an unexpectedly high turnout, a majority of people in Britain had chosen to leave the EU. It wasn’t easy for those of us on the losing side – especially after such scaremongering from the leaders of the Leave campaign – but 23 June 2016 showed the power of a voting opportunity where every vote counted.

A year on from the vote, and the process is in chaos. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. The Leave campaign deliberately never spelled out any detailed plan for Brexit, and senior figures fought internal battles over which model they preferred. One minute Britain would be like Norway, then we’d be like Canada – and then we’d be unique. After the vote Theresa May promised us a "Red, White and Blue Brexit" – and then her ministers kept threatening the EU with walking away with no deal at all which, in fairness, would be unique(ly) reckless. 

We now have our future being negotiated by a government who have just had their majority wiped out. More than half of voters opted for progressive parties at the last election – yet the people representing us in Brussels are the right-wing hardliners David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson.

Despite widespread opposition, the government has steadfastly refused to unilaterally guarantee EU citizens their rights. This week it has shown its disregard for the environment as it published a Queen’s Speech with no specific plans for environmental protection in the Brexit process either. 

Amid such chaos there is, however, a glimmer of hope. MPs from all parties are working together to stop an extreme Brexit. Labour’s position seems to be softening, and it looks likely that the Scottish Parliament will have a say on the final deal too. The Democratic Unionist Party is regressive in many ways, but there’s a good chance that the government relying on it will soften Brexit for Northern Ireland, at least because of the DUP's insistence on keeping the border with Ireland open. My amendments to the Queen’s speech to give full rights to EU nationals and create an Environmental Protection Act have cross-party support.

With such political instability here at home – and a growing sense among the public that people deserve a final say on any deal - it seems that everything is up for grabs. The government has no mandate for pushing ahead with an extreme Brexit. As the democratic reformers Unlock Democracy said in a recent report “The failure of any party to gain a majority in the recent election has made the need for an inclusive, consensus based working even more imperative.” The referendum should have been the start of a democratic process, not the end of one.

That’s why Greens are calling for a cross-party commission on Brexit, in order to ensure that voices from across the political spectrum are heard in the process. And it’s why we continue to push for a ratification referendum on the final deal negotiated by the government - we want the whole country to have the last word on this, not just the 650 MPs elected to the Parliament via an extremely unrepresentative electoral system.

No one predicted what would happen over the last year. From the referendum, to Theresa May’s disastrous leadership and a progressive majority at a general election. And no one knows exactly what will happen next. But what’s clear is that people across this country should be at the centre of the coming debate over our future – it can’t be stitched up behind closed doors by ministers without a mandate.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

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