Marathon training and injury risk: Beginners mistakes
I am currently 12 weeks away from a marathon. Just writing that would have been inconceivable a year ago and, laugh out loud batshit crazy impossible 2 years ago when running 1.5 miles was the furthest I had ever managed.
So far I have utilised my time well over Christmas, managing to pull off a weekly long run of 11, 12 and 14 miles, as well as shorter more focused runs, runs where I feel a slow hippopotamus in a pair of thermal leggings and others where I’ve felt like I could be Mo Farrah (in my head at least).
But somewhere inbetween the Christmas festivities and New Year, I developed a pain in what I believe to be the inner thigh abductor muscle on one side.
I have a high pain threshold and I am used to developing minor aches pains and twitches as mileage increases.But this has now reached the point where it cannot be ignored and the tried and failed philosophy of “running through the pain” is no longer cutting it.
This is now more of an “oh my god I am limping like a three legged dog” twinge, then my “legs just ache from the distance but I can carry on.” type of ache. My initial unqualified suspicions are that this is a problem in the inner thigh abductor muscle. It is purely on one side and only comes on when I stop running. I have spent the last two nights using Himalayan salts as a muscle soak.
Last week I was feeling …HELL YES, I CAN take this challenge on. I can smash this (even if I end up a hot mess limping train wreck the next day). But now that feeling of invincibility has given way to a reality that I am going to have to get serious about injury prevention and slow things down a notch.
I am booked into a sports physio appointment later today and feeling very anxious whilst I write this, thinking about the prognosis. On the one hand, getting an analysis of my gait, shoes and physiology is potentially going to be a really positive experience that in insight is long overdue. On the other hand, I hoping that no serious problems that put me on the injury bench are going to be discovered.
Here’s Five mistakes NOT to make (hindsight is a wonderful thing)
#1) Do not over train. Repeat this; do NOT over train. This is something that I have now learnt to my peril. Yeah, yeah. I know. You feel great and like you can smash this, having just raced yourself and achieved a 5K personal best. But that approach could turn you into an accident waiting to happen. Don’t “dip in” and go faster or harder than a training plan recommends. The goal is to be able to sustain a 26.2 mile run. This means building up endurance miles over weeks and being able to see those weeks through.Not burning out 10 weeks in with injury.
#2) Do not “run through the pain”. There are theories about “running through” injuries and most runners have a high pain threshold and an ability to tolerate feeling uncomfortable when upping mileages. As the saying goes, no pain, no gain. Right? Wrong. Reading up on this, Kenyan elite runners take an approach of stopping if there is and stop if something is hurting more than it should be. That way, injuries can be caught before they progress through continued hard running on concrete.
#3) Step away from dangerous and pointless machines in the gym. Ladies and gentleman, I bring to you the leg abductor machine – this I believe is the culprit for some of my misery when I decided a few quick goes on this after a 4 mile slow paced treadmill run might help “strengthen my muscles”. When the reality that I now learn is that these machine are a common culprit of injuries. I’m sure many more experienced runners would read this, cringe and think what the hell was she doing?
#4) Do not “cram”. I know that I have precisely 57 minutes from the moment I drop my son at the crèche door and hit the gym. Like most Mum’s my time for exercise and training is very limited, so in a foolish cramming style approach, I used the bloody leg abductor machine. A few other times, I must also confess to racing myself on the treadmill to fit in a 5K run in case I had to stop to perform an ad hoc toddler nappy change. The lesson? No matter how short on time or childcare, don’t adopt an ad hoc, unfocused and rushed approach to your training.
#5) Make an appointment with a physio early on for advice/identify any problems. This is again, something that I should have done at the beginning of my training. But how many of us get put off by financial outlay that may seem at the time unnecessary if you have never suffered from an injury before?
As mother’s we get used to powering through the tiredness and going to work on very little sleep, ignoring minor discomforts that come from things like getting used as a human climbing frame by a toddler or constantly lifting car seats that feel like they are made of lead.
My biggest lesson in this experience to date has been don’t fall into an “ignorance is bliss”, trap when it comes to injury and training for distance running. Just because you feel relatively fit and have previously conquered half marathons, 10ks and 5ks injury free, does not mean you are immune from getting injured.
Five ways to make January changes that last for life
It’s the second week back at work in January. For many of us, the aftershocks of post festive over indulgence on our bank accounts and waist lines are now being felt alongside the back to work gloom and broken resolutions. It’s usually around now in this season of mid-winter bleakness, that we are left wondering if we are really capable of putting our “new year, new me” resolutions to good use.
I’ve been guilty of this too, finding myself reaching for the biscuit tin and left over Christmas chocolates and falling into instant diet self sabotage.
But before you fall off the wagon completely, it’s time to rethink and reclaim January.
1.Recognise that January is just one month.
A famous and well known quote by Bill Gates is that “most people over estimate what they can achieve in one year and underestimate what they can achieve in five years.” That same philosophy can be applied to the flurry of well-intentioned changes that people try to usher into their lives in January. January can be a time to begin to establish and to set up habits and ground work that you then continue to work on for the rest of the year. Let’s just be honest. There is only so much you can do at once and only so much that you can feel motivated to do when the weather is bleak, funds low and the year has only just got started.
Instead, use this time to start up good habits and plan mini goals for throughout the year.
You could start by
Getting up 20 minutes earlier each day to begin with stretching and some quick exercise
Researching protein rich healthy meals that can be prepared on a budget
Aiming to walk more and taking the stairs every morning
Aiming to do one thing, however small every day towards a skills that you are trying to develop.
2. Think about what it is that you actually want and visualise how obtaining it would make you feel.
Whatever the goal, visualise what it is that you specifically want. How would you feel hitting your goal weight, crossing the finish line at that marathon, or branching out into a new career? See it and now absorb the feeling that it evokes.
Next, make your intentions public. Tell other people and join online support forums.
Announcing your goals makes things all the more real and as other people are now aware, they are potentially holding you to account. Engaging with social media support groups enables you to network amongst people striving for similar or even greater goals and can act as a boost of positive influence.
3. Take action and set dates that you have to make.
This works especially well for fitness. Instead of generalised thoughts and goals about wanting to “get fit” or “lose weight”, sign up to actual events. Take action and sign up to a 5K, a 10K or another sporting event. Force yourself into a position where you have to change your lack of weekly exercise.
Sign up to weight loss programmes or a course you are interested in taking. From personal experience I have found this to be a highly effective approach. You are setting specific time limited goals, there is no space to coast along without focus.
4. A bad day or a relapse is not a reason to give up
Let’s be real. Just because it is a new year, does not mean that overnight that you have become a new you. You will still be the old you, until you are able to change you daily routines and habits. That means that falling off the preverbal wagon and making errors is going to be a reality. By mid-January you may not have stuck to your diet as planned or still be going to the gym. But it’s time to get up and keep having a crack at things, regardless of setbacks. The road to change is paved with setback, relapses, missed workouts and occasional junk food binges
5. Remember: You are still the old you, so love the old you
The reality is that nothing about the calendar moving from December to January automatically transforms you into a “new you”. You are the same old you, with the same habits, lifestyle and choices. Old you is going to have to gradually change these in order to become “new you”. This is going to take commitment to changing daily habits and routines, believing in yourself and practising self love. Believe in current you, because current you has carried you through life up until now and is actually pretty damn awesome. It is not January that will get you to your goals. January merely offers the opportunity for a dark, cold fresh winter slate to start putting intentions into action.
Many people find January a difficult month. It can feel like the days span out into an endless dark abyss until the long awaited pay day at the end of the month. But it needn’t be that way. January can be a replenishing time to reboot from the past year and the excesses of the festive season. A time to goal set and spring clean from bad habits.
Go easy on yourself. Nobody says you have to pull off a detox, weight loss, train for a half marathon and launch a new career, all before February.
Recent years have seen an explosion in the discussion of “narcissism” online. Overwhelmingly, this has been in terms of the devastating impact that abuse in childhood and the ongoing legacy of being an adult child of a Narcissistic parent can have upon a person’s psyche. From online forums, to YouTube channels and psychology articles; never before have those that have suffered in childhood had so many available resources to connect the dots between experiences of having been scape goated, the feeling of “waiting for the other shoe to drop” and parental narcissism.
Online support communities have enabled survivors to network and share coping strategies, thereby reducing the shame, damage and isolation that they may have previously experienced.
But how can the life long toxic residue that these experiences leave behind be explained to people from the other side. The people who have only ever known healthy loving, functional, boundaried family relationships? How can they be brought to life to educate others why a person with childhood C-PTSD can’t just get over it? Or how things like sharing a simple Facebook meme about a mother’s love will silently be experienced as a stab in the heart to a friend somewhere in their network?
I bring you to season 7 of the Walking Dead and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s depiction of Negan. This season, viewers have been picked up and dropped a world dominated by the inner workings of a man who is the personification of the dysfunction, terror, fear, guilt and obligation that malignant dark triad individuals leave in their wake.
The Walking Dead may be a post apocalyptic fictional world ravaged by zombies, but as we learnt many seasons ago, it is not about the zombies, who merely act as the dark force that has unravelled society. I strongly believe that throughout history story telling and fiction has had the ability to capture and explain truths about the human condition. Stories can act as poignant allegories for what we at times struggle to explain.
Negan may be a leering despot with a baseball bat wrapped in wire; but there is a universality in the tactics of narcissism. A narcissistically abusive person could be a suburban middle class housewife, an executive who has multiple affairs and bullies his family or in fact anyone from any social strata.
These are personalities characterised by an inflated sense of self-importance, an inability to reflect or admit fault, obsessive preoccupation with ones’ own needs. A fragile and insecure sense of self is masked by grandiose and often times bullying and coercive behaviours in inter personal relationships.
Negan uses extreme violence specifically murdering Glenn and Abraham, to inflict psychological pain and trauma upon the entire group. We learn from Jesus that this is a tactic he has deployed before. He talks arbitrarily about “the rules” as if his behaviour is not only justified but fair and reasonable. This act is about re-wiring people’s brain’s into a trauma state where they are made to feel that submitting to him is their route to survival. As is all to often the case in narcissistically abusive family units, scape goated adult children become “trauma bonded” and even as adults unable to fully break away from the dynamics, despite how devalued they may feel. Their self-worth and ability to survive outside the family has essentially been cut off at the knees by the continual attacks upon their self-esteem and self-worth. Attempts at independence are met with rage and contempt by the narcissistically abusive member.
2. Degradation of a Sense of Self
In a healthy family setting, a child is free to develop a unique, separate identity of his/her own; they are encouraged to be an individual with their own unique qualities and life view. Emotional warmth coupled with encouraging a child to develop their autonomy sets in place a solid and secure sense of self in preparation for adulthood. This is not so in the narcissistic family system. Narcissistic parents do not welcome boundaries between themselves and their children. Even as adults, the children of a narcissist are regarded as extensions of the parent.
In the Walking Dead, we see how Negan deliberately seeks to scrub away at a person’s identity, by any means necessary. This is how Negan remains in command and consolidates power over others. Daryl is subjected to solitary confinement and torture in East Street. Negan operates from what looks like a factory, that feels constructed to practically control people. In a bizarre fashion, his group the Saviours all answer “I am Negan” when asked their name or “we are all Negan”. They have abandoned their sense of self; Negan has become their sense of self.
Back to real life and what is often times the over-riding dynamic in a suburban narcissistically abusive family unit, is the spouse and other family members trying to keep the lid on the volcano and pandering to the narcissist. As a result, life is seen through the prism of the narcissistic parents needs’. People may not answer, “I am Negan” but on a subconscious level, this environment primes children for co-dependency later in life. Adult children of Narcissist’s frequently wake up to find that their sense of self is completely fractured. They do not know who they really are or where their thoughts and feelings start and end. They do not know how to set boundaries with others and are not consciously in touch with their own needs. As a result, by adolescence, they are often prime targets for those outside of the home looking to abuse or exploit them.
3.The role of the “Enablers”
Negan has presence, poise and a menacing whiff of psychopathy. But he does not have huge bulking muscles, he is not 7ft tall and he is not the terminator. In fact, if they united, his followers could easily take Lucielle off him and over power him.
He is able to murder, imprison, cajole, torture and dominate others all because of his army of enablers and facilitators. The Saviours have become so trauma bonded and lacking in sense of self, that they are willing to capitulate to him, whatever his demands. As the series has gone on, we have come to see how Dwight is less of a henchman and more a victim in his own right, just one that has decided his interests are best served by capitulating to Negan. Like the others, Dwight will go along with Negan and watch others be killed or have their face melted with an iron; just so long as he is no longer on the receiving end.
“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”
A Narcissist will often times pair up with a spouse that acts as an Enabler to their behaviours. The Narcissist is not looking for a meaningful or authentic relationship that is built on mutual trust and respect but rather somebody that will not call them out on their s***. The Enabler has decided that to call the Narcissist out on their verbal or violent outbursts, grandiose behaviour and inability to give and take is simply not worth the shattering of the family illusion. Typically, the Enabler may complain and commiserate with others about the situation and the Narcissist’s overt behaviours, but will then still sit at the dinner table with the Narcissist every Christmas or Thanksgiving to perpetuate the family illusion.
4.Violation, Violence, Gaslighting and ” the rules”
Negan operates via rules that he repeats several times and sticks to, creating the illusion that there is a fairness and predictability to his behaviour. In real life narcissistically abuse family units, it may not be attacks with a barbed wire baseball bat; but verbal abuse, violence and threatening communications that make it clear that challenging the family “rules” laid down by the Narcissist will not be tolerated. For example, terse, emotionally manipulative phone calls if you have other plans for Christmas.Raging anger from the parent when seemingly their needs are not placed centre stage and sometimes outright threats if you attempt to cut contact. Respect for the adult child’s boundaries and autonomy as an individual are disregarded, as interfering in relationships, coercion and rabid verbal attacks can all become fair game.
“Gaslighting”, is a form of psychological abuse designed to confuse and disoriented a victim to the extent that they do not trust their own memory and perceptions. If a an adult child of a narcissist challenges the unspoken rules and demands fairness, the narcissist will deny, minimise and reconstruct entire conversations. For example, “I only said it as a joke”, “that wasnt what was meant at all” “in fact, you are the one that ought to be apologising !” (after they have verbal abused or insulted you). The enablers will support whatever madness is put out to defend the family “system” and illusion of togetherness. Demanding subservience from scape goat members are the key dynamics of narcissistic families.
5.Flip-Flopping Between Rage and Charm
Negan is unpredictable. He will keep you off-balance and one minute react with rage; on other occasions with charm. As he says to Carl “its more productive to break you, more fun to”. The whole sequence with Rick being tricked into thinking he had to cut off Carl’s arm was nothing but a game intended to break Rick.
He has no boundaries and confuses victims by alternating from one mood and tactic to another. For example, degrading and insulting Carl at how disgusting his eye socket looks, then flipping the script and telling Carl that he that should be proud. This rage/charm dynamic is what so frequently charactrises interactions with narcissistic personalities in real life. Far from being completely out of control, Narcissitic personalities often have the capabilities to behave very different in public to put on a false “mask” of respectability. The Narcissitic parent may also flip between telling a child or an adult child that want them to succeed and be a high achievers, but then also use abuse and put downs such as “you’ll never amount to anything” and “your ugly”. This creates a level of cognitive dissonance and perpetuates a dynamic of being kept continually off balance. Plus, you are having to continually try and protect your self worth from the verbal equilivant of precision bombing raids.
Cutting Ties: Game Over
Many people who have survived a narcissistically abusive family unit and healed from the damage will testify that this has only happened after going “no contact.” Going no contact is decision that is not taken lightly. In many cases it means cutting all ties with other family members still under the Narcissist’s influence, being written out of wills, or any financial inheritance losing access to nieces/nephews and/or grand parents for their children as well fulling confronting the loss of the happy family illusion that never was.
But the role that “no contact” plays in healing can be tremendous. Exposure to the damaging verbal attacks, gas lighting and toxic, intrusive dynamics is immediately reduced. Indeed in his renowned and outstanding book on the topic Complex PTSD, From Surviving to Thriving, Trauma Therapist Pete Walker identifies that many of his adult clients were only able to stop living in a flight/fight/fawn triggered response state when contact with the source of their developmental trauma was removed. Just like how we see Negan wanting to continue the status quo of his reign at all costs, attempts to go no contact are not understood or welcomed by the family unit. Adult children of Narcissists can encounter a level of harassment or a smear campaign that combined with their previous trauma, can trigger acute anxiety responses.
In the episode Swear, Tara becomes separated from Heath and ends up at Oceanside, a female only community. It is only when she tries to escape that one of the women reveals the full scale of their suffering at the hands of Negan and the Saviours; all of the men and boys over 12 were murdered .
But then one night, the women left, got away and and slowly rebuilt their lives, building a community from the ground up. They are prepared to pay any price necessary for Negan not to find them again.
Without over dramatizing or trivializing experiences of abuse, this scene on one level serves as a powerful allegory for how many survivors feel having broken away from the abusive dynamics and having reclaimed their lives and sense of self after going No contact.
The Walking Dead has been extremely uncomfortable to watch at times this season and there has been a notable drop in the ratings. I believe that this is in part, reflective of not just slower paced story lines, but how psychologically challenging it has been for audiences to watch the damage to people’s psyche’s that Negan inflicts and the frustrations of how everyone around him capitulates.
Last Wednesday, the UK Chancellor Phillip Hammond put forward the government’s Autumn statement; his first major economic policy announcement, post the Brexit vote last June.
The headline grabber announcement was a ban on letting agents charging excessive referencing and admin fees. These fees had long become symbolic of rip off Britain and the stacking of the odds against the “have nots.”
The statement did put forward plans for increased spending on infra structure. To be exact one of the specific policies is going to be £2.3 billion to act as a Housing Infrastructure Fund to build up to 100,000 new homes. Additionally there were also minimal rises to the minimum wage and plans for increased spending on the transport network. But these steps towards greater investment came with an austerity tinged sting in the tail that “it restates our commitment to living within our means.”
But most memorable has been the coining of the phrase “Jam” or families that are “just about managing”.
We had “hard working families” under Gordon Brown. The “squeezed” middle, as referred to by Ed Miliband. Now make way for the Jam. But who are the “just about managing?”.
When Teresa May entered Number 10 Downing street last July, she pledged to help ordinary working families, that were just about managing. In terms of rhetoric , there is recognition that the brazen and unapologetic austerity of the Osbourne era had become politically toxic and perhaps played a pivotal role in the fate of the government’s “Remain” campaign.
According to the Resolution Foundation, there are approximately 6 million “just about managing” families in Britain. Some estimates have pointed to families that are earning between £16,000 and £28,000, but that could be on as much as up to £50,000; if they have several children to feed, clothe and pay childcare for. The Resolution Foundation says that home ownership amongst this group has plummeted from 59% in 1995 to 26% last year, meaning that many more after a lifetime of working, will face poverty as they pay rent into old age.
“Jam” is actually the category that I believe that I fit into as a working parent, with childcare costs on my income bracket. Families that are either working class or lower middle class that are in work, trying to make ends meet but left have very little in terms of money left over or savings should a broken boiler or car repair hit.
But does this coining of a new social class category represent anything beyond political rhetoric from the Tories? The beauty and the problem with coining a phrase like Jam is that it resonates with just about everybody. Across the social class spectrum, people collectively feel that they are “just about managing”.
This was made all the more apparent when within days of the Autumn statement, a case study feature appeared in the Daily Mail, claiming that families on £50,000 and in fact £100,000 were the just about managing. In one case this was by merit of the fact that two parents working full time were struggling to pay their mortgage and childcare payments with a combined income of £100k. In another case study, the family are having to take on extra shifts to also pay some of the costs on a buy to let property. Now call me a cynic, but equating people having difficulty with paying off mortgages that will later act as nest eggs, with others struggling to pay market rent and less than a month’s savings, for their entire future, represents a conflation of the issues.
Undoubtedly, people across the social class spectrum have felt a squeeze on their living standards and incomes over the past 6 years.
But this is where the government’s reluctance to define these widely resonating umbrella terms becomes a stroke of populist genius. Everybody from the double income £100k households down to low earners who have seen tax credits cut, feels like they are “just about managing”, comparatively speaking to pre 2008 living standards. Problematically, abbreviations like “jams” also project a level of emotional and intellectual disconnect from people. They can now be talked about as if they are defined by membership to a neatly defined category.
This budget did not go anywhere near far enough to address the legacy of the shameful lack of investment in Britain and the contraction of local economies that the politics of austerity has produced over the past 6 years.
The sobering reality of the situation is that according to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, UK workers have suffered the most sustained pay squeeze since the 1920s.
Rises to the minimum wage are a positive step, however one that is minimal. A large majority of “just about managing” workers are paid more than the minimum wage, in some cases up to almost £10 per hour more and still struggling.
As we know, three key areas impacting most severely upon people’s living standards are lack of housing and excessively high market rents, childcare costs, stagnating wages and freezes on benefits/Local Housing Allowance.
In many areas, market rent has now soared several hundreds of pounds per month over and above Local Housing Allowance levels. Meanwhile, Tax Credits, a benefit supposed to have lifted families out of poverty and compliment paid work, have instead become a necessity to plug the gaps between declining wages, sky-high rents and soaring living costs. And this is before consideration is given to how continued freezes, reductions in the taper rate and outsourcing of eligibility to firms like Concentrix have made Tax Credits increasingly precarious and of less value.
In the public sector, austerity has meant that wages have been capped and frozen. Workers have seen the real term value of their salary fall through the floor since 2010.
Recent analysis by the TUC shows that nurses and other public sector professionals will be £4,000 worse off by 2021, as a result of continuing pay freezes and a current 1% cap.
Putting the brakes on letting agents rip off fees is a welcome move that ironically was initially called for by Ed Miliband and deemed unworkable by the Conservatives, who now appear to have stolen Labour’s clothes in terms of rhetoric. But just like coining the phrase “jam,” this move was also effective headline grabbing PR. Letting agents have long fallen victim to their own greed as these non-refundable fees have spiralled into what can amount to £100s simply for printing off and overseeing a bog standard tenancy agreement. The Tories can now look like they are Robin Hood speaking for the “jams” by implementing this policy amdist a backdrop of very little structural reform in the economy.
Slight raises to the minimum wage, token building of a measly 100,000 homes and cannot address the deep structural inequalities and collapse in any kind of mobility that a housing crisis, sprinkled in with 6 years of counterproductive austerity have produced.
One of the only welcomed and talked about policies of George Osbourne, which has yet to come into fruition, was the pledge to provide 30 hours of term time free childcare to the families of 3 and 4 year olds with parents in work. But with only 10 months to go until this should be going live, no one on the ground seems to know how it will be paid for or even if it is still going ahead.
Looking around another nursery last week for my son who will be 3 in September 2017, I was once again advised that the rate of payment put forward by the government is so low that many nurseries simply will not be signing up to the scheme.
Addressing the real causes of poverty and the legacy of under investment in the British economy, post austerity is going to be a long and rocky road that the government will have to show real commitment to.
Lets hope that it is a commitment that runs deeper than just populist rhetoric.
It feels as though we are slowly hurtling towards the end of the year. There are 6 weeks left of 2016.
Temperatures are dropping. Leaves are no longer in bloom as glorious and rustic reds, gold or orange tones, but sodden and fermenting in the ground beneath our feet. As I drive home, trees on our street have bare branches that increasingly look like bleak skeletons shivering in the colder air. There are 6 weeks left of 2016.
Earlier on this week, on November 14th we passed through a “Super Moon”.
The full “super” moon on November 14th 2016, represented the closest point the moon has come to earth thus far in the 21st century. The moon won’t come this close again until November 25, 2034.
In theory the moon was bigger and brighter than it had been for 60 years. In reality, as far as I could tell, it could barely be seen through the clouds and damp air . In between a full day’s work, dark and dreary cloudy skies driving home, putting a toddler to bed and falling asleep half way through The Walking Dead, looking wistfully at the super moon was not on my monday to-do-list.
But….I believe that it is not only necessary but critical to at times take stock and be mindful of our inner feeling state and the energies that we surround ourselves with.
Perhaps it’s just a reflection of the hype that there has been about this, but I have felt that this “supermoon”, mirrors a huge energy shift that is currently taking place in the world.
I know. That sounds like a line straight from a Take a Break astrology column. But I base my feeling on a combination of intuition and my observations of what we can take away from the changes of 2016.
Whether or not people feel happy and comfortable with the changes that have taken place this year, and particularly over the last week with the US election result, the really significant part is that they have been jolted awake. Change offers the opportunity for growth.
The events of 2016 have meant that the failings of the old politics , on both the left and the right, have been laid bare. The establishment and old ways of doing things were rejected, both at Brexit and now with Trump. In the process, the paint was peeled off so many things that as individuals and a society, we had tried to keep hidden or just accepted as we trundled along our daily lives.
As a result, the landscape of “liberalism” is now going through a period of being dramatically redrawn.
I believe that if people are able to act with self-reflection and openness, then we are entering a period of time that represents a momentous opportunity for the left to re-engage with people who have felt disconnected and disenfranchised from a politics that for far too long, was obsessed with identity and political correctness. it left behind swathes of the working middle class whose opportunities have been curtailed by the economy.
This was simply not good enough. It is now time for people to be brought back in.
This year, the accepted premise that neo-liberal economics should dominate the world, no matter what the impact upon the ordinary working man has started to be questioned and rejected by more of the population. The notion that people will just continue accepting a form of capitalism that doesnt even offer the basics, can no longer just be assumed by those in government.
The notion that the west should not seek better relations with Russia has also, been questioned. And the power of the mainstream media has drifted into a sea of irrelevancy as we now see how they got the story so wrong.
These are all things that hold the potential for deep and fundamental shifts from the old “accepted” ways of doing things into more a more positive direction.Globalism has been failing people. Deadlocked foreign relations that lead to never-ending wars in places like Syria have failed people. Poisonous mainstream media conglomerates that spin divisive rhetoric have failed people.
The shift that the Trump election has brought, represents a challenge to the norms that allowed all of those things to be accepted. Like or loathe the election outcome, but what I am trying to say is it represents a change, and change represents opportunity.
The left and liberalism must now take an honest and self-reflective inventory of where it is at and what direction it needs to travel in.
All of this may sound very overly optimistic, I know.
2016 has been a time of upheaval, growth, lessons learnt and potentially cataclysmic change to the world .Yet for the first time in many years, my feeling is that 2017 can and will be a time that we see more positive changes in the world.
In the early hours of November 9th, I was nudged awake by my toddler son, stirring in his sleep in his usual middle of the night routine, asking for a drink. Bleary eyed and half coherent, just before I tried making myself go back to sleep, I flicked on my TV.
It was 2.30am and as results for the US Presidential election began rolling in, the Republican candidate Donald Trump was consistently doing better than anticipated. As the night wore on and states such as Florida and North Caroline turned red, the narrative shifted in tone from how unlikely Trump’s bid for Presidency would be to how increasingly unlikely that Hilary Clinton would now have any route to the White house left. The shock amongst BBC studio pundits like Andrew Neil was palpable and clear to see for anyone tuning in.
This coverage of a stateside drama unfolding in the early hours of the morning, felt strangely reminiscent of the night of June 23rd and Brexit. On that night, the BBC presenters having spent weeks acting as a mouth piece for the establishment Remain camp and presenting us with over optimistic polls, were visibly shocked as one of the first set of the results came in, Sunderland, unveiling that a shock 80% of people had backed the Leave camp.
But back to America. In the run up to the US election, my post Hilary Clinton and the crisis of liberal feminism warned that Clinton was offering a glossy corporate brand of gender based politics that was Neo liberal, corporate and offering no palpable sense of change to the average middle or working class American.
One of the key slogans of the Clinton campaign was “im with Her”. The logic appeared to be that women would vote for Hilary by virtue of their gender, by virtue of wanting to see the highest and hardest glass ceiling smashed and by virtue of Hilary promoting the rights of the individual, eg transgender bathrooms and abortion. This was identity politics at its most bold. In late October an Access Hollywood tape was released in which Mr Trump was heard making lewd and boastful comments about women. This was seen as a further perfect springboard for the Clinton campaign to capture the female vote. Hilary stood against demeaning misogyny and sexism; all the things we were told her opponent Trump embodied. What’s more, Hilary was now endorsed by Beyonce and Jay Z, not to mention Katy Perry who took to the stage in a cape emboldened with “Im with Her”.
Women and particularly young millenial women, would surely flock to the voting booths in force.It felt as though the pundits on the night thought that Clinton had the presidency in the bag . The night would be a breezy victory run, they were not anticipating a rollercoaster ride in the opposite direction.
It became evident that beyond the metropolitan bubbles, many women had cast their votes for Trump. As I watched in the early hours, it was mentioned that 51% of white women in Ohio had voted Trump. His vote was far less amongst minority women, but yet not none existent as we might have expected from the predictions of the Clinton campaign.
Yet this is where simplistic liberal narratives and identity politics become completely unstuck and in all honesty, guilty of oppressive assumptions.
My feeling is that the Clinton campaign failed in any meaningful way to address the issue of the “sharp end of capitalism”. By that I mean the increasing numbers of working and middle class women who are struggling to make ends meet after decades of neo liberal economic policy in the United States and indeed across the western world. They are struggling to balance insecure and suppressed wages with housing, child care and health care costs. They are struggling in economically depressed areas where heavy industry has been outsourced and men have lost their jobs. They are struggling to envision a life that offers not so much an American dream, but just a decent standard of living.
In this context, what matters most is not celebrity endorsement or glass ceiling symbolism, but a candidate that communicates to the back to basics core concerns about jobs, the economy and the high cost of living.
Far from automatically representing an “internalisation of misogyny” this instead signals that working and middle class women do not just automatically buy into narratives of gender and simplistic identity politics. What Trump provided was the ability to communicate a set of economic policies that offered hope beyond the status quo to the electorate with his “Make America Great Again” campaign. Now whether or not Trump can actually deliver on these is a separate matter. But the point is, he was able to tap into how much these people felt that they need the system to change.
The reality is that meditating on the nature of misogyny and hashtagging about everyday sexism are a lot easier to do when you have a comfortable standard of living or live in the cosy confines of a university campus. It’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, these “ideals” are not in the forefront of your concerns when being able to pay the bills and putting food on the table are not guaranteed. As great as ideological ideals about challenging everyday sexism are, they offer nothing of any economic or immediate substance to working class women who continue to grapple with acute and glaring poverty. And there in lies the inability of this brand of liberalism to connect to the working classes.
It is likely that many women will have weighed up Trump’s sexist and offensive remarks and made a decision about just how much a deal breaker they were, based on what else he had to offer. For many, his talk about jobs and bringing back prosperity to America, came further up their hierarchy of concerns then the “im with her” on challenging sexism narrative.
The world is now on course for a Trump presidency. As much as the media are enjoying relentlessly scare mongering everybody about this prospect, the focus ought to also be on how and why did Trump resonate with many voters and what does the liberal left need to do differently.
If liberalism is to be a credible political force, it must now move away from the obsessive focus upon identity politics that this campaign has highlighted. Narratives of glass ceilings and celebrities are by and large, indulgences that focus upon the needs and gratification of the individual. It resonates wonderfully amongst the economically well off and the chattering classes, but offers little to those struggling “at the sharp end”.
In the aftermath, we are seeing another post Brexit similarity. A media narrative that tars anyone who has deviated from perceived liberal norms by voting for the other candidate, with the buzzwords of “hate”, “bigot” and “misogyny”. This is not to deny or minimise that multiple layers of discrimination still exist in society. Nor is it to deny that at times during the campaign, Mr Trump used inflammatory and divisive language. But the way that these words are now loosely thrown around to explain why half a nation voted, is grossly simplistic, presumptious and leaves no space for reflection about the more nuanced, economic or policy based rationale that will have driven many to make their choice.
To suggest that everyone and their voting choices can be stereotyped into neat little identity pigeon holes, is a further symtom of “identity politics”.Labelling people as “bigots”, “not understanding misogyny” or ” a basket of deplorables”, simply shuts down discussion and means that attention does not have to be paid to the detrimental macro economic factors that have so severely impacted people’s lives in the last few years.
There must be acknowledgment on the left that ordinary working people want change and transformation, because a model of capitalism that barely even offers them the basics, is simply not working. For good or for ill, economic populism and upheaval to agaisnt the Neo liberal status quo is now becoming a powerful driving force for change across the western world.
My feeling is that if it wasn’t Mr Trump that managed to tap into this, there would have been another Trump, it was only a matter of time.
But what could play into the hands of the Leave argument, that we are being run by an unaccountable class of technocrats, more than the spectacle of a millionaire persuading three upper class members of the British judiciary that the views of 17.2 million people are potentially irrelevant?
The odds of a “snap” general election being called have now been slashed.
The SNP and the party’s voters still oppose leaving the EU.
Yet crucially if a snap general election is called, the majority of Leave seats are in Labour areas. Jeremy Corbyn has been clear that Labour have accepted the Brexit vote and have plans for a post Brexit Britain.
It seems highly unlikely that a general election would stop Brexit.
Rather than being a final roll of the dice to prevent Brexit, a call for parliamentary vote is likely to result simply in Brexit being given a parliamentary mandate.
As the race to the White House enters it’s final week, Clinton is showing a slight lead. The ever-increasing prospect of a female President continues to be met with enthusiasm by liberal feminists.
Throughout the presidential campaign, Clinton has sought to ensure her message hits common ground with female voters. Last week she told a rapturous female crowd at Cedar Rapids, Iowa; “You know, maybe it’s a woman thing, we love making lists, right?” .
Yet drill beneath this scripted rhetoric that resonates so wonderfully with women, and Clinton’s damning political record should in fact distinguish her as one of the most harmful candidates to women in recent history.
Clinton represents a carefully crafted brand of liberal, corporate feminism. This is a brand of feminism that views the ascendancy of a woman to the White House as the moment that the glass ceiling will be symbolically shattered. The moment that our daughters will see that there really are no limits to their potential. To “feminist” proponents of the Clinton brand, it does not matter that the woman to shatter the glass ceiling arguably represents the worst and most corrupt aspects of the privileged, white wealthy 1%. Nor does it matter that Clinton has shown a lust for aggressive foreign policy and military action in Libya, Iraq and Syria.
Because this is a brand of feminism that does not seek to acknowledge the lived experiences of women who are not part of the liberal American elite. It does not concern itself with inconvenient realities like foreign policy.
Amongst Clinton supporters there is a profound, almost myopic refusal to acknowledge the unpalatable political realities of the Clinton’s.
Take for example the impact of Bill Clinton’s welfare policies, endorsed by Hilary, upon low-income and ethnic minority women and their families. In 1996, Bill Clinton joined with the Republican US Congress to implement dramatic and sweeping changes to welfare with the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act.
The Act has continued to be heavily criticised for driving up the numbers of American children living in deep poverty. In Living History Hilary recalled that; “By the time Bill and I left the White House, welfare rolls had dropped 60 percent”. State authorities came under pressure to severely curtail numbers of welfare payments to parent’s in need of assistance. Drug testing, finger printing and a surveillance style approach were all adopted towards mother’s applying for welfare. This criminalization of poor single mothers has resulted in Black and minority ethnic women disproportionately having their children removed. Furthermore, it is now widely considered that Bill Clinton’s Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, fuelled an upsurge in racist mass incaceration.
Hilary Clinton famously sat on the board of Wal-Mart between 1986 and 1992. Fellow board member, John Tate famously said; “Labour unions are nothing but blood sucking parasites”. Clinton was implicit in ensuring that Wal-Mart employee’s wages were continually suppressed to maximise profits.
The focus of an authentic feminism should be affording every citizen protection from economic hardship. Yet the neo liberal economic policies that Hilary Clinton is so ingratiated towards, hit women and children the hardest. It is working class and minority mother’s and their children who are the prinary victims of welfare cuts, insecure housing and suppresed wage growth. These policies come cynically packaged with the Hilary Clinton public rhetoric that promoting the rights of women “has been the cause of her life”.
An authentic brand of feminism should also consider the rights of women in Syria, Libya and Iraq. Do these women’s lives not matter when they are subjected to aggressive military bombing campaigns?
When faced with these charges and the Wikileaks spectacle, the default position of Clinton’s supporters is typically a deflection to the shortcomings of Trump. Trump we are told is a groping, misogynistic throwback to a bygone era. Trump wants to take women’s rights away. What’s more, to fail to endorse Hilary is to favour “hate”.
It is a narrative that seeks to shut down any challenge to the accepted political status quo.
If this is all liberal feminism has to offer, it is in existential crisis.
Hilary Clinton as the first female president, will not represent a momentous moment for feminism. That moment will come when we have a politics of substance that advances the rights of women from all backgrounds.
For an entire week, I have hesitated, back peddled, put off, made excuses and avoided. And I still have not been able to bring myself to do it.
I’m talking about watching the Season premiere of The Walking Dead season 7.
We all know what happens now. As I had predicted in my blog post on October 15th, Abraham meets the end of Lucielle..The added twist being that Glenn, one of the original cast of the Atlanta five, is then also turned to pulp by Negan.
Abe goes out fighting on one of his one liners, telling Negan; “suck my nuts”. With Glenn on the other hand, we get to see flesh hanging off the bat, his brains oozing and splattering on screen. These two are characters we have known for years. From Atlanta (in Glenn’s case) to the farm, the prison, to Terminus, to Alexandria and then to death at the hands of the “Saviours.”
As if all of this wasn’t enough for one day, a sequence follows with Rick and the hatchet.Negan tries to psychologically break Rick down into believing that the only way the rest of the group will be allowed to live is if he agrees to cut Carl’s arm off. The act is not carried through, right at the last-minute Negan makes Rick stop. But Negan has succeeded: he has broken Rick.
Then just to round the episode off, we are emotionally tortured to maximum effect, with a nonchalant dream sequence of the group sitting around a dinner table, Glenn with the son he will never meet and Abraham and Sacha exuding happiness.
Just watching extracts of that was actual torture.
It is hard to think of a show where the audience develop attachments to characters like this over a period of literally years, only for the journey to end with a ringside seat to sadistic execution.
Maybe I’m not a hardcore fan. Perhaps I have no appreciation for the comics. I do understand that the deaths and unrelenting sadism of Negan are all part of the story telling, providing us with the type of adrenalin and shock that keeps the narrative raw, brutal and alive.Yet when it came down to it, I still have not brought myself to play the episode in it’s full entirity.
Yep. I am a Walking Dead, peak at the spoilers and watch episodes out of sequence, special kind of wuss.
So last night I poured myself a glass of wine, tuned into the FOX channel at 9pm and settled down for the evening, safe in the knowledge that with episode 2, I would be transported directly into the world of the Kingdom. No brains being splattered. No raging, gloating sociopaths . No paradoxically named “Saviours.”
We saw how a highly organised and advanced community “the kingdom” has flourished. The Kingdom is what Alexandria could have been, had it been ran not by a reckless Rick or an inexperienced Deanna but Ezekiel; an enigmatic softly spoken leader with a Tiger. Ezekiel knows when to use brute force and when to stand back and apply well thought through intuition.
This was the Carol and Morgan show as far as “the group” is concerned. Ezekiel immediately saw through Carol’s “I have no clue what’s going on and I’m just a woman who loves baking cookies” pretend persona.
Perhaps sensing a common ground, Ezekiel wastes no time in revealing what lies beneath his alter ego and unveiling his back story to Carol. This is remarkably early for the audience to be getting a back story from a character in the TWD. Remember how it took an entire season and a half to learn the story of Michonne, her sword and the son we never met?
We learnt that Ezekiel was originally a zoo keeper who rescued Shiva in the start of the outbreak. Fortune and circumstances combined with Ezekiel’s background in community theatre, meant that he developed a persona of grandeur and leadership with Shiva by his side. It is a persona that he is not afraid to drop in front of Carol.
“Cards on the table. Nothing up my sleeve. I’d appreciate you keep this between us, though. For them. And, yeah, a little bit for me.”
Could this emotional openness and early acknowledgement that they are both hiding behind carefully comstructed false selves, be setting the scene for a future romance between Ezekiel and Carol?
Or, could it signify that we wont know Ezekiel for long?
Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, we are still yet to find out the fate of Father Gabe, Judith, Tara and the rest of the group left back at Alexandria…..
HMRC chief Jon Thomson yesterday announced that the government will not be using privately contracted firms, such as Concentrix again to investigate and target those in receipt of Tax Credits.
Concentrix are an American multi million pound equity firm, who had been paid on a payment by results basis to cut the UK government’s Tax credits bill.
For any of the thousands of people across the UK that were targeted by Concentrix, this news will come as not only a welcome relief , but a victory.
Last month following a grass-roots Facebook campaign organised by parents that were suffering at the hands of Concentrix, the Government announced that HMRC would not renew the contract with Concentrix.
Cases picked up by mainstream media highlighted how a teenage mother had her Tax Credit’s stopped because she was accused of being in a relationship with a dead pensioner. When Concentrix were informed of this, she was told that Mr deceased still needed to contact Concentrix, to confirm his new address.
Another mother was accused of having an ongoing relationship with “McColl’s”, a chain of high street news agents .
Welcome to the Kafkaesque twilight zone, brought to you courtesy of Concentrix and the payment by results approach to welfare.
But what about the stories behind the headlines?
This August, inbetween the summer holiday and back to school Facebook statuses, a series of alarming posts began popping into my news feed:
“I’m struggling with skipping meals and being diabetic, my blood sugar is dipping a lot, is anyone else managing this?”
“three children and been living off hardly anything for 5 weeks, accused me of living with the previous tenant, now got to take the kids to the other side of the city to stand and wait for the food bank”
“we are literally living off nothing and the electricity was off all of last night, in the dark with the kids”.
These are just some examples of the hundreds of posts that were being sent to the Concentrix Mum’s Facebook page.
A member of the group myself, I had initially found the page to be a source of advice and sanctuary after my dealings with Concentrix earlier in the year. In February, I had returned from a long day at work to find a letter from Concentrix sitting on the doormat. The letter stated that they had “evidence to suggest you may be living with someone” . Who, I had no idea. Concentrix don’t tell you in the letter. You have to be assertive and confident enough of your rights on the phone to find that information out.
Concentrix operate by purchasing third-party data from credit agencies and electoral rolls. Invariably, this carries anomalies that mean former tenants, landlords, ex partners and even neighbours can show up on systems as having links to addresses. The letter gives the claimant 30 days to produce and send evidence of every bank transaction they have made for the past year, copies of all utility bills as well as an array of other personal information. The logic is that you must “prove” you are single by means of mass data gathering. Between 2014 and 2016 an estimated 1 million letters like this were sent out by Concentrix, “phishing” for data from single parents.
In most cases it seemed that if you could jump successfully through the data gathering hoops, Concentrix would then accept that you didn’t have the former tenant (in my case) living in the airing cupboard.
But at some point during the post Brexit summer, the goal posts appeared to have moved.
Every day, new members were arriving in the group and wit stories that grew more shocking.
Without warning, parents were discovering that their Tax Credits just suddenly stopped one day. This in turn, then triggered Housing Benefit to stop.
As parents desperately tried to contact Concentrix, they were met with engaged tones . If they did manage to get through, the standard response was to be advised that it could take “up to 12 weeks” for a case to be looked at. HMRC refused to take responsibility for Concentrix.
Within weeks, thousands of people embroiled in the crisis had run out of food, money and used up quotas for maximum visits allowed to foodbanks. As a direct result of the actions of Concentrix, in 2016 there were mother’s and father’s in Britain who were literally unable to buy bread, electricity or school uniform. Childcare providers went unpaid as people effected could in some cases no longer afford to go to work. Job’s, tenancies and basic survival all now hung in the balance.
An unaccountable private firm had stripped financially vulnerable people of the ability to provide for their children’s basic needs; in the name of a payment by results incentives game.
In the wake of the crisis, The Concentrix Mum’s group set up a crisis support fund for food shopping. Across the length and breadth of Britain, mother’s were helping other mother’s to put food on the table for children, whilst the government and Concentrix did nothing.
Members of the group got the hashtag #Concentrixputtingfamiliesintopoverty onto Twitter. The story began to get picked up by Martin Lewis from Money Saving Expert, MP’s and the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.
On the morning of September 13th, The Victoria Derbyshire programme ultimately gave a damning expose of what was taking place.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee held earlier this month on October 13th, heard from claimants, HMRC and Concentrix.
The Committee heard that as the crisis began to escalate in the week beginning 15th August 2016, Concentrix were only able to answer 1% of calls. The staff based in Dublin simply were not enough to handle the volume of calls coming in, generated by the number of claims that Concentrix had opened up. The Committee also heard the following;
In 73% of cases where people had all their money stopped, appeal decisions were made in favour of the claimant. Original decisions had therefore been flawed in many cases and driven families into unnecessary destitution
HMRC officials repeatedly talked about the “process” and “procedures” passing blame back to Concentrix. This narrative presented as being removed from the human consequences of what had gone on.
Refunds to those who had their benefits wrongly stopped were taking place in instalments over several months, resulting in escalating debts and subsequent incorrect decisions being made for Housing Benefit.
Labour MP Louise Haigh who has been outspoken in Parliament about the Concentrix scandal from the outset, has spoken again in Parliament highlighting the perverse structure of incentives that the company were working under.
Concentrix employees have claimed that far from acting as a rogue contractor, HMRC were behind Concentrix at every step of the way. The directives of how many staff Concentrix would need came directly from HMRC. Alarmingly, as little as five hundred staff were instructed to target over 2 million people, profiled as vulnerable.
I believe that the axe that was swiftly brought down on the Concentrix contract, represented an attempt by HMRC to abdicate any responsibility for the mess and suffering caused. Moreover, it also feels indicative of the Theresa May government wanting to politically distance themselves from the overtly mendacious attacks on low earners and “strivers” that became the trade mark of George Osbourne.
With the Brexit vote and public defiance of his message signalling the end of Osbourne’s career as Chancellor, the Tories could no longer tell themselves that Dickensian attacks on the poor will not have social and political consequences, that wont come back to bite them.
Companies driven by profit incentives and a lack of accountability, have the capacity to not only create unnecessary poverty and human misery, but to corrosively damage the relationship between the government and the population.
This is through the feelings of broken trust, helplessness and that “doing the right thing gets you nowhere”, that these scenarios create.
When I have heard affluent Guardian type readers sigh that the Ken Loach film ‘I, Daniel Blake’, is great but “not very believable”, as I have heard many times since, I take a deep breath and try to respond paiently…