Sunday, 19 April 2015

General Election 2015: Who will vote for whom (and why, and what will they get)?

That's a terrible title isn't it?

Thing is, I've already written it on that bit of paper; so I can't change it now. You can't change things; once they're written on paper they're set in stone.

I'm trying to get my head around this General Election, so I've doodled the above in biro on a bit of A6 paper, investigating the -isms and trying to gauge what the core offerings of each party are, and who they'll appeal to.

Disclaimers: I haven't read any manifestos (other than Plaid Cymru's); I watched a couple of TV leaders' debates; I don't know much about politics; I listen to Radio 4 and sometimes watch political stuff on BBC TV; I read the Economist a couple of times a year; my parents were Labour voters (probable still are); I've voted Labour, Lib Dem and Green in various past elections; I have a chip on my shoulder about inequality (especially of birth and opportunity), but few practical notions of how society could operate in a more meritocratic yet altruistic way. Final, and most important disclaimer: I'm aware this is heavy conjecture. It's basically my digest of the rotten food people throw my way. I'm very happy to be told how stupid and wrong any (or all) of it is.

So bear with me. I'll deal with the big-two-and-little-one parties first, because the consensus in political commentary is that they're all offering different versions of a neoliberal economic/political philosophy: austerity, less big-biz regulation and reluctant-to-enthusiastic acceptance of Thatcherism.


From what I've seen, the core offerings of the Tory party going into this GE (what I'm calling the "bait") are FREE MONEY and CONSERVATISM. The former isn't an "ism" and I was loath to include it, but such is the party (and media) focus that I can't not. David Cameron seems to be all up in my media grill every day with a new not-so-subtle offer of a big wodge of cash to a relatively small demographic that one can only assume has som Venn-diagram-crossover with the inhabitants of Labour/Tory marginals. Commentators scoff, but voters sound understandably pleased. Beyond this they're offering system justification, and celebration of Status Quo (the band and the... status) but really what you're getting when you bite through the bait, is the hook of NEOLIBERALISM. With an emphasis on making life easy for bankers and business owners, and difficult for people who are either unwilling or unable to work. There are nods to POPULISM (largely for fear of losing voters to Ukip) but actually the CONSERVATISM thing itself is a bit of a nod, because much of what it meant in the past (which is the Conservatives' favourite place, traditionally) is now offered more honestly by Ukip. Tory voters will be THE RICH (obviously: the rich love Status Quo, because they are rich) and PRAGMATISTS; specifically those who tend toward CONSERVATISM but are willing to accept NEOLIBERALISM with a RIGHTIST leaning.

Labour's ideological position seems even less defined and connected to its roots than the Tories'. Phrases like "Red Ed" and "Blue Labour" coexist unironically and it's hard to work out sometimes whether friends or enemies of the party came up with one or the other. They're broadly offering LEFTISM, which is barely a thing, if not understood in opposition to something else (in this case, the Conservatives) and CENTRISM, which they suspect far more people want, and which one would think of as the realm of the Lib Dems, who, due to the deadlock between stoic PRAGMATISTS elements of both the big parties, were able to leapfrog into government. Of course, the hook beneath the bait is very much NEOLIBERALISM, with what can only be described as "token" nods to regulation of big business and more of a focus on securing taxation from THE RICH than THE POOR because THE POOR are mainly Labour voters, and PRAGMATISTS; specifically those who tend toward SOCIALISM but don't really expect it or even necessarily understand it.

Liberal Democrats
Lib Dems are really flogging the CENTRISM of their offering in a much more explicit way than Labour, who perhaps don't want to confuse or alienate THE POOR, who feel quite far away from the centre of anything. Nick Clegg is more or less stood with David Cameron in one hand and Ed Miliband in the other making weird Wizard of Oz references and saying "whoever you vote for, you'll get me." Pundits are very quickly sliding from forecasting his Strange Death to admitting the inevitability of his reprised role of Kingmaker. Given to expect a return to government (largely because of the increasingly clear incompatibility of any of the NEOLIBERAL parties with NON-NEOLIBERAL parties; and the unwillingness of Labour to ally with the SNP) the Lib Dems are making far fewer mad promises than pretty much any of the other parties this time, because they know they might be held accountable for them. Beyond the ephemeral CENTRISM is the LIBERALISM that influences Lib Dem policy, and from which they haven't strayed as much as either of the big parties have from their core supposed offering. For this reason, Lib Dem voters will be LIBERALS, as usual. They'll lose the few SOCIALISTS who got confused and voted for them last time, but that won't be enough to reprise their Strange Death. PRAGMATISTS will be put off voting Lib Dem en masse because they only really truly compete in historically LIBERAL constituencies.


Ukip have distanced themselves from their last manifesto (indeed, leader Nigel Farage did quite some time ago) and are now offering something broadly focus-group-led masquerading as honesty by way of being what quite a few people want to hear: mainly stopping passage of bodies (or money) beyond Dover, and bringing back smoking in pubs. The trick of the management consultant is to show someone a mirror and say "Cor, you look lovely!" and this is Ukip's most successful political technique. While to those on the political left, Ukip's combined NATIONALISM and POPULISM is akin to guffing in a tent and not opening the zip, to those on the right it's a breath of fresh air. It looks a lot like the BNP from some angles, but it's not that much like the BNP in the grand scheme of things; the real hook beneath the simple and well-packaged brand is CONSERVATISM, which there is increasingly a gap in the market for since the Conservatives have gravitated toward NEOLIBERALISM. A word of warning from a cynic would be that the former mutates into the latter. History has literally shown us that. But Ukip-voters (and party members) often live in history, so perhaps that sorts itself out. Their voters will be CONSERVATIVES and NATIONALISTS; maybe RACISTS too, but only because the BNP, a party actually committed to RACISM, has more or less disappeared from view. The good thing about Ukip's target audience is that they actually vote.

The Green party are really hoping for a surge this time, like Ukip. But unlike Ukip, their offerings target disenfranchised Labour voters as opposed to disenfranchised Conservative voters, and this is reflected in their mutation into an entity offering no longer just ENVIRONMENTALISM, but also SOCIALISM. The real core of their being is still very much Green: cut them and they bleed sap. But the adapted offering will pick up votes from SOCIALISTS as well as ENVIRONMENTALISTS. The rub is that they won't tempt many PRAGMATISTS (who are unlikely to truly commit to either of the Greens' offerings unless there's a guaranteed MP at the end of it) and it's worth remembering that SOCIALISTS have numerous minor non-ENVIRONMENTALIST parties to vote for in some areas, and are by nature not a hugely united effort. (See: Spanish Civil War.) It's likely much of the projected Green vote will fall foul of hovering-pen syndrome (PRAGMATIST) general indecision (SOCIALIST) and hard-worn apathy (ENVIRONMENTALIST), but they might surprise us, as they did much of the nation earlier this year when it emerged they already had an MP, who had previously never been heard of outside of the non-gay bit of Brighton.

You can't lump Plaid Cymru and the SNP together. But I can, and so I will. The former especially are not banging the NATIONALIST drum as loudly as they could; possibly for fear of alienating the quarter of Wales who are ENGLISH, but more probably for fear of alienating the majority of WELSH people who don't speak Welsh. While Plaid has emerged from it's lingualocked past, the SNP by virtue of HISTORY more than POLITICS never had such an issue. Both are now riding a wave(let?) of anti-NEOLIBERALIST fervour that's felt more keenly the further you get from That London, with all its BANKS, and offering a combined package of SOCIALISM, which is popular is areas of both countries, as evidenced by the Old Labour vote, and POPULISM, which everyone likes because it literally is the things they like. What both truly represent is NATIONALISM, which confusingly means both EVERYTHING and NOTHING in political terms. So this gives both an unshakeable air of untrustworthiness among NON-NATIONALISTS (who are, unbeknownst to themselves, actually implicit BRITISH NATIONALISTS). The one difference between the two parties is that the SNP, due to a combination of factors, almost won a referendum on independence last year, whereas Plaid did not. So one party (the SNP) will do much better than the other (Plaid). Even though both offer similar things to similar people who really do exist and aren't imagined. Those people are NATIONALISTS and SOCIALISTS, and the proximity of the two words is unfortunate but not to be read in to. Indeed, little can be known about the former (they really could be anything once nationalised) and the unfortunate voting-related truth (for Plaid) about the latter is that Welsh habits die harder than Scots habits. (No bulletproof monk jokes please.)

Finally, the BNP. The BNP offer RACISM and NATIONALISM. And the former at least is a genuine offering. The problem is that they lost that fat guy with the glass eye that apparently passed for charismatic in political circles, and Nigel Farage is doing decent POPULISM-driven canvassing among the elements of THE POOR that are disenfranchised with Labour but insufficiently PRAGMATIC to lump it; and, besides, their NATIONALISM offering is better covered by Ukip. Given that Labour and even the SNP are now offering token nods to RACISM, it has by virtue now more or less become part of the lexicon political correctness, as opposed to what RACISM-detractors previously supposed it was: i.e., the polar opposite.

Actually finally, there are apparently some parties in Northern Ireland, but they aren't allowed on (mainland) British media channels because they remind Mainland Brits (AKA "Brits") too keenly of the COLONIAL PAST of our NATIONALISM (because apparently neither Scotland nor Wales can adequately do that, being too physically, literally "British") and, in Northern Ireland's comparative lack of STABILITY and Status Quo, THE ALL-DEVOURING DREAD THAT IMPLICITLY INFORMS ALL OF OUR ACTIONS FROM THE MOMENT WE WAKE TO THE MOMENT WE FALL ASLEEP. As a consequence, in all but the possession of an agreed flag, Northern Ireland does a better impression of being a proper country than any of either Scotland, Wales, England, or the UK; let alone Cornwall, Yorkshire, the Northeast, Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Wessex, etc., all of whom have their own political parties representing them in the 2015 General Election. (Alas, I can't claim to be able to even hazard a guess as to what they either offer or truly represent, baitwise and hookwise.)

Happy voting; I do hope you let your ballot spoil you!

A Velky.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Preseli Pembrokeshire Constituency: Assessing the Parliamentary Candidates for the 2015 General Election

There's a hustings in Haverfordwest, but I'm entertaining guests. So Instead of driving 20 minutes there and 20 minutes back just to hurl abuse at reigning Preseli Pembrokeshire MP Stephen Crabb (a task for which I have no real motivation or qualification) I thought I'd try and do the adult thing – at least, the digital-native adult thing – and assess the suitability of the presumptuous candidates who would represent me via the medium of blogging.

I'll tackle each candidate in the order they're featured in the Western Telegraph. And I'll give them a mark out of ten. And I'll try not to be horrible. Here goes.

1. Nick Tregoning - Liberal Democrat

Nick Tregoning has a windswept brooding look, like he thought he was posing for his 2016 calendar, soon to be featured alongside Cliff Richard and, I don't know, someone from Orange Orange, in the 3-for-2 section of The Works. He's got that rugged exoticness that makes him instantly attractive as a lover, but perhaps not entirely trustworthy as an MP. His name sounds Cornish, and basic research substantiates that. Being from Cornwall, he has first-hand experience of windswept UK peninsulas largely ignored by anyone who either can't afford a holiday home or prefers to get an uncomfortable aeroplane to their chosen budget holiday destination. He also appears to have quit the Welsh Liberal Democrats in a huff just three years ago. This indicates that Nick's appearance as a Preseli Pembrokeshire candidate is some sort of cruel penance imposed by his party on rejoining. His spiel is a dull boilerplate of sniping at both of the bigger parties and a little bit of boresnoring about tax, health, education, blah, blah. There's zero foreplay and not a pleasantry in sight. Nick doesn't want your stupid vote and is beginning to wonder why the hell he ever left Cornwall in the first place.

I voted Lib Dem last time and I'm not especially ashamed or regretful of that; at the time their policies chimed best with me. And I'm glad they got to form a coalition government with the Tories; that was very marginally better than a Tory government, or an interminable hung parliament. But I can't see me (or many other people) voting for this Nick this time. The popular Nick found out last time that it was better to be outside a burning tent pissing on it than inside the tent pissing yourself. And this Nick's Twitter doesn't even mention he's running and he hasn't tweeted since February.

Poor pitch. Would not recommend: 3/10

2. Paul Miller - Labour

Paul Miller is local. He looks pretty reasonable in a politiciany way. Youngish. Niceish. Even vaguely trustworthy. He's not going to be featuring on any sexy calendars with Nick Tregoning, but we can't all be born Cornish Adonises, and Pembrokeshire is on average about half a degree cooler, therefore conducive to less tanning. He gets "Withybush" (hospital) in to the second sentence, and I can immediately relate to that because my daughter was born there. Nice. He also talks about how difficult it was returning to rural Wales (although he doesn't use the word "Wales"); I know that too, although I grew up in/on Anglesey I always wanted to return, but the Pembrokeshire job market doesn't really scream "COME GET ME" unless you're a farmer, a gas factory-place worker thing (full disclosure: I have no idea what they do in there) or an owner of some sort of boutique glamping hovel. He talks about sport, which immediately bores me, because I prefer wine. And I'm not really sure a shabby cricket changing-room is up there in my list of global or even national concerns. He is a bit trigger-happy with the line-break, and a cursory glance at his website reveals all of his text is in image format (dreadful for SEO) and it's riddled with basic spelling and punctuation errors. But my pedant days are over; such things are but cosmetic, like one's sexy-calendar-capability. Beyond that, I've read a bit of his website and it's a disappointingly dichotomic diatribe in jolly-local flavour. And if that sounds too Brandy (as in Russell), let me say quite clearly that I strongly disagree with Miller that MP Stephen Crabb and PM David Cameron "could not care less" for Pembrokeshire. Crabb, whatever one thinks of his policies, seems to love it. It re-elected him just five years ago with a comfortable majority. (What's not to like?) David Cameron (I think?) had family here some time back, and visited when recent floods struck. They could care less. They could care as much as they care for, I don't know, Zambia. Also, he talks about "Selling Pembrokeshire to UK PLC" which makes me feel a bit sick.

I voted Labour in 2001 and 2005. Or did I? I think I definitely would have, but I have a feeling I might have been 17 in 2001, and living in Prague in 2005. I would have voted Labour though, and might have done in local elections. But I wouldn't really have known why, other than that they weren't the Conservatives, whom I was vaguely aware of disliking. However, now I know a thing or two (possibly even three) I'm not entirely convinced that Paul's assertion that "Labour’s the only party fundamentally committed to a fair society in which everyone is given the same chance in life" is true. There are several other parties who seem far more committed to that particular detail, and who don't talk about selling their homelands to big business.

That said, not a bad pitch and imagine his heart's in the right place. Would recommend if you are tied to a two-party "battleground" outcome (and there's at least a very slim chance of a Labour gain based on last election's polling).


3. Howard Lillyman - Ukip

Howard looks like he might have been a greaser some time in the '50s. If he were impersonating Elvis on a pier in Pembrokeshire (are there any? Local knowledge not hot on this subject) it would definitely be late-period Elvis. But I'm no spring chicken either. He's got a jazzy tie. My issue with Howard starts with his text: it smacks of party boilerplate, which isn't a good sales angle from Ukip, a party which sells itself on its spirit of independence (the "i" bit) and its ""characters"". It actually seems like he's toeing the party line like some kind of mesmerised ballerina: "For too long we've had the same old policies from Labour and the Conservative Lib Dem coalition" he says. (Although, obviously only for five years, if you're including the coalition in this, which isn't very long at all.) Then, after blaming those three parties for what's wrong with "Britain" he chastises them for "Each blaming the other". This is the bizarre paradox of Ukip for me; even if they weren't pushing policies based on issues I don't find pressing, they have a habit of calling kettles black (and telling them to get back to where they came from) while simultaneously blacking up and not addressing or even acknowledging any kind of ambiguity in the whole "who-came-from-where-when-and-how-long-ago-was-it-okay" debate. They jump ship to an exciting new party and simultaneously condemn careerist politicians. They condemn the privileged from fat white mouths, and call for cuts to much-needed aid to (genuinely) poor countries with the next breath. Howard never once mentions the place he's fighting for and one strongly imagines he's nothing but a smiley face to soak up the expected number of protest votes in this corner of a country (Wales, Howard, not UK) that Ukip barely acknowledges. Either a parachuted candidate or a willing local who isn't trusted by his party not to say something truly dreadful if allowed to stay from the brief. There's little to be found out about who Howard is and what makes him tick (I shan't speculate that whatever it is probably owes a lot to the NHS, and biomechanical engineering), so I'll leave you with some of the amusingly badly punctuated ranty lines copy-and-pasted from the Little Purple Book of Spite. All [sic] and enraging my inbuilt spellchecker with squiggly red lines:

"It’s time we took control of our borders to stop uncontrolled immigration, not ALL immigration."
"We’ll cut the international aid buget saving us £9billion a year by not proping up governments who have space and nuclear weapon programmes."
"It’s time for change it’s time to vote UKIP."

I'm not voting Ukip. They are a ragbag of ideologically proud jingoistic 19th century Tories, genuine lunatics, and cynical careerists. Whichever type this is, I don't agree with his priorities nor his logic:


4. Stephen Crabb - Conservative

Considering the Conservatives are the party I have the least in common with according to every online policy test I've ever taken (and that includes the BNP and Ukip), I don't mind Crabb. Sure, he comes across as a classic contemporary career politician, but all-in-all there's little to suggest he's among the worst. He trumpets local businesses, and spends his whole life (seemingly) at county shows and village fetes. Something Paul Miller chastises him for (although Paul spelled it "fate" for reasons unknown to me). Stephen recently became "The first bearded Conservative cabinet minister since 1905" which is lucky, because 100 years would have been far too long. He actually made a joke about crabs in his maiden speech to parliament, which is brilliant. And his sporting exchanges with the outgoing Labour MP (reported in the speech too) speak of a political world quite unlike the one we see on our TVs. That said, I don't for a moment think that Christian Crabb (who interned for an arguably slightly off-colour abortion-and-gay-people unfriendly charity) fits my own ideal of a progressive representative of the people. He seems a pretty modern Tory; his voting record suggests he barely ever deviates from the party line, he's EU-sceptic but not Ukippy, homo-sceptic but not homophobic, etc. He came to power talking about promoting Pembrokeshire as a business hub and upgrading the A40 to a dual-carriageway. He's had ten years, and it doesn't look very dualistic to me; but how powerful is an MP for Pembrokeshire? He (like all Tories) cites the recovering economy as proof of the party's economic prowess. But isn't the whole global economy recovering? The problem with Crabb's claims and promises (like those of almost all MPs, especially Tories) is that they are largely unproven and unprovable; not to mention contested by many experts. His "fair milk prices" talk will probably win him the farming vote, and therefore the actual vote in our constituency. But can he deliver it? Certainly he's no worse-placed to than any of the others. But if he does, or if Milford Haven or Trecwn blossom into industrial superpowers instead of withering to jobless misery, it'll probably be more luck than judgment. I suppose the Tory argument is that you keep the big businesses happy at the expense of the little guy. And yet Crabb's focus (beyond general localness and Withybush) seems to be on SMEs, whereas our Labour candidate is banging on about selling Pembrokeshire to the highest bidder. One really doesn't know what to believe.

It's highly unlikely I will ever vote Conservative, due to not agreeing with the vast majority of their policies, and due to my own prejudices I'm uncomfortable with frequent displays of religious affiliation from politicians; but I don't dislike Crabb himself. He brags about building a skate park in Haverfordwest, while my Red-Wedge socialist teen hero Billy Bragg is busy trying to clear the skaters off the South Bank. World turned upside-down, or just a world getting older?


5. Chris Overton - Independent Save Withybush Save Lives Party

Chris looks like a nicer person than most of the others, which is probably because he's not a politician. But selling yourself as a potential MP based on your non-political credentials doesn't have a great track record as far as I'm aware. And nor do single-issue candidates. Just because the issue is valid and worth attention, it doesn't make it worth standing as an independent for. Or at least it doesn't make it worth voting for somebody who's standing as an independent for it. Especially when most of the other candidates (and both of the serious contenders) are talking a lot about that issue. That said, his argument does carry some weight: "Once the election is done and dusted they will revert to type and vote the way they are told. Vote against your interests as required." Politicians like Crabb and Miller are careerists and do (or in Miller's case, probably would) follow the party line. That's what parties are for. Maybe Nick wouldn't follow it? Maybe that's why he left or got kicked out and ended up running in one of the least Liberal-likely corners of Wales? I don't know. But I don't think we (even in Pembrokeshire, so far from the real world with its comforts and threats) are a single-issue people. Withybush is a big issue, but I just can't see how it is better in Chris's hands than in any of the other less-likely contenders' hands (e.g. Green/Plaid). Sometimes you feel that deals should have been struck earlier on in the process.

I wouldn't vote for a single-issue independent knowing nothing about their stance on other matters.


6. Frances Bryant - Green

Frances is a woman, which oughtn't to be something worth remarking on in this context, but given that she's the only woman running in Pembrokeshire one can't help but. She's also got a lovely cardigan, and a photo with the air and colour balance of a classical portrait. So far so pro. She immediately gets stuck in with emotive (and pretty shocking) facts and figures, as opposed to just banging on about "change" like a beggar on a bridge (like Howard). For a rep from a party trying to reposition itself as... well... a party, rather than a protest vote or a pressure group, Frances doesn't put a foot wrong. Fracking is mentioned. I'm not for it, but it does feel a little buzzwordy and a little small-scale. I'm aware it's a solid and popular issue to bring up, and that such issues really are core to the Greens' positioning, but I do wonder if such stances by this point really go without saying. when you've only got so much room. There aren't so many people who'll be pro-fracking that'll be put off by it; but those who are anti- surely know where Frances stands on this? Beyond that: minimum wage, Withybush, HS2, Trident; all are getting a mention. Taxing the wealthy, animal welfare, and finally – and perhaps most importantly – energy. Wales has a surplus of energy and water. I don't know the details but Frances talks of selling the former. I don't quite understand this; if it's not being done already, is it being given away? I suppose if water and energy are private (they are, aren't they?) Welsh people get no profit from their abundance? This is certainly an area of interest to me (in which I have a lot to learn) and nobody else has brought it up at this point, certainly not so clearly.

I've voted Green in local elections and European elections. I'm yet to be convinced there's any point in a GE, and that's the real challenge facing Frances and other Greens. Many people who vote for other parties kind of prefer their policies, but might not be fully convinced they can (or even could ever) enact them. I guess it comes down to how best you feel the world can be changed. Finally, I strongly feel Plaid and the Greens should be allying and pooling votes in Wales (if such a thing were possible). They agree on a lot and for two small pressure parties not to somehow combine their powers seems daft.


7. John Osmond - Plaid Cymru

Back when I lived on Anglesey, Plaid Cymru voters were the cantankerous old people who told us to get back to where we came from. (The West Midlands, I presume they meant.) But their "nationalism" nowadays seems very different from the spray-painted slogans on slate walls and burning barns behaviour of yesteryear; and indeed one doubts the party itself ever had much to do with the more misguidedly militant aspects of Welsh nationalism. I have no problem with Welsh nationalism (or any nationalism from a non-nation-state); largely because I've observed British and even English nationalism to more frequently carry a menacing aspect. In the recent ITV Leaders Debate, party leader Leanne Wood projected a warm and welcoming Wales, taking Nigel Farridge to task on his bizarre and misleading HIV scaremongering, and declaring that Wales needed immigration, no less. But I know Plaid will always be a tough sell not just to the quarter of the Welsh population that's ethnically English (like me), but also to the majority of Welsh citizens who don't speak the language (dim fel fi! Wel, dypin bach fel fi...), and feel better represented by the more worldly and outward-looking (often perhaps distracting from domestic issues) Labour, Lib Dem and Tory parties.

Sorry! Back to you, John: lovely photo. Effortlessly casual, like a truly passionate sports or even perhaps theatre critic. Straight in there with the anti-austerity rhetoric which despite Crabb and Cameron's insistence is backed up by at least half of the credible economists out there, probably more. He cites the whole holy trinity: Wales, Pembrokeshire and Withybush; so we know he's nationalist, regionalist and localist. But he also has a message of solidarity, repping for: "Plaid Cymru [in Wales], SNP in Scotland and Greens in England." This is lovely and quite rare, but also problematic because the Green party is the Green party of England and Wales. AND there's a Scottish branch. So are the Greens just the second best to your friendly neighbourhood nationalists? Or are they a party with broad policy crossover with Plaid? He has things to say about energy and small businesses that are good, but possibly a touch radical for some. Certainly very different to Paul Miller's notion of socialism (which seems to be selling every drop of Pembrokeshire's blood to the richest vampire) but perhaps quite frightening for our centrist times? I like all of what he has to say, personally. Even the bit about the Welsh language. The Welsh language is well worth not just keeping alive, but actively promoting. But it's in Plaid's interests to help make this less of a contentious issue; to help remove the notion that Welshness and Welsh nationalism is inexorably linked to the language, and that a Welsh citizen who speaks Welsh is to be valued more than one who doesn't. Otherwise, you have no nationalist movement; just pockets of forever-Welsh enclaves in misty valleys surrounded by the modern world, with its academics and well-intentioned students, and its majority first-language English-speaking population. Plaid is keen to skitch into town on the tailgates of the SNP cavalcade; fair enough, as they have the policies and a seemingly genuine interest in the best for their people. But they should also take a look at how Scottish nationalism has matured in recent years and how nationalism can be a mutually-beneficial political notion, rather than a divisive rallying cry. And, indeed, it looks like they might be doing just that.

I've never voted Plaid. The very notion would have seemed daft in the past. (Wouldn't I be voting to be kicked out of the country?) But nowadays they seem much closer to the values I used to presume I had to vote Labour to demand. Values that, as Ukip note, are lost to the centrist gravity of modern British politics; but values which a cursory glance at Ukip's policy priorities would reveal they have very little genuine interest in.


Monday, 23 December 2013

Ten GREAT songs I heard this year

These days I don't have the time to compile and categorize and consider as much as I'd like to. But I still get to hear a lot of good music, even if I have less time to seek it out.

These ten are plucked from the Spotify playlist I've been chucking new (and old) songs I was playing repeatedly into. I've been doing this for about five years now and as we maintain a paid subscription this is where I hear most new (and old) music; I very rarely own albums anymore, unless I like them so much I want to hear them in my car.

They're not necessarily in any order, and there are some almost equally amazing songs (some by the same artists) that I've enjoyed as much, but I wanted to make a list of ten, because that's how many fingers I currently have. So here they are:

  • Hitna - Dino Merlin
  • Enduring freedom - Gaptooth & Oli Trademark
  • Biloxi parish - The Gaslight Anthem
  • Henrietta Maria - Darren Hayman and the Long Parliament
  • Rewind the film - Manic Street Preachers & Richard Hawley
  • Kedvesem (Zoohacker remix) - Bye Alex
  • My number - Foals
  • Dovahkiin - The Indelicates
  • Nearly midnight, Honolulu - Neko Case
  • Stations - Naevus
Here they are all in a YouTube playlist in the above order (a few have actual videos, most don't; some may have adverts, most don't):

And here they are individually:

  • Hitna - Dino Merlin

  • After what I can only describe as my favourite ever Eurovision ever this year, I decided to check out a couple of artists from previous years whose entries I'd enjoyed. Dino Merlin's "Love in rewind" was probably my favourite ever Eurovision entry for Bosnia & Herzegovina, so I was pleased to find out his awesomeness is not confined to 3-minute love-songs sung in English.

  • Enduring freedom - Gaptooth & Oli Trademark
  • "Gaptooth" and I were pen-friends for a bit when we were teens, having met among mutual friends in a Manic Street Preachers chat room(!) But don't hold that against her; I got to hear an album from her this year after well over a decade of wondering what that might sound like, and I was blown away - especially by this; combining as it does, sexual politics, poetry, puns and BIG trancey sounding synth stuff. I love it. As soon as I've worn out the CDR copy in my car I might actually buy the actual album. (Something I do only about twice a year nowadays.)

  • Biloxi parish - The Gaslight Anthem
  • This and many of their other songs got me through two long hard months away from my family working in London this year, and this song in particular will forever remind me of walking along Regent's Canal in North Central London. One of the many pleasant experiences and habits that emerged from the unpleasant situation of working away. At least I wasn't on an oil rig.

  • Henrietta Maria - Darren Hayman and the Long Parliament
  • A grandiose concept album about 17th century English history from a relatively famous indie dude (remember Hefner?) whose work I'd never much cared for somehow contained this absolute gem, which grabbed me immediately and I've not yet got sick of, despite about 100,000 plays.

  • Rewind the film - Manic Street Preachers & Richard Hawley
  • I was very cynical about hearing a 758th Manic Street Preachers album this year, but thought I'd give it a go. The whole thing is magnificent, and this deserves special attention. Watch the video too. This really forced me to challenge the prejudice with which I view my own youth, and bingo halls. (I'm still very cynical though.)

  • Kedvesem (Zoohacker remix) - Bye Alex
  • My personal douze points cette année.

  • My number - Foals
  • This is the song that reminds me of my first working-away-from-home stint; a month in April. I loved the album too; Foals get better and better, for me. I never thought they were aimed at me really. Still don't, but don't care much either.

  • Dovahkiin - The Indelicates
  • It's always a good year when The Indelicates release something substantial. This year's album is a really weird one - not least in the way it was released. (I think I've still to buy a quarter of it.) But the disjointed emergence hasn't harmed the quality of the whole. Like a lot of folks, I was especially impressed by this track. Reminiscent of the tenderer (yet angrier) moments of Carter USM, perhaps. And Meat Loaf. Definitely Meat Loaf.

  • Nearly midnight, Honolulu - Neko Case
  • Ouch.

  • Stations - Naevus
  • One never knows what to expect from Naevus. Listening to their odds-and-ends compilation album Stations (released this year) goes some way (though probably not the whole way) to showing what a downright weird band they've been at times. Their work veers from thrumming, confrontational modernist punk to expertly-crafted acoustic-driven rock ballads. After last year's dark, experimental, yet undeniably fun album The Division of Labour, Stations might make a lot of sense as an album release, but the song itself was the last thing I was expecting. And it's fantastic.

    Wednesday, 20 November 2013

    Proposed new United Kingdom flag designs for use in the event of Scottish independence in 2014

    This is the inevitable sequel to my Union-Flag-hating blog of last year.

    What follows is the work of a few minutes' messing about on PhotoShop. I'm not a graphic designer and I don't have time to consider such luxuries as proportion control or making sure the Northern Irish bit is the same colour as the English bit.

    Nevertheless, the below designs all "do the job" (or would in the event of Scotland leaving the union) in a way our current flag does not, for the many reasons mentioned in the blog I linked to up there.

    These flags all incorporate St George's cross (representing England), St Patrick's saltire (representing Northern Ireland in the absence of an agreed actual flag that actually represents Northern Ireland), St Piran's cross (representing Cornwall, one of the original Celtic nations and culturally distinct from England by language, history, culture, and pasties), and St David's cross (representing Wales in a way that the current Welsh flag, which prominently features a large elaborate red dragon, could not comfortably do so in the context of a conglomerate "union" design*).

    None of these are very good in themselves, and I hope someone with a hand (and an eye, and probably a computer) for design will take the idea and run with it. No doubt many already have, but I've seen a shocking lack of consideration of this issue in the design/political bickering communities I follow - especially given how fond everyone seems to be of waving tacky plastic Union Flags around at every given opportunity, and the closely related fact of the impending Scottish-independence referendum, which has as much chance as not of resulting in a "Yes" vote and immediately invalidating the current UK flag.

    Without further ado:

    Option one: Chris.

     Option two: Craig.

    Option three: Mumford.

    That's it. Feel free to vote on your favourite post-Scots-independence UK flag in the comments section below. However, you should be advised that your views are unlikely to be heeded by anyone of any importance or influence on such matters.

    Adieu, with a single blue tear,

    Alexander Velky.
    (A pro-European devolutionist Welsh Englishman.)

    * alternatively a red dragon could be portrayed with its foot on the neck of a slain white dragon (representing England); the other nations would then have to choose their own beasts to enter into the fray.

    Tuesday, 26 February 2013

    An interview with Martin Harrison, co-founder of Copify

    A while ago I wrote about the copywriting-services company Copify on this blog, and then I wrote this follow-up article for the Guardian.

    For the latter I conducted an email interview with Copify co-founder Martin Harrison (as well as three other writers). Due to the constraints of the word-limit, much of this interview was not published as part of the latter article; so Martin has given me permission to publish the Q&A in full on my blog.

    Here it is:

    Alexander Velky: You originally positioned Copify as "A platform for publishers to source written content quickly, easily and cost-effectively." That seems a pretty neat summary for clients; how would you sum it up to a prospective contributing writer?

    Martin Harrison: A platform for you to earn money as and when it suits you, without the hassle of having to prospect for work and sending out invoices that may, or may not be paid.

    AV: How do you vet would-be writers' credentials? And how do you decide whether they are "professional" or not?

    MH: Writers are assessed based on their CV and a written sample. Around 90% of writers approved start out as standard, and based on feedback are considered for promotion. Only writers who are exceptional, based on their experience and their written sample are approved immediately as a professional.

    We reject 60-70% of all applications.

    You can read more about what we look for in applications here.

    AV: You charge different rates to clients for using professional or non-professional writers. What's the thinking behind this? And what's the take-up like for each option?

    MH: I wouldn't describe any of our writers as 'non-professional', the term we use is 'standard'. The reason we have a separate 'professional' tier of pricing is twofold. Some clients want the assurance that their copy will be written by a more experienced writer and some writers deserve to be rewarded for their experience by being paid more. 

    In terms of take-up, the split between standard and professional is approximately 70/30 in favour of standard, which should tell you a thing or two about attitudes towards pricing.

    AV: From a writer's perspective, are they only shown job adverts corresponding to their level of professionalism?

    Professional level writers can access all orders, standard level writers only those at that level. 

    AV: When talking to clients in public you've frequently advertised fees as low as 3p per word. The lowest price I saw on Copify offered to a writer was 1p per word. Does this mean you take, on average, a 66.67% cut of the total fee charged to clients?

    MH: I'm not going to comment on what exactly our average cut is, but I can tell you that it is far lower than this when you factor in the costs associated with running the business. And just to be clear, we don't offer 1p per word on every order, far from it.

    As a professional writer (as your site described me) I was offered 1p per word jobs. Do you think this is an attractive proposition for a professional writer?

    MH: Clearly not for you Alex! But we wouldn't be in business if there weren't some writers who were happy to work for this amount, and paying customers who were happy with the end product. It all depends on your circumstances.

    AV: What's the lowest rate offered to non-professional writers?

    MH: 1p a word is the lowest we have ever offered. I can't see us ever offering any less than this.

    AV: The Professional Copywriters' Network (with whom Copify has exchanged argument on several occasions, I think) says "By the word pricing positions copywriting as a commodity rather than a professional service", and discourages the practice. Do you agree with their statement?

    MH: No. Our clients like to pay by the word so they know exactly what they are getting. They are not comfortable with paying for an indeterminate amount of copy. It has nothing to do with being a 'professional service'. There is no viable alternative to this model for a business like ours.

    AV: Do you feel by-the-word pricing can be reconciled with professional practice? (If so, even at 1p per word?)

    MH: If someone can come up with a practical alternative to by the word pricing then I'm all ears! But but so far, in all of the debate we've had, no-one has actually suggested anything that is viable. Alastaire Allday wrote a piece about this last year and his conclusion was ultimately that the solution to content mills was to create another, more expensive one!

    AV: Would you agree that Copify is a more attractive proposition for aspiring writers rather than professionals?

    MH: No. As I've said before, it depends entirely on your circumstances. Yes, we like to give aspiring writers a shot but we also have plenty of experienced, agency staff and freelance copywriters on our books. They use the site when in need of a bit of extra income, or maybe when they are a little slow with other business. 

    AV: One ambivalent blogger (Andy Maslen) suggested copywriting could never be a "profession", but that it was a "trade"; do you think this is an important distinction? (And why?)

    MH: I think he is right to an extent. Until there is a recognised union or trade body to govern things then it is something of a 'wild west' industry and it will be difficult to call it a profession. The PCN have tried to be this body, but as I've said previously, until they get real about pricing they're going to do more harm than good.

    AV: I wrote a blog about my experience with your site and you pointed out in a threatening but not unreasonable manner that I'd breached site T&Cs by mentioning a client's name; would it be a breach of those same T&Cs if I'd tried to use work submitted via Copify in a portfolio either published online or sent privately accompanying my CV?

    MH: If you hadn't been granted permission then technically yes it would. That said, unless there was a serious conflict of interest, we would probably turn a blind eye to our writers using a piece in a printed portfolio or emailing it to a prospective employer.

    Publishing on the web, however, is a big no-no. This might be seen by some as pretty extreme, but there's a very important reason that we do it. In many cases, our customers are punting on our copy as the work of their internal 'team of writers' and usually at a vastly inflated rate. Were your blog post to have been indexed by Google, we would have been in hot soup with the client, and they with theirs. 

    Ironically, the furniture company you were attempting to name and shame probably had no visibility of the process at all.

    AV: What makes Copify preferable (or a viable alternative) to the well-trod path of an unpaid copywriting-internship at an agency?

    MH: Again, this all depends on circumstances and the type of copywriter you want to be. An internship is as much about getting an insight into the world of work (which for me as a lazy graduate was a pretty rude awakening!) so I'd always recommend that people go down this route if they want to work in an office.

    AV: Presumably you're a professional writer yourself. (I haven't seen that many typos in your blog posts.) How might you have used Copify to further your career when you were younger?

    MH: I am yes. I've been a staff copywriter agency-side, a freelance copywriter, a contract copywriter client-side and in my last role before joining Copify full-time I was in charge of copy in the SEO team of one of the UK's largest retailers. All of this has given me a pretty well-rounded knowledge of the industry and crucially, the commercial side of things. This is something that a lot of our detractors don't really have a handle on.

    I've gone on record as saying I would have given my left arm for an opportunity like Copify when I was starting out and I meant it. Bar one or two outrageous day rates, the sort of rates that we pay are what I was accustomed to when I was freelancing. 

    AV: How quickly could you satisfactorily complete a typical 1p-per-word brief?

    MH: Me personally? Well that depends on a number of factors, the word count and the subject matter primarily. Let's say for argument's sake that it's an article of 400 words on a subject I have covered before, therefore not requiring hours of research. I could probably write a  decent piece in half an hour.

    AV: Do you agree that "[Your clients] don't require writers; just people who can type"?

    MH: No, not at all. If this was the case, why wouldn't our clients just do it themselves?

    AV: Tom Albrighton (of the PCN) has said "Your best chances of republication (propagating backlinks across multiple domains) come with a compelling, high-quality article." Are the sorts of articles produced for your clients (particularly at the 1p-per-word) ever likely to be read from start to finish by a human being (as opposed to a crawler)?

    MH: Yes, the days of copy being written and published purely and simply to be crawled by Google are over. 

    AV: Your background is in SEO; do you think it's fair to say that SEO practitioners tend to be reactive rather than proactive?

    MH: It's a generalisation to say that all SEOs are reactive, it really depends on how good they are. With regards to content, however, my experience is that the SEO industry has very much been forced to react by Google's recent algorithm updates.

    'Content is king' is a phrase that is often bandied about, but very few SEOs were really practicing what they preached until recently, when they have been forced into it by penalties for low quality and duplicate content. Some SEOs are now even rebranding themselves as 'content marketing specialists'!

    Up until now, there has very much been a 'cheap as possible' approach, which is why sites like Textbroker have flourished. Now there is a great deal more editorial integrity, which is why SEOs are investing sensible money in content, rather than seeking to have it written overseas for $0.000003 per word. 

    That said, I'm still frequently challenged by SEOs for being 'too expensive' which always makes me laugh when I consider the rates that are supposedly fair according to the PCN.

    AV: A friend of mine once described SEO practitioners as "snake-oil salesmen". As someone who described all SEOs but Amazon’s as “a little bit grey,” do you think there's any truth in that?

    MH: It's important that I clarify exactly what I meant by this. I was referring to the fact that almost every SEO has to bend the rules a little bit in order to get things done. For example, Google openly condemns any form of paid linkbuilding, but I don't know any SEO who isn't buying links in one way or another. 

    There are some 'snake oil' SEOs out there for sure, but also some very good, innovative SEOs who appreciate the value of great content.

    AV: You've been going for a few years now: You must be doing something right. Do you ever worry that clients won't see the return on investment they expect from the sort of articles you're able to provide at the prices they're willing to pay?

    MH: Copy alone is something that is very difficult to put an ROI on. You can write articles until the cows come home, if you're not promoting them in the right way you won't see much of a return.

    We frequently supply articles that are published on websites like The Independent and Marie Clare. There is a relationship between our client and these publications, but the copy would not be published if it wasn't up to scratch. 

    Thursday, 21 February 2013

    Bad Language: Deconstructing BAE Systems' FAQs copy for WHICH COUNTRIES DO YOU SELL TO?

    BAE's upside-down flag.
    Which countries does BAE Systems sell bits of murder-weapons to?

    It's a simple enough question, and one which is asked sufficiently frequently to have its own page on BAE Systems' frequently asked questions (FAQs) website section.

    But, judging from the shocking ineptitude of their answer, I imagine people will be continuing to ask with frequency for years to come.


    I remember, back when I used to leave the house sometimes, I'd see bad adverts  usually on billboards  and then write about them. One such advert I never got around to discussing was a BAE billboard that towered over the teeming masses at Waterloo Station in London town. It was a giant union flag (upside-down, mind you) with a short strapline about how great, and (I guess) British, BAE Systems is.

    It was a bad advert  vague, pompous, loaded with all kinds of unnecessary baggage. Flags will do that to your adverts. Especially huge brazen ones the like of which are only normally seen accompanying royal celebrations or far-right rallies. (Or both.)

    But what alternative is available to BAE? They can hardly depict children in far-off countries being blown to bits by the cluster bombs they once had no qualms manufacturing. It would be the equivalent of Ronald McDonald showing you a clogged artery or, I don't know, tobacco companies showing you a cancerous lung. (Oh, wait...)

    But the economy is more important than anything else, and we know this because BAE isn't legally obliged to show shrapnel-ravaged corpses in its advertising properties. It is allowed to claim ownership of the national flag, however, because of its importance in its contribution to UK employment, trade and international diplomacy.

    But, leaving all that aside, let's copy-edit that terrible FAQ answer into something actually resembling an answer to that damned pesky frequently asked question. And let's do so making the ridiculous assumption that the brief is to tell something close to the truth.

    BAE says: 
    "Like all companies we have to prioritise where we do business."

    I say: 
    [Nothing. That sentence is utterly meaningless and could happily be discarded.]
    BAE says:"In setting these priorities we take into account a wide range of commercial, legal and reputational factors."
    I say: We'd rather not tell you which countries we sell to. 
    BAE says:
    "BAE Systems will only pursue business opportunities when we are satisfied that our strict policies and governance systems can be complied with."

    I say: 
    But we'll sell to pretty much anyone we're allowed to.
    BAE says:"The sale of export equipment, whether it is the sale of weapon systems, platforms, equipment, and/or services is highly regulated."
    I say: It's tough being an international arms-dealer these days.
    BAE says:
    "BAE Systems works closely with and maintains a regular dialogue with governments in our home markets in relation to all our export sales."

    I say: 
    Especially when Australia, India, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the US spend such little time invading people.
    BAE says:"All export licence applications are considered by governments on a case-by-case basis and take into account the proposed customer country, the type of product or service to be exported, and its future use."
    I say: The government frequently tries to piss on our chips.
    BAE says:
    "Our applications comply with trade regulations and the requirements for end-user undertakings."

    I say: 
    But even they cannot deny that murder is good for business.
    BAE says:"Our Responsible Trading Principles help us make informed decisions about the business opportunities we pursue and help employees apply our values in their decision-making."
    I say: We do what we want, as far as they'll let us.
    BAE says:
    "See more on export controls." [Linked.]

    I say: 
    Now piss off.

    That's it.

    So, my rewritten FAQ answer in its entirety goes... (all together now)

    We'd rather not tell you which countries we sell to, but we'll sell to pretty much anyone we're allowed to. 
    It's tough being an international arms-dealer these days. Especially when Australia, India, Saudi Arabia, the UK and the US spend such little time invading people. 
    The government frequently tries to piss on our chips - but even they cannot deny that murder is good for business. We do what we want, as far as they'll let us.
    Now piss off.

    For anyone actually wanting to know which countries BAE sells to, reportedly: Bahrain, Saudi ArabiaZimbabwe, Indonesia, Tanzania. Anyone who'll buy, pretty much; countries with dubious regimes, often using BAE's products to persecute minority populations and... well, what do you expect people to use murder weapons for? Defence???

    In future I suggest such answers are filed under an FEQs section  for frequently evaded questions. And one can file this blog under an FRLs section in tribute to everyone's favourite far-right Hungarian political party's "frequently refuted lies".

    Now that's copywriting.

    Tuesday, 29 January 2013

    How I joined, and quickly left, the "Online Copywriting Service" Copify – and how they threatened to sue me

    ***Update: after reading the original post, Martin Harrison co-founder of Copify sent me a threatening email alleging I'd breached some T&Cs I agreed to upon signing up for his website. The following post has been amended to conceal the name of the specific client the job advert herein refers to – even though it was but one example of many – and I've added a postscript to clarify this.***

    I'm a copywriter and I'm looking for extra copywriting work; so I decided to join Copify.

    I decided to join Copify even though I'd heard numerous tales of their low, low rates and controversial payment-per-word policy (handily rounded-up here by Andrew Nattan) – and even though I'd accepted by implication of my membership of the Professional Copywriters' Network their own (quite specific) rates as a "starting point for negotiations".

    I decided to join Copify because some extra work I was expecting to kick off recently has fallen through, and I could do with a few extra gigs to keep me in Pinot Noir and HobNobs. And I've not lately got any work through the Professional Copywriters' Network, or People Per Hour, or oDesk, or any of the other jobsites I'm signed up to.

    So I thought I'd sign up to Copify and find out for myself – because one ought to find things out for one's self – just how viable their offering is for a jobbing freelance writer.

    To prove my credentials I had to provide references from satisfied customers, people I'd worked for or former course tutors write 200 words about how the "London Olympics" – not the official title of the event, but that's what they called it – had impacted the local environment.

    This task was eerily reminiscent of a question in my A-level General Studies exam, which I aced with a smooth D-grade by answering via the medium of a crude pencil-sketched diagram.

    My pencil kept breaking on the screen though, so I wrote this:

    The 2012 Summer Olympics, imaginatively branded as London 2012, was an international multi-sport event that took place last year, mainly in the capital city of the UK.  
    The successful bid to host the games was welcomed as a victory for the UK’s international profile; but the controversial nature of such large-scale events soon brought out Britons’ inherent factionalism and reduced politicians and people alike to argumentative wrecks. It was said that the games would either be completely brilliant and unmissable – worthy of booking extended holidays on the off-chance that the soon-to-be notorious ticket lottery would deliver – or an utter disaster, reducing the capital to a state of smouldering rubble habitable only to mutant viruses and refugees from war-torn third-world nations who had made their way to London 2012 under the guise of expert pole-vaulters, etc. 
    In reality, it was fine: buses ran on time; nobody famous was killed; and even the most cynical among us ended up watching some on TV and enjoying it.  
    There is, however, a tall building in Ilford comprising serviced apartments which is officially branded as “Stratford East”, despite being a good four miles east of where the games took place.  
    This is known as “legacy”.

    To my surprise, given that I hadn't actually addressed the subject matter satisfactorily, this was accepted within 24 hours and proved sufficient to earn me a little "professional" badge on my profile:

    At least that's what I saw when I logged in to my dashboard. I presume nobody can view my public profile as I haven't yet been rated, or indeed completed any jobs for Copify's clients. Nor do I intend to. And here's why:

    The above is a typical job ad on Copify.

    First, I draw your attention to the payment: £2.00. (Two pounds.)

    The company (CENSORED: no referred traffic for you, small furniture company) would like a 200-word blog on the subject of "British Bespoke Furniture". They say the purpose of the blog is to "inform the audience", but they are lying through their bespoke maple-veneer MDF holes; no 200-word blog required to include the "keywords" "British Bespoke Furniture, Bespoke Furniture Manufacture" naturally - not stuffed, mind you - within its famine-starved 200-word body is intended to inform any furniture-buying audience about anything, regardless of the catchiness of its title.

    Unless said audience crosses over on the Venn diagram of bespoke-furniture-website-visiting-morons into the "people with a passing knowledge of SEO trends over the years" circle; because this kind of bloodless digital swill that blogs up the arteries of the world-wide web exists solely as the result of clueless retail hacks acting on the ill advice of near-sighted SEO agencies who were no doubt paid far more for their shit ideas stolen off equally shit online forums than a "professional" "copywriter" ever will be to churn out this vapid bullshit into an unsuspecting digital wasteland.

    But imagine how many you'd need to complete to 

    feed your hamster, let alone your family of five?
    Nobody will ever read this proposed blog post.

    And, whatever your rubbish SEO agency has told you, Google will not reward you for flinging this kind of sand-blasted gristle into its face. Search engines are already becoming fairly able to tell the difference between "informing" articles and pointless content pages that nobody ever spends more than three seconds on after following a link.

    By peddling these blogettes on the subject of nothing, each revolving around the antiquated concept of a couple of keywords, all you're doing, [Furniture company name CENSORED], is chucking two-pound-coins at a brick wall. Or, perhaps more accurately given the horrible reality that must lie behind the existence of this job-ad, at a tramp in an internet cafe.

    Hopefully nobody will ever write this proposed blog post either. If only my blog had more existing furniture credentials I could pretty much guarantee it by changing the name of this post to "Informative Bespoke Furniture Blog" or something similar and stealing your coveted #1 slot on the SERPs.

    I have hidden my account and will delete it as soon as I can work out how. Not surprisingly, this option is not immediately apparent on Copify's dashboard. Obviously the whole thing is a ridiculous sham and no more attractive an option for any self-respecting writer (professional or aspiring) than an unpaid internship; indeed, less so, as this will only give you a portfolio of bilge.

    Who's to blame for all this then?

    I don't blame Copify; Copify are providing a service that (really badly run) businesses are happy to exploit. They are a blameless boil on capitalism's bum. Admittedly tweets like the below show a contempt for my profession that could perhaps annoy me, if it was in any way an unusual spectacle:

    The targeted client turned them down on this occasion, preferring the option of someone who would "become part of the team". An admirable sentiment; almost as admirable as paying them in the first place would be. But when some writers can afford to work for free for a while, that leaves those who can't (as I could not, when I arrived in London with my writing MA, my debt, and my call-centre destiny writ across my forehead for all but me to see) in a bad place. The sort of place where they insert overwrought parenthetical clauses into sentences willy-nilly.

    So, are the writers to blame? These writers, if writers they are, are the sort of writers who sit there frantically banging out 200-word blog posts in the internet cafés and public libraries across the land, their super-noodles going cold in the polythene cup at their side, and half-crushed cartons of Um-Bongo clenched between their brown and crooked teeth. One cannot blame such.

    I don't blame the Furniture Imbeciles of the world either. One can't expect them to know anything about the internet, or to care about paying writers a decent wage to do a decent job. They don't want a decent job done. They don't require writers; just people who can type.

    Ultimately we must blame the terrible Luddite SEO-agency scum who know all the facts of how the web used to work, but understand nothing of the universal and timeless fact that quality (as a noun, not a fucking adjective) will always win.

    And if you can't afford it, you won't get it.


    As mentioned at the start of the article, the inclusion of the client-company's name in this blog post was deemed by Copify's co-founder to be in breach of point-four of the terms-and-conditions I obviously didn't bother reading on signing up to the site, and therefore excuse enough to threaten me with legal action.

    His email included these lines:

    "I'm all for freedom of speech and although I'm obviously unhappy that you have decided to go down this route, I'm happy to let this stand. One thing we can't allow, however, is the publication of the name of the client for whom the copy you have mentioned was ordered. We have a confidentiality agreement in place, (section 4 of our terms of conditions - which your use of the site is legally bound by. This blog post contravenes this clause, which means that we have grounds to take legal action. 
    Please remove all references and links to the client's site within 48 hours and refrain from using screenshots or other images elsewhere. Otherwise, we will be forced to instruct our solicitors. 
    Martin Harrison
    Copify Ltd."

    Of course I am no longer using the site, but no doubt remain bound by the agreements I made on signing in.

    I'd hate to force anyone to do anything so foul as consort with lawyers, and it's no skin off my nose to deprive a cheap furniture company of the visits it would have got from the links in this blog post; even though said visits (while unlikely to "convert") would undoubtedly outnumber those garnered from the above article for which they paid a writer the princely sum of £2.

    I do find it amusing though that somebody who is "all for" freedom of speech would go on so swiftly after reminding me and himself of this fact to articulate a threat that seems to directly conflict with that sentiment.

    But this is the same man who uses weasel words to pretend his website pays something resembling a reasonable fee for writing work, which – as someone who has logged in and witnessed that desolate world – I must say it's my opinion that it does not:

    He's also unduly fond of using the hashtag #FACTS, implying either that he's sure many people will be interested in his accompanying tweets with reference to their interest in the general trending topic of things factual, or that he doesn't understand the world of Twitter very well just yet. As to whether he understands the world of copy and content at all, or whether his low, low prices for clients ever equal a minimum wage for the website's writers, it's surely not best for me to offer an opinion.

    You must decide for yourself.