19 Aug 2016

The Allure of the Bad Boy, Part II

Hello readers!

As mentioned previously, I intend to use this week to engage in a cross-blog debate with Karen Gordon—an acquaintance writer of mine. The topic of debate? Bad boys in fiction.

But firstly, you must read my original post on the matter, along with Karen’s response. The former will introduce you to my key arguments; the latter is needed in order to understand Karen’s criticism, and the content of this post.

So without further ado, allow me to address Karen’s points.

Fact versus Fiction

The foundational premise of Karen’s arguments, it seems to me, is her experience in real-life. She is indeed ‘pulling the age card’ (to use that charming American colloquialism). But I believe this is precisely where she errs: for to understand fiction, and in particular the phenomenon of the bad boy, one needs to take a step back from real life.

Of course, bad boys in real life are nearly always ‘drama mamas’ or, to put it more crudely, assholes. They’re narcissists: uncaring, cold, and cruel. They make poor lovers, friends, and husbands; it is a direct consequence of their personalities.

But you see, fiction is stranger than truth. The Impressionists taught us that. Art—of which novels are a form—does not need to be an accurate reflection of reality in order to be, well, good art. And the allure of the bad boy, as I have elucidated, stems from the fact that he is a fantasy of sorts.

In fiction, the bad boy has many redeeming qualities: intelligence, charm, and vulnerability. In fiction, you want to save the bad boy. Of course you do: you’re a romantic. The bad boy’s chief allure, as I say, is in his salvation.

In real life, trying to save a bad boy usually results in heartbreak and tragedy. But in fiction, saving the bad boy lets you find love. You may suffer for it, naturally; but in the end you prevail. Love conquers all.

Of the Reader’s Mind

Another aspect I wish to draw attention to is the fact that the bad boy is undeniably appealing; he wouldn’t sell so many damn books if that weren’t true. And so the question is, why?

Karen is clearly too wearied by life to understand his appeal. But I, a younger soul, can understand it. Yes: when one is old, one does not have time to engage in frivolous and obscenely difficult romantic pursuits. One has children, a house, and a closing lifespan to worry about. A loyal and caring husband is far more attractive.

But when one is young, ah, the calculus is different. Loyalty and care is nice—but rather dull, all in all. A relationship that is fractious, difficult, unpredictable, exciting, sexual; that is a quite different matter.

Practical Argument

One should not misunderstand me in thinking that I extoll the virtues of the bad boy. While I find the bad boy captivating as a trope—a cliché in fiction—and while I indeed value some of his qualities in a lover, at the end of the day I am not suggesting that mistreating and abusing romantic partners is a successful path to go down.

But to return to my initial argument, fiction is not real-life. The circumstances of fiction are exceptional. It is not everyday that one fights a millenia-old war of angels against demons, to use an example. The bad boy is likewise a case of exception: he, unlike his real-life compatriot, can be saved. He is bad... but he is also good.

The Golden Boy

Karen also seems to take an issue with my antonym of the bad boy: the Golden Boy, or the Perfect Boy.

I’m sure we’re familiar with him. He’s the guy the girl wants to fall in love with. He’s sweet, dependable, and handsome. He treats the protagonist with respect; he is clearly a good guy.

Karen argues that male characters are more complex than the bad boy and the Golden Boy. Of course they are. But the bad boy and the Golden Boy are archetypes; they exemplify, in a distilled and exaggerated form, the qualities that are one the one hand adored—such as strength, kindness, and urbane handsomeness—and on the other hand despised: arrogance, subterfuge, malevolent sexuality.

The fact that the bad boy is so loved highlights a contradiction. If we hate his personality traits so much, why are we so attracted to him? And if we love the Golden Boy so much, why do we find him a bore?

There are a number of possible answers to this question. I prefer the explanation that, ultimately, neither of these characters are perfect. Kindness and dependability are great—but we want a little meanness to go with it.

A Different Note

I hope you have found this little dissertation of ours mildly intriguing. I am interested to hear your thoughts.

But on a different note, there’s a lot more going on here in the Magical Realm. I am, for one, writing the Ark; if you’re interested in reading a tale about two boys in a world falling apart—including a bad boy of my own—then do keep an eye out on the Magical Realm. I will soon be releasing a newsletter signup!

Until then, fell free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

17 Aug 2016

A Poem, And Many Things

Hail readers!

For the past week, I have been in the countryside; remote and without Internet, I was unable to keep the Magical Realm stocked with new content. Nevertheless, this is not to say that I have been idle. Quite to the contrary: I have a number of intriguing quests to undertake over the coming days, weeks and months.

Chiefly among these is, of course, the business of finishing the Ark. Presently I am engaged in completing the edits and revisions suggested to me by my editor; this is something I will soon—I hope—have completed. I have already finished revising part one; I am most of the way through part two.

Once I have finished that, the next task is of course to write part three. How long this will take is a question I am as yet unable to answer—I tentatively hope by October, but then I have already missed some of my more optimistic deadlines. Ultimately this will depend on how much free time I have at university; with perseverance and determination, hopefully enough.

But this does lead me onto the third key task. Do you recall me mentioning a company by the name of Publishizer? To recap, I was put into contact with them courtesy of Reedsy—the company I used to commission the editor. I completed their application close to a month ago; about a week ago, one of Publishizer’s representatives arranged a Skype meeting with me.

The exact details of that conversation I will not fully divulge here, for numerous reasons (and not all of them secret). But what I will say is that I was made an interesting offer. The crux of it is this: provided that I manage to get 250 pre-orders of my book by starting a campaign on their website, they will then put me through their accelerator programme.

This programme, according to them, has a high success rate: the large majority of authors who are put through it manage to obtain a contract from a publisher.

But this does, of course, imply getting 250 pre-orders on my own. This is not a trivial task. And it won’t happen straight away: I have yet to finish the book, and the campaign has only a few weeks to get those pre-orders.

However, it does mean that I will be stepping up my efforts to garner attention for the Ark. As part of this, I will be creating a mailing list.

This will likely be a weekly endeavour: if you sign up to it, you will receive an email every week. The email will contain various progress updates, tidbits of information, and samples from the Ark. Interested? Then do keep an eye out on the Magical Realm—I will have some sort of submission form available soon.

There is also another topic that may interest you. Previously, I wrote an article entitled ‘The Allure of the Bad Boy’. I shared this article with my writer friend, Karen; this elicited a strong response. We have therefore decided to stage a debate on our blogs. Soon, Karen will publish her response; both she and I will link to each other’s posts.

I will then, in turn, publish a counter-response. Do tune it.

What of the Poem?

Finally, allow me to address the title of this post. Though I am very involved in numerous undertakings (as you can see), I have somehow managed to compose another poem. It is entitled ‘The Mirror, the Room, and the Dreams’ which is perhaps rather verbose.

In any case, the crux of it is this. The poem is escapist; it is about dreaming of greater things than the cold prison in which the dreamer is immured. It is about beautiful, far away places—and the magic of getting there.

The mirror, of course, is literal (in that it allows the dreamer to dream, and ultimately to escape) but also serves a metaphorical role. If I were of a Freudian persuasion, I would perhaps think it represents my writing. But since I am not Sigmund Freud, I suggest you substitute your own explanations.

With that, I must conclude this post. Keep an eye out for the debate, for the mailing list, and for the many milestones of this long journey.

The Mirror, the Room, and the Dreams

9 Aug 2016

The Allure of the Bad Boy

Hello readers!

Since I am now, unfortunately, back to the countryside and devoid of all the many benefits of civilised life, I have decided to release this post written preemptively. The topic is—as you may be able to guess—about a recurring cliché in romance, and indeed across any genre that includes romance. I am of course talking about the bad boy.

Who is the Bad Boy?

First of all, clarification is in order. The ‘bad boy’ trope is very specific in its definition. We are of course not talking about evil or otherwise unpleasant male characters: rapists, criminals, and the like. We are talking about a boy who is of a particular age (as young as sixteen to perhaps thirty years), who is sexually attractive, charming, and yet behaves poorly in many regards.

Perhaps they are vulgar. Perhaps they have a certain propensity for cruelty—albeit one matched by the ability to feel kindness and empathy. Maybe they are rude to the protagonist, or maybe they have certain personality flaws: narcissism, binge drinking, or—in the case of fantasy—an alliance with the dark powers.

The bad boy trope is specific, but also broad. The bad boy could be all of the above, or they may be a ‘bad boy’ only in the narrative role they play. They could be the guilty pleasure—the forbidden boy; a character the protagonist rationally knows to avoid, but feels deeply emotionally compelled towards.

I myself am rather keen on the bad-boy trope, and have made use of it in the Ark—and to lesser extent, the Necromancer. In both cases the bad-boy was named Jake. I suspect I will turn it into a tradition.

Nevertheless, the bad-boy trope does present some difficult questions. According to my writer buddy, Karen Gordon, the bad-boy trope is explicitly misogynist: he is a man who mistreats women.

I intend to argue that while this perception is not wholly inaccurate, it is nevertheless too simple and not always correct. My argument centres on two premises. Firstly, the portrayal of the bad boy: he is often portrayed unkindly, deliberately in order to further his narrative use, but in doing so it is easy to distort other aspects of him that are more positive. Secondly, I argue that the bad boy trope exists because it is appealing—particularly to women.

Premise I: Portrayal

Let’s face it: bad boys are given the wrong end of the stick. In the vast majority of encounters, they are rude to the (typically female) protagonist. They may insult her, or mock her, or simply be an asshole to her.

Too often readers extrapolate this into: he treats all women like this. Not so. While I am sure there are many bad-boy tropes in fiction that actually are misogynist (and no doubt some of you reading can provide examples), there are also instances when the bad boy character is misunderstood.

For one: writers often don’t show the bad boy interacting with women other than the protagonist. For two, the bad boy’s conflict with the protagonist is often of a personal nature—they may dislike the protagonist’s frequently narcissistic, entitled, or simply annoying attitude. (And yes, this is despite the fact that the bad boy himself is often narcissistic and entitled: such is the nature of a narcissist.)

It is also, I believe, why the protagonist finds the bad boy hard to resist. Narcissists attract, and all that. Where their personalities clash, they also complement. And all this is exaggerated by the portrayal: the writer frequently shows the characters interacting at their most disagreeable, while subtly understating the ways in which they find one another attractive.

Nonetheless, I think there is more to the bad boy trope than simple attraction of personality.

Premise II: The Appeal of the Bad Boy

Let’s face it: bad boys exist in fiction because there is something deeply compelling about them. As do so many other clichés—the boy discovering a hidden power in fantasy, the maiden in need of saving, the romance in the rain—bad boys are a cliché that hold a distinct appeal to much of the audience.

In some ways, examining this appeal is more the purlieu of psychologists than of writers. We writers are creators of art firstly and foremostly, and critics of art only secondly. Nevertheless, being a writer (and inevitably also a profligate reader) gives one a perspective no others possess.

As I understand it, the chief appeal of the bad boy is in his redemption. The bad boy is a man you want to save. He is beautiful; charming; eloquent; intelligent. Who would want him to suffer through meaningless sex and failed relationships? Who would want him to fall foul to a drug habit, or to profligacy, or the forces of darkness?

The bad boy is also dark and mysterious. He is the shadowy figure watching you from across the window. He is the vampire, the sorcerer, the fallen angel. His power arises from his mystery; from the knowledge that he is capable of evil—and yet capable of good, too.

Once conquered, the bad boy gains a strange sort of vulnerability. Suddenly, his feuds with vampire lords or demons or—in the case of romance—his bitter past and paling friendships, now instill a determination in the protagonist. The bad boy needs to be saved. Not from himself, this time, but from others.

You see, the bad boy epitomises strength—money, intelligence, magic, masculinity and confident sexuality—but he is imperfect. He has weaknesses. Somehow, that makes him all the more irresistible.

So we know what makes the bad boy appealing. But why, we might ask? Of course the bad is to some degree universally appealing, but we can’t ignore that the bad boy is hugely popular with female and gay readers in particular.

One obvious explanation for this is sexuality. Let’s face it: the bad boy is as compelling as he is because of sex. He is beautiful, and masculine, and confident, and therefore utterly irresistible.

But perhaps that’s not the only explanation. The bad boy, after all, is not merely sexually attractive. Indeed, many romances centre on a love triangle: the protagonist, the bad boy, and the Perfect Boy. He is usually blond-haired, blue-eyed, dependable, kind, and—yes—sexually attractive in his own right.

So why does the bad boy usually succeed in getting the lucky girl (or guy?) Clearly, attractiveness of the physical sort is by itself insufficient to explain the phenomenon.

Perhaps it as I say: we want to help the wicked. We want to save those who show many wonderful and positive qualifies from being destroyed by their less savoury qualities. In the end, the bad boy is is a cause a much as anything else: he’s someone you fight for.

I would also argue that bad boys are appealing because they’re not PC; they’re frequently non-conformist, or offend the unwritten rules of etiquette and courtship. Perhaps we like bad boys because the Perfect Boys are just a bit, well, boring.

Parting Words

So: these are my thoughts on the bad boy trope. If you have anything to add (comments, additions, disagreements, etc.) feel free to do so in the comments. But for now, I am away and will probably not be able to reply until later on.

Rest assured, however, that I am working most assiduously on the Ark. I plan to release some selected revised chapters and/or scenes in the near future.

Until then, there is plenty more to read here on the Magical Realm. I have written extensively on other literary matters, as well as politics. Do make use of the search bar to the right.

6 Aug 2016

A 1 Million Word Ebook?

Hail readers!

Recently, I became engaged in an argument with Mercedes R Lackey, multiple-time fantasy author extraordinaire. But the argument was not about such abstract debates as, say, character-driven versus plot-driven narrative, or the virtues of the semicolon; rather, it concerned a more concrete and technical question. Is it possible to create an ebook 1 million words in length? And is it possible to read such a monstrosity on, say, a Kindle?

I took the effort to test this proposition. My methodology is as follows. Since no one has been insane enough to write a 1-million word book (to my knowledge) I instead created an anthology. This anthology comprises of copyright free works available, as an EPUB, in the wonderful Gutenberg website. They are mainly legal and historical tomes spanning hundreds or indeed thousands of pages—as is the case with Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England.

I downloaded a number of such tomes from the Gutenberg website. I then used the excellent EpubMerge plugin available for Calibre to, funnily enough, merge the books into one. The resultant aberration I baptised the ‘1M Word Ebook Anthology’ (no points for creativity there!)

And what are my conclusions? Well; modern technology is indeed remarkable. My Mac has no trouble opening or editing the resultant file. You can see the screenshot here.

My Kindle takes a couple of seconds to open it, but once it does, it has no difficulty parsing and navigating the book. You can see photographic proof here.

And if that wasn’t enough, the following link allows you to download the file and see for yourself.

So there you have it: 1000,000 word ebook? No problem.

5 Aug 2016

My Review of Capital in the 21st Century, Part Two

Hail readers!

I am at last back to civilisation, and will remain here for the next week or so. Although I am very busy—I need to pay my tuition fee to Amsterdam, I need to procure various documents, and of course there’s work to be done on the Ark—I have taken the effort to continue writing here on the Magical Realm. As part of these efforts, here is the second part of my review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital. (For the first part, look here.)

My review of Capital in the 21st Century, part two.

Previously, I wrote a review on the first third or so of Capital that I had read. As you may be able to guess, this review will concern the theses presented in the next third of the book—as well as to elaborate further on some of the initial theses, which reoccur throughout the book.

In Capital, Piketty presents a number of new topics. He moves away from the definition of the capital income ratio, its evolution throughout time, and other abstract macroeconomic indicators; instead he treats inequality in a more visceral, recognisable sense: he talks about what kind of incomes and wealth the upper and lower deciles possess.

For example, the top 1% of a nation’s earners get anything from a couple of percent of national economy (equating to a wage of about 5 or 6 times the average)—as was the case in 1970s Sweden, the most egalitarian nation on record—to as much as 20% (as is the case in the United States presently).

In terms of capital, the picture is more stark and has always been so. In the heyday of inegalitarianism—such as in Belle Epoque France or, worse, 1900s Britain—the top 1% held about 60% of all the nation’s wealth. Note also that the yields of this capital was potentially even more unequal—as Piketty shows, those with large fortunes get better returns than those with more modest ones.

Piketty goes on to detail at least three more very important features of inequality. Firstly, capital income is much more significant than wage income the higher up the social strata you go. For the lower class—about half the population—capital income is insignificant. For the middle class (the top 40% or so) capital income is more significant but still small.

But go up to the 1%, and capital income is significant—though a minority. By the time you get to the top 0.1%, capital income makes up the majority of that class’s income.

Secondly, Picketty reveals that the ‘middle class’ phenomenon was very real and relatively recent. Up to the turn of the twentieth century, the top 10% of society owned as much as 90% of the nation’s wealth—as was the case in Britain. But by the middle of the century, the top 40% of society owned about 35% of the nation’s wealth. The bottom half of society still owns close to nothing—not much has changed in that regard—but it is interesting to note that a middle class does exist.

Thirdly, Piketty links inequality of capital directly to the macroeconomic metrics of the capital/income ratio, the rate of return on capital, and the rate of growth of the economy. He explains why inequality became noticeably less pronounced after the war—in no small part because of the political consensus that developed, but also because of the high growth and large shocks to capital that the period saw—and why the 21st century, with its slower growth and higher capital ratio, is becoming more unequal.

Anyway, the point of all this is that Capital in the 21st Century is an extremely relevant and very persuasive work of non-fiction. Piketty’s vast reams of detailed, long-term (think 200+ years) and highly considered data are a masterpiece. Other economists—such as Kuznets—are like pygmies in the presence of a giant like Piketty.

Nevertheless, I do have one or two nitpicks with Piketty—most notably when it comes to the role education plays in inequality, and more so, on the public policy that has been the norm for the past couple of decades where it concerns education.

Is Education Unequal? And if so, what?

Piketty believes unequal access to education—and, in particular, university education—is an important driver of inequality. However, I disagree with this, for two reasons. On a first point of order, I think that university education in most European countries is as equal as it’s ever going to be. (I will elaborate on this shortly.) And on a second point of order, I think Piketty—like most of the political class—is wrong to focus on education as the remedy.

But firstly, allow me to clarify what I mean when I say that university education in Europe is as equal as it’s ever going to be. Piketty, when arguing that university education is unequal, focuses on the usual metrics: the parent’s income and education as predictors of the child’s education and future income. The fact that the two are correlated—as most of us know, kids from well-educated and rich families are more likely to end up in university than other kids—is something Piketty doesn’t like.

But two things need to be clarified. Firstly, the philosopher in me needs to point out that this may be an inequality of outcomes and not necessarily an inequality of opportunity. Throughout most of Europe, there are negligible tuition fees. There also grants, loans, and scholarships to help disadvantaged pupils. In Denmark, they even pay students to attend university.

(Note that I do not include Britain when I say ‘most of Europe’. Here, the government has abolished grants, there are very few scholarships, and tuition fees are very high. Going to university involves accruing large amounts of debt if you’re not from a well-off family, and that debt disproportionately affects poorer students.)

The fact that university education in Europe is available to all is enough to make many centre-right minded people happy. If there is equality of opportunity, it is reasoned that any inequality of outcomes is because the poorer students don’t want to go to university and don’t want to work as hard.

I for one am skeptical of such an argument, which is why my disagreement with Piketty is of a different sort. I fully agree that poorer students are disadvantaged in going to university—for the simple fact that their parents don’t value university education. If you’re from a poorer, manual-labour background, it is hard to understand why university education is valuable.

So yes; we can certainly complain about this, and formulate policy to try and encourage students from poorer backgrounds to go to university—to inculcate that sense that education is valuable.

But ultimately, none of this is as important as Piketty makes out. Such a scheme may increase social mobility, but it will not change inequality—and indeed, it may have unintended consequences.

This is because of the very simple fact that while well-paying professional jobs—like engineers, doctors, programmers, what have you—do indeed require university-level education, they are ultimately finite. We can’t all be engineers and doctors. Making millions of young people go to university is therefore a waste of valuable time and money.

As many young graduates are discovering, going to university only to end up doing a job you could have done without a degree is the ultimate disappointment. It is grossly wasteful, too: going to university for three years costs the graduate and the taxpayer around £30,000—and the figure is rising. Going for four or five years to do a Master’s (as many increasingly are) adds another £20,000 onto that. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Going for four or five years to do a useless degree followed by a useless master also stops you being in the labour market for four or five years. Once more, this means tens of thousands of pounds of lost earnings. It means thousands of pounds of lost tax revenue. And it means less experience doing a job.

I’m not even done yet! This in turn has social externalities. It means getting a mortgage later; it means less money to pay for pensions. It frequently means waiting longer to have a child—hence the lower fertility rate of many European countries. (Caveat: this is of course just one factor of many.)

So you see, I think Piketty is deeply mistaken to place so much faith on university education. University is increasingly becoming a tool for social disunity rather than progression.

So What Should Be Done, Instead?

Although I disagree with Piketty on the issue of education, he is right about two other things. For one, capital: its tendency to grow increasingly concentrated and bring increasingly large returns is a major force for ‘economic divergence’ (i.e. rampant inequality). Therefore, Piketty is absolutely right that an important way to reduce inequality would be through the taxation of income from capital, and—also—the taxation of inheritance.

Piketty also uses that data to reveal that inequality is also, of course, from wages as well as from capital. Indeed, the reason that current day Europe is more egalitarian than the present day US is not because of capital—which in any case is larger in Europe—but because incomes are more compressed. Since income from wages makes up about three quarters to two-thirds of all income, a more compressed wage restructure results in a much more equal country (even if capital incomes are very unequal).

So, it logically follows that we also need to compress the wage structure. In fact, I propose that is a far more important goal than putting students in university.

How can this be done, you might wonder? Piketty has one obvious answer: fight against the supermanager. Piketty shows than in the Anglo-Saxon countries, increasingly large CEO compensation—directly in the form of pay-packets, but even more so through stocks and bonuses—is an important reason for why inequality of wages has increased since the 1980s in Britain and the United States.

CEO compensation is an issue of the complex social structures and institutions that exist in firms. One way to reduce CEO compensation would be to change the structures of corporate governance: to give workers and unions more say in management’s pay (to move to a ‘stakeholder model’ as in Germany, in other words) and to give shareholders more say in CEO salaries. (The latter, albeit, will tend to increase CEO compensation in times of strong stock market performance, but it will at least prevent CEOs from increasing their pay packets when firms are actually doing badly.)

Another way would be to change social norms. Firms, like everything else, operate in the social structures that exist in that country. If huge CEO pay-packets are frowned upon—as they are in Switzerland and Sweden, for example—then it is the case that supersalaries are less common.

A final, and simpler way to reduce CEO salaries would be to tax them. Piketty shows that when the Anglo-Saxon nations had high rates of marginal taxation—as high as 98%, which was the case for Britain in the 70s—CEO pay-packets were a lot smaller. (Why? Because the firm’s management aren’t going to give their money away to the government.)

Personally, I think we could go even further. Of course lowering the insane CEO compensation would leave more money for the rest of us, but who will get that money? The middle-management lower down? Or the workers—the janitors, the people at the tills, the rank and file?

That’s why I think Piketty needs one more ingredient in his egalitarian soup: unionisation. This also ties in with my point regarding education. We can’t make everyone a doctor or a lawyer. But what we can do is make sure that even the burger-flippers at McDonald’s get paid a decent wage.

Indeed, the Scandinavian countries do this, and with considerable success. Unionisation is why the Danish McDonald’s workers gets paid around 240,000 Danish Kroner—that’s €30,000 or $40,000—instead of $20,000, as they do in the US. Double the workers’ wages and you’ll find greater social cohesion. And nor will you have to obsess over who goes to university: you won’t need a degree to live a reasonably comfortable life.

The International Element

Another aspect that Piketty makes clear is that any means to reduce inequality—through taxation especially—will have to contend with the global reality of capital and highly-paid workers. Piketty believes that a tax on capital should be Europe-wide, or even global.

Can this be achieved? I believe so. The EU can certainly mandate minimum taxes—it already does so, in fact: every EU country must have a primary VAT rate of at least 15%. They have to apply fuel duty at a minimum level. It doesn’t seem implausible that the EU could, say, mandate a minimum 15% rate of corporate tax, or require a minimum tax on income from capital.

And the EU might even strong-arm other countries into doing the same. Tasty trade deals for the US might come with strings attached—minimum rates of tax. I’m sure the EU could also negotiate deals with the South American countries, Japan, and possibly India—with which it has very good relations.

Final Words

As I’ve said: Piketty’s Capital is a fantastic work of non-fiction. It approaches the issue of income inequality with a rigorousness, nuance and intellectualism that few can manage. It turns abstract and misinformed public debate into concrete data.

I do disagree with some of Piketty’s conclusions, but so far I am keen on reading more.

2 Aug 2016

Here There Be Politics

Hello readers!

I have, alas, not written a great deal on the Magical Realm as of late. This is, once more, down to the fact that I am in the countryside. Remote Romanian countryside, that is to say. I have had Internet only sporadically—the town hall has Internet, but it’s a fair walk through nearly 40 degree heat.

The infernal heat has also kept me grounded here for an unexpectedly long while. My grandma, you see, does not fancy going back to civilisation; she believes the heat will be even more intolerable in the brick-and-mortar confines of our apartment.

Thus I have not been able to write to you. However, I have taken this opportunity to write about British politics. I will address two topics herewith: the Labour Leadership, and a few more words about the Brexit. In particular, I will answer the following two questions. Is Owen Smith a better candidate than Corbyn? And what of May’s negotiations?

JC Versus Smith

Through the following weeks, Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith will engage in hustings. Thursday this week is when the first debate is scheduled. They will then, hopefully, clarify their economic and political positions—I’m talking mainly Smith here—and engage in some healthy debate. They may even argue over a question that I’ve posed to them: you can thank the party’s crowdfunded questions for that.

But before all that, what is my preliminary position? What do I think of Owen Smith? Is he a man to lead party and people—or is he a false flag, a Miliband 2.0?

Well, I can say with a fair degree of confidence that is he probably not a second coming of Ed Miliband. At the very least, his style is very different: where Miliband was timid and shy, almost to the point of unsociableness, Smith is clear, articulate and well-spoken. He does resemble Nye Bevan—a charismatic Welshman with a penchance for socialism. (I am certain Smith will be quite flattered by the comparison; Nye Bevan is his hero.)

As for the concrete details of his policy, there’s not much we can say about that now. The only policy he’s so far advocated is a £200B public investment scheme. Ordinarily this wouldn’t classify him as a socialist in particular, but in the current austerity-dominated political climate—well, it’s more radical than what Miliband proposed, in any case.

I would however be surprised if he doesn’t advocate other socialist policies: nationalisation, increased tax on high incomes and capital gains, clamping down on tax evasion, and the defence of the welfare state. These are all quite mainstream positions—and perfectly reasonable for a leader of the Labour party to support.

I do expect him to go against some of Corbyn’s more extreme, unpopular, or simply irrelevant policies. He’ll keep Trident (he’s said as much), he’ll keep us in NATO, he’ll keep the monarchy, and he won’t compare the Israeli state to Hitler.

That alone will be enough to avoid a good part of the bad press Corbyn’s received. This is not say he won’t get any bad press: Murdoch and Dacre will surely find something with which to smear him. However, at least he’ll avoid the mudslinging from the likes of the Guardian, the Observer, New Statesman, and possibly the Times.

And finally, Smith should be able to do a much better job on the PMQs. This time, Labour will be ready for Cruella Theresa May.

So my message here is pretty clear: I think Smith is a better candidate than Corbyn. This is not to say that Smith will necessarily become the Prime Minister. The battle Labour will have to fight will not be easy—the Brexit electoral landscape, as I’ve said previously, is a difficult one.

This is especially true since Smith—like any serious modern day Labour politician—is a Europhile. I am confident he can take on Farron for the Remain voters; but what of the Leavers? He will have to convince at least some of them to vote Labour in order to win the next General Election.

But for all this, I’m actually pretty confident in Owen Smith. He seems both competent and personable—a plausible contender for PM-in-waiting. And honestly, considering the leadership contenders past—Burnham, Cooper, Kendall—I am confident in saying that he’s probably Labour’s best bet.

May and Brexit

I have to say that May’s Brexit strategy does amuse me, even if it is entirely predictable. Firstly, the appointed BoJo as Foreign Secretary, and Liam the Fox as International Trade Secretary. As an act of internal politics, it is shrewd: she can keep her party united, and the Brexiteer’s (all but inevitable) failure she can blame on them.

But as an act of national and international politics, it is not a good move. Boris has already been called a liar by the French foreign minister; he is not popular across the Channel. And the Fox is both arrogant and delusional: a poor negotiator of the nation’s future.

Then there’s May herself. She, as Home Secretary, was very keen on deportation—she lost multiple court battles over it; and has already stated that she wants net migration in the tens of thousands. The leaders of Europe have made it quite clear that there will be no access to the single market without freedom of movement. So what does May do? On the one hand, she’s not stupid—she knows it is in Britain’s interest to keep its access to the single market. On the other hand, she hates immigration and has strong political pressure to reduce it.

Honestly, I don’t think the future will be pretty.

Parting Words

Well; these are my political musings for the time being. I hope they have been reasonably interesting. And rest assured, also, that I am continuing work on my work-in-progress novel, the Ark. I am halfway through revising part two; I am soon to have completed most of the revision work! Once I’ve done that, I will likely make some more changes following the advice of my beta-readers.

And after that, it’s full steam ahead to write the third and final part—Hope. Then it will be time to look for agents, and go through the slow, difficult but hopefully rewarding process of being published. Wish me luck!