Still a nasty party

What’s in store for the UK if the Conservatives obtain an ample majority after the upcoming election? Brace yourselves—it’s going to hurt a bit.

The most-discussed aspect of the Conservative manifesto has been the plans for elderly care. Nick Triggle has written a concise article on this, and summarises the complex plans:

They want people to pay more towards the cost of their care, but are prepared to wait until you die before taking it from your estate.

Yes, some elements of their plans sound generous and certainly some people will benefit, but large numbers won’t.

Why? Because we are a nation of homeowners and these plans make sure that whatever sort of care you need, the value of your home can be taken into account.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-39957879

This has been called a ‘dementia tax’, which is a fair assessment.  Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society has said, ‘For people spending over half a million pounds on dementia care, nothing parties have yet proposed will help.’ The plan has been written into the manifesto to show that the Conservatives have a strategy for tackling the rising cost of elderly care, but it seems curiously callous, and it will be unpopular. The proposals around pensions: scrapping the triple lock and means testing winter fuel payments, further jeopardise the party’s appeal.

The economic policies outlined are unambitious. They include a pledge to spend more on research and development, cut corporation tax to 17% by 2020, and provide better infrastructure to businesses. There are also minor moves to strengthen financial regulation.  The slight shift from Osbornian austerity is encouraging, but not bold enough. Real incomes will continue to fall with such meek proposals, and productivity will continue to flounder. This is the manifesto of a complacent party that merely wants to create some ‘wriggle room’ around economic policy after it wins the election.

The proposed increase of the National Living Wage to 60% of median income by 2020 is nothing to get excited about, and those living on a low wage have good reason to suspect anyway that it wouldn’t happen under a Conservative majority government. This policy is not there to win votes from those in working poverty; it’s there to show dithering voters on average-to-comfortable incomes that the Conservatives aren’t quite as gung-ho about inequality as they were last time. The introduction to the manifesto tries to underline this point, but it rings hollow to anyone with direct or indirect experience of the issue.

The education proposals are the second-worst aspect of the manifesto, and it’s surprising that more hasn’t been made of them. The proposals include not only the much discussed ending of the grammar school ban and the scrapping of free school lunches, but also 100 new free schools a year, university involvement in academy sponsorship, and changes to the rules to allow new Catholic schools to be established. This is in line with the direction of previous governments (Labour included) towards more pseudo free-market ‘choice’ in education, more input from faith communities, and deepening inequality of opportunity embedded in the education system. The extra £4billion provided to schools is scant consolation for the cuts that have left class sizes soaring and 4,000 teachers leaving the profession every month.

The NHS is in crisis, and the proposed £8billion extra per year by 2022/2023 isn’t costed, unlike Labour’s promised £7.4billion extra to come from tax increases (which in theory could be effected immediately). This means that the Conservative plan for health looks less realistic than Labour’s under Corbyn (of all leaders). This is not a good look. Indeed, the main reason many non-Corbynistas are putting a peg on their nose and a cross next to a Labour candidate on June 8th is ‘to save the NHS’. It’s a good-enough reason.

The proposals for crime and justice promise a continuation of the same policy track which hasn’t been working since 2010. The £1billion to modernise the prison estate is needed, but so are rethinks on sentencing, rehabilitation and prison officer pay. Otherwise, the justice system will continue to become more expensive, and staff will remain demoralised. The move to incorporate the Serious Fraud Office into the National Crime Agency has been attacked by Transparency International, and it will facilitate corruption in the name of cost cutting.

It’s on the issues of immigration and Brexit where the manifesto lets off its stinkiest odours. The pledge to cut immigration to under 100,000 per year (including international students) has been vociferously attacked by none other than George Osborne: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/27/george-osborne-blistering-attack-theresa-mays-tory-manifesto/ Osborne rightly says that this will force families apart and lead to recruiting problems in many industries. Taken with the Brexit policies, the plans to turn the UK into a low-migration economy will cause trouble for business and the economy more generally. This will be the greatest challenge for the next government, and the Conservatives look ill-prepared despite the ‘strong and stable’ mantra.

This manifesto highlights why many on the anti-Corbyn left are still voting Labour; voting for the Conservatives is even more distasteful. A Conservative government with a large majority will prove more troublesome than the struggle to remove Corbyn in the event of a slim Conservative majority. Those backing Labour despite Corbyn are not being naive; they realise that they have two battles ahead, and they have worked out which one will be the most difficult.

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The long game for Labour

He’s done it again: our naughty boy/Messiah has adopted another wayward Stalinist advisor. After the Guardian gave him Seamus Milne, Corbyn has now made Andrew Murray his campaign chief. Videos of Mr. Murray calling for the defeat of NATO at communist rallies are currently circulating on a certain anti-totalitarian political blog, as are videos of Corbyn in 2014 criticising NATO as a ‘Frankenstein’ (the monster or its creator?) of an organisation that was established to ‘promote the Cold War’, and acts as ‘an engine for the delivery of oil to the oil companies’.

It’s not unreasonable to question whether Corbyn’s stance has shifted much in the last three years, despite what he recently said at Chatham House. A telling detail of his speech is where he mentioned Russian activities along the ‘NATO border’, as if the countries in question aren’t individual sovereign states.

Another detail was just how reluctant he seemed to authorise the use of our nuclear deterrent now that Westminster is committed to replacing it, dodging an answer with ‘it’s an extraordinary question’. Well, it’s one a would-be future PM should be able to answer, let alone one who is vice-chairman of CND, a position which Corbyn still holds. There were also hints that he would end all deployments of UK forces abroad, ‘This is the fourth general election in a row to be held while Britain is at war and our armed forces are in action in the Middle East and beyond’. Perhaps the Kurds fighting IS in Iraq and Syria would appreciate his concern. Corbyn is certain to be getting a lot of solid PR advice right now from Murray.

Any of the assurances we can take from the Chatham House are the result of pressure from the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry. This includes an honouring of NATO commitments regarding military spending of 2% of GDP, which must have come with reluctance from Corbyn’s mouth given his past rhetoric. The only real assurance we can take from Corbyn himself is that he is ‘not a pacifist’, which may or may not persuade some of his detractors to stop calling him one.

British sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is not completely secure even with Thornberry; she said that a Labour government would defend the islands if they were attacked. This leaves possible the power-sharing deal with Argentina that Corbyn has said he would like to pursue. Thornberry dismissed this accusation (if you can call it that) as ‘bollocks’ and ‘untrue’, but she contradicted herself in saying that there needs to be an international agreement on the issue.  Corbyn’s words somewhat contradict Thornberry’s. This indicates plurality of opinions within the party more than division, but it is worrying when fringe views come from the party leader while mainstream views are held elsewhere in the party.

The issue of Trotskyist entryism was ignored by Corbyn when Tom Watson presented him with evidence. I can confirm anecdotally that it is true. The Trotskyists I know have been open about entryist strategies encouraged by Corbyn’s leadership. What this wilful ignorance on Corbyn’s part suggests is that his leadership is incompatible with Labour’s principles; the argument that ‘so was Blair’ is not a real argument. Labour acting as a big tent for all varieties of hard-left crank is probably amusing to Conservatives; we have not only Trotskyists, but Stalinists and Maoists in the party ranks and occasionally in prominent positions. I always found it absurd when Trotskyists talked about soft-Stalinist ‘tankies’ in the modern Labour Party, but now it appears they weren’t talking bollocks on this matter. Here’s the RationalWiki article on Corbyn’s new campaign chief: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Andrew_Murray .

For those on the ‘decent left’ this is just more to add to the pile, on top of Corbyn’s anti-Semitic and terrorist-appeasing links. When Corbyn won the leadership election, and then won the leadership challenge, us ‘decent’ Labour supporters were told we may never get our party back. Douglas Murray told us we’d lost: https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2015/11/its-all-over-for-the-decent-left-and-they-have-only-themselves-to-blame/# He strawmans hard in that piece; vigilance around the creep of Islamic extremism is not the preserve of those to the right of social democracy,  but the gist of that article stung then, and it stings even more now.

After poring over the Labour manifesto, the Guardian coverage of said manifesto, and the Chatham House speech, I’ve been wondering what to do. I do not want a hard Brexit, a sabotaged NHS, a sadistic benefit system, an outdated education system, fox hunting or redistribution of wealth to the wealthy. I also do not want to back Liberal Democrat opportunistic shenanigans. Protest voting is as inimical as not voting in most cases, so the Greens are out. Labour economic policies are interesting and some are even costed. It would be good to know what Nick Cohen plans to do, but he’s been quiet lately—if he has retreated to his home to throw crockery at the wall, I fully understand.

Enough angst for now: whither Labour?

When I ask myself that question, a mental image of rubbish being blown across a decaying concrete walkway between towers of council flats is generated. Others of the same political persuasion will have their own bleak vision. This might become a new party game, or at least a poor imitation of a scene from JG Ballard novel. To understand the implications of this compelling political car crash, we must examine why it happened. What excites people (the media, Corbynistas, that bore in the staff room—wait, that’s me) about this disaster?

The Corbynistas seem to include a chunk of my own generation—the older section of so-called millennials born in the 1980s. I wont’ go so far as to say that Corbynism is the result of inter-generational conflict, but it does play a role. This generation were mostly depoliticised in their late teens and early twenties; the most pressing issues were the Second Gulf War and tuition fees. The student left lost on both issues, and this fostered disengagement. Austerity hit them after graduation and many of spent years working for low wages, unable to purchase a house. If they were going to engage with leftish politics, the coming of the Antiblair was needed. For those of you thinking, ‘So? Living in mouldy rented accommodation is no excuse for torching the Labour Party. Quite the opposite…’ I quite agree—but man, you had to be there.

I remember my RE teacher saying in 2001, ‘There won’t be any welfare state when you’re older. No. No NHS. No benefits. There’s won’t even be any state schools’. She said this with such grim pleasure, I expected her follow it with ‘Mwahahaha!’ Someone had brought the Communist Manifesto to the little lunchtime club she (admittedly rather kindly) held in her classroom. Having read said book the week before, I tried to argue in a bullshit fourteen-year-old way that none of what she’d said is inevitable, or even likely. What she responded with surprised me, ‘Well, if you think socialism can work, you’re going to have to persuade people of that. You might even persuade me’. I looked at her incredulously.

I gave up trying to get people to see the sense of social democracy when I figured that the next financial crisis would do it for me, otherwise potatoes gonna potate.  Now that we’ve had the financial crisis, those on the right and centre-right have either maintained their position or softened slightly, (which explains the difference between May’s old-school conservative rhetoric and Cameron’s naked Thatcherism) whereas some of those who underwent potatofication have sought a way to depotate. This has involved either right-wing or left-wing populism, Corbyn being an example of the latter. When I see people going to Momentum meetings who were previously too busy for politics, I see people who either didn’t get the chance to do this stuff as a student—or if they are of my parents’ generation (it’s not just the young), they had it knocked out of them by the Thatcher project.

Depotatofication of the under-40s and the core Labour vote is a positive development. The problem is that it’s being managed by those who never grew out of student politics. One theory is that Corbyn and his acolytes are not interested in winning this election, but instead want to build a movement of weaponised potatoes, and then wait for the Conservatives to struggle with Brexit and a possible repeat financial crisis. This argues that Momentum is craftier than is often assumed, and that they are playing the long game.

If this is true, I don’t think it’ll work for them. Most Corbynistas cannot countenance Labour losing this election. This can be tested by saying to them ‘Labour will lose’ and observing their reaction, which is similar to watching your cat trying to suss out what that other cat in the mirror is playing at. My hunch is that Corbyn will lose much of his mass support when he loses the election, based on how the British public tend to respond to election losers. There is nothing unique about the mass of Corbyn supporters, even if Corbyn has a few die-hards who will support him no matter how many seats the party loses.

The gaps in opinion polls are narrowing, but polls have proven to be inaccurate during recent elections. It’s sensible to expect Labour to lose some seats, in many cases in its heartland. The mass of Labour voters not enamoured with Corbyn are not often heard in the media (who like Corbyn because he gets website clicks). The rise in party membership numbers is deceptive. There are millions of traditional Labour voters who are reluctant to vote for a Corbyn-led Labour Party. The ones who are enthusiastic about Corbyn are noisier, especially on social media, but you can hear him being slated in Wetherspoons and bingo halls across the country.

Which should encourage staff-room bores (like me) not to panic. There are enough people out there to rebuild the centre-left. It will either involve a new party, or Labour returning to work after its current sick leave. A good course of action is to vote for the person you want as your constituency MP in the coming election, and then wait. First act locally, and then think nationally. The situation is too uncertain to do anything else, but pessimism will not be productive.

Be more problematic

The United States of America has elected a demagogue whose cabinet contains religious fundamentalists who are attempting to enact policies attacking women’s reproductive rights. Russia is a barely-democratic state ruled by a gay-bashing strongman whose legislature recently decriminalised ‘first-offence’ instances of domestic abuse. Various religious fundamentalist regimes—some of whom our Western governments are friendly towards/sell weapons to, and others a segment of our left want to be friendlier towards— are continuing to heighten their attack on all forms of freedom; each year they are performing  hundreds of executions for such ‘crimes’ as homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery, alcohol consumption and apostasy. Saudi Arabia executes someone every two days, often for these offences.  Amnesty International estimates that in Iran alone, 5,000 people have been executed for their sexual orientation since 1979; I give the figure here because it seems appropriate to remember these people. The situation regarding aggression between nations is becoming tenser and further military conflict is likely.

And this has just been reported by Lee Williscroft-Ferris in the Independent:

This week, reports emerged from Chechnya of a systematic campaign of violence directed specifically at gay men (and, presumably, also bisexual men). Russian media and Amnesty International warn that those deemed “undesirable” by the authorities are being subjected to “preventive mopping up”, followed by arbitrary detention, torture and, in some cases, death at the hands of the police.

On the home front, the UK government has enacted a series of cuts to welfare that have led to a spate of suicides among the disabled. 14% of doctors have patients who have self-harmed as a result of the fitness to work test. Benefit sanctions have caused hundreds of thousands to resort to charity—913,000 people used food banks in 2014. London and the provincial cities are experiencing a homelessness crisis. In 2015, 64,000 households were declared homeless and more than 93,000 children were homeless. The prison system is affected by austerity to such an extent that stories of disturbances, of the like unseen for twenty-five years, steadily trickle into the news. The state of the NHS was declared a humanitarian crisis by the Red Cross last winter.

You know all this, right? Some of you might be doing something about some of it. You might have signed a few online petitions. You might have joined the shambles that is the current Labour Party. You might even (and this makes you better than I am in some ways) volunteered at a shelter, or for some other charity. How are you feeling, though? I’m guessing, if you care—probably scared. You perhaps feel the need to switch off with your chosen distraction: that’s fine and understandable. I would like to invite other concerned members of my age group (and beyond) to aim higher than fear, slacktivism and volunteering. Doing this will require:

  1. intellectual courage and honesty (they are pretty much the same thing),
  2. dropping of bad political habits, and
  3. willingness to have a bit of subversive fun.

The blocked-toilet state of the world cannot be addressed unless a suitable attitude and stance is adopted. To put it bluntly, progressives and intellectuals need to abandon identity politics and political correctness, and prioritise an attack on the most oppressive power structures. The level of distrust of the working class displayed by some educated people is unwarranted. ‘Commoners’ deserve to hear arguments that matter. I know this because I’ve lived nearly all my life as a prole among proles.  They are, in part, committing self-destructive political acts because they are being ignored. The most egregious social trend in the UK for the past two decades has been a tendency to punch down.

You may ask: can we not keep the PC and the identity politics and fight the good fight? No, not really. There are now some topics that now feel controversial even to consider. To those who say that political correctness is merely about good manners and inclusivity: good manners and inclusivity are about good manners and inclusivity; political correctness has become a form of censorship.

Racist, sexist and homophobic language can create a hostile and repressive atmosphere, but the correct solution is to challenge those views openly. Remember the drubbing Nick Griffin received when he went on Question Time? By policing discourse, the processes of political correctness lead to the same repressive climate it hopes to avoid.  The rise of the Internet troll is simply the other side of the ‘SJW’ coin. When debate becomes passionate among younger people, it feels like being trapped between two monsters.

Identity politics has stifled discussion of Islamism and ultraconservative Islam (especially its presence in the UK or Western Europe) and gender identity. This alerted me to the way progressive politics has swerved in the wrong direction. I saw several upsetting events; one that recurred was hearing about friends being coerced into marriages. I’ve seen people pressured to adopt religious practices and dress codes they wouldn’t otherwise have chosen. Among many liberals, these issues are banished from discussion. I became disgusted, to be frank—these topics should be prioritised (yes, prioritised) by the feminist and gay rights movement; they are blatant oppression of women and non-straight people.

Feminists who are critical of the theory of gender identity have to constantly guard against abuse. Many Marxist and radical feminist blogs have to be kept private for safety reasons. As a socialist feminist, I’m interested in class-based analysis of women’s oppression. It goes like this: women, as a class, are oppressed on the basis of sex and not gender. Sex is a reproductive function, and is dimorphic in humans—male and female. It can’t be any more a social construct than blood type. Gender is a social construct and a hierarchy—masculinity over femininity.  A few more concepts follow from this, but it’s risky to type them for public eyes.

There’s an interesting discussion among underground feminists, which compares the language of gender identity with the language used by religious groups. There have also been comparisons to Newspeak in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Even if you don’t agree with them, the analysis is fascinating. I was tempted to throw some Foucault at the concept by comparing gender to a Panopticon prison— ideas were zipping around my head, and then I felt a sense of guilt smothering me like a frozen bath towel. It was similar to how I felt in childhood when I had thoughts about God’s non-existence.

During my student days, I once found myself sitting on the floor of a squat in an abandoned warehouse. There were dogs on strings, Tuvan throat singing (picked up during the performer’s gap year) and hip-hop poetry about smashing televisions and wealth redistribution. A banner on the wall read, ‘Destroy Gender,’ which puzzled me at the time. I now understand. You definitely wouldn’t see a banner like that on a squat nowadays—not at all, absolutely not, no way, nope.

I doubt what I’ve written here will receive much of an audience, but if it does, the three paragraphs above this one will put me in some trouble. Am I scared? Yes, I am. What does that fear tell you about the state of discourse? The reason I’ve written it is not to make a gender critical argument, but to highlight how difficult it is to make one.  I’d prefer a world where it was less terrifying to discuss these issues.

When talking about the habits of my generation with older people, they either agree with me that they’re especially uptight and politically timorous, or they disagree and commend them for their level-headedness and sense of responsibility. One comment to ponder was, ‘After the riots in 2011, you saw the various groups of looters…but more young people were cleaning up the next day. The media won’t focus on them, though.’ My immediate reaction was to think that was just typical of some sections of my generation to be all goody-goody like that, commendable and public-spirited as such behaviour is. Then I reflected on how immature my first response was.

Later on, I remembered one of my best experiences at university; it’s barely an exaggeration to say it changed my life. A friend of mine (a great activist, I wonder what he’s doing now) managed to score a talk by Peter Tatchell at the students’ union. I was an initially uncertain and thought, ‘Oh, the gay rights guy. I’m not sure that applies to me all that much.’ But the passion for all human rights reverberating through his speech seemed to burst a dismal bubble that had inflated around me. The world seemed more real after hearing Tatchell’s words, like a solipsistic smear had been wiped from its surface. The responsibility we have to defend one another’s freedoms became clearer. I still smile at how he recommended we treat those who would oppress us: ‘Tell them to fuck off!’ The next few lines contained the same sentiments and a few more fucks. Of course, he meant they should fuck off politically, as well as literally. Some members of the audience found this attitude immature, especially coming from someone of Tatchell’s vintage.  I disagree with them now more than I did then; on some issues, being prissy is immature conduct.

This brings me to fun and its liberating potential. I’ve been thinking about how twenty-one year olds are bopping around with Fitbits (although twenty-one is barely my generation now)—they’re being monitored in a wide array of ways, but they then self-monitor; every step they take and every heartbeat is recorded. Would it be surprising if they found a way to surveil levels of satisfaction—pleasure chemicals in the brain, happy thoughts? Will they track discontented ruminations? Isn’t that what CBT is about?

In his documentary film HyperNormalisation, Adam Curtis argues that in the ideological vacuum created by the collapse of the Soviet Union, a focus on health and fitness was promoted in the West to give people a sense that they could control something—their own body, if not the world. He linked this to how the social climate of the Soviet Union was such that people were always denying a fundamentally failing system existed by pretending that everything was under control.  It’s a thought that often occurs to many people who observe cultural trends, but he puts it succinctly. Ah, but—I’ve heard it argued—those who embark on these structured self-improvement schemes enjoy doing so. It’s also their choice, and quite a wise one. I won’t debate the wisdom of taking some responsibility for one’s own health, although my desire for late nights, chilli-spattered chips and glasses of wine will debate it fiercely. What I question is the role of choice. Between what are we choosing? McDonald’s or NutriBullet? Fixed-gear bicycle or a season ticket? Going to the dentist or getting new glasses? Heat or eat?

It’s like we’re presented with a list of decisions, and the outcome of each one is tinged with defeat. You tick the flavour of defeat you’d prefer. What I propose is that we draw our own boxes and write what we want next to them. The authorities might hand your form back because they’re unable to process it, but that’s good; it starts a conversation. The world can become something closer to whatever we argue for. You might want a Fitbit, a latte and a pay freeze, after all—but if you want other things, options that aren’t on offer (like universal human rights) get noisy and have fun doing it.

Manchester is dead, long live Manchester

You either mythologise or demythologise the place where you grew up, or you do both at different times, and/or both the same time. I was aware in the late nineties that my birthplace was somewhat cool in the eyes of outsiders, the media, and in a more complex way, of its own natives. The era was a sort of fake sixties in the sense that the provinces and the working class attracted consideration and patronage. Most of the real things still happened in London, but there was an increasing awareness that things had happened and could potentially happen again in places like Manchester. People went there to see what it was like; they came from down south to go to the university, or from other parts of the north, to reinvent themselves without spending too much money in the process. You went to London to find fame; you went to Manchester to find…cheap records and cheaper beer, mostly.

I used to buy a ticket on the Metrolink and go exploring; this involved talking to tramps near Market Street and Piccadilly Gardens, loitering around the stalls of Affleck’s Palace and the Coliseum, reading books  and pamphlets in Central Library, going to pubs while underage and – strictly during the daylight hours, an expedition to porn and pet-shop strewn wastelands of Tibb Street. Of honourable mention are The Queer As Folk era Gay Village, with its tourists and bitter old queens, The Curry Mile when most of its customers were still students and even Deansgate, when the well-dressed, striding people there were still a bit tipsy and/or coked-up and not at all perfect or health-conscious. My activities were limited by my age, disposition and imagination, but I did get a taste for the ‘characters’ of the place post-Britpop but pre-gentrification.  There were the guys who lived (back then, voluntarily) in tents near the canal who tried to chat me up, and they guy who ran a stall selling prints of his own ‘sensual’ artwork (a bit like Klimt if he lived in Hebden Bridge instead of Vienna) who tried to chat me up, the paraplegic comic book collector and his cross-dressing friend who bought me cups of tea and tried to chat me up, the serene goths in Grand Central (who can still be found) the alcoholic early-afternoon karaoke crooners who tried to chat me up, and the guy who ran a military bookshop where poets and journalists would gather to drink cups of tea and gossip about all the other local ‘characters’ (who had far too much class to try chat me up, which is nice because I was fifteen-years-old). It was all men in filthy macs, lost souls coming down from the other night’s rave, people in the SWP and other cults: all those little bands, businesses and personalities amounting to a beautiful, rain-soaked insubstantiality. Later on, I’d return there on leave from the University of Leeds and see the Crazy Bus Lady, the Albino Rabbit Guy and a lot of quite derivative bands (again). It would involve ‘crashing’ in some undecorated but spacious, shared Victorian house in the south of the city, while frazzled, failing to connect with the man I was ‘seeing’, and wondering what all of this would make of me.

The take home was that it’s very possible to waste a lot of potential for a long time. This made me panic; how do you work out what to do when nobody else (interesting as they are) seems to know what they are doing? Then as I got older and more employed, I learned something else: people with a lot of money and confidence will act and bring in their own changes while the more interesting people are busy faffing about.  That is what has happened to my city, the place where I have ancestors who were there at the same time as Thomas De Quincey.

And so on to the hipsterfication of what was once seedy and slightly dangerous about Manchester. This change has not been wholly negative, although at first it seemed as outrageous as your dad getting first tattoo at nearly sixty years of age, or your strait-laced friend getting into swinging and MDMA. When you walked around the Oldham Road/Tibb Street area and saw all the beard grooming parlours, shops selling ethical furniture and restaurants selling diner food and craft beers, the initial reaction was one of mourning. Well, at least it was if you had any emotional attachment to bohemian Manchester as it used to be. Everything and everyone seemed so safe; they avoid eye contact, they elongate the letter a, (The Castle Hotel firmly became the Carstle Hotel) they have oversized tattoos and their shoes cost the same as your monthly rent. You think they would look at you like dirt if you were relevant enough for them to look at you. Except this is all in your head, you remind yourself; they are young, probably insecure because everyone is, and they are away from home. Like the British expats in Lanzarote or the Costas, they are doing what they need to do to feel comfortable – or rather, their money is following them and doing it for them.

Still, how dare they do this to Manchester, of all places! The birthplace of socialism, women’s suffrage, the computer and 90s girl group, Cleopatra! How dare they bring their beard oil up from Hoxton and rub it all over everything you love! The highlight of this outrage for me was Chorlton Beer Festival 2014, where everything I saw made me want to stick people’s heads down the chemical toilets, throw their dogs on the barbecue and where every beer tasted like pure, unfiltered hatred brewed especially by Satan Himself. If this sounds hysterical, my normally easygoing Mum met me for lunch there are year ago and she said, ‘it’s like you’re not even in the north anymore, let alone Manchester.’

There has recently been a change, though: as of 2016, our times are more interesting, so the even the boring, bourgeois youngish people are more interesting. At a craft fair recently, I walked past stall after stall of the most earnest cakes, samosas, keyrings, candles and houseplants. There were rainbow unicorns, Day of the Dead skulls, woodland creatures carved from wood and posters with the Factory Records typesetting in every corner. These have become the joyful cliches of hipsterism; they are rather like the sequined dresses, pyrotechnics and lyrics that have been run through Google Translate at the Eurovision Song Contest – meant to be embraced with the tacky glee with which they were produced. There were all these entrepreneurs who were obviously doing it out of love of craft more than love of money or for their ‘branded’ selves. I thought, ‘Was it really all that good in the old days? I mean a lot of the bands were just vanity projects and many of the eccentrics were people with mental health issues.  It was probably highly intimidating to those who did not regard it as the natural muck from which genius may (but mostly did not) spring.  I remember it being democratic in the sense it was the same rubbish that was available to all, but was it really inclusive to people who were not basically rough?’ There is possibly more creativity in the Northern Quarter now than fifteen years ago, if you define creativity strictly as people creating things, rather than as people taking substances and messing themselves up.

Yet there is plenty of that, as well, unofficially. As the rate of homelessness in Manchester has soared, the Northern Quarter has been the stage on which a tableau representing the uneasy contrasts of late capitalism is arranged.  Artfully-ramshackle people with considerable parental means walk upright, with only their lower bodies moving, and their faces full of the type of determination you mainly see on portraits of Lenin or Jeremy Corbyn, straight past the near-cadavers lying in many of the doorways. Thanks to the artificial cannabinoids known as Spice, these homeless men and women often seem to be circling oblivion like spat-out mouthwash going around a plughole. This spectacle is troubling enough in a space like Market Street, where every category of Mancunian and visitor makes an appearance, but in the Northern Quarter it takes on a special resonance with regards to the future for Generation Y and large chunks of Generation X. What will we make of this city and this country when it is finally passed down to them, if this is how polarised they are in material and social terms?

The most chilling form of hipsterism is not unique to Manchester at all. Kyle Chayka, writing for The Guardian, refers to it as AirSpace, which is a globalised hipster aesthetic informed by the wishes of an international set of people who often stay in Airbnb properties. He says the AirSpace style is characterised by ‘an easily recognisable mix of symbols – like reclaimed wood, Edison bulbs, and refurbished industrial lighting.’ These symbols are intended to reassure and flatter a class of people, the youngish bourgeois of the ‘creative industries’, that they are in their own natural territory, and that their desires for both familiarity and the impression authenticity are being accommodated. These desires seem to be in conflict until you realise that in this globalised world of surface impressions, merely the impression of authenticity is sought, and merely the impression of anything is all that is recognised. Inauthentic authenticity is the perfect aesthetic of our current crazy house world, and if Manchester is to become the international city it aims to be, it shall have an ample serving of this style.  The reason this is worrying is because it is the generic pall of globalised fashion and globalised inequality, where once there was local, regional gaucheness and admittedly-ineffective attempts to achieve if not equality, at least inclusiveness.

Still, as the ‘Tuck Frump’ graffiti is flung upon the brickwork, as the latter-day artisans make harvest mouse-shaped lamps out of old radiators, and as the many-gendered, pastel-haired couples hold hands on the cobbles, the watermarks of counterculture are beginning to reveal themselves. Hipsterism is not one thing and its defining generation is as complex as the times in which they live. Spring is coming, the shit is hitting the fan politically, hipsters are becoming an established part of this grand, shabby city and we will all have to learn to coexist despite a social climate that insists we cannot. My generation, hipster or otherwise, are going to have to not only fight for the choices to which many of them have always felt entitled, but also analyse what those choices mean, and whether or not they were the ones who actually made them in the first place. When they do this, they might just earn the right to occupy my former stomping ground.