Posts Tagged ‘Hugh Massingberd’

Cartoon – Cameron and Osborne Laughing at the People, Who Elected Them

July 1, 2017

This cartoon is simply a straight drawing of David Cameron and George Osborne, based on photographs of them from Private Eye. These showed them laughing like a malignant, old Etonian Nazi version of the Chuckle Brothers. Of course, the Tories enjoy a good laugh mocking the Labour party, or anybody else in parliament who dares to tell the truth about the mass poverty they’re inflicting for the profit of big business. Remember the way May laughed robotically shortly before the election, when Jeremy Corbyn dared to remind her of it?

But it’s also not hard to imagine that they are laughing, not simply as a way of trying to shrug off the entire accurate attacks on them and their vile policies, but also at the poor and the very people, who are suffering through their policies. Mike put up a picture a year or so ago of Cameron and Ian Duncan Smith, the minister in charge of culling the disabled, having a real belly laugh in parliament at a speech, in which the sufferings of one disabled woman due to their welfare reforms, were being read out and described.

If you want a graphic demonstration of the Tories’ real attitude to the poorm that was it.

The Tories are dismantling what’s left of the welfare state and privatising the NHS, all for the benefit of the rich and big business. They have seen their tax rates cut, while the tax burden has increasingly shifted to the poor and working class through the imposition of indirect taxes. This has been a direct consequence of nearly forty years of Thatcherism. Left-wing economists, politicians, and writers have said that it is the largest redistribution of wealth upwards for decades.

The result has been massive wealth for the few, while the 75 per cent of the population who aren’t rich have been thrust further into poverty. Over a hundred thousand people are forced to use food banks. Seven million people live in food insecure households, just about feeding themselves today, but unsure whether they’ll have enough tomorrow. Wages are stagnant and below the rate of the inflation. The disabled and unemployed are thrown off benefit at the whim of jobcentre clerks and decision makers. Many of those fortunate enough to have jobs are stuck in short-term, part-time or zero hours contracts. Insecure short-term work, which does not pay enough to support them or their families. The majority of people claiming benefits aren’t the unemployed, but people in work hit by this type of poverty.

And the Tories are hitting the working poor as well. If you’re low paid and need benefits, it’s your fault for not being able to get a better job, rather than due to structural faults in the economy and decades of Thatcherite employment policies. So they’re busy trying to find ways of sanctioning these poor souls as well.

This is all done in the name of creating a fluid jobs market, enabling employers to hire and fire workers at will, and not having to pay those workers they do retain if they don’t need them that day. This is supposed to create employment.

But the Tories aren’t interested in creating mass employment. 19th century free trade economists and their monetarist successors wanted to keep a certain proportion of the population – about 8 per cent – unemployed in order to use the threat of unemployment to keep the working class in line and wages low.

This has made the rich much richer. And some of the Tories were very frank about what it meant at the time. Private Eye, reviewing one of the ‘heritage’ books that came out during Thatcher’s period in office about the wonderful lives and stately homes of the aristocracy, quoted Hugh Massingberd’s comments about it in the Times. After decades of attack by Labour governments, who had imposed death duties on them to break up their wealth, the aristocracy were returning to their old power and status. It was, he declared, ‘a social restoration’.

The anonymous reviewer pointed out what this meant for the rest of us. The rich were winning back their old seats in society, and the rest of us were going to be sat on.

Meanwhile, the Tories have sought to maintain their grip on power through lie after lie. They claim that only they represent the real working class, defending hardworking people against idle scroungers like the unemployed and asylum seekers. The NHS is being privatised and cut to the bone, but they then claim with a straight face that in real terms, there’s more money being spent on it than ever before. They aren’t depriving people of benefits, only reforming it so that it goes to the people, who deserve. Yeah, it’s because these reforms are so accurate that we have so many people dying of starvation.

As for food banks, people are only using them because it’s free food. It’s another lie. You can only use them if you have a chit from the jobcentre to say you have no money and can’t feed yourself. But the truth is irrelevant to Tories mouthing this nonsense, like Edwina Currie.

And at the top you get the sneers and condescension from very rich Tories, who are doing very well, thank you very much. Johnny Void, Mike and the Angry Yorkshireman at Another Angry Voice carried a sample of some of these a few years ago. One Tory patrician declared that the homeless were ‘the people you step over coming out of the opera’. And Matthew Freud, who was briefly a member of Blair’s New Labour before jumping ship and joining the Tories, declared that the poor should be more flexible than the rich, as they had less to lose.

These people are out of touch, and are sneering at the victim of the poverty they have imposed.

After the elections in the early 1990s, which saw John Major enter downing street as the new Tory pm, Spitting Image ran a series of sketches. These showed the Tories turning up outside the homes of ordinary people and asking them if they vote for them. When they said ‘Yes’, Major and his cabinet chanted ‘Stupid, Stupid’ at them. This was because the British public had voted them back in, despite massive poverty due to cuts and a housing crisis that had created a rise in homelessness as people had their homes repossessed for not being able to repay their mortgages.

Just as the lack of affordable housing now means that the majority of working people will be unable to afford their own home, and rents are also high.

So behind the carefully crafted veneer of ‘one nation’, ‘compassionate’ Conservatism – which is in fact anything but – it’s not hard to see that the Tories are having a laugh at the British public, sneering at the ordinary people, who elect them sincerely believing that they mean to serve them.

They don’t serve us, and have nothing in common with us, despite all that bilge about how ‘we’re all in it together’. They serve only the rich, and despise and hate the working and lower middle classes.

But for a genuine politicians, who does have the interests of the poor at heart, vote Labour and get Corbyn into office when ‘strong and stable’ May’s administration finally collapses.

Poverty Journalism and the Media Patronisation of the Poor

March 9, 2014

Thackeray Snob Cover

W.M. Thacheray’s The Book of Snobs (Alan Sutton 1989)

I’ve just reblogged Jaynelinney’s article criticising the media’s use of the poor as a kind of zoo, who can be patronised on camera by visits from ostensibly well-meaning celebrities and TV producers, expressing concerns about their plight. Her piece was inspired by the article, to which she links, in ‘Independent Voices’ in the Indie, about how the middle classes have been regularly traipsing into slums and working class poverty to see how the ‘other half’ live for almost 200 years now. That article mentions, amongst others, Henry Mayhew, the author of London Labour and the London Poor, and George Orwell’s classic, The Road to Wigan Pier, as well as more recent works by Polly Toynbee. Orwell comes in for something of a bashing as he undertook his journey to the heart of industrial darkness as a journo in search of a subject, not as a social campaigner. The book that followed annoyed a member of the National Unemployed Union so much, that he wrote his own book, tracing the journey in reverse, so that he travelled from the depressed areas to the leafy suburbs of Epsom. For the writer of the Independent article, what we need are fewer middle class writers patronising the working class, and more working class writers casting acerbic, jaundiced prose and writing at the Middle and Upper classes and their lives of wealth and luxury.

Thackeray and Snobs, Ancient and Modern

This would, actually, be an interesting experiment, and could produce something really radical. In the hands of a good writer, it could produce something like Thackeray’s The Book of Snobs, but with added social bite. Thackeray was, of course, solidly middle class, and certainly didn’t deny it. The book is subtitled ‘By One of Themselves’. It was originally published by Punch, when it was still slightly subversive, more like Private Eye today than the eminently respectable, establishment organ it later became. Each chapter describes a particular class of snob, who were defined as ‘someone who meanly admires mean things’. Reading it I was struck by how modern it still sounds, despite having first seen print in 1846-7. For example, Thackeray’s chapter on ‘University Snobs’ has this to say about the ‘Philosophical Snob’.

The Philosophical Snob of the 1840s and Their Modern University Descendants

Then there were Philosophical Snobs, who used to ape statesmen at the spouting-clubs, and who believed as a fact that Government always had an eye on the University for the selection of orators for the House of Commons. There were audacious young free-thinkers, who adored nobody or nothing, except perhaps Robespierre and the Koran, and panted for the day when the pale name of priest should shrink and dwindle away before the indignation of an enlightened world.

If you think of the earnest young people, who discovered radical politics at university, or who joined the Student Union and the various political associations with a view to starting a career in politics, or simply read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Uni before joining the staff of an MP on graduation as a researcher, then Thackeray’s description above actually isn’t that different from what goes on today. Robespierre, of course, was the leader of the dreaded Committee for Public Safety, responsible for killing hundreds of thousands during the French Revolution in the name of republicanism, democracy and Deism, so you can easily see a parallel there between the snobs earnestly reading his works, and some of the radicals in the 1960s, who joined the various Communist parties and loudly hailed Mao’s Little Red Book. As for the free-thinkers, who used to toast the day when the last king would be strangled in the bowels of the last priest, that reminds me of the various atheist and secularist societies that sprang up on campuses a few years ago, all talking earnestly about the threat of religion to science and quoting Richard Dawkins and Lewis Wolpert.

the Upper Classes at Uni, and the Perils of their Lower Class Imitators

But it is the poor university students who try to copy their far wealthier social superiors, about whom Thackeray is most scathing. He states:

But the worst of all University Snobs are those unfortunates who go to rack and ruin from their desire to ape their betters. Smith becomes acquainted with great people at college, and is ashamed of his father the tradesman. Jones has fine acquaintances, and lives after their fashion like a gay free-hearted fellow as he is, and ruins his father, and robs his sister’s portion, and cripples his younger brother’s outset in life, for the pleasure of entertaining my lord, and riding by the side of Sir John And though it may be very good fun for Robinson to fuddle himself at home as he does at College, and to be brought home by the policeman he has just been trying to knock down-think what fun for the poor old soul his mother!-the half-pay captain’s widow, who has been pinching herself all her life long, in order that that jolly young fellow might have a university education.

Unfortunately, little also seems to have changed here in the last nearly 170 year since Thackeray wrote that. I did some voluntary work a few weeks ago for M Shed here in Bristol. Many of the other volunteers were also university students and graduates, who were hoping to find a career in museum work. Discussing the country’s problems, one older lady stated very forcefully that the problem was that none of the country’s leaders now came from the working class. Just about everyone agreed with her on this point. One of the university students made the point very many have also made, about politicians coming directly from Oxford, where they studied PPE, and haven’t done a proper day’s work in their lives. The girl told us that one of her friends, who was ‘a little bit posh’, had gone to Oxford and been shocked at how dominated it was by the aristocracy. And have I heard of students, who have managed to irritate their fellows by copying the manners of Oxford upper crust.

Domination of Society by the Upper Classes, regardless of Merit

As for the chapter ‘What Snobs Admire’, where Thackeray describes the life and career of a fictional snob, Lord Buckram, who goes and gets flogged at Eton, studies at Oxford, and then marries well on graduation to a rich heiress, before taking his place among the gilded youth. Thackeray could be describing modern snobbery in all its pomp today, especially, but not exclusively, amongst the cabinet:

Suppose he is a young nobleman of a literary turn, and that he published poems ever so foolish and feeble; the Snobs would purchase thousands of his volumes: the publishers (who refused my Passion-Flowers, and my grand Epic at any price) would give him his own. Suppose he is a nobleman of a jovial turn, and has a fancy for wrenching off knockers, frequenting gin-shops, and half murdering policemen: the public will sympathize good-naturedly with his amusements, and say he is a hearty, honest fellow. Suppose he is fond of play and the turf, and has a fancy to be a blackleg, and occasionally condescends to pluck a pigeon at cards; the public will pardon him, and many honest people will court him, as they would court a housebreaker if he happened to be a Lord. Suppose he is an idiot; yet, by the glorious constitution, he is good enough to govern us. Suppose he is an honest, high-minded gentleman; so much the better for himself. But he may be an ass, and yet respected; or a ruffian, and yet be exceeding popular; or a rogue, and yet excuses will be found for him. Snow sill still worship him. Male snobs will do him honour, and females look kindly on him, however hideous he may be.

Snobbishness Revived, and Britain Going Back to 19th century

This just about describes the social privileges and the expectations of immediate public deference of the entire Tory front bench. All this was, of course, supposed to have been done away in the ‘white heat’ of the ’60s, when, along with the development of new technology, and new classlessness was supposed to have swept through the nation. Well, that may have been the case then, but things have since gone backwards. There are now fewer Labour MPs, who come from a working class background, than there were before the ’60s. Hugh Massingberd, in one of his essays in the Times in the 1980s, celebrated the revival of the fortunes of the aristocracy and the country house under Maggie Thatcher as ‘a new social restoration’. The Libertarians have emerged from out of the Union of Conservative Students to preach Von Hayek and Von Mises’ revival of classical economics, with all its faults, with the exception that in general the 19th century economists approved of trade unions. Well, the new classlessness of the 1960s has thoroughly died down, and the Coalition is leading us forward into the 19th century.