Saturday, 15 August 2015

ON LEAVING EDINBURGH

This was my tenth year in a row covering the Edinburgh Fringe in a professional/‘professional’ capacity, something I realised about a week in with marked ambivalence. I’m a father now (DON'T KNOW IF YOU MISSED THAT BUT I'M A FATHER NOW) and without pretending it’s some sort of one-man tragedy, leaving little Janek for over a week has been one of the more emotionally gruelling parts of the whole process of fatherhood – aside from just missing him, then there’s also the sense I’m missing out – so much happens to a baby week-on-week, and I was absent for the entire twenty-first week of his life. Plus there’s nothing like THEATRE to make you think dark thoughts about the awful things that could happen to your only child in the future. (NB I miss my wife too, but what’s a week between adults etc).

At the same time, it’s interesting that the extreme settled down-ness of my ‘real’ life – I live in Zone 4, I get up at whatever ungodly hour my son declares to be ‘morning’, and two nights out at the theatre per week is currently the extent of my non-family-related social life – has in some ways exacerbated the allure of the Fringe this year. The Fringe is, I guess, an idealised world, a world of round-the-clock theatre and parties, where everyone is young and hopeful and creative, all the time, where everyone stays up late in a strikingly beautiful city that few of them are actually from, a summer holiday of sorts. It might not be real, but it’s real for three-and-a-half-weeks, which is a bloody impressive achievement. And though I have sort of given myself a couple of early nights, I have largely reverted to being an effusively sociable person who stays up late and goes to parties after a day of excessive theatre-watching. Which is great, but I suppose a decade in and I wonder when the switch point will come – I’m probably the most senior theatre writer who goes for the parties, and the partier to be married with a child, but then I am still the youngest senior theatre. I daresay I’ll still be coming to Edinburgh in another decade, when I’m 44, but will I just revert to my student-y Edinburgh life then, or will I make some conscious decision to become an adult up here? Will the fact Edinburgh coincides with the school holidays change the festival for me?

Is this all a bit ‘Dawson’s Creek? Possibly it isn’t something I particularly needed to share with the wider world, I'm basically just indulging myself by trying to keep some record of my current feelings, a sort of weird cocktail of relief and extreme wistfulness as I leave the city. I don’t really think about the Fringe that much for swathes of the year, and I know that at some point in the next fortnight I will have the thought ‘the Fringe is still going? That’s hilarious’. And in a way my wistfulness is only increased by knowing that. So there you go, dear reader, I am wistful, whoop de do. Still, better than another bloody blog about the Labour Party, eh? Oh, I wrote a top five shows of Edinburgh on Facebook, maybe I'll post it here as 'bonus content' 1. The Encounter – Probably not even a perfect show (yet), but when a piece of theatre makes you genuinely feel like reality is disintegrating around you, you probably shouldn't nitpick.

2. Stewart Lee – obviously this is terribly passe, but he really is SO GOOD. His new urine routine is probably one of the most technically impressive, audacious things I've ever seen in any medium, and is also extremely funny (and not about urine).

3. Ross & Rachel – lots and lots of monologues and work from young 'uns this year, but something about how meta this is really worked for me, it's a really strong show in its own right that uses this ambiguous relationship with the TV show Friends to kind of add another layer, it's sort of tragic and funny at the same time a really sort of doublethink way.

4. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing – luv a good monologue

5. My Birthday without You – I probably did see better shows that I haven't mentioned, but (possibly because it was my last show) I just thought this really committed parody of confessional poetry/live art solo shows really hit the spot. About half the audience were in hysterics and the other half were completely baffled.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

JEREMY FUCKING CORBYN

Coming from a firmly pro-Labour but not exactly rabidly political household I don't think I ever exactly 'lost faith' in the Labour Party during the last decade. I think maybe in 2010 I thought 'Labour probably deserve to be out of power for a bit'. But that was kind of it. I was at university during New Labour's pomp, and just wrapping up my MA when the dream started to sour with the Iraq War, but I suppose I was always pragmatic enough to think 'I disagree with this illegal war, but in most other respects…'.

Also at university I had various run-ins (via the student newspaper) with members of the LUU exec committee – at least half of them were aspirant Labour politicos, and they are to this day some of the worst people I've ever met (their greatest achievement being pulping an entire issue of Leeds Student because it had a rude quote about Tony Blair in it). But fundamentally I didn't really have any massive problem with the fact that they didn't seem to have much in common with me ethically – the nature of a party being in power is that it harbours a lot of diverse tribes etc. I think, fundamentally, it would take an awful lot for me not to vote Labour purely because even at their absolute worst I do think they manifest qualities – ie basic compassion for one's fellow human being – that Tories lack. Better a Tory-lite that feel guilty about it than a Tory-max that doesn't. Etc.

But you can fall into almost a pragmatic coma. I suppose my views are reasonably left-wing: I think the railways should be renationalised, I would like to see Trident scrapped, I think taxes should be raised to whatever levels are required to eradicate the most pernicious injustices etc in this country, I would like to see radical government intervention to tackle the worst excesses of big business and the shame of buy to leave etc etc. I guess I don't really DO a huge amount about this other than try and live my life in a reasonably ethical way, maybe I'm a shy socialist, or just lazy, or find members of the 'hard left'a bit irritating, or whatever.

Anyway, at the start of the campaign to select the next Labour leader I was fairly pro-Andy Burnham, because he seems like a nice bloke and he has a northern accent, kind of a slightly more Labour-y looking looking Ed Milliband, But fuck it, he’s done nothing since to prove he has any sort of cohesive vision for the country (though I think he’ll get my second pref - he seems to be the only other candidate to at least understand the public mood); neither has Yvette Cooper; Liz Kendall is at least honest about essentially wanting to Torify the Labour party, but if anything she’s proved to be the weird outlier in the pack.

If elected, none of them would win on the basis of their brilliance and vision for the country. I do believe in the adage that governments lose elections, not win them, so it is possible that one of them might win if the Tories fuck up this term. But while they would undoubtedly be universally preferable to the Tories, I just don’t now how durable the government would be without a vision, without exciting anyone. They’d be kinder and more compassionate than the Tories, but only where they felt they could get away with it - they would be incredibly timid.

For all its eventual faults, in 1997 New Labour felt like an optimistic force that showed we could be a kinder, happier, more caring, more inclusive society, banishing the gloom of Thatcher’s dinosaurs. In 2015 the view centrists/Blairites seem to espouse is that Labour were unlucky that a global recession that wasn’t their fault/the tactical misfire of The Election That Never Was cost them the 2010 election (and they still might have formed a coalition even then), and that it was a mistake to not present a full on Blair government in 2015, and would be equally mad not to do so again in 2020. Like the last days of Milliband, they want to grind out a win and maybe they could do that, but it would hardly be the dawning of a thrilling new era, just a period of marginal relief.

So Jeremy Corbyn eh. At the start of the campaign I think I found him a slight irritant, because I had, perhaps unforgivably, come to the conclusion that England was full of LUU style-cunts and that he was wasting everyone’s time by dangling policies that I wholeheartedly agreed with in front of me. But as Corbynmania snowballed, the realisation that there are a reasonably large number of people who want what I want for the country and are genuinely enthusiastic about their embodiment made me feel like a bit of a dick.

And indeed, that’s not entirely true even: I’m very mistrustful of political extremes, and had had him sold to me as some sort of raving Stalinist, but that’s even remotely not accurate – the paradox of people describing him as unelectable is that modern Britain is built on principles way to the left of what’s now deemed acceptable, treated as the legacy of some sort of time of legends rather than the equivalent being possible today. The railways were only privatised in the ’90s, and it’s been a fucking disaster – the idea that restoring them to their previous state is evidence of infantile Marxist posturing WHILE AT THE SAME TIME DECLARING THAT YOU WHOLEHEARTEDLY BELIVE IN THE NHS is bonkers, though covered by a fun theory called the Overton window, which does explain a lot. So unlike the other candidates Corbyn has policies, and when he said what they were, it turned out I essentially agreed with them. To come to the point, I am going to vote for Jeremy Corbyn to lead the Labour party, what an endorsement eh.

But I am pretty sure that he is not in fact the new messiah. There are things from his past that will be used to hammer him, and perhaps some will be justifiable. In fact I suppose my greatest ‘worry’ is that he’s simply not a big politician for a big job. Maybe he won’t be bad, but if he wins the Labour nomination I think people should steel themselves for PMQs not simply being him landing six devastating blows on the wily Cameron by deploying the might of his TRUTH STICK.

But you know, he’s almost certainly going to be above the schoolboy posturing of PMQ, and that’ll be interesting – maybe he’ll look like an old codger hopelessly out of his depth, maybe he’ll bring some of the integrity the public almost certainly craves to an unedifying spectacle.

And I think that’s what it comes down to with Corbyn – I think I’ve reached a stage where I’m happy to just suck it and see what having somebody I agree with in charge does to the party and the country. Isn’t that what democracy is, voting for who you agree with?

I mean, maybe not – it’s pathetic but I might have voted for Dan Jarvis if he’d stood, purely because he looks like a winner because, you know, he was in the SAS (or whatever). I just don’t believe Burnham, Cooper or Kendall are winners. I honestly think – or at least hope – that the worst consequence of a failed Corbyn leadership would be that the national discourse shifted mildly to the left and that the centre of Labour sorted its shit out, because there are stronger candidates who have simply not stood. I say this from a position of privilege, but I'd rather a strong party won in 2025 than a weak one scraped a rubbish coalition together in 2020. People adamantly decree that it would be 1983 all over again if Corbyn won – would it? I can’t be bothered to name the volume of things that are different between the two eras, but there really are lots (it’s also worth pointing out that Kinnock - or indeed, John Smith – would have won in 1997 no problem, albeit perhaps not with such majorities).

Perhaps this is the greatest of all naiveties, but there’s one last thing I believe: that the Labour Party might actually doom itself by NOT electing Corbyn. Maybe not, but look: there’s a massive groundswell of genuine enthusiasm for him, a man who may not win a general election, but is in danger of making Labour the ideologically credible alternative to the Tories. You know, the last thing I want to do is vote fucking Green, and I doubt I ever would, but an awful lot of disgruntled ex-Labour voters do. Electing a mediocrity who tells them that voting for what they believe in will surely shut those people out of Labour for good, and perhaps ultimately doom it as a body with a future. Labour has a chance to be credible again in the eyes of a generation that’s being systematically shafted by the Tories – it seems drastically stupid to patronise and reject them.

Anyway. I totally respect people for not wanting Corbyn to lead the party because they really believe in one of the other candidates. But if you’re not enthusiastic about them, and Corbyn is the first politician in aeons to say what you believe then I just think fuck it, take a punt eh.