Category Archives: Transatlantic comparison

Everything you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask about British politics

800px-parliament_at_sunset

Over the weekend, I asked Facebook friends to send me their questions on what’s happening in aftermath of the UK election, which resulted in a hung parliament. Below are some of their questions and a few I added to clarify a few things. Hope this helps my American readers understand British politics a bit more:

  1. Does the Prime Minister always get to decide when to call special elections? Has this situation ever happened before?

Yes and no. Before 2010, the Prime Minister had almost sole discretion on when an election would be called. One had to be held at least every five years, but when that happened was largely down to the whims of the government of the day (led by the Prime Minister). As you may expect, this led to a lot of elections called when the government felt it was advantageous for it (such as when they’re leading in the polls) or not called unless absolutely necessary if the party in power was suffering the polls. This was the case in 1997, when the Conservatives lost power to Labour after 18 years in government.

The Fixed Terms Parliament Act 2010 was meant to change this. Brought in by the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, it was meant to ensure stability during the 2010-2015 Coalition Government (more on this later). It set out a fixed date for the next election, which was held in May 2015. The next subsequent election was not due until May 2020. However, there was a provision in the Fixed Terms Parliament Act which allowed for the dissolution of Parliament – necessary for the calling of another election – if there was a vote of no confidence in the government of the day  or if the Prime Minister requested dissolution.

Theresa May requested a dissolution of Parliament in April, setting the date for the next election as 8 June. As she was not the leader of the Conservative Party in 2015 (that was David Cameron, who resigned last year following the Brexit vote), some argued she was seeking a mandate of her own. She wanted to increase her majority to strengthen her hand when negotiating Brexit. It didn’t quite work out as well as she’d have liked though, as the Conservatives lost their majority. No one party has a majority of Members of Parliament now, which means Mrs May must seek coalition or a minority government.

  1. What does it mean to “form a government?”

    There are 650 Members of Parliament (MPs), so to have a majority a party must win at least 326 seats. There are two main parties – the Conservatives and Labour – and only they have formed a government since 1922. In the simplest of times, forming a government just means the largest party appoints people to the cabinet (as the leader of the party would be Prime Minister) and puts forward its agenda in a Queen’s Speech (we’ll get to her role later). But these are not simple times.

    In 2010, like now, no one party had a majority of seats – a scenario known as a “hung parliament.” David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party (also known as the Tories), sought coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who held 57 seats. The Lib Dems accepted, and a coalition Conservative-Liberal Democrat government ran things until 2015, when the Conservatives secured a majority of seats and governed on their own.

 Mrs May has squandered that majority, losing 13 seats and taking her party’s total to 318. The Lib Dems have ruled out another coalition – they suffered greatly for their role in the last one, losing 49 seats in 2015 – which means Mrs May needs to find another minor party to bolster her numbers. She looks set to do that with the Democratic Unionist Party out of Northern Ireland, which has 10 seats.

This is where it gets tricky, though, as the DUP really can’t join the government due to the peace agreement in Northern Ireland between the Protestants and the Catholics, but that’s another story for another day. Right now it looks like the DUP will prop up Mrs May’s government but not join it, meaning she’ll form a minority government with the understanding that she can depend on the DUP to support her agenda in most cases.

  1. I read that Prime Minister May was going to propose something to the Queen. What is the monarchy’s involvement with the elected government (and vice versa)?

The role of the monarchy is entirely symbolic in practice yet vast in theory. Theoretically, the sovereign is an absolute monarch – all power is vested in the crown. However, the doctrine of crown-in-parliament means that whilst Her Majesty technically holds these powers, in practice and custom they are exercised by Parliament and the government (which consists of MPs – even the Prime Minister is an MP). This goes back hundreds of years in a system that has largely haphazardly developed. Britain has no written constitution, like the United States, so its democracy functions largely on customs and a body of separate laws collectively referred to as “the constitution.”

Because these powers are technically the Queen’s, she must invite someone to form a government in her name. She does this to whoever wins the most seats. Mrs May won the most seats (even if she didn’t secure a majority), so by custom she has the first shot to form a government. She went to see the Queen to be invited to form a government. If Mrs May can’t form a government (that is, get enough support to get through her agenda, laid out in a Queen’s Speech), then the second-place Labour Party could try to form a minority government and get enough votes to pass its Queen’s Speech. If no party can get their Queen’s Speech passed, another election will be held.

  1. What is a Queen’s Speech?

The Queen’s Speech is essentially the ruling party’s agenda. It is a set of proposed laws the new government hopes to pass. During the state opening of Parliament, the Queen travels to the Palace of Westminster (where the House of Commons and House of Lords both convene) and, from the House of Lords, delivers a speech written by the party seeking to form a government. She has no political input (though could have some stylistic critiques, since she’s the one who has to say the damn thing). Why does the Queen, and not the Prime Minister, give this speech? Because the powers are actually the Queen’s, even if they are exercised by the Prime Minister and Parliament, so she’s telling the Lords, the Commons, and the country what she is instructing her government to do – even though it’s the government telling the queen what to tell them to do.

The state opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech is surrounded by a lot of really complicated pomp and circumstance. C-SPAN typically airs it live, and I encourage you all to watch it, because it really is a sight to behold. We have nothing like it in the United States.

  1. Could the Queen step in and stop the nonsense or deny any requests?

No she could not. Okay, technically she could – all these powers are hers in theory – but if she did you can bet that parliament and the people would vote to abolish the monarchy. Her Majesty is actually quite committed to democracy and the constitution, so the thought of intervening in the business of parliament would appall her.

The best example of this happening is actually not in Britain, but in Australia, where Elizabeth II is also the Queen (represented by a Governor General, since she lives in London and not Canberra). In 1975 the Governor General dismissed the Australian Prime Minister because of political instability in the House of Representatives and Senate (think Commons and Lords in Britain). This was the greatest constitutional crisis in Australian history, and Her Majesty refused to be drawn into it.

  1. What are the main belief systems of each party (and dot he ones with similar sounding names have similar beliefs/policies – ie is the UK Conservative Party similar to an American conservative)?

There are two main parties in the UK: the Conservatives (aka the Tories) and Labour. The Conservatives are capitalists, whilst Labour consists of varying shades of socialism (from democratic socialism akin to Bernie Sanders to some out-and-out Trotskyites). In the middle of this is the Liberal Democrats, which formed from the merger the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party, which had broken off from the Labour Party. It is more of a centrist party.

Then you have several smaller parties. The Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru (the Party of Wales), and the Green Party all have MPs and are all centre-left to varying degrees. If Labour were to form a minority government, they would rely on these three parties.

There are only two parties with seats from Northern Ireland: Sinn Fien and the before-mentioned DUP. Sinn Fien is a left wing Irish nationalist party, mostly identified with Catholics in Northern Ireland. The DUP is a far-right unionist party backed by Northern Irish protestants.

If you want to get into who analogous parties, the Conservatives are probably closer to moderate Democrats than they are Republicans. Labour is probably closer to Bernie Sanders or the US Green Party, though current leader Jeremy Corbyn is far to the left of either of these parties. The Liberal Democrats are probably more like Barack Obama, though some Obama advisors have also advised the Conservative Party.

  1. Who believes in LGBTQ equality, women’s rights, racial equality?

    All of the main parties would tell you yes, they support a broadly socially progressive agenda. The Conservatives haven’t always been great on LGBT equality, initially opposing it and passing some of the most homophobic laws in modern British history. However, over the past decade – particularly under the leadership of David Cameron – they became much more progressive, supporting the Labour government’s bringing in civil partnerships in the mid-2000s and later introducing marriage equality under Cameron. However, the majority of Conservative backbenchers (that is, Members of Parliament not in government) voted against equal marriage, so whilst the Conservative-led coalition government introduced the bill, it passed only because of support from the other parties.

    Most Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) voters favour the Labour Party, though there is growing support from BME voters for the Tories. Theresa May, as Home Secretary, was critical of racial profiling in policing, even as her own government was accused of Islamophobia through its anti-terror Prevent programme.

    The fact is that race doesn’t really play as large a role in UK politics as it does in the US, though many BME people think it should. This is down to the relatively recent influx of a significant number of BME people (from the mid-20th century to now) and the entrenched class system. British politics is getting more intersectional, but it has a long way to go.

    None of the main parties oppose abortion access, though Labour would be more likely to relax abortion law than the Tories. Labour has introduced all-women shortlists for parliamentary candidates, which the Tories haven’t, yet the Tories have produced both female Prime Ministers. On economic issues that effect women, such as childcare and pay equality, the Tories have faced a lot of criticism from feminist activists, but Labour has also been accused of having a sexist culture in its far-left reaches.

    Now let’s talk about the DUP – who register as important since Mrs May is looking to rely on them to govern. They are anti-gay marriage, anti-choice, refuse to meet or work on Sundays, believe in creationism and deny climate change. So it’s kind of like if the state of Alabama became a political party. There are lots of people, including the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party (who is an out lesbian), expressing serious reservations about any deal – yet it looks to be the only way Mrs May can hang on.

  2. Does ideology split parties there?

As discussed, the Conservatives are capitalists and the Labour party are socialists. So ideology has a much starker impact on the parties in the UK than it does in the US, where both major parties are capitalist.

  1. This all seems really convoluted. Isn’t our system simpler?

Those in glass houses really shouldn’t throw stones. A minority of voters elected Donald Trump because of our Electoral College, which to British voters seems just as maddening as the parliamentary system seems to many Americans. And when you look at how gerrymandered many of our districts are, it becomes difficult to argue that the American system as it currently exists  is more democratic.

  1. What happens next?

Right now no one knows. Theresa May met with her backbenchers earlier today, and she’s still trying to finalise any deal with the DUP. It does look likely that Theresa May will form the next government and continue on with a minority government, but her position looks increasingly untenable. She may well be gone by Christmas, with another top Tory politician taking her place as Prime Minister.

If you have any other questions, leave them in the comments below and perhaps I’ll do another blog.

Skylar Baker-Jordan writes the blog The Curious American. A contributing editor at The GayUK Magazine, Skylar writes about British and American politics and society for an array of publications, including the Independent and Huff Post UK. He is based in Chicago but makes frequent trips to London, where he hopes to relocate soon.

How I went from endorsing Jeremy Corbyn to voting for Hillary Clinton

Hillary_Clinton_April_2015

Image: Mike Davidson/Hillary for America

I love two countries. America, where I was born, and Britain, where I will die. I desperately want to see both succeed as fair, equitable, and socialist countries. There are people I love in both countries who are hurting. Cuts to benefits, the high cost of healthcare, and stagnant wages are all making life a living hell for the working classes.

When, in August of last year, I endorsed Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership in a column for the Gay UK Magazine, I did so saying he had “all the electability and relevance of a Womble.” (Are you asking what a Womble is? Exactly.) Still, he was the best of an underwhelming lot, and the most anti-austerity of the bunch. So I tepidly threw support behind him.

I couldn’t imagine the overwhelming mandate that Jeremy would win. Nobody could. Registered supporters, sure. Unions, probably. But even Labour Party members voted overwhelmingly for him, something I—and no other pundit, so far as I know—predicted. Jeremy captured a zeitgeist that I felt well swept up in, myself: young urban socialists, disenchanted by Tory Austerity and Blairite “modernisation.” Many of us were young enough not to remember the bitter disputes of the 1980s, and those of us who weren’t largely fell into the camp that left (or was expelled, depending on whom you ask) by Neil Kinnock. We are angry, and we are right to be so.

But over the past few months, since Jeremy won the leadership race, I’ve seen Labour’s electoral chances nosedive. Labour is nine points down from the Tories in the latest YouGov poll. Jeremy, who we elected on an anti-austerity platform which, on the issues anyway, is largely supported by the British people, has utterly failed to turn the momentum of his campaign into any sort of tangible strategy. Instead of kitchen table issues, he’s focused on unilateral nuclear disarmament (something British voters don’t support), withdrawing from NATO (something else the British voters don’t support), and blundered on questions such as whether he’d shoot to kill a terrorist (I bloody well hope he would). No, not all of this is his fault—the media has been jarringly and unabashedly biased against him and miscreants from within the Parliamentary Labour Party, led by Simon Danczuk have been undermining his leadership since before he was elected. But the fact remains that as party leader, responsibility ultimately falls to Jeremy Corbyn, whose mismanagement thus far indicates he may be a leader in name only.

Two things have influenced my change of heart. One is this brilliant BBC documentary from the 1990s about the Labour Party in the 1980s. I’m a scholar of 1980s Britain, and I knew well how tumultuous the decade had been for the party. But hearing it from the people who lived it, speaking 20 years ago when power was within reach, and juxtaposing that to now when power is so far from us was eye-opening. We are repeating the past, and unless something changes, we will be damned in 2020 as we were in 1983.

Another is this blog by Jade Azim of the Young Fabians, widely circulated last November and succinctly titled “Sod It.” Jade, like a great many of us, was quite fed up with the Parliamentary Labour Party and, for that matter, the Twitter Labour Party, ripping into one another instead of the Tories. Unlike a great many of us, Jade had the guts to actually say something. It’s a poignant read about the disillusionment of a working class girl who became involved in politics to make changes that actually meant something. While champagne socialists natter on about Trident and defend Russia from any critique (looking at you, Seamus Milne), working class families like mine are worried about paying the rent, accessing our GP, and making sure our disability benefits—which we depend on to survive—aren’t cut by Iain Duncan Smith or a Republican-controlled Congress.

The gist of Jade’s blog can be summed up in one sentence: “give me a Blairite government over a Tory one any day. Call it ‘Red’ Tory, it’s still not bloody Tory.” Or, in other words, we have to work with the world as it is, not the world as we’d like it to be. The litmus test for politicians must be whether they deliver results, not whether they’re ideologically pure.

Which brings me to Iowa.

I can’t lie and say I haven’t long been a Hillary Clinton supporter. Those who know me know I campaigned for her in 2008. But my politics have shifted decidedly left since then, when I was still supporting the Conservative Party in the UK, and Bernie Sanders—like Jeremy Corbyn—has been a breath of fresh air. A solid candidate with democratic socialist (though not traditional socialist) credentials, he has struck a chord with the populist, left-wing contingent of the Democratic Party. Not since 2004 have I been this undecided this close to the Iowa caucuses, but with his proposals for a single-payer healthcare system (something I’ve long championed) and a return to Glass-Steagall in order to regulate Wall Street, I began to feel the Bern.

But then, Hillary Clinton said something in the last Democratic debate that struck a chord, and made me think of Jeremy Corbyn. She called herself a “pragmatic progressive,” something she’s driven home before. In a debate last year, she said “I’m a progressive, but I’m a progressive that likes to get things done.” She promises not what’s fantastic, but what’s feasible.

And on this, she has a point. Whether we like to admit it or not, the Republicans are likely to retain both houses of Congress this November. That means that whoever is elected president will have to work with Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and the conservative movement which has hijacked our democracy. This isn’t me being Chicken Little; it’s a fact. And as Clinton pointed out in the debate, President Obama couldn’t get a public/single-payer option through with the Affordable Care Act, and he had a majority in both houses. The fact is the American people, or at least their representatives, don’t have an appetite for it. I don’t like it any more than Bernie Sanders does, but alas, we have to work with what we’ve got.

I didn’t get into politics to debate abstract socialist orthodoxy. I got into it to help the people from whence I came, people like my friends back in Leslie County, Kentucky who are losing health insurance thanks to Governor Matt Bevan. I’d love a single-payer system in America, but it’s not going to happen. At least not now. We’re still fighting just to make sure everyone can access affordable, let alone free-at-the-point-of-access, healthcare. For my friends and family back home, Bernie Sanders talks a big game. But what about now? What can be done now? Fighting for a single-payer system sounds great until you’re dying of black lung and can’t afford your treatment. Taking principled stands on wealth redistribution are noble until a Republican president and his Republican-controlled congress cuts your Social Security Disability Insurance. Then what?

Hillary is far from perfect. She hasn’t always been great on LGBT rights, but then, neither has Bernie Sanders. And as I wrote for the Daily Dot, Hillary’s stance on the Black Lives Matter movement needs some serious work.  Clinton’s record on incarceration and her links to the for-profit-prison industry are deeply troubling, and Sanders has been likewise tone deaf at times. Neither candidate has done enough to embrace this cause.

But Clinton has proven her muster on a range of issues, from reproductive justice to gun control. Her foreign policy credentials are impeccable. Yes, she voted for the Iraq war and Bernie Sanders didn’t. But one vote thirteen years ago is just not enough to prove you’re ready to be commander-in-chief. (After all, Jeremy Corbyn voted against Iraq too yet wants to negotiate a new Falklands settlement with Argentina.) Hillary has shown a deep understanding of the threats facing our country, from Daesh (ISIS) to Russia to the situation in the Taiwan Strait. She has a deep understanding of the realities of geopolitics and a longstanding commitment to human rights throughout the world. Nobody can deny this. The Republicans are still trying to make a meal out of the bones of our lost heroes in Benghazi, but her performance at the Congressional hearings prove her ability to neutralise their bogus attacks.

My heart lies with Bernie. God, would I love a Sanders presidency. But if I have to choose between a progressive reality and a socialist dream, I’m going with the former. I followed my heart with endorsing Jeremy Corbyn, and the party is in shambles. Labour has four years to course-correct, though. The Democrats have nine months. We have a straightforward choice: ideology or electability, principle or pragmatism. In both cases, I choose the latter.

That’s why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton.

This Labor Day, organised labour is more important than ever

Image courtesy of Chicagology.

Image courtesy of Chicagology.

Picture it: Chicago, 1886. The soot, excrement, and brackish waves of Lake Michigan mingle as you walk through the smoky steel canyon that is the city’s industrial corridor. For months, you’ve been locked out of your job at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company factory, fighting for an eight-hour workday and better wages; you make $9 a week working 12 hour days.

You walk down Western Ave towards Blue Island. There August Spies, a local anarchist newspaperman and activist, encourages you to “hold together, stand by [your] union” if you hope to succeed. The strike, ongoing since February, has been largely peaceful, despite some heated altercations between your striking comrades and strikebreakers working the factories. The shrill bell tolls, its brassy ring indicating another workday over. You feel those behind you pushing forward, shouting angrily at the workers leaving their shifts. “Class traitors!”

You manage to step away from the shoving crowds, your boots sinking in the mud and muck. As you’re reconstituting yourself, rubbernecking to get a better look at what’s happening near the factory gates, you hear a bang. Then another. Screams of horror and anger fill the air as the police move in. Two of your coworkers have just been killed, gunned down by the police.

The next day, you make your way to the Haymarket, a square in the city’s central business district well known to the labour movement. A light rain dampens your clothes, but not your spirits. There, Spies and others give rousing speeches about the need for solidarity and action. Mayor Carter Harrison stops by, tips his hat at you, and heads home, noting nothing unusual.

The final speaker, a British socialist, is finishing his short speech when the police arrive, ordering the crowd to disperse. A loud boom. Screaming. Gunfire. More screaming. You cover your eyes, coughing as you choke on the toxic cloud produced by the bomb. When order is finally restored, eleven people—11 cops and four workers—are dead.

The following days and weeks see protests by organised labour in New York City, Boston, London, Paris, Berlin, and throughout the world. 1 May becomes International Workers’ Day, except in America, where its associations with socialism and anarchy prompt campaigners to move the celebration to the first Monday in September.


This was the Haymarket Affair. In the ensuing trial and conviction, now widely condemned as a sham, would see four men, including Spies, executed. Though they may have died, the movement lived on. Labour historians consider the Haymarket Affair the genesis of the modern workers’ movement.

Today is Labor Day in the United States, a day traditionally seen as the last day of summer and featuring barbecues and picnics. Many people will go through today blissfully unaware of the struggles of our ancestors, who fought to ensure we had a fair shake and loud voice in our workplaces and in the market. Many of the perks modern workers have come take for granted—an eight-hour workday, overtime pay, vacation or holiday time, sick leave, maternity and paternity leave—are the result of decades worth of struggles and fights by labour activists, socialists, feminists, and others. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Yet the work is not over. Yesterday, The Independent reported on the British government’s plan to crack down on union organising and demonstrating. Liberty, Amnesty UK, and the British Institute of Human Rights have accused the government of “seeking to undermine the rights of all working people” in their plan to require striking workers to identify themselves to police and receive authorisation form the authorities before taking any industrial action. Considering anonymity in striking is what helps protect workers’ jobs and alleviate concerns of retribution, the proposed changes to trade union laws are a galling attack on the gains our foremothers and forefathers fought so hard to achieve.

In America, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer has sparked a national conversation about maternity and paternity leave after refusing to take all she is entitled to under a company policy she herself implemented. American ranks at the bottom of the Western world for paid parental leave—as in we’re the only Western country that doesn’t require it.

The United States is also the only Western nation that doesn’t require employers to offer paid vacation. When they do offer it, many Americans won’t take the time, for fear of losing their jobs or being overlooked for a promotion or wage. Vacations are good for workers and companies, resulting in a recharged and reenergized workforce. Yet nearly 1-in-four Americans get no paid time off.

You’d think with all these extra hours, American incomes would be at an all-time high. Quite the opposite: Americans work longer hours and retire later than any of their Western counterparts, and for a much smaller share of the profits of their labour. In 2011, Mother Jones pointed this out in a biting indictment of an article. It was updated only a few days ago to show its relevancy remains. Though the authors tackle a number of topics, from speedups to offshoring, the most glaring fact is in just how much wealth we’ve redistributed to the top:

For 90 percent of American workers, incomes have stagnated or fallen for the past three decades, while they’ve ballooned at the top, and exploded at the very tippy-top: by 2009, the wealthiest 0.1 percent were making 6.4 times as much as they did in 1980 (adjusted for inflation). And just to further fuel your outrage, that 22 percent increase in profits? Most of it accrued to a single industry: finance.

Despite not reaping the fruits of their labour, GOP presidential hopeful Jeb Bush thinks we should work even longer. The average American in full-time employment is working 47 hours per week, reversing the historic victories the labour movement fought so hard to win, yet they are hardly seeing any of the reward.

We haven’t seen mass industrial actions in the United States like we’ve seen in the United Kingdom, where workers on the London Underground have walked out over the introduction of overnight train services. They fear this will result in longer hours for the same amount of pay, taking away from their hard-won work/life balance. The trade union movement has helped propel left-wing candidate Jeremy Corbyn to frontrunner status in the Labour Party’s leadership contest, despite changes to party policy designed to weaken their influence. And while the government continues to undermine and attack the unions, they remain an integral part of British industry.

Quite the different story here. The Huffington Post reports that union memberships are at historic lows, and lays the widening wealth gap squarely at the feet of anti-union legislation and policies. “Unions, whatever their failings, give workers more leverage to demand higher wages,” they write, pointing out that income inequality has grown as unions have disappeared. Right-to-work laws, a name which sounds good but masks its ugly true intentions, severely limit unions’ ability to collectively organise and negotiate.

Studies cited by Newsweek, which in May had an excellent analysis of how the assault on unions is hurting American workers suggest that since passing a right-to-work law Michigan has lost 48,000 union workers; nationwide, right-to-work has shrank union membership by nearly ten percent. But right-to-work laws aren’t just detrimental to unionised employees. They hurt non-union employees, too:

According to research from the Economic Policy Institute, wages in right-to-work states are 3.1 percent lower—or about $1,560 less per year—than those in states without right-to-work laws. The rate of employer-sponsored health insurance is 2.6 percentage points lower in right-to-work states, and the rate of employer-sponsored pensions is 4.8 percentage points lower.

As unions continue to disappear, Groups like Fight for $15, which advocates raising the minimum wage, are seeing some successes at local and state levels, but they cannot replace the grassroots role local unions played in protecting and gaining workers’ rights. And as American workers continue to work more for less pay, the role of organised labour in this country is only growing in importance.


Picture it: Chicago, 2015. 129 years after the Haymarket incident sparked a global movement, the cradle of organised labour is run by a union-busting mayor who is pals with an outright anti-union governor. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has routinely squared off against the Chicago Teachers Union, which along with the Amalgamated Transit Union locals, the Service Employees International Union, and other labour groups opposed his re-election this past spring.

Other unions, from pipe fitters to hospitality workers, backed the mayor. But with Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican billionaire elected last November, backing right-to-work laws and actively declaring war on trade unions in the state, solidarity is more important than ever. One study suggests Illinois could lose 200,000 union jobs if Rauner gets his way, causing the state’s economic output to decrease by $1.5 billion.

Yet Robber barons such as Rauner and Emanuel continue to pursue these disastrous, unfair, classist policies. In Britain, the government continues its assault or organised labour even as the trade unions begin to fight back. Meanwhile Americans work harder and longer for less pay and benefits than their parents or contemporaries elsewhere in the industrialised world. From paid parental leave to the fight for a living wage, American workers continue to be exploited by big businesses making record profits off their backs.

This Labor Day, as we’re barbecuing and day drinking, it’s important to remember the women and men who earned us this day. But it’s even more important to recognise the ways in which corporatists in both this country and abroad are conspiring to undermine and erode workers’ rights.

Nearly 130 years is long enough. Our work has value. It’s time we’re treated like it.

24 Answers America has for Britain

Over at Buzzfeed, Robin Edds has posited 24 questions his country has for mine. As someone who fancies himself an expert in this matter, I thought I’d do him the favour of answering.

Q 1: Why must we be so patriotic?
A: Cos freedom.

Ron Swanson

NBC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q 2: And why would anyone live somewhere it gets THIS cold?
A: Cos this is freaking awesome:

(As a Chicagoan, I actually laughed that a Brit thinks -31ºC was cold. That’s cute.)

Q 3: Why do so many people give [President Obama] a hard time?
A: Erm. 

Adam Zyglis/The Buffalo News

Adam Zyglis/The Buffalo News

And we’re the lucky ones? Really? How quickly you forget.

Q 4: Was this setting really necessary?
A: Damn straight

Gif: tumblr.com/chaosinconverseee

Gif: tumblr.com/chaosinconverseee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q 5: Does alcohol taste better if you drink it out of a gun?
A: To be fair anything tastes better when you put a gun to my head. And in America, there’s a real possibility that could happen.

This is a real thing you can buy here: http://www.mgdirect.co/Alcohol-Shot-Gun_p_2054.html

This is a real thing you can buy here: http://www.mgdirect.co/Alcohol-Shot-Gun_p_2054.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q 6: Why is everything so much bigger?
A: I honestly don’t know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q 7: I mean, it’s a good thing this car park was empty
A: That’s a parking lot for all my American readers. But seriously, there’s nothing hotter than a guy in a pickup.

Lions Gate, c/o Glamour

Lions Gate, c/o Glamour


Q 8: Do you actually have any of your own actors or are you just going to keep stealing ours?
A: You. Tell. Me.

ITV

ITV

tumblr_m4hnq5dR1S1r65l0f

Lime Pictures

Jeremy-Piven-as-Harry-Selfridge

ITV

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, so admittedly your stars are bigger than mine (and I may be the only American not related to PJ Brennan who’s heard of him), but we’d really like Nicole Scherzinger to come home.

Q 9: What do you have against the letter “U”?
A: I’m with you on this one, mate. My compatriots seem to forget that without “U” we couldn’t chant “USA! USA! USA!”

Coed.com

Coed.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q 10: What exactly does freedom taste like?
A: Like chicken nuggets washed down with beer from a gun and chased with a shot of liberty.

Flickr

Flickr    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Actually, this is the closet I ever came to literally tasting freedom. It was saccharine, decadent, and a bit too rich for its own good, which basically sums up America.

Q 11: And why are your streets so boringly predictable?
A: Cos I like to know where to board the bus and how to get from here to there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicago’s grid is a work of art. And while we’re talking about this…

 

londonbus

Christopher England        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the hell is up with this? You’ve got like 10 different bus stops all at one spot, and then you have to navigate which bus to get on? I have literally pissed myself in the middle of Islington trying to find the right night bus. Unacceptable.

Q 12: What’s with the whole “being happy and confident and talking to strangers” thing?
A: Dude that’s freedom. It feels good. Give it a whirl.

Universal/WorkingTitle

Universal/WorkingTitle   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Okay, Joni Mitchell is technically Canadian, but they’ve always had more in common with us than they’ll admit. Just don’t tell them; it’ll hurt their feelings.)

Q 13: Why must you confuse us thankless Brits with the concept of tipping?
A: Shush. You’re starting to sound like this bloke:

meme: keithpp.wordpress.com

meme: keithpp.wordpress.com

Q 14: You know this isn’t bacon, right?
A: I do. I definitely do. Sadly, my own father disagrees.

We haven’t spoken since.

Q 15: Why are your t.v. commercials for drugs so batshit crazy?
A: You lot literally sent a woman over here to sell us poo-covering air freshener. Stop.

(But really, America, can we talk about this one? The NHS sounds wonderful.)

Q 16: Why must all your cups be red?
A:  

Q 17: And why do your toilets have so much water in them?
A: The same reason you sent that woman to spread the gospel of Poo-Pourri; see also my answers to questions 4 and 6.

Q 18: While we’re on the subject, why are there giant gaps in the toilet?
A: I’ve been trying and I just can’t answer this one.

imgur

imgur   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q 19: How do we get in on this whole breakfast pizza thing?
A: You can do what a lot of Americans do and make one yourself. There’s even a recipe for a Full English breakfast pizza!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q 20: Technologically, you’re up there with the best of them. So why do you still have to sign when paying the bill rather than use chip and pin?
A: And let Big Brother Obama watch us even more? I don’t think so!

obama-big-brother

 

 

 

 

 

 

Actually, The Guardian ran a very good piece on just this issue last year.

Q 21. Exactly how many countries take part in the World Series?
A: The only one that matters. 

Contrary to popular belief, the World Series isn’t named for the defunct New York World newspaper. It really is just American arrogance. Who knew?

Q 22: And how is it possible that this is a college football game?
A: Mate, if you think that’s impressive, I want to take you tailgating at an SEC (that’s Southeastern Conference) football game.

It’s basically a giant, inebriated party before every football game, sanctioned by the university and celebrated like its bloody Christmas.

Q 23: How did Miss Florida NOT win Miss America?
A: She slapped a shark?? WTF???? I’m still reeling from the time Miss Oklahoma gave a cow a pedicure. Mind. Blown. 

Also, have you heard about our senator who “grew up castrating pigs on an Iowa farm?” Louise Mensch loves her.

Q 24. And finally, people aren’t actually called Randy, right?
A: Randy Quaid. Randy Jackson. Randy Travis. Yeah, they kinda are. 

Comedy Central/imgur

Comedy Central/imgur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well Robin, there you have it. God bless you, and God bless these United States.

 

An open letter to James Blunt from a working class American

James Blunt; photo credit: The Mirror

James Blunt; photo credit: The Mirror

Dear James Blunt,

I get it. I know what it’s like to be mocked for my accent. I too have have looked around me and found no one who could guide my career. I’ve also been told my dream is unrealistic, unattainable, and utter crap. Brother, I’ve been there.

You and I are not alike, though. You see, despite my double-barrelled surname, I am not posh. I am unabashedly and inescapably working class. But I am American. And as a working class American, buddy, we need to talk.

In your letter to Chris Bryant, the Labour MP who criticised the structural inequality which prevents people like me from breaking into the arts (while never actually criticising you personally), you wrote that you were signed in America, a land—in your eyes, at least—“where they don’t give a stuff about, or even understand what you mean by me and ‘my ilk’”. You go on to celebrate my country as a place that “exploits success,” seemingly buying into the myth of the American dream. In America, it doesn’t matter whether you’re posh or poor; if you’ve got the talent and the drive, you’re destined for greatness.

If your letter were a record, this is where that scratchy stopping sound would play.

As I said before, I get it. I was told to lose my Appalachian twang, because it sounds uneducated. I didn’t have any mentors guiding my writing career, either. My family and friends told me to focus on my day job. When you’re working class, making ends meet trumps making dreams come true. Success is measured in stability, not by-lines.

When I told my family I wanted to be a writer, they were mortified. The first to graduate university, they thought I’d be a teacher or a lawyer or a banker. And because I had no idea how to actually become a writer, I did just that. After uni, I moved to Chicago and went into mortgages, making a decent middle class living. But, as you probably know, when you’re the creative sort, a mundane day job eats away at your soul. I was miserable. And then I was made redundant.

That was one of the darkest periods of my life, in which I very nearly ended up on the streets. Benefits and God—I don’t whether you believe in either—are the only things that got me through. I didn’t have the luxury of creating, of taking chances, of making the most of a bad situation. That situation was shit, full stop, and every last ounce of energy went in to getting out of it.

Laurie Penny touched on this very point in a series of tweets this week:

 

 

That applies on either side of the Atlantic, James. America is not some mythical meritocracy. For every Bill Clinton or Beyonce we’ve got, Britain has a Margaret Thatcher or Cheryl Fernandez-Virsini. According to a Bloomberg Business report last year, America has greater wealth inequality than Britain. Meanwhile, funding for the arts is in jeopardy, with inner-city and rural schools being particularly vulnerable. These are places where students are also more likely to be poor. And in the United States, when we’re talking about who is poor, we’re disproportionately talking about people who aren’t white. In light of this year’s mayonnaise Oscars (Mayoscars?), this is more relevant than ever.

But poor white kids like me can’t relate to you either, James. You see, with your privileged background, as Laurie Penny accurately pointed out in her tweets, you were encouraged to take risks. You knew, if you failed, that you would land on your feet. For countless kids like me, that wasn’t an option. It’s impossible to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you have no boots on your feet.

You talk about paying for your first guitar with money you saved from your holiday jobs. Fair dos. No one bought it for you. But you know what money from my holiday jobs went towards? Nothing, because I didn’t have holiday jobs. I had jobs, full stop, which paid for my rent, my books, my education. This is the thing, James, if you’re a working class kid with ambition, your spare money goes towards paying for university, or rent, or childcare so you can go to work. You know, so you can live.

While you had money to blow on your dreams, we had dreams of blowing our money on guitars. Or in my case, a MacBook. Which I still don’t own, by the way.

If this sounds like “envy-based” politics to you, it ain’t. I look at writers like Laurie Penny and Owen Jones, who are both roughly my age and have been astronomically more successful than me, and I have nothing but admiration. Well done, those two, I think. They’re intelligent, thoughtful, and talented. They deserve their success. But both of them recognise they’ve had privileges which helped get them there. They know their Oxbridge background counts for something, perhaps unfairly, as the Ivy League does in America. Indeed, for every Laurie and Owen on your side of the Atlantic, we have a Luke Russert and Ronan Farrow here. Both of them are incredible journalists and brilliant men, but both have benefited from institutional and economic privileges I’ll never know.

But see, James, I’m not envious. I’m aspirational. I aim to be as successful as Laurie and Owen. I look to them as role models, as folks who have blazed a trail and who have invited me to follow. I don’t beat myself up over the fact that I’m not there yet. I haven’t had the education, or the opportunities, that the two of them have. Our paths are different, and our journeys began in radically different spots on the map to “making it.” I don’t think this in any way builds myself up, nor does it take away from their successes. It’s simply a fact.

As a working class kid from Kentucky, I’ve not had the same opportunities. And despite being American, which you seem to think is a get-out-of-class-free card, I’m still encumbered by many of the same oppressions as working class Brits. And I need you to understand this.

I need you to recognise that Chris Bryant wasn’t diminishing your success, or Eddie Redmayne’s success, or anyone’s success, simply because they’re posh. I need you to understand that just because we say you have privilege doesn’t mean you didn’t earn your success. When Bryant, Penny, myself, or anyone says this, we’re talking about the systemic elimination of working class people from the arts, from journalism, from government, and from any number of professions. This isn’t personal; it’s political.

No one is saying that you didn’t work hard to get to where you are. What we’re saying is that, in terms of this race we call life, you got a head start. And all we’re asking is that you recognise that.

Warm regards,

A working class American

All I want for Christmas is views: Skylar’s 2013 Christmas List

Santa-Wish-List

Santa baby, slip a visa under my tree for me. I’ve been an awfully good boy. Santa baby, so hurry down my chimney tonight.

If you think of all the fellas that I haven’t kissed, you’re pretty much left with Ed Balls and Phil from EastEnders, and even that’s questionable considering my blackout night in Soho this summer. But all things considered, I’ve been incredibly well behaved this year, and I think Father Christmas ought to recognise and pay up. So, in the grand tradition of Eartha Kitt, Kelly Clarkson, and the cast of TOWIE, here’s my grown-up Christmas list.

  1. David Cameron to reclaim the middle ground – I supported the Conservatives at the 2010 election because I thought David Cameron was a new type of Tory. Admittedly, it was against every political instinct I had-a lifelong Democrat here in the States, I naturally lean towards the left. Still, I’m shy on socialism, and bought into the One Nation schmalz. Cameron has lurched further to the right than a drunk American driving the M25. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say, and I am now left with nothing but crow for Christmas dinner. It is my hope that in 2014, Mr Cameron will bring back the Tories I believed in four years ago.
  2. BBC America to get its act together – Seriously, how many episodes of Top Gear and Star Trek can one man be expected to suffer through? Their programming is nothing but Jeremy Clarkson and Klingons, two things so similar it often feels like a marathon of pure evil. So many amazing programmes are shown on the BBC in the UK, yet we’re lucky if we get a fortnightly episode of Luther here in the US. Where’s Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Have I Got News For You, and my beloved Hebburn? How am I supposed to get my Chris Ramsey fix. Which reminds me…
  3. Chris Ramsey – in all his Geordie glory. I’d like him wrapped in a pretty bow underneath my tree, where we will pretend to be a Lady Gaga Christmas carol. Woof.

    Oh Chris, you're making me blush!

    Oh Chris, you’re making me blush!

  4. A follow from Caroline Kent – Seriously girl, what gives? You’re the funniest Brit I follow. I’m a charming gay American. We’re a match made in Chelsea. I’m not asking you to a slumber party, though if you’re keen, I have a subscription to Netflix, a couple bottles of red and a mani-pedi kit. Just throwing it out there.
  5. Nigella to claim victory on The Taste – I don’t expect Brits to be familiar with this American programme, but think of it as The Great British Bake Off meets the The Voice. Four celebrity chefs mentor contestants and then judge in a blind taste test to see who made the best dish. Nigella finished abysmally in the first series, but considering her recent tribulations, I’d very much like to see her win. There’s no sweeter cook on the planet. Personal life aside, the woman is an amazing chef, and I hope she assembles a terrific team in 2014. I’d like to see her come out on top. Think of how smug she could be the next time she sees that bastard Saatchi. Revenge is a dish best served cold, and knowing Nigella, garnished with strawberries and a chocolate glaze.
  6. For Nicole Scherzinger to come home – Okay, this is more of a selfless wish for y’all, cos we don’t want her, either. Actually, that’s mean. And a lie. For Christ’s sake, anyone who can clap, weep or dance through every single X Factor performance deserves our respect. This is a woman who sees the best in everyone, and we we miss her. Nicole, love, you’ve been in London long enough. Baby, please come home. If not for Christmas, by New Year’s night.

    Nicole, you're my only wish this year.

    Nicole, you’re my only wish this year.

  7. For Simon Cowell to go back to Britain – X Factor USA is an unmitigated disaster. Give up the ghost, buddy.
  8. Tom Daley to live happily ever after – He’s Britain’s sweetheart, isn’t he? Has there ever been a more humble, more honest 19 year old celebrity? I don’t think so. Admittedly, I never gave twinkalicious Tom much thought. But this cheeky little bugger illustrates the straightforward snide I admire about your country. Since he’s come out, Tom has shown, like much of the UK, he’s blessed with the gift of banter. I love it. I want nothing but he best for this kid.
  9. For Christmas crackers to become a thing in America – They seem so fun! I’m still not quite sure how they work, but I want to pull something other than Chris Christie apart and get candy and a glib joke.nochristmascrackers
  10. An England World Cup victory – Relax. It’s a Christmas wish list, not a kidnapper’s list of demands. A boy can dream.

Understanding that postage is expensive and the Atlantic Ocean wide, I will gladly accept cash and gift cards in lieu of any of the above. If you insist on getting me something not on this list, I look best in blue, prefer things not made by little hands, and only wear white gold or platinum.

As I await the arrival of the many presents you’re sure to send, I will wish you all a very merry Christmas. While it’s unlikely I’ll get anything on my list, I hope you get everything on yours.

Give Thanks and Pass the Pimms: 5 things I’m thankful Britain gave the world

firstthanksgiving

We all know the story. The Pilgrims, with their funny hats and boring names, set sail on the Mayflower towards the New World in search of religious freedom. What nobody ever tells you is that they went to the Netherlands for a bit, or that they didn’t really want to come, or that loads of them got dysentery and died before reaching Plymouth Rock.

We know that Squanto fed them corn, and that the three remaining Pilgrims came together with their kind Native benefactors in thanks giving for the great harvest which kept them from becoming Roanoke version 2.0. We stop there, because the mass slaughter of the native population isn’t exactly “happily ever after” unless you’re Mike Huckabee and think the heathens had it coming and turkey is best deep fried.

So that’s the first Thanksgiving.

Nobody tells you that the Pilgrims were essentially seventeenth century England’s Westboro Baptist Church, but this may explain why Britain is more evolved on issues of religion in the public sphere. They sent their crazy right wing Christians here, and their descendants went on to found Jesusland. I mean Texas. Still, whilst the British may have given us Sarah Palin’s colonial antecedents, they’ve given us loads of good stuff too. So, quickly, here are five things I’m thankful for Britain giving the world:

1. Liberty: Okay, Americans like to pretend we invented this in 1776, but we didn’t. In fact the Declaration of Independence was, outside of being a treasonous document, simply a restatement of English principles dating back to Magna Carta in 1215. Trial by jury, habeus corpus, a free press, and the right to petition were all exported by Britain to its colonies. These weren’t homespun in Boston or handcrafted in Philadelphia. The Brits gave them to us, and their legacy lives on in our Constitution.

2. Newspapers: I hesitate to put this on here, because the British government has borrowed Miley’s wrecking ball to destroy what’s left of press freedom whilst Hugh Grant  watches, twerking and sticking his tongue out in glee. But the British press is a site to behold, a beast unto itself which simply has no American equivalent. The broadsheets are still celebrated as national treasures, even while being regularly ridiculed, and magazines like Private Eye and the venerated but defunct Punch prove that satire is the best defence of democracy. Even the tabloids serve a purpose, for I am keenly interested in everything Chantelle Houghton has to say about Alex Reid’s cross dressing. As I know you are, too.

3. Understatement: “It’s drizzling,” a British friend once said to me as the hurricane hit. The Brits really know how to undercut a moment. Win an Oscar? “I got a trophy.” Elected to Parliament? “It’s a job.” Shag a royal? “His hairline’s receding.” And the great thing is THEY’RE NOT HUMBLE BRAGGING! They really do mean it. You’d think that as an American this penchant for restrained dryness would annoy me, but I actually appreciate it. I think that Americans are too prone to hyperbole, and that dry sense of humour has made me reign in my otherwise outrageous personality.

4. Lucozade: There is no better cure for a hangover than this fizzy, refreshing, hydrating miracle water. I can hardly find it in the US, but I will trek across the city if I hear a store has it stocked. Seriously, I swear by the stuff.

5. Chris Ramsey: Because this.

chris ramsey

So there’s five wonderful things that the UK gave the world, and I’m grateful for all of them. As you may have noticed, this trails off at number four, and by number five, I’ve completely given up. That’s not because I couldn’t think of anything else; there’s so much about Britain I’m thankful for. But there’s turkey on the table and wine in my glass, so I’m off to gorge myself on enough tryptophan and starches that I sleep right through Black Friday and wake up on the other side of consumerism.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

(PS: For the record, I’m very thankful for each and every one of you who read this. I have some great supporters out there, and I am very blessed! I leave you with this video.)