Posts Tagged ‘Folk Songs’

The One Show and Ian Hislop on IDS’ Crying over the Unemployed

April 8, 2016

Yesterday, the Beeb screened the documentary, showing Ian Duncan Smith, the Minister for Culling the Disabled and Unemployed, crying his crocodile tears. Presented by Private Eye’s editor, Ian Hislop, and entitled Workers or Shirkers, it aimed to tell the story of how there had been a constant tension in British politics between offering state aid to the poor as unfortunates requiring help on the one hand, and a much tougher line demanding that they look after themselves on the other. The interview between Hislop and aIDS, in which the Gentleman Ranker shed his tears, was a discussion about Victorian attitudes to poverty.

I didn’t watch the programme, for the very good reason that I thought it would make me angry. There was also no need. Hislop himself was on The One Show Wednesday evening to talk about it, and they showed the clip of aIDS crying then. I wasn’t impressed. Usually I’ve got quite a lot of respect for Hislop. I’ve used material from Private Eye to attack the Tories, and particularly their privatisation of the NHS and the vicious and murderous sanctions regime by the DWP, ATOS and Maximus. But his comments and the lack of them about this incident left me somewhat disappointed.

Let’s be clear from the start that IDS did not break down in floods of tears. He was merely talking to Hislop about a 19 year old girl, who’d given up on finding a job. So his voice broke, and he dabbed his eye. Several times. He then said, ‘I’m sorry, but she reminded me of my daughter.’ It wasn’t open weeping so much as when some people stop themselves when they’re beginning to well up, and then try to excuse this sudden show of emotion by saying that ‘they’ve just got something in their eye’. Or other such words to maintain their dignity.

Now, I follow Mike, and probably most left-wing commenters on this government, that IDS’ performance, whatever it was, was certainly not a genuine display of grief. Or if it was, it was only that he’d so far managed to kill so few. IDS has presided over a regime that has killed about 490 odd people from neglect, starvation and by their own hand, after having them thrown off benefits. Over a quarter of a million more have had their mental health exacerbated – sometime severely – by the sanctions regime. And far from expressing any remorse, IDS has simply had a guffaw about it in parliament with David Cameron. He laughed about it when some of the cases histories of those, who had suffered were read out in the House of Commons.

And then he has the gall to pretend that he is somehow ‘caring’.

What I disliked was that neither the presenters of the One Show nor Hislop, who should, and probably does know better, didn’t challenge the authenticity of this performance. The Show’s regular female presenter said sympathetically, ‘You can tell that was genuine’. When asked about his reaction, Hislop said that he was surprised, and didn’t expect it from the Ranker. He seemed prepared to give Smith the benefit of the doubt. He said that if it had been someone like Tony Blair, he would have expected there to have been an onion. The presenters then asked why he didn’t try to comfort Smith, at which Hislop laughed, ‘No! It is Ian Duncan Smith’.

Now Hislop’s failure to tackle the authenticity or lack thereof of Smith’s tears is serious. I’m assuming that Hislop was aware about the jolly chuckle Smith had about the suffering his policies had caused in parliament. It should have been mentioned, as it puts into perspective not just Smith’s, but this entire government’s attitude towards poverty and unemployment. But he didn’t. You’re left wondering about how far Hislop’s own sympathies are with Smith, and the Beeb’s bias towards the Conservatives. Or it may simply be any case of the weird code of Omerta amongst some journalists – that you don’t push politicos too hard, or they’ll stop giving you the interviews you need.

I also wasn’t impressed by some of the other comments Hislop made which were purely historical. For example, he talked about how Edwin Chadwick, who invented the workhouse system, was later castigated and reviled because of its horrors. Hislop, however, says that at the time workhouses were accepted, and the hatred merely came later. In my experience, this simply was not the case. When they were set up the workhouses were denounced by the poor and the radical press as ‘the new Bastilles’, prisons where the poor would be incarcerated like criminals, like the infamous prison for political prisoners under the ancien regime in France before the Revolution. Some parishes were so horrified by them that they flatly refused to build any. If anything, the workhouses only became accepted after a notorious case in the 1880s when inspectors found the inmates in one were so starving, that they were cutting open the bones to be ground for fertiliser in order to get at the marrow bone inside. That incident started a parliamentary inquiry into the terrible conditions in the Workhouses, resulting in some improvement in conditions. And even then, there were contemporary folk songs and popular ballads attacking them.

So after seeing this rather biased view of the historical reality behind the workhouse, and Hislop’s failure to tackle Ian Duncan Smith, I simply didn’t feel that I wanted to see the documentary. Perhaps the next one will be better. I hope so, but after that, I’m not sure.

Radical Balladry and Tunes for Toilers: The Agitator, Part 2

May 25, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

Last week I posted up a number of radical British folk songs and ballads, including the 19th century tune, ‘The Agitator’, from Roy Palmer’s A Ballad History of England. I’d only managed to note the music for this, and assumed that it dated from the Chartist agitation for the extension of the franchise to working men. I was wrong about this. The ever-informative Jess, put me right about it in her comment on the post. She pointed out that it actually came from the 1870s, and was part of a number of tunes composed to promote the Agricultural Labourers’ Union, composed by the radical journalist, Howard Evans. She wrote

‘The Agitator’ dates from the 1870’s

Roy Palmer probably garnered it from Howard Evans’ “Songs for singing at Agricultural Labourers’ meetings”, 1875

Evans, a Radical journalist;
[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Evans_(journalist)]

later recalled;

“Early in the labourer’s movement I conceived the idea of bringing song into service by using popular tunes. I am no singer, but at a meeting in Sundridge, in Kent, I ventured a first experiment. It was heartily received and published in the ‘Labourer’s Chronicle’ others followed in quick succession, and before long was issued a Labourer’s Song Book, with a few songs by other writers, which from start to last reached a circulation of 120,000 copies” “Evans, Radical Fights of Forty Years 1913, p.42

But when the proprietors of the paper attempted to revive Feargus O’Connor’s Land Scheme (borrowed from the ideas of Thomas Spence [See Chase; The People’s Farm]);

“A violent quarrel broke out in our ranks. Ward and Vincent, the proprietor of the ‘Chronicle’, conceived the absurd idea of buying land with the twopences of the labourers. Of course most of them would be in their graves before they could get even a small piece of land…Ward and Vincent hoped to get [Joseph] Arch on their side, because he was at variance with Taylor, the secretary; but Arch was too level-headed a man to entertain such an absurd project. It became necessary to save the Union by starting another paper”

For a broader ‘portrait of the agricultural labourer in the nineteenth century’ I suggest Roy Palmer’s ‘The Painful Plough’

Mike Yates’ valuable essay on Walter Pardon adds another dimension to these songs
http://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/pardon.htm

The linked essay on the folksinger, Walter Pardon, mentions a number of his songs, some sadly only now half-remember fragments. Many others have been recorded whole, with the article reproducing several of them: Come All Ye Swaggering Farmers, The Labourer’s Union, An Old Man’s Advice, and Sons of Labour.