Posts Tagged ‘BBC 1’

Post-Slavery Exploitation and the Beeb’s ‘Long Song’

December 19, 2018

Okay, I haven’t been watching The Long Song, the Beeb’s historical drama set in the Caribbean during the dying days of slavery, which has been running on BBC 1 at 9.00 pm this week. It’s in three parts, the final of which is tonight. The series is based on Andrea Levy’s book of the same name, as is about a young slave girl, Kitty, who is taken away from her mother to become the personal servant of Caroline Mortimer, the sister of the plantation owner. It’s not something I would usually watch, and the description by the I’s TV critic, Sean O’Grady, that it’s ‘like Downton Abbey with added racism and sadism’ seems about accurate.

But I did catch a brief glimpse of a clip from the show on breakfast TV this morning. This showed the planter telling the slaves that they could be evicted if they didn’t work hard enough, and that they would be paid wages, but there would be a little deduction for rent.

This seems to me to be entirely accurate historically. After the final abolition of slavery in 1838, the planters and the colonial and British governments became concerned that the slaves weren’t working hard enough, and that they would leave the plantations to occupy unused land in the interior. This would leave the plantations without the labour needed to work them and harvest their crops, the country would return to subsistence agriculture and the entire colony would be ruined. they therefore set about devising methods to force the former slaves to remain on the plantations and to work hard.

Now there was some truth to their fears. Some colonies – I think one of them was Jamaica – reported that the slaves stopped working for the two months after abolition. When they returned to work, they demanded wages which the plantation masters considered too high. They also made a point of working less hard than previously. It was reported that they considered working as hard as before to be selling their ‘free’, and that if they did so, they were unworthy of their newly gained liberty.

Some of the planters did threaten their slaves with eviction, and one female slave was thrown out of her plantation home with all her belongings. They also introduced the truck system from Britain, in which employees were paid in tokens, which could only be spent in the company shops. They also used a payment system called ‘tenancy-at-will’ to keep the slaves where they were. This combined the slaves’ wages with deductions for rent. But the rents were always higher than the wages. For examples, if they were paid 5 shillings per week in wages, then the rent would be eight shillings. It was an evil system that has rightly been compared to debt peonage in Latin America.

To stop the former slaves buying vacant crown land in British Guiana, now Guyana, the government raised the price of the plots for sale so that they were far above their ability to afford them.

Obviously the freed people of the Caribbean didn’t take this lightly, and there were Strikes, riots and protests against these and other forms of official oppression and exploitation for decades afterwards. There was also the continual fear that the colonial governments or the British would reintroduce slavery. One former slave said that the Queen, Victoria, had abolished slavery with a charter, and so could just as easily put it back again. And there were a series of rebellions by the former slaves, such as that at Morant Bay in Jamaica as a result. Given this, it is no surprise that there is a continuing resentment at their treatment by some people of West Indian heritage.

Lenny Henry, who plays one of the slaves in the series, has said in an interview that children need to be taught more about slavery. He’s right. Salman Rushdie once remarked that the British didn’t know much about their history, because so much of it happened abroad. Which is also true. This country is affected by events that occurred outside in the colonies, episodes which are known to the people of those countries but not to us, and so some of the post-imperial resentments left over are a surprise.

We do need to know more, and not the sanitized, patriotic version that Tories like Michael Gove want our kids indoctrinated with. It’s only then that we can understand some of the stresses in our multicultural society, and hopefully move beyond them.

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Panorama Next Week on the Universal Credit Crisis

November 6, 2018

According to next week’s Radio Times, for the week 10-16 November 2018, Panorama next Monday, 12th November, will be about ‘The Universal Credit Crisis’, as the programme is titled. The blurb for it in the Radio Times runs

As the government’s new benefits system universal credit is rolled out, Catrin Nye spends time with families forced to survive on handouts from food banks while their claims are being processed. She also asks whether the Chancellor Philip Hammond’s extra 17 billion pounds of funding is too little, too late.

I don’t think there’s any question of any of that. One of the stories in today’s I paper is that food bank use has gone up 13% due to problems with universal credit. And the top reason for people using food banks has been delays and problems with getting benefits.

The government is coming under very serious pressure because of universal credit, and I hope this programme adds even more. It’s on at 7.30 pm, on BBC 1.

Theresa May’s Britain: Three Million Children Go Hungry in the Holidays

September 12, 2017

I’m sure Mike and the other left-wing bloggers and vloggers have posted up this statistic before, but I came across it again last night. It shocked and outraged me. Inside Out West, the local documentary programme on BBC 1 for the Bristol area, did a piece on child poverty. They interviewed one woman, a single mother, one of whose children was disabled. She was starving herself so she could feed her children. There were a few words from her non-handicapped son, who said it upset him that his mother was denying herself food, and he tried to persuade her to eat something. Sebet Chaudhary, the presenter of that part of the programme, then said that national statistics showed that 3 million children were going hungry in the holidays. When they go back to school, they are months behind their classmates. The programme then moved on to interview a man, who had a scheme to change all this.

I wasn’t really following the programme, so I can’t give you a complete description of what it said. Only that I was deeply annoyed by the stats.

Three million children in Britain do not have enough to eat.

In Britain, one of the richest nations in the world.

This is absolutely disgraceful, though I’m sure there are other, less delicate terms to describe it.

No wonder many people were reading a piece I put up a few years ago about a food line of starving children in early 20th century Britain, before the introduction of the welfare state.

It’s recurring, and due to the same stupid, laissez-faire, free trade, corporatist, neoliberal policies.

And the people behind this are the Tories, with some help from their Lib Dem enablers. This is what Maggie set out to do when she ranted about rolling back the frontiers of the state. She wanted to privatize everything, including the NHS, and dismantle the welfare state. And part of her wretched ‘Victorian Values’ was less eligibility, the policy of making life on benefit so hard, that people would be deterred from relying on state aid.

And so we had Iain Duncan Smith and David Cameron presiding over a vicious sanctions regime, in which claimants were denied benefits for the flimsiest of reasons, humiliated at their interviews, and the desperately and incurably ill were told that they were well enough to work. Even those terminally ill in comas.

The benefits system was drastically curtailed, so that more people are being forced to rely on food banks.

All the while we have Theresa May lying about how she’s ‘strong and stable’ and will give Britain a good deal with Brexit. She hasn’t so far. All she’s done is lie.

And to add insult to injury, we have Jacob Rees-Mogg being touted as the next leader of the Tory party, while the inbred, single-helix upper class morons and closet Nazis of ‘Activate’ make jokes about gassing chavs and shooting peasants.

Rees-Mogg is the spawn of privilege. He’s an upper-class, seriously entitled Tory, who started his political career telling the guid fisherfolk of Fife that they should vote for him to maintain an aristocratic House of Lords. His voting record shows that he is massively opposed to the welfare state, and in favour of increased taxation on the poor. When it comes to people earning over £100,000, he’s dead against it.

And to cap it all, he was in the Mirror the other week, which reported that his private investment firm had earned him a cool £4 million.

Well, he’s not the only one. 77 per cent of MPs are company directors, often holding multiple directorships. He, and the other Tories like him, neither know nor care anything about the real, grinding poverty they and their vile policies have inflicted on this country. They are only interested in filling their own pockets at the expense of the rest.

The sooner they’re voted out, the better.

Amber Rudd’s Closing Speech On the Leader Debate – Like a Rory Bremner Impression + Soundbites

May 31, 2017

Okay, I confess, I didn’t watch the leader debates on BBC 1 this evening, as I afraid it would annoy me. I did, however, catch the closing speeches from Plaid Cymru, the Lib Dems and Amber Rudd. The Lib Dems made the entirely valid point that Theresa May was not the ‘strong and stable’ leader she’s claiming to be, because she wasn’t there.

Exactly true. May does not like meeting the public. When she does, it’s all very carefully stage-managed. They’re held on private premises, and tend to be invitation-only, so that the proles don’t show up and ask awkward questions.

When she does try meeting the public, she’s either met with a barricade of closed doors, as she was in Scotland, or else is booed out and by angry locals, as she was recently at a housing estate in Bristol.

Corbyn, by contrast, is given a rapturous welcome by people, who genuinely want change and an end to Tory austerity, cuts to public services, the dismantlement of the welfare state and the privatisation of the NHS.

Standing in for May was Amber Rudd, whose final speech, minus the soundbites, sounded like Rory Bremner’s mickey-take of Tory leader Michael Howard back in the 1990s.

So what was Rudd’s final argument for voting Tory?

Well, she claimed that a vote for any other party than the Conservatives would let Jeremy Corbyn in. She sneered at the other parties as ‘the coalition of chaos’, and claimed that May is the strong leader Britain needs to negotiate a good Brexit and deliver a strong economy.

In other words, as Max Headroom used to say, ‘more…of the same’. It was the same tired old clichés and outright lies: ‘coalition of chaos’, ‘strong and stable’, ‘Brexit’, ‘strong economy’. You could probably play a form of bingo with the Tories, in which you have a card marked with these clichés and soundbites. First person, who crosses all of them wins the right to buy something nice to get over the horror of having to listen to more Tory bilge.

Let’s deal with some of these claims. The French Philosophical Feline, Guy Debord’s Cat, has knocked flat the Tory rhetoric about a ‘strong economy’. He points out that when they say they’re going to create one, it clearly implies that we don’t have a strong economy already. And we clearly don’t, because otherwise we would have money being poured into the NHS, people would not be forced to use food banks, public sector workers would not have their wages cut year on year, and people would have other jobs available to them than those which are only part-time or short-term contracts.

https://buddyhell.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/the-strong-economy-soundbite/

As for the ‘coalition of chaos’, this goes back to the old Tory lie that Labour would form a coalition with the Scots Nats. As Corbyn himself said yesterday that it ain’t going to happen, no matter what Nicola Sturgeon may say, this has been blown away.

But if you want to talk about a ‘coalition of chaos’, how else would you describe the Tory-Lib Dem coalition of David Cameron and Nick Clegg? Cameron very effectively weakened the Union by calling the referendum on EU membership, in a bid to silence the Eurosceptics in his party. The result is that England largely voted to Leave, while the rest of the UK, including Scotland and Northern Ireland, wanted to Remain.

This means even further divisions between the constituent nations of the UK itself. And in Northern Ireland, that division is potentially lethal. It was a condition of the 1990s peace agreement that there should be an open border between Ulster and the Republic. If the UK leaves the EU, then it could mean the imposition of a border between the North and the rest of Ireland. And that could mean a return to real chaos and bloodshed.

Nobody in Northern Ireland wants a hard border. That was shown very clearly this morning when the Beeb’s breakfast team interviewed a load of Ulster politicos on the beach at Portrush, except for the Sinn Fein candidate, who was in his constituency office. All but one wanted the border to remain open, including the spokesman for the UUP, while the Sinn Fein candidate wanted Ulster to have a special status within the EU to guarantee the open border.

So congratulations, Cameron and Clegg: You’ve come just that bit closer to destroying the 300-year old union between England, Wales and Scotland, and the almost 200-year old union with Ireland, or rather, with the small part of Ireland that wanted to remain British after the establishment of Eire.

And her cuts to the police, the emergency services, the border guards and the armed forces have led to chaos in this country. They weakened our security, so that it was made much easier for the Manchester suicide bomber to commit his atrocity.

And that isn’t all. The Tories have caused massive chaos in the NHS through their cuts and piecemeal privatisation; millions are living in poverty, thanks to benefit cuts and sanctions, stagnant and falling wages, and zero hours contracts.

As for May being a strong leader, well, no, she isn’t that either. Mike’s put up a post pointing out the number of times she’s made a U-turn. The most obvious was her decision to call a general election, after telling everyone she wouldn’t.

She has also, very manifestly, failed to get a good deal for Britain on Brexit. Despite her waffle to the contrary, when she turned up in Brussels, the rest of the Euro politicos all turned their backs on her. She also showed that she didn’t have a clue what she was doing a little while ago by repeating endlessly the oxymoron, ‘Brexit means Brexit’, and then looking down her nose at the questioner as if they were thick when they tried to ask her what that nonsense meant.

As for her statement that a vote for any other party meant that Labour will get in, Rory Bremner sent that one up on his show, Bremner, Bird and Fortune. This featured the great impressionist posing as Michael Howard, the then leader of the Tory party, and saying into the camera ‘Vote Conservative. If you don’t vote Conservative, Labour will get in.’

And that was, pretty much, all that the Tories could really offer that time.

And, as I saw tonight, that’s pretty much all Amber Rudd and the Tories have to offer now, except for two soundbites.

It’s a threadbare argument, and they know it. That’s why they have to attack Jeremy Corbyn personally, just as the Tories back in the 1990s tried to frighten people with images of Blair as some kind of horrific, demonic beast.

Don’t be fooled.
Don’t let the Tories’ campaign of chaos plunge this country into more bloodshed, poverty, starvation and death.

Vote Labour on June 8th.

Inside Out West on the Break-Up of the NHS Into Regions

January 19, 2017

Monday’s regional current affairs programme for the Bristol and Somerset area on BBC 1, Inside Out West, was on the dire condition of the NHS. It asked whether we now had a national health service, when healthcare provision could vary greatly between different regions. One of the people interviewed was a West Country man, who’d contracted hepatitis B. Unfortunately, the drugs he needed to treat his disease weren’t available locally under the NHS, and he’d been forced to spend £1,300 of his own money. However, treatment for the disease was free in the north east.

The show next interviewed a woman from that area, who’d had trouble obtaining treatment there for the disorder she had. I’ve forgotten now quite what she suffered from, but taken together, the two provided very strong evidence, backed with statistics, that the NHS was being broken up, and healthcare could be very much a ‘postcode lottery’, with patients in areas with poor healthcare provision having to pay for their treatment themselves.

At the end of the programme, the presenter gave the Department of Health’s view of the matter. Unsurprisingly, they claimed that more people than ever before were being treated, and came out with a statistic that claimed to show there were more cancer operations than ever. But they didn’t send anyone to be interviewed on the point.

This is the kind of spin the Tories have been coming out with ever since Thatcher got into power. We’re back to Theresa May claiming that there is no NHS crisis, and trying to shut up any healthcare professional that dared to say otherwise. The programme also interviewed several medical professionals, including doctors, who said that the NHS was very definitely being broken up and healthcare rationed. Most of them were anonymous, but one very famous medical man did appear on camera. This was the avuncular Dr. Robert Winston, the fertility specialist and science presenter, who stated very clearly that we now very much didn’t have an NHS providing universal coverage with the same standard throughout the country. He recognised that there had always been variations in the quality of healthcare in Britain, but now it had got much, much worse.

The fact that the Department of Health didn’t send any of their apparatchiks to argue the point shows that they’re very much aware their own position is open to serious questioning.

This situation is very much what the Tories and Blairites wanted. They wanted to break up the local health authorities and replace them with other administrative structures, in order to encourage competition between regions. Because competition is supposed to improve quality according to capitalist economic doctrine. Blair tried to roll back some of this, but simply replaced the Tory administrative structure with his own in order to encourage the regionalisation of the NHS and the privatisation of the health service, based on the pattern of American private healthcare providers like Kaiser Permanente. This is all described by Jacky Davis and Raymond Tallis in their book, NHS-SOS. Cameron and May have taken this process further, passing laws that exempt local health authorities from having to provide a range of services free of charge, including ambulances. The legislation is convoluted, but it also means that the Minister for Health is no longer responsible for making sure people have access to state healthcare.

This is all very deliberate. And the effect is that increasingly more people are having to spend their money on healthcare that should be free to all, according to the founding intention of the NHS that it should be universal and free at the point of use.

Don’t believe the Tory rubbish that they are not privatising the NHS. They are.

Support the NHS. Kick out May and Jeremy Hunt.

Gloucester Homeless Hotel and Victim of Bedroom Tax on Bristol Local TV

February 16, 2016

Last night – 15th February 2016 – the regional current affairs programme, Close Up West, did a feature on the Dorchester Hotel in Gloucester, contrasting it with the extremely posh and swanky establishment of the same name in the Metropolis. Whereas London’s Dorchester is reserved for the high paying filthy rich, Gloucester’s is basically a skid-row hotel for the homeless. One of these was a young woman, who had been forced out of her council house because of the Bedroom Tax. She had not been able to find regular, alternative private accommodation because she refused to give up her dog. As it appeared on camera, the animal appeared well-behaved and contented, and a well appreciated why she did not wish to be parted from him.

The hotel’s owners and managers were shown answering the telephone from homeless people, inquiring if there were any vacancies. There weren’t. The manager stated that they had six such phone calls a day, making about 30 each week. This she blamed on the current economic climate and the government’s welfare cuts.

While this is hardly news to the people reading Mike’s blog over at Vox Political, Johnny Void, Another Angry Voice, Britain Isn’t Eating and so many other left-wing blogs reporting from the front line of poverty, it does add yet another small piece of evidence to the overwhelming mountain showing how aIDS wretched welfare reforms are damaging the people of Britain, and throwing them onto the streets. The only people who don’t accept this are obviously the Tories, and particular the Spurious Major himself. Ian Duncan Smith, however, is so sure of his policies that when challenged about them on a factual basis, he splutters about ‘belief’. That it is if you can find him. Mostly he runs away, and embarrassing documents tend to disappear from cyberspace. Others elsewhere in the Tory cabinet also share his cowardice. Jeremy Hunt last Friday ran away from the junior doctors when they threatened to turn up at the fundraiser in Fareham. Never mind. Perhaps aIDS will let him have the use of the laundry basket he’s been known to hide in.

Huff Post on Kipper Throwing Strop at Bristol Uni on Any Questions

March 1, 2015

Radio 4’s political debate programme, Any Questions on Friday was at Bristol Uni. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the radio equivalent of BBC 1’s Question Time. A different panel of politicians appear at various locations up and down the country each week, and are asked questions by the audience. On the panel this last week was David Coburn, a UKIP MEP. Coburn’s odd in that he’s openly gay, yet opposes same-sex marriage. He’s accused its supporters as ‘equality Nazis’. Which is weird, considering that the Nazis most certainly did not favour equality, and were very firmly against male homosexuality. During the Third Reich gay men were sent to the concentration camps, and identified with a pink triangle on their camp uniform. It’s quite bizarre, considering that in the bio that was sent to the audience, he described himself as ‘a big, screaming poof’.

The Huffington Post’s article, Ukip MEP David Coburn Got Slow Hand-Clapped So Called BBC Audience Names, reports how the students were definitely not impressed by Coburn’s remarks about immigrants pricing British people out of the housing market. So they started to give him the slow handclap. This enraged Coburn, and he started ranting about how the audience was ‘Green’ and full of ‘Lib Dems’. The article begins

Ukip MEP David Coburn appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions programme on Friday evening. He got slow hand-clapped by members of the audience. So he called them names.

Coburn got into a fight with the audience at Bristol University during a discussion about housing. “How would we know how many houses we need? Because we don’t know how many people are coming into the country,” he said, having dismissed the “wind” from Labour’s shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds.

Coburn, Ukip’s MEP from Scotland, said Britain should leave the EU in order to be able to properly understand how many houses needed to be built. Members of the audience then started to loudly slow handclap the MEP.

“This is a blatantly Green [Party] audience,” Coburn shot back, as host Jonathan Dimbleby tried to keep things calm. “Many of these people sitting around here, all very nice bourgeois Greens and whatever and so on and so forth, what about the working man? How can he afford a house if he is competing with open door immigration?”

The article’s at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/02/27/ukip-mep-david-coburn-was-slow-hand-clapped-by-bbc-audience_n_6772468.html. There’s an audio file with it, so you can hear this broadcasting train wreck for yourself.

Now I don’t know how many people in the audience were Green party members or Lib Dems. I’m sure there were a number, but probably far less than Coburn believes. The Lib Dems have lost a lot of student support, and created a great deal of hostility for themselves on campuses up and down the country through raising tuition fees. I’ve been at conferences on medieval history, where speakers have compared Nick Clegg with some of the Middle Ages most notorious liars and slippery customers. It’s one of the reasons why I believe that Labour’s plan to cut tuition fees from £9,000 down to £6,000 should be a vote-winner.

The party political allegiances of the students there probably wasn’t the only reason they showed their disapproval so audibly. There’s now a global market in education, and people come to British universities from all over the world. And increasingly vice-versa. Brits are now also choosing to study in America, and also at continental universities, such as Paris and Brussels. Many members of the academic staff are also foreign. Among the lecturers at the archaeology and anthropology department at Bristol, for example, were academics from across Europe – Greece, Germany and Portugal. There were also visiting speakers, who gave seminars and lectures to the Arch-Anth Soc (Archaeology and Anthropology Society) from across the world. The students were no less diverse, coming from places like Greece, America, Canada, India and Thailand. This is part of what makes going to uni such an enriching experience. Quite apart from the purely academic study, you get to meet and mix with people from different, often vastly different backgrounds and cultures.

And your own understanding of the world, its immense problems and vast opportunities, is broadened.

With so many in the audience either foreign, or the friends and fellow students of people from outside the UK, it really isn’t surprising that the audience disliked Coburn’s comments so strongly. They are simply narrow and xenophobic. And many of the foreign students are going to find them particularly hollow, as the fees for them were much higher than those for domestic students. They were, however, living in the same halls of residence, and the same types of student accommodation. So they probably didn’t feel that they were pushing house prices up.

Quite apart from the experiences of foreign students and their circumstances, Coburn’s attempt to link it to immigration from the EU, or anywhere else, is quite wrong. There have been cases recorded in the right-wing press, like the Daily Mail, where large numbers of immigrants have placed a strain on available stocks of council housing. However, the root cause of the lack of affordable housing is because the incomes of the very rich have increased far beyond those of the working and lower middle class, regardless of ethnicity or immigrant status. Not enough houses have been built, and since Thatcher the government has been trying to get rid of council housing. In fact Thatcher expressly forbade any more from being built. As for affordable housing, for many people this is a grim joke. The rents for affordable homes are pegged at 80 per cent of the market rate, which for many people in London still means that they will be unable to afford them. The rich, through their immense wealth, push up property prices, beyond the ability of the lower income groups to rent or purchase.

And if immigrants from the continent really were pushing us all out of house and home through their sheer numbers and obscene wealth, why is it then that, according to the stats Johnny Void has put on his blog, 34 per cent of rough sleepers in London are foreign?

The only areas of which I can think, where Coburn’s comments about immigrants pushing up property prices might be true, is in the very affluent parts of London, like Kensington and Knightsbridge, where luxury apartment have been built aimed at the global super-rich, such as the Chinese, or bought up by Russian oligarchs. Now the last time I looked, China and Russia were not part of the EU.

Coburn was given the slow hand-clap by Bristol Uni’s students, not just because some of them were left-wing, though that was probably also part of it. But also because they knew from their own experience at Uni that Coburn was talking dangerous, xenophobic nonsense. And they reacted accordingly.

Independent: UKIP and Tories Now Britain’s Most Hated Brands

February 16, 2015

The Independent has just put up a piece about what are now the most hated brands in the UK, Ukip named UK’s most hated brand, followed by the Tories and Marmite at http://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/ukip-named-uks-most-hated-brand-followed-by-the-tories-and-marmite/ar-BBhDTvU?ocid=OIE9HP. Number four is Ryanair. Labour and Lib Dems are fifth and sixth respectively. This surprises me, as I would have thought the Lib Dems, as Tory Lites, would be up there with their masters.

The article also gives a list of the country’s favourite brands. Amazon is no. 1, with BBC 1 at 5, ITV at 10, and BBC 2 19.

This just shows how much the Tories really have become the Nasty Party. They’re unpopular and they know it. Hence the sneers at Miliband.

Village Power Companies, the Spencean Land Plan and the Bulgarian Peasants’ Party

May 29, 2014

A village was in the news last week for setting up its own solar power company. I’ve forgotten which programme it was on. It could have been the local news, Points West, on the BBC 1 for this part of the West Country, or, alternatively on the One Show. The village had initially been intended for fracking, but the villagers had examined that and very firmly decided against it. They had turned instead to solar power. They had set up a massive array of solar panels, which not only provided the village with its own energy, but also sold some on to the national grid. The power company was owned by the village as a whole, and each villager received a dividend from the profits generated by the company.

The feature was accompanied by questions about the practicality of such schemes. It was pointed out that you needed an awful lot of solar panels and would have to wait several years before the investment paid off. The number of solar panels required were so great, that it was well beyond the ability of a single person or family to afford. There were also questions about whether individual villagers should be included in the scheme, if they didn’t want to. The schemes’ inclusion of all the villagers made this a possibility, though the organisers made the point that because of the way it was actually set up, this didn’t actually happen.

Very many people now have solar panels on the roof, providing them with cheap electricity, or selling it to the electricity companies. This was the idea expanded from a single household to a whole community. Way back in the 1990s New Scientist had also carried a story about scientists working to develop power units, which would allow household to generate their own electricity and sell also sell it to the power companies, very much like the system with household solar panels.

It also reminded somewhat of Thomas Spence’s land plan. Spence was an early late 18th and 19th century Socialist. He advocated reforming Britain into a federation of autonomous parishes. Each parish would own the land in common, with the profits from the rents given out each quarter day to all the parishioners, whether men, women or children. It was effectively a form of land nationalisation, with the land turned into a co-operative.

It also reminded me somewhat of the programme of the pre-Second World War Bulgarian peasant party, the Bulgarian Agrarian National Union under its leader, Stamboliiski. BANU weren’t Socialists. They strongly supported private property, but believed in an egalitarian world where each individual would own enough, with no one having too much or too little. But just as humanity had an individual dimension to its nature, which demanded private property, it also had a social aspect with required co-operative action. They thus advocated that the Bulgarian peasant farmers should unite in a system of co-operatives that would allow the country to develop and enjoy modern prosperity.

R.J. Crampton describes this part of their ideology this in the book A short History of Modern Bulgaria (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1987) 87.

It was only in 11918 that BANU adopted an official programme, the ultimate objective of which was to create an egalitarian society based upon private ownership of the means of production and the absence of the exploitation of one man’s labour by another. The focus was primarily but not solely upon the peasantry. The party’s, and especially Stamboliiski’s vision, was of a society in which no peasant owned too much and none too little land, in which they lived in clean, modernised villages furnished with electricity, communications and recreational facilities and a developed educational system. Though private property was to remain the basic form of ownership – Stamboliiski had once described it as ‘the motive force for work and progress’ – individual properietors were to help each other through the cooperative system, which was to provide credit, to store harvested crops, and to market produce. The cooperative idea was a fundamental aspect of Agrarian ideology, and was meant not only to provide material benefit, but, through that provision, to lead to the evolution of new forms of civic political morality and organisation. Stamboliiski’s long-term vision saw a society in which all producers had voluntarily joined the cooperatives, and in which the latter had become so influential that they provided the basis for local government and administration. Cooperation was not only to provide a new form of local organisation, but could, it was felt, even lead to the merging of nation-states into a free association of peasant communities – a true peasant, or green, international.

It seems to me that the village power company in rural England was merely a modern form of Spence’s land plan and BANU’s village co-operatives, except whereas Spence had based his utopian society on communal land, this was based on communal power. Nevertheless, it also shows that as society and technology develop, the old, Utopian Socialist and radical ideas return. They are still relevant, even in the Tories’ supposedly new age of cut-throat Thatcherite individualism and private enterprise.

Historical Drama: The Mill on Channel 4, Sundays 8.00 pm

July 23, 2013

Channel 4 begins another historical drama, The Mill, this Sunday at 8.00 in the evening. In contrast to the medieval chivalry and power politics of BBC’s The White Queen on an hour later, The Mill is set amongst the factory slaves of the northern cotton mills during the Industrial Revolution. It’s based on the real history of Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire in the 1830s. This was the period when the new factory masters bought children from the workhouses to work amongst the machines in the mills. The working day was 13 hours long with accidents common. The apprentices were unpaid, and could only look forward to a few shillings if they completed their apprenticeship when they turned 18. The Mill dramatizes the events and controversy of 1833 when the government of the time attempted to introduce the 10 Hours Act, limiting children’s working day to those hours.

The blurb for The Mill on page 62 of the Radio Times runs as follows

‘A glowering, brutal mill foreman yells at a clutch of young female workers, women he’s frequently pulled from the dusty, hellish cauldron of the factory floor to indecently assault in a privy: “You’re apprentices, orphans, bastards! No one’ll listen to you, so say nothing!’ New Tricks it ain’t.

But if you like your dramas bleak, visceral and raw, sticky with the blood of dead and injured workers in the scarred and cauterised landscape of Britain during the Industrial Revolution, then The Mill will be your weekly treat. John Fay’s script is sweatily powerful as misery is piled upon misery. Children are frequently badly injured by unsafe, unguarded machinery and everyone works long hours in hideous conditions. And they are powerless and without hope.’

Two of the female stars of The Mill were talking about their roles in the series on breakfast TV on BBC 1 yesterday. Unfortunately I missed most of it. They did, however, mention that they ended up working 13 hours days shooting the series, and talked about the heat, noise and the dangers of the machines on which they were filmed. As lurid as it sounds, the series appears to be historically accurate. The evidence gather by contemporary reformers, such as Lord Shaftesbury, religious campaigners such as George Muller in Bristol, presented to the government’s commissions of inquiry and published in works like Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, present a grim picture of appalling poverty, despair and degradation. In Britain and the rest of Europe, legislation was passed by successive governments first limiting their hours and then outlawing child labour. There are still concerns about child labour in Britain even now. Back in the 1990s the anti-slavery charity, Anti-Slavery International, published a pamphlet discussing violations of the child labour legislation in Britain. Even though it is carefully regulated in Britain, it is still used throughout the developing world, in conditions very similar to that of 19th century Britain.

This is the world the authors of Britannia Unchained are harking back to with their spurious complaints that Brits are too lazy and need to work longer hours. Greg Palast, the American radical journalist, attacked this claim in his book, Armed Madhouse. Palast found that rather than making the West more competitive, it encouraged Developing Nations to raise their working hours even more, until you reached the long hours and appalling conditions of Chinese forced labour camps.

Channel 4 as Radical, Alternative Broadcaster

I can’t say that I’ll watch The Mill. It’s going to be far too grim for me. I prefer television that’s much less visceral and more escapist. It is, however, important. Channel 4 has been criticised of late for broadcasting mass-market programming that could be shown on any channel in order to improve its ratings. The channel was originally set up to show material of minority interest, as a kind of alternative BBC 2. As a result it broadcast opera, foreign movies, and documentaries on left-wing or radical issues. Jeremy Isaacs, its first head, said he aimed to broadcast northern miners’ oral history, amongst other subjects. It also showed material aimed at racial minorities. This included All India Goldies, a series of Indian films, and a massive TV version of the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. Much of its output was also fairly sexually explicit. It also included programmes on homosexuality, before this became more acceptable. AS a result the Daily Mail regularly attacked it, and hysterically dubbed Michael Grade, its director-general of the time, ‘Britain’s pornographer-in-chief’. More recently, Quentin Letts, the political sketch writer for the Mail and very definitely a man of the right, has attacked Channel 4 for not keeping to its original raison d’etre. He points out that its opera broadcasts introduced the art to a mass audience, attracting hundreds of thousands of viewers. It’s also supposed to have confounded the Leaderene’s husband. Denis Thatcher thought that by ‘alternative programming’, Channel 4 would be screening things like yachting. Well, it’s been several decades, but it looks like Channel 4 might be trying to reclaim its position as the channel of intelligent, radical broadcasting.