Monday, December 11, 2017

Democracy dies in the dark, and memes die in the light – but some are worth giving a bit of exposure, especially when there are those daft enough to take them seriously.

Attending the Young Labour Policy conference at Warwick University on Saturday, Jeremy Corbyn was asked: “Should we nationalise Greggs and Wetherspoons?” The Labour leader responded tactfully, saying that he would prioritise water and public services, while pasties and pints were not “essential”.

Vindicated centrist dads gleefully pointed out that Corbyn had failed to rule out nationalisation. “Now he wants to nationalise Greggs?!”, “Keep your filthy socialist hands off our pasties”, “Nationalising #Greggs. Is this serious politics? Gimmick”: Twitter was awash with their fury.

Commie Corbyn was finally showing his true colours and was advocating for a full command economy. By 2022, McDonnell will set the annual steak bake quota and be damned if you miss your monthly per person allowance. Sausage rolls will be filled with meat of questionable origin – just don’t think about all those Blairite class traitors who seem to have gone AWOL from the fully costed gulags. Only the free market can provide honest British people with honest British pasties.

I’m sorry to let them down, but apart from the good comrades running the @nationalegreggs Twitter account – we all have to have our causes – no one actually wants to nationalise the bakery chain and Corbyn isn’t a communist. All Labour has ever advocated for is a mixed economy nudged in the direction of social democracy.

The party favours nationalising industries such as mail, rail and energy which have a tendency toward natural monopoly – the process whereby a company’s dominance in one sector means that benefits for consumers can’t be created through free market competition. So as long as Sayers, Percy Ingle and the Cornish Pasty Company exist, Greggs is safe under a Labour government.

Like any meme, the joke is designed with a dual purpose – to annoy the sensibilities of people who don’t get it, and to forge the bonds of community. It’s a puerile joke that enrages centrists and gives the rest of us a feeling of connection and levity.

As pointed out by John Sheil, musing on the similarly intentioned “Acid Corbynism” movement: “Memes work to spread messages of optimism… The deliberately bolshy overreach of the memes is a way of imagining things as better rather than merely accepting them as they are.”

A radical demand for “pasties for the people” puts the conversation of nationalisation on the map. Already the British public want to everything from the Royal Mail to railways, water and electricity put back into public ownership. And why shouldn’t we go further?

Since 2010, working-class people have been told that they are feckless and idle, and should be given the bare minimum of services in case they waste it on luxuries like fags and booze. What’s wrong with a bit of luxury? I’d aim our ambitions higher – and I’m not just talking about the new salad, pasta and soup range at Greggs.

There are other parts of the left calling for “Fully Automated Luxury Communism”, a tongue-in-cheek phrasing of the reasonable demand that the profits derived from the productivity increases caused by technological advancements be used to improve the lives of workers through the reduction of the working week, universal basic income, and universally guaranteed housing, education and healthcare. It’s a request that went from political meme to policy, with Corbyn calling for the democratisation of automation and shorter working weeks in his conference speech.

In other words: dads, we’re not just coming for your pasties – we’re taking your Amazon Prime account too.