Posts Tagged ‘Bullingdon Club’

Dimbleby Resigns as BBC Propagandist on Question Time

June 18, 2018

Yesterday, Mike put up a piece commenting on the resignation of former Bullingdon boy David Dimbleby as the host of Question Time. The man Private Eye dubbed ‘Dimblebore’ has been presenting the show for 25 years, and now considers it the right moment to leave. Dimbleby is another BBC presenter, who is very biased towards the Conservatives. Mike’s photograph of him accompanying his piece shows him raising two fingers, with the comment that it’s probably to a Socialist. Mike also cautions against feeling too good about Dimblebore’s resignation, as we don’t know what monster’s going to replace. He wonders whether the secret of human cloning has been found, and whether the next biased presenter of the programme will be Josef Goebbels.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/06/17/if-david-dimbleby-is-leaving-the-bbcs-question-time-what-horror-will-replace-him/

Last week Dimblebore was off in Russia, presenting a documentary about the country under Putin ahead of the footie there. He wasn’t the only, or even the first person to go. The comedian Frankie Boyle got there over a week earlier, presenting a two-part show about the country, it’s people and football on Sunday evening. Dimblebore was rather more serious in tone, presenting Russia as a country in the grip of a repressive autocrat, and mired in corruption which was strangling the economy.

Dimbleby first explained that Putin was most popular with young people, the generation that everywhere else is rebelling against autocrats, dictators and tyrants. He puts this down to Russians’ experience of economic collapse under Yeltsin. Yeltsin ended communism and dismembered the economy of the Soviet Union, privatising whatever he could. The result was chaos, and massive employment. At one point it got so bad that some factories were paying their workers in the goods they produced. Putin has restored order and economic stability to the country, and so has the support of the younger generation.

He spoke to a great of young professionals, an advertising branding team who were supporters of Putin, working to promote him through images and slogans. He stated that most of the media was controlled by the Russian president, with a few exceptions. He then went to speak to someone from RT’s Moscow branch. Dimbleby explained that some of the staff were British, and asked one of the Brits there whether he was presenting propaganda. The man denied it, said that there was no one watching over him, telling him what to do, and that his conscience was clear. Dimblebore then gave a knowing smirk into the camera.

He then talked to a female presenter on one of the few dissident broadcasters Putin had allowed to remain open. She said that she had not received any threats, but she knew that she could be killed for what she did. But she was still determined to carry on.

He then talked about how those, who criticised the government were arrested and jailed, interviewing a human rights lawyer, who defended them. When asked what people could be arrested and jailed for, the lawyer explained that it could be criticism of the government, or a non-traditional understanding of the Second World War. The other year Putin passed a law criminalising the view that Stalin was partly responsible for the Nazi invasion of eastern Europe and Russia through the Nazi-Soviet pact. From what I remember, I think you can also be arrested for promoting gay rights.

He then spoke to a woman, who was protesting her treatment by the state. She had already been jailed for criticising Putin, but was determined to do so again. She had not been able to get a permit to organise a protest, and so held her own, one-woman demonstration outside the court. This is permitted under Russian law. If you can’t get a permit for a demonstration, you can still protest, so long as there is only one person involved. As she stood with her placard, she was joined by an increasing number of counter-protesters determined to disrupt her protest, and possibly send her to jail. They moved closer to her, and she moved away, telling them to keep their distance. They kept coming, and their numbers kept increasing. Then the cops turned up, and started filming things as they’d been told foreigners were involved. And someone else from one of the TV companies materialised to film the protest as well. Eventually it all ended, and the police and counter-protesters disappeared.

Dimbleby then did a piece about the police’s brutal suppression of dissent, complete with footage of the cops beating what looked like a feminist protester from Pussy Riot.

He also touched on gender roles. He talked to a hairdresser, while having his haircut, who told him that Russia still had very traditional gender roles, in which women wanted a strong man to provide for them.

Putin has also succeeded in reversing the declining Russian birthrate. Instead of falling, it is now rising, with medals and benefits given to couples who have large families. He showed one woman and her husband, who were being presented a medal by Putin for having ten children.

He also went off to talk to a youth organisation, that was set up to get children, including boys of junior school age, interested in the army. The group’s name translates as ‘Net’, and is run by army officers. The children there wear combat uniforms and learn to shoot using air rifles, which they are also taught how to strip down. They were shown blazing away at targets, and competing with each other over who could reassemble a gun while blindfolded the quickest, with Dimblebore cheering the winner. And it wasn’t all boys. One of the youngster there looked like a girl. Dimblebore asked them if they wanted to join the army, to which they gave a very enthusiastic ‘Yes’.

He then went off to speak to a prelate from the Russian Orthodox Church about its support for Putin, where he described Putin as an autocrat attacking human rights and threatening peace in Europe. The prelate responded by saying that there were those, who did not agree with his view. And that was that.

He then went off to discuss the massive corruption in Russia, and how this was undermining the economy as more and more investors and companies left the country because of it. Russia has 144 million people, but it’s economy is 2/3s that of Britain, or about the size of Italy’s, and is declining.

Now all of this is factually true. John Kampfner, in his book Freedom For Sale discusses Russia as another state, where the population has made a deal with its leader. They have absolute power, in return for which they give their people prosperity. Except that, according to Dimbleby, living standards and wages are declining. Putin has passed laws against the promotion of homosexuality, there are massive human rights violations, including the jailing of the type of people, who would have been called dissidents under Communism. Journalists, who haven’t toed the Archiplut’s line have been beaten and killed.

Other aspects of the Russian state, as revealed by this programme, would have been immediately recognisable to the generation raised by Communism. Like the corruption. It was rife under Communism. The Bulgarian journalist, Arkady Vaksberg, wrote a book about it, The Soviet Mafia. And Gogol took a shot at official corruption under the Tsars back in the 19th century in his play, The Government Inspector. So no change there.

As for the Russian Orthodox Church supporting Putin, it was always the state church under the tsars, to which it gave absolute support. The watchword of the tsarist regime was ‘Autocracy, Orthodoxy and the People’. And its support of autocratic leadership didn’t begin under Putin. After the restrictions on religion were lifted in the 1990s, the BBC journalists interviewed some of its clergy on their shows. And the clergy had the same preference for absolute state power and total obedience from the people. Putin made the relationship between the Church and his government closer by granting them a sizable share of Russia’s oil.

The youth groups designed to get children interested in joining the army are also little different from what already went on under the Soviet system. Secondary schoolchildren did ‘military-patriotic training’ to prepare them for national service as part of the school curriculum. It was led by retired army officers, who were often the butt of schoolboy jokes. They were taught to handle weapons, complete with competitions for throwing grenades the furthest.

And let’s face it, it also isn’t much different from what used to go on over here. I’ve known young people, who were in the army and naval cadets. And the public schools used to have the CCF – the Combined Cadet Force – which the Tories would dearly love to bring back. And boys, and some girls, do like playing at ‘War’, so I’ve no doubt that if something like the Russian group was set up in this country, there would be many lads and girls wanting to join it.

Russia has also too been a very masculine society with very traditional ideas about gender and masculinity, despite the fact that most engineers were women, who also worked as construction workers and many other, traditionally masculine areas. One of the complaints of Russian women was that the men didn’t do their fair share of standing in queues waiting to get whatever groceries were in store.

And the medals and rewards to the women, who gave birth to the largest number of children is just another form of the Heroic Mother Awards under the Soviet Union. Putin’s Russia continues many of the same aspects of the country’s society from the age of the tsars and Communism, although Dimblebore said the country was going backward.

I’ve no doubt it is, but the programme annoyed me.

What irritated me was Dimblebore’s knowing smirk to camera when the guy from RT denied that he broadcast propaganda. Now I’m sure that RT does. There’s videos I’ve seen on YouTube from RTUK, which could fairly be described as pro-Russian propaganda.

But what annoyed me was Dimblebore’s hypocrisy about it.

The Beeb and Dimbleby himself has also broadcast it share of propaganda supporting western foreign policy interests, including imperialism. Newsnight has finally got round, after several years, to covering the Fascists running around the Ukraine under the present government. But the Beeb has emphatically not informed the British public how the pro-western regime which was put in power with the Orange Revolution, was created by the US State Department under Obama, and run by Hillary Clinton and Victoria Nuland. Far from being a grassroots movement, the revolution was orchestrated by the National Endowment for Democracy, which has been handling the US state’s foreign coups since they were taken away from the CIA, and one of George Soros’ pro-democracy outfits.

Putin is also presented as the villainous aggressor in the current war in the Ukraine, and some have compared his annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine to the Nazi annexation of the Sudetenland. But Crimea had been a part of Russia before 1951, when Khrushchev, a Ukrainian, gave it to that state. And Putin is not looking to take over the country either. The population of Russia is 144 million. Ukraine’s is a little over a third of that, at 52 million. If Putin really had wanted to annex it, he would have done so by now. And under international law, as I understand it, nations are allowed to intervene in foreign countries militarily to defend members of their ethnic group that are being persecuted. That was the pretext for the Nazi annexation of the Sudetenland, and it’s also the reason why Putin’s invaded eastern Ukraine. But it’s legal under international law. And I don’t doubt for a single minute that Russians, and Russian-speaking Ukrainians, were being persecuted by the new, pro-Western government.

In his documentary, Dimbleby met a very angry, patriotic Russian, who told him that the British had tried to invade Russia three times in the past three centuries. Once in the 19th century during the Crimean War; then in 1922 during the Russian Civil War. And now we were preparing to do the same. He angrily told us to ‘get out!’. Dimbleby looked shocked, and said to him that he couldn’t really believe we were ready to invade.

This was another continuation of the Soviet paranoia and hostility towards the West dating from the Communist period and before. Russia has always felt itself encircled by its enemies since the tsars. But the man has a point. We did invade Russia in 1922 in an effort to overthrow the Communist regime. Pat Mills has talked about this in his presentation on comics he gave to the SWP a few years ago. He tried to get a story about it in Charlie’s War, the anti-war strip he wrote for Battle. This is another piece of history that we aren’t told about.

And when Gorbachev made the treaty with Clinton pledging the withdrawal of Soviet troops from eastern Europe after the collapse of Communism, Clinton in turn agreed that these state would not become members of NATO. He broke his promise. They now all are, and NATO’s borders now extend to Russia. At the same time, western generals and NATO leaders have been predicting a war between Russia and NATO. One even wrote a book about it, 2017: War with Russia. Thankfully, 2017 has been and gone and there has, so far, been no war. But with this in view, I can’t say I blame any Russian, who is afraid that the West might invade at any moment, because it does look to me like a possibility.

And there are other matters that the Beeb and the rest of the lamestream news aren’t telling us about. They’re still repeating the lie that the invasion of Iraq was done for humanitarian reasons, whereas the reality was that western corporations and the neocons wanted to get their hands on Iraqi state industries and privatise the economy. And the American and Saudi oil industry wanted to get their mitts on the country’s oil reserves.

The civil war in Syria is also presented in simplistic terms: Assad as evil tyrant, who must be overthrown, and Putin as his bloodthirsty foreign ally. Assad is a tyrant, and one of the causes of the civil war was his oppression of the Sunni majority. But we are constantly being told that the rebels are ‘moderates’, while the fact is that they still have links to Islamists like the al-Nusra Front, the former Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, and ISIS. Nor have I seen the Beeb tell anyone how the Syrian rebels have also staged false flag chemical weapons attacks against civilians in order to draw the west into the war.

And objective reporting on Israel is hindered by the pro-Israel lobby. Any news item or documentary, which shows Israel’s horrific crimes against Palestinian civilians is immediately greeted with accusations of anti-Semitism from the Israeli state and the Board of Deputies of British Jews. I’ll be fair to the Beeb. Some of their presenters have tried to give an objective reporting of events, like Jeremy Bowen and Orla Guerin. But they’ve been accused of anti-Semitism, as was Dimblebore himself when he tried to defend them. In this instance, the bias isn’t just the fault of the Beeb. But it is there, and newsroom staff have said that they were under pressure from senior management to present a pro-Israel slant.

Domestically, the Beeb is very biased. I’ve discussed before how Nick Robinson in his report on a speech by Alex Salmond about Scots devolution carefully edited the SNP’s answer, so it falsely appeared that he had been evasive. In fact, Salmond had given a full, straight answer. Salmond’s reply was whittled down further as the day went on, until finally Robinson claimed on the evening news that he hadn’t answered the question.

And numerous left-wing bloggers and commenters, including myself, have complained about the horrendous bias against the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn in the Beeb’s reporting. Dimblebore himself has shown he has a very right-wing bias on Question Time, allowing right-wing guests and audience members to speak, while silencing those on the left. Not that he’s alone here. Andrew Marr has done exactly the same on his programme on Sundays.

Dimblebore is, quite simply, another right-wing propagandist, with the Beeb backing current western imperialism. His smirk at the RT journalist’s denials of doing the same is just gross hypocrisy.

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Weak and Wobby May Gets Hit with the Mugwumps

April 29, 2017

Which can be very painful, and requires careful treatment.

Mike yesterday put up a piece describing the way the ‘strong and stable’ Tories, led by weak and wobbly Theresa May were disintegrating before our very eyes. This features some cool video and sound clips clearly showing May looking and sounding lost. Literally, in one case, where she really doesn’t know where she is.

Boris Johnson had attacked Jeremy Corbyn as a ‘mutton-headed mugwump’. So when May appeared on his show, Chris Doidge of Radio Derby asked her if she knew what it was. Listen to it. She doesn’t answer him, but immediately answers a completely different question, about how the Tories represent ‘strong and stable leadership’. Thus giving those trying Mike’s Tory election drinking game their first sup of booze of the day.

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable defines the term as

An Algonkin word meaning a chief; in Eliot’s Indian Bible the word “centurion” in Acts is rendered mugwump. It is now applied in the USA to independent members of the Republican party, those who refuse to follow the dictates of a Caucus, and all political Pharisees whose party vote cannot be relief upon. It is also used in the sense of “big shot” or “boss”.

Johnson was probably thinking of this definition to insult Corbyn by reminding him of the way many members of his party had conspired against him. But it’s also something of a Tory own goal, as there’s clearly opposition to her in her own party. Otherwise, why would the Sun have put such bug-eyed headlines as ‘Crush the Saboteurs’ on their front page?

Of course, in the David Cronenberg’s 1991 film of William S. Burrough’s novel, The Naked Lunch, the mugwumps are the weird lizard-like creatures the hero sees, thanks to the hallucinatory effects of the pest poison to which he has become addicted.

A mugwump and friend discuss May’s strong and stable Tory leadership.

Ah, but who knows what rarified pleasures go on behind the closed doors of the Bullingdon Club!

Then there’s the clip of her appealing to people to come to ‘this particular town’. As one of the Tweeters Mike quotes points out, she doesn’t know where she, and isn’t pleased to be there. Another Tweeter also points out that she looks to the right and down, which is a classic ‘tell’ of liars.

Thursday she turned up in Leeds to give a speech at a workplace. Another Tweeter stated that the clip of that, too, is deceptive. She gave her talk after work, to an audience that as exclusively invited. Far from being a great popular speaker, like Corbyn, it’s all very carefully stage-managed.

There’s a comparison to be made there with Stalin and Mussolini. Stalin also wasn’t a great public speaker, contrary to the impression that mad dictators bent on genocide are always great orators. He used to give his speeches at the annual May Day parades via gramophone records, with a very carefully vetted audience as far away from him as possible.

As for il Duce, the old thug was surrounded wherever he went with members of his secret police in plain clothes. Thus he was always guaranteed an appreciative audience to the exclusion of any real members of the public, who may have wanted to see him. At one public gathering, he asked all the plain clothes thugs to take a step back so that he could see the genuine public. Well, they did, and he didn’t: the crowd was entirely made up of secret policemen, like one of the jokes from G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday.

And Nero also surrounded himself with a sycophantic claque of followers, whenever he fancied himself as the great lyric poet at the theatre. He’s infamous for fiddling while Rome burns. Which is a fair analogy for May’s performance in Britain under Tory leadership. She’s also warbling on to a hand-picked claque, posturing as the great orator, while the country collapses in poverty thanks to her party’s massive economic mismanagement and determination to grind working people down through welfare cuts, wage freezes and the privatisation of the NHS.

Chunky Mark Asks What Cameron’s Legacy Will Be

July 14, 2016

This is another rant by the Artist Taxi Driver, in which he asks the question, what David Cameron’s legacy will be. He asks will it be the way he has given a banquet for the rich, and more poverty and misery for the poor, and then goes on to list nearly every wretched policy Cameron has passed, such as:

Shaming the poor on benefits, like the wretched TV show, Benefits Street, cutting services, selling off the libraries, parts of the fire service; the privatisation and marketization of the NHS; the academisation of our schools, tripling tuition fees, cutting benefits for the disabled; the work capability test, workfare, zero hours contracts, his shameless tax evasion and tax cuts for the rich, the Panama papers, the ability to lie without blinking, fracking, the Katie Hopkins-style demonization of refugees fleeing war in their homelands, including the vilification of those poor souls, who didn’t make it, and now lie dead at the bottom of the sea; state surveillance, selling people’s data, workers’ rights, the abandoning of human rights, Brexit and the consequent small-minded racist isolationism, knocking down social housing, a ‘home-owning democracy’, in which few, in fact, can afford their own homes; the sale of the land registry, and the land itself, to billionaires resident in the Cayman Islands; his relationship with Rupert Murdoch, Rebecca Brooks and Andy Coulson; a man sent to jail for stealing a Toblerone; another man dying of exposure after being evicted for squatting; being part of that whole Eton, Bullingdon-boy culture, and wandering around during the 2012 riots wearing loafers.

This is just about everything, absolutely everything Cameron has done and stands for. It’s a catalogue of just how much Cameron has brought down the country, although in fairness, it’s not all his fault. He’s just continued with the privatisation of the NHS, following on from Tony Blair, who followed on from Major, who took up where Thatcher left off. The work capability assessment was also another idea taken over from New Labour. And all the administrations since Thatcher, with the exception of John Major, were all over Rupert Murdoch. Major would have liked to have been too, but Murdoch switched his loyalty to the Warmonger of Islington.

What, therefore, is going to be David Cameron’s legacy? After this long, list of evil and iniquity, the Chunky One concludes that it’ll be Cameron inserting his private member into the mouth of a dead pig.

Dennis Skinner on Cameron and Osborne

May 30, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has published pieces on the number of Tories now demanding a no-confidence vote in David Cameron. These include ‘Mad’ Nad Nadine Dorries and Bill Cash, while other opponents and Tory MPs questioning his ability include Andrew Bridgen, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Priti Patel. Which is somewhat ironic, considering that all of them are either incompetent or frankly dangerous, and should be kept well away from political office themselves.

See Mike’s articles http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/29/will-the-eu-referendum-be-camerons-waterloo/

Conservative civil war: Clarke bashes Boris, Cash lays into Cameron

Mike in the last piece reports that 72 per cent of voters in Telegraph poll, as of 4 O’clock today, May 30th, wanted Cameron out of office.

So let’s add a bit more fuel to the flames, shall we?

Dennis Skinner in his book, Sailing Close to the Wind: Reminiscences has a few things to say about Cameron and Osborne – about their vacuity, short-tempers and marked lack of intelligence, and his personal tussles with them in the House. Here’s his description of them, and one of his stories about how he engaged them in a struggle of wits.

David Cameron and George Osborne are a couple of posh boys who get angry when you don’t show them the deference they think they are entitled to by birth. You could see Cameron was ambitious the moment you clapped eyes on him. the friendly smile is deceptive. Everything about how he dresses, carries himself and opens his mouth speaks of ambition. Dodgy Dave was a new MP and had only been in the Commons a couple of years when Iain Duncan Smith, enduring a torrid time as leader of the Tories after 2001, appointed Cameron as shadow deputy leader of the House.

On Cameron’s second week in the post Eric Forth, his line manager as shadow leader of the House, was away, so the new boy was pun charge at Business Questions. the beauty of Business Questions is we may ask for a statement or debate on any topic under the sun. I uttered a few words of mock greeting as Cameron stood there terrified, his hands gripping the despatch box, looking for all the world a lost young gentleman. Cameron tried to explain the Shadow Leader of the House was away but mixed up his words and said the Shadow Deputy Leader was absent. You’ve a split second to heckle. ‘he wants the top job already,’ I shouted and we laughed to take him down a notch. Cameron appeared embarrassed. You always remember a debut, it’s a big moment no matter what you do. He won’t forget he stumbled.

I described Cameron as a media creation on Radio 4’s Week in Westminster in late 2005 when he was running for the top job, and nothing I’ve seen or heard since has made me change my mind. He was elevated on the back of a puff of wind and lacked the substance of David Davis, the Tory he beat. The figure the Conservative Party could’ve picked and overlooked in successive contests was ken Clarke, who was easily the best candidate.

I’d watched Cameron as shadow deputy leader of the House and at local government and education, and he never sparkled. When it suited him, he posed as the heir to Blair. He’s dropped the act now and come out as the child of Thatcher he always was. Cameron never had Blair’s ability or temperament, let alone the Labour politics. Blair never lost his temper at the despatch box. Unlike Cameron, who struggles to his under control.

The Cameron mask slipped when he called me a dinosaur. I’m no shrinking violet and if you dish it out some will come back your way. We used to sing as kids that sticks and stones may break our bones but names will never hurt us. the trigger was relatively innocuous. I’d asked if Cameron would appear before Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into media standards, given he’d once employed former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as press adviser. Cameron replied he’d be delighted, then Flashman lost control of his short fuse and added:

‘It’s good to see the honourable gentleman on such good form. I often say to my children “No need to go to the Natural History Museum to see a dinosaur, come to the House of Commons at about half past twelve”.

I held up my hands and shrugged my shoulders, trying to look bemused rather than triumphant. Our side protested angrily. I could see most of the Tories were horrified, although there were a few laughing. Blair knew how to appear prime ministerial. Cameron is petulant. Paul Flynn, a Labour MP only a few years younger than me, raised a point of order immediately after Prime Minister’s Questions to ask if it was appropriate to criticise each other on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, disability or vintage. Another Labour MP, Brian Donohoe, proposed that the PM ‘should come back to this place and apologise to Dennis Skinner.’

I wasn’t the first MP to be looked at down Cameron’s nose. Dave the Sexist displayed a misogynist side in telling Angela Eagle, a member of Labour’s Shadow Cabinet, to ‘Calm down, dear’ and later played the innocent when the Michael Winner slogan was wrapped around his neck. I must be the only dinosaur to ride a bike 12 miles on a Sunday. Once again the postbag ballooned with letters and emails flowed into the inbox on my computer. there must have been 150 of them. Cameron’s rudeness had gone down poorly. One of the notes was from a vicar in Cornwall who accused the PM of lying to God!

I was evidently under Cameron’s skin because, a few months after the dinosaur jibe in January 2012, he snapped once more in the Commons. In answer to a question about whether Jeremy Hunt should keep his job as culture secretary over close links to Rupert Murdoch, the PM jumped off the deep end. He stupidly whined I had a right to take my pension and added: ‘I advise him to do so.’ History was repeating itself. The remark was widely condemned as graceless, the insult boomeranging on a haple4ss Cameron. It was more water off a duck’s back and Cameron could carry on undermining himself for all I cared. In fact it was best that he did. The penny must have dropped with him, however, and at the next Prime Minister’s Questions he apologised.

‘I deeply regret my last intervention, it was a bit sharper than it should have been. I hope he will accept my apology for that,’ Cameron said, before smirking a smarmy ‘He is a tremendous ornament of this House and always remains the case.’

It’s not an apology for calling me a dinosaur or giving me pension advice that I seek, but a resignation letter apologising for the pain and damage he has caused to millions of people with the austerity imposed by the ConDem coalition. The Tories imitate the extreme Tea Party in the US. What the Conservatives are doing to the disabled, unemployed, working poor and homeless is unforgivable. the destruction of the NHS, carved into bite-sized pieces ready for privatisation, is criminal.

George Osborne is Cameron’s partner in crime. Another of the Bullingdon snobs, Osborne is educated beyond his intelligence. I applied the description to Paul Channon, a millionaire minister in Thatcher’s time. it is even more apt for a chancellor of the exchequer clueless of life outside his gilded circle. His skin is as thin as Cameron’s, as I saw when he resented the reminder that he’d appeared in a newspaper photograph with a line of white powder and the dominatrix who sold sex and pain. These posh boys don’t like it up ’em, as Corporal Jones would shout. (Pp. 276-8).

Let’s hope it isn’t too long before we get that resignation letter from Cameron.

Cameron’s Idea of Fun

October 3, 2015

Generation Swine Cover

Hunter S. Thompson’s book, Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the 1980s

The one of the biggest stories over these last two weeks has been the allegation in Lord Ashcroft’s book on the current Prime Minister, Call Me Dave, that Cameron performed a sexual act with a severed pig’s head while he was at Oxford. This was in order to get into the elite Piers Gaveston Society, named after the favourite and gay lover of King Edward II. The story has gone around the world. Simply looking for it on Youtube, you can see that it’s not just been discussed in Britain, but been covered in America and the Antipodes. Ian Hislop, the editor of Private Eye, pointed out that this was despite the fact that the story was supported by extremely little evidence. The ‘Street of Shame’ column in this fortnight’s edition of the magazine has two articles on the matter, one on the author of the allegation, the former Sunday Times’ columnist Isabel Oakeshott, and her apparently cavalier attitude to backing up her stories with supporting evidence. The piece, entitled ‘Heart of Oakeshott’, begins

Even the most hardened tabloid hacks are wondering how Isabel Oakeshott thought she could get away with claiming that the young David Cameron pointed his percy at a porker. None of Cameron’s contemporaries believed that he played hunt-the-sausage with a pig’s head or any other piece of charcuterie., Nor could Oakeshott produce a scrap of evidence.

With sublime insouciance, she explained on Newsnight that she didn’t do anything so laborious as check her facts. Rather she and the obsessively grudgeful Lord Ashcroft preferred to put it out there and let people “decide for themselves whether it’s true” – relying on the non-dom peer’s under-taxed fortune to deter libel writs.

The Eye also points out that as well as not really having anything in the way of evidence, she has arguably failed to protect her sources. While there’re no witnesses to the supposed act, there is supposed to be a picture. Oakeshott and Ashcroft haven’t been able to track down that, but it was apparently seen by the source of the story, whom they describe as ‘a distinguished MP, who was a contemporary of Cameron at Oxford’. As the Eyesays, that gives a rather narrow list of suspects.

The Eye also goes on to state that she has previous when it comes to not protecting her sources, and for retailing bogus stories. The Lib Dem MP, Chris Huhne, was jailed for a driving offence and perverting the course of justice after his wife, Vicky Pryce, told Oakeshott in confidence that she had swapped penalty points with the MP. Oakeshott then handed this piece of information, and all the other confidential email conversations that she’d had with Pryce, over to the rozzers, thus breaking the Omerta that journalists should always protect their sources.

She also wrote a similar bogus story about the decadent antics of the upper classes at Uni at the beginning of her career. According to the Eye, in 1999 she published a piece in the Edinburgh Evening News ‘Student Princes and the Upper Class of ’99’, which claimed that the members of the university’s wine-tasting society were guzzling champagne and oysters, and renting helicopters so they could fly down to London for hunt balls. This article too was spurious.

On last night’s Have I Got News For You, Ian Hislop argued that the real story behind the allegations was Ashford’s own attempt to bribe his way into government by funding the Tories to the tune of £8 million. He did so in the hope that he would get a plum job as defence secretary. When he was finally offered a place in government, after being passed over several times, Ashcroft decided that it was below his station, and was a derisory gesture given the money he’d paid. So he wrote the book about Cameron, including the unsubstantiated allegation about sexual antics with a pig.

The Eye notes that while the bribery act only became effective in 2011, too late to mount a prosecution for Ashcroft’s attempts to buy himself a cabinet job, it could meet ‘the threshold test for the miscond7uct to be sufficiently serious to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder’. this was the charge against the News of the World journalists Lucy Panton and Ryan Sabey, who got their info from paying public officials. The prosecution failed, and they walked, just as the Eye expects Cameron to walk if he’s charged with the same offence. Nevertheless, the Eye takes the line that the prosecution would still be worth making.

The American progressive news programme, The Young Turks, also covered this case. They point out that, even if the story was true, it’s nothing more than what a lot of drunken frat boys get up to at Uni. It’s a fair point. The story is believable because it does sound very much like some of the bizarre antics that characterise the ‘Lad’ culture of drunkenness and crude and offensive sexual behaviour at universities. The sports societies and particular the rugby clubs have a reputation for similar antics. The Turks make the point that what’s really offensive is the fact that Cameron allegedly did so in order to join a society of rich snobs, who had absolute contempt for the poor. Here’s The Young Turks on Cameron’s supposed porcine antics.

Considering the antics of the Bullingdon club and their snobbish contempt for the poor, that part of the story is also highly credible, even if the episode with the pig isn’t. On the other hand, as Hislop pointed out last night, Cameron’s whole career in government has been full of despicable acts, such as the bedroom tax, cuts to welfare benefits and so on, which haven’t generated nearly so much outrage and interest as this story, weak and trivial though it is.

He’s right, though one reason why this story has received so much coverage, and has been believed by so many, despite its extremely slender basis in reality, is because it apparently epitomises the absolute corruption and depravity of Cameron himself. It presents him a snob, who’s prepared to perform any act, no matter how vile, shocking or degrading, in order to ingratiate himself with other over-privileged, spoilt upper class snobs. The sex act with the pig becomes a metaphor for the way his government has royally screwed the poor, the unemployed and the disabled.

And if these allegations seem trivial in a British context, you consider just how dynamite this would be if they had been made about an American president. A few decades ago Jon Ronson made a series, Secret Rulers of the World, on the strange milieu of conspiracy theorists and their belief that the world is being run by a secret cabal. In modern American Conspiracy culture, this is the Illuminati, who are aiming at a one world government to overthrow democracy, Christianity and capitalism in order to create a totalitarian global state. This secret conspiracy, often identified with the Freemasons, Communists, Jewish bankers, the Bilderburg group and the Trilaterial Commission, amongst other bête noirs of the American Right, is literally in league with Satan. The group performs vile orgies and ceremonies, involving human sacrifice. On one edition of the programme, Ronson filmed the ‘Sacrifice of Dull Care’, a ceremony performed at the Bohemian Grove meetings of America’s super-rich. It’s a kind of play, in which an effigy of ‘Dull Care’, is ritualistically killed and burned. It looks to me like it’s simply intended to show that the world’s elite plutocrats have put the cares of the world behind them in the few days they’re at the Grove networking.

The footage of the pretend ‘sacrifice’, shot by Alex Jones, one of the major leaders in contemporary American Right-wing conspiracy culture, had a truly explosive effect. Ronson showed it’s progress across successive news channels and programmes. The effigy was initially described as ‘about the size of a baby’. This then changed so that it was a real baby, which was being sacrificed by the global elite running America to Satan. For many Right-wing Americans, alienated from their government, this was further proof of the utter Satanic corruption of their government. Such allegations are part of the reason behind the formation of the Militia and Survivalist groups, and why so many Americans view Obama with suspicion as a Commie Satanist, quite apart from the similarly false beliefs that he’s also a Nazi and a Muslim. If the same amount of paranoia existed in Britain, or if the allegations had been made about Obama, then it would be seized on as evidence that Cameron or Obama was also a Satanist, and had performed the act as part of some depraved ceremony through which the elite showed their allegiance to the Devil, and their absolute contempt and complete lack of morality for everyone else. And there’d be even more people running around with guns urging you to stock up food, water and gold, and be prepared to kill the federal officials, who are coming to take your freedoms and your life away.

And the action’s of Cameron’s own party and government would make this twisted view all too credible. It was, after all, Leon Brittan, an alleged paedophile, who suppressed a dossier given to him about the activities of high-ranking paedophiles in the government and parliament. Jimmy Savile, a true monster, was a friend of Maggie Thatcher. Under Cameron the gap between rich and poor has widened immensely. The welfare state is being dismantled to the point where hundreds of thousands are only prevented from starving through the existence of food banks and the generosity of friends, neighbours and strangers, and the NHS is being sold off piecemeal. Corporate profits are booming, while the unemployed are virtually enslaved through workfare.

I gave this article its title as a reference to one of Will Self’s grim works, My Idea of Fun. This featured a cast of characters, who committed a number of vile and depraved acts, including having sex with the severed head of a pitbull terrier. Private Eye reviewed the book when it came out, and declared that the book’s preference for drugs, nude teens and so on was no-one’s idea of fun. Having sex with the head of a dead pig probably isn’t Dave Cameron’s either. But he does, apparently, take a sick delight in destroying the lives and wellbeing of the poor, the sick and the old through his misnamed ‘welfare reforms’. This is Dave Cameron’s idea of fun, and it’s truly disgusting.

An Anthropological View of Homelessness in America – With Lessons for Britain

February 3, 2014

Anthony Marcus, Where Have All The Homeless Gone? The Making and unmaking of a Crisis (New York: Berghahn 2006)

America Homeless

We got a thousand points of light for the homeless man.
We got a kinder, gentler kind of napalm

– Neil Young, ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’.

I’ve posted a couple of piece before on some of the points this book makes about homelessness in America, and its relevance to Britain. One of the most important was the way the massive debt crisis of New York City’s municipal government in 1975 formed the template for Mrs Thatcher’s destruction of the welfare state in Britain, and the Coalition’s further attempts to end it altogether in the second decade of the 21st century.

The End of the Welfare State in New York and the Beginning of the Homeless Crisis

New York did have something like Britain’s welfare state, even a form of the dole and affordable, rent controlled housing. In 1975 it overspent to the point where it was unable to pay off its debt. In return for giving the City the right to issue bonds allowing it to finance its debt, the City was placed under the fiscal management of a consortium of businessmen and bankers to ensure its fiscal good government. These made swingeing cuts in the City’s welfare provision, to the point where millions were thrown out of their jobs. Unable to pay their rent, many were forced to move away from New York, while others were forced onto the streets. The rent controls remained, but instead of keeping housing affordable, they resulted in many landlords being unable to afford to maintain their properties. As a result, many were left without basic services like electricity or water, others were abandoned completely as landlords went bankrupt. Some landlords even firebombed their tenements to collect on the insurance. The result was a massive increase in homelessness. At the same time, the location and visibility of New York’s rough sleepers changed. Instead of being confined to certain run down districts – the traditional Skid Row of urban American geography, the homeless moved out into the more upmarket residential districts and even into the city centre.

Racial Stereotypes of Homelessness

The Black community was particularly hard hit. Many of the homeless men interviewed by Marcus were well-educated, from reasonably affluent, middle class backgrounds. However, the Black community particularly relied upon the municipal government, either directly or indirectly for their jobs, and so were disproportionately hit when those jobs were shed. The result was that the stereotypical image of a homeless person in the period in which Marcus worked – the late 1980s and first years of the 1990s – was a poorly dressed, mentally ill Black person. Marcus takes particular care to counter this stereotype, as it formed the basis for the campaigns of several of City’s leaders, like Mayor Dinkins, to tackle homelessness. It ignored the vast numbers of homeless Whites and the homeless Blacks, who were articulate and dressed neatly. While much effort was directed at those groups that corresponded to the stereotype, these people were ignored as they simply didn’t match contemporary ideas of who the homeless were.

The book is based on the doctoral research Marcus did amongst a group of fifty homeless Black men working for one of the City’s homelessness projects from 1989 to 1993. It is his attempt to answer the question of what happened to public awareness of the issue of homelessness. He points out that from 1983 to 1993 homelessness was one of the biggest American political issues. There were rock songs about homeless people, and universities, charities, politicians, and activist groups attempted to study and tackle the issue.

This concern evaporated from 1993 onwards. The crisis continued and the availability of proper, affordable housing continued to fall, but increasingly less attention was paid to the issue. Funds for its study dried up, and the academics researching it moved away to fresher, and more lucrative areas of study. Marcus quotes one of his former research colleagues as laughing when Marcus told him he was writing up his Ph.D. research, declaring that homelessness was so last century.

Critiques of the ‘Cultures of Poverty’

Much of Marcus’ book is a critique of the narrow historiographical focus that determined that rather than tackle the root causes of the homeless crisis in lack of suitably paid jobs, affordable housing and welfare policies that would allow the unemployed to get and retain accommodation, saw the problem exclusively in terms of the supposed moral defects of the homeless themselves in a mirror-image of the ‘cultures of poverty’ view. This grew out of the previous studies of American homelessness centred around Skid Row, the decrepit section of American towns occupied by single-occupancy hotels for the homeless, and a population of homosexuals, transvestites, prostitutes and other marginal, transgressive or bohemian groups. The other major influence was Michael Harrington’s book, The Other America, which examined the squalor and poverty in urban Black ghettoes. As a result, when the American welfare state, under Richard Nixon, began to tackle unemployment and homelessness, it did so with the assumption that the homeless themselves were somehow responsible for their condition. They were supported, but that support was made as unpleasant as possible in order to force them to come off welfare whenever possible. Hence the penalisation of the unemployed through demeaning forms of state support such as food stamps, rather than a welfare cheque. Seen the similarity to the attitudes of Cameron, Clegg, IDS and McVie yet?

Cultures of Deviancy and Violence in Homeless Shelters

This attitude by the authorities that there is a ‘culture of poverty’, created by and defined by the idleness, drunkenness, profligacy and other inappropriate behaviour of the poor themselves is particularly attacked by Marcus. He found that there was no difference in morals and behaviour between the homeless people he studied, and those of the wider population. This included the ‘shelterisation’ debate surrounding the perceived culture of violence in the homeless shelters. These had been set up in New York in response to the finding of a judge that the City had failed in its legal duty to provide shelter and wholesome food for a homeless man that had been turned away from one. Marcus states that for most of the residents of these shelters, their greatest problem was finding a lead long enough to reach the wall socket so that they could do their ironing. Nevertheless, the violent criminals included in the shelters’ population meant that the developed a reputation for being dominated by ex-convict bodybuilders and their transvestite shelter ‘wives’. Marcus found that rather than being a gay space, homeless gay men were subjected to the same levels of abuse and intimidation they experienced in the outside world. Their attitude to the ex-cons was that they weren’t really gay. At the same time they had their transvestite lovers in the shelter, they also had heterosexual relationship with wives and girlfriends outside. One of Marcus’ gay informants told him that if you watched the ex-cons outside, they never held hands or socialised with their transvestite shelter partners. He concluded that they were really heterosexual men, who just wanted to have sex and weren’t concerned with whom they had it in the single sex environment of the homeless shelters.

Marcus concluded that the shelters developed their reputation for violence and bizarre behaviour, as few researchers actually interacted or examined the way their residents behaved outside of its environment. The methodological problems were too difficult, making it almost impossible. So instead the academics concentrated on their behaviour inside the shelter, and unconsciously assumed that their behaviour was formed by it. Marcus gradually came to the opposite conclusion – that the men in the homeless shelters acted as they did, not because of the environment of the homeless shelter, but because that was what they did anyway. So the various types of bizarre and slovenly behaviour, which normally remained hidden in the confines of a private home, such as one resident, who never got up on a Sunday morning but simply urinated into a glass by the side of his bed, was suddenly on public display.

Homeless Not Radically Different or Separate from Rest of Population

Linked to this was a wider problem in identifying just who exactly the homeless were. Many of the individuals studied only spent part of their time sleeping in public. Other nights they slept round a friends or girlfriends, or were given room in an airing cupboard or basement by a kindly janitor in return for doing cleaning work. There was also a wider population of young people sleeping on the floors of friends while they looked for an apartment after graduating from university. These middle class, educated Americans weren’t seen as homeless.

And many of the Black homeless men Marcus interviewed didn’t see themselves as homeless either. They compared their state to that of young Whites, who had just graduated. It was a similar stage of carefree abandon until they finally hit maturity and sorted themselves out, got a proper job and apartment. Marcus also notes that for many Black homeless men, their condition meant acting out a variety of roles. He called them The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. The Good was the White man’s negro, who accepted mainstream, White American culture and values when it meant impressing White academics or employers in order to get a job or a place on an educational programme. The Bad was that of the angry, violent Black man. His informants told him they had to adopt this pose, as otherwise Whites would just see them as ‘niggers’ and disparage or exploit them. They had stories of an effeminate ‘White man’s Negro’, who tried to fit in with the culture of his White colleagues and bosses, only for him to be exploited and sacked. Interestingly, the models taken for this role of violent, rebellious Black masculinity were all race-natural. They included ‘Leatherface’, from Tobe Hooper’s class bit of grue, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Sean Connery’s James Bond. Indeed, many of Marcus’ Black informants identified by Connery so much that they felt sure that Scotland’s cinematic hard man was Black, at least partly. The Ugly was a term coined by Marcus himself, and referred to those homeless, who dressed badly and had lost both their sanity and dignity. It was a role the men studied by Marcus most disliked, because of its passivity, and lack of masculinity. Nevertheless, many homeless Black men adopted it in order to get some of the benefits that were only available through this role.

Disillusionment with Regime in ‘Not-for-Profit’ Housing

Eventually the scandal surrounding the violence and criminality within the municipal shelters became so great that the City authorities were forced to act. The system was privatised, so that instead or supplementing the vast municipal shelters were a system of ‘transient’ accommodation run by not-for-profit corporations. These were supposed to be smaller, and more responsive to their residents’ needs than the City homeless provision. Marcus examines these too, and demonstrates how many of the shelter residents became increasingly disillusioned with them, even to the point where they preferred moving back to the shelters or onto the streets.

What Marcus’ informants most objected to was the intense regimentation and supervision of almost every aspect of their lives. This was supposedly to help the homeless develop the right attitudes and habits that would allow them to move out of the transient housing and into a proper apartment with a proper job. In practice, this control was absolute and degrading. Security was tight, and the inmates were rigorously searched as they entered the building. The not-for-profits, like the shelters, also broke up heterosexual couples. Many of the homeless studied by Marcus had mental health problems of varying severity. Some were particularly ill, while others were less affected. Marcus says that in some the level of mental illness was so slight, he suspected that it may have been a pretence by the sufferer to get off the streets by feigning illness. Well, you can’t blame them for that. As part of the conditions of residence, these men were forced to take medication to combat their mental problems. They complained that it left them feeling like zombies, and deprived them of their sexual functions, a sense of emasculation, which, naturally, they particularly resented.

Lack of Economic Opportunities for Moving into Paid Work in Homeless Shelters

Coupled with this was the way the system knocked back any homeless person, who tried to get a proper job and move out of the hostel. I’ve already blogged on the experience of one homeless man, who hopefully moved to a Salvation Army home in the expectation that he would be given worthwhile work. He wasn’t, and spent his time there sweeping up, for which he was paid 17c an hour. Other homeless men in not-for-profits elsewhere found themselves unable to get work, that would pay sufficiently well for them to get a proper apartment, or a place on one of the few rent-controlled tenements held by the City. The amount of welfare paid to the homeless, which came down to a take home pay of $100 a month for those in the shelter, and $540 for those on the streets, simply wasn’t enough for them to get an apartment and support themselves. As a result, many of the most ambitious and enterprising homeless men got jobs, which they soon lost and so had to move back into the shelter. The social workers and shelter staff were aware of the problem and did their level best to try to dissuade them from trying to get proper jobs so that they would retain their SSI welfare payments. In the shelter, however, the only jobs these homeless men could do were ‘make work’ jobs, sweeping, cleaning and so on. Some of the homeless thus preferred to get jobs outside, as book keepers or security guards, or working off the books as labourers unpacking trucks for local grocery stores. These were better paid, and in the case of one homeless man, gave him status and power over the ex-con hard men working underneath him. They did not, however, pay well enough for them to get a home of their own. Marcus observes that the system seemed to have been set up in the expectation they would fail.

The Crisis in the Black Family: No Different from White Family

The book goes on to tackle the issue of the Black family, and its role in the lack of Black achievement compared to that of immigrant groups such as Asians and Latin Americans. Marcus notes that the Black family is seen as weaker, and more prone to breakdown, than the family structures of other ethnic groups. This lack of family support is seen as being the cause of the lack of social and economic advance in the Black community. Politicians, religious leaders and activists have compared the fragile Black family with the supposedly more robust structures of that of their immigrant counterparts. Instead of conflict and breakdown, these families have a high degree of mutual support and integration, so that immigrants groups like Koreans and Latinos are able to use the unpaid labour of other family members to set up prosperous businesses. Marcus shows how, as a result, Black American churches, community groups and the Nation of Islam exhort their members to take Maya Angelou’s ‘Black Family Pledge’ and emulate the family structure, solidarity and work ethic of their more prosperous immigrant counterparts.

This view of the dysfunctional character of the Black family is similarly permeated by the ‘cultures of poverty’ debate. The Black family is seen as having a uniquely dysfunctional structure and lack of values, that hinders Black Americans from achieving the same success as their White and immigrant compatriots. Marcus again takes issue with this, and demonstrates that the comparison between Black and immigrant families is false. Like is not being compared with like. Marcus states that the structure of the Black family, while different from that of recent immigrant groups, is actually no different from that of White America. He states

‘It will be my argument that, indeed, African-American families living in poverty are generally less suited to certain types of mutual aid in poverty than are their immigrant counterparts. however, this is not because of a defect in the black family or some failure to live up to American kinship norms. Rather, it is because the cultural templates of the black family, even among the poorest and least integrated into “the mainstream,” are fundamentally similar to those of other American families. Nuclear and neo-local in its norms, the African-American family, like its white counterpart, is built around voluntary companionate marriage; the shared values, identity markers, and consumption patterns of its members, and the right to seek individual accomplishment and emotional self-realization. Typically supported on a foundation of legally regulated wage labor, subsidized mortgages, individual savings, public education, state entitlement programs, and socio-legal protections by police and courts, this family type, which I will refer to as the “consumption family,” appears dysfuncational in the absence of such state provisioning and when compared to certain immigrant kinship structures, which I will refer to as the “accumulation family”.’

The “Accumulation Family” of Immigrants to America

Marcus then goes on to describe the “accumulation family” as ‘built around extended kin networks, intense group sacrifice, delayed or permanently postponed gratification, and large amounts of captive low-wage or unpaid family-based labor, particularly from women, children, new arrivals, and other dependents with less recourse to external labor options and social rights’. Marcus points out that while Black families are more likely to break down or experience real difficulties, this is not because Blacks somehow have a different set of family values from their White compatriots. They don’t. It’s simply because the Black family is generally under more acute social pressure than White families, due to the poor social and economic position of Black Americans.

As for the “accumulation family” of southern European, Latin American and Asian immigrants, this depends very much on the unpaid labour of its weaker members – women, children and new arrivals. As such, members of these ethnic groups may increasingly see it as exploitative and backward as they assimilate the values and social structures of their new home, and go from being people with one feet in America and the other in their country of origin, to more or less acculturated Americans.

Housing Panic and Social Solidarity with Squatters, Homeless and Anarchist Activists

Marcus also investigates the way the housing panic over increasingly rents and the threat of eviction created a strong sense of solidarity between ordinary citizens in New York’s slum districts, and the squatters, homeless and Anarchist activists sharing the neighbourhood. The world-wide economic depression of 1982-3 resulted in New York receiving hundreds of thousands of immigrants from eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia, as well as the yuppies graduating from the University. At the same time as the blue collar workers moved out, the white collar financial and IT workers moved in. Rents shot up, to the point where some of the buildings that were worth less than $2,000 in 1977 were worth half a million or more by 1990. Many landlords were, however, prevented from increasing their rents for long-standing tenants through the City’s stringent rent stabilisation laws. Some landlords attempted to circumvent these by putting in unnecessary renovations, as recently renovated premises were immune from the controls under the legislation. Other long-standing tenants, particularly the elderly, found themselves subjected to violence and intimidation, including being thrown down stairs, in order to force them to move out. The result was that slum and low-rent districts, like Hells Kitchen, Loisaida (the Lower East Side), the printing district, West Harlem, and the Bowery became gentrified, and relaunched under the names Clinton, the East Village, Tribeca, Morningside Heights and Noho.

The result of this was that ordinary working and lower middle class New Yorkers suffered increasing alarm at the prospect of being forced out onto the streets. This resulted in popular sympathy for the murderer and cannibal Daniel Rakowitz, who killed his girlfriend, a foreign dancer, after she tried to throw him out after their affair had ended. He was caught serving up her remains as soup to the local homeless. In the East Village, tensions between the municipal authorities and ordinary residents exploded into violence when the police tried to clear the homeless, who had occupied Tompkins Square Park to form a ‘tent city’. Local residents insisted that the violence was cause, not by the homeless, but by anarchists, squatters and youths looking for trouble from outside the area, as well as some local residents. Marcus was told by one waiter at a plush restaurant that ‘this is total war and we need to make the neighbourhood unlivable for yuppies’. In fact, Marcus does point that some of the homeless did fight back, but the fiercest fighting was done by the other groups identified in the riot. He also notes that when some of the yuppies renting properties in the area were questioned, many of them were in fact in the same boat as the rest of the residents, and spending more than half their income on rent.

Marcus believed that the solidarity between the anarchists, squatters, homeless and the area’s ordinary residents occurred because for nearly a decade these groups had created a local counterculture centred on homelessness. In 1990 a group of anarchists, squatters and homeless from Tent City took over the remains of Public School 105, located on Fourth Street between Avenues B and C, and turned it into an alternative community centre. They intended to turn it into permanent, semi-permanent and temporary housing for the homeless, as well as setting up remedial reading, GED-high school equivalency test preparation and plumbing, carpentry and electrical repair classes. It also became the focus for various other anti-gentrification and radical, anti-state groups. A local Communist group, the ‘Class War Tendency’, set up classes in political economy, while a radical priest, who was a housing activist, helped the homeless to set up a soup kitchen in the Community Centre. As a result, the cops moved in in force to retake the Community Centre and clear out its homeless and radical occupants. Marcus notes that the anarchists, squatters and Tent City homeless believed that they were defending everyone’s right to a home, and many people in the neighbourhood concurred.

The radicals lost the battle for Public School 105. In 1991 Mayor David Dinkins cleared them from Tent City in Tompkins Square Park. Four years later, in August 1995, his success, Giuliani, moved in to clear the squatters out from three large tenements on 13th Street between Avenues A and Avenue B. They were successful, and although some residents attacked Giuliani as ‘Mussolini on the Hudson’, this time there was a lot less sympathy for the radicals. There still was a housing problem, and many of the anarchists, squatters and homeless people from the Park remained in the area. However, the housing panic was over, and there was a sense of defeat about being able to beat the forces of authority and create an alternative community.

American Thatcherism, Clinton and the Rise and Fall of Homelessness as an Issue

The final chapter examines the political forces that shaped the housing crisis and ultimately led to it becoming a forgotten issue. Marcus states that while most writers consider that the problems were the result of the ‘Reagan Revolution’, the cuts in state expenditure and particularly welfare that eventually led to the crisis began with the Democrat, Jimmy Carter. It was Carter, who tried to overturn Nixon’s Keynsianism and Great Society/New Deal ideology. He did not, however, have any coherent ideology, and so his attempts to cut expenditure were modest. This was to change with the election of Margaret Thatcher as Britain’s PM in 1979. It was Thatcher, who took over and turned into a coherent ideology the Chicago School economic theories, tried to break the unions, privatise public services, cut welfare spending, transfer public sector housing to the private sector, and made ‘liberal use of the military at home and abroad’. He states that in her war against the Labour party, she attacked notions of social democracy, and corporatist or civic belonging. Although she was forced out by the poll tax riots, Thatcherism remained the dominant ideology.

Thatcher’s ideology was taken over and shared over the other side of the Atlantic by Ronald Reagan. Although, unlike Thatcher, Reagan could not produce a coherent ideology, nevertheless the values he espoused were so deeply embedded in American culture that ultimate his reach was deeper, and Reagan’s attack on the unions, the New Deal and the welfare state, such as it was, was far more thorough than Thatcher could achieve.

Nevertheless, Reagan’s reforms were still hotly contested in the decade from 1982 to 1992. This changed with Bill Clinton’s election. Suddenly there was much less coverage of homeless issues in the media, and public concern about homelessness vanished. Homelessness remains, and there is still a homeless crisis with rising rents and a lack of affordable housing. However, although Hilary Clinton briefly touched on the issue during her senatorial campaign against Giuliani, few Democrats or Republicans seemed to wish to return to the issue. Marcus considers that public interest in homelessness disappeared due to the economic boom of the last years of Clinton’s presidency. This revitalised formerly moribund sectors of the American economy, unemployment was at its lowest for several decades and there was a general feeling of optimism. Amidst the boom and growth, there was little appreciation that poverty was still present and needed tackling. Marcus states that despite this optimism and the boost to the financial sector of the collapse of the Soviet Union, globalisation and information technology, the economy will inevitably contract to plunge millions into poverty and misery once more. The book was published in 2006. We only had to wait four more years before this happened.

Homelessness and Poverty Caused by Structure of Society, not Individual Failings

He believed that now, when the good times were still rolling, was the time to tackle poverty, rather than wait till after the next set of riots. He makes the point that although there was much discussion at the time about Reagan’s removal of the safety net and those who were ‘disappearing through its cracks’, no one ever raised the question about why the safety net should be necessary in the first place. The homeless crisis was just part of deteriorating social conditions across America, which saw ordinary citizens having to work harder for much less rewards. He writes

‘A safety net is only as important as the height of a jump and the distance that can be fallen. In a wildly productive society that has achieved exponential increases in productive capacity through technological and work process innovations, the last twenty years have seen housing costs increase dramatically, the average workweek grow by 20 to 30 percent, job security disappear, real wages drop, and the employment market tighten. In addition to all these problems facing all working Americans, the eight years under Clinton saw the United States imprison more people than during any period in the nation’s history. Only contemporary postcommunist Russia, with its dying industrial economy, imprisons as many people per capita.

Despite eight years of America’s greatest economic boom, none of these are signs of social health for the nearly two hundred and fifty million ordinary citizens who comprise the non-Other America. But these developments have been particularly severe for the fifty-plus million Americans at the lower ranges of the wage and skill hierarchy, who remain as poor and miserable as when Michael Harrington wrote his book about them. Though the declining safety net was a problem for most of my informants, it was only one of the aspect of the bigger problem: the rising bar that they were unable to successfully jump.’

Marcus states that the various solutions to America’s homeless problem failed because of the ‘cultures of poverty’ view of the problem: that poverty was created by particular individuals, who lacked the moral values and industrious attitudes of the rest of the population, and who therefore were profoundly Other, and the creators of their own misery. He sees this view of the origins of poverty as similar to Margaret Thatcher’s dictum that ‘there is no society, only people’. He states of this view, that began with Michael Harrington’s The Other America that

‘Harrington and those who came after allowed that social policy was ultimately the institution for fine-tuning problems in the distribution of resources. However, their unrelenting focus on problematic groups rather than the overall social concerns facing a modern citizenry represented, at best, a progressive era model of “the poor” as loss leaders for proactive social policy. In its more common pedestrian form, it represented a positivist particularism that completely failed to view the parts as a product of the whole, blaming the pinky finger for being small, rather than identifying the hand as determining the morphology and function of the pinky or blaming the Black family for being dysfunctional rather than American kinship for producing the Black family. Such functionalist and particularist logic has proven a distraction from discussions of how America is coping with the challenges of overall social life.

When social policy is based on this particularist individuated model for the obligations and entitlements of citizenship it inevitably fails. This is because it assumes exactly what needs to be demonstrated: that the challenges being faced by the individual or group of individuals are the result of individual differences of culture, history, temperament, and the like, and not the result of being an identifiable part of a social organism. Solutions, even generous ones like the McKinney Homeless Act [this was the act that voted a billion dollars to providing shelter for the homeless] that do not consider the nature of the organism that produced a sick part, but only focus on the section deemed pathological, inevitably involve a form of social excision that is at best provisional.’

As a result, rather than identifying the economic and social factors behind the housing crisis, asking what went wrong so that a prosperous city with a surplus of affordable housing suddenly experienced a massive increase in visible homelessness, scholars instead studied the homeless themselves as an ethnic group that somehow created the problem through its cultural difference. The homeless are homeless because society has become increasingly competitive. People are being forced to jump higher and higher simply to survive. And those at the bottom simply do not have the economic, social or psychological resources. He also states that in addition to the growth and optimism experienced during the Clinton boom years, when the party of the New Deal/ Great Society anti-poverty bureaucracy once again occupied the White House, another factor contributing to the massive lack of interest in homelessness is the War on Terror.

‘The optimism and complacency of the Clinton years that hid vast seas of unvocalized misery among overworked, underpaid working-class people in post-Reganite America has given way to the ultimate silencing: the endless war on terror. However, the bar remains high, the speciation of America is firmly embedded, and the extent of planning for a rainy day is massive growth in police forces and prisons throughout the United States. The crisis remains well managed, but the future is not bright.’

Marcus suggests that the poor and homeless are social barometers measuring the problems experienced in society by Americans generally

‘They measure the amount of competition, the level of functioning that is necessary to survive, the displacement of those who must labor to live, and the degree of comfort and security that we can claim for our own lives. If they are drowning from the high price of housing, declining real wages, rising costs for education, declining public health, and the revival of nineteenth century diseases, then the rest of us are probably “up to our necks in it”‘.

American Model Producing Global ‘Race to the Bottom’ for Workers and the Poor

He suggests that instead of using Durkheimian functionalism, scholars should instead adopt a Marxian approach to examine the growth of policies by nations around the world intended to make their economies more competitive by modelling them on that of America. The result is a race to the bottom for wages, standards of living, and the overall quality of life. With its advanced, massively productive economy, America could, however, become a global leader in the opposite direction and reverse this three-decade trend for worse wages and working conditions.

Conclusion: the Lessons for Britain

Although some of the issues Marcus tackles are unique to America, much of the book is immediately relevant over this side of the Atlantic as well. Margaret Thatcher and the Conservatives took over Harrington’s ‘cultures of poverty’, and as The Void, Another Angry Voice, Mike over at Vox Political, and many, many other left-wing bloggers have shown, the Coalition’s unemployment policies are based on blaming the poor and jobless for their problems. Hence the pretext for workfare, the various courses the unemployed are placed on, and the sanctions system: they’re simply devices for inculcating the correct values of industriousness in the workforce, just as Victorian paternalists worried about raising the poor out of poverty through getting them to accept the same values. The same attitudes are screamed every day from right-wing rags like the Daily Mail and the Sunday Express, and TV documentaries on the unemployed like Benefits Street.

The British Black Family and Chavs

The chapter on the misinterpretation of the dysfunctional structure of the Black family in America in also relevant here. Black activists in Britain are also worried about the greater incidence of breakdowns amongst Black families on this side of the Atlantic. One explanation for the general poor performance of Black boys at school and their greater involvement in crime and gang culture is that, due to the breakdown of their families, many boys simply don’t see their fathers, and so don’t have positive role models in a caring dad.

This patterns also extends outside the Black community to the White lumpenproletariat, now demonised as ‘chavs’. There’s similarly a pattern of broken homes, poor educational attainment, violence and criminality amongst the boys here. And this is similarly ethnicised as the result of a distinct, ‘chav’ culture, rather than the result of a variety of social and economic pressures permeating society generally. And if we’re talking about cultures of recreational violence, then historically the upper classes have also enthusiastically taken their part. In 18th century France there was a group of aristocratic youths, who described themselves as ‘les Rosbifs’. They consciously modelled themselves on the boorish behaviour of the English country squires, and so swaggered around swearing a lot and sported cudgels, which they used to beat up members of the lower orders. Oh what fun! As sociologists and historians studying the history of such youth cultures have said, there really is no difference between these and the mods and rockers, who used regularly used to beat each other senseless down in Weston during Bank Holidays when I was a teenager. These days it’s all rather more genteel. They simply join the Assassin’s Club at Oxford, and wreck restaurants.

The Benefits Cap Blocking an Escape from Poverty and Homelessness

The description of the problems of the homeless in trying to get out of poverty and into accommodation, and failing due to the cap on their benefits, is also immediately recognisable over this side of the Atlantic. The Tories are capping Housing Benefit here as part of their scheme that people on benefits shouldn’t be wealthier than those in work. The result of this is similarly going to be increased homelessness and further geographical isolation, as people are forced to move away from high-rent areas, especially in London. Not that this’ll bother Cameron, Osborne and the rest of the Bullingdon thugs. As the architecture of the new apartment blocks shows, they really don’t want to have to look at the poor. These have a separate entrances for the rich Chinese at whom they’re aimed, and the rest of us plebs, who may well include working and lower middle class Chinese Brits, who’ve been here for generations but lack the massive spondoolicks of the new, global elite.

Solidarity between Squatters, the Radical Left and Ordinary Citizens in NYC and Bristol

As for the politics of squatting, and the need for anarchists and radical activists tackling this issue, there are also lessons for Britain here as well from the experience of New York in the 1980s and 1990s. Johnny Void over at his blog strongly supports squatting amongst other forms of anarchist activism. He has pointed out on his blog that despite the scare stories run by the press about ordinary people coming back from holiday to find their house or garden shed has been taken over by squatters, this in fact has been relatively rare. Most of the squatting has been the occupation of abandoned buildings. I’ve put up on this blog a video from Youtube of homeless activists in Bristol, including a group of homeless squatters, who’ve taken over a disused building in Stokes Croft. They too were facing eviction, despite the fact that the place has been abandoned for forty years.

The issue of gentrification and the eviction of poorer, particularly Black residents, in favour of far more affluent tenants is a very hot issue here as well. A few years ago there were riots in Stokes Croft against Tescos, which had just opened another branch in that ward. The people there feared that it would force out of business local shops, and so reacted to defend their community businesses from the commercial giant. The New York experience shows that it is possible to get ordinary residents to support squatters, anarchists and other left-wing radical groups simply through a common concern for the same issues – in this case homelessness – and by being good neighbours.

Poverty and Homelessness a Problem for Society Generally Across the Globe Thanks to the ‘American Model’

Like America also, many of the poor in Britain are actually those in work, who have also seen their wages decline in real terms, despite recent lies by the Coalition, and are finding themselves having to work longer hours. The European Round Table of Industrialists, at the heart of EU’s campaign for integration, is behind much of this on this side of the Atlantic. Regardless of our different political cultures, we Europeans, from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, from the North Sea to the shores of the Baltic, have to work ourselves to death to compete with the Developing World. And as Greg Palast has shown in his book, Armed Madhouse, the result of this in the Developing World is that they have lowered their wages and raised working hours to truly horrific levels in response. Well, if nothing else, it shows that Marx was right in his view that working people across the globe have to unite to combat the problems of capitalism. ‘It was the bourgeoisie who shot down the Great Wall of China’, he says in the Communist Manifesto. Hence the slogan, ‘Workingmen of all countries, Unite!’ Globalisation had meant the increased exploitation of ordinary people across the world. It’s a global problem that needs to be stopped now. We can start by throwing out three decades of Thatcherism and the culture of Neo-Liberalism.

The Ballardian Totalitarianism of Cameron’s Britain

November 17, 2013

Last Thursday the Mirror ran a story reporting the Conservative’s deletion of their election promises from their website. They noted that this was the re-writing of history like that done by Big Brother’s totalitarian dictatorship in Orwell’s classic 1984. It was Orwell, who coined the classic statement that he who controls the past, controls the present and future, though he phrased it far better than my own memory allows here. The Mirror also reported that, astonishingly, Conservative Central Office attempted to defend their actions with the excuse that they were trying to help visitors find their way around their website better. The Mirror did not, however, pick up the similar totalitarian impulses behind this attitude. While Orwell’s description of the way absolute dictatorships distort and re-write history is well-known, this last aspect of such tyrannical regimes is far less famous. It comes not from Orwell, but from that old author of transgressive SF, J.G. Ballard.

Ballard’s novels and short stories, such as High Rise, Concrete Island, The Atrocity Exhibition and Super Cannes, are set in depersonalised, alienated futures, inhabited by psychopaths and characterised by social breakdown and savage, extreme violence. His novel, Crash, filmed in the 1990s by David Cronenberg, is about a subculture of the victims of motor accidents, who gain sexual pleasure from car crashes. The novel itself was so shocking that the publisher’s reviewer wrote a note about it say, ‘Author mentally deranged – do not publish’. Cronenberg’s film was so extreme that it sent the Daily Mail into another moral panic. Acting once again as the guardian of the nation’s moral purity, the Mail launched a campaign against it and the film flopped as a result. Many see it as a classic of SF and transgressive cinema. Ballard himself was completely different from the violent and psychotic characters in his work. Visitors to his home were surprised to find him living in respectable suburban domesticity, caring for his sick wife and raising his children. Listening to his cultured Oxbridge tones on the radio brought to mind a gentleman, who enjoyed a good malt and a good cigar, and whose favourite reading was Wisden, rather than the delineator of brutal violence and bizarre and extreme sexuality. Ballard is now recognised as one of the great SF writers of the 20th century, and his work has garnered respect outside the SF ghetto in the literary mainstream. This is partly due to the way it examines the role played by the media, including news reportage, in shaping the post-modern condition.

Back in the 1990s Radio 3 ran a short series of five interviews with writers, artists and scientists. Entitled Grave New Worlds, the series explored the transhuman condition. Amongst the guests on the programmes were the SF author Paul J. McAuley, the performance artist Stelarc, feminist writers on women and digital technology, and J.G. Ballard. The conversation got on to the subject of Ballard’s then recent novels, in which the heroes enter gated, corporate communities. Instead of peace and harmony, the heroes find that these communities are based on violence, in which brutal attacks on outsiders are used to bond together the communities’ inmates. Talking about these savage dystopias, Ballard stated that in his opinion the totalitarianism of the future would not use force, but would be characterised by servility and obsequiousness. It would claim to help you.

There is an element of this spurious claim in previous totalitarian regimes. At times both the Nazis and Stalin’s Communist states claimed to be somehow helping their victims. The propaganda films produced by the Nazis to allay international concerns about their treatment of the Jews, purported to show the victims of their deportations happily working on their new, luxurious plot of land in the special areas allocated to them in the East, rather than the violence and horrific, mass murder of the Concentration Camps. The Jews featured in these films were all forced to do so by the Nazis, the victims of beatings and torture before and after they appeared in front of the camera. Immediately after the filming was over, I believe some were taken away to be killed in the death camps.

Stalin’s propaganda for his collectivisation campaign similarly showed crowds of joyous peasants voluntarily entering collective farms bursting with food and abundance. Kniper’s stirring song, Wheatlands, written for this campaign, contains lines where the peasant subjects of the song declare that they weren’t forced iinto them. They certainly did not show the squalor and deprivation within the collective farms, nor the mass starvation caused by the campaign in the Ukraine and other areas of the former Soviet countryside.

Back in Nazi Germany, a group of shopkeeper’s in Munich took the Nazi’s professed commitment to the Corporate state at face value, and attempted to set up a similar corporation themselves. This new body was expected to regulate trade and prices. The result, however, was inflation. The Nazis reacted by dissolving it and arresting its members. They pasted notices over the arrested individuals’ shops, stating their offence and that they were ‘now in protective custody at Dachau’. This somehow suggests that it was for the victims’ benefit, rather than their punishment.

Ballard himself was a high Tory, who felt that increased legislation was stifling Britain by making it too safe. He wrote Crash while he was a correspondent for a motoring magazine. Driving along the new motorways, he felt the experience was too bland and antiseptic, and so in his imagination created a cult around a charismatic psychologist, Vaughn, whose members got their sexual kicks from staging the very accidents road and motor vehicle legislation was intended to remove. The violence in his novels, like Super Cannes, was a deliberate attempt by these societies to counteract the debilitating ennui experienced by their wealthy members by stimulating them at the most primal level through violent threats to their lives.

Now my memory of the 1970s was rather different from Ballard’s. Admittedly, I was only a boy at the time, but I do remember the road safety films. ‘Clunk Click, every trip’, with the vile Jimmy Savile, told you to wear a seatbelt. ‘Don’t be an Amber Gambler’ warned drivers of trying to rush through the orange light at crossings. There were also campaigns against drunk driving and speeding. Dave Prowse, the man behind the Darth Vader costume, appeared in one set as the ‘Green Cross Man’, helping kids cross the road safely. Alvin Stardust also appeared in one of these. Rather than the bland landscape of antiseptic safety Ballard complained about, these public information films traumatised a generation of children with images of mayhem, destruction and carnage. Cars were totalled, and drivers, passengers and pedestrians ground to bloody pulps on regular programming slots – usually just before Grandstand on Saturday afternoons. Rather than senses-dulling boredom, I’m surprised these films didn’t turn everyone watching them into quivering nervous wrecks at the thought of venturing out on the highway.

Despite Ballard’s own Right-wing political views, his observation that future totalitarian regimes will be manipulative and claiming to serve their victims, rather than adopting the naked use of force, does describe the style of Cameron’s own administration and its steady erosion of personal freedom. The ostensible rationale behind the Work Programme and Work Fare, is supposedly to get the unemployed back into work by helping them acquire the necessary skills and the habit of working. The terms and conditions imposed on Job Seekers by the DWP is presented as a ‘Job Seekers’ Agreement’, as if it were a bargain struck between two equal parties, and freely accepted by the unemployed, rather than forced on them through economic necessity. Esther McVey even had the gall last week to claim that the people suffering from sanctions on their benefit, were those ‘who refused the system’s help’. They were made to look like recalcitrant, who had gone back to recidivist scroungers, rather than the victims of a highly exploitative system that sought for even the smallest reason to deprive the poor of an income.

The papers also this week carried the news that the legislation proposed by the government to replace the ASBOs would also allow local councils to ban peaceful protests and demonstrations on the grounds that these constituted a public nuisance, or would annoy, upset or inconvenience local residents. It’s a totalitarian attack on free speech, but again masked by the claim that somehow people are being protected. Now the authorities will act to curb and ban demonstrations that may lead to violence or a breach of the peace, such as Protestant marches in Northern Ireland that go through Roman Catholic areas or demonstrations by the BNP or English Defence League that enter Black or Muslim areas. While the authorities’ actions against such marches are resented by the groups planning them, I doubt many people object to the bans on the grounds that the marches are deliberately provocative and would result in violence. Cameron’s legislation goes further than these entire reasonable concerns. Instead, they allow public protests to be banned simply because the residents in the area in which they are held may find them simply inconvenient, like being too noisy. The legislation’s main objective is to stop political protest. It is, however, disguised with the claim that it is giving local people the power to stop troublesome individuals upsetting the rest of the community, like the cantankerous pensioner, who was given an ASBO to stop him being sarcastic to his neighbours.

There is also something Ballardian about Cameron, Osborne and Boris Johnson’s own background. They were members of the elite Bullingdon Club after all, an elite society of the extremely wealthy. Even if they don’t go around beating, maiming and killing non-members as an exercise in corporate bonding, nevertheless they seem to have a shared contempt for the poor coming from their common background.

So Ballard was exactly right. The new totalitarianism does indeed claim to be helpful and somehow serving you, even as it takes it away its citizens’ incomes, their rights to free speech and assembly, and their pride. It’s just that Ballard got the political direction wrong. He thought it was going to come from the Left, rather than the Libertarian advocates of deregulation on the Right.