April is the Cruellest Month...
...and this year more so than for many years, with the full blast of the austerity cuts only just hitting us; the mechanical head of RBS waltzing off with a £7 million bonus which should have been pooled straight back into the state that bailed his bank out in the first place; our blue-blooded Etonian prime minister defending nepotistic internships, and nudging us all to ‘do the right thing’ and hang out the flags for an absurdly inappropriate royal wedding, as our welfare state is being dismantled around us and our NHS is fighting for its very life – it’s a bit like the Lord of the Manor levering a little Union Jack into the swollen hand of a peasant in the village stocks and ordering him to wave it during a processional intermission in his public vegetable splattering.
But there are some rays of hope tigering in with the unseasonably pounding spring sunshine: the fact that Andrew Lansley’s risible attempt to fully Thatcheritise the NHS seems to be hitting the rocks of medical and public opposition to the extent that this distinctly deaf government is apparently going to ‘pause for a listening exercise’ – if only they would actually listen to the nation, then they’d perhaps pack their suitcases and move out of government altogether. That really would be ‘doing the right thing’ for the nation Mr Cameron. The fisticuffs over the AV referendum herald the most promising signs of potential Coalition atrophy, and not before time, though obviously one has to hold one’s breath even when the likes of Clegg and Cable speak out so openly and with such vitriol against the predictable half-truths and lies of the Tory-led ‘No’ camp for ‘vested and invested interests’. One only has to look at the ‘No’ camp’s cross-party phalanx of distinctly unlikeable toughies to see the best possible argument against keeping FPP: David Cameron, George Osborne, John Reid, Eric Pickles, Caroline Flint... need one go on? And it is also heartening to see that belatedly the Metropolitan Police are seriously looking into the hacking scandal at the oxymoronically titled News of the World, which promises to shed some far-reaching light on the seemingly murky practices of said tabloid in the near future, which, given its appalling ethical stance on practically every issue imaginable over the past decades, can only be a good thing for our democracy.
the Recusant goes Green
Apologies to all those who have submitted writing for tR over the past several months but due to various projects including Emergency Verse, response time has been and remains around 2-4 weeks. I will be updating this site very soon with a wealth of new material, poems and reviews, but bear with me for the time being. Everyone will receive a response to their submissions. If anyone hasn't after 4 weeks, please email again to remind me.
I am currently overhauling the look of the site as you can see, and felt the cooler blues and greens would serve as a shady sanctuary in the no doubt scorching months ahead. Not only that, but there is a more ideological theme to tR's new colours: we now wish to encourage greater support for the Green Party and I myself will be voting for them in the coming local election and almost certainly in the next general election – though again, to make such an option more feasible, tR urges all to vote Yes to AV (see further down).
The reason, after long consideration, that tR has decided to openly support the Green Party, is because it is the only party with a foot in Parliament which is openly campaigning against the entire ConDem austerity agenda, most crucially, standing up for the welfare state (which should have been Labour's priority) and its increasingly besieged claimants (that Labour only seems to very selectively defend depending on which benefit is being debated, and with continual focus on 'squeezed middle' top-up benefits as opposed to the hundreds of thousands who constitue the 'crushed under classes'), as well as for a fully state-funded NHS, increased social and council housing (including refurbishing empty properties for such purpose), some form of private rent capping/regulation to be reintroduced (a crucial stance which no other parliamentary party to our knowledge, bar possibly the SNP, has yet paid even lip service to, in spite of the Malthusian housing benefit caps), and reduction in traffic congestion, among other vital issues. In essence, the Green Party is the only mainstream party which is truly taking a stand against the cuts agenda and, frankly, campaigning on social egalitarian principles which were once those Labour campaigned on; the Greens are thus the natural inheritors of 'True' Labour, and the only parliamentary party that seem to be essentially socialist in its convictions.
Sadly, Labour, even under the marginally more left-of-centre Ed Miliband, still seems dogged by too many New Labour hangers-on to show any true possibility of returning to its pre-Blair/Brown grass roots ideology, and is also presently being unhelpfully influenced by one Maurice Glasman and his new concept of ‘Blue Labour’, which basically comes across as yet another New Labourish attempt at a pointless centrist makeover, bar its incontrovertible criticisms of the Blair-Brown market-besotted regulation-light regime which invested unfathomable faith (and powers) in a capitalist system that had demonstrated absolutely no ethical credibility to warrant such; and which has now, of course, confirmed its moral laxity through the speculative behaviour that has ruined our economy, and its subsequent profiteering on social misery with continued bonuses on the back of a taxpayer bailout.
But ‘Blue Labour’ seems another distinctly bourgeois have-your-cake-and-eat-it notion of Labour with a highly dubious focus on an inherent conservatism in the movement’s lineage; an element among numerous elements which many on the left simply do not see as meriting any fresh espousal, especially after thirteen years of ideological void under the New Labour banner. ‘Blue Labour’, at least ostensibly, appears to constitute another cynical bid to drag back the votes of the ill-defined ‘squeezed middle’ classes and more traditionalist Labourite values of some sections of the working classes that have ever adhered to a slightly self-immolating, even masochistic, hard-line work ethic, when one would have thought Labour was originally about fighting for better working conditions and pay in order to further level a deeply stratified and divided society, the first step to which would be the introduction of a living wage (though admittedly at least New Labour introduced the belated minimum wage, something argued for as far back as the 1900s by the party’s first leader, Keir Hardie).
Clearly there is a distinct difference between Labourism and socialism, but it is not in my view a constructive or progressive thing to over-emphasise this distinction, especially at a time when Labour, as the official Opposition, needs more than ever before to reassert its better tradition: democratic socialism. Less of the ‘deserving/undeserving’ Thatcherite paradigms and more of the defending the rights of workers, unions and the continually hounded sick and unemployed of society; but unless the left-wing Labour Representation Committee eventually gains a foothold in influencing Shadow Cabinet policy, it is feared that Miliband’s Labour could go the way of all pink flesh since the party was embourgoised by Blair, as first symbolised in his scrapping of Clause IV.
It now seems to tR that the Green Party is the true Opposition-in-waiting to this era of neoliberal/ neoconservative pro-capitalist values, and for that reason it and EV will support them in both the local and national elections. To which, it is all the more vital for us to vote for AV, as such a system would inevitably shore up the Green and other left-wing parties' votes and hopefully at the very least see more Green MPs elected to Parliament to provide a flank to the spirited Caroline Lucas, EV’s own patron. Only through AV can the true progressive rainbow left of this country begin to claw back political ground from the centre-right parliamentary consensus of the three main parties. And let us not forget that not only did some of the early twentieth century Labour campaigners – when Labour was democratic socialist in ideology – once wear green rosettes; and the social democrat Levellers and proto-socialist/communist Diggers of the 17th century wear black and sea-green feathers in their hats. So here’s to the Green Party as the new mainstream voice of democratic eco-inflected socialism.
Emergency Verse re-launch at Housmans Bookshop May 25th
The Emergency Verse campaign is still bubbling away subliminally in the background as I concentrate on various other projects at the moment. But EV is to be re-launched at Housmans Bookshop, Kings Cross in London on 25th May – all are welcome to come and hear readings from poets Jeremy Reed, Brenda Williams, Barry Tebb, Niall McDevitt, Helen Moore, Michael Horovitz, Dr Robert Ilson, Clare Saponia, NS Thompson, Chris McCabe, Philip Ruthen, Rodney Wood, and, possibly though not yet definitely, there may also be an appearance from ex-children’s laureate Michael Rosen. The event is already being advertised on the Housmans website, which includes a very encouraging write up on the book itself, a breath of fresh air after the parsimonious right-leaning establishment attacks of recent months - the link is here: Housmans (scroll down till you get to the cover image of the book).
It is my intention for Poets in the Defence of the Welfare State to produce a follow up anthology for 2012, provisionally to be called The Robin Hood Book, and I am currently liaising with the Robin Hood Tax Campaign as to permissions for their logo. I will post an official call for submissions for this later into 2011. So just waiting to hear back from our friends in Sherwood Forest first.
EV for AV
As editor of EV, I would like to state that – although no doubt some contributors to the book campaign may veer more towards the ‘No’ campaign, or be in the middle on the issue – editorially speaking, the campaign broadly gives a ‘Yes’ to the Alternative Vote, as does implicitly the Recusant, and we would urge all to vote in favour at the referendum. This is in spite of our ethical opposition to the Lib Dem ideological volte face since the party has been in unholy coalition, and tR has made it quite clear previously in what contempt it now holds such wholesale betrayal of a largely progressive electorate by Nick Clegg and his kleptolectoral (my own term to mean stealing votes under false pretences) cohorts, who, through those grubby backroom dealings of last May, cheated this nation of its rainbow alliance of a Labour-Green-SNP coalition.
But the issue of AV, indeed of any alternative to the undemocratic vested interests of retaining First Past the Post – which condemned us to a Tory-dominated twentieth century – is of far greater scope and importance than the current instinct of many of us on the left to rightly vilify the likes of Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and their other capitulating Orangemen. I hate to say that what finally convinced me of AV – and I have always been a firm believer in Proportional Representation, not of other ‘grubby little compromise’s as Clegg ironically put it prior to his ministerial post – was Vince Cable’s emphasis that by having multiple choices on ballot papers, progressive voters will, under AV, be able to shore up the smaller left-of-centre parties by way of second and third choices; though here I am thinking particularly of the Greens, as well as the SNP (a demonstrably socialistic party which, under the ever bellicose but truly progressive leadership of Alex Salmond in socialist Scotland, continues to impress tR), and the smaller Socialist parties, rather than Cable’s pusillanimous opportunists.
The other key factor is that, since the ‘progressive’ political spectrum is effectively split between one big party (Labour) and three or four smaller, more left-wing parties, AV will work in the favour of the centre-left, and will also most likely disenfranchise the centre-right, most of all the Tories, whose right-wing bedfellows are not even necessarily comfortable second or third choices for Tory voters, bar perhaps UKIP.
So, tR and EV say Yes to AV, not only for these reasons, but also because the only likelihood of our electoral system ever shifting eventually to the full democracy of PR is by building a bridge to it, and AV would be that first step. If AV is not voted in, we could very well be kissing goodbye to any even vaguely representative electoral system for the next century at least, which, given the corruption of modern career politics, is almost unthinkable.
I will be updating the EV page again soon with some photos from the packed January launch at the Poetry Library but am waiting to receive the CD recording of the event beforehand, so I can upload some audio extracts as well.
Photos from the 26th March, March for the Alternative furnish our latest front page, taken by my partner and photographic contributor to tR, Matilda, from our own afternoon reinforcement of the peaceful and spirited procession, will also be posted up soon.
Arts Cherrypickers England?
And what April would it be without the annual Arts Cuts? Ok, 2011 is indeed a period of ‘unprecedented’ austerity measures if the wealthy of society are to keep up their lavish lifestyles (which the government translates as ‘in order to avoid an Ireland or Greece style bail out), but up against it though ACE is, in the current economic circumstances it might have been fairer of them to cut equally across the board rather than arbitrarily axe several arts bodies seemingly in order to crank up funds, bizarrely, for some of the most high profile and long-established ones; in the case of poetry, Faber is apparently receiving its first ACE funding (£40k) on the back of its dubiously ‘inclusive’ mentoring scheme, while the Poetry Society remains in favour, which is a good thing, though it remains to be seen whether its journal Poetry Review will manage to live up to the demands of a diverse and multi-stylistic poetry scene which its macro-title would imply it has a duty to more comprehensively represent.
The Poetry Book Society was an unexpected cut, and if this is down to it arguably not being inclusive or diverse enough in the type of selections it makes each quarter is open to speculation; suffice to say, the Royal Society of Literature’s open letter in defence of the PBS in the TLS did nothing to further enamour one to the PBS’s sense of inclusivity and open-mindedness, and objectively speaking could be seen as rather pompous in its claim that the PBS has some monopoly on recognising ‘the best’ poetry collections being published by its panels of practising poets – one could argue that while it is certainly important to have judges who are well-read in poetry, having solely poets on panels can tend to lead to higher subjectivity based on one’s own poetic approach. Something like the PBS is important to have, but like many long-established literary institutions, it is in need of reform and renewal. Nevertheless, the sudden cutting of funds to the PBS is extraordinarily short-sighted and will inevitably further undermine an already shrinking poetry culture.
Most puzzling of all were the axing of funds to medium and small poetry presses, Enitharmon, Arc and Flambard. All three are diverse publishers of poetry and although the former two can appear a little exclusive, certainly in terms of discouraging any unsolicited submissions, they have been publishing a wide and challenging variety of work for many years now. While Flambard has to be the most unfortunate cut in my books: a good solid diverse left-wing poetry small press, of which we need more, not less. Apparently Salt has fallen fowl of the cuts too this time round; perhaps its double-enshrining of numerous poets in glossy hardbacks was a bad move after all?
Also perplexing and very disheartening was the cut of monies to NAWE which continues to produce the highly useful monthly Literature Training Bulletin for some years now; an invaluable resource for writers and publishers, it can only be hoped that they will survive somehow as outlets such as theirs are few and far between these days.
All in all, the usual myopic and apparently arbitrary arts cull from ACE, nothing new there unfortunately, and while the Recusant fully supports the concept of state-funded arts, we believe the Arts Council needs reform and greater transparency if it is ever to fully and comprehensively represent and support the wide and rich diversity of art and literature in this country. In our view, the austerity measures of this kleptocratic government and its impact on the arts might have been slightly ameliorated by the Arts Council if had chosen a less scorched earth policy of razing numerous presses and organisations to the ground in order to sustain an opaquely select few; in this time of austerity, it would have been only fair for every arts and literary body to take an equal share of the cuts in proportion to their varying levels of funding; and it’s not as if, on the evidence of what all these presses have been producing, ACE can claim it has cut on the basis of quality. But then, when has it ever? Arbitrary and ruthless cuts: that’s the ‘big society’ all over it seems.
Royal Nuptials and Courtly Poetics
No doubt like many of you, I have been growing more and more reclusive over recent weeks in order to do my best to avoid the dispiriting and frankly depressing build up to the royal wedding, though it is unfortunately impossible to avoid all the pre-nuptial chit chat and gossip on the BBC or on the front of the Murdoch broadsheets and tabloids practically every other day.
Nevertheless, I am not a believer in counter-statements against things I regard as completely irrelevant to modern dialectic, such as the monarchy – a moribund anachronism whose only saving grace is that it has prevented a potential line of dogmatic right and centre-right presidents over the past thirty years (Thatcher, Blair, Cameron...). Having said that, simply having a monarchy does our social democracy – what we have left of it that is – enormous harm, reinforcing the British aristocracy and the absurd and pompous institution of class-based deference as continually promoted by the ubiquity of Lords, Dames, Barons, Baronets, Sirs and the like.
Apparently in less than a year, our blue-blooded PM has created 117 new peers, an even more excessive dowsing in ermine of the not-so-great and not-so-good than the notorious era of ‘Tony’s Cronies’. What is wrong with simply using a non-deferential term such as Citizen, Commoner, or even Comrade? Suffice to say, to my mind the royal wedding is nothing more than yet another nail in the coffin of social progressiveness; but when compared to our current oligarchy of multi-millionaire Etonian ministers, it is a comparative damp squib. It is more the stale and rather pathetic blue and pink patriotism resuscitated by such hollow and superficial state occasions that I find deeply uninspiring – and why is it that every time I see a fluttering Union Jack or St George flag I just think of phoney patriotism, jingoism and national delusion as to the British Empire still somehow in some sense being in existence? It is, I suppose, quite a sad thing when one feels so utterly removed from one’s own national culture – or lack of it – that the national colours nauseates them on a profound level. Had we sustained the cultural renewal and principles of the post-War Attlee Settlement, never had Thatcherism or its subsequent parliamentary progenies, not become one of the most socially unequal societies in Europe, and to some more thorough degree, embraced much more the red of the Union Jack rather than its imperishable blue; perhaps, on National Arts and Crafts Day, or International Labour May Day, I would celebrate the ethical enlightenment of my country in streets ringing to the strains of Gustav Holst’s ‘Jupiter’ or authentically intoned choruses of Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’, rather than, as I do in this more prosaic and backward-looking reality, turn away from my country’s flag with such a deep sense of distaste, even nausea.
On this musical note, it is with deep irony that Blake's revolutionary socialist anthem 'Jerusalem' has been yet again bastardised as the patriotic national hymn that it most certainly isn't (or do some people never bat an eyelid at lines such as 'And was Jerusalem builded here/ Amid these dark satanic mills?') during the royal wedding; ironic too that both Gustav Holst (recently celebrated in a fascinating BBC Four documentary), whose symphonic trope from 'Jupiter', known as 'Thaxted' (named after the 'red' parish where Holst once lived), has long been abused for state occasions - even in the 80s, at Tory Jack-waving rallies of all things! - with the misplaced words 'I vowe to thee my country', when Holst himself was of course a radical socialist; and further, apparently Vaughan Williams, fellow socialist friend of Holst, had one of his beautiful compositions grossly misused at the royal ceremony.
For me now the Jack is the flag of everything I do not believe in: empty patriotism, the class system, aristocracy, monarchy, unfettered capitalism, right-wing tabloids, Murdochracy, privatisation, bank speculation, benefits bashing, widespread poverty and homelessness, exclusive austerity measures for the poorest, the dismantlement of the welfare state, the sabotage of the NHS, celebrity junk culture, the Tories, EDL, UKIP and BNP, millionaire pugilist footballers, greed, arrogance and philistinism...need I go on?
On a final, poetry-related note, it came as no real surprise to find on the ever-pinking Gruaniad website that poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy has risen to the upcoming state occasion by inviting some of her versifying friends to pen nuptial poems. Now call me an old stick-in-the-mud hair-shirt socialist, but I’ve always found it just a wee bit contradictory to call oneself ‘left-wing’ but still unquestionably support the ultimate institution for symbolising a nation’s inherent class inequalities. While Duffy is, as laureate, thus bound to mark any state occasion with a token bit of verse, and has, to give her credit, at least also used her position to also versify against the banking speculators, illegal wars and capitalistic folk-demons in general – what is the rationale of the other poets who have joined this monarchic nuptial call to quills? Ok, it is not made explicit that this series of poems is specifically about the royal wedding, but then given the timing, it would be disingenuous to pretend that it isn't. I would think that many of the names included in this poetry roll call think of themselves in some sense as left-wing or centre-left in their politics, and some have actually written to this effect, albeit often rather obliquely, in their poetry. Yes, of course there is such a thing as being ‘left-of-centre’ but still sentimentally tolerant of the monarchy, though I for one do not understand such a juxtaposition of values; but it’s quite another thing to go out of one’s way to pen and publish actual poems which are, by dint of their coincidental timing, implicitly celebrating it.
It is a great pity that there has not yet been a similar surge in poetics against the Tory-led Coalition cuts and ongoing blitz on the welfare state and our very social fabric. That many verse luminaries seem keener to write about royal weddings than the social devastation piling up around them, is yet another depressing though not wholly unpredictable symptom of the distinctly un-radical, often socially disengaged, higher profile echelons of the contemporary poetry mainstream. So far some poets have spoken/written against the arts cuts, but not in the main against the whole austerity agenda and the savage cuts in the public sector, NHS and welfare state (the latter being undeniably a means of support for many impoverished poets and creatives over the decades). This seems rather narrow, even a little myopic, when much more is at stake presently than simply our shrinking arts culture. Having said that, tR of course fully supports all opposition to the arts cuts, and that is implicit in much of the polemic and poetry in EV. But the Recusant and EV argue, in any case, for much more than simply the preservation of the already desultory funds provided for the arts culture in this country: we also argue for a complete reformation of the arts towards greater social pluralism and outreach and away from the vested interests of the establishment-embedded coteries that have dominated it for so many decades. Perhaps as we all oppose the arts cuts we also need to bear in mind that our arts culture is also in desperate need of greater meritocracy and democratisation. Less of the utterly subjective and ill-defined ‘excellence’ spouted so emptily by the arts status quo, but more of the need for diversity, variety, and humanistic, social, and political engagement.
So why is it that so many poets writing at the present time seem somehow reluctant to more explicitly write against the entire austerity agenda, not only the arts cuts? At least, so far, EV has 112 contributors to its name, at least half of whom are well-established and influential poets; though in many ways the book stands out due to the impassioned contributions of those whom Andy Croft said in his Morning Star review have been spontaneously ‘create(d)’ by such ‘Great moments of popular resistance’ as our current one. That integrated egalitarianism is what, for me, makes EV so distinctive from the standard protest anthology; indeed, makes it stick out like a sore thumb to the extent of galvanising at least two distinctly unconverted columnists in recent months to lambast its egalitarian, non-cliqueish temerity. We will see with the new call for submissions how many more poets are willing to come out from the woodwork and nail their colours to the mast in a second verse campaign against the cuts that threaten to devastate not only the arts, but our entire social democracy.
On a final note: the royal wedding itself... Much as tR has nothing personally against the heir to the throne, we are a republican publication and oppose the entire concept of monarchy, aristocracy and other traditional institutions which by implication symbolise and promote the British class system, not to say at great financial expense to the nation and those leading ordinary, relatively impoverished, lives, none of whom are actually ever asked whether they wish to keep the monarchy, let alone pay tax to support their undeservedly lavish lifestyles. And it says so much about the moral depths this country has now sunk to when a leading newspaper, the contemptible hate-rag the Daily Express, has a front page one day speciously bashing those on benefits, and then the next, one celebrating the royal wedding, which is essentially the pairing together of two individuals who have not earned their positions or wealth through any individual work or merit whatsoever, and who will, though with far less necessity than those at the bottom of the social heap, be basically spending their lives subsidised by the nation's coffers simply for waving their hands at crowds. What an absurd nation this is, that most taxpayers rant and rave about contributing tiny amounts to support those without jobs or with physical and mental health problems, tarring most of them as scroungers, but are perfectly happy to throw millions of pounds a year at an insultingly rich family just because of their ancestry; indeed, whose familial claim to the throne, in any case, is highly questionable if one actually studies monarchic genealogy in any detail (although history according to the ubiquitous David Starkey seems to have started with the Tudor dynasty, ironically, the first barely legitimate royal line).
Suffice to say tR chose to crawl under a stone during the ceremony rather than be nauseated by the highly inappropriate pomp and ostentation which juxtaposes grotesquely against the reality of severe economic austerity currently being endured by millions of Britons. Of course, to add insult to injury, our blue-blooded prime minister (who is distantly related to the Queen apparently, so rather like an extended family bash for him) strutted about like a puffed-up pigeon in his Etonian morning suit replete with flapping coat-tails; to think, how far our British social democracy has come over the past three decades that we once again have a pseudo-aristocrat as prime minister and baronet-in-waiting as chancellor. tR also notes, with an unusual prickle of bittersweet empathy for those doyens of the New Labour project, ex-prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, for inexplicably - given established protocols and politesse - not even being invited to the wedding, and for the rather spurious reason that neither are 'knights of the garter'. As far as tR is aware, this is the first time any living ex-prime ministers have been excluded from such a large state occasion and it is admittedly rather unfathomable, even if tR has absolutely no respect on political or ethical grounds for Blair, and very little for Brown either. Do we take it that this really is the ultimate True Blue Royal wedding do? A Downing Street street party to which only ex-Tory prime ministers were invited - they might as well have hung up a sign on the gates reading: ONLY ROYALS AND TORIES ALLOWED BEYOND THIS POINT. So much for us all, of all political colours, being in it together' eh?
The Blue Statesman
The following snippets are two email letters I sent to the New Statesman, which I read weekly and generally enjoy (the magazine that is, not my letters), but, as you will see below, am becoming increasingly disoriented by in terms of just how much it seems to currently pander to the fashionable etiquette for political pluralism, to the extent of occasionally publishing polemical pieces by writers who would seem to my mind better suited to the likes of the Spectator.
Perhaps the editor thinks this provides a more palatable balance alongside the usually incisive dialectics of regular red writers such as Laurie Penny, Mehdi Hasan and ex-editor Peter Wilby? But then, what else is the NS supposed to be for but left-wing polemical comment? God knows 98% of the media is right-wing anyway, so one does tend to look on titles such as NS as one of very few oases of left-of-centre debate (though still the strongest and most authentic outlet for the left is undoubtedly the Morning Star). That said, good and incisive though Penny and Hasan are, it would nevertheless lend titles such as the NS more than a mere verisimilitude to actually have some columnists who are not from the standard well-heeled Oxford-educated backgrounds as the aforementioned two - though relatively merited - meteoric stars ascendant, especially since this is a magazine which champions socially meritocratic values. More of a sense of balance in that direction would be far more welcome in my view than an editorial bent towards ideological pluralism that results in some of the more ill-researched right-of-centre columns increasingly creeping in to each issue. NS is frequently a good and intelligent read, on the whole, broadly left-wing, but at the same time, as with similar titles which still tacitly adhere to established protocols, it must be very careful not to appear at times as if simply paying lip service to the values it purports to champion; and recent emphasis on an inherent ‘blueness’ in Labour heritage bodes ominously, and is a depressing semantic regression from the re-emergence of terms such as ‘socialism’ – and excellent features such as ‘Red Reads’ – which were beginning to permeate the magazine more so than for over a decade in issues of only a few months back.
These recent tendencies, combined with sporadic and noticeably less incisive celebrity-edited issues, plus a disturbing indulgence in academic Maurice Glasman’s ‘Blue Labour’ concept, which apparently is bending the ear of Ed Miliband these days, seems cause to take up some space in this editorial – especially since the commentary I sent the NS seems to have automatically entered their ‘Too Long to Fit Letters Page Word Count’ filter.
It also remains slightly perplexing that the NS has yet to take any notice at all of the EV book or campaign, even in spite of some of its actual contributors also being regular NS contributors. Perhaps EV is just too unwieldy? Certainly I am aiming for a smaller book next time round. However, it is yet another pointer towards a detectable cliqueishness among our cultural elites that even those sections which purport to be ‘progressive’, ‘radical’, ‘left-wing’, such as the NS, which spends much of its time rightly railing against the savage austerity cuts, inexplicably omits any mention of a key national verse campaign against these cuts. Furthermore, when on occasions it rarely excerpts any poems at all, one is greeted with either a navel-gazing lyric from establishment doyen Ruth Padel, or a verbally flat high formalist navel-grazing ode to old age by veteran broadcaster and conservative thinker, Clive James. Apologies to all concerned here but I do find this all rather bizarre to say the least. Though of course it may be that EV really is a ‘marmite’ anthology, and some who even sympathise with its sentiments, perhaps simply don’t like it, or, more worryingly, simply don’t get it.
Anyhow, here are two of my little emailed diatribes to the NS, one in response to a recent issue which focused, I felt, rather morbidly, on the new concept of ‘Blue Labour’, and the briefer other, on the seemingly wilfully under-informed statement made in another issue that there is apparently ‘only one political poetry anthology still currently in print’, the brilliant but by no means only left-wing poetry anthology, The Penguin Book of Socialist Poetry (ed. Alan Bold, 1970)! Maybe the NS thought EV had been sent as a sort of novelty doorstopper from left-wing accoutrement company Red Molotov?
Dear New Statesman
On the basis of your last issue, I hope you're not about to change your name to 'the Blue Statesman?'
I felt Alice Miles' article wouldn't be out of place in the Daily Mail or Express: it seemed to be perpetuating government hyperbole as to some unemployed households having higher incomes than 'squeezed middle' working households. Miles seems to presume that the 'unemployed person does not have to pay' for 'schools meals, dentists and the rest': this is a broad brushstroke for a far more Kafasesque benefits system, where one's eligibility for assistance with the costs of such luxuries as dentistry depends on whether one is in receipt of a 'passport benefit' - JSA or Income Support; if one is on Incapacity/ESA, that is not a passport benefit, so, ironically, given that benefit's purpose, health costs are not covered by it, one has to apply separately for an HC2 exemption certificate. However, even then full coverage of dental costs is not guaranteed by any means, since most dentists have long been gerrymandering their NHS remits so they can charge the unemployed for some fairly basic treatments such as hygiene or whitening. One dentist I've used ghettoises NHS patients to Fridays (though leper bells not yet obligatory). I find it quite disturbing that a New Statesman writer seems so wilfully under-informed, while veering towards Tory rhetoric. Surely NS readers are not to be encouraged to fall for the ConDems' playing off taxpayers against claimants mallarky? In any case, Incapacity Benefit is taxable, which means if a claimant has been permitted to do some work and earns a bit above their therapeutic earning limit, they will effectively be paying tax on their benefit.
I have the utmost respect for John Cruddas but would urge caution against coining a term such as 'conservative socialism'. While it's clear from his perceptive article that his thrust here is Labour's lineage of the dispossessed, and a noble gesture towards a social repatriation of the de-industrialised working classes, 'conservative', on whichever level intended, feels inappropriate: what might be perceived as an emerging streak among Labour's centre-left to rightly 'conserve' such vital instutions as the welfare state (which I am campaigning for myself through Emergency Verse) and a state-funded NHS, this does not seem to justify magnification of a term denoting a protective stance. Why not just 'protective socialism'? I think we need to avoid getting bogged down too much in semantic rebrandings for a party which now more than ever needs a restitution of its name, not another ambiguous prefix. Mr Cruddas is absolutely right to emphasize the vulnerable isolation of left-wing Labour leaders such as Keir Hardie and George Lansbury; however, Hardie indelibly influenced the future of the party up until the 1950s, and has been practically canonised since as a patron saint of Labour. I recognise Cruddas does not mean this phrase as a potential pointer towards a new name for Labour, but unfortunately Maurice Glasman does.
'Blue Labour', apart from its alliterative bounce, is a dubious phrase, not only due to its ideological subtexts (backed up by Glasman's pro-establishment ethos behind it), but also due to its other inadvertant innuendo, which would give the tabloids a field day if it were ever actually used (especially in light of Jacqui Smith's expenses exposure). Glasman, in the context of his recently being doused in ermine, snubs those who see 'tradition as synonymous with conservatism': well there's a strong argument that it is, as is there that it seems contradictory for anyone who claims to be left-wing to bow to our ridiculous, class-propping pageantries of Barons and Dames. That Glasman does not see this is slightly worrying; as his championing by red Tories such as James Purnell. Jonathan Derbyshire refers to the pre-ascendant (post-Cambridge) Glasman as having previously toiled in 'relative obscurity as a lecturer in political theory at London Metropolitan University' - with the greatest respect, that sounds a very bourgeois notion of 'obscurity', or is this meant sarcastically? David Marquand is quoted as saying 'Blue Labour' is not 'soft-hearted', and 'chimes with the Victorian idea of the deserving and undeserving poor': so in other words, it is barely any different to New Labour in that invidious regard; not to say the ethos of a certain shopkeeper's daughter. It is precisely due to the encroaching good poor/bad poor paradigm and continual bashing of the unemployed that many on the left abandoned Labour at the last election. It seems 'Blue Labour' nostalgism is, as its name suggests, inclined much more towards Whig and Tory historical values than those of its own movement.
On the subject of selective historicism, I take issue with Dominic Sandbrook's gauche revisionism of the lineage of 'progressives'. His article's portrayal of the historical English left as largely conservative in nature seems disingenuous. Sandbrook disproportionately focuses on the well-heeled backgrounds of Attlee, Cripps, Gaitskell and Dalton, and the rustic patriotism of Ernist Bevin, while conveniently omitting mention of arguably Labour's two most important ideological firebrands, Keir Hardie and Nye Bevan, both thoroughly left-wing ex-coal miners. Bizzarely, Sandbrook also cites Michael Foot as one of three 'well-known conservative figures in Labour' (surely he meant to say Neil Kinnock?) when Foot presided over the very electorally doomed 1983 socialist manifesto of the 'longest suicide note in history' which Sandbrook mentions in the very next paragraph. Sandbrook seems to cherrypick his way through English political history: he is right to mention that the Levellers did not identify with the term tagged on them, and Lilburne was more a social democrat than a proto-socialist; however, the 'True Levellers', or Diggers, did argue for (and practise) common ownership of land through the tracts of pamphleters such as Gerard Winstanley, who was a proto-socialist, if not, proto-communist, and whom, again, Sandbrook conveniently omits mention of in his lop-sided polemic.
Sandbrook also glosses over the 1647 Putney Debates as mostly concerned with 'discussions about army policy': I've read much of the transcripts and can assure Mr Sandbrook that there is considerably more discussed in these debates, including much heated dialectic on universal suffrage, and outbursts such as this: Rainborough: 'Sir, I see that it is impossible to have liberty but all property must be taken away'. I find it surprising that an historian so glibly shorthands such a multi-faceted historic transcript. Sandbrook also confuses an historical awareness of an 'English radical tradition' with conservatism: while of course the Luddites were anti-change, this was purely because machinery was under-cutting their wages and jobs: not conservatism, just desperation; 'tradition' in the socialist sense is debatably immanentist: it addresses perennial issues, such as poverty, and, yes, though it's currently unpopular to subscribe to it, a dialectical materialist view of history. To my mind, Labour's snubbing of such a viewpoint was a mistake and led to the vague 'progressive' tag that still distracts it today. The only 'tradition' Labour needs to reconnect with is socialism.
I am also more than a little unnerved by ever-increasing emblems of 'Englishness' and 'English values' in such polemics: isn't there already a party standing for such concepts? Whatever happened to internationalism? From Gordon Brown's 'Britishness' to an even more parochial 'Englishness', it's hardly an inspiring leap forward for the movement.
Dear New Statesman
I read with puzzlement the assertion on your back pages that the Penguin Book of Socialist Verse is 'the only book of political poetry in print'; (was even more flummoxed by your mention of Conservative Verse, when, verse left, there are legion online outlets including The Penniless Press, Red Ink, and the Recusant). Excellent anthology though it is, and one which I've written on in a monograph ('Austerity Mainstream'; www.glasgowreview.co.uk), I wonder if you are aware of the existence of the following left-wing poetry anthologies: Red Sky at Night - An Anthology of British Socialist Poetry (ed. Andy Croft and Adrian Mitchell; Five Leaves, 2003), Well Versed - Poetry from the Morning Star (ed. John Rety; Hearing Eye, 2008), and, forgive me for mentioning my own editorial effort, Emergency Verse - Poetry in Defence of the Welfare State (Caparison, 2011; patron Caroline Lucas MP) which funnily enough includes among its 112 poets, NS contributors Ken Worpole and Bill Greenwell. There has also been Bricklight - Poetry from the Labour Movement in East London (Pluto Press, 1980) and Where There's Smoke (Hackney Writers' Workshop, 1983). And fresh off the press this month: A Rose Loupt Out - Poetry and Song Celebrating the UCS Work-In (ed. David Betteridge; Smokestack, 2011).
Lastly, whenever I read Alice Miles I keep thinking I've slipped into a horribly blue parallel magazine, The Blue Statesman: Ms Miles seems sanguine in justifying the ethically risible quality of much of Rupert Murdoch's media empire output, particularly The Sun and News of the World, arguing that most of humanity likes the sordid and grubby, thus attempting to justify such tabloids' cavalier trivialities. I really think the NS needs to go easy on pluralism, since articles such as Ms Miles's (including her Con-Dem-esque hyperbole regards freak cases of some benefits households allegedly having more income than some taxpaying ones, of a couple of weeks back) are the sort of misanthropic, regressive diatribes one would expect to read in the Spectator, not the NS. Since the British media is 90% right-wing, surely we deserve at least one mainstream political magazine that doesn't indulge any right-wing rhetoric?
25 April 2011
The Time for Bankers' Remorse Ends with a Bonus Bonanza - Our Time of Remorse Has Only Just Begun
This week beginning 10th January 2011 has kicked off in standard fashion with the kind of mix of rank political hypocrisy, government doublespeak, and bankers’ arrogance as pretty much any other week since the Con-Dem Coalition began condemning all but the tax-avoiding super-rich and City gamblers to an austere future and the dismantling of our welfare state and social democracy, and the utilitarian marketisation of our education and health systems.
Nick Clegg - whose political reputation is now in absolute tatters following u-turns on tuition fees last year and a more recent acquiescence to retaining control orders, both issues to which he was apparently utterly opposed prior to securing some power for himself and his Orange Book liberals - has started the new year by betraying himself even more blatantly as a full-blooded Tory in yellow-skin disguise, writing in – of all gutter rags – The Sun lauding ‘alarm clock Britons’, those who work long hours to help get the country (i.e. capitalism) back on its feet (but for whose benefit?– most likely Clegg’s own privileged upper middle-classes partly) and who ‘shun relying on state handouts’. This latter snide remark immediately reconnects with the government-propagated fallacy – nay, mass slander – that most people who are unemployed and on benefits, including incapacity, are somehow choosing their position, opting for it as a ‘lifestyle choice’, as Osbourne said last year (and being a multi-millionaire baronet-in-waiting, he should know of course!), the implication being therefore that most or all benefit recipients are also masochists, who volunteer for their state-maintained penury and related threats and abuse. Clegg has tapped in here to the Tories’ endemic benefit-bashing, anti-welfare spin culture. But what is even more outrageous is that such a remark comes from yet another Minister who is by evidence of his own salubrious background, empirically ignorant of the gritty realities of poverty and struggle that beset millions of modern Britons denied – through accident of birth, bad luck, ill health, or a combination of two or three of these factors – the privileges those such as Clegg have always taken for granted: where he, for example, has seemingly had nothing but a smooth run of track after track of opportunity in his life, millions of his fellow citizens have had mostly or even entirely only hurdle after hurdle on their own paths through British society. That Clegg here demonstrates a breathtaking lack of empathyfor those who have not been born into and reared on privilege and good fortune as those such as himself have been, only further cements his reputation in the public consciousness as a conceited, arrogant, judgmental and deeply hypocritical politician who is now almost indistinguishable from the average Tory. Shame on him.
In tandem with Clegg’s anti-welfare, neo-Malthusian posturing, we have also had to listen yet more risible rhetoric from the prime minister, who has urged a public presently being gutted of its welfare state and social democracy not to ‘bash the bankers’. Cameron of course is quite content instead to continue bashing the poor and vulnerable, the sick and unemployed – that is absolutely fine according to his credo, but we must not start attacking the bankers and speculators, the so-called ‘wealth creators’, even if the blatant truth since the recession (though many of us knew it long before that) is that they are actually the ‘wealth-robbers’ of our society, and nothing more. It looks, however, as if this Old Boy sophistry and moral hypocrisy – courtesy of course of Andy Coulson’s spin department – is rebounding on itself in the wake of another new round of gratuitous bonuses, even among the bailed out banks, and the Chancellor’s absolute spineless failure – or lack of willpower – to rein these parasitic reprobates in: Miliband’s Opposition Labour is, via the refreshingly confrontational Shadow Chancellor Alan Johnson, doing its best to verbally berate Osborne et al for such rank cowardice and unfairness, and Johnson’s incontrovertible coining of the Chancellor’s ‘sneering arrogance’ in the Commons recently was such an obviously apt description of the baronet-to-be that even Osbourne himself did not seek to challenge it or request, via the Speaker, an apology. Again, this was a rhetorical statement: everyone recognises it. And it is precisely the Chancellor’s arrogance which is about to plunge this country into either a double-dip recession, or at very best, an achingly slow economic growth for the entirety of 2011. Well done Coalition, your New Politics of ‘listening’ is working a treat – if only you would actually start listening (to the experts, for a start)!
The only consolation in seeing a snatch from the select committee session with the egregious, plastic-faced and apparently conscienceless Barclays boss, Bob Diamond, was the ever-diligent Labour MP John Mann giving him a verbal belting with his usual mix of bare-faced Northern abrasiveness and righteous distaste for the contemptible excesses of the banking sector. Other panel members also demonstrated some sense of public anger and disgust at the complete abject failure of the bankers and speculators to recognise the crime they have committed against the people, and, of course, their marked lack of any true ‘remorse’ for what they have perpetrated in order to feather their own nests. Diamond’s unbelievable tactlessness and lack of human empathy in suggesting that the period of ‘remorse’ on behalf of his sector now 'needs to end' so he and his ilk can get back to gambling with our economy again while our social democracy disintegrates before our eyes, has now instantly marked him out as, in the apt words of one Union leader, the embodiment of ‘everything that’s wrong with our society’. But in spite of both Parliament’s and the public’s sense of outrage at the parasitic sector this non-entity symbolizes, Diamond nevertheless walked out into the light of day grinning from ear to ear with immaculately white teeth en route to securing his £9m bonus for betting on other peoples’ money – a truly despicable product of this morally rotten free market capitalist system that we all have to scrape by in.
Welcome to the Big Society one and all! And we all know the only way to make room for a Big Society is via the shrinking of the state – but that's something we cannot allow to happen.
2011 will be the year for the fight-back, the year of reckoning – and the year in which Cameron’s vacuous vision for Britain has to stand or fall because there is no room in this country for both his Big Society and our Social Democracy.
The Recusant joins in the campaign of resistance to the cuts to ensure that is most definitely the former that will go in the end. But there will be a long fight ahead in order to ensure this, whether by placard or pen, on the street or on the page.
To which, onto slightly more optimistic matters:
Emergency Verse - The Book and Ongoing Campaign
Emergency Verse – Poetry in Defence of the Welfare State had a superb launch at the Poetry Library, Southbank on Wednesday 5th January. 28 of the 112 poet contributors came to read at a packed Poetry Library, standing-room only (it was a great pity that over 20 people had to be turned away at the door due to space restrictions), though in the end the 100+ audience had to sit on the floor, since due to time restrictions, the readers had to rotate in convoys to take their turns seated on the narrow stage and read consecutively for a full 1 hour and 20 minutes without a break, in something of a polemical marathon. Congratulations to all readers, who each managed to stay within their 3 minute time slots and who all read magnificently in with much passion, meaning that the event proper actually ended about 10 minutes before time. The readers were: Judith Kazantzis, David Kessel, Naomi Foyle, Michael Horovitz, John O’Donoghue, Simon Jenner, Jeremy Reed, Niall McDevitt, Clare Saponia, Antonionioni, Brian Beamish, Leon Brown, Bethan Tichborne, Charlotte Beyer, John Horder (who missed inclusion in the book but managed to make the launch), Brenda Williams, Tom Jayston, Dr Robert Ilson, NS Thompson, Michael Bartholomew-Biggs, Mark Kirkbride, Rodney Wood, Julie Whitby, Tamar Yoseloff, James Fountain and myself, as reader and unlikely host, wearing my ill-fitting Red Molotov Clement Attlee T-shirt especially for the occasion.
It is no hyperbole to say that this was an almost magical evening, scored through with a real sense of both political and poetic solidarity and in a true spirit of egalitarianism, with all poets, both new and established, sharing equal reading time and each demonstrating a real sense of humility in a cause bigger than all of us, which thus united all of us. Though this was an event of true collectivism, one or two moments stood out for me, in particular Michael Horovitz reading extracts from his superb epic A New Wasteland (a review of which will appear on the Recusant soon), and the bereted Jeremy Reed intoning his poem ‘Spread Betting’ while sprinkling showers of glitter over the stage (and over me, sat behind him). But all readings were brilliant, passionately performed by one and all – and a CD recording of the entire event will be winging its way to me in due course, which I will make available on the Emergency Verse page.
In terms of ongoing media coverage: there was a Diary listing in the Independent the day after the event, and in the pipeline are features in both the Communist Review and the Big Issue, both of which will be excerpting some poems from the anthology. I am in the process of disseminating review copies far and wide, and links will be put up on the EV page as and when reviews arise. Apparently a Guardian reporter was also spotted on the night, so we should keep our eyes peeled in that quarter too. Copies of the book will also be sent to the Department for Work and Pensions, to the leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband, and one of course to our patron Caroline Lucas MP.
In the meantime, there are still copies in stock, so please anyone interested in reading the tangible print entity – an illustrated 368pp tome with additional updated Foreword – make your order on the EV page and the book will be dispatched to you promptly. Or, if any of you prefer postal protocol, please send an email to me and I will provide a postal address: [email protected]
Recusants, readers and my fellow Poets in Defence of the Welfare State (PDWS), a vigilant new year to you all.
Alan Morrison, January 13th 2011
Last editorial: December 2010
Countdown to Entropy: The Liberal Autocrats and the Tory Organ-Grinders
As we witness the meltdown of social democracy before our eyes only seven months in to the illegitimate Con-Dem Coalition Government, it is some small consolation that yesterday’s pathetically narrow voting-in of the trebling of university tuition fees has also struck the final death-knell for any remaining ethical or political credibility that the Liberal Democrats had left. The ever-bellicose Nick Clegg, transparent u-turner and apology-ducker, might be putting on his usual blank no-nonsense face of unprincipled defiance in all this political mayhem, but the reality remains that he and his party are now beyond redemption in the eyes of all decent-minded, left-of-centre British voters.
Yesterday the Lib Dems signed their own death warrant by allowing this disastrously facilitated policy to go through Parliament, a hollow victory, and the most breathtaking betrayal of voters – and the hundreds of thousands of students they wilfully duped into voting for them by signing pledges they had no intention of carrying through – since James Ramsay MacDonald’s volte in the face of his own Labour Party, and formation of a government with the Tories back in 1931 (significantly, in very similar economic circumstances, following the Crash of 1929). At least the Labour Party had the moral spine to sack their leader in 1931, in spite of his being prime minister at the time. Unfortunately, no such defiance by Clegg’s own party, though I predict the beginning of the end it within this parliamentary term; and an inevitable electoral wipe-out in 2015.
Those 21 Lib Dems who had the guts to vote against tuition fees however are to be greatly commended. But they must now make the second step and cross the floor to the opposition benches. Those who fell in line by the whip, and the execrable Orange Bookers who seemingly stand for absolutely nothing at all but power and the instant corruption of ministerial office, will be consigned to the political dustbin of history without a doubt. What we are now witnessing is the ideological split of the Lib Dems between the Orange Liberals and the Social Democrats such as ex-leaders Charles Kennedy and Ming Campbell, and the torn deputy Simon Hughes (who at least abstained in the vote).
What is of course even worse, and more depressing than the Lib Dems’ shameless capitulation to their Coalition partners’ political vandalism of our social democracy and welfare state (and everything else that goes with those), is that they have allowed themselves to be put in the position where they are taking most of the blame for what is happening to our country away – at least, temporarily – from the true organ-grinders of this regime: the Tories.
But there is no doubt that the true backseat driver of the most brutal administration this country has possibly ever known (and having grown up in poverty on the wrong side of the fence during Thatcherism, it takes a lot for me to say that) is the icily aristocratic chancellor George Osborne. In time, the public will realise that beyond the duplicity and hubris of Clegg, Cable and lapdog Danny Alexander, sits the peoples’ real enemy, an individual who has absolutely no moral compunction in ruthlessly and hypocritically punishing the common people of this country from every direction possible – through malicious cuts to education, health, welfare, the public sector etc. – and all in the name of his own parasitic class of inherited land-grabbers and tax-avoiders, and the scabrous breed of banking capitalists known as ‘speculators’, who constitute the true ‘scroungers’ of our society. Heir to the baronetcy of Ballentaylor, one of the oldest landed families in Ireland, Osborne has feudalism pumping in his blood and peasant-bashing in his very DNA. But as the London protests have baldly demonstrated: the serfs of this country are not going to take another clearance-and-enclosure social land-grab in the 21st century.
the Recusant fully supports and commends the student demonstrators and protestors whose sheer courage and sense of moral principle puts their Lib Dem betrayers and the Tory taskmasters to absolute universal shame. Yes, universal shame, especially since it emerged today that a 12 year old schoolboy was marched into his head master’s office to be interrogated by a policeman from an anti-terrorist unit over his plan to picket outside the prime minister’s constituency office regarding the closure of a youth club: this single incident, quite apart from the events of yesterday’s provoked riot in London, puts finally into context just what we are all up against today: a reactionary, right-wing political class which is prepared to intimidate minors and allow youths to be bashed so badly on the head with police truncheons that they then have to undergo brain surgery. I include below an eyewitness account from a friend who was present at the heart of yesterday’s demonstrations in London, and his understandable disgust at the heavy-handed, pugilistic police tactics:
I managed to get caught right in the thick of the riot although I was myself well-behaved. I got stuck in Parliament Square between 3.30 pm and 9.30 pm with a few friends. I watched the attempted invasion of the Treasury building soon after the result of the vote was announced (my housemate called me from Bristol with the exact details of what was going on in the West End because the irony is that when you're at the epicentre of all this, you don't really have a clue what's going on). I stood on a plinth about 100 yards away to observe the police taking photos of us all from inside the Treasury. It was utterly awful, and a little scary, when you saw the rent-a-mob (a tiny minority as per usual) out in force in their black hoods and facemasks smashing concrete bollards and carting off barricades to use as weapons. Bonfires were lit everywhere and today I smell like a barbecue. Parliament Square looks like a bomb has hit it although I think the worst skirmishes were in Oxford Street (including the attack on Charles and Camilla's car).
In the end the police kettled everybody and blocked off all the exits from Parliament Square and forced us out over Westminster Bridge where they held about 2,000 of us for around two hours bunched up together in freezing conditions until releasing us in dribs and drabs in a zigzag fashion towards Waterloo. Utterly disgraceful. No ambulance facilities anywhere. Clearly this use of kettling is designed to provoke a reaction and utterly counterproductive also in the long-term because it will merely contribute to the ongoing radicalisation of students and public sector workers: which obviously needs to happen. If it can happen without major violence though that would be preferable although a few smashed windows and graffiti on walls and plinths is hardly major violence in my opinion. Fortunately, I didn't see any police brutality. Some of them were even exchanging good-natured quips with demonstrators although equally there were a lot of students venting their utter hatred of the authorities (which to be honest I can't entirely condemn them for). The powers that be are now so determined to curtail demonstrations that I think protest as a fundamental human right is in serious danger in this country.
So that's that. A dramatic day. Personally, I hope and think this could lead to a wider radicalisation beyond the student population. Whether it will cut across professions and age groups and classes though to the extent it destroys the coalition is something I have doubts about. The Coalition's next target is going to be those on welfare. They've clearly declared war on the poor.
Was disgusted by Cameron's and the Met's reaction today: labelling practically all demonstrators as violent which is obviously completely untrue. As for Boris Johnson's remark that parents 'egged on', that will have alienated even Tory voters no end. 90-95% of us were not orchestrating any disturbances. As for this poor lad who's got a brain bleed, I note how far that has been pushed down the news agenda and how the smashed window of a bloody Rolls Royce containing the heir to the throne simply dominates the coverage out of all proportion to its significance. Thank god they didn't make a rush to liberate the occupants. The royal protection would definitely have opened fire and then there would have been deaths.
As for this kettling, it is extremely unethical. There were several thousand of us on that bridge crammed together for two hours. What if someone had collapsed in the middle of that crush? How on earth would they have got out of it? More to the point there were no emergency services anywhere in sight. Simply ranks and ranks of riot police. Have a gut-churning feeling that the next demo is going to end in tragedy because of this stupid, provocative method of policing.
You can simply sense the anger building up in the country, although of course millions are simply unaffected and still apathetic. We'll see what happens to the Coalition, although Labour simply can't bank on inheriting due to a collapsing/entropic government. The will to cling onto power is extremely strong: more so in the Tories than in Labour who tend to give up towards the end of their periods
I myself was frustratingly clamped to my desk in Hove all yesterday frantically finalising the forthcoming Emergency Verse, to a very tight deadline, the proofs having been inexorably delayed due to one day’s worth of heavy snow last week (and to think, Royal Mail haven’t even been privatised yet!). Knowing that what I was working on was the finalisation of a campaign begun in the summer and in the same cause as the London protests was of some small consolation to me, my placard-hand itching as I worked. (But I will certainly join the demonstration against the welfare
cuts in Brighton on Wednesday).
So instead of being able to witness the events of 9th December directly myself, I was forced to intermittently endure what I can only describe as BBC News 24’s risible coverage of the demonstration in London and the subsequent riots that we now learn were partly provoked by the intransigent and frankly dangerous kettling technique of the Metropolitan Police, swiftly followed by a Peterloo-esque mounted stampede through a tightly-packed number of mainly young people (some children I believe), which amazingly did not result in any serious injuries.
The BBC typically decided to focus almost solely on the alleged ‘violence’ of dissident ‘anarchists’ (whatever that term is supposed to mean), and the small pockets of masked protestors who smashed
a few Treasury windows (disingenuously termed by the BBC as ‘vandalism’ when, inadvisable though it is, such outbursts still constitute a direct reaction to the political vandalism perpetrated by this atrocious government on our social democracy). The BBC also predictably made a brouhaha out of a minor incidental five minutes or so when a few protestors surrounded the Royal car of the heir to the throne, a situation which, we have now learnt disturbingly, was seconds away from ‘provoking’ open gun fire by armed police. And one broadcaster’s brittle interrogation of a highly articulate student representative in an attempt to obfuscate the core issues of the day behind cherry-picking digs about ‘mobs’ and ‘violence’ made me want to once and for all rip up my TV licence. BBC clearly now stands for Bourgeois Broadcasting Corporation.
So whilst the BBC, the right-wing tabloid media, and, of course, our ever-punitively rhetorical prime minister (that’s David Cameron by the way) universally condemned the alleged ‘violence’ and ‘vandalism’ of the ‘thugs’ who demonstrated – the latter term used with breathtaking lack of insight by the bellicose head of the Met – trotting out the ubiquitous term ‘unacceptable’ again and again and again, the Recusant wishes to express its deep concern at the needlessly inflammatory tactics of some of the police (kettling-in and then galloping their horses against the demonstrators), as well as our utter disgust at the knee-jerk media and political responses to the day’s events, all of which constitutes a national disgrace: it demonstrates our establishment’s utter contempt for democratic rights and the freedom to protest.
The Con-Dem Government simply does not get it – even after an entire month of mass protests, demonstrations and riots in the capital and throughout the country: the electorate is rejecting its illegitimate and shadily cobbled-together right-wing backroom coup, and demanding the right to recall all those Lib Dem MPs who have betrayed their trust and wasted thousands on thousands of votes. This government is without legitimate electoral mandate to pursue such a wholesale ideological assault on the people of this nation, and the tuition fees crisis is only the tip of the iceberg. It is also in the process of dismantling our welfare state, privatising our NHS, decimating our public services, axing funding for the disabled in care homes, whilst unashamedly massaging the unregulated freebies and bonuses of the banking sector. I hope the speculators are now satisfied: thanks to their unscrupulous and criminal behaviour, we are now seeing the full ramifications in the meltdown of our social democracy and what looks set to become an era of public discontent, protest and riot. That’s not even to mention the countless suicides on the rise among the mentally ill as they see their already inadequate care services and funds melt away around them.
David Cameron and George Osborne – the latter beyond doubt the most contemptible chancellor this country has ever had to suffer – are actively pitting the taxpayer against the welfare claimant, and now against the student and the young – that very next generation that apparatchiks at the heart of government have consistently claimed they wish to save by making the deep cuts in this generation, when the reality is that the cuts are actually already hitting the next generation – in the most mercilessly cynical and irresponsible political putsch this country has ever witnessed. That Cameron had the sheer temerity in one select committee grilling to rebut accusations as to the ‘Kosovo-style cleansing’ of those on benefits in London with his disgustingly unfair caps on housing benefits – but not on the obvious core of the problem: exorbitant private rental levels – by saying there is likely to be more social anger directed towards claimants if they are left to continue living in tax-subsidised housing in the capital, is beyond belief: it is precisely his and Osborne’s open war on the unemployed that has incited this societal attitude in the first place! There will undoubtedly be much more social unrest to come, particularly in the capital, once the new housing apartheid system comes into force in the coming years.
Ed Miliband – who only last week had the guts to finally declare himself ‘a socialist’, arguably the first time this Jedi-like term has been used by a Labour leader since Michael Foot in the early Eighties – must now seize the moment and rally behind the growing national opposition to the Con-Dems. It is simply essential now for the Labour Party to champion the common cause in Parliament and provide an ideological alternative to the carving up of our social democracy that the ‘big society’ is all about. A recent article in the New Statesman has proposed a 'New Socialism', and the seeds of this seem to be propagating fast throughout the country through the new generation of student activists and left-wing protest groups. But the New Socialism must not capitulate to the dictates of capitalism as New Labour did: it must offer a clear ideological alternative, and join with the Green Movement to discover the best and fairest means to pool together this planet’s diminishing resources, before the super-rich elites start retrenching even further into their ‘big society’ bunkers.
A ‘New Socialism’ is a much more macrocosmic and optimistic paradigm in that, unlike the whitewash of ‘New Labour’, it hints at a new pluralist Left consensus which can override petty Labour tribalism and, hopefully, embrace not only Miliband’s Labour but also the other minority parties of the Left. The aim is to counteract the ‘big society’ with the ‘good society’, a new communitarian and co-operative socialist movement for the 21st century. ‘Good society’ very much echoes the New Testament’s aspiration for ‘the good time coming’, and in this week’s New Statesman, the ever-incisive Mehdi Hasan has written a compelling article illustrating the undoubted socialism of Christ himself, via various excerpts from the New Testament – most notably, His turning over the tables of the money lenders in the temple, and his unambiguous warning that one cannot worship both God and wealth at the same time (I recommend Messrs Cameron and Duncan Smith having a look at this pertinent article!).
[These arguments are not new to myself (but it’s very heartening to read them summarised in a national magazine): my dissertation at university was entitled Was Christ A Revolutionary? My conclusion was the same as Hasan’s: a revolutionary in thought, a radical by deed, peaceful but forceful, compassionate but angry. What is most profound about Hasan’s article is his casual reference to Jesus as ‘the unemployed son of a carpenter’, which brings a brilliant modern parallel into the equation, touching on the contemporary taboo of unemployment in this country: arguably, if Christ was among us today, he would most likely be one of the millions of unemployed, possibly a new age traveller, even one of the street homeless, or maybe one of the thousands of underappreciated community volunteers, doing good deeds but also speaking out, even campaigning, for social and spiritual justice. He would be the first to condemn the behaviour of the bankers and their apologists. The Con-Dem Government would call Him to account and vilify Him for political heresy against the Pharisaic hypocrisy of the ‘big society’. Of course, Pontius Cameron would probably swiftly wash his hands of Him, and leave him to the baying mob of rabidly aggrieved tabloid-herded taxpayers who’d no doubt tell Him to stop His miracle-working and ‘get a proper job’. Those who believe Christianity and Conservatism are both compatible, take note: you can’t have it both ways, either champion the common good, or worship private greed. The choice is yours, there is no in-between.]
The standard has been raised by this government's brinkmanship: sadly many more pitched battles are likely to come in 2011, certainly at least a continuous series of mass protests and demonstrations, and the Recusant and Emergency Verse – part of the national Coalition of Resistance Against the Cuts – are fully behind this growing mass opposition to an anti-democratic administration which none of us – none of us – voted for. Opposition will continue until this government is forced out of power.
the Recusant joins the rallying call echoing throughout this country: we want to go back to the ballot box and have another general election, and we want it now. This government has no mandate at all to remain in power for another four and a half years; it doesn’t even have sufficient moral credibility left to even remain in power for another four and a half days! Until we secure another general election, those who wish to still live in a true democracy will oppose this tyrannical government every step of the way.
Alan Morrison, 10-11 December, 2010
Emergency Verse – Poetry in Defence of the Welfare State will be launched at The Poetry Library, Southbank Centre on Wednesday 5th January 2011 at 8pm.
The First Anniversary of the Most Regressive Government in British History - After the Farce of the AV Fisticuffs, It's Back to Rose Garden Smiles Again, Though Now the Lib
Dems Have Learnt the Tories Have (T)horns
The ConDem Coalition's first anniversary on 11 May 2011 was marked by a flatlining economy; a tax-dodging multi-millionaire Chancellor declaring war on the unions and workers' rights as casually and unironically as if passing the port at his stately dinner table; and the disabled of this nation wheeling past Westminster in protest against the DLA cuts which are set to devastate their lives to the tune of £4 Billion; all proceeds to go to plugging a near-mythical deficit and letting off its culprits, the bankers, with a mere £2 Billion slap on the wrists as they continue receiving bonuses for wrecking our economy. This is modern Britain: punishing the innocent, weak and vulnerable for the crimes of the guilty, greedy and immoral. A country that pays lip service to the Arab Spring's nascent democratic values while it cripples the lives of its most vulnerable citizens and kettles all those who protest against it. Once the deficit is finally plugged, at the greatest human cost, will the society left prove worthy of such a sacrifice? No such questions asked by today's establishment media, which, like the Disabilities Minister herself, failed to speak directly to so much as ONE disabled protestor! This is the contemptuous society Cameron, Osborne and Clegg have created: brutal, uncaring and immoral. 'It's not fair to pass on the deficit to my children and grandchildren' slipped Clegg tellingly on C4 News (and Clegg doesn't do figurative). The BBC offered a belittling lack of coverage of this protest, while Newsnight didn't even mention it! Unsurprisingly, the national press uniformly dodged this issue which no doubt they found in the main extremely embarrassing in the wake of recent patriotic royalist pageantry - once again the ONLY newspaper to cover this story fully AND to have it as a leader on its front page was the ever-commendable Morning Star, which the Recusant fully supports as Britain's only genuinely left-wing, truth-telling daily newspaper. the Recusant supports a ROBIN HOOD TAX on the Banks, so that those who created this economic mess pay for it, not the sick, disabled and poor! Even Sarkosy is currently considering it - so why not our Etonian PM?
One Law for Laws, Another for Everyone Else
Further evidence of our new feudalistic sense of justice is news that David Laws, ex-cuts architect who was found to have fiddled his expenses claims to the tune of around £50k to pay rent to his secret lover out of public monies allegedly in order to 'keep his sexuality a secret' - and when he is already a multi-millionaire! - has been slapped on the wrists for his gross misconduct with a mere seven day suspension from sitting in parliament! If someone on benefits is found to have cut corners to the tune of so much as a few hundred pounds, and frequently due to trying to survive in the face of an impoverishing and loophole-ridden benefits system rather than out of any sense of greed, at the very least they get penalised for the money and sometimes even stripped of all benefits for up to three months, which frequently pushes people into further poverty, even homelessness! And on top of this, there is talk of Laws even returning to the front bench at a later date! You couldn't make this up really could you? One law for the rich and greedy, a very different law for those at the bottom of the heap. This is modern Britain's 'Big Bankers Society'. Funny how the welfare-stigmatising hate-rag Daily Express never thinks to have front page headlines denouncing wealthy 'scroungers' isn't it? Much easier to just pick on the poor, and frequently spuriously anyway.
Only today we witnessed the appallingly hypocritical spectacle of the Laurel and Hardy of politics, Cameron and Clegg, speaking about Laws as if he was some terribly wronged individual who has suffered quite enough and should be given a jolly good pat on the back; who, according to Clegg (which of course means absolutely nothing), made 'no profit' from his swindle of public monies but was basically a misunderstood martyr to the terrible stigma of homosexuality - when nowadays there are legion out-of-the-closet gay MPs, even an out-of-the-closet gay ex-vicar in Chris Bryant of Labour.
So none of these pathetic excuses for Laws' deceptions hold any water whatsoever, and though I am not one to enjoy punishments being meted out to anyone - unlike this government of course who thoroughly revel in punishing the proles - even those I dislike or disrespect, what should be being discussed is not should Laws return to government eventually, but whether he should actually be expelled full stop from parliament; moreover, whether a mere seven days suspension from parliament is a remotely convincing punishment when one compares the horrendously brutal sanctions dished out to anyone on benefits who is perceived to have in some way committed 'fraud', which invariably is a form of corner-cutting based on the need to survive financially amid an absurd welfare system that arbitrarily impoverishes its claimants through various loopholes, and very seldom - in spite of what classist rags such as the Daily Express would have you believe on a weekly basis, and which has, incidentally, been spouting the same specious headlines about welfare 'scroungers' ever since the late 1970s, and periodically thereafter, during times of recession - just because it can be done.
Yet again this government and political class are shown up as the hypocritical, greedy and duplicitous people they really are, condemning the poor and sick from the odd undeclared pittance here and there in order just to pay their rents and bills and feed themselves, but expecting the public to feel awfully sorry for poor Mr Laws, a multi-millionaire who has not only, without any necessity for material survival, manipulated the expenses system and pilfered over £50k of public money, but who has then cynically used his alleged fears of sexual exposure as his prime motive for doing so. If he was so concerned about his sexuality becoming public, surely a man of such gratuitous means could have simply dipped into his own pocket to cover his private life up rather than do the easier and expedient thing and helped himself to public money? It's not about giving tougher punishments necessarily, it's about balancing the books morally and not having one law for the wealthy and powerful and another one for the poor and vulnerable.
Cameron has the temerity to speak of how the thought of giving prisoners the vote makes him feel 'physically sick', while many others might say they feel physically sick at the thought that someone convicted of indefensible and cynical malversation is not only let off with a piddling 'punishment' (basically seven days leave, apparently unpaid, but are we seriously supposed to feel sorry for the millionaire Laws losing £1,200 in the process?), but is also still considered of sufficient character to return to a ministerial post! And all because he's seen as 'talented'. And so are the banks and speculators of course - that's why they also get off scott free with more bonuses after committing national fraud, while the rest of us lose our benefits, jobs, even homes, and are left to fend for ourselves in the Big Bullshit Society.
There should be infinitely more leniancy regarding alleged benefit fraud in our view, especially in light of such risibly lenient 'punishments' for those who have more than enough personal means to sort out their own domestic messes but who nevertheless choose to abuse their positions and the trust of the electorate by helping themselves to money that is not theirs.
The day the Daily Express has onits front page MULTI-MILLIONAIRE CO-ARCHITECT OF AUSTERITY CUTS MP SCROUNGER CAUGHT WITH HAND IN PUBLIC TILL - I'll hang out the red flag!
From 'Red Ed' to 'Red-Top Ed': The New 'Blue Labour' Thinking and Labour's Tabloid-Wooing Abandonment (Again!) of the 'Crushed Underclass' in favour of the 'Squeeze Middle'; Party of Welfare Universalism but 'Moral' Means-Testing
Well, this heading pretty much sums up what I wish to say on the deplorable piece of pseudo-Daily Express claptrap that characterised in the main Ed Miliband's so-called 'fightback' speech yesterday. For all those on the true left in this country, this 'Blue Labour' diatribe is the final nail in the coffin for any who hoped Labour might finally, after the ethical debacle of New Labour, realign itself with its core founding principles and offer a true ideological opposition to the right-wing austerity agenda.
But in one death-blow of tabloid-pandering, Ed Miliband has blown this hope out of the now clearly very blue water of the latest centre-right party thinking. All thanks to the influence of recently ennobled Labour peer Maurice Glasman, whose 'Blue Labour' agenda wishes to reassert party links with the most conservative and reactionary aspects to working-class social attitudes - what Frank Field vacuously applauds as its 'moral economy', which discriminates explicitly between 'deserving and undeserving poor' and is inherently judgemental of those who are unemployed.
The Blue Labourites would rather skip back to pre-45 Labour and cherrypick the least significant and worst traits in their movement's history - a masochistic belief in 'work' at all costs even if futile and impoverishing; a contempt for those on benefits; a hard line on crime and punishment; a tacitly xenophobic aversion to too much immigration; and an empty concept of 'patriotism' through mutual class suffering - than seek to reignite the far more important old Labour ethics of egalitarianism and social justice. This is not only ethically hollow, but also deeply philistine. It also demonstrates what the real problem is with Labour today: a complete lack of conviction. What precisely do they believe in anymore other than just a slightly less harsh Toryism? Blue Labour seems to be nothing more than the latest pathetic attempt for many well-heeled Oxbridge centrists to find more excuses for the party not to stand up for left-wing values while also having one or two scraps of 'progressive' concessions to justify why they're not simply joining forces with the ConDems. Why they wish to maintain this ideological void of neither being one thing nor the other is anyone's guess. But it's achingly clear to those on the true left today that this new emphasis on the 'blueness', the 'conservativeness' in Labour values is much more than a figurative symptom of a party without any soul: it is symbolic of the fact that basically most Labour MPs are ultimately just Tories-in-denial. No such charlatans can offer us a genuine Opposition to this vicious government. We need an ideological opposition at this time, a true alternative vision - Ed Miliband has just copped it. So over to the Unions, the Greens and other smaller left-wing parties, as it seems clear now that Labour has abandoned this generation - for a second time!
It pains me to say that Blue Labour is being fuelled further by some hitherto incisive centre-left Labour thinkers who ought to know better but who have recently been contributing such unhelpful terms as 'conservative socialism': an oxymoronic ethos which appears to confuse a focus on re-planting uprooted working-class communities with a drive towards a sort of ‘patriotic’ working-class traditionalism that focuses far too much on national identity as opposed to international working-class solidarity. Those who support such ideas should think again, though should not need to be asked to, since their previous insights into recent welfare policies being effectively modern day enclosures and clearances of the disenfranchised in society had shown a sharp dialectical eye on the current seismic shift in our social fabric. But unfortunately even ostensibly progressive thinktanks such as Compass are beginning to dither, to seemingly be swayed by the likes of Maurice Glasman - and this is to commit a similar solecism to Labour's short-sighted expulsion of the Militant Tendency under Neil Kinnock in the Eighties: alienating the left and giving up on converting the mainstream to socialist principles, instead converting the party itself to mainstream non-principles more akin to the Thatcherism the party was supposed to be supplanting. Hence New Labour, and the rest is history. We don't want that again, Blue Labour.
It is the conviction of the Recusant that Labour is ideologically dead, and that the left-wing Labour Representation Committee should migrate away from a party which clearly does not share its socialist principles and merge with the Green Party – which clearly does – and the other smaller socialist parties, to join in the Coalition of Resistance with the Unions. To hope to still influence a clearly recrudescent rightward shift in Labour to anything approaching the centre-left - let alone the true left - seems now to be purely wishful thinking.
The Recusant takes issue with Ed Miliband's risibly discriminatory speech, in particular, with his appalling assertion that somehow the alleged 'benefit fraud' among some of the poorest in society is to be equated with the disgraceful mass theft of the wealthy banking speculators as both examples of the ‘take what you can’ attitude of Thatcherism. That any party, let alone Labour, should insult the poor and unemployed – themselves the direct victims of Thatcherism – in this manner is truly reprehensible and a direct insult to the memories of Keir Hardie, Nye Bevan, Clement Attlee and all those True Labour left-wing figures who built the British Welfare State and National Health Service in the first great governmental effort to once and for all level society – but which has been continually undermined for decades by successive governments of both colours.
That there is even this debate at all at the moment on so-called ‘welfare reform’ and discriminating against the ‘deserving and undeserving’ unemployed when this country has been devastated economically by the self-enriching criminals of the private sector who continue to use taxpayers’ money to award themselves further bonuses (bail out contributions apparently ‘leaking in to the bonus pool’ according to Barclays Chief Bob Diamond) – just shows how ethically corrupted our political classes, including Labour, truly are. Those same political classes, let us not forget (though they’d like us to of course), who in droves routinely defrauded the public coffers through the expenses and property-flipping bonanza, and without any material need whatsoever in doing so.
It is these same unscrupulous abusers of power and privilege who then turn to a bankrupted nation and start lecturing those at the bottom of the heap for simply trying to survive in a benefits system wrought with loopholes, wilful disinformation and punitive penalties.
But that the leader of Labour should use a public platform to fuel such right-wing claptrap, and only a week after the Archbishop of Canterbury’s rousing call to arms for the British Left to stand up for the most vulnerable in society against this vicious government, is absolutely beyond the pale. The only consolation for the Recusant in this is that we had already switched our allegiance to the Green Party beforehand. Now that move has proven well-judged. Miliband, who got off to a reasonable start as leader, began to wobble considerably in his marked absence during the various mass protests and marches of recent months, and his seeming inability to stand up and fully support the Unions who, after all, fully supported his leadership bid. But now, because he is clearly desperate to appease the growingly disgruntled right of his party who are as we know itching to usurp him with the even more centre-right David, he is truly forsaken his promise. The Milibands' late socialist father must be turning in his grave at the knowledge that now both of his sons seem to be pulling the party further away from its roots and playing into the hands of the perennial capitalist apartheids of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ and ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’.
Labour, it appears, is the party of universal benefits, but ‘moral’ means-testing – something of a contradiction, but one implicit in Miliband’s speech, where he talks of those have been ‘ripping off society’ and lumps bankers and so-called ‘benefit cheats’ in together - this is a lazy, convenient but deeply offensive political balancing act designed not to offer any real alternative to our atomised society, but to cynically capitalise on both wings of the national centreground. His espousal of the value in volunteering including among those unemployed, is the only shred of reasonable comment in an otherwise deplorable piece of ‘moral’ cherrypicking of the poor. Miliband cheapens his salute to volunteers by then saying Labour would prioritise them for council housing above those unemployed who did not volunteer in their communities, thus once again bringing in a divide-and-rule attitude. And one which, apart from anything else, implies future volunteering would – as is increasingly the case under the ConDems – actually not be volunteering at all, but a combination of mandatory community conscription and/or offering one’s services purely to get into council housing, which then undermines the true spirit of voluntarism.
But finally, Ed Miliband’s most offensive– not to say two-faced – tactic in this speech is to begin with the example of a man on Incapacity due to a ‘genuine injury’, whom the privileged and Oxford-educated Miliband then condescends to say is a good man who wishes to provide for his family, before turning on his heels and showing the complete temerity of someone who’s had a particularly smooth route onto his own path in life and who demonstrably lacks any first-hand knowledge of poverty or survival on benefits by casually stating, ‘but I felt convinced there will still some work this man could be doing’. Miliband then twists the knife in on this social case study, by suggesting he is an example of those ‘shirking their responsibility’, which ‘the rest of us (i.e. taxpayer) have to pick up the pieces’ for. Grudgingly paying a bit of tax, only a fraction of which goes towards the welfare system, is hardly exactly ‘picking up the pieces’ of the industrially broken lives of thousands of people is it?
‘Picking up the pieces’ would be, well, for instance, to be volunteering in mental health while incapacitated oneself in a society which stigmatises both volunteer and mental health service user as burdens on the taxpayer. Perhaps Miliband should think of that rather than taking the Tory line of measuring everything in terms of material rather than practical and humane social exchanges. It is very easy for a well-educated and practically dynastic Labour Party insider, who has also inherited his own house in London, to lope about deprived housing estates lecturing incapacitated and impoverished fathers as to their ‘responsibilities’.
So this is the face of Blue Labour: the new ‘moral’ means-test, which, apart from anything else, is simply an empty echo of IDS’s current sanctimonious crusade against those who apparently ‘opt’ for stigmatised impoverishment as a ‘lifestyle’ choice. Clearly we are a nation divided between the avaricious and the masochistic. This is what comes from a consultation period which involves largely listening to underpaid and invariably resentful supermarket cashieres on their canteen breaks: ‘Blue-Rinse Labour’. But Miliband clearly doesn't realise that such groups represent only one small section of the multi-varied working classes. Clearly Labour are not interested in the 'non-working class', nor with the 'underclass' or the dispossessed. How broad-minded of them.
What an ethical, moral and intellectual cop out Blue Labour ‘thinking’ is: for Ed Miliband to speciously claim that the reason New Labour lost so many votes was not only due to being regulation-light on markets and banks, but also due to some imperceptible ‘soft touch’ approach to welfare, when it was specifically under their DWP Minister James Purnell that the most reactionary putsch against the unemployed since the welfare state was created, through proposed workfare schemes, was legislated. Neither in truth or even by any verisimilitude of truth did New Labour ever in any conceivable sense act ‘soft’ on the unemployed; the horrific policies of their Tory successors in besieging the welfare state from every single direction is simply an intensification of what New Labour put in place for them. This assertion is specious in the extreme; it is, effectively, a lie - or, if not quite that, a gross misjudgment and self-delusion on the part of Miliband and his policy advisers.
The so-called conclusion of Blue Labour's ‘listening excercise’ is one fuelled by the worst and most ignorant attitudes among the red-top sections of the working class, and attitudes which Labour, if it had any intellectual or ethical backbone, should be doing its utmost to re-educate and campaign against, not use as a blueprint for their party’s very policies. If eventually in power again, will ‘Blue’ Labour be using a board of blue-rinsed tabloid-reading supermarket cashieres to advise them on their ongoing welfare policies?
Why not ‘listen’ to the views of the most deprived in society, the unintentionally unemployed, the unintentionally homeless (on which semantic point, it was also under New Labour’s homeless tsars, let’s not forget, that the disgraceful stigmatisation of ‘intentionally homeless’ was invented), the sick and disabled, and those mistreated and stigmatised for having to live with mental health problems? If Miliband et al did so, they might learn a damn site more than they do from tabloid-littered supermarket canteens. Labour should be proselytising on socialist principles, re-educating those sections of the working classes politically brainwashed by three decades of Thatcherite divide-and-rule dogma which has atomised all sense of class solidarity, and awareness of the true ‘benefit cheats’ of society: the bankers, capitalists, property moguls, tabloid tycoons, politicians and aristocracy. All of whom, in our ‘big society’, say ‘Thou Shalt Volunteer’ to the unemployed, poor and sick, and to the thousands of public sector workers shoved out of their jobs and then told to carry on doing them for peanuts or nothing. The same ‘big society’ of course in which the charities, CAB and voluntary sectors are dismantling around us due to cuts, and whose very tsar ended up resigning because he realised without a hint of irony that working for nothing wasn’t ‘a life’.
So it appears Blue Labour is all about wooing back those working-class voters who switched to the EDL or BNP for feeling culturally marginalised, and in part, bowing to their ill-informed prejudices, rather than in trying to woo back the hundreds of thousands of more enlightened left-wing and left-of-centre working class and lower middle class voters who deserted them – disastrously as it now turns out of course – for the leftist posturing of the Lib Dems in the last election. Thus, Blue Labour is touting for the lowest common denominators in so-called ‘public opinion’ among both the working and middle classes. In effect, the attitudes most akin to the very Thatcherism Miliband irresponsibly and unjustifiably applies to most of its victims: the long-term unemployed. If Labour had always sought purely to lazily court popular ‘opinion’ in order to determine its own policies, then it would never have even been created, let alone fought for tooth and nail for parliamentary acceptance and, later, government. Shame on Blue Labour and all who bow to its hollow opportunism.
Oh, Miliband does vent a token bit of spleen against the banks and speculators – but this is entirely undermined by his tabloid-baiting volte face into welfare judgmentalism; he rightly says that being ‘intensely relaxed about the rich’ is not right, but then completely undermines this the next minute by saying that he ‘applauds’ those who make lots of money and create wealth – on the condition they are doing so legitimately and through genuinely hard work of course. However, as many of us know, this is rarely if ever the case: capitalism is oiled on the exploitation of others’ labour to create profits.
This is not the kind of playground discrimination-game the country needs from its official Opposition at this horrendous time. Labour is once again ducking its ‘moral responsibility’ to stand up for the most vulnerable in society, and quite blatantly in a bid for a shot-cut back to power, for no purpose other than to pump up their own power-prestige and salaries.
The only dialectic any allegedly centre-left party should be encouraging at this time is that of the ‘undeserving rich’; to water this down by arbitrarily and cynically attempting some convenient balancing act between those playing the system at the top and the bottom of society, is ethically corrupt and intellectually void. How anyone could possibly claim that someone struggling on paltry benefits and who due to dire need may or may not occasionally cut corners for meagre sums in order to literally survive from week to week, is somehow comparable on a ‘moral’ level to a super-rich tax-avoider or a millionaire speculator gambling public money, losing it, taking more public money to sort themselves out, then pooling even that back into their own bonus pot and refusing to lend anything back to the public – well, what can one say that hasn’t already been said on this utterly absurd state of affairs? It speaks for itself: it is capitalism par excellence and of a pedigree even Karl Marx wouldn’t have imagined possible.
What a far cry all this is from the days when a Labour prime minister would casually trot out phrases like ‘we’re going to squeeze the property speculators until the pips squeak’! At a time when the sick and disabled are being bullied out of their benefits, thousands on thousands of social and council housing tenants are going to have the rugs literally pulled from under them through lease and housing benefit caps as the parasitic private landlords crank up their rents in response, and the social care and mental health sectors are literally melting before service users’ eyes – all Ed Miliband and ‘Blue Labour# can do is talk some complete spurious crap about a minority of benefit recipients ‘ripping off society’ in a way comparable to the behaviour of the banks and the tax-dodging super-rich. And no mention of course of the £16 Billion a year that goes UNCLAIMED in welfare benefits!
I think Ed Miliband needs to check out Owen Jones’ Chav – the Demonisation of the Working Class pretty quickly, as well as Pete Golding’s indispensable Images of Welfare; clearly not books one would find on Maurice Glasman’s coffee table. Perhaps Blue Labour should just ditch ‘Labour’ altogether and just call themselves the ‘Blue Party’.
On quite a different tone of the colour spectrum, the Recusant now supports the Green Party, and, in principle, the Labour Representation Committee, but urges the latter to join with the former and with the smaller Socialist parties, away from Labour once and for all, towards the formation of a new left-wing movement in opposition to the Con-Dem-Lab centre-right austerity consensus. We also fully support the Unions and implicitly back their campaigns in the months and years ahead.
Alan Morrison, June 2011
All Hail the Red Archbishop
As I have commented on previous editorials, in many ways one of the spokespersons for a true socialistic opposition (apart from Caroline Lucas of the Greens, John McDonnell of the Labour Representation Committee, and Bob Crow of the Unions) to the ConDem Government has been the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams; and never more so than this week in the New Statesman, in which he eloquently speaks out directly against the mandate-less, arguably illegitimate ‘radicalism’ of the Coalition, and, most crucially of all, against the ‘punitive’ attacks on welfare provision – not simply a Tory policy, but also previously (though slightly less harshly) one of New Labour also: it was under Gordon Brown’s DWP heavymen Purnell and McNulty that there was an increasing emphasis on the ‘deserving and undeserving poor’ myth in order to attempt morally justifying draconian measures against the long-term unemployed. In typical Tory style, this government is simply cranking up this Calvinistic rhetoric several notches, in order to claw back billions of pounds from the poor and sick to pay for the sins of the speculating rich.
Cue the sanctimonious IDS who has seized on his ministerial role with an evangelical zeal, and though one of his proposals is a positive move - namely to allow a gradual phasing out of benefits rather than a sudden withdrawal when someone first gets a job, which sensibly helps them avoid the less reported phenomenon of 'working poverty' (particularly when waiting for one's first monthly pay packet to come through) - his department's insistence on continued harassment of those on incapacity and DLA benefits under the auspices of unaccountable private agencies such as ATOS, among other punitive measures, are far from the kind of soft/Christian Toryism (if not a total contradiction in itself) that the silverspooned DWP Minister likes to make out. Indeed, his own response to Williams' intervention was as pompous as Cameron's, with the added spice of being wholly contradictory too: IDS first said that he did 'not believe in the deserving and undeserving poor' paradigm, yet in the next sentence said: 'but there is an undeserving group' within the welfare system. So, in other words, he DOES believe there is such a thing as 'the undeserving poor'. Clearly our DWP Minister is not acquainted with the Socratic contradiction. IDS bangs on about Williams having not seen some of the things he has witnessed in workless communities - so suddenly IDS is the nation's expert on poverty and unemployment just for selectively visiting random communities and in the employ of a party which is constitutionally judgemental of the poor and in continual denial as to its own direct responsibility (since Thatcherism in particular) for having created the very socially 'fragmented' society that Williams rightly argues we have today.
Tories always talk of 'personal responsibility' - but they rarely if ever address the issue of 'community responsibility', responsibility to others, which is precisely what Williams is talking about: basic Christian principles, apart from also being socialist ones. The Tories talk of 'making work pay' as a solution to the benefits trap - but what about making benefits pay so that people are not demeaned so much through poverty and stigmatising that they lose all sense of self-esteem necessary to convince at work interviews? Make work pay absolutely - pay a proper living wage for a start; but also make benefits pay, to the effect that one is not demonised and given figurative leper bells for simply claiming what they are supposed to be entitled to in deprived circumstances. And as for the old 'Render Unto Ceaser' trope always trotted out by grubbing right-wingers to spuriously justify capitalism: Williams, I am sure, would be the first to point out that this phrase was specifically referring to paying tax, and tax is, let us not forget, the chief hate of the Tories and the right, something they resent as an obstacle to unfettered self-enrichment of the individual (hence the abundance of tax loopholes and havens for the rich). That Cameron and his ilk constantly stir up the taxpayer to resent the benefit claimant (helped along by the trogladite Daily Express et al) by arguing that a whole section of society basically lives off others' 'hard won' earnings, is twisted and specious in the extreme. Firstly, most people on benefits have previously paid into the system through tax when they were employed, so are merely being reimbursed to support them when they are out of work; and secondly, welfare is only one tiny part of what taxpayers money contributes to - lest we forget the billions of tax donated to our struggling banking sector only to find - as revealed by the permatanned Bob Diamond of Barclays only this week - that some of the bail out money might have 'leaked into the bonus pool'. Funny how Cameron never bangs on about that example of rich milkers of taxpayers' money isn't it?
Cameron's poisonous assault on welfare via whipping up a mass resentment among taxpayers against benefit claimants is deeply unethical of a prime minister, and socially pernicious. It is of course a deliberate divide-and-rule tactic and one which is ensuring that mass welfare cuts on a previously unthinkable scale which are targeting the sick and disabled as much as anyone else, even driving many with mental health problems to suicide, seem generally unopposed by a large section of the public. It is a right-wing populist culture-shift on a scale which even Thatcher couldn't quite pull off. That a day should come in a so-called 'social democracy' where thousands of disabled claimants literally had to wheelchair a protest past parliament to get public attention, should come sixty years down the line from the great Attlee settlement, is really cause to weep for the ethical and moral degeneration of this nation. A nation which, without any hint of irony, Cameron casually refers to as 'compassionate'. Thus speaks the Humpty Dumpty Coalition, who do one thing and call it the opposite.
It is, then, within this deeply depressing national debate between ConDem 'fast savage cuts' and Labour 'slightly less savage fast cuts' (hardly any real alternative), where only the Unions and a handful of left-wing backbenchers argue against the austerity agenda, that Williams' intervention comes and at an essential moment. Unrestricted by any tribalisms, he at least can speak out without fear of the party whips or spin doctors castigating him. Williams has not missed the vital ethical black hole in the current government’s fiscal blitzkrieg on the welfare state, and even himself lambasts the 'deserving/undeserving poor' paradigm in his piece. He quite rightly accuses Cameron et al of bogusly championing mutualism and cooperativeness as a deeply cynical cover for a right-wing dismantling of the welfare state, much of the public sector and, if they have their way – and still might in part yet – our very National Health Service. Williams condemns the ConDems not only on moral and ethical grounds, but on practical ones also: he correctly highlights how all the specious aspirations of the ‘big society’ project simply fall to bits on closer inspection when it is evident that due to the gratuitous austerity cuts throughout the public and charity/voluntary sectors, all the vital agencies there to supposedly implement Cameron’s nebulous vision are being undercut from the outset, when they should be, as Williams argues, underwritten – and underwritten by the state/government of the time; not calved up for profiteering at the public expense by private ‘providers’ (e.g. see the current parlous state of our railways, drained of all quality and affordability by a parasitic private sector, only to inspire the transport minister to pursue even further privatisations and arbitrary redundancies for exploited staff).
Cameron then is imposing on us, ironically, not only a society which eventually will be direly in need of many more charities and voluntary organisations to tackle the oncoming storm of poverty and homelessness – though contradictorily, at a point when there will be precious little funding to actually sustain these – which in turn his government is actually creating; but also a society in which, through the next decade or so, if his government is to cling on to power for significantly longer, will eventually need to recreate or ‘redintegrate’ (an old term meaning re-integrate or re-form) a newer and less emasculated welfare state as inevitably the only way to limit the damage of full-scale poverty. Ditto the future necessity of more council and social housing due to current clampdowns on those very sectors; either that, or generations of social Diaspora lie ahead of us. So much for not passing on debt to the next generations; well perhaps not, but we will be passing on privation and homelessness instead. Great. And so much for housing minister Grant Schapps' wilfully ignorant assertion that due to the current austerity, housing benefit caps will be absorbed by the response of private landlords to lower their unregulated rent levels: not so apparently Mr Schapps, as reported today in the wholly unsurprising reality that our parasitic culture of private landlords and property moguls are in fact cashing in on the back of a shortage in housing (one presumably not including the hundreds of thousands of empty properties throughout the country?) by actually cranking up their rents. But even so, of course, this government would never ever consider regulating private rent levels, since most of them are probably property moguls themselves, oh, and plus the fact that it was the Tories in the early 90s who short-sightedly removed rent controls in the first place. The only things Tories believe in regulating are the public sector, the welfare state, and, as Vince Cable hinted this week, the already overly regulated Unions. What a principled bunch they are!
But to return to Williams: the only phrasal point I am not totally convinced by here – although I recognise Williams means it in the sense that he perceives this government to be hiding behind a ‘progressive’ smokescreen – is his reference to the Conservatives having superficially taken up a form of ‘associational socialism’ in the guise of the ‘big society’ idea. I would quibble with extending such a worthy accolade, no matter how thinly and spuriously it is pursued, to the Tories, since any form socialism, whether ‘associational’ or not (that term apparently refers to a form of liberal left-of-centre mutualism rather than full-blown socialism), would not start out by attacking the very foundations it would need to flourish – the welfare state, charities, voluntary organisations, Unions, employment legal rights etc. etc. – before allegedly embarking on its social crusade. Such arbitrary, ignorant and brutal attacks on the most vulnerable in society as those currently being inflicted on the poor, unemployed, sick, disabled and mentally ill have absolutely no ‘association’ with socialism on any conceivable level. However, I recognise that this might be a slightly semantic quibble and is certainly not meant as any kind of repudiation of Williams’ generally commendable and compassionate stance.
What Williams is saying here is incontrovertibly right, true and fair. That Cameron has the sheer puffed-up arrogance and lack of humility to even question the dreadful direction his government is taking this country in when pushed to justify his brutal policies, and from someone who, apart from being leader of the established church – once nicknamed ‘the Tory party at prayer’ – is also a demonstrably compassionate, wise and intellectualised individual who has the ethical authority of theological knowledge and practical Christianity behind him. What moral or ethical authority does Cameron have? An inherited millionaire and ex-PR man who is notorious for having no interest in ‘policy detail’ (rather like his hero Tory Blair), an ex-Bullingdon Club Hooray Henry descended from a line of stockbrokers – what sheer conceit of his to come out so swiftly and in so knee-jerk a fashion to express how ‘profoundly’ he disagrees with an infinitely more learned and empathic man of the cloth as Rowan Williams. For me, the issue here is nothing to with the already ubiquitous right-wing criticism that Archbishops should stick to their area and not comment on politics; it is much more the sheer bare-faced moral hypocrisy and ethical philistinism of David Cameron, someone to whom profundity is demonstrably on every level, complete anathema.
Cameron is that worst type of Tory prime minister: one who plays on a kind of tabloid populist rhetoric spun from the hairshirts of Calvinism into modern secular industrial dogma – in short, not only material but also ‘moral’ success is indicated by how much one earns and owns and pays in taxes; anyone who is still poor or on benefits is clearly at some level morally diseased. This is a simplistic and twisted political stance, but of course one which our generally right-wing media laps up with every new helping: and this is simply because it justifies the epithet coined by Roy Hattersley in reference to Thatcherism, that ‘greed can be respectable’. Cameron is promoting such a philosophy in an indirect way: by selling the ‘big society’ moral imperative of volunteering amongst the largely underpaid sections of the workforce – such as ending job contracts for public sector workers just to reemploy them under bastardised employment rights and lower pay and pensions, as is already happening – our prime minister and his Cabinet of charlatans are clandestinely securing the continued financial monopoly of the political and banking elites, and of course, the tax-dodging super-rich; he is, basically, withdrawing the honey or adulterating some of it with a lot of milk, and hoarding the lion’s share safely in the pockets of his privileged few.
What Williams is doing here is utterly essential, especially at such a divided and increasingly vicious period of austerity cuts: he is standing up on a public platform, possibly the most prominent one in our country other than ever-taciturn throne, and directly opposing the Coalition mantra of cuts and its deeply dishonest manipulation of public debate from the private sector banking crisis to the spurious issue of alleged pockets of over-paid managers in the public sector (and, in turn, the continual tabloid-inspiring bile thrown at the welfare state’s dependents, by unreasonably hyperbolising on random rare cases of exorbitant housing benefit payments for families living in roomy London houses, and the continued, utterly stale rhetoric about often distorted examples of benefit abuse (stale because this has been going on in the media and in successive governments as far back as the late 1970s when, incidentally, the welfare state was paying out far more in benefits than it is today).
Vitally, Williams also challenges the Opposition, Labour, to set up a true left-of-centre alternative to as-yet unchallenged Conservative Austeritism. And this is absolutely right of him to say so, even if in a broad phrasal shorthand of ‘the left’, when presumably it is Labour to whom he primarily refers here – still, sadly, hardly ‘left-wing’ by any historical standards. One might also take from this that Williams is as yet less than impressed by current academic diversions in Labour thinking such as Maurice Glassman’s ‘Blue Labour’ which, in spite of being spot on in terms of criticising New Labour regulation-light market politics, stills unfortunately falls far short of providing a true ideologically left-wing alternative to current centre-right parliamentary thinking by still tacitly indulging the ‘undeserving poor’ meme of Brown and Purnell. That, along with a still stubborn commitment to some forms of punitive welfare ‘reform’ on the Labour benches – and a general ineffectuality in defending the very welfare state it created by cherrypicking only certain often more middle-class oriented benefits for special championing while risibly side-stepping on issues to do with incapacity and DLA – is a Blairite rot still eating away at the core of the party’s original grassroot values.
That it takes the Archbishop of Canterbury to stand up publicly and say many of the things that the Opposition should be saying but continually fail to, just shows how ethically moribund our political class has become. There is of course a left-wing alternative – espoused pluralistically through the Green Party, the LRC, the smaller socialist parties and, of course, the admirably outspoken Trades Unions – but the trouble is, much of this alternative vision has yet to fully penetrate the ranks of the official Opposition. Williams article then can be seen as an urgent rallying cry for a more assertive left-wing alternative to this horrific austerity agenda we are currently facing – so, ‘Red Ed’ and Not-Quite-New-Anymore-But-Possibly-A-Bit-Blue Labour, take heed of Williams’ intervention and sort out just which side you are actually on: that of banks and big business, or that of the common people. At least Williams knows which side he is on, and like a true practical Christian, is morally impelled to speak up openly in defence of the poorest and most vulnerable in society at a shameful time in which, frankly, no high profile politicians are.
the Recusant fully supports and commends the Archbishop of Canterbury’s moral courage in standing up to a government of duplicitous bullies and saying what has to be said.
You can read his article in the New Statesmen at this link: http://www.newstatesman.com/uk-politics/2011/06/long-term-government-democracy
Alan Morrison ©June 2011
In Praise of Citizen Serwotka: Support the National Strike
This editorial is just to reaffirm that the Recusant stands fully behind the Trades Unions and its strikes and march of Thursday 30 June.
It hasn't taken long has it? Only just over a year into office and the Tory-led coalition has already triggered - through deceitful and simplistic 'argument' and policy brinkmanship - what promises to be the biggest wave of industrial action in over half a century. And certainly David Cameron's platitudes of moral hypocrisy at his Localism rally, spun with an effortless vacuity of argument, has only fuelled the already justifiable fury of the blitzed public sector. Cameron's empty spin about 'taxpayers' rings hollow considering every one, including public sector workers, are taxpayers; if the Tories had their way, no one would pay tax at all and society would just melt away entirely. And of course, no mention by his ilk of the truly absurd and amoral fact that the royal family's lavish lifestyle is paid by the nation's taxpayers, which is surely the greatest scandal of them all. What difference is there then between a member of the royal family and a benefit claimant? Well, there is one chief difference actually: the benefit claimant needs the paltry alms they get back from the state after having in the main previously contributed through tax themselves; while the royalty do not need the money, at least, not in the exorbitant sums they receive from us, and without our democratic consent!
As the ever-eloquent, unflustered and highly principled PCS Union Leader Mark Serwotka - who is in terms of narrative and principle, the true leader of our national Opposition at this time - cogently expressed on a recent Channel 4 News, the attack on public sector pensions and employment rights is a whitewash for plugging part of the hole of the legendary deficit and nothing at all to do with any genuine or 'progressive' reforming of the state in line with a suddenly oh-so-urgent debate on an apparent demographic longevity-timebomb in the UK. Unctuous Minister Francis Maude, who singularly failed to rile the supremely composed Serwotka in a previous C4 News 'discussion', spins on about how 'we're all living longer - which is a very good thing', when the reality is, as those such as Serwotka has pointed out, longevity is determined by social class and circumstance, and while the contagion of the super-rich might have pushed up their own levels of life expectancy along with the aristocracy and capitalist classes, relatively, especially among the now burgeoning under-classes of the low-waged, unemployed and homeless, it is a very different story. Add to that the fact that this government's vicious clampdown on the incapacitated of the country through spurious ATOS reassessments has also contributed very negatively to the longevity of many citizens, having swiftly contributed to an accelerated rise in suicides among the mentally ill. There you have it: Con-Dem policies are not only impoverishing to many, but can also be, indirectly, fatal; particularly those who see both their incomes and mental health support melting away simultaneously.
That unregulated 'apartheid' capitalism not only determines the quality but also the very longevity of its citizens' lives, as discriminated through still gaping social equalities in material circumstances, has to be the ultimate nail in the coffin of the brutalising British Thatcherite legacy. But even at such a crucial time as this, during the fight for our society's social democratic soul, Ed Miliband and 'Blue' Labour choose ultimately to sit on the side lines and refuse to endorse the vital industrial action of the Unions; in spite of both Miliband's own leadership have being founded on their support; and in spite of growing objective evidence that the alleged 'talks' with the Unions held by the Coalition are, as Serwotka comments, 'a farce'. One which was skillessly and belligerently precluded by the ineptly matcho 'statement' or rather veiled threat of the Chancellor's political poodle, Danny Alexander. It is good that Miliband criticised such brinkmanship, but his preoccupation with 'balance' led to a clumsy comment about the Unions' 'loud-hayler' diplomacies, and Labour can only be seen at this crucial moment in our political history as a symptom rather than a possible cure of the national disease of reality-detached parliamentary dogma. The fact that various Labour notables then quickly rallied to appeal to the Unions' continued support of their party (i.e. funding) in spite of their closing ranks to open support of the strikes, yet again shows how opportunistic and self-interested this convictionless parliamentary tribe actually is. A coalition in itself, since one would think there is very clear blue water between the views of a left-winger such as John McDonnell and a technocratic soft Tory such as Liam Byrnne (hence my own recent call to other members of my local Labour Representation Committee branch to migrate away from Labour to the Green Party, the latter being one which actually agrees with the LRC's socialist politics).
Serwotka on the other hand speaks intelligently and compassionately and with the calm and disciplined sense of conviction that so lacks from Miliband and the majority of his shadow cabinet; one cannot help but think that this sense of conviction and intensity in Serwotka is partly or entirely down to the fact that, like great left-wing statesman of the past such as Keir Hardie and Nye Bevan, Serwotka has lived his ideals and had them tested since day one by having been born into a relatively deprived background in post-industrial Wales, from which he has had to work, and fight, his way up to the profile he has today. Such first-hand knowledge of the nitty gritty of life is glaringly lacking in the backgrounds of the largely Oxbridge-educated centrist theoreticians who currently comprise most of Labour's shadow cabinet: difficult perhaps to have truly solid and unwavering convictions if one has never had them directly tested in their own lives (it's significant too that one of the only convincingly passionate Labour spokespersons is Andy Burnham, who was only lifted out of relative obscurity of a working-class Liverpudlian background through a Cambridge sholarship, but who still shows some of the fire and passion so sorely lacking from his more elocuted, pre-choreographed colleagues). Hence Miliband's easy persuading by the confused and simplistic conservatism of 'Blue' Labour 'values': had Miliband experienced or witnessed much of what those such as Serwotka had in his life, he would not have spoken so unfairly of a genuinely ill man on incapacity benefit as 'not taking responsibility'; he would not have then gone on to speciously say how 'we all have to up the pieces' of this 'lack of responsibility' in such people, when paying a tiny bit of tax which someone on Miliband's salary wouldn't even notice anyway is hardly tantamount to 'picking up' any 'pieces' whatsoever; and, he would have seen instantly how hollowly opportunistic and irrelevant the very bourgeois 'Blue' Labour spin is in relation to the true national narratives of our time. The chief one being that capitalism is now not only failing the poor, and the sick and disabled, but also promising to fail the rich as well in the long-term, hence the political brinkmanship and attack on our social democratic rights by the party of Thatcher's last charnel-gasp. The only solution to this is a social democratic reformation of our society, with a new revitalised welfare settlement at the heart of it, a living wage and the introduction of the Green Party's proposal of a national minimum income for all, before benefits or wages.
Back in the Seventies, someone of Serwotka's qualities would probably have been in the Labour shadow cabinet himself (as would the equally impeccable Caroline Lucas); but he, like many of us now, myself included, has long given up on any hope of Labour returning to its roots. In the latest New Statesman, Serwotka refers to himself as a 'radical socialist', and one who, significantly, voted Green in the last elections. A new left-wing narrative is rapidly developing here: there is an increasing migration of left-wing and socialist voters to the Green Party - and one can only ask, is this what the likes of Miliband's 'adviser' Maurice Glasman intended? Cue also, for my own humble part, a letter/email I sent to the New Statesman stating my perplexity at its editorial support for Miliband's recent debacle of a 'fightback' speech, which, much to my surprise, made it into the much-coveted 'Letter of the Week' spot in the same issue. It has naturally been sub-edited down considerably, and is not as nuanced as my original draft, but it is nevertheless commendable of the NS that it brings attention to less conventional left-of-centre opinion at this time (there was also another letter next to my own which provided a vital and brilliant argument as to how we are all taxpayers, benefit claimants included, via VAT).
To the Recusant briefly: to all those numerous contributors who have submitted work recently which I have either responded to or have yet to respond to, or have yet to put online having accepted them, my apologies for the delays in getting new work on the site but I have been extremely busy of late with a variety of urgent projects. I anticipate doing another extensive update of new contributions in the next fortnight, so do bear with me, I haven't forgotten!
I also intend to update the Emergency Verse pages with some photos and hopefully audio excerpts from both the Poetry Library event and the recent Housmans re-launch. Regards the Caparison imprint, I will also soon be uploading a sample from a new and forthcoming e-book by poet Sally Richards. Again, I've not been able to work as stringently on the Recusant of late as I would have liked, and being the sole editor and formatter, updates can take time.
But, finally, we should all give ourselves a big pat on the back for the Recusant having now crossed the Half a Million mark of visitors since it started in late 2007. Well done to all of you for helping to make the Recusant such a popular and positive contribution to the online literary arena.
Tabloid Timebomb - Views of the World
It may not yet have sunken in fully how potentially momentous the recent revelations about corruption at the heart of News International's flagship rag the News of the World, 'allegedly' under the editorships of Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, truly could be. That the hacking scandals have aggrandized into the murky areas of full-blooded criminality (or a slipping of the 'moral compass' as private investigator and hacker Glen Mulcaire put it) regarding the macabre hacking of a kidnapped - and already murdered - girl’s phone and deleting of her messages while she was missing, which also gave false hope to both her family and the police investigating her disappearance, is certainly the ultimate nadir of the scurrilous pestilence of habitual behaviour in the world of British tabloid gutter journalism – but we predict will prove only the tip of the iceberg in time.
What has tipped the national hack-rag that is the News of the World into the spotlight of public opprobrium is the seeming abuse of the privacy and dignity of extremely vulnerable human beings, who are neither rich or famous. Regards the celebrity categories, it’s broadly been a case of ‘live by the spotlight, die by the spotlight’ in the eyes of a complacent gossip-hungry section of the British public – certainly there is something far more deeply upsetting about ordinary members of the public, especially victims of crime or war, being effectively spied on by NoW hacks than there is, say, a morally hypocritical MP being caught out having an affair. It is, then, all the more to the credit of actor Hugh Grant that he has broken his silence and been eloquently and bravely outspoken over the past two or three days, on Channel 4 News, BBC News and Question Time, in his utter condemnation of the cancer of British tabloid gutter-journalism that has long been in urgent need of independent and more stringent regulation. Ditto Steve Coogan who let rip his perfectly understandable views on Newsnight this evening.
It has now taken a hacking scandal of the most morally reprehensible proportions to finally turn the British public against what was otherwise, so we are spoon fed, its most popular newspaper – and this, I’m afraid to say, says almost as much about British culture, of the past three decades in particular, as it does about the pretty despicable entities at the heart of the NoW hacking scandal.
There are those of us who have been morally sickened for decades now at the continuous stream of frankly quite vile, ignorant and socially damaging tripe that papers such as the NoW have been getting away with, most glaringly, since the rise of 'greed is respectable' Thatcherism in the Eighties. There are those of us who, even before this latest hacking scandal, wouldn’t even touch a copy of the NoW unless wearing surgeon gloves – and even then we’d still use tongs. The same goes for similarly tempered tabloids as The Sun, The Star, The People, and the anti-welfare vigilante rag the Daily Express. This is not hyperbole nor is it trendy Guardian-esque pinkish liberalism speaking: it is quite simply a sense of moral disgust at what these papers have been printing and poisoning the opinions of the populace with for at least three generations now; which has, apart from anything else, helped ensure an almost continuous right-wing parliamentary consensus which ultimately led to the ethical corruption and effective extinction of the Labour Party as a true representative of the political left.
All these charges alone, together with tabloids such as NoW’s age-long bullying of the unemployed and its unconscionable and vicious hounding of alleged ‘benefit cheats’ throughout, especially, the last few years, have been enough in the eyes of many for some time now to blot them out from view altogether as nothing more than right-wing hate rags and founts of supreme cultural philistinism (that peculiarly British bulldog kind that thinks it’s ‘patronising’ to wish to educate the masses, but not patronising to deliberately feed them complete ignorant rubbish and deny them the truth of genuine higher-minded and more compassionate journalism which, if done properly and to expose only those things which directly affect our lives, would be a transformative rather than inhibiting medium).
It is arguably media moguls such as Rupert Murdoch who have for decades stood in the way of true social and cultural progression in our so-called civilization, supported and propped up centre-right and right-wing governments to protect their own interests, pitted taxpayer against benefit claimant (even though the latter is still a taxpayer!), private against public sector worker; who have with sheer calculated greed and self-interest, held society back from becoming more compassionate, well-informed, enlightened and socially decent. It is therefore to be hoped that this scandal, in all its sordid vileness, finally proves to be the beginning of the end of our Murdochracy and the true beginning of a proper British democracy. Remember, this can happen: no one ever thought Robert Maxwell’s empire would ever crumble, but it did, so there’s no reason why now the same should not occur to that of the current Citizen Kane of media-spun realpolitik.
But what for many of us is being highlighted in all this is not only the shameless hackery and contemptuous – seemingly systematic - behaviour of tabloids such as the NoW, but also the fact that the British nation has otherwise hitherto been quite happy to buy into its - and other tabloids' - brutish right-wing agendas and social scapegoating of vulnerable people, for decades now; not even mentioning their highly dubious 'investigative' practises into the love lives of celebrities, powers which might have been put to far more important and constructive use in the cause of true public interest rather than voyeuristic title tattle.
It is, while extremely positive and hopeful, also very telling with what utter vehemence the British public is now rounding on the NoW’s behaviour during the editorships of Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson; how its previously evangelical readers are now suddenly evolving ethical hair-shirts; how those companies that previously were quite happy to advertise their products alongside headlines demonising whole sections of the public sector, the unemployed and incapacity claimants – all recently accelerated by this atrocious ConDem Coalition in its attack on the welfare state as a decoy from focusing on the culpability of the banking system – suddenly abandoned the paper in droves through moral indignation. Is this, perhaps, unconsciously at least, the moral outrage of those who feel not only shocked by the sheer nastiness of the hacking revelations, but also at their own tacit complicity in buying into the sordid half-truths of one of many amoral tabloid rags for decades?
While of course there is a massive difference between tacitly condoning the inexorable intrusions of privacy into the lives of the rich, famous and powerful, to anything as base as hacking into a 7/7 victims’ phone, or deleting messages from that of a missing girl's – is it not also fair to argue that at root level, there is a broader issue here, one of a so-called popular journalism culture that has spent generations raking up highly dubious scoops on people's private lives, that have in turn frequently destroyed those people's lives, or at best damaged them beyond immediate repair, and often on superficial, titillating and even voyeuristic levels rather than on any issues of actual national or social importance, and that through all this, millions of British citizens have been quite happy, up until now, to buy and read such poisonous publications; never asking themselves that perhaps if they didn’t, then our society would be rid of the deeply unethical and philistine muck they blight our lives with? Is not the apparent appetite – actually more a spiritual vitamin deficiency – for continuous gossip on the lives of the rich and famous, or for a sense of ‘hardworking’ disgust at the rarely substantiated 'abuses' of the 'taxpayer' by the unemployed, that has kept these horrendous charlatan rags like NoW breeding ever more virulently throughout our increasingly uncivilized culture?
There are many lessons to be learnt here and not all are at the door of tabloids such as NoW or Sarumanic tycoons like Murdoch – they have played to the lowest common denominator in human nature for too long now, have dumbed down culture, poisoned social co-operativeness, empathy and compassion, and still continue to do so, either through Murdoch’s empire or elsewhere. But the more difficult issue to tackle here is the reality that much of the British public has been complicit with this culture of gutter journalism by buying rags such as NoW on such a scale that it grew to be the UK's biggest selling paper.
Our regulation-light anarcho-capitalist society is seemingly only ever pushed towards regulation when a scandal of such morally offensive proportions as this one breaks out; normally our society is happy to regulate only the unemployed and the mentally ill, while leaving everyone else to largely regulate themselves; the rich and powerful more absolutely than others. With the toothlessness of the PCC coming into the scrutiny of sharp daylight, the case for independent stringent regulation of the tabloid culture is now absolutely essential; and one can only hope that such a realisation of the innate fallibility of self-regulation in a society which frankly still needs to do a lot more growing up ethically-speaking, will begin to turn to other sectors of society such as the banks and private companies for instance. Well, obviously not under the Tories, but maybe under future governments not entirely driven by the vested interests of their little elites.
The so-called liberal centre-left of British media and politics should also take note on all this: New Labour was blatantly infatuated with the Murdoch regime, and wouldn’t go to the 1997 Hustings without having first flown over to court the opportunistic Australian mogul. Even the normally near-invulnerable Douglas Alexander was caught out expertly by Hugh Grant on Question Time this week for having duplicitously attended a Murdoch party only a week before denouncing NoW and its high profile culprits. Ditto Ed Miliband – though the Recusant does note and respect his dogged determination to bring David Cameron to account in the face of mounting public opinion and pin him down on his highly compromised position regarding both the incontrovertible case for his personal friend Rebekah Brooks to resign her position, and for the ‘government’ (or rather, the Murdoch Administration) to put the untenable BSkyB bid on ice while all this is investigated.
However, ‘Blue’ Labour are still fixated by public opinion to the extent that they will opportunistically turn with the wind depending on the latest YouGov polls, rather than, debatably, standing up and saying what’s right on the basis of pure principle. It is unfortunate that just at the point that Ed Miliband finally displays some guts as Labour leader, being the first since Kinnock to speak out against Murdoch, it is then revealed that only a week beforehand he and several of his shadow bench colleagues had been doing the proverbial rounds within the tycoon’s coterie. Nevertheless, it still takes some guts to openly speak out against one of Murdoch's titles and its high profile figures, and for that at least, if nothing else, Miliband is to be respected. However, only time will show whether he and Labour deserve any further respect in light of the ironic fact that, since Maurice Glasman’s ‘Blue’ Labour whitewash of a doctrine started to emerge, its brazen populism, especially on such cloudy issues as welfare, have almost entirely seemed driven by general tabloid opinion rather than anything remotely resembling a centre-left alternative consensus – which is what we urgently need at this time. So far, ‘Blue’ Labour might have just as easily have been called ‘Tabloid’ Labour, and its leader, ‘Red-Top Ed’. This bold stand against the dark powers of Rupert Murdoch and his Orcish minions is a good start, but it will take a long time and a lot of convincing for disaffected left-wing voters to even consider supporting the party in future.
But what is so significant and potentially revolutionary for British politics, certainly for the first time in over thirty years, is that – as descriptions of the ‘catharsis’ of the very open and outspoken parliamentary debate following the hacking revelations this week suggest – this significant dent in the hitherto impenetrable armour of Murdoch-dominated politics in the UK, could finally be tipped over as it absolutely needs to be if we are to ever have politicians who begin to speak more freely on crucial issues rather than toeing the ‘tabloid’ line on all things; perhaps even the possibility of a return to the politics of conviction and ideology rather than of opportunism and populism. In short, even with the amount of damage already done to Murdoch’s media empire through this scandal, for the first time in decades this country has the chance to move towards a proper, comprehensive and less manipulated political system: a fuller and truer democracy than it has been for generations, as opposed to an oligarchy masquerading as a democracy, as we have had increasingly since the rise and dominance of neoliberalism.
The ConDem government, specifically the Tories, are on even shakier ground now since they unashamedly support the continuation of the very ‘old politics’ that their rose garden union promised to reform. Now the honeymoon is long over, Clegg and Cameron are at loggerheads over the judicial character of the public enquiry into the NoW hacking scandal, and the ConDems are beginning to find that all those rose have their thorns. The question is, is the government going to come out on the side of public opinion on this one, which, for once, is ‘the right thing’ to do, or are they going to sign their own death warrant by shamelessly backing Brooks and Murdoch’s BSkyB bid? Of course, one is torn here, since most reading this will no doubt feel as me that the sooner the ConDems are demolished the better for everyone in the country. Labour scent blood here that potentially goes to the heart of the government; but does Labour also scent an opportunity for genuine self-renewal and a final surge of courage to realign themselves to their former pre-Blair values, or are they going to pointlessly continue with their ‘Blue’ Labour tabloid-guided agenda – if they do the latter, they may be on the side of majority public opinion on most other matters outside of NoW 'ethics', but they will be on the wrong side of history and of their own original ideology.
As for Cameron. Well, clearly he has a hell of a lot of explaining to do to parliament and to the public as to why he appointed such a toxic 'brand' as Andy Coulson at the heart of his government, even after the hacking allegations had already surfaced; equally, regarding his disturbingly cosy friendship with the even more toxic Rebekah Brooks, with whom he shared his last private Christmas dinner let us not forget. The implications of all this are toxic indeed. It is also symbolically deplorable that News International continues to close ranks even against its own far less culpable staff, by pulling the plug on the NoW (though which is something of a moral victory for democracy in itself and something to truly celebrate!), and then of course leaving Coulson - unlikeable though he may be - to the mob, while protecting Rebekah Brooks at all costs and, as most now assume, the hides of both Murdoch Jnr and Snr.
Having said this, whilst it's always upsetting to see anyone sacked suddenly for the failings of their surviving bosses, it is extremely difficult to feel more than a modicum of sympathy for those who have been complicit with, indeed, very much part of the workings, of the hack-machine that is the NoW, even though the current NoW team is nothing to do with the former hacking practices but is taking the rap for a previous regimen's misdemeanours - nevertheless, they have still been working for a tabloid for whom benefit claimant-bashing and right-wing saber-rattling is its very lifeblood. The NoW minions effectively made their pacts with the devil by joining such a dreadful rag in the first place - how breathtaking it is in then that they come out the other end genuinely gob-smacked and surprised at the utter ruthlessness of the powers of darkness that have employed them for so long! It's as if none of them were aware of the nasty trash - quite outside of the hacking scandal - they were colluding with for all these years; perhaps they were hypnotised?
And this point is being made not simply about the Brooks/Coulson periods of this paper, but, as Steve Coogan almost frothed at the mouth saying on Newsnight tonight, and quite rightly, it's the NoW in general, no matter the editor, it has always been a tawdry and pretty nasty piece of hackery at the best of times: 'this latest scandal just shows it's sunk to even lower depths' (Coogan). Why should any of us feel particularly sorry for people who have been on the Murdoch payroll for so long, some of whom - not all by any means, but some - have been complicit in the continuous right-wing hounding of the unemployed and poor? Perhaps now, as some of them are forced to sign on and become benefit claimants themselves for a no doubt temporary period, they may just begin to learn about the gritty truth of being unemployed in such a punishing capitalist society as ours, and ask themselves some pretty searching questions about their own previous behaviour in having routinely scapegoated the unemployed as 'scroungers' and 'cheats' over the past decade or so?
Similarly, it is frankly beyond pathetic that suddenly there is also a mood of nostalgic sentiment regarding the 160-odd year history of such an ethically anarchic and socially destructive entity as NoW - another typical British trait: the unquestioning loyalty to tradition, to anything that's been around for a long time, as if that alone means it has some implicit merit simply because of longevity (that then would include poverty, crime and death!?), let alone ethical justification. The NoW might have once been a less muck-raking hack-rag than it is now, or up until this Sunday, but the fact is, it's been like this for at least three decades now, even if it might have mellowed out a bit under its final regimen; puzzling to see exactly what positive contribution it has made to the social and humanitarian progression of this nation, except to work against all its better traits and help lead us to the horrific austerity capitalism we presently have. What a great legacy to be a part of!
The Recusant predicts there is now a hint of a turn in the tide of public opinion after the darkest 14 months in our recent political history, during which the unemployed, poor, sick and disabled have been constantly bullied and hounded and scapegoated in tabloids such as NoW, all of which has in turn been fed or lapped up by both the ConDem government and its so-called Opposition. But with the recent national strike, the increasing protests, the growing radicalism among Britain ’s younger generation, and now this truly appalling revelation at the heart of the Murdoch empire, which also arguably entwines itself with the heart of government as well, we could be beginning to see a sea-change in the public mood of Austerity Britain.
For the sake of our democracy, such as it is, we must hope that the NoW controversy does not stop at NoW, but continues all the way to the doorstep of Rupert Murdoch himself, and possibly also, if appropriate, that of No. 10. To put it simply, the one single thing that tends to unite British public opinion on both the left and the right, is the issue of institutional corruption, of politicians, the police and the media. We’ve all had enough of the party games of the rich and powerful, and while there are those of us who, whilst shocked on a human level, are not altogether so surprised about the hacking revelations of tabloids we have always been constitutionally repelled by ever since we were old enough to read their tawdry headlines on the newsstands, the majority of public opinion at this time, among all classes and political beliefs, will undoubtedly for once be united on this particular issue. And that is something that a populist prime minister such as Cameron should be extremely afraid of.
Alan Morrison, 7 July
Rupert Murdoch in Portcullis House’s post-modern restaging of King Lear;
The Daily Express and Mail Couldn't Give ATOS About the Facts;
Cutting Out the Tabloid Cancer Once and For All;
Czar Dave ‘I Don’t Do Irony’ Cameron Guest Edits the Big (Society) Issue to Welcome in
a New Generation of Street Vendors Created by His Government’s Housing Benefit Caps;
Osborne and Bust
Rupert Murdoch in Portcullis House’s post-modern restaging of King Lear
Another stormy couple of weeks politically speaking but in some ways potentially the most positive and progressive shift in our political culture as Rupert Murdoch’s philistine empire of vigilante rags seems to be hitting the rocks in terms of its unholy Sauronic grip on what has for the past thirty years been a sham-democracy in the UK. Watching the subsequent Select Committee ‘interrogations’ – apart from the ever-vigilant and ebon-eyed Tom Watson, who did his job superbly, it was otherwise a damp squib of a grilling – of Murdochs Snr and Jnr I occasionally wondered whether this was actually a post-modernist stage version of Shakespeare’s King Lear: Murdoch Snr appearing to be as oblivious to the manipulations and subterfuges of his Machiavellian ‘family’ – i.e. his son, surrogate daughter ‘Rebekah’ and associated executives and ‘advisors’ – which have now brought his ‘kingdom’ into dire disrepute right under his octogenarian nose. But of course, this is probably precisely what Murdoch Snr wanted us to think, cue his robotically delivered double-bluff of a statement as this being ‘the most humble moment of his life’. As for Murdoch Jnr., his mechanically co-operative and enthusiastic engagement in what was clearly nothing more than a transparent indictment of his duplicity and incompetence, I kept being reminded of the garrulous yank in Monty Python’s ‘Death Sketch’ in The Meaning of Life, who clearly can’t grasp that he is pivotal rather than at one remove to the impending finality of the situation; and I kept wondering whether Watson was going to suddenly produce a scythe, stand up, point a skeletal finger at the spectacled Stepford heir apparent and say, ‘You always talk you dynastic capitalists, you talk and you say things like…Ok, so this is a really serious allegation and here’s what we’re going to about it… Well your credibility’s dead now, so SHUT UP!’
Farcical all considered; grimly intriguing to endure; disorientating in the extreme in that Murdoch Snr seemed an un-daunting doddery old ‘Wizard of Oz’ prankster, just as in the film when an unimpressive and slightly crabby old man steps out from a curtain like an antique photographer, behind which he’d been projecting the omnipotent image of a disembodied vapour. But subsequently the post-mortem on Murdoch Snr’s ‘performance’ has indicated there’s probably more tricks up the old codger’s sleeves yet. The chief one of these being to put himself across as an enfeebled old idealist who looks like an extra from Cocoon – rambling intermittently bizarre digressions of Lear-esque nostalgia, particularly regards his father’s expose of Gallipoli somehow inspiring the son to go on to become a titanic right-wing media mogul and symbolic bully of the unlikely pairing of the rich and famous and the unemployed and vulnerable, for forty odd years under the subterfuge of providing ‘news’.
David Cameron’s sudden self-distancing from the Murdoch cabal and even his trusty mate Andy Coulson from whose stout defence he has practically had to be dragged kicking and screaming by the outcry of the general public and Labour leader Ed Miliband (who has scented blood and this time got the target right), has no obvious conviction, sincerity, or even verisimilitude. Perplexingly, the media and the Tories seemed wholly won over by Cameron’s pathetically vacuous and evasive performance at the dispatch-box at the extended parliamentary debate and rather than affirming to the nation that he himself is clean of any culpability in this whole murky affair, simply demonstrated that he had no answers whatsoever, no self-justifications for his appalling misjudgements, but only reaffirmed that Eton really does produce a breed of hubristic, obscenely self-confident and arrogant clones who think high political or judicial office is their default birthright. Cameron’s performance in the debate was laughably shallow and risibly duplicitous – but then, that’s hardly anything new is it? Cameron pompously asserted that he was ‘rather old-fashioned’ in believing that one is innocent before proven guilty – what a pity this ‘principle’ of his does not extend to the poor, unemployed, sick, disabled and all others who are deemed economically inactive (cue government ‘chav’-esque acronym NEETS: Not in Education or Employment) all of whom his government continually tar with the brush of ‘scrounging malingerers’ – no doubt the Tories wish they had their own Botany Bay to dispatch all their perceived undesirables to.
The Daily Express and Mail Couldn't Give ATOS About the Facts
To which, recent excoriating reports into the morally clouded cowboy operation of Atos – a French IT company! – sub-contracted to interrogate and bully millions of vulnerable and ill claimants off their incapacity benefits, demand to be taken serious notice of now by ministerial outsourcers and this corporate exclusion racket’s pogrom on the incapacitated dismantled forthwith. The fact that these assessments are commonly referred to as 'Atos Trials' rather says it all - lamplights and thumbscrews spring to mind! That things even got to the point when the most vulnerable in society were put onto a bureaucratic factory conveyor-belt designed to tip them into unsuitable work or further poverty in a so-called ‘social democracy’ simply beggars belief in its transparent Malthusianism. The Recusant predicts that in decades to come people in this country will look back in shame that it ever sunk so utterly low as this. Tory sadists aside, I sincerely hope the more vitriolic sections of British ‘taxpayers’ who supported and even helped whip up this tabloid-fed anti-benefit frenzy for the sake of saving themselves a few pennies of tax, will hang their heads in shame – alongside ministers and tabloid editors – when the full scale of broken lives, and suicides, sees the statistical light of day.
Only this week we’ve heard the story of a widow whose fatally ill husband was proclaimed fit for work by Atos, only to collapse and die a short time later (if one wanted to be superstitious about this, one could almost suggest the Atos ‘tick’ acts subliminally like a kind of Black Spot). Of course the mentally ill get less news coverage but it’s widely known now that legion sufferers either have breakdowns and serious relapses in their conditions, attempt or succeed in suicide, or end up being re-sectioned due to the intolerable pressure put on them by agencies like Atos. This whole Malthusian operation under the Con-Dems has to be the darkest moment in modern British political history. Shame on the government and its Atos shock-troops for hounding the sick and vulnerable so remorselessly and viciously as they continue to do; shame on the Murdoch-esque tabloids for whipping up this fiscal pogrom; shame, in particular, on the risible Daily Express for continually scapegoating and slandering the unemployed and incapacitated; and shame on those sections of society who think that their own ‘tax-paying’ status somehow gives them the right to morally judge those who are unfit to work or who simply cannot cope mentally with the unreasonable demands of modern industrial employment.
But Lo! What were the Daily Express and Daily Mail leader headlines the day after the revelations about the appallingly flawed Atos assessments and the 70% of appeals that found in favour of claimants kicked off their benefits by it (latest figures suggest it is 70%, not the 39% originally claimed by the government)? Yes, the usual disingenuous right-wing claptrap that on the face of it, i.e. assuming Atos’s wholly discredited statistics are in some obscure sense still correct, 79% of those on incapacity benefit found fit to work apparently to those in Lynch-Mob La La Land of said Malthusian rags. And for those who might think here’s the Recusant getting a bit hyperbolic again, it seems a growing sense of outrage at what appears to be a serious issue of the abuse of truth for partisan purposes among certain right-wing tabloids on this issue is interestingly dissected here also:
Any who worry for forthcoming over-regulation of our tabloids (and it should ONLY apply to the tabloids, not to more responsible and genuinely investigative broadsheets, in our view) should be nothing short of relieved that there could be a chance to rein in the ethically reprehensible right-wing propaganda of the Express and Mail; both pretty repellent papers that have campaigned for years to slander, hound and victimise the unemployed, poor, vulnerable and now even the sick and disabled. If that’s what we think of as a free press then I think it is better we trashed most of it as soon as possible, or at the very least, demarcated tabloids from proper journalism so emphatically that they share completely different stands in shops: newspapers for proper investigative journalism and actual news; tabloids for mindless celebrity gossip and failed partisan satire, perhaps somewhere between OK Magazine and Viz.
In instances such as the latest Atos scandal, the Express and Mail show neither ethical conscience nor loyalty to the truth when they cynically twist what the actual story was here: that Atos is inaccurately classing most of these claimants as fit to work – do these papers feel no shame, no moral responsibility, guilt or culpability in a culture they’ve helped create which has driven legion mental health sufferers to breakdown and even in some instances suicide, and led to the death of one physically disabled man after Atos said he was ‘fit to work’? Fit to drop more like, and he did.
These piranha-like tabloids also seem to think that just because a large proportion of new Incapacity/ESA claimants end up ‘dropping their claims’ prior to their Atos assessments that this somehow implies that they were trying to wag their incapacities. This is a rather perverse logic, and it seems to the Recusant, quite oppositely, that the numbers of claimants dropping out of the process is likely more indicative of their genuine incapacities and the fact that they simply can’t cope with the stress and uncertainty of these widely criticised Atos ‘trials’ which appear to be demeaningly interrogative processes. It is well known nowadays that with the cranking up of anti-claimant rhetoric in parliament and the media, where being on benefits seems to involve the donning of invisible leper bells or figurative ‘Scrounger’ tags – guilty till proven genuine! – that there are scores of eligible claimants who simply no longer see the state support they are entitled to by dint of their incapacities a psychologically viable option anymore. Shame on this brutally judgemental British ‘consensus’ that so viciously discourages the most needy in society from claiming that to which they are entitled, and which is a mere pin-prick in the wallet to our gratuitously wealthy Cabinet aristocrats but the difference between a meal or some second-hand clothes to the impoverished.
But nothing, no amount of reality-checking, truth and blatant evidence that the government, via Atos, is pursuing an amoral and fanatical pogrom against the most vulnerable in society will EVER sway said papers from their ethically twisted, misanthropic and anti-tax attitude which puts money before human wellbeing and even lives. Shame on them. But shame most of all on this Tory-led government which actively encourages such resentful attitudes as if they are somehow virtues.
Cutting Out the Tabloid Cancer Once and For All
The Recusant regards such papers with equal contempt to that which they routinely display to the unemployed and socially vulnerable, not to say to the largely working-class readers whom they implicitly patronise by presuming they want to read such black and white un-incisive and infantile titillation on a daily basis. The Recusant also believes that these tabloids are basically infringing on human rights by encouraging vicious discrimination of those sections of society who have the least recourse to withstanding such continual victimisation. That the toothless PCC has never thought to seriously hold these papers accountable for their vicious headlines is perhaps no surprise given the organisation’s absolute uselessness regards the Murdoch affair; but I would suggest any future regulations of the media clamp down on the twisted ideological gutter-trash produced daily by the right-wing newspapers of this country. Now the reprehensible News of the World has gone the way of all trash, we sincerely hope in time the same will happen through tighter regulations to tabloids such as the Daily Express, the Sun, the Star, the Evening Standard, the Daily Mail, and, yes, to be balanced here, the Labour-supporting Mirror too (its slandering of the wrongfully suspected landlord in the Bristol murder affair was unforgivably hostile and sensationalist). To ever have the hope of a truly socially progressive and ethical democracy, we need to cut the red-top tabloid cancer out of our media altogether, or at the very least, significantly emasculate it by bringing it in line with fair, rational and mature mainstream journalistic ethics.
For too long the tabloids have been the vandals of truth and the mobbers of compassion; they need to take a leaf out of the less abrasively partisan broadsheets’ books – particularly the Guardian which has definitively proven itself, in the Murdoch affair specifically, the Guardian of our democracy. And for those who might sniff at the fact that I do not include the Morning Star in my list of tabloids, there are many very strong reasons why I do not and why I believe it is a far superior outlet to those papers mentioned: though an openly ideological paper, its writers never resort to the kind of greasily intrusive and offensively phrased articles and headlines of the majority of right-wing tabloids (which in itself says a lot by contrast about the ethical calibre of the left-wing press). For the Recusant, the Morning Star is just what its title suggests: a much-needed compassionate torchlight on a moral cloud of capitalist mouthpieces masquerading as ‘news’ outlets. The Morning Star is an establishment-sceptic, independently funded daily account of our times from an openly socialist perspective, nothing more, nothing less; and in that, probably the only honestly ideological and transparently accountable newspaper in our country, since it does not hide behind a populist façade to promote right-wing prejudice, nor behind bogus political neutrality, or the fence-sitting convenience of the ‘liberal’ tag.
Talking of democracy: it may surprise those tabloids mentioned to realise that one basic principle of being part of an ‘ostensible’ social democracy, is tax: without tax, society cannot function – simple as that. Christ’s famous Render unto Caesar proverb, far from being, as some wilfully blind right-wingers would suggest, the ultimate vindication of capitalist establishments, actually has far more logical mileage as an argument for one’s responsibility to others in society, and was therefore much more of a socialist-oriented aphorism, inconvenient though that may be to many who abuse its meaning to defend their own greed. Why do so many people resent paying any tax? Possibly because they aspire to accrue sufficient capital throughout their lives so they put themselves above others in society? Well that ain’t what a democracy is supposed to be about, though the Recusant recognises that the embryonic ‘Big Society’ is very much about such tight-fisted misanthropic instincts, while its gradual withdrawal of state support for its citizens is undoubtedly intended to either turn many of us over night into philistine profit-driven entrepreneurs, or street vendors for the Big Issue. The weak to go to the wall all over again, for the second time since Thatcherism kicked off this brutal trend in British culture; only this time it’s going to be even worse since the welfare state is being systematically dismantled around us and hounded along into its grave by the right-wing gutter press.
If such pathologically intolerant/socially un-empathic ‘taxpayers’ as those who cheer the tabloid vigilantes had a choice, they’d not pay a penny in tax towards anything at all, let alone the sick and unemployed. But as long as the system obliges them to, their seeming one consolation is to act as singularly ill-suited ethical judges on the misfortunes and suffering of others less fortunate. A contemptible bully culture, kick-started the Thatcherites and helped along by New Labour Pink Tories such as James Purnell, and now catapulted to top lynch-mob priority by the fiscal fascists who currently lord over us.
Czar Dave ‘I Don’t Do Irony’ Cameron Guest Edits the Big (Society) Issue to Welcome in
a New Generation of Street Vendors Created by His Government’s Housing Benefit Caps
Perhaps one of the most glaringly ironic and farcical PR stunts yet of any prime minister in living memory is the fact that this week the Big Issue, ostensibly a magazine for the homeless, has as its guest editor none other than ‘roll up your sleeves and do the right thing’ Cameron. You just couldn’t make this up could you? It’s like a sketch in Private Eye: the man who, as prime minister, is directly responsible for the unbelievably blinkered and socially destructive housing benefit caps which are set to force around 40,000 families into homelessness due to the absence of any moves to regulate private rents proportionately, is guest-editing an issue of the country’s leading mouthpiece on behalf of the homeless! No doubt frequent claims that Cameron doesn’t take any interest in ‘policy detail’ will be used to explain his duplicity in accepting this appointment, since no doubt he isn’t actually aware of the direct consequences of his own government’s deplorable housing policies – not just regards housing benefit caps but also cranking up the rent levels of social housing and capping council housing tenancies. Few prime ministers have managed to do so much so quickly in the cause of providing A. John Bird with such an immense pool of surplus street vendors as David Cameron. For this, he inexplicably gets the badge of being the Big Issue’s guest editor! What are we going to get next? Nick Griffin guest-editing Urban Mozaik?
There seems to be something of an Irony Black Hole here, not only in the echoing emptiness of David Cameron’s head, but in the Big Issue office itself. What on earth does founder A. John Bird think he’s playing at? Is this perhaps in the spirit of the new-found ‘pluralism’ that Mr Bird seriously believes it is justifiable for a prime minister heading one of the most right-wing, viciously discriminatory, Social Darwinian governments in our history, one which is as the issue goes to press, deep in the process of accelerating street homelessness in the capital and nationally to a potentially unprecedented scale not seen since the initial Diaspora under Margaret Thatcher? Whatever the reasons behind this deeply eccentric, actually downright offensive, even duplicitous editorial stunt, I will not be buying the Big Issue again – although will happily still, as I do anyway, give change to the vendors themselves.
But I’m afraid this is pushing editorial pluralism way too far: to invite someone directly responsible for increasing homelessness in this country to edit what is meant to be its mouthpiece is simply beyond comprehension. If Mr Bird cannot see this I would say that it marks a very sorry day indeed for any hope that our culture will eventually wake up to the fact that it is simply not acceptable in one of the richest countries in the world to have so much as ONE person sat on the street. That homelessness has almost become a kind of Dickensian tourist attraction and accepted grittier feature to British national culture is frankly only further fed by such self-defeating and nonsensical publicity stunts as this. It is an insult to the vendors who distribute the magazine and to the homeless in general. Tactless is an understatement here.
It is also ironic too since it comes only a few months after our very own Emergency Verse campaign in defence of the welfare state took up a four page spread in the Big Issue; a feature clearly highlighting and even tacitly supporting our absolute anti-Con Dem stance and implicit criticism of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ spin. Pluralism and democratic debate aside, we do struggle to see how the Big Issue can feel comfortable moving from one area of focus to the absolute opposite possible, by inviting the prime minister himself to guest edit one of their issues, especially when in the face of the growing reality of the very social Diaspora EV was warning would come only a few months ago in the same title! This is topsy-turvy editorial thinking; it’s not pluralistic, it’s just plain absurd. If the scandal of Thatcherite-driven homelessness in this country is not an implicitly partisan issue, then Heaven knows what is! Unless Cameron spends his editorial apologising to the Big Issue readers for his unconscionable acceleration of street homelessness, we can see no other ethical or sane purpose that his guest-editorship could possibly have.
One does seriously worry now that there may be more than a titular coincidence between the names 'Big' Issue and ‘Big Society’ – and perhaps Mr Bird and Mr Cameron share some similarly misguided Smilesean beliefs in pre-Welfare State self-help and charity-driven mutualism. The Recusant is all for a more co-operative based communitarianism, but that does not mean at the expense of an institutional Welfare State and legal aid structure; which unfortunately for us is precisely what Mr Cameron intends it to mean. The Recusant is also concerned as to the ambiguity of the Big Issue’s new red-inked slogan: The Big Issue - a hand up, not a hand out... That the pejorative term ‘hand-out’ has come back into mainstream parlance in reference to what used to be called ‘state benefit’ or ‘benefit entitlement’, is far more worrying than it might seem placating to any who have swallowed the red-top spun nonsense that the Welfare State has simply encouraged a culture in which everyone thinks they can just dip into the public purse for no particular reason – a total nonsense as anyone who has been on benefits will tell you: nowadays, one is lucky to even get what they are supposed to be ‘entitled’ to, let alone anything to which they are not ‘entitled’.
But that the mouthpiece of the homeless is employing such dubious phraseology – and as if a homeless person getting a pitch as a vendor automatically means they’re on their way towards anything resembling proper employment, let alone securing a roof for themselves, is just ‘wilfully blind’ and unrealistic – and emphasizing this sort of ‘Big Society’ self-help rhetoric, seemingly under the assumption that it’s now some sort of common knowledge that claiming any benefits at all is ethically taboo, seems to us both deeply disturbing and frankly irresponsible. But it seems, tragically, this once noble title might soon be changing its name to the Big Society Issue. What’s the bet that Cameron comes out from his one-week stint in a grittier reality to any he has directly witnessed in his life with a robotic Murdoch-like line: ‘this has been the humblest moment of my life’. And then, of course, goes back to his multi-millionaire lifestyle and forgets all about it. Cynicism, yes, but in this instance we think, justified.
Osborne and Bust
And lastly, just in on 26 July 2011, were the non-growth figures for the last quarter, risibly low due mainly, apparently, to the Royal Wedding in April, which hitherto Osborne and his cohorts had been claiming would be a reason why there would likely be a growth-boost due to tourism; as Ed Balls pointed out, first it was the ‘snow’, now it’s the ‘sun’ to blame for poor figures. Pathetic excuses for a flatlining economy by the Chancellor thanks to his unacceptably draconian and self-defeating austerity cuts. But of course, it’ll not be those such as Baronet-to-be Osborne who will actually suffer from any of the cuts is it? So easy for millionaire Cabinet ministers on six figure salaries to make ‘difficult decisions’ and ‘tough choices’ for everyone else who don’t have their pay, pensions, perks, inheritances and properties to fall back on.
But according to a spokesman from the less-than-encouragingly titled Adam Smith Institute, ‘we all spent too much during the boom and bought lots of property’ and so on, and so it’s natural there’ll be a ‘hangover’ after the ‘party’. Such a gauche and frankly execrable remark displayed a breathtaking pig-ignorance regarding the ordinary lives of most people, but more to the point the fact that millions of Britons did not take part in the ‘party’ at all, even in the boom times, did not have then and certainly don’t have now the money nor, in many cases, sufficient greed acumen to have cashed into the buy-to-let boom and general grab-all-you-can bonanza of other sections of society, mainly of course the bankers, speculators and super-rich, all of whom, of course, have got away from the austerity measures scot-free and continued to accumulate wealth while those who played no part whatsoever either in the boom grab or in the fiscal roulette that caused the recession, are suffering the cuts for others’ criminal self-interest. So more a case of those at the ‘party’ buggering off and leaving the rest to clear up the mess without having had any of the fun. That’s British ‘fairness’ for you. Funny how suddenly the rich and powerful use ‘we’ when it comes to cuts, but hitherto were perfectly happy to use ‘us’ when there was plenty of swill in the troughs.
Alan Morrison, 31 July 2011