Posts Tagged ‘Food’

Tories Pushing Children into Poverty and Stripping Them of Their Rights

January 4, 2020

Yesterday Mike commented on a piece in the Independent, which reported that, thanks to the Tories, Britain had been declared ‘inadequate’ in its protection of children’s right. Britain has now fallen from 11th to 156th place in the global rankings for children’s rights. It’s now in the bottom lowest ten performers after getting the lowest possible score in all six indicators in the Children’s Rights Environment, according to KidsRights Index 2017.

There are serious concerns about structural discrimination in the UK, particularly against Muslims following recent anti-terrorism measure, and against Gypsy and immigrant children.

I’ve already put up some stats on how the Tories’ vile austerity policy has pushed more families and children into ‘food poverty’ – meaning hunger, potential malnutrition and starvation. But the book also worries about the social impact hunger has on people. Families can no longer afford to families and friends around to share a meal, and this is raising concerns that this will also increase the social isolation of the families affected.

Rebecca O’Connell and Laura Hamilton write in their chapter on food poverty in Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity

However, evidence from the PSE UK suggests that 11 per cent of households could not afford to have friends or family around for a meal or drink at least once a month in 2012 compared to 6 per cent in 1999. Furthermore, the proportion who could not afford to have a friend’s child around for tea or snack once a fortnight doubled between 1999 and 2012, from 4 per cent to 8 per cent, representing 1,000,000 children. ~Given that social relationships between children and their peers are an integral aspect of their development and well-being, the consequences are likely to be highly damaging and include increasing social exclusion and societal fragmentation. (p.97)

If ethnic minority families are particularly affected, then this will increase their exclusion and alienation from mainstream society, and could lead to some becoming dangerously radicalised. And their could be a similar effect among poor Whites, who may believe that Black and Asian families are being far better treated because of their colour through positive discrimination policies. Increasing poverty and the removal of anti-discrimination legislation and safeguards is a recipe for increasing racial tension.

Joanna Mack in her chapter on maltreatment and child mortality in the above book also gives the stats on how Britain compares with some of the other European countries: it’s abysmal. She writes

The consequences of such reductions in income is that the UK, which has long had a poor record on child poverty compared to many other nations with similar levels of economic development, has slipped further behind. Eurostat, which gathers comprehensive data from across Europe, reports that in 2014 over 22 per cent of children in the UK lived in deprived households, taken as being unable to afford three or more of a range of household items, compared to 14 per cent in France, around 12 per cent in Germany and a mere 4 per cent in Norway and Sweden. In 2007, before the austerity years, the UK’s rate was 15 per cent well below the EU average – now it is above. (p.87).

She also reports that the increase in child poverty in the UK was of such concern to the UN that it called for the reintroduction of the targets for the reduction of child poverty, which the government had repealed in 2016, and for ‘the provision ‘for clear and accountable mechanisms for the eradication of child poverty’ and the revision of recent benefit reforms.’ (p. 85).

Mike was so angry about this catastrophic reduction in Britain’s status for respecting children’s rights that he urged his readers to tell people who voted Tory about it, and that thanks to their vote, Britain will continue to fail future generations. He also urged them to ask the following questions

And tell them that discrimination against children on racial or religious grounds has been incorporated into the structure of UK society under the Conservatives.

Ask them whether they consider themselves to be racists and, if not, why they support a racist administration.

And if they say they don’t, remind them that prime minister Boris Johnson is a known racist.

Point them to the anti-Semitism in his novel if they want proof beyond his Islamophobic comments and other recent outbursts.

UK plummets from 11th to 156th in global children’s rights rankings. The Tories are responsible

Britain is becoming more racist, and its children poorer, thanks to the Tories. And it’s all so that the 1 per cent, including Bozo, Rees-Mogg and the rest of them, can get richer.

Hunger and Starvation in Tory Britain

January 2, 2020

The Tory governments that came in after David Cameron’s victory in the 2010 election have caused massive poverty up and down Britain. Thanks to austerity, welfare benefits have been cut, wages kept low and workers placed on exploitative contracts, like zero hours contracts, which deny them sick pay, paid holidays and other rights. An ever increasing number of people are unable to pay for food, with the disabled and unemployed forced to use food banks to keep body and soul together after being found fit for work, sanctioned, or simply because they have to wait weeks before their first benefits payment. Vickie Cooper’s and David Whyte’s The Violence of Austerity gives some statistics on rising ‘food poverty’, and they’re horrifying.

In the chapter ‘Hunger and Food Poverty’, Rebecca O’Connell and Laura Hamilton state

Emergency food provision has been used as an indicator of the scale of food poverty in the UK. As the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty noted in 2015, the Trussell Trust, the largest emergency food provider, ‘has seen the number of people referred for emergency food rise by 38 per cent in the last year’. Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty calculate that 20,247,042 meals were given to ‘people in food poverty’ in 2013/14.’ While these are shocking statistics, they are likely to underestimate the numbers in food poverty in Britain; not all people who are hungry go to food banks and not all food banks collect data in a systematic way. The Poverty and Social Exclusion UK (PSE UK) 2012 study found that the proportion of households unable to afford two adult meals a day in 2012 stood 3 per cent, ‘back to levels found thirty years earlier having to dropped to negligible levels in the intervening period.’ In addition, well over half a million children live in families who cannot afford to fee them properly, that is, provide at least one of the following three meals a day; fresh fruit and vegetables every day; or meat, fish or a vegetarian equivalent at least once a day. If many parents were not cutting back on their own food intake to protect their children, the number would be much higher… (pp.94-5).

Analysis by the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs shows that falling incomes and rising living costs mean that food is now over 20 per cent less affordable for the poorest 10 per cent of people in the UK compared to 2003. In 2012, when the proportion of the household budget spent on food peaked in the UK, those in the lowest income decile spent 22 per cent more on food than in 2007 and purchased 5.7 per cent less, buying significantly fewer portions of fruit and vegetables than previously. Further, the number of UK adults who have reported being unable to afford meat, fish or vegetarian equivalent every other day (a measure of adequate protein in the diet) has increased between 2004 and 2012, that is, in the context of economic austerity and rising food prices. The PSE UK study noted above found that the proportion of adults going without meat or equivalent every second day  because they could not afford it rose from 2 per cent in 1999 to 5 per cent in 2012. In addition, 3 per cent of children went without adequate protein and the same proportion did not eat fresh fruit or vegetables every day because their families could not afford it. Reduced affordability of food therefore generally leads to a reduction in nutrient quality of food consumed and, in a growing number of cases, to hunger and reliance on emergency food provision. (pp.95-6).

This is a crisis of enormous proportions, and it is going to get worse. Much worse. Boris will continue and expand the policies forcing people into such desperate poverty. But yesterday the wretched Tory press were telling the world that he would bring in a golden age of prosperity. Which he will, for the profiteers at the top of the corporate ladder and the hedge fund managers that contribute so handsomely to Tory coffers.

But to pay for that, the rest of the country will be forced into grinding poverty. While the newspapers lie to them that there’s not alternative and they’re richer than ever before.

Pride’s Purge: Boris Set Up Group to Sell NHS to Americans after Brexit

December 11, 2019

Credit and kudos for this story to Tom Pride. A few days ago I put up a piece about a speech Johnson made in 2003 demanding the end of the ‘monolithic, monopolistic’ NHS for the benefit of private healthcare and health insurance companies. This was dug up by left-wing bloggers to refute Johnson’s lies that he has no intention of selling it off to the Americans, or otherwise privatising it. Despite the fact that’s exactly what he and the rest of the Tory party have been doing and intending to do for over forty years ever since Thatcher came to power.

Trump very clearly stated that he wanted the NHS to be ‘on the table’, despite Johnson’s denials. And Johnson was very definitely in negotiations with the Americans, although these were kept secret. And last Tuesday, Pride’s Purge put up a piece revealing that in 2017, Johnson and his Tory colleagues Liam Fox and Daniel Hannan, the Tory MEP for Devon, set up the Institute for Free Trade. They wanted to allow the Americans to compete with the NHS to run British hospitals after Brexit, as well as ending the ban on American chlorine-injected chickens and accept American environmental and food safety regulations.

The Purge concludes

Don’t let our hat-doffing compliant press let Johnson get away with his lies about not planning to sell off the NHS to US private companies after Brexit.

Go here to see the original article, plus shots of pages from The Times and elsewhere reporting this: https://tompride.wordpress.com/2019/12/03/in-2017-boris-johnson-launched-group-proposing-nhs-sell-off-to-us-firms-after-brexit/

JOE’s Satirical Video about Farage: ‘I Would Tell 500 Lies’

November 7, 2019

Here’s another video from those merry funsters at JOE. It’s old, but still very, very relevant: their song about Nigel Farage and his plans for Brexit ‘I Would Tell 500 Lies’. It’s an attack on him and his vehicle, the Brexit party, AKA UKIP: the Reboot through a parody of the Proclaimers ‘I Would Walk 500 Miles’. It comments on their anti-immigration policy, which means that African and Syrian refugees wouldn’t be welcome. This would mean that the British public would have lots of low paid work for them to do, as all the immigrants that do them would have been deported back to the EU. It says there wouldn’t be enough medical professionals and hospital workers, because they would have been deported too. And if you’re sick, you’d have to wait for your medicines and there’d also be food shortages. It states very clearly that he would tell 500 lies to stir up hate and xenophobic bile, and reminds everyone that the squalid little liar has been campaigning for Brexit and stood for parliament many times since 2004, but has never been elected.

All this is true. The Yellowhammer Report stated that the government should act to avoid shortages of food and medicines created by Brexit, or at least a no deal Brexit. When he was head of UKIP, Farage proudly unveiled that post showing a line of refugees from Syria and north Africa, which was almost identical to one used by the Nazis in Weimar Germany to work up hate against Jewish refugees. And I understand that there really is a shortage in medical and ancillary staff in Britain’s health service thanks to the Brexit and anti-immigration policies Farage demanded.

Farage and his ilk, include the Brexiteers in the Tory party, like Boris Johnson, lied to us again and again. They told us we were paying £350 million to the EU. We weren’t. They told us that if we left Europe, that money would spent on the NHS. It wasn’t, and they’ve tried to deny lying to us, saying that they just meant it as the kind of issue we could spend the money on.

As for Farage himself, he has never won a parliamentary seat, which no doubt explains why he isn’t standing in this election either.

And his party’s candidates themselves are as noxious as he is. Despite the party’s attempts to win over Labour heartlands, no one from the working class should touch them with a barge pole. There are some, I’ve no doubt, who are decent individuals with moderate views. But very many of them have been revealed to be extreme neoliberals wanting even more privatisation, including that of the welfare state, the removal of environmental protections for the benefit of the oil industry, the abolition of the welfare state and further attacks on workers’ rights.

The line from JOE’s song is absolutely right: when you’re suffering, he isn’t going to be suffering along with you.

Don’t listen to them, and vote for Corbyn instead.

 

Corbyn Warns of Disastrous Consequences of Tory Election Victory

November 7, 2019

The I newspaper on Tuesday carried a report about what Jeremy Corbyn was expected to say in a speech attacking the Tories’ real plans for the country after Brexit. The article by Nigel Morris, titled ‘Corbyn: Tories plan Thatcherism on steroids’, ran

Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit plans will erode food safety standards to American levels to allow maggots in orange juice and rat hairs in paprika, Jeremy Corbyn will claim to day.

He will accuse the Prime Minister of plotting to unleash “Thatcherism on steroids” by using Brexit as cover for pushing an ideological agenda of selling off the NHS and slashing workers’ rights.

Mr Corbyn will insist Mr Johnson wants to strip away consumer, employment and environmental protections as he negotiates a free trade deal with President Donald Trump.

“Given the chance, they’ll slash food standards to US levels where ‘acceptable levels’ of rat hairs in paprika and maggots in orange juice are allowed and they’ll put chlorinated chicken on our supermarket shelves,” he will say in a speech in Harlow.

“And given the chance, they’ll water down the rules on air pollution and our environment that keep everyone safe. They want a race to the bottom in standards and protections.

“Given the chance, they’ll run down our rights at work, our entitlements to holiday, breaks and leave.”

The Labour leader will also claim that Mr Johnson’s Brexit plans would allow American pharmaceutical companies to bid for NHS contracts at a cost to the taxpayer of £500m a week.

Mr Johnson has denied the health service would be ‘on the table’ in po9st-Brexit trade talks with Donald Trump.

However, Mr Corbyn will say: “What Boris Johnson’s Conservatives want is to hijack Brexit to unleash Thatcherism on steroids.”

He will say that the Conservatives want to take Britain out of the EU because they knew voters would back a return to the politics of the 80s.

“Margaret Thatcher’s attack on the working community of our country left scars that have never healed and communities that have never recovered,” he will say. “The Conservatives know they can’t win support for what they’re planning to do in the Thatcherism. So they’re trying to do it in the name of Brexit instead.”

This is all absolutely true. Thatcher led an attack on Britain’s working people through privatisation, anti-union regulation and her attack on the welfare state. She want to privatise the NHS, but was prevented by a cabinet revolt. And the Tories back then made it very clear that they wanted to destroy the welfare state, because they considered it an obstacle to workers getting jobs. At the same time, they despised and attacked workers’ rights, on the grounds that they’re a burden to employers.

The result of his is massive job insecurity and a highly prejudiced and hostile benefits system that has seen millions of unemployed, poor and disabled people denied the money they need to live on. 250,000 people are kept from starvation only through food banks. 14 million households are in poverty. Millions of workers are trapped in a gig economy, where they don’t know if they’re going to have work tomorrow, and have no rights to basic pay and entitlements.

Some of the blame for this must lie with New Labour. But they were following the agenda set by Thatcher. And while the Tories have said that the NHS is ‘off the table’ in debates with Trump, they held six secret meetings with American negotiators in which it was very much included.

Thatcher is a great, molten idol to the Tories, but they recognise that she is bitterly unpopular in some areas. It was most obviously demonstrated in the parties that broke out in some parts of the country when she died. Her ideological legacy, neoliberalism, has been described as a ‘Zombie economy’ – it’s failed, but it’s still being propped up and kept alive somehow by the political and media establishment. And the Tories are using Brexit to push their attack on workers’ rights. As I’ve said before, the Tories hate the EU not because of the single market, which they actually quite like, but because of the Social Charter which lays down basic rights for European working people. That’s why they want to leave the EU: so they can get rid of this, and really start exploiting people.

Corbyn is telling the truth. Don’t believe the Tories lies. Get them out on December 12!

Samuel Smiles’ Condemnation of the Evils of Laissez-Faire

September 26, 2019

Samuel Smiles was the author of Self-Help, a 19th century manual on how the working classes could escape poverty by helping themselves. He’s been seen as a cornerstone of Conservative values, to whom Maggie Thatcher harked back when she promoted her attack on the welfare state as giving people more self-help. Andrina Stiles’ discusses how Victorian philanthropy is seen by some historians as an attempt to create ‘a docile, subservient working class out of a large, ill-educated and potentially revolutionary mass of people’ and that ‘the whole basis of Victorian involvement in charitable enterprise as an exercise in social control based on Samuel Smiles’ teaching about self-help’ in her book, Religion, Society and Reform 1800-1914 (London, Hodder & Stoughton 1995). But she also states that this view has been challenged by other historians. These argue that while he moderated his views on laissez-faire in later life, he did not believe it adequate to tackle social problems. And she provides as proof a passage from Smiles in which he bitterly condemns it. She writes

But other historians now believe these views to be a travesty of Samuel Smiles’ teaching. Although his book Self-Help was not published until 1859, they point out that its contents had been delivered as a series of lecturers to working-class audiences in Leeds 14 years earlier at a time of social conflict; and that in those lectures Smiles was not preaching quiescence but radicalism. Although he later moderated his political views and came to agree with laissez-faire in economic matters, he never accepted it was the right policy in dealing with social abuses, writing passionately of the need for outside intervention where self-help by the poor was obviously an inadequate remedy:

When typhus or cholera break out they tell us Nobody is to blame. That terrible Nobody… Nobody adulterates our food. Nobody poisons us with bad drink… Nobody leaves towns undrained. Nobody makes thieves, poachers and drunkards. Nobody has a dreadful theory – laissez-faire – leave alone. When people are poisoned with plaster of Paris mixed with their flour ‘let alone’ is the remedy … Let those who can find out when they are cheated. When people live in foul dwellings, let them alone, let wretchedness do its work; do not interfere with death. (p. 98).

So much for Thatcherite ‘Victorian values’. They killed people in the 19th century, and they’re killing them now as the Blairites and the Tories make obtaining welfare benefits for the unemployed and disabled as difficult and humiliating as possible. The result is that over a quarter of a million people are only kept from starvation by food banks, tens of thousands of disabled people have died after being thrown off benefits due to being assessed as fit for work, and there is a chronic housing shortage through Maggie’s determination to sell off council housing and forbid the building of any more.

But the Tories and the Libertarians keep singing the old refrain. Things will be better with more self-help, less state reliance and regulation. Private enterprise and capitalism will make everything better. A few months ago Dave Rubin and Candace Owens of the American right-wing group, Turning Point, tried to convince Brits when they came over to push their vile, outmoded views on this side of the Pond. Libertarianism was devised by extreme right-wing businessmen, most notably the Koch brothers, in order to defend depriving working people of state support and trade union power, whilst enriching big business. It always was close to Nazism. In the 1970s the American Libertarian rag, Reason, even published an issue pushing Holocaust Denial. Over this side of the Atlantic, the Libertarian organisations, like the National Association For Freedom, or the Freedom Association as it became, used to support the South American dictators. This included Paul Staines, of the Guido Fawkes blog, who was a member of one of these societies. One year the guest of honour at their annual dinner was the head of one of Central American dictator Rios Montt’s death squads. When Staines wasn’t out of his head raving with the machine elves on psychoactive chemicals, of course.

Laissez-faire in its Conservative and Libertarian versions brings nothing but poverty, sickness and death to the masses. Smiles knew this and condemned it. But the Thatcherites are still pushing it, because it keeps the poor poor and very much under the control of the rich.

Private Eye: Government Plan to Draft Army as Local Government Officials in Event Brexit Crisis

September 6, 2019

There’s a very worrying story right at the beginning of this fortnight’s Private Eye. It’s page 7, where the actual text of the magazine starts right after the first few pages of advertising. Titled ‘Privates on Parade’, it reveals that Project Yellowhammer, the secret government plan for dealing with mass shortages caused by Brexit, also includes provisions for drafting the army in as local government officials. The reason they’ll be needed there is because there aren’t enough civil servants in the national administration to deal with the crisis, and if it happens, they’re going to have to draft in local government officials. The article runs

The government has spent the past fortnight trying to play down the leaked Operation Yellowhammer document about preparations for a “no deal” Brexit. Ministers initially pretended it was an old plan; when it emerged that the document was dated August 2019, they claimed preparations had alread moved on since then.

But the ramifications of the plans are extraordinary. To fill the thousands of extra civil service posts required the government has arranged for a rather unorthodox shuffle: if/when a “no deal” Brexit happens, thousands of local government officials are to be reallocated to Whitehall departments to fortify Sir Humphrey.

Who will run town and county halls in their absence? This is where matters become surreal. The army – including territorial volunteers – are being issued with instructions to take over local government posts, in a civilian capacity, in the event of “no deal”.

One officer, who admitted he was uncomfortable at the optics of all this, observed to the Eye that this involved putting soldiers in charge even when they lacked basic literacy and numeracy. Quite how they would get on in calculating council tax, or providing adult social care and children’s services, remains to be seen…

There are several remarks to be made about all this. The first is that it shows how stupid and destructive successive Conservative administrations have been in their determination to slim down the civil service. This has now reached the point where there are too few of them to run the country effectively in the event of a national crisis, like a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

The second is the massive implications this has for democracy in this country. I would imagine that one reason the unnamed officer felt uncomfortable about the ‘optics’ of the army moving into local government is that it looks very much like the beginnings of a military coup. And events don’t have to go much further before it really would amount to a military take-over of civilian government. I think that Operation Yellowhammer also provides for emergency legislation to deal with possible civil unrest in the event of shortages of food, medicines and other essential services. After a wave of rioting up and down the country the government could declare a state of emergency, draft in the army and put in force martial law.

Given Boris’ personal authoritarianism, as shown in his prorogation of parliament, I can imagine that he may even wish to dispense with parliamentary supervision in such an emergency. With the very loud support of the Tory press, he dissolves parliament again, which will only be recalled in after the restoration of order. And it probably isn’t so far-fetched to see some of the Tory right and British press demanding the arrest of left-wing subversives. If the unions call a strike, I imagine they’d be delighted. They could go back to Maggie’s tactic of posing as the nation’s champion against the bullying of the union barons. Further legislation would be passed or invoked to break up the strikes, ban trade unions and arrest trade unionists. At the same time, allegations of Communist connections and sympathies would be used to justify the arrest and detention of left-wing activists and trade unionists as threats to national security. This might be going too far, but I could also imagine the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the right-wing Zionists of organisations like Herut handing over lists of names of ‘the wrong sort of Jews’ in order to make sure Jewish critics of Israel and Conservatism were also arrested and detained. Because after all, they’re a threat to Israel, one of the West’s major outposts in the Middle East.

I’m not saying this will happen, only that it could. Back in 1975 the Conservative party and parts of the press, including the Times and the Mirror, were also pressing for a coup to overthrow Harold Wilson’s Labour government. Because industrial unrest had got out of hand, and he was supposed to be a KGB spy. See Francis Wheen’s book on paranoia in the ’70s, Strange Days Indeed. It’s also described in Ken Livingstone’s 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour, in which the-then mayor of London discusses how there were plans to round up left-wing activists, MPs and journalists, and have them sent to concentration camps on one of the Scottish islands.

The plan to draft soldiers in to local government also reminds me of the very strong position of the armed forces in the economies in many developing countries. In Pakistan, for example, the army also runs businesses, like cement factories. I’ve heard that the same is true of Egypt. The military is deeply entwined with large sectors of industry. Now Johnson and co.’s plan only involves drafting the military in to deal with a shortage of civil servants. But Zelo Street posted a piece recently showing that the government was also considering buying up the surplus food produced by our farmers if they could not export to the continent, and asked whether they would also provide financial support to the British car industry, another part of the economy that’s under threat. If the government decides that they, too, will have to be given over to army management or staffing, then Johnson and the Tories will really have turned this country into a third world nation. He’ll have a created a real military dictatorship, like those that have afflicted Pakistan and other nations. And they will be cheered on in this destruction by the right-wing press, like the Times, the Mail and the Scum. Lurking behind this threat of a coup, is the danger of a return of real Nazism from Social Darwinists like Toby Young and Dominic Cummings, who fear that giving education and welfare support to the poor and disabled is a threat to our racial stock and the proper running of our society by the upper classes. You can see them demanding legislation once again to sterilise the disabled and those on benefits.

The Tories and the right-wing media, including the Beeb, are now a real threat to democracy, whatever Boris and the Polecat now say about holding elections. We have to get them out, even if that means that Corbyn and the rest of the opposition have to bide their time for the moment. The future of our country and its people really is at stake.

 

 

Brexit Bias on the Beeb: Points West Goes to Weston-Super-Mare

September 4, 2019

The Beeb, as has been pointed out by countless left-wing websites and academics, ad nauseam, has a very strong Tory bias. It’s shown in its determination to vilify the Labour party and Jeremy Corbyn at every chance it can get, while packing news shows like Question Time with Tory MPs, supporters and members of right-wing think tanks. And this right-wing bias seems to go right down to local news. Points West is the local news programme for the Bristol area, covering not just Bristol, but also Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire. Yesterday, as part of the coverage of the Brexit debates in parliament and the demonstrations both pro- and anti-, they decided to gauge local attitudes in our part of the West Country. This meant talking to three local MPs, Thangam Debonnaire in Bristol, the Tory MP for Tewkesbury and another Tory from the Forest of Dean. They wanted to talk to the latter because he was one of those who threw their hat into the ring when the party ousted Tweezer and started about deciding her successor. And it was very clear that he was a Brexiteer, who wanted the whole debate to be over and done with and everyone get behind BoJob. He couldn’t, however, say what benefits Brexit would bring his constituents in the Forest, and didn’t answer the question when David Garmston, the interviewer, asked him what he was going to tell them what they would be for his constituents. Instead he just waffled about how he was sure they wanted it over and done with as soon as possible, or were fully informed of the Brexit debate. Or something.

Then it was down to Weston-Super-Mare for a vox pop. The split, their presenter announced, between ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ voters was very narrow, 52% versus 48%. They were down in the north Somerset resort town because attitudes in Weston closely followed those nationally. But this wasn’t evident from the people they showed speaking. Points West put out two deck chairs, labelled ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and invited people to sit in them in answer to the questions ‘Do you want an election?’ and ‘Do you support Brexit’. I think they showed four people, of whom only one was Labour and a Remainer. The rest were Tories and very definitely Brexiteers. And what specimens of humanity they were! One was an elderly lady with a Midlands accent, who ranted about Remainers being ‘Remoaners’ and ‘snowflakes’, all the while making gestures suggesting that she thought they all ought to be thrown into the sea. She then went off giggling like an imbecile at what she thought was her own wit. She was followed by an elderly gent, who declared that he wanted a general election that would return the Tories with a massive majority. And then there was a young man from Salisbury, who was also behind Boris Johnson and Brexit.

These loudmouths reminded me of the Bill Hicks joke about evolution having passed by some pockets of humanity. ‘In some parts of our troubled world, people are shouting ‘Revolution! Revolution! In Kansas they’re shouting ‘Evolution! Evolution! We want our opposable thumbs’. Evolution isn’t supposed to go backwards. But you wonder. All the anxiety about food and medicine shortages – I know people, who are stocking up on their medicines already – as well as the devastation to the economy, manufacturing industry, jobs, all that went unmentioned by the Brexiteers on the sea front. Listening to the old chap declaring that he wanted an overwhelming Tory majority, I wanted to ask him, who he thought would continue paying his pension and if he had private medical insurance if this happened. Because the Tories are determined to cut pensions, one way or another, and they are selling off the NHS. And Nigel Farage has said very openly that we may need to change to an insurance-based system. Which is a not-very-coded way of saying that he’s in favour of it. But obviously these people weren’t concerned about any of that. They just believed everything they read in the papers, like the Heil, the Scum and the Torygraph.

And I doubt very much that these talking heads were representative of the good folks down in Weston-Super-Mare. If attitudes in the city really are like those nationally, then the people sitting on those chairs should be equally split. Instead it looks like the report was very carefully staged to favour the Brexiteers. Just like rather more Tory MPs were interviewed on the programme than Labour.

The programme was on tonight about Sajid Javid and how he grew up in his parents’ fashion shop in Stapleton Road in Bristol. Apparently he still proud of his roots there, despite the fact that it is a run-down area with a reputation. It’s topical, but I still wonder if it was anymore objective than last night’s edition about Brexit. I didn’t watch it, only catching a brief glimpse of it, when one of the interviewers was asking other Asian small businessmen in the area if they shared the national fears about the harm Brexit would do to businesses like theirs. It’s possible that the programme really was more unbiased. But somehow, given the nature of last night’s programme, I doubt it.

Douglas Murphy on the Corporate Elite, Environmental Collapse

July 14, 2019

In my last post, I reviewed Douglas Murphy’s Last Futures: Nature, Technology and the End of Architecture (London: Verso 2016). This is about the rise and fall of Modernist architecture. This style, whose antecedents can be traced back to the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace, and which was strongly influenced by architects and thinkers as widely different as Le Corbusier and Buckminster Fuller, was an attempt to create cheap, available buildings to cater for the needs of the future, as it was predicted in the 1950s and ’60s. This was an optimistic period that looked forward to economic growth, increasing standards of living, beneficial technological innovation, and, crucially, the ability of the state to plan effectively for people’s needs. This was a future that looked forward to a future, which automation would mean that people only worked for three days each week. The rest of the time, people would voluntarily go back into education to develop themselves. As Buckminster Fuller enthusiastically proclaimed that ‘within a century the word “worker” will have no current meaning’.

As automation eliminates physical drudgery, we will spend more time in the future in intellectual activity. The great industry of tomorrow will be the university, and everyone will be going to school’. (p. 27).

Fuller was one of the pioneers of the nascent environmentalist movement, and coined the term ‘spaceship Earth’ to describe the loneliness and fragility of our planet and its ecosystem.

Other influences on Modernist architecture were Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, about the devastating effect pollution, and particularly the insecticide DDT was having on wildlife. and the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth. Silent Spring’s title referred to the massive decline in America’s bird population caused by crop spraying with the insecticide. Limits to Growth was based on an attempt to use computers to model the performance of the world economy and the effect this would have on the environment. It assumed that resources were only finite and a growing global population. The intention was to test various changes in policy and see what effects this would have in the near to mid-future. The results were extremely ominous. The first run found that

If the present growth trends in world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on the planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probably result will be a rather suddent and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity. (p. 176).

This prediction of collapse was constant in subsequent runs, despite the changes in factors. Sometimes the collapse was sharper. One variation meant that it would be put off for fifty years. Another left some resources still in existence after the collapse for some kind of civilisation to continue. But all the models predicted disaster.

Moreover, technological innovation was unable to prevent the collapse. The authors of the experiment stated that technological optimism was the most common and most dangerous reaction to their findings, because it tended to solve some of the symptoms of the problems while leaving the actually causes untouched. The only real solution was to halt population growth, reduce the consumption of resources, switch capital investment from industry to education, combat pollution, improve agriculture and extend the productive life of capital.

While this is extremely restrictive, nevertheless the authors of the report believed that there was still room for optimism, because it allowed what many would consider the most desirable and satisfying human pursuits – education, art, music, religion, basic scientific research, athletics and social interaction, to continue.The book was highly influential, and discussed by powerful figures like Kurt Waldheim, the UN Secretary General in 1973, and President Giscard d’Estaing of France.  It was also widely criticised. Its critics complained that the model was too simplistic, and the authors themselves acknowledged that the model was rudimentary. It was also asserted that capitalism would find solutions to these problems, and industry would switch to a different, more productive direction. And also humanity would in time find solutions, both social and technological, to the problems.

However, Murphy goes on to comment that despite criticisms and attempts to move industrial society away from its current disastrous direction, the book’s predictions appear to hold true. He writes

Despite the massive emotional and political investment in moving the world away from its destructive course and onto more sustainable paths, none of the great many harbingers of doom from the period managed to shift capitalism off its growth-led and industrially intensive direction. There may be no need to defend the primitive systems of Limits to Growth and its ‘world model’ of 1972, but in recent years it has become a common sight to see the graph of the ‘standard model’ catastrophe with actual data from the subsequent forty years superimposed upon it. When this is done the graphs match almost perfectly, right up to around the present day, which is the point where the collapse is due to begin. (p. 180, my emphasis).

One of the responses to the predictions of environmental collapse was the proposal that special biospheres – enclosed buildings enclosing parts of the natural environment – should be built to protect some areas from destruction. One example of such a project is the Biosphere 2 experiment of the 1990s, in which a group of eight volunteers attempted to live inside such an enclosed artificial ecosystem for three years.

In his conclusion, Murphy points out the difference between the ’60s prediction of the benefits of automation and those of today, writing

Back then, automation was seen almost universally as a rising tide that would set people free from drudgery, but now, the mass automation of intellectual work promised by the algorithms of the technology industry seems much more likely to raise the drawbridge between the wealthy and the masses even further. Instead of people working a few days a week and fulfilling themselves with creative leisure at other times, it appears more likely that people will become more tightly squeezed into the last remaining jobs whose empathy and emotional labour the robots cannot synthesise.

And instead of enclosed cities, in which all citizens can live in harmony with nature, he predicts these will instead become the sole preserve of the rich.

Finally, instead of living in giant structures balancing the energy needs of cities with the natural world around them, it seems more likely that the lack of action on carbon dioxide emissions, combined with rising inequality across human society, will lead instead to the creation of climate enclaves, fortified cities for the super rich, self-sufficient in energy and food yet totally barricaded off from those outside who will be left to fend for themselves – the ultimate in Slotendijk’s bubbles. (p. 221).

When I read the above passage remarking on the apparent accuracy of the predictions in Limits to Growth, I thought of all the figures in big business and right-wing politics telling us that there’s no need to worry and we can carry on polluting and destroying the planet – the Koch brothers, the Republicans in America and Conservatives and Lib Dems over here, the oil and fracking companies, the newspapers pushing climate denial, like the Daily Heil and the Spectator, Nigel Farage and the Brexit party, Mick Hume and the wretched Spiked magazine and all the rest. And my reaction was the same as Charlton Heston’s in the 1968 Planet of the Apes, when he finally finds out that he is not on an alien world, but on an Earth after humanity has virtually destroyed itself in a nuclear war.

I really hope that the predictions are wrong, and that this isn’t the high point of our civilisation and that there won’t be any collapse. I’m sure that there are plenty of good objections to Limits to Growth.

But we still need to combat the environmental crisis, and kick out the corrupt politicians, who are taking the money from polluting industries and allowing the destruction of the Earth’s precious environment and the squandering of its resources. We need an end to Republican, Conservative governments and the political parties that aid, like the two-faced Lib Dems, and the election of genuinely Green, socialist governments under leaders like Jeremy Corbyn.

 

Britain Aims for Communications Contract for Moon Space Station

July 14, 2019

Yesterday’s I, for Saturday 13th July 2019, also carried from encouraging space news in an article page 13, ‘UK seeks to play key mission role’ by Jamie Harris. This reported that Britain is trying to get the communications contract for a space station around the Moon. The article ran

Britain hopes to provide essential communication between the Moon and scientists back on Earth as multinational plans to build a new space station get under way.

The UK Space Agency is bidding for a slice of key activity on the proposed Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway, which is intended to serve as laboratory and short-term accommodation post for astronauts.

In November, the next round of funding decisions will be determined by the European Space Agency, of which Britain is a member.

Guildford-based SSTL is bidding to be technology provider for communications, allowing astronauts and rovers on the Moon to send data.

Sue Horne, the head of space exploration at the UK Space Agency, said: “We’d like to do the communications system and the refuelling element. On the refuelling, it is probably fifty-fifty. We have a much better chance of getting the communications.”

News that the space authorities are considering building a lunar space station were revealed last week by the head of Human Resources for the British Space Agency in Swindon on The One Show. The show was doing an item on women in space, presented by Carol Vorderman. It was part of the season of features celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landings. The programme discussed women’s contribution to the American space programme. It was a female engineer, who devised the rocket fuel that allowed the Americans to launch their first space probe, Explorer 1, successfully. It was a female nutritionist, who came up with the idea that astronauts should eat good, nutrious, tasty and varied meals. That’s obviously important, because for people working in isolated, dangerous environments, like the poles, meal times can become the highlight of the day and they’re important in keeping up morale. The programme also mentioned that the number of female employees at NASA has grown from a handful when it began, to 40 per cent now.

The HR head added that the British space programme was set to expand, and stated that there were plans to build a lunar space station. Which is why the British equivalent of NASA, based in Swindon, was expanding. And they were looking for all kinds of people, not just scientists and engineers.

So, with luck, there could be some fascinating and inspiring careers in space research for some people! 

The item did not, however, mention some other instances where women, including those from ethnic minorities, were involved in the American space programme. Like the ladies, who trained as Mercury astronauts before the Agency decided that they weren’t going to send women into space, or the group of Black female mathematicians, who did the calculations for the Moon landings. These ladies must have been absolutely brilliant, because the maths behind space travel can be terrifyingly hard. Let’s face it: it is rocket science! But I guess these pieces were left out as there have already been a number of books and features about them already. There has even been a female about the Black lady mathematicians.

I’m extremely encouraged by the news that humanity is planning to return to the Moon, fifty years after Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and co. set foot, and I really hope that this time Britain will be there also in some capacity.