Ed Miliband on a campaign stop in Salford. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
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Why I keep holding my nose and voting Labour

Alarming as it is to see the traditional major parties all trying their hardest to look the same, it comes down to who you think is least likely to make things worse.

When I voted in 1997 it felt like a great civic duty. It felt like somebody had to do something to finally get rid of the apparently invincible Tory governments that stretched back almost as long as I’d been alive. To my righteously indignant teenaged brain the Tories winning in 1992 was a terrible wrong, one that my generation was set to help rectify, because those before us had dropped the ball.

Looking back, it’s easy to see how Blair was such a winning candidate. He didn’t stand for anything specific other than not being a Tory, but that was enough for me. When he was bringing in tuition fees just as I started university he wasn’t a Tory. When he was waving his arse at millions of anti-war demonstrators before enthusiastically planning and waging a war of aggression he still wasn’t a Tory. When he was there beside Bush, wearing that sinister hammerhead grin of his as Britain colluded in torture, he still wasn’t a Tory.

I could always look at Blair and tell myself that sure, he had the blood of hundreds of thousands of people on him for his role in the Iraq invasion, but it wasn’t like the Tories wouldn’t have done the same. That became the rationalisation for his worst excesses, that the Tories would have done it too. What Blair did bring was mitigating factors. The minimum wage, the increased public spending, reducing poverty, they took the edge off. For all that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown did wrong the last five years of coalition rule have reminded us that, no, they were not Tories.

But we get to 2015 and things feel a lot different. When Rachel Reeves pops up to tell us that Labour will be “tougher than the Tories” a on benefits and when Tristram Hunt proclaims that Labour are “aggressively pro-business” it makes me wonder just who these people are and why are they even in the Labour Party to start with. Who joins the Labour Party so they can be tough on benefits claimants? Who joins the Labour Party for the sake of business interests? I could understand it if these kinds of ideas were held by people who had sneaked into the party and were sitting quietly at the back waiting their time, every party has its oddities, but to have them front and centre with an election coming up? In a country crying out for change it is alarming to see the traditional major parties all trying to look as alike as possible.

Increasingly I feel like a man without a country when it comes to British politics. The rhetoric of the Labour Party doesn’t comfort me in the slightest. I like Ed Miliband, I like that he opposed bombing Syria and I like that he stood up to the Daily Mail over their attacks on his father’s memory. That’s two things already that Tony Blair would never have done, but I still don’t get a sense that he is here to change anything.

We’ve seen the Tories at work in these last five years, dismantling and selling off anything of value within the British public sector like a well-connected crew of thieves. There’s no talk from Miliband about getting anything back. Not the trains, not the energy companies, not the Royal Mail. It feels like there is no opposing force to the Tory party, no major party intent on reversing what they have done. Instead we are presented with the option of having the Tories in power to asset strip the country, or have Labour in power to enter a holding pattern.

I feel no tribal connection to Labour and increasingly I don’t see myself wanting one. I have always loathed the self-congratulatory plundering of the Tory party but as time passes I see less that appeals to me in Labour. When I look at Labour MPs in the House of Commons I get the unerring sense that they have more in common with their Honourable Friends across the room than they have with me. Maybe this was always the case, but at least Tony Blair’s mob made an effort to hide it for the first couple of elections at least.

So why do I keep holding my nose and voting for them in general elections? Fear, I guess. A holding pattern is better than a crash. It’s all well and good to talk about breaking the dichotomy when you’re insulated from the consequences of Tory rule but when you’re hanging precariously above a safety net that could be hauled out from underneath you the perspective changes. I don’t even know that Labour would keep the safety nets, but they’re a better shot than the other lot, so they get my vote. It’s not decision I make with any particular pride.

If this was the only future for Britain, Tory asset-stripping interspersed by patches of torpor under Labour, I wouldn’t have much room for optimism. But I have faith in democracy yet. I think that the Westminster parties have done such a spectacular job of alienating Scotland in recent years that there will have to be consequences and I think we’ll see them in this election. Other parties might do well too, but it’s hard to argue with the influence that forty or so seats in the hands of a party outside of the traditional Westminster coterie will have.

So as I prepare to hold my nose and vote Labour once again I can do it for the first time in a long time with hope that something will change.

 

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture

COREY HOCHACHKA/ALAMY
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He went in to report on crystal meth – before long, Luke Williams was hooked

The journalist moved into a house of meth addicts to investigate the drug. Within a month, he was using, too.

“I got a story, a very good story,” writes the young Australian journalist Luke Williams in the first chapter of his new book, The Ice Age. “Only it wasn’t the one I was expecting.” For three months in 2014, he lived in a house of crystal meth addicts in a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, to investigate the drug. Within a month, he had forgotten why he was there. He had become addicted himself.

What follows is a dizzying retelling of his experiences, which veers between stories of Williams’s psychotic episodes and facts about his drug of choice. His descent into addiction happened in a nondescript house in Pakenham, a suburb to the south-east of Melbourne – “one of the most badly affected meth areas in Australia”.

Williams, now 36, grew up nearby and went to school there. He already knew two meth users in the area well enough to rent a room with them – an out-of-work labourer called Smithy and his live-in ex-girlfriend Beck. It was they who gave Williams his first shot of crystal meth, less than three weeks into his stay.

The crystal form of methamphetamine, also known as “ice”, is an addictive and powerful stimulant that causes euphoria. It heightens alertness, energy and arousal, with comedowns that can lead to aggression and violence.

It has gained cultural significance in recent years because of the US television drama Breaking Bad, in which an otherwise mild-mannered and law-abiding chemistry teacher “cooks” and sells crystal meth. Yet not much is known about the long-term effects of the drug, which in some countries – such as the Czech Republic – is a graver problem than heroin. In the UK, crystal meth activity is low and mainly linked to the gay chemsex party scene, where drugs are used to enhance group sex experiences.


Photo: Scribe

The drug is linked to severe psychosis, which Williams experienced first hand. Detailed in his book in a neat little list, like a morbid twist on a teenage diary, are Williams’s delusions, entitled: “My psychotic ideas”. Some are harrowing. His conviction that his parents are trying to poison him, for example, which results in him threatening to kill them “with my bare f***ing hands”. Others are amusing: he abandons his journalistic endeavour almost immediately in the belief that his calling is to become a famous rap star.

“I think that I could maybe do spoken word, but rapping? No, no,” he chuckles, when he speaks to me via Skype from Nepal, where he is researching another story. He says that he wanted to investigate crystal meth use partly because he was bored. He had left journalism to work at a law firm, and his life “lacked a bit of kick”.

Although he describes himself as “white, middle-class [and] educated”, he was fixated by the characters from his youth on the city’s outskirts. “I missed [them] in the middle-class world; it seemed so polite and clean . . . I looked forward to getting back there, living cheap, and when I saw the state some of my friends were in, I was very curious to know what was going on with them. Nobody was writing about the working class and the underclass.”

Williams quickly shifted from observer to addict. In alarming and frank detail, his book tells of marathon masturbation sessions (his record was 16 hours), physical altercations and a thick fog of paranoia. He would search his name online and become convinced that anything written by, or about, the name “Luke Williams” involved him.

He became so obsessed with the memory of an ex-boyfriend called Nathaniel that he believed that Smithy had turned his ex “into a transsexual, so that he and his mates could have their way with the new female Nathaniel”.

After three months, Williams was kicked out of the house by an aggressive Smithy, who thought the journalist was stealing his cannabis (he wasn’t). The nearby hospital gave him no help, so Williams ended up on the streets. After a lot of persuasion, he eventually returned to safety with his parents. He has been recovering ever since.

There is talk of a crystal meth “epidemic” in rural and suburban areas of Australia, which has among the highest usage of the drug in the world. The number of people using it there tripled from 2011 to 2016, and 7 per cent of Australians over the age of 14 have reported using amphetamines or methamphetamines (in the UK, it’s 1 per cent).

Although Luke Williams’s story is an insight into one of the world’s most dangerous substances, it’s also a lesson in doing your research. The first time Williams took crystal meth, it was injected by one of his housemates and he believed that it was no different from powdered meth – more commonly known as speed – which he had been using occasionally to give him the energy to write.

The group called everything “meth”, regardless of what they were taking. “Our lingo just didn’t differentiate,” Williams tells me. “People don’t really understand the difference. I got the opportunity to say in the public domain that [crystal meth] is different . . . It eats away at your inside.”

The Ice Age: A Journey Into Crystal-Meth Addiction by Luke Williams is published by Scribe.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era