Posts Tagged ‘Orwell’

The Mail and Public Opinion as a Mask for Totalitarianism

October 27, 2017

I’ve put up several pieces commenting on yesterday’s story, that the Tory Whip, Chris Heaton-Harris, a staunch supporter of the ‘Leave’ campaign, attempted to intimidate lecturers across Britain by writing to them demanding details of the courses they were teaching in International Relations and politics, and specifically as it concerned Brexit. David Green, a professor and Vice-Chancellor at Worcester University, stated that this was far from innocent, but the beginning of Orwell’s Thought Police and political censorship. And he’s absolutely right. Heaton-Harris was joined by the Daily Mail, which then encouraged students to contact them giving their stories about how they were being indoctrinated with anti-Brexit propaganda.

Heaton-Harris and the Heil can both be fairly described as ‘the embittered Little Englander wing of the Tory party’, as one wag described the Eurosceptics. I’ve already written at length about how all totalitarian societies have tried to control education, the most notorious of these being Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, in order to indoctrinate their countries’ young people, and purge those teaching alternative views. Those lecturers and intellectuals, whose careers were destroyed in this way, could end up imprisoned in concentration camps and gulags, or murdered, along with the regimes’ other opponents.

But there’s also a further similarity with the demands of the Heil, in that these totalitarian regimes often hid their repression behind a façade of popular support.

The Heil wants students to inform on their lecturers. The Nazis also claimed to represent German youth, proclaiming ‘Mach Platz, Ihr Alter!’ – ‘Make way, you old ones!’ The history curriculum was particularly altered to show the Nazi view of history, in which Germany was gradually dominated and exploited by the Jews until the Nazis took power. The final section of this perverted syllabus, designed to indoctrinate German schoolkids with the notion that absolutely everything was going to get better for them now the Nazis were in charge, was entitled ‘German Youth at the Helm’.

During Mao’s vile Cultural Revolution, in which 60 million Chinese people were murdered, the country’s ancient traditions and learning banned, and its precious artistic and cultural heritage vandalised and smashed, children were encouraged to inform on their parents and lecturers.

These totalitarian regimes claimed to represent the ‘will of the people’. The Nazis used a plebiscite to show spuriously that the German people thoroughly approved of their seizure of power. And when totalitarian regimes like them banned literature that did not follow, or challenged their rule and ideology, they claimed to be doing so at the will of their people.

Mike and I had the great good fortune to be able to learn Russian at our old secondary school. And I can remember our teacher telling us during one less that he would be put up against the wall and shot when they invaded, because of a letter he’d written to the authorities. He’d been annoyed that Soviet newsstands did not carry western magazines or newspapers. He received a reply from the authorities telling him that the reason why ‘bourgeois’ western literature wasn’t on sale in the USSR’s newsstands, was not because of censorship. It was simply that the Soviet people themselves were against it. It was a lie, of course, but it was a practical example of how absolute, dictatorial regimes nevertheless cloak their repression by claiming that they’re just doing what their public wants.

Just as the Heil are claiming to do so, even when using the same methods of intellectual persecution as the Nazis, Soviets and Chairman Mao.

I said in a previous blog post yesterday that Heaton-Harris is a menace to democracy, and should go. So is the Daily Mail. It has tried to start a terrible witch-hunt against genuine free speech and free discussion in our universities. It’s a nasty, dictatorial rag, whose circulation should fall rapidly because of its support for the intimidation and victimisation of those professors, who don’t share its nasty, xenophobic views. This was an unashamedly populist piece of journalism, and it once again shows how hypocritical the Tory press is when they use ‘populist’ as a term to denigrate and smear Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum.

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May’s ‘Shared Society’: Tory Spin for Corporatism, Exploitation, Poverty and Exclusion

January 9, 2017

Theresa May was due today to outline her vision of British society and her government’s overall strategy for reforming it. Today’s I newspaper carried an article by David Hughes, ‘PM’s ‘shared society’ vision to focus on those above welfare level’ laying out the expected contents of her speech. Commenters have already pointed out that her talk of a ‘shared society’ is just a scaled-down version of David Cameron’s Big Society. And that was just Cameron trying to use a phrase recalling the American ‘Great Society’ of Woodrow Wilson to justify a government strategy of more job cuts, privatisation and the destruction of the welfare state as idealism on the grounds that this would mean more people having to step in and surrender their efforts voluntarily to keep much of the infrastructure of a civilised society going. Like keeping libraries open, and food banks stocked, so that the victims of his government’s wretched welfare cuts only gradually starve to death on the streets.

And May’s statement that she intends to focus on those above welfare level actual gives the lie to all of the guff she spouts about ‘caring Conservatism’. She’s really not interested in the poor and those struggling to get by on benefit, but on those comfortably off, but are still finding it a struggle to get their children into the right school and so on. In other words, she’s targeting once again the Middle England so beloved of the Daily Mail .

And for all her talk about the days of laissez-faire individualism being over, this is basically just more of the same old, same old. It’s just another round of Thatcherism, dressed up in even more threadbare rhetoric. Thatcher’s ideal was that by ‘rolling back the frontiers of the state’, as she and her ghastly minions put it, private charity would step in to fill the vacuum left by the removal of state provision. And the people hitherto left dependent on the state would be transformed into sturdy, self-reliant citizens. It didn’t work, and the gradual destruction of the welfare state has resulted in massive and increasing poverty.

But let’s go through what the I reported May was going to say, and critique it. The article runs

Theresa May will insist the state has a significant role to play in helping to shape society as she sets out her vision to help people who are struggling to get by.

The Prime Minister will vow to tackle the “everyday injustices” faced by those who feel they have been ignored by West minster as part of her “shared society” vision.

Mrs May will use a speech in London today to mark a break from Conservative predecessors and argue previous administration focused too narrowly on the very poorest through the welfare system. People just above the welfare threshold felt the system was “stacked against them” she will argue.

Mrs May will say: “This means a Government rooted not in the laissez-faire liberalism that leaves people to get by on their own, but rather in a new philosophy that means Government stepping up.

“Not just in the traditional way of providing a welfare state to support the most vulnerable, as vital as that will always be.

“But in going further to help those who have been ignored by Government for too long because they don’t fall into the income bracket that makes them qualify for welfare support.”

Government and politicians need to “move beyond” the language of social justice and “deliver the change we need and build that shared society,” she will say.

“We must deliver real social reform across every layer of society, so that those who feel the system is stacked against them – those just above the threshold that attracts the Government’s focus today, yet those who are by no means rich – are given the help they need.

The PM will say her goal is to change the way the system works for those struggling to get by, facing challenges such as getting children into good schools or getting on the housing ladder.

“All too often in the past people have felt locked out of the political and social discourse.” (p. 7).

Now let’s deconstruct some of this rubbish. It’s pure Orwellian doubletalk, in which the words utter mean exactly the opposite of what they actually mean. I’ve already pointed out that ‘shared society’ is just her attempt to evoke the same imagery and idealism of Wilson’s ‘Great Society’, just as Cameron tried to do so with his shop-soiled talk about the ‘Big Society’. It’s also cribbed from all the rhetoric going round about insisting of ‘shared ‘British’ values’, to prevent ethnic minorities forming their own parallel societies. One important aspect of which is preventing Muslims from becoming radicalised and turning inwards against the host society.

Then there’s the issue of May’s talk about ‘help’. This does not mean what it usually does when Tories say it. Way back in the 1980s, whenever Thatcher cut welfare benefits, she justified this by piously intoning that it was more ‘self-help’. What she was doing was in reality no help at all, but she tried to make it sound virtuous and idealistic by saying that it was encouraging people to help themselves. Hence, whenever a Tory starts speaking about the help they’re going to offer, it means that in fact they’re going to cut the level of help currently available.

Her comments about her government not being rooted in laissez-faire individualism similarly have to be taken very carefully. It looks like she’s saying that her government will be more left-wing, in the same way that the Liberal party moved away from laissez-faire individualism in the 19th to embrace the first tentative movements towards the modern welfare state in the New Liberalism of the 1890s. But again, past history shows that this is not what is necessarily meant. The corporate state of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were also reactions against laissez-faire capitalism, but from the Right, not the left. Modern corporatism, in which company directors and senior managers are given control of government departments and shaping government policy is also similarly a rejection of laissez-faire capitalism. In laissez-faire capitalism, the state is supposed not to concern itself with industry or the economy, except to act as nightwatchman to guard against crime and the emergence of monopolies. But neoliberalism is the precise opposite. It’s been described as ‘socialism for the rich’, in that the big corporations favoured by the government received vast subsidies and tax cuts. You think of the British rail network. Although private, we’re now giving it more money in subsidies than it received when it was nationalised. The Private Finance Initiative and Academy schools are also schemes for funneling taxpayers’ money into corporate coffers.

So when May opened her mouth to talk about her government not being ‘rooted in laissez-faire liberalism’, she was right, but meant the exact opposite of the way it sounded. It sounds left-wing, with help coming for the poor. But it actually means more money for the corporate rich.

If, indeed, she means anything by that at all. Six years or so ago I was reading a book by a British philosopher, who stated that neoliberalism had come to an end and that all the policies British governments had taken over from Milton Friedman and the thugs and illiterates of the Chicago School should be scrapped. Then, about three pages later, he was raving about how school voucher were a good idea and should be tried in Britain. School vouchers, in which the money the state would spend on a child’s education, are given in vouchers for the parents to spend on private schooling, is one of the neoliberal policies advocated by Friedman, and adopted by Pinochet’s Chile. The result has been more cuts, and the exclusion of people from poor backgrounds from higher education. This little example shows how, despite their verbiage trying to distance themselves from it, the Tory instinct is to promote privatisation, even while saying the complete opposite.

The claim that the Tories value the welfare state should also be treated with scepticism. They value it in the same way that Jeremy Hunt is passionate about the NHS. They’re profoundly against the welfare state. Thatcher wanted to dismantle it completely. Under her and John Major there was much talk of ending ‘welfare dependency’. Now they’ve realised that this type of rhetoric has had its day. Hence also the rhetoric adopted by Major of targeting help where it’s needed the most, and not wasting it on those not in need.

As for targeting that part of the population just above the welfare level, who are struggling isn’t anything new either. One of the issues regularly debated is the fate of those, who don’t quite qualify for state aid, who can be left worse off than those who receive it. And Tory rhetoric is also specifically directed at the embittered Middle England, who resent all the state aid going to those they don’t consider deserve it. Like single mothers, immigrants, the voluntarily unemployed, those fraudulently claiming disability benefit, and other benefit scroungers. As I said, May’s talk in this respect is directed to the type of people who read the Daily Mail, the Express and, indeed, the Scum. And in practice she’ll carry out the same shopworn policies of more privatisation, corporate control and cutting welfare benefits further. All on the pretext that this will help the middle income voters she wants to appeal to. For example, the Tories justified their attack on state education by claiming that the creation of schools outside the management of Local Education Authorities would provide parents with more ‘choice’ and raise standards through competition. Of course, it didn’t work, and their version of New Labour’s Academies collapsed. They also ended the system of catchment areas on the grounds that this would stop parents from being forced to send their children to failing schools. They would now have the opportunity to send their children to the school they wanted.

Now catchment areas were a real problem. I know many people in my part of Bristol, who did their level best to send their children to the local church schools because the local state comprehensive was terrible. But the removal of catchment has left the most popular schools oversubscribed, and so parents still face problems getting their children into them.

To sum up, May in her speech offers the usual deceptive Tory rhetoric and platitudes. She wants to sound nice and caring, but it really is just the nasty party doing business as usual. Only this time she has given something of a warning. She has said that she intends to focus on those above welfare level. Which means, stripped of her meaningless reassurances about the value of the welfare state, that those on benefits can expect no help at all.

Not that they ever could.

Don’t be deceived by May’s lies. Kick her, and the rest of her lying, vindictive pack out.

Newt Gingrich Wants to Introduce Thought Crime for Muslims

July 17, 2016

Here’s another video from The Young Turks, discussing another step in the downward path of American politics towards authoritarianism and repression. After the horrific terror attack in Nice on Friday, Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representative under George Bush senior and Clinton, and Trump’s possible Vice President, has finally decided that the First Amendment shouldn’t apply to Muslims. He made a speech declaring that Muslims, who believe in sharia law should not be allowed into the country. Those who do, madrassas that teach it, and Muslims, who look up jihadist websites, should be expelled.

John Iadarola, Bill Mankiewicz and Jimmy Dore talk about how undemocratic this is. They point out that this is thought-crime, like the absolute control by the state of people’s opinions and ideas in Orwell’s 1984. Gingrich also stated that this should apply not only to Muslims, but to people with Muslim backgrounds. They also point out he want to criminalise people, who go to hardline Islamic websites no matter how much time they spend there. Cenk Uygur, one of the other anchors, is from a Turkish Muslim background, and they have all looked at hardline Islamist websites while doing research for news stories. Therefore, Cenk and they would be expelled under Gingrich’s legislation. They also point out that America is should be in no danger of having a theocratic government, as the Constitution stipulates that America is a secular state. Furthermore, that looseness with which that part of the legislation is framed would permit anyone, to have someone they disliked deported simply by hacking into their computer or sending them a link on their email. If someone wanted to get rid of a noisy neighbour, they could rickroll them with a link to an Islamist website, and whoa! The next thing that person’s on the plane.

Muslims themselves constitute less than three per cent of the American population. They also point out that if you ask immigrating Muslims if they believe in sharia government, they will deny it simply to get in, even if they do believe it. Furthermore, he points out that many American Christians also want a Christian theocratic government. They also state that a Muslim spokesman for one of the American thinktanks has stated that there are too many people, who know nothing about Islam, telling Muslims what their faith should be. Dore compares the Islamic sharia to Roman Catholic canon law, the body of religious law that governs the Roman Catholic church and its believers faith and practice. He claims that canon law in effect sanctions the abuse of children, because the church claimed that all the priests guilty of the crime would be punished according to canon law, when they were let off. Dore also wonders how many Muslims know about sharia law, considering very few Roman Catholics in practice know about canon law. The Turks also cite an unnamed atheist, who said that he considered American Muslims westernised, and so not the threat that the Right believes they are.

After coming out with this very hardline attack on American Muslims’ civil rights, Gingrich gave another interview backtracking somewhat, and claiming that he had a been misrepresented in the media storm that followed. He then claimed that devout Muslims, who were loyal to America, should have their rights absolutely protected, along with those of their children and other relatives.

Here’s the video.

In fairness to those, who do fear the imposition of sharia law, there have been instances in recent American history where a cult has tried to take over a community and turn it into a theocracy. The last time this occurred was in the 70’s and 80s, when one of the Indian gurus tried to take over a town in Oregon and turn it into a theocracy, ruled by his cult and followers. It failed, because the traditional townspeople resisted and invoked the Constitution. This was, however, one of the New Religious Movements based on Hinduism, rather than Islam, and I haven’t heard of Muslims, or mainstream Hindus either, for that matter, trying to anything like that.

The German counter-terrorism legislation did provide for the immigration authorities to question Muslim migrants if they believed in theocratic government. This is because the German system has government as the Basic Law as its fundamental article of state. This was introduced as part of the denazification programme after the War, and bans any party or organisation that does not recognise democracy. It was invoked in the 1970s to ban the National Democrats, a Neo-Nazi outfit, and then in the 1990s to ban an Anarchist review and a range of Anarchist organisations. However, a few years ago, the Week reported that the Germans were considering removing questions about support for sharia government from the immigration forms, because Muslim immigrants would lie about their support. Quite simply, it didn’t stop terrorists entering the country. I also think they were going to drop it because the question was itself anti-democratic, and they were afraid that heavy-handed policing tactics like this were alienating German Muslims, and driving them towards the Islamists.

As for the question of Roman Catholic canon law and Islamic sharia law, this has been an issue in parts of Canada. I think there was a movement up there in certain provinces, which recognised Roman Catholic canon law and Jewish Beth Din courts as legally recognised authorities governing the faith and practice of those religious communities. This became intensely controversial when a Canadian Muslim wanted sharia law and courts also recognised. He was challenged by a number of organisations, including associations of female former Muslims, who were deeply concerned about the treatment of women under Islamic religious law. I don’t know, but I think the situation may have ended with the Canadian government repealing the legislation granting secular legal authority to all religious courts, regardless of which religion, they belonged to.

I have to say that Gingrich’s comments simply look to me like another embittered, racist Republican trying to compete with Trump, whom The Turks point out is the master of stupid racism. They point out that the Republicans now appear to be a stupid, cartoonish party, and that the only thing they have going for them is that they are competing against Shrillary. All this is true, but displays of prejudice like Gingrich’s and Trump’s are serving to chip away further at the American traditions of free speech and tolerance. They are acting as an endorsement to the increasing racism, and there is a real danger that such intolerance will turn more Muslims towards militant, intolerant forms of Islam as a response to the hostility shown to them by mainstream society.

Tories Waffle to Prevent Bill against Privatisation of the NHS in Parliament

March 13, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has put up another important piece reporting a filibuster in parliament to ‘talk out’ a bill by the former leader of the Green party, Caroline Lucas. The four Tories, who waffled and blustered in order to prevent the bill being discussed or passed, were David Nuttall, Phillip Davies, Phillip Hollobone, and Sir Edward Leigh.

Mike writes:

It’s hard to think of Philip Davies without imagining that the people of Shipley were so disillusioned with Parliament that they sent a motion of the bowels to Westminster as a sign of their low esteem.

The sh*t from Shipley was one of four Tory MPs who waffled their way through the time allotted for Caroline Lucas’s Bill to stop the creeping privatisation of the National Health Service.

By their actions it is therefore easy to conclude that Davies, Philip Hollobone, David Nuttall and Sir Edward Leigh want to take free healthcare away from their constituents as soon as possible.

That’s very bad news if you live in Kettering, Bury North, Gainsborough and the afore-mentioned Shipley.

For more information, go to:

When Tories talk about ‘our NHS’ it means they think they own it already

The title to Mike’s piece is ‘When Tories talk about ‘our NHS’ it means they think they own it already’. This is exactly right at a number of levels. As I have been blogging about recently, I had a commenter on my blog criticise me when I claimed that Nye Bevan was the architect of the NHS. He was. The commenter maintained that the NHS was a policy of the National government during the War, which produced the Beveridge Report upon which the NHS is based. Also true. He also pointed out that Churchill also backed the NHS. Again, true, but Churchill was also very cautious in his support, and only broadcast his backing for it after the Labour Party had demanded a parliamentary debate about its early implementation now in 1942. The Tories turned this down, leaving the report to spend two years in committee. At which point the government realised that the Tories had shot themselves in the foot, and given the next election to Labour.

Now the argument over the creation of the NHS is important. It’s true that the Beveridge Report united Labour, the Liberals and left-wing Tories in its support. However, the Tories need to lay claim to it in order to assure the population that they have their best interests at heart, and won’t do anything to deprive them of it. In the 1980s and 1990s Thatcher’s and Major’s government declared that they weren’t going to privatise the NHS, and that it was only the Tories that knew how to run it efficiently and effectively.

This has been shown to be bunkum. It was either Thatcher’s or Major’s government that picked a fight with the dentists, causing them to leave the NHS en masse. The result has been the decline in cheap dental treatment for the poor and unemployed, and the corresponding decline in the health of the nation’s teeth. Well, the Americans have always made jokes about how we’ve got bad teeth. It’s even in Orwell. Possibly one of the public school wags in the Tories thought it would be a jolly good jape to play up to the stereotype, at least with the peasants. Make them all look like gap-toothed yokels, what? Spiffing! She also introduced fees for eye tests, and as a result fewer people saw the optician. She and her ministers solved this problem by lying about it, and so told the press that since charges were introduced, more people were actually going to have their eyesight examined.

Right. Pull the other one.

As for the statement that only they could keep the NHS in budget, this is a massive, sick joke. The Tories introduction of the internal market in the NHS has created more bureaucracy, along with Peter Lilley’s introduction of the Private Finance Initiative. This is a ruse by which the millions contracted by the government in debt for certain projects are kept off the record books, even though it’s immensely more expensive than normal procedures of funding infrastructure development. In a way, it’s ironic that it was Lilley that dreamed the scam up. He’s been compared on various satirical shows with Nazi officers, and something similar to the PFI was used by the Italian dictator, Mussolini, to finance infrastructure spending in Fascist Italy. Or perhaps it isn’t a coincidence at all, considering how well parts of the Tories got on with Gianfranco Fini’s ‘post-Fascist’ Alleanza Nazionale. And the results of the Tories’ latest mismanagement of the NHS has been to push it even further into debt, no doubt in preparation for its eventual sale.

And the commenter, who turned up here to criticise me for crediting the creation of the NHS on Nye Bevan also let the cat out of the bag there. He claimed that an opinion poll showed most people weren’t concerned if healthcare was private, so long as it was free. Well, that contrasts with the 85% of people in other polls, who definitely don’t want the NHS to be privatised. Presumably the people, who aren’t concerned if it’s private are all friends of Sam Cam, like the businesspeople who supposedly came out in supported of Cameron’s policy. This was later revealed to be not a spontaneous display of support, but due to Sam Cam ringing round their friends.

Don’t be fooled. Since Thatcher, the government has wanted to privatise the NHS. They are laying claim to it in order to sell it off.

Vox Political: Theresa May Continues to Push the Government’s ‘Snooper’s Charter’

March 2, 2016

Mike over on Vox Political has put up another piece commenting on Theresa May’s continuing drive to get the government’s legislation expanding the powers of the surveillance state passed by the end of this year. This is the piece of legislation that will give the government and police greater powers to hack into your phone, and peruse your web browsing history for a year or so. Her ‘investigatory powers bill’ has been criticised because it does not cover all the intrusive powers of the security agencies to spy on its citizens, nor is the supposed protection it gives to citizens’ privacy at all clear. Mike also has a suitable Twitter comment about this whole cat’s breakfast from Frankie Boyle, who remarks that it’s strange that the government that lost 114 files on child abuse, wants to know every time you post a picture of a cute cat.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/02/mays-police-state-will-miss-important-matters-while-monitoring-your-cat-videos/

This isn’t about combating terrorism. Bremner, Bird and Fortune in their book You Are Here, note that Bliar introduced a whole tranche of legislation massively expanding the surveillance state, justifying them on the grounds that they were needed as it was a state of emergency, despite the fact no such emergency had actually been declared. This is all about the political, industrial and military establishment wishing to extend its powers to monitor, control and punish for its own sake, not to combat crime or prevent terrorism. It’s about reducing the free west to Orwellian levels of coercive, intrusive policing, urged on by an hysterical press – the Daily Mail, Scum, Express and so on.

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.

Lies and Double-Talk by Atos and the DWP

February 21, 2014

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The nation-wide protests against Atos on Wednesday were covered ITV Meridian. They reported on demonstrations at Brighton and Canterbury, interviewing Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Paviliion, and Wayne Humphries, a leukaemia sufferer, whose assessment has been repeatedly delayed by the company. They also went to Atos and the DWP for their comments on the protests. Inevitably they got the usual lies and double talk.

The news report by ITV Meridian can be found at http://www.itv.com/news/meridian/update/2014-02-19/anger-at-atos/.

Atos’ statement is at 1 minute 44 seconds. They claimed

It’s not, nor has it ever been, the role of Atos to make decisions on who can or cannot receive benefits. We carry out assessment following strict guidelines and criteria written by the government.

And so Atos attempted to wash their hands of their involvement in the persecution of the disabled. We wuz only following orders!

This is unacceptable. Atos perform their assessments in the full knowledge that those they fail will be thrown off benefits and forced either to find work or starve. And all too many have been victims of the latter. Furthermore, they have in very many cases deliberately falsified the results of the assessments to have the claimant thrown off their benefit. They complicit in the government’s cruel treatment of the disabled and cannot disavow their responsibility.

Atos was right, however, in that they don’t set government policy, so there was some small truth in what they said. The DWP’s response, however, was even more mendacious. It’s on the report at 2 minutes 2 seconds. They said

It’s right to see what work people can do with the right support, rather than write people off on out-of-work sickness benefits as sometimes happened in the past.

Well yes, absolutely. It’s a statement with which no-one can reasonably disagree. Unfortunately, it has absolutely nothing to do with DWP policy.

The statement implies that the Department of Work and Pensions supplies needed support for those disabled people able to find work. This is, frankly, a lie. There are some benefits available to allow the disabled to live independently. This was, after all, the whole purpose of the Disability Living Allowance. There were grants available for disabled people and their families to adapt their homes so that the disabled could continue to live in them. These grants and benefits were, however, set up by previous governments. The current administration is re-organising them and introducing cuts so that fewer people qualify. All in the interest of making savings, as commanded by Osborne. This has been accompanied by a lot of bluster about concentrating resources on where it’s most needed, but the reality is that it’s done with the deliberate intention of throwing as many people off benefit as possible, regardless of whether they can actually work.

The simple fact is that the government gives absolutely no support for those workers they and Atos declare fit for work. The assessment is based simply on physical ability, and is designed to ensure that all but the extremely disabled – the virtually bed-bound – are ineligible. The DWP’s statement about helping people into work with the right support implies that the support is there. Frankly, it isn’t. I haven’t heard of the DWP providing any service advising people on what jobs might be suitable for people with particular disabilities, or providing any support for those keen to enter employment. I used to work twenty years ago in the Inland Revenue. One of the other members of staff had a severe back complaint. They were therefore given an orthopaedic chair in which to work. At one time the government also supported businesses that employed a certain proportion of disabled people. I have seen no evidence of similar policies under the Coalition, and in fact, if I recall correctly, the legislation encouraging the employment of disabled people has been under attack. I’ve got a feeling it’s been criticised for not being cost-effective or some such rubbish.

I have also not heard of any kind of comprehensive government policy provide advice for individual disabled people on what work might be suitable for them, nor of them being awarded grants to support themselves learning new skills or acquiring the specialist equipment they might need in order to function in the workplace. There are programmes to teach the disabled and the unemployed in general IT skills. I was on one about a decade or so ago. The course also included a scheme in which the blind were also taught to use a computer using special speaking machines. Unfortunately, the reality is also frequently the opposite of the what the government has claimed. The Coalition has closed down the Remploy workshops that employed disabled workers. The teaching of IT skills seems to be the catch-all solution to getting the unemployed and the disabled back into work, rather than providing any comprehensive and coherent programme to provide the disabled with the proper, individual skills and support they need. There is some help and support provided by various charities, but you do need considerable help simply finding it.

The DWP’s statements about ‘help’ and ‘support’ are simply more of the double-talk and perversion of language Orwell described in 1984, where ‘war’ equals ‘peace’ and so forth. Some of this came in with Thatcher. When she announced she was cutting services, she described it as ‘more self-help’. Well, Samuel Smiles, the working-class radical, who wrote the original book of that title later stated he regretted having done so. Unfortunately, right-wing governments have been banging on about self-help ever since. And as this government’s policies have shown, self-help in the majority of cases means no help at all.