Observations On Tolpuddle

tolpuddle

On Sunday, The Bemolution was pain-stakingly wafted into the back of a minibus by a crack team of rigorously drilled Oompa Loompas with hand fans and driven south for an hour or so. Our destination? A big field, and the 2014 Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival.

It was a bit underwhelming at first, because practically everything is. The fact that Tolpuddle is hyped to high heaven in left-wing circles doesn’t help either. Its most starry-eyed adherents describe it like it’s some kind of life-changing socialist Mecca that springs up in pastoral south Dorset for one week a year. Actually, it’s just quite a political summer festival. But it’s a good one. Fascinating, even. And, probably most importantly of all at this grim juncture in leftist history, encouraging.

In 1832, a group of agricultural labourers from delightfully-named Tolpuddle, Dorset formed a kind of proto-union in response to declining wages. Arrested, tried and found guilty under an arcane eighteenth century law banning the swearing of ‘secret oaths’, the six men were thrown on a boat and sent to be slaves in England’s furthest-flung colony, Australia. One colossal public outcry and an 800,000-signature petition later, all but one of the so-called Tolpuddle Martyrs was freed.

It’s a nice excuse to have a festival, supposedly commemorating the incident, really serving as a much broader celebration of the labour movement in general. And so, on one (usually) balmy weekend in July, thousands of trade unionists and assorted left-wing miscreants congregate in the snigger-inducing Piddle Valley to eat ice cream, talk about politics and march around with banners. Continue reading “Observations On Tolpuddle”

Not Half Homophobia

Lieutenant Gruber from the BBC's 'Allo 'Allo
Lieutenant Gruber from the BBC’s ‘Allo ‘Allo

For a while, we talked about something we called half-homophobia. Then we realised that was a rubbish name for it, because it implied there was some kind of more acceptable, sub-homophobic degree of anti-gayness. Which there isn’t. We’ve yet to come up with a better label for it.

What we were trying to describe was an unpleasant phenomenon we’d observed over several years – a strange, private, slightly obsessive aversion to homosexual practices among people who are, outwardly at least, very liberal. The kind of people who are politically all for LGBT equality, gay marriage and the like, but who, if you get them on their own and talk to them openly about it, are a) viscerally repulsed by the thought of, and b) weirdly fixated with gay sex.

Full-fat, unabashed homophobia is still startlingly prevalent, of course. It’s rife throughout the unyieldingly conservative Arab world, in Africa, where homosexuality is illegal in 36 of the continent’s 55 countries, in staunchly Catholic South America, and in Russia, where earlier this year Putin informed visitors arriving for the Sochi Winter Olympics that gay people were welcome, but only if they promised to ‘leave children alone’. And that’s not to let the West off the hook either – as everyone knows, you’ll find some of the most fanatically homophobic people on earth in Uncle Sam’s backyard, and anti-gay prejudice is still very present this side of the pond too. Continue reading “Not Half Homophobia”

London Isn’t Very Equal (Part One)

London and the Shard
London and the Shard

Only right that these should be read listening to mid-’80s Style Council tracks – mingling poppy lounge jazz with blatantly socialist lyrics – on repeat, because it’s what we had stuck in our head while it was being written.

A ramblingly political travelogue taking in the capital at its richest, poorest, and most rampantly neoliberal

The Bemolution recently went to London – big, posh, plutocratic London – which is always morally troubling. It’s quite an easy place to dislike if you don’t happen to live there. Hugely, unaccountably powerful, the capital determines so much about the way the rest of us live – and, funnily enough, seems to wield that power in a way that serves the city and its richest denizens first, everyone else second.

Of course, more than a smidgen of anti-London sentiment can be put down to good old fashioned provincial bigotry. It’s stupid, for example, to blame the largely powerless majority of the city’s eight million citizens for the self-serving political and economic agenda pursued by a tiny minority. Then again, said super-elite wouldn’t have such an easy ride if a sizeable wedge of the capital’s rich-but-not-quite-super-rich didn’t go along with it – especially the conga-line of graduates from wealthy backgrounds that pour into the City year after year, trampling over the poorest Londoners by shunting house prices and living costs up and up and up. Continue reading “London Isn’t Very Equal (Part One)”

Coffin For The Head Of State (Fela Kuti)

In February 1978, a small polygamists’ commune-cum-recording studio in Lagos, Nigeria, was attacked then burnt to the ground by a thousand soldiers loyal to President General Olusegun Obasanjo. During the assault, troops threw a 77 year-old woman out of a second floor window, and after eight weeks in a coma she unsurprisingly succumbed to her injuries. She was Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, venerable women’s’ rights campaigner and the first Nigerian woman to legally drive a car. She was also the mother of the owner and founder of the compound, musician, composer, Afrobeat trail-blazer, and outrageously individual political dissident Fela Kuti. Continue reading “Coffin For The Head Of State (Fela Kuti)”