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2013 – The Good, The Bad, and The Funky

As 2013 draws to a close, I am hoping to use the break to kick-start the writing habit. Here’s a few brief reflections on the year gone by, from Mandela and economy, to tales of abuse, to gigs and gadgets. For those who don’t get to enjoy the break, especially those suffering floods or worse – may 2014 be kind to you.

The Good

The biggest miracle for me of 2013 isn’t one I’m going to write much about publicly, beyond acknowledging that my inner life has grown far richer. My relationship with She Who Inspires Me has grown deeper and closer. Being deeply in love is a true joy.

The economy starts to turn

2013 is the year where the economy has finally started to point upwards again. I am lucky enough to be part of a growing business with growing revenues and an expanding staff, as the UK and global economies turn a corner. However, I am also deeply disappointed in the manner in which this has happened more by luck than by design, so I’ll just say that it’s nice to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

The world celebrates the life of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela’s story captures so much that is important. He went from the desire to peacefully protest, to the sad necessity of physical resistance, to the bravery of reconciliation and peace. The almost universal acclaim with which his life was celebrated has a deep lesson for those who pushed for the unprecedented state-like funeral for Thatcher, despite her abject failure to even attempt to unite our country in peacetime.

It will be interesting to see what lessons are learnt. For all the acclaim, there is an instinctive desire by many to focus on his elder statesman role. It is inconvenient, shall we say, to be reminded that a large portion of the developed world were keen to decry a genuine freedom fighter as a terrorist. Here, drama has a critical role to play. Dramatisations such as biopic The Long Walk to Freedom give us a way to explain why World War II isn’t the only righteous battle of the 20th century (I sometimes get that this is what in the UK seem to think).

Same sex marriage

To me it’s pretty simple: if two people want to make a loving commitment to each other, let them do so in exactly the same manner as any other two. Not different words, not “separate but equal”, or any other self-centred, weak-willed compromise to those who insist that other people’s private lives has a terrible impact upon their own. The same deal, for everyone. End of. And isn’t it nice it’s finally happened?

The global debate on the acceptable scope of state surveillance

A classic tale of a concerned individual revealing to the public what authoritarians did not think we had any need to know. Edward Snowden did so in a truly remarkable fashion. He took the time to gather enough information to make a strong case, while not seeking to attack individuals or interfere with specific operations. He passed it to respected newspapers rather than simply dump it onto the internet or pass it to the more ideological, sensational Wikileaks or Anonymous. Given the source material, the first articles were understated.

Privacy is a human right, whether analog or digital, real world or online. Like all human rights, it is not a right because of an irrefutable physical law, but because humans can understand that it is necessity for civilisation. Privacy is at the heart of growing up, of innovating new ideas. Privacy delivers the joys of surprise and serendipity, and helps to heal old wounds. Neither states nor corporations should be ever allowed to remove it (except in individual cases of demonstrable necessity via due process).

It is also worth noting that the Iraq war, which killed more US troops than civilian deaths in 9/11 and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, was the consequence of twisting and cherry-picking intelligence to suit a political agenda. More intelligence would not have prevented this catastrophic failure of morality. It was a man-made disaster in terms of lives, finances and international stability. The notion that intelligence gathering by the West does not require the highest standards of oversight – or even just a sense of proportion – is ridiculous.

Andy Murray wins Wimbledon

I was driving and had to pull over when Andy Murray’s win was announced on the radio. It was a physical surge of joy, and undoubtedly a highlight of the year. I was gigging that night at The Turks in Reading and so donned a kilt. There was definitely a childish joy in celebrating that it was a Scot who won Wimbledon after all these years.

Incidentally, seeing as I do comment on politics, I do not believe that having fun with the Scots/English over beer at a rock gig indicates anything whatsoever about Scottish independence.

The Bad

The economy is only turning for some

The indicators are all there. In particular, the rise in food banks and people sleeping rough. The United Kingdom’s recovery is not a shared prosperity.

It is disappointing that our leaders stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the lessons of the greatest economic crisis of their lifetime. They are not bereft of a desire for good governance, and the Coalition government has made a shift in all but name to a Plan B. Even so, beyond an admission that it was a mistake to cut capital spending, the free market orthodoxy that led to the crisis remains firmly in place. We do “QE” rather than targeted stimulus, we’ve pumped money into the housing market, and we continue to use “Keynes” as a euphemism for “communism” as if economic theory were stuck in the 40s. Even in crisis, the Coalition has doubled down on politicking over honestly and forthrightly dealing with the crisis at hand, so that they can be avoided and alleviated in future. (The same charge, by the way, can be levelled at Labour’s door, for refusing to state a position on anything until recently.)

Austerity economics and clearing the deficit in a single parliamentary term proved to be delusional rather than visionary. I doubt the politicians will ever publicly recognise their error; the realities of campaigning and the strength of human pride are too high a barrier for those who believed in the Confidence Fairy in 2010.

Now there are shoots of recovery are to be found, the story of economic incompetence that peaked with Osborne’s famous omnishambles is being swept away by a tide of articles from the free marketeers. They proclaim how keeping to the plan has vindicated, you know, not actually managing to keep to the plan. In this, there has been nothing bolder than The Times announcing George Osborne as Briton of the Year.

Amusingly – or tragically – their own columnists visibly struggled with justifying this. The leader explaining the decision doesn’t even pretend that the award is granted on something to be celebrated e.g. doing the right thing, making good economic decisions, and facing down political pressure all the while. Rather, he is praised for standing by his politically-motivated policies, right or wrong, or more diplomatically “resilience that has set the terms of political debate in Britain in 2013″. Their writer Francis Elliot doesn’t provide much support either. He says of the CEBR’s recent announcement of three key factors that will return Britain’s prosperity, that “Mr Osbourne, 42, a Chancellor every bit as tactical as Gordon Brown, won’t mind that only one of the three – low taxes – are due directly to him”.

In other words, Osborne has only delivered what you would expect of a Tory Chancellor, good times or bad. As his expertise is politics rather than economics, however, that won’t bother him in the least. For an unbalanced recovery, delivered by accident rather than design, ploughing the same old furrows that produced the mess in the first place, The Times has named him the best of Britain. They may as well state, “If the British Establishment doesn’t exist, we should start building one now.”

Syria

The latest human tragedy on a vast scale, where the death toll keeps rising. I can’t do justice to the death and suffering here, and certainly I don’t know the solution. Parochial though it is, I’ll limit my contribution here to the UK’s role. It was a historical low point for Parliament. The Coalition did not make their case to their own, or make sure they had counted up the numbers in advance of the debate. Not only does this mean that they rushed the process, but it also leaves doubts about whether they allowed themselves to be pushed into doing so by the US. Labour voted on the most fundamental matter of conscience – death on a massive scale – as an unthinking political bloc more concerned with themselves than the subject. The debate collapsed and did not so much reach a conclusion as end up in a default position.

On this, Cameron, Hague and Clegg should be criticised. War is a serious matter, and when not reacting to a direct threat, its proposal in the House demands that our leaders demonstrate hard work and due diligence. However, a flawed execution when acting in good faith is very different matter to a flawed execution of bad faith. Labour’s behaviour was truly disgraceful, voting as a monolithic bloc (with a clear and parochial political motivation), on what should have been a matter of individual conscience. Deliberation on how best to stop a brutal dictator abroad from slaughtering his people should not be a matter of blind obedience – Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy’s demotion immediately afterwards was a clear indication of what happens in Labour to people speaking their mind. Like the Coalition’s early approach to the economy, if what happened in Parliament regarding Syria turns out to have been the best choice, it will have been by accident rather than design.

Overall, the notion that neither the national economy nor the prospect of making war is enough to overcome partisan politics is disheartening. And yet, the world overall does get safer, and so the hope that we can all keep working at the problem no matter our politics remains alive.

Widespread tales of abuse

Going back a year, in 2012 I ended up learning about harassment. I am glad that when I witnessed it as an Officer within the Lib Dems, I tried my damnedest to have it acknowledged and dealt with via due process. By the end of the year, I had come to the sad conclusion that abuse is only taken seriously when it is as serious death or child abuse – and then only because of a public outcry. Organisations simply didn’t seem to have the spine to do the right thing when it’s easier all round to turn a blind eye.

But, 2013’s Morrissey report and the appointment of a Pastoral Care Officer proved that the Lib Dems are able to rise to the challenge. Scandal after scandal this year has given national coverage of lessons I learnt through painful, personal experience. These are stories such as the final report on the unnecessary deaths in the Mid-Staffordshire NHS, the Lawson/Saatchi scandal, police harassment of exes, the recent revelations of financial abuse at Mencap’s Dolphin Court. Hopefully, we can draw upon all of these stories to deal more effectively with matters of abuse, harassment and deceitful behaviour. It may be found in any of our individual workplaces, voluntary organisations and political parties – it is not a partisan issue.

The Funky

Actually, my year wasn’t so much funky as it was rocky, but that didn’t scan so well for me. Anyhoo, to music, the everlasting love of my life.

John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts

Truck 2011 051 - Version 2

I’ve not paid much attention to new music in 2013, which I really should do something about next year. To pick a best album anyway, I’m going to go for John Grant’s Pale Green Ghosts (links: artist’s website, title track, Spotify, iTunes, Amazon). He bares his soul with such honesty and transparency it almost hurts – something most artists just shy away from. I like his music of instruments and electronica, too. Very much worth a listen. I may be biased in all of this; my photo of John Grant at his 2012 Truck Festival appearance is one of my favourites and I’ve liked him ever since :)

Fully Twisted

I’ve had a great year of gigging with Fully Twisted. 2013 is the year I decided that I had become good enough on bass to invest in a decent bass rig. This is a wonderful amp & cab pairing from MarkBass, which I happened to buy on the day Andy Murray won Wimbledon (from Anderton’s, great music shop). So the handy little amp is Andy, and the cab is Murray.

I’ve also built up a pedal board, something I’ve hankered after for over twenty years. I’m now gigging on a guitar enough to justify it. That’s twenty years of wanting something finally coming to pass. I love it dearly, it’s LED lights are a thing of beauty to me. Actually, the bright white LED of the MXR Bass Fuzz really is something – nothing that bright and fancy when I was working with pedals and gear back in Glasgow (back in the 90s).

Fully Twisted is entertainment and craftsmanship – we’re loud and fun and good for the dancin’. If you’ve made it this far (hello, dear :) then here is my final highlight of 2013: we’ll be rocking out its final hours at The Turks in Reading for their New Year’s Eve party. Come! Dance!

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