Andy Burnham at the Labour leadership hustings. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
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Burnham's cloth ears, commons bench wars, and the Durham Miner's Gala

Asked if the cross-dressing potter Grayson Perry could join the fun, the DMA’s general secretary, Dave Hopper, replied: “We’ve got nee problem with him. It’s the Labour f***ers we never see that I object to.”

To the 131st Durham Miners’ Gala, where Labour leadership wannabes jostled for attention amid the brass bands and banners. The lefty Jeremy Corbyn delivered a fiery speech from the main platform and Tom Watson waved to the parade from the balcony of the Hotel Royal County. The pair have been nominated for leader and deputy by the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA).

Asked if the cross-dressing potter Grayson Perry could join the fun, the DMA’s general secretary, Dave Hopper, replied: “We’ve got nee problem with him. It’s the Labour f***ers we never see that I object to.” Cue the arrival of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, to pose for photographs in the crowd.

Brooks Newmark, who resigned first as a minister and then as an MP over a newspaper report about a peep shot of the inside of his Paisley pyjamas, isn’t the only Tory who exposes himself to danger. An eminent author of historical fiction whispered to your correspondent that a horrified lady friend had shown her a private picture sent unsolicited by a Conservative member, captioned: “Look what you’re missing.” The MP felt, wrongly, that the bloated organ would impress the target of his desires. Instead, he is a figure of fun. Would the dishonourable member like to out himself?

Praises for the SNP 56 are secretly being sung by Tories. A cabinet minister informs me that the Nats are chummy with Conservatives in the privacy of the tearoom. I suspect the SNP doesn’t shout about that in Scotland. The minister observed: “I’m surprised how friendly the SNP [is] with us. Then again . . . we both hate Labour.”

Fresh details emerge of the declaration of Westminster that has ended the bench wars in the Commons chamber between the SNP and Labour. The deal is that Labour is guaranteed four of the nine places that may be reserved by prayer cards in brass name-holders, including Dennis Skinner’s corner slot, with the Nats allocated the other five. Everybody budges up to squeeze in a fifth Labour bottom (to ensure parity of numbers). If only the two parties got on so well in Scotland – or the tearoom.

At Labour hustings, the deputy “undercard” is more entertaining than the main event. Digs by Rupert Murdoch’s nemesis Tom Watson at candidates courting the Sun King included a pop at Caroline Flint. When Watson lamented the absence of Chuka Umunna or Rushanara Ali on all-white panels, she was overheard muttering, “I bet you stitched them up.”

Cloth ears, it seems, were to blame for Andy Burnham’s claim at hustings that petrol costs “160p” a litre. Mary Creagh, sitting alongside him, had muttered that it was £1.16 but Burnham misheard. If ever a favour backfired . . . 

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 16 July 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Motherhood Trap

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When the world seems dark and terrifying, we shouldn’t feel ashamed to dream of Utopia

Right now, the future seems dark and frightening and it is precisely now that we must continue to imagine other worlds and then plot ways to get there.

There are many cruel and routine lies we tell to children but perhaps the most indicative is this: if you tell anyone your wish, it won’t come true. This parable was probably invented by parents trying to avoid the trauma of not being able to give their children what they want but we carry it with us to adulthood, when it is repeated to us by our leaders. Don’t tell anyone the sort of world you would like to see – at best you’ll be disappointed and at worst you’ll be arrested.

“We want more.” This week, exhausted by the news, I dragged myself out of the house to a book fair, where I came across a new collection of utopian fiction by radical women. That was the first line and it stopped my breath in my throat. When basic survival seems like a stretch goal, caught as we are between the rich and the rising seas, hope feels like an unaffordable luxury. The precise words I used to the bookseller were, “Shut up and take my money.”

There has never been a more urgent time for utopian ideas, precisely because the concept of a better world has never felt further away. Right now, world leaders are deciding how many cities are going to sink before something is done to reduce carbon emissions. They are meeting in Paris, which very recently saw the opening scene of a new act in everyone’s least favourite dramatic franchise, “War in the Middle East”. We seem to be living in a dystopian trilogy scripted by a sadistic young-adult author and I very much hope that our plucky young heroes show up to save the day soon, even if there’s a clunky love triangle involved.

Dystopias are easy to construct: to paraphrase the novelist Kim Stanley Robinson, you might as well pick five news headlines at random, make a collage and there’s your plot. Utopias are harder. Utopias require that we do the difficult, necessary work of envisioning a better world. This is why imagination is the first, best weapon of radicals and progressives.

Utopian stories existed long before the word was coined by Thomas More in the 16th century to mean an ideal society, or “no-place”. Plato’s Republic has some claim to being the first but there are as many Utopias as there are communities that dreamed of a better life. The greatest age of utopian fiction was the turn of the last century and it is no accident that the early 21st century is a great age of dystopian fiction. The ideology of late-capitalist patriarchy has become so all-encompassing that it no longer looks like ideology. Fredric Jameson observed, “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” – and the reason for that is not that capitalism is the inevitable destiny of humankind but that we have spent our lives being told that even thinking about any other future makes us ridiculous.

Most leftists do have an idea of the sort of world they would prefer to see. We don’t say what we want for the same reason that we were told as children not to tell anyone else what we wished for – because it’ll be awkward and painful if we don’t get it.

When I think about Utopia, I think about my grandmother. My mother’s mother left school at 13, lived through the Maltese blockade and was obliged by religion and circumstance to marry young, suffocate all her dreams of education and adventure and spend her life taking care of a husband and six kids. Half a century later, I can choose when and whether to have children. I can choose to live independently from men. I regularly travel alone and there are no legal restrictions on getting any job I’m suited for.

The kind of independence many women my age can enjoy would have been almost unimaginable half a century ago – but somebody did imagine it and that is why we got here. A great many somebodies, over centuries of struggle and technological advancement, asked how the world could be different for women and set about making it happen.

Exactly a century ago, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novel Herland envisioned a society of women in which production was communal, motherhood was valued, relationships were equal and rape and violence were unknown. Reading Herland today, it is striking that for every proposition that came true – women are now allowed to divorce their husbands and participate fully in political life – there are two more that seem as far-fetched now as they did in 1915. Motherhood is still not valued as work. Women are still expected to organise our lives around the threat of sexual violence. But all that can change as long as we continue to ask for more.

For as long as I have been a feminist, I have been asked – usually by grumbling men – when, exactly, we will be satisfied; when women and girls will decide we have enough. The answer is contained in the question: because the instant that we do decide that we are satisfied, that there can never be a better world than this, is the instant that the future shuts down and change becomes impossible.

Utopia is the search for Utopia. It is the no-place by whose light you plot a course through a harsh and unnavigable present. By the time you reach the horizon, it is no longer the horizon but that doesn’t mean you stop going forwards.

Right now, the future seems dark and frightening and it is precisely now that we must continue to imagine other worlds and then plot ways to get there. In the midst of multiple global crises, the only truly ridiculous proposition is that things are going to stay exactly the same.

Human societies are going to change beyond recognition and from the conference table to the streets, our best shot at surviving that change starts when we have the courage to make impossible demands – to face down ridicule and say, “We want more.”

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State