Not all that glitters is gold. Photo: Getty Images
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Jeremy Corbyn's message looks great - but check the small print

Politics is the art of the possible. Jeremy Corbyn offers the implausible, warns Chris Leslie. 

There’s no doubt about it – the Labour Party has reached a fork in the road and on 12 September the fate of the progressive centre-left in Britain will be sealed. There are millions whose living standards and working conditions depend on Labour winning government in 2020 to fight for power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many not the few. If we get this wrong, the Tories could be in office for a generation. So I urge Labour members to think incredibly carefully and look at the detail before they cast their vote.

The superficial appeal of those on the hard left may be tempting at one level; big bold rhetoric presents a ‘clear choice’ to motivate the currently unenthused. But we have a duty to scrutinise the consequences of those policies being espoused with such sweeping certainty. Take, for example, the proposal for a ‘People’s Quantitative Easing’ where the Bank of England is instructed to use QE to directly finance infrastructure and public service projects. At one level it sounds so easy – if there’s a shortage of money, just print some more!

But ending the Bank of England’s independence and reversing one of Labour’s most enduringly successful reforms would risk a major hike in lending rates, taking money away from schools and hospitals as debt servicing becomes more expensive.  And resorting to the printing press to artificially create money for public expenditure purposes would be a major distortion for the economy. Such a new monetarism would spark higher inflation and make it harder for those on lower incomes to afford goods and services, provoking a rise in mortgage rates to counteract the effect. You can’t magically abolish the deficit with printed money and expect zero repercussions for the least well-off and those already struggling with loans and debts.

Of course there’s always more to be done to clamp down on tax avoidance. But if you base your economic policy by vastly over-estimating the amount you can get from tax loopholes, you cannot deliver on the promises you are making. The people in need of real help will be the ones who pay the price.

It is vital the policy options being proposed are rigorous and can stand up to scrutiny. Labour members must not choose a Leader only to discover they have backed a policy agenda whose small print could end up hurting the very people we want to stand up for.

It is true that the Tories have used this period to shrink levels of public investment under the guise of deficit eradication. But that doesn’t mean there is anything ‘left wing’ about wanting to run a deficit in perpetuity. In fact, for those of us who believe in the virtues of collectively purchased public services, we have a duty to prove that the state can be a sound steward of taxpayer resources. If we fail to show we can live within our means in the long run, taxpayers will lose confidence in the pooling of collectively providing health, education or policing – and they will increasingly lose faith the public realm. Any Labour Leader who thinks budgets can always be in the red will discover taxpayers are distinctly unimpressed by the idea – and that Leader will in turn be responsible for permanently damaging the coalition of support we need to sustain decent levels of public investment.

Economic credibility isn’t just about winning elections – it is about securing the resources we need to invest in public services, improve education and abolish child poverty. It is about retaining public consent for the collective pursuit of those ambitions. And ill-considered policies that drive up the cost of living and inflation will hurt the poorest people in society.

Britain needs a credible Labour Prime Minister, not the Tories in government for a generation. Labour members must weigh up carefully what is now at stake.

Chris Leslie is Labour MP for Nottingham East, former shadow chancellor and a member of the international trade select committee.

Tracey Thorn. CRedit: Getty
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“Not technically beautiful, she has an engaging laugh”: 35 years of being described by men

For women in music, being described most of the time by men is just par for the course.

I am sure you all saw the Twitter challenge that took off the other day – a request to women to “describe yourself like a male author would”, started by the writer Whitney Reynolds. There were thousands of hilarious replies, with women imagining how a bad male author would describe them. I thought about posting an example, but then realised, I didn’t have to imagine this. I’ve been being described by male journalists for more than 35 years.

Katy Waldman in the New Yorker wrote about the challenge, and how it highlighted clichés in men’s writing: “…prose that takes conspicuous notice of a female character’s physical imperfections. This is done with an aura of self-satisfaction, as if the protagonist deserves credit simply for bestowing his descriptive prowess upon a person of less than conventional loveliness.”

And oh boy, that hit home. Yes, I thought, that is precisely how I’ve been described, too many times to recall, so many times that I’ve actually sort of stopped noticing. The following aren’t direct quotes, but near enough.

“Not conventionally pretty, Thorn nevertheless somehow manages to be curiously attractive.” “Her face may not be technically beautiful but she has an engaging laugh.” “Her intelligence shines through the quirky features.” Often what’s irritating isn’t the hint of an insult, but just being wide of the mark. “She isn’t wearing any make-up” (oh my god, of course she is). “She’s wearing some kind of shapeless shift” (it’s Comme des Garçons FFS).

I’m not trying to arouse sympathy. I’m much thicker-skinned than you may imagine, hence surviving in this business for so long. But the point is, for women in music, being described most of the time by men is just par for the course.

A few weeks ago, when I was in Brussels and Paris doing interviews, I was taken aback all over again by the absence of female journalists interviewing me about my album – an album that is being described everywhere as “nine feminist bangers”. As the 14th man walked through the door, my heart slightly sank. I feel like a bore banging on about this sometimes, but it astonishes me that certain aspects of this business remain so male-dominated.

Even the journalists sometimes have the good grace to notice the anomaly. One youngish man, (though not that young) told me I was only the third woman he had ever interviewed, which took my breath away. I look at my playlists of favourite tracks over the last year or so, and they are utterly dominated by SZA, Angel Olsen, Lorde, St Vincent, Mabel, Shura, Warpaint, Savages, Solange, Kate Tempest, Tove Lo, Susanne Sundfør, Janelle Monáe, Jessie Ware and Haim, so there certainly isn’t any shortage of great women. I’ve been asked to speak at a music event, and when I was sent the possible line-up I couldn’t help noticing that over three days there were 56 men and seven women speaking. The final bill might be an improvement on that, but still. Any number of music festivals still operate with this kind of mad imbalance.

Is it down to the organisers not asking? Or, in the case of this kind of discussion event, women often feeling they don’t “know” enough? It’s a vicious circle, the way that men and their music can be so intimidating. The more you’re always in the minority, the more you feel like you don’t belong. Record shops seemed that way to me when I was a teen, places where guys hung out and looked at you like you didn’t know your Pink Floyd from your Pink Flag.

I also have to watch songs of mine being described by male writers, and sometimes misinterpreted. I’ve got one called “Guitar” on my new record. There’s a boy in the lyrics, but he’s incidental – it’s a love song to my first Les Paul copy. That fact has sailed over the heads of a couple of male reviewers who’ve seen it as a song all about a boy.

That’s the trouble, isn’t it? You miss things when you leave women out, or view female characters through the prism of their attractiveness, or when you take for granted that you’re at the centre of every story, every lyric. I bet you think this piece is about you. 

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 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge