the m john harrison blog

Category: outright politics

something to remember

Yes, prescription drugs are funded by the UK taxpayer. But this is done according to an allocation of funds determined by us, the voters. The NHS is the vehicle by which we have chosen to have our health services delivered to us. It is not a charity, it is not a gift from government and our prescriptions are not given at Jeremy Hunt’s largesse.

–Ann Robinson, Guardian, today.

vacuum days

Tim Etchells’ new project here.

a world apart

Pere Lebrun, comparing styles of direct action in Egypt & the UK, notes: “Meanwhile in the UK, protesters up and down the country are preparing to be politely kettled…” Easy to see which of these populations has the most to gain & which the most to lose: by noon, only the BBC website had a mention of today’s actions in the UK, stressing the preparedness of the police & quoting union leaders on the forthcoming nice humbleness of events. The Guardian, meanwhile, has forgotten that there are going to be any actions in the UK today, giving space to “Britain’s cutest log cabins” (“for when you want to hide away somewhere cosy”) instead; while the Independent, looking into the distance with a similar expression of conflicted rigidity & refusal to make eye-contact, concentrates on “Premier mouser! Vote a new cat into Number 10“, one of their popular “50 best ways of exercising your inviolate right to choice without fear of injury at the hands of the police” series.

at last

Thatcher’s anti-union laws, left in place by New Labour, are on the statute book for just these occasions. But we must not let the law paralyse us.
–Len McCluskey

Meanwhile, elsewhere in Gurdiana, Land of the Increasingly Conflicted, today’s editorial gives us the most perfect parody of the smug, established, middle-aged neoliberal voice. The old & the young are to take their telling-off & defend the postwar settlement the way the headmaster has chosen: by saying something glibly clever as you watch the ConDem handymen rip it out like the ghastly old fashioned kitchen in an otherwise rather cheerful little workingman’s cottage.

the added value landscape

Signage is an act of enclosure. It claims the landscape for state, local authority & commercial bodies, redefining it as a set of basic decisions & choices granted to the user. This is all very well in the mall, or the Queen’s back garden, which are so evidently not commons. But signage is now used to add value & “identity” to entire landscapes, the relaunching of which becomes an act of enclosure by commodification, of a space which, if it wasn’t entirely real in the first place, was at least defined by local quotidian human usage. Anyone who, in the 1980s, watched Holmfirth in Yorkshire being taken gently away from its inhabitants & then returned, postmodernised, as the non-place “Last of the Summer Wine Land”, so that much of their livelihood would now come from selling a fiction of their home (& thus of themselves), understands what an unheimlich process that is.

the unbearable smugness of Michael White

Protest naicely & you protest unsuccessfully. Protest successfully & you fall into the double bind prepared by the seedy lawmakers & rhetoricians of the Blatcher era.

Worse–much, much worse–you render yourself vulnerable to the unbearable smugness of Michael White, who, observing the attempts of two generations to drag themselves out of the sticky neoliberal dream, patronises them as if from a great height.

Now that the fourteen twelve year olds have–out of an astonished recognition of the sheer moral abjection of the world in which they find themselves–brushed him & what he represents aside, & at last persuaded the left to stop regarding itself as the love that dare not speak its name, can we have some action from the unions please ? Do they remember who they are ?

breaking the soft kettle

“…we contest the supposed end of history – the idea that human progress is now and for ever linked to free markets and corporate interests.”

Michael Chessum, today.


There is nothing like a shop-bought sandwich to celebrate solving a major structural problem. Is it a really rather nice Provencale cheese ? It is not. Is it between two slices of a decent little local artisan sourdough ? It is not. It is crap chicken, ham & mayonnaise on white sliced, and it is packed in one of those complicated triangular boxes which demonstrate just how far our culture has left behind its pathetic late 1940s forbears, who had nothing worth having in their life experience of total disentitlement & the raw misery of not being able to own three cars & a really serious phone. It is, in short, a proper 1980s sandwich. It is a pivotal index of choice in action. It is deep fill. It makes no nutritional sense, it makes no aesthetic sense, it makes no environmental sense, it makes no political sense; but you could eat it all day with a mug of tea. Are you going to follow it with a Sainsbury’s chocolate flavoured caramel slice (another clear measure of how far we’ve come & what we stand to lose should Bevanism chance to re-emerge & force us into a terrifying negative growth Anne Widdicombe dance parody of East Germany in 1947) ?

You are.

Listening to: The Go!Team, Thunder, Lightning, Strike –especially “Get it together” & “Everyone’s a VIP to someone”. Sending: best wishes & support to everyone in the UCL occupation, & indeed all those other undersung occupations everywhere, & especially, very, very good luck tomorrow.

the soft kettle

What we experience when we try to push against things is a flabby absorptivity. Everyone, from the government to business to the media, soft kettles us; we soft kettle ourselves.

Hard kettling is the sadistically ironic punishment of people who felt trapped enough to demonstrate in the first place; it says, “If you complain that you are restrained by our wonderful democracy here, we will only restrain you more & harder. That will teach you.” It makes material the soft boundaries by which the demonstrator has already been traumatised.

Soft kettling is really quite hard to fight. It comes from the left (or what’s left of it) as well as from the right and centre. Writers like Benjamin Barber sold a core message which went, essentially: “Things are fucked but when we say that we must be careful not to offend anybody, or actually catch their attention.” Any pushing anyone does now is always going to be described, by someone in the soft kettle walls, as a “thoughtless”, “juvenile” or “irresponsible” step.

That’s the beauty of the guilt & confusion they make you feel as they encourage you to stand here, day after day, for the rest of your life, ringed by legal, fiscal, moral & media instruments, crushed up against the next person, who’s as desperate for a piss–as desperate for a life–as you.

You have to get out of the soft kettle before you can do anything at all, even speak about this stuff.

Neocons, neoliberals, Reaganites & Thatcherites stole the concept of radicalism and attached it to their own retrospective program. That enabled them to call actual radicalism “backward-looking”. They think they got away with this linguistic theft & accompanying concept-shift, & until now, they did.

One of the strongest parts of the soft kettle wall is the whispering neoliberal voice, “Don’t you know that the world has changed ? Don’t you know that change is always final and after it nothing can change again, so that if you don’t live in the new world you can only revert to the bad old ways ? Do you really want that ? Is that what you really want ? The bad old ways ?”

As if the thirty-year attempt to get revenge on the New Deal & reinstate the labour practices of the 1920s wasn’t in itself a return to some genuinely bad old ways.

By describing any action (except the action of willingly standing in a hard kettle for eight hours then being allowed to go home) as a kind of violence, they swaddle the possibility of change.

But nothing is ever fixed. Care enough, push hard enough, laugh hard enough, get your arse in gear, & you can cause as much further change as you want. Cultural kettling, soft kettling–along with the odd bit of hard kettling when necessary–is designed to make sure you never understand that.

driven to distraction

You can just hear Dave’s people ringing the Palace, can’t you, “What we really need now is the biggest, most tribal, most simple-minded psychodrama to take their minds off it all & get them pulling together. ‘Terrorism’ won’t be enough this time. It needs to be something like, oh I don’t know…”