Archive for the ‘England’ Category

Score! Football Marcus Rashford Gets Government to Provide Free School Meals During Holidays

June 19, 2020

Kudos and respect to Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United and England footballer, for managing to get Boris Johnson to supply free school meals during the summer holidays. Rashford had written an open letter to our comedy Prime Minister urging him not to end the current scheme of supplying vouchers for school meals to families, who otherwise could not afford to feed them at lunch time. Rashford was interviewed on BBC news, where he remembered having used food banks and free school meals when he was a child. He also raised £20 million to help poor families avoid starvation and other problems with the charity FareShare.

Johnson, as your typical Tory, initially refused. He said instead that he was going to make £63 million available to local authorities to help the poor obtain food and other necessities. But this is only a fraction of the £115 million that would be spent on free school dinners. Robert Halfon, a senior Tory, also broke ranks to argue that, under Johnson’s scheme, the money would never reach those who needed it because it was too bureaucratic. Johnson also tried palming Rashford and his supporters off with another scheme, in which the government would spend £9 million on holiday activities and feeding 50,000 needy sprogs. This is 1.67 per cent of the three million or so children going hungry thanks to the government’s wages freeze and destruction of the welfare state.

Mike one of his articles about this has put up a number of Tweets from people decrying Johnson’s miserly, spiteful attempts to stop children continuing to receive school meals. One of them is from Damo, who pointed out that the government can find £150 billion to help out big business, but can’t find £115 million for hungry children.

Ghoul Johnson spits on footballer’s school meals plea – he wants millions of children to STARVE

Finally, after realizing just what a public relations disaster this was, Johnson gave in. Rashford duly Tweeted his appreciation of the support he had received from the British public. But as Mike reminds us, Johnson only finally conceded to grant the meal because the campaign was led by a celebrity. Mike concluded

England in 2020 is a place where the government deliberately tries to harm its citizens…

… and where it only gives anything back in fear of harmful publicity from a campaign by a highly-visible public figure. If Joe Bloggs from a small village had run this campaign, your children would be skin and bone by September.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/06/16/tories-cave-in-to-rashfords-school-meals-campaign-with-scheme-for-holidays/

And where was Starmer during all this? 

As far as I am aware, Starmer said and did precious little. I think he might have made some approving, supportive comment after Rashford won his victory, but that’s it. And it’s not good enough from the head of the Labour Party.

But what do you expect? Starmer’s a Blairite, and Tony Blair’s entire strategy was to take over Tory policies in an attempt to appeal to their voters, while assuring them and the Tory media that he could do it better than they could. Meanwhile the British working class was expected to continue to support him out of traditional tribal loyalty and the fact that they had nowhere else to go. This resulted in Labour losing many of its members, to the point where even though he lost the elections, Corbyn had far more people voting for him than Blair did.

The result is that Starmer is dragging us back to the situation of the late 90s and first years of this century, when a genuine left-wing opposition fighting for working people and traditional Labour issues, was left to organisations outside the political parties. Organisations like Disabled People Against Cuts, who fight for proper welfare support for the disabled, anti-austerity groups and campaigns to save the NHS from privatisation. They’re doing what Starmer should be doing and conspicuously isn’t, afraid he might offend all those Tory voters he wants to support him. As against a real Labour leader like Jeremy Corbyn.

Marcus Rashford deserves full plaudits for his work to get deprived kids proper meals.

And Johnson and Starmer, for their initial lack of support for the scheme, are nothing but a disgrace.

 

Britain Boos Boris

May 30, 2020

Last Thursday may well have been the last time Britain ‘claps for carers’. The woman who started it all, I believe, now wants it to end because she feels it’s been politicised. In her view, it’s no longer about applauding and showing appreciation for the tireless heroes of the NHS and care workers seeking to combat this terrible disease.

I can see her point. From the moment it started I wondered if it was also going to be a way Boris and his gang of murderers could bask in their reflected glory. Was it going to be a way Boris could subliminally manipulate the nation’s mood, so that as they clapped for the NHS, they were also clapping him and the measures his government put in place – grudgingly and belatedly? But still, our NHS and care workers deserved it, especially as so many have died, partly due to the government massively fumbling the supplies of PPE. It’s also been a good way to raise morale and bring people together by getting them out of their homes and onto the streets in collective act of celebration. All while maintaining a safe distance, of course.

But now a new collective ritual may be ready to take over from it. A ritual that has absolutely no government sponsorship and definitely does not reflect positively on Johnson and his pack. Last Tuesday, Brits across the country took part in the national ‘Boo for Boris’. Mike posted several of the videos of people booing our incompetent, malign and murderous prime minister across the country, from Canton in Cardiff to Saltaire. One woman even dressed in ancient Celtic costume as ‘Boodica’, to shout her defiance just as the ancient queen of the Iceni stuck it to the Romans. There’s a parallel with modern history there, as well. Boadicea’s rebellion was partly sparked off not just by Roman brutality against her, her sisters and her people, but from economic recession caused by rich Romans like Seneca withdrawing their money from Roman Britain. This is what happens when the rich don’t spread it around and the economy contracts: people get into their spiked chariots and start mowing down the government.

I didn’t take part because, like Mike, I was too shy. But Mike’s article and the piccies he posted of it can be found at:

Britain boos Boris! And about time too…

Sargon of Gasbag, the man who broke UKIP, posted a video denouncing the whole affair. He seemed to think it was like the three-minute hate in Orwell’s 1984, in which the whole nation screamed its hatred of the totalitarian regime’s archetypal state enemy. Like so many of his libertarian fulminations, it’s absolutely wrong. The three-minute hate in 1984 is the total opposite. It’s a consciously staged even by the regime to direct popular hatred away from itself. As such, it’s far more like the regular denunciations we had over the past four years of Jeremy Corbyn as a Communist, Trotskyite, Russian or Czech spy and anti-Semite from the Tory establishment and a complicit, mendacious press. The ‘Boo for Boris’ campaign, on the other hand, was an act of popular discontent and resistance against a government that insists on a stifling control of the media. If there is a a film parallel, it’s probably with broadcast news when people follow the lead of the angry and confused news anchorman by shouting out of their windows that they’re ‘mad as hell’. Though I hope it doesn’t end badly, as it did in that movie.

But as Boris continues to make himself massively unpopular through his support of the unrepentant Cummings, our clown prime minister may well have to suffer more boos to come.

Shaw’s Classic Defence of Socialism for Women Part Three

May 16, 2020

George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism, foreword by Polly Toynbee (London: Alma Classics 2012).

Socialism and Marriage, Children, Liberty and Religion

Shaw also discusses what socialism would mean for marriage, liberty, children and the churches, and these are the most problematic sections of the book. He looks forward to marriage being a purely voluntary commitment, where people people can marry for love instead of financial advancement. This will produce biologically better children, because people will be able to choose the best partners, rather than be limited to only those from their class. At the same time incompatible partners will be able to divorce each other free of stigma.

He defines liberty in terms of personal freedom. Under socialism, people will be freer because the amount of time they will have for their personal amusement and recreation will be greater. Legislation might go down, because the laws currently needed to protect people will become unnecessary as socialism is established and society advances. Shaw also believes that greater free time would be enough to attract the top brains to management positions in the absence of the usual inducement of greater pay. Shaw realised that not everyone could run industries, and that it was necessary to hire the very best people, who would be a small minority. Giving them greater leisure time was the best way to do this, and he later criticises the Soviet government for not equalising incomes.

But this is sheer utopianism. The Bolsheviks had tried to equalise incomes, and it didn’t work, which is why they went back to higher rates of pay for managers and so on. And as we’ve seen, socialism doesn’t necessarily lead to greater free time and certainly not less legislation. The better argument is that socialism leads to greater liberty because under socialism people have better opportunities available to them for careers, sport, entertainment and personal improvement than they would if they were mere capitalist wage slaves.

Religious people will also object to his views on religion and the churches. While earlier in the book Shaw addressed the reader as a fellow Christian, his attitude in this section is one of a religious sceptic. The reader will have already been warned of this through the foreword by Toynbee. The Groaniad columnist is a high-ranking member of the both the Secular and Humanist Societies, and her columns and articles in just about every magazine or newspaper she wrote for contained sneers at religion. Shaw considers the various Christian denominations irreconcilable in their theologies, and pour scorn on orthodox Christian doctrines such as the Atonement, that Christ died for our sins. Religion should not be taught in school, because of the incompatibility of the account of the Creation in Genesis with modern science. Children should not be taught about religion at all under they are of the age of consent. If their parents do teach them, the children are to be removed from their care. This is the attitude of very aggressive secularists and atheists. Richard Dawkins had the same attitude, but eventually reversed it. It’s far too authoritarian for most people. Mike and I went to a church school, and received a very good education from teachers that did believe in evolution. Religion deals with ultimate questions of existence and morality that go far beyond science. I therefore strongly believe that parents have the right to bring their children up in their religion, as long as they are aware of the existence of other views and that those who hold them are not wicked simply for doing so. He also believed that instead of children having information pumped into them, the business should be to educate children to the basic level they need to be able to live and work in modern society, and then allow the child to choose for itself what it wants to study.

Communism and Fascism

This last section of the book includes Shaw’s observations on Russian Communism and Fascism. Shaw had visited the USSR in the early ’30s, and like the other Fabians had been duped by Stalin. He praised it as the new socialist society that was eradicating poverty and class differences. He also thought that its early history vindicated the Fabian approach of cautious nationalisation. Lenin had first nationalised everything, and then had to go back on it and restore capitalism and the capitalist managers under the New Economic Policy. But Russia was to be admired because it had done this reversal quite openly, while such changes were kept very quiet in capitalism. If there were problems in the country’s industrialisation, it was due to mass sabotage by the kulaks – the wealthy peasants – and the industrialists. He also recognised that the previous capitalist elite were disenfranchised, forced into manual labour, and their children denied education until the working class children had been served. At the same time, the Soviet leaders had been members of the upper classes themselves, and in order to present themselves as working class leaders had claimed working class parentage. These issues were, however, gradually working themselves out. The Soviet leaders no longer had need of such personal propaganda, and the former capitalists could reconcile themselves to the regime as members of the intellectual proletariat. And some of the industrialisation was being performed by criminals, but this was less arduous than the labour in our prisons.

Shaw is right about the NEP showing that nationalisation needs to be preceded by careful preparation. But he was obviously kept ignorant of the famine that was raging in the USSR through forced collectivisation and the mass murder of the kulaks. And rather than a few criminals in the gulags, the real figures were millions of forced labourers. They were innocent of any crime except Stalin’s paranoia and the need of his managers for cheap slave labour. It’s believed that about 30 millions died in Stalin’s purges, while 7 million died in the famine in the Ukraine.

Shaw’s treatment of Fascism seems to be based mostly on the career of Mussolini. He considers Fascism just a revival of the craze for absolute monarchy and military leadership, of the kind that had produced Henry VIII in England, Napoleon, and now Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, the Shah of Iran and Ataturk in Turkey. These new absolute rulers had started out as working class radicals, before find out that the changes they wanted would not come from the working class. They had therefore appealed to the respectable middle class, swept away democracy and the old municipal councils, which were really talking shops for elderly tradesmen which accomplished little. They had then embarked on a campaign against liberalism and the left, smashing those organisations and imprisoning their members. Some form of parliament had been retained in order to reassure the people. At the same time, wars were started to divert the population and stop them criticising the new generalissimo. Industry was approaching socialism by combining into trusts. However, the government would not introduce socialism or truly effective government because of middle class opposition. Fascist regimes wouldn’t last, because their leaders were, like the rest of us, only mortal. In fact Mussolini was overthrown by the other Fascists, who then surrendered to the Allies, partly because of his failing health. That, and his utter military incompetence which meant that Italy was very definitely losing the War and the Allies were steadily advancing up the peninsula. While this potted biography of the typical Fascist is true of Mussolini, it doesn’t really fit some of the others. The Shah, for example, was an Indian prince.

Anarchism and Syndicalism

Shaw is much less informed about anarchism. He really only discusses it in terms of ‘Communist Anarchism’, which he dismisses as a silly contradiction in terms. Communism meant more legislation, while anarchism clearly meant less. He should have the articles and books on Anarcho-communism by Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin believed that goods and services should be taken over by the whole community. However, rather than a complete absence of government and legislation, society would be managed instead by individual communities and federations.

He also dismisses syndicalism, in which industry would be taken over and run by the trade unions. He considers this just another form of capitalism, with the place of the managers being taken by the workers. These would still fleece the consumer, while at the same time leave the problem of the great inequality in the distribution of wealth untouched, as some industries would obviously be poorer than others. But the Guild Socialists did believe that there should be a kind of central authority to represent the interests of the consumer. And one of the reasons why nationalisation, in the view of some socialists, failed to gain the popular support needed to defend it against the privatisations of the Tories is because the workers in the nationalised industries after the War were disappointed in their hopes for a great role in their management. The Labour party merely wanted nationalisation to be a simple exchange of public for private management, with no profound changes to the management structure. In some cases the same personnel were left in place. Unions were to be given a role in management through the various planning bodies. But this was far less than many workers and trade unionists hoped. If nationalisation is to have any meaning, it must allow for a proper, expanded role of the workers themselves in the business of managing their companies and industries.

The book ends with a peroration and a discussion of the works that have influenced and interest Shaw. In the peroration Shaw exhorts the readers not to be upset by the mass poverty and misery of the time, but to deplore the waste of opportunities for health, prosperity and happiness of the time, and to look forward and work for a better, socialist future.

His ‘Instead of a Bibliography’ is a kind of potted history of books critical of capitalism and advocating socialism from David Ricardo’s formulation of capitalism in the 19th century. These also include literary figures like Ruskin, Carlyle and Dickens. He states that he has replaced Marx’s theory of surplus value with Jevons treatment of rent, in order to show how capitalism deprives workers of their rightful share of the profits.

 

 

Radio 3 Series Next Week on Paul Robeson

March 26, 2020

Radio 3’s The Essay next week is doing a series of programmes on Paul Robeson. The show’s called ‘The Essay: Paul Robeson in Five Songs’, and is on from Monday to Friday at 10.45 pm. The short description of the series by David McGillivray on page 122 of the Radio Times runs

The turbulent life of Paul Robeson, the American performer whose career was shamefully curtailed by racism and anti-Communist hysteria, is reflected in five of his songs in a series of essays through the week. His was one of the most magnificent bass baritone voices of the 20th century, and the story behind his biggest hit, Ol’ Man River, is told by his granddaughter tomorrow [Tuesday]. Robeson’s most sustained success in films was in the UK but mostly the roles offered him were demeaning and he turned to political activism. The trade union ballad, Joe Hill (Friday) provides a melancholic epitaph.

Here are the blurbs for the individual episodes by day.

Monday.

No More Auction Block

The life and struggles of New Jersey-born bass-baritone singer, actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson (1898-1976) are explored through five of his songs. Robeson’s signature performances include Show Boat and Othello, but spirituals defined his early career, and in 1925, Robeson and his accompanist Lawrence Brown turned them into “art music”. In this first installment, scholar and professor of black music Shana Redmond explores the ways in which Robeson’s performances of No More Auction Block map his own struggles.

Tuesday

Ol’ Man River

Susan Robeson explores the personal and political aspects of the song that is forever identified with her grandfather  – Ol’ Man River, written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein expressly for Robeson for their groundbreaking 1927 musical Show Boat. But the singer would not wrap his unique voice around it  until the following year in the London production. He would have a lasting and complex relationship with the song, especially as a black superstar performing for white audiences. “My grandfather transformed Ol’ Man River from a song of submission and despair into a song of resistance.”

Wednesday

The Canoe Song

Paul Robeson and film should have been a perfect fit. The 20th Century’s first black superstar had presence, voice and fierce intelligence that projected from the screen. British audiences adored him, but for Robeson cinema was a constant betrayal of his political idealism. Matthew Sweet considers the confusing threads that make up Zoltan Korda’s 1935 Empire flag-waver Sanders of the River, which still hummed to the astonishing power of Robeson’s voice in the Canoe Song, prompting British audiences to declare him as “our Paul”. 

Thursday

Zog Nit Keynmol

When Paul Robeson stood before a Moscow audience on the evening of 14th June 1949 in the Tchaikowski Hall, few expected to hear him perform the Yiddish Partisan song Zog Nit Keynmol (Never Say). His rendition of this fierce anthem of defiance, composed in the middle of Nazi slaughter, was thick with emotion, and at the end the crowd either fiercely applauded or booed. Robeson had sung for those he knew were already murdered, imprisoned or facing death as a new wave of Stalinist repression against Soviet Jews was underway. Nigerian-born actor and singer Tayo Aluko explores Robeson’s torment and contradictory emotions that make this performance so dramatic.

Friday

Joe Hill

London-based cultural historian Marybeth Hamilton summons up the ghosts of both Earl Robinson’s 1936 song Joe Hill – about the Swedish-American labour activist – and Paul Robeson as she explores the ways Robeson was so completely erased from culture and memory for many Americans. “If any one song in Robeson’s repertoire sums up those histories of denial silencing it is Joe Hill.

Paul Robeson – one of the left-wing giants of the 20th century. I had a very left-wing aunt, who was a massive fan of Robeson. She would have loved this. I also wondered if all the Israel-critical Jews smeared and vilified by the Israel lobby shouldn’t sing Zog Nit Keynmol. From what I gather from reading David Rosenberg’s and Tony Greenbstein’s blog’s, the greatest resistance against the Nazis, including the Warsaw ghetto, came from the anti-Zionist Bund. The Zionists all too often made deals with the Nazis, as when the Zionist newspaper, the Judischer Rundschau, praised the Nazi Nuremberg Laws and urged its readers to ‘wear your yellow stars with pride.” Or when Rudolf Kasztner, the head of the Zionists in occupied Hungary, cut a deal with the Nazis whereby tens of thousands were deported to Auschwitz in return for a few being allowed to emigrate to Israel.

A Multiple Language Dictionary for Archaeologists

March 26, 2020

Anna Kieburg, The Archaeological Excavation Dictionary (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Archaeology 2016).

This was another book I got from the bargain book mail order company, Postscript. It’s a dictionary of archaeological words, with over 2,000 entries, in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Turkish and Arabic. The Arabic and Greek words are also given in those languages’ alphabets as well as in an English transliteration.

I’m putting this up as archaeology truly is an international discipline. Both professionals, students and volunteers travel across the world to work on digs. There is a guide book, published annually, for volunteers wishing to work on various digs right across the globe, in Europe, America and elsewhere. Also, I’ve noticed that some of the books published by the archaeological publishers, like Oxbow, are also in foreign languages. In the case of Oxbow, it’s mostly French or German.

Archaeology is a truly international subject, with professionals, students and volunteers travelling to digs right across the world. There’s a guide, published annually, for people to wishing to work on them, listing sites in the Americas, Europe and so on, and what they need to take with them. I’m putting the book up on this blog as I thought it might be useful for other archaeologists, or ordinary people interested in archaeology, once the world’s recovered from the Coronavirus and everything’s started up again.

But thinking about archaeology and languages, I wonder if anyone’s ever published such a dictionary for the Celtic languages in the UK? I know the vast majority of people in Britain can speak English, and I doubt if anyone on a site has ever been asked if they could explain what they’ve found in Welsh, Gaelic or Erse, but still, there might be a demand by local people in areas where those languages are spoken for someone to say something about them in them, if only as a source of local pride and individuality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worrals of the WAAF – Captain W.E. John’s Flying Heroine for Girls

March 23, 2020

Captain W.E. Johns, illustrated by Matt Kindt, Worrals of the WAAF (London: Indie Books 2013).

Captain W.E. Johns, illustrated by Matt Kindt, Worrals Carries on (London: Indie Books 2013).

Captain W.E. Johns, illustrated by Matt Kindt, Worrals Flies Again (London: Indie Books 2013).

Captain W.E. Johns was the creator of that great British hero, ‘Biggles’ Bigglesworth, an RAF fighter ace, who with his friends Algy and Ginger foiled the evil designs of the German menace in a series of tales set in the First and Second World Wars. They’re classics of British children’s literature. They appeal mostly, but by no means exclusively to boys – they’re have been plenty of female readers. Even though they’re now somewhat passe, they’re influence on British popular culture is still noticeable. In the 1980s there was an attempt to translate the character into film with an SF twist. Johns’ hero was still a World War II airman, but was sent into the present day by time warp. The character was so much a staple of British literature, that he was lampooned, I believe, by Punch’s Alan Coren in his short story, ‘Biggles Strikes Camp’. More recently, the square-jawed space pilot, ‘Ace’ Rimmer, the heroic alter ego of the cowardly, egotistical and sneering Rimmer in TV’s Red Dwarf, seems to be something of a mixture of Biggles and that other great British hero, Dan Dare, the pilot of the future.

But during the Second World War, Johns was also determined to thrill and inspire girls with a similar figure for them. And so he wrote a series of three books about Joan Worralson, ‘Worrals’, and her friend Frecks. They were pilots in the WAAF, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, which was set up to deliver aircraft to the RAF. Although not combat pilots, Worrals and Flecks soon found themselves actively fighting the Nazi menace in Britain, and then France. The books were republished in 2013 by Indie Books. There’s also some connection there with the RAF Museum, as that institution has its logo proudly printed on the back cover.

I found them in a recent catalogue for Postscript, a mail order firm specialising in bargain books. They were there, alongside serious histories of women in aviation and the WAAF. I liked the ‘Biggles’ books when I was a schoolboy, and decided to order them to see what his female counterpart was like. A decision helped by the fact that they were £2.95 each. They came shortly before the shutdown last week. I haven’t read them yet, but will probably give them a full review when I do. In the meantime, here’s the blurbs for them:

1: Worrals of the WAAF

Britain: 1940

Joan Worralson – Worrals to her many friends – is ferrying a replacement aircraft to a RAF fighter station when she is plunged into combat with a mysterious plane.

Later, she and her friend Frecks investigate what that plane was up to – and fall into a nest of spies.

With their own airfield the target for destruction, the two girls will need every ounce opf skill and daring to save the day.

2: Worrals Carries On

Britain: 1941

While Britain reels from nightly air attacks, Worrals and Frecks are stuck in the routine of delivering new planes to the RAF – until a chance discovery put them on the trail of a Nazi spy.

The hunt leads them to London at the height of the Blitz and even into occupied France. Cut could it be that the traitor is right in their midst? And ready to hand them over to the Gestapo?

3: Worrals Flies Again

1941: Occupied France

British agents are risking their lives behind enemy lines. But how to get that vital information back home?

MI6 need a pilot who speaks French like a native and with the courage to take on an operation so crazy that it might just work. A job for Worrals.

But when she and Frecks fly to the isolated French castle that is to be their base, they discover that nothing is what it seems – and the Gestapo have got there first.

Like other professions and employers, the RAF is trying to diversify its ranks and recruit more women and people of BAME backgrounds. This was shown very clearly a few months ago on the One Show, in a section where pilot and former Countdown numbers person, Carol Vorderman, herself a pilot, talked about the winners of a competition by the Air Cadets  and the RAF to find their best and most promising members. There were three, two of whom were girls, while the third was a Black lad. As a reward, they were given a tour of the vast American factory where they were building the new high performance jets that were due to come into service over this side of the Pond, and talk to some of the American Air Forces pilots. These included a young woman, who was so thrilled with flying these machines that she told them she couldn’t believe she got paid for doing it. There was also a little subtext informing the viewer that young women could still fly these deadly war machines without sacrificing their femininity. One of the girl cadets was a blogger, who specialised in makeup and beauty. And there’s also a more general drive within aviation to recruit more women as pilots, for example in civil, passenger flight.

There have clearly been for a long time women interested in flight and careers in the armed forces. I don’t know how many girls were encouraged to join the WAAF or take to the air by reading Worrals – I suspect they more likely to be influenced by the ‘Biggles’ stories. There was also an attempt to launch a comic strip which featured a group of female pilots fighting for Britain in the WAAF or RAF in the girls’ comics. This was mentioned in the excellent short BBC documentary series, Comics Britannia. However, the strip didn’t prove popular with female readers and was closed down. The comic asked them what they’d rather read instead, and they said, ‘a good cry’. This resulted in a series of strips of unrelenting misery in their comics, including ‘Child Slaves of War Orphan Farm’. I think stories about heroic female pilots sticking it to the Nazis would have been far healthier, but the girls of the time obviously didn’t want it. I don’t know if the books would have any greater success now, when writers are trying to create strong role models for girls in fiction.

I haven’t read them yet – they’re on my ‘to read’ list, along with many others. But I intend to read them eventually. I’m interested in finding out what they’re like, and how they stand up to today’s changed ideas about gender roles. And more importantly, whether they’re any fun. I look forward to finding out.

And my mother wants to read them afterwards. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matt Hancock’s Telegraph article Shows He Really Doesn’t Understand the NHS Ethos

March 17, 2020

On Sunday, the current malign incompetent currently posturing as NHS secretary, Matt Hancock, issued a statement of the government’s current policy regarding the Coronavirus. This contradicted Boris Johnson’s previous statement, which was that we shouldn’t be afraid of catching it, because this would confer on us all herd immunity. The Tory party, like the Republicans in America, hate experts. This rather cavalier attitude owed something to the massive ignorance in the Republican party over the other side of the Pond. They had been loudly denouncing it as a scare dreamed up by the Democrats, until one of their number came down with it at CPAC after meeting and pressing the flesh with several of their leading politicos and activists. The result was complaints that the American public weren’t being told enough about it. Johnson here obviously didn’t know what he was talking about, and outraged people who did – doctors, epidemiologists, virologists, and informed laypeople – weighed in to put him right.

Both Buddyhell and Martin Odoni have put up excellent pieces shooting down Johnson’s spectacularly ignorant comments. They point out that herd immunity means that everyone, or at least the vast majority, would have to come down with it. Only a very few would become immune, and that immunity would only last a couple of months, not years or a lifetime. And because nearly everybody would have to contract the disease, even if the mortality rate is low, the result would be that a large number of people, perhaps as many as 200,000, would die for the rest to acquire this short-lived immunity. It’s an immensely callous attitude from a Prime Minister, who obviously doesn’t know what to do. Worse, as the French philosophical feline and Martin rightly pointed out, it shows the eugenicist thinking underlying Boris’ and Cummings’ response to the disease. Eugenics hold that the biologically unfit, which means the inferior lower orders, should not be allowed to breed. The handicapped should be sterilised to make sure they don’t. At the same time, health care should not be extended to the poor, and certainly not racial groups specifically held to be inferior, like Blacks, because this will interfere with the proper natural process by which inferior stock is weeded out of the population. Eugenicist arguments were invoked in America by the corporate rich in the 19th century to prevent the state passing legislation to improve standards of workers’ health and safety. Because if workers and their families contracted disease and had shorter lives, it wasn’t because living conditions were worse than their employers. It was because they were biologically unfit. Cummings seems to hold eugenicist views, as did Andrew Sabisky, before the latter’s unpleasant opinions meant that the Tories had to get rid of him. But you can bet that the attitudes still there. Maggie Thatcher’s mentor, Sir Keith Joseph, caused outrage in the mid-70s when he declared that single mothers were a ‘threat to our stock’. And that does seem to be how the Tories regard the British public – as stock, to be cultivated or culled according to the whims of their masters.

See: https://thegreatcritique.wordpress.com/2020/03/12/herd-immunity-is-your-answer-johnson-truly-the-lunatic-has-taken-over-the-asylum/

https://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2020/03/12/wait-what-herd-immunity/

Hancock’s article seems to me to be partly an attempt by the government to allay some of the outrage Johnson’s comments caused, and to show that the government really does have a sensible policy to tackle the emergency. Despite all appearances to the contrary. But Hancock’s article also showed that Hancock and his masters have no understanding of or sympathy with the public service ethos underlying the NHS. This was shown not so much by what Hancock said, but how he said it. His statement was released as an article in the Torygraph behind a paywall. This caused more justifiable outrage. Zelo Street made the point that Hancock should have made his announcements publicly, not just in a single newspaper, and certainly not tucked away behind a paywall so that only Torygraph subscribers could read it. The Torygraph seems to have taken the hint, and made the article free, as it should be.

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/search?updated-max=2020-03-15T16:12:00Z&max-results=20

But this attitude, however, makes perfect sense from the Tories’ ideological basis in private enterprise. Private industry operates by offering a range of services for the consumer, priced according to what they can afford or are willing to pay. The poorest only get the basic package, if they can afford that. As you pay more, so service improves. Now this works fine if you’re buying a washing machine or computer, but it’s no way to run public services that have to be accessible to all. Like the NHS. When that’s left to the private sector, as it is in America, it means that millions of people can’t afford proper healthcare. It means that 40,000 people a year die because they can’t afford their medicines, and the poorest hoard what medicines they have or use veterinary medicines for animals. A similar situation existed in this country before the establishment of the NHS by the Labour party under Clement Attlee and Nye Bevan. Before then, healthcare varied according to how wealthy you were. You got excellent care if you were well-off or were one of the few occupations that was covered by government health insurance schemes. If you were poor, you either had to make do with the charity hospital, the municipal infirmary, where standards varied immensely, some being extremely poor and basic, or you went without.

What changed attitudes to produce a broad consensus in favour of a socialised medical system was the Second World War. German bombs during the Blitz didn’t distinguish between rich and poor, who were hit alike and often in the same locations, so that the same healthcare had to be offered to everyone, regardless of personal wealth and class. But that was over 75 years ago, and the underlying lesson that made the NHS possible seems to have been forgotten by the Tories. If they ever learned it in the first place.

And so we had the unedifying spectacle of Hancock responding to the Coronavirus in the pages of the Torygraph like a private entrepreneur responding to increased demand. The announcement was made in a broadsheet paper aimed at and read by the top ranks of British society. It was hidden behind a paywall, so that only paying customers could access it. You get what you pays for, and this was premium service for valued customers. Which means the rich, whom eugenicist doctrine holds are biologically superior than everyone else.

This attitude is incompatible with running the NHS and tackling the coronavirus. Progress will only be made through properly funded state health provision and a government that genuinely has a public service ethos, rather than just pays lip service to it. 

Radio 4 Programme on Welsh 20th Century Decline

March 11, 2020

This might be of interest to Welsh readers of this blog, particularly as Mike’s a long-time resident of mid-Wales. Next Monday, 16th March 2020, Radio 4 are also broadcasting a programme on how Wales declined during the last century. The programme, Wales: A 20th-Century Tragedy?, is described thus in the blurb on page 131 of the Radio Times:

Simon Jenkins looks at the fortunes of Wales over the past century, asking how it might be possible to restore some glory to its valleys and mountains.

Rather more information is given in the short piece about the programme on the opposite page, 130, by Chris Gardner. This says

Simon Jenkins is passionate about Wales, the land of his father. His 2008 book Wales: Churches, Houses, Castles showcased the beauty and majesty of Welsh architecture, but the author and journalist is now worried for the nation’s future, citing among other factors the rise in the poverty index, while counties just over the border, such as Cheshire, have become richer. Examining Wale’s illustrious cultural, political, industrial and intellectual heritage over the last century, Jenkins uncovers historical reasons for this comparatively recent decline.

I think the major reason for this decline has been decline of the major Welsh industries during the last century – coal mining and iron working. There have been various history programmes on the Beeb that have shown that Swansea and Cardiff were major centres of the copper and iron industries from the 19th century onwards. I think Swansea was the world centre of copper production at one point, so that it was nicknamed ‘Copperopolis’. But this all gradually vanished due to competition from cheaper, foreign products. And this has continued into this century under the Tories, as we saw a few years ago with the proposed closure of one of the last surviving steelworks in the principality.

The country also hasn’t been helped by the fact that we haven’t had a Welsh prime minister, or one whose constituency was in Wales, for a long time. I seem to recall that Cardiff became the great city it is, housing Wales’ national museum, partly because Lloyd George wanted to turn it into a great national centre for Wales, like England and Scotland had London and Edinburgh respectively. The Labour PM, Jim Callaghan, attempted to do something for Wales, from what I recall, by diverting money that was earmarked to go to Bristol’s Portbury Docks to Cardiff. But his tenure of 10 Downing Street ended with Thatcher’s victory in 1979. And the Tories made it very plain that they weren’t going to help ailing industries, so that coal pits, and iron and steelworks up and down Britain were closed. This was partly because she wanted to destroy the coal industry so that a Tory government could no longer be overthrown by the miners, as Ted Heath’s had in the early ’70s.

I don’t know why Cheshire should have become more prosperous, unless it’s connected to the success of Liverpool FC. A friend of mine from that way told me that there’s a district in the county, which has become the country home of rich Liverpudlians, including footballers. Perhaps that’s part of the explanation.

If you want to listen to it, the programme’s on at 8.00 pm in the evening.

 

History Book on Why Israel’s Military Elite Can’t Make Peace

March 3, 2020

Postscript are a mail order company specialising in bargain books. I got their latest catalogue through the post today, and looking through it I found a book arguing that the country’s military leaders and the militaristic nature of Israeli society makes it impossible for the country to make peace. This is Fortress Israel – The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country – and Why They Can’t Make Peace by Patrick Tyler, published by Farrrar Straus Giroux. The blurb for it in the catalogue runs

Since its foundation in 1948 Israel has been torn between its ambition to be ‘a light unto nations’ and its desire to expand its borders. Drawing on declassified documents, personal archives and interviews, this epic history demonstrates how military service binds Israelis to lifelong loyalty and secrecy, making a democracy a hostage to the armed forces. A compelling study of character, rivalry, conflict and the competing impulses for war and peace in the Middle East.

This has direct relevance to a recent attempt by the Israel lobby to smear yet another left-wing Labour MP as an anti-Semite. If I recall correctly, it was Richard Burgon, who said that ‘Zionism was the enemy of peace’. This was too much for the Israel lobby, despite the fact that Burgon was not speaking about Jews, but about Zionism. As any fule kno, Zionism is political doctrine, not a race, religion or ethnic group. The largest Zionist organisation in America, for example, is Ted Hagee’s Christians United for Israel And anti-Zionist and Israel-critical Jewish bloggers like Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker, David Rosenberg and Martin Odoni, as well as anti-Zionist Jewish denominations and groups such as the Haredi and True Torah Jews, show that Judaism and Jewish identity most definitely is not synonymous with Israel, no matter how many laws Netanyahu passes declaring that Jews across the world are its citizens.

Burgon’s comment wasn’t a statement of anti-Semitic prejudice at all, but a perfectly reasonable opinion. The Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe, who now teaches at Exeter University here in the UK, has argued in his books, such as Ten Myths About Israel, that Zionism always implied the removal of the indigenous Arab people. And it also presented very strong evidence that Israel, contrary to its propaganda, was a reluctant participant in its various wars. Rather the Israeli leadership actively sought war, manipulating the Arab nations into striking first through military incursions and the denial of vital water supplies in order to give a false impression of its Israeli peacefulness and non-aggression. Tyler’s book adds yet more support to the view that Israel is indeed the enemy of peace.

It also shows another danger of the Israel lobby’s campaign to silence the country’s critics as anti-Semites. Not only has this led to the appalling smearing of perfectly decent, anti-racist people – one of whom recently died of the shock at her expulsion from the Labour Party, but it is also a danger to proper historical discussion, research and argument. The Israel lobby would like to substitute pro-Israel lies and propaganda for proper, objective history.

They aren’t just an attempt to affect political decisions and opinions, but also an attack on historical fact itself.

A Conservative Accusation of Liberal Bias at the Beeb

February 15, 2020

Robin Aitken, Can We Trust the BBC (London: Continuum 2007).

Robin Aitken is a former BBC journalist, and this book published 13 years ago argues that the BBC, rather than being unbiased, is really stuffed full of lefties and the broadcaster and its news and politics programmes have a very strong left-wing, anti-Conservative bias. Under Lord Reith, the BBC upheld certain core British values. Its news was genuinely unbiased, giving equal time to the government and opposition. It also stood for essential institutions and such as the monarchy, the constitution, the British Empire and Christianity at home, and peace through the League of Nations abroad.

This changed radically between 1960 and 1980 as the BBC joined those wishing to attack and demolish the old class-bound institutions. Now the BBC stands for passionate anti-racism, ‘human rights’, internationalism and is suspicious of traditional British national identity and strongly pro-EU. It is also feminist, secular and ‘allergic to established authority whether in the form of the Crown, the courts, the police or the churches.’ This has jeopardised the ideal at the heart of the Corporation, that it should be fair-minded and non-partisan.

Aitken does marshal an array of evidence to support his contention. This includes his own experience working for BBC Scotland, which he claims was very left-wing with a staff and management that bitterly hated Margaret Thatcher and made sure that the dismantlement of the old, nationalised industries like shipbuilding was properly lamented, but did not promote it as ‘creative destruction’ as it should, nor the emergence of the wonderful new information industry north of the border. A later chapter, ‘Testimonies’, consists of quotations from other, anonymous rightists, describing how the Beeb is biased and bewailing their isolated position as the few Conservative voices in the Corporation. He is particularly critical of the former director-general, John Birt. Birt was recruited in the 1990s from ITV. He was a member of the Labour Party, who brought with him many of his colleagues from the commercial channel, who also shared his politics and hatred of the Tories. He goes on to list the leading figures from the Left, who he claims are responsible for this bias. These include Andrew Marr, the former editor of the Independent, and the left-wing, atheist journo and activist, Polly Toynbee.

Aitken also tackles individual topics and cases of biased reporting. This includes how the BBC promoted the Labour Party and the EU before Labour’s landslide victory in the 1997 general election. The Conservatives were presented as deeply split on the issue and largely hostile to EU membership. The EU itself was presented positively, and the Labour Party as being united in favour of membership, even though it was as split as the Tories on the issue. Another chapter argues that the Beeb was wrong in challenging the government’s case for the Iraq Invasion. He claims that in a poll the overwhelming majority of Iraqis supported the invasion. The government did not ‘sex up’ the ‘dodgy dossier’ in order to present a false case for war, and it was wrong for the Beeb to claim that Blair’s government had.

The chapter ‘The Despised Tribes’ argues that there are certain ethnic or religious groups, who were outside the range of sympathy extended to other, more favoured groups. These include White South Africans, the Israeli Likud Party, Serb Nationalists under Milosevic, the Italian Northern League, Le Pen and the Front National in France, the Vlaams Blok in Belgium, American ‘Christian Fundamentalists’, conservative Roman Catholics, UKIP ‘and other groups who have failed to enlist the sympathies of media progressives’. These include the Orange Order and Ulster Protestants. He then claims that the Beeb is biased towards Irish Republicans, who have successfully exploited left-wing British guilt over historic wrongs against the Roman Catholic population. He then goes on to claim that Pat Finucane, a lawyer killed in the Troubles, was no mere ‘human rights’ lawyer but a senior figure in the IRA.

The chapter, ‘The Moral Maze’ is an extensive critique of a Panorama documentary claiming that the Roman Catholic condemnation of premarital sex and contraception was causing needless suffering in the Developing World through the procreation of unwanted children and the spread of AIDs by unprotected sex. This is contradicted by UN evidence, which shows that the African countries with the lowest incidence of AIDS are those with the highest Catholic populations. The Catholic doctrine of abstinence, he argues, works because reliance on condoms gives the mistaken impression that they offer total protection against disease and pregnancy, and only encourages sexual activity. Condoms cannot offer complete protection, and are only effective in preventing 85 per cent of pregnancies. The programme was deliberately biased against the Roman Catholic church and the papacy because it was made from the viewpoint of various groups with an explicit bias against the Church and its teaching on sexuality.

Aitken’s evidence is impressive, and I do accept part of his argument. I believe that the Beeb is indeed in favour of feminism, multiculturalism and human rights. I also believe that, the few remaining examples of the Beeb’s religious programming notwithstanding, the Corporation is largely hostile to Christianity in ways that would be unthinkable if applied to other religions, such as Islam. However, I don’t believe that the promotion of anti-racism and anti-sexism is wrong. And groups like the Northern League, Front National and other extreme right-wing political and religious groups, including UKIP, really are unacceptable because of their racism and should not be given a sympathetic platform. Their exclusion from the range of acceptable political and religious views is no bad thing.

But the book also ignores the copious documentation from the various media study units at Cardiff, Glasgow and Edinburgh universities of massive BBC Conservative bias. Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis have a chapter in their book on the gradual, slo-mo privatisation of the NHS, NHS – SOS, on the way the media has promoted the Tories’ and New Labour’s project of selling off the health service. And this includes the Beeb.  The Corporation was hostile to Labour after Thatcher’s victory, promoting the SDP splinter group against the parent party in the 1983 election, as well as the Tories. This pro-Tory bias returned with a vengeance after the 2010 Tory victory and the establishment of austerity. Barry and Savile Kushner show in their book, Who Needs the Cuts, how the Beeb excludes or shouts down anyone who dares to question the need for cuts to welfare spending. Tories, economists and financiers are also favoured as guests on news shows. They are twice as likely to appear to comment on the news as Labour politicians and trade unionists.

And we have seen how the Beeb has pushed the anti-Labour agenda particularly vigorously over the past five years, as it sought to smear Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party as institutionally anti-Semitic at every opportunity. Quite apart from less sensational sneering and bias. The guests on Question Time have, for example, been packed with Tories and Kippers, to whom presenter Fiona Bruce has shown particular favour. This has got worse under Johnson, with the Beeb now making it official policy not to have equal representation of the supporters of the various political parties in the programme’s audience. Instead, the majority of the audience will consist of supporters of the party that holds power in that country. Which means that in England they will be stuffed with Tories. Numerous members of the BBC news teams are or were members of the Tory party, like Nick Robinson, and a number have left to pursue careers at No 10 helping Cameron, Tweezer and Boris.

The evidence of contemporary bias in favour of the Tories today is massive and overwhelming.

With the exception of particular issues, such as multiculturalism, feminism, a critical and sometimes hostile attitude towards the monarchy, and atheism/ secularism, the BBC is, and always has been, strongly pro-Tory. The Birt era represents only a brief interval between these periods of Tory bias, and I believe it is questionable how left-wing Birt was. Aitken admits that while he certainly was no Tory, he was in favour of free market economics.

This book is therefore very dated, and overtaken by the Beeb’s massive return to the Right.