Posts Tagged ‘Glastonbury’

The Torygraph Pours Scorn on Corbyn at Glastonbury Festival

June 28, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn was one of the guests at the Glastonbury Festival last week, introduced on stage by no less a man than Michael Eavis himself. Corbyn gave a roaring, impassioned speech, inveighing against the Tories’ attack on the welfare state, their privatisation of the NHS, and their forcing of millions into poverty. If I recall correctly, he also mentioned how the Grenfell Tower fire was a direct result of decades of Tory policies dismantling health and safety legislation for the benefit of private landlords. He ended with a rousing passage from Shelley’s The Mask of Anarchy, urging the British people to rise up ‘like lions’ ‘for ye are many, they are few.’

And the crowd loved it. They cheered, and there were spontaneous chants of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!’ This graphically showed the popularity of the Labour leader, at least with a section of the young and not-so young people, who can afford to go to Glastonbury.

Needless to say, the Tory press hated it. The I newspaper yesterday carried a quote from the Telegraph, in which they moaned that it was ‘the day that Glastonbury died’, Eavis was going to lose tens of thousands of visitors and supporters of his festival by inviting Jeremy Corbyn on, and what did it say about the Labour party anyway, when it’s leader was cheered by metropolitan liberals able to afford the exorbitant entrance and camping fees.

Actually, it says that the countercultural spirit of Glastonbury is alive and well, that Eavis has always been against at least some of the policies the Tories espouse, and that the Tories contemplating the spectacle of the young and hip supporting Labour are nervous about their own future.

Michael Eavis was awarded an honorary doctorate or degree by Bristol university at their graduation ceremony a few years ago. Bristol uni is rather peculiar in the conduct of these ceremonies. While other universities and colleges allow the person awarded the degree to make a speech themselves, at Bristol it’s done a special orator. The orator describes their life and career, while the person being so honoured stands by, smilingly politely, until they are finally given the scroll, when they say ‘thank you’. The orator in his speech for Eavis said that he was basically conservative, who shared the work ethic.

Well, perhaps, but I can remember the 80s, when the local Tories down in Glastonbury hated him, the hippies and the other denizens of Britain’s counter and alternative cultures, who turned up to the pop festival with a passion. They were trying to get the festival banned at one point, citing the nuisance and frequent drugs violations.

As for Eavis himself, I can remember him appearing in an edition of the Bristol Evening Post, in which he made it very clear what he thought about Reagan and Thatcher’s new cold war, and the horrors committed in Nicaragua by Fascist death squads trained, equipped and backed by Reagan’s administration. Accompanying the article was a picture of him wearing a T-shirt with the slogan ‘How Can I Relax with Ray-Gun on the Button?’, which mixed a reference to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s notorious disc, which had been banned by the Beeb, with the American president’s ‘Star Wars’ programme for a space-based anti-missile system.

As for the hip young dudes cheering Corbyn on, whom the Torygraph sneered at as ‘metropolitan liberals’, this is the crowd the Tories, and Tory organs like the Telegraph, would desperately like to appeal to. These are wealthy people with the kind of disposable incomes newspaper advertisers salivate over. These people also tend to be tech-savvy, which is why the Torygraph imported an American technology guru a few years ago to try and make the rag appeal more to a generation increasingly turning to the Internet for their news and views.

It didn’t work. Sales continued to decline, along with the quality of the newspaper as a whole as cuts were made to provide the savings needed to fund the guru’s wild and fanciful ideas. The young and the hip are out there, but they ain’t reading the Torygraph.

And their also increasingly not joining or supporting the Tory party. Recent polls have shown that the majority of young people favour Labour, while the Tories are strongest amongst the over fifties. For any party or other social group to survive, it has to appeal to young people as well as those of more mature years. And the Tories aren’t.

Lobster a little while ago carried a piece on the current state of the Tory party, which reported that a very large number of local constituency parties really exist in name only or have very, very few members. The membership is increasingly elderly, and several local parties responded to inquiries by saying that they were closed to new members. In short, the Tory party, which was at one time easily Britain’s largest party with a membership of 2 1/2 million, is dying as a mass party. Lobster concluded that it was being kept alive, and given millions in funding, mainly by American hedge fund managers in London. It should be said here that the party is also benefiting from extremely wealthy donors elsewhere in industry, and the very vocal support of press barons like Murdoch, Rothermere, and the weirdo Barclay Twins.

The Telegraph’s attitude also seems somewhat hypocritical considering the attitude of the press to the appointment of a Conservative editor of Rolling Stone magazine way back in the 1990s. This young woman praised George Bush senior, stating that he ‘really rocks’. This caused a murmur of astonishment amongst the media, amazed at how a countercultural pop icon could embrace one of the very people the founders of the magazine would have been marching against back in the ’60s and ’70s. The magazine was accused of selling out. It responded by replying that it hadn’t, it had ‘merely won the revolution’.

Nah. It had sold out. As one of the French philosophers – Guy Debord? – wrote in The Society of the Spectacle, capitalism survives by taking over radical protest movements, and cutting out any genuinely radical content or meaning they had, and then turning them into mere spectacles. This is what had happened to Rolling Stone. And as Glastonbury became increasingly respectable and expensive in the 1990s, there were fears that it was going to go the same way too, at least amongst some of the people writing in the small press culture that thrived before the advent of the internet.

I don’t remember the Torygraph saying that Rolling Stone had ‘died’ by appointing a deep-dyed Republican as its editor. And I imagine that it would have been highly excited if Eavis had called on Theresa May to appear on stage. Now that would have killed Glastonbury. But the appearance of Corbyn on stage shows that Glastonbury hasn’t yet become a cosy item of bourgeois entertainment.

Corbyn is one of the most genuinely countercultural politicians in decades. He stands for policies which the political establishment, including the Blairites in the Labour party itself, loathe and despise. Until a few weeks before the election, all the papers were running very negative stories about him, as well as much of the TV news, including the Beeb. Corbyn is a threat to the free trade policies that the Thatcherite political establishment and media heartily support, and so they attack him every way they can.

But as the mainstream media attacks him, ordinary people support him. Much of the support for Jeremy Corbyn came from ordinary people on blogs and vlogs outside corporate control. Counterpunch a week or so ago carried an interview with one of the ladies behind Corbyn’s campaign in London. She described how they set up apps for mobile phones, to show volunteers for his election campaign which wards were marginal so they could canvas for him in those vital areas. She said that they had so many people volunteering that they had to turn some away.

And youth culture was part of this mass movement. Kids were mixing his speeches in with the music they listened to on their ipods, so that there were movements like ‘Grime4Corbyn’. Again, this was being done spontaneously, outside party and corporate control, by ordinary kids responding to his inspiring message.

Glastonbury is now very expensive, and unaffordable to very many of the people that Corbyn represents. But this does not mean that it is only wealthy metropolitan liberals who support him, or that the well-heeled souls, who sang his praises at Glastonbury at the weekend were somehow fake for doing so ‘champagne socialists’, in Thatcher’s hackneyed phrase. Corbyn also has solid working class backing and the support of the young. He is genuinely countercultural, and so had every right to stand on stage.

And he certainly does share some of the ideals of Michael Eavis himself, at least in the ’80s. As I said, Eavis made his opposition to American imperialism and war-mongering very plain. Corbyn has said that he intends to keep Trident, but in other respects he is a profound voice for peace. There is a minister for peace and disarmament in his shadow cabinet, and he has said that he intends to make this a proper ministerial position.

And so Corbyn stood in Glastonbury, with the support of the crowd. A crowd which the Tory party hoped would support them. They didn’t, and it’s frightened them. So all they can do now is moan and sneer.

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Crowd Spontaneously Chants ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ at Glastonbury!

June 24, 2017

Shine on, you crazy diamond!

This short video shows the crowd at Glastonbury spontaneously chanting ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’, and begins and ends with a few very pointed comments about ‘useless politicians’ from one of the bands on the pyramid stage. They name one useless politician in particular, telling Theresa May to shut the door on her way out.

Rock and roll!

Bristol’s Real Steampunk Car: The 1875 Grenville Steam Carriage

May 26, 2017

And now, a bit of fun before I return to hammering the Theresa May and the Tories for their seven years of misgovernment, malice, and general misery.

Steampunk is the subspecies of Science Fiction, which wonders what would have happened if the Victorians had invented computers, flying machines, space travel and so on. One of the founding texts of the genre is William Gibson’s and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine (London: Victor Gollancz 1990), which imagines what Britain might have looked like if Charles Babbage’s pioneering mechanical computer, the Difference Engine, had actually been built and use by the British government. It’s set in an alternative history in which the Duke of Wellington and the Tory government of 1829 have been overthrown by a party of Industrial Radicals, led by Lord Byron. Instead of government by the landed aristocracy, the country is instead ruled by a scientific elite. Foremost of these is Byron’s daughter, Ada Lovelace, who wrote the first computer programme for the machine. Apart from the Difference Engine itself, which is used by various government departments to solve not only statistical and technical problems, but which also records images and information like a modern computer, the streets are packed with steam carriages, and the British army also uses steam driven armoured cars to carry troops to suppress industrial unrest.

In fact, as I’ve blogged about previously, a number of steam carriages and cars were built throughout the 19th century before the emergence of the internal combustion engine and the modern car.

R.N. Grenville in the steam carriage with his family and servants outside Butleigh Court c. 1895.

One of these vehicles, the Grenville Steam Carriage, was designed in 1875 by Robert Neville Grenville of Glastonbury in Somerset. He was aided by George Churchward, who later became the chief mechanical engineer of the Great Western Railway. After taking part in the 1946 London Jubilee Cavalcade in Regent’s Park, it was presented the following year to the City Museum in Bristol by Grenville’s nephew, Captain P.L. Neville. Over twenty years later the Museum’s Technology Conservator, F.J. Lester, carried out an overhaul of the vehicle with the ship repairers, Messrs Jefferies Ltd. of Avonmouth. It took part in the Lord Mayor’s Jubilee Procession in Bristol in 1977, before being displayed in the Industrial Museum in Bristol.

The City Museum published a leaflet about the vehicle, written by the director of the Industrial Museum, Andy King, the Curator of Technology, P. Elkin, and with a drawing of the carriage by F.J. Lester.

The leaflet states that Grenville and Churchward had been engineering pupils together at the workshops of the South Devon Railway in Newton Abbott, and remained friends throughout their lives. Most of the carriage was probably built at Grenville’s home in Butleigh Court in Glastonbury, where he had an extensive workshop. Some parts of it, such as the wheels, may have been made under Churchward’s supervision at the G.W.R.’s workshops in Swindon. Although the vehicle was designed in 1875, it was actually built over a period of 15 years, as components were adapted and altered according to a lengthy process of trial and error.

The carriage itself was more similar to the railway engines of the time than horse-drawn carriages. The boiler, engine, shaft-bearings, rear spring brackets and front suspension were supported by a frame of 4″ x 2″ girders. It had three wheels, composed of sixteen section of teak banded with an iron tyre. This was the same as the ‘Mansell’ wheel used in railway carriages from 1860 to 1910.

It possessed the same type of vertical boiler used in the steam fire engines of the time. It was believed that this was made by one of the companies that made them, Shand Mason & Co. The steam carriage also had one of these boilers after it was renovated. The boiler was supplied with water from a tank slung underneath the carriage by an injector.

The carriage was originally powered by a single cylinder engine mounted on the boiler. This was later replaced by a twin-cylinder engine.

Photo from The Garage & Motor Agent showing the steam carriage and an 1898 Benz in the 1946 Jubilee Cavalcade of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.

The carriage was operated by a crew of three – the driver, brakeman and a fireman, and there were also seats for four passengers. The driver steered the vehicle using a tiller system, as on ships; he also controlled the throttle, cut off levers and a whistle, which he worked with a pedal. The law stipulated that vehicles like the steam carriage had to carry a brakeman, who sat on the right-hand side of the driver and controlled the brakes, which were wooden blocks. The fireman also had his own small seat in the engine compartment.

The car consumed five gallons of water and 6 pounds of coal per mile, and on the flat could reach the astonishing speed of just under 20 miles an hour on the flat.

Grenville probably lost interest in the steam carriage just to its poor performance. It appeared at the same time as more efficient steam cars were being built in America, and the modern cars, driven by petrol and the internal combustion engine also appeared.

Before it was acquired by the City Museum, the carriage was used from 1898 to 1902 as a stationery engine to drive a cider mill at Butleigh Court. It was lent after Grenville’s death in 1936 to John Allen & Sons of Cowley in Oxfordshire, who rebuilt it, replacing the boiler and rear axle.

Next week on Radio 4 there’s a programme discussing the lack of people studying engineering, and asking what could be done to inspire more students to take up the subject.

I wondered if part of the solution might be to harness the immense interest the public has in cars, motorbikes and other motor vehicles as well as steam punk enthusiasts. Many proud owners of cars and bikes spend hours caring for and repairing their vehicles as a hobby, quite apart on the volunteers who give their labour and support to organisations like the former Industrial Museum helping to restore historic vehicles and other machines. There’s quite a large community of people, who design and make their own steampunk SF costumes and machines. And some of them have already built their alternative steam punk cars as a hobby. It might be possible to encourage more budding engineers and inventors of the future by showing some of the amazing machines built by the Victorians, which have formed the basis for this genre of Science Fiction and the worlds of wonder its writers have imagined.

The Industrial Museum was closed long ago, and its site is now that of Bristol’s M Shed, which has many of the old exhibits from its predecessor. I don’t know if the Grenville Steam Carriage is one of them, but it may well be, either on display or in storage.

Vox Political: Public Sides with Archbishop of Canterbury against Scrooge Farage

December 29, 2016

This story adds one piece more to the pile of evidence screaming out how thoroughly, grottily mean-spirited Nigel Farage is. On Christmas Day, Rev. Justin Welby, the current archbishop of Canterbury, tweeted the following message:

“Jesus came to us homeless and in a manger. This Christmas, please pray with me for the poor, hungry and homeless, here and abroad.”

This was too much for Farage, who tweeted back

“Merry Christmas! Ignore all negative messages from the Archbishop of Canterbury and have a great day!”

As a result, a social media campaign has been launched, where users of the site have been posting messages supporting the Archbishop under the hashtag #ImWithJustinWelby”.

Mike speculates that this may be part of a sea change against the various rightwing windbags like Farage and, indeed, the entire Tory cabinet, who have been promoted by their parties far beyond their meagre abilities, and have been responsible for making 2016 the dire mess it has been.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/29/imwithjustinwelby-and-against-nigel-farage-who-in-their-right-mind-wouldnt-be/

You actually begin to wonder what kind of society the Tories and ultra-Tories like UKIP have created, when a politico like Farage finds the Archbishop’s message offensive or controversial. Christian religious leaders and laypeople have been exhorting their co-religionists to remember the poor at this time of year since, well, actually since Charles Dickens first invented the modern Christmas way back in the 19th century with A Christmas Carol. The story was a piece of deliberate social engineering by the great novelist. Dickens was appalled by the poverty he saw in the Britain of his time – hence the term ‘Dickensian’, because of the care he took to describe it. Dickens felt that part of the solution to this problem would be to re-awaken the Christian conscience through stressing the spirit of generous charity at this festival. It was his rebuttal to the sentiments he puts in Scrooge’s mouth, about the poor finding relief from starvation through prison or the workhouse.

But this very traditional Christmas message – which has been repeated just about every year since Dickens effectively revived and reinvented its celebration in Britain – is now seen by the Fuhrage as some kind of dangerous moralistic ploy to spoil everyone’s fun. It isn’t. It’s inclusive. It’s about sharing the fun around, to combat poverty and social alienation.

And Britain might now be a largely secular society, but many atheists and secular people would agree with central point of the Archbishop’s message: that as the nation settles down to enjoy itself, it should also remember those less fortunate than themselves.

Farage’s reaction to the Archbishop’s message also shows how used the Tories are to automatically attacking any comment about social conditions from the Church. Ever since the Anglican church issued the first of a series of reports in the 1970s condemning the Tory party for increasing poverty in Britain, the Tories have been sneering and attacking them in their turn. There’s even a wretched blog, Cranmer, which states that it has been set up to support all rightwing Christians, particularly Anglicans, now that the Anglican clergy are turning to politics. The Tories’ reaction to such comments has now become instinctive. As soon as a senior clergyman dares to point out that poverty still haunts Britain, even in such a mild, inoffensive and entirely non-controversial form as the Archbishop’s Christmas tweet, someone like Farage has to stand up and denounce it.

And so, in the spirit of selfish greed and indulgence, we have Farage demanding that everyone should ignore the poor and homeless, and concentrate on stuffing themselves.

His statement also shows up another glaring moral fault in UKIP in the party’s attitude to immigration and non-Whites. Despite what the Fuhrage has said, his party is full of racist bigots, Islamophobes and White supremacists, who see Blacks and Asians as a dangerous threat to the British way of life and morality. But over Christmas, a number of Asian take-aways and restaurants have shown far more of the Christmas spirit than Farage. Mike put up a story about a fish and chip shop in Brum, run by two Asian brothers, which was going to supply free meals to the homeless and elderly on Christmas Day. I also heard that some of the Asian restaurants were also going to do likewise in Cheltenham. This spirit wasn’t confined to the Asian community – other hostelries, like a pub in Glastonbury, were also doing the same. I’m not here claiming that Blacks or Asians are any more virtuous than Whites. But the simple fact that so many Asian restaurants were doing so amply demonstrates that the obvious isn’t automatically true either. It shows how bigoted UKIP are, and their lack of compassion for society as a whole.

A few years ago one of the TV companies ran a show which adopted an interesting take on the issue of immigration. The show worked on the principle of ‘one in, one out’. Every week, the presenters gave the case for letting a particular person into the country, and canvased their viewers on who they’d like to see deported. One of those the great British public wanted to see thrown out of the country by a very long margin, according to Private Eye, was the editor of rabidly xenophobic Daily Mail, Paul Dacre. I think we should adopt the same attitude here. The Archbishop should be fully supported, and everyone who gave their time, money or other help to the poor and homeless at Christmas needs to stay, regardless of their ethnic or religious origins. Nigel Farage, however, must go.

Farage is Scrooge. Deport him now!

Chip Shops and Pubs Offering Meals to the Homeless at Christmas

December 24, 2016

Yesterday, Mike over at Vox Political put up a piece commenting on the decision by two brothers in Brum, Hamid and Asef Faqiri, who own the Classic Fish Bar, to open on Christmas Day between 13.00 and 16.00 to give free turkey dinners to the elderly and the homeless. They state that they want to help those in need and make the community happy. One of the brothers, Asef, remarked that he had seen a lot of homeless people, and always wanted to help.

While Mike welcomed the twos generosity, he also pointed out the obvious danger. That by doing something to help the poor, this would be used by the Tories to justify the government doing nothing. They’d try to argue that this is David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ at work, where private charity picks up the slack from government.

Mike makes the argument instead that we pay our taxes on the understanding that the government does everything in its power to make sure that citizens aren’t homeless and starving.

He concludes:

We don’t make that argument often enough and, in the Season of Goodwill, it might be more appropriate than ever to point out that very little goodwill is coming from Westminster.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/22/free-christmas-fish-and-chips-for-the-homeless-gives-tories-a-chance-to-justify-their-apathy/

I think there are a number of places doing this up and down the country. I heard that some of the Asian restaurants and take-aways in Cheltenham will also be doing the same, as will the Market Inn pub in Glastonbury, according to today’s Western Daily Press.

I completely share Mike’s views on this issue. What these places and the people who run them are doing is very commendable, but it runs into the trap of appearing to validate the Tories’ cuts and dismantlement of the welfare state. Maggie Thatcher began her attack on it back in the 1980s with the deliberate goal of reducing the tax burden and forcing people back on to private charity to support them. She believed it would strengthen religion, and particularly the churches, if people had to come to them for aid, rather than the state. Hence the eagerness of the Salvation Army to acquire government contracts for dealing with poverty, as well as the desire of so many of the corporate management types now running very many charities likewise to do so, while at the same time demanding that the government enact even more stringent policies against the poor, the unemployed and the homeless. For the grim details, go to Johnny Void’s blog and look up his entries on these issues.

It’s a nasty, cynical attitude to bringing people back to religion, and it many Christians believe it runs contrary to the teachings of the Bible and the Gospels. In the last of the series of Advent talks held at our local church on Thursday, the minister made precisely this point. Not that this would have had any effect on Maggie. When she gave a talk to the ruling body of the Church of Scotland back in the 1980s, expounding her view that people who didn’t work, shouldn’t get something for nothing, the guid ministers and layfolk greeted what she said with frowns and silence. It was obvious that they were very unimpressed. But it didn’t stop Maggie cutting welfare provision left and right.

So I heartily endorse Mike’s point. It needs to be repeated over and again, until someone in Westminster either gets the point, or is unable to drown it out and stop others from hearing it. If you want to see the drawbacks of this attitude, look at America. Americans are extremely generous in charitable giving. But there is a massive problem with extreme poverty in America, and one that is growing thanks to Reagan and corporatist Democrats like Obama and Killary. Private charity cannot adequately tackle poverty, no matter what Thatcher, Cameron, May and Iain Duncan Smith and Damian Green want us to believe. And this message needs to be hammered home, until the public very obviously turns away from the Tories and their lies.

Universal Credit Hits Bath

February 25, 2014

The local news for this part of the West Country, BBC Points West, last night covered the introduction of Universal Credit in Bath. The programme mentioned that the system was several months over time and over budget. They interviewed a few people going into one of the city’s Jobcentres about how complicated the present system was. They replied with statements like it was a nightmare, and ‘Oh, don’t go there.’ They also briefly interviewed David Freud, the minister from the government, who was there to talk up the scheme, how it was more efficient, and less confusing and wasteful than the earlier system. Also present was a local businessman, Chris Smith, who declared that this was going to be good for business and employers. He stated that he had tried to recruit new staff many times, who told him that they’d like to work for him, but could not work more than 16 hours a week. He stated that it would be good if this were removed, and he and others like him could ‘grow a business’. The report also stated that the policy had the backing of all three major parties.

So that’s all right then, as Private Eye says whenever someone in authority issues a flimsy excuse for shoddy behaviour and double standards.

The only criticism of Universal Credit was that it was over time and over budget. I can think of a number of other criticisms, the least of which are these.

Firstly, the benefits system is complicated for a very good reason: different kinds of people need very different kinds of help, and this does not appear to have changed by trying to consolidate all the different types of benefit into one. Mike over at Vox Political has blogged and rebloggged pieces about how immensely complicated and confusing Universal Credit is, because of the sheer necessity of dealing with different people’s needs.

Secondly, any benefits to claimants under the new system simply won’t be a consideration. The government’s policy towards the unemployed is that they should be humiliated and pressured into seeking work, even if this is unavailable. Every opportunity should be taken to throw them off benefits, even if they have no other source of income. In the case of those sanctioned by Atos, this may have resulted in the deaths of 38,000 per year.

The choice of David Freud as the responsible minister to open the system in the city demonstrates this attitude very clearly. Freud is a former New Labour MP, who crossed the floor to join the Conservatives. Like the rest of the government front bench, he is a terrible toff, who doesn’t understand the poor and treats them with utter contempt. This is the man, who said that the poor should be more flexible than millionaires, as they have less to lose.

As for Chris Smith, his endorsement of the system suggests that he doesn’t wish to recruit his workers by giving them a fair day’s wage for their labours, but by recruiting the poor and desperate, forced to find work through further cuts to their benefits. And note: his comments show clearly that he is not recruiting full time staff. He has said he feels the changes to the benefits system will allow companies like his to grow by allowing workers on benefits to work more hours than the maximum of 16 to which they are currently limited. So he doesn’t want to give them full-time work, or solve his problem by employing more part-time workers to do the hours the others cannot. He seems simply to want to grow his business by extending the working hours of those he already has. Which suggests that he sees those on benefits as a supply of cheap labour to be exploited.

As for Universal Credit being backed by all three main parties, this unfortunately shows the increasing homogeneity and crushing lack of ideas of the main political parties. All of them have swallowed the Neo-Liberal Kool-Aid, and show precious little understanding for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. David Milliband, for example, has stated that he wishes the Labour party to reach out to the middle classes. I’ve no problem with that in theory, but in practice it has meant that the working class and the unemployed are being sidelined so that Milliband and his predecessors in New Labour can present the party as economically orthodox, with a harsh line on the unemployed.

This, unfortunately, is part of the reason for the resistible rise of UKIP. There’s a piece over on Guy Debord’s Cat that shows that most UKIP supporters are actually left-wing, almost as left as the Labour party. UKIP itself is, however, so far to the right that it has been declared BNP-lite. Indeed, Private Eye reported several years ago how Farage and Fuehrer Nick Griffin were seen having lunch together. Presumably they were discussing the bankruptcy of multi-party democracy and the constraints on national sovereignty of a corrupt international order, though not necessarily with reference to the Weimar Republic. Nevertheless, UKIP presents itself as radically different from the other three parties and is deliberately aiming to recruit those working class voters, who believe that Labour has abandoned them. Labour could easily parry this threat by moving back to the Left and defending the unemployed, the poor, the disabled. This would, however, mean challenging and scrapping much of the heritage of New Labour, which it clearly is reluctant to do.

As for Bath and Universal Credit, the City’s a Liberal/ Conservative seat. They have, after all, returned Jacob Rees-Mogg, the son of William Rees-Mogg, as their MP. Bath is a beautiful city, but it’s like Cheltenham in that beneath the great wealth there’s a deprived underclass that lives cheek by jowl with its wealthier neighbours. Back in the 1990s it used to be on the route for the New Age travellers going to Glastonbury. It’s also an expensive city. Those on modest incomes can find it very difficult to find suitable accommodation. So while it’s almost inevitable that Universal Credit would rolled out there, it’s arrival will only cause more poverty and hardship to the city’s sizable poor population. But as they’re invisible to the crowds of tourists flooding the city for the Roman Baths, the Pump Room and the architecture for the city of Jane Austen’s novels, they’ll continue to be ignored by the politicos.

Conservative Apologies and Lies in Flooded Somerset

February 10, 2014

somersetfloods1

‘How do you know when a politician’s lying?’
‘His lips move.’

-Old Joke told on the Max Headroom Show circa 1986.

‘How do you know when David Cameron is lying?’
‘I refer the honourable gentleman/lady to the answer to the previous question.’

David Cameron will be touring the flooded areas of south-western England this morning trying to reassure the poor souls there that the government is doing its uttermost to combat the disaster and help the people recover their homes, land and livelihoods that are now drowned under the flood waters.

It’s a horrific disaster, as a brief glance at the pictures coming from the affected areas show. In Somerset people have had to be moved out of their houses, while farmer’s have lost crops as the floods covered their fields. One farmer was faced with the stark choice between selling or giving some of his cattle away, or sending them to be slaughtered as he had nowhere he could keep them, so hard was his farm hit by the floods.

During prehistory, and then in the early middle ages the Somerset levels was marshland, and some memory of the extend of the marsh environment is shown in area’s place names. The ‘ey’ in the names of places such as Muchelney, Athelney and so on comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘ieg’, meaning an island. These villages were islands of dry land in the surrounding marsh. During the Neolithic the local people constructed the Sweet Track, a timber walkway through the marsh supported by poles as a way of getting across the marshy environment. Similar wooden tracks crossing the north German moors were built during the Iron Age.

The marshland was gradually reclaimed from the 13th century onwards, though by the end of the 17th century only about a 1/3 of the levels was dry land. The remaining land was reclaimed during the 18th and 19th centuries. Water management and drainage has continued to be vital to the maintenance of the Levels, as the area is criss-crossed by a series of ‘rhines’ and drainage channels, like the King’s Sedgemoor Drain. Historically it has suffered from terrible floods. One in the early 17th century, created through a combination of bad weather and a tidal surge up the Severn Estuary, drowned houses, fields and livestock with the flood waters advancing about eight miles from Glastonbury itself. One eyewitness to this inundation recalled seeing crows perching on floating sheep, until the sheep in their turn sank and drowned. Fortunately the modern floods aren’t that severe, but they’re harmful enough to the people down there, who’ve had to be moved out of their houses.

Cameron visited the area yesterday, promising the local people that there would be every effort to combat the floods and that £3 million had been allocated to do this. He also made other, predictable claims that the government was spending more on flood defences than the Labour government.

Cameron has been merely the latest in a line of politicians and public figures to come down to look at the disaster and speak to its victims. They included Chris Smith, the environment secretary, and Prince Charles. Smith’s response to the crisis had caused even more anger. The local Tory MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, was furious at the way the environment agency had handled the disaster. He stated that when the area had suffered flooding a year ago, he spoke to Smith, who promised that suitable action would be taken. Nothing, however, was done. Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, Eric Pickles offered an unconditional apology to the people of Somerset for the way the government had mishandled it. Liddell-Grainger had gone even further, and demanded Smith’s resignation. Smith duly appeared on TV to say he had absolutely no intention of resigning, and was completely satisfied with his Agency’s actions. This had simply infuriated Mr Liddell-Grainger even more, and no doubt contributed to the apology offered by Pickles.

Cameron also acknowledged that mistakes had been made. He stated that the Agency had stopped dredging the Levels in the 1990s, and that this was a mistake.

Now the floods wreaking havoc throughout the country are a vital issue for Cameron and his administration. Not only are they a national disaster, but the areas affected are of crucial political importance for the Tory party. Like much of rural England, parts of Somerset are a Tory heartland. My parents have joked before now that in some of the villages, there used to be only two social clubs you could join when they were young: the Farmers’ Union and the Young Conservatives. With the Tories now suffering competition from UKIP, Cameron needs to show the Tories’ traditional constituents that he is indeed acting on their behalf.

Mixed in the with promises, however, are liberal amounts of the lies, which you can expect from a Tory leader. I’ve reblogged a piece from Mike over at Vox Political, on the way the way the BBC – surprisingly! – picked up the way the Tories had manipulated the graphs showing funding for the Environment Agency to suggest that it was actually much larger than it actually was. As for their claim that the Tories were now spending more on flood defences than Labour, this is may well be true. Now. After the floods had occurred, and demanded immediate action. I doubt very, very much this was the case before though. An administration dedicated to cutting government spending, and which reneged on its promises to preserve the NHS, is hardly likely to have left the Environment Agency untouched.

As for Cameron’s acknowledgement that they had stopped dredging in the 1990s, and this was a mistake, this occurred under the last Tory prime minister, John Major. During Major’s administration Private Eye ran a number of stories reporting the way government agencies and watchdogs regulating the environment and the utilities were increasingly downsized, with their powers restricted, in order to give greater freedom to industry. I’ve got a feeling that one of these was almost certainly the Environment Agency or its predecessor. Cameron’s government is similarly dedicated to minimising, if not removing altogether, government regulation and interference, and so I cannot see any long term changes occurring under Cameron. In fact, I can see the complete opposite. After the floods recede, what will probably happen is that, after a brief show of some token of increased funding or activity, the Environment Agency will go back to doing as little as possible as usual. Worse, it will probably be under pressure to cut services further to make savings to make up for the vast amount spent dealing with the floods. So despite Cameron’s grandiose claims, the people currently hit by the floods will be less protected afterwards than they were before.

What matters is not that permanent solutions are put in place to tackle the floods and prevent them occurring all over again. What matters is that Cameron is seen to be doing something, so that he can continue to cling to power and make further savings by slashing government expenditure. This is what his paymasters in the multinationals want. And the locals in Somerset, Devon, Dorset and Berkshire will be left to fend for themselves.