“Strong, stable leadership”, confirms May

“For the avoidance of doubt, strong, stable leadership”, continued the prime minister. “And if you’re unsure what I mean by that, I mean strong, stable leadership.”

And so it continues. On and on and on. What about the NHS? Strong, stable leadership. Brexit? Strong, stable leadership. What are you having for lunch? Strong, stable leadership. Anything else to add – any policies or stuff like that? Strong, stable leadership.

It’s unclear whether May is following a grand strategy or has simply suffered a stroke, but even by political standards this is getting a bit much. Slogans and soundbites are part and parcel of elections, but there’s a point where ‘message discipline’ starts to look quite a lot like bullshitting. We’re yet to hear anything of substance about what this actually means, as May and her MPs are too busy deflecting questions with this inane, meaningless line.

More than that, it’s actively damaging for people trying to make an informed choice on who to vote for. It’s hard to form opinions on who’s better-placed to take the country forward when the incumbent leader has morphed into Hodor from Game of Thrones.

“Strong, stable leadership”

Labour aren’t exactly succinct in summing up their positions, but at least they have them and try to discuss them, the commie bastards. The Lib Dems are crystal clear on theirs, they just happen to also, fatally, be the Lib Dems. Even UKIP have ‘policies’, sort of, in a kind of ‘shouty drunk family member everyone avoids’ sort of way. But the Tories? Strong, stable leadership.

To combat this in my own increasingly tortured mind, I’ve taught myself a sort of Pavlovian response. Every time I hear ‘strong and stable leadership’, I immediately think ‘Hodor!’, which I figure is equally meaningful. Give it a go. It’s oddly calming.

 

Hodor!

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Voters caught between rock, hard place, various pointy objects, and large turd

And that’s exactly where Theresa May wants them.

“Mock my red, white and blue Brexit will you? Fine, but don’t be upset when I CRUSH you”, the Prime Minister probably didn’t say.

But possibly did.

So here we are then. Who do you pick from this cornucopia of idols, this raft of gods made human? Which of the deities on offer shall we humble Brits choose to part the waves of the Channel and give that there Europe what for? In case you’re in any doubt about the runners and riders, here is a quick summary:

  1. Theresa ‘fuck you all’ May – Champion of Tory ‘Battle Royale’ 2016. Victorious through a combination of backstabbing and Andrea Leadsom. Would stab own mother in back for small piece of cheese.
  2. Jeremy ‘fuck all chance’ Corbyn – Principled man with number of well considered policies. Gives balanced answers. As a result, will get annihilated.
  3. Tim ‘who the fuck’ Farron – Your guess as good as mine
  4. Paul ‘fuck off’ Nuttall – Fuck off. Only included him to say fuck off. Fuck off.

However will we pick from such a bountiful harvest? Christ, it makes Sophie’s Choice look easy.

Right, that’s the sweary bit over. Let’s try and extract something useful out of this farce.

On the plus side, this is funny

The reaction to the snap election – presumably called because we don’t have anything more pressing that we ought to concentrate on – has been interesting. If May has achieved nothing else, she has at least succeeded in at last uniting the country, albeit only in a long, weary, apathetic collective groan.

 

One of the biggest dangers of this election could be apathy. It feels like people are tired of politics, of the bickering, the infighting, the lies, the bullshit. I certainly am. A lot of people won’t want to vote for May and her band of Brexiteers’ vision of a future Britain. At the same time, people aren’t exactly going to be rushing to the polls to vote Labour or Lib Dem. We’re sorely lacking in politicians to get behind, politicians to trust and follow. The sentiment of ‘what’s the point, nothing changes, they’re all the same’ feels increasingly commonplace, and is understandable.

That said, I think it’s misplaced. Things do change. Political parties aren’t the same. Votes matter, and who you vote for matters too.

Think back to 2010, when the Tories came to power. Ever heard of a food bank in 2010? Nobody had, because they barely existed. The Trussell Trust gave out 40,000 emergency food supplies that year. By last year, they were giving out in excess of 1,100,000 – an almost 30-fold increase in just 7 years.

Homelessness? Doubled since 2010. Homelessness funding? Halved since 2010.

Can’t get a doctor’s appointment? This government has strangled spending increases in the NHS at an unprecedented rate.

Everywhere you look, public services have been cut for the most vulnerable. People we should value in society – teachers, doctors – are constantly asked to perform the impossible and consistently improve provision on less and less money. Who gets the blame when they can’t pull that rabbit from the non-existent hat? Certainly ain’t the government.

Have the Tories managed to cut the deficit as they promised? Have they fuck. It’s accelerated at a prodigious rate.

People have never felt poorer. More families are in poverty than ever. We’re a meaner, pettier, more hateful society than I can ever recall. We are big on rights and small on responsibilities. We rely on charity to do what the state ought to.

We kiss the arses of the worst men in the world because they might buy some guns off us. Our PM holds hands with the World’s Greatest Dickhead in the hope they’ll trade with us. British values? Please.

But don’t worry, the economy is in good shape. Record numbers of people can’t feed their kids, but hey ho, that’s just the market for you.

All the while, we’ve been merrily letting the richest off their taxes, and letting the most powerful corporations pay barely any tax at all. Given that tax is where the money for those doctors, teachers and other non-essentials comes from, this seems like an oversight at best.

And let’s not even get started on Brexit. What started as an attempt to quell an entirely Tory argument has led the country into a hilarious shitstorm the likes of which may of us have never known. No Tories, no Brexit. Simples.

So it’s wrong to think that votes don’t matter. It’s wrong to think that nothing changes whoever you vote for. Things change, massively – they just don’t change overnight. Now I’m not suggesting that a vote the other way would lead to a glorious Utopia whre we all hold hands and sing songs – but there is a lot in the above that simply would not have happened with a Lib/Lab government. Sure, there would have been other problems, undoubtedly – but I can’t see how we would be in quite such a mess with any other party.

The Labour/Lib Dem options are hardly appealing. But they’re better than what we’ve got at the moment, they could hardly be more damaging. So much as I would like to sit this election out, eating tiramisu with a long spoon, I’m going to vote for one of them. I don’t even mind which – just whoever is stronger in my own constituency. And it will be a wholly joyless experience.

Yay, democracy!

District Line gains sentience, turns feral

In a terrifying turn of events, it has been confirmed that London’s least reliable Tube line has become a living entity and is refusing to obey its TfL overlords unless a string of bizarre demands are met.

The line, characterised by carriages which pre-date stainless steel and a ragtag collection of empty stations with fancy names, has never been the most efficient of rail networks, but since the turn of the year its behaviour has become erratic to the point where scientists have been able to prove that it has indeed developed feelings, a soul, and the mental capacity of a senile horse.

I have borne witness to these strange unfoldings and can report the following additional features to the service:

Laziness  – The new District Line has yet to grasp the concept of a timetable, adamantly believing it to be a sturdy piece of furniture made of clocks. This means that trains now arrive simultaneously or not at all, as though all the trains have been sent out at once like a massive metal snake. Whilst TfL still insist that your service will arrive at 5,15,25 past the hour etc., the new schedule is random and is currently closer to 3,3,3 and tomorrow past the hour.

All trains lead to Richmond – Much as with the schedule, the neat rotation of destinations is a thing of the past. The thinking District Line has decided that Richmond is very much the place to be and cannot be convinced otherwise. It is said to find the cobbled streets and wildly overpriced boutiques a delight. The pattern that used to run Wimbledon, Richmond, Ealing Broadway now reads Richmond, Richmond, Richmond, and the only services to Ealing occur when controllers can distract the line with a delicious biscuit and quietly change the sign on the front of the train. This happens roughly once an hour.

Will almost certainly go to Richmond instead

Will almost certainly go to Richmond instead

Whimsy

The renewed focus on Richmond as the centre of the District Line’s universe has begun to force out other information taking up space in the network’s mind-carriage which it deems unimportant, such as where it’s meant to go. This morning, while managing to remember the way to Ealing Common, we got somewhat waylaid when the District Line was distracted by a Piccadilly Line train, which it finds highly sexually attractive. Something about the rounder trains and the ability to go into deep tunnels and to Uxbridge leave the District Line all hot and bothered. Unfortunately this meant that our train followed its sexy prey all the way to North Ealing, instead of Ealing Broadway, before the driver was able to wrestle it back under control (I shit you not, this genuinely happened today). In fairness the driver did a wonderful job with his explanation – a masterstroke of brevity – “This train will terminate here”. He left all manner of tantalising questions unanswered, questions like ‘Why?’, ‘How?’ and ‘Isn’t this station on a different line?’

It’s rumoured that unless TfL get a handle on the situation, and let’s face it, they won’t, we can expect this disturbing new beast to continue to act up. Rumours suggest that the District Line has written down a bucket list which it repeats to itself daily in a sort of chant. Items include ‘Punch Victoria Line’, ‘Build new station between Stamford Brook and Ravenscourt Park’ and the more worrying entries of ‘Parkour’ and ‘Joust’.

The only hope TfL have of taming the beast is to wait until it’s briefly out of service, suspended or otherwise not working and administer a series of massive electric shocks to regain control of the line. Ironically, thanks to its own continued incompetence (or as it prefers, tube improvement works), Transport for London will have the opportunity to do this on most weekends, all bank holidays, and really the vast majority of the working week.

It will only be a five minute job, so they’ve committed to having it done by late 2018.

“Thank you for travelling on the Central line”

Eh?

Did that actually happen? Right, status check: Am I still asleep? No. Am I drunk? No. Is the body odour emanating from the man whose armpit I’m now inhabiting causing me to hear things? It’s possible, but normally there are more dancing rabbits by this point.

No, my ears did not deceive – a mode of transport just thanked me for choosing it.

I’m not sure how many of you have experienced the joy of any tube line at morning rush hour, but choice is a concept that is far removed from such an environment. Unless you’re into being half-crushed by leaking strangers in a box that makes a clown car look roomy, it’s very unlikely that you’ve expressed a strong consumer preference to travel on the Central line.

That’s not to say there aren’t options. There are certainly options. I’ve even tried some, a personal highlight being the bus, which assured me it was a 40 minute journey and then proceeded to take two bloody hours. Cycling won’t get me killed but will make me unsuitably sweaty for a work environment which is distinctly lacking in showers. Walking is a stretch at 5 and a bit miles. So yes, in one way I am choosing to travel on the Central line, but in another, much more realistic sense, of course I’m fucking not. Allow me to paint a word picture:

Person: “I’ve chopped my arm off by accident.”

Doctor: “I can see that.”

Person: “Can you help?”

Doctor: “I can. But first I’d just like to thank you for choosing our hospital today. It really means a lot to us that you’ve chosen to have your gushing, terrifying wound treated here.”

Person: “But the next nearest hospital is 30 miles away.”

Doctor: “I know, but still, you’re a valued customer.”

Person: “I really am losing quite a lot of blood.”

That is the kind of thanks you’re getting on the Central line.

No TfL, thank you.

No TfL, thank you.

This sort of unnecessary, simpering, hollow adoration is becoming more and more commonplace – and it’s unbelievably annoying. Somebody, somewhere, has sat around a table and said “Tube users need to feel more valued. Why don’t we thank them every time they step into a carriage?”, and a group of other, supposedly rational and qualified people have agreed that this is not a wholly shit idea.

It is a wholly shit idea. It’s a massive, flashing, neon sign that says that you know your service is horrendous, and the only thing you’re going to do about it is record a short voiceover. The worse a company is, the more thanks they offer. TalkTalk are serial thankers who are unable to provide even a vague semblance of internet for vast swathes of the year, while Ryanair host a small party for their customers whenever a plane lands on the same day it was meant to.

Meanwhile, better organisations spend less time trying on the empty platitudes. (Sadly, this doesn’t mean they’re actively rude to customers – it would be a glorious day when John Lewis unveil the slogan “Shut up – you fucking love it”) What they do do is spend more time on actually doing things to improve how people experience their brand, which is easy to lose sight of when your company is juggling the really important stuff like getting more likes on Facebook. The best brands don’t tell customers how much they love them, they show them. Actions speak louder than words.

In summary, keep the thanks, buy more fucking trains.

Television out of ideas

All viable ideas for television programmes have been used, broadcasters fear.

The hour-long, recurring, behind-the-scenes documentary about how teams are selected for University Challenge, a show whose high points include discussing the ‘bite point’ of a buzzer, has confirmed  that television has finally reached the end of the creative line.

The writing has been on the wall for some time for the medium. Punters have begun to notice that shows have lacked a certain level of originality, falling into one of three categories:

  1. celebrities performing active task in glittery or skimpy outfits
  2. amateurs perform whimsical craft, to be judged mercilessly by tossers or the elderly
  3. one hour show about thirty minute show

While the first is perhaps not a new phenomenon, the formats are becoming increasingly obscure. Production meetings now consist of bored executives etching words onto dog biscuits and letting the office terrier go mental – the last remaining biscuit-idea is then made into a primetime show. This method has been responsible for classics like Tumble and Splash – and rumoured to be in the pipeline are Animal Husbandry and Chess, although producers are still struggling with the idea that is simply titled ‘Goats’.

"No idea is a bad idea"

“No idea is a bad idea”

The second group of shows, a more recent but still well-worn format, effectively involves taking a middle-class pastime, gathering ‘talented amateurs’ and then making them fight each other to produce ludicrous gifts for maniacal overlords. Great British Bake Off is of course the best-known example. The shows rely on taking something that makes inherently dull viewing, like baking, sewing or one-pot slow cookery, and tarting them up with outlandish challenges. It is not enough to simply make a nicely-baked bun – contestants must stack and glue the buns into an exact, life-sized replica of Paul Hollywood’s naked form or risk a physical beating from a riled-up octagenarian. Future series include Loft of the Year and the Great British Ironing Some Shirts Contest.

Finally, the new class of dross – the show about a show. As well as the aformentioned crime that is ‘Watching socially awkward children try and apply for a quiz show, then talk about quizzes, then practice quizzes’, the Bake Off makes another appearance with ‘An Extra Slice’, which can only be awful. Their origins can probably be traced back to Big Brother’s Little Brother, which speaks volumes. Their main features are that they are longer than the actual shows they are about, and almost compellingly boring.

The current lineup is just the tip of the iceberg; as schedules become more and more devoid of things to go in them and people start noticing they’re watching a re-run of a re-run, expect to see new delights such as ‘Getting Ready for Work’: An in-depth look at people getting ready for work, before leaving for menial office jobs. This will accompany the major new series ‘Work’, documenting people doing their jobs and occasionally weeping into their tea.

By 2016 it is predicted that television will just comprise a live feed of whoever is watching it, sitting on their sofa, watching themselves, with information on how to tweet along displayed at the bottom of the screen.

Which is still better than Eastenders.

Tossers replaced by arseholes in political earthquake

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has declared a glorious new era in British politics after his shower of arseholes narrowly defeated several bunches of tossers in the European elections.

The European and council elections, which are so important that a) they’re buy one get one free and b) the only people who bothered to vote were the people who have a lot of spare time on their hands on a Thursday and/or are easily led by questionable claims on immigration, were an apparently seismic shift in the British political landscape. Farage promised a political earthquake, which itself was an odd thing to promise given that earthquakes are often, and indeed always, associated with destruction, ruin and death rather than positive change. He duly delivered a tremor which is surely on a par with the legendary Folkestone earthquake of 2007, which caused mild damage to chimney pots and shook a lady’s wardrobe handles.

Seismic.

Seismic.

The charismatic, compared to Cameron, Miliband or a tree, UKIP leader has spent the past two days braying like an aroused donkey, and has now swanned off to Brussels to stare distrustingly at the Polish delegation and complain loudly about how EU is law strangling Britain whilst staying within arm’s reach of the buffet at all times. He is then planning an assault on Westminster – it is unclear whether this will be a political, physical or sexual assault, but Westminster has been advised to start carrying pepper spray and avoid dark alleys.

In other exciting news, voter turnout has been confirmed at a shade over 34%, which is much like one person voting for a threesome while the other two are in the toilet, then them having to go through with it when they get back, and that being absolutely fine.

The other major political parties, and the Lib Dems, have responded in typically sterling fashion to this latest setback by promising to get more in touch with the electorate – even though the electorate have shown that they probably shouldn’t even be touched with a ten foot barge pole. David Cameron has done his best puppy dog eyes before claiming that UKIP was pretty much his idea, and Ed Miliband has tried hard to give the impression that he is human, while Nick Clegg has seemingly taken to permanent weeping and visiting all nine of his voters personally, which has been on the cards for some time now.

So what can we expect in this brave new world? Perhaps the biggest difference to daily life will be that the man who used to use phrases like ‘Johnny Foreigner’ and ‘dirty, untrustworthy, thieving bastard types’ in the pub is now your elected representative, with all the wonderful benefits that will bring. Expect heightened levels of general incompetence coupled with occasional bouts of homophobia.

In Europe, the EU will move from talking about shared values and doing very little, to talking about self interests and doing very little and not letting the Romanian delegate out of sight.

As for the general election next year, who knows. If we believe UKIP, we’ll probably have been overrun by a tidal wave of immigrants and choked to death by bureaucracy this time next year, so it probably won’t matter anyway.

All companies now entirely creepy

It’s nice to be loved.

A few weeks ago I got an email saying that somebody missed me very much. They were quite emotional – they pined for me to come and see them again, said it had been too long, yearned to catch up. I probably would have been touched, were that somebody not Southern Railway.

Since then I’ve had two further emails, one a gentle reminder of how much they missed me and how they wanted to give me a gift, and the next a slightly threatening reminder that if I didn’t come back to them in a few days they were going to take the gift away.

Southern Railway is basically a jilted lover.

To clarify, my relationship with Southern was nothing more than a fling, to me at least. From memory I pre-booked a Southern train to Clapham, I got on it and then I got off. I was in and out in 5 minutes, tops…

Feel free to finish off that sentence however you like, my two suggestions are ‘as ever’ or ‘which was actually quite a good showing by my standards’. I’ll be the bigger person and refrain from childish innuendos.

Anyway, as I was saying it was pretty brief, but entirely satisfactory – and we both went our separate ways, or so I thought. Now, they’re literally following me to work and metaphorically standing outside, playing the guitar, naked from the waist down, weeping and whispering my name.

"Taking you on journeys, then sniffing your clothes"

“Taking you on journeys, then sniffing your clothes”

I’ve got nothing against Southern Railway, apart from the fact that they’re a train company trying to be my friend and that makes no sense. They’re just a particularly strong example of the ever-increasing trend for every company you ever deal with to want to be your best mate or to stalk you for several years.

Companies have finally cottoned on to the idea that not being total arseholes might make people like them and want to spend money with them – the idea is that if you’re good to your customers they’ll choose you more often. If you build a good ‘relationship’ with the customer, it’ll pay dividends long term. A nice idea, which works when executed well and which many firms are seemingly intent on dry humping into utter oblivion.

A quick glance at my unread emails tells me that Sports Direct, Spurs, Tesco and the RFU all want me back, among many others.

Spurs I find especially odd given that I’m an Everton fan. I think I bought someone a Spurs mug in 2005 – so it’s entirely logical that they’d still be contacting me 9 years later – I must be a pretty premium customer. If it were a person I’d have got a restraining order about 8 years ago.

But seeing as it’s not, it’s just a company trying to make me spend more money by being insincerely chummy, it’s apparently totally fine. Which is totally not fine.

In short, I don’t want a relationship with a train company. I want to get on a train and get off it at roughly the right place and time and for there to be little to no sick on the seats. I certainly don’t want a fucking postcard from the 08.54 to Leatherhead.

The same is true of 99% of other companies we deal with. Just provide the service I require, do it well, I’ll be happy. I don’t need anything more than that. What’ll make me choose you in the future is good experiences when I’m buying stuff, not 15% off single fares and gooey emails about how brilliant I am and how you miss me. All that’s going to do is make me not go to Clapham.

Which is actually fine, Clapham’s a dive.

But that’s not the point, the point is stop it, it’s weird.