Individutopia – Joss Sheldon: A Review By Lisa Mulholland

Individutopia is a novel set in a neoliberal dystopia with Renee as the main character.

From the first page I knew I’d love this novel. I had a feeling that it would evoke emotion and re -awaken the radical in me.

And I was right because that is exactly what it did.

And it might just do the same for you;

Have you ever sat there and looked at what ‘society’ has become?

Ever wondered about the erosion of community?

Ever wondered how it all changed, where it all started?

Do you ever look around at people chained to their phones, not interacting with one another and think to yourself ‘where will this all end?’

I know I have. And if you have too, then this story is for you.

It creates a fictional future by combining features of the worst aspects of our present day with the building blocks of Thatchers vision of individualism and neoliberalism back in 1979.

With this, Joss Sheldon has created a neoliberal dystopian future.

It takes us on a journey that is so horribly unimaginable but scarily feels possible in some way.

It’s fiction. But it’s believable and it feels like a glimpse into the future.

When 1984 by George Orwell was released, I am pretty sure that most people at that time thought it was far fetched and could ‘never happen’. Yet here we are today with many features of the novel now part of our lives…. and then some!

I sympathised with the main character and the hopelessness of her situation. The way she is a slave to the system is portrayed so realistically.

While I lived through Renee’s plight, there were points where I felt compelled to shout “wake up and see what’s around you , break the mould, don’t be a slave to the system” but as I found myself willing Renee to do these things , I started to question myself too.

It struck a chord with me about living life to the fullest and I guarantee that if you read this it will with you too; because we are all Renee to some extent.

I did not want this story to end.

I grew attached to the main character. Her hopes, dreams and fears were easily identifiable.

It’s certainly thought provoking and it is one of those stories that will stay with me.

For me it was an epiphany in a book!

The book is on general release today. Read and enjoy this masterpiece and take a little bit of it away with you too.

Is this the modern day 1984? Read it and decide for yourself!

Lefty Scum Tour: A Review By Lucy Chapman

By Lucy Chapman

When the government are cutting funding to the arts; when schools are being strong-armed by the same government to cut arts subjects to save the ever-decreasing pennies; when arts education is being down-graded, valued less than other areas of study.  In a world where welfare cuts are creating hungry children cold grannies and suicidal young men; where equality amongst the sexes, classes, races, religion, sexualities, genders is having to be fought for rather than being the expected norm; How do the ‘Lefty Scum’ respond? With song and poetry and performance in pure defiance and it is glorious!

Lefty Scum, a night of ‘comedy, music and revolutionary socialism’ was as empowering as it was funny. 

The tour isn’t going to do much in terms of changing minds or convincing non-lefties as the only thing blue in the room were the jokes. 

But to feel for a couple of hours like I’m not on the fringe, that I’m not the biggest leftie in the room, to hear my political and social ideas (stuff like feeding hungry people being the right thing to do) not only validated but sung and shouted about in bloody brilliant style was exactly what I needed.

It was simultaneously comforting and jarring; I’m not alone in my anger and fear and we can and should shout about it.

For me it was Grace Petrie who completely stole my heart. 

She had me thankful of tena lady for a good 15 mins before knocking the wind out of me with “God Save The Hungry” without a moments notice.

I didn’t see it coming; I was too busy having a good time. The reality of quite how insulting it is to have people living in palaces whilst others look in bins for their dinner or how offensive it is to suggest that somebody’s sexuality makes them lesser able to be a valued parent (Farewell to Welfare) floored me.

Of course I knew all of this stuff already, I exhaust myself relentlessly trying to explain, persuade and convince others of these things in every interaction. But there is just so much to fight for and against! And sometimes we need to be re-grounded. And sometimes it takes a beer and a song and a shout to do it.

Jose Long was her usual charming, wonderful self only stronger than I’ve seen her before. A wonderful reminder that our anger doesn’t always have to look angry to be valid or powerful or beneficial or more importantly on a night like this – funny!

Jonny and the Baptists had the audience howling at the image (and sound) of revolutionary nationalised swans and I think I must be Jonny Donahoe’s long-lost sister because their song to his dad was undoubtedly written about my dad. Maybe he’s the nation’s dad and maybe that’s where the genius lies.

I had a bloody good laugh in York last night but I also felt inspired again, reinvigorated and impassioned. I wanted to come home and write again, better than I have before.

I wanted to get that research done for my local Constituency Labour Party that I’ve been avoiding.

I want to get more women involved after several previously unsuccessful attempts.

I want to shout from the rooftops and fight for my children, my sister’s children, for myself and the young people I work with. 

I want to fight for drama and arts and the poor and disabled. 

Defend those who are exploited or overlooked and work out how to give a voice to those with none. Except there’s no such thing as a voiceless person, only earless ones so let’s lay the blame at the right door to start with.

Thank you Josie and Grace and Jonny and the Baptists for reminding me about the passion and energy in my soul that I’m sometimes too tired and beaten to pay attention to. 

Thank you for making my sides ache. 

Thank you for demonstrating brilliantly the power of performance. 

Thank you for the canvassing and rallying and thank you, comrades, for standing with us to fight the good fight in the most wonderful way. 

Hats off my friends, hats off.

There are only two dates left now of the 10-date tour:

WED 08 NOV | LEEDS The Wardrobe

THU 09 NOV | LIVERPOOL Everyman Theatre

https://jonnyandthebaptists.co.uk/lefty-scum-tour/
But I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on what these guys are up to next!

Lisa Mulholland- The Avenger Review: Money Power Love by Joss Sheldon

By Lisa Mulholland 

“Three friends, united by nature, divided by nurture”

As soon as I read the first page of this book that is released tomorrow; I knew I that I would love this tale and that it would be one of those ‘unputdownable’ novels. From the outset it is clear that this fictitious story that’s based on real life events has an underlying moral message.

When it opened with the nature and nurture debate on the first page, I was hooked.

We start with three men born 3 seconds apart in the same hospital. And we follow the twists and turns of their lives with their very different fates and fortunes guiding the way.  And then we are transported by Sheldons’ words, back into the 1700s. His vivid descriptions bring to life the smells of the workhouse, the visuals of the muddy, dreary banks of London and the motivations and dreams of each of the main characters Hugo, Archibald and Mayer.

It is a compelling tale that has underlying messages about the class system of the this country, while it allows us to rethink some of our own beliefs that we may have had instilled in us from a young age. It bravely challenges us to challenge our own beliefs when we see how three men are divided and connected at the same time.

I couldn’t help but draw parallels with the issues raised in the story and the issues we are faced with today in Tory Britain. 300 years on from the time period of when this story is set, we are still faced with similar issues, such as attitudes towards migrants, poverty and education.

It’s quite a revelation despite being a politics graduate, to learn historical facts about the origins of money, debt and economics. I have learned so much that I had not expected to learn and I have actually now been inspired to research more into British history, and the origins of class and will probably be blogging about these subjects in the near future, thanks to Sheldon.


For those readers that might not normally be interested in these subjects
, I would say that this story stands alone as an interesting, engaging and thought provoking story for anyone! 


Even those not usually interested in politics or economics. And that is because this writer weaves facts in with a story that is captivating: we desperately need to know what happens to these characters who are motivated by very different things; money, power and love.

I thoroughly enjoyed it and like any good book I feel a little piece of this will stay with me forever.

My message to any potential reader would be to read this book and just enjoy the tale it tells. If you feel inspired as I do to reflect on the wider issues it addresses or if you find that Rolling Stones song reference (I challenge you to find it) then that is an added bonus!


The book goes on sale tomorrow:

https://www.amazon.com/Money-Power-Love-Joss-Sheldon-ebook/dp/B075L6CCFZ

The Avenger Review: Harry Leslie Smith ‘Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future’

By Kelly Grehan
 

In 2013 Harry Leslie Smith was an unassuming 91 year old Yorkshireman when he wrote an article for the Guardian called ‘This Year I Shall Wear A Poppy For The Last Time.’ This was shared 60,000 times. He was then asked to speak at the Labour Party Conference and wrote two books: ‘Harry’s Last Stand’ and ‘Love Among The Ruins’. He now has a massive twitter following and runs a weekly podcast and speaks at events all over the country.

 

Now age 95 Harry has published his third book, described as a ‘call to arms’ called ‘Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future.’

 

The book starts with Harry reflecting upon his feelings of disappointment and fear of what lay ahead on the night of the Conservative election victory in 2015. It then compares Harry’s miserable experiences growing up in absolute poverty with those in similar positions today.  

 

Throughout, Harry uses facts and statistics to make his point, for example when discussing his brutal experiences of a childhood spent in transit from one set of poor accommodation to another even poorer one he points out that the use of private rental accommodation has risen by 50% since 2002 and that this, along with rent rises has doomed many children to repeating his own fate. He expresses his pain at the fate of old age being to see ‘society gravitate back to the past.’

 

Harry shows great shrewdness in recognising the causes that allowed fascism to spread during his youth and how some many of the same courses have led to a climate where Brexit and Donald Trump have gained power and that these, in turn are a threat to our core belief systems, with ‘compassion and decency’ now at risk.  

 

He (controversially) makes the point that ‘perhaps it is the young today that have wisdom because they are learning to live with the selfishness of the baby boomer generation that helped create neo-liberalism and made it fashionable to disparage the welfare state while enjoying all its benefits.’

 

Speaking of the aims of society, Harry says ‘Our thirst to do good things like find a cure for cancer and our hunger to do harm to others like selling weapons to Saudi Arabia astonish me.’

 

Despite his age, or maybe because of it, Harry has lost none of his enthusiasm in the belief in a better world or the belief that people, especially young people deserve better. He speaks of the injustice that a child’s economic place at birth determines so much of what they are or are not entitled to.  

 

One of the most poignant parts of the book for me are Harry’s recollections of the humiliation which comes with poverty – both for adults and children. The stigma of poverty leads to negative self image and self blame. Reading this I could not help but picture those families reliant on food banks and the message we, as a society are sending those reliant on charity for food, about their worth,  

 

With so few of those from the Second World War now left to share their experiences of life prior to the Welfare State and the NHS, it can sometimes feel like ancient history and that we are safe from the issues that pained that period. But of course, by comparing modern issues- poverty, poor housing, a rise in fascism, no refuge from domestic abuse, unaffordable health care – Harry shows that they battles won in 1945 need fighting once again.  

 

Seeing Harry’s strength in fighting against the ills of the government at his advanced years is truly inspirational. I hope reading this book encourages more people to leave their complacency behind and fight for a better, more just society as Harry and his comrades did in 1945.  

 

The great thing about Harry’s writing is it speaks across generations. I’ll be buying copies for my Grandad and my friend’s 16 year old for Christmas.  

 

Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future by Harry Leslie Smith is available to buy now.

Helen Hill: Conference Survival Guide

That time of year is upon us again – Labour Party Conference season, so whether you are attending national or regional conference, going for the first time or tenth and being a delegate or a visitor, here are my top tips for making the most of your experience!

Conferences are arranged by an elected body, The CAC or Conference Arrangements Committee and their job is to book a venue, speakers and decide on the running order of the conference. They also deal with motions and resolutions that are submitted by Labour Party constituencies and Trade Unions and organise the elections that are due to take place at conference in terms of who is standing and announcing the results of said elections.

I am currently nearing the end of my second term on the North West CAC and standing again for the third time this year at regional conference so I am probably quite well informed to talk you through what to expect and how to get the most out of conference.

Last year I attended the Labour Party national conference at the lead delegate for my CLP and despite being on the CAC North West and a seasoned regional conference goer, I found myself like a rabbit in the headlights at national conference, just the sheer size of the event was overwhelming and despite being given a very well produced and detailed guide on the first day, I still felt out of my depth and unsure of where to go, when and who to ask for help, hence me putting this little article together this year to help others.

Going it alone: How to mingle!

I think probably the most daunting part of attending conference for a lot of people is the fact that often we have to “go it alone”, especially if we are attending delegates. 

My first tip would be to utilise your social media! If you are a member of any Labour or left wing forums, pop a post on there asking if anyone else is going to the conference and arrange to meet up! They will be as glad of the company as you are and even just having someone to meet for a quick cuppa first thing in the morning on day 1 will really settle your nerves.
If this is not possible then not to worry, when you arrive at conference, register yourself and then head inside and to the nearest cafe area, there will be so many other people there alone, desperate for someone to talk to that it should not take you long to get chatting!
Another big mistake I made on day 1 was going off the conference site for lunch, at the time I just thought I would rather get out of the way than sit awkwardly alone, but I ended up sat awkwardly alone in M&S cafe in the city centre anyway and on the second day when I stayed on site I realised that actually, most people there are awkwardly alone and the people they are talking to are strangers they have just met!

If you just make the effort to speak to people you will hit it off with them, after all, we are all Labour so straight away you have something in common and a really good ice breaker and way into a conversation is to simply ask people if they are enjoying it and which CLP they are from. I ended up having lunch with a lovely lady last year who turned out to be a Labour MP, although I had no idea when I approached her. She was full of wonderful stories and information and really welcoming and friendly.

Fringe Events:

Although you are there to attend to official conference, it is important to also get out to some of the fringe events – some of them might even be in the same complex and others will be very nearby. The conference guide will list them and they are always free to enter, occasionally you will need to book a ticket but for those events you will usually see them prior on social media and simply download a ticket on an app like eventbright. 

The Fringe events usually have guest speakers like Owen Jones (Guardian columnist) and special guests who are really interesting to listen to, Mr Corbyn will usually turn up to some of the Momentum fringe events like the World Transformed and I actually met one of his sons there last year. 

The Fringe for me is as important as the conference itself and actually, sometimes more enjoyable! You are doing nothing wrong by attending, in fact it is encouraged and better still, there is usually really affordable food and drink, whereas it can be quite expensive within the actual conference venues.

Exhibitors:

Conference is full of stalls and exhibitors ranging from charities to trade unions and there are even bars and book shops! It is a good idea to spend your spare time going around the stalls and talking to the people on them, signing petitions and learning more but be careful not to sign up to support too many charities! Us lefties always find it hard to say no when someone asks us for our bank details and to set up a direct debit to donate a couple of quid a month but by the time you had made it around the exhibition hall you would have none of your salary left and I am not joking! Pick one or two you want to support financially and then just support the others by signing their petitions, if you explain you already donate to other charities they will understand your position and just be glad of any support you can give to them, even if it is just wearing one of their badges or lanyards to raise awareness of their cause!

It is not all give though – many stalls in the exhibition hall have FREEBIES! We all love a good freebie! Notebooks, pens, bags, mobile phone accessories, gadgets, food, drink & lanyards…. you will be overloaded by the time you leave!

Stewards / Guides / Accessibility:

There are always plenty of stewards at conference who have volunteered from constituencies and unions so if you are lost or confused – ASK! Do not feel silly, they are there for that purpose! If you have a disability or additional needs they will also be able to advise on accessibility and guide you to the easiest points of access to gt to where you want to go!

Security:

Sadly, the times we live in mean that any big gathering of people is a target for terrorism and for that reason you are inevitably going to be searched entering conference site – there will be an area at the entrance where bags get searched so allow time for these searches when planning your timing to enter the conference and keep in mind that if you are in and out of the site because you are attending fringe events at other venues, you may be searched several times in one day, but it is for your safety so be patient if you get stuck in a queue.

Delegates Report:

If you have been sent to conference as a delegate for your CLP you will be expected to provide a delegates report afterwards, you could either stand up at the next CLP meeting and tell your comrades verbally about your conference experience, or, if like me you are far better communicating in written form – you could write a little report just outlining what you did, what you enjoyed and what key points came out of the conference. Also do not forget to thank your comrades for sending you, especially if they supported you financially by paying for your pass and expenses!

Have fun, enjoy and if any of you need company and a friendly face at North West regional conference let me know in the comments below because I will be there and I know just the place for a nice cup of tea! 

Helen Hill. 

Helen Hill is the Editor at:
The Socialite UK https://thesocialiteuk.wordpress.com/