Post-truth, post-fact, post-description: ponzi schemes of lies that are killing our debates

I think I was a few weeks ahead of some in calling the referendum campaign the triumph of post-truth politics that was just as much a fault of David Cameron as the referendum itself was. Jonathan Swift was much further ahead of the post-truth politics game, as in most things: “the greatest liar hath his believers,” he said,”and it often happens that if a lie be believed only for an hour, it hath done its work [ …] Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it.”

It’s no longer the case that the truth will eventually get its boots on and catch up. For a time it just seemed that the truth needed to up its game, get a pair of slip-ons, get a better narrative, frame the debate: the truth now is on a continuing 24-hour cycle of being shouted down and tripped up. There is only one truth, it’s sometimes complicated or nuanced, there are many more lies — as many as you have space for in the media and on the internet.

And you might think that there are a lot of column inches to fill in the newsagents, but that’s just peanuts to the internet.

Continue reading “Post-truth, post-fact, post-description: ponzi schemes of lies that are killing our debates”

Labour can’t win back voters by championing the status quo

Labour does have a problem with reaching people.

The party made a decision under Kinnock, Blair, Brown and even Miliband to move away from being the party of organised labour. A change that also contributed to the decline of organised labour itself. That has left the party at the mercy of the media to reach the working class voters it depends on.

The ‘dispossessed’ that voted Leave aren’t likely to be union members: there are just over seven million now, dropping from 13 million in the late ’70s. The rise of insecure work and the restrictions on union bargaining power have made it more crucial — but paradoxically less attractive — to working class people to join and organise in the workplace.

I have suspicions that the numbers of union members is propped up by — and skewed towards — the middle class. We have only lost a million members since Tony Blair became leader of Labour, but the composition of that number is likely to be more professional and public-service based than it was before.

Under the current leadership there have been moves to reconnect some of the unions with the party, but that’s going to take time.

From the best data we have 63% of Labour voters voted to Remain, only 1% more than voters for the SNP, and way more than the Tories. The number of Labour voters has been falling since 1997 — and it has become much more difficult to reach those drifting outside that base.

They they’re less likely that most to be heavy consumers or users of the sort of media that will offer a clear debate, less likely in fact to see the position of the Labour party on any question. We know that TV is the main medium through which poorer people get their news: and that offered precious little time for Labour to make the case for the right kind of EU.

That message had to compete in a post-truth environment, one with Farage giving plausible deniability to the official Tory campaign about the way it stoked fears about immigration. It may have been right, but it wasn’t heard widely — and it didn’t reach the people that it needed to. Labour can take some share of the blame, but no more than the SNP and certainly no more than the Tories.

It’s difficult to see how sharing a platform with the Remain Tories — who were pushing a free-market, market-based agenda that didn’t cut through to enough voters — would have done anything but destroy the credibility of the Labour opposition much as it did in Scotland. Labour, and particularly Jeremy Corbyn tried to have a reasoned debate on the merits of the EU: almost every other campaigner had their fingers in their ears while they ran around shouting.

Labour do have to reach people that stopped voting for the party over the last nearly twenty years — but why did they stop?

I don’t think the evidence of any subsequent election — and certainly not the EU referendum — is that they lost those by being not strong enough in their defence of the establishment status quo.

The rise of the idiocracy

The leavers are rising in the polls and everyone is starting to get scared that they might actually win. And, of course, it’s Jeremy Corby’s fault.

It’s not unusual for Corbyn to come under attack, he doesn’t sing loud enough, or bow at the proper angle, and he baulks at the idea of mutual mass destruction. And we all know what Cameron thinks about his suit and tie. But what is odd is that this time around he’s effectively being criticised for not coming to the aid of his opponent in his hour of need.

David Cameron is struggling to get his message across. For the first time his privilege is not buying him an easy ride with an unusually un-supplicant press: and he’s looking to those with experience of not having everything their own way.

Cameron did not see this coming, but in many ways he is the architect of his own downfall. The establishment is trying to pin the blame on the Labour leadership but everything about this is a Tory mess. Even leaving aside that the very referendum is Cameron’s own fault – a self-serving promise to prevent haemorrhaging even more votes and party “loonies” to UKIP – the actions of the Tories have created a situation in which rational argument has lost its power and a new idiocracy rides the waves of ill-informed public opinion.

When Ed Miliband said that the media has focused on the “sexy blue-on-blue action” in covering the referendum campaign, he may have made Today programme listeners push away their boiled eggs, but he was right. Labour has been hamstrung in getting the socialist case for remaining in the EU across, not through a lack of passion, but through a lack of coverage.

Labour (and especially Ed) are used to this, but it is the first time that sections of the Conservatives have been on the wrong side of the tactics that they have spent the last 10 years developing.

So successfully have they terrified the BBC into a false version of impartiality they call ‘balance’, that ideas are never challenged, only countered. Lies are given equal weight to the truth.

And the right wing press doesn’t even have to pretend to be impartial. So if a view – or most frustratingly a fact – isn’t palatable to the owners and their editors then it will get the shortest of shrift. This is a problem. Yes, social media and the internet means that we can go beyond newspaper bias to get to more of the truth – but only if we have the time, critical analysis skills and networks to do so. We can hear Jeremy Corbyn’s every word, see every stroke his cat gets, if we subscribe to it on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat: but in the mainstream media his statements are not treated impartially. They are given less credence than those who are prepared to spread lies, to deny facts and give the appearance of idiots when it suits them.

Now the Tory leadership is feeling the Iain Duncan Smith effect: a man who has casually denied links between his workplace capability assessments and the deaths of those they removed benefits from, a man who has defended the fiasco of universal credit, a man who tried to change a law to make his actions over workfare legal after they’d been ruled otherwise by the high court, a man who has made an artform of using false statistics in the face of the evidence and chastisement from the ONS, a man whose greatest lie may have been that he cared. Through all that Smith knew that the right wing press would support him and that a neutered BBC would let his statements pass without comment, given equal credibility as the truth.

And as a result, he has become unanswerable. As Auden said, “A sentence uttered makes a world appear; Where all things happen as it says they do.” He believes that he can say anything; he can. And of course others have seen it work and take advantage too.

From the Hutton report onwards, the BBC has shied away from confrontation in news: and the Tories have enjoyed every moment of it. They spent six or seven years being unchallenged on their lies about the causes of the financial crash, and they grew in confidence to the point where they felt able to say “I don’t accept that view” and dismiss any factual argument put to them.

We are living in an age that is post-democracy. Power is concentrated in an elite, says political scientist Colin Crouch, who make “electoral debate a tightly controlled spectacle… considering a small range of issues.” The majority of the electorate, he says, play “a passive, quiescent, even apathetic part, responding only to signals given to them.” In a single issue vote, with a narrow debate, this makes the infantalisaton of our media actively dangerous to democracy: and we’re seeing this turned up to 11 by a band of chancers that display no more signs of intelligence than Nigel Tuffnell, let alone Nigel Farage.

The lie of the £350M sent to Brussels – proven not to be true, widely debunked, yet still emblazoned across the Leave campaign bus – is the ultimate example of this. It sits in the background on breakfast TV, the moderators on the ITV debates don’t challenge Boris Johnson when he repeats it again and again

David Cameron and his ilk have a specific problem too: the Tories have consistently stoked fear of immigration, because otherwise they’d have to admit that austerity and privatisation is the cause of stress on housing, jobs and services – not migrants. They can’t defend the lies of the leave campaign and are trapped by their own past rhetoric. Consummate politician though Cameron is, he doesn’t quite have the confidence to U-turn on that. There’s no doubt, however, that the idiots would flip and tell that truth if it suited them. They are not just post-democracy, but post-truth.

There are stories that Leave literature has been telling black and asian communities that there will be more and easier immigration after leaving Europe, in direct contrast to the anti-immigration narrative that we hear elsewhere from the same campaign. Likewise the EU is labelled undemocratic by those who don’t turn up to vote despite having been elected to its parliment, and those who would happily turn any state control over to the private sector.

We have a referendum debate conducted in a post-democracy, post-truth, landscape: one where facts aren’t valued and liars aren’t called out. We have already had a Trexit and left a place where rational argument holds any sway.

Continue reading “The rise of the idiocracy”

The Labour doorstep? A load of cults

From each according to his ability, is half of Marx’s founding ideas.

From the ‘sensible establishment’ supporters of Labour’s pre-Corbyn core, there is something different: forget abilities, what we require from each is a particular form of commitment to and participation in activity that we see as ‘correct’. The virtue signalling of the ‘Labour doorstep’, and the dismissal of those that don’t feel that this is the best use of their efforts in pursuit of a (supposedly) shared goal.

The idea that knocking on doors providing up to date voter data (oh, and having ‘conversations’, although in what form we’re never really told) is the only route of activism available to the foot-soldiers.

Having an opinion is frowned-upon until a certain amount of dues-paying doorstepping has been completed.

A Red Wedge-style series of fund- and awareness-raising gigs with high profile names is dismissed as meaningless in electoral terms. Unless they also knock on doors.

Labour far outshone the Conservatives in doorstep conversations in May last year. But, if knocking on doors alone won elections, it wouldn’t be the Labour Party in power: it would be the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In coalition with meter readers and Betterware franchisees.

Social media may be an echo chamber, but volume still matters. It’s where people are — but crucially most see no substantive delineation between platforms, between local and national issues, nor between ‘real life’ and the real people they communicate with online*. And that’s why Tom Watson’s digital project, and what it comes out with is so important: we do need to be able to understand how the psychology of people plays out as a whole. That includes conversations around unity in the media, and on the web. And it included targeted digital interactions.

I’ve a lot of time for Jess Phillips, the ‘outspoken’ MP for Yardley, or at least it seems I feel I have to spend a lot of time thinking about what she’s said now. She’s recently been talking about how people on the internet are stopping her being ‘herself’. She says that people are willfully misinterpreting her — and that’s contributing to the rise of the robot MP, too afraid to say anything put the scripted party line.

I wonder if she sees the parallels in how she jumps to give her opinion at things, often speaking before the full story is known, and how other people behave towards her? It is true that we often find most distasteful in others the behaviour that we recognise and dislike in ourselves.

The irony is that, yes, she was misinterpreted by the media — ‘I’ll stab him in the front’ — when talking about how Jeremy Corbyn was misinterpreted by the media and giving that as a reason to potentially work against him. Is she not worried that PLP member’s attacks on Corbyn risk him turning into a frightened ‘robot’ too? Isn’t that what we had for a leader in the previous two elections? How did that work out?

People I know, who know Jess Phillips say she’s the same in real life as she is online. That has certain merits, but it’s not quite true: everything we do online is mediated either by oneself or others. We have to understand the prisms through which we’re seen.

If you’re an MP, you’re not normal — you’ve had a particular set of ambitions, opportunities and experiences. If you’re more than passingly interested in politics, you’re not normal either. Look again at your Facebook feed: although it’s skewed towards your personal likes, is it more political or personal? Watching Googlebox, liking ‘indie music’, or tweeting about ‘bake off’ doesn’t give you some direct line to ‘people’. Only thousands of real conversations — and arguments — offline and online, and through the unfortunately mediated press,  can do that. People like Jess are really valuable to that goal, so she needs to be onboard: but intra-movement discussion needs to be constructive as well as honest. We need to beware we don’t conflate a common touch with an actual principle.

But what if you aren’t ‘on the doorstep’? I find this criticism both disingenuous and exclusive. In reality it’s one of the stock criticisms that can now be laid at the new kind of activist: they’re not doing what we always have done.

Emails from our local party leaders often feel like they’re prickly at an influx of activists: they often “remind new members” of some protocol, despite there being no way for those enthusiastic neophytes to know.

This behaviour, and the exaltation of those ‘on the Labour doorstep’ feels like a set of shibboleths to assert control of the movement. It also feels like an all-purpose criticism to use when change feels uncomfortable. Change may be uncomfortable, but it has to happen.

*This new book Social Media in an English Village is well worth a read on real-life social media use, free to download from UCL Press.

This originally appeared on Labour Uncut.

A brief note about hope

Hope is a one hell of a drug in politics. Luckily it’s hard to get too addicted because like any good drug, it has one hell of a comedown. In fact the comedown is so bad it can put you off forever. After the last general election The Left were clucking bad, wandering the streets, red flags left to drape in the puddles, while The Right grinned with sharp yellow teeth and wiped the saliva from their chins with the yellow ties of the Liberal Democrats.

Now the real addict knows, the best way to avoid a comedown is to stay high, and anyway who wants to miss the two month hope leadership election festival? Hope dealers galore dragging back in the old and hooking the young. The first time’s free (or three quid).

If hope is a drug, The Left has found a reliable dealer in Corbyn. He seems genuine, pure: the good shit. Will he be affecting any change? I don’t know. He did seem to be the only leader with any real eye towards opposing the Tories during their holiday of hate.

Tom Watson is the only MP I’ve shared a pint with. I looked in his eyes and saw a person. He moves like a politician though, and is formidable as an opponent. And Corbyn will need it if he to survive the next six months. If Corbyn is smart he’ll lean into the party hard and appoint his own whips as soon as possible, big fuckers with sharp teeth, because I fear there will be many nights with very long knives to come. Although a 59% mandate buys you a lot of cover.

Myself I only dabble with hope now.

Go on then. Maybe just a line.

Jeremy Corbyn: One direction

We live in a small town in Oxfordshire — Cameron country — where Labour are a distant third in all elections, and the Conservative social club is a signposted landmark and a social hub. My wife Libby is never one to shy away from a political discussion, despite being the daughter of a sometime Liberal Democrat councillor. At least once she has stopped to engage those having a fag outside ‘the Con club’ as it’s known and asked them their opinions on matters of the day.

Most of the time it happens with more respect and decorum than PMQs, even though, leaving aside the Chancellor, participants in these impromptu street exchanges are likely to be more intoxicated.

But do you know what? These proud Tories haven’t got a clue what is going on: they have no inkling that there has even been a Health and Social Care Act, let alone what  its impacts are. But these are the people, working class in the true economic sense and ‘aspirational’ — if that means that they are happy to work hard, desire have nice things and want look after their families and friends — that we have been told that the Labour Party needs to win over in 2020.

Truth is, it probably is possible for a Labour party to bring these people along: but it’s not going to happen by nodding assent to the direction of Tory policies and then just arguing with the nuance. We have essentially been agreeing that we all have to stand in a lake of excrement, but we’re saying we should have socks on as well as our sandals. We can offer a different, hopeful, fair, path: and that means an alternative to austerity. Out of the Labour leadership contenders I only see Jeremy Corbyn articulating anything like that. The halls across the country, bursting like a boyband concert, are testament to just how many people see the same thing: and that feels fantastic.

I’ll admit to not having been too aware of him before this campaign, but I’ve been more and more impressed by his stature, attitude and messages. He’s being painted as further left than Lenin, but there’s nothing in his policies that sounds outlandish.

Let’s get ‘electable’ out of the way: the ravaging the press gave Ed Miliband is the new standard that every Labour leader can expect from here on in. Pandering to it is not going to work: changing the debate is the only way. Consistency of thought and message, and — yes — being “a signpost rather than a weather vane”. I can’t say that any of the other candidates have improved my opinion of their abilities in this spotlight.

Corbyn is leading the internal party polls, they say, but there are a lot of shy Tories.

No, that’s unfair: every Labour member I’ve ever met is committed to social justice. It used to be that the destination was the same, but members had different ideas about how to go there: now it seems that the ambition and the drive to move beyond small changes are missing from the usual suspects.

The upper tiers seem to be surprised by the support for more socialist ideas in the membership, and that’s part of the problem. At the very least it shows a lack of their supposed electoral nous: who’d have thought that there were a load of left wingers in the Labour party? There may have been four million conversations on the doorstep, but how many internal conversations about policy?

It’s a shame that the leadership seems to hold the steering wheel, the map and the gas money, but at the moment it does and that’s why getting someone going in the right direction is so important. It’s why we need signposts. Deputy leader candidates (especially Tom Watson and the very impressive Stella Creasy) have spent a lot of time talking about the need for Labour to be a movement — and that’s true, I hope whoever wins that contest they can both work towards it. But that means a leader that also wants that.

Movements have to have leaders, it’s what drives momentum, passion and commitment. Far better they are the reluctant type driven by principle rather than personal ambition, for they are most likely to do what is right — and listen to their movement — rather than only opinion polls.

The movement can be big enough, the momentum can be big enough, the membership can be big enough to win in 2020. But we’ve got to offer people a direction, and Jeremy Corbyn is the only one going anywhere.

Protest

I’ve seen a lot of maps over past few days, and I’ve seen enough cartoon characters. Like massively bile-inducing stereograms, the squinting at patches of colour — those heatmaps of hate — produsce nothing but despair.

I’ve taken to focusing now just on how those patches of yellow have changed over the last few decades. The red and the blue (discounting Scotland) are fairly constant, pulsing but constant. The Liberal yellow appears slowly and spreads a little from 87—2010, but essentially remains in the same places.

Now it’s gone.

So, I wonder if the age of the ‘third party’ protest vote is over, for at least a generation. Because it took time for the Liberal Party (in its various forms) to hit a 50 MP balance and they did well — but essentially they were an alternative. One that based its alternative on being ‘a little from column A, a little from column B’. And when they decided that ‘power’ was worth having they couldn’t stay an alternative. And so the support went: splintered in different directions, but it did go.  And the bits that were previously blue went blue and the bits that were red, went red. We’re back to how it was.

So, that’s it for the Liberal Democrats, while they might have an activist base they don’t have a core vote: because as far as the public see it they don’t stand for anything, they just stand apart. Or did.

Now, some people might say Ukip fill that protest vote: but I don’t think it’s the same people that are protesting. That’s another battle. The Greens could fill that protest vote, but it will take a long time to build up anything more than a few percent. And the Greens are not seen as a safe ‘split the difference’ vote — so they are not the same people either.

I don’t know if Labour can get the floating centrist voters that this time felt that they may as well vote Tory, but I know they will lose an equal number to the left if they try to do it by moving to the right. They’ve got to do something different.

Tom might help.  I know that a ‘grassroots surge’ won’t work with the party mechanism they way they are. A large number of activists work hard, but they can do little to affect the way that the party behaves at the top. We may need people that understand the power of the crowd, and the possibilities of connection. Podemos in Spain seem to have a new way of organising that helps people feel part of a movement, collaborative and distributed. That feels like a better thing than just chasing votes and being angry.

Are we… the baddies?

It’s the morning after the night and the five years before. A lot of people around me are asking how this could happen because everywhere they go, online or offline, they meet people who thought the same as them: that it would be nice if things turned our nicer.

I’m in my mid-30s. Unlike most of my contemporaries I didn’t grow up in the UK so really I only know electoral defeat. You see I arrived, literally off the boat, in September 1997. It was still the honeymoon days of New Labour when Britannia was Cool and the establishment was on the ropes after the death of Diana Spencer. That battle, the Labour landslide, the end of two decades of Thatcher(ism) wasn’t mine, but I got to enjoy its benefits.

No, unlike my friends I’ve never had the bliss of a Portillo Moment. Instead I’ve been on a streak of losing teams. Pro electoral reform, yes to an elected mayor for Birmingham, and on the left of the 2010 generals, I was broadly supportive of Scottish devolution (though I couldn’t vote for that of course).

Yesterday I voted for fairness. What I was offered wasn’t ideal but was a step along the way. I voted to not privatise the NHS, to start regulating the rental property market, and to axe the bedroom tax. I voted for some scraps of dignity for people around me, for myself, for my kids.

But I see Dave, not Ed, drive to the palace. And I see the Tory’s 331 seats. I look at it all and I wonder “are we the baddies?”

History is written by the winners. A third of the country thinks we are the baddies. Dave thinks we’re the baddies.

And now I see an in/out referendum on Europe coming. In that fight I’ll be voting to have someone who our government must be accountable to, someone who can force their hand on things like labour conditions and human rights. I see the political voices that represent my side in disarray. I see Farage cowed and humbled in South Thanet without a seat but I see him promising he’ll be back in the Autumn. I see Farage and UKIP rich as ever, ready to fight and ready to move the 1922 Committee towards their corner. And I wonder: how can we be the baddies? When all we wanted was things to turn out a bit nicer. It’s not like have skulls on our caps.

We can’t be the baddies. We’re nice, we’re fun. We are the goodies, surely?

History is written by the winners. Did we lose today? We did. But have they won? No. This is a point of disruption, the start of a story that sends you on a quest. It’s a beginning. The story ends when we beat the baddies.

We’re not the baddies.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, or no: are The Beatles any kop?

Can you separate the music of The Beatles from their place in popular culture? Jon Bounds listens to all of their records — one after another — in an attempt to find out.

I’m fairly sure you don’t need to own any Beatles records. In an average week we must all walk through at least one, and although there would be some statistical bunching it probably wouldn’t take 10 years before you’d heard everything but the rarities.

But that would be part of the problem; music like nothing else crystallises place and the past. Your reaction to The Beatles’ music is not just coloured by but woven in with the people, things and places you remember like psychogeographic tartan. One you can pull over your knees and comfort yourself within on a long journey. There’s no real way you can listen to them and just think about the sound.

A couple of years ago I listened to every Elvis record, in order, in an attempt to confuse myself and to be able to disassociate the cultural baggage from the sounds it made. It worked, and I ended up loving Elvis all the more. So I set up my stereo, my room and my mind, and sat down to listen to every song released by The Beatles, in release order (only UK released singles and LPs, no live versions, demos, or other archive). It worked out at about 190 tracks, and just over nine hours.

The early recordings do hit you with freshness, it’s not just that they are so direct, they are not played — with the exception of Love Me Do — as much as some of the later records. Please Please Me, in just a second over two minutes, is the template for our idea of 60s pop. The decade had so much more to offer, but it’s that moment that you know things are changing — under the harmonies you can almost hear Philip Larkin undoing his flies.

Seven tracks in and there is a moment of pure joy — in Boys, which was a new one on me — when a shout of “Go, George, go!” preludes a dancing guitar part that prepares you for the first “yeah yeahs”. It primes you to take this band to your heart and nothing can stop you.

By Eight Days a Week there’s nothing for it but to be up dancing round the kitchen. Like Vimto, they’ve got you.

The rest of the second album, Beatles For Sale, is less of a bang, it’s weighed down with rock and roll covers and seems more old fashioned than what’s gone before. In Everybody’s Trying to be my Baby I hear Gene Vincent’sRace With the Devil, but it turns out to be a version of a song by Carl Perkins. The Beatles were planted in rock and roll, but they soon had to grow up and out — or we wouldn’t be taking about them now.

It’s hard to think that they are anything but John Lennon’s backing band at this point — he sings, or takes lead vocals anyway, you get the feeling that it’s his choice of song and his choice of style. They are hamstrung by format in a way that other bands — who make their big leaps forward before they’re really worked out what they’re doing — aren’t. The Beatles are slowly adding their personalities into the songs.

What they do have is a supreme confidence and clarity. Essex poet Martin Newell, a contemporary of John Cooper Clarke, of whom you’d have also heard if your partner was from the Wivenhoe end of the county, has a poem called Chaanng that starts “We are haunted by the sixties/The opening chord of Hard Day’s Night/Hangs frozen in the cold night air”. The songs do come in like a drenching of cold water that clears the head, and now they are letting me listen to them afresh. Newell talks of how people who weren’t there now have to “fall in love at second sight” and that’s still the problem; the music is fine but the band aren’t mine.

Ticket to Ride and Drive my Car back on to each other for me, a lyrical clash between the girl they are letting go — who has a bus pass — and the one they want, who has her driving licence sorted.

Paperback Writer is a lyrical handbrake turn for popular music, it’s a song that lets everything go through as subtext. The written half of a pop song would never be the same — they are really flying now. And as we hitRevolver something happens; I have a bit of a headache and it does seem that I’m getting new perspectives on long familiar tracks.

I’m Only Sleeping is what we’re told LSD must be like. It forms a cultural shorthand for our short-handed culture.

Jeff Lynne’s ears prick up at the strings at around this point, and ELO are formed. Thank God.

On Sgt Pepper my fresh ears let me see that it’s Lucy In the Sky, not Being For the Benefit of Mr Kyte, that is the novelty record. Mr Kyte is timeless, but Lucy now sounds like Peter Lawford looks in 1968’s Salt and Pepper: made up for, but out of place in swinging London.

We now get some classic singles. It’s clear that whatever the content this band are great, but listening to “the white album” without the weight of history doesn’t help it any. It, to my ears 120 songs in, is shit. It’s the sound of men with no direction, picking up everything they can and letting us all hear it. It’s the only time in the day of The Beatles that I’m close to giving up. It’s not John or Paul who stop me, it’s George; While my Guitar Gently Weeps soothes.

Abbey Road is the white album’s experimentation working right; after a double album where lyrics, ideas, tunes and usable production never all collide, they do here again and again.

I was tweeting as I was listening, and there were three types of response (four if you count the 20 or so people who just unfollowed). Pedantry (do you have the mono or stereo versions and other questions), telling me that they liked particular songs most, or placing the records within the context of their lives. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, derided by popular opinion, was a school choir favourite song for people of roughly my generation. Someone told me how they used to sing every song in order to themselves while waiting for night buses. I assume they picked up each time where they left off, or they wouldn’t ever have got to Let it Be*.

But the thing is it’s almost impossible, more than any other band to look at them without context. The Long and Winding Road is the B842, and knowing that changes everything. Content and context just won’t prise apart.

But I don’t want to separate them really; too many memories would be tarnished. In My Life made little impression on me before it was played at a friend’s funeral, but each and every time I hear it I’m transported to being unable to stand, weeping uncontrollably as others filed out of a modernist church.

I think of The Beatles in a similar way to how I think about cricket or Doctor Who; I’m fascinated by their place in — especially English — culture, love how entwined into our very fabric they are, but most of the time I don’t want to watch, play or listen. They are English culture, or at least a prism through which we can examine it.

There are alternative histories, conspiracies (Paul being dead is just the start), serious articles that pull the group’s first solo materials together as if they were a “lost” album. No other artist or group of artists have taken and withstood such examination, and none are likely ever to come close.

There’s a theory about how ghosts might inhabit our world that talks about waves of feeling we create that are recorded by buildings and other structures. By existing, our emotions embed themselves into the physical world, music and emotion are intertwined and the music of The Beatles has stuck fast in our bricks and mortar.

There’ll never be another Beatles, but I’m pretty sure we could recreate them from their echoes, their traces in our world. By and large that would be a good thing to do.

Which is why when I listen to Free as a Bird — constructed by Paul, George and Ringo, from a Lennon offcut in the 90s — I smile, I like it, it feels like home, I feel fine. It was worth doing.

*Most tracks were from the 2009 remasters, but generally who knows or really cares?

Rubber Soul was and remains my favourite Beatles LP.