Book Worms and Political Bugs

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Everyday Sex Comics

By Danielle Grufferty

As a middle class woman with certain socially conservative sensibilities, I’m not too keen on my sisters talking about sex.

So I was disappointed to hear that it turns out, Amy Schumer, whose sketch show I enjoy, is one of those “sex comics”.  For a minute I wondered if they meant “sexy” which of course, would be ok to write about (and she certainly is). Alas, apparently it’s about her material.  Lauren Piester writing for Entertainment Online pleaded to women everywhere not to take their mothers after Schumer’s Live at the Apollo (not Hammersmith, the other one) debut at the weekend.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that women all of a sudden think they are funny – some of the more established ones are even doing jokes about feminism and the patriarchy. Word of advice ladies, just because you make some of your pals laugh, does not mean that you are cut out for the harsh ball-breaking world of stand-up comedy.

Threepio seems to be enjoying that.

Threepio seems to be enjoying that.

The open-mic scene, kind of like society in general, is fast becoming littered with mediocre women comics – just the other night there were three of us in a line-up of fourteen. We’re in real and present danger of having as many mediocre women on the scene as there are mediocre men. True equality some might say?

All-women line-ups like the one recently at G&B comedy in Canning Town, and moves to set-up a woman’s booking agency are nothing short of social engineering.  If women want to get booked they just have to be funny yeah?  Like the lads are.

Just look at parliament, all-male shortlists went on for 800 years, now women are calling for all-women ones? The bloody cheek.  And don’t get me started on the Women’s Equality Party.

First will come the amateur women comediennes (some may say using women renders the comedienne part futile, I say to them; whatever).

Then come the feminist ones. Then the sexy ones (who we know are never funny). Then just the sex ones. Soon women comics won’t just be doing sex jokes, like sex comic Schumer, they’ll be having sex right on stage. And it won’t just be straight Biblically-endorsed sex with a man, it will be probably be sinful lesbian sex too.

I have nothing really against women comics being feminists and doing women’s equality “jokes”, I merely ask that they refrain from doing filth.  I like my feminists butch, in jeans, with unshaven legs.  Women comics should be strong independent women – they should avoid sarcasm and/or self-deprecation. We’re women bitch please, we have to stay strong because there’s nothing we cannot do!

Furthermore women comics should do their best to avoid giving irony a go, mainly because the lads are much better at it.

I used to like Sara Pascoe until she shat all over her sisters by channelling a ditzy blonde, making silly comments about how she solved the Great Page 3 Feminist Conundrum in a dream. Page 3 is far too serious an issue to be solving in your dreams love. There are those who argue Pascoe is in fact doing the opposite; subverting the ditzy blonde stereotype to critique society’s objectification of women. If she was, she should have made that more obvious. Like I say, women cannot do irony.

So with the rise of the feminist and sex comics, otherwise known as women with opinions, there comes the inevitable labelling.  Comics like the politically-correct Pascoe and the sexy Schumer can and should draw inspiration from the greats in comedic history.  Bernard Manning loved a good racist joke but did he let it define him? No. Jim Davidson loves a good sexist joke but while we all enjoyed his recent No Further Action tour, did we label him a “sexist comic”? Lord no! (I still just adore the fact he continues to stand as a delegate to Conservative Party conference).

Schumer should stop drawing attention to these labels and crying “sexism” at any constructive feedback she gets from the lads. They’re only trying to be helpful, being a sex comic is a very diplomatic way of saying that you should tone it down a bit love.

Perhaps she should try do something akin to Famous Quotes, the way a woman would have to say them during a meeting. She should talk more like a man.

Amy quote:

I usually feel pretty good about myself. I know what I look like. You’d bang me, but you wouldn’t blog about it. You won’t be Twittering “You won’t believe who I’m inside.” It’s fine.

Said by a man:

I usually feel pretty good about myself. I know what I look like. You’d make sweet love to me, but you wouldn’t do a press release about it. You won’t be myspacing “You won’t believe who I’m having sexual intercourse with.” It’s fine, it would be weird if you did.

Amy quote:

One time, I let a cab driver finger me.

Said by a man:

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I had some eye contact with a working-class cab driver. It was romantic, like forbidden love.

Amy quote:

It doesn’t matter what you do ladies, every man is going to leave you for an Asian woman.

Said by a man:

A man would never say this. Schumer, you’re a disgrace.

Mary McNamara writing in the LA Times at the weekend argued that every female comedian is vaguely feminist because it is an industry still so dominated by men.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised when I started out on the open-mic scene, most acts and the vast majority of amateur open-mic nights have been grand. Of course the odd night, and the odd act can be a little laddy, with the occasional sexist “banter” – but come on this is society, I’ve come to expect it.

I’m grateful for all the feedback I have received as a comic starting out on the London open-mic scene. I try to go out of my way to get feedback and most is constructive – albeit the chap who told me on one of my single-figure gigs that “you either have it or you don’t” – was not something I could really work with.

But it’s the unsolicited feedback from the lads that I like the best.  I have often been advised after a gig to “make it more obvious” when I am joking.  While it may be valid (if unsolicited) feedback, and I’m well aware it may be something I need to do with some of my more provocative material, I do wonder; would a man get the same advice?  Schumer is said to have toned down her material for years, for fear people would find it all a little too much.  For my part, some of the best advice from comics (of all genders) I’ve had, is when they have told me to just go for it and commit to a line, and if people don’t get it, that’s ok – you can’t please all of the people all of the time (hey that rhymes).

There’s plenty of up and coming women comics on the scene shocking audiences with their outrageousness and innuendo, Stephanie Laing and Jo D’Arcy being just two that spring to mind – and I’ve yet to see a crowd not bloody love it. Some say that Schumer has pushed the limits of women’s sarcasm as well as women’s limits themselves.  Well women shouldn’t be defined by their limits, and too often in the world, they are.

Women comics can be raunchy, provocative and unafraid of offending those who take themselves too seriously. To hijack a quote from Betty; Women of the world unite, you have nothing to lose when one entertains!



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Women are not political

By Danielle Grufferty

The eagerly-anticipated Suffragette film is released in cinemas today and everybody is excited. Well, perhaps not the men said to have turned down auditioning for the film because the parts were “not big enough.” Oh behave lads.

Suffragette tells the tale of Maud, a laundry worker who gets recruited by a radical sister network, many of whom are rather lah-di-dah. Not since Winifred Banks leapt onto my screen in Mary Poppins as a child, have I been so inspired by a suffragette.

We agree that as a race, they're rather stupid.

The original misandrist: “We agree that as a race, they’re rather stupid.”

I am confident that the film in portraying one of the momentous political movements in our history, will not be ridiculed for historical inaccuracies – something that cannot be said for the recently released Stonewall.  I wondered whether like white-washing, “poor-washing” was a thing – but upon googling, all I got was an article called “Consequences of poor hand hygiene and the importance of handwashing”.

The reality remains that the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) like most political movements failed to reach out beyond its core but you wouldn’t necessarily guess this judging by the film’s protagonist. We know that the Family Pankhurst fell out over the class question – but the extent to which this was about broadening their aims to uniting the workers of the world, as opposed to questions about the extent to which you try harder to involve the workers in the struggle itself – remains a subject of debate (the left has proved time and time again, one does not necessarily lead to the other).

Many have been quick to praise the all-too-surprising fact that Suffragette’s heroine does not hail from some kind of Downton Abbey-land where her aristocratic family are baffled but altogether totally cool with her radical activities (see series one (the glory years) of Downton Abbey and Sybil’s thrilling brush with the law for context).

No, Maud our heroine, is a woman who cannot easily delve into the world of the WSPU lightly. Because, we know that the consequences that may befall the radical have never fallen equally.

Of course, we’re all radicals. Just some of us are more radical than others, and that’s not always by choice. Political activism has throughout history been within reach for the few and not the many. Like many women continue to assert they are “not feminists” but hate the gender pay-gap, many of us; men and women, shy away from saying we are political.

A woman did it at a gig I performed at recently, a “gender bender”; where women acts perform “like a man” while one man performs “as a woman” (and is aptly announced as “a female comedian”, something women comics have to put up with fairly regularly on the circuit). Anyway, this comic remarked before going on stage that she was “not a feminist” then proceded to do material about the gender pay-gap. And so I respectfully disagreed with her on the issue of her not being a feminist (in my head of course).

It is a common theme of our society that politics is seen as something that operates in a bubble (we will all recall Andy Burnham’s much reviled “Westminster Bubble”) – and that only a certain type of person, usually someone with a caring bone, or with a degree, is either interested or active in it.

Of course, a still common-held belief is that politics is best left to the boys. A little difficult for a movement about women’s suffrage though – there’s just not enough in it for the boys. Perhaps a bit like there wasn’t enough screentime for the boys in Suffragette?

The politics of women’s suffrage in the Edwardian era – where there were no leading roles for the boys, was largely and inevitably occupied by middle-to-upper class women – bred of those who could afford their bail, their fines and a little bashing from the press. Although granted, some would often refuse to pay their bail terms and chose instead to stay in prison.

I will not pretend for one moment that I am as radical as Rosa Luxemburg (perhaps a reason many have despaired of me) so I won’t go as far as to call the bourgeois wives and daughters of the Suffragette movement “parasites on society” because they “enjoy the ready-made fruits of class domination”.* I think they meant well anyway.

But the politics of class of course affects the class of its politicians.  While the many do their best to get by – waiting for an uprising, a revolution, the GBBO final – the more privileged can do the rest.  Privilege prevails, despite our best efforts.  We’ve seen the House of Lords replaced by a House with a different kind of privilege; the “spadocracy” has filled the gap in Westminster left by the aristocracy. Today, former special advisers are often the first to be handed all that they need to know to get selected somewhere safe, while millionaire businessmen now take the seats formerly occupied by Dukes, Lords and Ladies.  While there have been some conscious (and unconscious) efforts to increase women’s representation – Labour’s All Women Shortlists being one example; the idea of positive action in selections is still widely ridiculed. Strange when we had all-male, all-white, all-la-di-dah shortlists for 800 years.

Speaking of Ladies, the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey (where else can I get such inspiring quotes) once said to her radical young granddaughter Lady Sybil; “No woman should have opinions until she is married”.

The Countess went on to say, “And then her husband will tell her what her opinions are”.

Sybil from the first series (yes, series not season) is typecast as the political sister, yet it is her elder sister Mary, who fights the male inheritance line, commands control of her all-male estate committee and has rather shocking extra-marital relations. All political acts – but she’s neither a suffragette nor a radical so the implied message is that she is not the “political one”.

I feel like this looks like me from the back, no?

I feel like this looks like me from the back, no?

You may believe me to be going off on a tangent when I begin to write of Mary Crawley, that revered political heavyweight. But for so many women owing to their social-standing, their education or just their gender – the interpretation is that they operate in some kind of apolitical vacuum.

Grace Paley, the writer and political activist said; “…people will sometimes say, “Why don’t you write more politics?” And I have to explain to them that writing the lives of women is politics”.

She understood that life, love, everything, is political.

People often sit outraged by what they see on the evening news; they may be angry and fearful of what is happening in their community. As the Pride of Britain Awards (so emotional) showed once again recently, many (often quietly and under the radar) choose to do something about it.

Dare I write it, if you are horrified that Jeremy Corbyn shall apparently not be kneeling for the Queen, if you are angry about the five pence surcharge on plastic carrier bags or the fox-hunting “ban”, then you are political.

And as Sisters Uncut demonstrated at the world premiere of Suffragette last week, if you’re angry that two women are murdered every week, yet domestic violence services are being cut by this government then to quote Ed Miliband, HELL YES you are political.

It’s why I’ve never really understood those who describe themselves as “activists” – like it’s some kind of profession. Being a part-time political activist feels a bit to me like being a part-time opinion generator (although granted these part-time politicos are often full-time keyboard warriors on the old Twitter). It’s not something you do, it’s something you are. Who defines what “activism” is anyway?**

The woman who recently called out racism towards her three-year-old son – I bet she hasn’t started dashing around the place telling people she’s some kind of “professional activist”. She’s probably too busy. Most people if they see something wrong, they act on it, they don’t then start going around telling everyone that’s what they do for a living. Like my friend who calls out rude, busier than thou people during rush-hour on the tube.

I think it’s time we replaced the term activism with something more akin to community organising – a political movement that exists because of “the who” that define its objectives – so low-paid workers lead the living wage campaign, not professional activists who get paid for the privilege of “doing politics”.

Which leads me to this point. I have been yearning to write about women who were political – just not political in the traditional sense.

This year’s London Film Festival is doing politics, celebrating women directors, producers and screenwriters. Suffragette’s screenwriter Abi Morgan has implied she will focus on women’s experiences in her work over the coming years.

There was Nadiya’s Bake Off win; hailed as doing more for race relations than any politician had in years. Sure, the kneejerk sentimentality that comes with seeing a Muslim in a hijab win a quintessentially British competition, is a little cringe – but I have to admit I sobbed throughout, and her closing remarks felt like a political calling to women everywhere.

The youngest Mitford sister, Deborah (Debo to you and I), firmly told Kirsty Wark back in 2010 that she was never remotely political. This was despite stating in the same interview her continued support for the hereditary peerage system as well as for the Countryside Alliance. That and being a lifelong Tory too!

There’s Maya Angelou – known for her poetry and said to have burst onto the political scene when she read at Clinton’s inauguration. But a black woman growing up in a segregated America, of course she was political.

Butterfly McQueen, better known as Prissy “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies!” in Gone with the Wind, (genuinely cannot find out what Prissy’s surname is, no surprises there) devoted her life to the humanist cause and spoke out against her offensive characterisation in the film.

The list goes on; Nawal El Saadawi, Mary Shelley, Somaly Mam, Anne Boleyn, the Brontes; Katherine Hepburn, George Eliot (one of the earliest supporters of Zionism), Shirley Graham DuBois. Women who shaped political landscapes – just not for a living. Guess they had better things to be getting on with.

There are the women who have taken charge of endless struggles for the truth, let alone justice – the Hillsborough 96, and the Disappeared of the Troubles.

And there’s Lady Di, who was famously accused once of having sympathies for the Labour Party owing to her humanitarian work. A political figure? I think so.

These women may not necessarily be known as political heavyweights – but in my mind and in the minds of many others they were and are, political to their core. Of course, I also needed a more niche area so someone might read what I write. So mark this as some kind of drawn-out introduction.

*Rosa Luxemburg, The Proletarian Woman, March 1914

**Still not got around to seeing it but I believe some of these musings are more amusingly-discussed in Nish Kumar’s most recent Edinburgh Comedy Award-nominated show.

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Labour Women are the problem

By Danielle Grufferty

Stephen Bush has, as many others have before him, posed the question of Labour’s “Women problem”. Things are so bad, we need to man to point it out to us.

Does it exist? Not if we’re talking about the class struggle here. The class struggle should always triumph over any attempt to undermine it. And I include within that, bourgeois attempts to distract from the class struggle by wasting time discussing the problem of women.

The left has made attempts before to re-write history so there were no surprises when a gang of shocked and appalled Corbynistas rallied to their leader’s defence over the “top jobs” saga that emerged as JC gave all three of the Great Offices of State to men. Though of course, I’m not denying that under socialism, there are no top jobs. To quote David Brent; “you need to look at the whole pie”.

Labour doesn’t have a “woman problem”. Women are the problem.

Stella Creasy’s “Too many Emails” video released in the last week of the race went down a storm, even with the trolls who inspired it.

But I was mildly bemused to say the least, when I found that some had responded back (I worked on her campaign);

“Well apart from anything else you are posh totty – and posh totty is very attractive.”

That’s another problem Labour women have – too bloody sensitive, they can rarely take a compliment.

Other’s felt the need to tell us about their views on other women candidates;

“The adult nature of your email [Stella mentioned c**ks in it] doesn’t bother me because I think adult themes are a part of relationships. I don’t know many men that wouldn’t like to flirt with an MP but I didn’t feel that way about Liz Kendall. It is one thing to have sex appeal but if you don’t have political appeal then for Labour party members it the same thing as being dead from the waist up.”

So to Liz’s political appeal – another point about Labour’s problem of women. She was unqualified. And right-wing. She’d been a SPAD before being elected an MP. I’m so qualified of these unqualified women thinking that they could run the country.

You didn’t hear any of that about our Andy. Andy was much more representative, he had some real-life experience (a SPAD in a proper department) – and you may not know this, as he doesn’t really like talking about it – but he’s from up North. Andy’s also really left wing (he was Health Secretary under Brown, when New Labour were doing project NHS privatise max). Comrade Burnham made everyone acutely aware of how outraged he was and much he disagreed with it all. (He just forgot to mention it to the Prime Minister, or to indeed anyone. Possibly that famed Northern lack of bluntness and straight talking ability.)

And then there’s the way these Labour women dress. Alison McGovern’s cleavage brought back visions of Jacqui Smith’s immodesty at the dispatch box. When our women dress like this, can anyone really blame poor Toby Young for not being able to find anything more interesting to tweet about?

And it’s not just Labour women giving all us women a bad name. You know how Theresa May always looks quite stylish and often wears nice kitten heels? Well when you dress like that you can hardly be surprised when the Daily Mail is more interested in what you have to wear over and above what you have to say.

But as Billy Bragg once famously tweeted – this shouldn’t be about gender, it’s about principle.

On this “top jobs” saga; if only Yvette Cooper had been more principled and stuck around, then maybe there would be at least one women in the “bourgeois” four great offices of state.

The term “principles” has been banded around a lot of late – often by the brocialists. And so it has led me to ponder; is this “principle” the same kind that inspired Corbyn to rebel 500 times and serve as a backbencher for 30 years? And that same principle that inspired all those people to vote for him? Have you never considered the fact that perhaps Cooper, Kendall and Creasy decided not to serve because of their principles?

Cooper pulled a classic didn’t she. She never considered the actions she took would have such a devastating impact on her sisters in the PLP and woman-kind more generally. How dare she decide not to stay in the Shadow Cabinet and thus deny women from having one of the top jobs in Corbyn’s team. It’s just like when that Eve tricked that Adam into eating that apple. Little did poor naive Eve know that she was condemning her woman descendants to endless suffering for one week of every month through the old “period pains”. Damn you women and your lack of collectivist thinking. If only you could be more like the brocialists. We’re all in this together sisters!

We should all just stop complaining. I mean we have one of the sisters in Defence! As Jen Offord wrote in Standard Issue, having a woman in Defence is “a big deal”. You know, because it shows girls like guns and bombing shit too yeah?

Now, this all leads me to my final question; “Are you a Socialist? I would like a Socialist to be a leader of the Labour Party”. It was a common theme of the emails we received throughout the course of the campaign.

Well Diane Abbott was a socialist when she stood 5 years ago.

Unless of course by socialist you just mean a white man. But surely not?

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Gorgeous George and the Dark Lord: Leaked Conference Diaries from Galloway and Mandelson

You pick up all sorts of things at Labour Party Conference – free pamphlets, books, hundreds of unsolicited leaflets. Amongst the collection of papers we accumulated, we were surprised on returning to find that we’d mistakenly picked up the private Conference Diaries of two much celebrated figures.

In the interests of transparency and the New Politics we thought we’d share them with you.

First up, members’ favourite Comrade George Galloway, who made a historic return to Labour Party Conference:

Let me enter! I'm only an entryist!

Let me enter! I’m only an entryist!

“I arrived in Brighton early on Saturday planning to collect a pass and enter the Conference secure zone to greet my friends and well-wishers.

On arrival I was shocked to discover my application to attend had been rejected. Clearly the baleful influence of the greatest criminal in history, Tony Blair, still lingers across the Labour Party.

There seemed an outrageous irony, that I George Galloway, such a stalwart supporter of entryism, was myself being denied entry!

I suspect they must simply have been scared of letting me in, knowing that if delegates were reminded of my charisma, there would be over-whelming pressure to re-admit me to the party.

Not likely to be deterred by those Blairite bureaucrats acting as conference stewards, I attempted to sneak my way into the secure zone like Castro into the Cuban mountains.

Unfortunately, due to my difficulty concealing my distinguished good looks, I was stopped by one of the Israeli-backed G4S Security Guards and denied entry. Well, they said they were G4S but I detected the malevolent hand of Mossad.

As I was turned away I saw that rancid traitor to his faith Sadiq Khan scuttle past smirking – at the prospect of me, a loyal Labour supporter, being turned away. I can’t wait to run against the weasely toad for Mayor of London.

On top of all these setbacks, I soon discovered my attempts were fruitless anyway, owing to the fact that I had the unfortunate luck to be born a man.

Yes in a typical Blairite burst of discrimination, the first day of Conference had been designated a ‘Labour Women’s Conference’. I suspect it’ll be a typical man-hating rally for crazed feminazis, many selected through those bourgeois ‘all women shortlists’, to make up tales of arranged marriages.

What's new pussycat?

What’s new pussycat?

I was not to be downcast by this persecution however and later headed to the Labour Animal Welfare Society’s annual Karaoke to cheer myself up. Although even if I do say so myself, I sang a particularly tuneful rendition of What’s new pussycat?

Delegates were clearly moved as I saw several in tears. One also said I sounded like a cat crying – which pleased me as I’ve always been fond of cats.

Later I attempted to address the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament fringe, but once again the ‘volunteer’ stewards (i.e. paid Blairite bodyguards and new Labour stooges) refused me entry.

Luckily I had organised my own fringe on the pier about Iran’s right to develop nuclear weapons. It got some excellent coverage on Press TV. Hezbollah comrades skyped in.

Finally, I went to picket the the Labour Friends of “Israel” reception, but as it was in the secure zone I was once again disgracefully denied entry by the Zionist lick-spittles.

Luckily there was a synagogue just around the corner so I picketed that instead.

As the events of the day had tired even my strength; courage and indefatigability, I decided to head back to my villa on the Algarve – content in the knowledge that the Labour Party will soon see their terrible mistake in expelling me.”

We’ve also obtained the diary of another controversial figure making a return to Conference, the Right-Honourable Baron Mandelson of Foy in the county of Herefordshire and Hartlepool in the county of Durham, aka Mandy aka the Sith Dark Lord and Prince of Darkness.

Trots! Trots everywhere!

Trots! Trots everywhere!

“With Labour Party members recently and inexplicably having voted for Jeremy Corbyn, I thought my presence at Labour Party Conference to help smooth things over and unite people, would be more welcome than ever.

I flew back to the Motherland from JFK airport where I happened to bump into my old friend Gordon Brown. Gordon did not respond when I hailed him cheerfully, but I suppose he didn’t hear me. After all it was a rather large lift.

Arriving into my private airport in London, I took one of these new Uber taxicabs to the conference centre. On my way there I was surprised to see many Ds, Es and non-voters in their drinking establishments watching some attractive butch men wrestle on the old idiot box. Apparently the Rugby World Cup has been popular viewing whilst people wait for Andrew Neil’s live coverage of conference to start.

There seemed to be a few more As and Bs at conference than usual, but then a trot is in charge now so that was to be expected. I found myself slightly torn I have to say, while I do enjoy our new Leader’s taste for tweed, elbow patches and socks and sandals; I am not sure how I feel about the calls for a nationalised health service – it all feels a bit 1980s to me.

Also ‘straight talking, honest politics’ seems a bit fatuous. If Jeremy had had the sense to let me take charge of the re-brand I’d have used something rather more meaningful like ‘Forward not back’ or ‘New Labour, New Britain’.

I had expected I would be the glittering star of the fringe circuit but I’d actually received rather few invites. Perhaps because organisers struggled to fit my full title into the Conference programme. People also seemed to have taken pity on people like Diane Abbott and that dreadful oik Tom Watson and offered them a few speaking slots.

I did however address a meeting on Europe, with the head of the CBI, and that dear boy Chuka, to dispense a few pearls of wisdom on how to make the EU accessible to the hoi polloi.

As I left, there was the inevitable media scrum, worthy of the Rugger World Cup that target voters are so enjoying. Journalists clamored to know my views on whether Jeremy Corbyn could ever be as successful as I.

I was happy to oblige with a few comments, using my usual tact and digression as I relayed my thoughts on the Corbyn catastrophe; but was a little alarmed when a little spectacled Northern working-class chap rushed towards me, with what seemed to be a sweet little pensioner trailing behind.

I soon realised the Northern fellow was Michael Crick of Channel 4 and his companion was our new Shadow Chancellor, my old friend John McDonnell, or Maccy D as I call him. Would you believe Michael Crick tried to get us to hug on camera.

One is all for party unity, but one has to draw the line somewhere and I hardly wanted John’s hands – surely inky from reading all those poorly-printed LRC leaflets – ruining my 20,000 Armarni suit, so I declined. I’m sure that’s me added to the purge list.

A few people asked me for ‘selfies’ on their camera telephones to tweet. (Personally I am a fighter and not a twitter so I don’t understand this, but I’m always happy to oblige.)  I also noticed some passers-by putting two fingers up at me. I was momentarily confused before realising of course these must be Churchillian V for Victory signs in tribute to all those elections I won for Labour.

I caught up with my old friend and fellow Eurocrat Lord Kinnock on the beach to sample some local fish ‘n chips. I’m afraid he made one of his cheap jibes about guacamole dip. So I pushed him into the sea.

I spotted Lenny Mac at the Labour Students disco on the final night and we enjoyed dancing to the Professor Brian Cox number “Things can only get better”. (Which they did – well until Gordon when they got worse…)

As the song ended we were surrounded by youthful NOLSies and some not so youthful, who all seemed to be chanting ‘Tony! Tony!’ which I assume was in homage to the guiding spirit of the Conference, the dearly departed Tony Benn.

Apart from Jezza that is, whom I suspect was chanting for Blair – those well-judged Guardian columns just kept on coming didn’t they.”

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Ian Paisley: That Turbulent Priest

By Dannie Gruff

So I guess we are rid of that turbulent Priest.

No I’m not writing about Thomas Beckett but the arguably even more turbulent (and that really isn’t saying too much) Ian Paisley. By all accounts a loyalist to the max, a talented orator, a bit of a bigot, a nuisance – throwing snowballs at the Taoiseach, heckling the Pope – he led quite a life.

Please don’t think this is any kind of obituary. For one thing, I wouldn’t know where to start, I wasn’t a fan personally. This is just some thoughts on his passing.

Compare the two Paisleys – not Ian Senior and his son Ian Junior – but the Paisley at the height of the troubles and the Paisley who passed this week.

From his journey as “Dr. No”, to one half of the Chuckle Brothers with his pal Martin McGuinness, although it seems this ability to share a laugh with his political opponents was nothing new. 

In essentials, I suspect Paisley remained much as he always was.

My Mum recounted to me earlier how they were all brought up to fear the man and the ideas he preached.

But it seems there was a change, perhaps an acceptance that an ability to compromise and forgive in the cause of peace might actually improve the lives of his constituents a little more than endless shouting and the occasional ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ rally.

Or perhaps he was just tempted by a Higher Power – and when I say that, I mean he was literally tempted by the office of First Minister, not some kind of Jesus in the Desert temptation scenario. (Although if that were the case, surely Peter Mandleson would play the role of Tempter/Satan?)

He was one hell of a heckler. Like a less witty Dennis Skinner. He heckled the Pope, “the scarlet woman of Rome”, denouncing him as the Antichrist. Naturally the Antichrist, the embodiment of evil as we know it would be a woman in Paisley’s mind. But at least he was a fan of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

On a related point to suggest the Pope was a false Prophet was I believe a tad hypocritical. Paisley certainly fancied himself as some kind of Prophet, plus almost everything that came out of his mouth was almost definitely false. I mean he was at one time convinced that seat No. 666 in the European Parliament was reserved for the Antichrist. And no it wasn’t the seat reserved for JP2.

A classic bigot, he held highly conservative and shamelessly anti-Catholic views. That’s Paisley, not JP… Although granted, the two share pretty similar theological principles, just different attitudes to Catholics… Paisley was for want of a better phrase a bit of a “Bible Basher” – I’m not a fan of this term, but there you go – once stating;

“Line dancing is as sinful as any other type of dancing, with its sexual gestures and touching. It is an incitement to lust.”

One can only assume he saw twerking as a one-way ticket to hell.

I don’t need to write about the historic scenes on Devolution Day – maybe I’m too sentimental about such things but I really like re-watching this. 

Respect to Tony for that one. Perhaps partly because of Blair’s own background – Grandson of an Orangeman, later famously converting to Catholicism. Sure like many times before and after, Blair was perhaps a little over-optimistic about his own abilities and influence – to quote from Tony Benn’s Diaries:

Wednesday, September 8, 1999:

Meeting with the Garvaghy Road Residents’ Association from Northern Ireland. There have been 200 attempts by the Orange Order to march along the Catholic Garvaghy Road since the march was banned in 1998.

They told me a quite extraordinary story. Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, had been over to see them with the idea that Tony Blair himself would lead the Orange Order march down the Garvaghy Road and Cherie Blair would lead a parallel march of Catholics.

I said: ‘I can’t believe that suggestion was seriously put forward.’ 

I can. What I can’t believe is why this great idea never came to pass. I’m sure the peace deal would have been a piece of cake after an action like that. What could possibly have gone wrong?

Sure I’m not a fan – But he will go down in the history books. Perhaps for saying so many things with such conviction and then doing the exact opposite; “I will never sit down with Gerry Adams”.

Yes you will.

For his last speech in the Commons he dropped this bombshell;

“There are people in Northern Ireland with diverse religious and political convictions… They can live together as neighbours.”

The fact that political leaders feel the need to say such things reflects how deeply entrenched Sectarianism is in Northern Ireland. For me Paisley’s passing has served as a reminder of how deep these divides go. Of course, few of us were pleased to see the Orange Order sticking their oar in the referendum campaign this weekend. But how some in Scotland draw parallels between their own treatment at the hands of the British Establishment, to the experience of Irish Catholics is beyond me.

Salmond’s no Mandela, I think we can all agree on that one. He’s also no Michael Collins.

I finish with my favourite Paisley quote, one of asking God for help in dealing with Thatcher, that I stumbled across only upon his death. If I can regret one thing, it’s that I never got to see him deliver one of his sermons.

“We pray this night that thou wouldst deal with the prime minister of our country. Oh God, in wrath take vengeance against this wicked, treacherous and lying woman: take vengeance upon her, oh Lord, and grant that we shall see a demonstration of thy power!”

Quite. What an odd man.

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Downton Abbey gets political

So Frances O’Grady thinks Britain is becoming more like Downton Abbey.

Let’s hope not. I mean for one thing, it would be a bloody boring existence.

We’re hearing rumours that Downton’s getting political for its fifth series. Here’s a sneak preview.

The Dowager Duchess and Lady Mary are discussing the atomisation of British society under Dark Sith Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald.

Dowager Duchess (Maggie Smith to you and I) : So he only got in because we gave poor people and women the vote? I warned you all about this! Next they’ll be giving the vote to the Irish, like that Tom Branson, who I’m supposed to treat like one of the family and who now runs Downton. I could swear he used to be my chauffeur.

Lady Mary: Yes he was, and what of it Granny, don’t be so Classist.

Maggie: What does it mean to be “Classist”? Anyway, I’m old money, old times. I don’t even know what a weekend is (only Downton fans will get this one). Why shouldn’t I question it when my grand daughter falls in love with the Chauffeur?

Mary/Michelle Dockery: Because it’s not right Granny. Have you not read any Marx? Tom borrowed it from Daddy’s library. Daddy didn’t like Tom reading, particularly when his views about Irish Independence came out. For some reason pertaining to the plot, Daddy never fired him.

Maggie: So why did we all allow my grand daughter to marry a member of the IRA when as I have stated in previous episodes, a woman shouldn’t have political opinions of her own, until she is married – and then she takes on the opinions of her husband (actual quote from the series). Surely this means that Sybil joined the IRA too?

Michelle: Oh Granny. We don’t mention Tom’s IRA links anymore, it’s like it never happened. Besides, you didn’t mind when I married the boring Solicitor.

Maggie: I did mind. Besides you did that to protect Downton.

Matthew during his brief paralysis episode. Ended I believe when Mary dropped a cup of tea and Matthew jumped out of his chair to pick it up. Because I mean, one should always choose ridiculously unbelievable storylines over having disabled leading men.

Michelle: True dat. As I recall, I fell in love with Matthew as a direct consequence of Daddy not fighting for my rightful inheritance as the eldest child.

Maggie: Yes but that was just a pointless story line courtesy of Lord Julian Fellowes, who was at the time fighting for the right for his wife to inherit the Kitchener title. Funny how people’s Socialist Feminist principles come to the fore when people’s titles are under threat.

Michelle: Cheap shot Granny. So you’re not keen on Tom, the IRA guy. Fair. What about Jack, the chap Rose your great-niece, was dating in the last series?

Maggie: You mean the black guy? I was err… totally cool with that, whatever can you mean? Poor Rose. She was broken-hearted when Jack nobly didn’t marry her, as to preserve her class status in society.

Michelle: Quite. Granny, have you ever wondered how our family manages to be both so politically correct and so historically inaccurate at the same time?

Maggie: No, it doesn’t. I care nothing for such things. We all manage to remain white, posh, rich and anti-irish at the end of the day. Now this pesky McDonald, what are we to do with him?

To be continued….

God bless Carson and his love for the status quo.

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How to crash Cannes

By Dannie Gruff

Adapted from my debut novel “How to look like you belong somewhere when you don’t have an invite.”

I realise the Cannes Film Festival finished about a month ago. But then it’s never too late to share hints and tips on crashing things is it? A wiser blogger than I would have written this blog as the Festival came to a close, and people still had some lingering interest. But I’ve always thought courting popularity and relevance is rather bourgeois..

After having worked with a family in Cannes for six months, I knew the town fairly well. I had asked the Grandmother of the kids I looked after, how easy it was to get into the film festival. Her answer left me sorely disappointed, apparently it was as tricky as I had heard with everything shut off to anyone without a pass.


Around the time we were almost resigned to defeat.

An NUS extra card wasn’t enough either. Even if Pete and I had actually managed to arrange picking up our life memberships before we left. Apparently you needed a letter from a film school too to get a student pass.

But undeterred, we rocked up on the first Saturday night with little but our charms to recommend us. My companions Pete and Greg being sorely hungover from the previous night’s antics – while I was, well just probably doing that thing where I look bored, even when I’m not – so even attempting to look the part seemed like a dubious strategy.

Upon arrival at the front of the Festival Palace we saw what we expected; swarms of people in their best robes and tails holding up signs ranging from “travelled here from England – ticket please” to “will kiss for a pass”. The thing with Cannes is all you need is a ticket for a film screening to gain access. It really is that easy – at least in principle. But there were just too many people doing it, and they seemed to have been hanging round for hours. There must be a way to have more fun.


Just after we “broke in” via the car park. See our hands already covering the fact we don’t have a pass.

We had almost resigned ourselves to watching The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on the beach (the scraps thrown to the riff-raff of the Festival). But I didn’t come to Cannes Film Festival to sit on a beach and watch a Western. I knew we could find a way, besides I had read that it is possible to crash Cannes on the internet – and as we all know the internet is never wrong.

We had a glass of wine on the bench and discussed the situation. Pete was flaking having been out til at least 7am that morning partying away (classique Pete). We agreed on a collective recharge at McDo’s [French for McDonalds] and so set off with half-opened bottle of wine in hand.

Sorry if this tale is full of more ups and downs than you expected – but don’t fret too much for us – it was by no means a lost cause and suddenly our luck began to change. As we passed the Festival Palace (again), I noticed a group of policeman standing outside a door, who didn’t seem to be checking passes, unlike at the other entrances. It was clearly not an official entrance, but surely behind every door there’s another door waiting? I nudged to Gregor that this gap in the wall had some promise and before I knew it he had casually strolled past the policemen and through the gap.

We followed, trying to remain cool, calm and collected, although trying not to giggle at how “cool” this was, was by no means easy. We were truly giving the finger to the establishment, strolling past policemen patrolling, what turned out to be a car park.

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Looking pleased with ourselves.

Remember those wise words of mine, “behind a door there’s usually a door”? There’s logique to it. After a few minutes exploring this car park, and feeling like perhaps we were never going to make it – we climbed some stairs and Voila – we were in. There were some security guards at the entrance but I imagine no-one thought anyone would be so duplicitous and scheming as to “break-in” through the car park.

The game was on. Our next task was to try hide the fact we weren’t wearing passes, everyone else was – and there were still security checks going on. For the next hour I think I had my hand permanently attached to my neck, like I had a sore throat or something (rock ‘n roll).

We saw something resembling a party and Greg sniffed something resembling Moët (in joke). We headed in the Moët’s direction, finding ourselves in a party right on the coast. Nice enough, but we were getting hungry and the night was young. Alas, cursed for breaking in before our precious McDo.

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Less pleased here.

We tried a couple more smaller parties, but too many had guest lists. One was for Finnish film, where we attempted and failed to convince them we were huge fans. Eventually we found one – I’d be lying if I remembered what it was about – but the main point is, is that they served wine and peanuts. No McDo, but it would do for now.

Feeling that rush one can only get from breaking into a Film Festival to gain access to peanut snacks, we decided we should try see a film. The entrance to the main screenings had heavy security, so we tried our luck at the exit, and voila! I think that can sometimes be a trend in society – while people obsessively check credentials at entrances, no-one is actually bothering with the exits.

We snuck into a film screening involving planes and much pretension (it really was awful). After about five minutes, Gregor loudly informed the entire cinema that he was leaving as this was “shit”, and by now Pete and my stomachs were rumbling too much to resist. Slipping out we had a last go in the enclosed area at a Russian film party. We gave fake names but no such luck. I can’t believe neither Countess Danna Grufferina, Count Pyotr Mercosky nor Count Gregory Daubski were on the guest list.. Even our self-assuredness wasn’t enough for them.

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Looking smug.

So now to the highlight of the evening – our recharge at McDo. That’s when we began the fake stories. Hearing British accents almost everywhere we started chatting to randoms and making up histories. This was better fun than the parties – yet this was to be short-lived. We were in cocky-mode now. We needed to do more crashing to fulfil our inner desires for anarchy and rebellion.

Through the process of… telling porkies, we began to stick with our stories. I was soon to be appearing in the new Star Wars – “Shouldn’t you be in London?” A common response. Pete “hipster” Mercer was a composer for some low-budget independent films, though I was sure to inform them that he had turned down “lots of big names”. [Yes I am cringing as I write this]. And Gregor? Well Gregor was of course a published poet. [Alas for Pete and I – this remains the only one of these histories to be actually true.]

Further along the promenade, we saw a large tent and a large queue outside it. So we slipped around the back where a kitchen appeared to be and followed some random chap in. “Besides queuing is for riff raff” we convinced ourselves. The woman stopped me at the kitchen door asking me who I was, and I just pointed at the chap who had gone in just before me and simply said in most probably awful French, “Bonjour, la meme Madame” (the same), I don’t understand how it worked, particularly when I am convinced I must have seemed like a right wally – but it did.

This party was ok, I suppose. I think you should judge a party by the length of the queue, and I’ve never had to queue for a party I really enjoyed. The length of this party’s queue was certainly not correlational to how good it was. It was actually shit, mainly due to the people, the music and the.. well the whole thing in fact.

This can be summed up by a British man I met inside who actually claimed to be “Mr Glastonbury”. As in, that he could get anybody in. (I hope this includes the Abbey as National Trust prices can be extortionate.) He was possibly the most annoying person I’ve ever met, and I’ve met Lembit Opik.

We soon got bored. Next we tried the world famous Carlton, where Harrison (my co-star) was staying. We tried the front door – no luck. So we walked along a few hundred metres and found a small hedge. Judging my chances of jumping over without being seen, I waited for a waiter to turn his back and we were in, strolling up to the hotel like we were the coolest kids in town (writing this all is painful, believe me – but my crashing tips need to be spread to the masses).

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Delicieux snax!

We met some nice, funny people but alas they were all meant to be there and so were slowly heading out to invite-only parties. So we next tried our chances at the beach parties. Now this is what we were waiting for.
Live music, dancing on the beach, unpretentious people (in the main) – generally lots of fun was had. We tried our chances at the next party along the beach but couldn’t get in (I’m not sure why we did that – as the party we were at was perfectly fine – I suppose it’s again that addictive quality to “crashing”). But as folk started leaving, we heard Bohemian Rhapsody at this more exclusive beach party – knew it was our last chance – I mean it’s hardly a middle-of-the-night song is it – and so we jumped the hedge and were in.

And then there was another party at a hotel. Was ok. I mean parties are parties eh?


Oh dear.

By my calculations we “crashed” five. Yet ironically (or perhaps pitifully) my favourite party was the one that didn’t require sneaking past security guards. Bored, we three musketeers slowly drifted off to the train station and happened across a cute little bar with people spilling out onto the streets. No crashing required, and the people were cooler. Another correlation perhaps?

In typical fashion we lost Greg – so Pete and I began the journey home, as the commuters were off to work. Rock ‘n’ roll! (It was actually Sunday so that line doesn’t really work). Luckily I was with Pete when he fell asleep, otherwise he could have ended up in Italy – tempting though that was. Besides, he would have been fine – like that time he got the London night bus and ended up in Stanstead airport. He only had to wait there seven hours before he could get a bus back.

So what did I learn? Crashing is fun, there’s a sort of addictive thrill that goes with it – and an almost toxic thirst for more – but the most important lesson I learnt was friendship, love and solidarity, with my fellow nobodies.

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A thrilling tale where important lessons of love and friendship were learned. Aaah.

It was the company that made it. Each party was cool but we got quickly bored and wanted to move onto the next adventure. And the less exclusive the party, the more fun we had. No jokes.

Hang on no. That’s not the most important lesson I learnt at all. The most important lesson I learnt was that if you dress relatively well and act like an arrogant, rather conceited partygoer, it’s pretty easy to crash Cannes.

See you next year for more tales of how to do a “f**k you” to the establishment! (In short – through lying to people, while accepting their hospitality, peanuts and wine.)