Posts Tagged ‘Bridgwater’

Russell Brand Takes Down Jacob Rees-Mogg

September 25, 2017

I realise that Russell Brand probably isn’t everyone’s favourite comedian ever since that stunt he and Jonathan Ross pulled leaving sneering prank messages about Andrew Sachs’ granddaughter on the old fellow’s answerphone a few years ago. I also don’t agree with his anarchistic stance encouraging people not to vote. However, in his Trew News videos on YouTube he has produces some very incisive critiques and demolitions of contemporary capitalism, right-wing politics and bigotry.

In this video he takes on Jacob Rees-Mogg, now the darling of the Tory party, many of whom would just love him to take over the reins from Theresa May, whose own failings are increasingly obvious. And they definitely prefer him to Boris after BoJo showed his complete lack of scruple and personal loyalty by stabbing Cameron and then Gove in the back over Brexit.

They like Mogg, because he’s soft-spoken and courteous. But as Brand points out here, his opinions are absolutely toxic. Brand shows the clip of Mogg wrong-footing John Snow when Suchet was interviewing him about May’s Brexit speech. Suchet stated that many people thought here speech was a shambles. So Mogg says ‘It seems a bit harsh to compare her speech to a butcher’s slaughterhouse.’ This throws Snow for a moment, who clear wasn’t aware that that was what the word originally meant, and throws it back to Mogg, saying that it seems a harsh thing for him to say. Only for Mogg to tell him that this is what Suchet himself has said, as that’s what the word means. Brand rightly mocks Mogg for this piece of rhetoric.

In fact, the word shambles actually means the stalls butchers occupied in medieval market places. Bridgwater in Somerset had its shambles, and a fish shambles as well, in the Cockenrow, the name of which means ‘Cook’s Row’, and refers to the shops in that part of town selling cooked meat. The medieval shambles at Shepton Mallet has survived, and you can visit it with the benches on which the medieval tradesmen used to display their wares, above which is mounted a small tiled roof.

In discussing the etymology of the word, Mogg is clearly being pedantic, simultaneously using his knowledge to play down just how awful and uninspiring May’s speech was, while also showing off his superior knowledge in the hopes that this will impress everyone with the depth of his aristocratic education. In fact, the word’s etymology is immaterial here. The word is simply used commonly to mean a mess. Of course, if you wanted to make the point in a more elevated and highfalutin manner, Snow could have said ‘I was using the term synchronically’, which is modern philologist’s parlance for what a term means now. I doubt Mogg’s own knowledge of the theory of linguistics goes that far, and it would have thrown his own rhetorical strategy back at him. But unfortunately, thinking about such responses is usually the kind of thing you do on the way home after it’s all over.

Brand then goes on to talk about Mogg’s appearance on Breakfast TV, where he showed himself against gay marriage and abortion, even after rape. Brand is like many others – impressed by Mogg’s honesty, while at the same time horrified by the views he holds.

And then he attacks Mogg’s performance on LBC Radio, where he declared that the growth in food banks was ‘uplifting’, and goes on to talk about how the state couldn’t provide everything. Brand states that what brings this argument down is the fact that most of the people forced to use food banks are actually working. They’re just not paid enough to live on.

He also rebuts Mogg’s claims that his views are based in Christianity. They aren’t. Most of Christ’s message in the Gospels is about being nice and kind. Mogg, however, prefers to see Christ as being harder towards the poor and sick. To support his point about Mogg’s highly selective interpretation of Christian morality, he cites and shows a letter published by one of the papers, that makes this point.

In fact, Mogg’s views on food banks are more or less standard Tory rhetoric. Many Tories will say something about preserving a welfare state to give some provision for the poor, but will then do exactly what Mogg did, and then say that the state can’t provide everything. When challenged about cuts to the welfare state, they’ll probably make some comment about needing to target the support to those who really need it, rather than scroungers.

This is all highly mendacious. The cuts don’t just attack scroungers – they create real poverty amongst those in genuine need. And nobody expects the state to do everything. They just expect them to provide real support for the poor and the disabled. This support is not being provided, and the Tories are intent on destroying the welfare state piecemeal, so that no-one notices. Rees-Mogg’s comments about retaining some kind of welfare state are a sham, whether he believes it or not, are designed to gull people into believing that the Tories really do want to look after ordinary people. They don’t.

As for Mogg being delighted with the charity and generosity shown by people giving to the food banks, this was actually one of the reasons Thatcher wanted to abolish the welfare state. She thought that, with the state unable to provide for the poor there would be a resurgence in private generosity as people rose to the task of giving themselves, rather than relying on state aid. But as Lobster noted in a piece in its editorial, The View from the Bridge, a little while ago, this didn’t happen, And Thatcher realized it. As for the state being unable to provide adequately for the poor, the opposite is true. Conservative, religious Americans do give generously to charity. They’re often more generous than secular liberals, according to polling done a few years ago and cited in the book, The Truth about Evangelical Christians. But this personal generosity is completely inadequate for tackling the deep, widespread and grinding poverty that’s now spreading across America thanks to nearly forty years of Reaganite neoliberalism.

Brand gives Rees-Mogg his professional appreciation as a comedian. He states that Mogg is a comedic character. He makes the point that he seems mostly compounded from Maggie Thatcher. That’s certainly where Mogg got his mistaken and disgusting views about the efficacy of private charity over state aid. Just as Thatcher got it from her mentor, Keith Joseph. And if Mogg was the creation of a comedian sending up the Tories, he would be highly funny. He comes across somewhat as a mix of the Slenderman, the sinister internet meme, and Lord Snooty from the Beano. Or was it the Dandy? Looking at the photo Mike put up, showing Mogg trying to lift his leg over a style reminding me of nothing less than the Monty Python sketch, the ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’. Brand goes on to the compare Mogg to Trump. Mogg’s a comedic figure in exactly the same way Trump is. But only from a distance. Brand says that if he lived in America, which has to deal with the problems Trump is creating, he wouldn’t find Trump funny at all. The same with Mogg. Like Trump, he can appreciate Mogg as a comic character, but in reality, as a politician, Trump and Mogg are anything but funny.

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Owen Jones on the Chilcot Report, the Iraq War and Tony Blair

July 6, 2016

The news today has been dominated by the Chilcot report, and its findings about the launch of the Iraq War by Tony Blair. In this video from Owen Jones, the author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, gives his view on the moral and possible legal culpable of Blair for starting a war that has killed hundreds of thousands, destroyed an entire nation, and caused the entire Middle East to descend further into chaos and carnage.

He states that the report’s publication and its conclusions gives him no satisfaction, but it does vindicate what opponents of the war had said. He quotes a Labour MP, Simpson, who used to be his boss, who stated that Blair was desperate to join Bush in a war regardless of the cause; that the country was being pushed to war. He notes that Chilcot has also confirmed that the intelligence reports, which formed the basis for Blair’s decision to go to war, were ‘flawed’. He quotes Christian Aid, a charity, not a political organisation, who also opposed the war because they believed it would lead to further internal violence in Iraq, and that Iran would seek its own advantages. Jones notes that at the time the anti-War protesters were attacked and vilified by a press determined to promote the war. He also urges his viewers not to be taken in by Blair, when the man the Italians dubbed ‘The Scrounger’ (but in Italian, obviously) says that it’s all obvious in hindsight, but couldn’t be known at the time. Jones makes it very clear from all the above that it was very clearly understood by the war’s opponents at the time how dreadful it would be and the terrible consequences.

Jones states that the report doesn’t conclude whether there is a legal base for prosecuting Blair. He hopes that is the case, and that there will now be moves to see if such a trial is possible. But even if he isn’t legally liable, he is morally culpable. He, and the media that enabled and promoted the war, have to live with that. And the consequences of this conflict will be with us for decades to come.

Jones is correct, and his video is cut with shots of anti-war protests and demonstrators. It’s refreshing to see on this video quotations from the Labour and Left-wing protesters against the war, like Jones’ old boss, Simpson, and the late Robin Cook. Cook resigned because of the war, and was arguable the man, who should have led the Labour party. I can remember seeing Simon Hoggart, the journalist and compere of the News Quiz on Radio 4, Giles Brandreth, a former Tory cabinet minister, before he became one of the faces on The One Show, and Brandreth’s Labour opposite number, talking about political diaries at the Cheltenham Literary Festival one year. Brandreth said that Cook was the man the Tories were dreading would lead Labour, because of his incisive, forensic intelligence. At the time, here in my part of the West Country, most of the voices raised in protest were Tories. On the local news this evening the Bridgwater MP, Tom King, and two other Tories have appeared commenting on the Report and how they were against the war at the time. This is true. Peter Hitchens, the former Marxist, now right-wing journo, has always made it very clear that he despises Blair for starting wars that have sent good men and women to deaths for absolutely no good reason. And while I don’t like Hitchen’s views on the return of the death penalty, or his tough stance on law ‘n’ order, I respect him for his views on Blair. I am much more suspicious about other members of the Tory party, because of the way they threw their weight behind Maggie’s and Major’s wars – the Falklands and then Gulf War I. I wondered at the time how much of their opposition was due principle, and how much was simply because Blair had stolen their mantle as the ‘war party’, just like he stole so much of Conservatism. Their opposition to the war did have some effect. One of my friends, who’s actually very left-wing, started reading the Spectator for a time, because it ran articles by a leading Tory – possibly Matthew Parris, but I couldn’t swear to it – attacking the war. It’s good to be reminded that there were those on the Left as well, who marched and protested against it. And not just the supporters of George Galloway.

As for the intelligence that Blair used to take us to war, Chilcot is too kind, or perhaps just understandably cautious, when he refers to it as ‘flawed’. It wasn’t. It was deliberately doctored. And from what I understand from Lobster – which is a vociferous opponent of British intelligence services – the pressure to inflate and distort the evidence came, not from the intelligence services, but from Blair and his cabinet.

Jeremy Corbyn has made it very clear that he wishes to prosecute Bliar for war crimes. I don’t know if that will ever happen, as I can imagine the political and media class closing ranks very quickly to shut down that possibility. But the Chilcot report does show that Bliar is morally, if not legally culpable, as Jones points out. The rhyme was right:

Blair lied:
People died.

And the tragedy and injustice is that people have gone on and will go on dying, long after Blair has receded from public life.

Poverty and Foodbanks in Bridgwater

December 15, 2014

Yesterday I put up a post about how my parents had heard a talk by a charity worker in Bristol about the immense growth in poverty in Bristol during the Christingle service, put on by the different churches in my part of Bristol. The speaker was from the Crisis Centre, which provides hot meals, a food bank and a refuge for abused women on Stapleton Road in Bristol’s inner city. The speaker stated that they were serving 600 hot meals a day. They had seen a thirty per cent rise in the people coming to them for food over the past two years. Two thirds of those were not unemployed, but people in work, but paid wages too low to support themselves or their families properly.

Yesterday we had relatives from Bridgwater round for Sunday lunch. Mum mentioned the talk by the charity worker at the Christingle service, and asked them what it was like down their neck of the woods.

The news was similarly not good.

They didn’t know much, only that demand for food was so high that the local food bank had run out. Mum seems to believe that this isn’t the first time it’s happened either.

Bridgwater’s a small but historic town in Somerset. It was the town where the rebels supporting the Duke of Monmouth stayed during, and were subsequently tried by Judge Jefferies for treason after the Battle of Sedgemoor during the ‘Pitchfork Rebellion’ of 1685. During the Middle Ages it and Dunster were two of the ports of the realm in Somerset. Archaeologists have found items and sites in the town dating back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age, and there was a Roman settlement in what was the site of the Gerber foods factory. It has, unfortunately, something of a reputation for urban blight. There used to be a cellophane factory just outside the town, which left a nasty stink hanging over it. More recently it was no. 45 in the book Crap Towns. Despite this, it is still a town that has a lot of potential.

The news about the immense demand on the food bank there shows just how far poverty has bitten into this part of rural Somerset. And if it’s affected Bridgwater, it’s also taken its toll on the other comparable towns round about.

There’s still a lot of anger in that part of Somerset about the flooding caused by government cutbacks to the flood defences around the Parrett.

Never mind Cameron’s promises of more money and increased funding to save Britain from further inundation, this is what the Tories really feel about poverty in rural England.

Resign, Tyrant, Said the Type-Type Man

September 23, 2014

Harlan Ellison on being spied on by Big Brother in Reagan’s 1984 America

Okay, so I’ve been away from blogging for a few months now. I’ve been working on a book. It’s my doctoral thesis on the origins and growth of the town of Bridgwater in Somerset from prehistory to 1700. It’s now with the publishers, and hopefully it shouldn’t be too long before it comes out. I’ve also been taken up and somewhat distracted by a few other projects. Nevertheless, I hope to get back to blogging regularly.

Edward Snowden’s revelations of the sheer size and scale of the American intelligence agencies’ surveillance of their citizens, and British complicity with it, has raised questions about the gradual diminution of personal freedom and the transformation of our societies into Orwellian surveillance states. This is just part of process that has been going on for a very long time, since the 1980s. Alan Moore, the veteran comics writer and co-creator of the V for Vendetta comic strip with the artist David Lloyd, stated has stated in interviews how amazed he is by the complete acceptance of CCTV cameras on Britain’s streets. When he included them in the strip as a visible sign of the totalitarian Fascist state in which the strip was set, he was absolutely sure it would terrify everyone to the point where they simply wouldn’t accept them. Now, as he remarked, they’re everywhere. Niall Ferguson, the right-wing historian and columnist, has also made the same point. He remarked in an interview on how he first noticed them after he came back from a visit to China. He too felt that they were a threat to individual liberty, and could not understand why no-one else was alarmed by them or saw them this way.

This concerns have become more acute with the Tory and Lib Dem decision to establish secret courts, functioning as a Kafkaesque travesty of justice. In these courts, people will be able to be tried without knowing the evidence against them, nor who their accuser is. All for reasons of ‘national security’. It’s frighteningly like the corrupt and murderous judicial system of the former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. It also bears more than a passing resemblance to Saddam Hussein’s legal code. In addition to the laws, which were made known to the Iraqi public, there were also six pieces of legislation which were kept secret. Very secret. They were so secret that even knowledge of these laws was a crime that could land you in prison or worse. For all their claims to be the defenders of personal freedom, with the establishment of these secret courts the Coalition is laying the foundations of the kind of totalitarian state described by Kafka and Moore, only in 21st century Britain. And the surveillance of citizens by the Western intelligence agencies, for merely having political views the authorities considered dangerous or subversive, goes back even further.

Looking through Youtube, I found this interview with Harlan Ellison, the veteran SF author and screenwriter, from 1984. It’s part of a discussion about the relevance of Orwell’s dystopian novel of the same name in contemporary America. When asked about this, Ellison states that he thinks it’s extremely relevant, because he’s lived through it in Reagan’s America. He described how, shortly after Reagan became governor of California, he began to hear clicks and noises on his telephone, suggesting that it was being tapped. He dismissed the idea, until he went out to empty his wastepaper basket in the trash one morning, and discovered an engineer for the telephone company outside, connected to the wire leading into his house. Checking with people he knew, who were in a position to know, he found out that it was indeed true, and his phone was indeed being tapped.

Ellison made sure, however, he had his revenge. Knowing that whatever he said on the phone would be written down and filed, he made sure that his phone conversations included some interesting and highly derogatory comments about the then leader of the free world and star of Bedtime for Bonzo, whose title character was a chimpanzee, and arguably the better actor. For example, the great author would remark that Reagan beat his mother and did not confine his romantic interests to those with the two legs, but also those with four, a wagging tail and wet nose. Here’s the interview:

It’s not hard to see why Reagan and his cohorts should view Ellison as a potential subversive. He’s an outspoken atheist and a card-carrying liberal. This was in sharp contrast to Reagan’s administration, which was strongly based on the American religious Right. Ellison had been a strong supporter of the Civil Rights movement. On one of his own videos on Youtube, he discusses his participation on the Civil Rights March on Selma with Martin Luther King. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI was hostile and deeply suspicious of the Civil Rights Movement, which they suspected was a Communist initiative. So Ellison’s participation in that would have been enough to arouse the authorities’ interest and suspicions in him. In addition to writing some of the most outstanding episodes of the original Star Trek series, such as ‘City on the Edge of Forever’, Ellison was one of the major figures in the SF New Wave, whose other leading writers included Norman Spinrad, Brian Aldiss and Michael Moorcock’s New Worlds in Britain. This was markedly countercultural, and attacked contemporary literary and social conventions. In one of Ellison’s best known short stories, Repent, Harlequin, Said the Tick-Tock Man, for example, the hero is a lone, vigilante prankster. The story is set in a dystopian society in which time is rigidly controlled, the Tick-Tock Men of the title making sure that everyone perform their allotted tasks rigorously according to the time table. The hero, Harlequin, tries to subvert this by performing practical jokes deliberately intended to upset the time table, and the rigid social order that it supports. These include releasing a torrent of jelly beans all over people as they go to work in the morning. Ellison himself declared of the SF writers in the New Wave that ‘these guys is blasphemous!’ In Britain too the movement caused outcry, and questions were raised in the Houses of Parliament about Moorcock’s New Worlds. There was concern about the allegedly obscene nature of Norman Spinrad’s story, ‘Riders of the Purple Wage’, which was then being serialised in the magazine.

Eventually, Ellison says, the clicking noises simply faded away and the authorities presumably lost interest. This was probably when they realised that, no matter how objectionable they found his politics, one of SF’s greatest writers was not actually planning to overthrow the government of the US, invade Guatemala, or even deluge the sidewalk with a tide of jelly beans. They may even have agreed with his comments about Ronald Reagan. It does, however, show that under Reagan, prominent intellectuals that didn’t share the president’s highly reactionary and paranoid views could be spied upon, simply for having those views, regardless of whether they were innocent of any crime. And as Snowden’s revelations showed, the surveillance state has expanded massively since then.

We do need the security and intelligence services. According to today’s I, Isis, the Islamist terrorist organisation Iraq and Syria, has called on its supporters to attack and kill citizens of the US, Britain, France and the other coalition countries. The work of the various intelligence agencies and their surveillance is necessary to stop ISIS and other terrorist organisations from carrying out their threats. But individual freedom – freedom of conscience, speech and publication also needs to be preserved. These are also under threat from the Right, though legislation like the Coalition’s secret courts. They need to be strongly rejected, and proper safeguards against further encroachment on our civil liberties put in place. The answer to the old question ‘Who watches the watchers’ has always been: ‘The price of liberty is eternal vigilance’.