Past
Editorials

IDS2

One Nation On The Move

Don’t be fooled by the grotesque contrarian rhetoric against the welfare state recrudescing from the millionaire tongues of Tories in the wake of the most laughably vacuous and viciously Malthusian Tory conference in living memory – nor be fooled by Theresa May’s PR stunt of blocking the extradition of Asperger’s sufferer Gary McKinnon: relieved as The Recusant is at this timely if belated intervention, it seems pretty clear that it is a tactical move from the Government to feign compassion when it suits its political purposes. But the sub-textual legacy this particular issue will leave behind like a sour taste in the nation’s mouths, once the full context of our times are properly evaluated and reflected on in the future, is one of rank moral hypocrisy: while all of a sudden Tory MPs and ministers have frantically scuttled about on news programmes talking of protecting a “suicide risk” from US extradition and interrogation (an argument which, when used sincerely by non-Tories, TR fully supports), their party in government has been simultaneously coercing tens of thousands of very real “suicide risks” among the sick, disabled and mentally ill claimant population to endure the punishing regimen of the Atos racket. Moreover, these same Tories who all of a sudden are feverishly invoking the very Human Rights Act they actually wish to demolish altogether, along with British social and employment rights, by “repatriating powers” from Europe if they secure an Orcish majority in 2015, haven’t been batting eyelids at the escalating statistics of actual suicides among ESA claimants as a result of the deeply flawed and unethical Work Capability Assessments, as documented by such campaigns as the ever more, suspiciously ‘inaccessible’ Calum’s List and the Black Triangle.

Only a week or so ago Birmingham was unfortunate to have to host the Tory Conference, arriving MPs and ministers of the ‘Nasty Party’ greeted with the righteous protest of legion residents of England’s second city, which set the tone for what turned out to be a week’s worth of grotesque rhetoric, specious platitudes and, of course, the traditional Tory collective rhetorical victimisation of the unemployed, poor, sick, disabled and vulnerable, all of whom are, according to these party atavists, singularly to blame for our country’s economic woes. Not the gambling banks, not the speculators and hedge funders, not the tax-avoiding rich, not the national parasite that is the private rental sector – but all those squashed at the bottom under the Tory boot. The party of mass Jungian ‘shadow-projection’ of collective vice and venality shamelessly displaying its colours at their most flagrant and barbaric. Topping the bill, as ever, was Chancer of the Exchequer, George ‘Gideon’ Osborne, the inherited multi-millionaire and Baronet-in-waiting who thinks it perfectly acceptable to sneak into a first class compartment with a second class train ticket – should he pay his £160 fine? No, of course not, he’s the Chancellor after all and can do what he likes by divine right of inherited entitlement – in any case, what’s a mere £160 to the likes of him? The equivalent of an hour’s ‘work’ at the Treasury scheming how he can ransack more pennies from the depleted welfare budget; and, although such behaviour might be liberally termed as ‘fiscal psychopathy’, to the likes of Osborne, it’s just a bred-in reflex action for a product of the hereditary land-grab ‘principle’ to skim away as much as possible from the peasants while ensuring he and his rich friends in the City continue their lives of unearned privilege and extravagance at everyone else’s expense.

Because, to Baronet Osborne, the millions of people made and kept unemployed by his own “omnishambolic” mishandling of our economy are, in a subsequent quagmire of mass unemployment, “choosing” not to work, and “sleeping off a life on benefits”, while the hard-working British taxpayer – with regards to whom no doubt Osborne feels some pang of guilt due to his own ‘avoidance’ behaviours – drags him/herself to work in the punishing dark of late autumn mornings. Because, according to Baronet Osborne, those who are unemployed and on benefits apparently have a whale of a time enjoying a life that is just one long languorous lie-in. Not a life in which – as is actually the case today thanks to his government’s “social cleansing” policies – they are made to feel utterly worthless and expendable, are stigmatised weekly by right-wing red-tops as “scroungers”, bullied through financial sanctions and threats to cut their entire incomes off if they don’t agree to be press-ganged into labour slavery (or rather, “work placements”), evicted from their rented homes due to benefit caps (see here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/oct/15/bed-and-breakfast-families-crisis), driven to the alfresco charity of food banks, or, if sick and disabled, bamboozled by Atos ‘assessors’ into losing their benefit entitlements through being spuriously found “fit for work” – the availability of which, as most of us well know, almost entirely the figment of the Government’s fevered imagination. No, according to the curious world of Baronet Osborne, our welfare state is an obese monstrosity which subsidises lavish ‘two figure’-a-week lifestyles for the nation’s “workshy scroungers”.

So don’t be fooled by capricious Tory rhetoric: make no mistake that this abomination of a government is absolutely committed to the dismantling of our welfare state in a bid to achieve a new ‘state’ Victoriana of “deserving” and “undeserving” value judgments. Only last night on Hard Talk viewers had to listen to yet another tired, distorted and basically quite heartless gush of grotesque ‘dialectic’ from Conservative Home’s ubiquitous commentator Tim Montgomerie, who appeared to think that parroting the wholly disingenuous and contrarian rhetoric of the likes of Baronet Osborne regards “curtains shut during the day”, thus further stoking up taxpayer resentments against mostly involuntarily unemployed neighbours (more to the point, those made and kept unemployed by the very failed austerity policies of the Tories themselves!), mingled with ‘blue collar’-baiting and the empty ‘have your cake and eat it’ Red Toryism of Philip Blond (“compassion isn’t about how much the state spends on the poor” etc. etc.), it is patently clear that this country is currently in the hands of a proto-Tory ‘Tea’ Party – not only the party of ‘Two Nations’, but also of ‘Two Faces’. No more even the old Thatcherite pretence of supporing the nation's police force - now every common bobby is just another "pleb" to the likes of the Tories.

For these as well as legion other reasons, The Recusant fully supports tomorrow’s big march through London in defence of the welfare state and the public sector and encourages all to either try and get along to it, or alternately to post messages of support online through whichever auspices are available to you. The time has come around again – very quickly, and now an annual basis necessitated by the recidivist barbarianism of this scabrous government – to Shout to the Top of this dog-eat-dog society, in unison and absolute moral opposition to the fiscal atrocities of this, the most brutalising and immoral government since the darkest arts of Thatcherism! David Cameron wishes to consolidate his divide-and-rule of this nation with the mass stigmatisation and fiscal cleansing of the most impoverished and vulnerable citizens, it is the moral duty of all us with social conscience to stand up against this attack on the sanctity of our most basic human values. We must be the generation which says emphatically: No! We will not live through another age of 'acceptable poverty' and 'respectable greed'. We are either "all in it together", or not in it all; either 'One Nation', or No Nation.

A.M.
19 October 2012

Bowdlerising Blake

Against a curling cardboard backdrop of internecine feuds, tantrums and playground taunts, mostly around Tory stalling of the Lib-Dems’ on-the-back-of-a-fag-packet Lords Reform, duplicitous double-act Cameron and Clegg ‘renewed their coalition vows’ yesterday in a train carriage factory in Birmingham – latest trans-satirical government initiative to fund a new rail network on the back of hiking up already extortionate ticket fares by 3% above inflation indefinitely every year, so we will end up with a high speed railway fit for the 21st century, but which hardly anyone except minted ministers and commuting venture capitalists will be able to afford to actually travel on. Having had to admit defeat on two of his three key Coalition ‘sacred cows’, AV and Lords Reform (the other is Europe), benighted Nick Clegg had to console himself rhetorically with the somewhat self-impeaching epithet of his party’s capitulation to the capitalist austerity of the Tories via joining in coalition rather than sitting it out to countervail a minority Tory government, as being somehow something to be proud of, in spite of “putting aside short-term popularity”.

What Clegg has also “put aside” in order to wrestle a bit of fairly impotent power for himself and his Orange Book opportunists is the inevitable electoral atrophy of his party in 2015. He’ll still be saying then, of course, “I’d do the same again” and “it was all worth it in order to get the deficit down” – but the only trouble is, the deficit isn’t actually going down, and his support for Osborne’s ideologically based cuts has helped tip us into a completely avoidable double dip recession. So Clegg doesn’t even have the card of successful deficit reduction to justify his part in the "difficult decisions". Corporal Clegg has been a disaster for his party and for our country, and is likely to only attain political posterity as a ‘Judas goat’ who led millions of left-leaning voters into a den of state-devouring wolves. This will never be forgiven by those voters. If Clegg’s idea of a trump card is the one which betrays the fact that he’s basically more a Cameronian Tory than anything resembling a true liberal, an incomprehensible sense of pride in having campaigned before the election on socially progressive policies he didn’t really believe in, betraying the student population by trebling the very tuition fees he promised to abolish entirely, and helping to tear the welfare state to tatters which even Thatcher would have thought twice about – then he clearly is as ethically idiotic as he comes across. Far from attempting to shore up some bizarre form of ‘political capital’ by paying public tribute to his own political opportunism, he should be hanging his head in shame. It’s a desperate attempt to spin round the really unpalatable truth in all this: if Clegg and his party hadn’t gone into coalition, we would almost definitely still have the same universally intact NHS and welfare state, and affordable university education (among legion other essentials of the recent past).

A further 'irony of poor timing' is that, while the principle - which The Recusant supports - of Lords Reform is indisputable in terms of forming a more representative and democratic Second Chamber, this move comes at a time when it is actually the House of Lords rather than the multimillionaire-infested Commons which seems more 'in touch' with the struggles of ordinary people, and which has been the last rearguard of defence against the Government's fiscal attack on the poorest and most vulnerable in society through the epoch-shaming Welfare Reform Bill, seven of the most draconian aspects of which Peers rejected, only to be 'overruled' by the Government via invocation of 'financial privilege' (an apt term in itself to describe the greater collective private wealth of the First Chamber to the traditionally landed and propertied Second, now the 'poorer cousin' of the bicameral parliamentary set up). Currently, compared to the tin-pot plutocrats in the Commons, the Lords has operated as a bastion of democracy - but then, the comparison is a touch disingenuous. Nevertheless, what kind of 'democratic philistinism' is it as personified in Nick 'the proles won't understand the constitutional implications so I decide democratically on their behalves not to put it to a referendum' Clegg who has such contempt for democracy and democratic procedure both in terms of betraying his social democratic voters by trebling tuition fees, gerrymandering parliamentary terms and percentages needed for Votes of No Confidence in the government he is a part of, and capitulating with NHS and welfare state vandalisms, in exchange for an ultimately tokenistic, legacy-ensuring move on Lords Reform...? As if, after helping to dismantle our social democracy, the small nugget of a slightly more democratic Second Chamber would act as any real consolation, or make a blind bit of difference to the mass disillusion and disgust among the public with a corrupt and non-representative parliamentary 'demockracy'.

That Clegg took the opportunity of his co-speech with Cameron on 16 July to not only unconvincingly renew the Coalition’s vows, but actually go out of his way to make a point that without his party’s involvement in government with the Tories none of the “difficult decisions” could have ever actually been carried through, must have come across to the unconverted of his Lib Dem ranks antagonistic towards the worst of the austerity policies, not to mention those sections of the public who are against the Government’s Tory-led state-slashing agenda, as a sick joke. What Clegg was in fact bringing attention to in his vow-renewing speech was the glaring fact that he and his party have singularly made possible a plethora of morally atrocious and socially catastrophic extreme right-wing Tory policies which will scar this nation for decades to come. Clegg and the Lib Dems have supported practically all of this government’s most vicious and punitive policies, and thereby played a significant role in ensuring that this present upcoming generation of working-class and lower middle-class youth, and the ones to follow, are wholly disinherited of former generations’ employment rights, legitimate housing benefit entitlements, even the opportunity to be educated at university and have a chance of transcending the material constraints of their backgrounds. This has all been done in the name of – purely lateral or even vertically downwards – “social mobility” (Clegg) and, of course, the “Big Society” (Cameron).

Let’s look briefly at the ‘Big Society’: it is characterised by an accelerated wealth and class divide (re the new 45% tax for the superrich); an evisceration of state welfare provision; mass eviction of both unemployed and low-paid families and abandonment of ‘children in need’ of roofs of their own with the scrapping of housing benefits for all under-25s (the ‘Shapps caps’); the ghettoisation of the poorest to urban doughnut ghettoes (“social cleansing”); the criminalisation of “squatters”; the stripping of employment rights, contracts and pensions; the undercutting of unemployed rights and the minimum wage via the Work(fare) Programme (A4E et al); the arbitrary cutting of benefits, stigmatisation, interrogation and 'fiscal manslaughter' of countless incapacitated and disabled claimants (Atos); the demonisation of all those who speak up against all this or who support democratically legitimate strike action (the Unions, activist groups etc.); the Victorian-style sentencing of water bottle purloiners to months in prison; the tasering of protestors; the dawn routs of traveller sites; the eviction of the democratic Occupy movement; the eugenics-leaning symbolic fiscal sterilisation of “problem families” with threats to stop benefits for all unemployed households with more than three children; the press-ganging of claimants to “volunteer” in dehumanising conditions to steward royal pageants; the cynical exploitation of the cuts-slashed police and military to replace phantom security guards from G4S after yet another shambolic episode in government outsourcing to a profit-rather-than-customer focused private sector racket; a fully armed and missiled Olympics exploiting cheap labour and ‘volunteers’; a Paralympics sponsored by an illegitimate private incapacity-interrogation racket (Atos); and of course, the wholesale protection of the vested interests of bankers, big business and property owners, all of whom fund the Tory party. Of course, when profiteering private firms botch up their outsourced contracts – Pathways to Work, A4E, Tomorrow’s People, Close Protection and all the rest of them – it is suddenly the auspices of the public sector, or the state, which this government expects to step in and sort the mess left by privateers, in spite of the fact that, in the case of mopping up after G4S, both the police and the army are currently being decimated by massive and irresponsible pay and pension cuts and workforce culls, while the public sector in general is continually demonised and undermined by Tory ministers. But when the private sector stooges can’t cut it, the public professionals have to be brought in. As the Left has always argued, correctly, the State has stored up a 'knowledge capital of expertise' which private sector carpetbagger companies simply cannot replace.

This is the ‘Big Society’! And it stinks! Nevertheless, our irony-proof prime minister stumbles on cluelessly with yet another symbolic cultural insult, this time to socialists and poetry lovers alike: the trans-satirical announcement that in future William Blake’s revolutionary poem ‘Jerusalem’ (from his epic sequence Milton), as adapted to music by Sir Hubert Parry (1916), might be used for the nation’s sports anthem. This all uncannily echoes those Union Jack-waving Thatcherite rallies of the Eighties to ‘I vow to thee my country’, an asinine lyric by Sir Cecil Spring-Rice set to an adaptation of the less memorable passage of socialist composer Gustav Holst’s majestic 'Jupiter' – a passage which once had the sobriquet of ‘Thaxted’, named after the Somerset parish in which Holst once lived – along with other socialist artists and intellectuals – at the time its legendary ‘Red Vicar’, Christian socialist Conrad Noel, was in residence at the local church where he famously hung a red flag alongside St George’s and Sin Féin’s (Noel also founded the Trotskyite ‘Catholic Crusade’). But regards ‘Jerusalem’, possibly Cameron only knows the first deceptively bucolic verse in this great anti-industrial poem:

And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon Englands mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!

One suspects the following verses may well be surgically removed from any sporting adaptation in the future:

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land.

Or maybe not: this is after all the same prime minister who cited The Jam’s ‘Eton Rifles’ as one of his favourite pop songs, a Paul Weller-penned diatribe against the private school elites, which includes such lyrics as:

Thought you were smart when you took them on
But you didn't take a peep in their artillery room
All that rugby puts hairs on your chest
What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?

Thought you were clever when you lit the fuse
Tore down the House of Commons in your brand new shoes
Composed a revolutionary symphony
Then went to bed with a charming young glee

Hello-hurrah - I'd prefer the plague to the Eton Rifles

Did Cameron honestly think this was some sort of hagiographical drinking song in tribute to his alma mater? He reprised his lyric-blindness during the pre-election Tory conference, playing out with The Style Council’s ode to the unemployed and downtrodden of Thatcherite society, ‘Shout To The Top!’, which includes Weller-penned lines such as:

So when you’re knocked on your back and your life’s a flop
And when you’re down on the bottom there’s nothing else
But to shout to the top…

Hardly a song for those lording it at the top of society one would think, but more a defiant cry against Thatcher’s brutalisation of British society, which could well be sung again today in the welfare-capped austerity of the ‘Big Society’. Not to mention the fact that the video of this song was filmed in front of a massive mural depicting the tribulations of The Miners’ Strike of the time, which The Style Council explicitly supported, as codified in a previous single, ‘Soul Deep’ (1984, under the moniker ‘Council Collective’), the proceeds from which went towards funds to maintain the miners while they continued their strike (but one doubts Cameron would ever use a song with lyrics such as "We can't afford to let the government win / It means death to the trade unions").

Perhaps Cameron’s metaphorical humility should be perversely saluted, since clearly implicit lyrical sentiments of all three of these socialist songs doesn’t get in the way of a good rhythm for him…? He’s willing to put the messages to one side in pursuit of a philistine bowdlerisation of their explicit political purposes. However, The Recusant believes there should be a law introduced to protect the political manipulation of any cultural sources implicitly in contradistinction to the ideologies politicians wish to hollow them out in order to promote. We might call this the ‘Protection of Political Poetics Copyright Law’. If Blake were here today, he’d most likely be protesting outside Downing Street at the ideological theft of his iconic rallying-cry for social revolution against the punishing tyranny of industrial capitalism.

For what it’s worth, and in the rebellious, militant spirit of Blake himself, whom we are sure would approve, The Recusant offers Cameron a version of ‘Jerusalem’ with which it believes the prime minister would feel more 'metaphorically comfortable', and indeed, might perceive as more fitting to the reality of his ‘Big Society’:

Gentrification

And do those hoofs in modern time
Scorch through the Big Society:
And is the Smoking Tory Torch
On England’s sulphur pastures mean!

And did Conservative Design
Cleanse forth all these V-tagged 'Wrag' twills?
And was the Welfare State wrecking-balled
To gentrify drawn-curtained sills?

Bring me my Torch of biting cold;
Bring me my Atos of dark hire:
Bring me my Caps – Handouts withhold!
Bring me my Charity to tire!

I will not cease from Titled Right,
Nor shall my Torch sleep in its stand:
Till we have trashed the Welfare State
In England’s need-resenting land.

Pinteresque

On the subject of poetry, and in this instance, ‘political poetry’, or that which is perceived thus by today’s metropolitan literary elites, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy was awarded the Pinter Prize, which usually goes to writers or poets whose output is of a particularly radical and politicised timbre. On this occasion, however, it seems to have been passed almost tokenistically to a poet who is at the top of her profession in terms of her high profile state appointment, and recent scooping of the Costa Prize for her latest collection The Bees together with its shortlisting for the T.S. Eliot. According to the Pinter’s judges - ‘Dame’ Antonia Fraser (Pinter’s widow), arts pundit ‘Baron’ Melvyn Bragg FRS, FBA, FRSA, FRSL, FRTS , metropolitan ‘leftish’ playwright ‘Sir’ David Hare and prolific novelist ‘Dame’ Margaret Drabble FRSL - Duffy’s poetry is apparently of such a politically “outspoken” register that it warrants veneration on the same platform of past Pinter awardees such as poet Tony Harrison, famous for his searing contemporaneous epic poem about the Miner’s Strike, V (1985). Forgive this commentator for his somewhat disoriented reaction to this latest trans-satirical announcement from within the tightly-packed, jealously guarded world of the pinkish metropolitan literati, but it is stretching metaphor a bit too far to plausibly equate Ms Duffy’s poems criticising footballers’ pays, or those addressing distinctly non-domestic political issues on which there is a broadly non-ideological public consensus, such as the disastrous British adventurisms in the Arab world of the past decade, or, at the opposite end of the scale entirely, gushes of poetic nuptials celebrating the Royal Wedding, with the likes of Harrison’s militantly polemical V. There’s simply no comparison.

It is assumed, therefore, that the point of awarding the Pinter Prize to Miss Duffy was to emphasize the fact that, in part quite true, she is arguably the first poet laureate since John Masefield to tackle contemporary social or political issues at all, no matter how vaguely (Alan Dent’s coinage of ‘radical chic’ in relation to Duffy’s appointment as laureate in a contemporaneous edition of The Penniless Press springs to mind), under royal patronage. There the four cultural Olympians have some point – but should the Pinter Prize be used to bring attention to such things? And if so, shouldn’t it instead be called the Pinter Prize for Sporadically Less Small-‘P’ Politically Myopic Poet Laureates As and When They Happen To Manifest?

Surely a Pinter Prize based truly on the principles it suggests should be used to celebrate the work of those poets and writers who really do dedicate their lives to political-literary composition, in spite of the perpetual threat of tacit blacklisting of themselves and their works in doing so? The organisation behind the prize, PEN, is specifically there to promote and celebrate ‘persecuted writers’ and defend freedom of expression – and yet PEN would seem to be unaware of the fact that there are poets in the supposedly ‘democratic’ UK of today who to some extent feel themselves ‘excluded’ (even indirectly 'persecuted') from opportunities and recognition, often on the basis of their choice of subject, but most commonly in terms of poetic style and sensibility, if it does not fit into today’s stylistically ‘policed’ and unhelpfully hierarchical poetry culture of ‘pass-the-parcel’ prizes touring circuits of somewhat incestuous academic ‘lit coteries’, and seemingly impenetrable ‘top’ imprints and journals which wield the most potent and soul-destroying ancient power of all: the power to ignore.

The Recusant’s contention is if the mission of the Pinter Prize is to celebrate literature which takes an “unflinching” and “unswerving” view of the world, as it claims, its auspices should scout out a little bit further than the half dozen ‘big’ imprints, prize winner directories, Oxbridge, and laureateships, to ensure it discovers the most meritorious writers whose output corresponds to such ambitious qualities. Those, indeed, whose genuine passion and commitment to the cases they feel their poetry should in part promote, forego all thoughts on prizes, prestige and literary honours because they write what they feel needs to be written, in spite of trends, not what will be deemed acceptable to establishments, nor writing which succumbs to the easy temptation of producing more ‘delicately’ expressed output which might address the occasional topical taboo without compromising future patronage, bottom-sliding itself along the ‘fence’ of cultural wings so as to ingratiate both the left-leaning literary ‘pinks’ and the conservative establishments on the other side.

It is difficult to justify the precedence of such prizes as the Pinter when its scope seems so implausibly Lilliputian as – so conveniently – honing in on the one poet in the country who also happens to be the Poet Laureate, more politically engaged than most previous appointees, granted, but throughout her career, hardly regarded as a particularly ‘political’ or ‘radical’ poet to any obviously demonstrable degree; indeed, there are even a fair few of Duffy’s own similarly high profile peers who would fit such a description much more authentically. But an even cursory glance through the rich and varied lists of medium and small poetry publishers in the UK today – Smokestack, Flambard, Waterloo Press, Five Leaves, Hearing Eye, Red Squirrel, Sixties Press, to tap the tip of the iceberg – would quickly sculpt out an entire species of political, even militant, poets practising today, many of whom have been practising and publishing for many years, even decades. Isn’t the Pinter episcopacy interested in any of these? Or is it all pre-determined? Is the awarding of a ‘politically tinctured’ literary prize conducted through a protocol of a rather different type of ‘politics’? Is it bestowed like a giant pointing lottery finger, or is the prize-winner picked from a number of nominations? Is there any shortlist for this Pintership?

If there was, this writer can think of many seasoned poets and writers who possess both the literary talent and political courage one would think were far more eligible for this supposedly ‘left-field’ prize: Andy Croft, Lee Hall, Ken Worpole, Iain Sinclair, Barry Tebb, Alexis Lykiard, Michael Horovitz, Jeremy Reed all instantly spring to mind; though one suspects all are bit too demonstrative within the ostensible remit of this ‘radical’ prize to make the shortlist. In that sense then, like all literary prizes of today, those who are most eligible are generally excluded, or are actually not eligible by dint of their almost inevitable stylistic and topical contradistinction from the mainstream literary elites that adjudicate them. Could it be that the Eliot, the Forward, the Costa, and all those other establishment trinkets are not really open to all on basis of literary merit, but are merely ostensibly inclusive ‘opportunities’, scattergun as lotteries? That in actual fact, most prizes are bestowed more on the basis of such peripheral ‘literary’ accomplishments as self-promotional competitiveness, determined networking and – often feigned – deference to residing elites of the related medium? Is this simply cynicism no better than the perceived cynicism of the literary institutions? Or is it just healthy poetic scepticism? You decide… or not, as the case may be. In the self-styled ‘open poetry’ culture, we might make our nominations, as in our so-called ‘democracy’ we cast our votes; but in the end the decisions are normally made on our behalves and sometimes before the nominations or votes are even cast.

As the great Labour stalwart Aneurin Bevan once described our limited system of ‘democracy’ in this country: ‘At each election power passes to the people, and each time they hand it back to the same people who held it before’. Small wonder, based on our limited British notion of ‘democracy’, the upcoming younger generation are growingly disillusioned with a palpably self-serving and self-perpetuating parliamentary system. There is such a thing as full open participatory democracy, or ‘social democracy’, which many reading this can probably vaguely remember, and some of us, such as this writer, were among the last generation to have been born into (during the Seventies) but who were also unfortunately the first generation to come of age in its Thatcherite truncation. It has yet to recover, over thirty years on, and is, under this Tory-led government, rapidly reversing even further than Thatcher managed, back to a pre-Welfare State sharply stratified limited ‘democracy’ as was last fully experienced during the Depression-struck Thirties. Now we are in the Second Great Depression, of the Twenty Tens. The historical parallels are chillingly similar.

Mining the Thin Seam of Democracy

In 1936, the legendary Jarrow March or Jarrow Crusade took place, in which 207 unemployed and malnourished steel workers and shipbuilders, accompanied by their MP ‘Red’ Ellen Wilkinson, made a pilgrimage by foot to highlight their plight from their hometown near Newcastle all the way down to Westminster. This was in the days before the Welfare State, where only basic ‘dole’ was available to stop the unemployed literally starving (made possibly by the policies implemented by Herbert Asquith’s radical Liberal Government of 1908-1910 through its People’s Budget of 1909 and National Insurance Act of 1911, both overseen by Chancellor Lloyd-George), and thus the Jarrow Crusade was more than merely symbolic, it was a literal Hunger March. 80 years later, on 11 July 2012, in Central Spain – a country which in July 1936 was plunged into Civil War when a Fascist military coup raised its arms against the democratic socialist government of the Republic – 240 Spanish coalminers walked a hunger march to Madrid to protest against a right-wing government’s 60% cut of subsidies to their industry as part of their ‘deficit reduction’ programme. As with the broader public protests of the Cabalgata de los Indignados (the Outraged Cavalcade) which now happen annually in the country, this was the second coalminer hunger march instigated on the same date it was walked last year, 11 July 2011. The miners marched in hardhats and held walking sticks which they waved to chants against their punitive prime minister: "Rajoy, your future is darker than our coal". The result of this angry but democratically choreographed demonstration in Madrid? A bombardment of rubber bullets fired by the state police, bloodying scores of miners, including women (as The Recusant front page pays testimony to). We must all note the trigger-happy hand of European-wide austerity capitalism: it cuts as down through fiscal cuts, and when the common people protest against this injustice, they increasingly receive blasts of tasers, water canon, tear gas and rubber bullets. This is, quite simply, despicable, and an insult against all rudimentary democratic principle. It is the kind of pugilistic suppression one would have expected in Franco’s Spain, but hardly what one might have expected in a so-called ‘democratic’ Spain. This once again goes to demonstrate that capitalism – essentially ‘fiscal plutocracy’ – tolerates democracy on a superficial level, but when the ‘demos’, the people, really do start to actively ‘participate’ in their democracy, capitalism turns on the water taps and loads up the rubber. The Recusant pays tribute to the courage of the Spanish miners, and los Indignados, extends its gesture of solidarity to their cause. We say with them to the capitalist oligarchies of our time: ¡No pasarán! They Shall Not Pass! As we also say this to our own Tory-led government in the UK: They Shall Not Pass beyond 2015.

Talking of Fascists and Falangists, The Recusant notes our own homegrown ‘Baroness Blueshirt’, the expenses-tainted ‘Lady’ Warsi, co-chair(man?) of the Conservative Party, laughably declared to her equally politically illiterate ‘Yories’ (‘Younger Tories’), that by being the first Labour leader to speak at the annual Durham Miners’ Gala "Red Ed” is using the occasion “to cosy up to his militant, left-wing union paymasters”. This piece of sub-GCSE level right-wing rhetoric, which we’ve come to expect from the sour-hearted Warsi since she came to prominence, betrays, in one single sentence, not (unfortunately) how ‘left-wing’ Ed Miliband is, but how hopelessly and irredeemably right-wing she and her fellow ‘retoxified’ Tory torch-bearers are – the new ‘Blueshirts of the Bust’, the “acceptable’ face of Fiscal Fascism’. By calling anyone who speaks up or protests against her government’s atrociously draconian and vicious austerity cuts automatically “militant” is an insult to fundamental democratic etiquette, the right to debate, to oppose, to strike and to protest. Coupling this term with “left-wing” is simply pathetic, insinuating as it does that being ‘left-wing’ is somehow something ‘taboo’, even contra-democratic. How is that? We would argue that it is this mandate-less Tory-led government, which has corrupted our NHS without the consent of the electorate, privatised university education, decimated employment rights, robbed public sector jobs and pensions, and ransacked our welfare state and committed mass legislative “social cleansing” on a hitherto unthinkable scale – and in the cases of many mentally ill claimants who have committed suicide after having their benefits stripped from them via Atos, even ‘legislative manslaughter’ – is the only anti-democratic agency in this debate.

But then, democracy has ever been worn uncomfortably by the Conservative Party, tolerated for purely pragmatic reasons, but never an easy bedfellow to their fundamentally classist, social Darwinian and plutocratic ideology. This is a fundamental truth which, again, the deeply incisive Nye Bevan picked up on in his brilliant essay of 1944, Why Not Trust the Tories?:

The Tory feels no guilt because he is conscious of no fealty. When he betrays democracy, when he cheats it and debilitates it, he is not capable or remorse nor even of contrition, because he has no kinship with it. It is another world of alien values, into which by the very laws of his nature he is never capable of entering. Surely, you may retort, this cannot be the whole truth. After all, the Tory displayed all the arts of Parliamentary government for centuries. True, but there were Parliaments in Britain long before there was a democracy. The Tories looked upon Parliament as a means by which they could settle differences amongst themselves, without resort to armed conflict. They never looked upon it as a place where they shared power with the masses, much less yielded power to them. When Keir Hardie went to Parliament in his cap they looked on it as funny before they grew angry with it as a portent. The most popular Labour Members of Parliament, with the Tories, have always been those who plead for mercy for the poor. They have never shown anything but bare-fanged hatred for those Labour Members who want political power for the masses…

How true: the Tories are the gatecrashers of parliamentary democracy, its antipathetic interpolators, who participate within it not to truly support, protect or promote the cause of participatory democracy (in spite of their laughable ‘localist’ claims to be doing precisely that), but to keep democracy under control, to police it, to pettifog it, to keep it in check and inhibit its progress. Both Keir Hardie and Nye Bevan knew this. Both of these great Labour figures were also autodidactic ex-coal miners from Scotland and Wales respectively: socialists of a ‘true grit’ Celtic cast who realised from the outset of their careers that Parliament was for them a very real battleground at the heart of an establishment of entrenched propertied interests in contradistinction to notions of true democracy, and that their ‘political callings’ were on a evangelical level: to spread the Word of democratic socialism, the protection and advancing of the long-silent interests of the common man against the thinly-veiled plutocracy of wealthy Tory overlords. Thanks to David Cameron and his extreme right-wing Tory party, both Bevan and Hardie wouldn’t feel out of their times if entering Parliament again in 2012. That will be the legacy of this abomination of a government: the reconstruction of a Have and Have Not society. [It is curious how through the generations coal miners have symbolised more than most labouring professions the solidarity and collective spirit of the common working man (and woman) - perhaps in part because the cramped and perilous conditions in which they labour, their subterranean working lives, brings them closer together literally and psychically, as well as reminding them moment by moment, day by day, of what fundamentally matters: the sharing of burdens, comradeship, collective effort, and the lessons of the greatest leveller of them all: mortality].

In such a dire political context as today's, it is not so much “left-wing” as just rational and humane that Ed Miliband has felt compelled to speak at the Durham Miners’ Gala after a parade of brass bands and bold red scrolling Labour and Union banners. After listing past Labour alumni in whose footsteps he followed by addressing the Durham Gala, such as Keir Hardie, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle, Miliband said

I am proud to follow in their footsteps. I am proud to be here today. …A few years ago the Tories tried to say 'we're all in it together'. But now we know they never meant it. Because we have seen what they do when they get back in power. One rule for those at the top and another rule for everybody else. They cut taxes for millionaires and they raise taxes on pensioners. It's business as usual in the banks, and small businesses go under. They try and divide our country between rich and poor. Between North and South. Same old Tories. Not building for the future but ripping up the foundations. Not healing our country, but harming it. Not uniting our country, but dividing it…

The Recusant senses in these sentiments – and sincerely hopes – that this is a Labour leader finally ‘come of age’, embracing the democratic socialist (or social democratic) heart of the Party and Movement, waving aside the neoliberal debacle of the ‘New’ Labour cul-de-sac, and reaffirming that Labour is true Labour once again. If in the future Miliband does not entirely live up to the ideological promise implicit in this speech, then The Recusant can still at least salute him for having made it, and having broken with the counter-tradition of the past 16 squandered years of ‘embourgeoised Labour’ during which three successive leaders declined to attend this annual celebration. “Left-wing”, “militant”, call it what one will, this is precisely the type of thing a Labour leader should be doing, especially at this time, and entirely the right oratorical sentiments to be imparting. Tories such as Warsi trot out “militant” and even “extreme” (re Iain Duncan Smith’s description of PCS Union leader Mark Serwotka’s commendable socialist beliefs) when talking of left-wing and socialist values, while referring to her own hard-line right-wing views as simply “radical”. We would call them “extreme”, and in terms of social and welfare policies, just about as far as one can get stretch social Darwinism in an ostensible ‘democracy’ before crossing the line into ‘ethical fascism’. The contentious term “social cleansing” to describe the benefits caps is not hyperbolic but simply a description of the facts: it is, or soon will be, a reality: what else is such a policy but one of ‘social fascism’? The Recusant can think of no other more accurate term to describe it. Our democracy, any true democracy, simply should not tolerate it. But ours is tolerating it. This is the unacceptable face of ‘democracy’, the unacceptable face of capitalism.

Democracy Alfresco: Diggers 2012

The British notion of ‘democracy’ is indeed a cloudy one; rather like Christianity, its ‘inalienable’ merits and principles are continuously espoused by those in power, up to the point, that is, that they are actually put into practice. Hence, for example, the eviction of the democratic and peaceful protest camp of Occupy LSX from outside St. Paul’s Cathedral, in spite of the inalienable right all ‘free born Britishers’ to publicly protest against governments. Unfortunately the Occupy camp was pitched on perilously on the periphery of ‘cadastrals’ (taxation districts) under the proprietorship of the democratically unaccountable City of London Corporation. So much for democracy then!

In Cameron’s actually very small and constrictive ‘Big Society’ the ‘right to protest’ is prey to increasingly authoritarian pincer-movements, while the right to shelter is all but extinct now that “squatting” is criminalised, and the right to pitch a home on a piece of unoccupied land is pretty much prohibited across the board – cue the Dale Farm cull, and no doubt a similar future standoff at the traveller site in Eaves Green.

But the latest episode of the ever-cramping parameters of our ‘Big Society’ has taken on a more implicitly historical shape than the alfresco democracy of Occupy or the pitched battle of Dale Farm: a group of outcast youth recently attempted to set up their own self-sufficient community on a scrap of unused countryside just outside the Brunel University campus near Runnymede (site of King John’s signing of Magna Carta in 1215, which paved the way for the centuries-long path towards British democracy). But the historical echoes are voiced explicitly by these erudite yet dispossessed youngsters: they call themselves Diggers 2012, named after the 17th century proto-communist self-supporting communities that cropped up throughout the country during 1649-51, but which were constantly persecuted by local villagers who routinely burnt their crops and tramped their ragged tents, and ultimately trounced on a national scale by Cromwell’s troops. Uncannily close to their 17th century antecedents – called the Diggers because they tilled the soil to grow their own food, but also a sobriquet for the symbolic uprooting of the rule (or tyranny) of property as an extension of the then recent uprooting of the Royal Oak itself (with the beheading of King Charles I) – Diggers 2012 have also had their crops routinely destroyed (presumably by local farmers or council authorities), and been moved on from pitch to pitch. The historical parallels are explicit, uncanny, and once again trip swiftly past certain predictions – now seemingly proleptic ones – made by, among others, this writer, in his Afterword to The Robin Hood Book, where he compared Occupy to the Diggers and Levellers: now these rustic Occupiers are not just comparing themselves to but also calling themselves Diggers. History has a knack of catching up with us; and at a time of societal regression as rapid as that currently being pursued by this ethically recidivist Tory-led government, it is at the point of overtaking us too. Diggers 2012 constitute a sort of spontaneous historical re-enactment which is at once both an attempt at a more authentic, non-materialistic and un-moneyed lifestyle, and a statement against austerity capitalism; it not only evokes a more subversive Diggerish take on The Children of the New Forest, but also Robin Hood’s outlawed band of Sherwood Forest, most fitting for a time of our ‘Robber Baron’-run ‘democracy’.

Indeed, it was with such historical juxtapositions in mind that Guardian columnist George Monbiot framed this latest interpolation of the past into our capitalism-dilapidated present: ‘After 800 years, the barons are back in control of Britain’ was the sub’s choice for the title of Monbiot’s quite poetically composed exposé on the Digger 2012 community at Runnymede (‘As we sat in the wooden house the diggers have built, listening to the rain dripping from the eaves’). Some passages are worth excerpting in full:

…this group of mostly young, dispossessed people [are] camped on the old rugby pitch of Brunel University's Runnymede campus. It's a weed-choked complex of grand old buildings and modern halls of residence, whose mildewed curtains flap in the wind behind open windows, all mysteriously abandoned as if struck by a plague or a neutron bomb. ...The diggers were evicted again, and moved down the hill into the woods behind the campus – pressed, as if by the ineluctable force of history, ever closer to the symbolic spot. From the meeting house they have built and their cluster of tents, you can see across the meadows to where the Magna Carta was sealed almost 800 years ago. ...Their aim is simple: to remove themselves from the corporate economy, to house themselves, grow food and build a community on abandoned land.

Precisely as the original Diggers did; and the repercussions, as mentioned, are also in direct parallel:

Already the crops the settlers had planted had been destroyed once; the day after my visit they were destroyed again. But the repeated destruction, removals and arrests have not deterred them.

Monbiot’s exposition of the present is bitingly depicted:

Those with degrees are owned by the banks before they leave college. Housing benefit is being choked off. Landlords now demand rents so high that only those with the better jobs can pay. Work has been sliced up and outsourced into a series of mindless repetitive tasks, whose practitioners are interchangeable. Through globalisation and standardisation, through unemployment and the erosion of collective bargaining and employment laws, big business now asserts a control over its workforce almost unprecedented in the age of universal suffrage. ...The promise the old hold out to the young is a lifetime of rent, debt and insecurity. A rentier class holds the nation's children to ransom. Faced with these conditions, who can blame people for seeking an alternative?

Monbiot also juxtaposes present with past in a way which, in some aspects, actually puts the present in a far more punishing light than the past:

But the alternatives have also been shut down: you are excluded yet you cannot opt out.

Here Monbiot hits the nub of the problem for today’s 'Generation Rent' and for the broader fiscal enslavement of the non-propertied, democratically disenfranchised and unrepresented masses, which was so succinctly highlighted by Nye Bevan in his rhetorically titled 1944 essay Why Not Trust the Tories?, where he wrote that through the ‘rise of political democracy’ the common man has ‘won the right to be taken into consultation’, though ‘still in a subordinate position’:

His present position is … a dangerous one for him. He is charged with the responsibility for events, but not with the power to shape them. The real power is still in the hands of those who held it all along.

Bevan pointed out that the power to vote for representation in parliament means

The ordinary man is therefore in a double peril. He accepts the responsibility for government but denies himself the power to exercise it. up to the 20th century he was the drudge of history. He is now the scapegoat as well. His fault consists in not assuming the power which alone can give meaning to the responsibility which political democracy confers on him…

Take Back Parliament - indeed! It seems the British notion of ‘democracy’ indeed appears at times to be little than a double or even triple bind; and likewise, the inescapable prison of conditional citizenship, scourge to the anarchist, which in effect imposes a negative form of ‘democratic freedom’ on all of us: the ‘freedom’ to be prosecuted for opting-out of it by occupying others’ empty property, whether that be disused town houses or untilled fields. Indeed, as Monbiot writes:

The land – even disused land – is guarded as fiercely as the rest of the economy. Its ownership is scarcely less concentrated than it was when the Magna Carta was written. But today there is no Charter of the Forest (the document appended to the Magna Carta in 1217, granting the common people rights to use the royal estates).

So we’re even worse off today in terms of freedom to roam the land than in the 13th century! And would have been even more so if Caroline Spelman’s plan for forest sell-offs hadn’t been (excuse the pun) ‘kicked into the long grass’.

2012 being the centenary of communist folk singer Woody Guthrie (who died of the neurodegenerative Huntington’s Disease in 1967), it is indeed time to revisit his distinctly Diggerish sentiments in ‘This Land Is Your Land’. Because in the Britain of today, we must all ask ourselves, Is this land actually ours anymore? The answer seems to be unequivocally No: it is Private Property. But there will inevitably come a time when the travails of relentless austerity turning to Depression awakens more of us to the necessity and basic right to reclaim our rights to the land, and to at least metaphorically trample the hedges put up by absent landowners with the rakes of our demotic tongues.

A.M. 17 July 2012