Farage fandango

Nigel Farage has enjoyed more false dawns than a customer at a transvestite holiday resort.  Third place in the Bromley and Chislehurst by-election and runner-up spot at the European Elections in 2009 pointed towards a spectacular break-through at the 2010 general election. Focusing on election in the Speaker’s constituency of Buckingham – the constituency of the sitting Speaker is nominally uncontested though every election sees a collection of independents and oddities make a contest out of it – Farage stood down as leader to be replaced by Malcolm Pearson, aka Lord Pearson of Rannoch.  I have a distinct memory of their election press conference crumbling before my very eyes, Lord Pearson struggling to hide the rather obvious fact that he hadn’t read his own manifesto.

Decked out in their garish purple and yellow party colours – which tend not to go well with mahogany tan – UK Independence Party candidates are notoriously good at talking up their chances. Under our current First Past The Post voting system, it matters not that the recent YouGov poll puts them within one point of overtaking the Liberal Democrats: no UKIP candidate will ever be elected directly to the House of Commons.

That said, it’s not as though Nigel Farage is Nick Griffin, who has seen his own British National Party collapse from height to shambles in a matter of months. Farage is the master of his party’s image and spin, and boy can the man talk. Yes, his anti-Belgium diatribes are embarrassing. His Statesman like behaviour carries all the credibility of a garden gnome. And yet…

The threat of UKIP has never been so potent as it seems to be this year. By “threat” I also mean “promise” and “aspiration”. Farage is not the captain of a sinking ship, even if the tan and fancy get up shouts “Howard’s Way”. With this month’s European Union referendum controversy still ringing in David Cameron’s ears, it’s little wonder UKIP are being talked about in terms of spoiling the party come election time 2015.

Realistically Farage has much more of a steep climb even with the EU debate so freshly served on the agendas of breakfast television programmes and commentariat sections in newspapers. Europe is the bee-hive poke which ruins every well laid out policy picnic Governments have planned since the days of Heath. There’s Cameron and Clegg in the rose garden, trying to return to the happy days of their honeymoon over barbecued halloumi and fruit juice when armies of purple and yellow ants creep up from behind. 

Whilst the Liberal Democrats have been excellent in holding back most of the excessive policies of the Conservatives since last May, the secret coalition partner stalking Downing Street has been Nigel Farage. There must be times when even the mention of the word ‘defection’ sends Cameron into a blind panic, the kind which enters the mind of a teenage boy in the middle of entertaining upon hearing the sound of footsteps outside the bedroom door. What if, what if, what if…Whilst decent showings in general elections are quite beyond UKIP under the current voting system, causing a shock in local and European elections most certainly are not, something Cameron knows all too well. Additionally, any threat of a backbench defection, even just the one, would be a heck load of urine in the punch. 

Crucially for the Conservatives, and in a broader sense pro-Europeans from all parties, is the lack of credibility on Farage’s part with regards to selling UKIP as a genuinely broad church. They have one policy – Europe – to which they return for each and every question posed. Until that problem is solved, then the polls will continue to show only one thing – where Liberal Democrats were once the party of protest for electors fed up with the mainstream parties, now stands UKIP. And as once was said of the LibDems, there’s no chance of a protest party ever getting into government. 

Boundary Review – NW England – LibDem Proposals

These maps show an overview of the NW Region LibDem counter-proposals for the North West review region.

ELA – Rossendale and Ramsbottom
ELB – Darwen, Accrington and Oswaldtwistle
ELC – Burnley
WLA – Southport
WLB – West Lancashire
WLC – Mid Lancashire
WLD – Chorley and Leyland
NLA – Valleys of Ribble and Lune
NLB – Lancaster and Morecambe
NLC – Blackpool North and Fleetwood
NLD – Blackpool South
NLE – Fylde
NLF – Wyre and Preston North
NLG – Preston
NLH – Blackburn
NLJ – Pendle and Clitheroe

Mong the Merciless

So, another news story generated from Twitter. It’s as though journalism really is onto the final injections and long talks about inheritance, the way all this is going on.

In summary – yes, this is Ricky Gervais, whose brand of comedy thrives on awkwardness, subverting conventions and generally pushing people further and further in their pressure points. I am not without criticism towards Gervais as it is, particularly as the cross-over between creative genius and self-satisfaction occurred halfway through Extras and hasn’t been returned to since. But he can still be very funny and thought provoking….as we have all seen with this latest version of Twitter Generated Public Fury.

By using the word “mong” in a one-liner tweet, Gervais unleashed the usual InstaReply Corps. of Twitterati, the libertarians and PC-brigade, the professionally shocked and defenders of the free speech; all falling over each other in hurried attempts to prove themselves either more shocked or more in support than the last. Edifying? Well it hasn’t done much to save the general public from sounding like reactionary keyboard warriors, and I say that as  a blogger…

Is “mong” offensive? It’s been a while since my schooldays but even back then it was considered one of the harder swearwords, most likely to cause teachers to scowl and scold. But we giggled and guffawed all the same – as we did with “gay” and “spaz” and all the rest. It was a bog standard primary in the north, and we were very young, so every swear word and offensive term was scoffed up like sweets. They were bad words, naughty, and tempting. “Queer”, “Paki”, “wanker”.  How much joy it was to be alive with these terms on our tongues. “Retard”, “spastic”, “belm”.

Language alters and changes, all grammar leaks, and meanings of words develop and mould; any English language tutor can tell you that. “Gay” and for that matter “queer” are reclaimed by the homosexual community, leading to one classic Homer Simpson line (“That’s our word for you!”). And if you’re worried about “Paki”, then you needn’t worry one bit.

So why the on-line whom-a-flip over Gervais and his use of “mong”, or the way in which some celebrities have placed themselves on the side of the critics? In all fairness to Gervais (and it’s not as though he gives on single hoot), the term does carry provocative and offensive weight, one of the remaining slang terms which walks around with punch in its fists. It is related to many turns of phrase which have not been rescued by the cape of irony (“And then Mr Smith went full retard”, case in point). There is nothing in law or reason stopping Gervais from using the term in a joke, thank heavens, and long may there not be. The massed ranks of the “how dare you” brigade would do well to remember it’s a far better state we live in which allows him to use it.

However….and there will always be howevers…there are very good reasons why we have the offended mechanism hard wired into our brains. Jokes are not automatically funny by virtue of being jokes; “it’s all in the tag” as the comedian’s watchwords go. As Frankie Boyle has found to his cost, being offensive for the sake of it turns the person making the gags into a tiresome and predictable bore.  The hardest and most effective part of a joke, or indeed any turn of phrase, is the pay-off. That the tweet at the centre of all this centred on an offensive term misses the point; did the term itself assist the joke being effective?

We are told that children must be protected  –  from swearing, violence on TV, sexual content, explicit computer games.  We are told by certain reactionary quarters that adults too must be protected, that horses must never be scared, that naughty words and blue humour is outdated and boring. This age of political correctness and attitude of ‘we know best’ just has to be brought to an end. “Mong” will be a term that causes severe offence, of course it is, just as “spastic” must have done in the 1980s, but there was no legislation then to wean people off the term then and there sure as hey should not be now.

Gervais could have used a different term, and if he was that kind of person, no doubt he would have climbed down a bit by now. (“Time to show some humility, eh?” to quote Ed Miliband from earlier today.) His use of the word was ill-judged, though you will find me nowhere near the crowd of orchestrated shocked types lighting up the pitchforks. The words we need to find these days are reasoned ones for debate; it’s more offensive to read frothing rent-a-quote outrage than it is to see the word “cunt”.


Released this Monday, Björk’s new album Biophilia is possibly her most ambitious, complex and bemusing to date. Each track is an iPad app, one which opens up into games, National Geographic videos and opportunities to remix songs. One particular game will stop a track from playing if the user ‘wins’; how many artists would invent such curveball wizardry?

A clue, to open: I am somewhat a fan of Björk, having fallen under the spell not long after Cable TV was installed at the family home. Whoever was choosing MTV’s rota back then needs a handshake – “Venus as a Boy” and selected Sugercubes tracks scattered throughout the day. That voice, its unusual phrasing somewhere between Norwegian and Cockney, her presence: yep, this is the favourite singer for me. At a time when my High School friends were pairing off into indie or dance, there I was trying to balance waiting for the next Oasis or Ocean Colour Scene single with putting Debut on repeat.

(And for that matter, I was eagerly grossing out on Eurovision but that’s possibly for another thread…)

The journey from that first solo album to next week’s multimedia extravaganza has been long and exhausting and occasionally too bewildering for words. There was Dancer in the Dark, the bleak Lars von Trier film encompassing musical numbers and suicide, from which came the bewitching duet with Thom Yorke. (From which, additionally, came the half-truth rumour from the recording of the single, that Björk admonished Yorke for trying to take over ‘her’ song).

Lest we forget Drawing Restraint 9, the utterly confusing and often unlistenable soundtrack to the  arthouse film of the same name made with her partner Matthew Barney. To say the album needs a running jump is something of an understatement; I find you need the clearance comparable to that of a 747.

From the post-90s club comedown album Debut to the literal Post album, the direction taken from radio turnaround to underground was abrupt and artistically liberating. Listening again to the earliest albums retains satisfaction, the first has a great charm and cuteness about it, with Crying, Human Behaviour, and Play Dead as stand out tracks still today. The inventiveness and quirk breaks through with the follow up Post, which brings the industrial crunch of Enjoy and the twisted romanticism of Isobel.

That album also provided, of course, the one albatross It’s Oh So Quiet, a re-imagining of the 1951 hit by Betty Hutton. Fans are divided on whether the song retains any artistic merit at all; when Björk polled website visitors to decide the tracklisting of the Greatest Hits, the song didn’t feature anywhere near the top 20. Snobbery? Or realising that some choices early in a career don’t always need revisiting? For what it’s worth, I am fairly neutral on the matter – it is not much of a song anyway, and the Björk reinvention has a certain eccentricity I like.

Many singers and groups claim their albums are all different with characters of their own (cf. David Bowie and indeed The White Stripes, who would challenge themselves to record each album in different ways to guarantee different results each time). Björk certainly does give each of her albums characteristically different attitudes and accents – you need only to look at the cover art for that. The young and wide eyed singer on Debut grows into the digital Geisha on Homogenic, who turns into a monochrome swan for Vespertine. Heaven only knows what character lay behind Volta, with its flames and fur and oversized neon boot. At the time of its release, I was amongst many reviewers who noted just how much fun Björk was having if the megapop madness of Volta was any guide. It’s certainly true that it’s the only time you’ll ever hear something approaching the Pussycat Dolls on one of her albums…

We approach the new release this Monday unlike most others, not least because all her tracks are available on YouTube and versions aplenty were showcased at the Manchester International Festival. Fittingly for such a ‘digital’ album in an app-age, remixes and re-worked versions already slosh around the Internet, and the iPad version of Biophilia will allow users to take and make their own interpretations as standard. It’s a concept album like no other, and this is why her output is so vibrant and consistently interesting.

Now aged 46, she shows no signs of wanting to make easy or predictable choices. It is for these reasons why I have always liked her – for the invention, the other-worldliness, and the interpretation of reality that is unlike most other contemporary singers. Yes, the output retains an eye on the commercial, but ultimately the results are personal. From the radio hits in the 90s to breakbeats and laptronica in the 21st century, these results also happen to be almost entirely without fault.

I leave you with some of my personal highlights.