And the next phase is: feedback

So, I’m finished even sooner than I thought.

Today, I went and bought ink and paper, and for the first time printed off the whole story, turning the novel from an idea into something physical, tangible, and real-feeling. This was in itself a curiously erotic, arousing, feeling as I saw the paper with page after page of my writing – my story – spooling out onto the tray. 76,100 words. 300+ sheets of A4 paper. But, 300+ pages, the top one of which has my name on it, and the title (working title) of the novel.

As I wrote in the earlier post, it took me 9 years to finish from initial concept through to the 2nd draft printout. This is an astonishing achievement. There are so few big projects I have actually seen through to a finish and, while this still isn’t the finish, it is a product: an actual payoff from the work. Something I can show others. Something I can point to and say, “I did this.”

Curiously, last night I had another of my abandonment nightmares, but this time the story didn’t end with the sickening, awful feeling of being helpless. This time, there was a continuation in which new people, strangers, welcomed and accepted me even though they probably didn’t have to, and new stability from unexpected sources.

I doubt there’s a connection between the two. As far as the novel is concerned, there’s still a whole lot of uncertainty about what is going to happen, what changes I might need to make, and what impact it will have. There’s the challenge of finding the next story to write (will it be one of the ideas floating around, or something new? Will I attempt two projects at once, in different styles? I don’t know yet).

And right now, all I want is to find some British kinky folks, preferably some of them bi or lesbian, who’ll take a look and let me know what I doesn’t ring true.

Posted in Kink, SCW, Writing about writing | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The excitement of seeing the finish line (writing)

The past couple of weeks, I have been racing through the rewrite/2nd draft of my novel. I feel confident that by the end of this month, or possibly the first week of next month, it will be complete and ready to send out to beta-readers for feedback and corrections.

It is hugely exciting to me to reach this stage, and to feel the story coming together properly, in a form that I can show to others for the first time. The slog and struggle through thousands of words has been worth it. There’s under 5k words left in the original draft, and the falling action to denouement to write. The last sex/BDSM scene is written (rewritten).

I started writing it something like 8 or 9 years ago (I forget exactly when). In 2012 I made a New Year’s Resolution to finish the thing after it had languished for years due to depression and other things, and in 2013 I finished the first draft. A few distraction between then and now meant it’s taken longer than I planned to get to this stage, but here I am.

At this stage on the first draft, I looked ahead and saw only more work: the second draft. At this stage, I finally have something approximating a finished product. It’s going to need painting, polishing, making good and all that jazz, but it’s something I’m proud to show, in its entirety, to people who can advise where that polishing and painting and whatnot comes in. I admit that in part I’m hoping to do without an editor, simply because I’m not sure how I’ll fund hiring one. But if I can figure out a way, then I will do. I want this to be the best book it can be.

But for now, I just want to be finished. I want to hurry along and get to the point where I can say, “Tell me what you think.”

Posted in Writing about writing | 1 Comment

Elust 70, just for you

exposing 40
Photo courtesy of Exposing 40

Welcome to Elust #70

The only place where the smartest and hottest sex bloggers are featured under one roof every month. Whether you’re looking for sex journalism, erotic writing, relationship advice or kinky discussions it’ll be here at Elust. Want to be included in Elust #71? Start with the rules, come back June 1st to submit something and subscribe to the RSS feed for updates!

 

~ This Month’s Top Three Posts ~

Exposed! My Mom Knows!

Flash Fiction: “A Taste”

I am a Sex Blogger & I Reject Pseudonymity

~ Featured Post (Molly’s Picks) ~

‘X’ is for X…
Give my guilt an erotic payoff? Tell me more.

~ Readers Choice from Sexbytes ~

*You really should consider adding your popular posts here too*

Dis-moi…

All blogs that have a submission in this edition must re-post this digest from tip-to-toe on their blogs within 7

days. Re-posting the photo is optional and the use of the “read more…” tag is allowable after this point. Thank you, and enjoy!

 

Blogging

Hidden

Thoughts & Advice on Sex & Relationships

The Great Outdoors (Or Why I Trust Him)
I’m Reminded You Can’t Force an Orgasm
Yes I am Sexy
Why Choose Monogamy When You Can Choose Every
Would you? Could you?
On Being Haunted

Thoughts & Advice on Kink & Fetish

A Horse Among Unicorns: Embracing my Straight
Being a Disabled Top in Kink Community
And here I thought kink was all about consent
10 Signs You Don’t Understand Submission
The Answer

Writing About Writing

Sex in Real Life vs Fiction
Terms of Use

Poetry

Six Nine – A Happy Horny Haiku

Erotic Fiction

One Saturday Evening
Cerulean
Stolen Minutes
Taste
Haunting you
Woken
Q is for Quenched
A schoolgirl spanking story 10
Sit Here Please
My Prize

Sex News, Opinion, Interviews, Politics & Humor

Fat-Shaming
Spanking, Brits, and what if we didn’t?
“V” is for Virgin

Erotic Non-Fiction

My first date with Lexy – Part 2
Goodnight kiss
How To Kiss Me Like You Mean It
running cold and hot
His cum came out my nose.
Going Down. Honey, Coconut Oil and Cum.

 

 

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The neediness of New Labour: what Labour can learn from dating gurus

In the debate about the future of the Labour Party, there are already people demanding a return to the policies of New Labour, which I have already discussed as a mistaken idea confusing correlation with causation. Now, I’d like to discuss instead the question of how to shape the future of the Party and its campaigns.

In The West Wing, Annabeth Schott explains to Toby Ziegler that the press should be seduced, rather than seeing them as the enemy. I extend that idea to include voters in general.

Over at Sometimes, It’s Just A Cigar, Jemima writes of needing inclusiveness within the movement and the Party; Carter writes of finding the grassroots, and putting its narrative first: “In place of asking what will win, I would put a Labour party that decides what it stands for. In place of a fear of losing, I would put a certainty about what Labour is. In a democracy, that’s the most principled thing to do.”

I had already been thinking along similar lines, but my thinking is shaped in a different way: I draw parallels between Labour’s situation, and the dating advice from the more ethical branches of PUA, and those who have rejected its misogyny: people like Hayley Quinn (in the first category) and Dr Nerdlove (in the second category).

One of the mistakes that they seek to correct right at the start is one of not knowing what you want. The frustrated would-be dater often falls into the trap of thinking that what he wants is “a girlfriend”, without being too specific about what that girlfriend will be like (not as in appearance so much as in personality). He doesn’t know what he wants a girlfriend to do (beyond “have sex with me”, perhaps) or how she would behave, as long as he has one. This gets discussed in terms such as “scarcity mentality” – the idea that girlfriends are hard to get, so any girlfriend will do.

The Labour Party has, too often, acted in a similar way: they don’t know what they want their voters to be like or act like, beyond, “We want you to vote for us!”

Of course, dating is not like an election: out of millions of women, you only want a very small number (the “romantic” ideal is “one”; but there’s nothing wrong with wanting more than one as long as everyone involved is happy with that). When you want to get elected, you want millions of votes – and more than the other teams get. That said, the principles involved of being attractive are the same.

The other principle of attraction that I hear again and again from the advice-givers is that “women want a man with a strong sense of self.” Sadly, Hayley Quinn describes the following traits as “masculine”, which I think is bullshit; but in terms of being attractive, I see the point.

An attractive man, she says, has firm opinions: using words like “I love” and “I hate”. He will stick to these opinions when challenged or disagreed with; and he will take the lead. A man who can do these things provides confidence because a woman knows where he stands and feels sure of his position. A man who states opinions equivocally, or who changes his opinions to go along with hers, or who fails to make decisions or to lead, is someone who is hard to trust, and hard to open up to. This gets in the way of making a connection, and prevents attraction.

Returning to The West Wing, pollster Joey Lucas once remarks to Josh Lyman that he is like, “The French radical [who] says, ‘Look! There go my people. I must find out where they are going, so I can lead them!'”

A political party that has a firm sense of what it is for: that is able to say, in effect, “I love” and “I hate”, and that when challenged will not shift its positions to be more “likeable” but will set out clearly and firmly what its principles are, and what it will do to stand up for them, is much more attractive to a voter, if only because you know what you’re getting. But it is also attractive because it implies willingness to take charge, and to lead.

The weakness of Blairism has always been that Blairites are very willing to lead their party, but absolutely spineless in the face of populism. Carter, in the post linked above, writes, “No-one, any more, looks at Labour and knows instinctively what it is for. The key point of the Blair revolution was to tell people what New Labour was not, not what it was.”

The weakness of the Labour Party 2010-2015 was an unwillingness to be definite about anything: “Are we against austerity? Well, yes but not really, what do you think?” “Are we concerned about immigration? Well, not really but maybe a bit, what do you think?” It’s the “Nice Guy” nerd who thinks “Nice Guys FInish Last” so if he can copy the jocks’ antics, or learn a killer pick-up routine, then he will be like the “bad boys” who “get the girl”. But even if he doesn’t become a jerk from this, he still doesn’t get the girl, because the guys he’s trying to copy are being genuine whereas he is just imitating them. The women he so desperately wants to date end up choosing someone who is true to himself, even if that guy is a jerk and a nasty piece of work. Similarly, by letting UKIP define the debate on immigration, and the Tories define the debate on austerity and the economy, Labour ended up trying to imitate the bad boys but without the conviction that the bad boys have. You don’t beat out the boy offering her a diamond ring by offering a cubic zirconia instead. You win her over by offering something that he can’t, or doesn’t want to.

The two questions the Labour Party needs to answer are, “What will we take a stand for?” and “What do we want our people to be?”

And one important step is to be different from the bad boys of UKIP and the Conservatives: to stand up for our view and to assert it as better. To say bluntly, “No, you’re wrong. Immigration helps our country, and is a symptom of our success and our principles. We should be proud to welcome the needy.” and “No, you’re wrong. Austerity measures are destroying our country, and destroying our people and the foundations on which we have built this great nation.” Oh, wait. Somebody did say that in the 2015 election Leaders Debate. And her party practically swept the board in constituencies where they stood.

We need to tell the country plainly what sort of principles we would like them to share with us, and how we are going to reward those principles by creating policies that put our principles up front. I’m not a political genius, nor an economics whizz. I don’t understand fully the levers of government to be able to say what the details of those policies would be.

But we need to stop asking “What do you want us to be? Just tell us, and we’ll be it!” We need to say, clearly, “This is who we are; this is what you can be.”

Posted in Dating, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Blairism is history: it should stay there

So I’m hearing Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson have been crawling out of the woodwork to claim that Ed Miliband was wrong to reject New Labour, and a return to Blair’s centre-right policies is essential for the Labour Party to revive its fortunes. A lot of people (especially in the right-wing media) seem to agree. Alas, some in the Labour Paryy also seem to agree.

I think these people are ignoring some pertinent facts about the Blair years, and how they ended.

Tony Blair won three elections: 1997, 2001 and 2005. I remember them all well, and I remember growing into adulthood through them. I was 18 in 1997: the first time I had the chance to vote. I’d been politically active throughout my teens, starting with the despair of 1992.

People forget that Blair didn’t win the 1997 election: the Tories lost it. For five years, the Major government had struggled on with a slim majority that bye-election after bye-election eroded and chipped away as support drifted to Labour and the Liberal Democrats. There was no UKIP back then, or at least, no effective UKIP. I remember neighbours in 2001 sporting a UKIP bumper sticker but I don’t think they were around for 1997.

The Conservative Party was hit by scandal after scandal during the mid-1990s. Shortly after the 1992 election, Britain was forced out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism in Europe and the value of the pound crashed; a recession hit and recovery was slow under the Tory system. Unpopular legislation and unfair policies added to the miasma that surrounded them. 1997 was to the Tories what 2015 has been to the Liberal Democrats (or to Labour in Scotland), which is why the “Portillo Moment” was seen as so iconic, and why people in 2015 were referring to it as the comparison (finally saying that there were so many such moments that 1997 paled in comparison, and it was impossible to pick a defining moment like that one).

I watched as commentator after commentator asked Blairite after Blairite if they regreted moving the Labour Party as far to the right as they did, given the scale of the victory, and Blair and his cronies answering, “No, it proves we were right to.” The commentators (poor, naive souls) imagined that Blair only moved to the right in order to win the election, that it was just a ploy. But time after time, the Blairites replied, “We were elected as New Labour, we shall govern as New Labour”. The commentators’ analysis was, however, spot-on: there was no need to be New Labour in order to win that election. Tony Blair wanted to do it that way.

The years from 1997 to 2001 were typified by a successful economy run by Gordon Brown: “no return to boom and bust”, and “prudence”, were the oft-repeated refrains from 11 Downing Street. They did some good things (like the Human Rights Act) and some bad things (like PFIs) and we protested things like the introduction of university tuition fees. Blairism seemed to be working, people largely felt good about themselves and their prospects. A lot on the Left felt disenfranchised with no viable representation, and defected to the Greens, or the breakaway Socialist Labour Party, or the Liberal Democrats, or other things; many people just felt there was little need to vote because Blair was such a guaranteed winner. It was the beginning of “voter apathy” in the 2000s.

Blair duly won, with plenty of criticism and growing dissatisfaction in various quarters. He had a reputation by then for being shallow, a populist, in the pockets of the right-wing media. The Liberal Democrats manoeuvred towards the left as New Labour moved into the ground they had once occupied. The LibDems gained support as they started to adopt policies that many Labour supporters wished their party would. 2001 and 2005 were years when I felt so betrayed by Labour and found hope for a way forwards in the Liberal Democrats (and their key policy of Proportional Representation). It was made easier that I could use my LibDem vote as a tactical vote in a safe Tory seat where the LibDems were 2nd place.

2001 was, of course, the year that Al Qaida became a household name; Blair backed up the new Republican president and led Britain into war with Afghanistan and later, Iraq. Gone were the surpluses and fiscal prudence of the previous term: if New Labour overspent, then it was in Blair’s Wars that they did so. It certainly wasn’t through overspending on benefits, public services or immigration.

2005 was Blair’s war election, but his star was fading already. The feel-good of 2001 was past, and the main thing keeping him in power was that the Tories had moved steadily to the Right since 1997 in an effort to appeal ever more strongly to their base. That was the Michael Howard election, “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” his creepy voice intoned from their election messages. He was not a viable opposition and Blair stayed on.

It didn’t take long, however, for him to become a liability in the eyes of the party. He resigned as leader and, in due course, the Party elected his anointed successor as their new leader. Gordon Brown lacked the charisma of his predecessor. Talk of a civil war having brewed for a decade between Blair and Brown rumbled on, and Brown’s attempts to appeal to the electorate fell flat. But Brown was a part of the New Labour project. Without its cult leader, the project was dying.

Then the “Credit Crunch” happened. The seeds were sown back at the beginning of the 2000s, as New Labour sought to be more business-friendly and imitate the Tories. They relaxed the checks and regulations on banking activities. Similar problems were taking place in the US as well. The economy crashed as the consequences finally fed through into people’s lives.

When people suggest that it was a mistake to ditch New Labour, they forget that in 2010 New Labourism was a toxic, discredited model. It produced the Credit Crunch (in people’s minds), and had been exposed as shallow and unable to stand on its principles: it was, in biblical terms, the house built on sandy ground.

They also forget that at no point was Blairism alone sufficient to win an election. In 1997, the incumbent government had made themselves unelectable. Even if we claim that that was a time of recession and needing recovery, the nature of that recession and the recovery were different, and since Blair had promised to match the Tories on tax policy, it’s unlikely that Blairism had much to do with the recovery. Certainly, it would not resemble the recovery Brown was orchestrating in 2010 and nothing to do with the situation in 2015.

In 2001, we had a strong and stable-looking economy. Blair was the incumbent, and gained the benefits from that. There was no possible comparison with the situation following 2010 or going into 2015, and Blairism would not be appropriate to answer the changed landscape we see today.

And in 2005, his opponent was still not strong enough to mount a realistic challenge. Blairism’s popularity was waning.

Blairism is no longer a vote-winner, because it’s a policy based on a political world that no longer exists and at least a decade out of date. Ed Miliband distanced himself and his party from New Labour because New Labour was a millstone around his neck, and it was the acts of New Labour from which he couldn’t separate himself, that the Tories kept returning to to attack him. A return to Blairism would not win back the “aspirational” voters, and would once more abandon those who feel disenfranchised and don’t vote any more.

It’s possible to promote aspiration while sticking to policies of equality and leftwing principles. I’m confident that a Labour leader who wants first of all to engage with the roots, and with the old-fashioned Labour values, can figure out how to make those values represent the aspirations of Middle England as well as the protections and liberties yearned for by the working class, excluded minorities, and impoverished.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

General Election 2015: A Post Mortem

My thoughts are a little bit incoherent today. High emotion can do that to me. As a long-term unemployed, kinky, genderfluid, sufferer from a mental health condition, I can’t help but take this a little bit personally: I want to confront the people who voted Tory and ask them why they hate me.

My chief emotion is gut-wrenching dread. I imagine the country 5 years from now, and I can’t imagine there being anything left to save. No NHS. No human rights. No free speech (at least, for sexual minorities). No bodily autonomy. “You’ll be working for your benefits forever.” I’m sure the economy will look on paper as though everything’s hunky-dory but in people’s lives there will be naught but misery and despair, it will be the Right’s version of Stalin’s Russia or something. No, I don’t care if that counts as a Godwin fail. And yes, I get that Stalin’s pogroms and purges were mass murder and it might seem cras to compare the two. Well, fuck it, people ARE going to die because of this. They already were dying because of Tory cuts. It’s all going to be nice and civilised and on the surface clean and respectable, but it’s still going to be horrendous.

What do we do to ensure we aren’t stuck like it forever? Is there a way to salvage something, and to rebuild what’s lost when we come to it 5 years from now? What lessons can the Labour Party learn from this campaign?

The rightwing of the Labour Party will insist that Labour played it too far to the left. That the people were scared off by Ed’s rhetoric. I don’t think that’s true. I see two things in these results, neither of which support a “back to the Blair philosophy” message.

The first is that this is an election of punishment by the people. There are angry votes, rejections, everywhere. And what people are punishing, it seems to me, is what they perceive as betrayal.

In England and Wales, it’s the Liberal Democrats.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto in 2010 was a wonderful document, and it appealed more strongly to the idealist Left than perhaps the Labour manifesto did. It was attractive, principled, and offered hope. I was in a safe Tory seat, and I believe that manifesto was enough to get me voting tactically for the Liberal Democrat candidate to oust the Tory. I actually wanted to see a lot of the measures they proposed. The opinion polls told us that quite a lot of other people felt the same way. On the night, that didn’t translate into a bigger share of the vote, but they did win seats, and became a significant factor in determining what happened next.

We can’t blame them for not teaming up with Gordon Brown: there were enough dissenting voices within the Parliamentary Labour Party to make that coalition impossible. But the people could, and did, end up blaming them for selling out on every one of the liberal principles they espoused, to prop up a Conservative government for five years. They claim that they managed to curb the worst excesses of the Tory Right, and their desire to punish people for being poor or unlucky, but they still supported the punishments and cuts and viciousness that did get through.

We can’t blame Tories for being Tories, I suppose: we know what they are and what we can expect. But people expected better from the Liberal Democrats. We wanted them to have principles but instead, at the first whiff of power and a chance to be in government, they abandoned their principles and jumped into bed with the Tories. And at the time people were saying that this was going to destroy the LibDems. I swore on that day that I would never vote Liberal Democrat again, and I meant it. People don’t feel betrayed by the Tories, any more than you can feel betrayed by a ravening animal. You know what you’re dealing with, however vicious and brutal it may be. People feel betrayed by the Liberal Democrats, the sell-outs, and that’s why all the blame for austerity, cuts, human rights being rolled back, workfare, and the rest, lands squarely on the shoulders of the Liberal Democrats. They could have stopped it. They could have refused to have truck with the Tory programme. They thought being in Downing Street mattered more than their principles did.

And the other punishment is the Scottish vote. The Scots I saw interviewed cited numerous things for which they blamed Labour, going back to the Blair years and the Iraq war. And most of all, they felt betrayed by Labour’s “austerity-light”. They felt abandoned (“We haven’t left Labour. Labour left us”) and they voted with that emotion for the only viable party remaining in Scotland: the SNP.

The “punishment election” message tells us that Blair is a big reason why Labour got wiped out in Scotland, and doesn’t suggest that going back to those ways would do anything to revive Labour’s fortunes or rein in the Tories, or undo the damage they are plotting now.

The other point I see is that people wanted an end to austerity. After Nicola Sturgeon’s performance on the UK-wide debate English people were saying they wanted to vote for her and her anti-austerity message. The SNP are the big winners out of the election (although now we have a Tory majority, their wins mean nothing). The Labour message of “yes, we will make some cuts, but not as much as the Conservatives” just wasn’t different enough, distinctive enough, or attractive enough to win votes.

I’ve seen people pointing out how strong the UKIP vote was as evidence that the party was too far to the left. I disagree with that. Labour never tried to challenge the logic of austerity against the Tories, nor the logic of UKIP’s xenophobic (and yes, racist) policies.

There’s a scene in The West Wing where Josh is looking at the figures his pollster (I’ve forgotten her name) has brought him about a policy they want to champion in a region. He sees most people are against it and concludes, “We have to dial down the rhetoric”. She tells him the opposite; “The numbers mean we have to dial it up, not dial it down. The message isn’t getting through. We have to convince people.”

That’s what I feel happened to Labour: the message wasn’t getting through. It was not Left enough. It wasn’t different enough. Throughout the extended campaign, people were sending them the message “end austerity, don’t do austerity-light”. Hell, for five years people were campaigning for that, on protest marches and social media.

Ed Miliband persuaded Russell Brand. But it seems there’s a whole bunch of young people whom he didn’t reach, because his policies weren’t for them, and weren’t going to protect vital services because they still included cuts.

There are some voters Labour will never win. Some of them look like undecideds but they are instinctively Tory and the only way to get them is to chase the Tories down the rabbit hole and stop being Labour. It sort of worked for Blair, but in so doing then, it means there are far fewer who can be won that way now, just because there isn’t that much more to the right for Labour to go. But there are some who want to be Labour but for some reason aren’t. People who perhaps need to see the unique attractive features rather than see someone trying to be something they suspect they’re not. Labour needs to have the courage to be The Labour Party. It hasn’t done that since it elected Blair. Not really.

I don’t know what will be left after another five years. But we’re going to need someone Left enough to want to rebuild it, to believe in the principles of the Welfare State and the NHS as they were founded 70 years ago (or thereabouts) sufficiently that they will do what is right, not just what neo-capitalist liberals say is prudent.

When I joined the Labour Party just under a week ago, this scenario was one possibility in my mind: that Labour would lose, and would start looking for a new direction (indicated by choosing a new leader). One of the things in my mind was, I wanted to have a vote in that leadership election. I wanted to help build that future, and find someone to uphold those old-fashioned values that are under attack constantly by modern Toryism. We need to be ready in five years’ time to stand up for the idea of mutual support and compassion for all, the idea that the poorest and least heard deserve the same protections as the richest, and the idea that in an unsafe world, we have a duty to protect and help one another.

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Reverence for the vote

It’s election day, which means it’s time for a rant about voting. Today I give a point of view, a rationalisation for that point of view, then admit it’s a rationalisation and come back to the emotive reason I began with.

I love the process of voting: I believe it deserves a certain reverence. It may be my 10-second dose of democracy in 5 years (a bit more frequently, if we talk about the local council elections as well) but it is democracy, and it’s important.

Plenty of people who have the right to vote act and talk as if it’s a worthless thing to do (and I am very pleased to see that Russell Brand abandoned that position after meeting Ed Miliband) but for people who get to do it the first time, it really isn’t. I try to think what it must have been like at the end of the 19th century when working class men finally had suffrage – or for women in the 1920s when they first won the right to vote, and what it felt like to take that step – what it meant to them to have at last the ability to register their support for a candidate. I think of the significance of the secret ballot and the freedom that that must have represented to people whose lives were significantly governed by the whims of wealthy landowners and businessmen.

I also think of the value of the physical ballot paper.

I like very much that, in order to vote on legislation, an MP must physically walk through a lobby (or to make a positive abstention, both lobbies). It makes it a conscious decision, something hard to do purely on a whim or the spur of the moment. You have to know that this is what you want to do. It is also a physical representation of the support, recorded in person by the tellers.

I view the ballot paper in the same way. I value greatly the old-fashioned, low-tech, simple process we use in this country. In order to vote, I make my physical mark on a piece of physical paper, and then place that paper into a sealed and locked physical box: a tangible fact, undeniable evidence that I voted. The farther removed from that physical fact the act of voting becomes, the more susceptible I feel it must be to fraud.

In order to fix an election, under this old-school system, one must print fake ballot papers and substitute the fake ones for the real ones; to make the switch one must somehow intercept the ballot boxes as they are transported to the counting station and either open them and dump the original ballot papers, or else make a switch. However one goes about it, one must leave a trail of physical evidence behind. It can be done, but it seems eminently detectable because of the physical, tangible, actions involved. Maybe you just bribe some of the counters, but even then, there’s a trace of that money – and the counters are scrutinised, if papers go astray, there’s a physical fact to be found and recognised.

I recall reading a conspiracy theory that suggested the 1992 General Election was rigged: in certain key marginal seats, the theory claimed, there were unusually high numbers of postal votes recorded. The theory went on that, according to polling data, these seats were expected to fall to Labour but they bucked the trend and elected Conservative MPs instead. The suggestion being that those postal votes were fraudulent in some way.

Obviously, I think it’s a good thing that people can vote by post, and it’s worrying that it seems this time around some people (particularly overseas at the moment) haven’t received their ballot papers in time (according to the Guardian “polling day live” page). People should definitely not be disenfranchised if they are unable to make it to the polling station for any reason.

When we move to voting machines, and to electronic voting, that physical act and physical record is another step removed. I remember the US 2000 Presidential Election, in which there was at least a physical record of intention with the “chads” and how each paper should be counted based on how well the voter had managed to punch the card before inserting into the machine. As I understand it, that vote was a physical act that was designed to be counted by machine, rather than actually using a machine to make the vote.

The US drama series “Scandal”, however, shows electronic voting machines and a key story arc focusses on a conspiracy by the protagonist with some associates (who end up being antagonists later in the story) to rig the Presidential Election. They do this by fixing the software in a handful of voting machines in a key marginal district, to swing the state’s vote to their favoured candidate and thus tip the electoral college vote in his favour. As it turns out, they don’t wipe the rigged machines and much of Season 2 hinges on whether or not the investigator who’s hot on their trail can get to the machine and find the doctored software before they can conceal their misdeed.

I didn’t need a fictional story like Scandal to come up with that scenario for me. Electronic voting, to me, is lacking in transparency and far more dependent on “experts”. I like there being a clear, tangible, record. When I push a button or click on a screen, I don’t have that. More to the point, I don’t have any way of knowing or visualising the path that my vote takes to be counted. Suppose I get a printout from the machine (or my computer) saying “You voted Labour” – that printout has nothing to do with what actually gets recorded. Unless someone counts up the printouts and compares them to the machines’ tally, no one is any the wiser that there’s a discrepancy.

Part of this is, I am sure, just suspicion of technology in general: I imagine that there are forensic ways of determining whether software has been tampered with, just as there are ways of tracing the physical ballots if someone tries to rig the old-school system. it’s just a question of how and what the fraudster does to commit their crime.

No, the real reason I prefer the physical “X” on the ballot paper is that it is tangible, it’s a deliberate, determined, action. I go to the polling station as a definite declaration of my will; I say who I am, receive my ballot papers, go to the booth and consider my options before making a clear mark against the candidate of my choice, I check I’ve marked the right box, and I fold the paper to put it into that solid, secure-looking metal container. It is, above all, a considered act. It is not accidental, or incidental. It isn’t a throwaway act in between checking my twitter feed and reading my emails.

I suppose, ultimately, it is a ritual. It declares that it matters to vote. It’s why I like the divisions in the House of Commons. I might be equally satisfied if I had to use my biometric data in the polling booth and let the system scan my retina and thumbprint before letting me vote. Or for that matter, if I have to recite a spell or prayer and the one I recite is what registers my vote. (Which sounds like an awesome idea for a fantasy novel – I don’t recall if JK Rowling ever described how witches and wizards cast their votes? Or if they actually vote in muggle elections at all.)

Which is where I came in: voting is significant. It should be understood that way, and yes, treated with reverence, with its own rituals that mark it as something that matters in our lives.

And that’s what I thought about when I marked my X today.

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The value of a story’s point of view (is he bad or just wrong?)

Content Note: discussion of fictional abusive behaviour

Just a quick thought while it’s on my mind.

In my second draft, I’m getting into the part of my novel where the wheels really fall off and really bad things start happening to my people. The slow build-up of potentials has given way.

This is also the part where, in the first draft, I was using two first person narrators to show what was happening. In the second draft, I’ve chosen a more-or-less partial 3rd person narrator. A few scenes are going to need to be told by other perspectives, but essentially I realised that the novel is about one person’s journey, and I should follow her point of view as far as possible. It’s a much tidier, and more vibrant, story as a result, but I’ve realised that a lot of the other character’s perspective gets lost at this point, and that this is going to cast their future actions into a different light.

In my story, which has a BDSM vs Abuse theme, this makes my BDSM Dom character more likely to seem abusive and irrationally violent in a scene that’s coming up some way down the line. I need my protagonist, his Sub partner, to read it that way but would prefer the reader to understand that there’s a reason why he’s angry, and why his understanding of the situation might bring a hot temper. (In the scene, he reins himself in but not before making a very threatening gesture.) At this point in the story he has already been struggling with his partner’s shifting awareness of her sexuality and how that affects his relationship with her (they aren’t well-suited to poly, alas). Then a far bigger crisis hits and, from his point of view, it seems as though it’s a vindictive act by his partner.

By placing the story firmly with her point of view, I lose the text that explains why he would see it that way. In the redraft, I’ve just deleted those passages. When he expresses his anger, the reader won’t have his feelings, based on incomplete information. I hope there’s enough context from earlier that people will understand he is not “an abuser”, even if in this moment he acts in a way that seems abusive (on the other hand, he gets it wrong earlier as well).

Part of this is that the story changed in the 8 years since I started writing it: the theme started as “BDSM is not abuse”, and drifted as I learned more about concerns within the BDSM community about consent violations. My Dom character is intended as a good guy, but he also shows how abusers can fit into the community and have their actions excused. And in that way, I feel like letting his actions stand without his reasons may be the right thing after all.

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Why I Just Joined Labour

So this evening I decided to break from my previous position of agitation from the outside, bite the bullet, and join the Labour Party. I feel it is appropriate to write a short piece about why.

I started thinking about whether I should or not based on Ed Miliband’s performance in the election campaign. He has demonstrated that he’s a lot smarter than people have been willing to acknowledge, and people have started to engage with him – and he’s shown he’s willing to listen to those who feel disengaged with politics, most particularly the younger generation who feel ignored and undervalued by political parties who appeal more to their parents than to them.

More generally, I sense a possible shift leftwards of the Labour movement, and more of a conversation about the purpose of economies, politics and so on. Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP in Scotland, and in England the Green Party, have done a lot to fuel that conversation and make it relevant, but I’m not Scottish. That sort of leaves the question of why not the Greens.

To be honest, the Green Party have disappointed me, and left me feeling they are untrustworthy. On paper, their policies and principles seem closest to my leftwing ideals, but they are not underpinned by deep analysis and feel unstable.

When a prominent Green Party member (and their only MP) supports the Swedish Model on sex work law, despite the party being supposedly in favour of decriminalisation; when a prominent candidate makes transphobic remarks, and doubles down when called on it, despite the inclusive policies of the Party: these kinds of event undermine the reliability of a party built out of a single issue.

I grew up in the 1980s in a family of leftwing activists who were part of the local CND and Peace Campaign, took part in protest marches and vigils outside military instalments, hung out with hippyish types at singalongs and events. I remember the announcement of the UK Green Party being founded, and the clear lack of structure beyond the environmental issues they cared about back then. I don’t think they have ever really found a solid foundation.

More to the point, we aren’t going to see a Green Party government soon. It would be great if they were serious contenders in more than a couple of seats, but the reality is, they’re not likely to be. Their role is to put pressure from the outside (yes, I know that link talks about the Communist Party, but the same reasoning applies). We might, possibly, see a “coalition of the Left” in which the Greens play a part, and which pushes their policies forwards, but it’s not effective power in my mind.

On the other hand, Miliband is making some dog-whistle type remarks for the Labour Left. There’s a sense that he’s out to undo some of the damage done by Blair and to re-establish the community roots of the party.

I had decided I would never support Labour again after the 1997 election and the betrayals that followed; and the “modernisation” that seemed to want to modernise the party out of existence (rather like what Blair and Cameron have steadily done to the NHS). But after five years of ConDem rule, that teenaged principle seems to be pretty feeble. I don’t forget that it was some of the leftwing Labour MPs who scuppered the possibility of a Lab-Lib pact and pushed the LibDems into the Tories’ arms, because they thought it would do their party good to be out of government for a while rather than compromise further on leftwing principles.

Well, the party has spent five years on the opposition benches. The damage has been done. Somehow, the more leftwing of the Milibands came to the leadership, and has been slowly manoeuvring to steer his party back in that direction. If there’s an opportunity for a proper leftwing party, with a realistic chance of governing this country, then now seems to be the time to act. I can’t do any more to help from the outside, so I’ve nailed my colours to the mast, and set out to give my weight to a new, modern, leftwing Britain.

After four years of despair, I finally feel political optimism again. I may end up disappointed, but at least I can say I did something.

(First thing I want them to change is the sign-up form: no gender-neutral title, and only two options for gender.)

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Nonconsensual CBT is a Hard Limit (Why forcing therapy on JSA is wrong)

So today I’m hearing via twitter that the Tories, and the Lib Dems, both have ideas about forcing people on Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) and other out-of-work benefits to submit to mental health treatment. The Tories are blatant about it: they would sanction (i.e. cut off the benefits payments) if a person refused the mandatory treatment. The Lib Dem proposal doesn’t seem to state this openly, but as the linked piece by Latentexistence outlines, nothing done in a Jobcentre context is free of that threat any more.

I am a current JSA claimant and am technically long-term unemployed. I had 3 weeks of work over Christmas and a long gap before that. I am also a long-term sufferer of depression, which has at times been severe, and potentially life-threatening.

The potent threat that if you agree to any programme and then withdraw, then your finances could be affected, has made me more and more reluctant to say “yes” to any scheme proposed to me by the Jobcentre unless I am absolutely enthused by the proposed outcome and at least a little bit more impressed that it might be something a bit different from the half-dozen other “get you back to work” lectures they’ve foisted on me over the past few years. I find excuses why it’s not for me, and not appropriate. As latentexistence says:

…there can be no meaningful consent to treatment in the context of the Job Centre. Where once the Job Centre was there to help people to find a job, these days it is more known for ruthless sanctions and cutting off benefits for whatever trivial excuse they can come up with. If Job Centre staff tell someone that they need mental health treatment it will be backed up with words such as “your benefits may be affected if you do not attend” which is a barely-veiled threat that they apply to most “voluntary” tasks that they inflict on people.

I have often felt that if Jobcentre staff were given a much better grounding in counselling techniques – not up to therapist levels, obviously, but maybe the Level 2 course I took (that doesn’t qualify me to be a counsellor, and was called “Helping Skills” to make that distinction) then the experience of signing on and reporting yet again that I have failed in the job of getting a job might be a bit more pleasant: if I could focus on successes, and they could show an interest in my general wellbeing and progress as a person.

I actually want genuinely optional and available mental health talk therapy available through the benefits system. Depression is a horrendous thief of time, energy and capacity and it genuinely does hold me back from finding work at times, but with waiting lists on the NHS at over a year long now, finding the help I desire is impossible. (I need to write another post on the value of work to me.) Properly guided (that is, structured by the client with the advice of the professional) treatment and a compassionate structure would make a huge difference to me.

But that is not what’s proposed, and it’s not what we have. The Jobcentre is not a compassionate place, and it hasn’t been for as long as I’ve been seeking work (which, on and off, stretches back over a decade). Again, Latentexistence:

The regime of sanctions and workfare means that the Job Centre is a direct cause of much mental illness among people on benefits. I cannot see anyone wanting to reveal this to any therapist in the Job Centre even if absolute confidentiallity is promised. There is too much danger of it leaking to vindictive staff who are eager to hit their targets for sanctions.

My least productive job search time has always been the 24 hours following a Jobcentre visit, because that was when I felt most demoralised and demotivated. A decade ago, I used to say things like this to the staff and would be told, “Well, surely that’s just more motivation for you to find a job.” Compassion was never available. The best staff would show a little, but always they were the face of the bureaucratic, uncaring, implacable system. One way or another, it would always end up as, “More than my job’s worth.”

With the notion of Jobcentre-based, computer-based CBT, however, I know that I would not engage with it. I would undergo the tasks because I had to be there, and with no mental or emotional engagement with it. My defensive walls and barriers would be up. I would allow my mind to wander, as I so often do when pushed to sit in front of Jobcentre computer, to more entertaining and relaxing things such as my novel, favourite music, what I might find in the charity shops today, what I’ll have for lunch or dinner… anything but the computer and the Jobcentre.

I know the sorts of things to say to Jobcentre staff to show that I am engaging, even while I am really not, and even while I am actually trying to avoid things (and also when I do want to engage with things). Being long-term unemployed teaches you nothing if not how to game a system designed to crush you and catch you out. If I could report my Jobcentre-surviving skills as transferable skills to the workplace, I suspect I would be much better placed to get a job! So the upshot is that I would appear to be engaging, I would report slow, steady progress in the desired direction, and yet there would be no on-the-ground advantage. It’s a classic case of how setting targets actually reduces effectiveness.

Jobcentre staff are set targets for how many people they sanction in a week. I had this from the horse’s mouth a few years ago when someone who left the Jobcentre to join one of the external training providers, told me so; it was also reported in the Guardian a year or two back. How am I to believe that a new scheme is not just there to give them one more method for meeting that target?

Anything mandatory, anything prescribed without a proper examination of the needs of the client, is only going to do more harm.

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