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"Councils use controversial lie detector tests to catch benefit fraudsters". Another day, another piece of bullshit.

The key thing to understand here - and it's surprising how many people don't know this - is that there's no evidence that lie detectors can reliably prove that someone is lying! So it seems that the word "controversial" has an new exciting definition of "not proven to work".

I imagine there'll be further controversial headlines in the coming weeks, such as "George Osborne predicts growth in the economy using controversial system of astrology", or "Courts to gain evidence direct from victims in murder trials, thanks to the implementation of controversial ouija boards". Or "Health Secretary believes in controversial homeopathic medicine." …oh wait, that one's actually true. Man, writing political comedy is hard nowadays.

Apparently the lie detectors work by "listening in on calls and identifying signs of stress". Which will obviously be accurate, because people worrying about benefits and tax are never stressed, are they. Least of all when having to phone up the Department for Work and Pensions, who by all accounts are an absolute dream to talk with.

The system is used specifically "to check whether people are honestly claiming the single person council tax discount". Which is a very specific use for a lie detector, especially when we lose tens of billions of pounds a year to tax avoiders. If you were going to insist on lie detectors, you'd think you'd want to focus on the big hitters.

"Now, just answer truthfully. Is your chain of UK high-street clothes shops based in the the UK, or are they actually based in the Cayman Islands?"
"…………………..the second one?"
*buzzer goes wild, machine explodes*

According to the article, Southwark council "said it did not record how effective the scheme had been, but it did say that its real value was in making the public aware that it would crack down on benefit cheats."

Which is a real fuck-you to every single council tax payer in Southwark, where apparently the council has so little respect for people's money that they don't even bother checking if the things they spend it on are actually having an effect.

"Look, we don't keep records on how successful these ghost-catchers are. What I can say is that since we've started hiring them, my office feels far less haunted. Plus the kids like dancing around them and hiding under their capes, and in addition, any ghosts we DO catch will be sent back home immediately to the spirit realm where they come from, instead of living for free off of the state."

Obviously the technology is provided by Capita, the famously hopeless outsourcing company, who claim that the lie detectors are a "useful additional tool in the validation process". Which is a weird thing to say about a pseudo-scientific piece of garbage that has never been proven to work.

It wouldn't surprise me if Capita went on to win the contract to fix London's leaking water pipes, and claimed "When searching for leaking water pipes, these dousing rods really are a useful additional tool in the validation process."

Maybe their ignorance of science could even stretch to medicine, so if they win a contract to look after a burns unit on the NHS, they'll claim "When treating burns, rubbing KFC's unique blend of seven herbs and spices into the skin can be a useful additional tool in the healing process."

Most people would file lie detectors under "irrational decisions", considering that LIE DETECTORS DON'T FUCKING WORK. But actually, it's not at all surprising that they would be used by a government who ignores evidence-based decision making whenever it clashes with their ideology.

Workfare proven to not get people back into work? Better keep on going with it, then. Privatising the NHS makes things more expensive? Better privatise it, then. Not enough spare one-bedroom houses for single people to live in? Better punish people who live in a two-bedroom house, then.

So actually, the fact that the government wants to use lie detectors isn't controversial at all. Because when you realise that their main aim is to shrink the state, to cut tax bills and to make themselves personally richer, regardless of the evidence, then actually, using lie detectors is completely rational.

Which is kind of ironic, when you think about it.
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Sometimes, the Tories makes mistakes when they decide to take away people's benefits. They're only human, after all. Well, apart from Michael Gove. And Iain Duncan Smith, who I believe is a robot with a turnip for a head. And also, all the rest of them also aren't human. But apart from literally all of them, they're only human.

When the government makes mistakes, people can appeal to have the mistake corrected, and their benefits re-instated. It's a concept you'll be familiar with, called "justice". Well, David Cameron thinks justice is bullshit. Get a load of this: the government is considering CHARGING people on benefits who want to appeal against the decision have their benefits withdrawn.

Of course they fucking are. This is exactly the kind of pioneering, blue-sky thinking we've come to expect from the team that launched the idea of "working for no money" as a solution to unemployment.

And I expect there's even more juicy morsels in the pipeline too, like "force people to pay their boss for the privilege of an honest day's work", and "stop kids lounging around in the library reading books, and put them to work in the slaughterhouses".

Perhaps by the end of next year we'll even hear about plans to "send the unemployed to the Moon to look for work". After all, our grandparents got on their bikes to look for work. Why shouldn't we be expected to get in our spaceships and hunt for a job around the galaxy? If there's a new zero-hours part-time job in a Burger King in Sector 9, you should get off your arse and fly there at the speed of light. Like the Iain Duncan Smith would. Admittedly, he has an advantage because he's a cyborg, but that's not the point.

The story gets even more astonishing: it turns out that 58% of appeals are successful. 58%!! In other words, the government actually gets it wrong more often than they get it right. Which means that essentially, the government plans to charge innocent people for its own mistakes!

I like the idea of expanding this brave new idea into other areas. Next time you do a supermarket shop online, and they bring you the wrong kind of apples, perhaps they could charge you for their mistake by taking away all the food in your house.

Or maybe if you go in for heart surgery and they remove a leg by mistake, the doctors could demand that you give them your other leg as payment for their mistake, because after all, what use is just one leg to them? They need the full set - collectors would demand it.

Perhaps when banks mis-sell PPI or charge us incorrectly, they could apologise by charging us again. And if ever the police lose the paper work on an important case, it seems only fair that we citizens be punished by having the police take away our house and family. Otherwise, how can we honestly say that justice has been done?

It does seem quite extraordinary that people who are already vulnerable, poor and confused could be sent into even further despair. And as always, the excuse given is that it's a way of raising money. And that is literally true, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea. Putting the NHS on eBay would raise money, but it doesn't mean we should do it. Especially when there are so many things we genuinely could sell. How much would America pay for the Queen? I reckon we could fund the entire NHS for a year with that profit.

It's no wonder that so many mistakes happen when we also learnt that Job Centre employees are actually rewarded and incentivised for cutting people's benefits. In what must be the saddest commission-based motivation in history, Political Scrapbook have received evidence of job centres that have a ‘scoreboard’ where they record the number of sanctions the staff have made using "shiny gold stars".

Which is really all that anyone wants in life, isn't it. A beautiful shiny gold star to call your very own. I assume that all the staff there think it's made of actual gold, and that they're using them as a substitute for a pension. Or maybe the Job Centre is actually just staffed by magpies. Please let it be the magpie one. Because the idea of actual human beings making someone go hungry just so they get something shiny next to their name on a wall... well, the thought leaves you rather empty, doesn't it?

I wonder if we could solve all the problems at the Job Centre just by giving all the staff a pack of gold stars each. I mean, they only cost like £2 from Ryman's. Can't we just have a whip-round?

In fact, this is a marvellous idea for a KickStarter. Let's get people on the internet to pledge £1 each. We'll launch a viral, celebrity-driven, highly re-tweetable campaign to raise awareness. And when we've raised the dizzying heights of, oh I don't know, £16, I'll pop down the shop and buy every staff member their very own pack of gold stars each. That way, they'll be able to stop destroying people's lives, and instead swim, literally swim, in all the gold stars they could ever dream of. It's a win-win.

We found out about the government's plans to charge people to appeal thanks to a leak. And I must confess, I do wonder how things like this get leaked. I used to just assume it was a disgruntled civil servant that wanted to expose the truth. But then I read a story about how the Tories control the news narrative. You know those public spats between David Cameron and Boris Johnson? Turns out they're all stage-managed public relations exercises. False, the lot of it.

It's the sort of thing that utterly alienates people from politics. There's no sincerity any more. It's all theatre, it's all fake.

And the consequence is that now, whenever I hear a story has been leaked, I don't trust it. Because why was it leaked? It must have been deliberate. Perhaps to distract us from something else. Perhaps the fact that it was too extreme is exactly the reason it was leaked, so that Cameron can come out and say "Of course we won't be charging people to appeal. But we do need to look at these legal costs, and that's why we need to cut 30% from yada yada yada".

So now, I don't trust any of it. I don't want to be so cynical as to think that every news story is planted, that it has an agenda beyond the obvious - but when you see how these creeps work, it's hard to think anything else.

The one silver lining to all this is that I think I can learn from these dark arts. If ever I get into power, I'm going to use this tactic in the opposite direction. I'll leak a story of my government's extremist plans to bundle the royal family into a cannon and fire them into the sun. And then when people get outraged, I can say "Don't be silly; of course we don't plan to shoot the Royal Family into space!

"But we do need to deal with the fact that this one family has been leeching off the state for centuries; this family that has over three generations out of work; this family that constantly has children at the tax payer's expense. And that is why we propose simply to get the entire family working full time - in Morrison's. To finally give back to the community from which they have so greedily taken."

On its own, it would seem like a silly idea. But compared to shooting them into the centre of the sun, it seems entirely reasonable. Thank you, Cameron. You have taught me the art of spin. For this, and this alone, I will always be grateful.
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Ever wanted to be a coke chef? No, I’m not talking about Breaking Bad – I’m talking about SodaStream. The machine that gives you, yes *YOU*, the opportunity to make a kind of awkward futuristic home-made cola that tastes not so much of cola, but of sugar and sadness. This experience can be yours! All you have to do is pay far, far more money than it would cost to buy cola in cans.

Expensive AND unpleasant. What's not to like?

Everyone aged 25 to 35 has vague memories of SodaStream. No-one ever owned one themselves. They were always something the weird kid in school had, and everyone used to avoid going round their house because their mum would always force it on them just for the sake of using the damn stuff up. Er, I imagine.

I've always assumed that SodaStream was a thing of the past, like Bullseye, or polio. And besides, I'm not an ape, a base animal that makes his own cola and eats his own excrement. I'm stylish and refined. As a busy man-about-town, I haven't the time to make my own fizz-oh-pop, and I'm actively happy to pay a 5p premium on having it made for me, canned, and chilled for my convenience.

But today, I learned that I was wrong. SodaStream is not only back - it's gone political.

"Scarlett Johansson has chosen to end her collaboration with Oxfam International in favour of honouring her contract with SodaStream: an Israeli company that operates in the West Bank".

She gave up doing humanitarian work with Oxfam... to do an advert for SodaStream? Wow. WOW. I mean, there's selling out, and then there's selling out.

This just goes to show that there really is no money left in the arts. Nowadays, adverts are the only way that creative people like me and Scarlett Johansson (we are the same) can make ends meet. Work is harder to come by, and paid work is rarer still. Any struggling performer like Scarlett Johansson will tell you that.

And she deserves some money for a change. For years she's acted in movies on the Free Fringe model, standing with a bucket outside of the cinema asking people to pay what they think the movie is worth. I remember in 2012, flyering on the Royal Mile at the Edinburgh Festival with Scarlett Johansson, as she was desperately trying to get an audience in to watch The Avengers. She barely had enough money for lunch, but she kept on working, such was her commitment to her art.

So who would begrudge her the opportunity to actually earn some cash. I mean, it's not as if we live in a world where she gets paid £6,000,000 per film.

It seems to me that there can only be one of two reasons that she’s done this. Either Scarlett Johansson is genuinely so desperate for money that this is what she’s resorted to – which begs the question, how on earth can SodaStream afford her? Seriously, who is buying it. Are you buying it? I’m not buying it. I see it on the shelf there in Sainsbury’s, but the only thing I ever think when I see it is "Isn’t it weird how you never see anyone ever buying it?”.

Or the other alternative is that she genuinely loves the taste of SodaStream, and that she loves it more than she cares about ending world poverty. Well, it takes all sorts I suppose. In fact, maybe it’s just been Scarlett Johansson buying it this whole time. She’s been using her vast SodaStream wealth to sustain her 5-litres-a-day habit, and now finally she’s found a way to get the junk for free.

To be charitable, there is a third option: maybe she quit Oxfam to work for SodaStream because she believes that SodaStream is actually the answer to world poverty. So many sugary calories, concentrated into such a small space. It’s almost too perfect a solution, isn’t it? I mean, sure, it won’t work so well in places suffering from drought. Or places where privatised water has led to water becoming a luxury item. But maybe those people could just drink it like a shot of hard liquor. Anyway, the point is, she’s been wasting her time with Oxfam. Oxfam is for amateurs. If you truly want to make a lasting difference to the plight of the world’s 3 billion poorest people, there’s only one corporation to join.

I’d like to think that the paragraph above was a joke. Except that at the bottom of the article, we find a quote from Scarlett Johansson that might be my favourite thing this year. She genuinely said this in her statement to the press: "SodaStream is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights."

Oh really? SodaStream is committed to that, are they? SodaStream. That’s what fucking SodaStream is committed to. SodaStream's main priority is peace in Israel and Palestine, is it? It's a good job that Scarlett Johansson is here to tell us that, because if you'd have asked me, I would have naively guessed that SodaStream's main priority is to sell concentrated sugary syrups to gullible kids who haven't yet learned the true meaning of disappointment. But no, apparently their main priority is peace in the Middle East.

She has also said that she "never intended on being the face of any social or political movement, distinction, separation or stance". So I suppose she was just an ambassador of Oxfam since 2007 by accident.

Quitting Oxfam to go to SodaStream an extraordinary leap for anyone to make, but especially for someone who is so fantastically wealthy that they shouldn’t have to do a single advert in their life. Every single penny being earned from these adverts is pure greed.

But it has inspired me to give up my job as a doctor. Instead, today I am happy to announce that I am going to work for British Aerospace, the weapons and bombs manufacturer. As a doctor, I tried to fix people by curing their diseases. Whereas now I realise that the best way to eradicate disease is to kill the people who are selfishly hosting the disease in the first place. Thank you, British Aerospace. And thank you Scarlett Johansson. Together, you and I will surely make the world A Better - And Sweeter - Place To Be™.

Lolitics: The rules of the live gig.

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EDIT 14/02/2014: I've had a couple of emails from comedy clubs around the world asking if they can use these rules, after hosting nights where it all turned a bit nasty. Please do! It's awfully flattering that people like the sound of them enough to apply them to their own gig. And running a gig by "Lolitics rules" has quite a nice ring to it, don't you think

As far as I'm concerned, the rules are open-source. If you get a chance to credit me and the club then that's lovely and I'd be ever-so-grateful to you for it, but it's not a big deal if you don't. What matters is that we're making safe spaces for people to enjoy comedy, wouldn't you say?

I run a political comedy club in Camden, called Lolitics. It's super-friendly, and proudly lefty. The emphasis is on kindness, on protests and activism, on being positive and inspiring and changing the world for the better. It's also a new material night, so we try jokes for the first time, read from notes and muck about. Success is very much optional.

You may know that there are some rules to the gig. For the audience: no heckling. For the acts: no rape jokes, no racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia/disablism/etc, and no picking on the audience. It's essentially a kind of enforced niceness, with the aim of creating a safe space for the acts to try new jokes, and for the audience to relax and not feel like they're going to be picked on.

There are people who are put off of going to live comedy, for fear of nastiness and bullying. Of course, not all comedy clubs are like that. In fact, I'd say very few clubs are like that. But enough of them exist to put people off going at all. This makes me very sad indeed, and I want to do something about that, by letting people know that my gig is a safe space, a place you can come to if you want to learn about the alternative. With that in mind, I thought it'd be cool to share the rules with you, which I recently wrote up to make them a bit more formal.

If you like what you see, why not come down? The gig is upstairs at the Black Heart pub in Camden, on the 3rd Tuesday of every month (if that's too complex to remember, follow me on Twitter or Facebook and I'll remind you). It's £3 to get in, and the line-ups are always good. Regular acts include Mark Thomas, Rob Newman, Josie Long, Bridget Christie, Andy Zaltzman, and a whole load more. We have games and jokes and competitions, and afterwards we all go to Parliament and have a revolution.



Three rules about what you can't do:

1) No rape jokes. People have different definitions of what a rape joke is, so to save time, let me clarify what I'm trying to achieve: I’m trying to create a safe space for people who may have been the victim of some kind of assault, and who find jokes and conversations about rape, and even the word rape itself, triggering. So when I say “no rape jokes” I definitely mean jokes where rape is used as a punchline, but I also mean it more broadly, meaning jokes that involve the word rape. Don’t use rape as an analogy, don’t use the word lightly.
Does that mean you shouldn't mention the word rape at all? Not necessarily, but possibly. For example, you could talk about how rape crisis centres are being closed down, in a set on how the government treats women. That sort of stuff is really important to talk about. But be sensitive, be kind, be thoughtful with it. Keep the "safe space" philosophy at the front of your mind. If you're unsure, leave it. There are other things to talk about instead, I’m sure.

2) No jokes that are sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic/disablist/etc. That includes stuff like “I hate the French” or jokes about the fact that someone’s ugly, calling something retarded, laughing at a politician for being overweight, etc etc. If I've missed any “-ism” out, it doesn't mean it's allowed! I know that sounds like a silly thing to say, but once someone in the audience did come up to me and ask why "no disablist jokes" wasn't part of the rules I say at the start of the gig! Basically, don't be a dick.

3) Please don’t pick on the audience. That includes asking them questions one-on-one, getting them up on stage, being unkind to them. This isn’t a normal comedy club. Don’t banter with them, let them sit in peace. If you need people to join you on stage, that's totally fine - let me know before the gig, I'll get some volunteers during the interval. Loads of people will be keen to join in, I just don’t want anyone to be forced to join in. In return, the audience is also not allowed to
heckle – and trust me, you’ll have one of the loveliest audiences in London. It’s a really friendly and lovely gig, and these rules are there to keep it that way.

Rules about what you CAN do:

1) You can be as shambolic as you like. I usually am! It's a new material night; feel free to treat it like one.
-- Read from notes
-- Stumble over words
-- Tell jokes you've never told before
-- Don't be afraid to fail.
-- I can’t stress this enough: success is optional. ;)

2) Feel free to talk for a while without a joke, if there's a political point you want to make. Be impassioned. Punchlines aren't essential, especially if you've something to say that will move or inspire people.

3) Remember that it's a political gig. Forget light news/celebrity gossip. We can do better than that. And politics is broad, too. Climate change, feminism, the economy, world news, party politics, protests, science/religion etc etc - anything is on topic as long as it's meaningful.

4) Finally, all styles are welcome. Stand-up, storytelling, sketch, song, even silly absurdism that uses politics as a starting point for some abstract nonsense. Be creative if you like, or talk from the heart if you like. It’s all good. Just have fun! :)


PS. One last thing. Occasionally, acts may get it wrong, and they might break a rule without realising it. There's a no heckling rule at the gig, but don't be shy to come up to us after the gig and have a chat if you think we've got it wrong. we're only human. Well, apart from me - I'm half human, half internet. If you cut me, I'll bleed memes.

Lolitics Podcast - Episode 6!

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After far too long a wait, I've finally made a new episode of the Lolitics podcast! Let's call this a combined birthday and Christmas present. An hour and a half of free political comedy, that was extremely topical two weeks ago when we did it.

(For newbies: I political comedy club in Camden, called Lolitics, and this is an occasional podcast where I share almost complete recordings of the evening. This episode comes from 16th October 2013, with stand-up from me, Tiernan Douieb, John-Luke Roberts and Grainne Maguire, and four songs from the brilliant political folk singer Grace Petrie. Imagine getting all that for free. Just sit there, and try to imagine it. It's kinda fun to imagine it, right? WELL IMAGINE NO LONGER.)

Download Episode 6 directly here!

Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes here! (I made a mistake and had to re-upload the file, and at the time of writing this iTunes hasn't seen the change, so sorry if the latest episode isn't on here yet. Download it directly from the link above if it isn't)

Subscribe to the podcast in non-iTunes here!

If you like the podcast, here's some things you can do to support it:

- Come to the gig in real life! It's on the 3rd Tuesday of every month, at the Black Heart in Camden.
- Give us a lovely iTunes review.
- Please share the podcast with as many people as you can! Tweet this link, Facebook it, email it to people you think might like it. I'd be so, so, so grateful if you did.

- Follow me on Twitter: @chris_coltrane
- Follow my page on Facebook
- Join my mailing list for a monthly update about my gigs/writing/protests/fun
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This blog was originally printed a few months ago in the July/August issue of New Internationalist. You should subscribe to it. It's the best world news magazine for anyone interested in radical, thoughtful politics. My other articles for them are here.

New Internationalist readers come in many flavours: anarchist, liberal, socialist, feminist, brigadier, super-villain, or plain old scamp. But no matter what your political allegiance, please always remember this: only my opinions are correct, and everyone else is wrong.

Whatever your ideology, I'm sure you'll have heard your less radical friends say something along the lines of "Aah well, socialism is all very well in theory, but it'd never work in practice."

But that assumes that capitalism does work in practice. Because imagine if we lived in a world where every human was equal, a world with no repression, torture, or violence, where no-one went without food or shelter, and where everyone had an opportunity to learn and grow and be who they wanted to be. Imagine the socialist paradise I dream of. And then imagine someone came along and said "See this random billion people that live on the bottom of the planet? Well, I've had a few drinks, and I've had a GENIUS idea: let's make them live in civil war and abject poverty."

"No no, hear me out, it gets better, because everyone else on the planet will be massively unequal, BUT - and here's where I blow your tiny minds - about a thousand random white dudes will control the entire money and food supply, and have essentially all the power you could possibly dream of. Also, women will have less power and money than men, and we'll give One Direction a record deal. Who's in?"

I think people assume that the current system works because, thanks to an accident of birth, they happen to be the system's beneficiaries. Because by any objective analysis, the system is utterly broken. Take food speculation, where the markets gamble on the price of food. Personally, I don't see why they have to gamble on something so destructive. There's a Ladbrokes on every high street. Can't they just bet on horses like all the other addicts?

Or maybe that's where they start, but eventually they think to themselves "It's cool that horses are dying for my pleasure, but I fancy something a bit more risky. Ideally I'd like to cause mid- to large-scale poverty, while using the untraceable fortunes of billionaires to bring capitalism to the brink of collapse. But I suppose that's a happiness I'll never know." And then someone in a black suit and shades taps them on the shoulder and says "We've been waiting for this day. Come with us. We have a job for you."

Our "working" system is one where a rich elite cabal of men can gamble on the price of food. The consequence is soaring food prices in the third world, and poverty of such extremes that in 2008 people in Mexico and Haiti actually rioted in the streets. The prices rise not because of poor harvest or low stocks, but because of market speculation. The food is there, but thanks to banks like Goldman Sachs people just can't afford it. This is 21st century capitalism in perfect working order.

(More close to my own heart, in 2010 the price of cocoa beans rose 150% in 18 months, which forced chocolate-makers to use less cocoa. For me, this was the final straw. You can take my bread, you can take my corn, you can take my meat, milk and fish. But if you even THINK of taking my chocolate, I will find you and I will end you.)

How on earth can anyone say we live under a system that works? It's hard to think of a more broken form of world government. Even Argos and Ikea aren't as inefficient as this.

Of course, Goldman Sachs made £250m from a spike in food prices, which helped contribute to their 68 per cent jump in profits for 2012. So I suppose capitalism does work - as long as you're a sociopath.

If people think equality and social justice are unrealistic, then we really are lacking in imagination. When they try to tell you that our better-world ideals are unrealistic, tell them it's unrealistic to allow elite bankers to send tens of millions of people into starvation. In the mean time, I'll be over here with all the other cool activists, building our new reality, made of compassion and love. And not a One Direction record in sight.
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This year at the Edinburgh festival I had the honour of having a joke from my show included in the Top Ten Best Jokes on the Fringe.

Personally, I thought the joke didn't work quite as well when it's written down - "The good thing about lending someone your time machine is that you basically get it back immediately." - but people liked it, they voted for it, it got my name out there a bit, it was a nice treat.

The round-up of the best jokes on the Fringe is sponsored by Dave, who push to get the list into as many newspapers as possible. One of the newspapers it featured in is Rupert Murdoch's The Sun. You'll remember Rupert Murdoch's ethical organisation from such adventures as lying about Hillsborough, and hacking the phones of the dead.

I was one of a few comics who had their photo alongside their joke in The Sun's article:

But wait a second. I recognise that picture... That's a publicity photo from my stand-up show last year, Activism Is Fun! (Which you can download for free here!) And they've cropped it, so it's just my face.

That's weird. Why would The Sun crop out of the rest of the photo?

I think I might know why...

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What do you suppose happens in a Tory's life to leave them with such miserable opinions? Maybe we need to intervene, and start offering free cuddles on the NHS as a preventative measure against Conservatism. A kindly old lady will come to your house after dinner, stroke your hair, and tell you that everything's going to be okay. According to some calculations I did in my mind while touching myself this morning, this one single intervention will see Tory, UKIP and EDL membership decrease by an impressive 82% within 12 months. It really does make you think, doesn't it.

There's one particular joyless sentiment that is increasing coming from the Tory party: British workers are not efficient. We are overpaid, and don't work enough hours. This makes us unproductive, and this needs to change. It's spilling out into general discourse, too:

They claim that the problem with our extravagantly high wages is that it doesn't make us competitive in a world market place. The solution is to take a pay cut, and to work for longer. Which makes sense, because of course, if everyone's at work all the time then it won't matter if we're being paid less, because when would we have the time to spend it?

In fact, the perfect system would be one where we worked infinity hours, and paid for the privilege. This would allow business to maintain that competitive edge, and would also encourage workers to take a second job to pay for the first one, thus making us even more competitive and attractive to business. It's basically maths, really.

Of course I'm being facetious, because the evidence is actually strongly in their favour: our European neighbours are FAR more competitive. For example, did you know that Amazon Luxembourg employs a measly 134 people, but generated a turnover of £6.5bn? By contrast, Amazon UK employed a whopping 2,265 people - and yet, even with all those extra workers, they reported a turnover of just £147m! Some argue this is because Amazon are dodging tax, but I think it's far more likely that British workers are lazy, and people from Luxembourg are just REALLY good at putting DVDs into envelopes.

I've noticed that the Tories always have a specific country they want us to stay competitive with: China. China... the Communist dictatorship.

They're a brutal repressive dictatorship, poor wages, no workers rights, state executions, where people are treated basically like battery-farmed slaves. Compassionate people look at China as an example of how not to run a country. Tories, on the other hand, look at them and go "They're a bloody inspiration! Role models, they are. Well, they might be doing something right. After all, you never hear anyone complain! Well, you never hear them complain more than once, anyway..."

And the Tories are right: in terms of pure productivity, China is better. But one of the wonderful things about freedom and democracy is that, in the West, we have other benchmarks by which to judge success. For example: toilet breaks. Three meals a day. Holidays. Human happiness. And I know what you're thinking: "Aah, but in an age of austerity, are toilet breaks a luxury we can't afford?" It's a good point. We do need to stay competitive. I suppose that the ultimate Tory policy is for every office chair to be replaced with a business-grade commode, eliminating those wasteful minutes it takes to walk between the loo and back.

For me, the weirdest thing about this whole argument is that whenever the left suggests socialism, "We'd end up like China" has always been the right-wing rebuttal. "Oh you want socialism do you? What you want us to be like China?" NO! Of course not! But apparently you do!


When Tories say we need to work more hours for less money, they obviously mean other people. Poor people. Working class people. Because you very rarely hear Tory MPs take to the microphone and say "Do you know what? I rather think I have too much money."

"I woke up today in my charming five-bedroom country cottage, and thought to myself "It's no wonder I'm so corrupt, when I'm paid so much money. What the House of Commons needs is the free market. Put it out to tender. After all, there are Chinese people who would be willing to do my job for a third of the wage. Right, first thing tomorrow I'm going to march right up to the Prime Minister and demand he cut my salary. It's the patriotic thing to do.

Actually, MPs did do something similar to this recently. And when I say similar, I mean "the opposite". A few months back MPs were demanding a pay rise, to bring them in line with the civil service. You'd think for logical consistency, they'd actually be arguing that the civil service take a pay cut. But for some reason that I can't quite put my finger on, working more hours for less money doesn't seem to apply to rich people. Pay cuts, misery and exploitation are something that poor people, and only poor people, need to suffer if the UK is to stay competitive. It's almost as if rich people have a hidden agenda to get even richer.

More than anything, I think this quite nicely shows the difference between left and right. Left-wing people join campaigns to improve the rights of workers worldwide, and to build a world based on love and fun. Right wing people try to bring everyone's conditions down, and turn the UK into one huge sweatshop. The only things that matter are growth, productivity, and even more wealth for the wealthy. Can you imagine having a life philosophy where happiness, spare time and joy don't even get a mention?

Grandma-cuddles on the NHS. I'm telling you: it's the only hope we've got left.
Mic with megaphone
If I went into the supermarket, bought every pint of milk, and publicly poured it down the drain so that everyone was fully aware that there was no milk left for anyone else, what would people think of me? Some might think it was a situationist satire on Thatcher, but mostly people would just think I was a dickhead. But if I then said "Oh, don't worry, what I'm doing is perfectly legal, and besides, by buying all the milk I've helped support the economy", do you suppose people would forgive me and accept my justification? Of course not. It's irrelevant. People can see I'm doing a selfish thing, and would rightly hate me for it.

In 2011, Google made £395 million in the UK, but paid only £6m in corporation tax. This is another very selfish thing to do - but when it isn't happening right in front of you, it can be a lot easier to be fooled by unrelated excuses.

For example, Google chairman Eric Schmidt justifies his company's tax avoidance by saying "Of course, that omits the fact that we also hire more than 2,000 employees and are investing heavily in Britain."

Well, yes, that does omit it - because it's completely irrelevant. That's like saying to your partner "Sure, I had an affair. I cheated on you after five years of marriage. But that omits the fact that I've done the washing up every day for a year!"

Just because you've done good things, like creating jobs, doesn't mean you've earned yourself a license to do bad things. Especially when those good deeds are just a consequence of business. Google didn't employ those 2,000 people out of charity; they employed them so they could make more money. Don't use your job creation as a way to justify your tax dodging, as if you've built up a store of brownie points for good behaviour that you can cash in when you want to be a prick. "Well, we created 2,000 jobs, we've given businesses the tools they need to be more productive, and we've invested heavily in infrastructure. Quite frankly, I think we've earned the right to cover the sun up with a big sheet of metal, and charge people for sunlight on a pay-as-you-go basis."

Good deeds don't buy you the right to do bad deeds. If it did, we'd have a system where you could apply to commit crimes if you were willing to do the time in advance. People would book an appointment with the local judge, to ask "I want to rob the Apple store of all their iPads, so can I do, like, four years in jail please?". (The advantage of that system would be that because you'll get the iPads AFTER the jail time, you get to enjoy the iPads while they're still technologically relevant. If you steal them first and THEN do the jail time, they'll be obsolete by the time you're out, which is clearly a waste of everyone's time. Under this new system, we could finally make crime pay again. Like in the olden days when Great Britain was truly Great.)

Besides which: sure, you employed 2,000 people. That's definitely a good thing. But do you know how those 2,000 people got their education? Do you know how they were kept alive when they fell ill? How they were kept safe? You can thank schools, hospitals, the police and fire-fighters for that. We pay for those through tax - the very same tax that Google avoids paying. We all pay tax so that the next generation can benefit in the same way we did. If you're not willing to pay your share to make the world run nicely, like everyone else, you shouldn't be allowed to make profit here in the first place.

Schmidt used another excuse. "We empower literally billions of pounds of start-ups through our advertising network and so forth. And we're a key part of the electronic commerce expansion of Britain which is driving a lot of economic growth for the country." That's true. But again, Google didn't do this because it is a charitable organisation. It did it because it was able to make vast profits - profits it then sends to Bermuda. "The amount moved to Bermuda is equivalent to about 80 percent of Google’s total pre-tax profit in 2011. " It's about a trillion times worse than pouring all the milk down the drain - but when it happens behind closed doors, it's not as immediately obvious to see just how utterly selfish it is.

There is one other unrelated excuse that tax avoiders trot out, which is that tax avoidance is perfectly legal. Schmidt said the arrangements "fully comply with the law". Actually, you can debate that. The whole point of tax loopholes is that you're getting around the law by being creative in some legal grey areas. The system wasn't designed with the loophole in mind. You're exploiting flaws in the system for personal gain. But even putting that aside: forget about legality. Stop justifying your filthy tax avoidance by saying it's legal. No-one, at any point, is claiming that what you're doing is illegal. We're saying that what you're doing makes you look like a twat. And when you look at the schools, hospitals and libraries that are losing funding because the government doesn't have enough money, I think Eric Schmidt would have a far more difficult time arguing his way out of that one.

Picture by GiselaGiardino on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.
1x1 transparent
Considering how utterly absent their insider intelligence appears to be, I honestly believe that activists don't need to be scared of the police. For example, I've talked before about a friend who, at a UK Uncut protest, was asked by a policeman "So, er, where are you all planning on going next, then?"

Wow. That's some super-subtle intelligence gathering, right there. "Where are we off to? Oh, probably just to commit some crimes. You know: about the place. Nowhere specific. Just wherever there's an opportunity for illegal hijinks."

Today the police are asking anyone who plans to protest against Margaret Thatcher to "make themselves known" so that "their right to protest can be upheld", which is awfully kind of them. Always putting protesters first, before their own considerations.

Some of those protests will involve parties. Now, you will have your own opinions about whether a party is appropriate. As it happens, I think a party would be rather tasteless, but thank Christ that it isn't a crime to lack taste. If it was, my iTunes collection would have got me 40-to-life many years ago.

(I could have also said that throwing a party was rather classless, but I refuse to let Thatcher win that easily.)

Tony Blair also thinks that a party to celebrate Thatcher's death would be tasteless. Personally, I think it's tasteless to murder a hundred thousand innocent people in Iraq, but I suppose we all have our own moral compass.

But I digress: I wish no human any harm, and I hope her passing away was peaceful and painless. I also believe that that her acquaintance with dictators led to the deaths of thousands of people, her ideology led to the destruction of countless communities, and her policies helped turn us from a nation of sharing and compassion into a nation of spite. The people whose lives she ruined view her as a tyrant, and if those people want to celebrate the fact that there is one less awful person in the world, I have no problem with that. Personally, I'll celebrate not when one person passes away, but when we overthrow neoliberalism. (For those curious, I've pencilled that into my diary for mid-October, because I'm busy writing my Edinburgh show right now.)

Though if you do have a party, remember to eat lots of ice cream. She may have helped invent Mr Whippy, after all, so it's what she would have wanted.

But isn't it curious how the police ask us to let them know when we're protesting so they can "facilitate" it, yet they never ask us to let them know when we're doing other things that are perfectly legal. I want to see the police asking protesters to let them know when we're popping to Sainsbury's, so they can facilitate our right to buy Kinder Eggs, or to inform them when we're thinking of visiting our grandparents, so they can facilitate any conversations that might prompt our Nan to say something racist.

Because if protest is legal, why is it necessary to tell the police? It's true that some protests can turn violent, but then again, anything that we ever do could potentially turn violent. By that logic the police should have been stationed outside cinemas when the first new Star Wars film was released. Where were the riot vans on standby when people saw Jar Jar Binks for the first time? That shit can make you go from 0 to Violent in a second.

A good protest would be for us to choose a day in which we all constantly tell the police everything we're about to do, so that they can safely facilitate it. "Hello, Metropolitan Police? I'm just about to do some DIY. There's a chance I might accidentally put a nail through my finger, so I was hoping you could come and facilitate me building this cupboard. Actually, I need to go to Ikea to buy it, and that bloody shop feels like it could turn into a riot at any minute. Just thought I should let you know, so that you can facilitate my purchase."

"Oh, and I haven't put in my contact lenses yet, but there's a danger I might poke myself in the eye. Who knows whether a slip of the finger will escalate into all-out war. I trust you'll be able to facilitate me in the bathroom?"

"Hello, Metropolitan Police? I'm going to make love to my husband later tonight. Now, I'm sure you know how he loves to be whipped and spanked, cos you'll have seen it in our internet history that you've been listening in on, but you must know how BDSM can go wrong. At the very least there's a danger of cramp. Any chance you could send round a few police constables? Yes, in uniform."

I also like how the police claim to have police spies and informants deep within a whole load of protest groups, and yet they don't even know which protesters are planning to have a party at the weekend. They know so little that they have to ask the protest groups they're supposed to be spying on! Their spies must be the least popular people in the group they've infiltrated. From now on I guess we can all spot the police spy, because they'll be the ones no-one invites to parties.

The police say they're worried that protesters will ruin the funeral. Ruin, improve, we can debate over terminology all day, but surely we can all agree that a good way to tell whether a leader was popular with the working classes is to see how many people feel the need to celebrate her passing away. Actually, maybe a better way to tell how popular a leader was is to see how many armed guards need to look after her casket.

But anyway, "Downing Street said it would only confirm how much the funeral will cost the public once it has taken place." You know: like all good democracies.

Thatcher was, of course, very pro-private finance, and abhorred state spending. Who knows whether she would have felt comfortable with the lavish funeral being put on at taxpayer's expense, the state funeral in everything but name.

But in a way, it is exactly what she would have wanted. The funeral has zero democratic accountability. The police will be stopping people from expressing themselves. The theme is a celebration of war. Or a celebration of murder, depending on your world-view. Maybe she would have preferred the funeral be funded privately. But in terms of the respect the procession will have for democracy and freedom of protest, I think it's exactly what she would have wanted.

Picture by Danny Birchall, used under a Creative Commons license.
Chris lives in London. He is a stand-up comedian by night, a writer by day, and a thorn in politician's arses whenever the opportunity arises.

Chris loves comedy, activism, socialist politics, feminism, civil liberties, science and skepticism, Japanese things, and electro.

Twitter: @chris_coltrane


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