The Daily Grind

Have you ever sat on a bus, found something irritating you and turned into a cynical old hack? Well, I’m only 20 and I find that I do! Whether it be somebody’s improper use of grammar to aggrovating bus drivers to the civil service, The Daily Grind is where I espouse all my rants against the world and its idiocy.

Frustrated or Not, Voting BNP is Evil

Spot the Difference? There is none.

Spot the Difference? There is none.

There’s been much comment about the BNP gaining two MEPs in the recent European elections. Many excuses have been provided to the simpering electorate, such as frustration about the recent expenses scandal, an apathetic attitude to the political system, and a wish to fire a ‘warning shot’ to MPs. My argument is simple. A vote for the BNP is, quite simply, a vote for a fascist party. A vote for the BNP expresses a wish not only to deport all black people from this country, but also to deport anybody different in any way from a false ideal of Aryan supremacy.

Those that think of the BNP as ‘standing up for British ideals’ would do well to think about how many Britons fought and gave their lives in World War II to reject this false premise that the cause of all social problems can be squarely blamed on alternative identities. Millions of British soldiers gave their lives in WWII, not just to fight fascism, but to end the anti-semitism and genocide that had populated the Reich. There is nothing British about fascism. Whilst in the dark corners of our colonial history we have perpetuated it on other countries, generally as a collective  we stand for freedom and the right to choose. We created the first democracy as an exemplar to the world of tolerance and freedom. Whilst some of us may adopt a conservative outlook, the idea that a false dystopia of a minority of anglo-saxon ‘pure-breeds’ is what Britain is is false. This country is, and always has been, a melting pot of different ideas and cultures.

There are those who say they voted BNP out of general frustration. Whilst such frustration is understandable, given the greed and complacency shown by the majority of MPs and the abuse of their expenses, there are plenty of other options out there; the Greens, Christian Democrats, hell, if you like moronic anti-immigration over racism, even UKIP. But ‘I was frustrated’ is an unacceptable excuse for voting for a bunch of racist thugs. One of the few duties living in a free society demands is that you vote once every couple of years, and that you keep vigilant so that your democracy isn’t lost. Taking an hour or so to be educated about the options before you vote is not much to ask, when you think of some of the horrific dictatorships that some people live under in the world.

Whilst the collapse in the Labour vote and the expenses scandal may have been noted as factors in the election of two BNP MEPs, this electoral childishness has to stop. We have to take responsibility for our own country – blaming those that are different from us will not solve the challenges we all face as a people. In fact, to face these problems, we are likely to be more successful if we all stand apart than allow fear and division to tear us apart. Whilst voting for the BNP may be sociologically explained, morally it is ultimately unacceptable. And giving excuses to those who have insulted the memories of those who died and fought for our democracy is simply pandering to fools.

Brown Shares Nixon’s Paranoia

If you’re like me, then you’ll be distinctly and unpleasantly aware of the concept of the “bigger boy”. The “bigger boy” is not necessarily threatening, intelligent, or witty. But for some reason this chap will make it his business to do everything he can to make you turn a particularly peculiar shade of jade – be it beating you at football, going out with the girl you longed for, or just generally being more popular.

This jealousy, together with the ripe apples of insecurity and cynicism, can ferment into paranoia. While most of us leave this insecurity behind after adolescence, for many it remains a bitter barrier against the world. It is what drove Richard Nixon to disgrace in the Watergate Scandal, and it is what is currently hammering the nails into Gordon Brown’s political coffin.

For Nixon, the bigger boy was John F Kennedy. The charismatic, handsome JFK was everything Tricky Dick despised about the Democrats – style over substance, liberal views and a wealthy background. Richard Nixon was a conservative blue-collar worker who stuck to traditional values, while Kennedy was a liberal professional who slept around at any given opportunity. This hatred boiled over when JFK triumphed in the 1960 presidential election – beating him by the narrowest margin ever recorded.

Consumed by paranoia.

Consumed by paranoia.

Nixon never got over this defeat. When he ran again in 1968 and won the Presidency, he was still plagued by doubts and worries as to what the “damn liberals” were planning, so much so that in 1972 he authorised several men to break into the Watergate Hotel in an attempt to spy on his opposing Democratic Presidential candidate,George McGovern. However, the men were caught, and Nixon’s subsequent cover-up led to him being forced from office two years later. The irony was that Nixon won the 1972 election in the biggest landslide in US history. Had he believed in himself and stayed the course, he could have been the most popular President of all time. Why did he order the break-in when Humphrey could be so easily defeated? The answer is simple: paranoia. Harbouring resentment after having lost to JFK, Nixon allowed himself to be destroyed by an enemy that only existed in his own perception.

This tale serves as an analogy – can you think of a similar leader, serious, not particularly good looking and from a working class background who has lost out to a reasonably well-off, handsome. younger challenger? Gordon Brown was the driving force for what would become New Labour in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s; he was the rugged intellectual whose initiative would take a post-Smith Labour to victory. Until Tony Blair came along. Blair, with all the right sound bites, attractive image and dynamic youth, was much more appealing to the media and subsequently, the party. So it was that Brown saw the victory of which he dreamed, the victory he had prepared for most of his life, being handed over to a contender to the throne.

Brown then spent the vast majority of Blair’s premiership building a barricade of supporters, sniping at Number 10 and shoving Blair towards the door. When he took over, he tried to muster the same support gained by his predecessor – but found, for all his written eloquence and academic substance, he simply could not communicate effectively with the public. So he dug in, surrounded himself with a platoon of yes-men and fired the mortar of refutations and denials at the handsome and wealthy David Cameron.

The trouble with this approach is that paranoia always gets you in the end. The revelation of an attempt to smear the Conservatives last week and the subsequent resignation of Damien McBride, one of Brown’s top advisors, signalled the moment when Brown lost the 2010 general election. Whilst not on the scale of Watergate, it demonstrated that just when Brown was about to use all the magnanimity of the G20 to re-launch his image, the paranoia he held, the feeling that “they’re all out to get me” ended any chance he had of being re-elected. While Brown may not have penned the smears himself, the company he keeps while he is in his office reflects greatly on him.

This is not meant to be a pro-Tory “Labour is dead” rant. Instead, it’s a warning against those who long for power. Rather than letting jealousy drive you to your own grave, just remember that the “bigger boy” is simply that – just another person.

Magic Mayhem

You know you’re back in Manchester when the bus you’re travelling on loses a wing mirror. Such was my welcome back to our fair city last magic-bus2Monday when even I, despite being fairly accustomed to the wild ways of the Magic Bus, was a little surprised to see one of the bus driver’s most crucial aids be smashed to smithereens. It was caused, as ever, by sheer incomprehension of basic road rules and disregard for the laws of science. For instance, the basic scientific principle that two things (in this case, the wing mirror and the Fingland’s bus situated opposite) cannot be together in the same place at the same time. The resulting collision was the destruction of a wing mirror which, whilst certainly spectacular, was somewhat disconcerting. Exactly the feeling one needs to restore all faith in the Manchester bus system.

So, what does this anecdote have to do with anything? Well nothing, except that it cost me a quid to get from Sainsbury’s in Fallowfield to the Students’ Union. A quid. Now, maybe I’m just being prudish, but I’m not really a fan of mirror-smashing on the way to university in the morning – the sudden noise is agonising to my aching third-year-and-past-it ears and frankly, I’m dicing with death enough when I get on a Magic Bus – I don’t want to take a chance on one without a crucial wing mirror. Add to that the fact that it’s costing me good money that could be spent on snacks to guzzle in John Rylands. I don’t appreciate my morning journey being transformed from what would, in other cities, be a normal commute, to a travelling experience with all the reliability and comfort of a rickety ghost train at the Whitworth Park fair.

Now don’t get me wrong. Frankly, I know very little about the accounts of Magic Bus, Finglands and Stagecoach, and with the ‘one size fits all’ price-rising excused by the credit crunch, an article on the extortionate levels of bus prices would maybe be fair game, but not exactly poignant. This article however does have a fundamental point to make – that, given the sheer arsey-ness of bus drivers in this city, that fare is simply not worth paying.

You know exactly what I mean. I hate generalisations, I hate people trying to paint one type of people a particular way based on race, gender, age, and profession – but in my own personal experience, the ratio of arsey to nice bus drivers is approximately 500:1. You know exactly what I mean. That moment when they just look at you when you get on the bus. Not a ‘Good Morning, where may I drive you today?’ or even the customary ‘Hiya’ (imagine a suitably gruff tone of voice.) Instead you get that look, that leering, malevolent look that dares you to be so bold as to pay without the exact change, or to waste valuable time asking for a weekly pass that you’re perfectly entitled to. On top of that you get a sigh at anything remotely awkward, particularly change-fumbling and wallet retrieval, and a shake of the head so full of disapproval that it embodies all of the worst in-built fears we will have one day about our in-laws. Why do they have to be SO arsey?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe by some luck I’ve had bad run-ins with the worst of the worst in bus drivers. All of the bus drivers I’ve met have asked me to pay extortionate bus fares (which increase exponentially every time I return to Manchester) and have done so with the most aggravatingly arsey behaviour they can manage. For the ridiculously high prices, it wouldn’t kill them to have a smile and go about their job with a bit more patience. Come to think of it, it would also be nice if they could drive without impaling the buses on local landmarks/other buses/cyclists/pedestrians, not to mention wing-mirrors.

Careerism and Universities

In the recession, Universities are ceasing to be knowledge centres and turning into career-factories.

In the recession, Universities are ceasing to be knowledge centres and turning into career-factories.

In a world where graduate degrees are increasingly common, does a degree make an difference any more?
We have all had that unpleasant experience of explaining to somebody our plans or aspirations to go to university or what we plan to do with our lives, only to be met with a smirk and asked that question in a tone of disapproval: “And just exactly what do you hope to do with that?”

I myself can recall at least ten times that this has been asked of me whilst on a checkout this summer. Although in my case it was coupled with either scorn at the idea of studying philosophy, or a question about just exactly what philosophy is – although as any philosophy student will tell you, that question alone can take pages to answer. Trying to answer it whilst packing a bag and finishing the definition of the noble art of philosophy with “Would you like some cashback with that?” inevitably leads to an unsatisfactory reply.

And this doesn’t just apply to humanities degrees like mine – even degrees which clearly develop a practical skill such as engineering or medical degrees are still mocked in general, sometimes by the media, usually blanketed under the carpet criticism that “all kids go to uni these days…none of them get jobs.” Anybody who’s ever listened to Jon ‘I don’t care what the rest of the world thinks I’m still going to act like a blithering moron’ Gaunt on talksport or watched Jeremy Kyle rant on about ‘the school of hard knocks’ and insist on his first hand education in ‘the University of Life’ might be surprised to learn that both of these people went to university.

First of all, the criticism that graduates don’t go on to employment in better jobs is simply false. A HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) revealed that 93.8% of graduates are employed in decent jobs after their degrees, with those who study philosophy (a statistic that I’m particularly proud of) reaching 93.5% employment and those who study the creative arts achieving employment levels of 91%.

The fact that some 6.2% of graduates have failed to find work immediately after their degree is not a sufficient amount of evidence to claim that a university degree doesn’t help you get a job. In fact, I would argue that the 93.8% figure reflects that going to university gives you a genuinely better chance of better employment, and renders that particular criticism invalid.
But for me, the real reason why people shouldn’t be bothered by claims that “you won’t get a job” or “your subject won’t take you anywhere” is first of all, most people don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. Secondly, the experience of fending for yourself and living away from home will teach you more than ‘a proper job’ ever could. Finally, there’s something very noble about education for the sake of it.

Why is it that a degree doesn’t get the respect it deserves anymore? Yes there are more people getting them, but that should not diminish the achievement. To graduate you will have to overcome academic, financial and social barriers that show real strength of character to hurdle. To undermine the achievement of gaining a degree is to undermine the character-emboldening experience of educating yourself, both academically and ‘in the real world’ by living away from home.
On a final note, to Freshers I would say welcome to the most fun and most challenging experience of your life! And to those of you who are dab hands at the uni game who may be worried about the big wide world, remember that there’s no way the knowledge or experiences you’ve gained won’t help you some way in the future. And please, to anyone reading, don’t take advice off Jon Gaunt or Jeremy Kyle.


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