I think I’ve just finished my thesis

10.16am, 14/08/2017. The time and date that I finished my thesis.

Well, not quite. For one, it’s still 750 words over the limit, but in the grand scheme of things 750 words isn’t very many at all. It’s certainly a far cry from the 6,000 odd words over the limit the original draft was.

But, the hard work is now done. No more thinking. All the changes recommended by my supervisors have been made – well, except from the ones I existentially disagree with.

Still, of course, there’s a few other things to do. The footnotes are now a bit all over the place due to editing and rewriting some sections, and I need to enlist the help of my mapmaking friend to tweak a few images and add a couple more. Then it’ll have to be sent to proofread. Then I’ll have to go through the horror of printing and binding two copies of it, and trudging through the labyrinthine corridors of the ancient edifices here in Newcastle to deliver them to the school office.

I’ve just eaten a celebratory apple. Now for a coffee, and then back to it.

Has anyone ever been happy with the version of the PhD they’ve submitted?

A genuine, sincere question. Has anyone ever submitted their PhD thesis and thought: I’m really happy with how that looks?

At the moment I think I’m going to have three versions of mine. The first version, the one I submitted in full, completed draft to my supervisors a couple of months ago, is the one I’m happy with. Then I’m going to have a second version, the one I submit in a couple of weeks, which incorporates some of the supervisors’ changes and recommendations – some of which I disagree with fundamentally but are necessary to ensure the thesis is watertight (as far as I can work out this just means mechanically restating your overall argument at every inopportune moment). Then, I guess, I’ll have a third version which I’ll be even less happy with, which will incorporate the changes (presuming there are some…) requested in my viva by the examiners.

Yet more things to add to the mounting evidence that researching and writing a thesis is an intrinsically unhappy process. If you’ve spent so long on something you’d think what you get out at the end is the equivalent of a Fabergé egg. More like a Kinder Surprise in which the toy turns out to be broken.

 

Peace and pacifism in Newcastle in the ‘long’ nineteenth century

It is perhaps logical to think that Newcastle and the wider North East of England did not have much to do with peace, pacifism, or peace activism in the nineteenth century, or more specifically the hundred or so years between the end of one great war (the Napoleonic Wars) in 1815 and the outbreak of another (the First World War) in 1914. In the final decades of the nineteenth century the economic and military ties between Newcastle and the wider world were pronounced. Charles Parsons’ steam turbines became the norm in naval battleships and destroyers, particularly during the naval arms race between Britain and Germany immediately prior to the First World War, and the reputation that companies such as Armstrong Mitchell & Company accrued for the quality of their artillery was second to none. Furthermore, if you’ve been to Newcastle you might have seen ‘The Response’ war memorial (see here), which commemorates and to an extent celebrates the mobilisation of the Northumberland Fusiliers after the outbreak of war in 1914. Little more than other cities, perhaps, but the historical links between Newcastle and war are pronounced once you start to find them.

‘The Response’ in Newcastle. Photo credit: http://www.victorianweb.org

We know, on the other hand, that the city has a proud radical history too. The work of historians such as John Charlton, Elizabeth O’Donnell, and the fantastic Remembering Slavery project (see here) has shown that several individuals and institutions in the North East abhorred and campaigned against the horrors of slavery all throughout the nineteenth century and before. We also know that the town (as it was then) was an enthusiastic and driving force in the Chartist movement in the 1830s and 1840s, and Nigel Todd (among others) has demonstrated that when anarchism began to bloom on the continent in the 1890s it was received warmly if unevenly in the region. Yet what we’ve not known up until now is the extent to which the town and region was involved in the British peace movement. General histories of the British peace movement, such as the masterful work of Martin Ceadel, Peter Brock, and W.H. van der Linden, have gestured towards the importance of Newcastle and the North East in the peace movement. However, these are often no more than gestures, and the ‘provinces’, as they are often called, are typically only brought into the picture when they become relevant for explaining or explicating wider dynamics in the national peace movement.

With this in mind, in January 2016 I was employed as an RA on a small project at Newcastle University. One of my supervisors, the indefatigable Nick Megoran, had teamed up with a lecturer from History, Ben Houston, to do some work into the local auxiliary of the national peace society. From 1817 the ‘Newcastle Auxiliary Peace Society’ (NAPS), as it was properly called, existed in different forms and with mixed successes before finally folding due to huge local opposition and mockery in 1869. The idea of the short scoping project was to produce an initial history of the NAPS to give a local flavour to a conference being organised between Newcastle and Northumbria Universities to commemorate the bicentenary of the founding of national peace society in 1816 (the conference itself took place in June 2016). Apparently I was not first choice to do the work, but other more suitable candidates turned it down and the offer ended up at my feet. Keen for a bit of extra money and the chance to explore a curious part of my home city’s history, I accepted, and off I went into local archives for a week.

second report jpog
Part of the front cover of the NAPS’s second report to the London Society.

So began a period where I gradually adopted the project as my own obsession. It went from a bit of extra money, to something I was mildly yet genuinely interested in, to something I was determined to see through to the end, to a part of the regions history that I’m now basically absorbed in. The things I found were so fascinating and intriguing that I found myself crawling deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole, neglecting my PhD thesis as I did so. It became clear not only that Newcastle had an active branch of the peace society in the first half of the nineteenth century, but also that to describe it merely as a ‘branch’ was actually a bit of a disservice. The NAPS was evidently an organisation that, after a period of initial quiet up to about 1830, attempted to spread pacifism and peace principles throughout the region with a fervour and zeal that can only be admired. They were mostly Quakers, but also comprised a number of pacifist Revds. such as the Congregationalist minister John Orange and the Baptist minister Richard Pengilly. They took advantage of advances in printing press technology to distribute tracts throughout the entire region, not only reprinting the national society’s tracts but increasingly curating and publishing their own. They held public meetings, went into local schools, gave free peace literature to passing merchant vessels of all nationalities, and held meetings to decry Britain’s ever-present imperialist and militarist tendencies.

Not only this, they encompassed a range of subtly different ideological grounds. Martin Ceadel has explained the difference between pacifism and what he calls pacificism. Simply put, pacifism is a position that unconditionally and universally rejects all war and violence, whereas pacificism abhors war in general but concedes that, under specific and rare circumstances (most normally in self-defence) war could be permitted. In its early days the NAPS counted among its number individuals who held a mixture of pacifist and pacificist positions. The aforementioned John Orange was a pacifist, as was founder member George Richardson, but the Baptist John Fenwick and the Revd. Valentine Ward supposed that defensive war was sometimes justifiable. Eventually the pacifists were victorious, Fenwick and Ward left the society, and by the end of the 1830s the NAPS was not only a purely pacifist organisation, but had also dropped the ‘Auxiliary’ from its title as an apparent show of independence from the national society. From this point it was partly dominated by the pacifist and extraordinary Richardson family, but remained sufficiently heterogeneous in its ideology to permit, at least for a time, viewpoints such as that held by the bonkers yet inspirational Revd. Joseph Barker, who abhorred not only war but also human government, and in doing so placed himself in the tradition that we would now define as Christian anarchism.

joseph barker tract for necroev
Part of the front page of one of the Revd. Joseph Barker’s numerous tracts on peace.

However, they were not so popular in Newcastle as a whole, either among the more conforming members of the local clergy or the populace in general. In one example from about 1842, an Anglican minister residing at Hexham could be seen publishing a tract lambasting both the society and Joseph Barker specifically for the supposed lunacy of their ideas. And although evidence for this is slim, it seems they were greeted with indifference at best and condemnation at worst by the merchants, businessmen, and others who relied on international trade for their livelihoods. They were not given any help from local Chartists either – when the society held a meeting to protest the eddying hostilities with Afghanistan and China, it was hijacked by local Chartists agitating for the release of the leaders of the Newport Rising. Later in the 1840s, when Europe descended into revolution, when it looked like France was once again turning its attention to marauding across the channel, and when Russia invaded parts of the Ottoman Empire, the town’s pacifists were ground into the, well, ground for the ridiculousness of their opinions. In 1850 they returned, tail between legs, to being an auxiliary to the national society in London, and were never again a force in the town.

This is a relatively condensed version of my article, just published in Northern History (see here), documenting the activities and ideologies of the N(A)PS between its formation in 1817 and its re-affiliation to the national society in 1850. The original version of the paper was crap, but the reviewers’ comments and some friendly advice from colleagues helped improve it to the state that it is now in. However, when I begun this project I didn’t know that elsewhere in Newcastle’s History department more work was being done into Newcastle’s pacifist history. David Saunders, who has just retired and is now (I think) Emeritus Professor of Russian History, had been simultaneously researching Newcastle’s peace activists as well. Eventually we met, chatted, and realised that we’d independently reached many of the same conclusions, consulted the same primary sources, and identified the key phases and individuals of the NAPS’s existence. This could, I suppose, have been a problem – after all, what candle can a Geography PhD student hold to a History Professor? But David’s warmth and kindness knew (and continues to know) no bounds. He wrote his own paper on the second half of pacifism in Newcastle, which has happily also been published in Northern History (see here). It is the second half of the century-long story that my paper begins, and, if I may humbly say so, the far more interesting half.

David’s paper demonstrates how, between 1848 and its year of closure in 1869, the NAPS was repeatedly shovelled onto the sidelines by Newcastle’s more militaristically inclined masses and even by more moderate yet still apparently ‘radical’ locals such as the MP Joseph Cowen. Its closure in 1869 was akin to a lonely, doleful group of embers exhausting the last of their fuel and finally extinguishing into nothingness. Paradoxically, though, in 1870 the Franco-Prussian War was a bit of a turning point, and marked the beginning of the rise of Newcastle’s most well-known and most fervent pacifist and activist, Robert Spence-Watson. David shows, in lucid and brilliant prose, how Spence Watson consistently and vehemently opposed every major imperial or military twitch in Britain from 1870 to the year of his death in 1911. I would rehearse more of the story told in the paper, yet no rehearsal could capture the activities and activism of Spence Watson as lucidly as David’s does. Go and read it, seriously, it’s great. At the same time, David made me aware of a third paper, also published in Northern History but a couple of years ago, about Newcastle’s opposition to the Boer War at the turn of the twentieth century (authored by Guy Hinton, see here). I recommend reading that one too, it’s just as fantastic.

Between us, I like to think we’ve written a good history of the fortunes of peace and pacifism in Newcastle between 1815 and 1914. Where previously we just had the brief mentions of the region in wider peace histories and vague knowledge of the existence of an auxiliary in Newcastle, now we know so much more. And we can appreciate that Newcastle’s radical history stretches far deeper than the already established abolitionist and Chartist movements. It also had a complicated yet fervent group of pacifists, all of whom fought bravely and doggedly against a wider populace that apparently considered war and violence inextricable parts of human affairs. For this reason as much as any other, it’s a history I’m proud to have done something towards, and one I hope will be more widely recognised than it has been so far.

First half of 2017 redux

I’m not really sure what redux means, but it sounds appropriate in reflecting on the first half of 2017. This year has thus far been productive both academically and non-academically. I rewrote the entirety of my PhD from scratch in about two months, and have just been informed in a meeting today that, once a few teething issues are sorted out, it should pass; revised, resubmitted, and had accepted my first paper (should be out any day now); begun some sideways-glancing work on the history of peace activism, anarchism, and abolitionism in the North East of England; survived another few months of teaching with – mostly – really good feedback at the end of the module; and finally done (or, more accurately, am still in the process of doing) some RA work on hydrogen energy, which has involved talking to actual humans, doing actual surveys, rather than sitting in a cold room pouring over ancient documents that can’t argue with the words you put in their mouth. Hard to believe all this has happened in six months.

Personally, I’ve moved in with my girlfriend of seven odd years after spending twelve months annoying the neighbours with my DJ and PhD pal Stefan; completed my first SF short story (it only took two and a half years from start to finish); my long maligned knee injury seems to have finally healed itself; and best of all, Newcastle got promoted again at the first time of asking. I’ve read loads too, for fun, and not because it was necessary to for this or that part of my thesis. There’s probably more good things happened in the first few months of this year, but as I don’t tend to put stuff like that in my diary, I don’t have hard evidence of it. And as my memory is pretty sketchy at the best of times, I can’t remember them. It’s been alright though, and a trip to Dusseldorf to celebrate turning 2-bloody-6 at the beginning of next month will cap off the end of this academic year quite nicely.

I can’t really think of much more to write, and I’ve got an hour being getting picked up by the aforementioned girlfriend. However, at some point I’m going to write a post devoid of first-person and waffle, about the history of peace and pacifism in Newcastle in the ‘long’ nineteenth century. Between myself, one of my supervisors, and a friend in the History department here at Newcastle, we’ve basically unearthed and written such a history, and two papers documenting it are being published in Northern History (one is out already – see here, the other is the aforementioned article which should be out soon, I’ll link to it when it is). The crux is that whereas Newcastle built loads of naval cruisers, guns, railways, and other such things crucial to the transformation and extension of warfare and imperialism, and while many of its inhabitants enjoyed the economic and political benefits of the British Empire’s global reach, it also has a long tradition of peace activism that has hitherto been obscured. No idea when I’ll get round to writing it, but it’s in my diary to do so and it hopefully should be soon. Until then, I hope you’ve had a good first half of 2017 too, my dear blogging friends and occasional readers.

(Still) trying to switch off from the thesis

It’s now been well over a month since I submitted what will hopefully be the final(ish) draft of my completed thesis to my supervisors. One of my supervisors is currently in Central Asia researching nationalism and butterflies (as you do), and my other supervisor has been reading it bit by bit over the last couple of weeks. As a result I’ve become a bit like a butterfly myself – or maybe a moth, hovering haphazardly around her office, looking for a chink of light of any kind that might indicate she thinks it’s not terrible. We’ve spoke a couple of times about it since, but (quite rightly, to be honest), she is keeping schtum for now until she’s read the whole thing. The only thing I’ve been able to get out of her is that she’s ‘enjoying reading it’, which I suppose can’t be bad, and the more hopeful confession that she’s pleased to see it has an overarching argument and narrative to it, something that it didn’t have for a long time. It should be any day now that she ventures into the postgraduate office here at Newcastle with the annotated and assessed draft – the worst kind of supervision purgatory, not only because of how long it’s lasted, but because of glorious and heavenly thought that she’ll like it and consequently tell me there’s not much more work to do.

Until the nationalism/butterfly scholar who is unfortunate enough to have been my second supervisor for the past four odd years returns from Central Asia, however, final judgement will be suspended. He says it won’t be until the 11th of July he’ll be able to start reading it, which is two days before we have the dreaded formal supervision meeting to talk through it and decide what needs changed. But to be honest, the last month has been relatively pleasant. Work-wise, my biggest task has been going through some of the literature, mainly books, which I’ve cited in my thesis but not really ‘read’ thoroughly. This is not (for the most part) scholarly laziness on my part, but primarily those books that I first read a long time, up to five years, ago, or books where I only properly read individual chunks or chapters that spoke directly to whatever I was working on at that time. So part of what I’ve been doing is going back and (re)reading these books properly, just to make sure my interpretations and references are correct and to ensure that if I’m asked about them in the viva I can talk about them properly and knowledgeably.

I’ve enjoyed this process. Among others, I’ve read Brendan Simms’ mammoth Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, 1453 to the Present, which is great fun in places but dreadfully boring in others, and which makes the fairly spurious argument that Germany has been at the (political) centre of the continent of Europe because of its ‘naturally determined’ geographical position at the (literal) centre of the continent of Europe. I’ve read Henry Cord Meyer’s still essential Mitteleuropa in German Thought and Action 1815-1945, a couple of histories of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, bits of Bruce Cumings’ Dominion from Sea to Sea, and am currently working my way back through Neil Smith’s unputdownable American Empire, in which he traces the roots of the ‘American Century’ through a biography of the geographer Isaiah Bowman. Smith’s book does what some of my thesis does but only a million times better. Part of my approach to understanding the Cape-Cairo Railway’s gestation and partial construction has been a biographical approach to the much-maligned Cecil Rhodes, who did more than anyone to argue for, and finance, it’s slow, snaking process from the Cape Colony northwards. Smith’s book, along with Gerry Kearns’ book on Mackinder and a couple of others, was an essential methodological touchstone when I was devising this approach – Smith, to use Matthew Hannah’s helpful words, treats Bowman as “as a relationally dense node at which to tie together and render coherent a much wider set of logics, circumstances, and political dynamics.” This is the approach I wanted to emulate with Rhodes, tracing the political and geopolitical logics of the Cape-Cairo Railway through Rhodes’ germinating idea(l)s and life story, and placing it concomitantly in his wider political, economic, intellectual, spatial, and other contexts.

I think (touch wood) I’ve done this okay, but rereading Smith’s book has been daunting – I feel like every couple of pages contains more analysis, insight, and understanding than whole chapters of my thesis. This is perhaps inevitable, but it’s awe-inspiring nonetheless. Some of Smith’s words too – that Europe was molten in the First World War and only ‘cooled’ at Paris into the final political geography of modernity, Ratzel’s geopolitics being ‘umbilically’ tied to the ambitions of the expanding German nation-state – are so choice as to be bordering on poetic. The wider problem I’m having is with every book or paper I read I find more information, or conjure a new idea, that I want to include in the thesis to make it tighter or more incisive. The problem is it’s already 6k words over the limit, meaning there is scant room for addition. It’s a nice problem to have though, and it’s helped by the fact that nothing I’ve read over the last month has made me question the validity of my overarching argument in any way – there are perhaps tweaks and tightenings to be made, but no total overhaul.

More exciting than this, I’ve also had time to make, erm, somewhat late progress on my New Year’s resolution. At New Year I resolved to read 25 ‘non-work’ books in 2017, as a way to try and make reading fun again (see here). I started well, reading three in about three weeks, but then quickly tapered off as the thesis dug me more and more undersoil. So among others I’ve read the indisputably fun Final Fantasy and Philosophy, which combines two of my favourite things in one, delicious little edited book. The best chapter argues that none of the Final Fantasys end in true (socialist) revolution, even as the terrible bad guy is defeated. Talking about Final Fantasy IX, the author argues that the Moogles are the true proletariat, and any revolution can only occur when they rise up in solidarity and demand equal status among the citizens of Alexandria, Lindblum, and Burmecia. Best bit though? The chapter is called ‘Kupo for Karl’. If you’re unfamiliar with Moogles that will mean nothing, but if you are – how brilliant?! As well as such books, I’ve finally been able to finish a sci-fi short story that I started writing over two years ago. It has been submitted to a SF magazine, and here’s hoping that their review processes are not as staggering slow and bureaucratic as in academia.

All in all then, a nice month. Today is my last day of (relative) freedom. On Monday I start some RA work for one of the staff here at Newcastle, which will involve some literature reviewing and some survey work in cafes and coffee shops across the North East. It’ll be good, not least because it’ll force me to not think about the thesis for a month (in theory, at least). I have my supervision on the 13th of July, and this RA work is due to end at the end of July. I’m then off to Dusseldorf for a week on holiday, and then if all is well I’ll be spending the rest of August doing the recommended thesis corrections, with a view to submitting properly late August/early September. I also have a first DJ set in ages at the end of August to look forward to – and if it coincides with thesis submission, that will be one heck of a night. We’ve already pencilled in a viva date for the end of November, and although it’s dependent upon my examiners’ teaching timetables being kind, by the beginning of December I shall (touch wood, again) be able to prefix my name with Dr.

2018, I guess, will be working out what on earth to do after that.

Humble pie from a former Corbyn skeptic – now we have hope

After the last General Election result in 2015, I did a blog post that contained a few implicit predictions. I thought it would be the end of a true left-wing voice in the UK for some time, as Labour lurched back to the centre after an experiment with a leader whose name rhymes with ‘red’. I predicted UKIP would continue to gain support in the North East. I predicted Scotland would seek, and surely attain, independence. Finally, I predicted we would be subject to decades and decades of relentless, decimating Tory rule.

While that last one is still up in the air, but nowhere near the likelihood it was a few months ago, I could not have been more wrong. As a consequence, I have had to be subscribed a week’s worth of humble pie. But never will I eat something more ravishingly and delightfully. The long-predicted elimination of Labour as a political force is over, and in Jeremy Corbyn we’ve got a leader who, perplexingly to be honest, has galvanised young and dishevelled voters to oust the Tories’ majority and send them tail between legs into a coalition with a Northern Irish party with less than half the Green Party’s overall vote and which is anti-LGBT rights, anti-choice in abortion, and whose disdain of the truth of climate change is second only to some of their members disdain of the truth of evolution. Liberals who voted for May in fear of Corbyn: how do you feel about that? I can’t imagine a more illiberal party for you to have unwittingly turned into kingmakers.

Corbyn, meanwhile, has done it. He’s proved his doubters wrong (and I counted myself among them – more humble pie incoming) and shown that the inevitability that the Conservative dispositif sought to produce in this election campaign has not only fallen on deaf ears, it has been fundamentally rejected. I take my hat off to him – and while I’d still prefer Caroline Lucas as my PM, we’ll never get a more golden chance to kick the horrible self-serving rabble out of parliament.

I’m now 25, and the first election I could vote in was the ‘other’ hung parliament in 2010 that witnessed Dave and Nick become all chummy on the steps of Downing Street. The second was the Conservative majority in 2015. I then voted in the referendum last year. In all these elections I’ve woken up the next morning feeling despair, like the future is closing in around me and everyone who places collective aspiration above individual progress. Today, in contrast, is the first time I’ve ever woken up after an election and felt hopeful, like the future is itself future-orientated, and that a better country, nation, whatever you want to call it, can be built along lines more fitting for us than it hitherto has been.

This is only the beginning though. We have to keep driving now, backing Corbyn, pressuring May over her newly ordained coalition of chaos, talking to Farron, Lucas, and everyone else who resolutely opposes Conservative government. We have to keep exposing the lies and point to the statistics that show increasing poverty and falling education, health, and social standards under Tory rule. And we have to do so in a way that means whenever (and it could be soon) this nasty, homophobic coalition collapses, Corbyn is in a position to form some sort of government that can get progressive policy through on a vote-by-vote basis.

That’s the dream. Up until now though, it’s only been a dream. Now it’s seeping into reality, but unlike how you normally forget the contents of a dream a few seconds after you’ve woken up, this one is here to stay. As our compleletely discredited PM put it just a few minutes ago – NOW LET’S GET TO WORK.

The only way to conceivably vote in the general election – a pessimist, pragmatist view

 

In just over a week, we will go to the polls for the second time in as many years to apparently decide which way our country will be run. According to the parties themselves, your choice is simple. Vote Conservative for a strong, stable, successful Brexit. Vote Labour for the renationalisation of public services and the reversal of cuts to social care. Vote Lib Dem for a meaningful vote on Brexit and for the relaxation of cannabis rules. Vote Green if you’re in Brighton Pavilion or Bristol West, because we seriously need their voice to some degree. Vote UKIP if you believe the Conservatives can’t be trusted to deliver on the hard Brexit that will probably destroy your life more than you realise.

At least, that’s what they say (kind of, I’ve taken license a little bit). But, digging underneath the surface, my personal conclusion is that you cannot vote for any of the aforementioned parties. I’ve recently moved to Blyth, which is in the Blyth Valley constituency. It is represented, and has been for ages, by Labour’s Ronnie Campbell, who was returned in 2015 with a 9,000 odd majority. He said he was going to retire in 2020, but has put it back two years to stand again. I moved here from North Tyneside, also represented by Labour in the form of Mary Glindon. Although she has a questionable record on same-sex marriage and other equal rights issues, she has been returned with an even bigger majority in recent elections. Labour, despite the creaking and clanking in specific constituencies across the region, remains pretty embedded here.

Yet there are two issues with voting in the Blyth Valley seat. The first is that it’s probably (although not certainly) a safe Labour seat, under the ridiculous FPTP rules we have in this country. UKIP are not standing this time around, ostensibly to give a free run for the Conservative candidate but in reality because they know their vote would be decimated if they did. But there still seems to be little indication that Campbell will be ousted. He’s a familiar face, even though my partner, who has lived in Blyth all her life, claims he’s actually done bog all for the constituency in his time here. Those Irish betting merchants Paddy Power have him at 4/11 and the Conservative candidate at 7/4. I know that bookies odds are in no way indicative of the way an election or referendum will go (you could still get 10/1 or so on Britain leaving the EU after the counting of the referendum ballots had begun just before midnight), but this is close. The Conservatives could take it. But, on balance of probability, they probably won’t. Which means that, as a new voter in the constituency, my vote is likely to count for bog all, although it could help swing a tight contest between Campbell and his blue foe.

The second issue with voting in Blyth is the same issue that people have countrywide. They’re all shite. The Conservatives, through their decimation of social services and their eye-popping neoliberal capitalist ideology, quite literally kill people in some cases, and make plenty miserable, in deeper poverty, with less life chances, a penurious education, and in limbo with their healthcare. Theresa May is a robot who has curiously been programmed by herself to repeat the words strong and stable over and over again, as has been well-noted. I believe the re-election of the Tories will be nothing less than a catastrophe, and will eradicate the remaining sinews of social support for those who most desperately need it.

And yet, what’s the alternative? Labour’s manifesto is all well and good, but there’s no indication of how it’ll be paid for – except from a rather simplistic table that didn’t withstand the IFS’s scrutiny the other day. There’s also the problematic inability of Momentum and other aspects of the far-far-left to cope with any kind of critique or critical engagement, whether friendly or otherwise. Corbyn himself is principled, but while I’m with him on the Trident issue there are other aspects of his foreign policy that would struggle in the realist ‘states compete with each other in an ungoverned, anarchical system’ realm of international relations, one I think is broadly correct. Labour, then, despite being well-meaning and undoubtedly responsible for the best social reforms in recent years under that nonetheless despicable creature Blair, cannot be supported.

Then there’s the Lib Dems. Farron is a nice chap, but he’s never going to be PM. He has pledged the British people will get a final say on the Brexit deal, which will no doubt appeal to some. Yet as someone who ideologically was and is a ‘Remoaner’, even I think that he’s now flogging a dead horse with that line of argument. Brexit, for worse or for worse, is going to happen. I admire that he wants to try and make sure the worse is as diluted as possible, but it’s implausible to think he’ll get anywhere near the number of votes to have any digestible impact on the process.

That leaves us with UKIP and the Greens (notwithstanding Independents, and of course excluding the question of Scotland, Wales, and NI, which I am for the purposes of this post). UKIP are fucking mental, I hope there’s little disagreement with that. The Greens, on the other hand, are where my ideological allegiance lies. Yet they are still unfortunately so far away from an effective voice in UK politics. Their Universal Basic Income, acceptance of the grim reality of anthropogenic climate change, and even their job-sharing leaders are all good things in principle. But the world is not ready for them yet, and might never be, with the interests of private business so entrenched in our economic and cultural psyche.

The choice facing us is therefore one of nihilistic doom. All options are bad. I don’t want May to run my country, but I equally can’t countenance Corbyn, or Farron, or that nutter Nuttall. I could countenance Bartley and Lucas, but this is where realism starts to drag me down again. The Greens in Downing Street would be a great sitcom but wouldn’t be very effective if they were to somehow find themselves in office in a couple of weeks.

My perspective in this election is therefore one of pessimism and pragmatism. Pessimism because I don’t want to vote for anyone – and the knowledge that even if I did, it would make little difference in our stupid FPTP world. But I’m simultaneously pragmatic, in that there are things we can do if we readjust the terms of the debate and the way we frame the election.

If we look at polling, Twitter, the bookies, and everything that’s happened in the last twenty years, it seems inescapable that the Conservatives will get a majority. If we want to be pragmatic, we have to accept that as near-enough fact. This means we have to turn our attention to a subsidiary question – what will a Conservative majority do? As I’ve discussed above, they’ll fuck up social services to the point where we will all (minus the rich few percent) be placed constantly on a threshold of abandonment – if things go wrong for us, if we’re injured, lose our job, or have some other unfortunate circumstance appear out of nowhere, the net that is supposed to catch us will be increasingly made out of ever-sharper cheesewire instead of rope.

Taking these two near-enough facts next to each other, the pragmatic priority has to be ensuring that there is some kind of effective opposition that can rally against the worst of these planned cuts. Leaving aside the prickly notion of defining ‘effective’, in a nutshell we have to try and ensure the Conservative majority is as narrow as possible. If they get a huge majority, they will take it as a mandate to do whatever the hell they like, not only with Brexit, but with schools, hospitals, libraries, and all the other infrastructures that we rely on for our health and wellbeing. If, on the other hand, the majority is narrower than originally predicted, there might be some scope to oppose and defeat some of the more malignant things May and her sprites want to do. Note though that I’m not just saying this because I hate the Conservatives. If, in some alternative Socialist universe, it were Corbyn who were on course for a massive majority, I’d be arguing the same to try and restrict his margin as well.

There is therefore only one course of action open for people like me, who are a) pessimistic and pragmatic, think b) FPTP is terrible and c) none of the parties can conceivably be voted for because they are all, although for different reasons, utterly silly choices. We have to vote tactically to try and prevent May’s majority from being high. This is where vote swapping comes in. This, essentially, is where you swap your vote for Party X in a Party X safe seat, with someone else’s vote for Party Y in a seat where Party Y has no choice of winning but Party X does. You vote Party Y in the Party X safe seat (so Party X still wins), and the person with whom you’re swapping votes Party X in the Party X marginal. This means that your vote, when swapped, might actually count for something serious in a marginal rather than being slung atop a pile of voting slips that dwarfs all the others in your home constituency.

Say, for example, I am going to vote Labour in Blyth Valley (which I am, because it’s not safe enough to warrant a swap). But say that Blyth Valley was really really safe, and I was going to vote Labour here. I would swap my vote with say ‘John’, a Green supporter from a seat where the Greens have no hope and which is a tight Labour-Conservative marginal. Being a Green, John might vote tactically for Labour anyway. But if I agree to vote Green in Blyth Valley, and he votes Labour in the marginal, neither party will numerically lose or gain a vote. It will just be submitted elsewhere.

In our FPTP system, vote swapping is the only thing we pessimists can do if we feel disenfranchised with our vote not counting. Make it count by swapping with someone else. You don’t have to personally identify ‘John the Green’ either, there are websites that’ll do it for you (see here, here, and here). And in doing so, we might – just might, although I am not very hopeful – nudge a couple of seats away from the Conservative majority that will so decimate our country. Again, I do not just advocate this to try and get Labour in. If you’re a Lib Dem in Bristol West, swap your vote with a Green and encourage others to do the same. It doesn’t really matter what colour the marginals turn, as long as it isn’t blue.

Me though, after much waffling and soul-searching, I’ll be going Labour, and Ronnie Campbell. Not because I wholeheartedly support him, or Corbyn. But just because I want to ensure Mr. Campbell, despite his flaws, remains in his seat, and therefore prevents another Conservative being added to the locust swarm of incompetent, immoral nutcases who constitute our current government.

In the long-run, FPTP has to end. We need some form of proportional representation to ensure that votes count no matter where they are submitted. I’m aware this, at present, would assist UKIP a great deal, but it’s the only fair way to do things. Regardless, however, I’m resigned. Resigned to a Conservative majority, resigned to devastating social cuts, a hard Brexit, and all the other crap that May is going to excrete onto our heads. Maybe the defining political ideology of the day isn’t neoliberalism, or socialism, or any other of that. Maybe it’s pessimism, resigned acceptance and sorrow at the way things are, and the forces that keep things the way they are in spite of massive inequalities and poverty.