Further Update: 30 June
KILLING WITH INK
The Human Cost of the Benefit Caps
The Recusant condemns David Cameron's 'Welfare Hate' speech of 25 June 2012. We predict it will go down in British political history as one of the most morally distorted pieces of propaganda ever spoken by a serving British prime minister. There is a "welfare gap", but not as Cameron means it: there is a gap between what people are entitled to and what they are actually getting, which falls well below their needs! The working poor will not be helped by crushing the unemployed poor! Vouchers and food parcels do not constitute a civilised welfare state. This nation didn't drive off the Blackshirts in the Thirties just to have Tory Blueshirts drag our democracy down 80 odd years later with their Social Fascism. We say to David Cameron: ¡No pasarán! You Shall Not Pass beyond 2015! Read the full editorials here. Click on the 'Breadline Britain' link on the front page to go to Society Guardian's video on the hidden victims of the welfare caps. The Recusant also supports Shelter's new campaign to petition the Government and local councils to exercise restraint, compassion and basic humanity in how it 'relocates' the tens of thousands of families soon to be mass evicted from their homes due to the benefits caps.
Only a week or so down the line from a report that job centre staff are now circulating memos warning of those claimants currently being reprocessed through the reassessment of entitlements under the new welfare reforms increasingly pose suicide risks, Society Guardian has reported that a man has set himself alight outside a Birmingham job centre. According to the article, the male claimant had recently been found 'fit for work' by universally discredited bounty-hunter firm Atos, in spite of his having a history of underlying health problems (including, we would assume, mental health issues). This shocking incident of attempted self-immolation follows a recent series of suicide attempts by claimants mostly in the North, hard-hit cities such as Liverpool. This is yet another example of how this Government, specifically Iain Duncan Smith's Department for Work and Pensions, is effectively killing with ink by circuitously but determinedly cutting away highly vulnerable people's only means of financial support. The Tories are tugging away the safety net of support that was once the Welfare State, and by doing so, particularly at a time of mass unemployment and crippling austerity cuts, is tantamount to social cleansing on an industrial scale. The Recusant condemns this Government as moral and ethical anathema to all fundamental humanitarian values. We also commend Society Guardian for its absolutely vital 'Breadline Britain' intervention. Read the full Society Guardian article here. We also strongly advise any more sceptical readers of The Recusant to watch Society Guardian's extremely moving online 9 min documentary on the hidden social holocaust resulting from the welfare caps, which incorporates the aforementioned job centre memo along with contemporary case studies of vulnerable claimants stripped of benefits in spite of chronic health conditions, here.
Editorial UPDATE: RHETORIC TIME!
For any of you who had the misfortune to watch Question Time from Luton this evening (28 June), some of you might have been, like us, rather chilled by the resounding applause given by the audience who were clearly an example of that disturbingly large section of our society which, in spite of the very real devastation being visited on the lives of hundreds of thousands of legitimate claimants, have been inculcated in the specious government-spun view that (more implausibly than ever before given current caps and 'reforms') the Welfare State is somehow a system of 'hand outs' for those who don’t really need them, or who are almost uniformly fiddling their eligibilities. Now there are those of us who would immediately associate such a description more with expenses-fiddling/property-flipping MPs, or bonus-embezzling bankers. This edition of QT did at least start off on a promising footing with Labour-supporting comedian Tony Robinson launching into a justifiably crowd-pleasing impassioned diatribe against the entire banking culture, in the wake of the latest despicable revelations about Barclays fiddling their LIBOR rates in order to hoodwink both the competitors in their own porcine trough of a ‘market’, as well as small businesses and mortgage holders.
But when it got onto the perennially vexed and muddied issue of welfare, even Robinson found it difficult to toe a more empathic line than most common discourse on the topic, and instead seemed to straddle an unfocused middle-ground where at times he demonstrated the same national ignorance on the issue by talking casually about people getting things they weren’t entitled to, only to then at the end of his comment, express how regretful it would be if many came to feel sufficiently intimidated by the current debate to not claim what they were entitled to. Well, you can't have it both ways. This almost contradictory rhetoric had the faintest echo of Iain Duncan Smith’s own laughably hypocritical claim, during his latest red mist of claimant-bashing, that he doesn’t “blame” the unemployed for their situation. The Recusant remains surprised at Robinson’s credulity on this particular issue – one on which even New Labour’s ex-Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell seemed a little more incisive, emphasizing that Cameron’s shameful speech on Monday 25 was short-termist and “poorly thought-out” (we’d of course be a little more robust in how we’d describe it) and deploring the scandalous suggestion to cut all housing benefits to the under 25s due to the vast disparities in familial circumstances between the various classes of youth, most notably orphans who come out from foster homes. But what all this demonstrated once again is that an apparent ‘majority’ of the British public appear to be broadly unanimous in their ‘moral’ condemnation of two perceived ‘folk devils’ of our society: corrupt bankers, and so-called “benefit scroungers”. Something of a 'bipolar' approach to moral relativism.
Need we emphasize again the extreme difference in terms of material mitigation between these two much-targeted groups: the bankers – rather like the handsomely salaried MPs who ripped off the taxpayer through expenses and property-flipping – have committed financial crimes which, apart from having detrimentally damaged our entire economy and thus ripped off every single one of us, whether employed or unemployed, were perpetrated for no other motive than sheer venal greed. Most bankers and City ‘workers’ are already rich enough to sustain themselves probably indefinitely, even to retire early on massive pensions and pay offs, so have absolutely no moral justification whatsoever for what they have done, and keep doing.
On the other side of the fence, or rather, at the other end of the economic pyramid, are the long-term unemployed, impoverished and near-destitute. Not only are the majority of these legitimate claimants who are involuntarily out of work and do their best to scrape by on the relative pittances they are begrudgingly and judgementally given by the state; but, even that minority who are accused of having “fiddled the system” have in 99% of cases only cut corners in order to survive, when otherwise they might have not only drifted into absolute poverty, but even lost their homes. This is because the welfare system is intrinsically unfair (though in an opposite sense to how it is characterised), loophole-ridden, designed to deny the most amount of people their full benefit entitlements, and is riddled with a Kafkaesque ‘smoke-and-mirrors’ administrative structure whereby some benefits, are “passport benefits”, which means one is eligible to claim other fringe benefits in addition, while others, most significantly of all, those related to sickness, such as ESA, are “non-passport benefits” – which means not only do they automatically cancel out entitlements to other fringe benefits, but are also taxable. Add to all this the fact that couples are habitually penalised if they live together, whether married or not, and are treated almost as if they are one person, with one mouth to feed between them, and are routinely denied the amount of benefits they need to live above the poverty-line, given instead on average only half of what they need to survive.
The popular myth of our Welfare State being “over generous” was effortlessly re-echoed by one audience member, regurgitating the same old spin of the Government’s that somehow everyone on benefits are "better off than those in work", when it has been categorically proven that it is only in a tiny minority of freak cases that this has actually been the case. The majority of claimants live relatively impoverished lives – which is presumably what the most resentful of the nation’s taxpayers wish to know. The QT panel almost uniformly showed no sign of insight whatsoever into the chasmal fictions of such non-dialectic. Further staining his own hitherto mildly inoffensive political legacy, Paddy Ashdown predictably harped on about the original Beveridge principles (of course he would, Beveridge was a fellow Liberal after all, but also, as rarely mentioned, one who privately flirted with eugenics ideas) though without actually giving any exposition whatsoever, and shamefully stating that he was “proud” of what this Government is doing in reforming welfare. Ashdown has clearly shut his eyes and ears to the appalling ramifications of IDS’s paper pogrom on the poorest and most vulnerable in society: the tens of thousands facing eviction due to the crushingly low housing benefit cap, or the escalation in suicides among mentally ill claimants, as just two examples of the Con-Dems’ clampdown on the financially defenceless. Ashdown admitted that “there are bound to be some who get caught out through all this”, a rather vague phraseology which this writer detected was meant to refer to those who are unjustly stripped of their benefit entitlements by bounty hunters like Atos Solutions. Well how brave of Ashdown to betray his own spineless party’s flagrant disregard for the casualties of welfare culls; its collective hand-washing of cases where innocent victims of a recession are forced to pay the price of deficit reduction with their very roofs, or even lives. All that this confirmed to us was that the very worst excesses of this Malthusian government have the fingerprints of the Yellow Hand Gang all over them. Along with ‘NHS Bill’ apologist Shirley Williams, Paddy Ashdown has now consigned himself to a similar reputational anathema as Messrs Clegg and Alexander.
For those who seriously still believe the hype about our Welfare State being “too generous”, we advise you to stop looking West to the US or Canada for comparisons, and start looking northwards, to Scotland, where, for instance, prescription charges have been universally abolished (and all children have free school meals, instead of becoming growingly malnourished, as in the UK, thanks largely to the benefit caps); but most importantly, to Scandinavia, or Sweden in particular, from whose social democratic vantage point our British welfare system looks positively mediaeval in its comparatively impoverishing benefits, grossly disproportionate sanctions and penalties, and Calvinistic “deserving” and “undeserving” divisionism. The inconvenient truth is, our welfare system, even as it stands prior to the full force of caps on their way in, is far more punitive and tight-fisted than those in Scandinavian countries. And evidence suggests there is no shortage of a 'work ethic' in Sweden. The way current policies are going, ours will soon be as vindictive and slave-driving as the welfare systems of Canada and Australia. But apparently, that’s what the British public want! If you’re unemployed, you have to suffer, daily, until poverty and misery forces you back into work, which, of course, increasingly doesn’t exist anyway! Well done Blighty! How forward-thinking, empathetic and compassionate of you.
Fortunately, one or two QT panellists did mention the fact that all of us pay National Insurance contributions, and that those implicitly entitle us to benefits for periods when we are out of work or incapacitated. That it took the one panel member who was a spokesman for the business world, a stockbroker I believe, to point out that it would be unfair for all who’d paid NI throughout their lives to feel they could no longer claim benefits they were entitled to by dint of actually paying towards them, turned this edition of QT on its head. Even more surreally, this same panellist also quipped that many who are having their benefits capped and told they make up a "culture of entitlement" “might not take too kindly to the fact that it’s an old Etonian saying it”. This leant this edition of QT an additional quality of the surreal.
To the audience member who commented on the fact that one woman who’s working but who thinks she’d be better off on benefits, might have marginally less income than someone on the dole, but “at least she still has the self-respect of earning her own money”, The Recusant would say this: do you, sir, feel that your own recapitulation of unscrupulous government and red-top propaganda and stigmatisations against largely legitimate claimants, is a stance which deservedly affords you a sense of “self-respect”? Probably he would. And that’s just the problem.
There does need to be a change in attitudes towards welfare: namely, those attitudes that lazily parrot Tory spin that the UK has a sub-culture of serial masochists who “choose” to be on benefits as a “lifestyle”, in spite of the associated stigmas, vilifications, threats, sanctions, penalties, interrogations, imposed unpaid labour and crippling caps! That this audience (and, indeed, panel), taken as an average microcosm of the modern British electorate, could not in the main seem to see further than the absurd and almost self-immolating argument that the only way to “Make work pay” is to push benefit rates down so low that life is made unbearable, even unsustainable, for any length of time, demonstrated once again how short-sighted, puritanical, self-flagellating and frankly crass British culture is when it comes to the issue of welfare and work.
The only way to “Make work pay” is to introduce a “living wage” – something which, incidentally, the civilised world of social democracy, as cited in Scandinavia, has long considered just a rudimentary principle of a decent and equitable society ('volunteering', as we know it over here, doesn't even exist in Sweden: no one, but no one, is expected to do any labour for nothing). That the majority of the British public seem to be going along with the ridiculously punitive dogma of work being incentivised by disincentivising unemployment, in order to feed their seemingly insatiable appetite for mass Schadenfreude, so that their own indeterminately frozen wages, undercut overtime entitlements and even undermined right to minimum wages, all seem rosier by comparison, is at once idiotic, cowardly, spiteful and, in the long term, self-destructive.
Is it really the case that the British feel absolutely fine about, say, those 30 claimants abandoned under London Bridge over night and made to “steward” the Jubilee unpaid and with only the most basic protection against the elements? Or, say, this little list of despicably draconian policy ideas floated by inherited multimillionaire ‘tsar of entitlement’ David Cameron on Monday, as reiterated in a powerful critique by left-wing Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn in the Morning Star:
In all, Cameron put forward 17 new ideas for changing the benefits system, including breaking the link between benefits and inflation, time-limiting benefit access, making those on jobseekers' allowance work unpaid, introducing regional benefit levels and preventing unemployed school leavers from getting any support.
[Full article here]
The Recusant commends Corbyn’s intervention, as it does Michael Meacher’s in The Guardian, and John McDonnell’s wholly justified call for “militant industrial action” throughout the country in order to force an early general election in order to rescue our public sector and welfare state from the Tory wrecking-ball.
That only one of Cameron’s disgustingly Malthusian ‘ideas’ was even mentioned for analysis by a panellist (Tessa Jowell) on tonight’s QT was, to my mind, beyond comprehension: Cameron’s ‘Welfare Hate’ speech was the first time that a British prime minister has blatantly championed an attitudinal clampdown on family size among the unemployed and poor. Yet, in the national media, only two newspapers, the Morning Star and The Guardian, took issue with Cameron's hate-filled rhetoric, while the rest barely batted their eyelids. Not to mention the other deplorable policy suggestions, as listed above. The national consensus - or certainly the parliamentary one - seems to be that any welfare system remain universal. Nice in theory. But quite apart from the reality that many benefits are, through various circuitous means, still based on a form of means-testing (though a far more unfair and arbitrary one based on a false presumption that our multi-stratified byzantian society impossibly shares a universal standard of living), it would seem universality does not produce a universality in terms of treatments, but tacitly means-tests on a 'moral' basis, invariably deeming the most impoverished in the most "undeserving", and vice versa. Now that is "perverse"!
We British should be very careful what we wish for. Ironically, when the final wrecking-ball comes crashing in through our once (though limitedly) compassionate Welfare State, leaving only the splintered rubble of a Workfare State behind, it will not in the main be those who wished for it who will be subjected to its punishing methods, but those who didn’t cheer it on, and who, therefore, and in this case alone, least deserved it.
A.M. 29 June 2012
Cameron Declares Total War on the Welfare State in a Bid to Rally His Blueshirts Towards a Post-2015 Tory Social Apocalypse
Britain’s first Malthusian Prime Minister betrays the true nastiness of his Conservative vision for a post-2015 majority Tory Government: the final destruction of the Welfare State and the crushing of the nation’s growing underclass
The Recusant says to the Tory Blueshirts of tomorrow: ¡ No pasarán! You Shall Not Pass!
"Shame on you, David Cameron - you are crippling the poor in London. Shame on you..."
Olympics 'volunteer' to the Prime Minister, 26 June, the day after 'That Speech'
The Prime Minister’s unacceptable ‘Welfare Hate’ Speech of 25 June 2012, as part of his government’s Malthusian pincer-movement on the poorest of our society, was cynically choreographed to rally his irredeemably right-wing Orcish backbenchers, and timed to dominate newspaper headlines in order to distract from his government’s protracted crisis in 'public image'. It is hardly much of a thumbs up for a government - nor for a section of the electorate for that matter - that it has to start rhetorically bashing the unemployed (yet again) in order to 'boost' its flagging reputation! It's rather like witnessing Saruman tub-thumping to his Mordor hordes on the need to stamp on a few more communities of Hobbits by further lowering Local Housing Allowance rates for The Shire.
The Government's PR crisis is due, let’s remind ourselves, to prolific policy solecisms, an unconscionably anti-redistributive Budget (all but u-turned on bar its most toxic tax cut for the top 1%), legion ministerial scandals and operational controversies that go to the heart of a morally ‘dead-in-the-water’ government, spotaneously stripped of all pretence to decency and ethical credibility. So the only resort now is for the Government is to lash out once again at an already eviscerated welfare system and its increasingly besieged, stigmatised and hounded claimants - rather like the victors on a battlefield stepping about the corpses of the defeated to pick off any lingering wounded with short sharp pistol shots.
Such is the dark heart of modern British Toryism, which is using the smokescreen of ‘deficit-reduction’ to evolve itself into a new Conservative Reich: protection of those deemed to be contributory towards the economy of the nation, particularly the top 1% of so-called “wealth creators” (who actually in the main avoid paying taxes on said wealth so therefore actually only create wealth for themselves and no one else) and a new mission to attitudinally and fiscally dictate birth control among those considered to be economically “non-contributory” - the ‘non-working poor’ and ‘under classes’, also euphemised with such charming sobriquets as “stock” (as opposed to the “flow” that comprises new claimants), “core unemployed” (now targeted for future forced community work in the manner of ex-criminals on probation), and “residuum”. No, these are not simply the euphemisms of Thirties eugenicists and fascists, they are also the shorthands employed without moral compunction by the new breed of Falangist Tories currently vandalising the social infrastructure of our country (assisted by the Pontius Pilates of politics, the Liberal Democrats).
Cameron and his multimillionaire minions are not only criminalising occupancy of empty properties or “squatting” (as championed by true blue MP for Hovian NIMBYs, and all-round ‘traveller’-basher, Mike Weatherly), they are also in effect criminalising unemployment as well (is not stigmatisation, after all, the first step towards criminalisation?). That is the implication in both their rhetoric and policies: if you own no property, if you have no income, if you rely on the state for anything whatsoever, then you are as good as vermin in their books. But any decent-minded people in this country will be under no illusion now as to who really are akin to vermin, or, indeed, in Nye Bevan’s legendary idiom, lower than vermin: the Conservatives.
For Cameron to once more put the boot into the poorest and most vulnerable in our society, including all those made unemployed by his government’s pathologically destructive cuts agenda (which has in itself tipped our country into double-dip recession) is, in the minds of any persons of social conscience and compassion, beyond the moral pale. For Cameron to float yet more punitive and draconian policy ideas to further humiliate and threaten those who are already having their modest benefits arbitrarily cut, and their housing benefits capped to historically low levels without private rents being brought down in tandem with them (thus resulting in an inevitable Diaspora of entire communities throughout the country), is not so much crossing the basic line of civilised decency as catapulting himself over it to a hitherto unforeseen horizon of once “unthinkable” but now apparently ‘popular’ methods of tackling unemployment and poverty.
Our 1930s Moment?
Austerity/recession/depression – as historic precedent shows us – can push societies to political extremes for short-term gains; and just as during the Depression era of the 1930s British ‘intellectuals’ toyed with notions of eugenics, while in Nazi Germany, such ideas were actually put into practice - in the austerity Britain of 2012, a Tory-led administration is now spouting a social agenda rooted in similarly twisted social Darwinism, what may be euphemised as Malthusianism (control of population growth), but what is essentially a form of social eugenics, or "social cleansing". This is being administered, of course, not through any literal barbarism, but through the illicit liquidations of fiscal controls, such as the mass capping and cutting of welfare provision at a time of peaking austerity and mass unemployment. The Tories' social policies, supported by the hand-washing Lib Dems, constitute a pincer-movement on the poor which can only lead in the end to either their ghettoisation, total enslavement by the state (through workfare), and in the case of many, their extinction in all material and sustainable senses.
We can now see the markets-dictated rush to form a Coalition Government at the 2010 General Election as what it actually was: a right-wing coup de’papier of symbolic equivalents to the fascists and aristocrats (together, the Falangists) who forcibly seized power from the democratic socialist Republic of Thirties’ Spain. The methods have been very different, much subtler, and conveyed with some verisimilitude of ‘democratic protocol’ – but the political master-plan, at least at attitudinal and rhetorical levels, is no different: a reassertion of the landed classes’ will to power over the lumpenproletariat of the 99%. In the second crucial Greek election, we saw the same anti-democratic tactics in play again with a propaganda campaign of scaremongering against the democratically legitimate left-wing party Syrzia, by a cabal of prominent right-wing politicians and newspapers. This was an unprecedented oratorical intervention in the democratic sovereignty of a nation state by a Continental conspiracy of pro-austerity capitalists, placing the dictates of the unaccountable markets before the electoral freedoms of democracy. And by a whisker, it worked.
Domestically, the eye-watering Damocles of inexorable cuts, and their horrific human costs, are the price the Tories are willing to pay in order to prop up a corrupt and failed anarcho-capitalist system, and to protect their own propertied and bankrolled lifestyles: the gradual eradication not of poverty but of the poor themselves, through the only means available within ‘democratic’ parameters: the steady and relentless withdrawal of their financial and material means to survival. This is the point to their project to dismantle the welfare state. Those fit enough to survive this Malthusian cull will form the new social residuum to effectively constitute a pool of slave labour via workfare schemes already in motion (whereby wages are driven down, the minimum wage undermined to the point of complete emasculation, and corporations maximise profits through unpaid workers and employees undercut of their right to overtime), while the rest - the weak, the sick, the disabled, the mentally ill - will be left to their own devices in an increasingly vicious and uncaring society. Not so much 'Care' as 'Snare in the Community'.
A Not So Modest Proposal on Family Planning for the Poor
The first phase of this ‘Tory Solution’ to British poverty – the growth of which the Tory party is primarily responsible for since the moral menace of Thatcherism – is to “send out a clear message” that for as long as one is on benefits they are no longer entitled to have any say on how they are treated, or on what they are made to do in return for said benefits. But more darkly still: nor are they any longer “entitled” to breed beyond a specified quotient, while on benefits. Or, at least, if they do, any ‘surplus’ children will be born out of welfare entitlement. This is Iain Duncan Smith and David Cameron’s chilling new dawn for the nation’s dispossessed classes, which, combined with the housing benefit caps, or the ‘Shapps caps’ as one might term them (after housing minister Grant Shapps), amounts to nothing short of the “social cleansing” posited by Boris Johnson and since vehemently denied by Tories and Lib Dems alike, in spite of the facts that support such a sadly justified toxic phrase. In all of this, the Tories once more prove that they value numbers above the sanctity of human life. Small wonder the Archbishop of Canterbury, among legion other moral objectors, is now unambiguously attacking the Government’s ‘Big Society’ as “waffle” for the ruthless withdrawal of state support for the poorest.
For those who still implausibly snort that this is hyperbole, answer this: How else is one to interpret Cameron’s suggestion that single unemployed mothers with more than three children should be considered for welfare sanctions, such as reduction in their benefits per every child born after a newly specified maximum of 3 per “workless” household? Is this not implicit Malthusianism? Is this not attitudinal eugenics? We defy Mr Cameron, Mr Iain Duncan Smith, Mr Grayling, or any other Tory number-cruncher, to give an intellectually valid argument against our perfectly reasonable interpretation of their unreasonable Herodic ‘dialectic’.
One wonders where this ‘dialectic’ will travel next...? Will we get a distinctly non-satirical, literalist re-jigging of Jonathan Swift’s famous satirical A Modest Proposal For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being A Burden to Their Parents or Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to The Public in the 2015 Tory manifesto entry for Welfare? One can almost imagine Cameron drooling as he announces to unemployed single mothers with any ‘surplus’ babies:
I have been assured by a very knowing acquaintance, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled
[to continue something like:]
…and the best advice the Government can give to those single mothers on benefits who will no longer be able to wean their fourth or fifth babies on the milk of the welfare state, that they should instead patriotically consume their surplus offspring as a gesture of gustatory atonement to society. That way, we are all winners: the hard-working taxpayer is relieved of the burden of contributing towards the maintenance of workshy babies, and the “scrounger” mother has at least one day of the year where she doesn’t have to worry about what food to put on the table. It has long been a post-natal culinary fetish to fry and then eat the placenta – so the Conservatives say, why not go the full hog and make a family meal out of the entire newborn? [Eric Pickles’ choicest tips for baby recipes at back of manifesto].
Inculcating The Public In Government Hate Rhetoric
Satire aside, this Government’s moral offence is not simply in what it is doing through its socially abstergent policies, but also the fact that it is inculcating the public in them too. The welfare cull is, so we are told, buoyed on “public opinion”, which is in reality simply (mostly right-wing) pollsters’ recapitulation of the very government and tabloid-spun misinformation spoon-fed to them on a daily basis. All the Tories can announce here is, albeit circuitously, via its own ventriloquism through the mouths of a tabloid-duped public, that “the Government agrees with its own policies”.
A more disturbing possibility, admittedly, is that “the public” actually want to believe that the welfare system is overrun by “scroungers” and “benefit cheats”; possibly as a means to making themselves feel somehow ‘morally superior’, in a strictly ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ sense. In this, then, the Tories’ two year rhetorical stigmatisation of the unemployed has been hugely successful in creating the kind of hate-filled, resentful and anti-social environment which they feel is perfectly befitting their ‘Big Society’ idyll – a sort of ‘public stocks on the village green’ affair. So when Cameron laughably speaks as if he is responding to a growing public “resentment” among those who “do the right thing” in society which is entirely autonomous to his own government’s relentless propaganda, he is in actual fact simply responding to himself and his own ignorant prejudices parroted through a brainwashed electorate.
But it is not only a poverty of empathy or compassion that this most insidious of prime ministers is guilty of here: it is also pig-ignorance, or, bluntly, the stupidity of limited intellect. This is demonstrable by his own absolute absence of individual objectification or lateral insight into the atavistic motives of those who continually present him with a handful of freak cases of ‘claimant dynasties in London mansion houses’ while conveniently neglecting to mention to him that otherwise actually around 90% of housing benefit claims are from working households! Or is the real truth that Cameron isn’t as credulous and one-dimensionally-minded as he comes across, but just wants to believe in these common folk devils to make himself feel better about being born into his own unearned ‘privileges’ and entitlements?
Each churlish trope Cameron and his cohorts spew out about welfare simply betrays the engrained ignorance as to basic social realities of these multimillionaire ministers, who demonstrably by their very rhetoric have never experienced the underside of society's boot in terms of being forced through poverty to claim state assistance. The odious "curtains shut during the day" quip of George "Gideon" Osborne, heir to the baronetcy of Ballentaylor, was I believe originally phrased as "shutters closed during the day", an anachronistic detail that instantly betrayed the far-removed grandeur of his own upper-class background. IDS's "culture of idleness" would be a term far more fittingly employed towards the aristocracy he married into, or to the peripheral monarchy, or the oligarchic capitalist elites who spent their lives creaming off profits from working people's labour. But few can surpass David Cameron's absolute 'out of touchness' when painting one of his absurdist scenarios of a mythical breed of pampered and manipulative benefit recipients, as in this ridiculously glib and disingenuous sentence from his diatribe of a speech: "for many ...it’s a trip to the council where they can get housing benefit at 18 or 19 – even if they’re not actively seeking work". As if anything in our welfare system is ever that simple and effortless! Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to have to visit their local Council to apply for housing benefit knows that it is an achingly slow, labyrinthine, laborious and frankly deeply depressing process, whereby one's personal information and bank accounts are raked through with a fine toothcomb and any payments forthcoming can take anything up to a month or two months to kick in, during which time one has to either fend off their ravenous rent-hungry landlords or face potential eviction, and all the deep distress such a protracted limbo incurs. There is no worse uncertainty than that of how long one's shelter can be retained while struggling on a pittance of benefit income while awaiting a first housing benefit payment.
The real evil of Cameron's dialectic is that it is emphatically stripping away what were once legitimate citizen entitlements, even rights, and rebranding them as "privileges", or, at best, heavily capped entitlements that are met with equally redudctive and demeaning 'conditionalities' (such as, for instance, long-term unemployed being expected to clean up public areas in return for state assistance, or expecting graduates to surrender their right to a minimum wage and protection from exploitation of their labour by being bullied into unpaid work placements in supermarkets - Cameron defends the right to freedom from industrial exploitation in his speech, and yet is reigning over a workfare system through which such rights are being blatantly trampled. This prime minister is an exponent of the most extraordinary hypocrisy in practically everything he ever says or does).
Whatever the real motives are, ever since coming into power in 2010, this government has deplorably hyperbolised a national fiction of a “culture of entitlement” populated almost uniformly by “benefit cheats” and bedsitter opportunists. At every turn the Government has propagated ‘ideologically adjusted’ information on the facts and figures of these issues; and in the absence of any robust parliamentary opposition, it has been left to the Unions and fringe campaigns such as Right to Work, Boycott Workfare, What Do They Know?, Mind’s The Daily Stigma, the 'Spartacus' Report, and the Black Triangle, to battle against resistance to Freedomfor many others, it’s a trip to the council where they can get housing benefit at 18 or 19 – even if they’re not actively seeking work. of Information requests to demystify the thorny issue and get to the truth. But unfortunately, as the Leveson Inquiry reminds us, the truth is not considered saleable ‘copy’ to the populist press.
Not "All In It Together" With Us? "TOUGH!"
The Government has conspired with right-wing tabloids to continually shovel us dishonestly communicated stories mythologizing a so-called “something for nothing” culture of “scroungers”, hypnotising the public into believing that anyone on benefits is automatically defrauding the taxpayer. Malicious falsehoods, daily slanders, and tropes such as “curtains shut during the day” and “culture of idleness”, have fuelled an incendiary societal atmosphere akin to the McCarthyite anti-socialist witch hunts of the 1950s. It is scapegoating and propaganda of the most malicious form and its effects are entirely destructive at every social level.
It has resulted, for instance, not only in thousands already losing their homes and being plunged into poverty and homelessness, but also in rising verbal and physical assaults perpetrated against the visibly disabled, and a correlative escalation in self-harm, breakdowns, sectioning and suicides among the mentally ill. Seemingly, these horrendous vicissitudes in our increasingly dehumanised society are being encouraged and actually driven forward by what is now undoubtedly the most immoral, unethical and extremist right-wing government this country has ever known, even beyond the spirit-stripping misdeeds of Thatcherism.
But none of these harsh realities are enough to prevent our prime minister rallying his Tory troops with a mob-pleasing blow of rhetoric which fundamentally twists the realities into a false battleground between those who fictitiously lavish in some kind of 'non-contributory nirvana' while hard-working taxpayers, or specifically the 'working poor', are told by the system “TOUGH”. But is not the existence of a welfare state that is making it 'tough' for the working poor: it is the Government and the exploitative business classes they represent. More to the point, we are ALL suffering now, arguably the unemployed more than anyone else thanks to the punitive caps, and this is due to a recession caused by the speculator classes from which most of the Cabinet hallow, and a second recession, triggered by the Government’s unhinged fiscal cull of the public sector.
Cameron is playing the classic Tory 'divide and rule' card, and the really terrible thing is, on the subject of welfare, it seems to be working on a majority of the public: their legitimate resentments about working poverty is being cynically channelled away from a classist government that cuts taxes for the rich, away from the banking cabals that are ripping us all off on a daily basis, and towards those at the bottom of the heap instead, who are the most materially defenceless of us all, are not responsible themselves for any perceived "perverse incentives" in the welfare system anyway (such as they are), but who are being singled out and publicly stigmatised for their circumstances, accused of idleness in seeking work when we're in recession with mass unemployment and precious few job opportunities, and who are almost being tacitly blamed for our current austerity because the Government feels it has to massively reduce its own expenditure in order to reduce its deficit - and, as we're constantly browbeaten about, welfare apparently makes up one of the largest parts of government expenditure (even if a huge proportion of that expenditure is actually on those very 'working poor' whom Cameron is pretending to champion!).
So Cameron's answer to all this is to swing the booth partition around and start saying "Tough" to the poorest people in society! He is basically saying to them: "Can't afford another child? Tough, stop reproducing. Can't afford a place of your own? Tough, go back to your foster home, or your abusive parents, or your impoverished parents who only live in a small flat, or onto the streets". How is this going to help the working poor anyway? Schadenfreude can only go so far... but once that dubious pleasure wears off, the working poor will still be poor, the unemployed will be poorer, there will be more homelessness, more suicides, more crimes. Is that the 'Big Society'? If it is, we don't want it. It's a 'Big Jackboot Society': the easiest thing in the world is to bully the poorest, blame them for their own misfortunes - it is the rankest political cowardice of all. Cameron argues it is the welfare system itself which has skewed 'collective responsibility' in our society. Cameron actually lets slip in one telling part of his speech what appears to be a concession that the very Attlee Settlement his government is currently dismantling was originally correctly principled within the context of the post-war collectivist mentality of what was essentially a socialist government:
As well as the good intentions of governments, there was that assumption of trust at the heart of the system.
That people would naturally do the right thing.
That they would use the system when they fell on hard times but then work their way out of it.
This may have worked when the welfare state was born, when there was a stronger culture of collective responsibility in this country.
But as I’ve argued for years, the welfare system has helped to erode that culture.
And this is where 'Cameronian' dialectic veers off into a totally false synthesis: it is not the welfare system itself, but the ethically antagonistic 'greed is good' Thatcherite capitalism that has adumbrated it for decades, that is the root cause of the meltdown in 'collective responsibility': its own perverse incentives for the enriched to keep enriching themselves at everyone else's expense, as exemplified in the Yuppie ascendance of the Eighties, the rise of profit-driven privatisation and deregulation, resulting in both a mass property-grab 'Buy To Let' bonanza and an associated 'feral' casino banking feeding frenzy, that have corroded a sense of collectivism in British society. Cameron can't have his cake and eat it: anarcho-capitalism, which his party above all others has historically championed, has corrupted our culture to the core. Any perceived ethical shortcomings in the welfare system are simply reflections of this wider and more fundamental 'unfairness'. This parlous situation cannot be solved by crunching the boot down on a perceived 'feral' underclass; indeed, to do so, as the Tories are now doing, is immoral and cowardly. Only the Tories could have the hardness of heart to seek to 'reform' the embattled 'work ethic' of society from the bottom up, when the most obvious and fair way to attempt tackling it would be to reform at the top first, and then downards: reform the banking sector, uproot the class system, hold the most powerful and wealthy to account before anyone else, since it is they who are not only the most morally culpable, but also the most materially resilient. If you start at the bottom, you don't 'reform' and improve on the lives of the dispossessed, you only further dispossess them; if not, effectively destroy them. No compassionate government would ever dig up the roots of the poorest before weeding out the strangling overgrowth on top. But this government is doing just that. It expects the unemployed to find jobs, but refuses to create the economic growth needed in order to create those jobs. The unemployed, then, are trapped as never before by the very politicians who claim in word but not deed that they are on a mission to lift them out of the poverty trap and welfare dependency cycle. Isn't it simply the truth that this is all being done, ultimately, in order to justify to a growingly 'resentful' working public that at a time of austerity, it is "reasonable" to cut to the chase on "conditionality" and basically exploit those out of work as labour slaves...? The Recusant believes this to be the case, as already evidenced through legion unpaid 'work placements' via A4E et al, and the mobile labour camp of claimants bussed into London to "volunteer" as "stewards" for the Jubilee, or lose their benefits. This is the Tory's Workfare State - and no amount of 'work ethic' rhetoric can ever justify it.
Even if Cameron is correct in his belief that a "culture of entitlement" exists in the darker recesses of the welfare system, all that proves is that the only 'trickle down effect' there has been since Thatcherism infected our national consciousness, far from the financially redistributive one she promised, has been that of the greed and venality exemplified by those at the top of society filtering down to through the class system and proving an irresistable temptation to a minority at the bottom of the rungs who are living in relative poverty on benefits, but who, in spite of such material limitations, have felt disincentivised to seek work because of the costs of working, the abrupt removal of state assistance during transition into work, and the prospect of still being impoverished once in work. Yes, work might pay, but it also costs to work: employment itself can be hugely expensive, not simply financially, but also in terms of time, energies and rigid limitations on other interests and vocations in life; it can prove ruinous to mental health, through the stresses of performance expectations, time pressures, and the spirit-sapping impersonalism of many working environments. If welfare is to be reformed, then so should the inflexible and punishing nature of work itself.
Cameron is of course just the general mouthpiece for the darker arts of Iain Duncan Smith, who really does seem to have a pathological animus against the poor. Laughably, after all his resentment-fuelling propaganda against the unemployed over the past two years, and as if to soften the acidic rhetoric of Cameron’s diatribe of 25 June 2012, 'IDS' suddenly claimed that he and the Government were “not blaming” the unemployed for their situation. Well that's nice of him! But "blaming" them or not, he's still punishing them for it! And one could call two years continually hounding claimants irrespective of their circumstances or health issues with relentless scapegoating spin, encouraging neighbours into petty espionage against those they suspect of “fiddling the system” in some way, and of bullying genuinely incapacitated claimants off their legitimate benefits, driving many to breakdowns, early stress-induced deaths, and suicides - certainly a form of "blaming".
The Tories have more than just red ink on their hands: theirs is the bloodiest of rubrics.
More Than Red Ink on Blue Hands
Cameron’s stance, as ever, is utterly contemptuous, and beyond any reasonable moral or ethical justification. But then what can we really expect from a prime minister who has stood by a whole list of self-serving, anti-contributory ‘players of the system’ within his closest personal circles: the uniformly disgraced roll call of Andy Coulson, Rebekah Brooks, Charlie Brooks, Philip Green, Liam Fox, Adam Werritty, Peter Cruddas, Emma Harrison, Jeremy Hunt, Baroness Warsi… And the list, we predict, will grow much longer in time, and ever closer to the door of No. 10.
What sort of a ‘moral character’ does this prime minister have, in light of his deeply dubious personal and political allegiances? He clearly knows the safest form of defence is to be on the offensive, and in this has proven athletic, particularly in his blatant trampling of parliamentary protocol and the ministerial code by insisting on keeping Jeremy Hunt in his position in spite of the Culture Secretary’s proven abuse of his quasi-judicial role in judging the BSkyB bid, and his misleading parliament. In all this, Cameron has proven himself morally unfit to hold such high office and to run a country, or to run anything except Downing Street dinners in aid of milking Tory donors in return for ‘policies for those who reach into their pockets’. This Government is corrupt to the core.
Cameron says that £2bn a year towards private rental costs for under-25s is “a fortune”. We say a fortune is a personal largesse of £4m, plus a six figure salary, plus tens of thousands in expenses, plus several properties, plus an obscenely advantageous inheritance which bankrolled him through Eton and Oxford into Downing Street. Cameron certainly has a Brasenosed cheek!
The deeply hypocritical and duplicitous behaviour of this Tory-led government demonstrably serves, not the “national interest”, but the venal self-interest of the top 1% parasitic elites which drain this nation and economy of growth and hope, through their own culture of entitlement to private monopolies, property empires and media manipulation of facts for ideological ends.
They form the nation’s true andunjustifiable “non-contributory culture”, which believes it is above the rest of us and so is entitled not to pay any tax on its offensively gratuitous incomes and fortunes.
Their representatives, this Government, plays divide and rule to pit working taxpayers against unemployed claimants (who wants to work but can’t find any because of the very economic ditch this Government has tipped them into). To then pull the rug from under them by capping and cutting away benefits is tantamount to legislative manslaughter: it is, in the words of fictional Labour MP Bill Brand in Trevor Griffiths’ Seventies political drama of the same name, “killing with ink”.
The malicious rhetoric of Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith is that suited to a time of full employment (though still not morally justified even then). At a time of mass unemployment, it is nothing short of the attitudinal damnation of an entire generation of ordinary people for an economic situation not of their making. The Tories always harp on about being tougher on criminals and focusing more on the victims – but this stops abruptly when it comes to the poor: then it is the criminals (the bankers and speculators) they give tax breaks to, and the victims (the unemployed) whom they punish, pour scorn on and trample into destitution.
The real facts are that alleged “benefit fraud” only accounts for around 1% of the welfare budget, inclusive of “administrative error”. What the DWP deliberately disguises is that £16bn in benefits is unclaimed each year. They also neglect to mention that 90% of new housing benefit claims are from people in work (as reiterated by Polly Toynbee in her excellent response to Cameron's risible speech, in The Guardian of 25 June). By capping Local Housing Allowance, the Government is now not only penalising the unemployed poor, but also the “working poor”, whom it duplicitously claims to champion.
The Tories are the Benefit Cheats of Society
We charge this Government as the true “benefit cheats” of our society: it cheats impoverished citizens of the benefits they are legitimately entitled to through poisonous propaganda and stigmatisation. And all that after having first cheated them of jobs and living wages to sustain themselves thanks to their failed austerity policies. Now it is not only stripping benefits away, but is also pushing to strip away what little employment rights workers have as well. Whether employed or unemployed, we are all damned under this Government. They are definitely "in it together" – we are out of it altogether.
Instead of stigmatising the unemployed and imposing slave labour on them under the flimsy subterfuge of “work placements”, Mr Iain Duncan Smith and his cohorts would do better trying to create the growth needed in our economy to create real jobs and living wages. With a living wage, there would be no need for tax credits, for instance.
But it is clear just who this Government does champion: the vested interests of its own multimillionaire propertied classes whose unchallenged senses of entitlements it protects at the price of sacrificing the futures of the poor, unemployed, sick and disabled of this nation.
With today’s announcement of plans to remove housing benefits for all under 25 year olds, at a time when the young have already seen university fees treble, EMAs removed, and cuts to youth services, this Government has finally proven that it is on a mission to clampdown on population growth among the poorest in society.
This is a New Malthusianism which the British people are allowing to happen by failing to question the dishonest and vicious dogma and propaganda of this extremist right-wing government.
Mr Cameron is clearly now saying that the poorest households must limit how much they reproduce. This is textbook Malthusianism, driven by underlying eugenics logic. This is, attitudinally speaking, the kind of social Darwinism, or social fascism, which our grandparents and great grandparents fought a War to defeat. From Blackshirts to Blueshirts: now a government run by bankrolled products of an out of touch and authoritarian resurgent upper class are dismantling the Welfare State and last vestiges of the post-war Attlee Settlement that was the grail of Britain’s reconstructed social ethic after its triumph over the fascist terror.
By putting the wrecking-ball to the Welfare State, this Government is premeditatedly dismantling the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens, and all in order to pay off a deficit created by the economic crisis caused by the banks and property capitalists, and only protracted by the continuing venal behaviours of the feral rich in conspiring with accountants to divert the taxes they owe to society into offshore tax havens. Our nation’s so-called “wealth creators” are creating wealth only for themselves, wealth which they parasitically cream off the labour of our country, only then to avoid contributing something back to society by way of redistribution. That is the “something for nothing” culture of the UK.
The True Culture of Entitlement
Mr Cameron talks of a “culture of entitlement” at the bottom end of our society. What of the culture of entitlement his own class represent? Mr Cameron recently criticised comedian Jimmy Carr for tax avoidance (while, in his typically hypocritical style, refusing to comment on identical behaviour by one of his Tory donor pals, Gary Barlow (OBE)).
With respect, what was Mr Cameron’s stockbroker father doing habitually for decades? Yes, you all know the answer to that. It is in part from the paternal fortune harvested through decades of (aggressive?) tax avoidance that Mr Cameron has effectively ‘inherited’ his right to power today. Does Mr Cameron also regard that as “morally wrong”? And does Chancellor Osborne regard his own tax avoidance as “morally repugnant”? And do Cameron and Osborne privately spit blood at the prolific tax avoidance of their own “austerity tsar” Phil ‘the fingers’ Green?
We need to know. We need a new national debate on tax avoidance. Messrs Cameron and Osborne, and no doubt the rest of their Cabinet, need to start asking themselves some pretty searching questions.
It beggars belief that the very "posh boy" plutocrats who expend so much time and energy stigmatising the poorest in the land for "mugging the taxpayer" by occasionally 'corner-cutting' on punitively loopholed benefits just to survive, are themselves the public-school educated products of inherited fortunes gratuitously amassed from generations of aggressive tax-avoidance by those who did so simply because they could and not through any material necessity whatsoever! We call that "mugging the taxpayer"!
Why isn’t the Government clamping down on it more aggressively? Why is it allowing HMRC to write off billions of tax a year via “sweetheart deals” with corporate tax avoiders? Why did the Chancellor lower the top 1% tax rate by 5%?
Is that not “rewarding bad behaviour”? Is that not “sending the wrong signals”? Is that not offering “perverse incentives”?
We say, the way to “Make Work Pay” is to Pay a Living Wage! The way to lower the Housing Benefit bill is to lower Private Rents and reintroduce the sanity and basic fairness of Rent Controls, which were unscrupulously abolished by the Tories in the early 90s, thus causing housing benefit expenditure to inexorably soar, and encouraging the very Buy-to-Bet property boom that contributed to the global crash itself! Long before New Labour were drawn in hook, line and sinker by the self-serving parasitic City elites, the Tories had laid down all the de-regulatory conditions that made an eventual capitalist implosion and subsequent social meltdown inevitable. New Labour simply oiled the cogs along.
Absurdly, this Tory-led government is still sticking to its Humpty Dumpty logic that it was somehow the rising rates in housing benefits and then Local Housing Allowance that by themselves drove up private rent levels! As if the Labour government was willingly throwing surplus money at rental claimants that they didn’t need, over and above what their rent levels were!
This is complete nonsense: if it were the case previously, then how do the Tories explain the fact that all unemployed couples – whether married or not – who are living together have been and still are receiving on average only the amount of housing benefit applicable to one person rather than two, which invariably means most receive half or even less in housing benefit than the actual amount of the rents they have to pay?
The truth is it is private landlords who have driven up housing benefits by relentlessly hiking up their rents to soaring levels throughout the past decades, a situation singularly created by the Tories when they pointlessly and deregulated the private rental sector in the early 90s by, as mentioned, abloshing Rent Controls – arguably the most socially damaging policy of modern political history. Now, combined with universal welfare caps, the "underoccupancy" benefit cut, the lowering of housing benefit rates for under-35s to that of a single room only, and today’s mooted withdrawing of all housing benefit entitlements for under-25s if the Tories are re-elected with a majority in 2015, the Welfare State as any kind of safety-net for the poorest in society will be all but extinct, except in the most extremely straitened cases.
These measures, combined and implemented so impatiently and without any risk assessment or contingency and transitional mechanisms put in place, will result in a truly lost generation trapped between the rock of sparse and poor job opportunities and the hard place of workless destitution. For all the Con-Dems’ talk of saving “our children” from paying for the profligacy of their parents' generation, they are unequivocally already sacrificing this upcoming younger generation for City crimes they did not perpetrate themselves, and for which they, rather than the banks, rather than the Buy-To-Bet property opportunists, are paying the price, with their very futures.
They will be “Generation Rent” – tied for life to still-rising private rents with rapidly decreasing housing assistance or benefits when thrown into unemployment by a growth-killing government, never able to afford their own mortgages, even to go through higher education and into professions suiting their abilities. We are at the dawn of a new British Social Apartheid.
We say – as all decent people are saying at this time – that the City and the banks must pay the price for their crimes, not the ordinary struggling citizen! We say, introduce a Robin Hood Tax! Only this week, France, Germany, Spain and Italy have agreed a 1% Financial Transaction Tax on the Continent. So when is the UK going to follow? We think by just sticking to things as they are, this Government is sending out “the wrong signals” to the rich, greedy tax-avoiders!
It is simply beyond belief that, in spite of the disgusting scandal of the mobile labour camps bussed in to “steward” the Diamond Jubilee after a night on the pavements under London Bridge, and recent reports of escalating suicides and suicide attempts among ESA claimants due to the inhumane interrogations of the wholly discredited Atos Solutions, that Mr Cameron then chooses to make his most foul-minded rhetorical attack on the nation’s poor and unemployed to date.
This is a government which simply will not learn from the social crimes of its own failed policies and cuts. All decent people in this country hold this government in the utmost contempt and anathema at this time; and more would oppose what this government is doing if they were not so comprehensively hypnotised into spurious and distorted misinformation dished out daily through the Tory-supporting red-tops.
We charge this Tory-led Government with the ultimate political crime possible within the constraints of a ‘democracy’: the short-cut approach to neutralising poverty and rising state expenditure to tackle it through material neutralisation of the poor themselves.
This is unequivocally what its policies will do, and are already doing, and yet the Government itches to do even more destructive damage, more vandalism to the lives of those who did not cause the economic crisis but have been its victims.
This Government’s stance is rank political cowardice and ethical corner-cutting beyond the farthest reaches of social or Christian conscience. It will remain a moral stain on this country for generations to come.
One day, we will have to say to our grandchildren – for those with sufficient savings and capital to be able to afford to reproduce that far ahead, that is: It Happened Here.
As the ever-incisive Channel 4 News put it on the eve of Cameron’s shameful speech, “David Cameron becomes the first British prime minister to talk about limiting family size”. This makes Cameron the first openly Malthusian premiere in our history.
There Is A "Welfare Gap" - But Not As Cameron Spins It
But it is in the ultimate rhetorical twist of Cameron’s indefensible speech of 25 June that highlights the real disingenuousness and ignorance at the heart of his government’s most reprehensible of dogmas: the Prime Minister now refers to a chimerical construct he calls “the welfare gap” – a phrase which has to be the most maliciously twisted to date of his premiership, punning on the very real evil of modern British society, “the wealth gap”, which he and his cronies indefatigably defend against all fair, rational and compassionate oppositions.
The irony here is that there certainly is a “welfare gap”, but far from the one Cameron is attempting to spuriously paint. The true “welfare gap”, perennially underreported – save for the indefatigably forensic Morning Star, and the ‘Fabian angels’ of Society Guardian – is the £16bn one, of benefits unclaimed each year, mostly not because of lack of need among the population, but because of the dread of countless impoverished would-be claimants at the prospect of being treated like lepers by the rest of society and eyeballed constantly by Cyclopic Tory red-tops (worst offenders: the Daily Express, the Daily Mail and The Sun).
As usual, this most intellectually inchoate and nonsensical of prime ministers cannot even provide a definition of what his new buzz-phrase actually means, or refers to, since quite obviously he and IDS banged out this piece of oratorical filth on the back of Ken Clarke’s cigar label.
According to millionaires Cameron and IDS, “poverty isn’t all about money” – the poor can do without it apparently now! No more cash benefits for the long-term unemployed: in the Tory Shang-Ri-La, it will be “benefits in kind”, that good old British 'charity' so lionised by the likes of Caroline Spelman. Food parcels and cardboard boxes…!
The Tories seem to think it’s only the rich who still need money, they can’t imagine life without it, and yet can imagine the poor without it, as they barely have any already! After all, what you’ve never had you can’t miss, and all that… We mustn’t let the rich lose too much must we? Let’s have a whip-round!
More appropriately, and to paraphrase Dodo Brooke, social consciences of George Eliot’s Middlemarch: we might whip them out of their big houses to the scourge of small cords. But for the moment, we have at the helm a bunch of sociopathic urban foxhunters with the scent of more unemployed blood in their feral nostrils.
Presumably the next progression in the Tory Solution to Unemployment and Poverty post-2015 will be the stitching of black triangles onto claimants’ clothes…? Metaphorically speaking, this has already happened, and is reinforced rhetorically almost by the week. Does this nation want to see metaphor turn into reality?
If you want a country run by a party that openly divides the nation between those who “do the right thing”, and the impoverished “residuum” who are largely made up of all the other people who have ‘done the right thing’ but have nevertheless been thrown on the scrapheap of unemployment thanks to the public sector cuts and growth-throttling austerity dogma of this Government, then vote Tory in 2015.
If you want a sane, compassionate and united society, in which all the poor and vulnerable are protected, both “deserving” and those perceived or unfairly stigmatised as “undeserving”, and in which we all work for the common good and against social and class divisionism, then join with the rest of us and cast the Tories into electoral outer darkness once and for all.
Over the next two and a half years, the battle will be on for the very soul of this nation. Don’t be on the wrong side of history, or of morality: vote Green, vote Labour, vote Respect, vote Socialist, vote Communist – anything but Tory (or, for that matter, Lib Dem) and its political cohorts of the New Social Fascism, UKIP, the EDL and the BNP. Let’s say loud and clear to the New British Blueshirts of the Tory Party: ¡No pasarán! You Shall Not Pass!
on ‘Blue Monday’, 25 June 2012
This is my first editorial since last December when I had to take a sabbatical from my periodic polemical comments on The Recusant to channel all those energies into an epic 120-odd paged ‘supplemental polemic’ for The Robin Hood Book, which has just finally gone to print after an intense seven month editorial and production period. The ebook version, which is identical to the finished print book, is of course available for £3 via the Caparison web page, and the book itself will be available to order there in early July.
Apart from what has proven a more mammoth and protracted project than I’d previously envisaged – 134 contributors in all, mainly poets, but one or two polemical inclusions, not least from our patron Mark Serwotka of the PCS Union – I was also busy over the past month revising and extending the late Howard Mingham’s Waters of the Night for publication, made possible by donations from interested parties. That singular volume was launched through the News From Nowhere Club at the Epicentre, Leytonstone, London last Saturday 16 June, for which I also prepared a talk on 'The Poetry of Poverty' (not as hair-shirted as it might sound, but actually more a treatise on the richness of poetry produced by materially underprivileged poets throughout the centuries, than anything grimly austere). Sharing the platform with me was poet David Kessel, and his friend Roger Mills, both of whom knew Howard when they were all tutored by Ken Worpole at the Hackney Writers’ Workshop at the end of the Seventies and into the early Eighties. This was a truly warm and intimate event, and in many ways the spirit of Howard Mingham was everywhere in evidence in the almost hymnodic power of his poems and the rapt appreciation of the atmosphere. Ros Kane, organiser of News from Nowhere, summed up the club as one for promoting “fellowship” – I thought this a truly refreshing as well as apt word to describe the aura of the gathering, and a word which hear so seldom today in these atomised times of social divisions and competitive resentments. It was the perfect setting in which to launch this very special posthumous publication.
To briefly elucidate more on Howard Mingham: he was a working-class socialist poet who committed suicide in 1984 at only 32. As a sufferer from schizophrenia, he was one of the countless casualties of Thatcher’s Care in the Community fiasco of the Eighties. His exceptional poetic talents were recognised by his friends and associates during his brief but significant flowering, but only a handful of his poems were published in his lifetime, and in locally circulated cooperative anthologies. Waters of the Night is, as far as all who knew him and his work are aware, his complete poems, all 27, most of which, to my mind, will be regarded as future masterpieces of the form. This is a unique and beautiful collection, including thoughtful and moving tributes from Ken Worpole and David Kessel, and an Afterword by myself in which I attempt to place Mingham in a ‘shadow lineage’ of socially marginalised poetic talents stretching back to Blake and Keats, and through the likes of Campana, W.H. Davies, Vachel Lindsay, Ivor Gurney, Isaac Rosenberg, down to his similarly afflicted contemporary, the late Nicholas Lafitte (who also committed suicide, at only 27). For the sheer power of Mingham’s poetry, as well as for the possibly historic occasion of this, is first, posthumous and only solo volume ever committed to print, I really do recommend it as a book worth prioritising for purchasing in these straitened times (partly because it speaks so resonantly to our austerities today, from the viewpoint of those of yesterday). Howard Mingham is very much a personification of the ‘socially obscure’ poet archetype which, for one, The Recusant and Caparison were created to provide an outlet for, and one which might prove to be a lasting one too, now that it is also reproduced in book form as a tangible entity. I feel both humbled and honoured to have been in a position to publish Mingham’s surviving oeuvre, which is a genuinely inspiring read, and sincerely hope that some reviews will follow its publication to belatedly edge open the doors of critical recognition for this distinct and, I think, important voice. David Kessel believes Howard to be the most important poet since Keith Douglas. I would certainly go as far as to say that I believe the ‘rediscovery’ of his small but vital oeuvre is the most important exhumation of poems by a hitherto ‘unknown’ poet since the posthumous publication of Near Calvary: Selected Poems of Nicholas Lafitte (The Many Press, 1992) twenty years ago.
Make Work Flay
I now take a pause of breath before launching into my first Recusant diatribe for several months. I will attempt to keep it brief. But you will note from the front page image and associated comment that The Recusant holds Mr Iain Duncan Smith in the utmost contempt for his seemingly conscienceless public attitude and rhetoric towards the very people he originally claimed he wished to help lift from their poverty: the unemployed and incapacitated of this nation. Arguably no other Secretary for Work and Pensions in British political history has so shamelessly reduced the perennial ‘welfare debate’ to such a gutter-level of dialectical ignorance and spitefulness as the once “quiet man of politics” whom they abbreviate as ‘IDS’. This man is plain and simply a right-wing ideologue who is wilfully blind to the bitter truth mirrored in the materially and socially marginalised lives of the unemployed of this country: that they are in the main the casualties of over thirty years of neoliberal and Thatcherite fiscal dogma that has gradually herded them into the shadowy corners of our society, only now, through another Tory-led government, to converge on a chillingly Malthusian final solution to their (in some cases) intergenerational plight: the dismantling of the welfare state as we know it. This wanton act of political vandalism is akin to a child playing on a beach who decides to test what might happen if he dislodges the stones around a rock-pool from the bottom up: crabs and sea creatures scuttle out into exposed waters to find their protection has been removed and there is nothing to replace it, nor anything else to enable them to construct a new habitat – only the shelterless sand around them, and opportunities for self-improvement as few and far between as scatterings of seaweed.
So vicious has been IDS’s pincer-movement on the welfare state and the legitimate entitlements of millions of involuntarily unemployed and/or genuinely incapacitated claimants, that there is even now a campaign against the defamation of the sick and disabled called the Black Triangle (link on front page). Only this week Society Guardian, in its crucial series of articles, ‘Breadline Britain’, reported on the new protocol in job centres of managers emailing staff to warn them to treat claimants under scrutiny with regards to their incapacity benefit entitlements with compassion as many are increasingly at risk of suicide. This is the deeply unethical state this country has now sunk to, under the intransigent ‘excuse’ of deficit, recession and austerity. A Glaswegian community worker, Bob Holman, who previously worked with IDS before he was WP Secretary and when he was still perceived as a “compassionate Tory” (if that’s not an oxymoron), recently spoke out in Society Guardian denouncing what he sees as IDS’s morally risible volte face from sympathetic campaigner for improvement of the lives of the UK’s poor and marginalised to a hatchet minister who now resorts to constantly vilifying the unemployed whom he is supposed to be helping and blaming them for their misfortune and poverty. He tells them to “just get jobs” when he and his government are wilfully driving unemployment up – now approaching 3 million – through their ruthless and nonsensical evisceration of the public sector, resulting in hundreds of thousands of job losses. IDS uses the language of a time of full employment at a time of mass unemployment. Mr Holman believes these reprehensible tactics are designed to distract from the fact that IDS and the government’s social Malthusian policies are simply creating more unemployment and more poverty. Now we can see that IDS is the definitive ‘wolf in a sheep’s clothing’. And that mass poverty, once evoked by Lloyd George as 'the wolves which once infested our forests’, is returning on an almost Dickensian scale under the Tories, only two years into returning to power. The Recusant joins with Mr Holman in calling for the WP Secretary to resign.
Rough Diamond Jubilee
Talking of Dickensian times: the most grotesque example yet of the sheer decadence and immorality of our country today has to have been in the Ruritanian extravagance of the seemingly endless Diamond Jubilee. Specifically, the unpaid labour imposed on bus loads of unemployed claimants to “steward” the ostentatious farce of the royal barge cruise along the Thames. Sub-contracted ‘gulag racket’ Close Protection UK bussed in these claimants in what were tantamount to mobile labour camps, deposited them under London Bridge in the early hours in pouring rain with no proper provisions, leaving them to have to sleep outside on damp pavements where they couldn’t even pitch tents; then to be woken up at 5.30 am to start their full working day of stewarding with boots, polo shirts and cheap plastic ponchos for protection against the elements. According to media reports, none of these claimants were paid anything for their ordeal, but Close Protection UK and its associates Prospects and Tory donor-run 'charity' Tomorrow’s People (…exploiting today’s!?) made a fat profit of £1.5m from their exploitative enterprise. And all in the name of "Her Majesty" and her swelling brood of peripheral royals, which, very few of the public (bar republicans, socialists and newspapers such as the Morning Star) seem to have any problem in subsidising through their taxes to live gratuitously luxurious lives of practically no purpose or social contribution whatsoever, while finding every problem in contributing themselves a relatively miniscule percentage of tax towards the welfare system to help the poorest in society keep roofs over their heads and food in their bellies. Now the poor must work for the privilege of being poor through workfare schemes facilitated by crooked rackets like A4E that turn their bosses into multimillionaires on the back of ‘parking’ unemployed claimants in bogus ‘work placements’ that lead nowhere while ‘creaming’ off profits for each spurious tick-box. Unemployment is now the national ‘pyramid scheme’ scam for the country’s unscrupulous exponents of capitalism’s “invisible hand” of ‘philanthropy’ – invisible, because it doesn’t exist!
The spectacle of a country besieged by austerity and double-dip recession bowing and scraping before the Queen, lionised simply for the longevity of her unremarkable reign, was personified in the effortlessly shallow, inexplicably self-satisfied and ermine-chewing creeping of ex-Take That lead singer and ‘songwriter’, Gary Barlow, the new ‘celeb’ Queen’s Consort and ladder-climbing opportunist, who spent the entire Jubilee Bank Holiday seemingly celebrating himself, vicariously, through the guise of “Her Majesty”. Barlow was, transparently, after a swift Honour for his services to the Crown; almost visibly tripping over himself to get something sparkly pinned to his broad, Tory-supporting torso. And lo and behold: only a week later, he was awarded an OBE. What a coincidence! While it is apparently, according to our sociologically allergic and ethically philistine prime minister, a “something for nothing” culture among the poor and unemployed, it is very much a ‘nothing without something in return’ for the pole-greasing super-rich. But then, they are, after all, definitely in it together, aren’t they?
What poetic justice then that only a week or so later, two ‘celebrities’ singled out in the press for having denied HMRC a good 49% of their 50% (or now the equivalent of 44% of the recently ‘Gideon downgraded’ 45%) tax contributions, via dastardly offshore tax-avoidance havens, also happened to both be prominent contributors to the Jubilee bank holiday festivities culminating in the Buckingham Palace concert: Messrs Carr and Barlow. These times are satirical on a daily basis, trans-satirical even, but Mr Carr has almost equalled even Cameronian hypocrisy by being caught out contributing precisely the same diminutive amount of tax contribution as the bank (Barclays) he previously lampooned in a sketch on 10 ‘O’ Clock Live: 1%. No wonder Mr Carr always has a smile on his face: the joke is at all of our expense. Nevertheless, the crowning hypocrisy in all this was of course ‘Duplicity Dave’’s laughable intervention as to Carr’s behaviour being “morally wrong”, when he himself was bankrolled through Eton and Oxford by an inheritance promulgated by his stockbroker father largely through serial tax avoidance over decades through exactly the same kind of offshore havens as those so athletically exploited by Carr (interestingly, via Shell’s auspices, for whom he formerly worked, post-Gonville and Caius Cambridge, prior to breaking into ‘comedy’).
As heinous as Cameron's record-breaking hypocrisy was the snidely disingenuous and morally ridiculous remark by Danny Alexander that tax avoiders were "no better than benefit cheats". The Recusant would reverse such an ethically Dickensian comparison by saying that rich tax avoiders are far worse than so-called "benefit cheats", because their circuitous corner-cutting behaviour is not driven by the material necessity of survival via a punitive and impoverishing welfare system on its last legs. Most who are so quickly branded "benefit cheats" are the victims of a deeply unfair and stigmatising welfare system which has so many loopholes, booby traps and tripwires that actually cheat the claimants out of their full entitlements that many are forced to cut the odd corner in order to keep roofs over their heads and food in their bellies, to pay bills, including Council Tax, which should be the onus of property owners and not disenfranchised rental tenants. To equate the two polar opposite phenomenons is morally absurd. It's like arguing that the street urchin Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist is as morally culpable for his petty pickpocketing as the capitalist oligarch Montague Tigg in Martin Chuzzlewitt for his mass-embezzling pyramid scheme scam. The morality is in the circumstances and associated justifications: the impoverished claimant frequently has no choice in his 'misdeeds' and is motivated by mere survival, the rich tax avoider has every choice, has no necessity whatsoever to cheat the country of his tax contributions, and is purely motivated by venal greed and poverty of social conscience. There is simply no comparison; let alone Alexander's risible levering-in of the "benefit cheat" 'folk devil' motif as a wholly inappropriate means to shame the tax-avoiding multimillionaires. Alexander undermined his own ostensible anger at such behaviours by drawing up this specious and deeply ignorant non-comparison. In that, he proved himself as much of a moral charlatan as the opportunistic prime minister through his highly selective 'name and shame' moment.
Indeed, as soon as Gary Barlow’s name was mentioned, the prime minister suddenly wished to ‘move on’, not wishing to discuss every sundry name dragged up in the tawdry media circus. Suddenly Cameron finds it unseemly to muddy reputations over tax avoidance: nothing to do with the fact that Barlow is an ardent Tory supporter and evangelist on behalf of the non-existent ‘Big Society’. Carr, of course, can be expediently tarred in isolation, being involved with the broadly anti-Tory 10 ‘O’ Clock Live satirical series. But Baron von Barlow cannot be let off the hook so easily, and we commend Labour for calling for his OBE to stripped on revelations of his and fellow Take That hangers-on’s for cynically siphoning off their vast fortunes offshore. The Recusant calls for the same. Isn’t it interesting to reflect that Barlow’s sense of patriotism suddenly seems to evaporate when it comes to making his tax contribution to British society: suddenly, then, it’s I’m All Right Jack when it comes to his capacious pockets. Rather like (Sir) Philip Green, the tax-avoiding capitalist oligarch who seems to taken his government appointment of ‘austerity tsar’ far too literally and sought to contribute further to, rather than alleviate, the nation’s austerity, by dodging his contributions to HMRC; oh, and the little matter of exploiting hundreds of unemployed as unpaid “volunteers” in his various shops throughout the country. Green’s distinctly unpatriotic racket has brought him dividends in more ways than one: maximising his profits by undercutting employees’ rights to overtime pay through free labour of the very unemployed youth whose increasingly diminished benefit entitlements he, for one, is also NOT contributing towards through taxation. Ingenious. Ignominious.
To close, for now, I will end by chorusing to Baron Barlow:
Whatever you said, whatever you did to try avoid it
Pay HMRC like you should
Pay your tax
Pay your tax
Pay it as you should…
Whenever you’re wrong we’ll dangle your gong till you repay it,
You might be right-wing, but you should
Pay your tax
Pay your tax
Pay your tax for good…
A.M. © June 2012
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’:
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.
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
Robin de Bois
And here this editor finds himself again extending this editorial due to daily developments in the reality outside the Olympics Bubble-Sphere that is also absorbing 99% of our media coverage at the moment.
First of all, something to celebrate abroad, which, however, puts our nation to absolute ignominy by comparison: as of 1 August 2012 (two days ago), French socialist president Francois Hollande has introduced a Tobin/Financial Transaction or Robin Hood Tax of 0.2% in France. This is in addition to his progressive hiking of the top tax rate for the French rich to 75%. As the Morning Star reported on the day, in its piece ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, ‘Four of the five biggest economic powers in the European Union favour the introduction of such a Tobin or Robin Hood tax throughout the EU’. But the contrast, as marked by this article, between French progressivism and English regressive opportunism in response, is truly shaming to our nation:
Prime Minister Cameron's cynical hope is that a transaction tax in other EU states will drive yet more tax-dodgers towards the City, where more than two-thirds of Europe's financial services are already located.
This is truly despicable of our prime minister, chancellor and government, but, of course, nothing surprising to those of us who can see these unprincipled promoters of plutocracy for what they are. It is morally risible that at a time when France is implementing an FTT, and other European states are considering following suit, that England stands out as the peripheral capitalist parasite latched on to the side of the Continent ready to suck in all the ‘tax-fleeing’ capitalists and super rich – a new Second Switzerland for their offshore asset-stashing, in turn, to boost our corrupt, unreconstructed and equally parasitic City banking sector. In this, Cameron and Osborne betray the true visceral atavism of their opportunistic instincts and their absolute contempt for any moves towards reforming capitalism from its ‘anarcho cronyism’ of present – which caused our society’s financial collapse in the first place.
This is the greatest opportunity for full scale economic and ethical reform of this broken neoliberal capitalist experiment, a socially destructive trend against which Francois Hollande is valiantly spearheading an alternative across the Channel. Even Ed Miliband and Labour are starting to seriously consider a future form of Robin Hood Tax for the UK, the vital case for which legion campaigns and ginger groups have been arguing for years now. The real social loss of neglecting this opportunity to reciprocate France’s progressive economic and social move is of course monumental and for many, whose lives are being increasingly eroded by unrelenting and utterly destructive austerity cuts, the difference between having a future of hope or a future not worth inheriting. As the Morning Star put it:
A transaction tax in Britain, even at the modest French level and applied to financial derivatives as well, would raise around £40bn a year - 10 times more than in France. That's the equivalent of this year's planned cuts in public-sector services, wages and benefits.
This Con-Dem bastard administration is actively acting against the rising alternative wave of counter-austerity nascent on the Continent, sticking to its culling of the poor and defenceless rather than pursuing an ethical cull of the feral behaviours of the City culprits of our economic misery. By doing so, they are thereby sacrificing what they no doubt perceive to be the ‘social residuum’ of the most vulnerable citizens of our society for yet another futile sticking-plaster of financial opportunism, onc again encouraging the same parasitic speculative behaviour which tipped our nation into the economic abyss. This is a shameful moment for this country, coming poignantly at a point where billions around the world are focusing their attention on our capital for the Olympics. Now the rest of the world can see what a nasty, grubby Scrooge-like incubus this grotty little island really is.
Fire and Gentrification
The Recusant also fears that, given the intensifying ‘heat’ and toxic sense of tension as the economic and social misery inflicted by the indefensible welfare caps which are hitting parts of London particularly hard at this time, and the vastly contrasting sterility of ‘gentrification’ throughout Boris’s metropolitan melting-pot as symbolised in the dystopian Olympic village, the Morning Star’s stark warning of 2 August seems unnervingly intuitive, especially given the absence still of any thorough explanation or accountability of the Metropolitan Police for the still shrouded circumstances surrounding the killing of Mark Duggan in Tottenham last year, which, of course, sparked the riots: the MS leader warned London could "burn again this summer’’. We sincerely hope not, as does the MS, hence its warning. However, if the capital is to be spared a re-conflagration of malcontents, the Government of our day has to start engaging comprehensively with those poor communities it is currently fiscally culling and ghettoising through its ruthless, destructive policies, specifically the housing benefit caps which will see large sections of poorer inner city communities evicted by private landlords and exiled to a 'doughnut' ring of deprivation on the outskirts of London (and other major cities). This "social cleansing" of vast areas of the capital is chillingly euphemised as "gentrification".
Returning yet again to the ongoing nationwide dialectic opening up around the immoral fiscal culling of the sick and disabled population of our country via the growingly criticised auspices of Atos (only the other day awarded a new contract to extend its ‘work capability assessment’ enforcement arm to DLA claimants next year), the Morning Star’s editorial of 2 August, ‘Assault on the vulnerable’, is particularly apposite and boldly direct in its criticisms:
Tory cuts kill. It's a stark truth proved by the shocking case of Christine and Clive Arnold, who are living under the shadow of a benefit cut that threatens their home, Christine's health - and even her life. The attacks on disability benefits are not the coalition's biggest cuts but they are surely the most shameful. They are a naked assault on the group least able to defend themselves. They are a measure designed to drive millions into misery, poverty, illness and an early grave. There is no justification for them on financial grounds - not when the government can find bottomless billions to bail out the banks.
There is no justification for them on the grounds of fairness. Never mind the right-wing lies - disability benefits aren't supporting millions of workshy scroungers, they're a vital safety net that brings a measure of dignity and security to society's most vulnerable. And there is no justification on economic grounds, not when benefits such as DLA help disabled people to work. The benefit cuts are a false economy - just like the closure of Remploy factories employing thousands of disabled people, and just like the rest of George Osborne's cuts. They mean more misery, more fear and more despair. Growing poverty and growing dole queues. And ultimately a toll in human life among the victims who can't or won't struggle through in the face of the Con-Dems' vicious class war.
This editorial then addresses the leader fears of a resumption of last year’s riots:
At time this summer it has felt like a matter of not if the riots would return to London but when. As the temperature rose and the Olympic security crackdown took full effect there was unrest in the air - and no wonder. The beanfeast inside the Olympic Park is a stark contrast to the situation on the streets outside, where a year on from the rioting almost nothing has changed.
Some of London's poorest boroughs got a lick of paint to avoid offending the delicate sensibilities of tourists. But the Olympics are just one more a reminder that the state will squander billions on corporate extravaganzas while slashing spending on those who need and deserve it. The rows of empty seats, left bare by corporate sponsors while locals are denied tickets, are a final insult on top of a long list of injuries. Poverty, unemployment, soaring rents and crowded housing all remain. And so do cuts to education and benefits - and police brutality and racism, the spark that lit last summer's flames.
Twelve months after police shot Mark Duggan dead there is no sign of any answers and no sign of his killers being brought to justice. And so there is no sign of the justified anger over his death being assuaged, or of the Metropolitan Police being forced to tackle the problem of the racists and thugs it harbours in its ranks. In this heated climate it will only take one more spark to ignite another inferno - one that would come as a shock, but not as a surprise.
Indeed; if the riots do resume this summer, all of us in this nation know who to blame: this grotesquely negligent government of borderline-psychopathic austerity-strippers who, having ‘cut out all the fat’ from the welfare state, housing and education sectors, are now cutting even further, to the very nerve, bone and marrow of a burgeoning social underclass; one which the Chancellor and his social Darwinian cronies in government have in part created through a wholly avoidable double-dip recession, and who now, like a coven of Doctor Frankensteins, have decided need to be culled and driven to economic extinction. These upper-class Ubermenchen have the blood-scent of the most defenceless in society in their nostrils, and are clearly determined to finish the job by riding their urban foxhunt to its ultimate and inevitable conclusion.
But in the words of the legendary trouser-rolled Irish comedian Jimmy Cricket, “There’s more” – as splashed on the Morning Star’s front page today (3 August) titled “We’ll expose the blood on Tory hands” by Will Stone:
Campaigners pledged today to "name and shame" the Con-Dem coalition for every death caused by its vicious attack on disability and jobless benefits. Families and friends of lost loved ones have set up the Calum's List website to record the devastating toll of suicides and deaths which have resulted from policies which are snatching away the means of living from the disabled and unemployed. The website has initially published details of 23 deaths, but the real death toll could number in the thousands - more than 1,000 disability claimants are known to have died between January and August last year when they were told to find work after 12 months. Calum's List includes a dad who committed suicide after his housing benefit was cut and a 21-year-old woman on jobseeker's allowance who killed herself after 200 unsuccessful job applications. Apparent victims of the cuts agenda include Leith-based poet Paul Reekie, who killed himself last month. Letters found on his desk had informed him that his housing and disability benefit payments were about to cease. But the list does not just include suicides. One dad died from a heart attack after being found "fit for work." Campaigners fear that a Scottish man suffering from chronic lung disease will be the next person to add to the death toll as he has stopped taking his medication in protest against government reforms.
A spokesman for the website said: "This death toll can and will be stopped if those responsible act in a humane manner and do their duty before legal action is taken. "Surely it is possible to sort out the current all party-political mess that is causing welfare reform-induced death and misery to the most vulnerable in society? We don't really want benefits we just want our health back so we can work. The current benefit system is toxic, dangerous and not fit for purpose. This is a nightmare driven by successive welfare ministers of all political parties who draw personal salaries of £3,500 per week when cripples like us are expected to survive on £3,500 a year, if we are lucky."
Clive Arnold, from North Yorkshire, provides round-the-clock care for his wife Christine. He has warned that the death toll will continue to rise rapidly unless the government acts now. Christine is on a medication of 30 tablets a day. She suffers from a range of physical and mental disabilities including the rare congenital disorder Moebius syndrome that causes complete facial paralysis and epilepsy. Mr Arnold said: "Government cuts, particularly its evil welfare reforms, will continue to cause deaths unless it acts today. Many people who have not yet committed suicide have had suicidal thoughts, including my wife."
The Department for Work and Pensions spokeswomn added: "Each of these deaths is a tragedy for the families involved. "Our reforms are about helping people get off benefits and into work."
So the robotic automatons at the DWP simply parrot the same old disingenuous and duplicitous claptrap about “helping the incapacitated back into work” as a miracle cure for all ills and in spite of the fact that THERE IS NO WORK! Even Grayling the 'Great Soprendo of the DWP' can’t just magic some jobs out of a hat and with several people chasing each job vacancy at any given time how on earth does he and IDS expect disabled or mentally ill people to be able to secure jobs?
What is becoming increasingly striking now is how this disability dialectic is now rapidly widening like an ever stretching sore across the country as more and more of the public, not only anti-Atos activists and campaign groups but also individuals via forums such as Youtube are increasingly feeling it justified and necessary to employ some of the most loaded phraseology yet in relation to the Atos regimen and the disastrous DWP Work Programme: it is now commonplace to find commentators alluding to Nazism as the nearest comparison to the Government’s national assault on the most vulnerable in society. The charge of many campaigners at this time – and it’s broadly a similar terminology to that which this editor/writer has employed in his extensive polemics in both Emergency Verse and The Robin Hood Book – is that the DWP is potentially exposed to legislation on ‘Corporate Manslaughter’ in relation to its relentless hounding of millions of incapacitated claimants via the Atos reassessments. If this sounds wildly hyperbolic then simply view this tellingly under-reported question posed to Chris Grayling by Labour MP Katy Clark on 23 January 2012 in the Commons: it can be viewed here.
What is most contemptible here is the absolutely sanguinity of Chris Grayling’s zombie-like non-response to this extremely serious and disturbing point made by Katy Clark where, yet again, he parrots the same utterly discredited and spurious nonsense that somehow by handing the loaded guns of benefits disqualifications to suicidal claimants, the Government is somehow “helping them”.
The Recusant is heartened to discover only today the new campaign Calum’s List which is keeping an online public record listing all those disabled and incapacitated individuals who met with premature deaths as a direct result of the continued stress and pressure they have been put under thanks to the Government’s immoral welfare caps and merciless Atos assessment regimen. What The Recusant found distinctly peculiar was the fact that on first attempting to access the website of Calum’s List only this afternoon, the following mysterious message comes up [note: this message is still coming up today, Sat 4 August 2012 - but fortunately thanks to the Morning Star Calum's List is featured on its weekend front page today, replete with webside address, so is now being shared with all MS readers throughout the UK]:
You don't have permission to access / on this server.
Additionally, a 500 Internal Server Error error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.
Mmm – we wonder who might be trying to sabotage this democratically legitimate sharing of information in a public domain…? Nevertheless, you can access Calum’s List here and via here where there is an interesting discussion about this curious ‘disappearance’ of the official website address. All The Recusant can say on this is, who said Stalinism was dead? Are we entering the new age of Censorship? And another very interesting website on similar themes is worth visiting here.
The Recusant recalls that months ago the Black Triangle Campaign’s website was also for a certain period of time inaccessible and ‘Forbidden’ online but is now thankfully accessible here (or via the Black Triangle symbol on our front page). No doubt in part thanks to Katy Clark’s brave intervention in the Commons. However, The Recusant advises all comrades in this ongoing campaign against arguably the most immoral government policy in living memory to bear in mind the fact that as an MP speaking the House of Commons, Miss Clark was protected by Parliamentary Privilege – whereas, unfortunately, we, the mere voting electorate of this alleged ‘democracy’, are not protected by it. Nevertheless, we do have the democratic right to speak out, campaign and protest against the continued onslaught against our vulnerable fellow citizens and to express our opinions within reasonable but passionate and defiant terms.
So let’s keep going!
A.M. 3 August 2012
UK GOES FOR GOLD IN THE 2012 MALTHUSIAN OLYMPICS (MALYMPICS)
The continued recidivist behaviour of this rogue Tory-led government means that this editor has to keep revisiting this editorial to update on the latest ethical crimes committed in the name of 'British democracy', such as it is (or ever has been!). Interestingly, during this frankly surreal period of 'news curfew' when apparently BBC News 24 has now morphed into an Olympics promotional channel and put all non-sports news coverage pretty much on hold for the duration of the Decadence Olympics, the Government is sneaking out press releases on its latest acceleration of its full scale fiscal assault on the sick and disabled of this nation, hoping no one will notice, or be bothered to notice amid all the fluttering Jacks and ‘gold medal hysteria’ (painfully reminiscent of the four day ‘austerity denial’ of the absurd Diamond Jubilee pageant not so long ago).
So it falls to the ever-vigilant Morning Star, and the likes of Randeep Ramesh at The Guardian, to uncover the latest policy offence committed by HM Government - and in the very same week that two separate documentaries on Channel 4 and BBC1 (Dispatches and Panorama) revealed via undercover reporting some decidedly shady, systemically dubious practices at subcontracted 'work capability assessment' enforcement arm, Atos Origin. In spite of seeming documentary evidence that said company is allegedly manipulating its assessments to meet government-dictated targets to keep the amount of legitimately disabled claimants being found unfit for work to an absolute minimum, it is announced today that this private bounty-incentivised racket has just been awarded a further £400m contract to carry out next year's DLA 'reassessments' with a TARGET to kick the crutches away from around 20% of claimants, 19.5% of whom will, by the government's own statistics of only 0.5% fraud in DLA, be entirely legitimately disabled and incapacitated people.
Not only this, but the head of Atos has just received a £1m bonus, a further bounty for broken lives, in spite (or possibly because) of the company's arguably immoral record of contributing to the effective trampling of disability and human rights in order to strip the physically and mentally ill of their state entitlements. Chris Grayling can deny this till he’s even bluer in the face, but in light of both Panorama and Dispatches’ broadcast revelations of Monday night, he has a hell of a lot of serious questions to answer at his next select committee appearance, since this alleged shadow-culture of ‘targets’ is according to its operators instructed from ‘higher up’. No doubt these factors along with other evidence are in part what has bolstered the case of two claimants found ‘fit for work’ by Atos to challenge Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith in the High Court for having seemingly masterminded a system whereby their mental health problems and medical records have not even been taken into account in the decisions to strip them of their welfare support.
The fact that, in spite of the medically shoddy, pre-rigged and arguably inhumane nature of the work capability assessments and Atos’s ‘target’-driven corner-cutting as exposed more blatantly than ever before in Monday night’s Dispatches documentary, the DWP is extending the company's contract for DLA assessments, is the final evidence of the Tories’ unashamed contempt for the wellbeing of the most vulnerable of our society. It arguably implies conscious complicity, or at best, ‘wilful blindness’, of government with/to further contributing to the terrible trend in escalating suicide rates among the mentally ill and the premature death rate of countless physically disabled claimants - one case study of which was featured in Monday's Panorama - as a result of the health-eroding stress of these medically illegitimate, atomistic and merciless 'assessments'. It can now be quite reasonably argued that these are NOT assessments, but seemingly unambiguous 'kangaroo examinations' intended to find as many tenuous excuses as possible to knock genuinely ill and disabled people off their benefits - in spite of the fact that, in the case of DLA, it is not even a benefit related to one's employment status! Moreover, it is very often receipt of DLA which pays for the extra support needed for the physically and mentally ill to remain in part time or even fulltime work – by stripping this benefit away from a projected ‘target’ of 20% of the DLA budget, the Government is simply going to make continued employment impossible for countless disabled claimants.
The Recusant utterly condemns this government's decision to extend Atos's contracts in spite of all the dire warning signs of an assessment process which is itself unfit for purpose, and which has and still is apparently costing actual lives. In the marked absence of any remotely convincing counter-arguments to such criticisms but only shows of synthetic “tough love” from the ministers involved, many are quite justifiably led seriously start wondering whether this government's intention – unconscious or otherwise – is to counteract the much-reported rise ‘longevity boom’ of the general population by indirectly contributing to the curtailing of the life expectancies of potentially hundreds of thousands of disabled claimants, in order to reduce the future medical and pensions 'strain' on the shrinking economy.
The Recusant charges this Tory-led government with acting in contempt of disability and human rights, and trampling over the parameters of recognised civilised democracy by this legislative lurch into the uncharted hinterlands of what can only be described as ‘fiscal fascism’. Instead of taxing the bankers and the tax-avoiding super rich - who of course bankroll the Tory party! - this government has decided instead to hound out the most defenceless citizens. Various commentators have been warning of the risk of our society slipping into its hitherto avoided '1930s moment'. Well now it seems to many of us we are already entering in its slippery first stages.
The Atos regime must be resisted by as many of us as possible in the months and years ahead: there must be continued and unrelenting public opposition and protest against its unacceptably atomistic and antipathetic auspices. The Recusant calls on all compassionate persons to contact their MPs at once and demand that the proposal to grant Atos an extension of its contract be opposed in Parliament, and that Atos be stripped of its current contract on grounds of Disability and Human Rights Abuses.
A.M. 2 August 2012
Land of Rope and Tory
A couple of items to add in The Recusant's latest news roundup in this current media hinterland while the BBC News is almost entirely gripped by the Olympics almost to the exclusion of all else and BBC Parliament vanished from our screens for the duration - but news is still carrying on in spite of the Games, not that a random half hour watching the News these days would indicate. But the Morning Star has been busy as ever uncovering some further unsavoury peripheral incidents in relation to the Olympics in our new post-Welfare State of invisible 'corporate philanthropy'.
Sunday's front page of 29 July, 'Londoners say no to Games of Greed' by Rory McKinnon reported on a peaceful demonstration of 600 people in Mile End, comprising such campaign groups as Disabled People Against the Cuts (specifically protesting against the Atos sponsorship of the Paralympics), the Counter Olympics Network, and - in the wake of the heinous housing benefit caps and the new 'gentrification' or 'social cleansing' of the capital - the now absolutely vital Eviction Resistance Network. This march was, of course, not allowed to pass anywhere near to the sacrosanct Olympics Village (so caught between two villages, the other being the Westminster one, or rather, The Village of the Damned). There was this rather chilling snippet of information in this article:
The march came just a day after police directly outside the Olympic opening ceremony kettled and arrested around 180 cyclists on a lawful Critical Mass event, with footage recently surfacing of an officer pepper-spraying a parked disabled man on a tricycle.
But it's not only peaceful disabled protestors who are being treated with the kind of yobbish aggression one would historically associate more with developing Nazi societies: Will Stone's shocking expose, 'Disabled suffer 'shocking' abuse' of the MS of 31 July has revealed these truly disturbing behavioural traits rapidly developing in Cameron's 'Big Jackboot Society':
Disabled people are facing more discrimination than ever due to being deemed "benefit scroungers," a charity said today. Despite the London Paralympics being just around the corner many disabled people in Britain have said people's attitudes towards them have got worse, Scope warned. The vast majority of hundreds of disabled people surveyed revealed that people assume they do not work, while respondents also agreed that coverage about "benefit scroungers" has negatively affected attitudes. But while "scroungers" represent a tiny fraction when compared to genuine claimants, increasing numbers of disabled people are being confronted by strangers in the street who are questioning their right to support.
Is this Cameron's idea of 'participatory democracy'?
One disabled person reported that he was punched in the face by a man who said that "a spazz like him shouldn't be going out with a pretty girl." Another said they were asked if they use their "sympathy sticks" (crutches) all of the time. A third responded: "They tried to shove my power-chair off the kerb and said I'm just a scrounger and want attention."
Scope is launching a drive to promote more positive portrayals of disabilities at a time when London is hosting the Paralympics and disabled athletes take centre stage. Scope head Richard Hawkes said: "It is absolutely shocking that in 2012 almost half of disabled people feel attitudes have got worse and many have experienced aggression, hostility or name calling from other people.
Something to celebrate for London in 2012 is it Mr Johnson? Something to make us all feel patriotic and proud to be British Mr Cameron? And here's the generally under-reported truth behind all the yobbish Tory and tabloid hyperbole:
The government's own figures show that a tiny 0.5 per cent of disability living allowance expenditure went on fraudulent claims. They also show that only two per cent of the total benefit expenditure was overpaid due to fraud and error across the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
You'll never get those figures on the front of the Daily Oppress et al will you? Doesn't make 'good copy' for the likes of them. Then the crowning hypocrisy of all hypocrisies:
The DWP admitted that it needs to do more to change negative attitudes.
Well the DWP needs to start by dealing with its own 'stigmatising machine' of "scrounger" propaganda against the unemployed and the sick and disabled for starters! It is after all headed by the most punitive and oratorically chastising WP Secretary in its history, IDS, who makes James Purnell look positively fluffy by comparison. The DWP is part of a government which more than any other so far has set out from practically its first day in office to actively demonise and victimise an entire claimant population - and in a time of mass unemployment!
IDS himself has actively contributed to hate campaigns against claimants, such as The Sun's 'Beat the Cheat' putsch, as well as openly encouraging people to spy on their unemployed neighbours, thus creating an atmosphere in which many of the public are brainwashed into equating the entire concept of 'welfare' with 'tax theft'; he and his hapless henchman Chris Grayling have also gleefully forced millions through the discredited and medically illegitimate Atos trials and fuelled public resentments against the visibly disabled by constantly focusing their attention on the miniscule minority of benefit 'fraudsters' among them. This has all led to a toxic climate in which people in wheelchairs are now being increasingly set upon verbally and even physically by individual vigilantes. So for the DWP to say that they 'need to do more to change negative attitudes' is frankly risible given its own propaganda drive of the past two years or so.
It has also emerged that Chris Grayling attempted to censure a legal video produced to provide claimants disallowed their benefits with helpful advice as to how to go about appealing the decisions. The video was clearly too helpful in the view of 'Gripper' Grayling. Not having any of that! It'll give those incapacitated people funny ideas. Of course, the code of the DWP has always been, Never provide information to claimants unless they ask for it: information, that is, that the claimants don't know is there, so therefore never ask for. It is this institutionalised mandarinism which more often than not is the real reason behind alleged 'benefit fraud': simply because claimants are not given the proper information about their rights, entitlements and obligations while claiming benefits, and so easily trip up on hidden loopholes and tripwires. Then they get punished or sanctioned as a result.
But outside our sinking isle there is some steady progress on the Continent, specifically in France, under its new socialist president Francois Hollande: as of 1 August 2012 (yesterday), France is now the first European country to introduce a Robin Hood Tax! One might think this would be a major news headline in a remotely progressive society, but sadly not in our rapidly reconstructing Dickensian one, where flutters of Union Jacks, mass media onanism around two gold medals for Team GB, and pictures of a crash-helmeted blond-mopped museum piece Mayor of London suspended from a jammed death-slide appear to be all 'the punters want' according to the BBC.
Nevertheless, it seems that The Robin Hood Book has been published and launched at an appropriate time to coincide with the introduction of the Tobin Tax in the new socialist republic of France just over the - tragically - clear blue water. This only makes the case even stronger for this blighted country to finally and belatedly consider a contrapuntal Anglicised version of the Robin Hood Tax - or isn't anyone in England proud of the lincoln-green-hooded proto-socialist of English legend? Too left-wing to be venerated? Well if ever there was a time his country needed him, it is now. The Recusant says, it's high time we turned left: Gauche! Tout suite!
MAKE WORKERS PAY
‘You couldn’t make it up’ is quite possibly the most repeated phrase of the present day, in conversation and in contemporary journalistic comment on the sheer plethora, rapidly approaching epidemic, of bare-faced hypocrisy in practically every direction one currently looks, but most notably among the ‘irony proof’ upper echelons of our atrophying ‘Big Shrink Society’: the Government, the bankers, the private sector. It is a phrase as yet untapped by radical slogan outfit Red Molotov but we anticipate it will eventually become the counter-mantra of this soul-destroying period of capitalist austerity and in future adorn t-shirts, mugs and fridge magnets.
Not only has the private sector completely failed to sweep in and transform our economy on the back of the Tories’ ideological culling of the public sector, but a succession of private companies subcontracted by the Government to take on various national projects have through combinations of lack of expertise, sheer incompetence and unscrupulous corner-cutting, all in the tripping fumble for undeserved profits, failed on catastrophic scales.
First, of course, the G4S farce: failure to adequately recruit and properly train the thousands of security staff to guard the Olympics with, so we are led to believe by Home Secretary Theresa ‘Time Keeping’s Not My Strong Point’ May, the buck emphatically stopping at this latest cowboy outfit outsourced to do a job which should have been the singular remit of state agencies – i.e. the very police and armed forces who have been summoned in (for no extra ‘Olympics bonuses’) to mop up the mess left by G4S. But of course, this was just a little hitch and otherwise the private sector is still eminently suited to saving our plunging economy – so Tories would still blindly profess.
But it’s not a little hitch, it’s no one off: if it’s not total incompetence, then it’s shameless profiteering sans results – rather like the bankers still milking bonuses in spite of not lending and/or subsequently being found out for having ‘fiddled’/surgically lowered the Libor rates – and often through fraudulent manipulation of government contracts, a la A4E; or it’s the wholesale trampling of those few employment and health and safety rights left, together with flouncing of the National Minimum Wage, via dehumanising exploitation of ‘volunteers’: Close Protection, Tomorrow’s People, and the broader ‘Coalition of Exploitation’ comprised of various corporate auspices providing ‘volunteers’ to ‘steward’ the upcoming Olympics, neglecting to properly train them, in fact, systemically cutting corners wherever possible in this current austerity culture which will cut away literally at all ‘red tape’ possible in order to protect profits. Not to mention the under-reported scandal of Adidas’ use of ‘sweatshop labour’ to produce the Team GB kit. How patriotic of them to outsource slave labour ‘in the national interest’ to factories in Asia! The Recusant commends campaign group War on Want for highlighting this chain of exploitation behind the production of the British Olympic strip – yet another ‘sin-wash’ for the ‘red, right and blue’ of our rapidly tarnished national flag!
Among these Olympics-milking, non-contributory corporate parasites is a company called Dow, a subsidiary of which, Union Carbide, was responsible for the 1984 Bhopal disaster, a leak from a chemical plant in India which killed over 11,000 people, maimed a further half a million, but for which Dow has never accepted responsibility, least of all offered any compensation to its living victims or the surviving relatives of the deceased victims. But of course capitalists are exceptionally good at protecting their ill-gotten gains at all possible costs, human included. Dow was also the manufacturer of the notoriously lethal chemical weapon known by the Anthony Burgess-esque sobriquet ‘Agent Orange’, which not only wiped out countless Vietnamese people – innocent villages as well as Viet Cong – as part of 1970’s ‘Operation Hades’, during the Vietnam War, but has since also genetically scarred around 4.8 million of the country’s population, many of whom are children ‘shockingly deformed’. The banausic ‘Solutions’ outfit Atos is of course trans-satirically sponsoring the Paralympics while simultaneously administering the largest fiscal cull against the disabled and incapacitated in our country’s history (see both Rory Mackinnon’s ‘Calling the Olympics to Account’ http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/121955 and John Pilger’s ‘Spin that poisons the Games’ http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/121956 both in the Morning Star of 27 July).
"I can sack you - and if you give me gold I will let you keep your job" - Carillion
But the latest scandal of a private company ‘racket’ not only ruthlessly exploiting low-waged employees and conspiring with competitors to blacklist all those employees who are members of Unions and/or who simply ask for rudimentary ‘health and safety’ regulations to be observed by their corporate employers as ‘trouble makers’, but actually going even further, to the ultimate Mafiosi take on anarcho-capitalist exploitation, the unconscionable rip off of effectively charging staff to keep their already inadequately paid jobs, nevertheless at risk due to increasing job cuts, has come to light via the peerless investigative social journalism of the Morning Star. Louise Raw has uncovered possibly the most heinous private sector crime against the rights and wellbeing of poorly paid workers to date in a piece subtitled ‘Carillion's Victorian values’, of 24 July 2012:
I spend a lot of time writing, and reading, about conditions in Victorian England. These days I hardly need to open a history book to do it - a newspaper will do almost as well. Now, as then, we have a government doing nothing to prevent the disproportionate impact of recession and cutbacks on the working class. Rising unemployment, even malnourished children, are regularly documented by the press. And Victorian eugenicists would have been delighted with PM's recent suggestions on cutting benefits to families with over three children. (Stop them breeding! They're at it like rabbits, you know.)
Absolutely, and in my own polemic ‘Ripe Time for a British Spring’ in The Robin Hood Book, I argue the same case at length, that we have entered into a new Malthusian era of ‘social cleansing’ – the apparently ‘acceptable’ face of ‘fiscal fascism’. Raw continues:
Even more 19th century are the scandalous conditions and treatment endured by hospital workers in Swindon, as exposed by the Carillion dispute. In Victorian England workers - especially migrant men and women escaping starvation and oppression in Ireland - had to literally fight for work. Dockers would line up every day in their thousands to join the desperate scrabble for a day's hire, calling out beseechingly to the foreman to try to catch his eye. In the 21st century, supervisors working for Carillion - a private firm subcontracted to run the facilities contract at Great Western Hospital - saw a better way of doing things, by demanding "considerations" in the form of money, goods and even gold in exchange for annual leave, overtime or shift changes.
Yes, you are reading that correctly. Thanks to wholesale Tory de-regulation and acceleration of the private sector to take on former state duties, it seems private companies are having a ball not only ripping up ‘red tape’ of employment and health and safety protections, but now some are also seemingly charging workers to keep their jobs to boot! What are the Tories going to do about this? Nothing…? Back to Raw:
Some 145 workers, mainly Asian women of Goan heritage, have been subjected to racial abuse and bullying as well as ongoing extortion by the exclusively white management team. Although the women are on low incomes, the supervisors' illegal demands have not even been commensurate with this. One supervisor demanded £1,000 from a woman worker. When she protested, the price dropped to £500.
The threats attached to the financial demands were explicit - one worker was told: "I can sack you - and if you give me gold I will let you keep your job." The workers are the backbone of the NHS, working as cleaners, catering workers and ancillary staff at Swindon and Great Western General Hospital.
All too often such vital work is considered low status, but the women are committed and dedicated, taking personal pride in the cleanliness of their wards. This is, of course, a crucial line of defence between patients and potentially fatal infections.
There is evidence that these abuses were reported to Carillion management in 2009, but no action was taken. The GMB union believes that a culture of institutionalised racism meant that the staff were not believed. Only after more than 100 staff submitted a grievance in December 2011 did Carillion conduct a token investigation, quickly concluding there was no case to answer. Only after workers took strike action did a second, slightly more thorough investigation begin.
Carillion now admits that racism, bullying and what it wonderfully terms "inappropriate gift-giving" did in fact take place, but it has, with extreme reluctance, dismissed only one supervisor. It admits that allegations had been made against this individual before, but states "no compelling evidence" was found. It accepts no responsibility and claims the problem has not been severe. Workers have therefore been forced to continue to work under other perpetrators of harassment and racial abuse, which was naturally distressing and intimidating - as it was probably intended to be.
Despite this, workers had the courage to give evidence about the corrupt and racist culture at Carillion at grievance hearings. The firm's response? To add insult to injury by disciplining them - for offering bribes.
However, like the London matchwomen and dockers in the 1880s who fought back against appalling exploitation, the Carillion workers have shown themselves a force to be reckoned with. Like their Victorian counterparts they are supposedly powerless in the labour relationship, but their strength lies in their dignity, solidarity and identity.
Dockers and matchmakers were often from Irish families, giving them strong cultural and political networks to draw on, as well as a history of resistance. … GMB organiser Carole Vallelly says: "During the first protests the women understandably felt a bit awkward holding placards and would almost hide behind them. "By the time we came to protest outside Southmead Hospital [a new Carillion build], they were singing and chanting through the megaphone."
Vallelly adds: "As we all know, going on strike isn't easy and there are still the same supervisors in place that have had bullying complaints against them. "They are making life particularly hard for our members, denying them overtime etc. We have around 60 tribunal claims in at the moment and more in the pipeline."
Raw then touches on the under-reported scandal of illegal yet rampant industrial blacklisting of workers who belong to trades unions by private companies:
The workers have also linked to the Blacklist Support Group, as Carillion has been a major player in the blacklisting scandal - further evidence of its anti-union ethos. An illegal blacklist was exposed in 2009, when private company the Consulting Association was raided over breaches of the Data Protection Act. More than 3,000 people were found to be on the list, which had been used to block them from gaining employment. In some cases workers had been labelled "troublemakers" on the basis of doing no more than asking for health and safety measures or simply joining a trade union. King's College London professor of public law Keith Ewing describes the blacklist as "the worst human rights abuse in relation to workers" in Britain in 50 years. No surprise that Carillion has been an enthusiastic user of the blacklist. In one three-month period it was found to have spent several thousands of pounds checking 2,776 names against the list.
Carillion also admitted in court in January 2012 that its managers and managers of Carillion subsidiaries had supplied damaging and false information to the blacklist, which would have prevented workers from gaining employment. But once again the firm tried to wriggle out of accepting responsibility for its actions. …
Both the blacklist and the cover-up mentality of Carillion are further evidence of how well organised and co-ordinated those who oppose workers' rights can be. This is what we're up against in the 21st century labour market. And further proof - if it were needed - that the left must be united in standing firm against it.
Hear, hear. This is the true appalling nature of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, one in which both the unemployed poor and the working poor are being systematically exploited, threatened and even, as this expose demonstrates, literally robbed materially by private companies who are ‘capitalising’ on the hostile economic climate by blackmailing workers – it’s the truly ugly face of the ‘Hire and Fire’ anti-ethic of this Tory-led government, but one which should actually now be rephrased to ‘Job and Rob’; or, more appropriately given IDS and Chris Grayling’s favourite DWP mantra ‘Make Work Pay’: 'Make Workers Pay To Work!'
The only caveat to add here is that Louise Raw’s brilliant piece of investigative journalism is perhaps to note that it is even too leniently subtitled, since even in Victorian times one would think it was unlikely that workers would have to end up literally paying just to keep their jobs. That a private company – this latest offender being Carillion, a subcontractor which runs ‘facilities’ at Swindon’s Great Western Hospital – and one of those invited into the workings of our National Health Service, are blackmailing hospital cleaners to give them cash or gold in return for staying in work – and to what beneficial purpose in any case? – also demonstrates just how hostile the current climate still is for those who find themselves unemployed and at the mercy of the most nasty and punitive welfare regimen since the means-test of the Thirties: that these cleaners would rather stay in their jobs in spite of having their very meagre wages part-ransacked by their private sector exploiters, is a ringing testament to just how unendurably painful it is, both materially and psychologically, to be in the dole queue today, or, for those incapacitated, on the demeaning and interrogative conveyor-belt of that other hectoring private sector termagant, Atos (also, without a hint of irony, one of the sponsors of the Paralympics!).
Small wonder the Government’s own Measuring National Wellbeing Programme’s first findings would, if put into a succinct aphorismic prescription read as summed up in the title to Lizzy Davies and Simon Rogers’ exposé in The Guardian 25 July: ‘live on a remote island, and don’t work’. In light of the Tories’ war not only on the unemployed but also the working poor of today, it would indeed seem that happiness does not lie in the way of work (while abject misery lies in the way of ‘worklessness’): the British people 99% are indeed caught between the perennial ‘rock and a hard place’ it seems, and austerity is set in for the long term thanks to the economic incompetence and ideological psychopathology of our ruling 1%. Britain ever, ever, ever shall be slaves to the markets, and all the rest…
Fortunately, the hospital cleaners have started fighting back against their disgraceful treatment by Carillion and are currently pursuing a campaign of peaceful demonstration against their exploitation. Raw marks the parallels with an incident of particular historical interest to herself: the strike of matchworkers and dockers during the 1880s, which she has documented in her recent book Striking A Light: The Bryant & May Matchwomen (Continuum Press). The ‘matchwomen’ as they were known were appallingly exploited by their ruthless factory employers with poor wages and daily exposure to phosphorous in the performance of their duties treating matchsticks so they were combustible, which led to an epidemic among them known as ‘phossy jaw’, whereby their jawbones were slowly eaten away over time resulting in severe discomfort and incapacity, none of which, of course, was compensated for by the employers. Until the women went on strike, and by so doing, sparked the first wave of industrial mass strike action in British history, marking the beginnings of the trades union movement towards better employment rights and, further down the line, health and safety regulation. By a peculiar irony, one of the matchstick-making factories in London’s East End is now the same residential block of flats on which anti-air missile weaponry has been rigged up to protect the Olympics without the permissions of its residents, who only last week inexplicably lost their case for the armaments to be removed.
In parallel to all of this, we have the news on 25 July that the economy has now shrunk by a staggering 0.7% in the past three months, making this the worst and longest double-dip recession since records began! Even still, Baronet Guy d’Osborne is recalcitrant as ever in his nation-sinking ‘deficit reduction strategy’, and blithely sticks to his wreckers’ course even as business leaders and some of his own party are now seriously questioning his plan, and Lord Oakeshott of the Lib Dems publicly calls for his resignation, branding him a “work experience chancellor’ (the difference being that, as opposed to those who are on actual ‘work experience’ but who get nothing extra to top up their benefits, let alone anything approaching a minimum wage, Osborne is on a six figure salary, plus expenses, plus his own personal familial wealth). This also follows in the tellingly less well-publicised news of last week that the IMF – led, remember, by Osborne’s fellow austerity evangelist, Christine Lagarde – has now specifically called on our Chancellor to consider a plan B, or, at least, a Plan A Plus, in order to rescue the British economy from sinking as low as the Euro-shook Mediterranean nations and retain its much-vaunted Triple A rating (Austerity, Austerity, Austerity).
The IMF specifically stated that Osborne’s austerity cuts on the poorest, particularly those on benefits, which have inevitably devastated all demand and spending power in the lower sections of the economy, have basically helped to create this double dip and economic shrinkage. Now more than ever before since this godforsaken coalition of fiscal charlatans came into power, there is an emphatic and incontrovertible mandate for the immediate cessation of all further cuts to welfare. Of course, Osborne simply won’t budge, least of all on this ‘popular’ fiscal carnage of a policy; in spite of all the facts, not least the unconscionable destruction of the material wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of claimant families and tens of thousands of children, the Tories prefer to continue pillaging from the poorest to make up their mythical ‘deficit’ rather than seriously attempting to rake back in the almost incomprehensibly large amounts of money annually avoided by corporate and superrich tax-dodgers worldwide. Last week it was reported that as much as £13 TRILLION – apparently the size of the complete GDP of the United States and enough to wipe out not only the EU economic crisis, the need for any austerity measures, and rescue much of the Third World from utter destitution – has been hived off globally to offshore ‘tax havens’ on the Cayman Islands and elsewhere. This is not only avoidance and evasion of tax on an internationally industrial scale, it is also symbiotically avoidance and evasion of moral responsibility to the poor of the world, but most grotesquely, to the struggling national coffers of all Western countries.
Not only has this government devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of the poorest families in the country, as well as eviscerated the educational and life chances of millions of the youngest generation into the bargain – but it has all also been for absolutely nothing! The deficit is barely reducing at all; the national debt is rising; borrowing is rising; the private sector is still not growing to replace the culled public sector because the banks still aren’t lending; unemployed is sky-rocketing, in spite of doctored government statistics (if unemployed is, as they claim, lowering currently, it’s not because there are less people out of work, but more because there are less people being supported by the state but who are still out of work, or under section for mental breakdown, or homeless, or tragically posthumous, having simply committed suicide). The British economy is now smaller than it was in 2010, before the Con-Dems came into power to condemn us all – that has been the achievement of this disastrous administration in only just over two years of power.
If Osborne is rapidly becoming Public Enemy No. 1 for his ideological fiscal carnage and incompetence, he is also soon to be further despised for his pivotal role in the recruiting for Downing Street spin doctor of the now officially criminally charged Andy Coulson. And Cameron himself has to be the most inexplicably unscathed – so far – prime minister in living memory, being up to his armpits in irresponsible political incompetence, his abysmal handling of the Jeremy Hunt debacle, hubristic defence of his hiring of the tarnished Coulson and grotesquely cheek-and-jowl interrelationship with both Charlie and the criminally charged Rebekah Brooks making him now a ‘lame duck prime minister’ if ever there was one. Cameron cannot keep ducking the legion questions of culpability and irresponsibility in office which are rapidly stacking up against him. Both Cameron and Osborne should resign their positions forthwith and a general election be called.
Sharing the honour of Public Enemy No 1 is of course the oily, permatanned Thunderbirds puppet Bob Diamond, whom, it seems, must have been aware of the lowering of the Libor rate during his time as Midas-touch chief executive of Barclays, as effectively betrayed by his deputy at a recent Select Committee hearing. Simply resigning and forgoing a bonus is not enough: Diamond must ultimately answer in a more comprehensive sense to this atrocious banking scandal which contributed to what is now set to be a decade of austerity.
OLYMPICS OPENING CEREMONY: OBSEQUY FOR A NATION
No doubt like most anticapitalists and socialists, this writer watched, at intervals, the Olympics opening ceremony of 27 July with a mixture of cringing ethical incredulity, discombobulation, irritation, frustration, but also an aspect of disoriented fascination. All, naturally, for quite the opposite reasons that Tory MP Aidan Burley, who launched a typically xenophobic and jingoistic right-wing tirade against the ceremony on everyone’s favourite ‘virtual speaker’s corner’, Twitter: "The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen – more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state! Welfare tribute next? Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multicultural crap. Bring back red arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones!"
Burley’s debatable philistinism apart, here once again was graphic evidence of the ‘rivers of blood’ still pumping in the veins of some of the Tory Party’s unreconstructed bank benchers, tinpot Enoch Powells (with a modicum of his, albeit deeply flawed, intellect) scrubbed up through public school and Oxford, who’ve never been unemployed in their lives, nor quite probably ever lived in densely multicultural localities such as London’s East End, where, what may be perceived by many – not least Hackney hagiographist Iain Sinclair – as the iced tumour of the Olympic stadium, currently sprawls.
The Recusant believes that Mr Burley, who has form, having already caused controversy for wearing a Nazi uniform at a stag party, should have the Tory whip removed and be once and for all ejected from the party – anything less will be inevitably perceived as Conservative quiescence with the borderline-racist rudiments of his unsavoury and completely ignorant views. We think Mr ‘Oswald’ Burley would be better suited to UKIP, the EDL, even the BNP, and no doubt the latter’s leader Nick Griffin is already having a fresh blackshirt measured up for him as part of a new recruitment drive for his atavistic party. What was most ironic about Burley’s risible outburst was his rhetorical quip ‘Welfare tribute next?’ This writer thinks, oppositely, and why not?
Arguably the Welfare State – along with the NHS – is this country’s greatest post-War achievement, and, in spite of its contemporary demonisation, should have been celebrated alongside its sister institution, the NHS, which was an implicit part of its constitutional makeup. But if the NHS is this nation’s ‘state religion’, tragically, the Welfare State, as perceived primarily via the benefits system, is today the nation’s ‘state anathema’. Nevertheless, the giant blue-lit letters of the NHS glowing within the Olympic stadium during one part of the opening ceremony was indeed something to behold and commemorate with a genuine sense of pride, even if, somewhat bitterly, its inestimable contribution to the nation’s health and wellbeing over the past sixty years is now being rapidly carved up between private profiteers thanks to Andrew Lansley’s heinous Health and Social Care Bill, which is both disrespectful and antipathetic to the Bevanite spirit of socialist altruism implicit in the institution.
And it was in this psychically contradictory atmosphere that the opening ceremony mostly jarred in this writer’s mind, since most of what appeared to being celebrated is now either under threat of extinction, or, in spirit at least, almost already extinct. Perhaps this was Danny Boyle’s intention – a morbid celebration of everything this country has lost or is about to lose: the post-war spirit of cooperation, the once beneficent heart of the Welfare State, the coal mining industry, the democratic freedom to protest, the non-judgemental integration of ethnic immigrants, and a state-owned National Health Service. In this sense, Boyle choreographed not so much a celebration of today’s British identity, but of yesterday’s. In the context of present-day Tory deconstruction of the last vestiges of our social democracy, public sector, council and social housing infrastructures, NHS and Welfare State, and its wholesale Reformation of the country back to the days of pre-Attlee Settlement classism and social apartheid, Boyle has seemingly choreographed the Obsequy of a Nation.
This made the ceremony all the more poignant, albeit confusingly so, odd moments of genuine ingenuity – such as the ‘Dark Satanic Mills’ industrial sequence, its marching miners and suffragettes, and the deeply moving ‘poppy moment’ – juxtaposed with slightly nerve-gratingly facile though witty sections – such as Mr Bean’s contribution to Chariots of Fire and J.K. Rowling’s soporifically inexpressive narration of the Children’s section. But the emphasis on the NHS as our nation’s crowning glory was in bold and compassionate taste, rightly central to the event, even if its own sequence itself seemed choreographically muddled and somewhat puerile.
Inescapable monarchic and military aspects aside, in retrospect, Boyle appears to have indeed choreographed an opening ceremony certainly more ‘centre left’ in influence than anything approaching the grotesque and brutal banality of Cameron’s sinking ‘Big Society’ – and it is this context which makes what was generally a highly imaginative and eclectic effort by Boyle so ultimately frustrating: billions of people from around the world were offered a sadly quixotic spectacle of the better aspects to our national character which are, nevertheless, presently on the verge of extinction. The British breed of the Attlee Settlement and the pre-1979 social democratic ‘spirit’ is rapidly becoming an endangered species. No doubt it because Boyle knows this himself that he has used this momentous opportunity to remind the world, but most importantly, the British themselves, on a macrocosmic scale, of the more compassionate society we once were, which is currently under the greatest threat since Thatcherism of being dismantled entirely; but, crucially, which we could be again, if only we voted in a political party with the guts to salvage and promulgate the better traits which the British once, long ago, had in reasonable measure: those of tolerance and sympathy for the underdog. It is these traits that are presently being systematically eroded by the distorted ‘divide and rule’ social Malthusianism of the governing Tories: they are the enemies of tolerance, and the crushers of the underdog.
They’ve wasted no time in proving this, in only two years of un-mandated power: the ‘social cleansing’ of the welfare caps: the pincer movement on social and council housing: the tasering evictions of travellers; the trebling of tuition fees; the stigmatisation of the poor, the incapacitated, the disabled, the unemployed, the protesting; the decimation of the public sector; the attack on the Unions; the undercutting of the minimum wage and of already flimsy employment rights; the criminalisation of ‘squatting’; the imprisoning of minor offenders in the riots; the plans to ‘repatriate’ social and employment powers to further oppress the vulnerable and low paid; the playing off of taxpayers against benefits claimants; the ruthless exploitation of unemployed people through workfare slave labour… the list goes on.
It is finally worth noting a small snippet of biting polemical comment from our nation’s most outspoken and poetic Olympics-sceptic, the writer Iain Sinclair. On a recent C4 News, Hackney-hagiographist Sinclair, elucidated to Jon Snow that the Olympic torch was actually a Nazi invention, first used at the Berlin Olympics of 1936, and is thus a somewhat tainted symbol of Aryan ‘will to power’ rather than a anything resembling a universal humanitarian motif. The usually incredulous Snow – palpably a sporting enthusiast – appeared to presumed, as most people, that the torch was an ancient ritualistic symbol of Ancient Olympia, ancestral home to the Olympics. Sinclair’s revelation put something of an historical damper on Snow’s sense of momentum; as did his response to the presenter’s observation of the thousands of people milling about in the Olympic village, which went something along the lines of "Yes, there were similar crowds at the Nuremberg Rallies".
In this, the most socially toxic and atrophic period in our history since the Great Depression, we must all as responsible but oppositional democratic socialists keep the torch of increasingly endangered British compassion, tolerance and empathy for the underdog aflame, peacefully but passionately campaign and protest for as long as it takes to defeat the scabrous tyranny of Tory-led ‘austerity capitalism’, and by doing so, not only protect the vulnerable of our country and promote a new national spirit of commonality towards a ‘Compassionate Society’, but also thereby guard against any dangerous tilt towards the spectre of a right-wing fuelled ‘British 1930s moment’.
To which, The Recusant fully supports the Hope Not Hate campaign which only today has spoken out in response to Aidan Burley’s irresponsible fanning of Far Right flames with his open contempt for British cosmopolitanism as ‘multicultural crap’. This country is a rainbow nation, of all colours and creeds, and if there is something genuinely worthwhile to celebrate about ‘us’, other than the NHS and the Welfare State, it is exactly that.
30 July might have been called ‘Atos Accountability Day’, since there were two documentary exposés on the murky practices of private French firm Atos Origin, notoriously subcontracted by the DWP to carry out ‘work capability assessments’ as part of the Tory-driven Work Programme. This writer has written at length, again, in his polemic for The Robin Hood Book, on the heinous record of this medically unaccountable private firm over the past few years, and these two documentaries commendably focused on the countless victims of both the health-destroying Atos interrogations – which have resulted in legion cases of both premature death among the physically incapacitated and suicides among mentally ill claimants during the past two years – and the general culture of scapegoating and stigmatisation of welfare claimants but, most abhorrently, those claiming incapacity and ESA, as promulgated both by government, the DWP and the right-wing tabloids (most notably of all, the Daily Express, or ‘Oppress’ as we might more accurately call it). Coincidentally, on the very day of this documentary pincer-movement on both Atos and the DWP’s Work Programme, the Daily Oppress splashed on yet another disingenuous and, bluntly, spurious non-story of ‘900,000 people’ claiming ESA each year, as usual for this government ‘spin rag’, laced with derisory and pejorative terms such as ‘handout’ for ‘benefit’; the front page non-story also counted among its sources the wholly unbiased Tax Payers’ Alliance – or as they should be called, the Tax Avoidance Allowance.
The Recusant hereby challenges the Daily Oppress that it has over the past couple of years through relentless stigmatising propaganda against the incapacitated of the claimant population blatantly trounced Section 4. i) of the PCC’s Editors’ Code of Conduct:
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
Of course, as we know, the Oppress ‘opted out’ from the toothless ‘regulation’ of the PCC so is not within said Cinderella agencies’ impotent purview. But does this mean this Shell-owned paper should be exempt from any type of editorial regulation whatsoever? It is sincerely hoped that post-Leveson, the PCC will be reformed and reconsolidated as a proper regulatory body with the remit to make it mandatory, or legally obligatory, for ALL newspapers to sign up to its regulatory code in future. Clearly the Oppress adheres to its own notion of ‘self-regulation’ which, presumably, follows similar parameters in terms of hate-inducement against social minorities and ‘economic undesirables’ as those of Mein Kampf?
The Recusant believes the Daily Oppress is in contempt of common decency, civilized morality and democratic equity in its continual ‘hate campaign’ of – we charge – malicious and specious splashes against the most vulnerable citizens of our society. The Recusant will play its part in countervailing this pernicious paper’s continued scapegoating of the sick and disabled of this nation for as long as the Oppress persists in its victimisation of incapacity claimants.
To touch briefly on the two documentaries themselves – C4 Dispatches’ poorly titled ‘Britain on the Sick’, which made it sound more judgemental than it actually was, was a consummate exposé of the malpractices of Atos in systematically manipulating their own medically antipathetic assessment criteria to hit clandestine ‘targets’ of no more than 12% of assessed claimants being allowed to retain their ESA benefit; as uncovered in the documentary, this entails actually downgrading some assessments which initially found certain claimants sufficiently incapacitated to continue receiving their sickness benefits to the ‘revised’ finding of being ‘fit for work’. This is blatant malversation on an industrial scale and is an absolute ethical disgrace. But it is the DWP, specifically Messrs Grayling and Duncan Smith who must now be held accountable for having allegedly instructed these targets to met against the interests and wellbeing of the concerned claimants.
The Recusant is heartened to learn that two Atos-assessed claimants have only just succeeded in taking their case against the Secretary for Work and Pensions to the High Court, challenging their assessments on the basis that insufficient or actually no medical records were taken into account by the Atos assessors prior to the decision that they were, in spite of histories of mental illness, ‘fit for work’. Their main contention is that there is an implicit bias in the tick-box Atos formula against the ‘invisibly ill’. The Recusant sincerely hopes that Atos and the DWP are brought to book on this disgusting racket of an assessment process and legally obliged to comprehensively reform their work capability assessments to adhere to the Mental Health Act.
The Panorama documentary, equally badly titled ‘Disabled – Or Faking It?’ was, thankfully again another incisive and empathetic documentary, presumably produced to partly make amends for Panorama’s shamelessly populist ‘Britain on the Fiddle’ of a few months earlier…? This was a powerful and extremely moving documentary, heart-wrenching in fact, uncovering as it did numerous cases of legitimately incapacitated claimants having their health eroded through the circuitous and tortuous assessment-appeal-reassessment-reappeal protocol that has been the mainstay of Atos’ pincer-movement on the incapacitated over the past two years in particular – all interpolated sporadically by the gormless-eyed Chris Grayling, parroting Duncan Smith’s vacuous and heartless dogmas to a clearly unconvinced reporter, even coining some new hypocritical aphorisms from his already prolific portfolio, such as ‘this is a ‘tough love’ approach’ (no, just ‘tough’!), ‘we’re genuinely trying to improve people’s lives’, ‘we don’t think it’s right to leave people trapped in poverty by getting them back into work’ etcetera etcetera.
We’ve heard all this absurd gibberish so many times now from the likes of Grayling – but the question he never seems to be asked is the most fundamental one of all: what ‘work’? What jobs? We are in a double-dip recession caused by his own government with nearly 3 million unemployed, including 1 million young people – so how on earth are disabled people supposed to compete for the microscopic job opportunities currently available? The current economic reality of mass unemployment makes an absolute mockery of this government’s relentlessly surreal rhetoric. Simply: THERE ARE NO JOBS FOR PEOPLE TO GO TO!
Clearly this fact needs to be recorded onto a loop-tape for ministers such as Grayling in order for him to finally understand. There is no point whatsoever in pushing genuinely ill claimants off their already paltry benefits if there are no jobs for them to go to. Simple. But since the Government and the DWP refuse to reassess their contracting out to the universally discredited Atos, or to publicly admit to the allegedly systemic use of ‘targets’ in keeping the amount of claimants found ‘unfit for work’ down to its minimum, which implicitly tramples their health and human rights in the process, it is left, yet again, to public campaign groups to continue to try and hold such rogue privateers to account in the name of compassion, basic decency and democratic accountability.
The Recusant fully supports the upcoming Paralympics protest to be coordinated by Disabled People Against the Cuts and UK Uncut towards the end of August and joins with them, in spirit and word, to continue to petition for the scrapping of the disastrously atomistic ‘work capability assessments’ run by the democratically and medically unaccountable Atos, and the cessation of any further contracts between government and said agency. It seems, partly thanks to these two vital and timely documentaries – albeit rather oddly timed for broadcast – and the various brave and dedicated campaign groups such as DPAC, the Spartacus Report and Black Triangle in valiantly keeping the plights of countless incapacitated victims of the Atos regimen in the public eye, the public mood might be finally beginning to change in direction in light of the increasing media drip-feed of Atos-related horror stories of recent weeks and months.
Even Britain’s most famous Paralympian, Tanni Grey-Thompson, has spoken out in the last couple of days to say that she believes the disability living allowance cuts are going to “affect the development of athletes” (not least their very health, wellbeing and even lives – though this ‘sporting torch-light’ is certainly much welcome during the Olympics period). DPAC’s Paddy Murphy put his opinion across succinctly and pertinently in The Guardian of 31 July:
"We're not against the Paralympics or the athletes, but it is completely inappropriate that Atos are sponsoring the Games. Implementing the government's welfare reform agenda, Atos have devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled people and made millions of pounds of profit doing it. Now they are trying to portray themselves as supporters of disabled athletes. It's offensive."
But returning to the two ‘Atos’-busting documentaries of 30 July. The Recusant does wonder why it is that compassionate and incisive documentaries exposing the under-reported scandal of manipulated capability assessments and their human cost for ages only for two to come along are like buses: none for ages and then suddenly two come along (almost literally) at once (or at least within the same hour)? The Dispatches programme was on between 8 to 8.30pm on C4, while the Panorama documentary was on straight afterwards between 8.30 – 9pm! It was as if this was scheduled as the national ‘welfare hate curfew hour’ during which two TV channels dedicated a half hour each to, for once, showing the other side of the 90% skewed (against claimants) benefits debate. And why are these being shown during the Olympics when they are unlikely to attract particularly big audiences? Or was it precisely because Atos is one of the private companies sponsoring the Paralympics that both channels chose to broadcast these exposés during a promotionally sensitive period for the French company? Who knows.
But it is hoped that the Oppress’s partisan attempt to precipitate these two evening TV revelations by splashing on yet another of their bogus hate rants against the incapacitated claimant culture will ultimately have backfired. Just a cursory glance on the online page under the offending article at the Oppress’s website will show, refreshingly, that there are many other compassionate citizens out there who are equally appalled at the brutish and just plain nasty attitude of such tabloids against the most vulnerable in our society. So it seems, while more humanistic outlets such as The Guardian are routinely inveigled by right-wing ‘trolls’ through their message boards, the ‘trolling’ tabloids are rapidly being perpetrated by more humanistic and compassionate bloggers in an attempt – futile, no doubt – to try to re-educate such editorially recidivist outlets. Pigs might fly? Well bankers apparently can. We live in hope.
A.M. 28-30 July
This editor apologises for the length of time it is taking for him to respond to recent Recusant submissions but after having spent the past seven months finishing The Robin Hood Book, coordinating its launch at Centerprise in Hackney back in July, then racing to re-edit parts of the book for its recent second print run (with updated polemical overview covering the interminable two month national slumber that was the August/September Olympics and Paralympics), all before taking ten days in Sweden to do research towards his own upcoming poetry volume (which he is currently still working on), The Recusant has been on something of a sabbatical during the past couple of months, and by and large will continue to be so until November time. However, as and when he can, the editor will try to read and respond to as many submissions as he can. Bearing all this in mind, however, can submitters please be aware that the response time is now likely to be anything between a couple of weeks to a couple of months, depending on schedules. If anyone has not received a response to a submission after two months, then please do get in touch again to remind the editor.
With regards to The Robin Hood Book, its page is now updated to include photographs of all those contributors who turned up and read at the 24th July public launch at Centerprise in Hackney. There are also some links to reviews of the book posted there, as well as some choicest quotes. The second edition of TRHB is due to arrive on 5th October, and it will be from that batch that the editor will be sending out the main bulk of review copies.
Keeping this editorial necessarily brief, the editor wishes to make passing comment on one or two recent political developments – or rather, vicissitudes – since he last posted a polemic on this site.
Some of Us Do Give Atos
The Recusant is greatly heartened to see that in recent weeks an anti-Atos momentum has been picking up in pace in wider society to the point that even the BBC (British Bread and Circuses) has felt compelled to broadcast a second Panorama documentary further exposing the morally reprehensible record of the ‘Hippocratic apostates’ of French IT Firm Atos. Crucially, this documentary focused on the 32 suicides/premature deaths since the DWP-driven and Atos-administered Work Capability Assessments went into full throttle under this government, in order to bully the incapacitated and disabled of our nation out of their benefit entitlements and into non-existent ‘work’. This has come not a moment too soon: for some time now campaigns such as the Black Triangle and Calum’s List have been valiantly cataloguing the terrible human price for this most punitive and pernicious branch of the Government’s fascistic ‘deficit reduction plan’, much to the annoyance, of course, of Atos itself. By ‘Panorama-ising’ this thorniest of contemporary issues, the BBC has at least, for the first time in a long while, given greater documentary credence to such vital campaigns.
The Recusant pays particular tribute to the Social Welfare Union (a link provided on our front page), which has been diligently circulating every single piece of news or comment in relation to the DWP-Atos axis against the sick and disabled, by email newsletter, for the past few months. Some particularly insightful articles have appeared lately: in particular, a polemic by left-of-centre Labour MP Michael Meacher http://www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog/2012/09/10bn-welfare-cut-on-poorest-is-wrong-policy-aimed-at-wrong-target/ , who has launched a campaign to gather all the facts as to the true scale of the human price for the WCA regimen, having already noted that the Daily Record discovered via a Freedom of Information request that “11,000 people forced on to work-related activity after assessments have died before getting work”; a searing indictment of Atos’s immoral malpractices imposed on its employees by courageous whistleblower Joyce Drummond http://socialwelfareunion.org/archives/2506; and, most encouragingly, the following request to the International Criminal Court for the official impeachment of the UK Government – Messrs Duncan Smith and Grayling and Ms Marie Miller (‘Remploy Killer’) – by a Mr Samuel Miller (clearly no relation) of Montreal, Canada, which is worth reproducing here in full:
To: Mrs. Fatou Bensouda, ICC Prosecutor
Information and Evidence Unit
Office of the Prosecutor
International Criminal Court
Post Office Box 19519
2500 CM The Hague
E-Mail: [email protected]
Subject: Austerity deaths of sick and disabled people in the U.K.
Dear Mrs. Bensouda,
I am a 56-year-old Disability Studies specialist from Montreal, Canada who has been reporting frequently for the past year to the United Nations on the crisis for the United Kingdom’s sick and disabled. Austerity measures, consisting of draconian welfare reforms and “sham” means-testing (Atos Healthcare U.K. and the Department for Work and Pensions) are ostensibly to blame for their plight—with disability hate crime and inflammatory media attacks factored into this mix.
I have a plethora of evidence but for the purpose of brevity, see:
1) Early day motion 295 http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2012-13/295
2) The attached British Medical Journal Article by Dr. Margaret McCartney [as part of original communication].
19) Please note the comments of MP Dame Anne Begg in item #18.
I am interested in filing an ICC complaint against several British Ministers—namely, Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, and Maria Miller for their role in the draconian welfare reforms and the resultant deaths of their society’s most vulnerable.
My questions are as follows: Are austerity deaths of the sick and disabled in the U.K. considered a crime against humanity by the ICC? Would the UNCRPD be taken into consideration by the court?
I am aware of a submission to the ICC by psychologists Olga and Tanya Yeritsidou regarding a request for a Greek austerity trial at the Hague—so there appears to be precedent in this matter. Based on the preliminary evidence that I have submitted with this letter, do you believe that the sick and disabled of Britain have a justiciable ICC case?
I look forward to hearing from you at the earliest possible convenience. My personal information is on file with the UN CRPD Secretary, Jorge Araya. My street address follows below.
E-Mail: [email protected]
Blog: Hephaestus: Disability Studies
Blog: My Disability Studies Blackboard
The Recusant sincerely hopes Mr Miller c.c.’d the aforementioned government ministers.
There is little doubt now in the minds of many of us, campaigners, claimants, medical professionals, and a scattering of ethically engaged politicians, that this Tory-led Government is incontrovertibly guilty of a systematic – and arguably illegal – violation of the health and wellbeing of the most vulnerable members of our society via its inexorable fiscal and administrative attrition of their rights and entitlements through illicit protocols and – as evidenced via both Panorama and Dispatches in latter days – malversation of governance. That such a viciously pursued fiscal cull of the incapacitated and disabled of this nation has operated simultaneously to what has to be the most trans-satirically placed Paralympics in living memory, replete with all the rank cant and pathological hypocrisy of our hollow man of a prime minister grandstanding on the need for ‘more positive attitudes towards disability’, when, demonstrably, he not only doesn’t believe such sentiments, but actually holds them in utter contempt, as daily evident in his government’s fascistic approach to disability assessment. That the opportunistic collaborator in this regime of shame, Atos, attempts to excuse itself by saying it ‘doesn’t make the actual decisions’ but simply ‘assesses claimants’ using a pre-designed ‘government criteria’, only adds insult to chronic injury – as did its shamefully duplicitous sponsorship of the Paralympics – and has only served to raise its profile formidably high in the all-time rankings of corporate ‘Pontius Pilatism’. Atos’s pathological hypocrisy has been enshrined by its disingenuous legend: “We try to make the part of the process we are responsible for as comfortable as possible”: well they don’t do this very well according to the 24,000 complaints that CAB Scotland has received about the WCAs to date.
Today (26 September) the hitherto heel-dragging Labour Opposition finally broke its silence with regards to this ongoing scandal against the rights and wellbeing of the nation’s disabled. In another of his Damascene moments of sudden compassion, Shadow WP Secretary Liam Byrne has announced that Labour is to call on the Government to hold a review of the WCAs:
"We believe that this government is forcing disabled people to pay for its economic mistakes," a discussion paper which will be released by the shadow work and pensions team on Thursday states. The party has calculated that cuts to social care and disability benefits will total £8.6bn over the course of this parliament. "As a consequence of government decisions, disabled people are carrying a heavier load than bankers in bring down this debt. In the final year of this Parliament, cuts to disability benefits will be 40% more than the amount taken off banks."
This truly is a despicable legacy of the current Tory-led administration and will surely go down in history as one of the most ethically obscene political crimes ever perpetrated by any UK government. At least now, belatedly, and 11,000 unnecessary claimant deaths later, Labour is mustering the courage to admit that a system it put in place while in government is now going horribly wrong under the stewardship of a generation of emotionally constipated, antipathetic hardline Tories who can only be reasonable characterised as political sociopaths.
Fib Dems Make More Empty Pledges
No doubt satirical comedian Rory Bremner has long since torn up his Liberal Democrat membership card in disgust at both the yellow party’s betrayal of its core voters (and several million drifting left-wing voters), and its hapless usurpation of his former vocational stomping ground. Taking satire to new heights (or rather, lows) during its shame-faced conference season, ‘Calamity’ Clegg, after having ‘apologised’ without actually apologising for his power-hungry complicity with regards to the trebling of the university fees he pledged prior to the 2010 election he would freeze, or even abolish altogether (and, via his pathetic posturing on video, actually only emphasizing even more brazenly than before that he made such a pledge through sheer vote-chasing opportunism and not through any sense of principle), he has now replaced one broken pledge with another which, given he is in government with a bunch of ‘pleb’-hating Etonian sociopaths, seems, tragically, destined to a similar fate. Suddenly, after two and half years of habitually backing some of the most right-wing social policies in modern political history – the dismantlement of the welfare state, the benefit caps, the criminalisation of squatting, the privatisation of core parts of the NHS, the dishing out of hefty jail terms to the contemporary equivalent of pickpockets, etc. etc. – Mr Clegg is apparently up in arms about his ‘quad’ associate George Osborne’s announcement that he plans to slice yet another gratuitous chunk from the already decimated welfare budget, to the tune of a further £10bn (in addition to the £18bn already carpet-bagged by the Treasury, instead of raising taxes on the rich and clamping down on trillions in tax evasion and avoidance).
Here, yet again, Clegg is playing the cynic, knowing full well that not only the core of his party, but also all those on the left and centre-left of the electorate, will instinctively cheer such socially just outrage. But it is ‘synthetic outrage’, to use one of Clegg’s past epithets for those such as Labour’s Chris Bryant who quite rightly reiterated Tory Boris Johnson’s antipathetic trope with regards to the embryonic benefit caps, “Kosovo-style social cleansing”, in a Commons debate. Clegg – along with his Tory alter-ego Cameron – is the personification of synthetic politics: a leader who seems hell-bent on securing for himself some kind of superficially ‘radical’ legacy, whether it be through a belated but quixotically timed (and, anyhow, indefinitely stalled) Lords reform, the “grotty little compromise” of AV (annihilated by cross-party vested interests in keeping our ‘democracy’ free of fully democratic elections), or simply through continued lip-service to pie-in-the-sky policies, none of which can ever be implemented because… drum roll…: “We didn’t win the election”. Yes, we know. But not only that, the Fib Dems have not even won their percentage of government either. They will never cease waxing about “taking the lowest earners out of tax altogether” – but even that crumb of progressive political capital has been entirely negated by the Tories’ simultaneous welfare caps, hikes on council and social housing rents, and lowering of taxes for the top 1% parasite class – all of which the yellow party gutlessly supported.
It is with all these hard-right policies in mind – whose repercussions will now quite probably scar this nation for generations and turn back the clock by at least half a century, or more, to a pre-Attlee Settlement social apartheid – that one can only laugh (or choke) at the sheer pathological self-delusion in Clegg’s truly absurd and reality-denying claim that the Con-Dem Coalition is somehow “anchored in the centre-ground” of politics. If, as just one of legion examples, the full-scale attack on the welfare state, which has gone way beyond even the most socially atrophic excesses of the Thatcherites, is Clegg’s definition of the politics of ‘the centreground’, then we think the Deputy Prime Minister needs to seriously ask himself whether he is in fact anything approaching ‘a liberal’, and is not, in truth, actually a standard Tory who simply hasn’t come out of the closet yet. One would have thought a former MEP, with a Spanish wife and European ancestral roots, would have a slightly more continental slant on the definition of political wings; but clearly Clegg’s background and experience in Europe has not rubbed off him to any obvious extent, since his definitions of ideological cartography are way off the map, and are strongly Anglo-centric: he is a leading light in what is not simply an unambiguously right-wing government, but one which is, in historical terms, arguably the most right-wing this nation has had to endure for over a century.
For Clegg’s wilfully blind information, no one well-versed in political history, European and British inclusive, would in all seriousness classify any of the Con-Dem policies (bar the superficially progressive raising of the bottom income tax threshold, offset in any case by other antipathetic policies) as ‘centreground’ – unless the world’s political tectonic plates truly have shifted several kilometres to the right in recent decades. In terms of social policy, this administration is undeniably right-wing, and in terms of its attrition of the rights and welfare of the poorest and most vulnerable in society, as right-wing as any government can get in a so-called ‘democratic’ parliamentary framework: Mr Clegg is propping up a regime of fiscal fascism thinly but thoroughly unconvincingly disguised as ‘progressive conservatism’, but which could only be defined as ‘centreground’ if positioned on an ideological map in something approaching a parallel Weimar Republic.
On which note, The Recusant praises the outspokenness of former Smiths lead singer Morrissey in quite appropriately comparing the patriotic bacchanalia that has burst like a bubo throughout the UK during the Diamond Jubilee and Olympics celebrations. Such vapid spectacles of synthetic ‘national togetherness’ in what is at heart a desperate country in great need of psychical healing at this time have been without exception nauseating to witness, and deeply depressing for any of those like this editor who believe that our country can never be a full and equable democracy until it has finally scrapped its archaic and democratically offensive institution of monarchy, aristocracy and honours, and belatedly reconstitute itself as a Republic.
The Recusant detects a diseased pathology afoot in the UK of 2012, a psychical or spiritual sickness, which snags itself on any tacky souvenir Union Jack to hand, in a desperate attempt to form itself into some sort of jingoistic fillip during a seemingly relentless economic, political, ethical and moral national decline. In a country once praised for its broad sense of ‘tolerance’ and ‘fairness’, long eroded virtues which, nevertheless, our current leaders boast are still everywhere in evidence even when their own policies are ensuring only their growing absence, The Recusant can only detect at this time the poisonous spread of blue-blooded cultures, of social intolerance, of open contempt for the poor and vulnerable, of snobbery and ignorance, divide-and-rule – the spoor of a decadent and heartless Toryism. The most heinous traits of this Conservative ethical dark age were recently exemplified in what is reported to have been a scathingly classist and snobbish verbal tirade against a police officer by the Tories’ new chief whip, Andrew Mitchell. He, of course, denies that he called the police officer ‘a fucking pleb’, and numerous of his colleagues encourage us to believe – no matter how tenuously – that the police officer had in some sense hyperbolised the language used by Mr Mitchell. The Recusant can only comment that, given the choice between believing the account of a police officer who has nothing whatsoever to gain from exaggerating the incident to his superiors, or a Tory right-winger notorious in his own – almost uniformly arrogant – party for exceptional arrogance, and who has risen high among the fork-tongued ranks of one of the most duplicitous administrations in British political history, well, it's a 'no brainer' really isn't it...?
26 September 2012
More Demonisation of the Poorest from the Master of Ballentaylor
It doesn't take long does it? Having utterly failed in his two year mission to "bring down the deficit", in spite of the worst austerity measures since the Thirties, 'Flatline' Osborne is back on welfare-bashing form at the Tory Orc rally in Birmingham, blaming the country's economic problems on the poorest in society, while shamelessly mixing his divide-and-rule Daily Express-level rhetoric with completely contradictory and unsubstantiated claims that he is, somehow at the same time as hammering the poorest, also protecting them.
Mr Osborne: "Where is the fairness, we ask, for the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of their next door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits?
This is beyond disingenuousness and knowingly false representation of the truth: it is simply vileness of the worst order, verging on evil. This isn't the first time Osborne has knocked up a trope demonising the unemployed - he's mentioned "curtains shut during the day" before, inspiring a new generation of neighbourhood espionage against anyone suspected of the heinous 'crime' of being out of work. Now he reinforces it, again, making it sound that the unemployed - vilified and stigmatised by the Tories and the right-wing red-tops on a weekly basis, who are being besieged financially and psychologically at a time of mass unemployment - are somehow living a life of Reilly on their 'gratuities' of £70 a week! And this coming from an inherited multi-millionaire tax-avoider on a six figure salary! You couldn't make it up, truly.
"We speak for that worker. We speak for all those who want to work hard and get on."
Hardly! This Government more than any other before is attacking workers' employment rights, wages and pensions, and is now offering the Faustian trade-off of "shares for employment rights"! Yes, you heard it, straight from the Osborne's mouth. He says to the workers: 'Cash in on your own slavery!'
"My attitude has always been very simple, very straightforward: that as we have to make more savings as a country, you start at the top and work your way down not other way around".
Hardly straightforward Baron Osborne: after stating you are going to hit the poorest of the nation by a further £10bn cut to welfare in addition to the £18bn already ransacked from the benefits system, while reducing the tax burden on the richest 1% in the country, you then say you're working from top down. That's a Minus-0 for elementary logic! Or rather, an A+ for political duplicity!
"These are the kind of things that we will thrash out in Government in the months ahead."
"We know what the British people mean by fair. That those who put something in should get something out. That we support those who aspire, so we can help those most in need."
The only thing Osborne will be 'thrashing' are the hides of the hunted poor. Just how is he helping "those most in need"? Answers on a postcard - return to PO Box Mordor!
One Nation Labour / Two Nation Tories
Cameron’s Fait Accompli for the Victims of the Tories’ Mismanagement of Our Economy: Raid the last scraps of the Welfare Budget because the Poor won’t vote for us anyway!
In the past week the electorate has been presented – rhetorically, at least – with yet another ‘no brainer’ of a decision, what to vote for in the gerrymandered general election of 2015: ‘One Nation’ Labour, or ‘Two Nations’ Conservative…! Of course, the only caveat here, more than just rhetorically, is that in truth the Tories actually offer us not ‘Two’ but ‘Three’ or even several ‘Nations’ under the grim but currently remote possibility of their ethically recidivist party securing the projected moral apocalypse of a ‘majority’ government. Seeing as the current tension in the Coalition revolves around where to cut next, or whom, the so-far ‘cuts immune’ super rich or the cuts-decimated super poor, one would think the debate is also a ‘no brainer’ for Mr Clegg: simply, if he wants to protect the already psychopathically depleted benefits budget of the welfare state and instead direct any new round of cuts at ‘those with the broadest shoulders’, then he knows what his party has to do in the event of another hung parliament in 2015: go into government with Labour. Because, if Clegg is – if we can ever really believe with him – ‘sincere’ about his current rhetoric, there is absolutely no future for his party – nor for the welfare state – if he ever makes a Faustian pact with the Tories again. Why? Well, apart from the evidence of a new social apartheid all around us in which the rich carry on their own sweet way while the poor are, en masse, evicted from their rented homes by the housing benefits caps, and then ‘re-housed’ under ‘Her Majesty’s Pleasure’ for having committed the new Tory-consolidated ‘crime’ of ‘squatting’ (or, ‘Weatherley’s Law’ as it’s known by many) in empty neglected buildings of absentee, tax-avoiding, parasitic property-‘developers’ (such as quite probably the lion’s share of those ministers currently in the Cabinet), the Tories only have more of the same to offer in the wake of the abysmal failure of the economic strategy, as ‘Two Nations’ Cameron mooted on the synthetically ‘political’ Andrew Marr Show; following on from a classic piece of Osbornian moral imbecility in the Mail on Sunday where the Chancellor for the Rich stated in the classically infantile Tory tradition that suggestions of any wealth taxes such as a Mansion Tax represented “the politics of resentment” (a ‘resentment’ which, apart from being completely justifiable on all moral grounds, wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for the likes of him cementing it there by his wholly unfair classist fiscal policies):
Cameron: "I don't actually believe we should be a country where if you work hard, you save, you buy yourself a house, you try and pay down the mortgage, you save and invest into that house – I don't want to be a country that comes after you every year with a massive great tax, and so that is not going to happen, but we have put extra taxes where people buy expensive properties. Now I'm not going to announce the measures here on your programme – I know that's sad for you – but we will always be fair and seen to be fair."
Mmmm. Where to start? It’s back to the old Tory infantilisms again: the wilfully naïve/self-blind presumption that anyone who has a house and lots of money put aside has ipso facto incontrovertibly ‘done the right thing’ all their lives and ‘worked hard’, ‘saved’ etc. But where is the forensic evidence for such a convenient presumption? Cameron himself is the Eton-Oxford-educated product of a marriage between maternal aristocratic inherited privilege and paternal capitalist self-interest – the latter aspect having manifested in decades of serial tax avoidance in order to ‘save’ millions on millions of pounds that could and should have gone to previous Exchequers. Instead, they went into offshore tax havens and overseas ‘business interests’ of the Camerons. Is that an accumulation of wealth through ‘hard work’? We don’t think so: material self-interest and feral capitalist behaviour do not and never have equated with ‘hard work’, but simply with the conscious avoidance of ever having to do any hard work – and all at the nation’s and taxpayers’ expense!
Cameron: "We have to find these spending reductions and if we want to avoid cuts in things like hospitals and schools, services that we all rely on, we have to look at things like the welfare budget."
Okay, let’s get this straight: while inherited multi-millionaire, six-figure-salaried Cameron thinks it is unfair to levy more (???) taxes and cuts on the rich propertied classes to which he himself belongs (those “with the broadest shoulders” if we recall correctly…?), he thinks it is perfectly “fair” to announce yet another fiscal blitz of an already decimated welfare system to the tune of a further £10 Billion (on top of an already unconscionable £18 Billion), should his Orcish multitudes secure a majority in 2015. This is not so much ‘Osbornomics’ as ‘Neronomics’: what it will entail, and is already entailing, is effectively the mass economic extinction of the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in our society. The Tories’ attack on the welfare state is manifestly a form of fiscal eugenics dressed up as ‘reform’, and in that, Cameron and his contemptible accomplices (the Lib Dems included) are committing the most heinous and unforgivable political crime arguably in British political history. But not content yet with the 11,000 claimant lives so far lost due to the psychological and material warfare inflicted against the most physically and psychologically vulnerable people in this nation via the inexorably interrogative and punishing Atos regime, Cameron and his cronies wish to satiate a certain lingering scent in their fox-hunters’ nostrils by hunting down at least 11,000 more victims through their legislative atrocities; no doubt, many more than that number, via a second wave of incalculable cuts to the welfare budget. Their war of attrition against the welfare state is without precedent in a ‘democracy’, and it is beyond irony and hypocrisy that Cameron recently accused Russia and China of “having blood on their hands” with regards to the Syrian crisis, when he himself was having to hide that on his own behind the cover of a UN lectern.
Fortunately, Cameron’s moral philistinism is matched only by his poverty of intellectual consistency or even political pragmatism, since on the very weekend directly after Ed Miliband’s undeniably energetic and robust ‘One Nation Labour’ conference speech, during which he wrestled the ethical legacy of quite possibly the Conservatives’ only socially incisive and intellectually resonant historical leader and prime minister, Benjamin Disraeli, Cameron falls straight into Miliband’s rhetorical trap by blatantly reasserting his party’s stance as that of a ‘Two’ or ‘multi- Nation’ in his divide-and-rule emphasis, yet again, on the Tories being there to champion “striving families” while targeting “working age welfare”. As if the latter constituency hasn’t already been relentlessly targeted over the last two years again and again and again through corrosive fiscal and social policies, and the contrapuntal anti-welfare hate campaigns of the right-wing red-tops!
Cameron, then, has choreographed himself complementarily to the new ‘One Nation’ Labour offensive, and in only a handful of sentences, has confirmed to the electorate that everything Ed Miliband accused the Tories of is demonstrably true, and the Tories don’t even seek to deny it anymore: they are the party of the rich, they are the party of divide-and-rule, they are the party who, in the tough economic times, choose to ransack the rattling kitties of the poorest people in the country so that they can spare their rich friends and funders the inconvenience of a little bit more tax or the closing of their avoiding and/or evading behavioural loopholes. If the English ever wanted to have a taste of what it might have been like to live in Tsarist Russia, well, we are certainly getting at least a fiscal flavour of what it must have been like to be a nation of slaves to a remote, unapologetically greedy and sociopathic bunch of aristocratic parasites. Of course, we all know where Tsarist Russia eventually ended up…
Barely has the Labour conference emptied and Ed Miliband warned that the following week we would be hearing from a prime minister who is “not a uniter, but a divider”, and Cameron takes his prompt on cue even before he’s stepped onto the platform in Birmingham. And what a ‘straw man’ argument it is to claim that in order to avoid cuts to hospitals and schools, those “services that we all rely on” (when of course everyone knows the likes of Cameron don’t rely on anything in the state or public sector, even if they do use NHS hospitals and send their kids to comprehensives just because it’s good PR when they could quite easily afford Harley Street and Eton if they so chose) the Tories will somehow be forced to turn their knives back towards the welfare state again. All this in order to avoid reversing the obscene tax cut for the top 1%, closing tax avoidance schemes for the super rich, reintroducing rent controls, or implementing a Robin Hood Tax. So, what Cameron is effectively saying is:
“It is necessary to have more of the unemployed and disabled stripped of their benefits and only means of material survival, to lose their homes and become homeless, to die prematurely through stress-accelerated chronic health conditions, or to be fiscally prompted to take their own lives, in order to ensure that the non-contributory tax-avoiding super-rich can afford those extra yachts they’ve pencilled in for Christmas, or that extra buy-to-let property with which to create second or third or fourth channels of unearned income for themselves – because they’ve earned their right to be spared any of the pain of austerity after years of creaming off their wealth through the hard work of others now largely destitute, through decades of shameless profiteering, tax avoidance, speculation and property-hoarding, all so they can ‘earn the right’ to not have to ‘work’ at all, but simply enjoy early retirements of unending leisure while the rest of the country works longer and earns less, loses what meagre employment rights they still have, but, most importantly, keep the galley of dear old Blighty rowing along, all in the cause of masochistic, self-immolating patriotic voluntarism….”
On the BBC News newspaper round up (a microcosmic snapshot of how right-wing our nation has become when anti-welfare hate rags such as the Express are discussed in all seriousness while the infinitely superior left-wing daily, the Morning Star, in spite of having its title included on the word cloud montage backdrop, is never ever shown, discussed or even mentioned) of the Sunday evening (8th October), this writer was pleasantly surprised by a female journalist’s (apologies but I do not know her name) passionate condemnation of Cameron’s scabrous announcement of a further £10 Billion (per year!) blitz on welfare post-2015; for the first time in a long time a cultural commentator saying she’d heard enough of the ‘squeezed middle’ rhetoric of all three main parties and wanted more thought extended to the ‘crushed rump’ of society instead, or “the voiceless” as she aptly referred to them. However, this refreshingly compassionate bucking of mainstream media trends left the BBC newsreader/presenter (again, apologies, but I do not have his name to hand) looking almost embarrassed at the journalist’s wholly understandable outrage at the latest welfare cut announcement, smirking to the camera with the unfathomable quip that said journalist “writes for The Independent by the way”, in a ‘knowing’ nod to the BBC’s no doubt largely tabloid-brainwashed audience. We say, ‘unfathomable quip’, since The Independent is hardly renowned as a bastion of left-wing journalism, is at best centre-left, but is and always has been ostensibly as its title suggests, politically independent, even if it is now owned by a billionaire Russian oligarch, who is highly unlikely to be a tub-thumper for socialism. This almost trans-satirically incongruous ‘aside’ of the BBC presenter, well, aside, he also made a Freudian slip by commenting to the journalist that the Government is happy to pursue welfare cuts to the poorest because “they don’t vote”. Well now, here he hit the nail on the head, but not in any way which would imply he recognises any moral bankruptcy in such a shameless political tactic, but only its pragmatism. Good old ethical BBC eh?
Another point which the incisive Independent columnist pointed out, this time with regards to new Health Secretary, Jeremy ‘hang your deputy out to dry’ Hunt’s Tea Party-esque remark that he is in favour of a reduction in the time threshold for abortions from 24 to 12 weeks, and which has also occurred to this writer over the last couple of days, is the fact that such twistedly ‘moralistic’, high Tory/Sunday Christian dialectics as the ‘sanctity of human life’ including in its most microscopic, proto-embryonic form, hardly squares with their fiscal attrition of the poorest in society, most specifically, with the announcement that a future Tory majority government will propose capping state support to unemployed families, specifically single mothers, if they produce a third child! Talk about mixed messages! On the one hand, the Tories are inferring abortion is basically morally unacceptable, but on the other, they are also saying that having more than two children if you’re unemployed is morally unacceptable. So, at the same time that they are discouraging abortion, they are simultaneously encouraging birth control among the poorest in society! In one breath, they are ‘pro-life’, and in the next, theoretical eugenicists. As ever, the Tories want their cake and eat it: to ‘do the unthinkable’ by socially cleansing the poor, but then wash their hands of the ramifications by claiming a synthetic moral high-ground in an abstract debate on an inextricably related issue such as abortion. Not so much Christians as Pontius Pilates – quite a different thing altogether! Has no one ever broken it to the Cartesian Dualist breed of ‘Tory Christians’ that black candles, upside-down crucifixes and sacrificial ‘Chavs’ (this writer uses this term purely ironically, being one he himself deplores) are not normal features of orthodox Christian worship? They need to do a Google search into the true nature of their darker religious inclinations.
One Nation… Stuck In A Groove…? Or, Get Down With ‘Comrade Ed’…?
As to Ed Miliband’s new brand of ‘One Nation’ Labour – its vestigial ‘Blue’ Labour adumbrations aside, including the somewhat pigmentally inappropriate backdrop of the conference replete with ubiquitous Union Jack logos: The Recusant can just about stomach the rhetorical motif resuscitated by Miliband here, one which was first coined by Tory prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, that rarest of things, an intellectual politician. Disraeli’s brand of ‘social Toryism’ – though a curious companion to his imperialistic ‘jingoism’ abroad – was, along with the post-war, pro-welfare state ‘One Nation’ Toryism of Harold Macmillan, one of the more palatable periods of British Conservatism. Of course, Disraeli’s passion for uniting all classes in the country was as much inspired by political pragmatism as it was by genuine social conscience (though he did at least formerly prove his social conscience through a series of critically respected social novels, prior to going into politics): Disraeli knew that the secret to securing future Tory majorities was to ensure the working classes felt more included in society, and he termed proletarian Tories as his ‘angels in marble’. There does appear to be a certain ingenuity in Miliband’s claiming the ‘One Nation’ mantle for Labour, since it immediately emphasizes how estranged modern Tories are from their own more progressive traditions, how pathologically far they drifted from such trans-class politics since Thatcherism, and how they are today the party of class war, only, oppositely to how ‘Old’ Labour were caricatured back in the Eighties: today’s Tories represent the last ditch attempt to resurrect pre-Attleean upper-class plutocracy. It is also an apposite sobriquet for Miliband to employ – not only as it is conveniently midway between the universalism of ‘Old’ Labour and the middle-class and capitalist-class accommodating politics of ‘New’ Labour, and emphatically non-partisan and apparently all-inclusive – since the Tories are currently and blatantly the party of at least ‘Two Nations’, divided between ‘those who pay tax’ and ‘those who don’t’, or what Tories glibly term ‘the contributory’ and ‘the non-contributory’, while, of course, conveniently ring-fencing out of the whole equation the true ‘non contributors’ of our society, whose pathology this polemic has already highlighted in abundance.
Miliband (who himself shares a similar familial and social background to Disraeli, both being well-educated sons of middle-class Jewish immigrants) also placed historical emphasis on the fact that the term ‘One Nation’, though coined first by a Tory prime minister, was also re-echoed in the manifesto and post-war settlement of Clement Attlee, the greatest Labour prime minister in our history, and quite possibly the greatest prime minister our nation has known altogether. It is Attlee’s ‘welfare state’ which, of course, the Tories are currently destroying. However, what we would have much preferred over the invocation of one of the more acceptable ‘patron saints’ of pre-Thatcherite Toryism would have been more mentions of Labour’s own pantheon of patron saints such as Clement Attlee, Keir Hardie and the doyen of the NHS, Aneurin Bevan; more emphasis on the virtues of the Attlee Settlement, of the much-maligned welfare state being the bedrock of modern civilised social democracy, and some tribute to the crucial role of the trades unions in protecting workers’ rights, and so on. But again we are reminded of Labour’s seemingly chronic autophobia: the morbid fear of its self, and specifically, of electoral isolation due to invoking the ghosts of ‘Old’ Labour’s democratic socialist character. Tragically, as long as Labour continues – albeit less emphatically under Ed Miliband, being the more centre-left of the two brothers – to unnecessarily ‘self-regulate’ its own ideological DNA so that it at least appears to be a party for all seasons and classes, and not primarily the party for the less well-off of society (which it used to be), it is never going to build the true rudimentary momentum so desperately needed now more than ever before through which to once and for all shift the tectonic plates of British parliamentary politics back from the death-grip of neoliberalism and towards full-blooded democratic socialism, wherein, uniquely, all the solutions to the parlous state of our nation today inescapably lie. But as a first bold step in this leftward direction would be to remove arch-Blairite/ pink Tory welfare-scapegoater Liam Byrne from the most toxic and crucial Shadow brief of all. Bluntly, until Ed Miliband does so, many disaffected left-wing voters will still not touch Labour with a bargepole, in spite of what is probably the most promising and progressive speech of any Labour leader since the late lamented John Smith.
To which, The Recusant pays tribute to Ed Miliband’s trend-bucking assertion that there must be “compassionate support” for “the disabled” and those “who can’t work”, as well his brave stance against the discredited and lethal Atos regime – sentiments which, however, continue to be undermined by the aforementioned Liam Byrne. Nevertheless, it is a show of ideological strength that Miliband has publicly signalled at least the stirrings of a sea-change in Labour thinking towards the welfare issue. We do no, however, subscribe to his bourgeois belief – which the professional middle classes rarely if ever apply to themselves – that the unemployed should accept “whatever work is on offer” – it is not only, in our opinion, unfair for those who would not accept the same non-negotiable proposition in their own lives to expect others to do so, irrespective of whether they are on ‘state support’ (in any case, for many, that which they have previously paid into while employed), but it is also unsustainable and impractical in the long-term to force anyone into jobs to which they are entirely unsuited in terms of skills and personalities. It simply doesn’t work, and such unreasonable expectations of successive governments to coerce those with certain vocational skills into wholly unrelated employment has simply resulted in generations of exploited temping workers and increasing incapacity among the working age population due to the slow erosion of self-esteem and mental wellbeing which egodystonic occupation inevitably induces in an individual over a sustained period of time.
We do however welcome the Damascene conversion of Labour to the concept of a less universal welfare state in future, which we think is justified by the fact that the wealth divide has broadened so much in recent decades, though we find it slightly disingenuous of Labour to all of a sudden emphasize that there have always been ‘targeted benefits’ (i.e. a euphemism for ‘means tested benefits’) in the welfare system, not solely universal criteria – since this is something they have hitherto rarely if ever cited. The Recusant believes there should be an increase in targeted benefits for the poorest in our society, and a sensibly negotiated lowering of the income threshold for universal benefits, and this has been argued in both our anthologies, Emergency Verse and The Robin Hood Book.
Miliband and Burnham’s announcement that Labour will repeal the scabrous NHS Bill if and when they return to power was, of course, the political highpoint of the conference; whereas the low point was the chair’s cancellation of a motion and debate on the re-nationalisation of the rail system (and all public services). Much welcome to was what appeared to be a pledge to reintroduce the Educational Maintenance Allowance despicably scrapped by the Tories.
The Recusant would have liked to have heard much more about from Miliband is how Labour proposes to tackle the appalling social fallout from the housing benefit cuts – such as, for instance, it setting out a plan to reintroduce some form of private rent regulation. We do not accept Miliband’s skirting round the issue of the Robin Hood Tax by saying Labour would only implement it if it was a multilateral (i.e. global) policy – that is a Tory stance and not one we’d expect to hear from Labour, particularly in the wake of Francois Hollande’s introduction of a Tobin Tax and a tax rise to 75% on the French top 1%. We would also have greatly relished proposals to reverse the most vicious and socially catastrophic Tory policies, such as the welfare cuts and the wholesale assault on the public sector – but sadly only heard the usual clucks of ‘austerity-lite’ rhetoric from Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, and an unacceptable party stance in support of continued pay freezes and pension reductions for public sector workers.
Finally – quandaries as to the ‘One Nation’ moniker being a ‘centre-ground’ flipside to ‘Big Society’ rhetoric aside for the moment – The Recusant reluctantly emphasises that it is wholly opposed to Miliband and Balls’ echoing of the Tories’ ‘straw paradigm’ of a choice between either continued pay and pension freezes or no new job creation in the public sector. This is an unacceptably disingenuous dialectic, one which we’d expect to hear from rampant anarcho-capitalists such as the Tories, but which really jars when we hear it from the mouths of a more ‘progressive’ Opposition. There is absolutely no point in creating more jobs in the public sector if it’s on the back of curtailing the already meagre employment rights of existent public sector workers: this will simply mean giving the employment figures an artificial massage rather than creating a labour force empowered by sustainable (‘living’) wages and reasonable retirement expectations (in terms of age and pensions). Does Labour want to become the party remembered for increasing the employment population by the Tories’ ethical shortcut of thinning out rights and wages across the board? That’s no progressive achievement but simply the augmentation of an impoverished national labour force with reduced industrial negotiation and spending powers. Miliband has rightly spoken up for the “working poor”, and yet his Shadow Chancellor’s economic strategy suggests that Labour will be perpetuating this appalling modern phenomenon in one of the richest countries on the planet. Such short-term economic policies, far from being any kind of solution to the ridiculous paradox of impoverished employment and the scandalous absence of a ‘living’ wage, will only deepen and worsen the misery of millions of Britons, while simultaneously re-emphasising the brutal truth of today that work does not pay, but really only enslaves. ‘One Nation’ Labour has a lot more work to do in devising a reasonable and ethical macroeconomic plan for the country before it can count on recouping all the left-wing voters it lost through its sub-Tory welfare-scapegoating stance at the last election.
The Recusant is much heartened, however, to hear that Ed Miliband will be attending the mass march against the austerity cuts on 20th October – this will be a crucial show of solidarity towards the Unions and legion anti-cuts campaigns which together, through the Coalition of Resistance, have, up until now (…?), constituted this nation’s only recognisable Opposition and vanguard for an Alternative to austerity. Miliband now needs to start articulating an authentic ‘Alternative’ to capitalist austerity – no one expects him and Labour to come back into power and wave a magic wand, but what disaffected voters on the Left do need to hear at this time, along with the millions of low-paid workers and brutally stigmatised claimant victims of a mismanaged economy, is that ‘One Nation’ Labour really can offer a proper, integrated, equable and socially compassionate alternative for this country post-2015. In the meantime, while there were many positives about the Labour conference and Ed Miliband’s robustly progressive speech, there was also a lot that this besieged nation needed to hear which was left unsaid. Let’s hope ‘One Nation’ Labour does not end up letting us down, or justifying still quite reasonable assertions from the Left as Paddy McGuffin’s in the Morning Star of 5th October titled ‘Labour fiddles while Tories torch Britain’.
As things stand, it is frankly not enough for Ed Miliband to reiterate his mantra of “the squeezed middle” – even to the point of parodying it himself by referring jokily to the centre of the audience during his Q&A session as “the squeezed middle” – and talk of Labour needing to be the party of the middle class as well as the working class, of the private as well as the public sector, etc. etc. For one, this is only one interpretation of the broad church that is implied in the term ‘One Nation’: one might just as well argue that the most resonant way of promoting such a paradigm would be to much more emphatically talk about the poorest in the country, the unemployed, sick and disabled, all of whom, as ‘the narrowest shoulders’, are also taking the biggest austerity hits of any class at this time. If we are to be ‘One Nation’, then this simply has to start at the bottom and work up from there. It can take in the middle classes too later on, but its first priority should be to help the poorest. To echo the journalist who spoke up for the poorest on BBC News on Sunday night, “the squeezed middle” can no doubt put up with a bit more “squeezing” at the moment, it’s the poorest who can’t deal with any more. The Recusant wholeheartedly concurs with this – one would have thought – elementary socio-moral approach to the issue. But no, of course not, the BBC (British Bread and Circuses) is too aware of “public opinion” towards the welfare system and its apparent collective wish to see the majority of benefits recipients – no matter how involuntary and appalling their material circumstances – driven into extinction! That’s what the Government and the red-top tabloids tell us is the ‘public view’ on the issue, while themselves being the propaganda-pushers of such a grotesque distortion of the truth for political gain. As the journalist quite rightly said, it is “not the sort of country we should be living in” which has supermarkets asking customers to chip in for food hampers for the poor and the benefits-stripped. Hear, hear! What progress has neoliberalism made in the last four decades as to now be able to proudly announce that, in the sixth richest country on the planet, hundreds of thousands of families, themselves the hardest hit victims of an economic crisis caused by unregulated capitalist speculating in the City, are now reliant on the generosity of alfresco charity and food banks in order to survive! That is the result of dismantling the welfare state, and at precisely the time that it is most direly needed; and that is the albatross that will in future hang round the neck of each and every minister, Tory MP and Tory voter who ensured this mass social cleansing of the poorest and most vulnerable in society.
Seemingly, it is not enough for our multi-millionaire prime minister that tens of thousands of children are now going to bed hungry every night while their parents skip meals to provide them with at least one a day; it’s not enough for him than homelessness is skyrocketing once again, and hundreds of thousands of families are being forcibly ‘migrated’ to poorer parts of the country through the Government’s national benefits cap, or “churn” as ministers refer to it in Westminsterese; and it’s not enough for him that 11,000 sick and disabled claimants have either died prematurely or taken their own lives due to the abomination that is the Atos Work Capability Assessment regime – No: Cameron wants more, he wants more pain, more suffering, more destitution, more loss of life, before he feels he can stand up in front of his party’s atavistically right-wing 1922 Committee (aptly named as their politics haven’t shifted since 1922!), and say that he has done all he can within his power to spare the richest from any more pennies in tax. A nation which prioritises tax cuts for the richest while hounding the poorest and least able to material near-extinction – is that a nation to proud of? The Recusant believes it is a nation to be thoroughly ashamed of, to such an extent that the ever-ubiquitous Union Jack is now nothing more than a constant offence to the eye of all conscientious objectors in the new ‘warfare state’ who feel sickened by the fiscal atrocities currently being committed by HM Government. We think it’s time to unfurl the red flag – the flag of international solidarity and social compassion, and maybe, deep down, in his own circuitous sort of way, Labour’s current leader does too, even if it means stamping it with the face of Disraeli. It was greatly heartening, not to say, deeply touching, that the Labour conference concluded with a chorus of both Blake’s anti-industrial socialist anthem, ‘Jerusalem’ (reclaimed by Labour after Cameron’s poetically illiterate attempt to seize it for the ‘Big Society’s new sports anthem), and ‘The Red Flag’ itself; as it was to hear Miliband slip in the traditional Labour salutation of ‘comrade’ during his Q&A session last week. The Recusant is prepared to give ‘Comrade Ed’ the benefit of the doubt for the time being – partly of course through sheer desperation to rid our nation of the crushing Tory yoke, but also partly because we believe that he is at least attempting now to move Labour back to the ‘centre-left’, which, though hardly a Holy Grail of a position, is at least a significant step forward from the centre-right days of ‘New’ Labour. But The Recusant sincerely hopes that in time the grassroots of the Labour movement, the Unions, and ginger groups the Labour Representation Committee and Red Labour, to name two, and left-wing backbenchers such as John McDonnell, Michael Meacher and Jeremy Corbyn, will all come to play more of a pivotal role in the shaping of the party and its manifesto up to 2015.
8 October 2012
TRUE BLUES WITH BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS
Cameron: ‘When I used to push my son Ivan around in his wheelchair, I always thought that some people saw the wheelchair, not the boy. ‘Today more people would see the boy and not the wheelchair – and that’s because of what happened here this summer.’
Reality check: http://www.disabilityhatecrime.org.uk/
Who among us wouldn’t feel genuine human sympathy for the Camerons’ loss of their disabled son Ivan? But would that the Camerons spared some of their tears for the tens of thousands of sick and disabled claimants currently being besieged from all directions – policies, assessments, rhetoric, stigmas, tabloid propaganda and hate crimes.
The Recusant need not go into the tortuous detail of why this was one of the most cynical and hypocritical political speeches in living memory; suffice it to say that while Cameron was cheering on Paralympic Team GB, his Work and Pensions Secretary was ploughing on with his morally atrocious directive via the government-DWP-Atos axis of rigged work capability assessments, to drive thousands more legitimate incapacity claimants (32 a week it is estimated) off their legitimate entitlements.
Not only that, but far from being a nation in which ‘people see the person and not the wheelchair’, disability hate crime under Cameron’s claimant-scapegoating tyranny of a government has escalated to the highest level it has arguably ever been at in British history – to such a nationwide extent that there is even a whole campaign and website to bring this hidden epidemic to the public’s attention at http://www.disabilityhatecrime.org.uk/.
This is most certainly a country, at least under Tory rule, where the wheelchair is not only seen more than the person sat in it, but is seen as a symbol for others’ resentments against the welfare system Cameron and his cronies are actively demonising. Disability campaigners are saying across the board today that all the progress made over improving public perceptions of the disabled have now been rolled back decades due to the culture of anti-disability encouraged by the rhetoric of this Tory-led government. There is not yet the actual word sufficient to describe the sheer scale of the prime minister’s bare-faced hypocrisy and duplicity – the dictionary has yet to invent an adjective to encompass it.
A pity Cameron hasn’t shed some tears the following fatalities among the sick and disabled of this nation under the immoral and inhumane Atos regimen accelerated and brutalised under HIS GOVERNMENT. But Tories only shed tears for their own. These are people almost uniformly of high privilege who genuinely believe in one rule for themselves and another for everyone else. If you are born into poverty – tough; if you are born into poverty and have a disability – then double tough: you won’t get any support from the Tories and their shrunken state. Cameron’s government is, singularly, the government which will be remembered for posterity as the one which finally kicked the boot in to the disabled of this nation by pursuing brutal fiscal policies against them and spreading the convenient LIE that most claimants on ESA and DLA are ‘swinging the lead’. Well, the Tories are swinging the wrecking ball, right through disability rights.
According to the DWP’s own recorded statistics revealed under a Freedom of Information Request and published here by the Social Welfare Union, 3,500 claimants who had either been assessed by Atos and dumped into the Work Related Activity Group (‘Wrag’), or who were still undergoing the highly pressurising Atos ‘work capability assessment’ process, died between January and November 2011!
All in all, a total of 41, 750 of incapacitated claimants, risibly referred to in these documents as ‘off-flows’ (i.e. those no longer in receipt of ESA/ kicked off it unfairly/ miraculously ‘cured’ of chronic disabilities/ or taken their own lives), have ‘died’ since this abomination of a government came to power in mid-2010.
The Recusant also notes that the vital resource for cataloguing the fatalities that have occurred among claimants during and/or as a result of high stresses related the Atos work capability assessment process, Calum’s List, is now inaccessible via its usual web address on both Google and Yahoo! These search engines take the browser on a circuitous course which results in the following blank page:
You don't have permission to access / on this server.
Additionally, a 500 Internal Server Error error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.
Far be it for The Recusant to contemplate conspiracy theories but it does seem rather coincidental that a certain company this site is quite justifiably in opposition to also happens to specialise in computer ‘solutions’. What is one supposed to deduce from such curious unexplained incidents as this? Fortunately, Calum’s List can still be accessed via the link on this front page.
The Recusant pays tribute to Scotland’s newspaper the Daily Record for succeeding in its sustained campaign against the pincers of Atos Solutions north of the border, which has resulted in a true victory for moral decency and compassion with the notorious company’s “humiliating climbdown” after receiving thousands of complaints from victims of its government-directed pincer-movement against legitimate incapacity claimants to strip them of their entitlements. The contract to carry out the DLA assessments in 2013 has now been passed over to an NHS “social enterprise”.
The Recusant now trusts that with sufficient protest and campaigning against the administrative attack on the sick and disabled in England, Atos will soon have to do another “humiliating climbdown” south of the border too.
We also pay tribute to the Daily Mirror’s superb article as to what Cameron ‘Didn’t Say’ during his platitudinous auto-cued outpouring of pathological hypocrisy and deeply cynical ‘sentimentalism’ that was his wholly vacuous conference speech.
The Mirror places particular emphasis on the prime minister’s claims that his father ‘taught’ him about ‘hard work’ and ‘saving’ when the late Cameron Snr actually accrued the lion’s share of the vast wealth Cameron Jnr inherited through serial tax avoidance over decades via offshore tax havens; but, difficult though it is to broach, though we have already done so here, is the bare-faced hypocrisy and duplicity of Cameron when he used the – of course, harrowing – story of his late disabled son as what came across as a cynical rhetorical shield behind which he spuriously claimed that ‘today people see the person’ and ‘not the wheelchair’, at a time of unprecedented cuts to ESA and DLA and of record high hate disability crime, politically encouraged by his own government and right-wing red-top cohorts!
Quite clearly, then, the only conclusion can be that the Tories really are the party of ‘Two Nations’ of which Ed Miliband so spoke at his non-auto-cued, unusually passionate speech at the Labour conference the previous week: to the Tories, wealth is the only protector of disability, employment and human rights, while the rest of us can have ours summarily stripped by a party which refuses to take moral responsibility for those less fortunate than its members and supporters, because, as Grant ‘Call Me Mr Green’ Shapps reiterated risibly on Question Time last night, “the taxpayer has to pick up the tab for this”. Well let us not forget that “the taxpayer” also has to “pick up the tab” for super-rich tax avoiders such as, no doubt, the majority of Tory MPs and Ministers!
In the meantime, The Recusant applauds those Magnificent Eleven European countries which have now made a Robin Hood Tax Pact, while we also note that George Osborne’s fellow uber-austeritician, head of the IMF Christine Lagarde, has today unequivocally called for growth over austerity in Europe as the continent heads once again towards the rocks of impossibly punishing ‘fiscal consolidation’. Will our sociopathic Chancellor listen? Of course he will: he’ll listen and realise that this is another opportunity to attempt to mutate the UK into the new offshore Switzerland for the asset-liquidising super-rich of Europe. Robin Hood on the continent, Guy de Gisborne in Blighty!
But this brilliant news in Europe only goes to show how history is marching inexorably in the direction of an international Robin Hood Tax – to which, keep an eye on The Robin Hood Book page on this website for the soon to be available full e-book download…
Finally, with regards to submissions, please do bear with the editor at this time, but due to ongoing commitments outside of The Recusant, he can only respond as and when time allows, but anticipates he will be freed up more to focus on this webzine by mid-November. In the meantime, he will respond to as many submissions as he can but response time will be vary between a fortnight to a month.
12 October 2012
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.
19 October 2012