Thursday, 20 January 2022

I'm not the type of person to take comments from the Labour right-wing to heart because they're really not worth my attention. Don't get me wrong, I often find that lot irritating or frustrating, but they don't usually impact me on an emotional level, and yet recent comments from Rachel Reeves have somehow done just that.

Now, if you're unfamiliar with Rachel Reeves, she is the Labour Shadow Chancellor who once proudly boasted of being "tougher on benefits claimants than the Tories" which should immediately tell you she is in the wrong party. But to remove any doubt, read the following post on Twitter from Aaron Bastani about Reeves' recent comments:

Rachel Reeves is saying quite clearly that the Labour members, who joined the party under Jeremy Corbyn, not only never shared the party's values, but are antisemites and were never welcome. These words are horrendously insulting and quite frankly unhinged.

Reeves completely overlooks that Jeremy Corbyn won two leadership contests by a landslide and won his first contest based on votes from the existing membership in 2015. Clearly, the Labour members of the time absolutely did share Jeremy Corbyn's values, as did the unions, so it's strange that Reeves thinks 150,000 others who were inspired by Corbyn did not. Plus, political parties are supposed to attract the public to their ranks, not drive them away. It seems utterly bizarre that Jeremy Corbyn's ability to inspire the downtrodden could be portrayed as a bad thing.

Labour is supposed to represent the downtrodden, but alas, Rachel wants to be tougher on us than the Tories are. Let's not forget that in towns like mine, pretty much every family is in receipt of Universal Credit, and Rachel thinks being tough on our kind is a Labour value.

One of the most galling things about this whole farce is how Labour is welcoming Tory MP Christian Wakeford into the Labour Party. This is a man who voted against the £20 Universal Credit uplift and against meaningful action on climate change. A Tory through and through. If you're excited about conservatives joining your party and you're excited about socialists leaving your party, you're a conservative. It really is that simple.

Something tells me the man who founded the NHS would not have been so welcoming to Mr Wakeford:

"That is why no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin. They condemned millions of first-class people to semi-starvation." Nye Bevan

You don't get to lecture people on Labour values when you're alienating the unions who helped found your party and welcoming an MP who last year called that same party a "bunch of cunts". Imagine being a member of Bury South CLP and finding your new Labour MP is a Tory who believes in all the things you've been campaigning against. What a slap in the face.

This kind of nonsense is exactly why I left the party - not because I didn't have Labour values but because the party no longer did - and what's worse is neoliberals rigged internal party democracy to ensure the left never reclaim their party again. The vision of Keir Hardie is dead.

I may no longer be a member, but I am proud to be one of the people who joined Labour after Jeremy Corbyn became leader. I would therefore like to explain exactly why I did and exactly why the comments of Rachel Reeves were so hurtful.

If we rewind back to 2015, I did not know a huge amount about Jeremy Corbyn, but I was casually interested in the Labour leadership contest. I was not particularly enthused by Labour after the disaster of Tony Blair but still very much of the mindset the Labour Party was the only option for the working class. I was going to vote for Labour at the next general election or I was going to vote for no one.

Now, as I've written many times on this blog, I've lived a fairly tough life. I grew up during the Thatcher years in a council estate in a forgotten northeast town. We had close to nothing and every child was consciously aware of the damage Thatcherism had done to our communities. All the parents would bemoan that there was "nothing for the kids to do". Anyone who wanted a better life had to move away and those that could move away, did. We had few constructive ways to occupy ourselves, and as we grew up, crime and drugs were just part of our lives. Our town had over 90% youth unemployment and there was no sign of things improving any time soon. It's worth pointing out these difficulties continued during the leadership of Tony Blair.

It wasn't until my mid-twenties that I was in stable employment, and even then, working full time and earning promotions at work, I would run out of food days before the end of the month and I was scared to switch the heating on because of the extortionate bills. This way of living is normal where I'm from, of course, and it's bullshit.

This is precisely why, if you speak to people from towns like mine, they are so desperate for systemic change - we've been left behind. Indeed, this is why Brexit happened.

People hate the establishment because it provides us with little or no opportunity. If you browse the JobCentre, you'll be hard pressed to find a single job offering £20k that doesn't want a Master's Degree and a string of qualifications and years of experience. And this situation absolutely is not just a product of Tory rule, it's also the legacy of Blair and Brown who privatised more of our economy than Thatcher, stopped building council houses and destroyed the housing market.

Now I'd never been party political, but from 2010 onwards, mostly thanks to the internet, I was becoming politically aware. I was seeing videos from the US from politicians like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who were speaking up for the working class in a way Tony Blair never did, and I wondered why we didn't have the equivalent voices over here. Where was our Bernie Sanders?

Then I saw the guy called Jeremy Corbyn running for the Labour leadership and he felt like a breath of fresh air. "Thank God there is someone talking about the issues that matter to us!" I said at the time. And the more I listened to Jeremy, the more his message resonated with me.

Now I've no idea what Rachel Reeves thinks people like me were looking for when we decided to join Labour after 2015, but the absurd Jew-hating caricature in her mind has no basis in reality.

From my perspective, issues like Israel/Palestine and antisemitism just weren't conversations I was ever part of. These things were not on my mind when I joined Labour. My only thoughts on Israel and Palestine were that I wanted both sides to co-exist peacefully, so it's extremely offensive to be lumped in with a tiny minority of antisemites who represented 0.05% of the Labour membership. The rest of us who joined Labour in the Corbyn years abhorred those antisemites too.

I joined the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn because I was tired of my region being left behind by neoliberalism. I was tired of the stagnating wages, the unaffordable rents and mortgages, the lack of job and education opportunities, and I was so incredibly angry that as one of the most gifted kids in my school, I was never given a fair shot in life. My potential was wasted.

I just wanted a leader who was prepared to discuss these regional inequalities, someone who was willing to listen to working class concerns and come up with a plan to address the problems that we faced. In particular, I wanted a better future for my children, not least because we are living on a dying planet which so badly needs radical change to save it. Anyone who doubts that simply doesn't understand science.

Jeremy Corbyn was prepared to offer leadership on issues that centrists rarely even want to discuss. One thing I realised as I was developing a class consciousness is that is what they are referring to when they call us "hard left". They simply mean a working class person who is becoming politically aware and understands we need to dismantle the structures which are causing so much harm in our society.

I grew to understand those structures are built on capitalism and those who don't want to dismantle them hope to financially benefit from them. Just look no further than Sir Keir Starmer sending out begging letters to corporations now that the membership money is drying up. He has left the Labour Party on the verge of bankruptcy because neither ordinary people nor unions want to financially support his neoliberal project. This is because it would take the country in the exact wrong direction - it would exacerbate problems that have destroyed our communities for 43 years to enrich billionaires.

Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour was able to move away from corporate donors and take on the Murdoch empire - these are unquestionably good things. A Labour Party should never be beholden to capital interests which are at direct odds with the interests of the working class.

I had naively assumed Jeremy Corbyn would receive praise from his party for bringing in so much revenue and a huge surge in support - the biggest surge of any leader since Attlee in 1946. Instead, the Parliamentary Labour Party were horrified by Corbyn's initial successes and it became clear whose side they were really on. This was not simply about them having different ideological views on how best to run society. This was about them consciously favouring the needs of corporations and billionaires over the needs of the working class while pretending more neoliberalism is what the working class really wants. We all know this nonsense is what the Tories are about, but it turns out this is what Labour is about too.

And before anyone screeches that the public does not want socialism (they mean social democracy), it's worth pointing out that poll after poll shows about 2/3 of the electorate want our public services to be nationalised. They're not idiots. They know that privatisation has led to rip-off prices, shoddy services and one private contractor after another going bankrupt after taking huge tax-payer subsidies. Neoliberalism is a scam.

Yet today we have a Labour Party where anyone left of centre, anyone who suggests a shift from the blatant failures of neoliberalism is marginalised, and anyone who self-identifies as socialist inevitably receives a suspension letter, often for the most spurious of reasons. Imagine a Labour Party that wouldn't even have room for someone who shares the politics of its founder Keir Hardie. That is Starmer's Labour - a neoliberal capitalist party that will continue injecting the market into every part of our lives, including, quite horrifyingly, the NHS. 

Is that a true Labour value, Rachel Reeves? When Attlee and Bevan were founding the NHS, did they want US corporations to run it for us and cream off profits? Was that part of their grand plan? Or were they socialists who understood the market should never be allowed anywhere near certain parts of our economy? Who understood that some things are sacred and should prioritise human need, not human greed?

When Keir Hardie founded Labour, was his goal to rig the economy so corporations could extract profits and tax-payer subsidies from every section of it? Or was his goal to reclaim the means of production for the working class and abolish capitalism and landlordism? Because if you read about that guy, or indeed Attlee or Bevan, you will quickly find they are exactly the kind of people you call "hard left".

"By inherited instinct we are all Communists at heart" James Keir Hardie

The irony, of course, is that there was nothing "hard left" about what Jeremy Corbyn was offering and it was so very far from communism. It was simply bog standard Nordic-style social democracy. We wanted to move away from the neoliberal capitalism that has given the UK the worst regional inequality in the developed world and move towards an economic system that has given Scandinavia the best living standards on Earth. We simply wanted a better country for everyone and a sustainable planet to live on. We wanted hope.

Like I said at the start of this article, not much upsets me, but Rachel Reeves comments really stuck in my throat. And I suspect this is because we were willing to give so much to the Labour cause with the noblest of intentions, only to effectively be spat on. I would like Reeves to look me in the eye and explain exactly why she thinks its okay to talk about people like me like we're the scum of the Earth for wanting better lives.

Thursday, 6 January 2022

So I'm back to writing again after taking a break due to my crappy health and Christmas and having a six month old baby and just generally being exhausted, and on my return, I want to write about drugs. Yes, drugs. This is because during my time away, both main political parties spoke out against the decriminalisation of drugs. The leader of the Labour Party mumbled some nonsense about how decriminalisation would contribute to organised crime, failing to consider the many ways you could safeguard against this, or the successes of Portugal with decriminalisation. It seems we are back to 1980s socially-conservative talking points.

I want to write about drugs, not because I'm a huge fan of them or a user, but simply because I suspect we have abandoned the approach of having an honest conversation. Politicians want to return to vilification and that approach leads nowhere good, not least because it actually seems to increase drug use and certainly increases prison populations.

Coming up are my experiences with drugs, the good and the bad. Everything you are about to read is 100% true, or at least as best as my memory serves me, but obviously if I mention real people, I will be changing their names. I don't want to embarrass anyone or land them in trouble!

As a child, I occasionally witnessed people high on drugs because drug use was pretty common on our council estate. I witnessed a guy from our local boxing gym visit my next door neighbour and loudly ask if she had any speed, in front of about twenty kids. I witnessed a man who was clearly off his nut, push an old lady aside in a parked car to steal her radio. I witnessed one of the local dads proudly smoking a joint as he walked his kids back from school and I witnessed the row when his wife spotted him!

Drugs were normal where we lived and yet I never had a positive view of them, partly because I was sternly warned away by my mother. I saw drugs as dark, dirty and unsettling, and always promised I would never touch them. 

I genuinely believed I would honour this promise, but then my teenage years arrived, along with peer pressure. And me and my mates were already regular binge-drinkers before we'd reached our teens, so the transition to drugs was inevitable.

My friend group involved Gaz, Carl and Brian. All three of them were idiots. I was the smart, sensible one, relatively speaking, and I hated being the smart, sensible one.

By the time we were fourteen, some of my peers were already sneaking off to a local rave on weekends and taking ecstasy. And even though I was not involved and still had a negative view of drugs, that darkness and dirtiness was slowly giving way to intrigue. Gaz was the first among my friend group to sneak off to the AfterDark and I remember vividly the reaction of his mother (who was like an aunty to me) when he returned home after being out all night. He could barely speak as they met at the front door and she was yelling, but then stayed at his bedside as he slept, in case he choked on his vomit and didn't wake up.

Gaz was the first among us to drink alcohol, the first among us to hang around with older kids and do drugs and everything he wasn't supposed to do, and as a result, his mother was always a nervous wreck. And, of course, the rest of us eventually followed in his footsteps because we did not want to feel left out. We wanted to be in the in-crowd. And in our town, the in-crowd was, let's say, a bit dodgy...

I was well into my rebellious stage when my mates scraped some money together one Saturday and excitedly suggested we visit a nearby drug dealer and buy a "tenner deal". Next thing, I was being dragged along, more nervous than excited, and I found myself squeezing into a caravan on the drug dealer's drive so he could smoke bush with a bunch of children. Nice guy.

Now I've no idea if bush was so-called because there was any difference to other types of weed or if it was just an alternative name. I never bothered asking. But I do remember nervously taking the joint and thinking how unpleasant it tasted as the smoke rushed down my throat. I never even smoked cigarettes, apart from when my friends in the smokers' corner at school left me a couple off their cigarette. But now I'd found myself smoking weed. Drugs. Exactly what I'd promised I'd never do and genuinely believed it.

Suddenly, here I was, breathing in that smoke and being mocked for not inhaling properly and feeling like I'd transitioned into a much darker place. Our council estate was pretty rough, but I'd always been encouraged to stay on the nicer side of it, away from the bad influences, and finally here I was in their world. It was daunting and while I can't say I particularly enjoyed the initial experience, it certainly felt compelling, like I had to be there. I got the sense I did not quite belong but also the sense I was becoming someone else. 

My memory of that day is a little vague, but the next thing I remember is sitting on Carl's flee-ridden bed, laughing at the Animaniacs toys on top of his TV. The earlier touch of paranoia had worn off and I was in fits of giggling until the pair of us fell asleep on his bed and woke up sometime later, dry-mouthed and hungry. Those are the effects cannabis - paranoia, giggling, sleepiness, dry mouth and hunger, so if you've never smoked it, that's what you can expect, aside from a brief and overwhelming burst of creativity, which some of the world's greatest artists have taken advantage of.

Cannabis use in moderation is actually perfectly fine for most people - it's safe, relaxing and not particularly damaging to your long-term health, but what you certainly don't want to do is overdo it. Cannabis in excess can mess you up - which leads me onto my next experience. Buckets.

Now buckets are more elaborate than a simple spliff and a nightmare to construct when you're a clueless teen with only a vague understanding of how they work, but a bucket is essentially this:

A three-litre bottle with the top cut off, filled with water, and a two-litre bottle with a bit of gauze and cannabis sitting on top. You place the little bottle into the big bottle and light the cannabis as you pull the big bottle up. The vacuum sucks cannabis smoke into the top bottle and then you remove the gauze and suck all the smoke out in one go.

If you are an inexperienced cannabis user, do not do this! In fact, just don't do this, full stop. It's not good.

One night, we were sitting in the council house of Caroline, a twenty-three year old mother of three, listening to our hardcore rave music, and yes, we were all still fourteen, so God knows why Caroline was hanging around with us. Anyways, my mates decided it would be a fantastic idea to have buckets in her bathroom. I did not want to do this, but I wanted to say "no" even less, so I waited in a bedroom as everyone took turns going into the bathroom. I felt pretty sick as it came to my turn and Gaz said he was going to pull me a pea soup - that's basically a really strong, bright green bucket.

I watched wide-eyed as bright green smoke filled that bucket and Bri insisted I suck it up all in one go. "Just suck really hard," he said. And I did. Too hard.

I knelt over the bath to grab the bottle and the smoke rushed down my throat, then a couple of seconds later, the pain hit my chest. It was like a fireball had consumed my lungs and burnt them to a crisp. I was in agony. My eyes were streaming and I genuinely thought I'd done myself serious damage, even fatal damage.

Next thing I remember is sitting on a bed with my shoulders pressed into the walls as everyone laughed at me. Why were they laughing at me? Clearly, they were going to do something. They were plotting, I could sense it. What was I going to do? I was helpless. I just curled up into a ball as they laughed and I prayed for the experience to end. But it didn't end. Not for hours. Or possibly a few minutes.

Next thing I remember, I was sitting downstairs, listening to the rave music again, feeling the words Disco Land pulse over my skin. And then the pulses became tiny, fluctuating space invaders, like from the videogame. And then the space invaders were tiny grinning monsters. And the music was getting loud and quiet in rhythm. But I wasn't hearing the sound, I was feeling it. Synaesthesia. That's the crossing of senses. And I'm not sure that's a typical symptom of excess cannabis, but it was certainly what I was experiencing. That period really wasn't too unpleasant, but then I was back to the sleepiness again.

And I guess that is why cannabis never really got a hold of me like it did my friends. Many of them became regular smokers, but I was too prone to the paranoia and sleepiness, and felt crappy during the come down, so I was never more than an occasional user. But I must say, I did have some pleasant experiences on cannabis, and some people, probably most, have more positive experiences than me.

Fast forward a few years, and I was a jobless young adult, staying on a mate's couch and I had absolutely no social life, apart from those occasions Bri would take me out. We used to go to the Tuxedo Princess in Gateshead on a Thursday night. It was a tenner to get inside and then all your drinks were free, so we'd wait until 11 o'clock before calling a taxi because we couldn't afford to do a pub crawl first, and we'd go straight to the boat. Yes, the Tuxedo Princess was a boat. A cramped, stinking boat, and one of the few places riff-raff like me could go in my shitty old clothes and not look out of place.

It was inside the Tuxedo Princess that Bri first introduced me to ecstasy. I remember him approaching the drug dealer on the dancefloor and I've no idea how he knew he was a drug dealer, he just did. The drug dealer told him to come to the toilet in a few minutes, but not to walk inside with him, because he did not want to be clocked by the bouncers.

A few minutes later, Bri returned and placed a couple of colourful pills that looked like sweets into my hand. Now I was always nervous about the idea of taking pills, because unlike cannabis, which is just a plant, pills could contain absolutely anything. This didn't stop me though and I felt like I was playing Russian roulette as I placed the pills in my mouth and washed them down with blue WKD with absolutely no idea what to expect.

Now I can't remember how long the drugs took to come into effect, I just know the moment they did was electrifying. Suddenly, I was moving at one hundred miles an hour, dancing in the clouds, talking to every hot and not-so-hot girl. I could not stop talking, and in that moment, the shyness which came from being a jobless lowlife was gone. My confidence was infinite, as was my energy, and my jaw felt really tight but was rocking all over the place for some reason.

I have never felt anything like I felt during my first experience of ecstasy. The sensation flooding my every nerve ending was indescribable and the closest thing to magic I can possibly imagine. Everybody deserves to experience that feeling. But the night was not all good. Far from it.

The thing is, at about 2.00am, the DJ at the Tuxedo Princess would turn the music off for about thirty minutes to grab a random person onto the stage and play a pointless game. This was incredibly boring at the best of times, but when I was off my head on ecstasy? Well, the paranoia that I'd experienced on cannabis came back one thousand-fold. And those thirty minutes felt like lightyears. And yes, I know lightyears are units of distance, not time, but honestly, those thirty minutes lasted so long, I could probably have crawled several lightyears.

The paranoia was hideous and I just remember sitting in a booth, gawking at a couple of girls I'd happily been chatting up, suddenly terrified to move, and just asking myself over and over again why had they turned the music off? When was this torment going to end? 

And then the music came back on and I was electrified again, like nothing had happened. It was the strangest thing, almost like someone had pressed a switch. The paranoia became, well, ecstasy.

And I was partying the night away, becoming best mates with some bloke I'd just met called Toolsey and chatting up the girl Bri had already pulled. I remember walking along to the taxi pickup and being told to shut up, over and over again because I literally could not stop myself from talking. I also remember Bri walking along the railing of the bridge, then jumping down and thinking it would be a hilarious joke to grab his new girl by the waist and dangle her over the railing.

For about five minutes, she was kicking her legs as I pleaded with him to pull her over because the state he was in, a horrible accident seemed inevitable. But thankfully poor Sarah survived this ordeal and immediately forgave Bri. She must have been just as fucked in the head as he was.

We crashed at Sarah's house - it was the temporary accommodation that the council put parents into when they become homeless. Single lads like me weren't so lucky. Well, I say lucky. This was hardly the kind of place you'd want to live. It was barren and felt like a glorified prison cell, but we partied there until the morning, and because we were off our heads on drugs, literally anywhere would have seemed nice. 

I guess that's one thing privileged people so often fail to understand about working class drug users. Those drugs take us away from the hell-holes they've never had to experience. Drugs are our way of experiencing the pleasant side of life which they don't need to reach through artificial means.

It's just unfortunate drugs are very much a double-edged sword. I remember jerking up in bed in the morning with my heart racing, with the most intense feeling of terror and an incredibly dry mouth, following a horrendous nightmare. This wasn't a one-off either. The nightmares went on for weeks and this happened to me each of the five or six times I took ecstasy.

Maybe it's just the way I'm wired that makes me prone to negative side-effects from drugs, but I never tried any drug that didn't give me some side-effect like this. Perhaps in a weird way, this was a good thing because it was certainly enough to stop me getting hooked. But drugs certainly did get some of my friends hooked, case in point being Carl who was totally addicted to cannabis. Now cannabis isn't too addictive to most people. I never felt an intense craving, even during a six-week period when I stayed with Carl, smoking his weed regularly.

But Carl was hooked by his own admission and his addiction was psychological, more than physical. He'd had an even more fucked up life than me and explained cannabis is the one thing that could take away his suicidal thoughts. 

For so many, cannabis is an anti-depressant. And it was just that for me during the weeks we were staying in the most filthy flat imaginable, but I don't really want to discuss cannabis again, because I want to touch upon a much more interesting experience: MDMA.

Carl took me to his sister's house one day and we were playing Mario Kart on the GameCube. His sister went into the kitchen and he whispered that he had some MDMA, then quickly gave me a line before she returned. Now I'd always thought MDMA was just the stuff found in ecstasy, but the experience was nothing at all like ecstasy so I'm not sure what it was. I just know this was without question the most mind-bending thing that ever happened to me.

First came a touch of paranoia and everything seemed a bit grey: I was numb and already regretting my choice, just wanting the effects of this stuff to wear off. Why the hell did I agree to take it?

Next thing, Carl asked: "Ricky, what are you doing?"

I was pecking at his Berghaus coat with my finger and thumb, over and over again. I'd suddenly become convinced he was made out of cardboard, kind of like Paper Mario, and I was expecting him to tear. I couldn't understand why he was not tearing. And today I can't understand why I kept trying to tear him! But that's what I did and he was just laughing at me.

Carl took me outside for a walk, probably because he didn't want his sister to discover that we were high inside her house. As we walked through the streets of New Biggin Hall, I kept stumbling because I was tilting my body sideways. This was to adjust to the world which was rotating like a passageway in the Legend of Zelda and determined to make me fall over. Everything got a bit sparkly at that point and the experience was surreal but not enjoyable. I never got the high that I did off ecstasy and it makes me wonder if I really did take MDMA or something entirely different. It really could have been anything.

MDMA (or whatever it was) was one thing I was never going to touch again. 

When it comes to snorting drugs though, there was a drug that I definitely preferred and that was cocaine, which was introduced to me by Gaz.

We'd been staying at a medical facility in Edinburgh, being a guinea pig as the company tested drugs on us. And what was cool about being a guinea pig like this was that we were being paid to hang out with hot girls. So when we finally got out of that place and got our money, we all hit the town.

Edinburgh is a nice place to hang out with all its historical buildings and the striking castle on the hill in the city centre. It's just a shame the sun never shines! The city is beautiful and very chilled and basically the opposite of Glasgow (not that I'm knocking that place, they're just very different). 

We were all sitting in a bar, I think it was a Wetherspoons (don't cancel me) and somebody suggested we buy cocaine. That was going to be a first for me and so I expressed my reservations.

"You're worried about cocaine after what you've had put into your body for the last two weeks?" a girl asked and it was a fair point.

So a couple of hours later, I found myself squeezed into a toilet cubicle with Gaz as we took turns snorting cocaine through a rolled up tenner like a pair of sleazy Westminster journalists and I'm not going to lie, it felt really cool. It wasn't like when I tried some other drugs and it felt daunting and dirty. No, for some reason, hanging out in some minging toilet cubicle felt like the height of privilege. Figure that one out.

Now the thing about cocaine is it makes you become hyper-alert and energetic. Not in the different planet way that ecstasy does, but enough to make you highly confident and also a bit of a dick. There was another lad out with us who liked the same girl I did so I took the piss out of him the whole night. It wasn't even in my character to behave like this, but cocaine made me become a different person. And because it was my first time taking it, the effect was much stronger than it was on the others. I was being a total idiot, but this seemed to impress the girl who preferred me over the other lad. Who said good guys come first?

I stayed in touch with that girl for a while, but alas, nothing serious became of it. I did, however, learn that cocaine was my pathway to women, it's just that unfortunately it's an expensive habit. Well, I've no idea what it costs today, but back then, we were paying £40 a gram, and another problem is your body quickly builds up tolerance so you need to take larger quantities to have the same effect. This means that even though the drug is not necessarily super-addictive, people can still be pulled in and this is how celebrities end up losing bits of their nose. Thankfully though, I was too poor to make cocaine a regular habit.

But on those occasions when I tried it, usually to impress a girl, I did experience draw backs which seem to be unique to me. For example, I would have nightmares for weeks afterwards, similar to how I did on ecstasy. I think it messed with the chemical balance of my brain. And the other problem is that I would sneeze for weeks, and my nose, and even my whole body, would itch terribly. Clearly, this was some kind of allergic reaction and I'm not sure if this was to the cocaine itself or to the washing powder it was probably cut with, but either way, it was not pleasant.

My experiences with cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana represent my main encounters with drugs, but my mates got involved much deeper than I did. Particularly Gaz.

One day, when we were in our late twenties, Gaz led me into his loft which was like a dazzling ultra-violet sauna filled with heat lamps and cannabis plants, with tin foil covering every surface. It stunk.

The place was a fire hazard and hardly the type of thing to have over the heads of small children. And the best thing about it was the plants weren't even his. He was doing this as a favour for a drug dealer friend who didn't have the room in his flat. Talk about stupid.

Now the thing about cannabis plantations in your loft is they are so very easily detectable by infra-red cameras. Plus, your roof will be the only roof in the street that snow doesn't settle on, but thankfully Gaz never got caught. Because as dumb as he was being, I didn't want him going back to jail. Yes, he'd been to jail recently. Not for drugs though, for fighting. Everybody always seems to be fighting where we're from.

Throughout our mid-to-late twenties, me, Gaz, Carl and Brian never actually saw each other that often. We'd more or less grown apart, but that started to change when I had my own place for the first time and suddenly, the three of us were hanging out again. Now when we were sober, we got along like a house on fire, but when we were drunk, it was another story, and of course, the lads started insisting on buying cocaine. This was something I hadn't done in quite a while, but suddenly we were partying weekly.

Sometimes it was just us, playing Fifa or watching the boxing, other times, we'd persuade some girls to join us, and when it was good, it was great. But when we were drunk or high, things often got rowdy and sometimes rows would break out. My neighbours soon reported me to the landlord, meaning there was a risk of eviction, but it gets even worse.

One day, someone rang my bell and a neighbour I didn't know existed told me that my mates had been arguing with him. He then went on to explain how he was a big time drug dealer who'd just been released from a ten year stretch in prison and was best mates with another big time drug dealer. He told me to Google his name, like I should be impressed.

Anyways, I did and he was telling the truth.

He then pointed around the car park and told me that ten cars were his. He explained that if anything happened to his cars, he would hold me personally responsible. He explained that his drug dealer mate actually wanted to slash me, but he was going to give me a chance. 

Bearing in mind, I had a girl I'd only recently met standing at my side the whole time, I had to keep my cool. I was torn between telling him to fuck off, which wouldn't have been a smart move, and using diplomacy to calm the situation. I opted to apologise for the behaviour of my mates because I was sure they would have been behaving like idiots, and from that point on, I was reluctant to have them around.

One time a few weeks later, Bri decided to start a fight with me in my living room because he was high as a kite and wanted to impress his girlfriend. What is it with cocaine and being a total dick to impress women? Anyways, it wasn't much of a fight. I got him into a headlock without throwing a punch and agreed to release him if he would stop. However, when I released him, he attacked again and I got him into a headlock again, this time dragging him outside and locking the door on him. Needless to say, his girlfriend was not impressed.

And this, if I'm honest, is definitely one of the biggest drawbacks of recreational drugs. Some, but not all, can make men more aggressive and much more prone to falling out. My friends and I got along great when we were sober, but always got a little bored, and if we were tempted into consuming drugs or alcohol, there was always a risk of us falling out.

Alcohol is a drug of course and in my personal experience, every bit as problematic as the other drugs I've encountered. Alcohol killed my grandfather. It helped turn other men I knew into women-beating bastards. It destroyed the lives of so many people who couldn't enjoy it in moderation. And that's the thing with many drugs really. If you can enjoy them in moderation, they really aren't too harmful to most people and can be quite nice, but like alcohol, they are devastating in excess, make idiots behave terribly, and some people just don't process them well.

I personally don't drink, let alone take drugs now, because my body does not process any of this stuff well. Therefore, I would not recommend drugs to anyone, certainly not my kids. But at the same time, I could hardly be judgmental if they did dabble and I think it's absurd to criminalise people for this.

Now this piece probably made my mates sound like the worst friends in the world, but I must say we did have great times together - I've just highlighted some of the bad parts. But their foolhardiness, which was certainly exacerbated by drugs, was the key reason we finally grew apart. By the age of thirty, I was a dad and could not have that recklessness and unpredictability in my life so I had to steer clear. Now you might think that if I could grow out of this, they could too, but I was never quite as volatile as them and they never did grow up.

In 2017, I received a message on Facebook from my mother, explaining Gaz had passed away. Turns out he'd got involved in hard drugs in the years since I'd seen him and one night he went to sleep and never woke up. He left behind three children. Worst thing is I never even got to go to the funeral.

It's funny because in the years since I'd seen him, I would more often than not picture the negative, but now he was gone, suddenly every positive memory we shared flooded my mind - from the day the new kid walked into class at five years old and instantly became my best friend, to the first time he played at my house, to the first sleep over, the first trip to the fun fair, the swimming pool, the cinema, and the time his parents took me on my first holiday to Menorca and we had the most incredible time. All the innocent stuff...

I remember playing in the den we'd built when we were eleven and he asked me what age I would like to be, if I could be any age? 

"I don't know, what age would you be?" I asked. 

"Twenty-five," he replied, "because then I would be in my prime." 

I paused and said: "Nah, I'd want to stay this age forever because things will never get better than they are now."

I was right, of course. It was only months later that alcohol entered our lives and in the coming years, drugs, and everything went downhill at that point. Were drugs and alcohol the sole cause of this? No, absolutely not. The problems were driven mainly by lack of opportunity and the inevitable sub-culture that emerges to help people cope with fucked up situations, but whichever way you look at it, drugs left three small kids without a dad. Kids who are just like we were during that innocent stage and who I'd rather not see go down the same path.

We all get one life and part of me thinks we should enjoy the full range of human experience within that time. Drugs open up pathways in your brain that take you to realities you never thought possible and offer experiences you otherwise could not comprehend. But it's important to understand, anything stronger than weed should not be taken by anyone, and really, even weed and other soft drugs, and yes, even alcohol, should be treated with caution.

I must say as a final thought, that the criminalisation of drugs is idiotic and if we want to save people like Gaz, we should do so through rehabilitation, not imprisonment. You don't save a life by destroying a life.

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

The Tories' heavily-criticised Health and Care Bill would undo reforms introduced by David Cameron in 2012 and somehow make things even worse. The bill is officially supposed to end the ridiculous idea of market competition in our NHS, which sounds like a good thing, but in reality, the market is going to be allowed into our NHS through the back door.

Let me explain:

The government wants to introduce 42 Integrated Care Partnerships which would invite charities and private health companies to work with local councils. They would take the place of over 100 Clinical Commissioning Groups which currently allocate NHS resources, and would decide which treatments local hospitals do or don't offer, based on what they feel is more cost effective, i.e., more profitable for share holders. It would also allow them to ration healthcare and charge for "secondary services".

This is obviously not prioritising patients' needs and would introduce a post code lottery where the treatment you receive is dependent on where you live. It would also enable private companies to prioritise patients who are willing and able to pay over those who can't - essentially creating a two-tier NHS. During a pandemic. It's almost like the government has learned the exact opposite lessons to what it was supposed to learn.

To make matters worse, the bill includes the removal of the tendering process so the Tories can just give out NHS contracts to their mates without any scrutiny. Now I don't want private contracts to exist at all, but if you are going to have them, you should, at the very least, have a proper vetting process. No reasonable person could disagree with this point, but, of course, the Tories are not reasonable people. 

"Integrated" appears to be the new word for cronyism...

Of course, many concerns could easily be alleviated through simple amendments to the bill, but the Tories actually blocked an amendment to prevent private healthcare representatives from sitting on NHS boards, because, of course, they did!

As many have pointed out, this is nothing more than a power grab by Sajid Javid, because the bill would give the health secretary direct control over many aspects of our health service. It would also give the health secretary the power to water down the requirement for staff to be properly trained and qualified, potentially putting public safety at risk. The bill offers nothing to ease the mammoth staffing crisis, other than corner cutting.

The Health and Care Bill boils down to backdoor NHS privatisation and a situation where poorer patients will inevitably be marginalised. It's just another step towards the dismantling of our nation's most prized institution. If this bill passes in the House of Lords, it's entirely plausible we won't even have an NHS in ten years' time.

And we haven't even mentioned social care yet. 

Government proposals mean those with assets between £20,000 and £100,000 will have to pay for their social care. This means working class home owners will be forced to sell their homes and therefore unable to leave their one asset to their children who have been frozen out of the housing market. I can't help thinking Jeremy Corbyn's National Care Service, which involved not stealing houses, might have been a better idea.

When you really think about it, it's truly absurd that social care isn't provided universally under the NHS, and the same goes for dentistry and eye care. Who actually decided these things don't count as healthcare?

Sunday, 21 November 2021

So I read on the BBC News website today that former Tory MP Charlie Elphicke has told a court, he's in dire economic straits and has made a claim for Universal Credit. This prompted me to post a tweet, mocking him, and many people found this story rather hilarious, but there were one or two moralistic respondents telling me I should not revel in someone else's misfortune.

I would like to call bullshit on this take and here's why:

Charlie Elphicke was suspended from the Tory Party in 2017 after being accused of sexual assault by two members of his staff. He was disgracefully reinstated to the party in 2018 to save Theresa May's skin when she was facing a vote of no confidence. In 2019, Elphicke was convicted in court of three charges of sexual assault against the two women and he was sentenced to two years in prison. He was also ordered to pay £35,000 in court costs.

Charlie Elphicke chased a woman around his kitchen, yelling: "I'm a naughty Tory boy," after sexually assaulting her.

Upon release from prison, after serving half his sentence, Elphicke spent all of his money on six months rent on a luxury London flat. He then pleaded poverty in court and explained he'd applied for Universal Credit, knowing he was benefiting from the money he was ordered to pay to the court. Pretty sure it's fair to call that theft.

It's worth pointing out Elphicke voted five times against increasing Universal Credit so he is definitely reaping what he sowed. And as a person who is currently claiming Universal Credit, I absolutely get to gloat now.

Obviously, there are clear differences between Mr Elphicke's financial situation and my own. I never sexually assaulted anyone, I never voted to create our unfair welfare system, and both myself and my wife are actually earning money. It's just that wages are so crap around here, we need Universal Credit to top up our meagre earnings, just like almost everyone does where we live.

People told me I shouldn't gloat about someone else's misfortune, but while they're busy empathising with a sex offender, people in my town are calling that "misfortune" everyday life. 

Mr Elphicke is simply joining us in this life of misfortune, and given that we are unquestionably experts at scraping by, I would like to share some budgeting advice with him.

First of all, Charlie, have you tried pulling yourself up by your bootstraps? I can confirm doing that normally brings an end to poverty in one fell swoop. But if you're still struggling to get by, please try not spreading avocado on your toast. I tried this technique and I was able to buy myself like three mansions and a speedboat! Finally, and this point is quite brilliant, drink fewer fancy coffees at Starbucks. Do this and you'll be flying around in your own private jet in no time.

Sounds so incredibly stupid and patronising to hear this nonsense when you're living in poverty, doesn't it? Now imagine you didn't have the cosy flat in Fulham which you're renting by essentially ripping off the courts. Imagine you're in a homeless hostel, as I once was, on the waiting list for a council flat, surrounded by drug addicts and criminals and your everyday regular lost souls, with all your welfare money going towards rent on the hostel, so you don't have a penny to your name. Now imagine being told to pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Imagine just how ridiculous that advice would sound in that situation. Because that is the real Britain for the working class. That is the life you chose to impose on so many regular people, most of who did absolutely nothing wrong, while you lot pretended we were living lives of luxury at your expense. We were not fucking sex offenders and you chose poverty for us and you told us we need to budget better. Well, now you are getting a taste of karma.

Anyways, here are a few genuine poverty tips that I picked up through firsthand experience:

  • Dilute your milk so it lasts longer.
  • Pick specks of mould off your bread because you absolutely cannot afford to waste it.
  • Reuse teabags because you will need the caffeine to help you deal with the hunger.
  • Buy expiring food from the discount section.
  • Stock up on cheap tins of beans and spaghetti.
  • Don't even think of turning the heating on. Layer up instead.
  • Don't forget, if worse comes to worst, a bag of porridge oats can feed you for a week. I've been there.
  • Enjoy the free Sky subscription, gold chains, cigarettes and alcohol that you've just discovered you don't actually get when you're unemployed.

Mr Elphicke, you are surely well aware our welfare system is not fit for purpose, that it takes too long to make a claim, that the requirements are absurd, that the process is stressful and humiliating, that the system is needlessly punitive, that it leaves people without enough food and energy, that it essentially makes life near-impossible. And yet your former party chose to take £20 a week from Universal Credit claimants in the run up to Christmas, when we are facing huge food and energy inflation. The inhumanity...

The 130,000 excess deaths caused by our broken welfare system were described by UN rapporteur Phillip Alston as "economic murder". In another word, democide. And for most claimants, Universal Credit does not result in death, of course, but it certainly does result in permanent stress. 

Most of us do not deserve this stress, Mr Elphicke, but you most certainly do. Oh, and if you're still looking for a job, you could always try picking fruit at a nearby farm.

Tuesday, 16 November 2021

Sir Keir Starmer has disgraced himself once again by addressing Labour Friends of Israel to condemn the BDS movement and show solidarity with far-right Israeli ambassador Tzipi Hotoveli who was in attendance.

During his speech, Starmer condemned "antizionist antisemitism", conflating two very different things. Antisemitism is essentially hatred of Jews, whereas antizionism is opposition to the colonisation of Palestinian land. It is simply not reasonable to suggest they are remotely the same and very much erases Palestinian suffering. You could argue Starmer's position is racist against Palestinians. You could equally argue the conflation of Zionism and Jewishness is antisemitic, because it erases any Jew who doesn't identify as Zionist - and many Jews don't.

Starmer insisted "every Jew would count" under his leadership, but he failed to mention he has purged a shocking number of left-wing Jews from the party, apparently for being the "wrong kind of Jew". He is not tackling antisemitism at all. He is actually siding with the Israeli far-right and ignoring or even condemning Jewish voices who disagree with him.

The BDS movement is not something I've ever actively participated in, but it's supported by Jewish former-ANC MP Andrew Feinstein who served in Nelson Mandela's government and lost 39 members of his family in the holocaust. Andrew is someone who knows a thing or two about apartheid and the effectiveness of boycott, divestment and sanctions. I would therefore suggest he would be a better voice to listen to than the current Labour leader.

Starmer said this of the BDS movement:

"Its principles are wrong, targeted alone at the world's sole Jewish state. We will fully oppose and condemn illegal settlements, annexation and the eviction of Palestinians from the occupied Palestinian territories."

Starmer acknowledges an illegal occupation is taking place, but falls short of calling out apartheid, mass murder, and other crimes against humanity, such as the imprisonment of young children. He insists it's wrong to boycott the state which is guilty of the terrible things he partly acknowledges, giving it a free pass on the basis it's the "world's sole Jewish state".

I'm not sure where to begin with the absurdity of this. Just imagine if he'd said BDS against South African apartheid was wrong, because his position is morally equivalent. I would pay to see him debate Andrew Feinstein on this one. He would be left floundering.

Starmer's eagerness to support the fascist ambassador Tzipi Hotovely comes in stark contrast to how he responded to two of Labour's Muslim MPs - Apsana Begum and Zarah Sultana - being subjected to horrendous racist abuse. In short, Starmer didn't respond. He completely failed to show any solidarity at all to these women.

Now, regardless of your political affiliation, it is just a human response to stand in solidarity with anyone who has been the victim of vile racist abuse, and this is something Jeremy Corbyn did repeatedly during his time as Labour leader. He regularly showed solidarity with people who were not in his political faction.

But what makes Starmer look particularly bad is how he immediately leapt to the defence of Israeli ambassador Tzipi Hotovely when she was booed outside the London School of Economics. Hotovely is a person who denies the Nakba took place in 1947/48 when over 700,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed. She believes Israel has a right to take all Palestinian land. She is also a person who believes that interracial marriage is wrong, and as the father of mixed-race children, this really doesn't sit well with me at all.

Sir Keir Starmer had no problem telling us that booing a fascist would not be tolerated, and yet he fell into silence when his own MPs were the victims of Islamophobia. It seems rather worrying that he would prioritise imagined racism against an actual racist, over very real racism against his own MPs, almost as though he has a racism hierarchy.

On 25th August 2020, then 17 year old Kyle Rittenhouse visited a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which was taking place in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake. He was carrying a Smith and Wesson M&P15 which he used to kill two people and seriously injure one more. Much of the incident was caught on camera and shows Rittenhouse being pursued by members of the public, prior to the shootings. 

Rittenhouse surrendered to police and was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm, two counts of homicide, and two counts of reckless endangerment. The first charge has already been dismissed by the judge.

During the initial confrontation, one individual fired a shot into the air, prompting Rittenhouse to turn around, pointing his gun at another member of the public. This was Joseph Rotenbaum who threw a bag containing clothing at Rittenhouse and attempted to tackle him, but was fatally shot four times. Multiple members of the public then gave chase and Rittenhouse was struck in the head, falling to the ground. At this point, Anthony Huber struck Rittenhouse in the shoulder with his skateboard and was shot dead. A local resident approached Rittenhouse with a handgun, but he was shot in the arm.

Supporters of Kyle Rittenhouse say it was clear that he acted in self-defence, that he only shot these people because he was under attack, and that he actually attended the protests to protect property and administer first aid.

Of course, it is not the job of a minor to travel out of town to protect public property armed with a semi-automatic rifle. Whatever views you may have on US cops, it is officially their job to protect private property in this way. Also, it is an incredibly provocative thing to arrive armed at a location in which protesters are clearly emotionally distressed. It is the type of behaviour which provokes suspicion and fear and could absolutely trigger the fight or flight response in people. 

Rittenhouse was effectively saying: "I am carrying this gun and I am prepared to shoot any of you dead because I hate you and everything you stand for." That was the message he was sending so there was always a high probability of his actions ending in tragedy.

The fact is if Rittenhouse did not turn up with a gun, his victims would still be alive today. Shooting people dead does not seem a proportionate response when your mere presence was so provocative and intimidating. However, the mitigating circumstances suggest murder might not have been the best charge.

Having reviewed the camera footage, I absolutely do not feel it was right for Rittenhouse to shoot these people dead, but at the same time, I can see how he was genuinely afraid in the moment. It's just that the situation was manufactured by his presence so he must carry a high degree of blame.

The crowd had to make a snap decision about what they thought was the best move to protect themselves and others, and some felt the best move was to stop an armed individual from potentially killing people. Did they make the right call? Absolutely not. But they were placed in a terrifying situation by an individual who should not have been there.

It seems unquestionable to me that Rittenhouse is guilty of serious crimes. If someone in the UK arrived at a protest in which they held the protesters in contempt and were armed with a machine gun, leading to an incident where they shot people dead, that person would be looking at serious jail time. But this is America we are talking about, the land where people openly carry guns and take kids to shooting ranges. The land where white people can pull a get out of jail free card from their pockets.

What is troubling in this case is how the judge seemed all too keen to dismiss evidence against Rittenhouse, such as him attending a Proud Boys event in which attendees reportedly spoke of killing people. The judge seemed genuinely protective of the defendant and not at all impartial. 

For example, he would not allow lawyers to refer to the victims as "victims" but did allow lawyers to refer to them as "arsonists" and "looters". This could surely be perceived as an attempt to influence the jury and has prompted an outcry on social media.

The jury is now deliberating and I suspect Rittenhouse will get off on the homicide charges, but it would be hard to justify acquitting him of two reckless endangerment charges, which each carry sentences of up to 17 years. However, I am fully expecting the judge to give Rittenhouse the most lenient sentence he possibly can and that could trigger a ton of further unrest.

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Sir Keir Starmer has sunk to a new low by expressing solidarity with Israeli ambassador Tzipi Hotovely who was loudly booed, following a speech she made at the London School of Economics.

Starmer said the following on Twitter:

And Starmer's shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds went even further:

There are a few problems here:

Firstly, the video footage shows no evidence of threats of violence. We see Hotovely leave the building and make it to her car without any threat of violence taking place. If a threat of violence took place separately to this protest, it would be wrong to equate these protesters with such a threat, but I've seen no evidence such a threat was made.

Secondly, Hotovely is the ambassador for an apartheid state (as defined by Human Rights Watch and other human rights organisations) and as such is a perfectly legitimate target for peaceful protest. We are not talking about people standing outside her home here. We are talking about Hotovely leaving an event in which she made a 90 minute political speech. It's worth noting Boris Johnson was booed in a similar manner at COP 26 and absolutely nobody called this racist. You can't just lazily throw around the word antisemitism whenever someone calls out the crimes of Israel. Doing so undermines the fight against antisemitism and is highly irresponsible.

Thirdly, Hotovely holds some truly abhorrent views. She believes Palestine has never existed, that Israel should therefore annex all Palestinian land, and denies the Nakba (the ethnic cleansing of over 700,000 Palestinians in 1947/48) ever took place. She also believes miscegenation (interracial marriage) is wrong. I am in an interracial marriage. My four kids are mixed-race. Imagine telling me I couldn't boo a person who believes my family is illegitimate, or even worse that booing would make me racist and deserving of a criminal record.

The Labour leader has not only sided with a member of the far-right with unquestionably fascist views, he has essentially stated peaceful protest will not be tolerated. In his desperation to defend the free speech of a fascist (which was not under threat), he has threatened the free speech of those who oppose fascism. And honestly, I'm not even sure he realises this himself, because I don't think he thought any of this through, but rather offered a knee-jerk reaction to show he is tough on antisemitism.

This is what happens when you tie yourself up in knots for short-term political gain. Starmer sided with some of the most dishonest people in politics to oust Jeremy Corbyn and become Labour leader, and now he has found himself in a position where he is dependent on their support. He effectively has no choice but to side with the far-right, because he has burnt his bridges with the left, and his allies are keeping his leadership afloat.

Just imagine for a moment that someone booed the ambassador for North Korea. Imagine how laughably absurd it would be to suggest that booing them would be a racist thing to do, and that anyone who booed should be arrested. This episode suggests that if Starmer ever did become prime minister, he would lead us in a very authoritarian direction.

Picture the scene:

"I got sentenced to three years."

"What you in for?"

"Booing a fascist at a peaceful protest."

It's not just ridiculous, it's terrifying.

We live in an upside-down world in which the protesters of the most extreme example of racial segregation of our time - an actual apartheid - are the ones who are called racist. And if you disagree with my use of the word "apartheid" in this context, here is what Nelson Mandela had to say on the matter:

"We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians."

Israel/Palestine is the great human rights issue of our time, and if you support the actions of the Israeli state, you are no different from those who supported South African apartheid and called for Nelson Mandela to be hanged. By taking the position he has, by effectively wanting to prevent the peaceful protest of apartheid, Sir Keir Starmer is the moral equivalent of such people, just with a respectable facade. 

The Israeli state has killed at least 60 Palestinian children so far this year and many more adults. Year after year, it keeps annexing Palestinian land, destroying Palestinian infrastructure and trapping the Palestinians in the world's largest (but ever-shrinking) open-air prison. Anyone who leaps to the defence of the perpetrators is on the wrong side of history.