James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

A Very Special U.K. Election Drunken Screed

A Very Special U.K. Election Drunken Screed

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For this special edition of our weekly Drunken Screed, we at Roads & Kingdoms asked some of our favorite Brits to have a drink or five and weigh in on the surprisingly exciting U.K. general election. Grab a pint and join us as we rant, rave, and revel over last night’s vote.

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My Whole Brain Feels Like a Bottle of Champagne
Moët & Chandon in South London
By Sam Kriss

I had forgotten, almost, what this kind of sheer joy felt like: the sheer, giddy, terrified pleasure seething through my skull, fizzy and corrosive, dissolving everything, un-concatenating my words, melting through my interior monologue, leaving every considered and conscious thought broken up like a thin layer of scum floating over fathomless, impenetrable happiness. This was how it felt when I first saw the exit poll in last night’s British election. My whole brain felt like a bottle of champagne.

Everyone I knew was loudly insisting that something positive could happen, while quietly expecting the worst. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party was surging in the polls, but the polls had been wrong so many times before, and his message of solidarity and kindness and tremulous impossible hope was facing the dread certainty of a Conservative landslide.

This whole election had been a hideous contrivance: Prime Minister Theresa May had spotted an opportunity to massively increase her hand and give electoral weight to her project—hard Brexit, pitiless social sadism, covert racism bulging monstrously into fully-fleshed being—and she took it. The rest of us were just passengers, mute and helpless. Those of us who believed in something better were about to be crushed. Our enemies, the vultures of common sense and political reality, were laughing in their low, hollow sky. I had expected to stay up until sunrise watching the BBC, alone, inconsolable, mourning a future that never had the chance to be born.

The experts were wrong. The projected result showed a substantial gain for Labour: not enough for them to form a government, but enough to destroy the Tory narrative of inevitability, enough to prove that socialism really isn’t a cultish fringe interest, but the only way forwards. Instead of staring heartbroken at a lonely screen, I found myself speeding in a taxi to the South London headquarters of Novara, an insurgent left-wing media outfit. This was not what was supposed to happen. This is not the report I expected to write.

The whole place was fizzing with terror and excitement. In the foyer, a small group of people—friends, writers, commentators, activists, people who had been on the leftward fringes of British politics for years, but were suddenly discovering that they were right all along—clustered around laptops, smoked frantic cigarettes by the doorway, popped open cans of Red Stripe. Every Tory defeat brought a chorus of roars and a flurry of joyous swearing. A few of us would occasionally bound up to the studio upstairs, to channel our wordless joy into sober political commentary for the all-night live stream. It was impossible: grins kept bursting out on our faces.

Eventually, long past midnight, a few of us went on a booze run, jumping around in the empty London streets between the bright abyssal glare of the all-night KFC and the sullen tenebrosity of shuttered warehouses and silent shops. We must have wandered miles, chasing 24-hour off-licences on Google Maps, before we found one; it felt like a Homeric voyage. When we found one, I impulsively grabbed two bottles of Moët & Chandon I couldn’t really afford. “What are you celebrating?” another shopper asked. She grinned. She knew the answer.

We’d done it. Finally, when dawn broke, the sky was entirely clear. A faint, shining, impossible blue flooded over the city, and I really believed that there would be no more low and drizzly days in London ever again.

*

Fuck You, Theresa May. Signed, A Citizen of Nowhere.
Butcombe Bitter in Brentford
By Alexa van Sickle

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I had a very modest hope for this election. All I wanted was for Theresa May—and the Tories who got us into this mess—to have a bloody good scare.

It’s what they deserved for their vile campaigning, amplified by the even more vile right-wing press, for being so cocky they didn’t bother providing costing details in their manifesto, and for May calling this snap election to strengthen her grip on power. (In case you’re wondering, Corbyn isn’t my guy either. Among other concerns I have, his anaemic support for the Remain campaign was, I believe, a big factor in the vote to leave the EU.)

I voted in the Borough of Hounslow, my sometimes-home in the U.K. The polling station, in the squat clubhouse on the edge of a 1970s housing development, was empty apart from myself and two election volunteers. Afterwards, just past noon, the Magpie and Crown, a small Georgian-façade pub on the high street, was slightly busier. But all the customers were solo: reading papers, working, or stroking their chins over pints of ale.

In some ways, I got what I wanted. The Tories are rattled in more ways than we could have hoped for only a month ago. But I can’t help thinking about how my expectations have lowered so much in just one year that I’ve learned to accept, and expect, only crumbs from the political universe.

Here’s another example: I hated her politics, but I wanted to give Theresa May the benefit of the doubt when she succeeded David Cameron when he resigned after the Brexit referendum. Friends who had worked under her in the civil service always said she was sharp; that she read all the materials in her red box; that she cared, that she did her homework. This sounded like a relatively good deal next to a certain orange-tinted bullshit purveyor, and even next to that consummate political dilettante, David Cameron, who made his government an extension of the Eton common room. Above all, I regarded May as a lucky escape from that monumental hypocrite, Boris Johnson—the original fake news merchant who shaped a generation of British EU-bashing as Brussels correspondent for The Torygraph by making up lies about EU directives on the straightness of bananas and the recycling of sex toys. (This illustrious journalism career was after he was fired from The Times for making up a quote, by the way.)

But it turns out, even asking only for a capable pair of hands was asking for the moon. The campaign revealed May is not capable at all. She seemed to have no vision. She repeated meaningless alliterative slogans—for several totally unrelated questions—like a string puppet. She lacked grace under fire. She also didn’t call out Trump when he attacked London Mayor Sadiq Khan after the London Bridge attacks. And of course, her policies read like a Daily Mail editor’s wet dream. They probably are.

I got what I wanted. But as poetic as this electoral drubbing feels, it comes with some unintended potential disasters. If somewhere down the line this Tory snafu ends up ushering Boris Johnson back within sniffing distance of the leadership—he’s no doubt already licking his lips—to me that will have been one of her worst misadventures.

Also, the morning after, my gleeful fog of Schadenfreude gave way to another rude realization. May said she called this election to secure a stronger mandate for Brexit talks, which are set to start in 10 days. She’s persevering with the same cliff-edge Brexit, it seems, but her now weaker hand bodes ill for the flexibility and diplomacy required for the task. She has already needlessly antagonized her European partners. She mindlessly repeats that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” She has never explained this gibberish, so allow me: she is laying the groundwork for walking away, so she can blame everything—everything unpopular her party ever does in the future—on the intransigent 27 EU states who (how dare they?) are presenting a united front.

She also says she wants to guarantee the rights of UK citizens in the EU, and those of EU citizens in the UK—but how can that happen if she walks? She is openly disdainful of what she calls “citizens of nowhere”: the people who might—for many different reasons, perhaps even because of something called freedom of movement—call more than one place home. She said we don’t know what citizenship is.

I am a citizen only of the UK. But I was born and raised in what is now an EU country. I have spent most of my life outside the UK. My lack of dual citizenship, which I never knew I would need, (thanks, Brexit!) could certainly cause me some problems later.

But these would pale in comparison to the problems May’s “no deal” would cause for the millions of EU nationals who have settled in the UK, some for decades. Restaurant workers, joiners, bankers, musicians, cleaners, doctors, nurses, students. Not to mention the Polish bartender at the Magpie and Crown who served me my cheeky half-pint of Butcombe Bitter ale—and that Romanian baker who hit one of the London Bridge terrorists on the head with a crate. The same goes for the millions of UK nationals living in the EU whose futures are unbearably uncertain. Many on both sides are already leaving, because May has refused all opportunities to guarantee they can stay.

She says these millions of people are a priority when she starts to negotiate Brexit later this month. I don’t believe her.

*

Jez We Can!
Sam Adams at Newark Airport
By Yasmin Khan

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I’m sitting in bar at Newark airport, sipping a pint of Samuel Adams that is far too cold. (I never did understand why the Yanks insist on serving me ale the temperature of ice cream, but that’s another rant, for another time). My plane has been delayed and for once I’ve never been happier to prop up the bar in dreary and dank airport whilst clicking refresh on my iPhone every 30 seconds. Why? Because the exit polls in the British election are in and Jeremy Corbyn, the 68-year-old socialist and pacifist from north London has managed to create the biggest political upset in British politics in decades. And I’m over-the-fucking-moon.

Corbyn’s vibrant election campaign went against all of the establishment’s rules and yet still managed to secure a whopping 40 percent of the national vote, the highest share of the Labour vote in 20 years. Voter turnout was high, particularly amongst the under 25s who came out in droves to support his radical platform of redistribution, investment in public services, and peace. Theresa May, the Tory gremlin who pushed an ugly agenda of selfishness and greed, lost her overall majority and the UK is heading for a hung parliament. I gulp down another beer and take a moment to glance up from my phone to smile manically at no one in particular. My cheeks are flushed pink and I have butterflies in the pit of my stomach as I realise I feel something I’ve not for years. Hope. The torture of it is almost unbearable.

A hung parliament? How could that be a cause for celebration. I know us Brits are known for downplaying success, but surely we should have been hoping for better that that, right? Not quite.

The outpouring of electoral support for Corybyn comes in the context of him having faced the most unrelenting barrage of criticism from every section of the mainstream media, as well as most of his (back-stabbing) parliamentary Labour Party. All of them insisted that Corbyn was utterly unelectable and have spent the last two years putting every ounce of their energy into trying to destroy him. They ridiculed and mocked, claiming he was too old school, too unpolished, a dinosaur from another time that wanted to take us back to the 70s. They derided his claims that young people wanted a different kind of politics, insisting instead that the youth were simply apathetic and lazy. They scoffed at the premise that the electorate would ever support a radical programme of higher taxation, change to the economic system, investment in public services, free education, affordable housing, a living wage, abolishing nuclear weapons. Well, guess what? Corbyn and his team put it out there and people loved it. So who’s having the last laugh now?

Disclaimer: I’ve known Jeremy Corbyn for 18 years. I first met him when I was student at Sheffield University when he came to speak about nuclear non-proliferation as a member of Labour CND, and when I moved to London and started getting involved in politics I campaigned alongside him in movements against the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, in solidarity with Palestine, and against the sale of arms trade to repressive regimes. When I worked for the charity INQUEST that supported families who had lost loved ones in police or prison custody, Jezza, as he is affectionately known, was our local MP and someone we could always call upon to support our work. In short, he was one of us. Never interested in the Westminster career politics circus, he spent his time as an MP diligently and vociferously campaigning on issues of principle, not giving a shit if he was unpopular as long as he took a stand on matters of moral and political conscience. He was principled and honest. Kind and fair. Committed to fighting for equality. And it that my friends, that makes this election result so extraordinary. Because it is those principles that have won.

Never again can the political classes say that a radical left-wing platform isn’t electorally viable. Never again can they say that it’s unrealistic. That young people don’t care about politics. Turns out, they really do, when there is a decent alternative to the status quo being offered. All around the world we are seeing election results that show ordinary people are fed up with our broken political and economic system and want radical change. The grip of the corporate media on elections has been lost and through social media we are seeing that alternative narratives can be shared and be successful. The rules of the game have changed.

I move onto the plane and onto the hard stuff. Gin for me. Vodka for my traveling companion. We raise a toast to another world being possible. I sink back into my seat, still smiling manically and relishing the fact that a new kind of politics has been born in the UK. A new movement has been created and I’m thrilled to have been part of it. A movement for the many, not the few.

*

A Craft Beer Socialist in a World Where the Bastards Don’t Always Win
Pale Ale in Tuscany
By Craig Ballinger

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The exit polls are in and I crack a big bottle. I’ve got 750 ml of the finest Italian Pale Ale to see me through this thing. The fireflies are out and the silhouette of a Tuscan mountain looms beautifully in the moonlight behind my laptop screen.

The 2017 general election is a big deal for me. I’ve been charmed by the outsider Jeremy Corbyn, a decent man in a dirty game. I’ve been given the most fragile of feelings: hope. The idea that in this age where all of capitalism’s failings are exposed, that someone can take the reins, lead people through the mess, and bring a party back into power that represents the majority of Britain, is a dangerous one.

This surprise election went weird when it seemed the Conservatives didn’t want to finish the fight they started. Prime Minister Theresa May announced she wouldn’t participate in any TV debates. The Labour party went into campaign mode, many taking on the fight of their lives.

Corbyn, the Labour leader and life-long back-bench MP, stepped up and sharpened up, despite being maligned by the press and personally attacked by the government and his own party. Nobody likes a socialist, apparently. He gave fine speeches, engaged with the public, and oversaw a manifesto that gave the British public some ideas of what a different style of government could offer. I even tracked Corbyn at a couple of events and had a chat to reaffirm my faith. I can confirm he’s a top guy.

When in government, the Labour party lost support over the invasion of Iraq and from shouldering the blame in the financial crisis. When Tony Blair’s Labour was messing up the Middle East, Corbyn was on the streets with the anti-war protesters.

I’m busy doing some bourgeois shit, or at least facilitating it. I’m out in Tuscany catering a flower school, drinking pale ale watching election results roll in, a full Craft Beer Socialist. The most local brewery in Lucca, Tuscany is Bruton, brewing big modern flavours in big bottles. I’m working on it like someone’s going to take it away.

The ruling Conservative party surprised us with a ‘snap’ election, an attempted power grab when the polls were in their favour. Now, their leader is weaker than ever, a disheveled bird knocked from her high perch. The Brexit mess is one of Conservative making, but it’s also one they don’t seem capable of handling.

The party of the rich are generally hard to take on. Britain’s biggest tabloids, the Sun and the Daily Mail, with a combined circulation of over three million, ran a desperate smear campaign full of hatred and Corbyn smiled throughout. Now, we’re facing one of the most incredible turnarounds in political history. A man hounded by the media, undermined by his own party, loathed by the establishment, has changed the debate and set British politics on an entirely new course.

The truly shocking part of this election period so far has been that it has seen two significant terrorist attacks, one in Manchester and the other in London. The tabloids were quick to take aim at Corbyn, levelling accusations that he’s a ‘terrorist sympathiser’ due to his past as an activist and peacemaker. He is a divisive character and marginal wins do not make divisions disappear. But the voter who turns to racism, to hatred, to extremes is also the voter that can be easily influenced, and shown that the world doesn’t have to be ruled by fear.

Big bottles are celebratory; they usually contain champagne. This is a just-perfect 5.5 percent pale, no fucking about. I’d take beer over any other drink, at any point. I’m going to sleep optimistic, despite knowing that I’ll get paid less for this as the pound slides. Such is the nature of an uncertain world. But it’s nice to feel like it’s one where the bastards aren’t always winning.

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