Posts Tagged ‘Gentrification’

American Tsarism

December 15, 2017

Going though YouTube the other day, I found a clip, whose title quoted a political analyst, radical or politicians, as saying that the American political elite now regards its own, ordinary citizens as a foreign country. I’m afraid I’ve forgotten who the speaker was, but I will have to check the video out. But looking at the title of what the leader of the Conservative branch of the Polish nationalist movement said about the Russian Empire. He described how the tsars and the autocracy exploited and oppressed ordinary Russians, stating baldly that ‘they treat their people as a foreign, conquered nation’. Which just about describes tsarist rule, with its secret police, anti-union, anti-socialist legislation, the way it ground the peasants and the nascent working class into the ground for the benefit of big business and the country’s industrialisation. The system of internal passports, which were introduced to keep the peasants on the land, and paying compensation to their masters for the freedom they had gained under Tsar Alexander, and to continue working for them for free, doing feudal labour service: the robot, as it was known in Czech. It’s no accident that this is the word, meaning ‘serf’ or ‘slave’, that Karel Capek introduced into the English and other languages as the term for an artificial human in his play Rossum’s Universal Robots.

We’re back to Disraeli’s ‘two nations’ – the rich, and everyone else, who don’t live near each other, don’t have anything in common and who may as well be foreign countries. It’s in the Tory intellectual’s Coningsby, I understand. Disraeli didn’t really have an answer to the problem, except to preach class reconciliation and argue that the two could cooperate in building an empire. Well, imperialism’s technically out of favour, except for right-wing pundits like Niall Ferguson, so it has to be cloaked in terms of ‘humanitarian aid’. Alexander the Great was doing the same thing 2,500 years ago. When he imposed tribute on the conquered nations, like the Egyptians and Persians, it wasn’t called ‘tribute’. It was called ‘contributions to the army of liberation’. Because he’d liberated them from their tyrannical overlords, y’see. The Mongols did the same. Before taking a town or territory, they’d send out propaganda, posing as a force of liberators come to save the populace from the tyrants and despots, who were ruling them.

What a joke. Someone asked Genghis Khan what he though ‘happiness’ was. He’s supposed to have replied that it was massacring the enemy, plundering his property, burning his land, and outraging his women. If you’ve ever seen the 1980s film version of Conan the Barbarian, it’s the speech given by Conan when he’s shown in a cage growing up. I think the film was written by John Milius, who was responsible for Dirty Harry ‘and other acts of testosterone’ as Starburst put it.

And it also describes exactly how the elite here regard our working and lower-middle classes. We’re crushed with taxes, more of us are working in jobs that don’t pay, or forced into something close to serfdom through massive debt and workfare contracts. The last oblige people to give their labour free to immensely profitable firms like Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s. And at the same time, the elite have been active in social cleansing – pricing the traditional inhabitants of working class, and often multicultural areas, out of their homes. These are now gentrified, and become the exclusive enclaves of the rich. Homes that should have people in them are bought up by foreigners as an investment and left empty in ‘land-banking’. And you remember the scandal of the ‘poor doors’ in London, right? This was when an apartment block was designed with two doors, one of the rich, and one for us hoi polloi, so the rich didn’t have to mix with horned handed sons and daughters of toil.

I got the impression that for all his Toryism, Disraeli was a genuine reformer. He did extend the vote to the upper working class – the aristocracy of Labour, as it was described by Marx, creating the ‘villa Toryism’ that was to continue into the Twentieth Century and our own. But all the Tories have done since is mouth platitudes and banalities about how ‘one nation’ they are. Ever since John Major. David Cameron, a true-blue blooded toff, who was invited by the Palace to take a job there, claimed to be a ‘one nation Tory’. Yup, this was when he was introducing all the vile, wretched reforms that have reduced this country’s great, proud people, Black, brown, White and all shades in-between – to grinding poverty, with a fury specially reserved for the unemployed, the sick, the disabled. These last have been killed by his welfare reforms. Look at the posts I’ve put up about it, reblogging material from Stilloaks, Another Angry Voice, the Poor Side of Life, Diary of a Food Bank Helper, Johnny Void, et al.

But that’s how the super-rich seem to see us: as moochers, taxing them to indulge ourselves. It was Ayn Rand’s attitude, shown in Atlas Shrugs. And it’s how the upper classes see us, especially the Libertarians infecting the Republican and Conservative parties, whose eyes were aglow with the joys of the unrestrained free market and the delights of South American death squads and the monsters that governed them. Walking atrocities against the human condition like General Pinochet, the Contras, Noriega. All the thugs, monsters and torturers, who raped and butchered their people, while Reagan slavered over them as ‘the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers’. And you know what? An increasing number of progressives are taking a hard look at the Fathers of the American nation. Patricians to a man, who definitely had no intention of the freeing the slaves, or giving the vote to the ladies. and who explicitly wrote that they were concerned to protect property from the indigent masses. Outright imperialists, who took land from Mexico, and explicitly wrote that they looked forward to the whole of South America falling into the hands of ‘our people’. If you need a reason why many South Americans hate America with a passion, start with that one. It’s the reason behind the creation of ‘Arielismo’. This is the literary and political movement, which started in Argentina in the 19th century, which uses the figure of Caliban in Shakespeare’s the Tempest to criticise and attack European and North American colonialism, with the peoples of the South as the Caliban-esque colonised. It was formed by Argentinian literary intellectuals as a reaction to America’s wars against Mexico and annexation of Mexican territory, and their attempts to conquer Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

That’s how South America responded to colonisation from the North and West. And colonialism – as troublesome ‘natives’ to be kept under control, is very much how the elite see ordinary Brits and Americans, regardless of whether they’re White, Black, Asian or members of the First Nations.

But you can only fool people for so long, before the truth becomes blindingly obvious. You can only print so many lies, broadcast so many news reports telling lies and twisted half-truths, before conditions become so terrible ordinary people start questioning what a corrupt, mendacious media are telling them. The constant scare stories about Muslims, foreign immigration, Black crime and violence; the demonization of the poor and people on benefit. The constant claim that if working people are poor, it’s because they’re ‘feckless’ to use Gordon Brown’s phrase. Because they don’t work hard enough, have too many children, or spend all their money on luxuries like computers – actually in the information age a necessity – or computer games, X-Boxes and the like.

You can only do that before the workers you’ve legislated against joining unions start setting up workers’ and peasants’ councils – soviets. Before the peasants rise up and start burning down all those manor houses, whose denizens we are expected to follow lovingly in shows like Downton Abbey. Which was written by Julian Fellowes, a Tory speechwriter.

Before ordinary people say, in the words of ’80s Heavy Metal band Twisted Sister, ‘We ain’t goin’ to take it’.

Before decent, respectable middle class people of conscience and integrity decide that the establish is irremediably corrupt, and there’s absolutely no point defending it any longer.

A month or so ago, BBC 4 broadcast a great series on Russian history, Empire of the Tsars, present by Lucy Worsley. In the third and last edition, she described the events leading up to the Russian Revolution. She described how Vera Zasulich, one of the 19th century revolutionaries, tried to blow away the governor of St. Petersburg. She was caught and tried. And the jury acquitted her. Not because they didn’t believe she hadn’t tried to murder the governor of St. Petersburg, but because in their view it wasn’t a crime. Zasulich was one of the early Russian Marxists, who turned from peasant anarchism to the new, industrial working classes identified by Marx as the agents of radical social and economic change.

And so before the Revolution finally broke out, the social contract between ruler and ruled, tsarist autocracy and parts of the middle class, had broken down.

I’m not preaching revolution. It tends to lead to nothing but senseless bloodshed and the rise of tyrannies that can be even worse than the regimes they overthrow. Like Stalin, who was as brutal as any of the tsars, and in many cases much more so. But the elites are preparing for civil unrest in the next couple of decades. Policing in America is due to become more militarised, and you can see the same attitude here. After all, Boris Johnson had to have his three water cannons, which are actually illegal in Britain and so a colossal waste of public money.

Don’t let Britain get to that point. Vote Corbyn, and kick May and her gang of profiteers, aristos and exploiters out. Before they kill any more people.

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Social Exclusion in Inter-War Council Housing

March 7, 2016

A number of left-wing bloggers, including the indefatigable Johnny Void, have called attention to the social cleansing in the government’s housing policy. Apart from there being a general shortage of housing, those homes that are built are mainly luxury properties aimed at the very middle and upper class. The ‘affordable homes’ that some builders put up may not actually be very affordable. What the government defines as affordable is a price set at 80 per cent of the market value. That can still put a home well out of the pockets of most working people, depending on the area. As a result, areas are being gentrified and the traditional, working and lower-middle class occupants of those areas pushed further out of their homes as these areas go upmarket. London is the most notorious example, where house prices are going far beyond the ability of any but the very rich to pay.

Yet this was also a feature of some of the council housing development put up between the two World Wars. Eric Hopkins in his book, The Rise and Decline of the English Working Classes 1918-1990: A Social History (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1991) says on page 23:

Undoubtedly council estates were an enormous improvement in simple physical terms on slum property, but they were by no means the complete answer to problems of working class housing. The most widespread complaint was that the rents were too high for the poorest class of tenant; and indeed it was a deliberate policy on the part of some councils to keep rents at a level which only the skilled or semi-skilled could affor4d, so that the first generation of council tenants should set a good tone. The result was that the poorest, living in the worst slums, who needed rehousing most were left where they were. Only later on would councils rehouse the unemployed and provide rent subsidies when required.

Cameron and his predecessors in New Labour have done everything they could to bring back the worst aspects of pre-War Britain.

Zac Goldsmith, Former Tax Avoider and the Tory Candidate for London Mayor

February 23, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has a fascinating little meme from London Labour, pointing out that Zac Goldsmith, now campaigning to be mayor of London, was another rich non-dom, who avoided paying taxes in this country. He declared this on Newsnight, 16th February 2016. He’s not a non-dom now, having given it up when he decided to throw his hat into the political arena. Nevertheless, Mike points out that he’s still the beneficiary of a £1.2 billon trust fund in Geneva, set up by his father, Sir James Goldsmith. Or as Private Eye used to call him, Sir Jammy Fishpaste.

Mike points out that this leads to more questions about whether he’s someone else, who has saved millions on their taxes and advocates squeezing the poor further, all the while saying ‘We’re all in it together’.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/23/did-tory-london-mayor-hopeful-zac-goldsmith-really-speak-up-for-tax-avoidance/

Now, as a billionaire, Goldsmith has not only avoided paying tax in Britain as a former non-dom, but has actually managed to get the poor to pay part of his whack through the Tories’ tax cuts. These have shifted the tax burden very definitely onto the poor from the rich. So, even if he is no longer a non-dom, he is still expecting someone else to pay his taxes. And that’s the very poor, who are being hit with welfare cuts and priced out of their homes in gentrified areas. He’s part of the global plutocrat elite for whom ‘poor doors’ were built in apartment blocks, so the wealthy residents of luxury penthouses wouldn’t have to mix with the hoi-polloi from the working or lower middle classes. You can bet that if he ever becomes mayor, one way or another the poor will pay for it.

India’s Present – Britain’s Future under the Conservatives?

February 23, 2016

I’ve been reading John Kampfner’s book, Freedom for Sale: How We Made Money and Lost Our Liberty, which describes the process around the world in which nations are becoming more authoritarian, more dictatorial, as the rich and middle classes retreat from any kind of political involvement and simply concentrate on making money, blind to, or unconcerned with the political corruption, poor public services and glaring poverty and inequality around them.

One of the nations he discusses is India, where talks to a number of activists, journalists and radical politicians about this process of political stagnation. He describes the fury of the rich after the Mumbai terrorist atrocities in 2002 at the politicians’ failure to protect them, despite the fact that for many poorer Indians, political violence and its consequences are much more common. The country is considered safe, and compared with Pakistan, which is widely considered a failed state. Yet India has three times as many terrorist attacks as their neighbour to the West. He writes

The fury of wealthy Indians at the Mumbai bombings arose from the realisation that their pact had been broken. They had enjoyed a comfortable relationship with politicians and the state. They would finance political parties and line the pockets of their elected representatives. They would privately connive in corruption, while berating its existence in public. They would demand little from the state and receive little in return, except the right to avoid taxation. They would not have to rely on lamentable public services. Their air-conditioned 4X4s would glide over uneven roads; their diesel-fed generators would smooth over the cracks in the energy supply (in some cities power can go off for up to twelve hours at a time); their private tanks would ensure a constant supply of clean water. The elite had seceded from active politics and had been happy to do so. They never asked questions of the security forces when violence was meted out to the less fortunate. But what they did not expect, or take kindly to, was that their lives would be put at risk by incompetents at the Home Ministry, police departments, army or intelligence services. (p. 157)

This doesn’t quite describe the attitude of the Tories over here, as they are all too keen to exploit terrorism atrocities on the general public to extend the power of the coercive surveillance state. But in other aspects, it’s very true. There is corruption, and the rich are paying what are effectively legal bribes in the form of donations to the Tories and other parties. For all their professed concern over public services, the actual quality of service has declined as a result of privatisation and cuts. But they are unconcerned at this, because the sales of these public enterprises directly enriches them. Furthermore, they don’t use the same public services we do. I’ve got a feeling one of the Tories involved either in the rail network or bus services was caught making a disparaging remark about having to use them. He didn’t. He moved around the country in his chauffeur driven limo. And there may well be power outages. Private Eye has been forecasting that unless new power stations are built quickly, next year or at least a mere few years into the future, Britain will suffer blackouts and power cuts. And the rich over here, as in India, are completely indifferent to the grinding poverty outside their own small circle.

Remember: India and Developing Nations like it are the model held up for British workers to emulate by Priti Patel and the others behind Britannia Unchained. In order to compete with the Tiger economies, British workers should worker harder, for less pay and with fewer welfare benefits. Kampfner gives this description of the appalling plight of Indian’s masses:

In the twenty years of liberalisation, the poor, the 75 per cent of the population living on less than $2 a day, have lived a parallel existence. Their plight is as acute now as it’s ever been, inextricably twinned with malnourishment and illiteracy. The grinding routine of India’s downtrodden, and the humiliations they endure, has been documented in trenchant critiques by Pankaj Mishra, Arundhati Roy and others. Books and films have described the deals between the slumlords, the police and the politicians, the extortion and protections rackets, the beatings, the constant threats of relocation and demolition, the particularly misery the monsoons bring. Research academies provide a welter of statistics, charting levels of inequality. For all the economic growth, less than 1 per cent of the budget goes on public health. Child malnutrition levels remain higher than much of sub-Saharan Africa. UNICEF studies have shown that more than half of all women and three-quarters of all children below the age of three in India are anaemic. The problem is not lack of information or transparency, but a lack of will.

Let’s see, growing starvation and malnutrition? Yep, that’s over here, due to cut welfare benefits and low wages, people are being driven to use food banks simply to survive.

Slum landlords and demolition. Well, there was Peter Rachman in the 1950s, and then Nicholas van Hoogstraten in the 1990s, who were two of the most notorious. The Tories housing policy is pushing housing beyond the reach of all but a dwindling number of the rich, and the poor are being pushed out of their homes as they’re bought up and gentrified. And people have been forced on to the streets by the bedroom tax.

Of course, the problems faced by contemporary India are far vaster than those in Britain. At the moment. But India, and nations like it, are the Tory model, regardless of what they spout about ‘One Nation’ Toryism and helping the poor. This is what we’ve got to look forward to for our country, if they remain in power.

Vox Political on the Tory MP Who Claims He Cannot Afford a Mortgage

February 14, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political last week post a piece on the sad case of the Tory MP for Stockport, William Wragg. Wragg had appeared in the Guardian complaining that his MP’s salary of £74,000 was too small for him to afford to buy a house, and so he had moved back in with his parents. The Graun was not impressed by this claim, pointing out that in his constituency there were flats available for rent for as little as £110 a week. See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/10/tory-mp-forced-back-to-live-with-parents-by-high-house-prices-he-claims/.

Nick, one Mike’s commenters, said

You need a income of £75000 a year to secure a loan of £300’000 so if he avoids London he should be able to manage it

Having said that a bank would not give him a mortgage as his job is classed as insecure as a mp and he would have to provide professional qualifications as a fall back like lawyer etc to secure that type of loan

This is what I believe to be accurate at this time of writing. A genuine loan today is only advanced to those that have on paper a better then average chance of paying the loan back within the 25 year time frame on a scale of 3 times a single salary and 4 times a joint salary plus a 10 percent deposit.

This looks to me like another Tory attempt to ingratiate itself with the very public who’ve been hit hardest by their policies by claiming, ‘Oh, look, it’s affecting us too! We’re all in it together!’

Except we’re not. Young Master Wragg does have enough money to afford a place of his own, depending on where he chooses to live. Very many others aren’t so lucky. Furthermore, any sympathy people may have for him should be weighed against the fact that Wragg is one of those responsible for the mess.

I am very definitely not sneering at people, who go back to live with their parents. It’s happening to a whole generation, both here and in the rest of Europe. In Italy, for example, it’s actually quite common for young people to live with their parents until their mid 30s because of the difficulty in getting suitable housing. Many of the young people, who are forced to move back in with their parents are graduates. Saddled with enormous student debts and faced with a lack of affordable housing, they frequently have no choice but to go back home to Mum and Dad.

Wragg’s whining follows a story a few weeks ago in the Torygraph, about a very middle class couple, who were also complaining that they could not afford houses in London. They got the same amount of sympathy, for pretty much the same reasons. It was the middle classes whining about poverty in the same newspaper, that had showed precious little sympathy when prices started rising and the working poor couldn’t afford roofs over their heads.

And Wragg’s party are the root cause of this. Way back in the 1990s, Maggie Thatcher removed the limits on mortgages. Up till then, banks would only lend a maximum of seven times a person’s income. Older people can remember that the process of getting a mortgage was long, complicated, and featured earnest interrogations with one’s bank manager. This was too much for Maggie, bursting with enthusiasm for Hayekian free trade and monetarism. It was regulation strangling free enterprise. So she got rid of the limits. The result has been that the cost of mortgages has shot up to the point where large numbers of the population cannot afford them.

Other factors contributing to the rise include the growth of the ‘buy to let’ market. Among those boosting this were the usual Tory suspects, the Daily Heil. This has always been fixated on mortgages and the interests of the small investor, and so Viscount Rothermere’s and Paul Dacre’s esteemed organ should share some of the blame for inflated house prices. The situation has also been affected by higher executive salaries vastly surpassing everyone else’s, to the point where they and only they can afford to live in parts of the country like London, and the purchase of properties in the capital by foreigners, especially multimillionaire Chinese, simply as investments without any intention actually to live there.

And so Wragg has found himself slightly affected by the policies his party has inflicted on everyone else. If he had any decency or recognition of the ultimate origins of this crisis, or indeed any genuine sympathy with the other victims, who are in far worse need than him, he would protest against the legislation that has caused this. He would also be opposed to Osbo’s proposed legislation, which will do nothing to increase the amount of available housing, but simply create another housing bubble.

But I doubt that he ever will. Wragg is, after all, a Tory, and a presumably looking to Cameron and Osborne to help his career, a career that could get cut very short if he defies them. And I’ve no doubt that as a member of the middle classes, he fully supports the gentrification programmes that have seen working and lower middle class people evicted from their homes, which have then been pulled down, or converted into luxury flats.

And I also don’t think he’s uttered a peep about the Tory policies that have meant that the number of affordable homes are being cut, and those that remain are, at 80 per cent of the market price, hardly affordable.

But hey, he’s had to move back in with his parents. So he’s just like us. We’re all in it together … except we’re not.