Posts Tagged ‘Osborne’

Nietzsche, Academy Schools, and Elitism in Education

March 30, 2016

Mike and a number of other bloggers have wondered recently if the Tories’ own enthusiasm for privatising education and turning all schools into Academies aren’t a deliberate attempt to ‘dumb down’ education. Despite all the hype, and mendacious graphs in the Torygraph to the contrary, privately run Academies actually perform worse than state schools managed by the local authorities. Mike speculated that the Tories wanted the children of the hoi polloi – the working and lower middle classes – have an inferior education as they were afraid that the masses were becoming too bright, too well-education, and they didn’t want the competition. After all, they could hardly retain their places as the leaders of society, thanks to their extremely moneyed parents sending them to Eton and the other public and fee-paying schools, if a bunch of comprehensive school oiks actually were demonstrably more intelligent and better educated than they were.

And there is certainly some evidence that the latter is true. A year ago, the Independent and the I ran a story that students from state schools actually did better at uni than those from the private schools. How ghastly! Especially as the introduction of tuition fees and their increase to truly extortionate levels really does seem to suggest that there is a section of right-wing opinion that believes higher education should be the exclusive preserve of the wealthy few.

The German philosopher Nietzsche also took this view. He was afraid that if the masses became too well-educated, it would lead to a decline in cultural standards. The historian Gordon A. Craig describes his elitist view of education, and that of his successors in Germany: 1866 – 1945 (Oxford: OUP 1978). He wrote

(A)nd some widely read publicists expressed the view that the emphasis placed on the education of the masses was dangerous because it could not avoid diluting the quality of German education in general. This was the view of Friedrich Nietzsche, who in a remarkable series of lectures, ‘On the Future of our Education Institutions’, delivered in Basle in 1872, stated that ‘not the education of the masses can be our goal but the education of individually selected people, armed for great and permanent achievements’ and went on to charge that those who argued for a further extension of Volksbildung were seeking to destroy ‘the natural order of rank in the kingdom of the intellect’. Nietzsche’s views were repeated with variations by Paul de Lagarde, an embittered eccentric who saw German culture imperilled by the advance of barbarism and blamed this on the educational system, and Julius Langbehn, the author of the extremely popular Rembrandt als Erzieher (1890), whose insistence upon the necessity of training a racially pure elite was later to take more extreme forms in the educational practices of Heinrich Himmler.

De Lagarde and Langbehn were two of the 19th century intellectual precursors of the Nazis. The German elementary schools were called Volksschulen – People’s Schools. The Germans had had an excellent school system of primary education from the 18th century onwards. If children couldn’t go to church schools, then they had to go to state schools. As a result, illiteracy in Germany by the end of the 19th century was very, very low – about 0.05%, compared with 3-4% in England and France.

Nietzsche’s ideas might have been a novelty for Germany, but until comparatively late in the 19th century they were common amongst the British ruling class. There was some education available for the working classes in the Sunday and Dame schools, but these were by no means widespread, and standards could be very poor. The dame schools have been criticised as essentially a place where parents could send their children while they were at work trying to make a living. As a whole, the education system was geared to training an aristocratic elite for careers in government. It looks very much like this is what the Tories intend now in their eagerness to privatise schools and so create an education system that will leave children worse educated, not better.

Cameron, Osbo, Thicky Nikki and the rest of the Tory party are either aristos, or very middle class. It really does look like they are trying to drag Britain back into the 19th century, where the workers were given just enough education to satisfy the requirements of industry, while a good education, and the career opportunities that went with it, were the exclusive prerogative of the middle and upper classes. This was challenged by the Labour party, who wanted the education reformed and expanded so that more people from the lower middle and working classes had the opportunity to acquire it and so enjoy the same career opportunities and social privileges as the wealthy. It can be seen in chapter IX of G.D.H. Cole’s book, Britain in the Post-War World – ‘Education for Democracy’, for example. It’s the reason Anthony Crossland set up and championed comprehensive schools, because the existing system of grammar and secondary modern schools were elitist, and kept the working class in their place in the manual trades.

And so far from striking a blow for meritocracy, it increasingly seems to me that the privatisation of the education system begun nearly thirty years ago by Thatcher really is indeed to keep the masses in their place, and make sure that only the elite can afford an educational standard that will guarantee them their place of leadership in society. All under the guise of delivering quality, which can only be provided by private industry, of course.

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The Osborne Judgment and Tory Opposition to Trade Union Funding of the Labour Party

March 6, 2016

The modern Labour party was formed from a late-19th century and early 20th century alliance of the trade unions and early Socialist societies in order to raise the importance of working class issues in parliament. This was in opposition to the Tories, who represented the interests of the Anglican aristocracy, and the Liberals, who represented the Nonconformist middle classes. Corporately, the trade unions that fund the Labour party and the campaigns of individual MPs, are part of the Labour party.

And the Conservatives hate that with a passion and have been trying to drive a wedge between the two ever since. One of the means they have used to try to do so is through legislation intended to outlaw trade union funds going to the Labour party, if the individual members of the trade union contributing are not Labour party supporters. They were loudly advocating this in the 1980s, and they’re doing the same now under Cameron.

The tactic’s over a century old, and is nearly as old as the Labour party itself. It was first used in a ruling by the House of Lords in 1909 in what became known as ‘the Osborne Judgment’. Osborne was a member of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, who objected to part of his union levy going to the Labour party. He therefore sought an injunction against the union, which was granted by the courts and upheld by the House of Lords when the union appealed. The Lords ruled that it was illegal, as there was no mention of political action as part of the objectives and functions of trade unions in the Trade Union Act of 1876. Pelling, in his ‘Short History of the Labour Party’, notes the devastating effect this had:

The decision crippled the party financially, and various attempts made by the unions to continue their support for the Labour Party on a voluntary basis collapsed in the face of the apathy of their members. The party with the support of the T.U.C. determined to secure legislation to reverse the decision. In the meantime, it had to fight the two general elections of 1910, and in both its dependence upon the Liberals was very obvious. In the January election, not a single member was returned against official Liberal opposition; the same was true of the December election except for two mining seats. (p. 24).

The judgment was fortunately eventually reversed, but the Tories have been trying to do the same ever since. This is the background for Cameron’s latest attack on the trade unions and their funding of the Labour party, and it too must go.

Vox Political: Government Raiding Pensions of Middle Income Groups

January 20, 2016

Yesterday, Mike over at Vox Political posted this piece at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/18/george-osbornes-plans-could-see-savers-lose-a-third-of-their-pension-in-tax-changes/ reporting that the government is closing a tax loophole for middle income savers. This could result in some of them losing as much as a third of the pension savings.

Mike has mixed feelings about this, as on the one hand it is a tax loophole, and so needs to be closed. On the other hand, Osbo certainly isn’t going for the super rich, who owe far more. He raises the question of whether it’s Osbo’s class bias showing.

Of course it is. It’s part of the ongoing destruction of the middle class by the rich in America, Britain and right across the world where the doctrine of free market capitalism and globalisation has been uncritically swallowed. I’ve posted up this very evening a video with the Pulitzer Prize winning American journalist, Chris Hedges. In it he describes how in private the rich have absolute contempt not just for the working class, but also for the middle class. And despite all the rhetoric of ‘meritocracy’ and creating opportunities, the Tories have been kicking away the ladder allowing people from the lower classes to rise socially since the days of Maggie Thatcher.

And let’s have no illusions. This is what free market capitalism is all about. Marx described it in The Communist Manifesto way back in 1848. If you read it, he states clearly that modern capitalism is forcing the lower middle class into the ranks of the workers. It wasn’t quite right. Later on there emerged gradations in the working class, which broke up its uniformity, which identify more with the establishment. Like the ‘aristocracy of labour’. And then opportunities for the working class to find a place within capitalism were provided by Anthony Crossland and his belief that the modern welfare system and subsidies to industry preserved capitalism by giving workers the necessary money to buy companies’ products, and so keep them afloat.

That was all destroyed by the Thatcherite Revolution. And as a result, everyone except the rich is becoming poorer, despite what the Economist and Telegraph yell at people.

This won’t necessarily result in growing support for Labour. The middle classes still, by and large, identify their interests with the rich, and prefer to kick downwards rather than punch upwards. Many of them – though probably not all – will swallow the lie that it’s all necessary to pay off the debt caused by ‘high-spending’ Labour. They’ll support even more right-wing policies, directed against the poor, the disabled and the unemployed, because they have swallowed the lie that they’re responsible for their poverty, as opposed to the virtuous, self-reliant middle class, who must now suffer because of their profligacy.

It’s time this lie was finally dealt a mortal blow, along with the Conservative’s policies, which are destroying the country and people’s lives and livelihoods.

Chris Hedges on the Pathology of the Super Rich

January 20, 2016

I’ve written a number of pieces about the psychology of the rich, and how they seem driven by a deep psychological desire to degrade, humiliate and harm those less fortunate than themselves. In this video below, the American Socialist journalist Chris Hedges and the programme’s host, Paul Jay, discuss that same issue, which they term the pathology of the super rich. The video comes from the TV series Reality Asserts Itself, which seems to be partly funded through donations from the public, for which Jay appeals at the end.

The programme begins by looking back to a previous programme, in which Hedges and Jay discussed the weakness of the modern Socialist and labour movement in America. They stated that part of this was its failure to articulate a viable Socialist vision of an alternative to the corporate system. They go on to suggest that one of the gravest weaknesses in this lack of vision was the inability to grasp the pathology of the rich. They talk about how American society magnifies and practically deifies the rich, and state that we need to recover the language of class warfare. We need to reject the lie, repeated by Obama, that if we work hard enough and study hard enough we can be one of them. The issue isn’t intelligence. The present economic mess was created by some of the most intelligent, best educated people in the country. It’s greed.

Hedges states that his hatred of authority and the elite comes from his own experience of winning a scholarship to an elite school. He’s middle class, but part of his family were lower working class. One of his grandfathers even at times lived in a trailer. The rich have the best education, but its aim is teaching them how to rule. He states that if you’re poor, you only get one chance to make it. The rich are presented with multiply chances. He cites George Bush, and his history of failure, and how, after he managed to get an academic career despite poor grades, he finally got a job at 40: running the country. There is a small, tight elite circle which protects itself and promotes mediocrity. We are now utterly powerless before them, because the oligarchic elite own the broadcasters and the press.

In their world, everyone is there to serve them. When Hedges was at school, he saw how his friends, themselves only 11-12 years old, spoke to adults, ordering around their servants and parents’ employees. He talks about the fabled quip of Hemingway to Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald had said ‘The rich aren’t like us.’ To which Hemingway replied, ‘No, they’re richer’. But this was an instance where Hemingway was wrong, and Fitzgerald right. And Fitzgerald saw it, as he himself had made his way up from the mid-West and saw how decadent and corrupt the elite were. Hedges states that when you have their vast amounts of money, you see people as disposable, even friends and family, and now the citizens, who are required to fight in wars. They live in a bubble where only working class people they see are those, who work for them. They don’t even fly on commercial jets. They’re thus extremely out of touch, and retreat even further from everyone else into enclaves like Versailles under Louis XIV and the Forbidden City under the Chinese emperors. They will continue to extract more and more from society, because they have no idea of the harm they’re causing.

Hedges talks about the Occupy Movement, and the impoverishment caused by student debts that now can never be repaid, which students facing higher interest rates than if they’d gone to a bank. Half of America is officially on or below the poverty line. Yet the government is helping Goldman Sacks by buying junk bonds, which are so worthless they’ll eventually wreck the economy. The government’s response, on behalf of the rich, is to cut unemployment benefits and food stamps and close the Headstart programme. Some of the children of the super rich are waking up to the reality, and joining the Occupy movement, but it’s a tiny minority.

The two also discuss Gore Vidal’s comments about the amorality of the super rich. They state that he should know, both from his own life and the world he moved in. Hedges states that when he was at the boarding school, most of the fathers actually had very little contact with their sons. But they would turn up in their cars, sometimes with their mistresses, and their staff photographers to show them playing happily with their sons. He states that there’s a type of racism there, in that while they were happy to create this illusion for their own family, they treated the working class very differently. They believed that they should have to send their sons to fight foreign wars. Jay makes a comparison with the British enslavement of the Irish, and states that this shows you don’t have to be Black to be enslaved.

Apart from hating the working class, the rich also have a great disdain for the middle class, which Hedges himself found quite shocking, himself coming from a middle class background. The rich on their part have a very sophisticated PR machine, and polish their image with very well-publicised acts of philanthropy, while the reality behind the scenes is very different. Hedges talks about Karl Marx’s statement that the dominant ideology is really the idealisation of existing class and economic relationships. The free market ideology now dominant across America is just a very thin rationale for the elite’s greed. This is now taught right across the country, but is just used to justify the hoarding of immense wealth by the elite. The lie of globalisation – that it will give further prosperity to the middle class, give proper, just remuneration to the working class and lift the people’s of the Developing World out of poverty is a lie that has already been exposed multiple times. This ideology and the intellectual class serve the system. Those economists, who don’t teach the lie, don’t get jobs.

He talks about how the corporate system is ‘socialism for the ruling class’. The corporations loot the treasury, but demand to be bailed out by the taxpayer. There is a complete disconnection between language and reality, as America has been robbed of the very language and discourse to attack this process, even though the corporations are predators on the taxpayer’s money. The bonds now being bought up by the US government include mortgages for foreclosed properties. On paper these are worth perhaps as much as $600,000, but they would need a lot of work to realise that amount due to damage to their electrical systems and flooding.

Hedges and Jay also talk about how, although America now thinks of itself as a centre-right country politically, this wasn’t always the case. Before the Second World War there was a proper liberal, working class movement and debate in the country about what kind of society it would be. This was destroyed through McCarthyism and the House Committee into Un-American Activities. And it was very successful, as Hedges himself has documented in The Death of the Liberal Class. Hedges talks about how he states in one of his books that Karl Marx was right, and that the class struggle does define most of human history. And yet one cannot discuss this on any other American channel. If you did so, you’d be accused of being un-American. Hedges states that the class struggle is at the heart of American corporatism, and that if he were head of a Wall Street company, he would only employ Marxian economists as they understand that capitalism is all about exploitation.

Hedges then states that America is the most ‘illusioned’ society on the planet. The system is such that it whitewashes and humanises even idiots like Donald Trump to disguise what they’re doing to us. The corporations spend an immense amount – billions upon billions – on PR. From their publicity, you’d think BP were Greenpeace, despite the devastation they’ve cause in the Gulf of Mexico, including the poisoning of the fish and seafood, which is then sold to American consumers. No broadcaster, however, is going to make a documentary on this because the corporate elite own the broadcasters.

The only choice in Hedges’ view is go back to Aristotle, and revolt, as the mechanisms for incremental change are no longer functioning. FDR’s New Deal for a time acted as a safety valve, but his has been destroyed. Change for the working and middle classes can’t be done through the existing political parties or the courts. What is needed is to create new parties and mass movements. The elite can’t even stop the dangerous speculation that threatens their own prosperity. He states that the people, who run Wall Street know that another, worse collapse is coming, and are just intent on stealing as much as they can before they run out the door. The head of the private healthcare company, Universal Healthcare, last year (2013) made over $100 million. All the elite are interested in is amassing their tiny empires.

Hedges states that this is symptomatic of a dying civilisation. He quotes Marx on the psychology of the super rich. When asked what it was, Marx said, ‘Apres moi, le deluge’ – ‘After me, the floods’. They know society is going to be toast, and are just concerned to loot as much as they can before it goes under. Then they think they can retreat to their gated communities, and survive. Well, they might live a little longer than everyone else, but even that’s debatable to the damage to the Earth’s ecosystem and massive climate change. The ecological harm may already be too much to avert the extinction of the human race.

Hedges views are a little too extreme for me. I don’t think the opportunities for resistance within the system are already too far gone. Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn over here offer some hope of effecting radical change within the system. But apart from that, I agree with just about everything he said. The rich are rapacious and completely uncontrolled, as you can see from the behaviour of Cameron, Osborne, IDS and the rest of the Tories.

But listen to Hedges yourself, in the video below.

Desperate Tories: Grant Shapps Attacks Miliband for not being Businessman

February 16, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political has this story about the Tories getting testy over Ed Miliband’s plans to boost small and medium businesses, Perhaps the Tories have all caught ‘foot in mouth’ disease at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/02/16/perhaps-the-tories-have-all-caught-foot-in-mouth-disease/. Grant Shapps, the Tories’ chairman, has poured scorn on Ed Miliband’s ability to run the economy, because he has never run a business.

As Mike and the commenters on the BBC’s website have pointed out, this is a bit rich coming from Shapps. Shapps has indeed run his own business, but not necessarily under his own name. His trading names have included ‘Mr Green’ and ‘Mr Shepard’. This is, of course, fraud.

As George Osborne, before he was made Chancellor of the Exchequer, the scion of the Baronet of Ballymoney had the exciting, dynamic post of folding towels in Harrods.

So these two senior Conservatives ain’t prime examples of successful, reputable business then.

Obama Also Not Fit for Leadership, ‘Cause Not Businessman

As for the jibe, this isn’t original either. It first emerged, like much of the Tories’ vile policies, amongst the Republicans in America. It was a sneer aimed at Obama, when he ran against Rand Paul. The Repugs despised the Senator from Chicago because he was a ‘community organiser’. Rand Paul, on the other hand, was a businessman, and therefore far superior.

Social Darwinism and Class Prejudice

This actually tells you much about the Social Darwinist assumptions of modern American – and British – politics. The Nazis also praised and supported the business elites, as they were obviously biologically superior to the rest of the German population. Far below them were the biologically inferior, who included not only those considered racially inferior like Jews, Gypsies, Blacks, Poles and Russians, but also the disabled and the unemployed.

Now the British and American Social Darwinism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries did not recommend their extermination. It did, however, argue for the sterilisation of the disabled and mentally handicapped, as well as, at one point, the unemployed if they sought poor relief. The attitude was also used to block welfare and health and safety legislation by big businessmen, on the grounds that if workers suffered from illness or work-related sicknesses, it was down to poor heredity rather than the constitution of society.

The same attitude is very much on display here. Obama didn’t run a business – he just looked after deadbeats. Miliband can’t run the economy! He’s not a genetically superior member of the business class.

This Social Darwinist attitude to the inequalities of the British class system is very much alive. One of the most viewed pieces on this blog is a post I wrote about the weird eugenicist views of Maggie’s mentor, Sir Keith Joseph. Joseph looked set to become leader of the Tories until he caused a massive storm with a Social Darwinist rant about how unmarried mothers, and other members of the underclass, were a threat to the British national stock.

It was an extraordinarily offensive rant, made all the more surprising coming Joseph, who as a Jew should have been very well aware of the dangers of this kind of reductionist, pseudo-scientific biology.

The Biological Superiority of the House of Lords

The same class prejudices re-emerged again back in the 1990s when Blair was reforming the House of Lords. One of the reforms was the proposed abolition, or reduction in the number of hereditary peers. This produced a storm of outrage from Conservatives, one of whom argued that the hereditary peers should be left alone. They were, he argued, biologically superior to the rest of us proles and tradesmen, because centuries of breeding had prepared them for position in government, to which they were also best fitted through their education.

Now clearly, the good Tory, who made that argument, probably hadn’t seen, and certainly wouldn’t have liked, the 1970s British film, The Ruling Class. This starred Peter O’Toole as a mad lord, who believes he is Jesus. Toole’s character then becomes villainous when he is cured. At one point the character has an hallucination about going into the House of Lords. The members of the august House are shown as cheering, cobwebbed corpses and skeletons. It was an image that I can remember from my childhood, when it shown on Nationwide all those decades ago, when they were similarly debating the issue of the House of Lords.

Economy and Society Has Sectors, That Cannot Be Run for Profit

In fact, the argument about business leadership providing the best people for the government of the country falls down on simple facts that Adam Smith, the founder of modern laissez-faire capitalism, himself recognised. States provide services that are absolutely necessary, but don’t in themselves generate a profit. Like the judicial system and the transport network. You can’t run the courts like a business, no matter what bonkers Anarcho-individualists like Rothbard and the Libertarians believe. Nevertheless, you need judges, lawyers and courts to provide the security of property that makes business, and indeed civil society, possible.

It’s the same with roads. Roads were run for a profit at the time Smith was writing through the turnpike system. Nevertheless, Smith argued that roads could be a problem to run as a business, and therefore could be best left to the central government as the organisation best suited to maintain them. While they would be a drain on the nation’s resources, good roads were absolutely vital, and so the economy, and therefore British society as a whole, benefited.

Welfare Spending and Unemployment Relief Stimulate the Economy

Similarly, Obama may not have been a businessman, but his work as a community organiser clearly benefited his constituents, who had not been as well served by private enterprise as they needed. And by improving their material conditions through political action, the economy also benefits. This was one of the reasons FDR in the 1930s adopted the minimal provision of unemployment relief in America. If workers actually have enough money to help through unemployment, the amount they spend stimulates the economy still further and actually helps beat the recession.

The Nation of Shopkeepers, sacrificed to Big Business

Finally, you could also argue that Ed’s background outside of business actually makes him more, not less suitable to run the economy. It was Napoleon, who sneered at Britain as ‘the nation of shopkeepers’, and the retail sector is still one of the largest areas of the British economy. Thousands, if not millions, of Brits would love to run their own business. Maggie’s whole image as somehow ‘working class’, spurious as it was, was based on her being the daughter of a shopkeeper.

In sharp contrast to this, Tory policy has consistently favoured big business over the small businessman, making the dreams of hundreds of thousands of people, who aspire to be the next Arkwrights and Granvilles unrealisable.

Modern Big Business Practices Destructive

And the models the Tories have also adopted for big business have resulted in the destruction of much of the economy. Way back in the 1980s and 1990s, Private Eye ran a series about the multi-millionaires brought with much pomp to manage successful, blue chip companies, who then failed spectacularly. These superstar managers ran their businesses into the ground. In some cases, almost literally. Yet after decimating the companies and their share price, the managers were then given a golden handshake and sent packing. Only to be given a similar directorship at another company, and begin the whole process all over again.

As for privatised companies like the railways, they are now in receipt of vastly more public subsidies than British rail, and provide a worse service. The amount of rolling stock has been reduced and ticket prices increased, all so that a set of super-managers can enjoy a life-style of luxury, all while providing a service that is barely acceptable.

The scandals of the privately run care homes, which have been found guilty of appalling low standards of care, and the neglect and abuse of their elderly or handicapped residents, are also partly a product of the same commercial culture. Many were acquired by hedge fund companies, who have deliberately run up millions of pounds worth of debts for them as part of a tax dodge. The result has been a very parlous financial situation for the homes, resulting in little investment and bankruptcy.

Compared to this business culture, it could be said that Ed Miliband’s background outside it is a positive advantage, and gives him excellent credentials to run the economy.

Jolyon Rubinstein and Politicians’ Failure to Connect with the Young

February 11, 2015

This is a continuation of the comments I posted on my reblog of Tom Pride’s interview with Jolyon Rubinstein. Rubinstein is on a campaign to get the politicos to take the young seriously. He laments that while there are certain politicians across the House in all parties, who want to get more young people interested in politics, the majority don’t. In his interview with Mr Pride, he seems to feel that the established position among the parties is that they don’t trust the young, as engaging them would upset the ‘status quo’.

Patronising with Pop Stars

I think he has point. When politicians have tried to engage the young, it’s been patronising and rather half-hearted. The prime examples of this was when various Tory MPs suddenly started telling the world, who their favourite pop musicians were. Almost as if there’d been a meeting at Central Office, which said, ‘Okay, chaps, next on the agenda: young people. They like pop music, so you’ve all got to have a favourite band or pop star. The PR people have had a look at what’s in the charts, and compiled a list of who you’re going to like.’ It was hardly surprising that the bands selected include the Spice Girls and the Scissor Sisters. They were in the charts and were highly popular. The Scissor Sisters seem to have been deliberately chosen to show that the Tories were now at ease with gays. Of course the bands they chose weren’t anything too challenging or potentially controversial, like Public Enemy, NWA, Megadeath, or the Mission. They were either too obscure, or would have put too many potential voters off, in the case of Public Enemy and NWA, with their angry, racially alienated stance. And the bands definitely did not include PIL.

MPs Younger but Not Interested in Young People’s Problems

The other way the parties have tried to appeal to the young is by having progressively younger Prime Ministers and members of their cabinet. I’ve got a feeling that when he was elected, Blair may have been Britain’s youngest prime minister. Cameron, Osborne and Clegg are also young. Well, young-ish. They’re still in the ’40s. As they should be. I want senior politicians old enough to have a proper, lived experience of the world and its trials and problems. Age shouldn’t necessary be a barrier. It shouldn’t matter how old the MP is, provided that they actually have some understanding of what life really is like for most young people. Simply saying that they are concerned with young people’s problems, because they’re parents, or from talking to parents and young people themselves, simply and unostentatiously, and actually showing they have, would overcome a lot of this alienation.

But they don’t. They simply dole out to the under 30s the same patronising flannel they give to the rest of the population. They might state that they understand their problems, but the very next thing they say in their next breath shows that they don’t. They then go back to talking in the abstract about economic predictions, without actually seeming to take on board that this has real consequences for their audience. They seem just interested in the abstract, economic reality without taking on board that to their audience, this means whether they can afford a proper house, decent clothes for the kids, run a car. Or for the unemployed and disabled, getting enough to eat that month.

Distrust of Youthful Radicalism

And I think Rubinstein is right about the parties distrusting the young. Young people have dangerous ideas. They can be dangerously and embarrassingly radical. Bliar deliberately closed down democracy in the NUS, probably because too many of the delegates were too extreme. And the Tories had troubles with their youth wing becoming increasingly racialised and supporting apartheid and racial nationalism.

Possibly going further, they may well be afraid of the spirit of ’68 and the radicalism of the 70s. The ’60s were a revolutionary decade, where youthful rebellion merged with and supported a number of then-radical, liberal causes: feminism, Civil Rights and ant-racism, militant peace movements against imperialism and particularly the Vietnam War. The election of Thatcher and Reagan was partly a reaction against all that, and succeeding administrations have tried to stress how responsible and sober they are, rather than youthful radicalism and revolt. Even as these administrations have taken over some of the liberal causes, like equality for women and ethnic minorities.

Tory Portrayal of Blair as Punk

You can see how much the Conservatives in particular hated youth culture, its fashions and political radicalism, by the cover of one of the books written by one of the Tory journos attacking Blair. Blair at the time was busy reforming the House of Lords, or stuffing it with his own supporters, whichever way you want to look at it. He was also engaged on other constitutional reforms, like suggesting possibly that judges might after all look a bit better if they didn’t have the horsehair wigs stuck on their heads. This was too much for that particular defender of the British Constitution. The cover showed Blair as some kind of punk or rocker, in black leather jacket and combat trousers. The terrible, slovenly, ignorant sprogs of the great unwashed were out there, and about to tear down tradition and decency. Kenny Everett’s thick punk character, Sid Snot, had risen up and somehow got into No. 10. If Middle England didn’t act pronto, he’d be followed by Harry Enfield’s Kevin and Perry. Quick! Give them proper haircuts and make them do National Service!

All of this has created a political culture in which young people are marginalised and distrusted, no matter how youthful country’s leaders are. Politicos don’t have to adopt their dress or youth culture to engage with them. My guess is that when it comes to conducting business, most people would prefer to see their politicians and public officials dressed conservatively in jacket and trousers. That said, I used to work in the Benefits Agency just before they passed the law requiring everyone to where suitable business clothing to work. You did see some of the younger staff wearing jeans and T-shirts for rock and pop bands. My guess is that while some of the older clients may have found it objectionable, most of the people actually going in probably couldn’t care less what the civil servant opposite them was wearing, so long as they were able to get them some money and properly process their claims.

Mass Politics in Decline from Concentration on Rich Donors

Another contributory factor in the alienation of young people from politics is undoubtedly the fact that the parties have concentrated on getting funding and support from rich, frequently corporate donors, rather than party subscriptions. The result has been that party membership generally has plummeted. The local Conservative Associations in particular have stated that they feel they are ignored and sidelined by the Tory party machine. Rubinstein has identified part of it in his recognition that people feel that the only thing that’s important to politicians is money, not people.

Politicians desperately need to reconnect with the young, along with much of the rest of the population. Indeed, just about everyone, who didn’t got to public school and has an income less that £50k. But as the Tories are doing their level best to stop people from registering to vote, and even taking the franchise away from resident Irish people and Commonwealth citizens, I can’t see Cameron taking any initiative in this direction at all.

Children Scavenging in Bins: The Return of the 19th century Bone-Picker

July 3, 2014

Mudlark pic

A mudlark from Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor: a child that lived by scavenging in the mud of the Thames.

Earlier today I reblogged a truly shocking piece from Mike’s site, over at Vox Political. This reported that children in Stoke-on-Trent had been reduced to such a level of poverty and starvation that they were taking food from rubbish bins.

The Tories have always boasted about ‘Victorian values’, ever since Maggie Thatcher made it her mantra. The Daily Heil even once ran an article praising the ‘new Victorians’, who valued hard work and thrift over their parent’s profligacy. This is very much a return to the Victorian age, and urban poor, who tried to make a living scouring the streets and sewers for anything they could sell.

Henry Mayhew included them in his encyclopaedic description of the lives of the labouring poor, London Labour and the London Poor, of 1851. They included bone-grubbers and rag-gatherers, ‘pure’ finders – actually people who collected and sold dog excrement, cigar-end finders, old wood gatherers, dredgers, or river finders, sewer-hunters and mudlarks. These last were boys, who searched in the mud of the Thames for anything remotely valuable.
There is an obvious parallel here to the desperately poor children in Mike’s article. This becomes particularly clear in this passage from Mayhew’s description of the lives of the bone-pickers and rag-gatherers.

The bone-picker and rag-gatherer may be known at once by the greasy bag which he carries on his back. Usually he has a stick in his hand, and this is armed with a spike or hook, for the purpose of more easily turning over the heaps of ashes or dirt that are thrown out of the houses, and discovering whether they contain anything that is saleable at the rag-and-bottle or marine-store shop. The bone-grubber generally seeks out the narrow back streets, where dust and refuse are cast, or where any dust-bins are accessible. The articles for which he chiefly searches are rags and bones – rags he prefers – but waste metal, such as bits of lead, pewter, copper, brass, or old iron, he prizes above all. Whatever he meets with that he knows to be in any way saleable he puts into the bag at his back. He often finds large lumps of bread which have been thrown out as waste by the servants, and occasionally the house-keepers will give him some bones on which there is a little meat remaining; these constitute the morning meal of most of this class. One of my informants had a large lump of beef given to him a few days previous to my seeing him, on which ‘there was not less than a pound of meat’.

Peter Quennell, ed., Henry Mayhew: Mayhew’s London (London: Bracken Books 1984) 302.

A few pages further on Mayhew describes the squalid, revolting conditions in which the bone-grubbers, including many children, work, searching through refuse.

Between the London and St. Katherine’s Docks and Rosemary Lane, there is a large district interlaced with narrow lanes, courts, and alleys ramifying into each other in the most intricate and disorderly manner, insomuch that it would be no easy matter for a stranger to work his way through the interminable confusion without the aid of a guide, resident and well conversant with the locality. The houses are of the poorest description, and seem as if they tumbled into their places at random. Foul channels, huge dust-heaps, and a variety of other unsightly objects, occupy every open space, and dabbling among these are crowds of ragged, dirty children who grub and wallow, as if in their native element. None reside in these places but the poorest and most wretched of the population, and, as might be expected, this, the cheapest and filthiest locality of London, is the head-quarters of the bone-grubbers and other street-finders. I have ascertained on the best authority, that from the centre of this place, within a circle of a mile in diameter, there dwell not less than 200 persons of this class.

pp. 304-5.

That was London in the mid-19th century. Welcome to the brave new Victorian Age Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and IDS have brought us to.

Radical Balladry and Poetry for Proles

May 15, 2014

Ballad Seller pic

19th Century Illustration of a Ballad Seller

A few days ago I posted a few pieces on Rob Young’s history of the British folk revival and folk rock, Electric Eden (London: Faber and Faber 2010), and the radical and political folk songs protesting about the conditions of the poor and demanding workers’ rights, such as The Poor Man Pays For All from the 1630s. The Chartist and trade union movements in the 19th century also included poets and song-writers, who attempted to get their message of popular democracy and just treatment for the workers across in verse and music. They included Ernest Charles Jones, a British lawyer, who was born in Berlin in Germany from British parents. In 1845 he became a member of the Chartist movement, and was co-editor, with Feargus O’Connor, of The Labourer, and Northern Star. Not surprisingly, he became embittered and alienated after he was imprisoned in the two years from 1848-50 for inciting the British public to revolt. He was a friend and follower of Karl Marx from 1850 to 1855, whose ideas influenced Jones’ Notes to the People of 1850-1 and the early years of his People’s Paper. Beer in his History of British Socialism, gives an example of his poetry, the Song of the Lower Classes.

1.

We plough and sow- we’re so very, very low
That we delve in the dirty clay
Till we bless the plain – with the golden grain,
And the vale with the verdant hay.
Our place we know-we’re so very low
‘Tis down at the landlord’s feet,
We’re not too low – the bread to grow,
But too low the bread to eat.

2.

“Down, down we go-we’re so very, very low,
To the hell of deep-sunk mines,
But we gather the proudest gems that glow
When the crown of the despot shines.
And whenever he lacks – upon our backs
Fresh loads he deigns to lay:
We’re far too low to vote the tax,
But not too low to pay.

3.

“We’re low, we’re low – mere rabble, we know,
But at our plastic power,
The mould at the lordling’s feet will grow
Into palace and church and tower –
The prostrate fall – in the rich men’s hall
And cringe ata the rich man’s door:
We’re not too low to build the wall,
But too low to tread the floor.

4.

“We’re low – we’re low – we’re very, very low,
Yet from our fingers glide
The silken flow – and the robes that glow
Round the limbs of the sons of pride.
And what we get – and what we give
We know, and we know our share:
We’re not too low the cloth to weave,
But too low the cloth to wear”.

Other Chartist leaders in their poems urged a general strike and a worker’s revolution in order to achieve democracy. One of Thomas Cooper’s speeches in Staffordshire resulted in ‘serious disturbance’, arson and destruction of property. Cooper himself summarised them in the following lines, according to Beer, in his 1845 Purgatory of Suicides.

“Slaves, toil no more! Why delve, and moil, and pine,
To glut the tyrant-forgers of your chain?
Slaves, toil no more! Up from the midnight mine,
Summon your swarthy thousands to the plain;
Beneath the bright sun marshalled, swell the strain
Of Liberty; and while the lordlings view
Your banded hosts, with stricken heart and brain, –
Shot as one man, ‘Toil we now more renew,
Until the Many cease their slavery to the Few!
We’ll crouch, and toil, and weave, no more – to weep!’
Exclaim your brothers from the weary loom: –
Yea, now they swear with one resolve dread, deep –
‘We’ll toil no more – to win a pauper’s doom!’
And, while the millions swear, fell Famine’s gloom
Spreads from their haggard faces, like a cloud,
Big with the fear and darkness of the tomb:-
How ‘neat its terrors, are the tyrants bowed!
Slaves, toil no more – to starve! Go forth and tame the proud!

Britain’s mining and cloth industries may have been devastated, but the words are still resonant and very relevant. We are, after all, suffering under the class government of Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and their fellow financiers and aristos. And the lines ‘we’re too low to vote the tax/ But not too low to pay’ exactly describe the ‘Bedroom tax’.

Jess, one of the commenters on this blog, provided a bit more information. She writes

I forgot to mention, An Anthology of Chartist Verse has been published, not once, but twice.

It first appeared from Progress Publishers in Moscow in 1956,[As An Anthology of Chartist Literature] then largely reprinted by the Associated University Press in 1989. [As ‘An Anthology of Chartist Poetry’]. The second printing excised the Literary Criticism contained in the former edition [mostly reprinted from the Scottish Chartist Circular]

One version of the National Chartist Hymn Book can be viewed here;
http://www.calderdale.gov.uk/wtw/search/controlservlet?PageId=Detail&DocId=102253

This last is well-worth looking at as an example of the aspirations of working class Christian radicals for social justice. It would frighten the modern, ultra-capitalist Christian Right faster than you could say ‘Social Gospel’.

Apart from the Chartists, other radical Left-wing groups and parties also produced song-books. Jess mentioned the Fabian Song book of 1912, which partly drawn from the Carpenter’s and Progressive song books. The ILP also produced a song book and the American Syndicalist union, the International Workers of the World or the ‘Wobblies’, are especially known for their songs. Jess writes about these:

A version of the ‘Little Red Song Book’ can be found here;
http://pronoblem.com/iwwlrs.pdf

It’s last known printing in the UK was in the 1990’s and was done by Scottish Republican Socialists through Clydeside Press (who are still in business)

Another American ‘Socialist Song Book’ can be found here
http://www.mediafire.com/view/?o6tbi8b3qf6dgbw

The Pennsylvania ‘local’ who produced (I would guess around the 1930’s) patently drew on the ILP Songbook of c.1910, initially drawn up by Tom Anderson of Glasgow, but completed by the Glasiers [Anderson felt so annoyed at what they had done that he left the ILP for the Socialist Labour Party. For the latter organisation he produced a ‘Proletarian Songbook’ [primarily for use in his ‘Proletarian Schools’]
More on Anderson here;
http://www.radicalglasgow.me.uk/strugglepedia/index.php?title=Tom_Anderson ]
Songbook cover here;

Unfortunately, the only place you will find those Chartist Anthologies is in Research Libraries. The WCML certainly has the Moscow edition. (I was once told there are only 50 or so in the UK)

Ironically the American one is even scarcer, with probably no more than 10 copies in the UK [It was kept away from Europe due to potential copyright problems}

But I can easily get access to both, so if you have a query, or an interest, I will sort something out.

There is a very strong body of radical, Left-wing working class and folk literature, which is still very relevant. Jess notes that it’s been largely neglected by the Left, except for a very few aficionados and researchers, like Roy Palmer, the author of a Ballad History of England. She also recommended a number of other folk song researchers and experts:

I would recommend, if you can still get hold of it, the EFDSS CD collection of William Kimber. Parts of the interview it contains is fascinating, especially Kimber’s acceptance of the Women’s Morris.

Also worth seeking out are the recordings of Walter Pardon, who includes, on one of his albums, songs used by the Agricultural Labourers’ Union.

More recently, the Left has used songs to articulate its criticism of social injustice and promote its causes. I first came across Tom Lehrer’s satirical song about nuclear warfare, ‘And we’ll burn together when we burn’ in 1980s with the revival of CND in Thatcher and Reagan’s new Cold War. The same decade also saw Billy Bragg get onto Top of the Pops with his modern folk-song about the Miners, just when Thatcher was putting the boot into them. With this new attack on the poor and working class, it would be no bad thing at all if some of these songs were revived. It might even remind some of the Labour party’s leaders just whom they’re supposed to represent.

Workfare Before the Nazis

February 17, 2014

Reichsarbeitsdienst

Members of the Reichsarbeitsdienst, the Nazi compulsory ‘voluntary’ work organisation used to end unemployment.

I’ve already blogged on the strong similarities between the Coalition’s workfare and the Reichsarbeitsdienst established by the Nazis. This, like workfare, was a form of voluntary work, which had been made compulsory and extended in order to combat the massive unemployment resulting from the Great Crash of 1929. By January 1932, the year before the Nazi Machtergreifung, unemployment in Germany had reached 6,042,000.

Franz von Papen, the German Chancellor, had also attempted to lower unemployment by encouraging the German industrialists to take on more workers. Those that did so were rewarded with tax vouchers, and allowed to cut wages by up to 50 per cent. The trade unions naturally denounced this as stimulating the economy ‘at the expense of the workers’. His predecessor, Bruning, had similarly tried to create more jobs, but had suffered from the hostility of the country’s leading industrialists, to whom von Papen’s grant of tax breaks and wage cuts were intended to make the policy more acceptable.

Von Papen was an aristocrat from Westphalia. Although he was formally a member of the Catholic Centre party, he was no democrat and led a government in which members of the aristocracy were so predominant that it was mocked as ‘the baron’s cabinet’. When Papen led the coup against the Prussian government, he was described as a member of the DNVP, the Conservative Deutsche National Volkspartei. The Prussian government was led by three of the main democratic parties, the Socialist SPD, the Roman Catholic Centre Party and the DDP, one of the German Liberal parties. They were brought down by a referendum organised by the DNVP, the Nazis and the paramilitary Stahlhelm. Before this, Papen, and his predecessor, Bruning, had seen the exclusion from power of first the SPD and then the Catholic Centre Party, until only the parties of the Right remained.

This is another point of similarity to contemporary Britain. The Coalition is similarly aristocratic, with Cameron, Clegg and Osborne all true, blue-blooded, Eton-educated members of the aristocracy. They have similarly come to power in a right-wing coalition that has been brought to power through an international financial crisis. They have also tried, albeit ostensibly, to solve the problem of unemployment through a series of measures including cut wages, and indeed, no wages at all, for the unemployed compulsorily placed in the Work Programme.

Those measures were harsh and unjust then, just as they are harsh and unjust now. Workfare, like its Nazi and Weimar predecessors, should be rejected and genuine measures to generate jobs and give workers a living wage, need to be introduced instead.

Explaining the Coalition’s War on the Poor and Disabled

February 4, 2014

Stow Rich Poor

A rich man ignoring a beggar’s cries for charity, from Bateman’s Chrystal Glass of Christian Reformation of 1569

The Coalition is responsible for some of the harshest and punitive legislation directed at the poor, the unemployed and the disabled in recent years. Under the pretext of trying to pay off the immense debt created by the bank bailout, Cameron and Clegg have together passed highly illiberal legislation intended to pare down the welfare state to its barest minimum. The result has seen as massive resurgence in poverty in the UK, with thousands now reduced to relying of food banks or scavenging in skips for food. This has been accompanied by a concerted campaign of vilification and demonization directed at the poor, the unemployed and the disabled. The middle market tabloids, the Daily Mail and Express, are notorious for their attacks on single mothers, unemployed ‘scroungers’ and immigrants, whom they scream – one cannot, in all decency, describe their shrill headlines with anything as mild as ‘allege’ or ‘contend’ are here to claim Britain’s generous welfare payments. The BBC and Channel 4 have both screened documentaries purporting to show the reality behind those claiming job seekers allowance. The most recent of these was ‘Benefits Street’ on Channel 4. These have singled out and portrayed the unemployed as, at best, idle scroungers, and at worst a criminal or semi-criminal underclass living by fraud and theft in an underworld of drug taking and violence.

This viciousness even extends to the disabled. The pseudoscientific assessment practised by ATOS on behalf of the government is designed to declare as many of the disabled to be as fit for work as possible. The result has seen severely and terminally ill people thrown off benefit. Thousands have taken their lives in despair as a result. Stilloaks has compiled a list over that his site, and the Void and Mike over a Vox Political, and many, many other have also blogged on this. As many as 38,000 people may have died as a result of benefit sanctions inflicted by the Department of Work and Pensions and the policies of Ian Duncan ‘Matilda’ Smith and Esther ‘McLie’ McVey. These are just guesses, however, as the DWP will not release the figures for the years after 2011. This indicates that the statistics are truly shaming, even for a department run by those two callous incompetents.

I know a number of disabled people and their families, who believe that society is now much less considerate in its treatment of the disabled personally. One man I know, whose wife is sadly confined to a wheelchair, told me that he and his wife have, at times, experienced rudeness and sometimes abuse from members of the public. He initially put this down to the influence of Little Britain, where one character only feigns his disability and is, when his brother’s back’s turned, perfectly fit, well and active. My own feeling is that things are rather more complicated, and that such attitudes probably spring as well from media reports exposing some of those who have notoriously feigned disability in order to collect benefits. The reporting of such crimes is out of all proportion to the amount of fraud that actually goes on. In reality, it’s negligible – less than 1 per cent. nevertheless, this has formed another pretext for cutting and ending benefits and services to the disabled.

This situation needs explanation. Almost everyone would agree that a truly civilised society is one that extends help to its poorest, most disadvantaged citizens. Why, then, does this government, and the right-wing media that back it, support such severe attacks on the very poorest members of society.

There appear to be several causes to this. They are

1. An attitude towards poverty, derived from the Victorian, but dating from the Middle Ages, that sees poverty as the fault of the poor themselves through their own immorality.

2. A fear that the poor somehow represent a dangerous drain on public resources and a threat to the social order. State support must be limited in order to prevent them increasing.

3. An appeal to popular selfishness, by which government ministers and their media supporters present taxes levied to support the poor as being an unwelcome imposition on the good, self-sufficient moral public. These in turn are described as being somehow penalised for their sturdy self-sufficiency. Hence the comments by politicians of capping benefits so that ‘strivers’ are not upset by the sight of their unemployed neighbours living well on benefits.

Behind these attitudes are the class interests of the upper and upper middle classes. The Coalition’s administration has marked one of the most extreme shifts of wealth from the poorest to the richest since that of Margaret Thatcher. The Tories in particular have enacted a series of policies designed to break organised working class resistance and open the poor up to further exploitation by the multinational firms, who constitute their paymasters. The tax breaks enacted by the Coalition have benefitted the very richest the most. Furthermore, the denial of state support to the poor and the privatisation of the NHS is designed to open them up as a potential market for private health care and insurance. In this, provoking hatred by the insecure but working towards the unemployed and disabled is a useful tool, as it prevents the two groups developing a solidarity that could challenge and potentially overturn such policies.

The punitive attitude to the unemployed can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Then as now there was a debate between theologians and political writers on whether charitable support should be given to the unemployed. The outbreaks of mass poverty caused by the Enclosures and depressions in 16th century England also created the fear amongst the ruling class of the threat to social order posed by roving bands of masterless men. Hence the harsh legislation against vagabonds and the general unemployed. One law, which became a dead letter, state that if an employer offered a job to an unemployed man, he had to take it. If he did not, the prospective employer could seize him and force him to work for free. These days, it’s simply called workfare. Under George Osborne, the unemployed can now be forced to work for big business in order to get their benefits. A further piece of legislation dreamed up by Gideon, sorry, George, means that even those, whose benefits have been stopped by sanctions, must perform workfare for free.

Vlad Dracula

Vlad Dracula of Wallachia, the model for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. He had all the beggars in his principality burned to death at a banquet. IDS and McVie haven’t done anything that obvious yet, but they’re trying their best to match his killing of the poor and unemployed.

This fear of the threat posed by unemployed and disabled beggars was taken to its most brutal extreme by Prince Vlad Dracul of Wallachia, the Romanian prince, who provided Bram Stoker with the historical model for Count Dracula. Concerned by the increase in beggars in his principality, Vlad organised a feast to which they were all invited. When all the beggars had entered the hall in which it was to be held, Vlad ordered the doors closed and barred, and had the place burnt down. The Coalition haven’t done anything as blatant as that, but with the poor and disabled dying of despair and starvation by the tens of thousands at their hands, the effect is the same.

Medieval ideas of the deserving and undeserving poor, and the fear of the political dangers posed by them, also underlie the Victorian ideas about respectability and its opposite. The historian Eric J. Evans describes these ideas in The Forging of the Modern State, 1783-1870

‘An important distinction in mid-Victorian Britain was between respectability and non-respectability. Respectability consisted in earning a degree of independence by one’s own efforts, in self-discipline (especially in sexual and bibulous matters), and in veneration for home and family as the basic social organism from which all other virtues flowed. The non-respectable could not provide for their families without State or charitable aid, were sexually promiscuous, regularly drunk, failed to put enough aside for rainy days and flitted from one rented tenement to another, as often as not to avoid paying their dues…

… Moral imperatives were necessary not just for reasons of ostentatiously sanctimonious piety (though the Victorians had their full share of such qualities) but to prevent a grand explosion. The Victorians dubbed those who did not live by their rules ‘the dangerous classes’ and they meant the phrase to be taken literally. The idle, drunken, rootless lower orders represented more than a moral affront; they threatened progress.’ (p. 280).

Thomas Malthus believed that state assistance to the poor was wrong, as if they were given such aid, their numbers would only increase to be a further burden on society. Hence the principle of ‘less eligibility’ in the Liberals New Poor Law of 1833 that established the Workhouses. The Angry Yorkshireman at Another Angry Voice has covered this particularly well. This was the view that conditions in the workhouses should be so harsh, that the poor would not take up such assistance unless they were driven by absolute necessity.

This attitude also extended to private charity. Margaret Thatcher the rest of the transatlantic New Right extolled the virtues of private charity over state aid, as they felt it was more effective than state benefit. It also had the advantage of being purely voluntary. The Victorians had a slightly different view. They were worried about the extent of the provision of charity in terms that are strikingly similar to Conservative American criticisms of ‘cradle to grave’ socialism. Dr Stallard declared at a meeting of the National Association for the promotion of Social Science in 1868 that ‘There is not a want, or form of human wretchedness, for which provision is not made in more or less degree … from the cradle to the grave, benevolence steps in to offer aid’. The year after he made this speech, the Charity Organization Society was set up to rationalise the amount of money given away to the poor. The ‘vicarious and indolent charity’ targeted by the Society was that which simply did not benefit the recipient. The Society therefore distinguished between the deserving and undeserving poor, and attempted to ensure that the donations given were both uplifting and actually improved those who received it. These were frequently taught the error of their ways, so that they did not return to relying on charity.

These policies have re-entered British politics through the influence of the American sociologist Michael Harrington and the welfare policies of Richard M. Nixon. Harrington was concerned about the existence of extreme poverty in America’s Black ghettos. His classic study of them, The Other America, was designed to stimulate discussion of the roots of such poverty and persuade the government and charities to act. Unlike left-wing critics of poverty, he did not trace the causes of such deprivation in the wider structure of American society and its economy, but believed the fault lay in the poor themselves. They were kept poor by a ‘culture of poverty’ that made them Other from the moral, industrious and prosperous rest of America. This attitude in turn influence the expansion of the welfare state constructed by Tricky Dicky. These were designed to combat poverty by providing state assistance, but this was to be made so humiliating that the poor would try to get off them as soon as possible.

This bourgeois ethic of respectability and hard work was also shared by the working class, and was seen by them and their rulers as they key to prosperity. Just before his death in 1865, Palmerston told a meeting of artisans that ‘Wealth is, to a certain extent, within the reach of all … you are competitors for prizes .. you will by systematic industry, raise yourselves in the social system of the country – you will acquire honour and respect for yourselves and your families. you will have, too, the constant satisfaction of feeling that you have materially contributed to the dignity of your country’. It sounds exactly like something Cameron or Gove would say today.

Despite a rising class consciousness amongst some working class radicals, there was considerable disunity amongst the British working class, which had strong feelings about the proper place each part had in the social hierarchy. One working class author stated in 1873 that

‘Between the artisan and the unskilled labourer a gulf is fixed. While the former resents the spirit in which he believes the followers of genteel occupations look down upon him, he in turn looks down upon the labourer. The artisan creed with regard to the labourer is, that they are an inferior class, and that they should be made to know, and kept in their place’.

This sounds very much like the ‘aristocracy of labour’, which Marx developed to explain why, contrary to his earlier expectations, the workers in Britain did not form a homogenous class ready to revolt against their masters and exploiters. Evans in the above book considers that this disunity arose through ‘the heterogeneity of Britain’s industrial base’ which ‘worked against the transmission of shared feelings of deprivation or exploitation despite the endeavours of bourgeois intellectuals to conceptualise economic development in terms of inevitable class struggle.’ (p. 173).

Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic and their supporters in the press have attempted to play on the variety and disunity of common feelings of solidarity in the working and lower middle classes by stoking fears of the unearned privileges experienced by certain groups of employees. Last year, for example, the Daily Mail followed American Conservatives in stoking resentment of state employees, by starting a campaign against the larger pensions civil servants supposedly enjoyed over those in the private sector. This was evidence of civil servant’s greed, rather than the result of the repressive wage structures of private industry. It served to distract attention away from the economic and political causes of deteriorating wages in the private sector by stirring up resentment of better paid employees.

Hence, too, the demonization of the poor and disabled as feckless scroungers, as this prevents the development of dangerous sympathies to them that would also upset the system of unfettered private industry loudly demanded and promoted by Cameron, Clegg and their lackeys.

And the attack on the welfare state has opened some very lucrative, captive markets for private welfare provision. Private Eye a little while ago produced an in-depth pull-out section demonstrating that the ludicrously expensive and exploitative ‘Private Finance Initiative’ was first proposed under Margaret Thatcher by, I believe, Peter Lilley, as a way of opening up the NHS to private industry. Mike over at Vox Political and Another Angry Voice have blogged repeatedly and provided a wealth of details about the connections the Tories and Lib Dems have to the firms seeking to profit from the NHS’ privatisation. This includes, no surprise! – Ian Duncan Smith. Other policies that seek to transfer state benefits to the private sector include the Workplace Pensions now being lauded by Nick Hewer in the government’s ads. A little while ago there was also talk about introducing private ‘unemployment insurance’ for those worried about the state provision they would receive if laid off. I don’t think that got very far, but it’s symptomatic of the way the private financial sector sought to exploit the increasing gaps in state welfare provision.

The Coalition’s vitriolic war on the unemployed, the poor, sick and disabled draws on notions of the deserving and undeserving poor in order to further bolster and expand the wealth and power of the extremely rich, and create a divided and powerless workforce oblivious to its exploitation and resentful of its more successful, and apparently less deserving neighbours. It opens the poor further up for commercial exploitation by insurance companies and private health care providers, like Unum. In this war to expand and entrench their own class interests, those now forced to scavenge from bins or die in poverty and despair are the true victims of an increasingly harsh and exploitative upper class, which needs their demonization to force their reforms through.