Posts Tagged ‘Carolina’

Vox Political: Now Tories Want to Strip Benefits from Fat People

February 15, 2015

Fat Cameron

David Cameron, showing off the toned physique for which the Tory front bench is known.

Just when you thought the Tories couldn’t get any more mean-spirited, bullying and petty, they prove you wrong. Yesterday they announced that they would strip benefits from people they considered obese. Mike over at Vox Political has put up this story about it Tories say the obese should ‘lose weight or lose benefits’. Pot, kettle, black. It begins

The Conservative Party seems determined to sink itself into the deepest, blackest hole ever created by a political organisation for itself.

While other parties unveil attractive policies designed to bring voters onboard, the Tories have said they want to remove benefits from people they have decided are fat. Here’s the Independent story, and for good measure we’ll throw in the BBC‘s coverage too.

You might be thinking to yourself, why not? They’ve already attacked people on Jobseekers’ Allowance, ESA and DLA as scroungers; they’ve pushed pensionable ages back by years; and they’re about to attack people who are on pensions, already. Why not continue proving what a bunch of spoiled little schoolboys they are by picking on fatties as well (oh, along with druggies and alkies)?

Perhaps because, as ‘Neti’ pointed out on Twitter: “Medication can mean that people gain weight and not be overeating.”

He notes that the British Medical Association attacked the plans of Westminster Council to deny overweight people benefits on these grounds in 2013 as ‘draconian’.

He quotes David Cameron as saying of this new Tory strategy:

“It is not fair to ask hardworking taxpayers to fund the benefits of people who refuse to accept the support and treatment that could help them get back to a life of work,” he said.

The good folk of the Twitterverse are much less impressed. One of these is John Wight, who commented that it was ‘a wheeze designed to appeal to the smug middle classes’.

The Social Snobbery of the Slave Owners

It is. And it shows the arrogance, the preening sense of superiority of Cameron and his crew, as they sneer at those they consider to be physically as well as socially inferior. And lying even further underneath is the assumption of the feudal elite that we are chattels, and they should have absolute control of our bodies as well as our labour.

Private Eye published a revealing piece of gossip about the sneering mentality of the Tory grandees towards the plebs back in the 1990s. One of their contributors or spies had been at the special dining hall set up for the very rich at the Cheltenham Festival that year. This was lavishly laid out with the very finest cordon bleu cuisine. In the room at the time was one of the Tory bigwigs. I’ve got a feeling it was Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mud, but I can’t be sure. The Tory looked out of the window at the rest of the crowd below, eating the meals they’d bought from the burger stand. ‘Oh, look at all those people with their little bits of plastic,’ he sneered.

It’s the same mentality. “Oh, look at all those fat chavs! They clearly don’t eat their greens, and especially not those specially picked and cultivated by elite chefs somewhere in Tuscany or the Vale of Evesham. And they don’t know what balsamic vinegar is! How dreadful!”

butterball001_jpg

Hellraiser’s ‘Butterball’: Not known to be a relation of Eric Pickles

Now this is, of course, as Mike points out, deeply hypocritical considering the physiques of many of the Tory party. Like Nicholas ‘Fatty’ Soames, or Eric Pickles, who looks to me like nothing less than the ‘Butterball’ Cenobite from Hellraiser. And whatever it is about, it’s really not about getting the nation healthy or back to work.

The Alternatives: Changing British Shopping and Food Labelling

There are ways you could get people to eat healthier food by changing the way people shop and work. One suggestion was to label very clearly the fat content on foods, so that people were aware of just how many calories they were putting in their bodies. One other suggestion was to levy a ‘fat tax’ on fatty, unhealthy foods, like pizzas, fish and chips and so on.

You could also encourage people to eat better by bringing back local shops close to where they live, rather than supermarkets to which they have to drive. This was brought out in one of the series with Jamie Oliver, where he went to one of Britain’s fattest cities to encourage the townspeople there to lay off the chicken McNuggets and eat their greens and muesli instead. One of the mothers he enlisted in his campaign actually burst into tears about this. She bought her kids KFCs and McDonalds, not because she was lazy, but simply because that was all she could afford. She could not afford to travel outside her area to go to the supermarket to buy the super-healthy greens and foods Jamie was recommending.

The Poor, Depression and Diet

And there’s also another, emotional reason why the very poor and the unemployed eat fatty foods: they make you feel better after another depressing, dispiriting day. This was discussed again back in the ’90s by the American broadcaster and columnist, Joe Queenan, and his guests on the Radio 4 show, Postcard from Gotham. This was the time when the news had just broken that America had an obesity epidemic. They noted that, in contrast to Britain and Europe at the time, America really was the ‘land of plenty’, where the food portions were massively bigger. But they were aware that the poor ate badly because of the miserable condition of their lives.

Cutting Fatty Foods and Resistance from the Food Industry

Now the last thing the Tories actually want to do is start putting taxes on food, or have the fat content, or anything else in them clearly labelled. Many Tory MPs have very strong connections to the food and drinks industry. It’s why, for example, John Major’s government did precious little about dangerous alcohol consumption for so long, and consistently blocked legislation to limit consumption. That’s state interference, which is by nature Wrong and Oppressive. Worse, it may damage profits.

Similarly, blocking supermarkets and encouraging a new generation of Arkwrights to set up their own, s-s-small businesses, as greengrocers, family butchers, bakers and so on is another idea that definitely ain’t going to get anywhere with the Tories. Not when the supermarkets seem to be on the march everywhere, driving out their smaller competitors.

Levelling the Playing Fields

And this is before we get to the way successive administrations following Maggie have sold off public sports facilities, like school playing fields, public baths and sports centres. Private Eye has again been covering this scandal for some time in its ‘Levelling the Playing Fields’ column. This has been such as scandal that even the arch-Tory Quentin Letts has pilloried it and the Tory minister responsible in his book, 50 People who Buggered Up Britain.

All of this means challenging vested commercial interests, and reversing decades-old developments in the way people work, exercise and shop. It’s expensive, would require careful thought and planning, and could take years. Besides, it would attack the very industries that fund the Tories and provide their MPs with an income. It’s far easier for them to do absolutely nothing, and go back to doing what they do best: sneering and attacking the poorest.

Westminster Council and the Homes for Votes

It’s no surprise that this move also came two years ago from Westminster Council. The Tories there have been on a very long campaign to cleanse the area socially of the poor. In the 1990s there was the ‘Homes for Votes’ scandal, where the leader of the council, Tesco director Dame Shirley Porter, and her minions arranged for good Tory voters to be housed in good building, while the poor were removed to an asbestos-ridden tower block. This seems to be have been another ruse to drive the lower class and poor out of the area, so they could keep it as a low council tax, pristine area for the very rich.

Seasoning the Slaves

And ultimately, behind all this – the class snobbery about the bodies of the poor and the poor quality foods they consume, is an even more sinister, essentially feudal assumption: that the slave master should have absolute control over the bodies and physical fitness of his slaves. During the slave trade, the captains of the slave ships during the long journey across the Atlantic to the Caribbean and America would take their slaves up on deck and make them exercise. This was to keep them just fit enough so that some of them might survive, and fetch a good price. Once there, the slaves could be seasoned for a year so that they could recover and be fit enough to be a worthwhile commercial investment for their purchasers.

That statement by Cameron about it not being fair to ask ‘hard-working’ people to fund people who are too fat to be available for work shows something of the same mentality. It’s the attitude of the feudal lord complaining about the laziness of his peasants. John Locke, the founder of modern liberal political philosophy certainly was no opponent of slavery. He worked for the Board of Plantations when the English government was expanding their colonies in America and the Caribbean. The constitution he drew up for Carolina was strongly feudal in character. Nevertheless, he believed that free people should have absolute control over their bodies, to the point where military commanders could only ask troops to risk their lives, not command. This latest move by the Tories undermines this fundamental principle. It shows they still have the deep-seated feudal assumption that they have the absolute right to control the bodies of their serfs.

Acting Out Totalitarianism

I also wonder how far this new move is an attempt by the Tories to discredit the welfare state by being as totalitarian as possible in its name. For many Americans, the welfare state is just about synonymous with totalitarian Communism. A little while ago American Conservatives opposed to Obamacare were looking at the various campaigns of the Blair government to cut down on obesity in the name of saving the NHS money as examples of the totalitarian assumptions of the British welfare state. “Look! They actually tell you what to do at that level! That’s what Socialism is really like!” It looks to me that the Tories have taken over those arguments, and decided to act them out and push them as far as possible, in order to cut down on ‘welfare dependence’.

The Nanny State vs. Nanny Cameron

And finally, let’s call out this latest measure for another piece of hypocrisy. Quite apart from the fact that the Tories have their fair share of gutbuckets, remember how the Daily Mail and the other Tory rags screamed blue murder when Blair’s government started trying to get people to be more health aware.

Such as the various posters that were stuck up on hoardings up and down the country, telling you not to overdo the amount of salt you put in your food.

They immediately shouted that this was the ‘nanny state’, and that it showed the overbearing, micromanaging mentality of New Labour. The Tories were against all that. They stood for sturdy self-reliance against such petty meddling with people’s personal affairs.

Except now, they don’t. Not when it reinforces their middle and upper class prejudices. Not when it humiliates the lower orders even further. Not when they can deprive people of benefits, make the poor and sick starve, and force them out of house and home.

Well, here’s a musical response to this. It’s the mighty Motorhead’s ‘Eat the Rich’. Enjoy!

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Books on British Constitutional History and Democracy: John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government

January 19, 2014

John Locke Government

This is one of the most fundamental texts for the development of modern, British constitutional government and democracy. In the first of the Two Treatises Locke attacked the traditional arguments for absolute monarchy advanced by the royalist Filmer in his Patriarchia. These stated that as the father was the head of the family, so the king had patriarchal power over the nation. Filmer used quotations from Scripture in an attempt to show that this patriarchal power had existed ever since the creation of the first human couple, Adam and Eve.

in the second Treatise Locke advanced his own theory of government. Like the other contract theorists, Locke believed that governments had been set up by the early human community in order to protect their natural rights to life, liberty and property. Locke was responsible for drafting the constitution of the new British colony of Carolina in 1669, and his belief that humans have the above fundamental rights influenced the American Founding Fathers and the declaration of the American Constitution that everyone has the right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. Unlike Hobbes, he believed that power was still held by the human community, and there were natural limits to government that it could and should not exceed. The supreme power in the state was the legislature, which governed by the consent of the people. This could not transfer its powers to any other body, and can only govern through proper legislation and authorised judges. It cannot seize someone’s property without their consent, and taxes can only be raised with the consent of the people. Its fundamental duty is to govern for the people’s benefit. When it does not do so, the people have the right to dissolve it:

‘There remains still in the People a supreme power to remoave or alter the Legislative, when they find the Legislative act contrary to the Trust reposed in them’.

Locke wasn’t a democrat. His constitution for Carolina was still strongly hierarchical, with the largest landholdings reflecting the various grades of the British aristocracy, so that some of the largest were termed ‘baronies’, for example. In his discussion on the forms of government, he states that nations should be free to choose whether they are democracies, oligarchies, or elective monarchies, or mixtures of all three, as it suits them. In the case of Carolina, the franchise was still restricted to men of property, and the constitution permitted slavery. Nevertheless, Locke’s work is of vital importance for its statement that political power and authority still lies in the people, on whose behalf and by whose authority monarchs and parliaments govern, and that there must be and are constitutional limits to their power. In 1769 the constitutional theorist, Blackstone, developed this into the theory that parliament was the supreme power. His theory of the origin of political power are the basis of both American and British democracy, and the liberal view of political freedom. This is that freedom consists in the people’s right to govern themselves and make their own laws through their representatives. It is opposed to the ‘Conservative’ view of freedom, expressed by absolute monarchs like Charles I, that politics is the sole business of absolute monarchs, who should in practice interfere as little as possible in the lives of their subjects. Unfortunately, this idea of liberty is coming under increasing attack from an authoritarian Coalition, which is liberal in name only.

John Locke and the Origins of British and American Democracy: A Reply to Ilion

July 10, 2013

Ilion, a long-term and respected commentator here, made the following comment on my post John Locke and the Origins of British and American Democracy:

“Black Britons, American and West Indians may well consider Locke’s comments on slavery profoundly wrong, considering their own peoples history of enslavement by Europeans.”

Only if they are either:
1) ignorant (which is curable);
2) stupid (which is not curable);
3) intellectually dishonest.

Locke: “‘Slavery is so vile and miserable an estate of man, and so directly opposite to the generous temper and courage of our nation, that it is hardly to be conceived that an “English,” much less a “gentleman”, should plead for it.’”

In other words: “How can a man call himself an Englishman, much less a gentleman, if he would argue *for* slavery?“

It’s a good point, and it raises a number of issues, which need to be examined.

Slavery Not Recognised in English Law by 17th century

Firstly, at the time Locke was writing slavery in England had long died out, and villeinage – serfdom – had more or less withered away. The last serf died in the middle of the seventeenth century, as I recall, and Cromwell’s government abolished the last legal remains of feudalism in England. This was important for the abolitionist cause when it arose in the eighteenth century. Abolitionist campaigners like Thomas Clarkeson brought a series of cases before the courts of Black slaves, who had been taken to England. Like the Dred Scott case in America leading up to the Civil War, Clarkeson and the other Abolitionists argued that as slavery did not exist under English law, these slaves were therefore free. They won there case, and during the 19th century a number of slaves came before the British authorities in the West Indies claiming their freedom, because their masters had taken them to England. They also believed that they were free by setting foot in a country that did not recognise the existence of slavery.

Slavery and Indentured Emigration to British Colonies in America and Caribbean

As slavery did not exist in English society, when slave traders turned up in Jamestown in 1621 to try to sell a consignment of Black slaves, the colonists initially did not what to do with them. Emigration to the British colonies in America and the Caribbean was largely through indentured servants, and slavery was not initially needed. Indeed, Hakluyt records in his Voyages and Discoveries the statement by one British sea captain to the African people he encountered that Englishmen did not enslave people, ‘nor any that had our shape’. Unfortunately, this attitude of some mariners did not prevent many others, such as the Elizabethan privateer, John Hawkins, from raiding Africa for slaves, which he attempted to sell to the Spanish in their colonies. By the end of the seventeenth century the British colonists in Barbados attempted to discourage further immigration by indentured servants, as all the available land was now occupied. They thus turned to importing Black slaves to supply the labour they needed on the plantations. These were for sugar in the Caribbean. In the British colonies in southern New England, by the early eighteenth century they were importing African slaves to work on the tobacco plantations.

Locke’s Hierarchical, Feudalistic View of Society

Now Locke, while the founder of modern theories of liberal representative government, wasn’t a democrat in the modern sense. He believed in a restricted franchise, which reserved the right to vote to the wealthy and a parliamentary upper house of landed aristocrats. His proposed constitution for Carolina was quite feudal, in that envisaged a social hierarchy of estates of increasing size, in ‘baronies’ and so on. Now I’ll have to check on this, but I’m not sure that Locke raised any objections to slavery in the New World. In any case, it continued regardless of his comments on how it was antipathetic to the English.

Frederick Douglas and the Irrelevance of the 4th July to Black American Slaves

One of the great abolitionist speeches in 19th century was Frederick Douglas’ ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ Douglas’ point is that the rhetoric of free, White Americans celebrating their liberation from British slavery and tyranny, rang hollow and meant nothing to Blacks, who were still very much in bondage. It occurred to me while I was writing my post on Locke that some people could say the same thing about this great master of British constitutional theory.

17th Century Slaves Treated More Equally than Later On
Now there’s some evidence to suggest that as, as horrific as slavery is, in the 17th century it wasn’t quite as degrading and horrific as it later became. A few years ago I came across a paper on the material culture of slave and free burials in early colonial America in the collection of archaeological papers in Historical Archaeology, edited by Dan Hicks. This found that there was no difference in material culture, and the reverence with which the deceased were buried, between White American colonists and their Black slaves. Both were interred with the same amount of respect, suggesting that in life there was, at least in their case, a degree of equality between masters and slaves. It is a deep shame and pity that this did not continue, and lead to the decline of slavery in America as well as England.

Locke Still Founder of British Constitutional Liberty

As for Locke, his hierarchical views on the structure of society were very much standard for his time. Nevertheless, he laid the foundations for modern representative government and democracy, as opposed to centralised, monarchical absolutism.

John Locke and the Foundations of British and American Democracy

July 4, 2013

Locke Portrait

Career and the Constitution of Carolina

One of the founders of the British and American democratic tradition was the English philosopher, John Locke. Born in 1632, it was Locke who established the modern liberal idea of government by defending the right of the nation to choose their government through elected representatives against the claims for the monarchy to have absolute power, advocated by royalists such as Sir Robert Filmer. From 1668 to 1675 he was Secretary to the Lords Proprietors of Carolina, and from 1673 to 1675 he was Secretary to the Council of Trade and Plantations. Locke helped draft the Fundamental Constitutions for the Government of Carolina in 1669. This contained Locke’s own ideas, that he had previously expressed in his Essay Concerning Toleration of two years previously. He believed that no-one should be a freeman in Carolina, or possess any land or dwelling there, who did not believe in a God. If they did believe in the Almighty, however, they not only had the right to live in the colony, but also to the authorities’ protection for their person, property and religious beliefs. Locke was certainly not in favour of complete religious toleration. He excluded Roman Catholics, who were associated with continental absolute monarchies, such as France and Spain, as well as atheists. In the event, his proposed constitution was never enacted, yet some of the ideas it contained were strong enough to be put into practice. Carolina thus offered a greater protection to emigrants fleeing religious persecution than either Pennsylvania or Massachusetts. Locke stated that everyone possessed the fundamental rights of ‘life, liberty and property’, which inspired the American Revolutionaries to enshrine the basic rights of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ in the American Constitution.

Political Ideas in the Two Treatises of Government

Locke himself saw his arguments for representative democracy as part of the English tradition of political liberty that stood staunchly opposed to the absolute monarchy of Filmer’s Patriarcha. The first part of Locke’s classic political text, Two Treatises of Government, consists in demolishing Filmer’s arguments. It is arranged in several books, the first of which has the title ‘An Essay Concerning Certain False Principles’. The first chapter is ‘On Slavery and Natural Liberty’. It begins

‘Slavery is so vile and miserable an estate of man, and so directly opposite to the generous temper and courage of our nation, that it is hardly to be conceived that an “English,” much less a “gentleman”, should plead for it.’

He later defined political power as

‘that power which every man having in the state of Nature has given up into the hands of the society, and therein to the governors whom the society hath set over itself, with this express or tacit trust, that it shall be employed for their good and the preservation of their property… it can have no other end or measure, when in the hands of the magistrate, but to preserve the members of that society in their lives, liberties, and possessions, and so cannot be an absolute, arbitrary power over their lives and fortunes, which are as much as possible to be preserved … And this power has its original only from compact and agreement and the mutual consent of those who make up the community’.

Locke’s Family’s Homes of Wrington and Pensford, Somerset

Locke was born in Wrington, in Somerset, and his family came from the village of Pensford. This is also in Somerset, not far from the city of Bristol. The great British travel writer, Arthur Mee, described Pensford as follows:

‘It has a character, and a good one; could any tiny place be more crowded with quaint loveliness? Perhaps we found it at its best, for it was a glorious spring day and the aubrietia was creeping down the stone walls through which the river runs, ten feet down from the cottage gardens to the water, and it is all bridges- three little stone ones and a colossal viaduct dwarfing the village, the tower, the roofs and everything with its 16 great arches carryinig the trains 100 feet up in the air. A perfect miniature is the little domed lock-up looking down the street. Wandsdyke which runs close by is hardly noticed.

The 14th century church is nearly moated with the little river; in its long history the nave has been flooded four feet deep. It has a 15th century font with quatrefoils and roses; a Jacobean pulpit of which every inch is carved with swaures and circles and leaves, and in the tower we found an odd little man most certainly winking, though winking at nothing we could see.

In this small place there live two people whose son was to join our immortals, father and mother of our philosopher John Locke’.

According to Mee, there is also a bust of Locke in Wrington parish church. It was taken there after his uncle’s house in the village was torn down.

Since Locke’s time, democracy and liberal, representative government has spread to many more countries than just Britain and America. The largest democracy on Earth is now India. Black Britons, American and West Indians may well consider Locke’s comments on slavery profoundly wrong, considering their own peoples history of enslavement by Europeans. Nevertheless, Locke’s ideas on government firmly laid the foundation for modern, constitutional democracy and the replacement of absolute monarchy by liberal regimes.

Sources

John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd 1924).

Arthur Mee, ed. Somerset: County of Romantic Splendour (London: Hodder and Stoughton 1940)