Lumbering Through Lavendar

AGI: Artificial Governing Intelligence

Aaron Bastani’s long-awaited and oft-parodied Fully Automated Luxury Communism manifesto is finally out and, to celebrate the occasion, Novara Media has done its own long-form interview with their own founder to go over the book’s general insights and implications.

It’s an interesting chat that covers most of the current leftist hot topics but one question towards the end was pretty surprising to me in that it reminded me of Landian accelerationism…

Throughout the conversation, Bastani and James talk about markets on multiple occasions — how you can abolish capitalism without abolishing martkets; market socialism; and a few seemingly adjacent topics like how Universal Basic Services could be an alternative to (and prerequisite of) Universal Basic Income — and this all seems to come to a head at around 1:14:50 with a chat bar question: “Will artificial intelligence replace government?”

Bastani responds:

Paul Mason puts it really well in his present book, right? We’ve deferred for 35 years to this thing called “The Market”.

“Can we do this thing?” No, the Market says we can’t. “Why?” Well, the Market says we can’t.

How is that any different to a machine?

You’re saying, this protocol, this set of rules, which is solidified in this institution says no. That’s no different, fundamentally, to machine control because it’s taking agency away from human beings; it’s depoliticising the political.

So, in a sense, that’s already here — certainly in the cutting-edge of the neoliberal countries.

It’s a very familiar insight, albeit one we’re more used to hearing expressed from certain quarters with palpable glee…

What Bastani is describing is the cybernegativity of market circuitries, contrary to Land’s open embrace of the cyberpositive. What Bastani speaks to is perhaps closer to the porcine circuits of the market democracies described by Gilles Chatalet — and we might note that cybernegativity seems to be an enemy common to all three.

Bastani is against machine control in this context, presumably so long as it is grounded on this current deference to neoliberal market economies and, most importantly, their inequalities. Automation, then, must be retooled as a socialist form of machine control wherein it is we who control the machines rather than the machines that control us. It is this that then leads to a supposedly communist automation.

This makes sense for the means of production but, since communism is fundamentally anti-statist, requiring a different sort of political organisation altogether, the question of whether or not government is something even capable of being automated does pose an interesting problem — as is the suggestion that it already is automated. Still the question of how we shift our relationship to each other as well as our labour power lingers and, to me, it seems like a pretty big hole.

Does this mean we need to unautomate governance and unautomate communication alongside this more general push towards automated labour and intelligence?

It’s maybe best to end on this, from Bastani’s own New York Times article, further promoting the book with a Paul Masonic “radical optimism”:

So we have to go beyond capitalism. Many will find this suggestion unwholesome. To them, the claim that capitalism will or should end is like saying a triangle doesn’t have three sides or that the law of gravity no longer applies while an apple falls from a tree. But for a better world, where everyone has the means to a good life on a habitable planet, it is an imperative.

We can see the contours of something new, a society as distinct from our own as that of the 20th century from feudalism, or urban civilization from the life of the hunter-gatherer. It builds on technologies whose development has been accelerating for decades and that only now are set to undermine the key features of what we had previously taken for granted as the natural order of things.

To grasp it, however, will require a new politics. One where technological change serves people, not profit. Where the pursuit of tangible policies — rapid decarbonization, full automation and socialized care — are preferred to present fantasies. This politics, which is utopian in horizon and everyday in application, has a name: Fully Automated Luxury Communism.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

I guess!

But so far the platitudes don’t seem to be doing much for how people connect. And that’s not Bastani’s fault. Overcoming the cybernegative automation already present within our lives takes something else…

It makes me wonder how much Bastani’s “luxury” is compatible with a Nietzchean “decadence”… But that’s a post for another time…

Trouble

I’ve been coming to this pub for about three years now to write all my shit. Whenever I need to concentrate and maybe loosen up my fingers with a couple of pints (and a pack of cigarettes), it’s the best place for me to get work done. (They’ve got plug sockets in the beer garden, you see.)

This is Trouble. He’s always around to stick his head in my bag to see if I’ve got any food and lounge around in the sun. He was good company yesterday.

I finally broke through a blog blockage that has been building up on my desktop since at least December of last year. Expect new essays elsewhere over the coming months and also a new series that is already complete but which I’m gonna break up, posting one part a week until it’s done. First part is coming on Monday.

Watch this space.

Northern Devolution

It’s been well over a year since this blog first considered the north of England’s post-Brexit fragmentation in “The Gothic Secession of Patchwork Yorkshire” and “Lovers’ Flight” but things have been pretty quiet since then.

This is no doubt because Brexit as a whole has taken up so much of the national conscience/consciousness around issues of sovereignty and identity, but I was interested to hear of a new campaign launched today across 33 newspapers and websites based in the North that are calling for further devolution in Northern communities, with Manchester Evening News seemingly taking the lead with this cover story. It seems like it might be time to jump back into patchwork posting:

Today, the Manchester Evening News joins forces with rival publishers across the north to call for Britain’s main political parties to commit to a revolution in the way government treats our communities.

Our Power Up The North collaboration between 33 newspapers and websites comes exactly a year after the launch of the One North campaign in the wake of unprecedented chaos on the region’s railways.

The collective voice of the north’s titles compelled the government to take immediate action on behalf of the millions of passengers who suffered travel misery.

Now, at a time of unparalleled political uncertainty, we are calling on the main parties — and those who aspire to lead them — to spell out what they intend to do, and how they will work with others, to narrow the north-south divide.

With nominations closing in the Tory party contest to succeed Theresa May — and with the prospect of a general election in the near future — every day of dither and delay risks leaving the north at an even greater disadvantage.

The case for fundamental change is now unanswerable and our political leaders must commit to real change.

This frustration over outdated, underfunded and inadequate transport infrastructure has been an interestingly central issue that lurks in the background of various Northern devolution / independence movements. This isn’t a concern to be sniffed at. In fact, as we’ve seen before on the blog, it is the way in for even those who work in government to see the positive reasoning behind local government fragmentation.

It’s interesting how this has happened. The government’s first response to Northern stagnation was to try and fix transport infrastructure between north and south, so that it’s easier for everyone to get to London on high-speed rail. But this project has staggered and stalled at every turn, and that’s even before we consider how the national problem of over-priced travel will no doubt mean that HS2 — as the project is called — will only help those who don’t need helping.

What’s interesting about the HS2 drama is that it has also served to highlight the stagnation of local infrastructure, exacerbating rather than placating the fissures between internally disjointed identities. This fissure now seems to be so stark that, the other week, the MEN published the findings of a report carried out by former head of the civil service Lord Bob Kerslake:

His most striking conclusion draws parallels with German reunification in the 1990s, when leaders there faced a huge uphill battle to heal the economic chasm between West Germany and the former Soviet East.  

He points to the vast waves of investment poured into the Eastern half of the country over the years that followed, thanks to a national consensus in Germany that the gap had to be closed.

This is a fascinating comparison, not least because the MEN is now calling for its inverse application. This is not a call for investment towards reunification but investment towards disintegration.

This logic is at the heart of this is slippery and someone recently asked about this in my Twitter DMs, asking:

…how do you identify that things are becoming more fragmentary, (or that they need to in order to break the impasse of capital) and encourage that, whilst not being a spoilsport — anti-collective, anti-community.

I definitely get what you mean about fragmentation being underwritten by unruliness — I’ve been thinking alot recently about brexit as an outcropping of a tradition of british (maybe english) unruliness — an inherent mistrust of authority (or maybe more specifically towards the middle bourgeois — deference to royalty and aristocracy persists!) that even if it manifests commonly in ways that are quite xenophobic have a basic drive that is about strengthening your community — I don’t know, its how to figure that without it lapsing into a closed borders mentality.

My response to this was to note that “exit” talk is promiscuous. It’s one of our central problems today, I think, and an issue that is at the heart of a lot of the left’s problems. We see it with “accelerationism”, we see it with ecopolitics, we see it everywhere and patchwork is, in some respects, a political philosophy that tries to handle this unruliness openly and honestly. Because, yes, a community that “defines itself by what it escapes” can just as easily be a white ethnostate that defines itself by its escape from multiculturalism as it can be a communist collective which defines itself by its exit from capitalistic modes of relation.

The issue that I have at present is that the left’s utter hostility towards even the suggestion of complicity in other forms of governance and politics means they routinely box themselves into stasis. No change is better than the wrong change but I don’t think it is difficult to show how that logic is nothing but repressive and grounded on paranoia more than any actual analysis of political trends and intentions.

Nick Land’s inner-outer political orientations are key here and this is an issue this blog has repeatedly taken with Brexit which is, in Land’s own terms, an exit that “models itself on a protected state, in which belonging is sacred, and boundaries are rigorously policed”. In contrast to this, the UK’s other burgeoning independence movements — in Scotland, Wales, Yorkshire and Cornwall, for instance — are “defined primarily by Exit”, by what they escape. They’re not about a retreat in order to consolidate an identity but rather an exit in order to open themselves up beyond the boundaries placed on them by an historical oppressor. (It’s here that the dismissal of an ethics of exit alongside an ethnonationalism becomes a woefully false consciousness.)

This is a logic which Brexiteers try to embody but fail to at every turn, incapable of separating their WTO ambitions from a consolidated nationhood. It reminds me of Ed’s excellent post “Demons and Disjunction“, which speaks to England’s internal doubling so well:

In the destruction of the primitive double, the wild chains of proliferating difference are cut off; one no longer enters into transit and trade with figures on the outside, but turns inwards to operate under the sway of predetermined sets of options that are each flush with a particular unifying logic. The double begins in multiplicity and ends unified and coded.

The wholesale exit strategy of Brexit is only exacerbating the economic inequalities that exist across this country, and as our London parliament proves itself unwilling or incapable of addressing this issue a minoritarian unruliness is becoming more and more vocal about its demands for a sustainable future.

We’ll see what more becomes of this in future but it feels, once again, like our national and intranational politics must contend with the broader possibilities of these political ideas sooner rather than later — for all our sakes.

In Flanders Fields

I had a dig right back to the first start of my archive following yesterday’s post on the nation’s D-Day celebrations.

When I was 14 I went on a school trip to Flanders to walk around the battlefields and trenches of the First World War. We heard the Last Post performed at the Menin Gate, walked around Tyne Cot Cemetery and the Thiepval Memorial in the rain, and learned about the horrors of trench warfare whilst squelching through mud at the Sanctuary Wood Museum.

It was one of the most influential experiences of my entire childhood and I still have all the photos I took. Showing them to my art teacher when I got back to school is what kicked off my interest in photography that would rule my life for the next ten or so years.

I vividly remember the huge gulf between the fun we had and the melancholy of walking around cemeteries and battlefields day after day. I will never forget how sharp the silences were on that trip. Hearing the Last Post, in particular, was incredibly moving.

The Menin Gate, whilst a transitory space by default, to be passed through from one open end to the other, was nonetheless still cavernous, sonically capturing the sound of the bugels that echoed and bounced of the named walls. There was something about that atmosphere of transitory capture that has stayed with me. I’ve never experienced that anywhere else.

At that time, we were mostly kids getting up to mischief. I remember awkward flirting in hotel rooms and play fights and misbehaving, all except when we were in a place of remembrance. I will never forget the how quickly those spaces were able to shut up this big group of boisterous Year 8 history students. It aged us, not least seeing the ages of those who died, so many just a few years older than we were then.

Yesterday I wrote:

The very experience of disarticulation is central to my interest in art and philosophy — not only in terms of the never-ending process of thinking and inventing new language, alongside reading the thought of others to acquire new concepts, but also those very real moments (limit-experiences) where language so frequently dissolves itself.

And I think I can safely say that somewhat gothic but nonetheless immanent fascination, whether in photography or philosophy, can be traced right back to that week in Belgium. That’s my Year Zero.

D-Day

A very early and somewhat diaristic post on this blog was a story about experiences of “poppy fascism” on Remembrance Sunday. It wasn’t that great a post but it was nonetheless an honest attempt to articulate a discomfort that I have long found difficult to put into words.

The very experience of disarticulation is central to my interest in art and philosophy — not only in terms of the never-ending process of thinking and inventing new language, alongside reading the thought of others to acquire new concepts, but also those very real moments (limit-experiences) where language so frequently dissolves itself. (A process closer, I think, to poetry than the word salad so often deployed by today’s insecure artists and academics.)

It’s no coincidence that so much of the philosophy that best deals with these questions comes from that time just before, during and after the Second World War. I find 1930s French philosophy, in particular, to be one of the most fascinating philosophical eras for this very reason. The closer thought gets to the event-horizon of that war and its atrocities, the more openly philosophers contend with the insufficiency of their own thought and the words that give form to it.

We don’t really think like that anymore — or rather, we think we don’t need to. Atrocities are all too visible and there are many ways in which we can now talk about that which seems to be at the limit of our understanding — be that scientifically or ideologically. It feels like language is no longer effaced by violence in the way that it once was. In some circumstances, this resilience is useful; in others, it feels like something has been lost.


When the annual memorial services for the First and Second World Wars roll around again in this country, this is what I always end up thinking about. Every year, no matter the occasion, there is a tension around our ability to remember that which is innately difficult to express. Battlefields, genocides… How best to remember that which is so close to the unthinkable?

The only way to do this is surely to hold this question open.

England’s remembrance events consistently fail at all their attempts to do this — if they make any attempt at all. They say that history is written by the winners and, for us in this country — not just on this issue but across the board — that’s a real problem, not least because the history we write for ourselves is so reductive and confused (perhaps inevitably so).

If we look elsewhere, at those countries that have lost or otherwise suffered unfathomable losses, remembrance takes on a different tone and character. The unanswerable questions that surround trauma are carried forwards in ways that the arrogance of the winners so often loses in its generalised patriotic narratives. Even if that victory came at great cost, even if that victory was hard won and was its own kind of trauma, the roll such a victory plays in the strengthening of ideology reduces its impact. The victory itself becomes a superficial bandaid over the meaningless void of the horrors of war.

That’s been very clear today, watching the news coverage for the 75th anniversary of D-Day — the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France during the Second World War. There’s all this pomp; all this celebration. It was a victory, after all. You’ve got Trump and Theresa May reading out first-hand experiences and war poetry in monotonous school-play tones. You’ve got news readers talking in one breath about how unimaginable the experience must have been but, rather than holding onto that, falling back on historical technicalities and interviewing modern army big wigs about the biggest operation of its kind in history; a huge military success.

What really stuck in my head in orbit of all this was the modern-day soldiers celebrating in Portsmouth with the veterans by holding what weirdly looks like an arms fair. (I tweeted about this earlier.)

These old boys are evidently having a lot of fun, and their visibly giddy with excitement getting to play with all these big 21st century toys — and who am I to say they can’t enjoy themselves — but, with all of the above in mind, it’s nonetheless a haunting image to me to broadcast on the television.

It’s ten years this year since Harry Patch, the “Last Tommy”, passed away at the age of 111. His voice was always the most sobering around moments of First World War remembrance — an ardent pacifist who seemed to hate war all the more for having fought in one, using his fame as one of the world’s oldest men ever only to denounce the celebration of war, repeatedly expressing his terror at what wars would undoubtedly become, infamously declaring: “The next world war will be chemical — I don’t want to see it.”

I had his words echoing around my head watching these World War II veterans gleefully handle the “tools of modern warfare.”

These men can do what they like but the spectacle of it, dominating the day’s rolling news footage, exacerbating the difference between how we consider the First and Second World Wars in our national news coverage, is striking to me now.

Just as Patch was the last surviving Flanders soldier to have fought in that war, the BBC news reader was keen to harp on about the mortality of these men. “These first-hand experiences won’t be around for much longer and we mustn’t forget them,” he declared at one point, but evidently those experiences are not the focus here. The focus is instead on the sheer scale of this military operation, providing the modern-day army with a PR opportunity and an fodder for inspiring troops in future conflicts.

We won the Second World War, you see, and defeated the greatest evil in modern European history, and that’s a story today’s troops must internalise. The patriotism and nationalism of that moment must be carried forwards — but not a patriotism belonging to the boys on the frontline; the patriotism of the donkeys leading the lions. Lest we forget that Churchill was more afraid of the Third Reich overtaking the British Empire as a global power than of defending anyone’s individual freedoms. Many British Conservatives admired Hitler until he threatened their own geopolitical egos. Churchill’s, then, was a victory for empire.

Whereas the First World War was more of a moot victory, defined by catastrophic losses and unfinished business — leading to a technical peace if not any lasting political calm for the countries affected by the conflict, failing to close the rupture — the Second World War is made to feel like a great bookend in the British national consciousness. Whilst other nations continued to struggle psychologically for years with the aftermath of that war, Britain forgets itself, in the south at least. The scars persisted elsewhere with there still being bomb sites you can visit in cities in the north of England, but these have become just another symbol of homegrown class struggle and neglect — a very different sort of life during wartime.

And so, the Second World War has been allowed to become a Hollywood war. The Normandy beaches are as much a Saving Private Ryan location tour as they are a place of pilgrimage and remembrance — and we’re all the lesser for it. It becomes a topic, a moment, an era that is easy to use, and we still see that today with our politicians using the language of frontline bravery, positioning themselves as freedom fighters, still in the name of an ever-dwindling Churchillian imperial ego.

It feels like whatever hubris the First World War gave us is lost to a story we might prefer to tell ourselves.

The closure of the wounds of World War Two in the British imagination, in favour of a nationalistic ideal, feels, to me, something like the closure of the American frontier, with the defeated continental man becoming alien to an English hubris. It renders the Normandy beaches as a literal line in the sand across which the nation’s unconscious has never since crossed, but that’s not to say such a crossing is impossible. It is a line in the sand in every sense — symbolically absolute, materially formless — and all days like today reveal is how successfully this vague line has nonetheless continued to flow across generations, effacing the stark message of the Last Tommy’s who would surely be repulsed if they were handed the tools of modern warfare, having hoped and prayed that there was some truth to “the war to end all wars”.

A Jeremy Hunt Story

There is — already — a very weird tone emanating from the mouths of all those wankers who are putting themselves up for the Conservative Party leadership, not least because they’re not mixing words about what the job means to them and us. This tweet, for example, from Jeremy Hunt, is jumping straight on the Prime Ministerial ticket over the party leader one. This is strange not least because only a fraction of the people who see it will actually have the opportunity to vote for him.

What a video though. Hunt’s mouth hole drones: “I’m here in Edinburgh in front of the Adam Smith monument, that great Scottish genius who discovered the fundamentals of prosperity, not just for the United Kingdom but principles that have been used all over the world.”

The “fundamentals of prosperity” is an incredible euphemism, isn’t it? What a loaded way to describe the legacy of the so-called “Father of Capitalism”.

Hunt invokes Smith here, however, in order to draw attention to the fact that, apparently, he is a product of and shining example of our “precious” United Kingdom and the inter-state relations that it depends upon… I’m not really sure why… Was Smith’s body of work the result of international cooperation? Or was he just observant of his neighbours? We might safely assume the reality is closest to the latter, and there’s a lovely irony to that.

I’m writing this on the fly so excuse the lazy Wikipedia referencing but I like how Smith’s other well-known (non-economic) work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, is summarised as follows:

Smith proposes a theory of sympathy, in which the act of observing others and seeing the judgements they form of both others and oneself makes people aware of themselves and how others perceive their behaviour. The feedback we receive from perceiving (or imagining) others’ judgements creates an incentive to achieve “mutual sympathy of sentiments” with them and leads people to develop habits, and then principles, of behaviour, which come to constitute one’s conscience.

If Hunt wants to hold Smith up as a beacon for the future success of the Great British union, he’d do well to note how ironic his statement appears in light of England’s (and the Conservative’s, more specifically) utter lack of self-awareness has led us to this point of geopolitical near-fragmentation. And, for what it’s worth, there is little evidence of “moral sentiment” existing between London and the rest of the UK, never mind England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Who is he kidding!?


I’m not jumping in on this just because of some nerdish pet peeve over Hunt’s ahistorical tweets. His renewed presence on the political horizon is troubling just in general — especially the story this morning that he was the one to welcome Trump on the tarmac at Stansted airport and immediately suck his dick — but the issue with that for me is that Hunt is as big a cunt as anyone going, whilst appearing to be one of the more innocuous of the headline-grabbing leadership contenders. And that’s a danger, I think, because he starts to look like a preferable candidate when placed next the buffoonery of the likes of Johnson and Gove.

In the spirit of this, I remember that every time Hunt used to appear in the national news The Quietus editor Luke Turner used to repeatedly share this article about when he used to work for him at his company Hotcourses. It’s a good read:

It was quite a shock when, at one of the interminable Monday Morning Meetings, we were informed that Jeremy Hunt would be standing as a Conservative MP. We were surprised, not only because we were amazed that anyone would vote for this affable lummox, but also that he’d never really displayed much in the way of political enthusiasm in the past. As a former colleague relates, “He once said to me during the fledgling stages of his political career, ‘Well, both my parents are conservative so it’s a pretty much a foregone conclusion I would be too’.” The holy hand of patronage had plucked him out to replace Virginia Bottomley in the kind of safe Surrey seat that the Tories wouldn’t even [be] able to lose if their candidate was caught, pants down, discussing Uganda with the gardener.

We of course followed Hunt’s progress with interest. To his credit, he seemed to be doing some decent work on disability issues in various debates in the House. But his appointment as Shadow Culture Secretary could not help but raise eyebrows. This was a man who, whenever he tried to engage with you and discuss your interests in music, art, literature or film, would glaze over and stare at a point somewhere in the middle of your forehead. Hunt’s interests seemed more to lie in Latin dancing, and especially Salsa, or in his fascination with China and Japan. In interviews, Hunt seemed like a lightweight, unsure of himself in front of the camera. You only have to tune in to the Leveson live stream to see just how inept Hunt is. This was one of the new Conservative Party of ‘Dave’ Cameron’s great white hopes? When the phone hacking scandal began to break, it seemed more than likely that he would become unstuck. As today’s revelations at Leveson of worried texts back and forth seems to show, this was a man who was keen to please everyone as he floundered around waiting for blessing from the big boy in the playground, George Osbourne.

Those three years working alongside Hunt give me an idea of the kind of government we currently have, run by these former public school boys who have barged their way through life not through merit or ability, but by birth. You would not have picked out Jeremy Hunt as a brilliant intellect, a powerful speaker, a man with any convictions other than those he was born with. This is the impression one also gets from the rest of his colleagues in the Conservative party. It was bad enough having him as a boss — the fact that he and his chums are running the country is far, far worse.

And it became something that I would likewise retweet with great enthusiasm after I had my own run in with the man himself.

Now, I’ve never worked for Jeremy Hunt but I have seen his flappable lummox get flapped right before my eyes — and by my girlfriend no less — so, here’s a story about when I crossed paths with Jeremy Hunt…

Four years ago, living between Hull and the outskirts of Stockport, my girlfriend and I were regular televisual masochists who never missed an episode of BBC Question Time, a show where a panel of politicians and commentators and the odd celebrity get asked topical questions by a regional audience and we all have a nice democratic televised fight about the state of things.

It’s produced some very memorable moments of political discussion in this country over the years but, at the end of the day, it’s nothing more than a middle class version of the Jeremy Kyle Show.

Nevertheless, masochists that we were, when we heard that the show was coming to Salford we decided to sign up to be in the audience. To do that, you basically have to give some information about yourself and the demographic you fit into and then you also have to send them a question you’d like to ask and be discussed.

After a strangely aggressive phone call from a producer, we got selected for the episode that was to broadly explore our country’s generation gap. The audience was split between those over 60 and under 30 (and it’s still on YouTube much to my surprise!)

On a cold night in November, we got the train to Salford and immediately found ourselves entertained by a very strange atmosphere. It was a bit like going to a gig. You can tell just by looking at the people on the tram around you who is going to the same place you are and when we got to the venue — a sports hall in some Salford sixth form college — we had our pick of tea and biscuits and got warmed up by that somewhat charming ol’ coot David Dimbleby (before he retired recently anyway).

On the panel that night was then health secretary Jeremy Hunt, future Mayor of London Sadiq Kahn and some Lib Dem woman who I didn’t know then and have even less memory of now. Two other panellists were kept away by transport troubles. It felt like an oddly intimate affair — like when one of the band comes down with flu so you get an acoustic version of what you actually came to see, except even more cringe and boring.

Anyway, the way the show works is that before they record what is broadcast — roughly three or four audience questions discussed for 15-20 minutes each — they do a warmup question to get everyone in the swing of things, loosened up and ready to chat. My girlfriend was selected to ask the warm-up question and it ended up being a doozy…

Such a doozy I still consider it a tragedy it wasn’t broadcast. It would have made for some very good TV. I only hope they recorded it anyway and I’ll get the chance to see it again at some point. (If anyone reading this has access to the BBCQT archive, do us a favour, yeah?)

At the time, the (later successful) #NoMorePage3 campaign was in full swing — a campaign to stop the printing of topless girls on the third page of various tabloid newspapers, specifically The Sun. Many in politics, aware of the growing protest movement, had made comments on the campaign, with many in the Tory government being nonplussed by the whole thing, including then-prime minister David Cameron who openly said he didn’t support it.

However, at the same time, Cameron was attempting to implement some draconian digital media laws that were being set up to ban or block access to internet porn. The question asked by my girlfriend, taking this strange situation as its context, was simple: “Is this not a contradiction?”

This was four years ago so forgive me for forgetting the details but, as I recall, Sadiq Khan’s response was clear: “Yes it is.” Hunt, on the other hand, seemed to want to stick to this odd party line and go on about protecting our children and whatever else. He droned on and on and left the question itself behind. As Dimbleby clamoured to ask a follow-up question that allowed Hunt to continue off piste, the reaction from next to me was clear. My girlfriend kept repeatedly asking her question: “Is it not a contradiction? Is it not a contradiction?” At which point, Dimbleby himself had to concede that, yes, Hunt hadn’t really answer what had been conveniently framed for him as a simple yes-or-no question.

He didn’t like that, and it is at this point in the story that I really wish this question had been broadcast because Hunt’s face was a picture. He glared at her with a face I’ve only ever seen right before a bar fight. He was livid, and he seemed to remain livid for much of the programme, glaring in our direction on various occasion — which wasn’t hard because we were in a little pocket in front and to the left of the front row of the main audience. (See below, a photo taken of our TV at the time: us far left, Hunt top right.)

There was a (short) discussion had last week about Theresa May crying in front of No. 10 when resigning as PM that reminded me of all this.

Owen Jones did not mince words on Sky News in declaring his complete lack of sympathy for May and I later heard a comment made by some Tory Goldsmiths student about how it’s fine she didn’t cry for Grenfell because you can’t go around crying all the time when on the job because it’s a sign of weakness — ignoring the overarching tension of Tory austerity ideology which is the cognitive dissonance of “professional” (policy-driven) coldness and “personal” (media-friendly) humanity.

@fitchett_adam responded:

Don’t agree that crying is a sign of weakness, but personally it makes complete sense to me for a person to cry about losing their job but not to cry about strangers dying in a fire. People just care a lot more about their own life. And that’s fine.

@Natalan introduced the obvious contention: “What if you were partly responsible for the fire?”

What does this have to do with Jeremy Hunt? Well, it’s interesting to me — and I’m trying to avoid being the embodiment of the Camusian emotions-police here — that Conservatives (whether in terms of the party or our present media personalities) so often position themselves as being the lot who are in control of their emotions, rational, productively detached from feelings and more in tuned with reality. And whilst that’s an obvious result of our deeply repressive mode of neoliberal professionalism, it is very interesting to me at what points it becomes okay and human to let emotions slip.

The moments at which these people do and don’t slip are very telling.

In May’s case, that is apparently when you decide to leave your job, whilst awkward stoicism is the professional response to nearly 80 people dead in a fire in sub-standard housing. In Hunt’s case, well, it remains to be seen… But the way I saw that man in his mid-40s can glower with such hatred at a woman in her early-20s who has asked him a very simple question — never mind someone from the press or in parliament — does not bode well in the slightest.

In fact, it’s the sort of attitude you come to expect more from the man he greeted on an airport runway this morning. And I’m left thinking just because Trump’s got a big enough mouth to shout out his opinions, doesn’t mean he is brown-nosed by countless others who think the same way he does.

Hunt has that same vibe. You know he thinks he’s got the art of the deal. Luke Turner’s Quietus article makes that clear enough. But inside, he’s little more than a Poundshop Trump.